The Passing of the Frontier
Part 2 out of 2
there, and with no expectation of sudden wealth to be gained in
the mines. I desire therefore to quote largely from the pages of
this book, believing that, in this fashion, we shall come upon
history of a fundamental sort, which shall make us acquainted
with the men and women of that day, with the purposes and the
ambitions which animated them, and with the hardships which they
"The States along the Mississippi were but sparsely settled in
1846, yet the fame of the fruitfulness, the healthfulness, and
the almost tropical beauty of the land bordering the Pacific,
tempted the members of the Donner Party to leave their homes.
These homes were situated in Illinois, Iowa, Tennessee, Missouri,
and Ohio. Families from each of these States joined the train and
participated in its terrible fate; yet the party proper was
organized in Sangamon County, Illinois, by George and Jacob
Donner and James F. Reed. Early in April, 1846, the party set out
from Springfield, Illinois, and by the first week in May reached
Independence, Missouri. Here the party was increased by
additional members, and the train comprised about one hundred
persons.... "In the party were aged fathers with their trusting
families about them, mothers whose very lives were wrapped up in
their children, men in the prime and vigor of manhood, maidens in
all the sweetness and freshness of budding womanhood, children
full of glee and mirthfulness, and babes nestling on maternal
breasts. Lovers there were, to whom the journey was tinged with
rainbow hues of joy and happiness, and strong, manly hearts whose
constant support and encouragement was the memory of dear ones
left behind in homeland.
"The wonderment which all experience in viewing the scenery along
the line of the old emigrant road was peculiarly vivid to these
people. Few descriptions had been given of the route, and all was
novel and unexpected. In later years the road was broadly and
deeply marked, and good camping grounds were distinctly
indicated. The bleaching bones of cattle that had perished, or
the broken fragments of wagons or castaway articles, were thickly
strewn on either side of the highway. But in 1846 the way was
through almost trackless valleys waving with grass, along rivers
where few paths were visible, save those made by the feet of
buffalo and antelope, and over mountains and plains where little
more than the westward course of the sun guided the travelers.
Trading-posts were stationed at only a few widely distant points,
and rarely did the party meet with any human beings, save
wandering bands of Indians. Yet these first days are spoken of by
all of the survivors as being crowned with peaceful enjoyment and
pleasant anticipations. There were beautiful flowers by the
roadside, an abundance of game in the meadows and mountains, and
at night there were singing, dancing, and innocent plays. Several
musical instruments, and many excellent voices, were in the
party, and the kindliest feeling and goodfellowship prevailed
among the members.
"The formation of the company known as the Donner Party was
purely accidental. The union of so many emigrants into one train
was not occasioned by any preconcerted arrangement. Many
composing the Donner Party were not aware, at the outset, that
such a tide of emigration was sweeping to California. In many
instances small parties would hear of the mammoth train just
ahead of them or just behind them, and by hastening their pace,
or halting for a few days, joined themselves to the party. Many
were with the train during a portion of the journey, but from
some cause or other became parted from the Donner company before
reaching Donner Lake. Soon after the train left Independence it
contained between two and three hundred wagons, and when in
motion was two miles in length. The members of the party proper
This caravan, like many others of the great assemblage westbound
at that time, had great extremes in personnel. Some were out for
mere adventure; some were single men looking for a location. Most
of them were fathers of families, among them several persons of
considerable means and of good standing in the community which
they were leaving. While we may suppose that most of them were
folk of no extraordinary sort, certainly some were persons of
education and intelligence. Among these was the wife of George
Donner--Tamsen Dormer; a woman of education, a musician, a
linguist, a botanist, and of the most sublime heroism.
Tamsen Donner sent back now and then along the route some story
of the daily doings of the caravan; and such letters as these are
of the utmost interest to any who desire precise information of
that time. It would seem that the emigrants themselves for a
great part of their route met with no great adventures, nor
indeed, appeared to be undertaking any unusual affair. They
followed a route up the Platte Valley already long known to those
of the eastern settlements.
"Near the Junction of the North
and South Platte, June 16, 1846.
"My Old Friend: We are now on the Platte, two hundred miles from
Fort Laramie. Our journey so far has been pleasant, the roads
have been good, and food plentiful. The water for part of the way
has been indifferent, but at no time have our cattle suffered for
it. Wood is now very scarce, but "buffalo chips" are excellent;
they kindle quickly and retain heat surprisingly. We had this
morning buffalo steaks broiled upon them that had the same flavor
they would have had upon hickory coals.
"We feel no fear of Indians; our cattle graze quietly around our
encampment unmolested. Two or three men will go hunting twenty
miles from camp; and last night two of our men lay out in the
wilderness rather than ride their horses after a hard chase.
"Indeed, if I do not experience something far worse than I have
yet done, I shall say the trouble is all in getting started. Our
wagons have not needed much repair, and I can not yet tell in
what respects they could be improved. Certain it is, they can not
be too strong. Our preparations for the journey might have been
in some respects bettered.
"Bread has been the principal article of food in our camp. We
laid in one hundred and fifty pounds of flour and seventy-five
pounds of meat for each individual, and I fear bread will be
scarce. Meat is abundant. Rice and beans are good articles on the
road; cornmeal too, is acceptable. Linsey dresses are the most
suitable for children. Indeed, if I had one, it would be
acceptable. There is so cool a breeze at all times on the Plains
that the sun does not feel so hot as one would suppose.
"We are now four hundred and fifty miles from Independence. Our
route at first was rough, and through a timbered country, which
appeared to be fertile. After striking the prairie, we found a
firstrate road, and the only difficulty we have had, has been in
crossing the creeks. In that, however, there has been no danger.
"I never could have believed we could have traveled so far with
so little difficulty. The prairie between the Blue and the Platte
Rivers is beautiful beyond description. Never have I seen so
varied a country, so suitable for cultivation. Everything is
new and pleasing; the Indians frequently come to see us, and the
chiefs of a tribe breakfasted at our tent this morning. All are
so friendly that I can not help feeling sympathy and friendship
for them. But on one sheet what can I say?
"Since we have been on the Platte, we have had the river on one
side and the ever varying mounds on the other, and have traveled
through the bottom lands from one to two miles wide, with little
or no timber. The soil is sandy, and last year, on account of the
dry season, the emigrants found grass here scarce. Our cattle are
in good order, and when proper care has been taken, none have
been lost. Our milch cows have been of great service, indeed.
They have been of more advantage than our meat. We have plenty of
butter and milk.
"We are commanded by Captain Russell, an amiable man. George
Donner is himself yet. He crows in the morning and shouts out,
"Chain up, boys--chain up," with as much authority as though he
was "something in particular." John Denton is still with us. We
find him useful in the camp. Hiram Miller and Noah James are in
good health and doing well. We have of the best people in our
company, and some, too, that are not so good.
"Buffalo show themselves frequently. We have found the wild
tulip, the primrose, the lupine, the eardrop, the larkspur, and
creeping hollyhock, and a beautiful flower resembling the bloom
of the beech tree, but in bunches as large as a small sugarloaf,
and of every variety of shade, to red and green.
"I botanize, and read some, but cook "heaps" more. There are four
hundred and twenty wagons, as far as we have heard, on the road
between here and Oregon and California.
"Give our love to all inquiring friends. God bless them.
Mrs. George Donner."
By the Fourth of July the Donner Party had reached Fort Laramie.
They pushed on west over the old trail up the Sweetwater River
and across the South Pass, the easiest of all the mountain passes
known to the early travelers. Without much adventure they reached
Fort Bridger, then only a trading-post. Here occurred the fatal
mistake of the Donner Party.
Some one at the fort strongly advised them to take a new route, a
cut-off said to shorten the distance by about three hundred
miles. This cut-off passed along the south shore of Great Salt
Lake and caught up the old California Trail from Fort Hall--then
well established and well known-along the Humboldt River. The
great Donner caravan delayed for some days at Fort Bridger,
hesitating over the decision of which route to follow. The party
divided. All those who took the old road north of Salt Lake by
way of Fort Hall reached California in complete safety. Of the
original Donner Party there remained eighty-seven persons. All of
these took the cut-off, being eager to save time in their travel.
They reached Salt Lake after unspeakable difficulties. Farther
west, in the deserts of Nevada, they lost many of their cattle.
Now began among the party dissensions and grumblings. The story
is a long one. It reached its tragic denouement just below the
summit of the Sierras, on the shores of Donner Lake. The words of
McGlashan may now best serve our purpose.
"Generally, the ascent of the Sierra brought joy and gladness to
weary overland emigrants. To the Donner Party it brought terror
and dismay. The company had hardly obtained a glimpse of the
mountains, ere the winter storm clouds began to assemble their
hosts around the loftier crests. Every day the weather appeared
more ominous and threatening. The delay at the Truckee Meadows
had been brief, but every day ultimately cost a dozen lives. On
the twenty-third of October, they became thoroughly alarmed at
the angry heralds of the gathering storm, and with all haste
resumed the journey. It was too late! At Prosser Creek, three
miles below Truckee, they found themselves encompassed with six
inches of snow. On the summits, the snow was from two to five
feet in depth. This was October 28, 1846. Almost a month earlier
than usual, the Sierra had donned its mantle of ice and snow. The
party were prisoners!
"All was consternation. The wildest confusion prevailed. In their
eagerness, many went far in advance of the main train. There was
little concert of action or harmony of plan. All did not arrive
at Donner Lake the same day. Some wagons and families did not
reach the lake until the thirty-first day of October, some never
went farther than Prosser Creek, while others, on the evening of
the twenty-ninth, struggled through the snow, and reached the
foot of the precipitous cliffs between the summit and the upper
end of the lake. Here, baffled, wearied, disheartened, they
turned back to the foot of the lake."
