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Stories of the old Santa Fe trail online

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off the savages.

But this was of rare occurrence, for families so widely
separated as they were in that new country could afford but
little mutual protection, their houses being frequently twenty
miles apart, and before the news could spread or the people
gather in some strong log cabin for defense, the Indians
came down upon them like the north wind, murdering and
destroying whole settlements in a single summer afternoon.

That lovely belt of country between the two rivers was
consequently abandoned, and the few settlers who escaped
the fury of the Indians were driven into the military posts of
Harker and Riley, houseless, homeless and starving. There
they were kindly sheltered, clothed and fed by the Govern-
ment until it was safe for them to return to their abandoned
claims and commence the settlement of the country over.

They then found nothing, of course, but the bare land.
A little mound of ashes alone indicated the spot where their
homes had stood ; their fences and cattle were all gone, some-
times wife and children, too tortured and then murdered or
miserable slaves in the hands of the Indians.

But with a determination to surmount obstacles that any
other than our noble army of pioneers would shrink from,
they took up the axe again and cut their way to the peace


and thrift that has gradually increased to what it is to-day in
that region.

The condition of affairs on that verge of civilization in
Kansas during the years referred to, was much more terrible
than the mere outline above attempted. The horrible truths
and outrageous brutalities inflicted can never appear in print
to shock the sensibilities of a refined people, and the very
impossibility of this fact has done much toward creating a
false sympathy for the Indians, who, if their diabolical acts
were known universally, as they are known to the compara-
tive few, Vould be declared beyond the pale of the slightest
mercy or leniency in the swift punishment that would be
sure to follow.

In the middle of September 1868, General Sheridan as-
sumed immediate command of the Department of the Mis-
souri, which included in its geographical area the whole prairie
region west of the Missouri river and a portion of the moun-
tains. The famous Seventh Cavalry under General Custer
was scattered along the Smoky Hill at Hays, Harker and
Wallace, and the Fifth and Third Infantry at the various
military posts in the Arkansas Valley and at Fort Leaven-

These were the only available troops in this section at
the disposal of the commanding General when he determined
to organize a winter campaign against the hostile tribes.

The idea of a successful campaign against the Indians of
the Great Plains in mid-winter was something entirely novel


in border warfare, and had its origin in the wonderful percep-
tion and power to overcome military difficulties inherent in
General Sheridan.

Heretofore it had been considered beyond the limit of
possibilities to make a vigorous war upon the tribes in that
season on account of the numberless apparently insuperable
obstacles that constantly interpose themselves the fickle
changes in climate scarcity of grass in some localities for
the animals, the obstruction of partly frozen streams, and a
thousand and one counteracting influences constantly at work
in the desolateness of these remote plains.

The undertaking was regarded by many old officers who
had been stationed on the frontier for years as purely vision-
ary, and by plainsmen generally, as experimental at least,
with the probabilities of success strongly on the side of the

In almost every instance where expeditions had been
sent against the Indians in the spring and summer the very
season which they themselves select for the operation of their
implacable hatred of the whites the result had almost invari-
ably been disastrous to the army, or the effect upon the In-
dian unsubstantial.

General Sheridan (purposing to profit by the example of
General Hancock, his immediate predecessor in the command
of the Department, whose expensive and gorgeous campaign
of the summer before gorgeous in its pomp and circum-
stance had been futile of results) perceived at once that a


termination of the warfare raging along the border every re-
curring season could effectually be reached only by a severe
and decisive blow to the savages in their winter quarters.

To that end, therefore, immediately after the massacre
on Spillman Creek early in September, he removed his head-
quarters from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Harker, on the
Smoky Hill, and from thence to Fort Hays, temporarily,
until the expedition was organized, which he then command-
ed in person.

The country knows how completely he succeeded in re-
moving the hostile tribes to their allotted reservations, and
how effectually he prevented any further trouble with the In-
dians in this portion of Kansas, bringing a peace to the re-
gion under discussion that will never again be broken by their
sanguinary incursions.

