THE OLD SANTA FE TRAIL
COLONEL HENRY INMAN
Part 3 out of 8
celebrated in the mountains for his courage, reckless daring, and
many almost miraculous escapes when in the very hands of the Indians.
When some years previously he had accompanied Sir William Drummond
Stewart on one of his expeditions across the Rockies, it happened
that a half-breed Indian employed by Sir William absconded one night
with some animals, which circumstance annoyed the nobleman so much,
as it disturbed all his plans, that he hastily offered, never dreaming
that he would be taken up, to give five hundred dollars for the scalp
of the thief. The very next evening Markhead rode into camp with the
hair of the luckless horse-thief dangling at the muzzle of his rifle.
The wild crowd of rebels rode on to Turley's mill. Turley had been
warned of the impending uprising, but had treated the report with
indifference, until one morning a man in his employ, who had been
despatched to Santa Fe with several mule-loads of whiskey a few days
before, made his appearance at the gate on horseback, and hastily
informing the inmates of the mill that the New Mexicans had risen and
massacred Governor Bent and other Americans, galloped off. Even then
Turley felt assured that he would not be molested; but at the
solicitation of his men, he agreed to close the gate of the yard
around which were the buildings of the mill and distillery, and make
preparations for defence.
A few hours afterward a large crowd of Mexicans and Pueblo Indians
made their appearance, all armed with guns and bows and arrows, and,
advancing with a white flag, summoned Turley to surrender his house
and the Americans in it, guaranteeing that his own life should be
saved, but that every other American in the valley must be destroyed;
that the governor and all the Americans at Fernandez had been killed,
and that not one was to be left alive in all New Mexico.
To this summons Turley answered that he would never surrender his
house nor his men, and that if they wanted it or them, they must
The enemy then drew off, and, after a short consultation, commenced
the attack. The first day they numbered about five hundred, but were
hourly reinforced by the arrival of parties of Indians from the more
distant Pueblos, and New Mexicans from Fernandez, La Canada, and
The building lay at the foot of a gradual slope in the sierra, which
was covered with cedar bushes. In front ran the stream of the
Arroyo Hondo, about twenty yards from one side of the square, and
the other side was broken ground which rose abruptly and formed
the bank of the ravine. In the rear and behind the still-house was
some garden ground enclosed by a small fence, into which a small
wicket-gate opened from the corral.
As soon as the attack was determined upon, the assailants scattered
and concealed themselves under cover of the rocks and bushes which
surrounded the house. From these they kept up an incessant fire upon
every exposed portion of the building where they saw preparations
The Americans, on their part, were not idle; not a man but was an old
mountaineer, and each had his trusty rifle, with a good store of
ammunition. Whenever one of the besiegers exposed a hand's-breadth
of his person, a ball from an unerring barrel whistled. The windows
had been blockaded, loopholes having been left, and through these
a lively fire was maintained. Already several of the enemy had
bitten the dust, and parties were seen bearing off the wounded up
the banks of the Canada. Darkness came on, and during the night
a continual fire was kept up on the mill, whilst its defenders,
reserving their ammunition, kept their posts with stern and silent
determination. The night was spent in casting balls, cutting patches,
and completing the defences of the building. In the morning the fight
was renewed, and it was found that the Mexicans had effected a
lodgment in a part of the stables, which were separated from the
other portions of the building by an open space of a few feet.
The assailants, during the night, had sought to break down the wall,
and thus enter the main building, but the strength of the adobe and
logs of which it was composed resisted effectually all their attempts.
Those in the stable seemed anxious to regain the outside, for their
position was unavailable as a means of annoyance to the besieged, and
several had darted across the narrow space which divided it from the
other part of the building, which slightly projected, and behind
which they were out of the line of fire. As soon, however, as the
attention of the defenders was called to this point, the first man
who attempted to cross, who happened to be a Pueblo chief, was dropped
on the instant, and fell dead in the centre of the intervening space.
It appeared to be an object to recover the body, for an Indian
immediately dashed out to the fallen chief, and attempted to drag him
within the shelter of the wall. The rifle which covered the spot
again poured forth its deadly contents, and the Indian, springing
into the air, fell over the body of his chief. Another and another
met with a similar fate, and at last three rushed to the spot, and,
seizing the body by the legs and head, had already lifted it from the
ground, when three puffs of smoke blew from the barricaded windows,
followed by the sharp cracks of as many rifles, and the three daring
Indians were added to the pile of corpses which now covered the body
of the dead chief.
As yet the besieged had met with no casualties; but after the fall
of the seven Indians, the whole body of the assailants, with a shout
of rage, poured in a rattling volley, and two of the defenders fell
mortally wounded. One, shot through the loins, suffered great agony,
and was removed to the still-house, where he was laid on a large
pile of grain, as being the softest bed that could be found.
In the middle of the day the attack was renewed more fiercely than
before. The little garrison bravely stood to the defence of the mill,
never throwing away a shot, but firing coolly, and only when a fair
mark was presented to their unerring aim. Their ammunition, however,
was fast failing, and to add to the danger of their situation,
the enemy set fire to the mill, which blazed fiercely, and threatened
destruction to the whole building. Twice they succeeded in overcoming
the flames, and, while they were thus occupied, the Mexicans and
Indians charged into the corral, which was full of hogs and sheep,
and vented their cowardly rage upon the animals, spearing and shooting
all that came in their way. No sooner were the flames extinguished
in one place than they broke out more fiercely in another; and
as a successful defence was perfectly hopeless, and the numbers of
the assailants increased every moment, a council of war was held by
the survivors of the little garrison, when it was determined,
as soon as night approached, that every one should attempt to escape
as best he could.
Just at dusk a man named John Albert and another ran to the
wicket-gate which opened into a kind of enclosed space, in which were
a number of armed Mexicans. They both rushed out at the same moment,
discharging their rifles full in the face of the crowd. Albert,
in the confusion, threw himself under the fence, whence he saw his
companion shot down immediately, and heard his cries for mercy as
the cowards pierced him with knives and lances. He lay without motion
under the fence, and as soon as it was quite dark he crept over
the logs and ran up the mountain, travelled by day and night, and,
scarcely stopping or resting, reached the Greenhorn, almost dead
with hunger and fatigue. Turley himself succeeded in escaping from
the mill and in reaching the mountain unseen. Here he met a Mexican
mounted on a horse, who had been a most intimate friend of his for
many years. To this man Turley offered his watch for the use of the
horse, which was ten times more than it was worth, but was refused.
The inhuman wretch, however, affected pity and consideration for the
fugitive, and advised him to go to a certain place, where he would
bring or send him assistance; but on reaching the mill, which was
a mass of fire, he immediately informed the Mexicans of Turley's
place of concealment, whither a large party instantly proceeded and
shot him to death.
Two others escaped and reached Santa Fe in safety. The mill and
Turley's house were sacked and gutted, and all his hard-earned savings,
which were concealed in gold about the house, were discovered, and,
of course, seized upon by the victorious Mexicans.
The following account is taken from Governor Prince's chapter on the
fight at Taos, in his excellent and authentic _History of New Mexico_:--
The startling news of the assassination of the governor was
swiftly carried to Santa Fe, and reached Colonel Price the
next day. Simultaneously, letters were discovered calling
on the people of the Rio Abajo to secure Albuquerque and
march northward to aid the other insurgents; and news
speedily followed that a united Mexican and Pueblo force of
large magnitude was marching down the Rio Grande valley
toward the capital, flushed with the success of the revolt
at Taos. Very few troops were in Santa Fe; in fact, the
number remaining in the whole territory was very small,
and these were scattered at Albuquerque, Las Vegas, and
other distant points. At the first-named town were Major
Edmonson and Captain Burgwin; the former in command of the
town, and the latter with a company of the First Dragoons.
Colonel Price lost no time in taking such measures as his
limited resources permitted. Edmonson was directed to come
immediately to Santa Fe to take command of the capital; and
Burgwin to follow Price as fast as possible to the scene
of hostilities. The colonel himself collected the few
troops at Santa Fe, which were all on foot, but fortunately
included the little battalion which under Captain Aubrey
had made such extraordinary marches on the journey across
the plains as to almost outwalk the cavalry. With these
was a volunteer company formed of nearly all of the American
inhabitants of the city, under the command of Colonel Ceran
St. Vrain, who happened to be in Santa Fe, together with
Judge Beaubien, at the time of the rising at Taos.
With this little force, amounting in all to three hundred
and ten men, Colonel Price started to march to Taos, or at
all events to meet the army which was coming toward the
capital from the north and which grew as it marched by
constant accessions from the surrounding country.
The city of Santa Fe was left in charge of a garrison under
Lieutenant-Colonel Willock. While the force was small
and the volunteers without experience in regular warfare,
yet all were nerved to desperation by the belief, since
the Taos murders, that the only alternative was victory
The expedition set out on January 23d, and the next day
the Mexican army, under command of General Montoya as
commander-in-chief, aided by Generals Tafoya and Chavez,
was found occupying the heights commanding the road near
La Canada (Santa Cruz), with detachments in some strong
adobe houses near the river banks. The advance had been
seen shortly before at the rocky pass, on the road from
Pojuaque; and near there and before reaching the river, the
San Juan Pueblo Indians, who had joined the revolutionists
reluctantly and under a kind of compulsion, surrendered and
were disarmed by removing the locks from their guns.
On arriving at the Canada, Price ordered his howitzers to
the front and opened fire; and after a sharp cannonade,
directed an assault on the nearest houses by Aubrey's
battalion. Meanwhile an attempt by a Mexican detachment
to cut off the American baggage-wagons, which had not yet
come up, was frustrated by the activity of St. Vrain's
volunteers. A charge all along the line was then ordered
and handsomely executed; the houses, which, being of adobe,
had been practically so many ready-made forts, were
successively carried, and St. Vrain started in advance to
gain the Mexican rear. Seeing this manoeuvre, and fearing
its effects, the Mexicans retreated, leaving thirty-six
dead on the field. Among those killed was General Tafoya,
who bravely remained on the field after the remainder had
abandoned it, and was shot.
Colonel Price pressed on up the river as fast as possible,
passing San Juan, and at Los Luceros, on the 28th, his
little army was rejoiced at the arrival of reinforcements,
consisting of a mounted company of cavalry, Captain Burgwin's
company, which had been pushed up by forced marches on foot
from Albuquerque, and a six-pounder brought by Lieutenant
Wilson. Thus enlarged, the American force consisted of
four hundred and eighty men, and continued its advance up
the valley to La Joya, which was as far as the river road at
that time extended. Meanwhile the Mexicans had established
themselves in a narrow pass near Embudo, where the forest
was dense, and the road impracticable for wagons or cannon,
the troops occupying the sides of the mountains on both
sides of the canyon. Burgwin was sent with three companies
to dislodge them and open a passage--no easy task.
But St. Vrain's company took the west slope, and another
the right, while Burgwin himself marched through the gorge
between. The sharp-shooting of these troops did such
terrible execution that the pass was soon cleared, though
not without the display of great heroism, and some loss;
and the Americans entered Embudo without further opposition.
The difficulties of this campaign were greatly increased by
the severity of the weather, the mountains being thickly
covered with snow, and the cold so intense that a number
of men were frost-bitten and disabled. The next day Burgwin
reached Las Trampas, where Price arrived with the remainder
of the American army on the last day of January, and all
together they marched into Chamisal.
