PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS
Migration of buffalo on the plains of Kansas as seen October, 1968
I had been over the line before, when I saw the immense herds of buffalo migrating south. I had read descriptions of those annual migrations and can only repeat the usual statement that there seemed to be millions of the mighty brutes.
The thickest mass of them was between the stations of Wilson and Bunker Hill. For some twelve or fifteen miles to the northward, the prairie seemed literally covered with them as far as the eye could see. The railroad track appeared to act as a barrier to them. On the south side of the track there were also great herds but not nearly so massed as on the north side. They were a curious and stubborn animal. When the train approached, they seemed to think it was trying to drive or head them off and herd after herd tried to recross the track ahead of the locomotive, making it necessary to slow up to avoid a collision. Many ran alongside the train, trying to cross the track ahead of the locomotive and many succeeded in crossing.
As the railroad was yet incomplete, the passengers in those days were either in the employ of the government or engaged in freighting, and nearly all carried fire arms. Opening the car windows they would fire at the buffaloes running alongside the train. Now and then one went down, but most of the shots tended only to cripple the poor beasts.
In the the eastern part of the range that season the buffalo were moving south earlier than in the western. The hunters knew this and would do their first hunting in the eastern portion of the buffalo range, working west as the season advanced.
Fossil Creek Station was located between the small frontier towns of Ellsworth and Hays. It had neither depot nor telegraph office, in fact, not even a side track, this being located a mile and a half west, having been built for the purpose of loading rock for construction work. A water tank and a small box house the shape of a freight car constituted the companys property. Small dugouts were the quarters of the men, and a large one was occupied by the boarding boss and his family.
Cook, the station keeper, had a wife and a small boy. His work consisted of pumping water for the locomotive by horse power. He also boarded the section hands, usually six or seven, at six dollars per week. The large dugout in which Cook lived was constructed mostly of railroad ties. The dugout was about 15 feet wide and 28 feet long, dug in the ground about four feet and built above the ground two feet with ties. A small
window each on the east, south and west, with a larger one and a door on the north. A row of square sawed ties placed upright supported the ridge log, itself a bridge timber. The rafters were ties laid close together, the whole covered and banked up with dirt.
The small windows and door and the stovepipe projecting through the roof were all that distinguished the habitation from a gigantic mole hill. Without partition, the south half of the room served as a residence for the boarding boss and his family, while the other portion was used as a dining room for the boarders and transient guests. There were occasional soldier, scouts and buffalo hunters passing the station who applied for meals.
Cook constructed the dugout himself and I can remember yet, with what pride he dwelt on its excellencies; the snug interior, the staunch ties, the solid roof; it was in truth a classy structure in its place and time.
The railroad was then in its infancy. This part of it had been built the year before but was yet unfinished. The line extended to a small station called Sheridan within a short distance of Fort Wallace in what is now Logan County, Kansas. No regular passenger trains were running--only a mixed train each way every day and occasionally an extra. The road appeared to be of small utility at that time. I remember one man said, This road will never amount to anything; it stops right in the middle of the prairie, but there were wiser heads back of the movement, like Horace Greeley when he said, Go west,
NOTE: The rifles furnished us were a condemned government pattern furnished the railroad for the protection of its employees while building the road. I remember when I came to Fossil Creek station there was no ammunition for these rifles. We applied to the roadmaster for a supply, and in return we received a small bag holding eighty rounds of cartridges; eleven shots for each man. Of course the boys would try a few shots to learn whether or not they could hit a mark the size of an Indian, and of course these rifles were used for shooting at game, which was so plentiful along the track. This reduced the amount of ammunition until there were only a few shots per man left before the men realized that they were without means of defense. Of course the railroad company could not afford to furnish ammunition to their employees for the purpose of sport, and no one could have expected them to do so. Could we have bought the ammunition we would have been glad to have done so and the company would have been relieved of this extra expense, but as it was, the whole arrangement was a failure and as a rule the men along the line did not depend upon them for defense, but had provided themselves with guns of their own. When the Indians finally attacked us there were not more than one or two handfuls of cartridges for these railroad guns and even this small amount had been forgotten that day; it had been left at home.
young man and grow up with the country. The road got into other hands and was rapidly extended to Denver. At that time it was the single line in Kansas; now there are many.
The Indians had been troublesome ever since the road began building into the Indian country west of Ellsworth and many men had been killed along the line. The railroad company had armed its men with rifles for self protection, one gun for each man, which was issued with the regular outfit of tools. They were breech-loading rifles of unusual calibre. The ammunition could not be found for sale anywhere, and it was supplied to us by the railroad company in such limited quantities as to allow us no opportunity for target practice.