These emigrants did not lack in health, strength, or resolution,
but here they were in surroundings absolutely new to them. A sort
of panic seized them now. They scattered; their organization
disintegrated. All thought of conjoint action, of a social
compact, a community of interests, seems to have left them. It
was a history of every man for himself, or at least every family
for itself. All track of the road was now lost under the snow. At
the last pitch up to the summit of the Sierras precipitous cliffs
abounded. No one knew the way. And now the snows came once again.
"The emigrants suffered a thousand deaths. The pitiless snow came
down in large, steady masses. All understood that the storm meant
death. One of the Indians silently wrapped his blanket about him
and in deepest dejection seated himself beside a tall pine. In
this position he passed the entire night, only moving
occasionally to keep from being covered with snow. Mrs. Reed
spread down a shawl, placed her four children--Virginia, Patty,
James, and Thomas--thereon, and putting another shawl over them,
sat by the side of her babies during all the long hours of
darkness. Every little while she was compelled to lift the upper
shawl and shake off the rapidly accumulating snow.
"With slight interruptions, the storm continued several days. The
mules and oxen that had always hovered about camp were blinded
and bewildered by the storm, and straying away were literally
buried alive in the drifts. What pen can describe the horror of
the position in which the emigrants found themselves? It was
impossible to move through the deep, soft snow without the
greatest effort. The mules were gone, and were never found. Most
of the cattle had perished, and were wholly hidden from sight.
The few oxen which were found were slaughtered for beef."
The travelers knew that the supplies they had could not last
long. On the 12th of November a relief party essayed to go
forward, but after struggling a short distance toward the summit,
came back wearied and broken-hearted, unable to make way through
the deep, soft snow. Then some one--said to have been F. W.
Graves of Vermont--bethought himself of making snowshoes out of
the oxbows and the hides of the slaughtered oxen. With these they
Volunteers were called for yet another party to cross the
mountains into California. Fifteen persons volunteered. Not all
of them were men--some were mothers, and one was a young woman.
Their mental condition was little short of desperation. Only, in
the midst of their intense hardships it seemed to all, somewhere
to the westward was California, and that there alone lay any
hope. The party traveled four miles the first day; and their camp
fires were visible below the summit. The next day they traveled
six miles and crossed the divide.
They were starving, cold, worn out, their feet frozen to
bursting, their blood chilled. At times they were caught in some
of the furious storms of the Sierras. They did not know their
way. On the 27th of December certain of the party resolved
themselves to that last recourse which alone might mean life.
Surrounded by horrors as they were, it seemed they could endure
the thought of yet an additional horror.... There were the
dead, the victims who already had perished!...
Seven of the fifteen got through to the Sacramento Valley, among
these the young girl, Mary Graves, described as "a very beautiful
girl, of tall and slender build, and, exceptionally graceful
character." The story brought out by these survivors of the first
party to cross the Sierras from the starving camp set all
California aflame. There were no less than three relief
expeditions formed, which at varying dates crossed the mountains
to the east. Some men crossed the snow belt five times in all.
The rescuers were often in as much danger as the victims they
sought to save.
And they could not save them. Back there in their tents and
hovels around Donner Lake starvation was doing its work steadily.
There is contemporary history also covering the details of this.
Tamsen Donner, heroine that she was, kept a diary which would
have been valuable for us, but this was lost along with her
paintings and her botanical collections. The best preserved diary
is that of Patrick Breen, done in simple and matter-of-fact
fashion throughout most of the starving winter. Thus:
"Dec. 17. Pleasant; William Murphy returned from the mountain
party last evening; Baylis Williams died night before last;
Milton and Noah started for Donner's eight days ago; not returned
yet; think they are lost in the snow.
"Dec. 21. Milton got back last night from Donner's camp. Sad
news; Jacob Donner, Samuel Shoemaker, Rhineheart, and Smith are
dead; the rest of them in a low situation; snowed all night, with
a strong southwest wind.
"Dec. 23. Clear to-day; Milton took some of his meat away; all
well at their camp. Began this day to read the "Thirty Days'
Prayers"; Almighty God, grant the requests of unworthy sinners!
"Jan. 13. Snowing fast; snow higher than the shanty; it must be
thirteen feet deep. Can not get wood this morning; it is a
dreadful sight for us to look upon.
"Jan. 27. Commenced snowing yesterday; still continues today.
Lewis Keseberg, Jr., died three days ago; food growing scarce;
don't have fire enough to cook our hides.
"Jan. 31. The sun does not shine out brilliant this morning;
froze hard last night; wind northwest. Landrum Murphy died last
night about ten o'clock; Mrs. Reed went to Graves's this morning
to look after goods.
"Feb. 4. Snowed hard until twelve o'clock last night; many uneasy
for fear we shall all perish with hunger; we have but little meat
left, and only three hides; Mrs. Reed has nothing but one hide,
and that is on Graves's house; Milton lives there, and likely
will keep that. Eddy's child died last night.
"Feb. 7. Ceased to snow at last; today it is quite pleasant.
McCutchen's child died on the second of this month.
"[This child died and was buried in the Graves's cabin. Mr. W. C.
Graves helped dig the grave near one side of the cabin, and laid
the little one to rest. One of the most heart-rending features of
this Donner tragedy is the number of infants that perished. Mrs.
Breen, Mrs. Pike, Mrs. Foster, Mrs. McCutchen, Mrs. Eddy, and
Mrs. Graves each had nursing babes when the fatal camp was
pitched at Donner Lake.]
"Feb. 8. Fine, clear morning. Spitzer died last night, and we
will bury him in the snow; Mrs. Eddy died on the night of the
"Feb. 9. Mrs. Pike's child all but dead; Milton is at Murphy's,
not able to get out of bed; Mrs. Eddy and child buried today;
"Feb. 10. Beautiful morning; thawing in the sun; Milton Elliott
died last night at Murphy's cabin, and Mrs. Reed went there this
morning to see about his effects. John Denton trying to borrow
meat for Graves; had none to give; they had nothing but hides;
all are entirely out of meat, but a little we have; our hides are
nearly all eat up, but with God's help spring will soon smile
There was one survivor of the camp at Donner Lake, a man named
Lewis Keseberg, of German descent. That he was guilty of repeated
cannibalism cannot be doubted. It was in his cabin that, after
losing all her loved ones, the heroic Tamsen Donner met her end.
Many thought he killed her for the one horrid purpose.*
* Many years later (1879) Keseberg declared under oath to C. F.
McGlashan that he did not take her life. See "History of the
Donner" Party, pp. 212, 213.
Such then is the story of one of the great emigrant parties who
started West on a hazard of new fortunes in the early days of the
Oregon Trail. Happily there has been no parallel to the
misadventures of this ill-fated caravan. It is difficult
--without reading these, bald and awful details-- to realize the
vast difference between that day and this. Today we may by the
gentle stages of a pleasant railway journey arrive at Donner
Lake. Little trace remains, nor does any kindly soul wish for
more definite traces, of those awful scenes. Only a cross here
and there with a legend, faint and becoming fainter every year,
may be seen, marking the more prominent spots of the historic
Up on the high mountain side, for the most part hid in the
forest, lie the snowsheds and tunnels of the railway, now
encountering its stiffest climb up the steep slopes to the summit
of the Sierras. The author visited this spot of melancholy
history in company with the vice-president of the great railway
line which here swings up so steadily and easily over the
Sierras. Bit by bit we checked out as best we might the fateful
spots mentioned in the story of the Donner Party. A splendid
motor highway runs by the lakeside now. While we halted our own
car there, a motor car drove up from the westward--following that
practical automobile highway which now exists from the plains of
California across the Sierras and east over precisely that trail
where once the weary feet of the oxen dragged the wagons of the
early emigrants. It was a small car of no expensive type. It was
loaded down with camping equipment until the wheels scarcely
could be seen. It carried five human occupants--an Iowa farmer
and his family. They had been out to California for a season.
Casually they had left Los Angeles, had traveled north up the
valleys of California, east across the summit of the Sierras, and
were here now bound for Iowa over the old emigrant trail!
We hailed this new traveler on the old trail. I do not know
whether or not he had any idea of the early days of that great
highway; I suspect that he could tell only of its present
motoring possibilities. But his wheels were passing over the
marks left more than half a century ago by the cracked felloes of
the emigrant wagons going west in search of homes. If we seek
history, let us ponder that chance pause of the eastbound
family, traveling by motor for pleasure, here by the side of the
graves of the travelers of another day, itself so briefly gone.
What an epoch was spanned in the passing of that frontier!
Chapter VII. The Indian Wars
It might well be urged against the method employed in these pages
that, although we undertook to speak of the last American
frontier, all that we really thus far have done has been to
describe a series of frontiers from the Missouri westward. In
part this is true. But it was precisely in this large, loose, and
irregular fashion that we actually arrived at our last frontier.
Certainly our westbound civilization never advanced by any steady
or regular process. It would be a singularly illuminating
map--and one which I wish we might show--which would depict in
different colors the great occupied areas of the West, with the
earliest dates of their final and permanent occupation. Such a
map as this would show us that the last frontier of America was
overleaped and left behind not once but a score of times.
The land between the Missouri and the Rockies, along the Great
Plains and the high foothills, was crossed over and forgotten by
the men who were forging on into farther countries in search of
lands where fortune was swift and easy. California, Oregon, all
the early farming and timbering lands of the distant Northwest--
these lay far beyond the Plains; and as we have noted, they were
sought for, even before gold was dreamed of upon the Pacific
So here, somewhere between the Missouri and the Rockies, lay our
last frontier, wavering, receding, advancing, gaining and losing,
changing a little more every decade--and at last so rapidly
changed as to be outworn and abolished in one swift decade all
This unsettled land so long held in small repute by the early
Americans, was, as we have pointed out, the buffalo range and the
country of the Horse Indians--the Plains tribes who lived upon
the buffalo. For a long time it was this Indian population which
held back the white settlements of Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas,
Montana, Wyoming, Colorado. But as men began to work farther and
farther westward in search of homes in Oregon, or in quest of
gold in California or Idaho or Montana, the Indian question came
to be a serious one.
