THE OLD SANTA FE TRAIL
COLONEL HENRY INMAN
Part 2 out of 8
rude supplement to the immense saddle.
The load, which is termed a carga, was generally three hundred pounds.
Two arrieros, or packers, place the goods on the mule's back,
one, the cargador, standing on the near side, his assistant on
the other. The carga is then hoisted on top of the saddle if it
is a single package; or if there are two of equal size and weight,
one on each side, coupled by a rope, which balances them on the
animal. Another stout rope is then thrown over all, drawn as tightly
as possible under the belly, and laced round the packs, securing
them firmly in their place. Over the load, to protect it from rain,
is thrown a square piece of matting called a petate. Sometimes,
when a mule is a little refractory, he is blindfolded by a thin
piece of leather, generally embroidered, termed the tapojos, and
he remains perfectly quiet while the process of packing is going on.
When the load is securely fastened in its place, the blinder is
removed. The man on the near side, with his knee against the mule
for a purchase, as soon as the rope is hauled taut, cries out "Adios,"
and his assistant answers "Vaya!" Then the first says again, "Anda!"
upon which the mule trots off to its companions, all of which feed
around until the animals of the whole train are packed. It seldom
requires more than five minutes for the two men to complete the
packing of the animal, and in that time is included the fastening
of the aperejo. It is surprising to note the degree of skill
exercised by an experienced packer, and his apparently abnormal
strength in handling the immense bundles that are sometimes
transported. By the aid of his knees used as a fulcrum, he lifts
a package and tosses it on the mule's back without any apparent
effort, the dead weight of which he could not move from the ground.
An old-time atajo or caravan of pack-mules generally numbered from
fifty to two hundred, and it travelled a jornado, or day's march of
about twelve or fifteen miles. This day's journey was made without
any stopping at noon, because if a pack-mule is allowed to rest,
he generally tries to lie down, and with his heavy load it is
difficult for him to get on his feet again. Sometimes he is badly
strained in so doing, perhaps ruined forever. When the train starts
out on the trail, the mules are so tightly bound with the ropes
which confine the load that they move with great difficulty;
but the saddle soon settles itself and the ropes become loosened
so that they have frequently to be tightened. On the march the
arriero is kept busy nearly all the time; the packs are constantly
changing their position, frequently losing their balance and
falling off; sometimes saddle, pack, and all swing under the
animal's belly, and he must be unloaded and repacked again.
On arriving at the camping-ground the pack-saddles with their loads
are ranged in regular order, their freight being between the saddles,
covered with the petates to protect it from the rain, and generally
a ditch is dug around to carry off the water, if the weather is stormy.
After two or three days' travel each mule knows its own pack and
saddle, and comes up to it at the proper moment with an intelligence
that is astonishing. If an animal should come whose pack is
somewhere else, he is soundly kicked in the ribs by the rightful mule,
and sent bruised and battered to his place. He rarely makes a mistake
in relation to the position of his own pack the second time.
This method of transportation was so cheap, because of the low rate
of wages, that wagon-freighting, even in the most level region,
could not compete with it. Five dollars a month was the amount paid
to the muleteers, but it was oftener five with rations, costing
almost nothing, of corn and beans. Meat, if used at all, was found
by the arrieros themselves.
On the trail the mule-train is under a system of discipline almost
as severe as that on board of a man-of-war. Every individual
employed is assigned to his place and has certain duties to perform.
There is a night-herder, called the savanero, whose duty it is
to keep the animals from straying too far away, as they are all
turned loose to shift for themselves, depending upon the grass alone
for their subsistence. Each herd has a mulera, or bell-mare,
which wears a bell hanging to a strap around her neck, and is kept
in view of the other animals, who will never leave her. If the mare
is taken away from the herd, every mule becomes really melancholy
and is at a loss what to do or where to go. The cook of the party,
or madre (mother) as he is called, besides his duty in preparing
the food, must lead the bell-mule ahead of the train while travelling,
the pack-animals following her with a devotion that is remarkable.
Sometimes in traversing the narrow ledges cut around the sides of
a precipitous trail, or crossing a narrow natural bridge spanning
the frightful gorges found everywhere in the mountains, a mule
will be incontinently thrown off the slippery path, and fall hundreds
of feet into the yawning canyon below. Generally instant death
is their portion, though I recall an instance, while on an expedition
against the hostile Indians thirty years ago, where a number of mules
of our pack-train, loaded with ammunition, tumbled nearly five hundred
feet down an almost perpendicular chasm, and yet some of them got
on their feet again, and soon rejoined their companions, without
having suffered any serious injury.
The wagons so long employed in this trade, after their first
introduction in 1824, were manufactured in Pittsburgh, their capacity
being about a ton and a half, and they were drawn by eight mules
or the same number of oxen. Later much larger wagons were employed
with nearly double the capacity of the first, hauled by ten and
twelve mules or oxen. These latter were soon called prairie-schooners,
which name continued to linger until transportation across the plains
by wagons was completely extinguished by the railroads.
Under Mexican rule excessive tariff imposts were instituted,
amounting to about a hundred per cent upon goods brought from the
United States, and for some years, during the administration of
Governor Manuel Armijo, a purely arbitrary duty was demanded of
five hundred dollars for every wagon-load of merchandise brought
into the Province, whether great or small, and regardless of its
intrinsic value. As gold and silver were paid for the articles
brought by the traders, they were also required to pay a heavy duty
on the precious metals they took out of the country. Yankee ingenuity,
however, evaded much of these unjust taxes. When the caravan
approached Santa Fe, the freight of three wagons was transferred
to one, and the empty vehicles destroyed by fire; while to avoid
paying the export duty on gold and silver, they had large false
axletrees to some of the wagons, in which the money was concealed,
and the examining officer of the customs, perfectly unconscious of
the artifice, passed them.
The army, in its expeditions against the hostile Indian tribes,
always employed wagons in transporting its provisions and munitions
of war, except in the mountains, where the faithful pack-mule was
substituted. The American freighters, since the occupation of
New Mexico by the United States, until the transcontinental railroad
usurped their vocation, used wagons only; the Mexican nomenclature
was soon dropped and simple English terms adopted: caravan became
train, and majordomo, the person in charge, wagon-master. The latter
was supreme. Upon him rested all the responsibility, and to him
the teamsters rendered absolute obedience. He was necessarily a man
of quick perception, always fertile in expedients in times of
emergency, and something of an engineer; for to know how properly
to cross a raging stream or a marshy slough with an outfit of fifty
or sixty wagons required more than ordinary intelligence. Then in
the case of a stampede, great clear-headedness and coolness were
needed to prevent loss of life.
Stampedes were frequently very serious affairs, particularly with
a large mule-train. Notwithstanding the willingness and patient
qualities of that animal, he can act as absurdly as a Texas steer,
and is as easily frightened at nothing. Sometimes as insignificant
a circumstance as a prairie-dog barking at the entrance to his burrow,
a figure in the distance, or even the shadow of a passing cloud
will start every animal in the train, and away they go, rushing into
each other, and becoming entangled in such a manner that both drivers
and mules have often been crushed to death. It not infrequently
happened that five or six of the teams would dash off and never
could be found. I remember one instance that occurred on the trail
between Fort Hays and Fort Dodge, during General Sheridan's
winter campaign against the allied plains tribes in 1868. Three of
the wagons were dragged away by the mules, in a few moments were
out of sight, and were never recovered, although diligent search
was made for them for some days. Ten years afterward a farmer,
who had taken up a claim in what is now Rush County, Kansas,
discovered in a ravine on his place the bones of some animals,
decayed parts of harness, and the remains of three army-wagons,
which with other evidence proved them to be the identical ones
lost from the train so many years before.
The largest six-mule wagon-train that was ever strung out on the
plains transported the supplies for General Custer's command during
the winter above referred to. It comprised over eight hundred
army-wagons, and was four miles in length in one column, or one mile
when in four lines--the usual formation when in the field.
The animals of the train were either hobbled or herded at night,
according to the locality; if in an Indian country, always hobbled
or, preferably, tied up to the tongue of the wagon to which they
belonged. The hobble is simply a strip of rawhide, with two slides
of the same material. Placed on the front legs of the mule just
at the fetlock, the slides pushed close to the limb, the animal
could move around freely enough to graze, but was not able to travel
very fast in the event of a stampede. In the Indian country, it was
usual at night, or in the daytime when halting to feed, to form
a corral of the wagons, by placing them in a circle, the wheels
interlocked and the tongues run under the axles, into which circle
the mules, on the appearance of the savages, were driven, and which
also made a sort of fortress behind which the teamsters could more
effectually repel an attack.
In the earlier trading expeditions to Santa Fe, the formation and
march of the caravan differed materially from that of the army-train
in later years. I here quote Gregg, whose authority on the subject
has never been questioned. When all was ready to move out on the
broad sea of prairie, he said:
We held a council, at which the respective claims of the
different aspirants for office were considered, leaders
selected, and a system of government agreed upon--as is
the standing custom of these promiscuous caravans.
A captain was proclaimed elected, but his powers were not
defined by any constitutional provision; consequently,
they were very vague and uncertain. Orders being only
viewed as mere requests, they are often obeyed or neglected
at the caprice of the subordinates. It is necessary to
observe, however, that the captain is expected to direct
the order of travel during the day and to designate the
camping-ground at night, with many other functions of
general character, in the exercise of which the company
find it convenient to acquiesce.
After this comes the task of organizing. The proprietors
are first notified by proclamation to furnish a list of
their men and wagons. The latter are generally apportioned
into four divisions, particularly when the company is large.
To each of these divisions, a lieutenant is appointed,
whose duty it is to inspect every ravine and creek on the
route, select the best crossings, and superintend what is
called in prairie parlance the forming of each encampment.
There is nothing so much dreaded by inexperienced travellers
as the ordeal of guard duty. But no matter what the
condition or employment of the individual may be, no one
has the slightest chance of evading the common law of
the prairies. The amateur tourist and the listless loafer
are precisely in the same wholesome predicament--they must
all take their regular turn at the watch. There is usually
a set of genteel idlers attached to every caravan, whose
wits are forever at work in devising schemes for whiling
away their irksome hours at the expense of others.
By embarking in these trips of pleasure, they are enabled
to live without expense; for the hospitable traders seldom
refuse to accommodate even a loafing companion with a berth
at their mess without charge. But these lounging attaches
are expected at least to do good service by way of guard
duty. None are ever permitted to furnish a substitute,
as is frequently done in military expeditions; for he that
would undertake to stand the tour of another besides
his own would scarcely be watchful enough for dangers
of the prairies. Even the invalid must be able to produce
unequivocal proofs of his inability, or it is a chance
if the plea is admitted.
