Fort Laramie - The Indian Dash - The Pursuit - The Return - Major Twist - Visiting Indians - Issue of Rations - The Daughter of Shan-tag-a-lisk - Indian Wives - Major Bridger's Bear Story - The Buffalo Dam Story - Casper Collins - The Final Dress Parade - The Start for Julesburg
ONE day a large detachment from the post had been out scouting through the hills, and around, for three days. They had been in separate details in different directions, but were all to be back at noon of a certain day. Their object was to find out whether there were any hostile Indians lurking anywhere around within twenty-five miles of the post. They all reported on their return, that nothing could be found; they had seen a few pony-tracks, they said, but probably from stray ponies; the scouting parties were disbanded upon the parade-ground about noon. The parade-ground was level and sandy, and the officers thought it would be the best place for the horses to roll. So the boys were ordered to take off the saddles and bridles, and take these to the stables, but to leave the horses standing in the sun, and let them roll and rest awhile; then they could be taken to the stables. The horses on being unsaddled began to romp around on the parade-ground, and roll in the sand. Their backs were all more or less chafed with the saddle, and it was a pleasure for them to roll. They were on the parade-ground enjoying themselves rolling and cavorting, when all at once we heard a wild war-whoop, and through post and parade-ground rushed a body of wild Indians waving buffalo-robes, shooting fire-arms, and making a lot of noise. There could not have been to exceed thirty of them. They came so quickly and went through so fast, that there was hardly a shot fired at them, and they stampeded every horse on the parade-ground, and off they went with them. I got a look at them, and I thought that this raid was one of the most ridiculous things I ever saw. The Indians did not stop to shoot anybody, although they did fire some arrows at some of the groups of soldiers and officers that were on the side. But there was plenty of open way for them to go, and the horses went in front of them, and they after them. They made a dash for the north, and before anybody knew what was taking place the horses and the Indians were scurrying afar off. But the Indians did not get all of our horses. "Boots and saddles" was immediately sounded, and those who got ready first started off first. It took time, however, to get out of the stables and saddle the remaining horses; get the ammunition, get together rations for the trip, and some corn for our horses to be carried, some on each, and some on pack-mules. About a hundred of us got started after these Indians, but we were at least an hour behind. It was useless to go out without corn, without rations, and without ability to stay with them. Major Wood, the post commander, was the maddest man I ever saw. He started out the command; it was in charge of one of the Eleventh Ohio captains; but my Captain O'Brien was one of the leaders of the expedition. We didn't know what we were bound to run into, and although we started with a mountain howitzer we soon sent it back because it couldn't keep up with the procession.
The Indians held together, and kept going steadily north. We chased them all night, but they had plenty of relays of horses, and each Injun could catch up a fresh horse from time to time. Although we went at as fast pace as our animals could endure, we did not seem to overtake them. We rode until morning, but during the night we could only follow a trail. We could not see the Indians. The next day we still kept after them, as the trail was plain. The next night the Indians scattered, and went every-which-way. The trail pronged out so that we could only follow part of the Indians. We had to keep together, as we feared ambuscade, and didn't know but a large body of Indians might at any time appear. We followed the trail all night again. In the morning as the sun rose we came down into one of the most beautiful valleys I ever saw. We rode down through it in the rising sun. We had been floundering among the mountains all night. We had been doing our best to see what we could find. About a dozen of the captured horses were recovered, having been found along the trail, but they were all bunged up, and not worth bothering with. Some had been killed with arrows; others had just simply been abandoned because they were worn out, and ruined. Our own horses were about at the end of their usefulness. The beautiful valley lay in front of us, made charming by the rising sun. No Indian was in sight. There was only a light trail where perhaps a half-dozen had passed. It was useless, and practically impossible, for us to go farther. We camped and grazed our horses in the beautiful valley, each man holding on to his horse's halter lest some Indian should rise up out of the grass and stampede the herd. We were so tired and sleepy that we could hardly graze our horses. We had been up two days and two nights, and the last night had been very hard on us. We rested and let our horses graze until about noon. They got a good feed of grass; they had eaten up every grain of corn we had. Slowly and sorrowfully we wended our way back by another route.