To the Army, soon after the Civil War, fell the task of
exterminating, or at least evicting, the savage tribes over all
this unvalued and unknown Middle West. This was a process not
altogether simple. For a considerable time the Indians themselves
were able to offer very effective resistance to the enterprise.
They were accustomed to living upon that country, and did not
need to bring in their own supplies; hence the Army fought them
at a certain disadvantage. In sooth, the Army had to learn to
become half Indian before it could fight the Indians on anything
like even terms. We seem not so much to have coveted the lands
in the first Indian-fighting days; we fought rather for the
trails than for the soil. The Indians themselves had lived there
all their lives, had conquered their environment, and were happy
in it. They made a bitter fight; nor are they to be blamed for
The greatest of our Indian wars have taken place since our own
Civil War; and perhaps the most notable of all the battles are
those which were fought on the old cow range--in the land of our
last frontier. We do not lack abundant records of this time of
our history. Soon after the Civil War the railroads began edging
out into the plains. They brought, besides many new settlers, an
abundance of chroniclers and historians and writers of hectic
fiction or supposed fact. A multitude of books came out at this
time of our history, most of which were accepted as truth. That
was the time when we set up as Wild West heroes rough skinclad
hunters and so-called scouts, each of whom was allowed to tell
his own story and to have it accepted at par. As a matter of
fact, at about the time the Army had succeeded in subduing the
last of the Indian tribes on the buffalo-range, the most of our
Wild West history, at least so far as concerned the boldest
adventure, was a thing of the past. It was easy to write of a
past which every one now was too new, too ignorant, or too busy
critically to remember.
Even as early as 1866, Colonel Marcy, an experienced army officer
and Indian-fighter, took the attitude of writing about a
vanishing phase of American life. In his Army "Life on the
Border," he says:
"I have been persuaded by many friends that the contents of the
book which is herewith presented to the public are not without
value as records of a fast-vanishing age, and as truthful
sketches of men of various races whose memory will shortly depend
only on romance, unless some one who knew them shall undertake to
leave outlines of their peculiar characteristics.... I am
persuaded that excuse may be found in the simple fact that all
these peoples of my description--men, conditions of life, races
aboriginal inhabitants and adventurous hunters and pioneers--are
passing away. A few years more and the prairie will be
transformed into farms. The mountain ravines will be the abodes
of busy manufacturers, and the gigantic power of American
civilization will have taken possession of the land from the
great river of the West to the very shores of the Pacific....
The world is fast filling up. I trust I am not in error when I
venture to place some value, however small, on everything which
goes to form the truthful history of a condition of men incident
to the advances of civilization over the continent--a condition
which forms peculiar types of character, breeds remarkable
developments of human nature--a condition also which can hardly
again exist on this or any other continent, and which has,
therefore, a special value in the sum of human history."
Such words as the foregoing bespeak a large and dignified point
of view. No one who follows Marcy's pages can close them with
anything but respect and admiration. It is in books such as this,
then, that we may find something about the last stages of the
clearing of the frontier.
Even in Marcy's times the question of our Government's Indian
policy was a mooted one. He himself as an Army officer looked at
the matter philosophically, but his estimate of conditions was
exact. Long ago as he wrote, his conclusions were such as might
have been given forty years later.
"The limits of their accustomed range are rapidly contracting,
and their means of subsistence undergoing a corresponding
diminution. The white man is advancing with rapid strides upon
all sides of them, and they are forced to give way to his
encroachments. The time is not far distant when the buffalo will
become extinct, and they will then be compelled to adopt some
other mode of life than the chase for a subsistence.... No
man will quietly submit to starvation when food is within his
reach, and if he cannot obtain it honestly he will steal it or
take it by force. If, therefore, we do not induce them to engage
in agricultural avocations we shall in a few years have before us
the alternative of exterminating them or fighting them
perpetually. That they are destined ultimately to extinction does
not in my mind admit of a doubt. For the reasons above mentioned
it may at first be necessary for our government to assert its
authority over them by a prompt and vigorous exercise of the
military arm.... The tendency of the policy I have indicated
will be to assemble these people in communities where they will
be more readily controlled; and I predict from it the most
gratifying results." Another well-informed army officer, Colonel
Richard Dodge, himself a hunter, a trailer, and a rider able to
compete with the savages in their own fields, penetrated to the
heart of the Indian problem when he wrote:
"The conception of Indian character is almost impossible to a man
who has passed the greater portion of his life surrounded by the
influences of a cultivated, refined, and moral society....
The truth is simply too shocking, and the revolted mind takes
refuge in disbelief as the less painful horn of the dilemma. As a
first step toward an understanding of his character we must get
at his standpoint of morality. As a child he is not brought
up....From the dawn of intelligence his own will is his law.
There is no right and no wrong to him.... No dread of
punishment restrains him from any act that boyish fun or fury may
prompt. No lessons inculcating the beauty and sure reward of
goodness or the hideousness and certain punishment of vice are
ever wasted on him. The men by whom he is surrounded, and to whom
he looks as models for his future life, are great and renowned
just in proportion to their ferocity, to the scalps they have
taken, or the thefts they have committed. His earliest boyish
memory is probably a dance of rejoicing over the scalps of
strangers, all of whom he is taught to regard as enemies. The
lessons of his mother awaken only a desire to take his place as
soon as possible in fight and foray. The instruction of his
father is only such as is calculated to fit him best to act a
prominent part in the chase, in theft, and in murder....
Virtue, morality, generosity, honor, are words not only
absolutely without significance to him, but are not accurately
translatable, into any Indian language on the Plains."
These are sterner, less kindly, less philosophic words than
Marcy's, but they keenly outline the duty of the Army on the
frontier. We made treaties with the Indians and broke them. In
turn men such as these ignorant savages might well be expected to
break their treaties also; and they did. Unhappily our Indian
policy at that time was one of mingled ferocity and wheedling.
The Indians did not understand us any more than we did them. When
we withdrew some of the old frontier posts from the old
hunting-range, the action was construed by the tribesmen as an
admission that we feared them, and they acted upon that idea. In
one point of view they had right with them, for now we were
moving out into the last of the great buffalo country. Their war
was one of desperation, whereas ours was one of conquest, no
better and no worse than all the wars of conquest by which the
strong have taken the possessions of the weak.
Our Army at the close of the Civil War and at the beginning of
the wars with the Plains tribes was in better condition than it
has ever been since that day. It was made up of the soundest and
best-seasoned soldiers that ever fought under our flag; and at
that time it represented a greater proportion of our fighting
strength than it ever has before or since. In 1860 the Regular
Army, not counting the volunteer forces, was 16,000. In 1870 it
was 37,000--one soldier to each one thousand of our population.
Against this force, pioneers of the vaster advancing army of
peaceful settlers now surging West, there was arrayed practically
all the population of fighting tribes such as the Sioux, the two
bands of the Cheyennes, the Piegans, the Assiniboines, the
Arapahoes, the Kiowas, the Comanches, and the Apaches. These were
the leaders of many other tribes in savage campaigns which set
the land aflame from the Rio Grande to our northern line. The
Sioux and Cheyennes were more especially the leaders, and they
always did what they could to enlist the aid of the less warlike
tribes such as the Crows, the Snakes, the Bannacks, the
Utes--indeed all of the savage or semi-civilized tribes which had
hung on the flanks of the traffic of the westbound trail.
The Sioux, then at the height of their power, were distinguished
by many warlike qualities. They fought hard and were quick to
seize upon any signs of weakness in their enemies. When we, in
the course of our Civil War, had withdrawn some of the upper
posts, the Sioux edged in at once and pressed back the whites
quite to the eastern confines of the Plains. When we were locked
in the death grip of internecine war in 1862, they rose in one
savage wave of rebellion of their own and massacred with the most
horrible ferocity not less than six hundred and forty-four whites
in Minnesota and South Dakota. When General Sibley went out among
them on his later punitive campaign he had his hands full for
many a long and weary day.
Events following the close of the Civil War did not mend matters
in the Indian situation. The railroads had large land grants
given to them along their lines, and they began to offer these
lands for sale to settlers. Soldier scrip entitling the holder to
locate on public lands now began to float about. Some of the
engineers, even some of the laborers, upon the railroads, seeing
how really feasible was the settlement of these Plains, began to
edge out and to set up their homes, usually not far from the
railway lines. All this increase in the numbers of the white
population not only infuriated the Indians the more, but gave
them the better chance to inflict damage upon our people. Our
Army therefore became very little more than a vast body of
police, and it was always afoot with the purpose of punishing
these offending tribesmen, who knew nothing of the higher laws of
war and who committed atrocities that have never been equalled in
history; unless it be by one of the belligerents of the Great War
in Europe, with whom we are at this writing engaged--once more in
the interest of a sane and human civilization. The last great
struggle for the occupation of the frontier was on. It involved
the ownership of the last of our open lands; and hence may be
called the war of our last frontier.
The settler who pushed West continued to be the man who shared
his time between his rifle and his plough. The numerous buffalo
were butchered with an endless avidity by the men who now
appeared upon the range. As the great herds regularly migrated
southward with each winter's snows, they were met by the settlers
along the lower railway lines and in a brutal commerce were
killed in thousands and in millions. The Indians saw this sudden
and appalling shrinkage of their means of livelihood. It meant
death to them. To their minds, especially when they thought we
feared them, there was but one answer to all this--the whites
must all be killed.
Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, Roman Nose, American Horse, Black
Kettle--these were names of great Indian generals who proved
their ability to fight. At times they brought into the open
country, which as yet remained unoccupied by the great pastoral
movement from the south, as many as five thousand mounted
warriors in one body, and they were well armed and well supplied
with ammunition. Those were the days when the Indian agents were
carrying on their lists twice as many Indians as actually
existed--and receiving twice as many supplies as really were
issued to the tribes. The curse of politics was ours even at that
time, and it cost us then, as now, unestimated millions of our
nation's dearest treasures. As to the reservations which the
Indians were urged to occupy, they left them when they Iced. In
the end, when they were beaten, all they were asked to do was to
return to these reservations and be fed.
