Retrospect - The Wind Storm - Reconnoitering - The Last Buffalo - An Indian Spy - Pilgrim Whisky - Sales to Indians - The Local Population - The Iron-gray Horse - Cantonment McKean - Fort McPherson - The Cannon Target - Description of Cannon - Arrival at Fort of a New Company - The Supplies - Prices of Articles - The Government Ration
GOING back in a retrospective way over our proceedings at Cottonwood Springs (concerning matters which I did not wish to break the thread of my relation to give), I will recur to a wind-storm that came on October 17th. The air was dry and arid, and a sudden wind came up in the forenoon from the north, unaccompanied by dampness or snow. The wind just blew, and kept increasing in force and momentum. All of our tents were blown down during the afternoon, and during the gale it was impossible to raise them. Our stuff was blown off from the flat ground and rolled and tumbled over until it struck the depression of the arroyo of Cottonwood Canyon. It was a straight, even wind. We soon found out what it was necessary for us to build in order to resist the climate. The pilgrim quarters at MacDonald's ranch was soon stored with what we were obliged to save. Incredible as it may seem, the wind blew down the stovepipe into the stove, so that it turned one of the covers over to get exit. This heavy iron cover was about seven inches in diameter. When we put it back the stove rattled until again the cover turned over. Jimmy O'Brien said it was an "Irish tornado," -- that the wind blew "straight up and down." Along in the afternoon, our horses that were tied up with picket-rope became frantic, and began breaking away. A two-inch rope was torn from its moorings and the horses started up Cottonwood Canyon. There were less than a dozen horses that were left securely tied. These were immediately saddled, and soldiers detailed to corral the stampeded horses, and to keep them together in the canyon. By using iron picket-pins and lariat-ropes, some few of the tents were got up again, toward night, and held in place. The wind blew a gale all night, and got somewhat chilly. Boxes of clothing and hard-bread were rolling over the prairie, bound for the arroyo. We all of us slept where we best could, but most upon the lee bank of the canyon-bed. The wind immediately subsided as the sun rose in the morning, and we had no more trouble with it except to gather up the things. The difficulty with the wind was that it carried the sand and gravel in the air, and made it painful and almost dangerous at times to be where the full effect of the current came, which was mixed with the sand and gravel. The latter seemed to come in streaks. A herder of the ranch told a funny story about a window which was exposed to one of these sand-and-gravel storms, and he said that it had been changed into the appearance of ground glass, and had been rendered almost opaque. But he made light of the storm, saying that he had seen much worse ones. Afterwards we did experience one equally as bad, if not worse, while going from Lodgepole northwest to Court House Rock. Sand and gravel banked up against the pilgrim quarters in places about two feet high above the level, as the consequence of this storm. We kept the horses herded up in the canyon until the storm was over, and did not lose any.
About two weeks after that we were told that some prowling Indians bad been seen in south of Gilmans' ranch, headed towards our place, and Captain O'Brien thought I bad better reconnoiter a little up the canyon, so as to forestall any surprise. Instead of taking a party of men with me, I thought I would prefer to go alone, as I had a most excellent horse, which I will hereinafter describe. I rode up on the east rim of the canyon, and looked over the country with my field-glass pretty fully. By keeping up on the rim, I could see the canyon inside and out. I went around about ten miles, and saw a lot of fresh pony-tracks. I also saw a large lone buffalo down in the canyon. I rode past it to see whether or not there was any Indian looking for him, and making up my mind there was not, I went down into the canyon to get the buffalo. I only had two Colt's calibre .44 revolvers in my holster. I carried neither saber nor carbine. The time that I had with that buffalo in the canyon I shall not soon forget. He chased me a great deal more than I chased him. The matted hair upon his forehead was filled with mud, and he faced me at all times. My revolver bullets glanced off from his forehead apparently as if it were a piece of granite, and they only seemed to irritate him. It was fully two hours before I laid him out, and I had fired thirty-one shots.