The usual number of watchers is eight, each standing a
fourth of every alternate night. When the party is small,
the number is generally reduced, while in the case of
very small bands, they are sometimes compelled for safety's
sake to keep watch on duty half the night. With large
caravans the captain usually appoints eight sergeants
of the guard, each of whom takes an equal portion of men
under his command.
The wild and motley aspect of the caravan can be but
imperfectly conceived without an idea of the costumes of
its various members. The most fashionable prairie dress
is the fustian frock of the city-bred merchant, furnished
with a multitude of pockets capable of accommodating a
variety of extra tackling. Then there is the backwoodsman
with his linsey or leather hunting-shirt--the farmer with
his blue jean coat--the wagoner with his flannel sleeve
vest--besides an assortment of other costumes which go
to fill up the picture.
In the article of firearms there is also an equally
interesting medley. The frontier hunter sticks to his
rifle, as nothing could induce him to carry what he terms
in derision "the scatter-gun." The sportsman from the
interior flourishes his double-barrelled fowling-piece
with equal confidence in its superiority. A great many
were furnished beside with a bountiful supply of pistols
and knives of every description, so that the party made
altogether a very brigand-like appearance.
"Catch up! Catch up!" is now sounded from the captain's
camp and echoed from every division and scattered group
along the valley. The woods and dales resound with the
gleeful yells of the light-hearted wagoners who, weary of
inaction and filled with joy at the prospect of getting
under way, become clamorous in the extreme. Each teamster
vies with his fellow who shall be soonest ready; and it
is a matter of boastful pride to be the first to cry out,
The uproarious bustle which follows, the hallooing of those
in pursuit of animals, the exclamations which the unruly
brutes call forth from their wrathful drivers, together
with the clatter of bells, the rattle of yokes and harness,
the jingle of chains, all conspire to produce an uproarious
confusion. It is sometimes amusing to observe the athletic
wagoner hurrying an animal to its post--to see him heave
upon the halter of a stubborn mule, while the brute as
obstinately sets back, determined not to move a peg till
his own good pleasure thinks it proper to do so--his whole
manner seeming to say, "Wait till your hurry's over."
I have more than once seen a driver hitch a harnessed animal
to the halter, and by that process haul his mulishness
forward, while each of his four projected feet would leave
a furrow behind.
"All's set!" is finally heard from some teamster--
"All's set," is directly responded from every quarter.
"Stretch out!" immediately vociferates the captain.
Then the "heps!" to the drivers, the cracking of whips,
the trampling of feet, the occasional creak of wheels,
the rumbling of the wagons, while "Fall in" is heard from
head-quarters, and the train is strung out and in a few
moments has started on its long journey.
With an army-train the discipline was as perfect as that of a garrison.
The wagon-master was under the orders of the commander of the troops
which escorted the caravan, the camps were formed with regard to
strategic principles, sentries walked their beats and were visited
by an officer of the day, as if stationed at a military post.
Unquestionably the most expert packer I have known is Chris. Gilson,
of Kansas. In nearly all the expeditions on the great plains and
in the mountains he has been the master-spirit of the pack-trains.
General Sheridan, who knew Gilson long before the war, in Oregon
and Washington, regarded the celebrated packer with more than
ordinary friendship. For many years he was employed by the government
at the suggestion of General Sheridan, to teach the art of packing
to the officers and enlisted men at several military posts in the West.
He received a large salary, and for a long period was stationed at
the immense cavalry depot of Fort Riley, in Kansas. Gilson was also
employed by the British army during the Zulu war in Africa,
as chief packer, at a salary of twenty dollars a day. Now, however,
since the railroads have penetrated the once considered impenetrable
fastnesses of the mountains, packing will be relegated to the lost arts.
FIGHT WITH COMANCHES.
Early in the spring of 1828, a company of young men residing in the
vicinity of Franklin, Missouri, having heard related by a neighbour
who had recently returned the wonderful story of a passage across
the great plains, and the strange things to be seen in the land of
the Greasers, determined to explore the region for themselves;
making the trip in wagons, an innovation of a startling character,
as heretofore only pack-animals had been employed in the limited trade
with far-off Santa Fe. The story of their journey can best be told
in the words of one of the party:--
We had about one thousand miles to travel, and as there was
no wagon-road in those early days across the plains to the
mountains, we were compelled to take our chances through
the vast wilderness, seeking the best route we could.
No signs of life were visible except the innumerable buffalo
and antelope that were constantly crossing our trail.
We moved on slowly from day to day without any incident
worth recording and arrived at the Arkansas; made the
passage and entered the Great American Desert lying beyond,
as listless, lonesome, and noiseless as a sleeping sea.
Having neglected to carry any water with us, we were obliged
to go withot a drop for two days and nights after leaving
the river. At last we reached the Cimarron, a cool,
sparkling stream, ourselves and our animals on the point
of perishing. Our joy at discovering it, however, was
short-lived. We had scarcely quenched our thirst when
we saw, to our dismay, a large band of Indians camped on
its banks. Their furtive glances at us, and significant
looks at each other, aroused our worst suspicions, and
we instinctively felt we were not to get away without
serious trouble. Contrary to our expectations, however,
they did not offer to molest us, and we at once made up
our minds they preferred to wait for our return, as we
believed they had somehow learned of our intention to bring
back from New Mexico a large herd of mules and ponies.
We arrived in Santa Fe on the 20th of July, without further
adventure, and after having our stock of goods passed
through the custom house, were granted the privilege of
selling them. The majority of the party sold out in a
very short time and started on their road to the States,
leaving twenty-one of us behind to return later.
On the first day of September, those of us who had remained
in Santa Fe commenced our homeward journey. We started
with one hundred and fifty mules and horses, four wagons,
and a large amount of silver coin. Nothing of an eventful
character occurred until we arrived at the Upper Cimarron
Springs, where we intended to encamp for the night.
But our anticipations of peaceable repose were rudely
dispelled; for when we rode up on the summit of the hill,
the sight that met our eyes was appalling enough to excite
the gravest apprehensions. It was a large camp of
Comanches, evidently there for the purpose of robbery
and murder. We could neither turn back nor go on either
side of them on account of the mountainous character of
the country, and we realized, when too late, that we were
in a trap.
There was only one road open to us; that right through
the camp. Assuming the bravest look possible, and keeping
our rifles in position for immediate action, we started
on the perilous venture. The chief met us with a smile
of welcome, and said, in Spanish: "You must stay with us
to-night. Our young men will guard your stock, and we have
plenty of buffalo meat."
Realizing the danger of our situation, we took advantage
of every moment of time to hurry through their camp.
Captain Means, Ellison, and myself were a little distance
behind the wagons, on horseback; observing that the balance
of our men were evading them, the blood-thirsty savages
at once threw off their masks of dissimulation and in an
instant we knew the time for a struggle had arrived.
The Indians, as we rode on, seized our bridle-reins and
began to fire upon us. Ellison and I put spurs to our
horses and got away, but Captain Means, a brave man,
was ruthlessly shot and cruelly scalped while the life-blood
was pouring from his ghastly wounds.
We succeeded in fighting them off until we had left their
camp half a mile behind, and as darkness had settled down
on us, we decided to go into camp ourselves. We tied our
gray bell-mare to a stake, and went out and jingled the
bell, whenever any of us could do so, thus keeping the
animals from stampeding. We corralled our wagons for
better protection, and the Indians kept us busy all night
resisting their furious charges. We all knew that death
at our posts would be infinitely preferable to falling
into their hands; so we resolved to sell our lives as
dearly as possible.
The next day we made but five miles; it was a continuous
fight, and a very difficult matter to prevent their
capturing us. This annoyance was kept up for four days;
they would surround us, then let up as if taking time to
renew their strength, to suddenly charge upon us again,
and they continued thus to harass us until we were almost
exhausted from loss of sleep.
After leaving the Cimarron, we once more emerged on the
open plains and flattered ourselves we were well rid of
the savages; but about twelve o'clock they came down on us
again, uttering their demoniacal yells, which frightened
our horses and mules so terribly, that we lost every hoof.
A member of our party, named Hitt, in endeavouring to
recapture some of the stolen stock, was taken by the
savages, but luckily escaped from their clutches, after
having been wounded in sixteen parts of his body;
he was shot, tomahawked, and speared. When the painted
demons saw that one of their number had been killed by us,
they left the field for a time, while we, taking advantage
of the temporary lull, went back to our wagons and built
breastworks of them, the harness, and saddles. From noon
until two hours in the night, when the moon went down,
the savages were apparently confident we would soon fall
a prey to them, and they made charge after charge upon
our rude fortifications.
Darkness was now upon us. There were two alternatives
before us: should we resolve to die where we were, or
attempt to escape in the black hours of the night?
It was a desperate situation. Our little band looked
the matter squarely in the face, and, after a council
of war had been held, we determined to escape, if possible.
In order to carry out our resolve, it was necessary to
abandon the wagons, together with a large amount of silver
coin, as it would be impossible to take all of the precious
stuff with us in our flight; so we packed up as much of it
as we could carry, and, bidding our hard-earned wealth
a reluctant farewell, stepped out in the darkness like
spectres and hurried away from the scene of death.
Our proper course was easterly, but we went in a northerly
direction in order to avoid the Indians. We travelled
all that night, the next day, and a portion of its night
until we reached the Arkansas River, and, having eaten
nothing during that whole time excepting a few prickly-pears,
were beginning to feel weak from the weight of our burdens
and exhaustion. At this point we decided to lighten
our loads by burying all of the money we had carried
thus far, keeping only a small sum for each man.
Proceeding to a small island in the river, our treasure,
amounting to over ten thousand silver dollars, was cached
in the ground between two cottonwood trees.
Believing now that we were out of the usual range of
the predatory Indians, we shot a buffalo and an antelope
which we cooked and ate without salt or bread; but no meal
has ever tasted better to me than that one.
We continued our journey northward for three or four days
more, when, reaching Pawnee Fork, we travelled down it for
more than a week, arriving again on the Old Santa Fe Trail.
Following the Trail three days, we arrived at Walnut Creek,
then left the river again and went eastwardly to Cow Creek.
When we reached that point, we had become so completely
exhausted and worn out from subsisting on buffalo meat
alone, that it seemed as if there was nothing left for
us to do but lie down and die. Finally it was determined
to send five of the best-preserved men on ahead to
Independence, two hundred miles, for the purpose of
procuring assistance; the other fifteen to get along
as well as they could until succour reached them.
I was one of the five selected to go on in advance, and
I shall never forget the terrible suffering we endured.
We had no blankets, and it was getting late in the fall.
