PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS
by Adolph Roenigk
FOSSIL CREEK STATION, Continued
Scarcity of Water; Pumping by Horsepower; How Cooks
Pony died; Celebrating Christmas.
I well remember my arrival at the station in the fall of 1868 for the buffaloes were in sight in every direction. A box house the shape of a freight car was where I slept the first night. I was up at the break of day and opening the door saw numerous buffalo moving away toward the north. I took particular notice of the many tracks where ever the ground was bare of grass about the station, where they had been during the night, some of them within a few feet of where I was sleeping. To kill a buffalo all I needed to have done was to point a gun through the door or window and blaze away.
At this time I did not own a rifle, there being plenty of them at the station, but the railroad company furnished these for the means of protection and not for the purpose of hunting. Think of a young fellow eager to hunt where the greatest of game was plentiful and near, without a gun. Our boarding boss had a good rifle but I did not ask him to lend it to me as he needed it himself. However he had an old Harpers Ferry musket, carrying an ounce ball, he did not need and he let me have it. I loaded the old musket and the following morning I was up bright and early waiting for the break of day. With the musket in my hands I opened the door to find that the buffaloes were not so close as the previous morning. I saw a herd a few hundred yards to the north, quietly grazing near a ravine located it what is now North Russell. I lost no time in getting into that ravine, hiding behind an old buffalo carcass of which there were several.
The buffaloes were feeding towards the west, and soon the herd came stringing along crossing the ravine ahead of me. Several stopped and looked at me, the distance not being far, but too far for the old musket I thought. I waited for one to pass nearer as I was in no hurry to shoot, for I knew there were plenty more coming, but instead of coming nearer they kept crossing the ravine further away from me. When I finally blazed away at one the shot only had the effect of putting them on the run.
Until opportunity offered to purchase a rifle of my own, I continued to stroll in the vicinity of the station with the old
musket, not venturing more than a few miles away from home for fear of meeting Indians, for in case of an attack with no better weapon than the old musket I felt unable to defend myself.
During this time a real pretty sight presented itself to me when I unexpectedly came up to the ravine now called Kitts Fork, a few miles northwest of the station, where a herd of fifty or more buffaloes were peacefully lying in the bottom within a short distance of where I was. As I had not been observed I backed away, layed flat down on the ground, and looked over the ridge of the rocky brink gazing at the herd for quite a while. When I was discovered all got up but instead of running in the opposite direction, away from me, as I had expected, they came up a branch ravine past me. I fired at one, as I did on other occasions, but never killed one with the old musket.
A comical incident happened to me during the same rainstorm and flood described by Mrs. Geo. A. Custer in her book entitled The Camp On Big Creek, which gives a better description of its severity than I could give. It took place in the first part of May, 1869. The rain came down in torrents at our station (Fossil Creek), as it did at Custers camp on Big Creek; twenty-five miles distant. The pales of lightning were something fearful; a number of telegraph poles were struck, in places three in succession, knocking down the wire.
The sleeping quarters of our seven men were four dugouts located within a short distance of each other on the south side of the railroad track close to the old well and water tank; the one occupied by myself being farther west on the bank of the west ravine. Where the railroad crosses this ravine there is a heavy embankment; a culvert was built of limestone under the track which was intended to carry the water on its course down the ravine. This culvert, however, proved to be too small for such a downpour of rain, and the backwater that collected threatened to enter my dugout. With a shovel I built a dam around the door above what I took to be high water mark.
About this time the Cook family (our boarding boss) also were in trouble. A hallow depression in front of their dugout allowed the water to collect and run in their room. John Cook came to me and asked my help to bail out the water, while his attention was required elsewhere. Having no rubber coat, working in the rain, I expected to get soaked through; while I
did not mind that I was concerned about something else. I had a roll of bills, about $200, on my person, which I did not want to get wet and possibly ruined. This I put under the mattress of my bed for safe keeping, before going to Cooks assistance. After an hour of busy work bailing water for Cook, I looked to see how my dugout was getting along, and to my surprise found it flooded nearly to the top.
All old settlers know how a dugout is built, the doors are low, and this one was completely covered with water. Without a moments hesitation, opening the door, I made a dive for my roll; the bed was floating, and the water inside up to my neck. Recovering my treasure, I made my exit the same as I entered and all was safe.
How Cooks Pony Died
For some years following the building of the railroad the water used by the locomotives along the line was supplied by pumping water from wells by horsepower and was quite scarce in this vicinity. The only well between Wilson and north fork of Big Creek (now Victoria), a distance of forty miles, was at our station, and even this well failed to furnish the amount of water needed. An hour or two of pumping each day would drain the well. John Cook, who pumped the water, always hitched up his pony and did his work just before the arrival of trains, as a dry well seemed the only excuse that would satisfy the engineers when unable to obtain a sufficient supply of water.
