KanColl Books


by Adolph Roenigk

The Narrow Escape, as Related to the Writer by Solomon
Humbarger, One of the Participants; Sketches of the
Humbarger Family.

     During the period of Indian trouble about the last part of May, 1869, a party of four young men, Solomon Humbarger, Dick Alley, his brother-in-law, William Earl, and Harry Trask, left home on the Saline River in Ottawa County, some miles west of Salina, on a hunting expedition, and with a secondary object of looking for a suitable piece of land for a homestead, as the best claims farther east were pretty closely taken at that time. The outfit comprised two teams of horses and and wagons, one team belonging to Humbarger, the other team to Harry Trask and William Earl.
     The party struck a course northwest toward the upper Solomon, and later turned more directly north, hoping thus to reach sooner a good hunting territory, and arrived at a branch of Covert Creek in Osborn County within eight or ten miles of the Solomon River. Mr. Humbarger says: “We took notice of the fine surrounding country suitable for settlement. The creeks


Mr. and Mrs. Solomon Humbarger


were fringed with considerable timber and much underbrush. Of the former, we had seen oak and walnut, which the prospective settler had in view for fence posts, etc. The creek bed was dry but waterholes and springs were found in several places, and altogether it made an ideal camping place, so we remained here several days.”
     Humbarger and Alley had killed several buffaloes a few miles from camp and were taking off their hides when some suspicious objects in the far distance appeared, and then disappeared. Both had noticed it and conversed about it, so they loaded the hides and drove to camp. Crossing a ravine they noticed numerous pony tracks in the soft ground. The tracks were far apart and deeply impressed and all agreed that they had been ridden, and quite rapidly at that. There was but one conclusion for us--that there had been Indians in the vicinity quite recently. We felt sure we were closely watched. It was decided that it was safest not to leave camp very far, thus inviting an attack while on open ground away from the wagons.
     The next day, June 2, 1869, being damp and drizzly, several large buffalo hides were unrolled and stretched along the side


Mr. Harry Trask Mrs. Harry Trask


of the wagon so that when dry they would constitute a kind of armor, affording partial protection against possible Indian arrows. “While in camp one day,” related Mr. Humbarger, in telling the story, “I saw a big buck deer grazing on the other side of the creek. I took my rifle and crept toward it. Getting within range, I fired, at which the deer ran toward me, evidently mortally wounded, and ran against a hackberry tree where it fell dead. As some of the boys came up just then, we dressed the game and carried it to camp.
     “On this damp day we had a pot of venison boiling on the campfire. I was lying on some blankets under the wagon while Alley and Trask were making a circle about the camp with the intention of ascending a near by hill for a wider view of the surrounding country. It was past noon. We were expecting to have a late dinner, when an Indian, unobserved, had gotten within a short range of our camp and suddenly appeared a short distance away. Soon the whole band came into view. A number were mounted and some were unmounted. They attacked our camp at once, cutting off Alley from retreat. Since he had not expected to meet the foe so soon he had taken no arms with him. The only avenue left open for escape was to make for the shelter of the creek several hundred yards away. Alley, in his younger days, was a well built athletic man. He was also more than usually swift of foot and now lost no time in making for the creek, arriving at a washed out embankment not a second too soon, a part of the yelling savages being close to his heels as he plunged over the bank down to the creek, sliding down a part of the twenty-foot sloping depth to the bottom and quickly gained the sheltering underbrush, while the mounted Indians remained on their ponies on the bank above unable to follow. His enemies were thus temporarily discomfitted. Alley was able to make a sudden dash along the bed of the creek and reached his companions near camp in safety.”
     While this was taking place a number of the Indians attacked the boys at the wagons. Two of the boys, at the first alarm, seized their arms and made for the creek with a number of dismounted redskins in pursuit. Humbarger, who had been lying under the wagon dozing, more than half asleep, was the last to be aroused. His rifle was lying by his side, but while his companion was making his hasty exit a blanket was accidently lapped over it. He failed to grasp his own weapon, but instead took Alley’s sharps carbine which law near by. Pulling up the ham-


