Charles Wesley Wells.

A frontier life; being a description of my experience on the frontier the first forty-two years of my life; with sketches and incidents of homes in the West; hunting buffalo .. online

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Online LibraryCharles Wesley WellsA frontier life; being a description of my experience on the frontier the first forty-two years of my life; with sketches and incidents of homes in the West; hunting buffalo .. → online text (page 1 of 14)
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Columbia (Bntottfitp


Bequest of
Frederic Bancroft
















Rev. Charles Wesley Wells

Of the Nebraska Conference

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Copyright by


Ong, Nebraska.


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In giving this little sketch to the public, I
shall endeavor to give a brief description of the
hardships and trials of frontier life. Speaking
largely of my experience and trials with the In-
dians in different localities where I have lived,
I shall also give some amusing accounts of hunt-
ing the buffalo, wolves, and other wild animals
on the plains, including my trials and hardships
in the ministry while laying the foundation for
Methodism and righteousness in new and un-
cultivated fields.

In describing life and scenes among the wilds
of the West, I shall strive in every particular to
give the facts. Some of the material I have gath-
ered is from other parties, who were eye-wit-
nesses to what they have related to me.

In giving my own experience with the sav-
ages, I may make some mistakes, though I relate
what I think to be correct.



The reader must be aware that, after the lapse
of so many years, I may forget some particulars
of the events I undertake to describe. So if any
of my readers should discover an incorrect state-
ment in this little record, they may know that I
was misinformed or that my memory is at fault.




My Birth — Move to Illinois — Move Back to Iowa —
Experience in the Big Woods of Cedar — Fright-
ened by Indians, 13


Move to Kansas— Hunting the Buffalo— Our Home
on the Kansas Plains— Description of the Buf-
falo and Other Animals— Father Chased by
Indians— Other Things of Interest, 25


Move to Nebraska— Move to the Big Blue River— Our
House— Hunting Elk— Experience with the In-
dians—The First Religious Meetings on the
Blue Valley in Butler County, 60


The General Slaughter of the Settlers on Tittle

Blue Riyer in 1864 70





Thrilling Incidents of the Indian Massacre — A Man
Killed not far from Fort Kearney — Martin
and His Boys Wounded— Father Eubanks and
Boy Killed— Bill and Miss Eubanks Killed—
Mrs. Eubanks and Miss Roper Taken Prisoners-
Theodore Eulic, Joe and Fred Eubanks Killed
— Kennedy, Butler, and Kelley Murdered, and
Other Depredations, 95


Our Trip up the Little Blue River after the Raid-
Some Remarks on the Way the Government
Controls the Indians, 121


Our Trip to the Black Hills— A Fight with the In-
dians at Plum Creek— Frightened at General
Custer's Command— Crossing the Platte River —
Work at Julesburg — Keeping Boarding-tent for
the Railroad Men— Making Lime in the Hills-
Frightened by the Indians— Return Home, . . 138


Frontier Work in the Ministry— Call to the Minis-
try—My First Appointment — Removed to Red
Cloud— My First Trip to Red Cloud— Organiza-
tion of the First Class on the Red Cloud Cir-
cuit—Moving to Red Cloud— Camp under a Bush,
and pull Grass for a Bed— Experience on the
Charge, 182




Off to Conference again— The Great April Snow-
storm—Appointment to the Lyons Circuit— My
Trip to the Charge — My Second Marriage —
Work on the Charge, 215


Moving to Norfolk — Turned out of Doors by a
Brother in the Church— The Death of Our
Babe— Living in the House with a Bad Family—
The Grasshoppers again— The Fuel we burned
—Drawing Wood by Hand— Our Presiding Elder
goes East and solicits Aid for the People — Our
Work in the Harvestfield — I go to Conference
— Ordained Elder — Return to Norfolk — Our
Experience on the Charge the Second Year, . 236


Settling at Oakdale — Routed from Bed at a
Brother's House— Preached at O'Neill City,
Holt County— A Trip up the Elkhorn with
Brother Wolf— Turned out into the River-

Move to Albion, Boone County, and Experience

THERE, 265


Move to the Farm— Build Our Own House— Work on
the Farm— Go to Conference— Go Home with a
Drunken Woman — Return to the Pastorate —
Appointed to the Schuyler Circuit and Work
there— lose another child— overflowing of
the Platte River, 288



My Birth — Move to Illinois — Move Back to Iowa— Ex-
perience in the Big Woods of Cedar — Frightened
by Indians.