Some of us were entirely barefooted, and our feet so sore
that we left stains of blood at every step. Deafness, too,
seized upon us so intensely, occasioned by our weak
condition, that we coud not hear the report of a gun fired
at a distance of only a few feet.
At one place two of our men laid down their arms, declaring
they could carry them no farther, and would die if they
did not get water. We left them and went in search of some.
After following a dry branch several miles, we found
a muddy puddle from which we succeeded in getting half
a bucket full, and, although black and thick, it was life
for us and we guarded it with jealous eyes. We returned
to our comrades about daylight, and the water so refreshed
them they were able to resume the weary march. We travelled
on until we arrived at the Big Blue River, in Missouri,
on the bank of which we discovered a cabin about fifteen
miles from Independence. The occupants of the rude shanty
were women, seemingly very poor, but they freely offered us
a pot of pumpkin they were stewing. When they first saw us,
they were terribly frightened, because we looked more like
skeletons than living beings. They jumped on the bed while
we were greedily devouring the pumpkin, but we had to
refuse some salt meat which they had also proffered,
as our teeth were too sore to eat it. In a short time
two men came to the cabin and took three of our men
home with them. We had subsisted for eleven days on
one turkey, a coon, a crow, and some elm bark, with an
occasional bunch of wild grapes, and the pictures we
presented to these good people they will never, probably,
forget; we had not tasted bread or salt for thirty-two days.
The next day our newly found friends secured horses and
guided us to Independence, all riding without saddles.
One of the party had gone on to notify the citizens of
our safety, and when we arrived general muster was going on,
the town was crowded, and when the people looked upon us
the most intense excitement prevailed. All business was
suspended; the entire population flocked around us to hear
the remarkable story of our adventures, and to render us
the assistance we so much needed. We were half-naked,
foot-sore, and haggard, presenting such a pitiable picture
that the greatest sympathy was immediately aroused in
We then said that behind us on the Trail somewhere, fifteen
comrades were struggling toward Independence, or were
already dead from their sufferings. In a very few minutes
seven men with fifteen horses started out to rescue them.
They were gone from Independence several days, but had the
good fortune to find all the men just in time to save them
from starvation and exhaustion. Two were discovered
a hundred miles from Independence, and the remainder
scattered along the Trail fifty miles further in their rear.
Not more than two of the unfortunate party were together.
The humane rescuers seemingly brought back nothing but
living skeletons wrapped in rags; but the good people of
the place vied with each other in their attentions, and
under their watchful care the sufferers rapidly recuperated.
One would suppose that we had had enough of the great plains
after our first trip; not so, however, for in the spring
we started again on the same journey. Major Riley, with
four companies of regular soldiers, was detailed to escort
the Santa Fe traders' caravans to the boundary line between
the United States and Mexico, and we went along to recover
the money we had buried, the command having been ordered to
remain in camp to await our return until the 20th of October.
We left Fort Leavenworth about the 10th of May, and were
soon again on the plains. Many of the troops had never
seen any buffalo before, and found great sport in wantonly
slaughtering them. At Walnut Creek we halted to secure
a cannon which had been thrown into that stream two seasons
previously, and succeeded in dragging it out. With a seine
made of brush and grape vine, we caught more fine fish than
we could possibly dispose of. One morning the camp was
thrown into the greatest state of excitement by a band of
Indians running an enormous herd of buffalo right into us.
The troops fired at them by platoons, killing hundreds
We marched in two columns, and formed a hollow square
at night when we camped, in which all slept excepting
those on guard duty. Frequently some one would discover
a rattlesnake or a horned toad in bed with him, and it
did not take him a very long time to crawl out of his
On the 10th of July, we arrived at the dividing line
separating the two countries, and went into camp. The next
day Major Riley sent a squad of soldiers to escort myself
and another of our old party, who had helped bury the
ten thousand dollars, to find it. It was a few miles
further up the Arkansas than our camp, in the Mexican
limits, and when we reached the memorable spot on the
island, we found the coin safe, but the water had
washed the earth away, and the silver was exposed to view
to excite the cupidity of any one passing that way;
there were not many travellers on that lonely route in
those days, however, and it would have been just as secure,
probably, had we simply poured it on the ground.
We put the money in sacks and deposited it with Major Riley,
and, leaving the camp, started for Santa Fe with Captain
Bent as leader of the traders. We had not proceeded far
when our advanced guard met Indians. They turned, and when
within two hundred yards of us, one man named Samuel Lamme
was killed, his body being completely riddled with arrows.
His head was cut off, and all his clothes stripped from
his body. We had a cannon, but the Mexicans who hauled it
had tied it up in such a way that it could not be utilized
in time to effect anything in the first assault; but when
at last it was turned loose upon the Indians, they fled
in dismay at the terrible noise.
The troops at the crossing of the Arkansas, hearing the
firing, came to our assistance. The next morning the
hills were covered by fully two thousand Indians, who had
evidently congregated there for the purpose of annihilating
us, and the coming of the soldiers was indeed fortunate;
for as soon as the cowardly savages discovered them
they fled. Major Riley accompanied us on our march for
a few days, and, seeing no more Indians, he returned to
We travelled on for a week, then met a hundred Mexicans
who were out on the plains hunting buffalo. They had
killed a great many and were drying the meat. We waited
until they were ready to return and then all started for
Santa Fe together.
At Rabbit-Ear Mountain the Indians had constructed
breastworks in the brush, intending to fight it out there.
The Mexicans were in the advance and had one of their
number killed before discovering the enemy. We passed
Point of Rocks and camped on the river. One of the
Mexicans went out hunting and shot a huge panther;
next morning he asked a companion to go with him and help
skin the animal. They saw the Indians in the brush, and
the one who had killed the panther said to the other,
"Now for the mountains"; but his comrade retreated,
and was despatched by the savages almost within reach
of the column.
We now decided to change our destination, intending to go
to Taos instead of Santa Fe, but the governor of the
Province sent out troops to stop us, as Taos was not a
place of entry. The soldiers remained with us a whole week,
until we arrived at Santa Fe, where we disposed of our goods
and soon began to make preparations for our return trip.
When we were ready to start back, seven priests and a
number of wealthy families, comfortably fixed in carriages,
accompanied us. The Mexican government ordered Colonel
Viscarra of the army, with five troops of cavalry,
to guard us to the camp of Major Riley.
We experienced no trouble until we arrived at the
Cimarron River. About sunset, just as we were preparing
to camp for the night, the sentinels saw a body of a
hundred Indians approaching; they fired at them and ran
to camp. Knowing they had been discovered, the Indians
came on and made friendly overtures; but the Pueblos who
who were with the command of Colonel Viscarra wanted to
fight them at once, saying the fellows meant mischief.
We declined to camp with them unless they would agree to
give up their arms; they pretended they were willing to
do so, when one of them put his gun at the breast of our
interpreter and pulled the trigger. In an instant a bloody
scene ensued; several of Viscarra's men were killed,
together with a number of mules. Finally the Indians
were whipped and tried to get away, but we chased them
some distance and killed thirty-five. Our friendly Pueblos
were delighted, and proceeded to scalp the savages,
hanging the bloody trophies on the points of their spears.
That night they indulged in a war-dance which lasted
until nearly morning.
We were delighted to see a beautiful sunshiny day after
the horrors of the preceding night, and continued our march
without farther interruption, safely arriving at the camp
on the boundary line, where Major Riley was waiting for us,
as we supposed; but his time having expired the day before,
he had left for Fort Leavenworth. A courier was despatched
to him, however, as Colonel Viscarra desired to meet the
American commander and see his troops. The courier overtook
Major Riley a short distance away, and he halted for us
to come up. Both commands then went into camp, and spent
several days comparing the discipline of the armies of
the two nations, and having a general good time.
Colonel Viscarra greatly admired our small arms, and
took his leave in a very courteous manner.
We arrived at Fort Leavenworth late in the season, and
from there we all scattered. I received my share of the
money we had cached on the island, and bade my comrades
farewell, only a few of whom I have ever seen since.
Mr. Hitt in his notes of this same perilous trip says:
When the grass had sufficiently started to insure the
subsistence of our teams, our wagons were loaded with
a miscellaneous assortment of merchandise and the first
trader's caravan of wagons that ever crossed the plains
left Independence. Before we had travelled three weeks
on our journey, we were one evening confronted with the
novel fact of camping in a country where not a stick of
wood could be found. The grass was too green to burn,
and we were wondering how our fire could be started
with which to boil our coffee, or cook our bread. One of
our number, however, while diligently searching for
something to utilize, suddenly discovered scattered all
around him a large quantity of buffalo-chips, and he soon
had an excellent fire under way, his coffee boiling and
his bacon sizzling over the glowing coals.
We arrived in Santa Fe without incident, and as ours
was the first train of wagons that ever traversed the
narrow streets of the quaint old town, it was, of course,
a great curiosity to the natives.
After a few days' rest, sight-seeing, and purchasing stock
to replace our own jaded animals, preparations were made
for the return trip. All the money we had received for
our goods was in gold and silver, principally the latter,
in consequence of which, each member of the company had
about as much as he could conveniently manage, and,
as events turned out, much more than he could take care of.
On the morning of the third day out, when we were not
looking for the least trouble, our entire herd was
stampeded, and we were left upon the prairie without
as much as a single mule to pursue the fast-fleeing
thieves. The Mexicans and Indians had come so suddenly
upon us, and had made such an effective dash, that we
stood like children who had broken their toys on a stone
at their feet. We were so unprepared for such a stampede
that the thieves did not approach within rifle-shot range
of the camp to accomplish their object; few of them
coming within sight, even.
After the excitement had somewhat subsided and we began
to realize what had been done, it was decided that while
some should remain to guard the camp, others must go to
Santa Fe to see if they could not recover the stock.
The party that went to Santa Fe had no difficulty in
recognizing the stolen animals; but when they claimed them,
they were laughed at by the officials of the place.
They experienced no difficulty, however, in purchasing
the same stock for a small sum, which they at once did,
and hurried back to camp. By this unpleasant episode
we learned of the stealth and treachery of the miserable
people in whose country we were. We, therefore, took every
precaution to prevent a repetition of the affair, and
kept up a vigilant guard night and day.
Matters progressed very well, and when we had travelled
some three hundred miles eastwardly, thinking we were
out of range of any predatory bands, as we had seen no
sign of any living thing, we relaxed our vigilance somewhat.
One morning, just before dawn, the whole earth seemed to
resound with the most horrible noises that ever greeted
human ears; every blade of grass appeared to re-echo
the horrid din. In a few moments every man was at his post,
rifle in hand, ready for any emergency, and almost
immediately a large band of Indians made their appearance,
riding within rifle-shot of the wagons. A continuous
battle raged for several hours, the savages discharging
a shot, then scampering off out of range as fast as
their ponies could carry them. Some, more brave than
others would venture closer to the corral, and one of these
got the contents of an old-fashioned flint-lock musket
in his bowels.