Our guide and scout had been Charles Elston. He seemed to know the country fairly well, but we were out of the usual Indian routes, and were in a country just as it had come from the primeval hand of nature. There was always something beautiful in the Rocky Mountain country when we got into those places where no ax had ever been. We had ridden about one hundred miles. Going back, the boys went slowly, slept on their horses some of the time, and walked and led their horses some of the time, so as to lighten their load and diminish their pain, for they were all suffering from the trip. In addition, we sort of explored the country, and made rough sketches or maps as we went. When we got back it was nearly a week from the time we started. All of the horses which the Indians drove off that were of any value, were lost, and the episode was freely commented on as showing how difficult it was to know whether or not there were any Indians around the post. It put the post upon the guard to keep a steady lookout, night and day, and was an additional illustration of the fact that it was cheaper to feed the Indians than to fight them.
Major Underhill had said to General Mitchell, who was telling about how the Pawnee scouts acted on our trip up Lodgepole: "They were afraid because they knew the danger they were in, -- you did not; there were enough hostile Indians always around you, though not in sight, to have eaten you all up blood-raw." At this time while we were in Fort Laramie, immigration had entirely stopped. No stages had been running up past Laramie for months; and no trains were passing. The road from Julesburg to Laramie had practically been sealed up, There was a telegraph line which was kept running, from repairs constantly made by details of soldiers.
A very strange thing happened one evening at the sutler quarters. Along about sundown several squaws very finely dressed in mackinaw blankets came up to the sutler store with an old gentleman whose hair, long, white and curly, hung down over his shoulders, and down his back. He had a very venerable white beard and moustache. His beard bad been trimmed with scissors so that it was rather long, but pointed, Van Dyke fashion, below the chin. He was dressed thoroughly as an Indian. He wore nothing on his head, and had on a pair of beaded moccasins. He sat on one of the benches in front of the sutler store, having in his hand a cane, staff fashion, about six feet long. Some of the officers were discussing Grant's Vicksburg campaign, and about the dangerous character of his trip around and below Vicksburg, and they were analyzing it as a military feat. After listening a little while this old fellow got up, and got out several feet in front of the talkers, and said: "Grant did just what Napoleon did." Then, taking his staff, he began marking in the sand, and said, "At Borodino, Napoleon started out from here, and he marched around to here," and so on. The old gentleman went all through the Napoleonic campaign and then went through the Grant campaign, with all of us looking on silently and listening. He finished the demonstration at great length, talked very sensibly, and everybody, whether they knew him or not, paid attention to what he said. After a while the party broke up, and I asked several present who the person was; they said they didn't know. Finally I met a man who told me that this man belonged to a very fine Eastern family. That he was educated in West Point, had been a Major in the regular army, and made up his mind years before to become an Indian, and live with the Sioux. That his name was Major Twiss; was married into the Sioux tribe; came down to Fort Laramie occasionally, and went back up into the unexplored Indian country, nobody knew where. The next day I inquired about him further, because I wanted to see him again, but he had gone out to the squaw camp, and from there he and his squaws disappeared to the north.
It now appeared that the condition of the country as to Indian troubles was that the Indians as tribes would not participate in the war, and that the whole Indian strength was not in the war; but that a large amount of trouble was made by individual young bucks who were bent on mischief, and on having what they considered fun; which was, the scalping of white men and women, and the getting of horses and plunder.
General Mitchell had sent out for the chiefs to come in, and have a conference at Fort Laramie. Sometime in the latter part of the month there suddenly appeared a number of Indians, and their squaws, perhaps about thirty Indians and twenty squaws. They came into camp in the daytime, and were told to camp out at the squaw camp. The convention was a failure. There did not enough appear to make it of any force, and those who did come, very few of them, were of much importance. Shan-tag-a-lisk was said to be near the post, but was doubtful as to whether he should come in or not.
