September 26, 1863 - March from Omaha - The Elkhorn River - Two Brothers - September 27, 1863 Fremont - September 28, 1863 - Shell Creek - Major Wood - September 29, 1863 - The Captain and the First Lieutenant - Loup Fork - Columbus - Pawnee Agency - September 30, 1863 - Lushbaugh - The Agency - The Pawnee Indians - The Paymaster - The Money
ON SEPTEMBER 26, 1863, our company started on the march west. We went over the high tableland, rough and rolling, and after twenty-three miles came to the Elkhorn River. Upon this day's march I remember the first appearance of a very strange character, to whom I shall hereafter refer. It occurred this way: Shortly before we started to march, a grown, mature man, who gave his age as thirty-six, came and wanted to enlist. He said he had been on the frontier, and had served in the regular army. As we were going out there again, he wished to go; he declared his intentions to be loyal to the Union, and that he would enlist in some command for three years or during the war. His name was James Cannon. About one-third of the boys when we started in the morning were more or less intoxicated. Cannon was talkatively full. He wanted to ride at the head of the column and talk with me, the most of the trip. Finally I reached out and took his canteen, which I found half-full of whisky, and poured it out on the ground, and told him if he did not sober up and quit drinking I would not send in his enlistment papers, and would let him go without either muster-in or discharge, and he promised he would never drink any more.
The condition of the country between Omaha and the Elkhorn River was that of a wild Western country. The road was a well-beaten track, four or five hundred feet wide, on which an enormous baffle for years had been operating. The country was rough, and timberless; there were no settlements of any note, except, there might be seen, here and there, far off down some long swale, a haystack, or a shack of some kind, or herd of cattle handled by one or two men, but far off from the road. The wind had blown almost all the time since we had been in Omaha, and as we went over this upland the road was hard and smooth as a floor, for the dust and sand and gravel had been blown off from it by the violence of the wind.
The companies of our regiment while in Omaha were formed into two battalions of four companies each; companies A, B, Q and D forming the first battalion, and E, F, G, and H, the second. The companies had been sent out of Omaha one at a time, so that they might scatter along the road in their progress west, and have better grass and forage than if they all went together. Those companies went out first which were ready, and provided for, first; several companies went ahead of our company, and several companies came behind us. In going over to the Elkhorn River we met long trains of wagons coming in. Almost all of them were ox trains, and their wagons were mostly empty. It was no uncommon sight to see three yokes of oxen pulling three or four wagons coupled together in a sort of train. The Elkhorn River did not have much timber on it, but in its valley new farms were being opened.
Upon September 27th we marched through Fremont, and camped on the Platte valley two and one-half miles west of town. At this point the country was level, and somewhat settled. That evening a soldier who had served in the war, and been discharged, came into camp, and when he found that we were an Iowa company, he told of a couple of Iowa soldiers who were living about a mile from camp. When he gave their names, I thought I remembered them; so I went out to see them. They were two brothers, unmarried, keeping "bach" in a little cabin made of the trunks of cottonwood trees, daubed up with mud ready for the winter. They had each taken a quarter-section, and settled upon it as a homestead. One had been discharged from the hospital, his health having been impaired down near Vicksburg. The other was severely wounded at the battle of Shiloh, and was discharged on account of wounds received. Neither one was drawing a pension. They spoke at considerable length of the difficulties which they encountered with their neighbors, saying that several of their neighbors were old Confederate soldiers who had deserted and left the Confederate service, but who were still strongly against the "Abolition war." Each one of these boys had two revolvers, and a rifle. They said that there had been a Union League formed at the village of Fremont.
On September 28, 1863, we started early in the morning, and camped on Shell Creek. It was quite a long, deepcut stream, but apparently not flowing much water. We camped on the stream a half-mile above where the road crossed it. Captain O'Brien and I went out hunting for ducks, the Captain having bought a double-barrel shotgun and ammunition at Fremont. The Major commanding our battalion, with an escort, joined us in the afternoon, shortly before we went into camp. He was one of the old pioneers of the West, Major John S. Wood, of Ottumwa, Iowa. He had been to California with the forty-niners, and in camp that night he told us of a battle which he and his wagon train, over fourteen years before, had with Indians on the bank of Shell Creek. The Major was not a man who praised himself very much, and when he told the story of the Shell Creek fight it was very interesting to us. In the morning he took us out to where he said he had dropped an Indian with his rifle.