Three of us, the boss, George Seely, Charley Sylvester and myself, had agreed to stay together and remain on the job for some time. Each had bought a spencer carbine, a seven-shot repeating rifle having the magazine in the breech of the gun. They were of large calibre and were considered one of the most effective guns of their time.
About the 20th of May, 1869, a scout or some kind of government employee came to the station and remained for dinner. He told us that it was reported at Fort Hays that Indians had broken out in the Territory and were coming north, and it would be well to be on the watch. I may say here that I was not afraid when all of us were well armed, but the graves of those who were killed while that part of the road was being graded and which we could not avoid seeing every day, was a constant reminder of the danger in which we stood. It made me nervous to see some of the men carelessly start away to work without their fire arms. I often picked up an extra rifle as we passed the gun rack and carried it for them when going out to work. On the 28th of May, 1869, there were seven of us who went out on the handcar. Besides the three who carried Spencer rifles were George Taylor, Alexander McKeefer, John Lynch and a man whose name I have forgotten. The latter had his rifle with him, but had left his ammunition at the station. The other three were unarmed.
I was the youngest man among them but the oldest hand on the job and am obliged to say, the most cautious. Many times I urged the men to take their rifles when undisturbed days and weeks had lulled them into a state of fancied security.
Alexander McKeefer was a Canadian, a regular giant of a man, more than six feet tall and broad in proportion. Lynch
was nearly the same height but more on the raw-boned order, and of sandy complexion. Both were about thirty-five years of age. I had attained my majority but looked younger and was considered a mere kid, having been nicknamed Johnie by the others and went by that name while I remained at the station.
Strange things occur during ones lifetime. While these big strong men expressed no fear of Indians and made light of my pleadings with them to carry their arms, it subsequently fell to my lot to erect rude tablets at the heads of their graves.
On that well remembered, fatal day we were working on the railroad track about one and three-fourths miles west of the station, at a point about three hundred yards east of a large ravine running northeast to the Saline River. This ravine now called Kits Fork, a short distance below formed an immense canyon wherein a regiment of soldiers might easily find concealment from the uplands above. A branch of this ravine heads about a quarter of a mile east of where we were at work, so we were in a most favorable place for an attacking party.
While at work in the forenoon I overheard an argument between two of the men concerning Indians. They were looking north. One contended he had seen Indians; the other said the objects seen were not Indians. On looking up I had seen something resembling a bay pony about a mile north near the junction of the two ravines, but the distance was too great to be certain. The handcar was standing on the track with the guns in the rack. I started for the car to load mine. Charley Sylvester, who was our funny man, reminded me that I had done the same thing before when dangerous looking objects in the flickering, vapor-like sunlight, resembling distant horsemen, had proven to be only antelope. At this I felt rather ashamed of being so easily alarmed and I laid down my gun without loading it and returned to work. About an hour later when all had forgotten the slight alarm, one of the men suddenly shouted, Yes, they are Indians, It flashed through my mind that the alarm was another of Charlies funny spells, but this time the objects seen were surely Indians.
The country was so generally level along the line of the road that we never once thought of the possibility of being taken unaware. While we were quietly attending to our work, having overlooked the dangerous proximity of the ravines, the Indians were preparing to give us the surprise of our lives. No place on
Cheyenne Indians attack section workers near Fossil Creek Station at
After that first shout of alarm, I saw Indians mounted on ponies, coming out of the ravine west of us yelling like demons. One can imagine I did not wait for the last Indian to emerge from the ravine but ran for my gun, seized my cartridge bag and slung the strap over my shoulder the way I carried it. I grabbed a handful of cartridges, loading in such haste that I got in one cartridge too many and was unable to close the magazine. To correct this mistake consumed several precious moments.
NOTE: As has been stated, we were warned of Indians breaking out in the Territory who were coming north, so we might be on our guard. For that reason we expected them to come from the south if at all. But when the Indians appeared they attacked us from the north. Here these statements need some explanation.