Notwithstanding the cold and snow they pressed on over the
mountain, and on the 3d of February reached the town of
Fernandez de Taos, only to find that the Mexican and Pueblo
force had fortified itself in the celebrated Pueblo of Taos,
about three miles distant. That force had diminished
considerably during the retreat from La Canada, many of the
Mexicans returning to their homes, and its greater part
now consisting of Pueblo Indians. The American troops were
worn out with fatigue and exposure, and in most urgent need
of rest; but their intrepid commander, desiring to give his
opponents no more time to strengthen their works, and full
of zeal and energy, if not of prudence, determined to
commence an immediate attack.
The two great buildings at this Pueblo, certainly the most
interesting and extraordinary inhabited structures in
America, are well known from descriptions and engravings.
They are five stories high and irregularly pyramidal in
shape, each story being smaller than the one below, in order
to allow ingress to the outer rooms of each tier from the
roofs. Before the advent of artillery these buildings were
practically impregnable, as, when the exterior ladders were
drawn up, there were no means of ingress, the side walls
being solid without openings, and of immense thickness.
Between these great buildings, each of which can accommodate
a multitude of men, runs the clear water of the Taos Creek;
and to the west of the northerly building stood the old
church, with walls of adobe from three to seven and a half
feet in thickness. Outside of all, and having its northwest
corner just beyond the church, ran an adobe wall, built for
protection against hostile Indians and which now answered
for an outer earthwork. The church was turned into a
fortification, and was the point where the insurgents
concentrated their strength; and against this Colonel Price
directed his principal attack. The six-pounder and the
howitzer were brought into position without delay, under
the command of Lieutenant Dyer, then a young graduate of
West Point, and since then chief of ordnance of the
United States army, and opened a fire on the thick adobe
walls. But cannon-balls made little impression on the
massive banks of earth, in which they embedded themselves
without doing damage; and after a fire of two hours,
the battery was withdrawn, and the troops allowed to return
to the town of Taos for their much-needed rest.
Early the next morning, the troops, now refreshed and ready
for the combat, advanced again to the Pueblo, but found
those within equally prepared. The story of the attack and
capture of this place is so interesting, both on account
of the meeting here of old and new systems of warfare--of
modern artillery with an aboriginal stronghold--and because
the precise localities can be distinguished by the modern
tourist from the description, that it seems best to insert
the official report as presented by Colonel Price.
Nothing could show more plainly how superior strong
earthworks are to many more ambitious structures of defence,
or more forcibly display the courage and heroism of those
who took part in the battle, or the signal bravery of the
accomplished Captain Burgwin which led to his untimely death.
Colonel Price writes:
"Posting the dragoons under Captain Burgwin about two
hundred and sixty yards from the western flank of the church,
I ordered the mounted men under Captains St. Vrain and Slack
to a position on the opposite side of the town, whence they
could discover and intercept any fugitives who might attempt
to escape toward the mountains, or in the direction of
San Fernando. The residue of the troops took ground about
three hundred yards from the north wall. Here, too,
Lieutenant Dyer established himself with the six-pounder
and two howitzers, while Lieutenant Hassendaubel, of Major
Clark's battalion, light artillery, remained with Captain
Burgwin, in command of two howitzers. By this arrangement
a cross-fire was obtained, sweeping the front and eastern
flank of the church. All these arrangements being made,
the batteries opened upon the town at nine o'clock A.M.
At eleven o'clock, finding it impossible to breach the
walls of the church with the six-pounder and howitzers,
I determined to storm the building. At a signal, Captain
Burgwin, at the head of his own company and that of Captain
McMillin, charged the western flank of the church, while
Captain Aubrey, infantry battalion, and Captain Barber and
Lieutenant Boon, Second Missouri Mounted Volunteers, charged
the northern wall. As soon as the troops above mentioned
had established themselves under the western wall of the
church, axes were used in the attempt to breach it, and a
temporary ladder having been made, the roof was fired.
About this time, Captain Burgwin, at the head of a small
party, left the cover afforded by the flank of the church,
and penetrating into the corral in front of that building,
endeavoured to force the door. In this exposed situation,
Captain Burgwin received a severe wound, which deprived me
of his valuable services, and of which he died on the
7th instant. Lieutenants McIlvaine, First United States
Dragoons, and Royall and Lackland, Second Regiment
Volunteers, accompanied Captain Burgwin into the corral,
but the attempt on the church door proved fruitless, and
they were compelled to retire behind the wall. In the
meantime, small holes had been cut in the western wall, and
shells were thrown in by hand, doing good execution.
The six-pounder was now brought around by Lieutenant Wilson,
who, at the distance of two hundred yards, poured a heavy
fire of grape into the town. The enemy, during all of
this time, kept up a destructive fire upon our troops.
About half-past three o'clock, the six-pounder was run up
within sixty yards of the church, and after ten rounds,
one of the holes which had been cut with the axes was
widened into a practicable breach. The storming party,
among whom were Lieutenant Dyer, of the ordnance, and
Lieutenant Wilson and Taylor, First Dragoons, entered and
took possession of the church without opposition.
The interior was filled with dense smoke, but for which
circumstance our storming party would have suffered great
loss. A few of the enemy were seen in the gallery,
where an open door admitted the air, but they retired
without firing a gun. The troops left to support the
battery on the north side were now ordered to charge on
"The enemy then abandoned the western part of the town.
Many took refuge in the large houses on the east, while
others endeavoured to escape toward the mountains.
These latter were pursued by the mounted men under Captains
Slack and St. Vrain, who killed fifty-one of them, only two
or three men escaping. It was now night, and our troops
were quietly quartered in the house which the enemy had
abandoned. On the next morning the enemy sued for peace,
and thinking the severe loss they had sustained would prove
a salutary lesson, I granted their supplication, on the
condition that they should deliver up to me Tomas, one of
their principal men, who had instigated and been actively
engaged in the murder of Governor Bent and others.
The number of the enemy at the battle of Pueblo de Taos
was between six and seven hundred, and of these one hundred
and fifty were killed, wounded not known. Our own loss was
seven killed and forty-five wounded; many of the wounded
have since died."
The capture of the Taos Pueblo practically ended the main
attempt to expel the Americans from the Territory.
Governor Montoya, who was a very influential man in the
conspiracy and styled himself the "Santa Ana of the North,"
was tried by court-martial, convicted, and executed on
February 7th, in the presence of the army. Fourteen others
were tried for participating in the murder of Governor Bent
and the others who were killed on the 19th of January, and
were convicted and executed. Thus, fifteen in all were
hung, being an equal number to those murdered at Taos, the
Arroyo Hondo, and Rio Colorado. Of these, eight were
Mexicans and seven were Pueblo Indians. Several more were
sentenced to be hung for treason, but the President very
properly pardoned them, on the ground that treason against
the United States was not a crime of which a Mexican
citizen could be found guilty, while his country was
actually at war with the United States.
There are several thrilling, as well as laughable, incidents connected
with the Taos massacre, and the succeeding trial of the insurrectionists;
in regard to which I shall quote freely from _Wah-to-yah_, whose
author, Mr. Lewis H. Garrard, accompanied Colonel St. Vrain across
the plains in 1846, and was present at the trial and execution of
the convicted participants.
One Fitzgerald, who was a private in Captain Burgwin's company of
Dragoons, in the fight at the Pueblo de Taos, killed three Mexicans
with his own hand, and performed heroic work with the bombs that were
thrown into that strong Indian fortress. He was a man of good feeling,
but his brother having been killed, or rather murdered by Salazar,
while a prisoner in the Texan expedition against Santa Fe, he swore
vengeance, and entered the service with the hope of accomplishing it.
The day following the fight at the Pueblo, he walked up to the
alcalde, and deliberately shot him down. For this act he was confined
to await a trial for murder.
One raw night, complaining of cold to his guard, wood was brought,
which he piled up in the middle of the room. Then mounting that,
and succeeding in breaking through the roof, he noiselessly crept
to the eaves, below which a sentinel, wrapped in a heavy cloak, paced
to and fro, to prevent his escape. He watched until the guard's back
was turned, then swung himself from the wall, and with as much ease
as possible, walked to a mess-fire, where his friends in waiting
supplied him with a pistol and clothing. When day broke, the town
of Fernandez lay far beneath him in the valley, and two days after
he was safe in our camp.
Many a hand-to-hand encounter ensued during the fight at Taos,
one of which was by Colonel Ceran St. Vrain, whom I knew intimately;
a grand old gentleman, now sleeping peacefully in the quaint little
graveyard at Mora, New Mexico, where he resided for many years.
The gallant colonel, while riding along, noticed an Indian with whom
he was well acquainted lying stretched out on the ground as if dead.
Confident that this particular red devil had been especially prominent
in the hellish acts of the massacre, the colonel dismounted from
his pony to satisfy himself whether the savage was really dead or
only shamming. He was far from being a corpse, for the colonel had
scarcely reached the spot, when the Indian jumped to his feet and
attempted to run a long, steel-pointed lance through the officer's
shoulder. Colonel St. Vrain was a large, powerfully built man;
so was the Indian, I have been told. As each of the struggling
combatants endeavoured to get the better of the other, with the
savage having a little the advantage, perhaps, it appears that
"Uncle Dick" Wooton, who was in the chase after the rebels, happened
to arrive on the scene, and hitting the Indian a terrific blow on
the head with his axe, settled the question as to his being a corpse.
Court for the trial of the insurrectionists assembled at nine o'clock.
On entering the room, Judges Beaubien and Houghton were occupying
their official positions. After many dry preliminaries, six prisoners
were brought in--ill-favoured, half-scared, sullen fellows; and the
jury of Mexicans and Americans having been empanelled, the trial
commenced. It certainly did appear to be a great assumption on the
part of the Americans to conquer a country, and then arraign the
revolting inhabitants for treason. American judges sat on the bench.
New Mexicans and Americans filled the jury-box, and American soldiery
guarded the halls. It was a strange mixture of violence and justice--
a middle ground between the martial and common law.
After an absence of a few minutes, the jury returned with a verdict
of "guilty in the first degree"--five for murder, one for treason.
Treason, indeed! What did the poor devil know about his new
allegiance? But so it was; and as the jail was overstocked with
others awaiting trial, it was deemed expedient to hasten the execution,
and the culprits were sentenced to be hung on the following Friday--
Court was daily in session; five more Indians and four Mexicans
were sentenced to be hung on the 30th of April. In the court room,
on the occasion of the trial of these nine prisoners, were Senora Bent
the late governor's wife, and Senora Boggs, giving their evidence in
regard to the massacre, of which they were eye-witnesses. Mrs. Bent
was quite handsome; a few years previously she must have been a
beautiful woman. The wife of the renowned Kit Carson also was in
attendance. Her style of beauty was of the haughty, heart-breaking
kind--such as would lead a man, with a glance of the eye, to risk
his life for one smile.
The court room was a small, oblong apartment, dimly lighted by two
narrow windows; a thin railing keeping the bystanders from contact
with the functionaries. The prisoners faced the judges, and the
three witnesses--Senoras Bent, Boggs, and Carson--were close to them
on a bench by the wall. When Mrs. Bent gave her testimony, the eyes
of the culprits were fixed sternly upon her; when she pointed out
the Indian who had killed the governor, not a muscle of the chief's
face twitched or betrayed agitation, though he was aware her evidence
settled his death warrant; he sat with lips gently closed, eyes
earnestly fixed on her, without a show of malice or hatred--a spectacle
of Indian fortitude, and of the severe mastery to which the emotions
can be subjected.