Previous to the organization of the winter expedition
about the first of September General Alfred Sully, who
commanded the Military District of the Upper Arkansas,
with eight companies of the Seventh Cavalry, and five com-
panies of Infantry, left Fort Dodge on a hurried excursion
against the Kiowas, Arrapahoes and Cheyennes, who had
been committing depredations in small parties along the bor-
der during the summer.

The command marched in a general southeasterly direc-
tion from the Arkansas, and reached the "sand hills " of the
Beaver and Wolf, by a circuitous route on the fifth day.

When nearly through that comparatively barren region,


they were attacked by about eight hundred of the allied tribes
under the lead of the famous Kiowa chief Satanta.

A running fight was kept up with the savages, on the
first day in which two of the cavalrymen were killed and one

The Indians gradually increased their force by new gath-
erings until they mustered over two thousand warriors and
the expedition was forced to retreat toward the Arkansas.

For four days and nights the Indians hovered around
the command, and by the time it had reached the mouth of
Mulberry Creek twelve miles from Ft. Dodge there are
not one thousand rounds of ammunition left.

The incessent charges of the now infuriated savages
compelled the troops to use this small amount held in reserve,
and they found themselves almost at the mercy of the enemy
when they reached the river.

But before they were absolutely defenseless, Col. M. W.
Keogh, of the seventh cavalry (afterward killed at the
" Rose Bud " in Custer's chivalrous but disastrous battle with
Sitting Bull), had sent a trusty messenger in the night to Ft.
Dodge for a supply of cartridges to meet them at the creek,
which fortunately reached there in time to save that point
from being a literal "Last Ditch."

The Indians in that little but exciting encounter, would
ride up boldly toward the squadrons of cavalry, discharge
the shots from their revolvers, and then in their rage throw
them at the skirmishers on the flankers of the supply train,


while the latter, nearly all of whom were out of ammunition,
were compelled to sit quietly in their saddles, idle spectators
of the extraordinary scene.

Many of the Indians were killed on their ponies, how-
ever, by those who were fortunate enough to have a few
rounds left, but none were captured, as the Indians had taken
their usual precaution to tie themselves to their animals, and
as soon as dead were dragged away by them.

This essay of General Sully, to feel as it were the dis-
position of the Indians, determined the question of a sweep-
ing war, and General Sheridan, as we have stated, inaugu-
rated immediate measures to make it decisive and effectual.

Removing his headquarters to Ft. Hays, on the Smoky
Hill route, the organization of the winter expedition was im-
mediately commenced.

All the available troops in the department previously
referred to, together with the fifth cavalry, which had been
ordered to report to General Sheridan for this special duty ;
picked warriors from among the friendly Osages and Pawnees,
and the services of celebrated frontiersmen were called into

Desperate duties were required of the famous frontiers-
men employed, who, under the general term of "scouts,"
were expected to carry dispatches, hang on the trail of the
Indians, and in the capacity of couriers, keep open communi-
cation between Ft. Dodge and the troops operating in that
memorable campaign of 1868-9.


These " scouts" were invariably picked men. They
were selected with the greatest of care, with special reference
to their knowledge of the Indian character and perfect famil-
iarity with the localities of the prosposed field of action, and
in the latter capacity guided the troops through the unbroken
wilderness of the Central Plains.

Many of these men had passed eventful lives from boy-
hood among the Kiowas, Arrapahoes and Cheyennes. Some
had married and been adopted by these tribes, and not only
understood their language perfectly, but had mastered all the
original astuteness and strategy of the Indians themselves.

Nearly all of them were identified with the early strug-
gles of the borders, and they rightfully belong to that roll of
heroes in the unwritten record of those troublous times in
Kansas' history, which has never yet graced the fair pages of
our popular magazines, but who may one of these days figure
conspicuously in the annals of the country, when all the
facts in its memoirs are collected by another and unpreju-
diced generation.

But they have another history too, which belongs to the
tribes among whom they lived so long, that will never die
while the Indian remains, though its narration is given only
in rude legendary form, to the dusky listeners wrapped in
their buffalo robes sitting around the magic circle of the
" medicine lodge."