The country along the route of the day's travel was considerably settled. I would say that one-fourth of the quartersections had occupants-that is, down in the valley; the upper lands seemed to be entirely uninhabited, We passed a large number of trains during the day coming in, and some few going out. Those that were going out seemed to be loaded only for Fort Kearney, or else were the wagons of private ranchers along the line to about a point of two hundred and fifty miles west of the river. It was a sort of custom of the place to talk to everybody and ask everybody where he came from, and we, being on horseback, had time to ride back a few yards with the boss of a train to talk with him further regarding the grass and water, and where the best camping-places were. We passed during this day several little bands of Indians, generally not more than four together. They were mostly in pairs, bucks and squaws; hardly any children. They seemed to be sort of migratory; to be in camp a great deal, and to make but little progress in their wandering. The settlers said the Indians were apparently friendly, and nobody showed any fear of them. They seemed to be wanting the protection of the whites. One woman at a ranch near the road where we stopped to water, said that they kept walking around the house, and looking in the windows, and at first scared her considerably, but finally she got so she would go and order them off without any fear. But there were vivid rumors of the warlike conditions of the Western tribes, and of murders, burnings and difficulties a few hundred miles west.
Upon September 29, 1863, we marched to Loup Fork, and camped a half-mile from Columbus. Captain O'Brien was dissatisfied with the shotgun he had bought at Fremont. In fact it was a weak gun, and at Columbus he looked around until he found a man who had a large, powerful duck gun, and the Captain trade d off his old gun for almost nothing, and bought the new one. As the game would be consumed by our mess, we agreed that the cost of all of the Ammunition should be charged up to our officers' mess. It was a gun of the old type, with a wooden ramrod, but it shot well. The Captain was a couple of years older than I, and we together had to manage the company. It was a tough company to manage. The Captain had been in the service for a long while, and had been down South, was in the battle of Perryville, and was a brave and reliable officer. I was on the rolls as a "veteran volunteer," which under the law gave me a sort of preference. We had formed a fast and enduring friendship, and pulled together always in all emergencies. Our First Lieutenant was a white-haired, gray-whiskered, incapable man, of good family and good birth, but without the slightest military ability in the world, and had got his First Lieutenancy on account of political influence. The men had no respect for him, and didn't mind him, or care for what he said.
Our company was composed of fellows who had a natural longing for a fight, and the Captain and I each of us had more than once a personal conflict with some of our men; but the men had got into the habit of minding us when we gave orders. The First Lieutenant was being utilized as a sort of commissary and quartermaster, and was not with us at this particular time. At Columbus there were but few houses; it was entirely a frontier village, and had some wild and frontier characters in it. Among them was a man named North, who was a great Indian fighter, and a great authority on Indians, He was highly esteemed by the Pawnees on account of various acts of bravery. This man North, many years after, went in with "Buffalo Bill" and organized the "Wild West Show," which made fortunes for many. It happened that Captain O'Brien and I ran onto North immediately after our entrance into the village, and formed an acquaintance which lasted forever afterwards. In this narrative of mine, North will be hereafter referred to.
In the little village of Columbus was a long, low one-story building which had painted on it in large letters nearly four feet high, "W. W. W." I inquired what it was, and was told that the letters stood for "White Wheat Whisky," and that there was a German there distilling whisky. I went over to take a look and see what sort of place it was, and sure enough, I found some of my men in there loading up their canteens. I had to make them unload, and compelled the distiller to pay back their money which he had received. This was a disagreeable matter, for the boys were about half full, and the man himself was a good deal of a bully. They had paid him for all they had consumed. I thought it best to keep whisky out of the camp; in fact, such were the orders from our superior officers.
The Loup Fork at the time was not a very large river; its name was the French word for "wolf." This was on account of the Pawnee Indians, who had settled at some distance up the stream; "Pawnee," in the Indian language, meaning "wolf." The Pawnees gave the name "Wolf" to the river, which the French, who were the first traders and scouts into the country, translated into "Loup," which has ever since remained.
