May 21, 1864 - Joe Jewett and Sharp - Rumors from Turkey Creek - Indian Alarms - Confederate Officers among the Indians - Picketing Cottonwood Canyon - Myself and Ryan - Desertion of Ryan - Jackson and McFarland - Indians Appear - Wagon Captured - Indian Signals - May 25, 1864 - Mitchell Appears - Second Council - The Discussion - The Postponement - O-way-see'-cha Preserves Order
ON MAY 21st two old hunters and stage-drivers, one, a half-breed, called "Joe Jewett," and the other, "Sharp," came and told us that the combined Cheyennes and Brulés, down on Turkey Creek, about forty miles southwest of Fort Kearney and about seventy miles southeast of us, were having a fight; that they had surrounded a body of Colorado soldiers, and an Indian runner had said that ten of the soldiers had already been killed; that they were the soldiers who worked the artillery belonging to the detachment; that the artillery was consequently worthless, and that the Indians had surrounded the soldiers to prevent reinforcement, and were trying to starve them out. This information we forwarded to Fort Kearney by wire, but we never got any reply, nor received any orders in regard to our own action; it is probable that the rumor was an exaggerated one, although we prepared affidavits for Joe Jewett and Sharp to sign concerning the whole business, and they swore to the affidavits on information and belief, and we forwarded them. All of the women on the road were immediately sent down to Fort Kearney, which was a safe place, and perhaps none remained upon the road along its line from Kearney to near Denver except Mrs. MacDonald at our Post, and our laundress, 'Linty,' hereinbefore referred to.
The Indian runner was the Indian telegraph of that day. The Indian was given a message. He conned it over and learned it. He delivered it word for word; that was his business and his only aim. If he told a he it was not his lie. It was the lie of the man who sent him. He remembered the message, word for word.
Our understanding was that the Cheyennes and Comanches had been thoroughly aroused by Confederate officers, and there were reports that some bands of Indians, not desiring to join the uprising, had killed some of the Confederate ambassadors. I afterwards remember seeing a report that the Osages had killed eight Confederate officers under like circumstances, in one bunch. At any rate, the Confederate officers had arrayed the Indians against us as far as Kansas and southern Nebraska were concerned, but the Brulés were principally north of the Platte River. It was about this time that through Mr. Gilman we were informed that an Indian runner had said a Cheyenne chief had been up through the bands of the Brulé Sioux north of the river, showing a sergeant's cavalry jacket, his watch and paraphernalia as trophies, and was instituting war dances. We were told that this would, of course, eventually precipitate the Brulé Sioux upon us. We kept careful guard around our Post to prevent an ambush or surprise. We could be surprised only from one quarter, and that was towards the south. One man could keep view of the country east, west and north of us, but there was nothing to prevent the Indians from biding in the ramifications of Cottonwood Canyon, and making a dash at the Post.
So we had Cottonwood Canyon and its prongs inspected every day, and at night after dark we ran a picket-post well up into the Canyon, and had the pickets signaled every thirty minutes. The way was this: After dark we went up quietly with a strong body, say twenty men, on foot, and nestled into some protected corner, and then put out pickets. We had no loud hailing or calling of pickets, but the one who visited the picket was to go stealthily or crawl on the ground. The hailing-sign was by raps with a pebble upon the saber scabbard. If he could not find the picket when he thought he had gone near enough, the inspector gave three raps, to which the picket should respond with two, then a reply of one, and counter reply of one.
I was out on one of these picket stations one night, along in the latter part of May, and the men were located at a certain washout. I settled myself about twenty yards farther up, in a little swale. Everything had been still for a while, but I had kept wide awake. Around upon one side of me I beard a stealthy noise as of some one crawling, and I made up my mind it was an Indian. I, with great caution and quiet, turned over and brought my revolver to bear upon the indistinct object. In a very short time John Ryan of my company, of whom I have spoken, rose upon his hands and feet and found me with a revolver presented at his face. He had threatened to kill me as before stated, and he was in all probability now bent upon that object. By having been awake, and anticipating danger, he found when he came up in the dark that I had the drop on him. He never raised his revolver, but remained motionless, knowing that his life was in my hands. I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was trying to find the picket-post. He had come out that night with the detail, and knew where it was; I pointed out the way to go, kept him covered with my revolver, and he went back. The next day I brought him up standing; told him that there was murder in him, and that I must see that he was properly taken care of. I took him, and put him in the guard-house myself, and preferred charges against him. The final outcome was that he and two of his pals, Jackson and McFarland, whom I had put in the guard-house for stealing coffee from the mess, managed to saw out, get horses and two revolvers each, escape, and all get away. They dashed straight down south into the Indian country, knowing that they could not travel the roads east or west. Whether they ever lived through it or not, I do not know. I have never heard of them since. They were three of about the worst men that I ever saw. Jackson and McFarland without doubt were deserters from the Confederate army. The three were incorrigible thieves, and suffered a good part from the treatment which they deserved and got. They were under guard and doing fatigue duty, and sleeping in the guard-house, a good deal of the time.