About a week after that, Captain O'Brien desired to make a further reconnaissance, in view of reports which came in. I got well acquainted with the ins and outs on the east side, and the shortest and best routes from one crossing to another, which were deeply worn by buffalo trails. And here I got my first idea of the extent to which game and wild animals make the shortest and best roads through a country, and the most accessible roads, which in after time are followed by the white man, and become the highways from place to place. On this occasion I carried my target rifle (a Smith & Wesson, calibre .44) and a field-glass. When about eight miles from the camp, I saw in the distance a bareheaded Indian going over a ridge on foot with great speed. I hastened to catch up with him, but when I got to the ridge where he disappeared, I considered that it would be safer for me to be careful lest I should fall into some kind of ambuscade. So I rode around on the high ground, and examined the gullies for about a mile, but the Indian had successfully eluded me, and I was in no condition to go down and hunt through the canyon. He was probably some lone Indian who was acting as a spy, or reconnoitering. An Indian on a pony could be easily tracked, but an Indian on foot could slip around and secrete himself, and be quite safe. There were always down in the valley along the road some halfbreed Indian traders who also acted as spies, and would communicate all necessary information to the Indians and sell them what was called "Pilgrim whisky"; hence the Indians, as we were informed, reconnoitered on foot, and it was one of these I had probably seen.
The pilgrim whisky of that day was a bad compound. Owing to the distance which it had to be carried, alcohol was substituted for whisky, and when a person out in that country got a barrel of alcohol, he would take a quart of it and mix it with a quart of water, and stir in molasses and a touch of red pepper, and it made a compound that would bring out all the bad qualities of the consumer. This was the kind of whisky that the Indians would get from traders. They dealt surreptitiously, because it was a penitentiary offense to sell whisky to the Indians. The ranchmen fought the contraband fiercely, and there were stories of herders and ranchmen taking some half-breed and lynching him when they had found that he had sold that kind of stuff to the Indians.
By the first of December we had got pretty well acquainted with our surroundings. Captain O'Brien with four men went out to reconnoiter the canyon fully, and he took the west bank. He went nearly to the end of the canyon, and explored it fully, and then going west came down back through another large cedar-filled canyon. I afterwards, in about a week, also made the reconnaissance of the canyon from the west bank about ten miles of distance, and at a certain place where there was a wall of indurated clay I carved name, date, Company, and Regiment. It was necessary for us as officers of the company to know the country, and to familiarize ourselves with Indian matters. Ten miles west of our post was Jack Morrow's ranch, of which I will speak hereafter. Between it and our post there were several ranches that had been deserted, on account of the Indian scare, but which were reoccupied after our arrival. In fact, as soon as we camped at Cottonwood Springs, the safety of the place being assured, many people seemed inclined to take up land, or to accept employment in the neighborhood. On the first of December, on the suggestion of Captain O'Brien, I tabulated all the civilians fit for military duty within twenty-five miles between Gilmans' ranch and Jack Morrow's, and found that there were nearly one hundred and fifty men. They were frontiersmen as a rule, all well armed, and more or less engaged in the "pilgrim trade," some in cattle, and some in hunting and trapping. The largest number was probably at Gilmans' ranch. The Gilmans had two hundred cows, but never milked one. The ranch had a number of herders. There were herds along the river at various other ranches, attached to which were herders of various kinds; some full-blood French of the Canadian variety, and some adventurous spirits from the East who, in addition to their work at the ranches, made considerable by hunting and trapping. All of the ranches sold steel traps of various sizes, from muskrat up to bear. The population had increased principally during our occupation. There were down at Gilmans' ranch, besides the Gilmans themselves, several who were very wise in Indian lore, and with whom we often desired to talk. From time to time we felt obliged to know things, and to go to Gilmans' ranch for the purpose of having consultation. The fifteen miles down to the ranch was over a country as level as a floor, beaten down hard and swept by the wind. It took an hour and a half to go there; so we could leave at two o'clock and get back at seven, and have two hours' consultation. From them we obtained information, and drew rough maps and diagrams of the country both north and south. They told us where the bunches of timber were, both north and south, and where the water was among the valleys in the hills, and the routes which the Indians used.