Among the jurors was a trapper named Baptiste Brown, a Frenchman,
as were the majority of the trappers in the early days of the border.
He was an exceptionally kind-hearted man when he first came to the
mountains, and seriously inclined to regard the Indians with that
mistaken sentimentality characterizing the average New England
philanthropist, who has never seen the untutored savage on his native
heath. His ideas, however, underwent a marked change as the years
rolled on and he became more familiar with the attributes of the
noble red man. He was with Kit Carson in the Blackfeet country
many years before the Taos massacre, when his convictions were thus
modified, and it was from the famous frontiersman himself I learned
the story of Baptiste's conversion.
It was late one night in their camp on one of the many creeks in the
Blackfoot region, where they had been established for several weeks,
and Baptiste was on duty, guarding their meat and furs from the
incursions of a too inquisitive grizzly that had been prowling around,
and the impertinent investigations of the wolves. His attention was
attracted to something high up in a neighbouring tree, that seemed
restless, changing its position constantly like an animal of prey.
The Frenchman drew a bead upon it, and there came tumbling down at his
feet a dead savage, with his war-paint and other Indian paraphernalia
adorning his body. Baptiste was terribly hurt over the circumstance
of having killed an Indian, and it grieved him for a long time.
One day, a month after the incident, he was riding alone far away
from our party, and out of sound of their rifles as well, when a band
of Blackfeet discovered him and started for his scalp. He had no
possible chance for escape except by the endurance of his horse;
so a race for life began. He experienced no trouble in keeping out
of the way of their arrows--the Indians had no guns then--and hoped
to make camp before they could possibly wear out his horse. Just as
he was congratulating himself on his luck, right in front of him
there suddenly appeared a great gorge, and not daring to stop or to
turn to the right or left, the only thing to do was to make his animal
jump it. It was his only chance; it was death if he missed it, and
death by the most horrible torture if the Indians captured him.
So he drove his heels into his horse's sides, and essayed the
awful leap. His willing animal made a desperate effort to carry out
the desire of his daring rider, but the dizzy chasm was too wide,
and the pursuing savages saw both horse and the coveted white man
dash to the bottom of the frightful canyon together. Believing that
their hated enemy had eluded them forever, they rode back on their
trail, disgusted and chagrined, without even taking the trouble of
looking over the precipice to learn the fate of Baptiste.
The horse was instantly killed, and the Frenchman had both of his legs
badly broken. Far from camp, with the Indians in close proximity,
he did not dare discharge his rifle--the usual signal when a trapper
is lost or in danger--or to make any demonstration, so he was
compelled to lie there and suffer, hoping that his comrades,
missing him, would start out to search for him. They did so,
but more than twenty-four hours had elapsed before they found him,
as the bottom of the canyon was the last place they thought of.
Doctors, in the wild region where their camp was located, were as
impossible as angels; so his companions set his broken bones as well
as they could, while Baptiste suffered excruciating torture.
When they had completed their crude surgery, they improvised a litter
of poles, and rigged it on a couple of pack-mules, and thus carried
him around with them from camp to camp until he recovered--a period
extending over three months.
This affair completely cured Baptiste of his original sentimentality
in relation to the Indian, and he became one of their worst haters.
When acting as a juror in the trials of rebel Mexicans and Indians,
he was asleep half the time, and never heard much of the evidence,
and that portion which he did was so much Greek to him. In the last
nine cases, in which the Indian who had murdered Governor Bent
was tried, Baptiste, as soon as the jury room was closed, sang out:
"Hang 'em, hang 'em, sacre enfans des garces, dey dam gran rascale!"
"But wait," suggested one of the cooler members; "let's look at the
evidence and find out whether they are really guilty." Upon this
wise caution, Baptiste got greatly excited, paced the floor, and
cried out: "Hang de Indian anyhow; he may not be guilty now--mais he
vare soon will be. Hang 'em all, parceque dey kill Monsieur Charles;
dey take son topknot, vot you call im--scalp. Hang 'em, hang 'em--
On Friday the 9th, the day for the execution, the sky was unspotted,
save by hastily fleeting clouds; and as the rising sun loomed over
the Taos Mountain, the bright rays, shining on the yellow and white
mud-houses, reflected cheerful hues, while the shades of the toppling
peaks, receding from the plain beneath, drew within themselves.
The humble valley wore an air of calm repose. The Plaza was deserted;
woe-begone burros drawled forth sacrilegious brays, as the warm
sunbeams roused them from hard, grassless ground, to scent their
breakfast among straw and bones.
Poor Mexicans hurried to and fro, casting suspicious glances around;
los Yankees at El casa Americano drank their juleps, and puffed their
cigarettes in silence.
The sheriff, Metcalf, formerly a mountaineer, was in want of the
wherewithal to hang the condemned criminals, so he borrowed some
rawhide lariats and picket-ropes of a teamster.
"Hello, Met," said one of the party present, "these reatas are mighty
stiff--won't fit; eh, old feller?"
"I've got something to make 'em fit--good 'intment--don't emit very
sweet perfume; but good enough for Greasers," said the sheriff,
producing a dollar's worth of Mexican soft soap. "This'll make 'em
slip easy--a long ways too easy for them, I 'spect."
The prison apartment was a long chilly room, badly ventilated by
one small window and the open door, through which the sun lit up the
earth floor, and through which the poor prisoners wistfully gazed.
Two muscular Mexicans basked in its genial warmth, a tattered serape
interposing between them and the ground. The ends, once fringed but
now clear of pristine ornament, were partly drawn over their breasts,
disclosing in the openings of their fancifully colored shirts
--now glazed with filth and faded with perspiration--the bare skin,
covered with straight black hair. With hands under their heads,
in the mass of stringy locks rusty-brown from neglect, they returned
the looks of their executioners with an unmeaning stare, and
unheedingly received the salutation of--"Como le va!"
Along the sides of the room, leaning against the walls, were crowded
the poor wretches, miserable in dress, miserable in features,
miserable in feelings--a more disgusting collection of ragged, greasy,
unwashed prisoners were, probably, never before congregated within
so small a space as the jail of Taos.
About nine o'clock, active preparations were made for the execution,
and the soldiery mustered. Reverend padres in long black gowns,
with meek countenances, passed the sentinels, intent on spiritual
consolation, or the administration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Lieutenant-Colonel Willock, commanding the military, ordered every
American under arms. The prison was at the edge of the town;
no houses intervened between it and the fields to the north.
One hundred and fifty yards distant, a gallows was erected.
The word was passed, at last, that the criminals were coming.
Eighteen soldiers received them at the gate, with their muskets at
"port arms"; the six abreast, with the sheriff on the right--
nine soldiers on each side.
The poor prisoners marched slowly, with downcast eyes, arms tied
behind, and bare heads, with the exception of white cotton caps
stuck on the back, to be pulled over the face as the last ceremony.
The roofs of the houses in the vicinity were covered with women and
children, to witness the first execution by hanging in the valley
of Taos, save that of Montojo, the insurgent leader. No men were
near; a few stood afar off, moodily looking on.
On the flat jail roof was placed a mountain howitzer, loaded and
ranging the gallows. Near was the complement of men to serve it,
one holding in his hand a lighted match. The two hundred and thirty
soldiers, less the eighteen forming the guard, were paraded in front
of the jail, and in sight of the gibbet, so as to secure the prisoners
awaiting trial. Lieutenant-Colonel Willock, on a handsome charger,
commanded a view of the whole.
When within fifteen paces of the gallows, the side-guard, filing off
to the right, formed, at regular distances from each other, three
sides of a hollow square; the mountaineers composed the fourth and
front side, in full view of the trembling prisoners, who marched up to
the tree under which was a government wagon, with two mules attached.
The driver and sheriff assisted them in, ranging them on a board,
placed across the hinder end, which maintained its balance, as they
were six--an even number--two on each extremity, and two in the middle.
The gallows was so narrow that they touched. The ropes, by reason
of their size and stiffness, despite the soaping given them, were
adjusted with difficulty; but through the indefatigable efforts
of the sheriff and a lieutenant who had accompanied him, all
preliminaries were arranged, although the blue uniform looked sadly
out of place on a hangman.
With rifles at a "shoulder," the military awaited the consummation
of the tragedy. There was no crowd around to disturb; a death-like
stillness prevailed. The spectators on the roofs seemed scarcely
to move--their eyes were directed to the doomed wretches, with harsh
halters now encircling their necks.
The sheriff and his assistant sat down; after a few moments of
intense expectation, the heart-wrung victims said a few words to
their people. Only one of them admitted he had committed murder
and deserved death. In their brief but earnest appeals, the words
"mi padre, mi madre"--"my father, my mother"--were prominent.
The one sentenced for treason showed a spirit of patriotism worthy
of the cause for which he died--the liberty of his country; and
instead of the cringing recantation of the others, his speech was
a firm asseveration of his own innocence, the unjustness of his trial,
and the arbitrary conduct of his murderers. As the cap was pulled
over his face, the last words he uttered between his teeth with
a scowl were "Carajo, los Americanos!"
At a word from the sheriff, the mules were started, and the wagon
drawn from under the tree. No fall was given, and their feet remained
on the board till the ropes drew tight. The bodies swayed back and
forth, and while thus swinging, the hands of two came together with
a firm grasp till the muscles loosened in death.
After forty minutes' suspension, Colonel Willock ordered his command
to quarters, and the howitzer to be taken from its place on the roof
of the jail. The soldiers were called away; the women and population
in general collecting around the rear guard which the sheriff had
retained for protection while delivering the dead to their weeping
While cutting a rope from one man's neck--for it was in a hard knot--
the owner, a government teamster standing by waiting, shouted angrily,
at the same time stepping forward:
"Hello there! don't cut that rope; I won't have anything to tie
my mules with."
"Oh! you darned fool," interposed a mountaineer, "the dead men's
ghosts will be after you if you use them lariats--wagh! They'll make
meat of you sartain."
"Well, I don't care if they do. I'm in government service; and if
them picket-halters was gone, slap down goes a dollar apiece.
Money's scarce in these diggin's, and I'm going to save all I kin
to take home to the old woman and boys."
FIRST OVERLAND MAIL.
On the summit of one of the highest plateaus bordering the Missouri
River, surrounded by a rich expanse of foliage, lies Independence,
the beautiful residence suburb of Kansas City, only ten miles distant.
Tradition tells that early in this century there were a few pioneers
camping at long distances from each other in the seemingly
interminable woods; in summer engaged in hunting the deer, elk, and
bear, and in winter in trapping. It is a well-known fact that
the Big Blue was once a favourite resort of the beaver, and that
even later their presence in great numbers attracted many a veteran
trapper to its waters.
Before that period the quaint old cities of far-off Mexico were
forbidden to foreign traders, excepting to the favoured few who were
successful in obtaining permits from the Spanish government. In 1821,
however, the rebellion of Iturbide crushed the power of the mother
country, and established the freedom of Mexico. The embargo upon
foreign trade was at once removed, and the Santa Fe Trail, for untold
ages only a simple trace across the continent, became the busy highway
of a relatively great commerce.