We were careful not all to fire at the same time, and
several of our party, who were watching the effects of
our shots declared they could see the dust fly out of
the robes of the Indians as the bullets struck them.
It was learned afterward that a number of the savages
were wounded, and that several had died. Many were armed
with bows and arrows only, and in order to do any execution
were obliged to come near the corral. The Indians soon
discovered they were getting the worst of the fight, and,
having run off all the stock, abandoned the conflict,
leaving us in possession of the camp, but it can hardly
be said masters of the situation.
There we were; thirty-five pioneers upon the wild prairie,
surrounded by a wily and terribly cruel foe, without
transportation of any character but our own legs, and with
five hundred miles of dangerous, trackless waste between
us and the settlements. We had an abundance of money,
but the stuff was absolutely worthless for the present,
as there was nothing we could buy with it.
After the last savage had ridden away into the sand hills
on the opposite side of the river, each one of us had a
thrilling story to relate of his individual narrow escapes.
Though none was killed, many received wounds, the scars
of which they carried through life. I was wounded six
times. Once was in the thigh by an arrow, and once while
loading my rifle I had my ramrod shot off close to the
muzzle of my piece, the ball just grazing my shoulder,
tearing away a small portion of the skin. Others had
equally curious experiences, but none were seriously injured.
After the excitement incident to the battle had subsided,
the realization of our condition fully dawned upon us.
When we were first robbed, we were only a short distance
from Santa Fe, where our money easily procured other stock;
now there were three hundred miles behind us to that place,
and the picture was anything but pleasant to contemplate.
To transport supplies for thirty-five men seemed impossible.
Our money was now a burden greater than we could bear;
what was to be done with it? We would have no use for it
on our way to the settlements, yet the idea of abandoning
it seemed hard to accept. A vigilant guard was kept up
that day and night, during which time we all remained
in camp, fearing a renewal of the attack.
The next morning, as there were no apparent signs of
the Indians, it was decided to reconnoitre the surrounding
country in the hope of recovering a portion, at least,
of our lost stock, which we thought might have become
separated from the main herd. Three men were detailed
to stay in the old camp to guard it while the remainder,
in squads, scoured the hills and ravines. Not a horse
or mule was visible anywhere; the stampede had been
complete--not even the direction the animals had taken
could be discovered.
It was late in the afternoon when I, having left my
companions to continue the search and returning to camp
alone, had gotten within a mile of it, that I thought I saw
a horse feeding upon an adjoining hill. I at once turned
my steps in that direction, and had proceeded but a short
distance when three Indians jumped from their ambush in
the grass between me and the wagons and ran after me.
The men in camp had been watching my every movement,
and as soon as they saw the savages were chasing me,
they started in pursuit, running at their greatest speed
to my rescue.
The savages soon overtook me, and the first one that
came up tackled me, but in an instant found himself flat
on the ground. Before he could get up, the second one
shared the same fate. By this time the third one arrived,
and the two I had thrown grabbed me by the legs so that
I could no longer handle myself, while the third one had
a comparatively easy task in pushing me over. Fortunately,
my head fell toward the camp and my fast-approaching
comrades. The two Indians held my legs to prevent my
rising, while the third one, who was standing over me,
drew from his belt a tomahawk, and shrugging his head
in his blanket, at the same time looking over his shoulder
at my friends, with a tremendous effort and that peculiar
grunt of all savages, plunged his hatchet, as he supposed,
into my head, but instead of scuffling to free myself
and rise to my feet, I merely turned my head to one side
and the wicked weapon was buried in the ground, just
grazing my ear.
The Indian, seeing that he had missed, raised his hatchet
and once more shrugging his head in his blanket, and
turning to look over his other shoulder, attempted to
strike again, but the blow was evaded by a sudden toss
of his intended victim's head. Not satisfied with two
abortive trials, the third attempt must be made to brain me,
and repeating the same motions, with a great "Ugh!" he
seemed to put all his strength into the blow, which, like
the others, missed, and spent its force in the earth.
By this time the rescuing party had come near enough to
prevent the savage from risking another effort, and he then
addressed the other Indians in Spanish, which I understood,
saying, "We must run or the Americans will kill us!"
and loosening his grasp, he scampered off with his
companions as fast as his legs could take him, hurried on
by several pieces of lead fired from the old flintlocks
of the traders.
By sundown every man had returned to the forlorn camp,
but not an animal had been recovered. Then, with tired
limbs and weary hearts, we took turns at guarding the
wagons through the long night. The next morning each man
shouldered his rifle, and having had his proportion of
the provisions and cooking utensils assigned him,
we broke camp, and again turned to take a last look at
the country behind us, in which we had experienced so much
misfortune, and started on foot for our long march through
the dangerous region ahead of us.
Scarcely had we gotten out of sight of our abandoned camp,
when one of the party, happening to turn his eyes in that
direction, saw a large volume of smoke rising in the
vicinity; then we knew that all of our wagons, and
everything we had been forced to leave, were burning up.
This proved that, although we had been unable to discover
any signs of Indians, they had been lurking around us
all the time, and this fact warned us to exercise the
utmost vigilance in guarding our persons.
Though our burdens were very heavy, the first few days
were passed without anything to relieve the dreadful
monotony of our wearisome march; but each succeeding
twenty-four hours our loads became visibly lighter,
as our supplies were rapidly diminishing. It had already
become apparent that even in the exercise of the greatest
frugality, our stock of provisions would not last until
we could reach the settlements, so some of the most expert
shots were selected to hunt for game; but even in this
they were not successful, the very birds seeming to have
abandoned the country in its extreme desolation.
After eight days' travel, despite our most rigid economy,
an inventory showed that there was less than one hundred
pounds of flour left. Day after day the hunters repeated
the same old story: "No game!" For two weeks the allowance
of flour to each individual was but a spoonful, stirred
in water and taken three times a day.
One afternoon, however, fortune smiled upon the weary party;
one of the hunters returned to camp with a turkey he had
killed. It was soon broiling over a fire which willing
hands had kindled, and our drooping spirits were revived
for a while. While the turkey was cooking, a crow flew
over the camp, and one of the company, seizing a gun,
despatched it, and in a few moments it, too, was sizzling
along with the other bird.
Now, in addition to the pangs of hunger, a scarcity of
water confronted us, and one day we were compelled to
resort to a buffalo-wallow and suck the moist clay where
the huge animals had been stamping in the mud. We were
much reduced in strength, yet each day added new
difficulties to our forlorn situation. Some became so weak
and exhausted that it was with the greatest effort they
could travel at all. To divide the company and leave
the more feeble behind to starve, or to be murdered by
the merciless savages, was not considered for a moment;
but one alternative remained, and that was speedily accepted.
As soon as a convenient camping-ground could be found,
a halt was made, shelter established, and things made as
comfortable as possible. Here the weakest remained to rest,
while some of the strongest scoured the surrounding country
in search of game. During this temporary halt the hunters
were more successful than before, having killed two
buffaloes, besides some smaller animals, in one morning.
Again the natural dry fuel of the prairies was called
into requisition, and juicy steak was once more broiling
over the fire.
With an abundance to eat and a few days' rest, the whole
company revived and were enabled to renew their march
homeward. We were now in the buffalo range, and every day
the hunters were fortunate enough to kill one or more of
the immense animals, thus keeping our larder in excellent
condition, and starvation averted.
Doubting whether our good fortune in relation to food
would continue for the remainder of our march, and our
money becoming very cumbersome, it was decided by a majority
that at the first good place we came to we would bury it
and risk its being stolen by our enemies. When not more
than half of our journey had been accomplished, we came
to an island in the river to which we waded, and there,
between two large trees, dug a hole and deposited our
treasure. We replaced the sod over the spot, taking the
utmost precaution to conceal every sign of having disturbed
the ground. Though no Indians had been seen for several
days, a sharp lookout was kept in all directions for fear
that some lurking savage might have been watching our
movements. This task finished, with much lighter burdens,
but more anxious than ever, we again took up our march
eastwardly, and, thus relieved, were able to carry a
greater quantity of provisions.
Having journeyed until we supposed we were within a few
miles of the settlements, some of our number, scarcely able
to travel, thought the best course to pursue would be to
divide the company; one portion to press on, the weaker
ones to proceed by easier stages, and when the advance
arrived at the settlements, they were to send back a relief
for those plodding on wearily behind them. Soon a few
who were stronger than the others reached Independence,
Missouri, and immediately sent a party with horses to
bring in their comrades; so, at last, all got safely to
In the spring of 1829, Major Bennett Riley of the United States army
was ordered with four companies of the Sixth Regular Infantry to
march out on the Trail as the first military escort ever sent for
the protection of the caravans of traders going and returning between
Western Missouri and Santa Fe. Captain Philip St. George Cooke,
of the Dragoons, accompanied the command, and kept a faithful journal
of the trip, from which, and the official report of Major Riley to
the Secretary of War, I have interpolated here copious extracts.
The journal of Captain Cooke states that the battalion marched
from Fort Leavenworth, which was then called a cantonment, and,
strange to say, had been abandoned by the Third Infantry on account
of its unhealthiness. It was the 5th of June that Riley crossed
the Missouri at the cantonment, and recrossed the river again at
a point a little above Independence, in order to avoid the Kaw,
or Kansas, which had no ferry.
After five days' marching, the command arrived at Round Grove, where
the caravan had been ordered to rendezvous and wait for the escort.
The number of traders aggregated about seventy-nine men, and their
train consisted of thirty-eight wagons drawn by mules and horses,
the former preponderating. Five days' marching, at an average of
fifteen miles a day, brought them to Council Grove. Leaving the
Grove, in a short time Cow Creek was reached, which at that date
abounded in fish; many of which, says the journal, "weighed several
pounds, and were caught as fast as the line could be handled."
The captain does not describe the variety to which he refers;
probably they were the buffalo--a species of sucker, to be found
to-day in every considerable stream in Kansas.