mer he leveled it at the nearest Indian, a big fellow, perhaps a sub-chief, who, with his bow and arrow was close upon the heels of the fleeing men. This savage, in his frenzied pursuit of scalps, caught sight of Humbarger with the upraised rifle, and knowing the sights were trained in his direction, began dodging back and forth as he ran in order to present a more difficult mark. “But I caught him, Humbarger said. With unerring aim he pulled the trigger at the right instant. The large bullet passed through the redskin’s body, struck a sapling beyond, from which it glanced with a whistling sound through the air. The savage fell back mortally wounded.
     Humbarger was now on his feet making for his companions in the brush, while the savages behind were letting fly a shower of arrows at short range. One of these missles struck him in the thigh just as he reached the bank of the creek. It seemed to deprive him of all the strength of his legs and he fell in a heap to the ground. He gathered himself up and with the help of the boys, the arrow was extracted. The weapon with which he had shot the brave was now empty, and the ammunition in his hasty retreat was left behind. Thus several Indians gathered nearby on the creek bank escaped the fate of their unfortunate companion. Said Mr. Humbarger, “I could have killed several. Although we thought we were fully prepared for all kinds of danger the attack came as a complete surprise. Earl had his repeating rifle in his hands but was so overcome with excitement that he could not use it, and neither would he let me have it. As I look at it now, I could not blame him. He was just simply having a spell of what hunters call “buck fever,” and so we lost the chance of making several good Indians.”
     Alley now having arrived, the hunters were all in the brush, a temporary place of safety; but in their hasty flight Humbarger’s rifle and all the ammunition were left at the wagons. Meanwhile the Indians on the other side were hidden in sumack or plum thickets and with their bows and arrows covering the camp. But ammunition must be secured at all hazards. Alley and Trask volunteered and made a run for the wagons, one at a time, securing Humbarger’s rifle and a few boxes of ammunition, while the savages from their nearby location sent a shower of arrows at the boys, the missles striking the spokes of the wagon wheels with a ringing “cling cling.” But neither was struck and soon returned with their priceless treasure to their temporary place of safety.


     The wounded savage made a doleful noise, calling to the other braves hidden in the brush, who repeated the calls and answered to each other, which Humbarger, sore and mad by the arrow wound, repeated in derision, mocking the Indians against the protest of his companions. Humbarger contended that as the savages knew of their location, and seemingly hopeless situation, there was no use of showing the white feather at this time. Much better, said he, to hurl back defiance. He said: “The wounded savage was lying in plain view within a short distance. I could have silenced him with another shot, but that would have been a waste of ammunition which we were apt to need.”
     How these four hunters made their escape, surrounded as they were by unknown numbers of savages, seems almost a miracle. No thought was given to the horses and wagons; the only thought was how to escape. Sheltered by high banks of the creek covered with trees and heavy underbrush they silently made their way up the creek toward the settlements, their rifles in their hands ready to fire at the first featherhead. The wounded man used his own rifle as a support until his companions cut a forked stick for his use as a crutch. Slowly they made their way along, now and then getting a glimpse of the redskins through the opening the the brush. Night coming on the divide of eight miles to the next creek was crossed by morning.
     The next day Indians were still in sight. They were aware of the hunters’ escape, and were still following across the open country. Mounted pursuers overhauled the white men rapidly. Humbarger’s condition greatly impeded their progress. As the pot of boiled venison had been left at the camp, the hunters had no provisions except a few pieces of dried buffalo meat hastily snatched up as they secured the ammunition. With unbroken resolution to overcome difficulties the wounded man, aided by his comrades, continued to struggle onward. As the Indians continued to pursue, it was felt by all that they must soon make their last stand, The courageous Humbarger told his companions to make their escape if they were afraid to stay with him. He said: “Save yourselves, boys. I will get through somehow. One man can hide better than four. If the Indians had found us they could have surrounded and starved us out.”
     His companions declined to leave him. They all took a canyon running in a diverging direction and again succeeded in