In 1817 the navigation of the Mississippi River was begun. On the 2d
of August of that year the steamer _General Pike_ arrived at St. Louis.
The first boat to ascend the Missouri River was the _Independence_;
she passed Franklin on the 28th of May, 1819, where a dinner was given
to her officers. In the same and the following month of that year,
the steamers _Western Engineer Expedition_ and _R. M. Johnson_ came
along, carrying Major Long's scientific exploring party, bound for
The Santa Fe trade having been inaugurated shortly after these
important events, those engaged in it soon realized the benefits
of river navigation--for it enabled them to shorten the distance
which their wagons had to travel in going across the plains--and
they began to look out for a suitable place as a shipping and
outfitting point higher up the river than Franklin, which had been
the initial starting town.
By 1827 trading-posts had been established at Blue Mills, Fort Osage,
and Independence. The first-mentioned place, which is situated about
six miles below Independence, soon became the favourite landing,
and the exchange from wagons to boats settled and defied all efforts
to remove the headquarters of the trade from there for several years.
Independence, however, being the county seat and the larger place,
succeeded in its claims to be the more suitable locality, and as
early as 1832 it was recognized as the American headquarters and the
great outfitting point for the Santa Fe commerce, which it continued
to be until 1846, when the traffic was temporarily suspended by the
breaking out of the Mexican War.
Independence was not only the principal outfitting point for the
Santa Fe traders, but also that of the great fur companies. That
powerful association used to send out larger pack-trains than any
other parties engaged in the traffic to the Rocky Mountains;
they also employed wagons drawn by mules, and loaded with goods for
the Indians with whom their agents bartered, which also on their
return trip transported the skins and pelts of animals procured from
the savages. The articles intended for the Indian trade were
always purchased in St. Louis, and usually shipped to Independence,
consigned to the firm of Aull and Company, who outfitted the traders
with mules and provisions, and in fact anything else required by them.
Several individual traders would frequently form joint caravans,
and travel in company for mutual protection from the Indians. After
having reached a fifty-mile limit from the State line, each trader
had control of his own men; each took care of a certain number of
the pack-animals, loaded and unloaded them in camp, and had general
supervision of them.
Frequently there would be three hundred mules in a single caravan,
carrying three hundred pounds apiece, and very large animals more.
Thousands of wagons were also sent out from Independence annually,
each drawn by twelve mules or six yoke of oxen, and loaded with
There were no packing houses in those days nearer than St. Louis,
and the bacon and beef used in the Santa Fe trade were furnished by
the farmers of the surrounding country, who killed their meat,
cured it, and transported it to the town where they sold it.
Their wheat was also ground at the local mills, and they brought
the flour to market, together with corn, dried fruit, beans, peas,
and kindred provisions used on the long route across the plains.
Independence very soon became the best market west of St. Louis for
cattle, mules, and wagons; the trade of which the place was the
acknowledged headquarters furnishing employment to several thousand
men, including the teamsters and packers on the Trail. The wages
paid varied from twenty-five to fifty dollars a month and rations.
The price charged for hauling freight to Santa Fe was ten dollars
a hundred pounds, each wagon earning from five to six hundred dollars
every trip, which was made in eighty or ninety days; some fast
caravans making quicker time.
The merchants and general traders of Independence in those days
reaped a grand harvest. Everything to eat was in constant demand;
mules and oxen were sold in great numbers every month at excellent
prices and always for cash; while any good stockman could readily
make from ten to fifty dollars a day.
One of the largest manufacturers and most enterprising young men in
Independence at that time was Hiram Young, a coloured man. Besides
making hundreds of wagons, he made all the ox-yokes used in the
entire traffic; fifty thousand annually during the '50's and until
the breaking out of the war. The forward yokes were sold at an
average of one dollar and a quarter, the wheel yokes a dollar higher.
The freight transported by the wagons was always very securely loaded;
each package had its contents plainly marked on the outside.
The wagons were heavily covered and tightly closed. Every man
belonging to the caravan was thoroughly armed, and ever on the alert
to repulse an attack by the Indians.
Sometimes at the crossing of the Arkansas the quicksands were so bad
that it was necessary to get the caravan over in a hurry; then forty
or fifty yoke of oxen were hitched to one wagon and it was quickly
yanked through the treacherous ford. This was not always the case,
however; it depended upon the stage of water and recent floods.
After the close of the war with Mexico, the freight business across
the plains increased to a wonderful degree. The possession of the
country by the United States gave a fresh impetus to the New Mexico
trade, and the traffic then began to be divided between Westport
and Kansas City. Independence lost control of the overland commerce
and Kansas City commenced its rapid growth. Then came the discovery
of gold in California, and this gave an increased business westward;
for thousands of men and their families crossed the plains and
the Rocky Mountains, seeking their fortunes in the new El Dorado.
The Old Trail was the highway of an enormous pilgrimage, and both
Independence and Kansas City became the initial point of a wonderful
In Independence may still be seen a few of the old landmarks when
it was the headquarters of the Santa Fe trade.
An overland mail was started from the busy town as early as 1849.
In an old copy of the Missouri _Commonwealth_, published there under
the date of July, 1850, which I found on file in the Kansas State
Historical Society, there is the following account of the first mail
We briefly alluded, some days since, to the Santa Fe line
of mail stages, which left this city on its first monthly
journey on the 1st instant. The stages are got up in
elegant style, and are each arranged to convey eight
passengers. The bodies are beautifully painted, and made
water-tight, with a view of using them as boats in ferrying
streams. The team consists of six mules to each coach.
The mail is guarded by eight men, armed as follows: Each man
has at his side, fastened in the stage, one of Colt's
revolving rifles; in a holster below, one of Colt's long
revolvers, and in his belt a small Colt's revolver, besides
a hunting-knife; so that these eight men are ready, in case
of attack, to discharge one hundred and thirty-six shots
without having to reload. This is equal to a small army,
armed as in the ancient times, and from the looks of this
escort, ready as they are, either for offensive or defensive
warfare with the savages, we have no fears for the safety
of the mails.
The accommodating contractors have established a sort of
base of refitting at Council Grove, a distance of one
hundred and fifty miles from this city, and have sent out
a blacksmith, and a number of men to cut and cure hay, with
a quantity of animals, grain, and provisions; and we
understand they intend to make a sort of traveling station
there, and to commence a farm. They also, we believe,
intend to make a similar settlement at Walnut Creek next
season. Two of their stages will start from here the
first of every month.
The old stage-coach days were times of Western romance and adventure,
and the stories told of that era of the border have a singular
fascination in this age of annihilation of distance.
Very few, if any, of the famous men who handled the "ribbons" in those
dangerous days of the slow journey across the great plains are among
the living; like the clumsy and forgotten coaches they drove,
they have themselves been mouldering into dust these many years.
In many places on the line of the Trail, where the hard hills have not
been subjected to the plough, the deep ruts cut by the lumbering
Concord coaches may yet be distinctly traced. Particularly are they
visible from the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe track, as the cars
thunder rapidly toward the city of Great Bend, in Kansas, three miles
east of that town. Let the tourist as he crosses Walnut Creek look
out of his window toward the east at an angle of about thirty-five
degrees, and on the flint hills which slope gradually toward the
railroad, he will observe, very distinctly, the Old Trail, where it
once drew down from the divide to make the ford at the little stream.
The monthly stages started from each end of the route at the same time;
later the service was increased to once a week; after a while to
three times, until in the early '60's daily stages were run from both
ends of the route, and this was continued until the advent of the
Each coach carried eleven passengers, nine closely stowed inside
--three on a seat--and two on the outside on the boot with the driver.
The fare to Santa Fe was two hundred and fifty dollars, the allowance
of baggage being limited to forty pounds; all in excess of that cost
half a dollar a pound. In this now seemingly large sum was included
the board of the travellers, but they were not catered to in any
extravagant manner; hardtack, bacon, and coffee usually exhausted
the menu, save that at times there was an abundance of antelope and
There was always something exciting in those journeys from the
Missouri to the mountains in the lumbering Concord coach. There was
the constant fear of meeting the wily red man, who persistently
hankered after the white man's hair. Then there was the playfulness
of the sometimes drunken driver, who loved to upset his tenderfoot
travellers in some arroya, long after the moon had sunk below
It required about two weeks to make the trip from the Missouri River
to Santa Fe, unless high water or a fight with the Indians made it
several days longer. The animals were changed every twenty miles
at first, but later, every ten, when faster time was made. What sleep
was taken could only be had while sitting bolt upright, because there
was no laying over; the stage continued on night and day until
Santa Fe was reached.
After a few years, the company built stations at intervals varying
from ten miles to fifty or more; and there the animals and drivers
were changed, and meals furnished to travellers, which were always
substantial, but never elegant in variety or cleanliness.
Who can ever forget those meals at the "stations," of which you were
obliged to partake or go hungry: biscuit hard enough to serve as
"round-shot," and a vile decoction called, through courtesy, coffee
--but God help the man who disputed it!
Some stations, however, were notable exceptions, particularly in the
mountains of New Mexico, where, aside from the bread--usually only
tortillas, made of the blue-flint corn of the country--and coffee
composed of the saints may know what, the meals were excellent.
The most delicious brook trout, alternating with venison of the
black-tailed deer, elk, bear, and all the other varieties of game
abounding in the region cost you one dollar, but the station-keeper
a mere trifle; no wonder the old residents and ranchmen on the line
of the Old Trail lament the good times of the overland stage!
Thirteen years ago I revisited the once well-known Kosloskie's Ranch,
a picturesque cabin at the foot of the Glorieta Mountains, about half
a mile from the ruins on the Rio Pecos. The old Pole was absent,
but his wife was there; and, although I had not seen her for fifteen
years, she remembered me well, and at once began to deplore the
changed condition of the country since the advent of the railroad,
declaring it had ruined their family with many others. I could not
disagree with her view of the matter, as I looked on the debris of
a former relative greatness all around me. I recalled the fact that
once Kosloskie's Ranch was the favourite eating station on the Trail;
where you were ever sure of a substantial meal--the main feature
of which was the delicious brook trout, which were caught out of
the stream which ran near the door while you were washing the dust
out of your eyes and ears.
The trout have vacated the Pecos; the ranch is a ruin, and stands
in grim contrast with the old temple and church on the hill; and both
are monuments of civilizations that will never come again.
Weeds and sunflowers mark the once broad trail to the quaint Aztec
city, and silence reigns in the beautiful valley, save when broken
by the passage of "The Flyer" of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe
railway, as it struggles up the heavy grade of the Glorieta Mountains
a mile or more distant.
Besides the driver, there was another employee--the conductor or
messenger, as he was called. He had charge of the mail and express
matter, collected the fares, and attended generally to the requirements
of those committed to his care during the tedious journey; for he
was not changed like the driver, but stayed with the coach from its
starting to its destination. Sometimes fourteen individuals were
accommodated in case of emergency; but it was terribly crowded and
uncomfortable riding, with no chance to stretch your limbs, save for
a few moments at stations where you ate and changed animals.
In starting from Independence, powerful horses were attached to
the coach--generally four in number; but at the first station they
were exchanged for mules, and these animals hauled it the remainder
of the way. Drivers were changed about eight times in making the trip
to Santa Fe; and some of them were comical fellows, but full of nerve
and endurance, for it required a man of nerve to handle eight frisky
mules through the rugged passes of the mountains, when the snow was
drifted in immense masses, or when descending the curved, icy
declivities to the base of the range. A cool head was highly
necessary; but frequently accidents occurred and sometimes were
serious in their results.