Having reached the Upper Valley, bordered by high sand hills,
the journal continues:
From the tops of the hills, we saw far away, in almost
every direction, mile after mile of prairie, blackened
with buffalo. One morning, when our march was along the
natural meadows by the river, we passed through them for
miles; they opened in front and closed continually in
the rear, preserving a distance scarcely over three hundred
paces. On one occasion, a bull had approached within
two hundred yards without seeing us, until he ascended
the river bank; he stood a moment shaking his head, and
then made a charge at the column. Several officers
stepped out and fired at him, two or three dogs also rushed
to meet him; but right onward he came, snorting blood
from mouth and nostril at every leap, and, with the speed
of a horse and the momentum of a locomotive, dashed
between two wagons, which the frightened oxen nearly upset;
the dogs were at his heels and soon he came to bay, and,
with tail erect, kicked violently for a moment, and then
sank in death--the muscles retaining the dying rigidity
About the middle of July, the command arrived at its destination--
Chouteau's Island, then on the boundary line between the United States
and New Mexico.
Our orders were to march no further; and, as a protection
to the trade, it was like the establishment of a ferry
to the mid-channel of a river.
Up to this time, traders had always used mules or horses.
Our oxen were an experiment, and it succeeded admirably;
they even did better when water was very scarce, which is
an important consideration.
A few hours after the departure of the trading company,
as we enjoyed a quiet rest on a hot afternoon, we saw
beyond the river a number of horsemen riding furiously
toward our camp. We all flocked out of the tents to hear
the news, for they were soon recognized as traders.
They stated that the caravan had been attacked, about
six miles off in the sand hills, by an innumerable host
of Indians; that some of their companions had been killed;
and they had run, of course, for help. There was not a
moment's hesitation; the word was given, and the tents
vanished as if by magic. The oxen which were grazing
near by were speedily yoked to the wagons, and into the
river we marched. Then I deemed myself the most unlucky
of men; a day or two before, while eating my breakfast,
with my coffee in a tin cup--notorious among chemists and
campaigners for keeping it hot--it was upset into my shoe,
and on pulling off the stocking, it so happened that the
skin came with it. Being thus hors de combat, I sought to
enter the combat on a horse, which was allowed; but I was
put in command of the rear guard to bring up the baggage
train. It grew late, and the wagons crossed slowly;
for the river unluckily took that particular time to
rise fast, and, before all were over, we had to swim it,
and by moonlight. We reached the encampment at one o'clock
at night. All was quiet, and remained so until dawn,
when, at the sound of our bugles, the pickets reported
they saw a number of Indians moving off. On looking
around us, we perceived ourselves and the caravan in the
most unfavorable defenceless situation possible--in the
area of a natural amphitheatre of sand hills, about fifty
feet high, and within gun-shot all around. There was
the narrowest practicable entrance and outlet.
We ascertained that some mounted traders, in spite of all
remonstrance and command, had ridden on in advance, and
when in the narrow pass beyond this spot, had been suddenly
beset by about fifty Indians; all fled and escaped save one,
who, mounted on a mule, was abandoned by his companions,
overtaken, and slain. The Indians, perhaps, equalled the
traders in number, but notwithstanding their extraordinary
advantage of ground, dared not attack them when they
made a stand among their wagons; and the latter, all well
armed, were afraid to make a single charge, which would
have scattered their enemies like sheep.
Having buried the poor fellow's body, and killed an ox for
breakfast, we left this sand hollow, which would soon have
been roasting hot, and advancing through the defile--of
which we took care to occupy the commanding ground--
proceeded to escort the traders at least one day's march
When the next morning broke clear and cloudless, the command
was confronted by one of those terrible hot winds, still
frequent on the plains. The oxen with lolling tongues
were incapable of going on; the train was halted, and the
suffering animals unyoked, but they stood motionless,
making no attempt to graze. Late that afternoon, the
caravan pushed on for about ten miles, where was the
sandy bed of a dry creek, and fortunately, not far from
the Trail, up the stream, a pool of water and an acre
or two of grass was discovered. On the surface of the
water floated thick the dead bodies of small fish, which
the intense heat of the sun that day had killed.
Arriving at this point, it was determined to march no
further into the Mexican territory. At the first light
next day we were in motion to return to the river and
the American line, and no further adventure befell us.
While permanently encamped at Chouteau's Island, which is situated
in the Arkansas River, the term of enlistment of four of the soldiers
of Captain Cooke's command expired, and they were discharged.
In his journal he says:
Contrary to all advice they determined to return to
Missouri. After having marched several hundred miles
over a prairie country, being often on high hills
commanding a vast prospect, without seeing a human being
or a sign of one, and, save the trail we followed, not
the slightest indication that the country had ever been
visited by man, it was exceedingly difficult to credit
that lurking foes were around us, and spying our motions.
It was so with these men; and being armed, they set out
on the first of August on foot for the settlements.
That same night three of the four returned. They reported
that, after walking about fifteen miles, they were
surrounded by thirty mounted Indians. A wary old soldier
of their number succeeded in extricating them before any
hostile act had been committed; but one of them, highly
elated and pleased at their forbearance, insisted on
returning among them to give them tobacco and shake hands.
In this friendly act he was shot down. The Indians
stripped him in an incredibly short time, and as quickly
dispersed to avoid a shot; and the old soldier, after
cautioning the others to reserve their fire, fired among
them, and probably with some effect. Had the others done
the same, the Indians would have rushed upon them before
they could have reloaded. They managed to make good
their retreat in safety to our camp.
We were instructed to wait here for the return of the
caravan, which was expected early in October.
Our provisions consisted of salt and half rations of flour,
besides a reserve of fifteen days' full rations--as to the
rest, we were dependent upon hunting. When the buffalo
became scarce, or the grass bad, we marched to other
ground, thus roving up and down the river for eighty
miles. The first thing we did after camping was to dig
and construct, with flour barrels, a well in front of
each company; water was always found at the depth of
from two to four feet varying with the corresponding
height of the river, but clear and cool. Next we would
build sod fire-places; these, with network platforms of
buffalo hide, used for smoking and drying meat, formed a
tolerable additional defence, at least against mounted men.
Hunting was a military duty, done by detail, parties of
fifteen or twenty going out with a wagon. Completely
isolated, and beyond support or even communication,
in the midst of many thousands of Indians, the utmost
vigilance was maintained. Officer of the guard every
fourth night; I was always awake and generally in motion
the whole time of duty. Night alarms were frequent; when,
as we all slept in our clothes, we were accustomed to
assemble instantly, and with scarcely a word spoken,
take our places in the grass in front of each face of
the camp, where, however wet, we sometimes lay for hours.
While encamped a few miles below Chouteau's Island, on the
eleventh of August, an alarm was given, and we were under
arms for an hour until daylight. During the morning,
Indians were seen a mile or two off, leading their horses
through the ravines. A captain, however, with eighteen
men was sent across the river after buffalo, which we saw
half a mile distant. In his absence, a large body of
Indians came galloping down the river, as if to charge
the camp, but the cattle were secured in good time.
A company, of which I was lieutenant, was ordered to
cross the river and support the first. We waded in some
disorder through the quicksands and current, and just
as we neared a dry sandbar in the middle, a volley was
fired at us by a band of Indians, who that moment rode
to the water's edge. The balls whistled very near,
but without damage; I felt an involuntary twitch of
the neck, and wishing to return the compliment instantly,
I stooped down, and the company fired over my head,
with what execution was not perceived, as the Indians
immediately retired out of our view. This had passed
in half a minute, and we were astonished to see, a little
above, among some bushes on the same bar, the party we had
been sent to support, and we heard that they had abandoned
one of the hunters, who had been killed. We then saw,
on the bank we had just left, a formidable body of the
enemy in close order, and hoping to surprise them,
we ascended the bed of the river. In crossing the channel
we were up to the arm-pits, but when we emerged on the
bank, we found that the Indians had detected the movement,
and retreated. Casting eyes beyond the river, I saw a
number of the Indians riding on both sides of a wagon
and team which had been deserted, urging the animals
rapidly toward the hills. At this juncture the adjutant
sent an order to cross and recover the body of the slain
hunter, who was an old soldier and a favourite. He was
brought in with an arrow still transfixing his breast,
but his scalp was gone.
On the fourteenth of October, we again marched on our
return. Soon after, we saw smokes arise over the distant
hills; evidently signals, indicating to different parties
of Indians our separation and march, but whether preparatory
to an attack upon the Mexicans or ourselves, or rather
our immense drove of animals, we could only guess.
Our march was constantly attended by great collections
of buffalo, which seemed to have a general muster, perhaps
for migration. Sometimes a hundred or two--a fragment
from the multitude--would approach within two or three
hundred yards of the column, and threaten a charge which
would have proved disastrous to the mules and their drivers.
Under the friendly cover of the shades of evening, on the
eighth of November, our tatterdemalion veterans marched
into Fort Leavenworth, and took quiet possession of the
miserable huts and sheds left by the Third Infantry in
the preceding May.
A ROMANTIC TRAGEDY.
As early as November, 1842, a rumour was current in Santa Fe, and
along the line of the Trail, that parties of Texans had left the
Republic for the purpose of attacking and robbing the caravans to
the United States which were owned wholly by Mexicans. In consequence
of this, several Americans were accused of being spies and acting
in collusion with the Texans; many were arrested and carried to
Santa Fe, but nothing could be proved against them, and the rumours
of the intended purposes of the Texans died out.
Very early in May, however, of the following year, 1843, a certain
Colonel Snively did organize a small force, comprising about two
hundred men, which he led from Northern Texas, his home, to the
line of the Trail, with the intention of attacking and robbing the
Mexican caravans which were expected to cross the plains that month
and in June.
When he arrived at the Arkansas River, he was there reinforced by
another Texan colonel, named Warfield with another small command.
This officer, with about twenty men, had some time
previously attacked the village of Mora, on the Mexican
frontier, killing five men, and driving off a number
of horses. They were afterward followed by a party of
Mexicans, however, who stampeded and carried away, not only
their own horses, but those of the Texans. Being left
afoot, the latter burned their saddles, and walked to
Bent's Fort, where they were disbanded; whence Warfield
passed to Snively's camp, as before mentioned.
The Texans now advanced along the Santa Fe Trail, beyond
the sand hills south of the Arkansas, when they discovered
that a party of Mexicans had passed toward the river.
They soon came upon them, and a skirmish ensuing, eighteen
Mexicans were killed, and as many wounded, five of whom
afterward died. The Texans suffered no injury, though
the Mexicans were a hundred in number. The rest were all
taken prisoners except two, who escaped and bore the news
to General Armijo, who was encamped with a large force
at Cold Spring, one hundred and forty miles beyond.
Kit Carson figured conspicuously in this fight, or, rather, immediately
afterward. His recital differs somewhat from Gregg's account,
but the stories substantially agree. Kit said that in April,
previously to the assault upon Armijo's caravan, he had hired out
as hunter to Bent's and Colonel St. Vrain's train caravan, which was
then making its annual tour eastwardly. When he arrived at the
crossing of Walnut Creek, he found the encampment of Captain
Philip St. George Cooke, of the United States army, who had been
detailed with his command to escort the caravans to the New Mexican
boundary. His force consisted of four troops of dragoons.