Some of these men still live, and some are quietly rest


ing under the silvery cottonwoods and willows of the far off

The march of civilization over the territory in which
their remarkable lives were passed is rapidly obliterating all
trace of their simple sepulchres, and absorbingtheir memory
in the uncertain light of mere tradition.

The duties demanded of the " scouts" during the cam-
paign were fraught with danger, desperate venture, and ter-
rible chances for life oftentimes, yet they received no greater
reward than was given to other civilians employed.

How nobly these brave men fulfilled their mission, the
fight of Gen. Geo. A. Forsyth on the Arrickaree Fork of the
Republican (one of the most desperate chapters in Indian
warfare, taken altogether, in the history of the continent),
General Ouster's battle of the Washita, and the grassy
mounds in the little graveyard at Ft. Dodge on the treeless
banks of the Arkansas where those lie who went out fear-
essly to their death all testify.

How two of these "scouts" laid down their lives in a
ride of a hundred miles through a gauntlet of determined
savages, is the subject of this sketch.

To those who look upon everything in this world with
only a utilitarian faith, and measure all operations of human
circumstances by the scale of dollars and cents, it undoubt-
edly seems strange that a remuneration was not demanded and
given to these men, corresponding with the awful risks incur-
red. But there is an indescribable and unconquerable infat-


uation attending a life in the desolateness of the remote
plains, and a companionship of constant danger which lends
a charm that can never be perfectly understood by the deni-
zens of our crowded cities in the East, that far out-weighs
any tangible reward that could be offered.

Neither the love of gold then, nor the hope of popularity
those two altars upon which so many men sacrifice them-
selves in the teeming haunts of business tempted them to
the deeds which have made them famous. Such men whose
story is always full of interest, seek danger for the simple
charm of it, and that alone is the secret of their eventful lives.

Five hundred six-mule army wagons, with its comple-
ment of more than as many teamsters, wagon-masters, cooks
and herders, composed the transportation train that constant-
ly traveled between the depot at Fort Dodge on the Arkansas,
and the base of operations at the camp on Beaver river, (now
known as Camp Supply,) and one of the principal posts of
observation in the Indian Territory, where the Kiowa and
Cheyenne reservations are located.

Over the broad trail marked by the passage of the long
train of wagons, the Indians hovered injmall parties all win-
ter, and through this line of watchful savages, the courier
scout's perilous journey had to be effected

On their dreary route of over one hundred miles, with
no place of refuge between the camp and Fort Dodge, it was
literally, at times, a ride for life.

Two of these l 'scouts" usually traveled together under
considerations of both companionship and safety, for it is pos-


sible that two determined men well acquainted with the
peculiar tactics of the Indians, may prove a match for twenty,
but difficult under equal circumstances for one to get away
from five.

The most exposed portions of the trail were ridden over
at night, while in the daytime, the "scouts" secreted them-
selves in some rocky canon or timbered ravine until darkness
again favored their lonely trip. Only when within a few
miles of their destination at either end of the route, were f he
chances of a run by sunlight taken.

The characteristic recklessness of some, however, in
even essaying this performance resulted in a severe fight on
more than one occasion, and the death of two, as the sequel
will show, on another.

Two days of hard riding, or rather nights, and untiring
watchfulness, were required, to effect the hazardous journey,
and none others but the ''scouts" attempted it; as when it
became necessary for parties connected with the military ex-
peditions to go to either of the posts, they did so under escort
of the wagon train, never with the "scouts."

Early in the montl> of November, two scouts one a
half-breed known all over the plains as McDonald, and the
other a white man named Davis, were sent out from Camp
Supply by General Sheridan, (who had taken up his head-
quarters at that point,) shortly after dark with important dis-
patches for the Government, and a small mail for Fort


McDonald was a half Cheyenne, his father had in all
probability been a Scotch trapper in the employ of the North-
west Fur Company, thirty or forty years, before but McDonald
remembered nothing of him, and had lived all his life with
the tribe whose blood flowed through his veins. He was.
therefore, an Indian by education, and possessed nearly all
their characteristics, with the remarkable exception of a de-
cided friendship for the white race, whose cause he heroical-
ly espoused at the commencement of hostilities.