A snowstorm in the mountains was a terrible thing to encounter by
the coach; all that could be done was to wait until it had abated,
as there was no going on in the face of the blinding sheets of
intensely cold vapour which the wind hurled against the sides of
the mountains. All inside of the coach had to sit still and shake
with the freezing branches of the tall trees around them. A summer
hailstorm was much more to be dreaded, however; for nowhere else on
the earth do the hailstones shoot from the clouds of greater size or
with greater velocity than in the Rocky Mountains. Such an event
invariably frightened the mules and caused them to stampede; and,
to escape death from the coach rolling down some frightful abyss,
one had to jump out, only to be beaten to a jelly by the masses of
ice unless shelter could be found under some friendly ledge of rock
or the thick limbs of a tree.
Nothing is more fatiguing than travelling for the first day and night
in a stage-coach; after that, however, one gets used to it and the
remainder of the journey is relatively comfortable.
The only way to alleviate the monotony of riding hour after hour
was to walk; occasionally this was rendered absolutely necessary
by some accident, such as breaking a wheel or axle, or when an animal
gave out before a station was reached. In such cases, however,
no deduction was made from the fare, that having been collected in
advance, so it cost you just as much whether you rode or walked.
You could exercise your will in the matter, but you must not lag
behind the coach; the savages were always watching for such derelicts,
and your hair was the forfeit!
In the worst years, when the Indians were most decidedly on the
war-trail, the government furnished an escort of soldiers from the
military posts; they generally rode in a six-mule army-wagon, and
were commanded by a sergeant or corporal; but in the early days,
before the army had concentrated at the various forts on the great
plains, the stage had to rely on the courage and fighting qualities
of its occupants, and the nerve and the good judgment of the driver.
If the latter understood his duty thoroughly and was familiar with
the methods of the savages, he always chose the cover of darkness
in which to travel in localities where the danger from Indians was
greater than elsewhere; for it is a rare thing in savage warfare
to attack at night. The early morning seemed to be their favourite
hour, when sleep oppresses most heavily; and then it was that the
utmost vigilance was demanded.
One of the most confusing things to the novice riding over the great
plains is the idea of distance; mile after mile is travelled on
the monotonous trail, with a range of hills or a low divide in
full sight, yet hours roll by and the objects seem no nearer than
when they were first observed. The reason for this seems to be that
every atom of vapour is eliminated from the air, leaving such an
absolute clearness of atmosphere, such an indescribable transparency
of space through which distant objects are seen, that they are
magnified and look nearer than they really are. Consequently,
the usual method of calculating distance and areas by the eye is ever
at fault until custom and familiarity force a new standard of measure.
Mirages, too, were of frequent occurrence on the great plains;
some of them wonderful examples of the refracting properties of light.
They assumed all manner of fantastic, curious shapes, sometimes
ludicrously distorting the landscape; objects, like a herd of buffalo
for instance, though forty miles away, would seem to be high in air,
often reversed, and immensely magnified in their proportions.
Violent storms were also frequent incidents of the long ride.
I well remember one night, about thirty years ago, when the coach
in which I and one of my clerks were riding to Fort Dodge was
suddenly brought to a standstill by a terrible gale of wind and hail.
The mules refused to face it, and quickly turning around nearly
overturned the stage, while we, with the driver and conductor,
were obliged to hold on to the wheels with all our combined strength
to prevent it from blowing down into a stony ravine, on the brink
of which we were brought to a halt. Fortunately, these fearful
blizzards did not last very long; the wind ceased blowing so violently
in a few moments, but the rain usually continued until morning.
It usually happened that you either at once took a great liking for
your driver and conductor, or the reverse. Once, on a trip from
Kansas City, nearly a third of a century ago, when I and another man
were the only occupants of the coach, we entertained quite a friendly
feeling for our driver; he was a good-natured, jolly fellow, full of
anecdote and stories of the Trail, over which he had made more than
a hundred sometimes adventurous journeys.
When we arrived at the station at Plum Creek, the coach was a little
ahead of time, and the driver who was there to relieve ours commenced
to grumble at the idea of having to start out before the regular hour.
He found fault because we had come into the station so soon, and
swore he could drive where our man could not "drag a halter-chain,"
as he claimed in his boasting. We at once took a dislike to him,
and secretly wished that he would come to grief, in order to cure him
of his boasting. Sure enough, before we had gone half a mile from the
station he incontinently tumbled the coach over into a sandy arroya,
and we were delighted at the accident. Finding ourselves free from
any injury, we went to work and assisted him to right the coach--
no small task; but we took great delight in reminding him several
times of his ability to drive where our old friend could not "drag
a halter-chain." It was very dark; neither moon or star visible,
the whole heavens covered with an inky blackness of ominous clouds;
so he was not so much to be blamed after all.
The very next coach was attacked at the crossing of Cow Creek by
a band of Kiowas. The savages had followed the stage all that
afternoon, but remained out of sight until just at dark, when they
rushed over the low divide, and mounted on their ponies commenced
to circle around the coach, making the sand dunes resound with echoes
of their infernal yelling, and shaking their buffalo-robes to stampede
the mules, at the same time firing their guns at the men who were
in the coach, all of whom made a bold stand, but were rapidly getting
the worst of it, when fortunately a company of United States cavalry
came over the Trail from the west, and drove the savages off.
Two of the men in the coach were seriously wounded, and one of the
soldiers killed; but the Indian loss was never determined, as they
succeeded in carrying off both their dead and wounded.
Mr. W. H. Ryus, a friend of mine now residing in Kansas City, who was
a driver and messenger thirty-five years, and had many adventures,
told me the following incidents:
I have crossed the plains sixty-five times by wagon and
coach. In July, 1861, I was employed by Barnum, Vickery,
and Neal to drive over what was known as the Long Route,
that is, from Fort Larned to Fort Lyon, two hundred and
forty miles, with no station between. We drove one set of
mules the whole distance, camped out, and made the journey,
in good weather, in four or five days. In winter we
generally encountered a great deal of snow, and very cold
air on the bleak and wind-swept desert of the Upper Arkansas,
but we employees got used to that; only the passengers did
any kicking. We had a way of managing them, however,
when they got very obstreperous; all we had to do was to
yell Indians! and that quieted them quicker than forty-rod
whiskey does a man.
We gathered buffalo-chips, to boil our coffee and cook our
buffalo and antelope steak, smoked for a while around the
smouldering fire until the animals were through grazing,
and then started on our lonely way again.
Sometimes the coach would travel for a hundred miles through
the buffalo herds, never for a moment getting out of sight
of them; often we saw fifty thousand to a hundred thousand
on a single journey out or in. The Indians used to call
them their cattle, and claimed to own them. They did not,
like the white man, take out only the tongue, or hump, and
leave all the rest to dry upon the prairie, but ate every
last morsel, even to the intestines. They said the whites
were welcome to all they could eat or haul away, but they
did not like to see so much meat wasted as was our custom.
The Indians on the plains were not at all hostile in 1861-62;
we could drive into their villages, where there were tens
of thousands of them, and they would always treat us to
music or a war-dance, and set before us the choicest of
their venison and buffalo. In July of the last-mentioned
year, Colonel Leavenworth, Jr., was crossing the Trail in
my coach. He desired to see Satanta, the great Kiowa chief.
The colonel's father was among the Indians a great deal
while on duty as an army officer, while the young colonel
was a small boy. The colonel said he didn't believe that
old Satanta would know him.
Just before the arrival of the coach in the region of the
Indian village, the Comanches and the Pawnees had been
having a battle. The Comanches had taken some scalps,
and they were camping on the bank of the Arkansas River,
where Dodge City is now located. The Pawnees had killed
five of their warriors, and the Comanches were engaged in
an exciting war-dance; I think there were from twenty to
thirty thousand Indians gathered there, men, women, and
children of the several tribes--Comanches, Kiowas, Cheyennes,
Arapahoes, and others.
When we came in sight of their camp, the colonel knew, by
the terrible noise they were making, that a war-dance was
going on; but we did not know then whether it was on account
of troubles among themselves, or because of a fight with
the whites, but we were determined to find out. If he could
get to the old chief, all would be right. So he and I
started for the place whence the noise came. We met a savage
and the colonel asked him whether Satanta was there, and
what was going on. When he told us that they had had
a fight and it was a scalp-dance, our hair lowered; for we
knew that if it was in consequence of trouble with the
whites, we stood in some danger of losing our own scalps.
The Indian took us in, and the situation, too; and conducted
us into the presence of Satanta, who stood in the middle
of the great circle, facing the dancers. It was out on an
island in the stream; the chief stood very erect, and eyed
us closely for a few seconds, then the colonel told his
own name that the Indians had known him by when he was a boy.
Satanta gave one bound--he was at least ten feet from where
we were waiting--grasped the colonel's hand and excitedly
kissed him, then stood back for another instant, gave him
a second squeeze, offered his hand to me, which I,
of course, shook heartily, then he gazed at the man he had
known as a boy so many years ago, with a countenance
beaming with delight. I never saw any one, even among
the white race, manifest so much joy as the old chief did
over the visit of the colonel to his camp.
He immediately ordered some of his young men to go out and
herd our mules through the night, which they brought back
to us at daylight. He then had the coach hauled to the
front of his lodge, where we could see all that was going on
to the best advantage. We had six travellers with us on
this journey, and it was a great sight for the tenderfeet.
It was about ten o'clock at night when we arrived at
Satanta's lodge, and we saw thousands of squaws and bucks
dancing and mourning for their dead warriors. At midnight
the old chief said we must eat something at once. So he
ordered a fire built, cooked buffalo and venison, setting
before us the very best that he had, we furnishing canned
fruit, coffee, and sugar from our coach mess. There we sat,
and talked and ate until morning; then when we were ready
to start off, Satanta and the other chiefs of the various
tribes escorted us about eight miles on the Trail, where
we halted for breakfast, they remaining and eating with us.
Colonel Leavenworth was on his way to assume command of one of the
military posts in New Mexico; the Indians begged him to come back
and take his quarters at either Fort Larned or Fort Dodge. They told
him they were afraid their agent was stealing their goods and selling
them back to them; while if the Indians took anything from the whites,
a war was started.
Colonel A. G. Boone had made a treaty with these same Indians in 1860,
and it was agreed that he should be their agent. It was done, and
the entire savage nations were restful and kindly disposed toward
the whites during his administration; any one could then cross the
plains without fear of molestation. In 1861, however, Judge Wright,
of Indiana, who was a member of Congress at the time, charged Colonel
Boone with disloyalty. He succeeded in having him removed.
Majors Russel and Waddell, the great government freight contractors
across the plains, gave Colonel Boone fourteen hundred acres of land,
well improved, with some fine buildings on it, about fifteen miles
east of Pueblo, Colorado. It was christened Booneville, and the
colonel moved there. In the fall of 1862, fifty influential Indians
of the various tribes visited Colonel Boone at his new home, and
begged that he would come back to them and be their agent. He told
the chiefs that the President of the United States would not let him.
Then they offered to sell their horses to raise money for him to go
to Washington to tell the Great Father what their agent was doing;
and to have him removed, or there was going to be trouble.