General Mitchell ordered an issuance of rations to these visible Indians, and directed me to superintend the issue. He told me what stuff was to be issued -- so many sacks of flour, so many pounds of bacon, and other things. The Indian women of the squaw camp intruded themselves in on the party, so that about fifty Indian women sat around in a ring to get rations as distributed. The men stood off with great dignity, and would have nothing to do with it, because it was woman's work. I had the stuff brought inside of the ring. There was one young Indian woman who did not get into the ring, and I ordered her in, but she stood up on the outside. All of the other Indian women were sitting in a ring around the rations, which in boxes and barrels stood in the center. Finally I told that woman to get into the ring and told the interpreter to tell her that if she didn't get into the ring she wouldn't get any of the rations. She talked back, and upon my inquiring of the interpreter she said: "I am the daughter of Shan-tag-a-lisk. I have plenty to eat." Elsewhere I will speak more fully of this young lady; she was the one who wanted to marry a "Capitan." I wrote her up and published her story under the title of "The Daughter of Shan-tag-a-lisk" in a Kansas magazine, now defunct. I insert the story herein as an appendix. Shan-tag-a-lisk was afterwards killed, Aug. 1881, by a chief named "Crow Dog," over a woman.
The Indians slipped in stealthily, until the first thing we knew the squaw camp was largely populated. At night new tepees were put up, and the post commander one afternoon sent me up to look them over, count them, and see how many bucks I could see loafing around. I have forgotten how many I reported, but I would say, lying around in the sun, were about twenty lazy Sioux "Injuns" smoking and taking their ease. All this occasioned some apprehension, and the guards around the post were doubled. We were in a peculiar position. We did not want to make any enemies among the Indians, because we were trying to make peace, and we were afraid all the time that they would run in some bad Indians on us, and make us a lot of trouble; so everything was well looked after. In fact, a picket-guard was stuck up near the squaw camp, to keep an eye upon the camp at night, but the Indians were not painted up, and made no war demonstrations. General Mitchell ordered that they should leave the reservation, and go away before the next full moon.
I discovered in the course of my observation that two of the officers of the Ohio regiment had bought Indian wives, and had them stationed at the squaw camp. The Sioux were exceedingly technical in regard to the marriage relations. A marriage had to be preceded by the gift of a horse to the parent. This was an absolute requisite, and the acceptance of the horse by the parent was equivalent to consent to the marriage. If a parent did not want a certain young buck for a son-in-law, the young buck might come and keep offering horses until he had tied a dozen before the wished-for father-in-law's tepee, but the father-in-law would not receive them, while if some other buck tied one horse there he would get the girl. Two officers of our command bought squaws, but in one case the father ran off with the horse and the young squaw disappeared, and the officer was out his horse. The matter was well known to the entire command, for it immediately got out through the interpreters, and the officer was very much ridiculed, and he was afterwards killed in battle by his Indian brother-in-law. Another one of our officers bought a wife for two horses, and the Indian girl fought and scratched him up in a most ridiculous way, so that he was in his quarters pretending to be sick for some time until he healed up. The Indian girl was a fighter and a perfect tigress, and broke through the door to the rear of the officers' quarters, and went to the squaw camp, and quickly disappeared. These matters became known, and resulted in hurting the reputation of these officers very much. The latter officer was pushed out of the service quite a while before the regiment was mustered out as a regiment. Elston, the scout, used to say that the Sioux Indians, that is, the women portion of them, were the most virtuous people on earth. Finally the squaw camp was very much decimated by order of General Mitchell, who took pains to reprove all improper relations; he asked his officers to be examples to their men, and I think, although I do not know, that three discharges of officers came about by General Mitchell's recommendations. No charges were made against the officers, but they were simply ordered mustered out upon some pretext or another.
About the last evening that I was at the Post I had my farewell visit with Major Bridger. Major Bridger was a regular old Roman in actions and appearance, and he told stories in such a solemn and firm, convincing way that a person would be liable to believe him. I had received a letter from an officer down at Fort Kearney wanting me, when I came back, to bring him a cinnamon bear-skin. The cinnamon bear, so called from the color of the hair, was a favorite fur, and the Indian women at the squaw camp tanned them, and the skins were exposed for sale at the sutler store. On the evening to which I referred, Bridger was sitting out in front of the sutler store, and I sat down with him, and got to asking him about bears. He told me a bear story which I afterwards heard was quite a noted bear story, and gave rise to an expression of "only just sitting around." Bears were very plenty. The woods at that time had so many that it was not difficult to get sight of a bear. Bridger's story was that he was up on La Bouta Creek, where there were trees scattered all around, and he was in a nook cooking his breakfast, when he happened to look up, and under the trees around him in a great circle were about two hundred and fifty separate bears sitting down and watching him. They had smelt the frying of the meat, and had come in as near as they dared to come; each one was sitting down under a tree, and Bridger knew nothing of them until he looked up and saw them. His idea was to impress me with the plentiful supply of bear in the country. I said to him, "Well, what did you do?" and he replied, "Oh! I didn't do nothing." "Well, what did the bears do?" "Oh, they did nothing, only they just sot around." So the expression grew, that, as to the officers and others there at the post, like Bridger's bears, they "only just sot around."