He rarely wore any other dress than the traditional
buckskin suit, heavily porcupined and beaded, with its
long fringe drooping gracefully from the seams, and on cer-
tain occasions adhered most religiously to the tribal fascina-
tions of the war paint, which he then used in the most
extravagant manner.

That he was the representative of one of the noblest at-
tributes of human nature, however faithfulness, which rather
than break, he accepted death will be conceded further on.

Davis was born in Ohio, and had wandered to the Great
Plains when he was only fourteen, having been attracted by its
mysteries and charms, in 1843, shortly after the appearance
of General Fremont's fascinating report of his memorable
expedition to the "Rocky Mountains and beyond."

For twenty years he had roamed over the " Far West "
making his home near the head-waters of the Missouri and
among the Sioux, whose beautiful language he understood
perfectly. He had been south of the Platte only a few sea-
sons previous to the breaking out of the hostiles, where he


had taken up with a Cheyenne squaw, and was trading with
that nation when the war commenced.

The only remarkable characteristic possessed by Davis
was a wonderfully quick perception and determination, unex-
celled by any other man I ever knew.

All men whose lives have been spent on the plains or in
the mountains from boyhood, I am aware, have this element
of character in a marked degree usually, which places them
in moments of great difficulty and peril far ahead of the
Indian, but Davis was strongly superior in this particular
he subordinated it sometimes, however, to an extensive reck-
lessness, which eventually cost him his life.

The days dragged slowly along, and more than a week
past without the return of McDonald and Davis to Camp
Supply nothing had been heard of them since they had
ridden out in the dark of that cold winter night. Other
scouts had come and gone again, but they brought no news
of their arrival at Fort Dodge, and of course it was con-
ceded that they were dead killed by the Indians but how,
or where, was all wrapped in mystery. The wagon train
which constantly traveled on the trail from the Camp to the
Arkansas brought no information in regard to their fate, and
it was believed that like the ocean which never gives up its
dead, the great plains had added another silent chapter to its

Nearly three weeks after the disappearance of the scouts,
as the train one afternoon was approaching the low reaches


of the Cimarron bottoms, a large party of Indians were
observed on the sand hills about a mile and a half away on
the opposite side of that river, apparently watching the com-
mand. The cavalry were immediately sent in pursuit, which
movement as quickly as the Indian discovered they started
over the divide and were out of sight in a moment. A
squadron of the mounted detachment kept on however, to
the spot where the Indians were first seen, but it was not
considered prudent by the commanding officer to chase them
further and leave the train without all its escort, as this move
of the Indians who could no longer be seen, might only be a
ruse to draw a portion of the troops away, while another war
party, possibly secreted somewhere in the interminable sand
hills, could dash in, stampede the mules and cut off a por-
tion of the wagons, that locality being peculiarly fitted for
such strategy.

Soon after reaching the high sand knoll from which the
Indians had been watching the movements of the train, the
troops dismounted and there discovered the first link in the
chain of mystery that surrounded the fate of McDonald and

In a little ravine a short distance from where the horses
siood, under a clump of plum bushes, three roughly made
graves were found, which the men tore open and resurrected
the bodies of three Arrapahoe warriors, wrapped in heavily
porcupined and otherwise richly ornamented buffalo robes.
The war paint was still fresh on their faces, and their raw-


hide shields were lying on their breasts. Bows, arrows, and
a red stone pipe were found lying at the side of each, and
around the neck of one a circlet of wolf teeth, interspersed
at regular distances with the rattles of the rattle-snake a
characteristic ornament.

Through the bodies of two of the dead savages were bul-
let holes, corresponding in caliber to the Spencer carbine,
and another through the neck of the remaining warrior
plainly indicated how they had found their death ; but by
whose hand, and where, and why were they left among the
barren sand-hills ?