The prairie toward the south at this point is quite level; the Indians could not have approached us from that direction without being seen in time for us to load our guns and prepare for a fight or depart for out dugouts at the station. West of the point where we were working, the ground is elevated beyond which we could not see. It is my opinion the Indians were quite familiar with the lay of the country and these ravines (Kit s Fork) which afforded them the opportunity to approach us without being seen. They came from the south, and spent most of the forenoon making the half circle around us, crossing the railroad track west of us where we were unable to see them, entering the canyon a mile north of us where we first got sight of them. I believe Kits Fork had been used by these Indians in sneaking up to and attacking graders who were grading the railroad in 1867, one of the graders being killed near there, as a grave was located within a quarter of a miles west of the head of this ravine which is mentioned in another chapter.
By this time the savages were almost upon us. They were firing rapidly and the bullets made the dust fly on every side. I heard one of the man call out, Come on, and looking up, saw the others were on the car and already thirty yards away. I had barely time enough to reach the car or be left, but I ran the gauntlet of the Indians shots and got on the car.
The Indians seemed to be more excited that we were, for of all the miserable marksmanship I ever saw in my life this was the worst. Many shots were fired at us and we had gotten nearly half a mile before any one was struck.
Our main effort was to get the car under good headway and of we had succeeded the Indians could have done us little or no injury. We had gone but a short distance when Indians came out of the branch ravine in front of us, and the next minute we were surrounded. They were firing into us from all sides and we had to take to out guns, which slackened the speed of the car. Our assailants were in danger of shooting each other, so they opened in front and allowed us to pass, keeping up the fire from both sides and behind. I thought it impossible to reach the station amidst the flying bullets. A culvert was ahead of us and I called to the boys, Lets get in the culvert. Someone said, No, and on we went. It was impossible to get the car under headway as the Indians, seeing we were about to escape, pressed momentarily closer, and we were obliged to take up our guns in defense.
As we raised our guns to our shoulders the Indians would glide to the other side of their poines, but we continued to fire as best our position would allow. About half way to the station Alexander McKeefer and John Lynch were killed and fell from the car. Both fell within a distance of two hundred yards. Each time a man fell a crowd of Indians sprung from their poines and gathered around the victim. The last one when struck exclaimed, Oh, God. I turned to look at him and saw he was shot and while I turned back to face the Indians, he tumbled from the car. Again the Indians gathered around the fallen man, and I fired a shot into their midst, with what effect I do not know. When the savages had emptied their gune we re-
NOTE: Here I will say while I was fumbling with my gun, loading it, taking out one cartridge to get it in order, there was ample time for me with my repeating Spencer to have fired three or four shots, and at the short range I could easily have unhorsed a couple of savages if my gun had been loaded as I had intended; but here, as is often the case, at the critical moment there is something to mar our calculations.
ceived a shower of arrows, most of which went wild. George Seely was struck in the thigh by one but he jerked it out the next moment. I saw the boys bleeding, but so far I had not received a scratch, but just as the last three shots rang out I felt a sting in my breast, spurts of blood came from my mouth and nose, and I felt that my time to live was short. We were now within half a mile of the station and the indians turned and left us. When near the station we met John Cook coming toward us carrying his rifle.
We all retired to the large dugout and prepared for an attack. The ammunition was placed on a table in the center of the room where it would be handy and thus we waited the return of the foe. During this time I examined my wound and found it to be a bullet hole in the center of my breast. Some one had spread blankets on the floor and on these I layed down and said my prayers--I was raised a Lutheran.
George Seely, Charlie Sylvester and George Taylor were also wounded and lay down on the floor, subject to call should the Indians attack the dugout. The man who was not wounded and John Cook kept watch. Indians hovered about the station all the afternoon. About two miles east of the station they tore up the track by breaking off the heads of the spikes and setting fire to the joint ties, thereby removing some rails. The smoke was plainly seen from the station and we surmised what they were doing.
Destruction of railroad track by Cheyenne Indians, May 28, 1859, at 1 P.M.
Both trains were due at midnight to pass on the sidetrack a mile west. The train from 1859 west came first and found the road bed damaged, but a wreck was averted because of slackening speed to take the siding. Cook intended to flag the train from the east but feared to venture out to the piece of damaged track. When the train came in sight he set fire to a bale of hay placed in the center of the track but the signal was not understood by the engineer and the train was ditched, but no one was killed. Association with the white man had sharpened the already receptive mind of our red brother, and he no longer regarded the locomotive as a species of smoking buffalo, but a machine very much dependent upon a good track for safety.