eluding their pursuers who several miles ahead came upon another party of hunters--”Tripp’s Party, as we learned afterward,” said Humbarger, “also from the Saline Valley.” There were six or seven men in this party, well armed, having mostly needle guns and repeating rifles.
     Here the old man, leaning back in his rocking chair while telling the story, was very much pleased and laughed as he said: “Yes, after all our trouble, we sidetracked them off successfully into the hands of Tripp’s party, who gave them a warm reception.”
     Humbarger’s rifle was a muzzle loader. At the time it was bought it was considered an up to date sporting rifle and was highly prized by the owner. But early in this retreat it was found burdensome for the wounded man and his companions to carry. After having eluded the Indians the party felt themselves tolerably safe. Coming to a location which Humbarger thought he could remember, he set the rifle up against an oak tree to leave it; then thinking that the rain might rust the inside of the barrel, it was hung up on a limb muzzle downward, expecting some day to return to the place and get it.
     On reaching a secluded spot in a rocky canyon, a spring and plenty of underbrush, the second night a halt was made. Humbarger’s wound through irritation and neglect was now swollen and very sore and dangerous, and it was now decided to leave him here with his brother-in-law, Alley, while the other two men went to the settlement sixty miles to the east for help and a conveyance to bring the wounded man in. This temporary refuge can not now be exactly located but it must have been on or about Wolf Creek in Osborn County.
     A slippery elm tree was found, the bark peeled off and made into a politce by Alley, which helped to keep back inflammation. During their enforced stay of several days in this hiding place, extreme precautions were taken to conceal themselves. Buffaloes came to the water to drink and offered great temptation to Alley, who wished to shoot one, the skin to be used by the wounded man as a rug to lie one, but Humbarger’s objection overruled him as the shots might attract and bring on the Indians.
     The nights were cool, but only a small campfire was permissible. Alley was inclined to pile on too much wood and after getting comfortably warm would fall asleep, leaving Humbarger


to watch alone. He often kicked apart the fire to destroy the too brilliant light.
     The other two men made their way east down the creeks. A short time prior to this an antelope had been shot, and some of the flesh partly cooked on a fire was taken along by the men on their journey to the settlements. First they crossed Wolf Creek, then over the divide to Spillman, and next to Bacon Creek, where they found the deserted cabin of a settler nicknamed “Crooked Powder,” (whose name is mentioned in another chapter) where they found some left over corn bread. This was all the men had to eat until they reached the Saline River, where, during the next night, they arrived, footsore and exhausted, at Martin Hendrickson’s. At this house had congregated a large party of settlers, who had been out during the day gathering up and burying the dead bodies of people killed during the Indian raid along the Saline River, a short time prior to their arrival, which has been told in a previous chapter. Among the party congregated was Miram Green, who answered the knock of Earl at the door. Fearing news of returning Indians, a voice from the inside asked: “Who is there?” “Bill Earl and Harry Trask,” was the answer. The men entered and made their report.
     Soon a rescue party of a dozen men was formed in the sparsely settled country where Beverly now stands. Among those whose name could be mentioned were Volney Ball, Ed Johnson, Jack Pete, Chalmer Smith and -----Trozier, with several team, comprised the party. At Salina another party of about the same number was formed, who also proceeded to the rescue, not knowing of the first party. Reaching the solitary camp of Alley and Humbarger, the wounded man was placed in a spring wagon, and on their way home met the Salina party, a soon thereafter all reached home without further mishap. Solomon Humbarger died in 1917.

Sketches of the Humbarger Family

Incidents As Remembered by Mr. and Mrs. Solomon Humbarger
and John Cline, Her Brother-in-law.

     Jacob Humbarger and family originally came from Ohio.

     NOTE: Humbarger’s team was a span of fine horses brought in from the east and was purchased by the owner for five hundred dollars, and the wagon was nearly new. The other team was furnished, one horse each by Harry Trask and Bill Earl. The rifle which was left hanging on the tree, muzzle downward, remained there. Humbarger intended to return some day to the place and get it, but the wound was slow to heal and he was unable to work all summer. For that reason he never carried out his intention. Statement made by Mrs. Solomon Humbarger.