There were fought in the West from 1869 to 1875 more than two
hundred pitched actions between the Army and the Indians. In most
cases the white men were heavily outnumbered. The account which
the Army gave of itself on scores of unremembered minor
fields--which meant life or death to all engaged--would make one
of the best pages of our history, could it be written today. The
enlisted men of the frontier Army were riding and shooting men,
able to live as the Indians did and able to beat them at their
own game. They were led by Army officers whose type has never
been improved upon in any later stage of our Army itself, or of
any army in the world.
There are certain great battles which may at least receive
notice, although it would be impossible to mention more than a
few of the encounters of the great Indian wars on the
buffalo-range at about the time of the buffalo's disappearance.
The Fetterman Massacre in 1866, near Fort Phil Kearney, a post
located at the edge of the Big Horn Mountains, was a blow which
the Army never has forgotten. "In a place of fifty feet square
lay the bodies of Colonel Fetterman, Captain Brown, and
sixty-five enlisted men. Each man was stripped naked and hacked
and scalped, the skulls beaten in with war clubs and the bodies
gashed with knives almost beyond recognition, with other ghastly
mutilations that the civilized pen hesitates to record."
This tragedy brought the Indian problem before the country as
never before. The hand of the Western rancher and trader was
implacably against the tribesmen of the plains; the city-dweller
of the East, with hazy notions of the Indian character, was
disposed to urge lenient methods upon those responsible for
governmental policy. While the Sioux and Cheyenne wars dragged
on, Congress created, by act of July 20, 1867, a peace commission
of four civilians and three army officers to deal with the
hostile tribes. For more than a year, with scant sympathy from
the military members, this commission endeavored to remove the
causes of friction by amicable conference with the Indian chiefs.
The attitude of the Army is reflected in a letter of General
Sherman to his brother. "We have now selected and provided
reservations for all, off the great roads. All who cling to their
old hunting-grounds are hostile and will remain so till killed
off. We will have a sort of predatory war for years--every now
and then be shocked by the indiscriminate murder of travelers and
settlers, but the country is so large, and the advantage of the
Indians so great, that we cannot make a single war and end it.
From the nature of things we must take chances and clean out
Indians as we encounter them."
Segregation of the Indian tribes upon reservations seemed to the
commission the only solution of the vexing problem. Various
treaties were made and others were projected looking toward the
removal of the tribesmen from the highways of continental travel.
The result was misgiving and increased unrest among the Indians.
In midsummer of 1868 forays occurred at many points along the
border of the Indian Territory. General Sheridan, who now
commanded the Department of the Missouri, believed that a general
war was imminent. He determined to teach the southern tribesmen a
lesson they would not forget. In the dead of winter our troops
marched against the Cheyennes, then in their encampments below
the Kansas line. The Indians did not believe that white men could
march in weather forty below zero, during which they themselves
sat in their tepees around their fires; but our cavalrymen did
march in such weather, and under conditions such as our cavalry
perhaps could not endure today. Among these troops was the
Seventh Cavalry, Custer's Regiment, formed after the Civil War,
and it was led by Lieutenant-Colonel George A. Custer himself,
that gallant officer whose name was to go into further and more
melancholy history of the Plains.
Custer marched until he got in touch with the trails of the
Cheyennes, whom he knew to belong to Black Kettle's band. He did
not at the time know that below them, in the same valley of the
Washita, were also the winter encampments of the Kiowas, the
Comanches, the Arapahoes, and even a few Apaches. He attacked at
dawn of a bleak winter morning, November 27, 1868, after taking
the precaution of surrounding the camp, and killed Black Kettle,
and another chief, Little Rock, and over a hundred of their
warriors. Many women and children also were killed in this
attack. The result was one which sank deep into the Indian mind.
They began to respect the men who could outmarch them and outlive
them on the range. Surely, they thought, these were not the same
men who had abandoned Forts Phil Kearney, C. F. Smith, and Reno.
There had been some mistake about this matter. The Indians began
to think it over. The result was a pacifying of all the country
south of the Platte. The lower Indians began to come in and give
themselves up to the reservation life.
One of the hardest of pitched battles ever fought with an Indian
tribe occurred in September, 1868, on the Arickaree or South Fork
of the Republican River, where General "Sandy" Forsyth, and his
scouts, for nine days fought over six hundred Cheyennes and
Arapahoes. These savages had been committing atrocities upon the
settlers of the Saline, the Solomon, and the Republican valleys,
and were known to have killed some sixty-four men and women at
the time General Sheridan resolved to punish them. Forsyth had no
chance to get a command of troops, but he was allowed to enlist
fifty scouts, all "first-class, hardened frontiersmen," and with
this body of fighting men he carried out the most dramatic battle
perhaps ever waged on the Plains.
Forsyth ran into the trail of two or three large Indian villages,
but none the less he followed on until he came to the valley of
the South Fork. Here the Cheyennes under the redoubtable Roman
Nose surrounded him on the 17th of September. The small band of
scouts took refuge on a brushy island some sixty yards from
shore, and hastily dug themselves in under fire.
They stood at bay outnumbered ten to one, with small prospect of
escape, for the little island offered no protection of itself,
and was in pointblank range from the banks of the river. All
their horses soon were shot down, and the men lay in the rifle
pits with no hope of escape. Roman Nose, enraged at the
resistance put up by Forsyth's men, led a band of some four
hundred of his warriors in the most desperate charge that has
been recorded in all our Indian fighting annals. It was rarely
that the Indian would charge at all; but these tribesmen,
stripped naked for the encounter, and led at first by that giant
warrior, who came on shouting his defiance, charged in full view
not only once but three times in one day, and got within a
hundred feet of the foot of the island where the scouts were
According to Forsyth's report, the Indians came on in regular
ranks like the cavalry of the white men, more than four hundred
strong. They were met by the fire of repeating carbines and
revolvers, and they stood for the first, second, third, fourth,
and fifth fire of repeating weapons, and still charged in! Roman
Nose was killed at last within touch of the rifle pits against
which he was leading his men. The second charge was less
desperate, for the savages lost heart after the loss of their
leader. The third one, delivered towards the evening of that same
day, was desultory. By that time the bed of the shallow stream
was well filled with fallen horses and dead warriors.
Forsyth ordered meat cut from the bodies of his dead horses and
buried in the wet sand so that it might keep as long as possible.
Lieutenant Beecher, his chief of scouts, was killed, as also were
Surgeon Mooers, and Scouts Smith, Chalmers, Wilson, Farley, and
Day. Seventeen others of the party were wounded, some severely.
Forsyth himself was shot three times, once in the head. His left
leg was broken below the knee, and his right thigh was ripped up
by a rifle ball, which caused him extreme pain. Later he cut the
bullet out of his own leg, and was relieved from some part of the
pain. After his rescue, when his broken leg was set it did not
suit him, and he had the leg broken twice in the hospital and
reset until it knitted properly.
Forsyth's men lay under fire under a blazing sun in their holes
on the sandbar for nine days. But the savages never dislodged
them, and at last they made off, their women and children beating
the death drums, and the entire village mourning the unreturning
brave. On the second day of the fighting Forsyth had got out
messengers at extreme risk, and at length the party was rescued
by a detachment of the Tenth Cavalry. The Indians later said that
they had in all over six hundred warriors in this fight. Their
losses, though variously estimated, were undoubtedly heavy.
It was encounters such as this which gradually were teaching the
Indians that they could not beat the white men, so that after a
time they began to yield to the inevitable.
What is known as the Baker Massacre was the turning-point in the
half-century of warfare with the Blackfeet, the savage tribe
which had preyed upon the men of the fur trade in a
long-continued series of robberies and murders. On January 22,
1870, Major E. M. Baker, led by half-breeds who knew the country,
surprised the Piegans in their winter camp on the Marias River,
just below the border. He, like Custer, attacked at dawn, opening
the encounter with a general fire into the tepees. He killed a
hundred and seventy-three of the Piegans, including very many
women and children, as was unhappily the case so often in these
surprise attacks. It was deplorable warfare. But it ended the
resistance of the savage Blackfeet. They have been disposed for
peace from that day to this.
The terrible revenge which the Sioux and Cheyennes took in the
battle which annihilated Custer and his men on the Little Big
Horn in the summer of 1876; the Homeric running fight made by
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perces--a flight which baffled our best
generals and their men for a hundred and ten days over more than
fourteen hundred miles of wilderness--these are events so well
known that it seems needless to do more than to refer to them.
The Nez Perces in turn went down forever when Joseph came out and
surrendered, saying, "From where the sun now stands I fight
against the white man no more forever." His surrender to fate did
not lack its dignity. Indeed, a mournful interest attached to the
inevitable destiny of all these savage leaders, who, no doubt,
according to their standards, were doing what men should do and
all that men could do.
The main difficulty in administering full punishment to such
bands was that after a defeat they scattered, so that they could
not be overtaken in any detailed fashion. After the Custer fight
many of the tribe went north of the Canadian line and remained
there for some time. The writer himself has seen along the
Qu'Appelle River in Saskatchewan some of the wheels taken out of
the watches of Custer's men. The savages broke them up and used
the wheels for jewelry. They even offered the Canadians for trade
boots, hats, and clothing taken from the bodies of Custer's men.
The Modoc war against the warriors of Captain Jack in 1873 was
waged in the lava beds of Oregon, and it had the distinction of
being one of the first Indian wars to be well reported in the
newspapers. We heard a great deal of the long and trying
campaigns waged by the Army in revenge for the murder of General
Canby in his council tent. We got small glory out of that war,
perhaps, but at last we hanged the ringleader of the murderers;
and the extreme Northwest remained free from that time on.
