THE OLD SANTA FE TRAIL
COLONEL HENRY INMAN
Part 6 out of 8
the boys had forgotten to barricade it, tried to push himself
through, an' not succeeding, tried to back out, but at that instant
Bill caught him by the wrist--Bill was a powerful man--and picking up
a beaver-trap that laid on the floor, actually beat his brains
out with it.
"While this circus was going on inside, three more of the Ingins got
on the roof and wrenched off a couple of the logs that covered it;
but in a minute they came tumbling down and lay dead on the floor.
"'That leaves only twenty-five, don't it?' inquired Al, as he mopped
his face with his shirt-sleeve.
"'Howl, you red devils,' said Bill, as the Ingins commenced their
awful yelling when they saw their comrades fall into the room.
'Don't you know, you blame fools, you've fell in with experienced
hands at the shooting business?'
"Spat! Something hit Al, and he was the first wounded, but it was
only a scratch, and he kept right on attending to business.
"'By gosh! look at Rube, will you?' said Al. The dumb boy had in
his grasp the very chief of the band, who had just then discovered
the hole in the roof made by the three Ingins who had passed in
their checks for their impudence, and was trying his best to push
himself down. Rube had made a strike at him with an axe, but the
edge was turned aside, and the savage was getting the better of
the boy; he had grappled Rube by the hair and one arm, and they was
flying 'round like a wild cat and a hound. Bill tried three times
to sink his knife into the old chief, but there was such a cavortin'
in the wrastle between him and the boy, he was afraid to try any more,
for fear it might hit Rube instead. Suddenly the Ingin fell to the
floor as dead as a trapped beaver what's been drowned; Rube had
struck his buckhorn-handled hunting-knife right into the heart of
"'Set him agin the hole in the side of the building,' said Bill;
'he ain't fit for nothing else than to stop a gap'; so Rube set him
agin the hole, and pinned him there with half a dozen knives what
was lying round loose.
"Just as they had fastened the dead body of the old chief to the
side of the cabin, a perfect shower of bullets came rattling round
like a hailstorm. 'All right, let's have your waste lead,' said Bill.
"'A few more of these dead Ingins and we can make a regular fort of
this old cabin; we want two for that chunk,' said Al, as he pointed
with his rifle to a large gap on the west side of the wall; but
before he had fairly got the words out of his mouth, two of the
attacking party jumped down into the room. Al, being a regular giant,
as soon as they landed, surprised them by seizing one with each hand
by the throat, and he actually held them at arm's-length till he had
squeezed the very life out of them, and they both fell corpses.
"While Al was performing his two-Ingin act, a great light burst into
the cabin, and by the time he had choked his enemies to death, he saw,
while the Ingins outside gave a terrible yell of exultation, that
they had fired the place.
"'Damn 'em,' shouted Bill, as he pitched the corpse of the chief
from the gap where Rube had set him. 'Fellows, we've got to get
out of here right quick; follow me, boys!'
"Holding their rifles in hand, and clutching a hunting-knife also,
they stepped out into the brush surrounding the place, and started
on a run for the heavy timber on the bank of the creek.
"They had reckoned onluckily; a wild war-whoop greeted the flying men
as they reached the edge of the forest, and without being able to use
their arms, they were taken prisoners. Bill and Al, fastened with
their backs against each other, and Little Rube by himself, were
bound to separate trees, but not so far apart that they could not
speak to each other, and some of the Ingins began to gather sticks
and pile them around the trees.
"'What are they going to do with us?' anxiously inquired Bill of Al.
"'Roast us, you bet,' replied the other. 'They'll find me tough
"'It must be a painful death,' soliloquized Bill.
"'Well, it isn't the most pleasant one, you can gamble on that,'
said Al, turning his looks toward Bill; 'but see what the devils
are doing to poor Rube.'
"Bill cast his eyes in the direction of the dumb boy, who was fastened
to a small pine, about a hundred feet distant. Standing directly
in front of it was a gigantic Ingin, flourishing his scalping-knife
within an inch of Rube's head, trying to make the boy flinch.
But the young fellow merely scowled at him in a rage, his muscles
never quivering for an instant.
"While the men were trying to console each other, two of the savages,
who had gone away for a short time, returned, bearing the carcass
of the deer that Al had killed in the morning, and commenced to cut
it up. They had made several small fires, and roasting the meat
before them, began to gorge themselves, Indian fashion, with the
savoury morsels. The men were awfully hungry, too, but not a mouthful
did they get of their own game.
"The Ingins were more'n an hour feasting, while their prisoners kept
a looking for some help to get 'em out of the scrape they was in.
"'Bout a mile down the creek, me and six other trappers had a camp,
and that morning, being scarce of meat, we all went a hunting.
We had killed two or three elk and was 'bout going back to camp with
our game, when we heard firing, and supposed it was a party of hunters,
like ourselves, so we did not pay any attention to it at first; but
when it kept up so long, and there was such a constant volley, I told
our boys it might be a scrimmage with a party of red devils, and we
concluded to go and see.
"We left our elk where they were, and started in the direction of
the shooting, taking mighty good care not to be surprised ourselves.
We crept carefully on, and a little before sundown seen a camp-fire
burning in the timber quite a smart piece ahead of us. We stopped
then, and Ike Pettet and myself crept on cautiously on our hands and
knees through the brush to learn what the fire meant. In a little
while we seen it was an Ingin camp, and we counted twenty-two
warriors seated 'round their fires a eating as unconcernedly as if
we warn't nowhere near 'em. We didn't feel like tackling so many,
so just as we was 'bout to crawl away and leave 'em in ondisturbed
possession of their camp, we heard some parties talking in English.
Then we pricked up our ears and listened mighty interested I tell you.
Looking 'round, we seen the men tied to the trees and the wood piled
against 'em, and then we knowed what was up. We had to be mighty
wary, for if we snapped a twig even, it was all day with us and
the prisoners too; so we dragged ourselves back, and after getting
out of sound of the Ingins, we just got up and lit out mighty lively
for the place we'd left our companions. We met them coming slowly
on 'bout two miles from the Ingin camp, and telling 'em what was up
we started to help the trappers what the devils was agoing to burn.
We wasn't half so long in getting at the camp as Ike and me was
in going, and we soon come within good range for our rifles.
"The Ingins was still unsuspicious, and we spread ourselves in a
sort of half circle so as to kind o' surround them, and at a signal
I give, seven rifles cracked at once, and as many of the Injins was
dropped right in their tracks; a second volley, for the red devils
had not got their senses yet, tumbled seven more corpses upon the
pile, and then we white men jumped in with our knives and clubbed
rifles, and there was a lively scrimmage for a few minutes. The few
Ingins what wasn't killed fought like devils, but as we was getting
the best of 'em every second they turned tail and ran.
"We'd heard the firing of the fight at the cabin just in time; and
as we cut the rawhide strings that bound the fellows to the trees,
Ike, who was a right fine shot and had killed three at one time,
said: 'I always like to get two or three of the red devils in a line
before I pull the trigger; it saves lead.'
"Then we all went back to our camp and made a night of it, feasting
on the elk we had killed, and talking over the wonderful escape of
the boys and Little Rube."
Of the famous men whose lives are so interwoven with the history
of the Old Santa Fe Trail that the story of the great highway is
largely made up of their individual exploits and acts of bravery,
it has been my fortune to have known nearly all intimately, during
more than a third of a century passed on the great plains and in
the Rocky Mountains.
First of all, Christopher, or Kit, Carson, as he is familiarly known
to the world, stands at the head and front of celebrated frontiersmen,
trappers, scouts, guides, and Indian fighters.
I knew him well through a series of years, to the date of his death
in 1868, but I shall confine myself to the events of his remarkable
career along the line of the Trail and its immediate environs.
In 1826 a party of Santa Fe traders passing near his father's home
in Howard County, Missouri, young Kit, who was then but seventeen
years old, joined the caravan as hunter. He was already an expert
with the rifle, and thus commenced his life of adventure on the
great plains and in the Rocky Mountains.
His first exhibition of that nerve and coolness in the presence of
danger which marked his whole life was in this initial trip across
the plains. When the caravan had arrived at the Arkansas River,
somewhere in the vicinity of the great bend of that stream, one of
the teamsters, while carelessly pulling his rifle toward him by the
barrel, discharged the weapon and received the ball in his arm,
completely crushing the bones. The blood from the wound flowed so
copiously that he nearly lost his life before it could be arrested.
He was fixed up, however, and the caravan proceeded on its journey,
the man thinking no more seriously of his injured arm. In a few days,
however, the wound began to indicate that gangrene had set in, and
it was determined that only by an amputation was it possible for him
to live beyond a few days. Every one of the older men of the caravan
positively declined to attempt the operation, as there were no
instruments of any kind. At this juncture Kit, realizing the extreme
necessity of prompt action, stepped forward and offered to do the job.
He told the unfortunate sufferer that he had had no experience in
such matters, but that as no one else would do it, he would take
the chances. All the tools that Kit could find were a razor, a saw,
and the king-bolt of a wagon. He cut the flesh with the razor,
sawed through the bone as if it had been a piece of joist, and seared
the horrible wound with the king-bolt, which he had heated to a
white glow, for the purpose of stopping the flow of blood that
naturally followed such rude surgery. The operation was a complete
success; the man lived many years afterward, and was with his surgeon
in many an expedition.
In the early days of the commerce of the prairies, Carson was the
hunter at Bent's Fort for a period of eight years. There were about
forty men employed at the place; and when the game was found in
abundance in the mountains, it was a relatively easy task and just
suited to his love of sport, but when it grew scarce, as it often
did, his prowess was tasked to its utmost to keep the forty mouths
from crying for food. He became such an unerring shot with the
rifle during that time that he was called the "Nestor of the Rocky
Mountains." His favourite game was the buffalo, although he killed
countless numbers of other animals.
All of the plains tribes of Indians, as did the powerful Utes of
the mountains, knew him well; for he had often visited in their
camps, sat in their lodges, smoked the pipe, and played with their
little boys. The latter fact may not appear of much consequence,
but there are no people on earth who have a greater love for their
boy children than the savages of America. The Indians all feared
him, too, at the same time that they respected his excellent judgment,
and frequently were governed by his wise counsel. The following
story will show his power in this direction. The Sioux, one of the
most numerous and warlike tribes at that time, had encroached upon
the hunting-grounds of the southern Indians, and the latter had many
a skirmish with them on the banks of the Arkansas along the line of
the Trail. Carson, who was in the upper valley of the river, was
sent for to come down and help them drive the obnoxious Sioux back
to their own stamping-ground. He left Fort Bent, and went with the
party of Comanche messengers to the main camp of that tribe and the
Arapahoes, with whom they had united. Upon his arrival, he was told
that the Sioux had a thousand warriors and many rifles, and the
Comanches and Arapahoes were afraid of them on account of the great
disparity of numbers, but that if he would go with them on the
war-path, they felt assured they could overcome their enemies.
Carson, however, instead of encouraging the Comanches and Arapahoes
to fight, induced them to negotiate with the Sioux. He was sent
as mediator, and so successfully accomplished his mission that the
intruding tribe consented to leave the hunting-grounds of the
Comanches as soon as the buffalo season was over; which they did,
and there was no more trouble.