The Indians told Colonel Boone that many of their warriors would be
on the plains that fall, and they were declaring they had as much
right to take something to eat from the trains as their agent had
to steal goods from them.
Early in the winter of the next year, a small caravan of eight or ten
wagons travelling to the Missouri River was overhauled at Nine Mile
Ridge, about fifty miles west of Fort Dodge, by a band of Indians,
who asked for something to eat. The teamsters, thinking them to be
hostile, believed it would be a good thing to kill one of them anyhow;
so they shot an inoffensive warrior, after which the train moved on
to its camp and the trouble began. Every man in the whole outfit,
with the exception of one teamster, who luckily got to the Arkansas
River and hid, was murdered, the animals all carried away, and the
wagons and contents destroyed by fire.
This foolish act by the master of the caravan was the cause of a
long war, causing hundreds of atrocious murders and the destruction
of a great deal of property along the whole Western frontier.
That fall, 1863, Mr. Ryus was the messenger or conductor in charge
of the coach running from Kansas City to Santa Fe. He said:
It then required a month to make the round trip, about
eighteen hundred miles. On account of the Indian war
we had to have an escort of soldiers to go through the most
dangerous portions of the Trail; and the caravans all
joined forces for mutual safety, besides having an escort.
My coach was attacked several times during that season, and
we had many close calls for our scalps. Sometimes the
Indians would follow us for miles, and we had to halt and
fight them; but as for myself, I had no desire to kill one
of the miserable, outraged creatures, who had been swindled
out of their just rights.
I know of but one occasion when we were engaged in a fight
with them when our escort killed any of the attacking
savages; it was about two miles from Little Coon Creek
Station, where they surrounded the coach and commenced
hostilities. In the fight one officer and one enlisted man
were wounded. The escort chased the band for several miles,
killed nine of them, and got their horses.
Almost immediately after the ratification of the purchase of
New Mexico by the United States under the stipulations of the
"Guadalupe-Hidalgo Treaty," the Utes, one of the most powerful tribes
of mountain Indians, inaugurated a bloody and relentless war against
the civilized inhabitants of the Territory. It was accompanied by
all the horrible atrocities which mark the tactics of savage hatred
toward the white race. It continued for several years with more
or less severity; its record a chapter of history whose pages are
deluged with blood, until finally the Indians were subdued by the
power of the military.
Along the line of the Santa Fe Trail, they were frequently in
conjunction with the Apaches, and their depredations and atrocities
were very numerous; they attacked fearlessly freight caravans,
private expeditions, and overland stage-coaches, robbing and murdering
In January, 1847, the mail and passenger stage left Independence,
Missouri, for Santa Fe on one of its regular trips across the plains.
It had its full complement of passengers, among whom were a Mr. White
and family, consisting of his wife, one child, and a coloured nurse.
Day after day the lumbering Concord coach rolled on, with nothing to
disturb the monotony of the vast prairies, until it had left them
far behind and crossed the Range into New Mexico. Just about dawn,
as the unsuspecting travellers were entering the "canyon of the
Canadian," and probably waking up from their long night's sleep,
a band of Indians, with blood-curdling yells and their terrific
war-whoop, rode down upon them.
In that lonely and rock-sheltered gorge a party of the hostile savages,
led by "White Wolf," a chief of the Apaches, had been awaiting the
arrival of the coach from the East; the very hour it was due was
well known to them, and they had secreted themselves there the
night before so as to be on hand should it reach their chosen ambush
a little before the schedule time.
Out dashed the savages, gorgeous in their feathered war-bonnets,
but looking like fiends with their paint-bedaubed faces. Stopping the
frightened mules, they pulled open the doors of the coach and,
mercilessly dragging its helpless and surprised inmates to the ground,
immediately began their butchery. They scalped and mutilated the
dead bodies of their victims in their usual sickening manner, not a
single individual escaping, apparently, to tell of their fiendish acts.
If the Indians had been possessed of sufficient cunning to cover up
the tracks of their horrible atrocities, as probably white robbers
would have done, by dragging the coach from the road and destroying it
by fire or other means, the story of the murders committed in the
deep canyon might never have been known; but they left the tell-tale
remains of the dismantled vehicle just where they had attacked it,
and the naked corpses of its passengers where they had been ruthlessly
At the next stage station the employees were anxiously waiting for
the arrival of the coach, and wondering what could have caused
the delay; for it was due there at noon on the day of the massacre.
Hour after hour passed, and at last they began to suspect that
something serious had occurred; they sat up all through the night
listening for the familiar rumbling of wheels, but still no stage.
At daylight next morning, determined to wait no longer, as they felt
satisfied that something out of the usual course had happened,
a party hurriedly mounted their horses and rode down the broad trail
leading to the canyon.
Upon entering its gloomy mouth after a quick lope of an hour,
they discovered the ghastly remains of twelve mutilated bodies.
These were gathered up and buried in one grave, on the top of the
bluff overlooking the narrow gorge.
They could not be sure of the number of passengers the coach had
brought until the arrival of the next, as it would have a list of
those carried by its predecessor; but it would not be due for
several days. They naturally supposed, however, that the twelve dead
lying on the ground were its full complement.
Not waiting for the arrival of the next stage, they despatched a
messenger to the last station east that the one whose occupants
had been murdered had passed, and there learned the exact number
of passengers it had contained. Now they knew that Mrs. White,
her child, and the coloured nurse had been carried off into a
captivity worse than death; for no remains of a woman were found
with the others lying in the canyon.
The terrible news of the massacre was conveyed to Taos, where were
stationed several companies of the Second United States Dragoons,
commanded by Major William Greer; but as the weather had grown
intensely cold and stormy since the date of the massacre, it took
nearly a fortnight for the terrible story to reach there. The Major
acted promptly when appealed to to go after and punish the savages
concerned in the outrage, but several days more were lost in getting
an expedition ready for the field. It was still stormy while the
command was preparing for its work; but at last, one bright morning,
in a piercing cold wind, five troops of the dragoons, commanded by
Major Greer in person, left their comfortable quarters to attempt
the rescue of Mrs. White, her child, and nurse.
Kit Carson, "Uncle Dick" Wooten, Joaquin Leroux, and Tom Tobin were
the principal scouts and guides accompanying the expedition, having
volunteered their services to Major Greer, which he had gladly accepted.
The massacre having occurred three weeks before the command had
arrived at the canyon of the Canadian, and snow having fallen almost
continuously ever since, the ground was deeply covered, making it
almost impossible to find the trail of the savages leading out of
the gorge. No one knew where they had established their winter camp
--probably hundreds of miles distant on some tributary of the Canadian
far to the south.
Carson, Wooton, and Leroux, after scanning the ground carefully at
every point, though the snow was ten inches deep, in a way of which
only men versed in savage lore are capable, were rewarded by
discovering certain signs, unintelligible to the ordinary individual
--that the murderers had gone south out of the canyon immediately
after completing their bloody work, and that their camp was somewhere
on the river, but how far off none could tell.
The command followed up the trail discovered by the scouts for nearly
four hundred miles. Early one morning when that distance had been
rounded, and just as the men were about to break camp preparatory
to the day's march, Carson went out on a little reconnoissance on his
own account, as he had noticed a flock of ravens hovering in the air
when he first got out of his blankets at dawn, which was sufficient
indication to him that an Indian camp was located somewhere in the
vicinity; for that ominous bird is always to be found in the region
where the savages take up an abode, feeding upon the carcasses of
the many varieties of game killed for food. He had not proceeded
more than half a mile from the camp when he discovered two Indians
slowly riding over a low "divide," driving a herd of ponies before
them. The famous scout was then certain their village could not
be very far away. The savages did not observe him, as he took good
care they should not; so he returned quickly to where Major Greer
was standing by his camp-fire and reported the presence of a village
very close at hand.
The Major having sent for Tom Tobin and Uncle Dick Wooton, requested
them to go and find the exact location of the savages. These scouts
came back in less than half an hour, and reported a large number
of teepees in a thick grove of timber a mile away.
It was at once determined to surprise the savages in their winter
quarters by charging right among their lodges without allowing them
time to mount their ponies, as the gallant Custer rode, at the head
of his famous troopers of the Seventh Cavalry, into the camp of the
celebrated chief "Black Kettle" on the Washita, in the dawn of a
cold November morning twenty years afterward.
The command succeeded in getting within good charging distance of the
village without its occupants having any knowledge of its proximity;
but at this moment Major Greer was seized with an idea that he ought
to have a parley with the Indians before he commenced to fight them,
and for that purpose he ordered a halt, just as the soldiers were
eager for the sound of the "Charge!"
Never were a body of men more enraged. Carson gave vent to his wrath
in a series of elaborately carved English oaths, for which he was
noted when young; Leroux, whose naturally hot blood was roused,
swore at the Major in a curious mixture of bad French and worse
mountain dialect, and it appeared as if the battle would begin in the
ranks of the troops instead of those of the savages; for never was
a body of soldiers so disgusted at the act of any commanding officer.
This delay gave the Indians, who could be seen dodging about among
their lodges and preparing for a fight that was no longer a surprise,
time to hide their women and children, mount their ponies, and get
down into deep ravines, where the soldiers could not follow them.
While the Major was trying to convince his subordinates that his
course was the proper one, the Indians opened fire without any parley,
and it happened that at the first volley a bullet struck him in the
breast, but a suspender buckle deflected its course and he was not
The change in the countenance of their commanding officer caused by
the momentary pain was just the incentive the troopers wanted, and
without waiting for the sound of the trumpet, they spurred their
horses, dashed in, and charged the thunderstruck savages with the
shock of a tornado.
In two successful charges of the gallant and impatient troopers more
than a hundred of the Indians were killed and wounded, but the time
lost had permitted many to escape, and the pursuit of the stragglers
would have been unavailing under the circumstances; so the command
turned back and returned to Taos. In the village was found the body
of Mrs. White still warm, with three arrows in her breast. Had the
charge been made as originally expected by the troopers, her life
would have been saved. No trace of the child or of the coloured
nurse was ever discovered, and it is probable that they were both
killed while en route from the canyon to the village, as being
valueless to keep either as slaves or for other purposes.
The fate of the Apache chief, "White Wolf," who was the leader in
the outrages in the canyon of the Canadian, was fitting for his
devilish deeds. It was Lieutenant David Bell's fortune to avenge
the murder of Mrs. White and her family, and in an extraordinary
manner. The action was really dramatic, or romantic; he was
on a scout with his company, which was stationed at Fort Union,
New Mexico, having about thirty men with him, and when near the canyon
of the Canadian they met about the same number of Indians. A parley
was in order at once, probably desired by the savages, who were
confronted with an equal number of troopers. Bell had assigned
the baggage-mules to the care of five or six of his command, and held
a mounted interview with the chief, who was no other than the infamous
White Wolf of the Jicarilla Apaches. As Bell approached, White Wolf
was standing in front of his Indians, who were on foot, all well armed
and in perfect line. Bell was in advance of his troopers, who were
about twenty paces from the Indians, exactly equal in number and
extent of line; both parties were prepared to use firearms.
The parley was almost tediously long and the impending duel was
arranged, White Wolf being very bold and defiant.