While I was laying on the floor of the dugout shot through the lungs, expecting to expire in a short time, I fixed my eyes on the face of the clock and as the slow hours passed away my hopes of life increased. About midnight an examination disclosed the fact that the bullet that entered my breast had passed out at my back, thus leaving me literally shot through. The discovery relieved me greatly as I now knew the bullet had not remained in my body and I stood a good chance of recovery. The rest of the night was spent in planning. I had several hundred dollars saved from my earnings and this sum I intended to hold out to some doctor as an inducement to pull me through. While the whole affair was anything but funny, it seems so now when, after the lapse of many years, I review the situation--
Buffalo surround at 6 P.M. May 28, 1869
the savages circling about the station, the wounded men in the dugout and the man on watch sitting on top, so nearly like a prairie dog siting on top of the mound near his den, ready to drop out of sight on the approach of an enemy.
While the Indians were busy tearing up the track a column from the south was seen steadily approaching toward them. The man on watch reported more Indians coming but they proved to be buffaloes. As the herd drew nearer the Indians, mounting their poines, scattered and secreted themselves as best they could in ravines and low places, awaiting a nearer approach. All this was reported to the wounded, but being unable to leave the dugout we missed one of the rarest sights of even those days--a buffalo surrounded by Indians. In this case the Indians killed five animals in as many minutes; only sufficient for their needs, allowing the remainder of the herd to escape. No shots were fired, the killing was done with spears or arrows at that time still formidable weapons in the hands of mounted Indians.
The wrecked train consisted of a string of freight cars and one passenger coach. This carried about ten or twelve passengers who walked to the station the following morning. One of the passengers had several heads of spikes, said to have been broken off by the Indians with their tomahawks to remove the rails, which I accepted as a fact at the time, not giving it further thought. But since that time I came to the conclusion that they could not have done so with such small tools; but they had our railroad tools which we dropped when attacked. The Indians carried them to this point and used them in tearing up the track.
When the train from the west, having been on the siding all night, came on in the morning it brought in the bodies of the two men who were killed. They were stripped of clothing and horribly mutilated, having been scalped, stuck full of arrows and rings of telegraph wire pierced through the caves of their legs and other parts of their bodies. The bodies of the unfortunate men were wrapped in blankets and buried about three hundred yards south of the railroad track and a little east of the water tank, near what is now the main street of Russell, Kansas.
It was never known whether our defense in the running fight resulted in the death of any Indians, but the next day the carcasses of two dead ponies were found near the railroad tracks.
After the surround, the Indians cut up the buffaloes they
had killed, loaded their ponies with a supply of meat and departed going in a northeast direction, and camped that night on the Saline River. Two days later, May 30, they appeared on Spillman Creek raiding the settlements. The number of these Indans was never accurately known. When these Indians attacked Ziegler and Alverson they made out the number of one band to be from 45 to 60. (See Ziegler letter in another chapter.)
Although having plenty of warning, we were completely surprised, and the way those Indians emerged out of those ravines on either side left us no time to decide upon a course of action. For all we knew there might have been a thousand of the redskins in those ravines. By the way the firing commenced we knew them to be well armed. There was no place for concealment. We were on an open prairie, seven men and only three armed, against an unknown number of savages. Aside from my own opinion the boys had reason to believe we could outrun the Indians ponies, as we once had a successful race with some of the best horses at Fort Hays.
The occurrance took place in February after a severe blizzard had filled ravines and railroad cuts with snow, leaving very little on the prairie. The sun came out warm, we were shoveling snow to clear the track, having no trains for a week.
Our section of the track was clear except one cut about six miles west. While we were on our way to this cut to work one afternoon, a few miles west of the station we met a big burly looking fellow who had a pair of revolvers strapped on his sides traveling on foot. Answering a few questions as to the distance to the station, etc., we passed on and soon forgot the meeting. Arriving at the cut we were at work shoveling snow near the east end when one of the boys ascended the higher ground and immediately returned with the report, Indians are coming. Another went to satisfy himself of the
NOTE: Eli Ziegler and John Alverson were attacked on May 30, no doubt by the same band that attacked us on the 28th. Both of these men were Indian fighters. Eli Ziegler was a former scout with Forsythes command and fought the battle of Arickaree; both participated in the Mulberry scrap, but when they were attacked on Trail Creek neither one got a chance to fire a shot.
Another similar surprise happened a few days later, no doubt by the same band of Indians, who attacked Humbargers party of four buffalo hunters June 2nd. These men were experienced frontiersmen, Civil War veterans and were armed with three breech-loading rifles and one muzzleloader. They knew of Indians being in their vicinity and for that reason stayed in camp to be better able to protect themselves, but when the surprise came it was so sudden that only one of them fired a shot. (See Chapter 34, Humbarger.)
truth of the statement and also returned with the same report. All seemed to think the dugouts the best place for defense and without argument we pulled for home. We had gone but a short distance when horsemen appeared on the high ground behind us and one of them fired a shot.