The captain informed Carson that coming on behind him from the States
was a caravan belonging to a very wealthy Mexican.
It was a richly loaded train, and in order to insure its better
protection while passing through that portion of the country infested
by the blood-thirsty Comanches and Apaches, the majordomo in charge
had hired one hundred Mexicans as a guard. The teamsters and others
belonging to the caravan had heard that a large body of Texans were
lying in wait for them, and intended to murder and plunder them in
retaliation for the way Armijo had treated some Texan prisoners
he had got in his power at Santa Fe some time before. Of course,
it was the duty of the United States troops to escort this caravan
to the New Mexico line, but there their duty would end, as they
had no authority to cross the border. The Mexicans belonging to
the caravan were afraid they would be at the mercy of the Texans
after they had parted company with the soldiers, and when Kit Carson
met them, they, knowing the famous trapper and mountaineer well,
asked him to take a letter to Armijo, who was then governor of
New Mexico, and resided in Santa Fe, for which service they would
give him three hundred dollars in advance. The letter contained
a statement of the fears they entertained, and requested the general
to send Mexican troops at once to meet them.
Carson, who was then not blessed with much money, eagerly accepted
the task, and immediately started on the trail for Bent's Fort,
in company with another old mountaineer and bosom friend named Owens.
In a short time they arrived at the Fort, where Owens decided not
to go any further, because they were informed by the men at Bent's
that the Utes had broken out, and were scattered along the Trail
at the most dangerous points, and he was fearful that his life
would be endangered if he attempted to make Santa Fe.
Kit, however, nothing daunted, and determined to do the duty for
which he had been rewarded so munificently, started out alone on
his perilous trip. Mr. Bent kindly furnished him with the best and
fastest horse he had in his stables, but Kit, realizing the dangers
to which he would be exposed, walked, leading his animal, ready to
mount him at a moment's notice; thus keeping him in a condition that
would enable Carson to fly and make his escape if the savages tried
to capture him. His knowledge of the Indian character, and wonderful
alertness in moments of peril, served him well; for he reached the
village of the hostile Indians without their discovering his proximity.
Hiding himself in a rocky, bush-covered canyon, he stayed there until
night came on, when he continued his journey in the darkness.
He took the trail to Taos, where he arrived in two or three days,
and presented his letter to the alcalde, to be sent on to Santa Fe
by special messenger.
He was to remain at Taos until an answer from the governor arrived,
and then return with it as rapidly as possible to the train.
While at Taos, he was informed that Armijo had already sent out
a company of one hundred soldiers to meet the caravan, and was to
follow in person, with a thousand more.
This first hundred were those attacked by Colonel Snively, as related
by Gregg, who says that two survived, who carried the news of the
disaster to Armijo at Cold Spring; but Carson told me that only one
got away, by successfully catching, during the heat of the fight,
a Texan pony already saddled, that was grazing around loose.
With him he made Armijo's camp and related to the Mexican general
the details of the terribly unequal battle. Armijo, upon receipt
of the news, "turned tail," and retreated to Santa Fe.
Before Armijo left Santa Fe with his command, he had received the
letter which Carson had brought from the caravan, and immediately
sent one in reply for Carson to carry back, thinking that the old
mountaineer might reach the wagons before he did. Carson, with his
usual promptness, started on the Trail for the caravan, and came up
with it while it was escorted by the dragoons, thus saving it from
the fate that the Texans intended for it, as they dared not attempt
any interference in the presence of the United States troops.
The rumour current in Santa Fe in relation to a probable raid of
parties of Texans along the line of the Trail, for the purpose of
attacking and robbing the caravans of the wealthy Mexican traders,
was received with so little credence by the prominent citizens of
the country, that several native trains left for the Missouri River
without their proprietors having the slightest apprehension that
they would not reach their destination, and make the return trip
Among those who had no fear of marauders was Don Antonio Jose Chavez,
who, in February, 1843, left Santa Fe for Independence with an outfit
consisting of a number of wagons, his private coach, several servants
and other retainers. Don Antonio was a very wealthy Mexican engaged
in a general mercantile business on a large scale in Albuquerque,
who made all his purchases of goods in St. Louis, which was then
the depot of supplies for the whole mountain region. He necessarily
carried with him on these journeys a large amount of money, in silver,
which was the legal currency of the country, and made but one trip
yearly to replenish the stock of goods required in his extensive
trade in all parts of Mexico.
Upon his arrival at Westport Landing, as Kansas City was then called,
he would take the steamboat for St. Louis, leaving his coach, wagons,
servants, and other appointments of his caravan behind him in the
village of Westport, a few miles from the Landing.
Westport was at that time, like all steamboat towns in the era of
water navigation, the harbor of as great a lot of ruffians as ever
escaped the gallows. There was especially a noted gang of land pirates,
the members of which had long indulged in speculations regarding the
probable wealth of the Mexican Don, and how much coin he generally
carried with him. They knew that it must be considerable from the
quantity of goods that always came by boat with him from St. Louis.
At last a devilish plot was arranged to get hold of the rich trader's
money. Nine men were concerned in the robbery, nearly all of whom
were residents of the vicinity of Westport; their leader was one
John McDaniel, recently from Texas, from which government he claimed
to hold a captain's commission, and one of their number was a doctor.
It was evidently the intention of this band to join Warfield's party
on the Arkansas, and engage in a general robbery of the freight
caravans of the Santa Fe Trail belonging to the Mexicans; but they
had determined that Chavez should be their first victim, and in order
to learn when he intended to leave Santa Fe on his next trip east,
they sent their spies out on the great highway.
They did not dare attempt their contemplated robbery, and murder
if necessary, in the State of Missouri, for there were too many
citizens of the border who would never have permitted such a thing
to go unpunished; so they knew that their only chance was to effect it
in the Indian country of Kansas, where there was little or no law.
Cow Creek, which debouches into the Arkansas at Hutchinson, where
the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad crosses the historic
little stream, was, like Big and Little Coon creeks, a most
dangerous point in the transcontinental passage of freight caravans
and overland coaches, in the days of the commerce of the prairies.
It was on this purling little prairie brook that McDaniel's band
lay in wait for the arrival of the ill-fated Don Antonio, whose
imposing equipage came along, intending to encamp on the bank,
one of the usual stopping-places on the route.
The Don was taken a few miles south of the Trail, and his baggage
rifled. All of his party were immediately murdered, but the wealthy
owner of the caravan was spared for a few moments in order to make
a confession of where his money was concealed, after which he was
shot down in cold blood, and his body thrown into a ravine.
It appears, however, that the ruffians had not completed their
bloody work so effectually as they thought; for one of the Mexican's
teamsters escaped, and, making his way to Leavenworth, reported
the crime, and was soon on his way back to the Trail, guiding a
detachment of United States troops in pursuit of the murderers.
John Hobbs, scout, trapper, and veteran plainsman, happened to be
hunting buffalo on Pawnee Fork, on the ground where Larned is now
situated, with a party from Bent's Fort. They were just on the point
of crossing the Trail at the mouth of the Pawnee when the soldiers
from Fort Leavenworth came along, and from them Hobbs and his
companions first learned of the murder of Chavez on Cow Creek.
As the men who were out hunting were all familiar with every foot
of the region they were then in, the commanding officer of the troops
induced them to accompany him in his search for the murderers.
Hobbs and his men cheerfully accepted the invitation, and in about
four days met the band of cut-throats on the broad Trail, they little
dreaming that the government had taken a hand in the matter.
The band tried to escape by flight, but Hobbs shot the doctor's horse
from under him, and a soldier killed another member of the band,
when the remainder surrendered.
The money, about twelve or fifteen thousand dollars, was all
recovered, and the murderers taken to St. Louis, where some were hung
and some imprisoned, the doctor escaping the death penalty by turning
state's evidence. His sentence was incarceration in the penitentiary,
from which he was pardoned after remaining there two years.
Hobbs met the doctor some years after in San Francisco. He was then
leading an honest life, publishing a newspaper, and begged his captor
not to expose him.
The money taken from the robbers was placed in charge of Colonel Owens,
a friend of the Chavez family and a leading Santa Fe trader.
He continued on to the river, purchased a stock of goods, and
sent back the caravan to Santa Fe in charge of Doctor Conley of
Arriving at his destination, the widow of the deceased Chavez
employed the good doctor to sell the goods and take the sole
supervision of her immense business interests, and there is a touch
of romance attached to the terrible Kansas tragedy, which lies in
the fact that the doctor in about two years married the rich widow,
and lived very happily for about a decade, dying then on one of the
large estates in New Mexico, which he had acquired by his fortunate
union with the amiable Mexican lady.
MEXICO DECLARES WAR.
Mexico declared war against the United States in April, 1846. In the
following May, Congress passed an act authorizing the President to
call into the field fifty thousand volunteers, designed to operate
against Mexico at three distinct points, and consisting of the
Southern Wing, or the Army of Occupation, the Army of the Centre,
and the Army of the West, the latter to direct its march upon the
city of Santa Fe. The original plan was, however, somewhat changed,
and General Kearney, who commanded the Army of the West, divided his
forces into three separate commands. The first he led in person
to the Pacific coast. One thousand volunteers, under command of
Colonel A. W. Doniphan, were to make a descent upon the State of
Chihuahua, while the remainder and greater part of the forces, under
Colonel Sterling Price, were to garrison Santa Fe after its capture.
There is a pretty fiction told of the breaking out of the war
between Mexico and the United States. Early in the spring of 1846,
before it was known or even conjectured that a state of war would be
declared to exist between this government and Mexico, a caravan
of twenty-nine traders, on their way from Independence to Santa Fe,
beheld, just after a storm and a little before sunset, a perfectly
distinct image of the Bird of Liberty, the American eagle, on the
disc of the sun. When they saw it they simultaneously and almost
involuntarily exclaimed that in less than twelve months the Eagle
of Liberty would spread his broad plumes over the plains of the West,
and that the flag of our country would wave over the cities of
New Mexico and Chihuahua. The student of the classics will remember
that just before the assassination of Julius Caesar, both Brutus
and Cassius, while in their places in the Roman Senate, saw chariots
of fire in the sky. One story is as true, probably, as the other,
though separated by centuries of time.
The Army of the West, under General Stephen W. Kearney, consisted of
two batteries of artillery, commanded by Major Clark; three squadrons
of the First United States Dragoons, commanded by Major Sumner;
the First Regiment of Missouri Cavalry, commanded by Colonel Doniphan,
and two companies of infantry, commanded by Captain Aubrey.