All of this time, however, the work at the post was going on rapidly, either the Captain or myself acting as boss. Our first Lieutenant looked more particularly after the supplies. I had two horses, one a good, average cavalry horse, but I managed to become the owner of a large, raw-boned irongray horse, of which I will speak more hereafter. I got him before coming to Nebraska, and paid $135 for him. The horse formerly belonged to Colonel Baker, of the Second Iowa Infantry, who was killed in the battle of Pittsburg Landing. The horse was not afraid of firearms nor musketry. He had a mouth that was as tough as the forks of a cottonwood log, and I had to use a large curb bit on him with an iron bar under the jaw, made by our company blacksmith. Without this terrible curb, I could do nothing with him. He was afraid of nothing but a buffalo, and as a wild buffalo is more dangerous than a bear, I was always afraid that sometime he would act bad and get me hurt. He was also very much frightened at even the smell of a buffalo-robe. This large iron-gray horse would start out on a dead run for Gilmans' ranch, and keep it up for fifteen miles without halting. I never saw a horse with more endurance, or more of a desire to go, and he kept himself lean by his efforts and energy. I knew that when I was on his back no Indian pony nor band of Indians could overtake me, and hence I scouted the country without apprehension. The buffalo which I killed as last alluded to, was the last buffalo we saw around Cottonwood Canyon. Our fort was called "Cantonment McKean," but the War Department afterwards named it "Fort McPherson," after General McPherson, who was killed while with Sherman near Atlanta, Georgia; but the fort was popularly known as "Fort Cottonwood." Among our men was a fine carpenter who had worked at cabinetmaking, and from the boards which we whip-sawed out, he made lots of chairs, a company desk, tables and furniture as needed. It is strange how simply furniture can be made, and yet equal to the best in comfort and convenience. Our furniture was all made out of beautiful red cedar.
Along on the side of the hill west of our post, and about five hundred yards from it, we put up a palisade of logs sunk in the ground, and forming an eight-foot square target. I practiced with our howitzers upon this target until I got the exact range and capacity of the two guns. They varied but little; we had to know how far the guns would shoot, and the number of seconds on which to cut our shell fuses. We had a large number of shrapnel shell fitted with Bohrman fuses. Our powder was separate, in red flannel bag cartridges, so made as to fit the rear chamber of the gun, which was smaller than the calibre. Attached to the shrapnel shell was a wooden block made accurately to fit the bore of the piece. The powder was first rammed down, and then the shell rammed down on the wooden block, which was called a "sabot." The "sabot" was merely a wad. The fuse of the shell was towards the muzzle of the gun. The explosion of the powder went around the shell, and ignited the fuse in front of it. The gun was fired with what were called "friction primers," which, being inserted in the touchhole and connected with the lanyard, were pulled off, and threw the fire down into the cartridge. But, before the friction primer was put in, a "priming-wire" was thrust down to punch a hole through the flannel bag of the cartridge. The process of loading was somewhat complicated for so simple a gun. One man brought the powder cartridge and inserted it and it was rammed home by another man with a wooden rammer. Then another brought the shell with sabot attachment, and that was immediately rammed down, sabot first. Another man used the priming-wire, and inserted the friction primer. The chief of the piece then sighted the gun, and gave the signal to the man who held the lanyard. The shrapnel was made as an iron shell about five-eighths of an inch thick, with an orifice of about an inch and a half, on which die thread of a screw was cut. Then the shell was filled with round leaden balls, and in the interstices melted sulphur was poured. Then a hole was bored down an inch and a half in diameter through the bullets behind the open part, and this was filled with powder, leaving the sulphur and lead arranged around the powder; then the fuse was screwed in. The utmost angle of safety in firing the howitzer was fifteen degrees. Anything more than that was liable to spring or break the axle on the recoil. At an angle of fifteen degrees, unless the trail was fixed properly, the piece was liable to turn a summerset. After a great deal of experiment of the two pieces, I prepared a little schedule of distances and seconds, which I furnished to my sergeants. All of the sergeants were instructed in sighting the piece and in cutting the fuse. The fuse was a tin disc, and was cut with a three-cornered little hand-chisel. My experiments differed somewhat in result from the artillery manual, but was accurate in regard to the two particular pieces, and was as follows:
Upon a smooth floor of the valley we could shoot one of these shrapnels, and after the first graze at fifteen degrees, the hall would go bouncing along for quite a distance. And by cutting the fuse at about the end we could get the utmost range out of the piece. An elevation of 8 degrees was considered safe, but more than that was liable to strain the piece, because the charge was so heavy and the gun so light.