The trail of a large war party was discovered a few rods
off from the mouth of the ravine leading from the north, and
the imprint of their moccasins in the soft earth indicated they
had rested there. These facts connected with other unmis-
takable signs to the initiated in plains-lore, clearly connected
the death of the Indians buried here with the fate of
McDonald and Davis, whose bones it was certain were
bleaching somewhere between the Cimarron and Arkansas.

The dead Indians were stripped of their trinkets, hur-
riedly rolled back in their holes and the cavalry rode slowly
back to the river, where they found the men cutting the ice
and the train ready to cross.

A new interest was awakened among the command, and
every man was untiring in his efforts to find out something
more in relation to the missing " scouts."

The whole region within protecting distance of the train


was carefully scoured as they moved along by the cavalry,
and even the infantry made tedious detours from the direct
line of march in hope of unraveling the fate of the unfortu-
nate scouts, but another day passsd away without any further
clue, and the command went into camp on the high land
between the Cimarron and Crooked creek full of excitement.
On the afternoon of the second day after leaving the
Cimarron, as the train was approaching Mulberry creek,
further evidence of the death of the scouts was discovered.
The commanding officer was riding with Colonel Keogh in
advance of the column, intently watching the actions of the
Colonel's two hounds, of rare breed, that always accompa-
nied him, and who were evidently on the trail of some ani-
mal, when suddenly an immense pack of gray wolves were
driven out of the bush by one of the flankers who had been
ordered in that direction by Colonel Keogh, and in a
moment the frightened pack were scampering over the prai-
rie with all the dogs of the train in full pursuit.

In a short time, and before the wolves were out of sight,
the interest of the two officers in those animals were inter-
rupted by a young lieutenant, who came galloping up to
them from the rear of the train, holding in his hands a pair
of new pantaloons that had been saturated with blood, but
which was now dry.

" Major," said the lieutenant, saluting the commanding
officer, " one of my men found this near the creek, and I


think it has a story if we can read it, that will tell something
more about the fate of McDonald and Davis."

The commanding officer scanned the bloody cloth a mo-
ment, and handing it to Col. Keogh for inspection, replied :
"Evidently those pantaloons have been torn from the
wearer; they were never taken off in the ordinary manner,
for you can see they are still buttoned, and I imagine the
Indians and Coyotes have had a hand in it; Col. Keogh and
myself were just wondering what so many wolves pointing
with his glass to the pack in the distance were doing here
on the creek there is certainly some unusual cause to attract
them, and now their presence confirms your suspicions, and
I believe myself we shall find out something here in regard
to the missing ''scouts" or some one else who has been
murdered by the Indians."

Col. Keogh suggested the propriety of camping there,
and the Lieutenant stated there was plenty of wood and

11 You may stop the train," said the Major, addressing
himself to the Adjutant who had now joined the little group
that had gathered where this conversation took place. ' ' We
will go into camp on the creek it is early yet, and perhaps
we can find out all about the matter before dark. As soon
as the men get their dinners, order every one who can safely
leave, to make a thorough search all over the prairie, and up
and down the creek."

The Adjutant rode back, halted the train, and the com-


mand, among, whom the story of the bloody pants had now
circulated, went into camp, cooked their dinners as quickly
as possible, in order to get all the daylight they could in
which to find out something more of the sad fate of McDon-
ald and Davis.

As soon as dinner was disposed of, the sentries posted
and the mules and horses picketed near the wagons, several ,
details were made by the Adjutant to search through the
creek bottom, and a detachment of the cavalry ordered to
scour the open prairie on all sides, to find out if possible the
secret of the bloody pants.

In about half an hour after all the details had left the
camp, one of the cavalry soldiers of the searching party
returned, rode up to a group of officers who were smoking
their pipes around a blazing fire of old logs, near the bank of
the creek, and reported that some of the infantry had just

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Online LibraryHenry InmanStories of the old Santa Fe trail → online text (page 11 of 18)