They were headed for the promised land (Kansas) which opened for settlement in 1854. They were looking for a suitable location for farming, and stopped for a short time in Illinois and Iowa, arriving at Buchanan Town, Kansas, in 1857. This town or community of settlers (now extinct) was located on the west side of the Solomon River, a few miles from its mouth, not far from where Solomon City now stands. It might be inferred that the name “Buchanan” was derived from the president of the United States at that time, but the Humbargers believed that a family by that name was living there from which the town took its name. There was a government bridge across the river at that point on the military road between Fort Riley and Salina and on toward the west. This bridge was washed out by a flood a few years later. In 1859 the Humbarger family moved north to Pipe Creek, about six miles north of where Minneapolis is now located. A mile above them on the creek were located two brothers, Jacob and Mike Miller, and their sister, Mary Germans.
     The Solomon Valley at that time was infested with horsethieves, both whites and Indians, who for some years plied their trade and the peace of the settlers was frequently disturbed. The peaceable Indians from the reservations in the east made the Solomon Valley their hunting ground, and here the wild tribes, Cheyennes and Sioux, from the west met them with hostile intent. If depredations on settlers were committed, the tribes were some times known, but more often their identity was unknown.
     All this made things very unpleasant and insecure. Bands of roving Indians who were horsethieves, kept the settlers in constant fear of loss and trouble. The Millers had taken extra precaution to secure their work animals, as the loss of a horse meant great hardship for the poor settlers. They had a substantial log stable and took the precaution of barring and fastening the stable door with a chain and lock. One night there was a noise or commotion outside and the two brothers, not thinking of anything but their horses, came out to see what was the matter. As they came out of the door into the darkness outside, Jacob was shot with an arrow. He exclaimed, “Oh, I’m shot.” The arrow stuck in his body and he died shortly after. His brother in the night made his way down the creek

     NOTE: See D. S. Rees account of a fight between Delaware and Cheyenne Indians, page 471, Vol. 7, Kaansas Historical Collections.


to the Humbargers, who came to their assistance. The dead man was buried and the remaining brother and sister a short time later abandoned their claim and returned east. That was the last heard of them. This insecurity was the principal cause of Humbarger family seeking a new location, the more peaceful valley of the Saline being their destination, where they located four miles west of Salina in 1863.
     While the eastern part of the valley was peaceful enough this could not be said of other parts farther west. In the same year a battle was fought between Pottawatomie and Pawnee Indians some thirty miles up the river as had been stated in a foregoing chapter.
     Many of the first settlers became hunters and trappers from necessity, as selling pelts in the market was the most available means of obtaining a little ready money that was needed in the days of absence of railroads, and often there was no other way of earning money.
     The Indians in this valley were peaceable in the beginning of the Sixties. These hunters camped with them and conversed with them, and from these we could have learned where the permanent villages of the Indians were located and incidents


Country home of Solomon Humbarger, near Culver, Kansas, where this
story was obtained


of their past history. The meager account here given was obtained by a most diligent inquiry. It belongs to the history of these valleys of our state and should not be entirely lost. Many and interesting were the incidents which happened while camping with the Indians and sometimes they proved to be very disagreeable, as was the case when the following episode took place.

Solomon Humbarger Is Accosted by a Sioux Brave

     With an ox team he was following along behind a band of friendly indians, a hunting party going westward. In his wagon box he had a barrel standing upright with his rifle standing in the barrel. The following is an excerpt from one of the conversations: “One of the braves, a big, burly looking savage,” Mr. Humbarger said, “was lagging behind the band for the purpose of making me trouble. Seeing I was alone he accosted me in a rough manner, making hostile demonstrations and the team came to a stop. He could talk but few English words, and these were cuss words, for mean people always learn cuss words first. He was boisterous, no doubt intending to scare me. I did not know what he wanted but surmised trouble ahead. ‘Me Zoo’ (meaning Sioux) ‘God d--- you,’ repeating these words over again and again. I soon saw what he wanted, for, climbing up on my wagon, he made for the rifle. I was standing very near the team watching his movements closely. When he took hold of my rifle and was taking it out of the barrel I pulled my revolver and cocked it, while my left hand rested on the hips of the near ox. I leaned over, my right hand holding the revolver, aiming it close to the savages breast. In a tone not to be misunderstood I commanded him to put it back. I said, ‘Put it back, I don’t want to kill you, but put it back there.’ The savage was very obstinate, but he saw I meant business and finally set it down in the barrel, got out of my wagon and left me. Of course I would have killed him, as I could hardly have done anything else. It would not do to let an Indian bluff you. I would have gotten away all right, but of course I would have lost my team. The whole band was only a short

     NOTE: It is to be regretted that no better account can be given of the eventful lives of these old settlers. Solomon Humbarger was approached several times by historical writers, but steadfastly refused to give anything for publication. He did not wish to be looked upon as a braggart. What has been published has been gotten in the way of conversation with him, and from other parties connected with him, and without his consent.


distance in advance but we were near timber, so they could not have got me. I had no further trouble.”
     During the Civil War Solomon Humbarger belonged to the militia under General Curtis. He knew the country about the Santa Fe Trail, and the Smoky Hill route, and acted as guide for General Curtis on a expedition in 1864.