Far in the dry Southwest, where home-building man did not as yet
essay a general occupation of the soil, the blood-thirsty Apache
long waged a warfare which tried the mettle of our Army as
perhaps no other tribes ever have done. The Spaniards had fought
these Apaches for nearly three hundred years, and had not beaten
them. They offered three hundred dollars each for Apache scalps,
and took a certain number of them. But they left all the
remaining braves sworn to an eternal enmity. The Apaches became
mountain outlaws, whose blood-mad thirst for revenge never died.
No tribe ever fought more bitterly. Hemmed in and surrounded,
with no hope of escape, in some instances they perished literally
to the last man. General George Crook finished the work of
cleaning up the Apache outlaws only by use of the trailers of
their own people who sided with the whites for pay. Without the
Pima scouts he never could have run down the Apaches as he did.
Perhaps these were the hardest of all the Plains Indians to find
and to fight. But in 1872 Crook subdued them and concentrated
them in reservations in Arizona. Ten years later, under Geronimo,
a tribe of the Apaches broke loose and yielded to General Crook
only after a prolonged war. Once again they raided New Mexico and
Arizona in 1885-6. This was the last raid of Geronimo. He was
forced by General Miles to surrender and, together with his chief
warriors, was deported to Fort Pickens in Florida.
In all these savage pitched battles and bloody skirmishes, the
surprises and murderous assaults all over the old range, there
were hundreds of settlers killed, hundreds also of our army men,
including some splendid officers. In the Custer fight alone, on
the Little Big Horn, the Army lost Custer himself, thirteen
commissioned officers, and two hundred and fifty-six enlisted men
killed, with two officers and fifty-one men wounded; a total of
three hundred and twenty-three killed and wounded in one battle.
Custer had in his full column about seven hundred men. The number
of the Indians has been variously estimated. They had perhaps
five thousand men in their villages when they met Custer in this,
the most historic and most ghastly battle of the Plains. It would
be bootless to revive any of the old discussions regarding Custer
and his rash courage. Whether in error or in wisdom, he died, and
gallantly. He and his men helped clear the frontier for those who
were to follow, and the task took its toll. Thus, slowly but
steadily, even though handicapped by a vacillating governmental
policy regarding the Indians, we muddled through these great
Indian wars of the frontier, our soldiers doing their work
splendidly and uncomplainingly, such work as no other body of
civilized troops has ever been asked to do or could have done if
asked. At the close of the Civil War we ourselves were a nation
of fighting men. We were fit and we were prepared. The average of
our warlike qualities never has been so high as then. The
frontier produced its own pathfinders, its own saviors, its own
So now the frontier lay ready, waiting for the man with the
plough. The dawn of that last day was at hand.
Chapter VIII. The Cattle Kings
It is proper now to look back yet again over the scenes with
which we hitherto have had to do. It is after the railways have
come to the Plains. The Indians now are vanishing. The buffalo
have not yet gone, but are soon to pass.
Until the closing days of the Civil War the northern range was a
wide, open domain, the greatest ever offered for the use of a
people. None claimed it then in fee; none wanted it in fee. The
grasses and the sweet waters offered accessible and profitable
chemistry for all men who had cows to range. The land laws still
were vague and inexact in application, and each man could
construe them much as he liked. The excellent homestead law of
1862, one of the few really good land laws that have been put on
our national statute books, worked well enough so long as we had
good farming lands for homesteading--lands of which a quarter
section would support a home and a family. This same homestead
law was the only one available for use on the cattle-range. In
practice it was violated thousands of times--in fact, of
necessity violated by any cattle man who wished to acquire
sufficient range to run a considerable herd. Our great timber
kings, our great cattle kings, made their fortunes out of their
open contempt for the homestead law, which was designed to give
all the people an even chance for a home and a farm. It made, and
Swiftly enough, here and there along all the great waterways of
the northern range, ranchers and their men filed claims on the
water fronts. The dry land thus lay tributary to them. For the
most part the open lands were held practically under squatter
right; the first cowman in any valley usually had his rights
respected, at least for a time. These were the days of the open
range. Fences had not come, nor had farms been staked out.
From the South now appeared that tremendous and elemental
force--most revolutionary of all the great changes we have noted
in the swiftly changing West--the bringing in of thousands of
horned kine along the northbound trails. The trails were hurrying
from the Rio Grande to the upper plains of Texas and northward,
along the north and south line of the Frontier--that land which
now we have been seeking less to define and to mark precisely
than fundamentally to understand.
The Indian wars had much to do with the cow trade. The Indians
were crowded upon the reservations, and they had to be fed, and
fed on beef. Corrupt Indian agents made fortunes, and the Beef
Ring at Washington, one of the most despicable lobbies which ever
fattened there, now wrote its brief and unworthy history. In a
strange way corrupt politics and corrupt business affected the
phases of the cattle industry as they had affected our relations
with the Indians. More than once a herd of some thousand beeves
driven up from Texas on contract, and arriving late in autumn,
was not accepted on its arrival at the army post--some pet of
Washington perhaps had his own herd to sell! All that could be
done then would be to seek out a "holding range." In this way,
more and more, the capacity of the northern Plains to nourish and
improve cattle became established.
Naturally, the price of cows began to rise; and naturally, also,
the demand for open range steadily increased. There now began the
whole complex story of leased lands and fenced lands. The
frontier still was offering opportunity for the bold man to reap
where he had not sown. Lands leased to the Indians of the
civilized tribes began to cut large figure in the cow trade--as
well as some figure in politics--until at length the thorny
situation was handled by a firm hand at Washington. The methods
of the East were swiftly overrunning those of the West. Politics
and graft and pull, things hitherto unknown, soon wrote their
hurrying story also over all this newly won region from which the
rifle-smoke had scarcely yet cleared away.
But every herd which passed north for delivery of one sort or the
other advanced the education of the cowman, whether of the
northern or the southern ranges. Some of the southern men began
to start feeding ranges in the North, retaining their breeding
ranges in the South. The demand of the great upper range for
cattle seemed for the time insatiable.
To the vision of the railroad builders a tremendous potential
freightage now appeared. The railroad builders began to calculate
that one day they would parallel the northbound cow trail with
iron trails of their own and compete with nature for the carrying
of this beef. The whole swift story of all that development,
while the westbound rails were crossing and crisscrossing the
newly won frontier, scarce lasted twenty years. Presently we
began to hear in the East of the Chisholm Trail and of the
Western Trail which lay beyond it, and of many smaller and
intermingling branches. We heard of Ogallalla, in Nebraska, the
"Gomorrah of the Range," the first great upper marketplace for
distribution of cattle to the swiftly forming northern ranches.
The names of new rivers came upon our maps; and beyond the first
railroads we began to hear of the Yellowstone, the Powder, the
Musselshell, the Tongue, the Big Horn, the Little Missouri.
The wild life, bold and carefree, coming up from the South now in
a mighty surging wave, spread all over that new West which
offered to the people of older lands a strange and fascinating
interest. Every one on the range had money; every one was
independent. Once more it seemed that man had been able to
overleap the confining limitations of his life, and to attain
independence, self-indulgence, ease and liberty. A chorus of
Homeric, riotous mirth, as of a land in laughter, rose up all
over the great range. After all, it seemed that we had a new
world left, a land not yet used. We still were young! The cry
arose that there was land enough for all out West. And at first
the trains of white-topped wagons rivaled the crowded coaches
westbound on the rails.
In consequence there came an entire readjustment of values. This
country, but yesterday barren and worthless, now was covered with
gold, deeper than the gold of California or any of the old
placers. New securities and new values appeared. Banks did not
care much for the land as security--it was practically worthless
without the cattle--but they would lend money on cattle at rates
which did not then seem usurious. A new system of finance came
into use. Side by side with the expansion of credits went the
expansion of the cattle business. Literally in hundreds of
thousands the cows came north from the exhaustless ranges of the
It was a wild, strange day. But withal it was the kindliest and
most generous time, alike the most contented and the boldest
time, in all the history of our frontiers. There never was a
better life than that of the cowman who had a good range on the
Plains and cattle enough to stock his range. There never will be
found a better man's country in all the world than that which ran
from the Missouri up to the low foothills of the Rockies.
The lower cities took their tribute of the northbound cattle for
quite a time. Wichita, Coffeyville, and other towns of lower
Kansas in turn made bids for prominence as cattle marts. Agents
of the Chicago stockyards would come down along the trails into
the Indian Nations to meet the northbound herds and to try to
divert them to this or that market as a shipping-point. The
Kiowas and Comanches, not yet wholly confined to their
reservations, sometimes took tribute, whether in theft or in open
extortion, of the herds laboring upward through the long slow
season. Trail-cutters and herd-combers, licensed or unlicensed
hangers-on to the northbound throngs of cattle, appeared along
the lower trails--with some reason, occasionally; for in a great
northbound herd there might be many cows included under brands
other than those of the road brands registered for the drovers of
that particular herd. Cattle thieving became an industry of
certain value, rivaling in some localities the operations of the
bandits of the placer camps. There was great wealth suddenly to
be seen. The weak and the lawless, as well as the strong and the
unscrupulous, set out to reap after their own fashion where they
had not sown. If a grave here or there appeared along the trail
or at the edge of the straggling town, it mattered little. If the
gamblers and the desperadoes of the cow towns such as Newton,
Ellsworth, Abilene, Dodge, furnished a man for breakfast day
after day, it mattered little, for plenty of men, remained, as
good or better. The life was large and careless, and bloodshed
was but an incident.
During the early and unregulated days of the cattle industry, the
frontier insisted on its own creed, its own standards. But all
the time, coming out from the East, were scores and hundreds of
men of exacter notions of trade and business. The enormous waste
of the cattle range could not long endure. The toll taken by the
thievery of the men who came to be called range-rustlers made an
element of loss which could not long be sustained by thinking
men. As the Vigilantes regulated things in the mining camps, so
now in slightly different fashion the new property owners on the
upper range established their own ideas, their own sense of
proportion as to law and order. The cattle associations, the
banding together of many owners of vast herds, for mutual
protection and mutual gain were a natural and logical
development. Outside of these there was for a time a highly
efficient corps of cattle-range Vigilantes, who shot and hanged
some scores of rustlers.