The night at Columbus was a very eventful night. One of our companies that had preceded us had marched up the Loup River to protect the Pawnees, it being understood that the Sioux were determined to raid them, and the Sioux at that time were an extremely powerful tribe. That night Lieutenant Norris, of the company spoken of, came down to Columbus with some of his men, and having been there in that neighborhood long enough to find out where everything was that was bad, the whole posse got drunk, and the camp was a considerable of a pandemonium. We, however, got the men herded into their tents, and the sober ones guarded the others. Nothing in particular took place except the men shouted, played poker, and shot holes through the top of the tent until after midnight. We were joined by a young man from Ottumwa, Iowa, long since dead, who claimed to have received permission to trade among the friendly Indians along the frontier. He was a very nice young man, who got delightfully and amiably intoxicated on all occasions, was more congenial when drunk than sober, and who played poker with the men for postage stamps, and made himself a general good fellow.
In the morning there came along a paymaster of the United States, with orders from the District headquarters to take escorts wherever he wanted them, and could find them. He presented his credentials to us, and requested that we go with him to the headquarters of the Pawnee tribe up Loup Fork. At that time the Northwestern country was made into a department with headquarters at Fort Leavenworth. This department was divided into districts, and the district which we were in was the District of "Nebraska and the Plains"; it went west into what was then Colorado, and "Idaho Territory" north of it. This district was divided into sub-districts, and the "Eastern sub-district of the District of Nebraska" had headquarters at Fort Kearney, which was then a large live fort with a wide reservation. This paymaster of the army desired us to go with him because he had to pay off the Pawnee Indians, and the employees of the United States at the Pawnee agency, and go from there to Fort Kearney.
On September 30, 1863, we took up our march with the paymaster and went up Loup Fork to the Pawnee agency, which was said to be twenty miles from where we camped. As near as I can now tell the Pawnee agency was near the mouth of Beaver Creek, on the north side of the Loup Fork, in the eastern part of what is now Nance County. It rained very hard during the night before we started, but in the morning the porous sandy soil had soaked the water up, and we got to the agency about noon. There was a Government agent in charge of the Pawnee Indians at that place, and he came to meet us. His name was Lushbaugh. He had brilliant red, fluffy, bunched side-whiskers under his ears, a variety of whiskers that was not entirely uncommon in those days. They differed from the "burnsides" in that they disconnected from the moustache in front. The Burnsides were a very common method of wearing whiskers in those days. They were so called from the manner in which General Burnside of the regular army trimmed his beard. The name was finally transformed into "sideburns." The variety that Lushbaugh wore had several names, but our boys began adopting them after that, and called them "Lushbaughs," and for several years after that in various places in the West I heard that form called "Lushbaugh." This agent, Mr. Lushbaugh, was very fond of ardent spirits, and the moment we got into the agency he proceeded to tank up. He showed us everything -- the Council Chamber, and the little blacksmith shop, and a few things that indicated a fair degree of civilization. A large number of the Indians were out after buffalo, so that there were not very many of the Pawnees in. But the little Indians were around in squads with bows and arrows shooting at marks, and it seemed to be their principal variety of amusement Mr. Lushbaugh said at that time there were 1,400 good capable warriors in the Pawnee tribe. The squaws had raised some corn, potatoes, and a large quantity of pumpkins that summer. The corn was the nubbin-eared corn of the Pawnees.
The Pawnees were an agricultural tribe to the extent that they had time out of mind raised corn and pumpkins. We went over the village, looked into the tents, and with an interpreter did some talking with the people. There were a few old men and crones smoking and enjoying the sun. We went down towards the river to see where the crossing was, as we expected to move soon, and we noticed the women in great numbers along the river. They were strong, masculine, animated and chatty, and were giggling all the time. We passed a number of squads where these women were cutting up pumpkins into ringlets, and hanging them up in the trees to dry. We went up and down the river for nearly a mile to select the best crossing, and the trees were all hung full of drying pumpkin-rings. No women in Europe or America of any race ever seemed more lighthearted and happy and talkative than these Pawnee squaws, and they shouted words at us which we, of course, did not understand the meaning of. I had been of the opinion that all Indians were taciturn until this, my first large experience with them. The squaws seemed stout and muscular, and to be superior to their husbands. Those male Indians whom we saw around the village seemed to be inferior in strength, good-nature and appearance to their spouses. And every once in a while we saw an Indian who was considerable of a dandy, and had himself decked out in very artistic Indian costume made of fine tanned deer-skin, elaborately embroidered with beads, and porcupine quills. I don't see where all the porcupines came from for this lavish decoration, and am of the opinion that other quills were worked in to meet requirements.