After many adventures in California with Fremont, Carson, with his
inseparable friend, L. B. Maxwell, embarked in the wool-raising
industry. Shortly after they had established themselves on their
ranch, the Apaches made one of their frequent murdering and plundering
raids through Northern New Mexico, killing defenceless women and
children, running off stock of all kinds, and laying waste every
little ranch they came across in their wild foray. Not very far
from the city of Santa Fe, they ruthlessly butchered a Mr. White
and his son, though three of their number were slain by the brave
gentlemen before they were overpowered. Other of the blood-thirsty
savages carried away the women and children of the desolated home
and took them to their mountain retreat in the vicinity of Las Vegas.
Mr. White was a highly respected merchant, and news of this outrage
spreading rapidly through the settlements, it was determined that
the savages should not go without punishment this time, at least.
Carson's reputation as an Indian fighter was at its height, so the
natives of the country sent for him, and declined to move until
he came. For some unexplained reason, after he arrived at Las Vegas,
he was not placed in charge of the posse, that position having
already been given to a Frenchman. Carson, as was usual with him,
never murmured because he was assigned to a subordinate position,
but took his place, ready to do his part in whatever capacity.
The party set out for the stronghold of the savages, and rode night
and day on the trail of the murderers, hoping to surprise them and
recapture the women and children; but so much time had been wasted
in delays, that Carson feared they would only find the mutilated
bodies of the poor captives. In a few days after leaving Las Vegas,
the retreat of the savages was discovered in the fastness of the
mountains, where they had fortified themselves in such a manner that
they could resist ten times the number of their pursuers. Carson,
as soon as he saw them, without a second's hesitation, and giving
a characteristic yell, dashed in, expecting, of course, that the men
would follow him; but they only stood in gaping wonderment at his
bravery, not daring to venture after him. He did not discover his
dilemma until he had advanced so far alone that escape seemed
impossible. But here his coolness, which always served him in the
moment of supreme danger, saved his scalp. As the savages turned
on him, he threw himself on the off side of his horse, Indian fashion,
for he was as expert in a trick of that kind as the savages themselves,
and rode back to the little command. He had six arrows in his horse
and a bullet through his coat!
The Indians in those days were poorly armed, and did not long
follow up the pursuit after Carson; for, observing the squad of
mounted Mexicans, they retreated to the top of a rocky prominence,
from which point they could watch every movement of the whites.
Carson was raging at the apathy, not to say cowardice, of the men
who had sent for him to join them, but he kept his counsel to himself;
for he was anxious to save the captured women and children. He talked
to the men very earnestly, however, exhorting them not to flinch
in the duty they had come so far to perform, and for which he had
come at their call. This had the desired effect; for he induced
them to make a charge, which was gallantly performed, and in such
a brave manner that the Indians fled, scarcely making an effort to
defend themselves. Five of their number were killed at the furious
onset of the Mexicans, but unfortunately, as he anticipated, only
the murdered corpses of the women and children were the result of
President Polk appointed Carson to a second lieutenancy, and his
first official duty was conducting fifty soldiers under his command
through the country of the Comanches, who were then at war with the
whites. A fight occurred at a place known as Point of Rocks,
where on arriving, Carson found a company of volunteers for the
Mexican War, and camped near them. About dawn the next morning,
all the animals of the volunteers were captured by a band of Indians,
while the herders were conducting them to the river-bottom to graze.
The herders had no weapons, and luckily, in the confusion attending
the bold theft, ran into Carson's camp; and as he, with his men,
were ready with their rifles, they recaptured the oxen, but the
horses were successfully driven off by their captors.
Several of the savages were mortally wounded by Carson's prompt
charge, as signs after they had cleared out proved; but the Indian
custom of tying the wounded on their ponies precluded the chance of
taking any scalps. The wily Comanche, like the Arab of the desert,
is generally successful in his sudden assaults, but Carson, who was
never surprised, was always equal to his tactics.
One of the two soldiers whose turn it had been to stand guard that
morning was discovered to have been asleep when the alarm of Indians
was given, and Carson at once administered the Indian method of
punishment, making the man wear the dress of a squaw for that day.
Then going on, he arrived at Santa Fe, where he turned over his
While there, he heard that a gang of those desperadoes so frequently
the nuisance of a new country had formed a conspiracy to murder and
rob two wealthy citizens whom they had volunteered to accompany over
the Trail to the States. The caravan was already many miles on its
way when Carson was informed of the plot. In less than an hour he
had hired sixteen picked men and was on his march to intercept them.
He took a short cut across the mountains, taking especial care to
keep out of the way of the Indians, who were on the war-path, but
as to whose movements he was always posted. In two days he came
upon a camp of United States recruits, en route to the military
posts in New Mexico, whose commander offered to accompany him with
twenty men. Carson accepted the generous proposal, by forced marches
soon overtook the caravan of traders, and at once placed one Fox,
the leader of the gang, in irons, after which he informed the owners
of the caravan of the escape they had made from the wretches whom
they were treating so kindly. At first the gentlemen were astounded
at the disclosures made to them, but soon admitted that they had
noticed many things which convinced them that the plot really existed,
and but for the opportune arrival of the brave frontiersman it would
shortly have been carried out.
The members of the caravan who were perfectly trustworthy were then
ordered to corral the rest of the conspirators, thirty-five in number,
and they were driven out of camp, with the exception of Fox, the
leader, whom Carson conveyed to Taos. He was imprisoned for several
months, but as a crime in intent only could be proved against him,
and as the adobe walls of the house where he was confined were not
secure enough to retain a man who desired to release himself, he was
finally liberated, and cleared out.
The traders were profuse in their thanks to Carson for his timely
interference, but he refused every offer of remuneration. On their
return to Santa Fe from St. Louis, however, they presented him with
a magnificent pair of pistols, upon whose silver mounting was an
inscription commemorating his brave deed and the gratitude of the
The following summer was spent in a visit to St. Louis, and early
in the fall he returned over the Trail, arriving at the Cheyenne
village on the Upper Arkansas without meeting with any incident
worthy of note. On reaching that point, he learned that the Indians
had received a terrible affront from an officer commanding a detachment
of United States troops, who had whipped one of their chiefs; and
that consequently the whole tribe was enraged, and burning for revenge
upon the whites. Carson was the first white man to approach the
place since the insult, and so many years had elapsed since he was
the hunter at Bent's Fort, and so grievously had the Indians been
offended, that his name no longer guaranteed safety to the party
with whom he was travelling, nor even insured respect to himself,
in the state of excitement existing in the village. Carson, however,
deliberately pushed himself into the presence of a war council which
was just then in session to consider the question of attacking the
caravan, giving orders to his men to keep close together, and guard
against a surprise.
The savages, supposing that he could not understand their language,
talked without restraint, and unfolded their plans to capture his
party and kill them all, particularly the leader. After they had
reached this decision, Carson coolly rose and addressed the council
in the Cheyenne language, informing the Indians who he was, of his
former associations with and kindness to their tribe, and that now
he was ready to render them any assistance they might require; but
as to their taking his scalp, he claimed the right to say a word.
The Indians departed, and Carson went on his way; but there were
hundreds of savages in sight on the sand hills, and, though they
made no attack, he was well aware that he was in their power, nor
had they abandoned the idea of capturing his train. His coolness
and deliberation kept his men in spirit, and yet out of the whole
fifteen, which was the total number of his force, there were only two
or three on whom he could place any reliance in case of an emergency.
When the train camped for the night, the wagons were corralled, and
the men and mules all brought inside the circle. Grass was cut with
sheath-knives and fed to the animals, instead of their being picketed
out as usual, and as large a guard as possible detailed. When the
camp had settled down to perfect quiet, Carson crawled outside it,
taking with him a Mexican boy, and after explaining to him the danger
which threatened them all, told him that it was in his power to save
the lives of the company. Then he sent him on alone to Rayedo,
a journey of nearly three hundred miles, to ask for an escort of
United States troops to be sent out to meet the train, impressing
upon the brave little Mexican the importance of putting a good many
miles between himself and the camp before morning. And so he started
him, with a few rations of food, without letting the rest of his
party know that such measures were necessary. The boy had been in
Carson's service for some time, and was known to him as a faithful
and active messenger, and in a wild country like New Mexico, with
the outdoor life and habits of its people, such a journey was not
an unusual occurrence.
Carson now returned to the camp, to watch all night himself, and
at daybreak all were on the Trail again. No Indians made their
appearance until nearly noon, when five warriors came galloping up
toward the train. As soon as they came close enough to hear his
voice, Carson ordered them to halt, and going up to them, told how
he had sent a messenger to Rayedo the night before to inform the
troops that their tribe were annoying him, and that if he or his men
were molested, terrible punishment would be inflicted by those who
would surely come to his relief. The savages replied that they
would look for the moccasin tracks, which they undoubtedly found,
and the whole village passed away toward the hills after a little
while, evidently seeking a place of safety from an expected attack
by the troops.
The young Mexican overtook the detachment of soldiers whose officer
had caused all the trouble with the Indians, to whom he told his
story; but failing to secure any sympathy, he continued his journey
to Rayedo, and procured from the garrison of that place immediate
assistance. Major Grier, commanding the post, at once despatched
a troop of his regiment, which, by forced marches, met Carson
twenty-five miles below Bent's Fort, and though it encountered no
Indians, the rapid movement had a good effect upon the savages,
impressing them with the power and promptness of the government.
Early in the spring of 1865, Carson was ordered, with three companies,
to put a stop to the depredations of marauding bands of Cheyennes,
Kiowas, and Comanches upon the caravans and emigrant outfits travelling
the Santa Fe Trail. He left Fort Union with his command and marched
over the Dry or Cimarron route to the Arkansas River, for the purpose
of establishing a fortified camp at Cedar Bluffs, or Cold Spring,
to afford a refuge for the freight trains on that dangerous part of
the Trail. The Indians had for some time been harassing not only
the caravans of the citizen traders, but also those of the government,
which carried supplies to the several military posts in the Territory
of New Mexico. An expedition was therefore planned by Carson to
punish them, and he soon found an opportunity to strike a blow near
the adobe fort on the Canadian River. His force consisted of the
First Regiment of New Mexican Volunteer Cavalry and seventy-five
friendly Indians, his entire command numbering fourteen commissioned
officers and three hundred and ninety-six enlisted men. With these
he attacked the Kiowa village, consisting of about one hundred and
fifty lodges. The fight was a very severe one, and lasted from
half-past eight in the morning until after sundown. The savages,
with more than ordinary intrepidity and boldness, made repeated
stands against the fierce onslaughts of Carson's cavalrymen, but
were at last forced to give way, and were cut down as they stubbornly
retreated, suffering a loss of sixty killed and wounded. In this
battle only two privates and one noncommissioned officer were killed,
and one non-commissioned officer and thirteen privates, four of whom
were friendly Indians, wounded. The command destroyed one hundred
and fifty lodges, a large amount of dried meats, berries, buffalo-robes,
cooking utensils, and also a buggy and spring-wagon, the property
of Sierrito, the Kiowa chief.
In his official account of the fight, Carson states that he found
ammunition in the village, which had been furnished, no doubt, by
unscrupulous Mexican traders.