At last the leaders exchanged shots, the chief sinking on one knee
and aiming his gun, Bell throwing his body forward and making his
horse rear. Both lines, by command, fired, following the example
of their superiors, the troopers, however, spurring forward over
their enemies. The warriors, or nearly all of them, threw themselves
on the ground, and several vertical wounds were received by horse
and rider. The dragoons turned short about, and again charged through
and over their enemies, the fire being continuous. As they turned
for a third charge, the surviving Indians were seen escaping to a
deep ravine, which, although only one or two hundred paces off,
had not previously been noticed. A number of the savages thus
escaped, the troopers having to pull up at the brink, but sending
a volley after the descending fugitives.
In less than fifteen minutes twenty-one of the forty-six actors in
this strange combat were slain or disabled. Bell was not hit, but
four or five of his men were killed or wounded. He had shot
White Wolf several times, and so did others after him; but so
tenacious of life was the Apache that, to finish him, a trooper
got a great stone and mashed his head.
This was undoubtedly the greatest duel of modern times; certainly
nothing like it ever occurred on the Santa Fe Trail before or since.
The war chief of the Kiowa nation in the early '50's was Satank,
a most unmitigated villain; cruel and heartless as any savage that
ever robbed a stage-coach or wrenched off the hair of a helpless woman.
After serving a dozen or more years with a record for hellish
atrocities equalled by few of his compeers, he was deposed for alleged
cowardice, as his warriors claimed, under the following circumstances:--
The village of his tribe was established in the large bottoms,
eight miles from the Great Bend of the Arkansas, and about the same
distance from Fort Zarah. All the bucks were absent on a hunting
expedition, excepting Satank and a few superannuated warriors.
The troops were out from Fort Larned on a grand scout after marauding
savages, when they suddenly came across the village and completely
took the Kiowas by surprise. Seeing the soldiers almost upon them,
Satank and other warriors jumped on their ponies and made good their
escape. Had they remained, all of them would have been killed or
at least captured; consequently Satank, thinking discretion better
than valour at that particular juncture, incontinently fled.
His warriors in council, however, did not agree with him; they thought
that it was his duty to have remained at the village in defence of
the women and children, as he had been urged to refrain from going on
the hunt for that very purpose.
Some time before Satank lost his office of chief, there was living
on Cow Creek, in a rude adobe building, a man who was ostensibly
an Indian trader, but whose traffic, in reality, consisted in selling
whiskey to the Indians, and consequently the United States troops
were always after him. He was obliged to cache his liquor in every
conceivable manner so that the soldiers should not discover it, and,
of course, he dreaded the incursions of the troops much more than
he did raids of the Indian marauders that were constantly on the Trail.
Satank and this illicit trader, whose name was Peacock, were great
chums. One day while they were indulging in a general good time
over sundry drinks of most villanous liquor, Satank said to Peacock:
"Peacock, I want you to write me a letter; a real nice one, that
I can show to the wagon-bosses on the Trail, and get all the 'chuck'
I want. Tell them I am Satank, the great chief of the Kiowas, and
for them to treat me the best they know how."
"All right, Satank," said Peacock; "I'll do so." Peacock then sat
down and wrote the following epistle:--
"The bearer of this is Satank. He is the biggest liar, beggar, and
thief on the plains. What he can't beg of you, he'll steal. Kick him
out of camp, for he is a lazy, good-for-nothing Indian."
Satank began at once to make use of the supposed precious document,
which he really believed would assure him the dignified treatment
and courtesy due to his exalted rank. He presented it to several
caravans during the ensuing week, and, of course, received a very
cool reception in every instance, or rather a very warm one.
One wagon-master, in fact, black-snaked him out of his camp.
After these repeated insults he sought another white friend, and
told of his grievances. "Look here," said Satank, "I asked Peacock
to write me a good letter, and he gave me this; but I don't
understand it! Every time I hand it to a wagon-boss, he gives me
the devil! Read it to me and tell me just what it does say."
His friend read it over, and then translated it literally to Satank.
The savage assumed a countenance of extreme disgust, and after musing
for a few moments, said: "Well, I understand it all now. All right!"
The next morning at daylight, Satank called for some of his braves
and with them rode out to Peacock's ranch. Arriving there, he called
out to Peacock, who had not yet risen: "Peacock, get up, the soldiers
are coming!" It was a warning which the illicit trader quickly
obeyed, and running out of the building with his field-glass in his
hand, he started for his lookout, but while he was ascending the
ladder with his back to Satank the latter shot him full of holes,
saying, as he did so: "There, Peacock, I guess you won't write any
His warriors then entered the building and killed every man in it,
save one who had been gored by a buffalo bull the day before, and
who was lying in a room all by himself. He was saved by the fact
that the Indian has a holy dread of small-pox, and will never enter
an apartment where sick men lie, fearing they may have the awful
Satanta (White Bear) was the most efficient and dreaded chief of all
who have ever been at the head of the Kiowa nation. Ever restlessly
active in ordering or conducting merciless forays against an exposed
frontier, he was the very incarnation of deviltry in his determined
hatred of the whites, and his constant warfare against civilization.
He also possessed wonderful oratorical powers; he could hurl the most
violent invectives at those whom he argued with, or he could be
equally pathetic when necessary. He was justly called "The Orator of
the Plains," rivalling the historical renown of Tecumseh or Pontiac.
He was a short, bullet-headed Indian, full of courage and well versed
in strategy. Ordinarily, when on his visits to the various military
posts he wore a major-general's full uniform, a suit of that rank
having been given to him in the summer of 1866 by General Hancock.
He also owned an ambulance, a team of mules, and a set of harness,
the last stolen, maybe, from some caravan he had raided on the Trail.
In that ambulance, with a trained Indian driver, the wily chief
travelled, wrapped in a savage dignity that was truly laughable.
In his village, too, he assumed a great deal of style. He was very
courteous to his white guests, if at the time his tribe were at all
friendly with the government; nothing was too good for them.
He always laid down a carpet on the floor of his lodge in the post
of honour, on which they were to sit. He had large boards, twenty
inches wide and three feet long, ornamented with brass tacks driven
all around the edges, which he used for tables. He also had a
French horn, which he blew vigorously when meals were ready.
His friendship was only dissembling. During all the time that
General Sheridan was making his preparations for his intended winter
campaign against the allied plains tribes, Satanta made frequent
visits to the military posts, ostensibly to show the officers that
he was heartily for peace, but really to inform himself of what was
At that time I was stationed at Fort Harker, on the Smoky Hill.
One evening, General Sheridan, who was my guest, was sitting on the
verandah of my quarters, smoking and chatting with me and some other
officers who had come to pay him their respects, when one of my men
rode up and quietly informed me that Satanta had just driven his
ambulance into the fort, and was getting ready to camp near the mule
corral. On receiving this information, I turned to the general and
suggested the propriety of either killing or capturing the inveterate
demon. Personally I believed it would be right to get rid of such
a character, and I had men under my command who would have been
delighted to execute an order to that effect.
Sheridan smiled when I told him of Satanta's presence and the
excellent chance to get rid of him. But he said: "That would
never do; the sentimentalists in the Eastern States would raise
such a howl that the whole country would be horrified!"
Of course, in these "piping times of peace" the reader, in the quiet
of his own room, will think that my suggestion was brutal, and without
any palliation; my excuse, however, may be found in General
Washington's own motto: Exitus acta probat. If the suggestion had
been acted upon, many an innocent man and woman would have escaped
torture, and many a maiden a captivity worse than death.
As a specimen of Satanta's oratory, I offer the following, to show
the hypocrisy of the subtle old villain, and his power over the minds
of too sensitive auditors. Once Congress sent out to the central
plains a commission from Washington to inquire into the causes of
the continual warfare raging with the savages on the Kansas border;
to learn what the grievances of the Indians were; and to find some
remedy for the wholesale slaughter of men, women, and children along
the line of the Old Trail.
Satanta was sent for by the commission as the leading spirit of the
formidable Kiowa nation. When he entered the building at Fort Dodge
in which daily sessions were held, he was told by the president to
speak his mind without any reservation; to withhold nothing, but to
truthfully relate what his tribe had to complain of on the part of
the whites. The old rascal grew very pathetic as he warmed up to
his subject. He declared that he had no desire to kill the white
settlers or emigrants crossing the plains, but that those who came
and lived on the land of his tribe ruthlessly slaughtered the buffalo,
allowing their carcasses to rot on the prairie; killing them merely
for the amusement it afforded them, while the Indian only killed
when necessity demanded. He also stated that the white hunters
set out fires, destroying the grass, and causing the tribe's horses
to starve to death as well as the buffalo; that they cut down and
otherwise destroyed the timber on the margins of the streams, making
large fires of it, while the Indian was satisfied to cook his food
with a few dry and dead limbs. "Only the other day," said he,
"I picked up a little switch on the Trail, and it made my heart bleed
to think that so small a green branch, ruthlessly torn out of the
ground and thoughtlessly destroyed by some white man, would in time
have grown into a stately tree for the use and benefit of my children
After the pow-wow had ended, and Satanta had got a few drinks of
red liquor into him, his real, savage nature asserted itself, and
he said to the interpreter at the settler's store: "Now didn't I
give it to those white men who came from the Great Father? Didn't I
do it in fine style? Why, I drew tears from their eyes! The switch
I saw on the Trail made my heart glad instead of sad; for I new there
was a tenderfoot ahead of me, because an old plainsman or hunter
would never have carried anything but a good quirt or a pair of spurs.
So I said to my warriors, 'Come on, boys; we've got him!' and when
we came in sight, after we had followed him closely on the dead run,
he threw away his rifle and held tightly on to his hat for fear
he should lose it!"
Another time when Satanta had remained at Fort Dodge for a very long
period and had worn out his welcome, so that no one would give him
anything to drink, he went to the quarters of his old friend,
Bill Bennett, the overland stage agent, and begged him to give him
some liquor. Bill was mixing a bottle of medicine to drench a
sick mule. The moment he set the bottle down to do something else,
Satanta seized it off the ground and drank most of the liquid before
quitting. Of course, it made the old savage dreadfully sick as well
as angry. He then started for a certain officer's quarters and again
begged for something to cure him of the effects of the former dose;
the officer refused, but Satanta persisted in his importunities;
he would not leave without it. After a while, the officer went to
a closet and took a swallow of the most nauseating medicine, placing
the bottle back on its shelf. Satanta watched his chance, and,
as soon as the officer left the room, he snatched the bottle out of
the closet and drank its contents without stopping to breathe.
It was, of course, a worse dose than the horse-medicine. The next
day, very early in the morning, he assembled a number of his warriors,
crossed the Arkansas, and went south to his village. Before leaving,
however, he burnt all of the government contractor's hay on the bank
of the river opposite the post. He then continued on to Crooked Creek,
where he murdered three wood-choppers, all of which, he said afterward,
he did in revenge for the attempt to poison him at Fort Dodge.
At the Comanche agency, where several of the government agents were
assembled to have a talk with chiefs of the various plains tribes,
Satanta said in his address: "I would willingly take hold of that part
of the white man's road which is represented by the breech-loading
rifles; but I don't like the corn rations--they make my teeth hurt!"
Big Tree was another Kiowa chief. He was the ally and close friend
of Satanta, and one of the most daring and active of his warriors.
The sagacity and bravery of these two savages would have been a credit
to that of the most famous warriors of the old French and Indian Wars.