After we had got well established in our quarters, a new company was sent to our post to assist us, there having arisen rumors that we might be attacked. Company "G" of our regiment arrived, and immediately proceeded to do as we did in the building of company quarters, and with them came Ben Gallagher as Post Sutler. He hired men to build him a sutler-house, and he also hired some men to get out some cedar telegraph poles to repair the telegraph lines. Company "G" worked rapidly, and we sheltered them and their horses during the worst days, and they had a comparatively easy time of it. They soon got into good quarters, and in good condition.
During the time, an empty train coming down from Denver by order of the quartermaster's department brought us ten thousand pounds of pine lumber. This was hauled at the rate of one dollar per hundred pounds per hundred miles, and the amount in feet of the pine lumber was four thousand. It cost the Government to haul down this four thousand feet of lumber, $292.96. That is, over $70 per thousand.
The arrival of Company "G" made our place a two-company post, and George M. O'Brien, Major of the regiment, was appointed Post Commander. I was made Post Adjutant, and we built a post headquarters. Preliminarily we were obliged to take all of the wing of the MacDonald ranch, and one half-room in the building of "Hook-sah," whose real name was Isador P. Boyer. In order to hurry up the work for post headquarters, Washington Hinman, William A. Anderson and John W. Lewis were employed as professional carpenters. We also had to have a corral for beef cattle, and this we constructed.
Ranchmen on the line of the road who had at certain grassy spots along the river cut considerable hay, offered us this coarse hay, cut while it was green, for $15 a ton, and a lot of it which was cut dry and withered, after we came, they offered for $10 a ton. For a short while, during the illness of our First Lieutenant, I was made Post Quartermaster and Commissary, and I found that we had at that time seven army wagons complete, with six mules each. That we had on hand unused 413 hewed cedar logs, 347 round logs, and 322 large cedar poles, piled up awaiting further construction of buildings. Our veterinary department had been reinforced by a lot of horse medicine, tar oil, spirits of niter, etc. We had anvils, vises, sledges, rasps, monkey wrenches, a portable forge, 10 augers, 21 chisels, 10 planes, 6 broadaxes, together with a line of blacksmith tools and carpenter tools, 56 felling axes, 18 shovels, scales and weights, complete grindstone, 500 pounds of nails, 100 pounds of horseshoe nails, 500 pounds of horseshoes, 130 pounds of rope, 20 sides of leather, 80 ax-handles, parts of wagons to make repairs, several hundred pounds of various kinds of iron for making horseshoes and for making spikes and nails, a lot of charcoal, a large number of trace-chains, a dozen tarpaulins, and shortly after that we received a consignment of white lead linseed oil, and putty. The current prices at the ranches during the winter of sales to the pilgrims as they went by for horse feed was two and one-half cents a pound for hay, and four cents a pound for shelled corn. From time to time we sent trains down to Fort Kearney, and on their return they bought feed, and vouchers were given. Of the ranchmen along the line whose places we usually stopped at, the following is a complete list: Thomas French, Thomas Mullally, Daniel Freeman, B. S. Blondeau, Daniel L. Smith, Peniston and Miller, J. K. Gilman & Co. (Jud Gilman). The prices of articles of clothing furnished to soldiers as sold by the quartermaster for cash, to the officers, were as follows: Coat, $7.00; cavalry trousers, $3.55; flannel drawers, $0.90; peg boots, $2.92; blankets, $3.25. The blankets were shoddy blankets, and the boots were very rough and coarse. One day two citizens came in and wanted to buy some of the empty cornsacks, and the post commander ordered the sale. They were bought by S. F. Burtch and I. C. Beatty, who paid the price of twenty cents apiece for them, $57. This money was then, by order of the post