He told me that he never was deceived by Indian tactics but once
in his life. He said that he was hunting with six others after
buffalo, in the summer of 1835; that they had been successful, and
came into their little bivouac one night very tired, intending to
start for the rendezvous at Bent's Fort the next morning. They had
a number of dogs, among them some excellent animals. These barked
a good deal, and seemed restless, and the men heard wolves.
"I saw," said Kit, "two big wolves sneaking about, one of them quite
close to us. Gordon, one of my men, wanted to fire his rifle at it,
but I did not let him, for fear he would hit a dog. I admit that
I had a sort of an idea that those wolves might be Indians; but when
I noticed one of them turn short around, and heard the clashing of
his teeth as he rushed at one of the dogs, I felt easy then, and was
certain that they were wolves sure enough. But the red devil fooled
me, after all, for he had two dried buffalo bones in his hands under
the wolfskin, and he rattled them together every time he turned to
make a dash at the dogs! Well, by and by we all dozed off, and it
wasn't long before I was suddenly aroused by a noise and a big blaze.
I rushed out the first thing for our mules, and held them. If the
savages had been at all smart, they could have killed us in a trice,
but they ran as soon as they fired at us. They killed one of my men,
putting five bullets in his body and eight in his buffalo-robe.
The Indians were a band of Sioux on the war-trail after a band of
Snakes, and found us by sheer accident. They endeavoured to ambush
us the next morning, but we got wind of their little game and killed
three of them, including the chief."
Carson's nature was made up of some very noble attributes. He was
brave, but not reckless like Custer; a veritable exponent of Christian
altruism, and as true to his friends as the needle to the pole.
Under the average stature, and rather delicate-looking in his physical
proportions, he was nevertheless a quick, wiry man, with nerves of
steel, and possessing an indomitable will. He was full of caution,
but showed a coolness in the moment of supreme danger that was good
During a short visit at Fort Lyon, Colorado, where a favourite son
of his was living, early in the morning of May 23, 1868, while
mounting his horse in front of his quarters (he was still fond of
riding), an artery in his neck was suddenly ruptured, from the effects
of which, notwithstanding the medical assistance rendered by the
fort surgeons, he died in a few moments.
His remains, after reposing for some time at Fort Lyon, were taken
to Taos, so long his home in New Mexico, where an appropriate monument
was erected over them. In the Plaza at Santa Fe, his name also
appears cut on a cenotaph raised to commemorate the services of the
soldiers of the Territory. As an Indian fighter he was matchless.
The identical rifle used by him for more than thirty-five years,
and which never failed him, he bequeathed, just before his death,
to Montezuma Lodge, A. F. & A. M., Santa Fe, of which he was a member.
James Bridger, "Major Bridger," or "Old Jim Bridger," as we was called,
another of the famous coterie of pioneer frontiersmen, was born in
Washington, District of Columbia, in 1807. When very young, a mere
boy in fact, he joined the great trapping expedition under the
leadership of James Ashley, and with it travelled to the far West,
remote from the extreme limit of border civilization, where he became
the compeer and comrade of Carson, and certainly the foremost
mountaineer, strictly speaking, the United States has produced.
Having left behind him all possibilities of education at such an
early age, he was illiterate in his speech and as ignorant of the
conventionalities of polite society as an Indian; but he possessed
a heart overflowing with the milk of human kindness, was generous
in the extreme, and honest and true as daylight.
He was especially distinguished for the discovery of a defile through
the intricate mazes of the Rocky Mountains, which bears his name,
Bridger's Pass. He rendered important services as guide and scout
during the early preliminary surveys for a transcontinental railroad,
and for a series of years was in the employ of the government,
in the old regular army on the great plains and in the mountains,
long before the breaking out of the Civil War. To Bridger also
belongs the honour of having seen, first of all white men, the Great
Salt Lake of Utah, in the winter of 1824-25.
After a series of adventures, hairbreadth escapes, and terrible
encounters with the Indians, in 1856 he purchased a farm near Westport,
Missouri; but soon left it in his hunger for the mountains, to return
to it only when worn-out and blind, to be buried there without even
the rudest tablet to mark the spot.
"I would rather sleep in the southern corner of a little country
churchyard, than in the tomb of the Capulets." This quotation came
to my mind one Sunday morning two or three years ago, as I mused
over Bridger's neglected grave among the low hills beyond the quaint
old town of Westport. I thought I knew, as I stood there, that he
whose bones were mouldering beneath the blossoming clover at my feet,
would have wished for his last couch a more perfect solitude and
isolation from the wearisome world's busy sound than even the
The grassy mound, over which there was no stone to record the name
of its occupant, covered the remains of the last of his class, a type
vanished forever, for the border is a thing of the past; and upon
the gentle breeze of that delightful morning, like the droning of
bees in a full flowered orchard, was wafted to my ears the hum of
Kansas City's civilization, only three or four miles distant, in all
of which I was sure there was nothing that would have been congenial
to the old frontiersman.
At one time early in the '60's, while the engineers of the proposed
Union Pacific Railway were temporarily in Denver, then an insignificant
mushroom-hamlet, they became somewhat confused as to the most
practicable point in the range over which to run their line. After
debating the question, they determined, upon a suggestion from some
of the old settlers, to send for Jim Bridger, who was then visiting
in St. Louis. A pass, via the overland stage, was enclosed in a
letter to him, and he was urged to start for Denver at once, though
nothing of the business for which his presence was required was told
him in the text.
In about two weeks the old man arrived, and the next morning, after
he had rested, asked why he had been sent for from such a distance.
The engineers then began to explain their dilemma. The old mountaineer
waited patiently until they had finished, when, with a look of disgust
on his withered countenance, he demanded a large piece of paper,
remarking at the same time,--
"I could a told you fellers all that in St. Louis, and saved you
the expense of bringing me out here."
He was handed a sheet of manilla paper, used for drawing the details
of bridge plans. The veteran pathfinder spread it on the ground
before him, took a dead coal from the ashes of the fire, drew a rough
outline map, and pointing to a certain peak just visible on the
serrated horizon, said,--
"There's where you fellers can cross with your road, and nowhere else,
without more diggin' an' cuttin' than you think of."
That crude map is preserved, I have been told, in the archives of
the great corporation, and its line crosses the main spurs of the
Rocky Mountains, just where Bridger said it could with the least work.
The resemblance of old John Smith, another of the coterie, to
President Andrew Johnson was absolutely astonishing. When that
chief magistrate, in his "swinging around the circle," had arrived
at St. Louis, and was riding through the streets of that city in an
open barouche, he was pointed out to Bridger, who happened to be
there. But the venerable guide and scout, with supreme disgust
depicted on his countenance at the idea of any one attempting to
deceive him, said to his informant,--
"H---l! Bill, you can't fool me! That's old John Smith."
At one time many years ago, during Bridger's first visit to St. Louis,
then a relatively small place, a friend accidentally came across him
sitting on a dry-goods box in one of the narrow streets, evidently
disgusted with his situation. To the inquiry as to what he was doing
there all alone, the old man replied,--
"I've been settin' in this infernal canyon ever sence mornin', waitin'
for some one to come along an' invite me to take a drink. Hundreds
of fellers has passed both ways, but none of 'em has opened his head.
I never seen sich a onsociable crowd!"
Bridger had a fund of most remarkable stories, which he had drawn
upon so often that he really believed them to be true.
General Gatlin, who was graduated from West Point in the early
'30's, and commanded Fort Gibson in the Cherokee Nation over sixty
years ago, told me that he remembered Bridger very well; and had
once asked the old guide whether he had ever been in the great canyon
of the Colorado River.
"Yes, sir," replied the mountaineer, "I have, many a time. There's
where the oranges and lemons bear all the time, and the only place
I was ever at where the moon's always full!"
He told me and also many others, at various times, that in the winter
of 1830 it began to snow in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, and
continued for seventy days without cessation. The whole country was
covered to a depth of seventy feet, and all the vast herds of buffalo
were caught in the storm and died, but their carcasses were perfectly
"When spring came, all I had to do," declared he, "was to tumble 'em
into Salt Lake, an' I had pickled buffalo enough for myself and the
whole Ute Nation for years!"
He said that on account of that terrible storm, which annihilated
them, there have been no buffalo in that region since.
Bridger had been the guide, interpreter, and companion of that
distinguished Irish sportsman, Sir George Gore, whose strange tastes
led him in 1855 to abandon life in Europe and bury himself for over
two years among the savages in the wildest and most unfrequented
glens of the Rocky Mountains.
The outfit and adventures of this titled Nimrod, conducted as they
were on the largest scale, exceeded anything of the kind ever before
seen on this continent, and the results of his wanderings will
compare favourably with those of Gordon Cumming in Africa.
Some idea may be formed of the magnitude of his outfit when it is
stated that his retinue consisted of about fifty individuals,
including secretaries, steward, cooks, fly-makers, dog-tenders,
servants, etc. He was borne over the country with a train of thirty
wagons, besides numerous saddle-horses and dogs.
During his lengthened hunt he killed the enormous aggregate of forty
grizzly bears and twenty-five hundred buffalo, besides numerous
antelope and other small game.
Bridger said of Sir George that he was a bold, dashing, and successful
hunter, and an agreeable gentleman. His habit was to lie in bed until
about ten or eleven o'clock in the morning, then he took a bath,
ate his breakfast, and set out, generally alone, for the day's hunt,
and it was not unusual for him to remain out until ten at night,
seldom returning to the tents without augmenting the catalogue of
his beasts. His dinner was then served, to which he generally
extended an invitation to Bridger, and after the meal was over, and
a few glasses of wine had been drunk, he was in the habit of reading
from some book, and eliciting from Bridger his comments thereon.
His favourite author was Shakespeare, which Bridger "reckin'd was
too highfalutin" for him; moreover he remarked, "thet he rather
calcerlated that thar big Dutchman, Mr. Full-stuff, was a leetle
too fond of lager beer," and thought it would have been better for
the old man if he had "stuck to Bourbon whiskey straight."
Bridger seemed very much interested in the adventures of Baron
Munchausen, but admitted after Sir George had finished reading them,
that "he be dog'oned ef he swallered everything that thar Baron
Munchausen said," and thought he was "a darned liar," yet he
acknowledged that some of his own adventures among the Blackfeet
woul be equally marvellous "if writ down in a book."
A man whose one act had made him awe-inspiring was Belzy Dodd.
Uncle Dick Wooton, in relating the story, says: "I don't know what
his first name was, but Belzy was what we called him. His head was
as bald as a billiard ball, and he wore a wig. One day while we
were all at Bent's Fort, while there were a great number of Indians
about, Belzy concluded to have a bit of fun. He walked around, eying
the Indians fiercely for some time, and finally, dashing in among
them, he gave a series of war-whoops which discounted a Comanche yell,
and pulling off his wig, threw it down at the feet of the astonished
and terror-stricken red men.
"The savages thought the fellow had jerked off his own scalp, and not
one of them wanted to stay and see what would happen next. They left
the fort, running like so many scared jack-rabbits, and after that
none of them could be induced to approach anywhere near Dodd."
They called him "The-white-man-who-scalps-himself," and Uncle Dick
said that he believed he could have travelled across the plains alone
with perfect safety.
Jim Baker was another noted mountaineer and hunter of the same era as
Carson, Bridger, Wooton, Hobbs, and many others. Next to Kit Carson,
Baker was General Fremont's most valued scout.