I was born on the 28th day of June, 1841, in
Johnson County, Iowa, not far from Iowa City.
At that time this part of Iowa was very new and
sparsely settled. While I was yet a child my
folks moved to Illinois, but remained there only
a few years. In the year 1852 my father moved
to the northern part of Iowa, and located in
Chickasaw County, where he rented what was
called a double log-house, which had been used
as an Indian trading-post, and here we spent
part of the winter. There being no school within
reach of us, we boys spent much of our time in
hunting through the woods and over the prairies
for the wild deer, turkey, prairie-hen, and rabbit.

We lived about one mile from the woods,
where we got fuel for the house, which was
drawn on hand-sleds that we boys made with our
own hands. Sometimes we were half a day mak-
ing the trip; but there being some four or five



of us together, we brought plenty of wood to
keep the fire going.

On coining to this part of the country, father
laid claim on a piece of Government land in what
was called the Big Woods of Cedar. Notwith-
standing the exceedingly cold weather at that
time, father concluded to move out to his claim
in the woods. Loading the household goods
and a part of the family upon a sled, we went,
and camped in the timber until a house was built.
Perhaps the distance we had to travel was not
more than eight or nine miles, but because of the
dense forest through which we had to pass, it
took us all day to make the trip. There being
no road leading to the place, it was necessary
to make one, which was done by cutting away
stumps, trees, and underbrush, then blazing the
trees along the way, thereby marking the road-
way through the woods. At that time, all
through the woods, the snow was about two feet
deep; but there had been a warm spell followed
by a hard freeze, thus forming a crust sufficiently
strong to bear up a team, so we could travel with
ease on top of the snow.

Reaching our destination early in the even-


ing, we soon shoveled the snow from a place
large enough to build a log fire and to spread
our beds. There we were, miles from any house,
with the thermometer below zero, and no shelter
from the cold and storm, not even a tent to
cover our heads.

Being neither frightened nor discouraged, we
set to work cutting and drawing logs together
for a fire, and in a short time had a rousing log-
heap all aflame, warming the air for many feet
around us. Wood enough having been procured
to keep a good fire during the entire night, we
thought we were comfortably settled. Supper
over, the next thing was to prepare for sleeping.
If the reader knows nothing of camp life, he is
unable to understand how any one can sleep out
of doors in the snow when the thermometer is
twenty degrees below zero, without freezing to

Spreading our blankets on the cold ground,
and making our beds on them, we turned in for
the night. Lying with our feet close to the fire,
we slept soundly and comfortably, with the ex-
ception of some one having occasionally to re-
plenish the fire.


The greatest difficulty in living out of doors
in such cold weather, by such a large fire, is the
melting of the snow and the thawing of the
ground around the fire making it muddy, and
very unpleasant on that account. Waking early
in the morning, after the first night's sleep in the
woods and on the ground, we could hear reports
as if a hundred pistols were being fired all around
the camp. In that cold country, on a very cold
night, the trees are so filled with frost and frozen
so hard, that all through the night and until late
in the morning they can be heard throughout
the forest snapping with a sound like the dis-
charge of so many pistols. Such was the first
morning of our camping in this place. Imagine
the thermometer twenty-five degrees below zero,
hundreds of trees snapping around you, as if they
would split from one end to the other and fall to
pieces because of the intensity of the cold; at the
same time snow two feet deep in the Woods, and
frozen sufficiently to bear the weight of a large
yoke of oxen; the cold winds from the north
whistling and bellowing through the swaying
branches of the trees; and imagine a family set
down in the midst of these surroundings, and


you have some idea of our camp life in the Big
Woods of Cedar.