Both were at last taken, tried, and sent to the Texas penitentiary
for life. Satanta was eventually pardoned; but before he was made
aware of the efforts that were being taken for his release,
he attempted to escape, and, in jumping from a window, fell and broke
his neck. His pardon arrived the next morning. Big Tree, through
the work of the sentimentalists of Washington, was set free and sent
to the Kiowa Reservation--near Fort Sill in the Indian Territory.
The next most audacious and terrible scourge of the plains was
"Ta-ne-on-koe" (Kicking Bird). He was a great warrior of the Kiowas,
and was the chief actor in some of the bloodiest raids on the Kansas
frontier in the history of its troublous times.
One of his captures was that of a Miss Morgan and Mrs. White.
They were finally rescued from the savages by General Custer, under
the following circumstances: Custer, who was advancing with his
column of invincible cavalrymen--the famous Seventh United States--
in search of the two unfortunate women, had arrived near the head
waters of one of the tributaries of the Washita, and, with only
his guide and interpreter, was far in advance of the column, when,
on reaching the summit of an isolated bluff, they suddenly saw a
village of the Kiowas, which turned out to be that of Kicking Bird,
whose handsome lodge was easily distinguishable from the rest.
Without waiting for his command, the general and his guide rode
boldly to the lodge of the great chief, and both dismounted, holding
cocked revolvers in their hands; Custer presented his at Kicking
Bird's head. In the meantime, Custer's column of troopers, whom
the Kiowas had good reason to remember for their bravery in many
a hard-fought battle, came in full view of the astonished village.
This threw the startled savages into the utmost consternation, but
the warriors were held in check by signs from Kicking Bird. As the
cavalry drew nearer, General Custer demanded the immediate release
of the white women. Their presence in the village was at first
denied by the lying chief, and not until he had been led to the limb
of a huge cottonwood tree near the lodge, with a rope around his neck,
did he acknowledge that he held the women and consent to give them up.
This well-known warrior, with a foreknowledge not usually found in the
savage mind, seeing the beginning of the end of Indian sovereignty
on the plains, voluntarily came in and surrendered himself to the
authorities, and stayed on the reservation near Fort Sill.
In June, 1867, a year before the breaking out of the great Indian war
on the central plains, the whole tribe of Kiowas, led by him,
assembled at Fort Larned. He was the cynosure of all eyes, as he
was without question one of the noblest-looking savages ever seen
on the plains. On that occasion he wore the full uniform of a
major-general of the United States army. He was as correctly moulded
as a statue when on horseback, and when mounted on his magnificent
charger the morning he rode out with General Hancock to visit the
immense Indian camp a few miles above the fort on Pawnee Fork,
it would have been a difficult task to have determined which was
the finer-looking man.
After Kicking Bird had abandoned his wicked career, he was regarded
by every army officer with whom he had a personal acquaintance as
a remarkably good Indian; for he really made the most strenuous
efforts to initiate his tribe into the idea that it was best for it
to follow the white man's road. He argued with them that the time
was very near when there would no longer be any region where the
Indians could live as they had been doing, depending on the buffalo
and other game for the sustenance of their families; they must adapt
themselves to the methods of their conquerors.
In July, 1869, he became greatly offended with the government for
its enforced removal of his tribe from its natural and hereditary
hunting-grounds into the reservation allotted to it. At that time
many of his warriors, together with the Comanches, made a raid on
the defenceless settlements of the northern border of Texas, in which
the savages were disastrously defeated, losing a large number of
their most beloved warriors. On the return of the unsuccessful
expedition, a great council was held, consisting of all the chiefs
and head men of the two tribes which had suffered so terribly in
the awful fight, to consider the best means of avenging the loss
of so many braves and friends. Kicking Bird was summoned before
that council and condemned as a coward; they called him a squaw,
because he had refused to go with the warriors of the combined tribes
on the raid into Texas.
He told a friend of mine some time afterward that he had intended
never again to go against the whites; but the emergency of the case,
and his severe condemnation by the council, demanded that he should
do something to re-establish himself in the good graces of his tribe.
He then made one of the most destructive raids into Texas that ever
occurred in the history of its border warfare, which successfully
restored him to the respect of his warriors.
In that raid Kicking Bird carried off vast herds of horses and a
large number of scalps. Although his tribe fairly worshipped him,
he was not at all satisfied with himself. He could look into the
future as well as any one, and from that time on to his tragic death
he laboured most zealously and earnestly in connection with the
Indian agents to bring his people to live on the reservation which
the government had established for them in the Territory.
At the inauguration of the so-called "Quaker Policy" by President
Grant, that sect was largely intrusted with the management of Indian
affairs, particularly in the selection of agents for the various
tribes. A Mr. Tatham was appointed agent for the Kiowas in 1869.
He at once gained the confidence of Kicking Bird, who became very
valuable to him as an assistant in controlling the savages. It was
through that chief's influence that Thomas Batty, another Quaker,
was allowed to take up his residence with the tribe, the first white
man ever accorded that privilege. Batty was permitted to erect
three tents, which were staked together, converting them into an
ample schoolhouse. In that crude, temporary structure he taught
the Kiowa youth the rudiments of an education. This very successful
innovation shows how earnest the former dreaded savage was in his
efforts to promote the welfare of his people, by trying to induce
them to "take the white man's road."
Batty succeeded admirably for a year in his office of teacher,
the chief all the time nobly withstanding the taunts and jeers of
his warriors and their threats of taking his life, for daring to
allow a white man within the sacred precincts of their village--
a thing unparalleled in the annals of the tribe.
At last trouble came; the dissatisfied members of the tribe, the
ambitious and restless young men, eager for renown, made another
unsuccessful raid into Texas. The result was that they lost nearly
the whole of the band, among which was the favourite son of Lone Wolf,
a noted chief. After the death of his son, he declared that he
must and would have the scalp of a white man in revenge for the
untimely taking off of the young warrior. Of course, the most
available white man at this juncture was Batty, the Quaker teacher,
and he was chosen by Lone Wolf as the victim of savage revenge.
Here the noble instincts of Kicking Bird developed themselves.
He very plainly told Lone Wolf, who was constantly threatening and
thirsting for blood, that he could not kill Batty until he first
killed him and all his band. But Lone Wolf had fully determined
to have the hair of the innocent Quaker; so Kicking Bird, to avert
any collision between the two bands of Indians, kidnapped Batty
and ran him off to the agency, arriving at Fort Sill about an hour
before Lone Wolf's band of avengers overtook them, and thus the
Quaker teacher was saved.
One day, long after these occurrences, a friend of mine was in the
sutler's store at Fort Sill. In there was a stranger talking to
Mr. Fox, the agent of the Indians. Soon Kicking Bird entered the
establishment, and the stranger asked Mr. Fox who that fine-looking
Indian was. He was told, and then he begged the agent to say to him
that he would like to have a talk with him; for he it was who led
that famous raid into Texas. "I never saw better generalship in the
field in all my experience. He had three horses killed under him.
I was the surgeon of the rangers and was, of course, in the fight."
When Kicking Bird was told that the Texas doctor desired to talk with
him, he replied with great dignity that he did not want to revive
those troublous times. "Tell him, though," said Kicking Bird, "that
was my last raid against the whites; that I am a changed man."
The President of the United States sent for Kicking Bird to come to
Washington, and to bring with him such other influential Indians as
he thought might aid in inducing the Kiowas to cease their continual
raiding on the border of Texas.
In due time Kicking Bird left for the capital, taking with him
Lone Wolf, Big Bow, and Sun Boy of the Kiowas, together with several
of the head men of the Comanches. When the deputation of savages
arrived in Washington, it was received at the presidential mansion
by the chief magistrate himself. So much more attention was given
to Kicking Bird than to the others, that they became very jealous,
particularly when the President announced to them the appointment
of Kicking Bird as the head chief of the tribe. But Lone Wolf
would never recognize his authority, constantly urging the young men
to raid the settlements. Lone Wolf was a genuine savage, without one
redeeming trait, and his hatred of the white race was unparalleled
in its intensity. He was never known to smile. No other Indian can
show such a record of horrible massacres as he is responsible for.
His orders were rigidly obeyed, for he brooked no disobedience on
the part of his warriors.
In the summer of 1876, a party of English gentlemen left Fort Harker
for a buffalo hunt. They soon exhausted all their rations and started
a four-mule team back to the post for more. Some of Lone Wolf's band
of cut-throats came across the unfortunate teamster, killed him,
and ran off the team. After the occurrence, Kicking Bird came into
the agency at Fort Sill and told Mr. Haworth, the agent, that he had
given his word to the Great Father at Washington he would do all he
could to bring in those Indians who had been raiding by order of
Lone Wolf, particularly the two who had killed the Englishmen's driver.
He succeeded in bringing in twelve Indians in all, among them the
murderers of the driver. They, with Lone Wolf and Satank, were sent
to the Dry Tortugas for life. The morning they started on their
journey Satank talked very feelingly to Kicking Bird, with tears in
his eyes. He said that they might look for his bones along the road,
for he would never go to Florida. The savages were loaded into
government wagons. Satank was inside of one with a soldier on each
side of him, their legs hanging outside. Somehow the crafty villain
managed to slip the handcuffs off his wrists, at the same instant
seizing the rifle of one of his guards, and then shoved the two men
out with his feet. He tried to work the lever of the rifle, but
could not move it, and one of the soldiers, coming around the wagon
to where he was still trying to get the gun so as he could use it,
shot him down, and then threw his body on the Trail. Thus Satank
made good his vow that he would never be taken to Florida. He met
his death only a mile from the post.
After the departure of the condemned savages, the feeling in the tribe
against Kicking Bird increased to an alarming extent. Several times
the most incensed warriors tried to kill him by shooting at him from
an ambush. After he became fully aware that his life was in danger,
he never left his lodge without his carbine. He was as brave as a
lion, fearing none of the members of Lone Wolf's band; but he often
said it was only a question of a short time when he would be gotten
rid of; he did not allow the matter, however, to worry him in the
least, saying that he was conscious he had done his duty by his tribe
and the Great Father.
In a bend of Cash Creek, about half a mile below the mill, about half
a dozen of the Kiowas had their lodges, that of their chief being
among them. At ten o'clock one Monday in June, 1876, Mr. Haworth,
the agent, came in haste to the shops, called the master mechanic,
Mr. Wykes, out, told him to jump into the carriage quickly; that
Kicking Bird was dead.
When they arrived at the home of the great chief, sure enough he was
dead, and some of the women were engaged in folding his body in robes.
Other squaws were cutting themselves in a terrible manner, as is their
custom when a relative dies, and were also breaking everything
breakable about the lodge. Kicking Bird had always been scrupulously
clean and neat in the care of his home; it was adorned with the most
beautifully dressed buffalo robes and the finest furs, while the floor
was covered with matting.
It seems that Kicking Bird, after visiting Mr. Wykes that morning,
went immediately to his lodge, and sat down to eat something, but
just as he had finished a cup of coffee, he fell over, dead. He had
in his service a Mexican woman, and she had been bribed to poison him.
An expensive coffin was made at the agency for his remains, fashioned
out of the finest black walnut to be found in the country where that
timber grows to such a luxuriant extent. It was eight feet long
and four feet deep, but even then it did not hold one-half of his
effects, which were, according to the savage custom, interred with
The cries and lamentations of the warriors and women of his band
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