He was born in Illinois, and lived at home until he was eighteen
years of age, when he enlisted in the service of the American Fur
Company, went immediately to the Rocky Mountains, and remained there
until his death. He married a wife according to the Indian custom,
from the Snake tribe, living with her relatives many years and
cultivating many of their habits, ideas, and superstitions. He firmly
believed in the efficacy of the charms and incantations of the
medicine men in curing diseases, divining where their enemy was to
be found, forecasting the result of war expeditions, and other such
ridiculous matters. Unfortunately, too, Baker would sometimes take
a little more whiskey than he could conveniently carry, and often
made a fool of himself, but he was a generous, noble-hearted fellow,
who would risk his life for a friend at any time, or divide his last
morsel of food.
Like mountaineers generally, Baker was liberal to a fault, and
eminently improvident. He made a fortune by his work, but at the
annual rendezvous of the traders, at Bent's Fort or the old Pueblo,
would throw away the earnings of months in a few days' jollification.
He told General Marcy, who was a warm friend of his, that after one
season in which he had been unusually successful in accumulating a
large amount of valuable furs, from the sale of which he had realized
the handsome sum of nine thousand dollars, he resolved to abandon his
mountain life, return to the settlements, buy a farm, and live
comfortably during the remainder of his days. He accordingly made
ready to leave, and was on the eve of starting when a friend invited
him to visit a monte-bank which had been organized at the rendezvous.
He was easily led away, determined to take a little social amusement
with his old comrade, whom he might never see again, and followed him;
the result of which was that the whiskey circulated freely, and the
next morning found Baker without a cent of money; he had lost
everything. His entire plans were thus frustrated, and he returned
to the mountains, hunting with the Indians until he died.
Jim Baker's opinions of the wild Indians of the great plains and
the mountains were very decided: "That they are the most onsartinist
varmints in all creation, an' I reckon thar not more'n half human;
for you never seed a human, arter you'd fed an' treated him to the
best fixin's in your lodge, jis turn round and steal all your horses,
or ary other thing he could lay his hands on. No, not adzactly.
He would feel kind o' grateful, and ask you to spread a blanket in
his lodge ef you ever came his way. But the Injin don't care shucks
for you, and is ready to do you a lot of mischief as soon as he quits
your feed. No, Cap.," he said to Marcy when relating this, "it's not
the right way to make 'em gifts to buy a peace; but ef I war gov'nor
of these United States, I'll tell what I'd do. I'd invite 'em all
to a big feast, and make 'em think I wanted to have a talk; and as
soon as I got 'em together, I'd light in and raise the har of half
of 'em, and then t'other half would be mighty glad to make terms
that would stick. That's the way I'd make a treaty with the dog'oned
red-bellied varmints; and as sure as you're born, Cap., that's the
The general, when he first met Baker, inquired of him if he had
travelled much over the settlements of the United States before he
came to the mountains; to which he said: "Right smart, right smart,
Cap." He then asked whether he had visited New York or New Orleans.
"No, I hasn't, Cap., but I'll tell you whar I have been. I've been
mighty nigh all over four counties in the State of Illinois!"
He was very fond of his squaw and children, and usually treated
them kindly; only when he was in liquor did he at all maltreat them.
Once he came over into New Mexico, where General Marcy was stationed
at the time, and determined that for the time being he would cast
aside his leggings, moccasins, and other mountain dress, and wear
a civilized wardrobe. Accordingly, he fitted himself out with one.
When Marcy met him shortly after he had donned the strange clothes,
he had undergone such an entire change that the general remarked
he should hardly have known him. He did not take kindly to this,
and said: "Consarn these store butes, Cap.; they choke my feet like
h---l." It was the first time in twenty years that he had worn
anything on his feet but moccasins, and they were not ready for the
torture inflicted by breaking in a new pair of absurdly fitting
boots. He soon threw them away, and resumed the softer foot-gear
of the mountains.
Baker was a famous bear hunter, and had been at the death of many
a grizzly. On one occasion he was setting his traps with a comrade
on the head waters of the Arkansas, when they suddenly met two young
grizzly bears about the size of full-grown dogs. Baker remarked
to his friend that if they could "light in and kill the varmints"
with their knives, it would be a big thing to boast of. They both
accordingly laid aside their rifles and "lit in," Baker attacking
one and his comrade the other. The bears immediately raised
themselves on their haunches, and were ready for the encounter.
Baker ran around, endeavouring to get in a blow from behind with his
long knife; but the young brute he had tackled was too quick for
him, and turned as he went around so as always to confront him
face to face. He knew if he came within reach of his claws, that
although young, he could inflict a formidable wound; moreover, he was
in fear that the howls of the cubs would bring the infuriated mother
to their rescue, when the hunters' chances of getting away would
be slim. These thoughts floated hurriedly through his mind, and
made him desirous to end the fight as soon as he could. He made
many vicious lunges at the bear, but the animal invariably warded
them off with his strong fore legs like a boxer. This kind of
tactics, however, cost the lively beast several severe cuts on his
shoulders, which made him the more furious. At length he took the
offensive, and with his month frothing with rage, bounded toward
Baker, who caught and wrestled with him, succeeding in giving him
a death-wound under the ribs.
While all this was going on, his comrade had been furiously engaged
with the other bear, and by this time had become greatly exhausted,
with the odds decidedly against him. He entreated Baker to come to
his assistance at once, which he did; but much to his astonishment,
as soon as he entered the second contest his comrade ran off, leaving
him to fight the battle alone. He was, however, again victorious,
and soon had the satisfaction of seeing his two antagonists stretched
out in front of him, but as he expressed it, "I made my mind up I'd
never fight nary nother grizzly without a good shootin'-iron in my paws."
He established a little store at the crossing of Green River, and
had for some time been doing a fair business in trafficking with
the emigrants and trading with the Indians; but shortly a Frenchman
came to the same locality and set up a rival establishment, which,
of course, divided the limited trade, and naturally reduced the
income of Baker's business.
This engendered a bitter feeling of hostility, which soon culminated
in a cessation of all social intercourse between the two men. About
this time General Marcy arrived there on his way to California, and
he describes the situation of affairs thus:--
"I found Baker standing in his door, with a revolver loaded and
cocked in each hand, very drunk and immensely excited. I dismounted
and asked him the cause of all this disturbance. He answered: 'That
thar yaller-bellied, toad-eatin' Parly Voo, over thar, an' me, we've
been havin' a small chance of a scrimmage to-day. The sneakin'
pole-cat, I'll raise his har yet, ef he don't quit these diggins'!'
"It seems that they had an altercation in the morning, which ended
in a challenge, when they ran to their cabins, seized their revolvers,
and from the doors, which were only about a hundred yards from each
other, fired. Then they retired to their cabins, took a drink of
whiskey, reloaded their revolvers, and again renewed the combat.
This strange duel had been going on for several hours when I arrived,
but, fortunately for them, the whiskey had such an effect on their
nerves that their aim was very unsteady, and none of the shots had
as yet taken effect.
"I took away Baker's revolvers, telling him how ashamed I was to
find a man of his usually good sense making such a fool of himself.
He gave in quietly, saying that he knew I was his friend, but did not
think I would wish to have him take insults from a cowardly Frenchman.
"The following morning at daylight Jim called at my tent to bid me
good-by, and seemed very sorry for what had occurred the day before.
He stated that this was the first time since his return from
New Mexico that he had allowed himself to drink whiskey, and when
the whiskey was in him he had 'nary sense.'"
Among the many men who have distinguished themselves as mountaineers,
traders, and Indian fighters along the line of the Old Trail, was
one who eventually became the head chief of one of the most numerous
and valorous tribes of North American savages--James P. Beckwourth.
Estimates of him vary considerably. Francis Parkman, the historian,
who I think never saw him and writes merely from hearsay, says:
"He is a ruffian of the worst class; bloody and treacherous, without
honor or honesty; such, at least, is the character he bears on the
great plains. Yet in his case the standard rules of character fail;
for though he will stab a man in his slumber, he will also do the
most desperate and daring acts."
I never saw Beckwourth, but I have heard of him from those of my
mountaineer friends who knew him intimately; I think that he died
long before Parkman made his tour to the Rocky Mountains. Colonel
Boone, the Bents, Carson, Maxwell, and others ascribed to him no
such traits as those given by Parkman, and as to his honesty, it is
an unquestioned fact that Beckwourth was the most honest trader
among the Indians of all who were then engaged in the business.
As Kit Carson and Colonel Boone were the only Indian agents whom
I ever knew or heard of that dealt honestly with the various tribes,
as they were always ready to acknowledge, and the withdrawal of the
former by the government was the cause of a great war, so also
Beckwourth was an honest Indian trader.
He was a born leader of men, and was known from the Yellowstone to
the Rio Grande, from Santa Fe to Independence, and in St. Louis.
From the latter town he ran away when a boy with a party of trappers,
and himself became one of the most successful of that hardy class.
The woman who bore him had played in her childhood beneath the palm
trees of Africa; his father was a native of France, and went to the
banks of the wild Mississippi of his own free will, but probably
also from reasons of political interest to his government.
In person Beckwourth was of medium height and great muscular power,
quick of apprehension, and with courage of the highest order.
Probably no man ever met with more personal adventures involving
danger to life, even among the mountaineers and trappers who early
in the century faced the perils of the remote frontier. From his
neck he always wore suspended a perforated bullet, with a large
oblong bead on each side of it, tied in place by a single thread
of sinew. This amulet he obtained while chief of the Crows,
and it was his "medicine," with which he excited the superstition
of his warriors.
His success as a trader among the various tribes of Indians has
never been surpassed; for his close intimacy with them made him
know what would best please their taste, and they bought of him
when other traders stood idly at their stockades, waiting almost
hopelessly for customers.
But Beckwourth himself said: "The traffic in whiskey for Indian
property was one of the most infernal practices ever entered into by
man. Let the most casual thinker sit down and figure up the profits
on a forty-gallon cask of alcohol, and he will be thunderstruck, or
rather whiskey-struck. When it was to be disposed of, four gallons
of water were added to each gallon of alcohol. In two hundred gallons
there are sixteen hundred pints, for each one of which the trader
got a buffalo-robe worth five dollars. The Indian women toiled many
long weeks to dress those sixteen hundred robes. The white traders
got them for worse than nothing; for the poor Indian mother hid
herself and her children until the effect of the poison passed away
from the husband and father, who loved them when he had no whiskey,
and abused and killed them when he had. Six thousand dollars for
sixty gallons of alcohol! Is it a wonder with such profits that
men got rich who were engaged in the fur trade? Or was it a miracle
that the buffalo were gradually exterminated?--killed with so little
remorse that the hides, among the Indians themselves, were known
by the appellation of 'A pint of whiskey.'"
Beckwourth claims to have established the Pueblo where the beautiful
city of Pueblo, Colorado, is now situated. He says: "On the 1st
of October, 1842, on the Upper Arkansas, I erected a trading-post
and opened a successful business. In a very short time I was joined
by from fifteen to twenty free trappers, with their families.
We all united our labour and constructed an adobe fort sixty yards
square. By the following spring it had grown into quite a little
settlement, and we gave it the name of Pueblo."
UNCLE DICK WOOTON.
Immediately after Kit Carson, the second wreath of pioneer laurels,
for bravery and prowess as an Indian fighter, and trapper, must be
conceded to Richens Lacy Wooton, known first as "Dick," in his
younger days on the plains, then, when age had overtaken him,
as "Uncle Dick."