One morning prior to train time, while Cook was trying to hitch up to pump water, his pony got away from him, and once at liberty he could not catch it. All hands were called on to help, but the pony was one of those kind that would not be caught. It darted out on the prairie and a hundred men on foot could not have caught him. Cook was high-tempered; no water in the tank, and no excuse that the well was dry exasperated him. At the failure of all the means at hand he tried to imitate the method said to be used by Mexican greasers, instead of using the lasso in catching wild horses shoot the horse through the upper part of the neck to knock them down and stun the horse long enough to secure him. In a heat of passion he got his rifle and took a shot that missed him. The next shot killed the pony.
On the arrival of the train Cook had a good excuse for not having water. He pointed to the dead pony out in the pairie
and told the engineer the pony died. On the next train Cook went to Ellsworth and bought another pony. This was brought to the station in a special locomotive and car at the companys expense.
A Christmas Celebration
Christmas at Fossil Creek in 1868 was spent in jollification. A month prior, and from that time on, to the approaching holiday the making of eggnog, Tom and Jerry and other drinks was the main topic of conversation among the boys at the station. I was the youngest of the force, always obliging and accommodating, and was sent to Hays City for the necessary wherewith, a three-gallon jug of whisky.
In those days the train service was not so particular and strict as now. Going to town either to Ellsworth or Hays we never paid fare nor did we bother about a pass. The train men knew us and generally let us ride. I remember it being a bitter cold night when after procuring the jug of whisky at Hays City on my way home I arrived at the depot to take the train. It was about dark and the first of the train men I saw was the engineer, when I asked him to let me ride in the cab he readily consented. The train was a fright consisting of empty box cars, and before it pulled out I had made up my mind that I would rather ride in the caboose, and asked the conductor, who also consented to let me ride. Of course dead heads (as passengers were called who paid no fares) were expected to help wood up, which I did when we arrived at the woodpile at Walkers switch, now Walker. Leaving my jug in the caboose while I was helping the train crew throw wood on the tender of. The engine the engineer asked me why I did not ride with him as I had asked. I answered him politely and told him the reason.
In those days the train men nearly all liked their bitters. Whether or not the engineer had got a glimpse of my jug I do not remember, but what transpired next, showed me clearly that the crew had formed a conspiracy to get away with it by leaving me and a brakeman to the last, and the way that train pulled out was a caution. The brakeman went up the side of a box car in a hurry, and the trains speed was such that I could plainly see that I would not be able to catch the caboose. I took in the situation like a flash and followed the brakeman up the side of the car. Not being accustomed to running on top of a moving train I naturally was slow, besides the roadbed was
new and very rough. With difficulty I made my way to the caboose. When I entered I noticed the guilty countenance of the men. I was not stingy, but having frustrated their plans of trying to get away with my jug by leaving me at the woodpile on a bitter cold night, twelve miles from home. I considered a dastardly mean trick, and having beaten them at their own game I felt in no mood to pass the jug around.
But all this was only the preliminary part of trouble this jug had in store for me. Up to this time I had no experience in what a jug of whisky would do to these men; in getting it I had acted purely in an accommodating spirit of mind as I cared nothing for it myself; but I soon saw my mistake, as the frivolity that day came near ending in a tragedy.
Christmas morning the making of eggnog commenced. Some was taken straight, and it was not long until John Cook and I were the only sober men on the place. The different qualities of the mens makeup showed themselves; some began quarreling and I was compelled to act as peacemaker. Not that I cared for any fistic encounters, but in the evening while three of us were sitting on a bench the quarreling was renewed, when a fellow named James Clark pulled out a revolver and leveled it at the other fellow head, asking him to repeat what he had said. I was not within reach to grab the gun, sitting at the farther end of the same bench with the other men and right in range of the weapon. I could do nothing better than to keep quiet. I was angry and struck with remorse, as in getting the whisky I felt guilty of being the cause of that mans death if that fellow had pulled the trigger. But the language was not repeated and the gun was put away. Watching my opportunity, I slipped it away from him, and then gathered up all the guns in the dugout and took them over to Cooks, telling him of the occurrence.
I stopped with Cook that night but little sleep did we get, as the boys made the night hideous with their noise until near morning. That was the last time for me to lend helping hand in such a jollification.
An Accidental Shooting
Happened at Bunker Hill in the fall of 1868. Two buffalo hunters were located at that station. While I was there one evening when the train pulled in from the west there was some hindquarters of buffalo meat to load for shipment eastward. I
got into the car to help in loading the meat. While the conductor of the train stood near and in front of me, trying to remove a couple spencer carbines that were being carried with a hunters outfit as freight or express, one of the guns went off and shattered one of his arms.
At the report of the gun the conductor staggered backward and exclaimed, Oh, Im shot. At once the other train men came to his assistance and he was taken to the caboose in the rear of the train. After we finished loading the train pulled out. This conductor was a rather good appearing middle-aged man, his name I have forgotten. His arm was amputated and I have a faint recollection of seeing this same conductor later, after he got well, in the service of the railroad company. With the aid of the stump of his arm and empty sleeve he managed to punch the tickets.