Early in the morning of the first day in the
woods could be heard, for miles away, the clear
ringing of our axes as we sent the sharp steel
to the frozen trunks of the trees that were being
felled for the erection of a house. He who has
been brought up altogether in a prairie country
knows nothing of the charm there is in the dis-
tant sound of a falling tree, and the echo of the
woodman's ax mingling with the clarion notes
of the woodpecker, pecking on the dry trunk
of a hollow tree. Such to the woodman is music,
and wonderfully charming to his ear. O how
my thoughts go back to the place where we
used to fell the trees, and convert them into saw-
logs, rails, or cord-wood ! The boy who has
been raised exclusively in a prairie country
knows nothing of the amount of labor there is
in a timbered country. Iowa is not altogether
a timbered country, yet living in some of those
heavy bodies of timber is like living in a country
that is exclusively timbered.

All hands working early and late, enough
logs were soon brought together for a house.


As they were not hewed, but left in their natural
form, they were ready to go into the body of
the house as soon as on the ground. The raising
and covering of the house was the next thing
to be done. As there were three or four men
and as many boys at work on it, it was soon
raised to a sufficient height, and the roof put on.
Then came the chinking and daubing, which was
no small part of the work on a house of this kind.
Perhaps the reader would like to have me
explain what chinking and daubing is. Well,
after the logs are laid, forming the body of the
building, there are cracks or spaces left between
the logs, through which a cat or small dog might
be thrown. These cracks must be filled in order
to complete the body of the house. Pieces of
wood are split small enough, and tightly driven
into these cracks, and wedged there with small
wooden wedges to hold them to their places.
This we call chinking. After the chinking is
done, still there are small cracks and holes to be
filled, and as there is no lime to be had, clay or
the natural soil is taken and made into mortar,
and, with a wooden trowel, daubed into the
cracks, both outside and inside the building,


closing all the small cracks, thus making a com-
plete shelter from the wind and storm, and a
tolerably comfortable house. This we call daub-
ing the house.

I must not pass without giving a sketch of
the great, huge fireplace in our new house. I
think it must have been large enough to take
in logs at least eight feet in length, and with
sufficient capacity to receive a half cord of wood.
The back part of the fireplace was composed of
very stiff mortar, made of clay and pounded up
against the logs of the building until a complete
wall was formed between the fire and the logs
of the house. The chimney was made of sticks
split very thin and narrow, something like the
common lath, and laid up in the same kind of
mortar used for the walls of the building. When
I describe the roof and floor of the house, you
can have some idea of our home in the woods.
Heavy poles, called ridge-poles, were laid on
top of the body of the house in such a way as to
form the shape of the roof, and for the support
of the roof-boards (shakes), which were laid
loosely on the poles. The same number of sim-
ilar poles were laid on the roof-boards to hold


them in place. These poles were called weights,
and. were kept on the roof, at a proper distance
apart, by braces from one to the other. The
reader may ask why we did not nail the roof-
boards to their places. For the very best of
reasons : we had no such luxuries as nails, nor
money to buy them. I presume that, when the
building was completed, there were not a dozen
nails in the house. The auger and hardwood
pins were substituted for them. Nor were nails
used in making either the doors or the floor.
What peed had we of nails or lime, when nature
provided wood so liberally, out of which pins
could be made for such purposes, with plenty
of black soil in place of lime?

I will now give a sketch of the wonderful
bedstead and chairs which were made for this
new house, and its history is complete. So far
as I can remember, a pole running the full length
of the house, inside, and fastened six feet from
the side, composed the framework of the bed-
stead, making a frame eighteen feet long, on
which beds were made across the house, with
the heads turned towards the wall, and ample


room for a family of twelve. The seats were
principally benches made of logs, split and hewed
for this purpose.

Here, in the Big Woods, we spent the win-
ter in hunting and rambling through the forest,
spending most of our time at play.