Born in Virginia, his father, when he was but seven years of age,
removed with his family to Kentucky, where he cultivated a tobacco
plantation. Like his predecessor and lifelong friend Carson,
young Wooton tired of the monotony of farming, and in the summer
of 1836 made a trip to the busy frontier town of Independence,
Missouri, where he found a caravan belonging to Colonel St. Vrain
and the Bents, already loaded, and ready to pull out for the fort
built by the latter, and named for them.
Wooton had a fair business education, and was superior in this
respect to his companions in the caravan to which he had attached
himself. It was by those rough, but kind-hearted, men that he was
called "Dick," as they could not readily master the more complicated
name of "Richens."
When he started from Independence on his initial trip across the
plains, he was only nineteen, but, like all Kentuckians, perfectly
familiar with a rifle, and could shoot out a squirrel's eye with
the certainty which long practice and hardened nerves assures.
The caravan, in which he was employed as a teamster, was composed
of only seven wagons; but a larger one, in which were more than fifty,
had preceded it, and as that was heavily laden, and the smaller one
only lightly, it was intended to overtake the former before the
dangerous portions of the Trail were reached, which it did in a few
days and was assigned a place in the long line.
Every man had to take his turn in standing guard, and the first night
that it fell to young Wooton was at Little Cow Creek, in the Upper
Arkansas valley. Nothing had occurred thus far during the trip
to imperil the safety of the caravan, nor was any attack by the
savages looked for.
Wooton's post comprehended the whole length of one side of the corral,
and his instructions were to shoot anything he saw moving outside
of the line of mules farthest from the wagons. The young sentry
was very vigilant. He did not feel at all sleepy, but eagerly
watched for something that might possibly come within the prescribed
distance, though not really expecting such a contingency.
About two o'clock he heard a slight noise, and saw something moving
about, sixty or seventy yards from where he was lying on the ground,
to which he had dropped the moment the strange sound reached his ears.
Of course, his first thoughts were of Indians, and the more he peered
through the darkness at the slowly moving object, the more convinced
he was that it must be a blood-thirsty savage.
He rose to his feet and blazed away, the shot rousing everbody, and
all came rushing with their guns to learn what the matter was.
Wooton told the wagon-master that he had seen what he supposed was
an Indian trying to slip up to the mules, and that he had killed him.
Some of the men crept very circumspectly to the spot where the
supposed dead savage was lying, while young Wooton remained at his
post eagerly waiting for their report. Presently he heard a voice
cry out: "I'll be d---d ef he hain't killed 'Old Jack!'"
"Old Jack" was one of the lead mules of one of the wagons. He had
torn up his picket-pin and strayed outside of the lines, with the
result that the faithful brute met his death at the hands of the
sentry. Wooton declared that he was not to be blamed; for the animal
had disobeyed orders, while he had strictly observed them!
At Pawnee Fork, a few days later, the caravan had a genuine tussle
with the Comanches. It was a bright moonlight night, and about two
hundred of the mounted savages attacked them. It was a rare thing
for Indians to begin a raid after dark, but they swept down on the
unsuspecting teamsters, yelling like a host of demons. They were
armed with bows and arrows generally, though a few of them had
fusees. They received a warm greeting, although they were not
expected, the guard noticing the savages in time to prevent a stampede
of the animals, which evidently was the sole purpose for which they
came, as they did not attempt to break through the corral to get at
the wagons. It was the mules they were after. They charged among
the men, vainly endeavouring to frighten the animals and make them
break loose, discharging showers of arrows as they rode by. The camp
was too hot for them, however, defended as it was by old teamsters
who had made the dangerous passage of the plains many times before,
and were up to all the Indian tactics. They failed to get a single
mule, but paid for their temerity by leaving three of their party
dead, just where they had been tumbled off their horses, not even
having time to carry the bodies off, as they usually do.
Wooton passed some time during the early days of his career at
Bent's Fort, in 1836-37. He was a great favourite with both of
the proprietors, and with them went to the several Indian villages,
where he learned the art of trading with the savages.
The winters of the years mentioned were noted for the incursions
of the Pawnees into the region of the fort. They always pretended
friendship for the whites, when any of them were inside of its sacred
precincts, but their whole manner changed when they by some stroke
of fortune caught a trapper or hunter alone on the prairie or in
the foot-hills; he was a dead man sure, and his scalp was soon
dangling at the belt of his cowardly assassins. Hardly a day passed
without witnessing some poor fellow running for the fort with a band
of the red devils after him; frequently he escaped the keen edge of
their scalping-knife, but every once in a while a man was killed.
At one time, two herders who were with their animals within fifty
yards of the fort, going out to the grazing ground, were killed and
every hoof of stock run off.
A party from the fort, comprising only eight men, among whom was
young Wooton, made up for lost time with the Indians, at the crossing
of Pawnee Fork, the same place where he had had his first fight.
The men had set out from the fort for the purpose of meeting a small
caravan of wagons from the East, loaded with supplies for the Bents'
trading post. It happened that a band of sixteen Pawnees were
watching for the arrival of the train, too. Wooton's party were
well mounted, while the Pawnees were on foot, and although the savages
were two to one, the advantage was decidedly in favour of the whites.
The Indians were armed with bows and arrows only, and while it was
an easy matter for the whites to keep out of the way of the shower
of missiles which the Indians commenced to hurl at them, the latter
became an easy prey to the unerring rifles of their assailants,
who killed thirteen out of the sixteen in a very short time.
The remaining three took French leave of their comrades at the
beginning of the conflict, and abandoning their arms rushed up to
the caravan, which was just appearing over a small divide, and gave
themselves up. The Indian custom was observed in their case,
although it was rarely that any prisoners were taken in these
conflicts on the Trail. Another curious custom was also followed.
When the party encamped they were well fed, and the next morning
supplied with rations enough to last them until they could reach one
of their villages, and sent off to tell their head chief what had
become of the rest of his warriors.
Wooton had an adventure once while he was stationed at Bent's Fort
during a trading expedition with the Utes, on the Purgatoire, or
Purgatory River, about ten or twelve miles from Trinidad.
He had taken with him, with others, a Shawnee Indian. Only a short
time before their departure from the fort, an Indian of that tribe
had been murdered by a Ute, and one day this Shawnee who was with
Wooton spied a Ute, when revenge inspired him, and he forthwith
killed his enemy. Knowing that as soon as the news of the shooting
reached the Ute village, which was not a great distance off,
the whole tribe would be down upon him, Wooton abandoned any attempt
to trade with them and tried to get out of their country as quickly
as he could.
As he expected, the Utes followed on his trail, and came up with his
little party on a prairie where there was not the slightest chance
to ambush or hide. They had to fight, because they could not help
it, but resolved to sell their lives as dearly as possible, as the
Utes outnumbered them twenty to one; Wooton having only eight men
with him, including the Shawnee.
The pack-animals, of which they had a great many, loaded with the
goods intended for the savages, were corralled in a circle, inside
of which the men hurried themselves and awaited the first assault
of the foe. In a few moments the Utes began to circle around the
trappers and open fire. The trappers promptly responded, and they
made every shot count; for all of the men, not even excepting the
Shawnee, were experts with the rifle. They did not mind the arrows
which the Utes showered upon them, as few, if any, reached to where
they stood. The savages had a few guns, but they were of the poorest
quality; besides, they did not know how to handle them then as they
learned to do later, so their bullets were almost as harmless as
The trappers made terrible havoc among the Utes' horses, killing
so many of them that the savages in despair abandoned the fight and
gave Wooton and his men an opportunity to get away, which they did
as rapidly as possible.
The Raton Pass, through which the Old Trail ran, was a relatively
fair mountain road, but originally it was almost impossible for
anything in the shape of a wheeled vehicle to get over the narrow
rock-ribbed barrier; saddle horses and pack-mules could, however,
make the trip without much difficulty. It was the natural highway to
southeastern Colorado and northeastern New Mexico, but the overland
coaches could not get to Trinidad by the shortest route, and as the
caravans also desired to make the same line, it occurred to Uncle
Dick that he would undertake to hew out a road through the pass,
which, barring grades, should be as good as the average turnpike.
He could see money in it for him, as he expected to charge toll,
keeping the road in repair at his own expense, and he succeeded in
procuring from the legislatures of Colorado and New Mexico charters
covering the rights and privileges which he demanded for his project.
In the spring of 1866, Uncle Dick took up his abode on the top of
the mountains, built his home, and lived there until two years ago,
when he died at a very ripe old age.
The old trapper had imposed on himself anything but an easy task in
constructing his toll-road. There were great hillsides to cut out,
immense ledges of rocks to blast, bridges to build by the dozen, and
huge trees to fell, besides long lines of difficult grading to engineer.
Eventually Uncle Dick's road was a fact, but when it was completed,
how to make it pay was a question that seriously disturbed his mind.
The method he employed to solve the problem I will quote in his
own words: "Such a thing as a toll-road was unknown in the country
at that time. People who had come from the States understood,
of course, that the object of building a turnpike was to enable
the owner to collect toll from those who travelled over it, but I
had to deal with a great many people who seemed to think that they
should be as free to travel over my well-graded and bridged roadway
as they were to follow an ordinary cow path.
"I may say that I had five classes of patrons to do business with.
There was the stage company and its employees, the freighters, the
military authorities, who marched troops and transported supplies
over the road, the Mexicans, and the Indians.
"With the stage company, the military authorities, and the American
freighters I had no trouble. With the Indians, when a band came
through now and then, I didn't care to have any controversy about
so small a matter as a few dollars toll! Whenever they came along,
the toll-gate went up, and any other little thing I could do to
hurry them on was done promptly and cheerfully. While the Indians
didn't understand anything about the system of collecting tolls,
they seemed to recognize the fact that I had a right to control
the road, and they would generally ride up to the gate and ask
permission to go through. Once in a while the chief of a band would
think compensation for the privilege of going through in order, and
would make me a present of a buckskin or something of that sort.
"My Mexican patrons were the hardest to get along with. Paying for
the privilege of travelling over any road was something they were
totally unused to, and they did not take to it kindly. They were
pleased with my road and liked to travel over it, until they came
to the toll-gate. This they seemed to look upon as an obstruction
that no man had a right to place in the way of a free-born native
of the mountain region. They appeared to regard the toll-gate as
a new scheme for holding up travellers for the purpose of robbery,
and many of them evidently thought me a kind of freebooter, who ought
to be suppressed by law.
"Holding these views, when I asked them for a certain amount of money,
before raising the toll-gate, they naturally differed with me very
frequently about the propriety of complying with the request.
"In other words, there would be at such times probably an honest
difference of opinion between the man who kept the toll-gate and
the man who wanted to get through it. Anyhow, there was a difference,
and such differences had to be adjusted. Sometimes I did it through
diplomacy, and sometimes I did it with a club. It was always settled
one way, however, and that was in accordance with the toll schedule,
so that I could never have been charged with unjust discrimination
Soon after the road was opened a company composed of Californians
and Mexicans, commanded by a Captain Haley, passed Uncle Dick's
toll-gate and house, escorting a large caravan of about a hundred
and fifty wagons. While they stopped there, a non-commissioned
officer of the party was brutally murdered by three soldiers, and
Uncle Dick came very near being a witness to the atrocious deed.