commander, expended for shelled corn from a passing train at the rate of $2.07-1/2 a bushel. On the first of January, 1864, we had on hand at the Post Commissary about twenty thousand pounds of flour, five thousand pounds of bacon, ten beef cattle, twenty-seven hundred pounds of beans, sixteen hundred pounds of coffee, four thousand pounds of sugar, together with a good supply of the other articles belonging to the Government ration. The sales to officers permitted by the regulation prices fixed by the Government were as follows: Ham in barrels, nine and one-half cents a pound; hard-bread, four cents; white sugar, sixteen and one-half cents per pound; sperm candles, thirty-seven and one-half cents; molasses, sixty-one cents per gallon; dried apples, eight cents a pound; hominy and grits, two and one-half cents a pound; soap, seven cents. Other stuff could be bought from other sources cheaper than the Government price. The regular Government ration of that period was as follows:
12 oz. pork or bacon, or in lieu thereof 20 oz. fresh or salt beef.|
22 oz. soft bread or flour, or 20 oz. corn-meal, or 16 oz. "hard-tack."
15 lbs. beans or peas (dried) .......................................to 100 rations.
10 lbs. rice or hominy ................................................. " " "
10 lbs. green or 8 lbs. roasted coffee .......................... " " "
In lieu of coffee, 24 oz. of tea ..................................... " " "
15 lbs. of sugar .......................................................... " " "
1 gallon of vinegar ...................................................... " " "
20 oz. star candles ..................................................... " " "
4 lbs. soap ................................................................. " " "
60 oz. of salt .............................................................. " " "
4 oz, pepper .............................................................. " " "
1 quart of molasses .................................................... " " "
30 pounds of potatoes (when practicable) .................. " " "
I wish to state here, as this is a retrospective chapter, that our work at Cottonwood Springs was fully appreciated by our superiors. That is about all the glory that a person gets out of the subordinate phases of military life. We were inspected on November 11th, 1863, by an officer sent out especially to see what we were doing. He reported as follows:
"Nov. 11, 1863. Inspected Cos. 'F' and 'G,' Seventh Iowa Cavalry, at Cottonwood Springs; Major O'Brien Commanding.
"Military bearing and appearance soldierly. Discipline and system of military instruction good. Officers efficient and well instructed. Orders duly received and promptly published and enforced. Police of quarters and camp good."
Thereupon the Commanding General of the Department sent the report to the General Commanding our district at Omaha as follows:
"HEADQUARTERS, DEPARTMENT OF THE MISSOURI
ST. LOUIS, MO., December 1, 1863.
"Respectfully referred to Brig.-General Thomas McKean, Com-
manding the District of Nebraska, for his information.
"The Major-General Commanding the Department of Missouri is highly pleased at the assurances contained in the report relative to the efficiency of Major O'Brien's command at Cottonwood Springs, as shown by the care taken of the command, the soldierly bearing and appearance of the officers and men, their discipline and instruction, for all of which the Major-General Commanding highly commends and sincerely thanks every officer and soldier of the command.
By order of|
JOHN M. SCHOFIELD, Major-General Commanding
I. H. MELCHER,
Lt. Col., Insptr. Genl."
The originals are among the private papers of the estate of Major (afterwards Brigadier- General) George M. O'Brien.
The General Schofield was afterwards Lieutenant-General and at the head of the armies of the United States.
Company "F" had some wild-western defects, but for the purpose for which they were organized and brought together they had no superiors. Before we get through we will say the same of the First Nebraska Veteran Volunteer Cavalry, with whom we were afterwards associated.