It was a frenzied life while it lasted--this lurid outburst, the
last flare of the frontier. Such towns as Dodge and Ogallalla
offered extraordinary phenomena of unrestraint. But fortunately
into the worst of these capitals of license came the best men of
the new regime, and the new officers of the law, the agents of
the Vigilantes, the advance-guard of civilization now crowding on
the heels of the wild men of the West. In time the lights of the
dance-halls and the saloons and the gambling parlors went out one
by one all along the frontier. By 1885 Dodge City, a famed
capital of the cow trade, which will live as long as the history
of that industry is known, resigned its eminence and declared
that from where the sun then stood it would be a cow camp no
more! The men of Dodge knew that another day had dawned. But this
was after the homesteaders had arrived and put up their wire
fences, cutting off from the town the holding grounds of the
This innovation of barb-wire fences in the seventies had caused a
tremendous alteration of conditions over all the country. It had
enabled men to fence in their own water-fronts, their own
homesteads. Casually, and at first without any objection filed by
any one, they had included in their fences many hundreds of
thousands of acres of range land to which they had no title
whatever. These men--like the large-handed cow barons of the
Indian Nations, who had things much as they willed in a little
unnoted realm all their own--had money and political influence.
And there seemed still range enough for all. If a man wished to
throw a drift fence here or there, what mattered it?
Up to this time not much attention had been paid to the Little
Fellow, the man of small capital who registered a brand of his
own, and who with a Maverick* here and there and the natural
increase, and perhaps a trifle of unnatural increase here and
there--had proved able to accumulate with more or less rapidity a
herd of his own. Now the cattle associations passed rules that no
foreman should be allowed to have or register a brand of his own.
Not that any foreman could be suspected--not at all!--but the
foreman who insisted on his old right to own a running iron and a
registered brand was politely asked to find his employment
* In the early days a rancher by the name of Maverick, a Texas
man, had made himself rich simply by riding out on the open range
and branding loose and unmarked occupants of the free lands.
Hence the term "Maverick" was applied to any unbranded animal
running loose on the range. No one cared to interfere with these
early activities in collecting unclaimed cattle. Many a
foundation for a great fortune was laid in precisely that way. It
was not until the more canny days in the North that Mavericks
were regarded with jealous eyes.
The large-handed and once generous methods of the old range now
began to narrow themselves. Even if the Little Fellow were able
to throw a fence around his own land, very often he did not have
land enough to support his herd with profit. A certain antipathy
now began to arise between the great cattle owners and the small
ones, especially on the upper range, where some rather bitter
wars were fought--the cow kings accusing their smaller rivals of
rustling cows; the small man accusing the larger operators of
having for years done the same thing, and of having grown rich at
The cattle associations, thrifty and shifty, sending their brand
inspectors as far east as the stockyards of Kansas City and
Chicago, naturally had the whip hand of the smaller men. They
employed detectives who regularly combed out the country in
search of men who had loose ideas of mine and thine. All the time
the cow game was becoming stricter and harder. Easterners brought
on the East's idea of property, of low interest, sure returns,
and good security. In short, there was set on once more--as there
had been in every great movement across the entire West-- the old
contest between property rights and human independence in
action. It was now once more the Frontier against the States, and
the States were foredoomed to win.
The barb-wire fence, which was at first used extensively by the
great operators, came at last to be the greatest friend of the
Little Fellow on the range. The Little Fellow, who under the
provisions of the homestead act began to push West arid, to
depart farther and farther from the protecting lines of the
railways, could locate land and water for himself and fence in
both. "I've got the law back of me," was what he said; and what
he said was true. Around the old cow camps of the trails, and
around the young settlements which did not aspire to be called
cow camps, the homesteaders fenced in land--so much land that
there came to be no place near any of the shipping-points where a
big herd from the South could be held. Along the southern range
artificial barriers to the long drive began to be raised. It
would be hard to say whether fear of Texas competition or of
Texas cattle fever was the more powerful motive in the minds of
ranchers in Colorado and Kansas. But the cattle quarantine laws
of 1885 nearly broke up the long drive of that year. Men began to
talk of fencing off the trails, and keeping the northbound herds
within the fences--a thing obviously impossible.
The railroads soon rendered this discussion needless. Their
agents went down to Texas and convinced the shippers that it
would be cheaper and safer to put their cows on cattle trains and
ship them directly to the ranges where they were to be delivered.
And in time the rails running north and south across the Staked
Plains into the heart of the lower range began to carry most of
the cattle. So ended the old cattle trails.
What date shall we fix for the setting of the sun of that last
frontier? Perhaps the year 1885 is as accurate as any--the time
when the cattle trails practically ceased to bring north their
vast tribute. But, in fact, there is no exact date for the
passing of the frontier. Its decline set in on what day the first
lank "nester" from the States outspanned his sun-burned team as
he pulled up beside some sweet water on the rolling lands,
somewhere in the West, and looked about him, and looked again at
the land map held in his hand.
"I reckon this is our land, Mother," said he.
When he said that, he pronounced the doom of the old frontier.
Chapter IX. The Homesteader
His name was usually Nester or Little Fellow. It was the old
story of the tortoise and the hare. The Little Fellow was from
the first destined to win. His steady advance, now on this flank,
now on that, just back of the vanguard pushing westward, had
marked the end of all our earlier frontiers. The same story now
was being written on the frontier of the Plains.
But in the passing of this last frontier the type of the
land-seeking man, the type of the American, began to alter
distinctly. The million dead of our cruel Civil War left a great
gap in the American population which otherwise would have
occupied the West and Northwest after the clearing away of the
Indians. For three decades we had been receiving a strong and
valuable immigration from the north of Europe. It was in great
part this continuous immigration which occupied the farming lands
of upper Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. Thus the population of
the Northwest became largely foreign. Each German or Scandinavian
who found himself prospering in this rich new country was himself
an immigration agency. He sent back word to his friends and
relatives in the Old World and these came to swell the steadily
thickening population of the New.
We have seen that the enterprising cattlemen had not been slow to
reach out for such resources as they might. Perhaps at one time
between 1885 and 1890 there were over ten million acres of land
illegally fenced in on the upper range by large cattle companies.
This had been done without any color of law whatever; a man
simply threw out his fences as far as he liked, and took in range
enough to pasture all the cattle that he owned. His only pretext
was "I saw it first." For the Nester who wanted a way through
these fences out into the open public lands, he cherished a
bitter resentment. And yet the Nester must in time win through,
must eventually find the little piece of land which he was
The government at Washington was finally obliged to take action.
In the summer of 1885, acting under authorization of Congress,
President Cleveland ordered the removal of all illegal enclosures
and forbade any person or association to prevent the peaceful
occupation of the public land by homesteaders. The President had
already cancelled the leases by which a great cattle company had
occupied grazing lands in the Indian Territory. Yet, with
even-handed justice he kept the land boomers also out of these
coveted lands, until the Dawes Act of 1887 allotted the tribal
lands to the Indians in severalty and threw open the remainder to
the impatient homeseekers. Waiting thousands were ready at the
Kansas line, eager for the starting gun which was to let loose a
mad stampede of crazed human beings.
It always was contended by the cowman that these settlers coming
in on the semi-arid range could not make a living there, that all
they could do was legally to starve to death some good woman.
True, many of them could not last out in the bitter combined
fight with nature and the grasping conditions of commerce and
transportation of that time. The western Canadian farmer of today
is a cherished, almost a petted being. But no one ever showed any
mercy to the American farmer who moved out West.
As always has been the case, a certain number of wagons might be
seen passing back East, as well as the somewhat larger number
steadily moving westward. There were lean years and dry years,
hot years, yellow years here and there upon the range. The phrase
written on one disheartened farmer's wagon top, "Going back to my
wife's folks," became historic.
The railways were finding profit in carrying human beings out to
the cow-range just as once they had in transporting cattle.
Indeed, it did not take the wiser railroad men long to see that
they could afford to set down a farmer, at almost no cost for
transportation, in any part of the new West. He would after that
be dependent upon the railroad in every way. The railroads
deliberately devised the great land boom of 1886, which was more
especially virulent in the State of Kansas. Many of the roads
had lands of their own for sale, but what they wanted most was
the traffic of the settlers. They knew the profit to be derived
from the industry of a dense population raising products which
must be shipped, and requiring imports which also must be
shipped. One railroad even offered choice breeding-stock free on
request. The same road, and others also, preached steadily the
doctrine of diversified farming. In short, the railroads, in
their own interests, did all they could to make prosperous the
farms or ranches of the West. The usual Western homestead now was
part ranch and part farm, although the term "ranch" continued for
many years to cover all the meanings of the farm of whatever
There appeared now in the new country yet another figure of the
Western civilization, the land-boomer, with his irresponsible and
unregulated statements in regard to the values of these Western
lands. These men were not always desirable citizens, although of
course no industry was more solid or more valuable than that of
legitimate handling of the desirable lands. "Public spirit"
became a phrase now well known in any one of scores of new towns
springing up on the old cow-range, each of which laid claims to
be the future metropolis of the world. In any one of these towns
the main industry was that of selling lands or "real estate."
During the Kansas boom of 1886 the land-boomers had their desks
in the lobbies of banks, the windows of hardware stores--any
place and every place offering room for a desk and chair.
Now also flourished apace the industry of mortgage loans. Eastern
money began to flood the western Plains, attracted by the high
rates of interest. In 1886 the customary banking interest in
western Kansas was two per cent a month. It is easy to see that
very soon such a state of affairs as this must collapse. The
industry of selling town lots far out in the cornfields, and of
buying unimproved subdivision property with borrowed money at
usurious rates of interest, was one riding for its own fall.
None the less the Little Fellow kept on going out into the West.