The murdered man was a Mexican, and his slayers were Mexicans too.
The trouble originated at Las Vegas, where the privates had been
bound and gagged, by order of the corporal, for creating a disturbance
at a fandango the evening before.
The name of the corporal was Juan Torres, and he came down to Uncle
Dick's one evening while the command was encamped on the top of the
mountain, accompanied by the three privates, who had already plotted
to kill him, though he had not the slightest suspicion of it.
Uncle Dick, in telling the story, said: "They left at an early hour,
going in an opposite direction from their camp, and I closed my doors
soon after, for the night. They had not been gone more than half
an hour, when I heard them talking not far from my house, and a few
seconds later I heard the half-suppressed cry of a man who has
received his death-blow.
"I had gone to bed, and lay for a minute or two thinking whether I
should get up and go to the rescue or insure my own safety by
remaining where I was.
"A little reflection convinced me that the murderers were undoubtedly
watching my house, to prevent any interference with the carrying out
of their plot, and that if I ventured out I should only endanger
my own life, while there was scarcely a possibility of my being
able to save the life of the man who had been assailed.
"In the morning, when I got up, I found the dead body of the corporal
stretched across Raton Creek, not more than a hundred yards from my house.
"As I surmised, he had been struck with a heavy club or stone, and
it was at that time that I heard his cry. After that his brains
had been beaten out, and the body left where I had found it.
"I at once notified Captain Haley of the occurrence, and identified
the men who had been in company with the corporal, and who were
undoubtedly his murderers.
"They were taken into custody, and made a confession, in which they
stated that one of their number had stood at my door on the night
of the murder to shoot me if I had ventured out to assist the
corporal. Two of the scoundrels were hung afterward at Las Vegas,
and the third sent to prison for life."
The corporal was buried near where the soldiers were encamped at
the time of the tragedy, and it is his lonely grave which frequently
attracts the attention of the passengers on the Atchison, Topeka,
and Santa Fe trains, just before the Raton tunnel is reached, as
they travel southward.
In 1866-67 the Indians broke out, infesting all the most prominent
points of the Old Santa Fe Trail, and watching an opportunity to
rob and murder, so that the government freight caravans and the
stages had to be escorted by detachments of troops. Fort Larned
was the western limit where these escorts joined the outfits going
over into New Mexico.
There were other dangers attending the passage of the Trail to
travellers by the stage besides the attacks of the savages. These
were the so-called road agents--masked robbers who regarded life as
of little worth in the accomplishment of their nefarious purposes.
Particularly were they common after the mines of New Mexico began
to be operated by Americans. The object of the bandits was generally
the strong box of the express company, which contained money and
other valuables. They did not, of course, hesitate to take what
ready cash and jewelry the passengers might happen to have upon
their persons, and frequently their hauls amounted to large sums.
When the coaches began to travel over Uncle Dick's toll-road, his
house was made a station, and he had many stage stories. He said:--
"Tavern-keepers in those days couldn't choose their guests, and we
entertained them just as they came along. The knights of the road
would come by now and then, order a meal, eat it hurriedly, pay for
it, and move on to where they had arranged to hold up a stage that
night. Sometimes they did not wait for it to get dark, but halted
the stage, went through the treasure box in broad daylight, and
then ordered the driver to move on in one direction, while they
went off in another.
"One of the most daring and successful stage robberies that I remember
was perpetrated by two men, when the east-bound coach was coming up
on the south side of the Raton Mountains, one day about ten o'clock
in the forenoon.
"On the morning of the same day, a little after sunrise, two rather
genteel-looking fellows, mounted on fine horses, rode up to my
house and ordered breakfast. Being informed that breakfast would
be ready in a few minutes, they dismounted, hitched their horses
near the door, and came into the house.
"I knew then, just as well as I do now, they were robbers, but I
had no warrant for their arrest, and I should have hesitated about
serving it if I had, because they looked like very unpleasant men
to transact that kind of business with.
"Each of them had four pistols sticking in his belt and a repeating
rifle strapped on to his saddle. When they dismounted, they left
their rifles with the horses, but walked into the house and sat down
at the table, without laying aside the arsenal which they carried
in their belts.
"They had little to say while eating, but were courteous in their
behaviour, and very polite to the waiters. When they had finished
breakfast, they paid their bills, and rode leisurely up the mountain.
"It did not occur to me that they would take chances on stopping
the stage in daylight, or I should have sent some one to meet the
incoming coach, which I knew would be along shortly, to warn the
driver and passengers to be on the lookout for robbers.
"It turned out, however, that a daylight robbery was just what they
had in mind, and they made a success of it.
"About halfway down the New Mexico side of the mountain, where the
canyon is very narrow, and was then heavily wooded on either side,
the robbers stopped and waited for the coach. It came lumbering
along by and by, neither the driver nor the passengers dreaming of
"The first intimation they had of such a thing was when they saw
two men step into the road, one on each side of the stage, each of
them holding two cocked revolvers, one of which was brought to bear
on the passengers and the other on the driver, who were politely
but very positively told that they must throw up their hands without
any unnecessary delay, and the stage came to a standstill.
"There were four passengers in the coach, all men, but their hands
went up at the same instant that the driver dropped his reins and
struck an attitude that suited the robbers.
"Then, while one of the men stood guard, the other stepped up to
the stage and ordered the treasure box thrown off. This demand was
complied with, and the box was broken and rifled of its contents,
which fortunately were not of very great value.
"The passengers were compelled to hand out their watches and other
jewelry, as well as what money they had in their pockets, and then
the driver was directed to move up the road. In a minute after
this the robbers had disappeared with their booty, and that was
the last seen of them by that particular coach-load of passengers.
"The men who planned and executed that robbery were two cool,
level-headed, and daring scoundrels, known as 'Chuckle-luck' and
'Magpie.' They were killed soon after this occurrence, by a member
of their own band, whose name was Seward. A reward of a thousand
dollars had been offered for their capture, an this tempted Seward
to kill them, one night when they were asleep in camp.
"He then secured a wagon, into which he loaded the dead robbers,
and hauled them to Cimarron City, where he turned them over to the
authorities and received his reward."
Among the Arapahoes Wooton was called "Cut Hand," from the fact
that he had lost two fingers on his left hand by an accident in his
childhood. The tribe had the utmost veneration for the old trapper,
and he was perfectly safe at any time in their villages or camps;
it had been the request of a dying chief, who was once greatly
favoured by Wooton, that his warriors should never injure him although
the nation might be at war with all the rest of the whites in the world.
Uncle Dick died a few seasons ago, at the age of nearly ninety.
He was blind for some time, but a surgical operation partly restored
his sight, which made the old man happy, because he could look again
upon the beautiful scenery surrounding his mountain home, really
the grandest in the entire Raton Range. The Atchison, Topeka, and
Santa Fe Railroad had one of its freight locomotives named "Uncle
Dick," in honour of the veteran mountaineer, past whose house it
hauled the heavy-laden trains up the steep grade crossing into the
valley beyond. At the time of its baptism, now fifteen or sixteen
years ago, it was the largest freight engine in the world.
Old Bill Williams was another character of the early days of the
Trail, and was called so when Carson, Uncle Dick Wooton, and Maxwell
were comparatively young in the mountains. He was, at the time of
their advent in the remote West, one of the best known men there,
and had been famous for years as a hunter and trapper. Williams was
better acquainted with every pass in the Rockies than any other man
of his time, and only surpassed by Jim Bridger later. He was with
General Fremont on his exploring expedition across the continent;
but the statement of the old trappers, and that of General Fremont,
in relation to his services then, differ widely. Fremont admits
Williams' knowledge of the country over which he had wandered to have
been very extensive, but when put to the test on the expedition,
he came very near sacrificing the lives of all. This was probably
owing to Williams' failing intellect, for when he joined the great
explorer he was past the meridian of life. Now the old mountaineers
contend that if Fremont had profited by the old man's advice, he would
never have run into the deathtrap which cost him three men, and
in which he lost all his valuable papers, his instruments, and the
animals which he and his party were riding. The expedition had
followed the Arkansas River to its source, and the general had
selected a route which he desired to pursue in crossing the mountains.
It was winter, and Williams explained to him that it was perfectly
impracticable to get over at that season. The general, however,
ignoring the statement, listened to another of his party, a man who
had no such experience but said that he could pilot the expedition.
Before they had fairly started, they were caught in one of the most
terrible snowstorms the region had ever witnessed, in which all their
horses and mules were literally frozen to death. Then, when it was
too late, they turned back, abandoning their instruments, and able
only to carry along a very limited stock of food. The storm continued
to rage, so that even Williams failed to prevent them from getting
lost, and they wandered about aimlessly for many days before they
luckily arrived at Taos, suffering seriously from exhaustion and
hunger. Three of the men were frozen to death on the return trip,
and the remaining fifteen were little better than dead when Uncle
Dick Wooton happened to run across them and piloted them into the
village. It was immediately after this disaster that the three most
noted men in the mountains--Carson, Maxwell, and Dick Owens--became the
guides of the pathfinder, with whom he had no trouble, and to whom
he owed more of his success than history has given them credit for.
At one period of his eventful career, while he lived in Missouri,
before he wandered to the mountains, Old Bill Williams was a Methodist
preacher; of which fact he boasted frequently while he trapped and
hunted with other pioneers. Whenever he related that portion of his
early life, he declared that he "was so well known in his circuit,
that the chickens recognized him as he came riding by the scattered
farmhouses, and the old roosters would crow 'Here comes Parson
Williams! One of us must be made ready for dinner.'"
Upon leaving the States, he travelled very extensively among the
various tribes of Indians who roamed over the great plains and in the
mountains. When sojourning with a certain band, he would invariably
adopt their manners and customs. Whenever he grew tired of that
nation, he would seek another and live as they lived. He had been
so long among the savages that he looked and talked like one, and
had imbibed many of their strange notions and curious superstitions.
To the missionaries he was very useful. He possessed the faculty
of easily acquiring languages that other white men failed to learn,
and could readily translate the Bible into several Indian dialects.
His own conduct, however, was in strange contrast with the precepts
of the Holy Book with which he was so familiar.
To the native Mexicans he was a holy terror and an unsolvable riddle.
They thought him possessed of an evil spirit. He at one time took up
his residence among them and commenced to trade. Shortly after he
had established himself and gathered in a stock of goods, he became
involved in a dispute with some of his customers in relation to his
prices. Upon this he apparently took an intense dislike to the
people whom he had begun to traffic with, and in his disgust tossed
his whole mass of goods into the street, and, taking up his rifle,
left at once for the mountains.
Among the many wild ideas he had imbibed from his long association
with the Indians, was faith in their belief in the transmigration
of souls. He used so to worry his brain for hours cogitating upon
this intricate problem concerning a future state, that he actually
pretended to know exactly the animal whose place he was destined to
fill in the world after he had shaken off this mortal human coil.
Uncle Dick Wooton told how once, when he, Old Bill Williams, and
many other trappers, were lying around the camp-fire one night,
the strange fellow, in a preaching style of delivery, related to them
all how he was to be changed into a buck elk and intended to make
his pasture in the very region where they then were. He described
certain peculiarities which would distinguish him from the common
run of elk, and was very careful to caution all those present never
to shoot such an animal, should they ever run across him.