The road here makes a long curve. Four or five of our pursuers cut across the prairie to head us off, and a lively race ensued. The bend in the track was not short enough to offer much advantage, and we soon outdistanced our enemy. Being out of gun shot range we took it more moderate. Arriving at the station we all retired to Cooks big dugout and, securing our guns, prepared for defense. Soon the horsemen came in sight, one carrying a stick with a white handkerchief tied to it as a flag of truce. They were army officers, and later came about thirty privates of the 10th Cavalry, Negroes, whom our men had mistaken for Indians. They were following in the snow the track of the man we had met. He was supposed to be a horse thief, and when they saw us leaving with the handcar, thought he was making his escape.
On reaching the station the soldiers described a large circle looking for tracks of the thief. They next made a search of the dugouts, finally locating him up in the water tank from where he was forced to throw down his weapons and then descend. The wretched man was strung up in the tank building and put through various forms of torture in an attempt to get a confession implicating others, but he was too game.
An organized gang of horse thieves were operating about Hays City. Some of the best horses and mules had been taken from the government corral at the fort. The snow came at the wrong time and the thieves had to scatter and this one attempted to escape on foot. One of the soldiers told me the thief must have traveled forty miles that day, but they easily tracked him in the snow. The next morning the command started back to Fort Hays, the prisoner afoot, his hands tied to one end of a rope and the other secured to a troopers horse. Later we heard that he never reached the fort--that he was found dead in an abandoned sod house on the way, pierced by bullets and some sod thrown over the body. Our suposition was that the officers left him to his fate in the hands of the Negro soldiers, who killed him.
It has been my belief that the chances taken in getting on that car were greater than otherwise and I do not think I
would have been in favor of it had there been time to discuss the matter, but as soon as we started and saw the Indians coming out of the ravine ahead of us I felt sure it was a mistake. I had no expectation of reaching the station alive. While the Indians aim was poor in the beginning hundreds of shots were fired at us during the race. Twenty-eight bullet markt were counted on our persons and the hand car. It was a miracle that we were not all killed. Had the hand car been off the track at the time of the Indians onset we would have had no alternative but defense. Three of us were fairly good shots and some Indians must have fallen, perhaps a good number, but firing from a moving car with small standing room was a different matter. Our trouble was that we were not organized for such a contingency. Those who were without means of defense would not depend upon us three who were armed. They simply expected to out run the Indians as we had the army officers.
Monument erected by the Union Pacific Railroad at Fossil Creek--now
My opinion in favor of making a stand was not shared by plainsmen with whom I have talked. They contended that with overwhelming numbers against us and no intrenchments we must have all succumbed. Time has healed all the wounds of that trying time and the known victims are honored in death for their participation in the building of an empire.
There being no telegraph office at our station the call for the wrecking train had to be sent from Bunker Hill, eight miles east of the wreck. A brakeman was sent on foot, as there was no other way, and when he arrived at Bunker Hill and the call was sent, it must have been well on towards morning.
The above may be a misstatement as I have learned since that telegraph operators and instruments were carried on some of the trains, and that the wire may have been tapped and the call sent from the wrecked train.
After the wrecking train had arrived and while the wreck was being cleared away, in order to communicate with the east, a temporary telegraph instrument was set up at our station by tapping the telegraph wire and placing the instrument on an ordinary kitchen table. When the wreck was cleared away two days had elapsed when the train backed up to the station. Cook and his family loaded their household goods and boarded the train going back to Salina where they came from. The wounded men were taken to the government hospital at Fort Harker and Fossil Creek Station was abandoned for the time being.
With the exception of George Seely who had a bullet in his knee we were soon getting along fine. Being in the best of health at the time I was shot my recovery was rapid, and let me say from this painful experience I learned how soon humanity forgets its troubles. No sooner was I well on the road to recovery than I made up my mind to return to the station. I was never quite reconciled to the way those Indians got us on the run.
As we were not government employees we were not entitled to be treated at this hospital. The railroad company had us transferred to Ellsworth and a surgeon from Salina was employed to attend us. He came every other day to dress our wounds, and extracted a bullet from the knee of George Seely.
ADDITION TO CHAPTER XXII
Here I will says a word for the railroad company and that is that everything was done to relieve our suffering, all expenses were paid and not a word of complaint was heard from any one.