This force marched in detached columns from Fort Leavenworth, and
on the 1st of August, 1846, concentrated in camp on the Santa Fe
Trail, nine miles below Bent's Fort.
Accompanying the expedition was a party of the United States
topographical engineers, under command of Lieutenant W. H. Emory.
In writing of this expedition, so far as its march relates to the
Old Santa Fe Trail, I shall quote freely from Emory's report and
The practicability of marching a large army over the waste,
uncultivated, uninhabited prairie regions of the West was universally
regarded as problematical, but the expedition proved completely
successful. Provisions were conveyed in wagons, and beef-cattle
driven along for the use of the men. These animals subsisted
entirely by grazing. To secure them from straying off at night,
they were driven into corrals formed of the wagons, or tethered to
an iron picket-pin driven into the ground about fifteen inches.
At the outset of the expedition many laughable scenes took place.
Our horses were generally wild, fiery, and unused to military
trappings and equipments. Amidst the fluttering of banners,
the sounding of bugles, the rattling of artillery, the clattering
of sabres and also of cooking utensils, some of them took fright
and scampered pell-mell over the wide prairie. Rider, arms and
accoutrements, saddles, saddle-bags, tin cups, and coffee-pots,
were frequently left far behind in the chase. No very serious or
fatal accident, however, occurred from this cause, and all was
right as soon as the affrighted animals were recovered.
The Army of the West was, perhaps, composed of as fine material as
any other body of troops then in the field. The volunteer corps
consisted almost entirely of young men of the country.
On the 9th of July, a separate detachment of the troops arrived at
the Little Arkansas, where the Santa Fe Trail crosses that stream--
now in McPherson County, Kansas. The mosquitoes, gnats, and black
flies swarmed in that locality and nearly drove the men and animals
frantic. While resting there, a courier came from the commands
of General Kearney and Colonel Doniphan, stating that their men
were in a starving condition, and asking for such provisions as
could be spared. Lieutenant-Colonel Ruff of Doniphan's regiment,
in command of the troops now camped on the Little Arkansas, was
almost destitute himself. He had sent couriers forward to Pawnee Fork
to stop a train of provisions at that point and have it wait there
until he came up with his force, and he now directed the courier from
Kearney to proceed to the same place and halt as many wagons loaded
with supplies, as would suffice to furnish the three detachments
with rations. One of the couriers, in attempting to ford the fork
of the Pawnee, which was bank-full, was drowned. His body was found
and given a military funeral; he was the first man lost on the
expedition after it had reached the great plains, one having been
drowned in the Missouri, at Fort Leavenworth, before the troops left.
The author of _Doniphan's Expedition_ says:
In approaching the Arkansas, a landscape of the most
imposing and picturesque nature makes its appearance.
While the green, glossy undulations of the prairie to
the right seem to spread out in infinite succession,
like waves subsiding after a storm, and covered with
herds of gambolling buffalo, on the left, towering to
the height of seventy-five to a hundred feet, rise the
sun-gilt summits of the sand hills, along the base of
which winds the broad, majestic river, bespeckled with
verdant islets, thickly beset with cottonwood timber,
the sand hills resembling heaps of driven snow.
I refer to this statement to show how wonderfully the settlement
of the region has changed the physical aspect of that portion
bordering the Arkansas River. Now those sand hills are covered
with verdure, and this metamorphosis has taken place within the
last thirty years; for the author of this work well remembers how
the great sand dunes used to shine in the sunlight, when he first
saw them a third of a century ago. In coming from Fort Leavenworth
up the Smoky Hill route to the Santa Fe Trail, where the former
joined the latter at Pawnee Rock, the contour of the Arkansas
could be easily traced by the white sand hills referred to,
long before it was reached.
On the 15th of July the combined forces formed a junction at
Pawnee Fork, now within the city limits of Larned, Kansas. The river
was impassable, but General Kearney, with the characteristic energy
of his family, determined not to be delayed, and to that end caused
great trees to be cut down and their trunks thrown across the stream,
over which the army passed, carrying in their arms the sick, the
baggage, tents, and other paraphernalia; the animals being forced
to swim. The empty bodies of the wagons, fastened to their running
gear, were floated across by means of ropes, and hauled up the
slippery bank by the troops. This required two whole days; and on
the morning of the 17th, not an accident having occurred, the entire
column was en route again, the infantry, as is declared in the
official reports, keeping pace with the cavalry right along.
Their feet, however, became terribly blistered, and, like the
Continentals at Valley Forge, their tracks were marked with blood.
In a day or two after the command had left Pawnee Fork, while camping
in a beautiful spot on the bank of the Arkansas, an officer, Major
Howard, who had been sent forward to Santa Fe some time previously
by the general to learn something of the feeling of the people
in relation to submitting to the government of the United States,
returned and reported
that the common people, or plebeians, were inclined to
favour the conditions of peace proposed by General Kearney;
viz. that if they would lay down their arms and take the
oath of allegiance to the government of the United States,
they should, to all intents and purposes, become citizens
of the same republic, receiving the protection and enjoying
the liberties guaranteed to other American citizens; but
that the patricians who held the offices and ruled the
country were hostile, and were making warlike preparations.
He added, further, that two thousand three hundred men
were already armed for the defence of the capital, and
that others were assembling at Taos.
This intelligence created quite a sensation in camp, and it was
believed, and earnestly hoped, that the entrance of the troops
into Santa Fe would be desperately opposed; such is the pugnacious
character of the average American the moment he dons the uniform
of a soldier.
The army arrived at the Cimarron crossing of the Arkansas on the 20th,
and during the march of nearly thirty miles from their last camp,
a herd of about four hundred buffalo suddenly emerged from the
Arkansas, and broke through the long column. In an instant the
troops charged upon the surprised animals with guns, pistols, and
even drawn sabres, and many of the huge beasts were slaughtered
as they went dashing and thundering among the excited troopers and
On the 29th an express from Bent's Fort brought news to General
Kearney from Santa Fe that Governor Armijo had called the chief men
together to deliberate on the best means of defending the city;
that hostile preparations were rapidly going on in all parts of
New Mexico; and that the American advance would be vigorously opposed.
Some Mexican prisoners were taken near Bent's Fort, with blank letters
on their persons addressed to the general; it was supposed this piece
of ingenuity was resorted to to deceive the American residents at
the fort. These men were thought to be spies sent out from Santa Fe
to get an idea of the strength of the army; so they were shown
everything in and around camp, and then allowed to depart in peace
for Santa Fe, to report what they had seen.
On the same date, the Army of the West crossed the Arkansas and camped
on Mexican soil about eight miles below Bent's Fort, and now the
utmost vigilance was exercised; for the troops had not only to keep
a sharp lookout for the Mexicans, but for the wily Comanches, in whose
country their camp was located. Strong picket and camp guards were
posted, and the animals turned loose to graze, guarded by a large
force. Notwithstanding the care taken to confine them within certain
limits, a pack of wolves rushed through the herd, and in an instant
it was stampeded, and there ensued a scene of the wildest confusion.
More than a thousand horses were dashing madly over the prairie,
their rage and fright increased at every jump by the lariats and
picket-pins which they had pulled up, and which lashed them like
so many whips. After desperate exertions by the troops, the majority
were recovered from thirty to fifty miles distant; nearly a hundred,
however, were absolutely lost and never seen again.
At this camp the troops were visited by the war chief of the Arapahoes,
who manifested great surprise at the big guns, and declared that
the Mexicans would not stand a moment before such terrible instruments
of death, but would escape to the mountains with the utmost despatch.
On the 1st of August a new camp near Bent's Fort was established,
from whence twenty men under Lieutenant de Courcy, with orders to
proceed through the mountains to the valley of Taos, to learn
something of the disposition and intentions of the people, and to
rejoin General Kearney on the road to Santa Fe. Lieutenant de Courcy,
in his official itinerary, relates the following anecdote:
We took three pack-mules laden with provisions, and as
we did not expect to be long absent, the men took no extra
clothing. Three days after we left the column our mules
fell down, and neither gentle means nor the points of our
sabres had the least effect in inducing them to rise.
Their term of service with Uncle Sam was out. "What's to
be done?" said the sergeant. "Dismount!" said I.
"Off with your shirts and drawers, men! tie up the sleeves
and legs, and each man bag one-twentieth part of the flour!"
Having done this, the bacon was distributed to the men also,
and tied to the cruppers of their saddles. Thus loaded,
we pushed on, without the slightest fear of our provision
train being cut off.
The march upon Santa Fe was resumed on the 2d of August.
As we passed Bent's Fort the American flag was raised,
in compliment to our troops, and, like our own, streamed
most animatingly in the gale that swept from the desert,
while the tops of the houses were crowded with Mexican girls
and Indian squaws, intently beholding the American army.
On the 15th of the month, the army neared Las Vegas; when two spies
who had been sent on in advance to see how matters stood returned
and reported that two thousand Mexicans were camped at the pass
a few miles beyond the village, where they intended to offer battle.
Upon receipt of this news, the general immediately formed a line
of battle. The United States dragoons with the St. Louis mounted
volunteers were stationed in front, Major Clark with the battalion
of volunteer light artillery in the centre, and Colonel Doniphan's
regiment in the rear. The companies of volunteer infantry were
deployed on each side of the line of march as flankers. The supply
trains were next in order, with Captain Walton's mounted company
as rear guard. There was also a strong advance guard. The cartridges
were hastily distributed; the cannon swabbed and rigged; the
port-fires burning, and every rifle loaded.
In passing through the streets of the curious-looking village of
Las Vegas, the army was halted, and from the roof of a large house
General Kearney administered to the chief officers of the place
the oath of allegiance to the United States, using the sacred cross
instead of the Bible. This act completed, on marched the exultant
troops toward the canyon where it had been promised them that they
should meet the enemy.
On the night of the 16th, while encamped on the Pecos River, near
the village of San Jose, the pickets captured a son of the Mexican
General Salezar, who was acting the role of a spy, and two other
soldiers of the Mexican army. Salezar was kept a close prisoner;
but the two privates were by order of General Kearney escorted
through the camp and shown the cannon, after which they were allowed
to depart, so that they might tell what they had seen. It was
learned afterward that they represented the American army as composed
of five thousand troops, and possessing so many cannons that they
were not able to count them.
When Armijo was certain that the Army of the West was really
approaching Santa Fe, he assembled seven thousand troops, part of them
well armed, and the remainder indifferently so. The Mexican general
had written a note to General Kearney the day before the capture
of the spies, saying that he would meet him on the following day.