John Cline, Brother-in-law of Humbarger

     John Cline was born in 1842, came to Kansas in 1858 and to Salina in 1860. He worked for General McGee surveying Lincoln County. Adam Calwell was chain carrier. He also worked for James R. Mead hunting and trapping. The principal work was poisoning wolves for their pelts. Mead and Haynes were partners in hunting along the Saline and Solomon Rivers and tributaries. Haynes mysteriously disappeared on one of these trips and was never heard of again. “There was suspicious talk of foul play in about Salina, our headquarters,” Cline said, “but the matter was never fully investigated.”
     The early settlers were dependent on game for a living, almost as much as the Indians. Land could be had cheap, but the means of extracting a livelihood therefrom was not so easy. There were no means at hand for cultivation, and only the military posts could be depended on as a market. The nearest regular market on the Missouri River was 160 miles away. To relate all the stories of adventure and the experience of John Cline would make a book itself, but as a rule pioneers who really made history worth while to put on record were extremely reticent and what is finally recorded is only fragmentary and does not do justice to the facts as they transpired. Many episodes happened in these years of camping and conerversing with the Indians in time of peace.
     During spring and summer freighting for the government was the principal occupation of these early settlers, and hunting and trapping filled the fall and winter months. One story told by Mr. Cline of the best success in hunting occurred in the spring of the year, when buffalo were returning from the south. He hired a man for a dollar a day to help skin buffalo. He said: “We started out Monday morning to get a load of hides. We drove an ox team to Thompson Creek, in what is now Ellsworth County. We found a large herd coming form the south to water at the creek. I got them confused by killing the leader,” he continued. “My rifle was a muzzle loader, as nearly all the


guns were in those days, but I was very adept in loading it. I fired my rifle until it got hot, then layed it down to let it cool, while the herd stood bewildered. I fired again until I though I had as many down as both of us could skin. We both worked hard the following days skinning and staking out the hides for drying and got a full load, 107 hides, and got home Saturday night.”

Dick Alley

     Dick Alley, as he was known by the settlers, was christened “Napolean Bonaparte.” The name, “Dick,” for short, was only a nickname. This was told the writer by his sister, Mrs. Solomon Humbarger. He was a well built, athletic sort of man, quite a foot racer, an accomplishment which proved a very valuable attainment at one time of his life, as has been related. He lived in the Humbarger neighborhood in Saline County and moved to the northwestern part of Lincoln County in the latter part of the sixties, which was then the very outskirts of the settlements.
     He was a prominent man of sound judgment in his day among the early settlers. His advice could be relied upon and he had a leading part in Indian affairs and in the settlement of Lincoln County. His case is the same as many other frontiersmen. As a rule they were very generous and for that reason did not accumulate great wealth. When he died some years ago he left numerous relatives, respected families, in good circumstances. Dick Alley’s name deserves a prominent place in the records of the settlement of Lincoln County.
     The foregoing has been written with the consent of the descendants of Solomon Humbarger. The reason he objected to having his history written was the fear of exposing himself in some act where he had taken the law into his own hands. A horsethief had stolen a mare from him and was about to get away when he mounted another horse, and with a gun, followed the thief twelve or fifteen miles to or near Pawnee Gap, Ottawa County, where he caught up with the thief, and firing, dismounted him. He thought he had killed him but did not investigate further. The mare, being loose, came back to its mate and, gathering up the reins, he returned home. The county was then sparsely settled and if the thief’s body was found, Humbarger was willing to let people believe Indians had killed him. Arriving at home with the stolen mare he made no explanation to his


wife and she asked no questions. The horse he had been riding was lathered with sweat and she surmised something like the above had happened.

     NOTE: Both Humbarger and Cline belonged to the state militia during the Civil War. These troops furnished their own horses, receiving extra pay for same. The equipment and arms were furnished by the state, but as the latter was always short, these consisted of all kinds of patterns, and it was left to the private soldier to furnish his own, the kind he liked best.

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