Williams was regarded as a warm-hearted, brave, and generous man.
He was at last killed by the Indians, while trading with them, but
has left his name to many mountain peaks, rivers, and passes
discovered by him.
Tom Tobin, one of the last of the famous trappers, hunters, and Indian
fighters to cross the dark river, flourished in the early days, when
the Rocky Mountains were a veritable terra incognita to nearly all
excepting the hardy employees of the several fur companies and the
limited number of United States troops stationed in their remote wilds.
Tom was an Irishman, quick-tempered, and a dead shot with either
rifle, revolver, or the formidable bowie-knife. He would fight at
the drop of the hat, but no man ever went away from his cabin hungry,
if he had a crust to divide; or penniless, if there was anything
remaining in his purse.
He, like Carson, was rather under the average stature, red-faced,
and lacking much of being an Adonis, but whole-souled, and as quick
in his movements as an antelope.
Tobin played an important role in avenging the death of the Americans
killed in the Taos massacre, at the storming of the Indian pueblo,
but his greatest achievement was the ending of the noted bandit
Espinosa's life, who, at the height of his career of blood, was the
terror of the whole mountain region.
At the time of the acquisition of New Mexico by the United States,
Espinosa, who was a Mexican, owning vast herds of cattle and sheep,
resided upon his ancestral hacienda in a sort of barbaric luxury,
with a host of semi-serfs, known as Peons, to do his bidding, as did
the other "Muy Ricos," the "Dons," so called, of his class of natives.
These self-styled aristocrats of the wild country all boasted of
their Castilian blue blood, claiming descent from the nobles of
Cortez' army, but the fact is, however, with rare exceptions, that
their male ancestors, the rank and file of that army, intermarried
with the Aztec women, and they were really only a mixture of Indian
It so happened that Espinosa met an adventurous American, who, with
hundreds of others, had been attached to the "Army of Occupation"
in the Mexican War, or had emigrated from the States to seek their
fortunes in the newly acquired and much over-rated territory.
The Mexican Don and the American became fast friends, the latter
making his home with his newly found acquaintance at the beautiful
ranch in the mountains, where they played the role of a modern Damon
Now with Don Espinosa lived his sister, a dark-eyed, bewitchingly
beautiful girl about seventeen years old, with whom the susceptible
American fell deeply in love, and his affection was reciprocated
by the maiden, with a fervour of which only the women of the race
from which she sprang are capable.
The fascinating American had brought with him from his home in one
of the New England States a large amount of money, for his parents
were rich, and spared no indulgence to their only son. He very soon
unwisely made Espinosa his confidant, and told him of the wealth
One night after the American had retired to his chamber, adjoining
that of his host, he was surprised, shortly after he had gone to bed,
by discovering a man standing over him, whose hand had already grasped
the buckskin bag under his pillow which contained a considerable
portion of his gold and silver. He sprang from his couch and fired
his pistol at random in the darkness at the would-be robber.
Espinosa, for it was he, was wounded slightly, and, being either
enraged or frightened, he stabbed with his keen-pointed stiletto,
which all Mexicans then carried, the young man whom he had invited
to become his guest, and the blade entered the American's heart,
killing him instantly.
The report of the pistol-shot awakened the other members of the
household, who came rushing into the room just as the victim was
breathing his last. Among them was the sister of the murderer,
who, throwing herself on the body of her dead lover, poured forth
the most bitter curses upon her brother.
Espinosa, realizing the terrible position in which he had placed
himself, then and there determined to become an outlaw, as he could
frame no excuse for his wicked deed. He therefore hid himself
at once in the mountains, carrying with him, of course, the sack
containing the murdered American's money.
Some time necessarily passed before he could get together a sufficient
number of cut-throats and renegades from justice to enable him wholly
to defy the authorities; but at last he succeeded in rallying a
strong force to his standard of blood, and became the terror of the
whole region, equalling in boldness and audacity the terrible Joaquin,
of California notoriety in after years.
His headquarters were in the almost impregnable fastnesses of the
Sangre de Cristo Mountains, from which he made his invariably
successful raids into the rich valleys below. There was nothing
too bloody for him to shrink from; he robbed indiscriminately the
overland coaches to Santa Fe, the freight caravans of the traders
and government, the ranches of the Mexicans, or stole from the poorer
classes, without any compunction. He ran off horses, cattle, sheep--
in fact, anything that he could utilize. If murder was necessary
to the completion of his work, he never for a moment hesitated.
Kidnapping, too, was a favourite pastime; but he rarely carried
away to his rendezvous any other than the most beautiful of the
New Mexican young girls, whom he held in his mountain den until
they were ransomed, or subjected to a fate more terrible.
In 1864 the bandit, after nearly ten years of unparalleled outlawry,
was killed by Tobin. Tom had been on his trail for some time, and
at last tracked him to a temporary camp in the foot-hills, which
he accidentally discovered in a grove of cottonwoods, by the smoke
of the little camp-fire as it curled in light wreaths above the trees.
Tobin knew that at the time there was but one of Espinosa's followers
with him, as he had watched them both for some days, waiting for an
opportunity to get the drop on them. To capture the pair of outlaws
alive never entered his thoughts; he was as cautious as brave, and
to get them dead was much safer and easier; so he crept up to the
grove on his belly, Indian fashion, and lying behind the cover of
a friendly log, waited until the noted desperado stood up, when he
pulled the trigger of his never-erring rifle, and Espinosa fell dead.
A second shot quickly disposed of his companion, and the old trapper's
mission was accomplished.
To be able to claim the reward offered by the authorities, Tom had
to prove, beyond the possibility of doubt, that those whom he had
killed were the dreaded bandit and one of his gang. He thought it
best to cut off their heads, which he deliberately did, and packing
them on his mule in a gunny-sack, he brought them into old Fort
Massachusetts, afterward Fort Garland, where they were speedily
recognized; but whether Tom ever received the reward, I have my
doubts, as he never claimed that he did. Tobin died only a short
time ago, gray, grizzled, and venerable, his memory respected by all
who had ever met him.
James Hobbs, among all the men of whom I have presented a hurried
sketch, had perhaps a more varied experience than any of his colleagues.
During his long life on the frontier, he was in turn a prisoner among
the savages, and held for years by them; an excellent soldier in
the war with Mexico; an efficient officer in the revolt against
Maximilian, when the attempt of Napoleon to establish an empire on
this continent, with that unfortunate prince at its head, was defeated;
an Indian fighter; a miner; a trapper; a trader, and a hunter.
Hobbs was born in the Shawnee nation, on the Big Blue, about
twenty-three miles from Independence, Missouri. His early childhood
was entrusted to one of his father's slaves. Reared on the eastern
limit of the border, he very soon became familiar with the use of
the rifle and shot-gun; in fact, he was the principal provider of
all the meat which the family consumed.
In 1835, when only sixteen, he joined a fur-trading expedition under
Charles Bent, destined for the fort on the Arkansas River built by
him and his brothers.
They arrived at the crossing of the Santa Fe Trail over Pawnee Fork
without special adventure, but there they had the usual tussle with
the savages, and Hobbs killed his first Indian. Two of the traders
were pierced with arrows, but not seriously hurt, and the Pawnees
--the tribe which had attacked the outfit--were driven away discomfited,
not having been successful in stampeding a single animal.
When the party reached the Caches, on the Upper Arkansas, a smoke
rising on the distant horizon, beyond the sand hills south of the
river, made them proceed cautiously; for to the old plainsmen, that
far-off wreath indicated either the presence of the savages, or a
signal to others at a greater distance of the approach of the trappers.
The next morning, nothing having occurred to delay the march, buffalo
began to appear, and Hobbs killed three of them. A cow, which he
had wounded, ran across the Trail in front of the train, and Hobbs
dashed after her, wounding her with his pistol, and then she started
to swim the river. Hobbs, mad at the jeers which greeted him from
the men at his missing the animal, started for the last wagon,
in which was his rifle, determined to kill the brute that had
enraged him. As he was riding along rapidly, Bent cried out to him,--
"Don't try to follow that cow; she is going straight for that smoke,
and it means Injuns, and no good in 'em either."
"But I'll get her," answered Hobbs, and he called to his closest
comrade, John Baptiste, a boy of about his own age, to go and get
his pack-mule and come along. "All right," responded John; and
together the two inexperienced youngsters crossed the river against
the protests of the veteran leader of the party.
After a chase of about three miles, the boys came up with the cow,
but she turned and showed fight. Finally Hobbs, by riding around her,
got in a good shot, which killed her. Jumping off their animals,
both boys busied themselves in cutting out the choice pieces for
their supper, packed them on the mule, and started back for the train.
But it had suddenly become very dark, and they were in doubt as to
the direction of the Trail.
Soon night came on so rapidly that neither could they see their own
tracks by which they had come, nor the thin fringe of cottonwoods
that lined the bank of the stream. Then they disagreed as to which
was the right way. John succeeded in persuading Hobbs that he was
correct, and the latter gave in, very much against his own belief
on the subject.
They travelled all night, and when morning came, were bewilderingly
lost. Then Hobbs resolved to retrace the tracks by which, now that
the sun was up, he saw that they had been going south, right away
from the Arkansas. Suddenly an immense herd of buffalo, containing
at least two thousand, dashed by the boys, filling the air with the
dust raised by their clattering hoofs, and right behind them rode
a hundred Indians, shooting at the stampeded animals with their arrows.
"Get into that ravine!" shouted Hobbs to his companion. "Throw away
that meat, and run for your life!"
It was too late; just as they arrived at the brink of the hollow,
they looked back, and close behind them were a dozen Comanches.
The savages rode up, and one of the party said in very good English,
"How d' do?"
"How d' do?" Hobbs replied, thinking it would be better to be as
polite as the Indian, though the state of the latter's health just
then was a matter of small concern.
"Texas?" inquired the Indian. The Comanches had good reasons to
hate the citizens of that country, and it was a lucky thing for
Hobbs that he had heard of their prejudice from the trappers, and
possessed presence of mind to remember it. He replied promptly:
"No, friendly; going to establish a trading-post for the Comanches."
"Friendly? Better go with us, though. Got any tobacco?"
Hobbs had some of the desired article, and he was not long in handing
it over to his newly found friend.
Both of the boys were escorted to the temporary camp of the savages,
but the original number of their captors was increased to over a
thousand before they arrived there. They were supplied with some
dried buffalo-meat, and then taken to the lodge of Old Wolf, the
head chief of the tribe.
A council was called immediately to consider what disposition should
be made of them, but nothing was decided upon, and the assembly of
warriors adjourned until morning. Hobbs told me that it was because
Old Wolf had imbibed too much brandy, a bottle of which Baptiste had
brought with him from the train, and which the thirsty warrior saw
suspended from his saddle-bow as they rode up to the chief's lodge;
the aged rascal got beastly drunk.
About noon of the next day, after the dispersion of the council,
the boys were informed that if they were not Texans, would behave
themselves, and not attempt to run away, they might stay with the
Indians, who would not kill them; but a string of dried scalps was
pointed out, hanging on a lodge pole, of some Mexicans whom they
had captured and put to herding their ponies, and who had tried to
get away. They succeeded in making a few miles; the Indians chased
them, after deciding in council, that, if caught, only their scalps
were to be brought back. The moral of this was that the same fate
awaited the boys if they followed the example of the foolish Mexicans.