We did not change our land laws for his sake, and for a time he
needed no sympathy. The homestead law in combination with the
preemption act and the tree claim act would enable a family to
get hold of a very sizable tract of land. The foundations of many
comfortable fortunes were laid in precisely this way by thrifty
men who were willing to work and willing to wait.
It was not until 1917 that the old homestead law limiting the
settler to a hundred and sixty acres of land was modified for the
benefit of the stock-raiser. The stockraising homestead law, as
it is called, permits a man to make entry for not more than six
hundred and forty acres of unappropriated land which shall have
been designated by the Secretary of the Interior as "stockraising
land." Cultivation of the land is not required, but the holder is
required to make "permanent improvements" to the value of a
dollar and twenty-five cents an acre, and at least one-half of
these improvements must be made within three years after the date
of entry. In the old times the question of proof in "proving up"
was very leniently considered. A man would stroll down to the
land office and swear solemnly that he had lived the legal length
of time on his homestead, whereas perhaps he had never seen it or
had no more than ridden across it. Today matters perhaps will be
administered somewhat more strictly; for of all those millions of
acres of open land once in the West there is almost none left
worth the holding for farm purposes.
Such dishonest practices were, however, indignantly denied by
those who fostered the irrigation and dryfarming booms which made
the last phase of exploitation of the old range. A vast amount of
disaster was worked by the failure of number less irrigation
companies, each of them offering lands to the settlers through
the medium of most alluring advertising. In almost every case the
engineers underestimated the cost of getting water on the land.
Very often the amount of water available was not sufficient to
irrigate the land which had been sold to settlers. In countless
cases the district irrigation bonds-which were offered broadcast
by Eastern banks to their small investors--were hardly worth the
paper on which they were written. One after another these wildcat
irrigation schemes, purporting to assure sudden wealth in apples,
pears, celery, garden truck, cherries, small fruits, alfalfa,
pecans, eucalyptus or catalpa trees-anything you liked--went to
the wall. Sometimes whole communities became straitened by the
collapse of these overblown enterprises. The recovery was slow,
though usually the result of that recovery was a far healthier
and more stable condition of society.
This whole question of irrigation and dry farming, this or that
phase of the last scrambling, feverish settling on the last
lands, was sorely wasteful of human enterprise and human
happiness. It was much like the spawning rush of the salmon from
the sea. Many perish. A few survive. Certainly there never was
more cruel injustice done than that to the sober-minded Eastern
farmers, some of them young men in search of cheaper homes, who
sold out all they had in the East and went out to the dry country
to farm under the ditch, or to take up that still more hazardous
occupation--successful sometimes, though always hard and always
risky--dry farming on the benches which cannot be reached with
Strangely changed was all the face of the cattle range by these
successive and startling innovations. The smoke of many little
homes rose now, scattered over all that tremendous country from
the Rockies to the edge of the short grass country, from Texas to
the Canadian line. The cattle were not banished from the range,
for each little farmer would probably have a few cows of his own;
and in some fashion the great cowmen were managing to get in fee
tracts of land sufficient for their purposes. There were land
leases of all sorts which enabled the thrifty Westerner who knew
the inside and out of local politics to pick up permanently
considerable tracts of land. Some of these ranches held together
as late as 1916; indeed, there are some such oldtime holdings
still existent in the West, although far more rare than formerly
was the case.
Under all these conditions the price of land went up steadily.
Land was taken eagerly which would have been refused with
contempt a decade earlier. The parings and scraps and crumbs of
the Old West now were fought for avidly.
The need of capital became more and more important in many of the
great land operations. Even the government reclamation
enterprises could not open lands to the settler on anything like
the old homestead basis. The water right cost money--sometimes
twenty-five or thirty dollars an acre; in some of the private
reclamation enterprises, fifty dollars an acre, or even more.
Very frequently when the Eastern farmer came out to settle on
such a tract and to meet the hard, new, and expensive conditions
of life in the semi-arid regions he found that he could not pay
out on the land. Perhaps he brought two or three thousand dollars
with him. It usually was the industrial mistake of the
land-boomer to take from this intending settler practically all
of his capital at the start. Naturally, when the new farmers were
starved out and in one way or another had made other plans, the
country itself went to pieces. That part of it was wisest which
did not kill the goose of the golden egg. But be these things as
they may be and as they were, the whole readjustment in
agricultural values over the once measureless and valueless cow
country was a stupendous and staggering thing.
Now appeared yet another agency of change. The high dry lands of
many of the Rocky Mountain States had long been regarded
covetously by an industry even more cordially disliked by the
cattleman than the industry of farming. The sheepman began to
raise his head and to plan certain things for himself in turn.
Once the herder of sheep was a meek and lowly man, content to
slink away when ordered. The writer himself in the dry Southwest
once knew a flock of six thousand sheep to be rounded up and
killed by the cattlemen of a range into which they had intruded.
The herders went with the sheep. All over the range the feud
between the sheepmen and the cowmen was bitter and implacable.
The issues in those quarrels rarely got into the courts but were
fought out on the ground. The old Wyoming deadline of the cowmen
against intruding bands of Green River sheep made a considerable
amount of history which was never recorded.
The sheepmen at length began to succeed in their plans.
Themselves not paying many taxes, not supporting the civilization
of the country, not building the schools or roads or bridges,
they none the less claimed the earth and the fullness thereof.
After the establishment of the great forest reserves, the
sheepmen coveted the range thus included. It has been the
governmental policy to sell range privileges in the forest
reserves for sheep, on a per capita basis. Like privileges have
been extended to cattlemen in certain of the reserves. Always the
contact and the contest between the two industries of sheep and
cows have remained. Of course the issue even in this ancient
contest is foregone--as the cowman has had to raise his cows
under fence, so ultimately must the sheepman also buy his range
in fee and raise his product under fence.
The wandering bands of sheep belong nowhere. They ruin a country.
It is a pathetic spectacle to see parts of the Old West in which
sheep steadily have been ranged. They utterly destroy all the
game; they even drive the fish out of the streams and cut the
grasses and weeds down to the surface of the earth. The denuded
soil crumbles under their countless hoofs, becomes dust, and
blows away. They leave a waste, a desert, an abomination.
There were yet other phases of change which followed hard upon
the heels of our soldiers after they had completed their task of
subjugating the tribes of the buffalo Indians. After the
homesteads had been proved up in some of the Northwestern States,
such as Montana and the Dakotas, large bodies of land were
acquired by certain capitalistic farmers. All this new land had
been proved to be exceedingly prolific of wheat, the great
new-land crop. The farmers of the Northwest had not yet learned
that no country long can thrive which depends upon a single crop.
But the once familiar figures of the bonanza farms of the
Northwest--the pictures of their long lines of reapers or
selfbinders, twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty machines, one after
the other, advancing through the golden grain--the pictures of
their innumerable stacks of wheat--the figures of the vast
mileage of their fencing--the yet more stupendous figures of the
outlay required to operate these farms, and the splendid totals
of the receipts from such operations--these at one time were
familiar and proudly presented features of boom advertising in
the upper portions of our black land belt, which day just at the
eastern edge of the old Plains.
There was to be repeated in this country something of the history
of California. In the great valleys, such as the San Joaquin, the
first interests were pastoral, and the cowmen found a vast realm
which seemed to be theirs forever. There came to them, however,
the bonanza wheat farmers, who flourished there about 1875 and
through the next decade. Their highly specialized industry
boasted that it could bake a loaf of bread out of a wheat field
between the hours of sunrise and sunset. The outlay in stock and
machinery on some of these bonanza ranches ran into enormous
figures. But here, as in all new wheat countries, the productive
power of the soil soon began to decrease. Little by little the
number of bushels per acre lessened, until the bonanza farmer
found himself with not half the product to sell which he had
owned the first few years of his operations. In one California
town at one time a bonanza farmer came in and covered three city
blocks with farm machinery which he had turned over to the bank
owning the mortgages on his lands and plant. He turned in also
all his mules and horses, and retired worse than broke from an
industry in which he had once made his hundreds of thousands.
Something of this same story was to follow in the Dakotas.
Presently we heard no more of the bonanza wheat farms; and a
little later they were not. The one-crop country is never one of
sound investing values; and a land boom is something of which to
beware--always and always to beware.
The prairie had passed; the range had passed; the illegal fences
had passed; and presently the cattle themselves were to
pass--that is to say, the great herds. As recently as five years
ago (1912) it was my fortune to be in the town of Belle Fourche,
near the Black Hills--a region long accustomed to vivid history,
whether of Indians, mines, or cows--at the time when the last of
the great herds of the old industry thereabouts were breaking up;
and to see, coming down to the cattle chutes to be shipped to the
Eastern stockyards, the last hundreds of the last great Belle
Fourche herd, which was once numbered in thousands. They came
down out of the blue-edged horizon, threading their way from
upper benches down across the dusty valley. The dust of their
travel rose as it had twenty years earlier on the same old trail.
But these were not the same cattle. There was not a longhorn
among them; there has not been a longhorn on the range for many
years. They were sleek, fat, well-fed animals, heavy and stocky,
even of type, all either whitefaces or shorthorns. With them were
some old-time cowmen, men grown gray in range work. Alongside the
herds, after the ancient fashion of trailing cattle, rode cowboys
who handled their charges with the same old skill. But even the
cowboys had changed. These were without exception men from the
East who had learned their trade here in the West. Here indeed
was one of the last acts of the great drama of the Plains. To
many an observer there it was a tragic thing. I saw many a cowman
there the gravity on whose face had nothing to do with commercial
loss. It was the Old West he mourned. I mourned with him.
Naturally the growth of the great stockyards of the Middle West
had an effect upon all the cattle-producing country of the West,
whether those cattle were bred in large or in small numbers. The
dealers of the stockyards, let us say, gradually evolved a
perfect understanding among themselves as to what cattle prices
ought to be at the Eastern end of the rails. They have always
pleaded poverty and explained the extremely small margin of
profit under which they have operated. Of course, the repeated
turn-over in their business has been an enormous thing; and their
industry, since the invention of refrigerator cars and the
shipment of dressed beef in tins, has been one which has extended
to all the corners of the world. The great packers would rather
talk of "by-products" than of these things. Always they have been
poor, so very poor!