Being born in a new country, we either lived
among the Red Men, or not far from them; so
most of our early days were spent in almost con-
stant dread of them. At one place where we
lived, while we children were yet small, and
father away from home, leaving all the care of
the family with mother until his return, frightful
news came that the Indians were coming on the
warpath, thirty thousand strong, murdering the
settlers and destroying all the property in the
country through which they were passing. You
may imagine how frightened we were, when such
a dreadful rumor reached our ears. There we
were, miles from neighbors, father from home,
and mother alone, with a houseful of children
to look after. In such a situation, our chances
for escape with our lives were exceedingly doubt-
ful. Of course we were frightened, and could


only expect to be murdered by the savages.
That the report might be false was our only
hope of seeing another day. Darkness, with its
gloom, came on, only adding to our horrible
situation, when a message came informing us
that the neighbors had, most of them, gone, or
were going, to fly for their lives that night, leav-
ing us alone, as we thought, in the cruel hands
of the bloodthirsty fiends. Mother gathered us
into the house, talked to us encouragingly, as
only a mother can under such trying circum-
stances, told us to go to bed and sleep, and if
the Indians should come she would awaken us.
Confiding in a mother's care, we soon forgot
our trouble, and were quietly resting in dream-
land while she spent the long, dark, and awful
hours in looking and listening for the first ap-
pearance of the expected enemy. In this con-
dition, and with such surroundings, mother
watched over her sleeping children, guarding
them from coming danger as best she could.
The long and lonely hours of night were spent
in dipping tallow-candles for pastime, thereby
diverting her mind from the awful situation, and


giving bodily exercise to keep her awake.
Morning came, light and fair, bringing with it
the glad news that the Indians were not coming
to our part of the country.

None but those who have passed through
such awful scenes can comprehend the joy there
was in our home when we learned that we were
out of danger; for there is a dread and even a
horror at the very thought of being murdered
by the Indians, that is unsurpassed by almost
any other fear.

We call to mind another time when we were
woefully frightened by a similar report. A
rumor was sent broadcast through the surround-
ing country that the wild men were coming,
murdering all who chanced to fall in their path.
Within a few hours from the time the news first
reached us, the entire community were on the
move, seeking shelter from the scalping-knife
and tomahawk, leaving everything, except the
team that carried them away, in possession of
the savages. After two or three days from home,
we learned that the report had no foundation.
Notwithstanding all this, we were as badly fright-


ened as though the reports were true. A false
alarm frightens just as much as a true report,
when we are ignorant of the facts.

Such exciting times belong to the frontier
life. Time after time we were made uneasy by
false alarms, as well as by those that were real.


Move to Kansas— Hunting the Buffalo— Our Home on
the Kansas Plains— Description of the Buffalo
and Other Animals— Father Chased by Indians-
Other Things of Interest.

In the year i860 we left the thinly-settled
part of Iowa, and moved to a newer country in
Western Kansas, where we obtained much of
our supplies for the table from the plains, which
abounded with buffaloes, antelopes, and wolves.
The people in this part of Kansas depended as
much (or more) on hunting the buffalo for a
living as on the grain they raised.

In the fall of the year the settlers went to
the buffalo range, and camped near some stream
or pool of water, where the animals often came
to slake their thirst, and where the hunter con-
cealed himself behind some bank, or in some
low place, where the unsuspecting beast must
come for water. In this way the hunter fre-
quently killed four or five before they could get
out of range of his trusty rifle.



The reader will want to know of the quality
of the flesh of the wild ox. In flavor it is as
good as or better than that of the domestic ox,
though much coarser-grained. If the buffalo
were fed on grain until fat, I think the meat
would be superior to that of our domestic cattle.
The flesh from a good fat buffalo is sweet and
palatable, especially when broiled by a camp-