Hobbs had excellent sense and judgment, and he knew that it would
be the height of folly for him and Baptiste, mere boys, to try and
reach either Bent's Fort or the Missouri River, not having the
slightest knowledge of where they were situated.
Hobbs grew to be a great favourite with the Comanches; was given
the daughter of Old Wolf in marriage, became a great chief, fought
many hard battles with his savage companions, and at last, four years
after, was redeemed by Colonel Bent, who paid Old Wolf a small
ransom for him at the Fort, where the Indians had come to trade.
Baptiste, whom the Indians never took a great fancy to, because he
did not develop into a great warrior, was also ransomed by Bent,
his price being only an antiquated mule.
At Bent's Fort Hobbs went out trapping under the leadership of Kit
Carson, and they became lifelong friends. In a short time Hobbs
earned the reputation of being an excellent mountaineer, trapper,
and as an Indian fighter he was second to none, his education among
the Comanches having trained him in all the strategy of the savages.
After going through the Mexican War with an excellent record, Hobbs
wandered about the country, now engaged in mining in old Mexico, then
fighting the Apaches under the orders of the governor of Chihuahua,
and at the end of the campaign going back to the Pacific coast,
where he entered into new pursuits. Sometimes he was rich, then as
poor as one can imagine. He returned to old Mexico in time to become
an active partisan in the revolt which overthrew the short-lived
dynasty of Maximilian, and was present at the execution of that
unfortunate prince. Finally he retired to the home of his childhood
in the States, where he died a few months ago, full of years and honours.
William F. Cody, "Buffalo Bill," is one of the famous plainsmen,
of later days, however, than Carson, Bridger, John Smith, Maxwell,
and others whom I have mentioned. The mantle of Kit Carson, perhaps,
fits more perfectly the shoulders of Cody than those of any other
of the great frontiersman's successors, and he has had some experiences
that surpassed anything which fell to their lot.
He was born in Iowa, in 1845, and when barely seven years old his
father emigrated to Kansas, then far remote from civilization.
Thirty-six years ago, he was employed as guide and scout in an
expedition against the Kiowas and Comanches, and his line of duty
took him along the Santa Fe Trail all one summer when not out as
a scout, carrying despatches between Fort Lyon and Fort Larned,
the most important military posts on the great highway as well as
to far-off Fort Leavenworth on the Missouri River, the headquarters
of the department. Fort Larned was the general rendezvous of all
the scouts on the Kansas and Colorado plains, the chief of whom was
a veteran interpreter and guide, named Dick Curtis.
When Cody first reported there for his responsible duty, a large camp
of the Kiowas and Comanches was established within sight of the fort,
whose warriors had not as yet put on their war-paint, but were
evidently restless and discontented under the restraint of their
chiefs. Soon those leading men, Satanta, Lone Wolf, Satank, and
others of lesser note, grew rather impudent and haughty in their
deportment, and they were watched with much concern. The post was
garrisoned by only two companies of infantry and one of cavalry.
General Hazen, afterward chief of the signal service in Washington,
was at Fort Larned at the time, endeavouring to patch up a peace with
the savages, who seemed determined to break out. Cody was special
scout to the general, and one morning he was ordered to accompany him
as far as Fort Zarah, on the Arkansas, near the mouth of Walnut Creek,
in what is now Barton County, Kansas, the general intending to go
on to Fort Harker, on the Smoky Hill. In making these trips of
inspection, with incidental collateral duties, the general usually
travelled in an ambulance, but on this journey he rode in a six-mule
army-wagon, escorted by a detachment of a score of infantry. It was
a warm August day, and an early start was made, which enabled them
to reach Fort Zarah, over thirty miles distant, by noon. After dinner,
the general proposed to go on to Fort Harker, forty-one miles away,
without any escort, leaving orders for Cody to return to Fort Larned
the next day, with the soldiers. But Cody, ever impatient of delay
when there was work to do, notified the sergeant in charge of the
men that he was going back that very afternoon. I tell the story
of his trip as he has often told it to me, and as he has written
it in his autobiography.
"I accordingly saddled up my mule and set out for Fort Larned.
I proceeded on uninterruptedly until I got about halfway between
the two posts, when, at Pawnee Rock, I was suddenly jumped by about
forty Indians, who came dashing up to me, extending their hands
and saying, 'How! How!' They were some of the Indians who had been
hanging around Fort Larned in the morning. I saw they had on their
war-paint, and were evidently now out on the war-path.
"My first impulse was to shake hands with them, as they seemed so
desirous of it. I accordingly reached out my hand to one of them,
who grasped it with a tight grip, and jerked me violently forward;
then pulled my mule by the bridle, and in a moment I was completely
surrounded. Before I could do anything at all, they had seized my
revolvers from the holsters, and I received a blow on the head from
a tomahawk which nearly rendered me senseless. My gun, which was
lying across the saddle, was snatched from its place, and finally
the Indian who had hold of the bridle started off toward the Arkansas
River, leading the mule, which was being lashed by the other Indians,
who were following. The savages were all singing, yelling, and
whooping, as only Indians can do, when they are having their little
game all their own way. While looking toward the river, I saw on
the opposite side an immense village moving along the bank, and then
I became convinced that the Indians had left the post and were now
starting out on the war-path. My captors crossed the stream with me,
and as we waded through the shallow water they continued to lash the
mule and myself. Finally they brought me before an important-looking
body of Indians, who proved to be the chiefs and principal warriors.
I soon recognized old Satanta among them, as well as others whom
I knew, and supposed it was all over with me.
"The Indians were jabbering away so rapidly among themselves that
I could not understand what they were saying. Satanta at last asked
me where I had been. As good luck would have it, a happy thought
struck me. I told him I had been after a herd of cattle, or
'whoa-haws,' as they called them. It so happened that the Indians
had been out of meat for several weeks, as the large herd of cattle
which had been promised them had not yet arrived, although they
"The moment I mentioned that I had been searching for 'whoa-haws,'
old Satanta began questioning me in a very eager manner. He asked me
where the cattle were, and I replied that they were back a few miles,
and that I had been sent by General Hazen to inform him that the
cattle were coming, and that they were intended for his people.
This seemed to please the old rascal, who also wanted to know if there
were any soldiers with the herd, and my reply was that there were.
Thereupon the chiefs held a consultation, and presently Satanta asked
me if General Hazen had really said that they should have the cattle.
I replied in the affirmative, and added that I had been directed to
bring the cattle to them. I followed this up with a very dignified
inquiry, asking why his young men had treated me so. The old wretch
intimated that it was only a 'freak of the boys'; that the young men
wanted to see if I was brave; in fact, they had only meant to test me,
and the whole thing was a joke.
"The veteran liar was now beating me at my own game of lying, but
I was very glad, as it was in my favour. I did not let him suspect
that I doubted his veracity, but I remarked that it was a rough way
to treat friends. He immediately ordered his young men to give
back my arms, and scolded them for what they had done. Of course,
the sly old dog was now playing it very fine, as he was anxious
to get possession of the cattle, with which he believed there was
a 'heap' of soldiers coming. He had concluded it was not best to
fight the soldiers if he could get the cattle peaceably.
"Another council was held by the chiefs, and in a few minutes old
Satanta came and asked me if I would go to the river and bring the
cattle down to the opposite side, so that they could get them.
I replied, 'Of course; that's my instruction from General Hazen.'
"Satanta said I must not feel angry at his young men, for they had
only been acting in fun. He then inquired if I wished any of his men
to accompany me to the cattle herd. I replied that it would be better
for me to go alone, and then the soldiers could keep right on to
Fort Larned, while I could drive the herd down on the bottom. Then
wheeling my mule around, I was soon recrossing the river, leaving old
Satanta in the firm belief that I had told him a straight story, and
that I was going for the cattle which existed only in my imagination.
"I hardly knew what to do, but thought that if I could get the river
between the Indians and myself, I would have a good three-quarters of
a mile the start of them, and could then make a run for Fort Larned,
as my mule was a good one.
"Thus far my cattle story had panned out all right; but just as I
reached the opposite bank of the river, I looked behind me and saw
that ten or fifteen Indians, who had begun to suspect something
crooked, were following me. The moment that my mule secured a good
foothold on the bank, I urged him into a gentle lope toward the place
where, according to my statement, the cattle were to be brought.
Upon reaching a little ridge and riding down the other side out of
view, I turned my mule and headed him westward for Fort Larned.
I let him out for all that he was worth, and when I came out on a
little rise of ground, I looked back and saw the Indian village in
plain sight. My pursuers were now on the ridge which I had passed
over, and were looking for me in every direction.
"Presently they spied me, and seeing that I was running away, they
struck out in swift pursuit, and in a few minutes it became painfully
evident they were gaining on me. They kept up the chase as far as
Ash Creek, six miles from Fort Larned. I still led them half a mile,
as their horses had not gained much during the last half of the race.
My mule seemed to have gotten his second wind, and as I was on the
old road, I played the spurs and whip on him without much cessation;
the Indians likewise urged their steeds to the utmost.
"Finally, upon reaching the dividing ridge between Ash Creek and
Pawnee Fork, I saw Fort Larned only four miles away. It was now
sundown, and I heard the evening gun. The troops of the small
garrison little dreamed there was a man flying for his life and
trying to reach the post. The Indians were once more gaining on me,
and when I crossed the Pawnee Fork two miles from the post, two or
three of them were only a quarter of a mile behind me. Just as I
gained the opposite bank of the stream, I was overjoyed to see some
soldiers in a government wagon only a short distance off. I yelled
at the top of my voice, and riding up to them, told them that the
Indians were after me.
"'Denver Jim,' a well-known scout, asked me how many there were, and
upon my informing him that there were about a dozen, he said: 'Let's
drive the wagon into the trees, and we'll lay for 'em.' The team
was hurriedly driven among the trees and low box-elder bushes, and
"We did not have to wait long for the Indians, who came dashing up,
lashing their ponies, which were panting and blowing. We let two
of them pass by, but we opened a lively fire on the next three or
four, killing two of them at the first crack. The others following
discovered that they had run into an ambush, and whirling off into
the brush, they turned and ran back in the direction whence they
had come. The two who had passed by heard the firing and made their
escape. We scalped the two that we had killed, and appropriated
their arms and equipments; then, catching their ponies, we made our
way into the Post."
One of the most interesting and picturesque regions of all New Mexico
is the immense tract of nearly two million acres known as Maxwell's
Ranch, through which the Old Trail ran, and the title to which was
some years since determined by the Supreme Court of the United States
in favour of an alien company. Dead long ago, Maxwell belonged
to a generation and a class almost completely extinct, and the like
of which will, in all probability, never be seen again; for there
is no more frontier to develop them.
Several years prior to the acquisition of the territory by the
United States, the immense tract comprised in the geographical limits
of the ranch was granted to Carlos Beaubien and Guadalupe Miranda,
both citizens of the province of New Mexico, and agents of the
American Fur Company. Attached to the company as an employer,
a trapper, and hunter, was Lucien B. Maxwell, an Illinoisan by birth,
who married a daughter of Beaubien. After the death of the latter
Maxwell purchased all the interest of the joint proprietor, Miranda,
and that of the heirs of Beaubien, thus at once becoming the largest
landowner in the United States.
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