For a time the railroads east of the stockyard cities of Kansas
City and Chicago divided up pro rata the dressed beef traffic.
Investigation after investigation has been made of the methods of
the stockyard firms, but thus far the law has not laid its hands
successfully upon them. Naturally of late years the extremely
high price of beef has made greater profit to the cattle raiser;
but that man, receiving eight or ten cents a pound on the hoof,
is not getting rich so fast as did his predecessor, who got half
of it, because he is now obliged to feed hay and to enclose his
range. Where once a half ton of hay might have been sufficient to
tide a cow over the bad part of the winter, the Little Fellow who
fences his own range of a few hundred acres is obliged to figure
on two or three tons, for he must feed his herd on hay through
the long months of the winter.
The ultimate consumer, of course, is the one who pays the freight
and stands the cost of all this. Hence we have the swift growth
of American discontent with living conditions. There is no longer
land for free homes in America. This is no longer a land of
opportunity. It is no longer a poor man's country. We have
arrived all too swiftly upon the ways of the Old World. And
today, in spite of our love of peace, we are in an Old World's
The insatiable demand of Americans for cheap lands assumed a
certain international phase at the period lying between 1900 and
1913 or later--the years of the last great boom in Canadian
lands. The Dominion Government, represented by shrewd and
enterprising men able to handle large undertakings, saw with a
certain satisfaction of its own the swift passing from the market
of all the cheap lands of the United States. It was proved to the
satisfaction of all that very large tracts of the Canadian plains
also would raise wheat, quite as well as had the prairies of
Montana or Dakota. The Canadian railroads, with lands to sell,
began to advertise the wheat industry in Alberta and
Saskatchewan. The Canadian Government went into the publicity
business on its own part. To a certain extent European
immigration was encouraged, but the United States really was the
country most combed out for settlers for these Canadian lands. As
by magic, millions of acres in western Canada were settled.
The young American farmers of our near Northwest were especially
coveted as settlers, because they knew how to farm these upper
lands far better than any Europeans, and because each of them was
able to bring a little capital of ready money into Canada. The
publicity campaign waged by Canadians in our Western States in
one season took away more than a hundred and fifty thousand good
young farmers, resolved to live under another flag. In one year
the State of Iowa lost over fifteen million dollars of money
withdrawn from bank deposits by farmers moving across the line
The story of these land rushes was much the same there as it had
been with us. Not all succeeded. The climatic conditions were far
more severe than any which we had endured, and if the soil for a
time in some regions seemed better than some of our poorest, at
least there waited for the one-crop man the same future which had
been discovered for similar methods within our own confines. But
the great Canadian land booms, carefully fostered and well
developed, offered a curious illustration of the tremendous
pressure of all the populations of the world for land and yet
In the year 1911 the writer saw, all through the Peace River
Valley and even in the neighborhood of the Little Slave Lake, the
advance-guard of wheat farmers crowding out even beyond the
Canadian frontier in the covetous search for yet more cheap land.
In 1912 I talked with a school teacher, who herself had homestead
land in the Judith Basin of Montana--once sacred to cows--and who
was calmly discussing the advisability of going up into the Peace
River country to take up yet more homestead land under the
regulations of the Dominion Government! In the year 1913 I saw an
active business done in town lots at Fort McMurray, five hundred
miles north of the last railroad of Alberta, on the ancient
Athabasca waterway of the fur trade!
Who shall state the limit of all this expansion? The farmer has
ever found more and more land on which he could make a living; he
is always taking land which his predecessor has scornfully
refused. If presently there shall come the news that the land
boomer has reached the mouth of the Mackenzie River--as long ago
he reached certain portions of the Yukon and Tanana country--if
it shall be said that men are now selling town lots under the
Midnight Sun--what then? We are building a government railroad of
our own almost within shadow of Mount McKinley in Alaska. There
are steamboats on all these great sub-Arctic rivers. Perhaps,
some day, a power boat may take us easily where I have stood,
somewhat wearied, at that spot on the Little Bell tributary of
the Porcupine, where a slab on a post said, "Portage Road to Ft.
McPherson"--a "road" which is not even a trail, but which crosses
the most northerly of all the passes of the Rockies, within a
hundred miles of the Arctic Ocean.
Land, land, more land! It is the cry of the ages, more imperative
and clamorous now than ever in the history of the world and only
arrested for the time by the cataclysm of the Great War. The
earth is well-nigh occupied now. Australia, New Zealand, Canada,
even Africa, are colonization grounds. What will be the story of
the world at the end of the Great War none may predict. For the
time there will be more land left in Europe; but, unbelievably
soon, the Great War will have been forgotten; and then the march
of the people will be resumed toward such frontiers of the world
as yet may remain. Land, land, more land!
Always in America we have occupied the land as fast as it was
feasible to do so. We have survived incredible hardships on the
mining frontier, have lived through desperate social conditions
in the cow country, have fought many of our bravest battles in
the Indian country. Always it has been the frontier which has
allured many of our boldest souls. And always, just back of the
frontier, advancing, receding, crossing it this way and that,
succeeding and failing, hoping and despairing--but steadily
advancing in the net result--has come that portion of the
population which builds homes and lives in them, and which is not
content with a blanket for a bed and the sky for a roof above.
We had a frontier once. It was our most priceless possession. It
has not been possible to eliminate from the blood of the American
West, diluted though it has been by far less worthy strains, all
the iron of the old home-bred frontiersmen. The frontier has been
a lasting and ineradicable influence for the good of the United
States. It was there we showed our fighting edge, our
unconquerable resolution, our undying faith. There, for a time at
least, we were Americans.
We had our frontier. We shall do ill indeed if we forget and
abandon its strong lessons, its great hopes, its splendid human
ANDY ADAMS, "The Log of a Cowboy," 1903. "The Outlet," 1905.
Homely but excellently informing books done by a man rarely
qualified for his task by long experience in the cattle business
and on the trail. Nothing better exists than Adams's several
books for the man who wishes trustworthy information on the early
American cattle business.
GEORGE A. FORSYTH, "The Story of the Soldier," 1900.
GEORGE BIRD GRINNELL, "The Story of the Indian," 1895.
EMERSON HOUGH, "The Story of the Cowboy," 1897.
CHARLES HOWARD SHINN, "The Story of the Mine," 1901.
CY WARMAN, "The Story of the Railroad," 1898. The foregoing books
of Appleton's interesting series known as "The Story of the West"
are valuable as containing much detailed information, done by
contemporaries of wide experience.
FRANCIS PARKMAN, "The Oregon Trail," 1901, with preface by the
author to the edition of 18991. This is a reprint of the edition
published in 1857 under the title "Prairie and Rocky Mountain
Life," or "The California and Oregon Trail," and has always been
held as a classic in the literature of the West. It holds a
certain amount of information regarding life on the Plains at the
middle of the last century. The original title is more accurate
than the more usual one "The Oregon Trail," as the book itself is
in no sense an exclusive study of that historic highway.
COLONEL R. B. MARCY, U. S. A., "Thirty Years of Army Life on the
Border," 1866. An admirable and very informing book done by an
Army officer who was also a sportsman and a close observer of the
conditions of the life about him. One of the standard books for
any library of early Western literature.
EMERSON HOUGH, "The Story of the Outlaw," 1907. A study of the
Western desperado, with historical narratives of famous outlaws,
stories of noted border movements, Vigilante activities, and
armed conflicts on the border.
NATHANIEL PITT LANGFORD, "Vigilante Days and Ways," 1893. A
storehouse of information done in graphic anecdotal fashion of
the scenes in the early mining camps of Idaho and Montana.
Valuable as the work of a contemporary writer who took part in
the scenes he describes.
JOHN C. VAN TRAMP, "Prairie and Rocky Mountain Adventures or Life
in the West," 1870. A study of the States and territorial regions
of our Western empire, embracing history, statistics, and
geography, with descriptions of the chief cities of the West. In
large part a compilation of earlier Western literature.
SAMUEL BOWLES, "Our New West," 1869. Records of travel between
the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean, with details
regarding scenery, agriculture, mines, business, social life,
etc., including a full description of the Pacific States and
studies of the "Mormons, Indians, and Chinese" at that time.
HIRAM MARTIN CHITTENDEN, "The American Fur Trade of the Far
West," 1902. The work of a distinguished Army officer. Done with
the exact care of an Army engineer. An extraordinary collection
of facts and a general view of the picturesque early industry of
the fur trade, which did so much toward developing the American
West. See also his "History of Steamboat Navigation on the
Missouri River" (1903).
A. J. SOWELL, "Early Settlers and Indian Fighters of Southwest
Texas," 1900. A local book, but done with contemporary accuracy
by a man who also studied the Texas Rangers and who was familiar
with some of the earlier frontier characters of the Southwest.
The foregoing volumes are of course but a few among the many
scores or hundreds which will have been read avidly by every man
concerned with frontier life or with the expansion of the
American people to the West. Space lacks for a fuller list, but
the foregoing readings will serve to put upon the trail of wider
information any one interested in these and kindred themes.
Let especial stress again be laid upon the preeminent value of
books done by contemporaries, men who wrote, upon the ground, of
things which they actually saw and actually understood. It is not
always, or perhaps often, that these contemporary books achieve
the place which they ought to have and hold.
Among the many books dealing with the Indians and Indian Wars,
the following may be mentioned: J. P. DUNN, "Massacres of the
Mountains, A History of the Indian Wars of the Far West," 1886.
L. E. TEXTOR, "Official Relations between the United States and
the Sioux Indians," 1896.
G. W. MANYPENNY, "Our Indian Wards," 1880.
There is an extensive bibliography appended to Frederic L.
Paxson's "The Last American Frontier" (1910), the first book to
bring together the many aspects of the Far West.
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