General Kearney, at this, hastened on, arriving at the mouth of
the Apache canyon at noon, with his whole force ready and anxious
to try the mettle of the Mexicans in battle. Emory in his
The sun shone with dazzling brightness; the guidons and
colours of each squadron, regiment, and battalion were
for the first time unfurled. The drooping horses seemed
to take courage from the gay array. The trumpeters
sounded "to horse" with spirit, and the hills multiplied
and re-echoed the call. All wore the aspect of a gala day.
About the middle of the day's march the two Pueblo Indians,
previously sent to sound the chief men of that formidable
tribe, were seen in the distance, at full speed, with arms
and legs both thumping the sides of their mules at every
stride. Something was now surely in the wind. The smaller
and foremost of the two dashed up to the general, his face
radiant with joy, and exclaimed:
"They are in the canyon, my brave; pluck up your courage
and push them out." As soon as his extravagant delight at
the prospect of a fight, and the pleasure of communicating
the news, had subsided, he gave a pretty accurate idea
of Armijo's force and position.
Shortly afterwards a rumour reached the camp that the
two thousand Mexicans assembled in the canyon to oppose us,
have quarrelled among themselves; and that Armijo, taking
advantage of the dissensions, has fled with his dragoons
and artillery to the south. It is well known that he has
been averse to a battle, but some of his people threatened
his life if he refused to fight. He had been, for some
days, more in fear of his own people than of the American
army, having seen what they are blind to--the hopelessness
As we approached the ancient town of Pecos, a large fat
fellow, mounted on a mule, came toward us at full speed,
and, extending his hand to the general, congratulated him
on the arrival of himself and army. He said with a roar
of laughter, "Armijo and his troops have gone to h---ll,
and the canyon is all clear."
On reaching the canyon, it was found to be true that the Mexican
troops had dispersed and fled to the mountains, just as the old
Arapahoe chief had said they would. There, however, they commenced
to fortify, by chopping away the timber so that their artillery
could play to better advantage upon the American lines, and by
throwing up temporary breastworks. It was ascertained afterward,
on undoubted authority, that Armijo had an army of nearly seven
thousand Mexicans, with six pieces of artillery, and the advantage
of ground, yet he allowed General Kearney, with a force of less than
two thousand, to march through the almost impregnable gorge, and on
to the capital of the Province, without any attempt to oppose him.
Thus was New Mexico conquered with but little loss relatively.
For the further details of the movements of the Army of the West,
the reader is referred to general history, as this book, necessarily,
treats only of that portion of its march and the incidents connected
with it while travelling the Santa Fe Trail.
THE VALLEY OF TAOS.
The principal settlement in New Mexico, immediately after it was
reconquered from the Indians by the Spaniards, was, of course,
Santa Fe, and ranking second to it, that of the beautiful Valle de Taos,
which derived its name from the Taosa Indians, a few of whose direct
descendants are still occupying a portion of the region. As the
pioneers in the trade with Santa Fe made their first journeys to
the capital of the Province by the circuitous route of the Taos
valley, and the initial consignments of goods from the Missouri
were disposed of in the little villages scattered along the road,
the story of the Trail would be deficient in its integrity were the
thrilling historical facts connected with the romantic region omitted.
The reader will find on all maps, from the earliest published to the
latest issued by the local railroads, a town with the name of Taos,
which never had an existence. Fernandez de Taos is the chief city,
which has been known so long by the title of the valley that perhaps
the misnomer is excusable after many years' use.
Fernandez, or Taos as it is called, was once famous for its
distilleries of whiskey, made out of the native wheat, a raw, fiery
spirit, always known in the days of the Santa Fe trade as "Taos
lightning," which was the most profitable article of barter with
the Indians, who exchanged their buffalo robes and other valuable
furs for a supply of it, at a tremendous sacrifice.
According to the statement of Gregg, the first white settler of the
fertile and picturesque valley was a Spaniard named Pando, who
established himself there about 1745. This primitive pioneer of
the northern part of the Province was constantly exposed to the raids
of the powerful Comanches, but succeeded in creating a temporary
friendship with the tribe by promising his daughter, then a young
and beautiful infant, to the chief in marriage when she arrived
at a suitable age. At the time for the ratification of her father's
covenant with the Indians, however, the maiden stubbornly refused
to fulfil her part. The savages, enraged at the broken faith of
the Spaniard, immediately swept down upon the little settlement and
murdered everybody there except the betrothed girl, whom they
carried off into captivity. She was forced to live with the chief
as his wife, but he soon became tired of her and traded her for
another woman with the Pawnees, who, in turn, sold her to a Frenchman,
a resident of St. Louis. It is said that some of the most respectable
families of that city are descended from her, and fifty years ago
there were many people living who remembered the old lady, and her
pathetic story of trials and sufferings when with the Indians.
The most tragic event in the history of the valley was the massacre
of the provisional governor of the Territory of New Mexico, with
a number of other Americans, shortly after its occupation by the
Upon General Kearney's taking possession of Santa Fe, acting under
the authority of the President, he established a civil government
and put it into operation. Charles Bent was appointed governor,
and the other offices filled by Americans and Mexicans who were
rigidly loyal to the political change. At this time the command
of the troops devolved upon Colonel Sterling Price, Colonel Doniphan,
who ranked him, having departed from Santa Fe on an expedition
against the Navajoes. Notwithstanding the apparent submission of
the natives of New Mexico, there were many malcontents among them
and the Pueblo Indians, and early in December, some of the leaders,
dissatisfied with the change in the order of things, held secret
meetings and formulated plots to overthrow the existing government.
Midnight of the 24th of December was the time appointed for the
commencement of their revolutionary work, which was to be simultaneous
all over the country. The profoundest secrecy was to be preserved,
and the most influential men, whose ambition induced them to seek
preferment, were alone to be made acquainted with the plot. No woman
was to be privy to it, lest it should be divulged. The sound of
the church bell was to be the signal, and at midnight all were to
enter the Plaza at the same moment, seize the pieces of artillery,
and point them into the streets.
The time chosen for the assault was Christmas-eve, when the soldiers
and garrison would be indulging in wine and feasting, and scattered
about through the city at the fandangoes, not having their arms in
their hands. All the Americans, without distinction, throughout
the State, and such New Mexicans as had favoured the American
government and accepted office by appointment of General Kearney,
were to be massacred or driven from the country, and the conspirators
were to seize upon and occupy the government.
The conspiracy was detected in the following manner: a mulatto girl,
residing in Santa Fe, had married one of the conspirators, and had by
degrees obtained a knowledge of their movements and secret meetings.
To prevent the effusion of blood, which would inevitably be the result
of a revolution, she communicated to Colonel Price all the facts
of which she was in possession, and warned him to use the utmost
vigilance. The rebellion was immediately suppressed, but the
restless and unsatisfied ambition of the leaders of the conspiracy
did not long permit them to remain inactive. A second and still more
dangerous conspiracy was formed. The most powerful and influential
men in the State favoured the design, and even the officers of State
and the priests gave their aid and counsel. The people everywhere,
in the towns, villages, and settlements, were exhorted to arm and
equip themselves; to strike for their faith, their religion, and
their altars; and drive the "heretics," the "unjust invaders of
the country," from their soil, and with fire and sword pursue them
to annihilation. On the 18th of January this rebellion broke out
in every part of the State simultaneously.
On the 14th of January, Governor Bent, believing the conspiracy
completely crushed, with an escort of five persons--among whom were
the sheriff and circuit attorney--had left Santa Fe to visit his
family, who resided at Fernandez.
On the 19th, he was early roused from sleep by the populace, who,
with the aid of the Pueblos of Taos, were collected in front of his
dwelling striving to gain admittance. While they were effecting
an entrance, he, with an axe, cut through an adobe wall into another
house; and the Mexican wife of the occupant, a clever though shiftless
Canadian, hearing him, with all her strength rendered him assistance.
He retreated to a room, but, seeing no way of escaping from the
infuriated assailants, who fired upon him from a window, he spoke
to his weeping wife and trembling children, and, taking paper
from his pocket, endeavoured to write; but fast losing strength,
he commended them to God and his brothers and fell, pierced by a
ball from a Pueblo. Then rushing in and tearing off his gray-haired
scalp, the Indians bore it away in triumph.
The circuit attorney, T. W. Leal, was scalped alive and dragged
through the streets, his relentless persecutors pricking him with
lances. After hours of suffering, they threw him aside in the
inclement weather, he imploring them earnestly to kill him to end
his misery. A compassionate Mexican at last closed the tragic scene
by shooting him. Stephen Lee, brother to the general, was killed
on his own housetop. Narcisse Beaubien, son of the presiding judge
of the district, hid in an outhouse with his Indian slave, at the
commencement of the massacre, under a straw-covered trough.
The insurgents on the search, thinking that they had escaped,
were leaving, but a woman servant of the family, going to the
housetop, called to them, "Kill the young ones, and they will never
be men to trouble us." They swarmed back and, by cruelly putting
to death and scalping him and his slave, added two more to the list
of unfortunate victims.
The Pueblos and Mexicans, after their cruelties at Fernandez de Taos,
attacked and destroyed Turley's Ranch on the Arroyo Hondo twelve
miles from Fernandez, or Taos. Arroyo Hondo runs along the base
of a ridge of a mountain of moderate elevation, which divides the
valley of Taos from that of the Rio Colorado, or Red River, both
flowing into the Del Norte. The trail from one place to the other
passes over the mountain, which is covered with pine, cedar, and
a species of dwarf oak; and numerous little streams run through
the many canyons.
On the bank of one of the creeks was a mill and distillery belonging
to an American named Turley, who did a thriving business. He possessed
herds of goats, and hogs innumerable; his barns were filled with
grain, his mill with flour, and his cellars with whiskey. He had
a Mexican wife and several children, and he bore the reputation of
being one of the most generous and kind-hearted of men. In times of
scarcity, no one ever sought his aid to be turned away empty-handed;
his granaries were always open to the hungry, and his purse to
When on their road to Turley's, the Pueblos murdered two men, named
Harwood and Markhead. Markhead was one of the most successful
trappers and daring men among the old mountaineers. They were on
their way to Taos with their pack-animals laden with furs, when the
savages, meeting them, after stripping them of their goods, and
securing their arms by treachery, made them mount their mules under
pretence of conducting them to Taos, where they were to be given up
to the leaders of the insurrection. They had hardly proceeded
a mile when a Mexican rode up behind Harwood and discharged his gun
into his back; he called out to Markhead that he was murdered, and
fell to the ground dead.
Markhead, seeing that his own fate was sealed, made no struggle,
and was likewise shot in the back with several bullets. Both men
were then stripped naked, scalped, and horribly mutilated; their
bodies thrown into the brush to be devoured by the wolves.
These trappers were remarkable men; Markhead, particularly, was
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