While we were there in the Council Chamber one Indian after another came, and stood at the window looking in, and to my remark that they ought to be taught better manners, Mr. Lushbaugh said that the Indian thought by such attention to us he was doing us great honor, and that we ought to consider that we were being complimented. In a little while the paymaster was ready to go, and we concluded to cross the Loup Fork with him and camp on the other side, so as to get a good early start in the morning. The paymaster's wagon with its big heavy iron safe drove into the stream with several of the mounted soldiers ahead, and several behind. The wagon did not follow the track exactly, and the first thing we knew the mules were floundering, and the wagon was sinking. We rallied around the wagon, unhooked the mules, and then finally used our lariat-ropes, and all pulling together we managed to extricate the light wagon, and the safe, but the safe was down under two feet of water when we got it out. We snaked it to shore, and put it on its side, and let the water out. The paymaster got the combination, and found a large amount of his United States paper money all soaked up with water, saturated as wet as could be; so we had to go back to the Pawnee village. We got the safe into the Council room, opened it and got the money out. The bills were spread around on the floor to dry, and on tables and chairs and everything. He had quite a large sum, more than we thought he had; no specie-specie had become obsolete. The paymaster stayed on the inside with the door locked. I detailed four men to march a square beat on the outside of the building, one to each side, and I got a chair and mounted guard, and the balance of the boys went into camp on the bank of the river. Mr. Lushbaugh stayed up with us till about 12 o'clock, telling of the various times when he had drunk a great amount of whisky and laid somebody out; and every once in a while he took a drink himself by way of illustration.
Owing to Sioux rumors other troops were sent of our regiment, following us, up to the Pawnee agency. There were two companies, but I do not remember their letters. They camped below the agency, and several of the officers came up, and came to the Council house to look through the window about sundown and see the money scattered around. These officers had evidently provided themselves with "W. W. W." before leaving Columbus, because they were quite talkative, and wanted to bet on something, and bragged on their horses. About dark two of the officers got to betting as to the relative speed of their horses, and bantered each other for a race. Finally it was agreed that they were to run down with their horses to Columbus, and back, forty miles, and the one that came out ahead was to have $100. So in the gloaming of the twilight near the Council house, the word "Go!" was given, and a lot of Indians, squaws and papooses standing around, and most of the soldiers of the different companies. When the word was given both of them started off like the wind, and they were soon lost to view. Each one of them had a canteen swinging over his shoulder. It is my impression that they did not go over two miles, because about midnight they both came back slowly, riding together in a hilarious condition, pretending that they had gone to Columbus, and had just got back, and that it was an even race, and nobody won anything. They soon had everybody in the camp around them, and Captain O'Brien, who was the senior officer, ordered them both under arrest back to their quarters, to which they proceeded to go. One of them, however, objected considerably, and said that he had been a staff officer of General Quimby's and didn't like to be treated that way. General Quimby was one of the noted Brigadier-Generals of the war at that time. Both of these officers turned out to be of no account, and the Quimby young man succeeded afterwards in getting himself dismissed from the service. I was guarding the Council house and had considerable responsibility. It would have taken no flight of imagination if half a dozen of the soldiers, with good horses, had broken into the Council room, driven off the guards, and carried away the money. There were two or three in my company I felt would do it if they had an opportunity; they were toughs, and afterwards deserted. So I stood on post until towards morning, when, the money having got dry, the paymaster got it back into the safe. At a late hour in the morning with a guide we crossed the Loup Fork and started south to hit the road along the Platte. A prairie-fire, a few days before we came there, had swept the country between Prairie Creek and Loup Fork, and for many miles we marched over a black, barren and desolate country. On the night of October 1st we camped at Warm Slough. I cannot tell from any map that I can now find, where Warm Slough was, but it was not far from the river, and I would say in the eastern part of what is now Merrick County.