I must not pass here without telling the
reader how we prepared our meat for keeping
while so far from home, as we were sometimes
while on the plains. There were two ways of
doing this. When the weather was the least bit
damp, the flesh was all cut from the bones, and
sliced into thin pieces, then dipped into boiling
brine prepared for that purpose. It was then
put on to a scaffold, made by driving four
forked sticks into the ground, on which other
sticks were laid, until a complete scaffold was
formed, on which all the flesh from a large buf-
falo could be placed over a fire for drying. A
slow fire was kept under it until it was suffi-
ciently cured to keep from spoiling; all of which
could be done in less than a day's time. When


the weather was warm and dry, as it usually is
in this country, the meat was prepared as above
described, but with no fire under it, letting it
dry in the sun and wind. When the sun shone
brightly, and the hot winds blew from the south-
west, as they often do on those sandy plains,
meat could be cured in seven or eight hours, and
would keep all summer in a dry place. Those
who have never eaten of the fresh, fat meat of a
buffalo know nothing of its sweetness, and how
delicious it is. When we were in camp on the
buffalo range, and desired an extra good dish,
the ribs were taken from a fat young cow, and
turned up broadside before a hot fire until one
side was thoroughly roasted; then the other side
was treated the same way; after which it was
ready for the hunter's table, which consisted of
a wagon-seat or the crossed legs of the hunter.
Besides the buffalo which went far towards
supplying the larder, there were many antelopes
on the plains of Kansas, the flesh of which
greatly helped in furnishing food for the family.
By the hunters the flesh of the antelope was con-
sidered the very best wild meat the country af-
forded. The flesh is of a fine quality, and, when


fat, is far superior to that of the sheep for flavor.
The hide of the antelope was used for various
purposes. When well tanned it was used for
making pants, and sometimes the best and finest
qualities were good for shirting, and thought to
be excellent wear for the hunter. There are
many species of the antelope, but the American
is the one to which we refer.

The habits of the antelope are peculiar. In
the fall of the year they gather in great flocks,
like sheep, for the purpose of migrating south,
where they find food for the winter. In the
spring of the year, just as the grass is clothing
the prairie with green, they return to the North-
ern States, where they spend the summer and
rear their young. On traveling south in the fall
they go in herds; but on their return in the
spring they seem to come one at a time, being
scattered in every direction. Sometimes, how-
ever, two or three can be seen in company. The
antelope is of a very wild nature, and usually
feeds on the high rolling prairie, where he can
easily discover an approaching enemy, some-
times running at the sight of a man though miles
away, while at other times it will stand and gaze


at the hunter until shot down. Being of a very
inquisitive nature, on seeing an object which it
does not recognize, it will approach closer and
closer, circle round and round, stepping softly,
seemingly determined to know what the object
is before it leaves the place. Many times, in this
way, it is made an easy prey to the hunter. I
have seen these animals in the distance coming
toward me, and lain down flat to the ground
until they came within a few paces of where I
was lying, and stand until shot down. At other
times I have attracted their attention and drawn
them to me by throwing myself on the ground,
and waving a handkerchief in the air above my

One of the most successful ways to get a
shot at the antelope is, when it is seen in the
distance, for one hunter to conceal himself, and
then for another to walk away from the one con-
cealed, leaving him in ambush between himself
and the game, at the same time waving a hand-
kerchief so the animal can see it. This draws it
towards him until within gunshot of the man
lying in ambush, who finds it an easy prey.

At certain times of the year antelopes are


much wilder than at other seasons. In the
spring, when returning to the north, they are
more easily decoyed and killed than in the fall.
As they return in the spring they are usually
found with but one in a place, and seem to be
hunting for their mates. Hence, when they see
an object, and not knowing what it is, they make
sure it is not an antelope before leaving. At
such times, if the hunter keeps himself well con-
cealed, the game will come within a few paces
of him before it will take fright and run.

In the fall of the year the flesh of the ante-
lope is far better than at any other season, and
is at that time the most difficult to obtain. Early
in the fall their young are about half grown, and
are so fleet that, when frightened, they will dis-
tance the swiftest greyhound in the chase. At
this time the old ones seem to be training their
young to keep away from danger. There are
but few, if any, animals that can skip over the
prairie as swiftly as the antelope of America.

Notwithstanding the wild nature of the
American antelope, it may be tamed so as to
follow its master like a pet lamb, and, if turned
loose, will not, like most other wild animals, go


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Online LibraryCharles Wesley WellsA frontier life; being a description of my experience on the frontier the first forty-two years of my life; with sketches and incidents of homes in the West; hunting buffalo .. → online text (page 1 of 14)