In order to carry out the sequence of individual narrative, I have gone ahead of my story. Coming back now to May 23rd: We noticed a wagon going up the river on the other side; who the people were we did not know, but the Indians made a dash upon them right opposite the Post in broad daylight, killed two men, set fire to the wagon, and ran off with the horses. We could not get to them. We went down, and crossed the south branch of the river, which was pretty high, and which was very dangerous, but having all succeeded in getting across and reaching the stream of the North Platte on the north side of the island, we found a torrent coming down from the melted snows, and a stream fully eight feet deep. It was impossible to cross it and the Indians knew it, and they bade us defiance, and shook their fresh scalps at us. Indians were reported all along the line of the road; they were on the bluffs on our side, scrutinizing the road; at night we saw fire-arrows go up on both sides of us, and on the opposite sides of the river. During the day from time to time we saw the puff-signals of smoke. The Indians had an agreed set of signals which we did not understand, but which were plain to them, and by which they signalized everything of importance along the line. One was a smokepuff, which was made by gathering a light pile of dead grass, not much of it, so that it would bum quickly, almost instantly. Sometimes they were made with gunpowder in the grass. The number and manner of these puffs conveyed the signal. The puff would seem to last only about four seconds. With my field-glass I could get up on the hill near the Post, and see smoke signals by day and fire-arrows by night from time to time, although there were but few on the south side, and these off at a distance.
On the 25th of May, 1864, Captain O'Brien went down the road with twenty-five men to ascertain some facts and he came back with a great quantity of Indian rumors, which were current along the road. May 26th General Mitchell arrived, coming back with Captain O'Brien and a small escort, and with the General was one of his aides-de-camp, a Lieutenant Williams, of whom I have heretofore spoken as being a brave young officer from Kentucky. My former acquaintance with General Mitchell made his visit a very pleasant one to me. We furnished him an escort, and he went up the road some little distance, and came back, and started John Smith and "Hunter" on an Indian scout. Smith and "Hunter" claimed to have a hold upon the Cheyennes, and to be well acquainted in the villages, and said that they were not afraid to go down into the Cheyenne country and see what was going on. To anticipate my story, I may say that they were gone about a week, and came back, having been chased by the Cheyennes. They were unable to find out anything about matters, and all they could report was that the southern Cheyennes, that is, the Cheyennes south of the Platte river, extending down across Kansas, were all hostile, on the war-path, and knew no friends. Reports frequently came that they were ravaging the Kansas frontier, which was then in eastern Kansas; that they had sealed up the Smoky Hill road from central Kansas west to Denver; were fighting pilgrims along the Arkansas river, and were harassing the Colorado settlements east of Denver and Colorado City down on the Fountain river.
In the meantime a large number of Brulé Indians came in, all declaring their friendship; they camped down on the south side of the river, a couple of miles above our camp. There was a large band of them. They were principally Brulé Sioux, and were under the command of "Shan-tag-a-lisk," called by his translated name, "Spotted Tail." There was also the chief of the Ogallallah Sioux, who was one of the most peaceful of them all, "O-way-see'-cha," going by his translated name of "Bad Wound." There was a new one, representing some northern band, said to be the Minne-kaw'-zhouz. This chief was called Zheul-lee. He went by his translated name as "The Whistler." We had another Indian council, which was practically a duplicate of the one hereinbefore described. About the same persons were present, except the Big Mandan; he was reported to have gone up the Missouri river. In making further inquiry as to why the Big Mandan was ever in a Sioux council, the interpreter told me that the Big Mandan was probably a Mandan boy who had been captured, and raised by the Sioux; that as he grew to be a very large man, and an important man, and had no knowledge of the Mandan tribe, and was now in reality a Sioux, he had got as his adoption name the title of "The Big Mandan."
General Mitchell ordered the issuance of a lot of rations to these Indians, and fed them up, good and hearty; gave them lots of bacon, coffee, and hard-bread, also killed some beef, and let them have the head and all the entrails, and offal, which they seemed to prefer to the meat. At any rate, they ate up all the insides of the beeves which we killed. Captain O'Brien went up to see them upon some order, I don't know what, but the men in the Post were kept under arms all the time, although it was perhaps unnecessary, for the Sioux would not have made a dash when they had their women and children present, and there were in the camp a number of each. The Sioux seemed to have changed their ideas but little since the last council meeting. The surveyors had been called in from the Niobrara river, and that source of trouble was quieted. General Mitchell promised that their distribution of stuff at the Woc-co-pom'-any agency, upon the North Platte, should not be disturbed, or withheld, and that there should be added to it some provisions, bacon, molasses, and hardbread, on condition of their not taking the war-path. The same kind of speeches was practically made as before; the Indian wanted to know what his white brother would do for him, and the white brother knew that it was cheaper to clothe and feed him than fight him. General Mitchell insisted, as be did before, that the earth belonged to the people on it per capita, and no Indian had any more right to increased acreage than the white brother had. And he also pointed out to Mr. Indian that here the Indian had no primary right to the soil, but that it belonged originally to those from whom the Sioux had taken it when the Chippewas, their ancient enemy, had driven them west. And that rights to land, if accumulated by conquest by the Indians, could be accumulated by the whites. Mitchell had his speech well in hand, as he had before, and he argued with the Indian at every point. The council was entirely uneventful. The pipe of peace was passed around, and we all smoked it with a stoic and reverential silence. The Indian being told that he had no right to the Platte valley unless he wanted to use or cultivate it, appeared to see the propriety of letting those have it who could use it. At any rate, he preferred molasses, hard-bread and bacon to the occupation of the river valley. He knew there was no game along the river-bed where the wagons were constantly going, and it was of no value to him whatever; therefore three-point Mackinaw blankets that were nice and red, appealed to him strongly. Shan-tag-a-lisk had a daughter who was very ambitious. General Harney in former days had given the mother an Episcopal prayerbook, and she carried it as a talisman of good luck all her life. The daughter had made up her mind to not marry anybody who was not a "Capitan," which was a Spanish name the Sioux used, and which comprised any officer from corporal up to general. Of this daughter I have written elsewhere, in a magazine; see supplement hereto.
But the Indians did not seem to be satisfied. They would not sign anything nor come to any definite conclusion. They still wanted the Smoky Hill route between Kansas and Denver closed. They seemed willing to permit travel west on the Arkansas and on the Platte, but all north of the Platte to the Upper Missouri and all south of the Platte to the Arkansas they wanted to be left alone. They also wanted to come and go across the Platte as they pleased. General Mitchell was inflexible; he demanded that they stay away from the Platte, and that they let the Smoky Hill route alone. And Mitchell told the chiefs plainly that they must control and restrain their young men or there would be war. In order to bring about a permanent understanding, Mitchell told the chiefs to talk with their people fully, and meet him again. So he made another postponement of fifty days, and told them to all be back and that he would come up and meet them, He also told them he was determined to stop them from warring with the Pawnees; that he wanted a treaty of peace between all of his Indians, and that at the next meeting it must be fixed up. Mitchell wore a full Brigadier's uniform with a yellow silk sash over his shoulder, and looked like a king. He was a good deal of a king, and he certainly talked like a king, and the Indians understood him. He tried to impress on them that if they were friends of his, the chiefs must restrain their young men. The party broke up with the understanding that they would meet at Cottonwood Springs in fifty days and come to a better understanding, and if possible a final understanding, upon the subjects involved. General Mitchell issued them some rations, and they promised to control their young men so that no overt acts would be committed during the coming interval. I do not want to get ahead of my story, but as a matter of fact, O-way-see'-cha afterwards went north across the Platte to get out of the way of the Cheyennes, and Spotted Tail went, and hid his band up in the Big Horn range. So that, so far as the Sioux were concerned, the fights with them, which took place soon after, were only fights with wild, erratic war parties of young men who could not be controlled. It was stated to me by a person who claimed to know, that after O-way-see'-cha got back from this council to his tribe south of the Platte, several young men, stated by one person to be eleven in number, and by another to be seventeen in number, started out to raid the Platte valley, and that they did so, and killed several, doing much damage, with a loss to themselves of a couple killed. And it was stated that O-way-see'-cha, the moment that he had heard that they had left his camp, got his head-men and warriors together, took the tents and property, all which they could find of these raiding young men, and burned it up, and killed all of their horses and dogs. This was said to have put an end to the Ogallallah branch of the Sioux trouble, but it was these war parties from the various Sioux bands that made trouble hereinafter related. The difficulty was that the chiefs could not control their people. The Indians were a wild, bloodthirsty set of barbarians, and one half, at least, of them deserved killing as much as the wolves which barked around their tepees.
The time of these conventions was generally set by a formula; the Indians could not go by the days of the month, so the date was fixed for a certain number of moons ahead, and the time set was "when the moon is straight up at sunset." When the moon was overhead at sunset it gave time for the pow-wow, and then the Indians had a full moon in which they could ride night and day going home.