As orders had been given that we should return, and as we were going back by Pole Creek, I asked Bridger about Pole Creek, how long it was, and what there was up at the head of it. He described it to me with great detail, and the pass through the mountains at the head of it. After he got through he told me that when he first came to the country, Lodgepole Creek, which was then only a valley in the plateau, used to be an awfully deep canyon, "one of the deepest, worst canyons in the whole country, deeper than Thunder Canyon," and yet since he had been in the country it had filled up from the winds and the wash of the mountains. As Lodgepole was only a depression in the clay which composed the plateau, this story was evidently impossible. I asked him why we had seen no herds of buffalo coming all the way up from Cottonwood Canyon, although on the divide at Jules Stretch there were many old buffalo-heads, worn by the weather, which showed that forty years before they might have been in great quantities. He said that the buffalo had quit running so near the mountains, and that they were ranging farther east down through Nebraska and Kansas. He said that down below Cottonwood Springs, on the Platte, one time there was the biggest herd of buffalo he ever saw. His party was camped in a train on the south side of the river; they saw the buffalo coming from the north, and corralled their wagons and animals to keep from being "tromped" (trampled). The big herd came plunging into the river one over the other in enormous droves, miring down, and walking over each other's backs. They dammed the river so that the water rose to overflow the flat where the wagons were, and the water went plumb up to the axles, and it would not have taken but a little more to have all been washed away and drowned. I was afterwards told that this was one of Bridger's favorite stories, and was called his "buffalo dam story." Bridger at this time was sixty years of age, and had been in the mountain country over forty years.
As there was no traffic upon the line of road, and no pilgrims coming or going, and the Indian scare all-prevailing, General Mitchell determined to make some military posts along the line of the road; also to put up fort at what was then called Julesburg. He ordered Captain Shuman of the Eleventh Ohio to build a fort at or near Scott's Bluffs; he also ordered a little fortified post to be put up at the ruins which were called "Ficklin"; and another at Mud Springs, which was at the north end of Jules Stretch. He ordered our company to go to Julesburg, and immediately begin the erection of a fort there, each place to have a telegraph operator and an assistant; he further ordered the road patrolled. Captain Shuman left Fort Laramie before we did, and the details referred to were also sent to Ficklin, and to Mud Springs. There was a sort of sub-district consisting of a territory from Mud Springs to South Pass organized, and this was put in charge of Lieut.-Colonel Collins, of the Eleventh Ohio Cavalry. This Colonel Collins had a son, Lieutenant Collins, who was continually scouting through the country with details of men under orders from his father. The Lieutenant's first name was Caspar, and he generally went by the name of Lieutenant Caspar. The Indians were getting bad west of Laramie, destroying trains, killing pilgrims and carrying off women. Far down in the east they were making violent incursions upon the road between Cottonwood Springs and Fort Kearney, so that there was a condition of war between Cottonwood Springs and Fort Kearney and between Fort Laramie and South Pass. The territory between Cottonwood Springs and Fort Laramie was comparatively quiet, but the fear was that the Indians from the north and south would begin to harass that territory. There was a fort built and named Fort Caspar after Lieutenant Collins, and afterwards a Fort Collins built. Lieutenant Caspar was killed by the Indians not very far west of Fort Laramie, but it was after we had left Fort Laramie, which we did August 31st, 1864. The country south of Laramie had been scouted down a considerable distance, and Fort Collins had been recently established.
Lieutenant Caspar (Collins) was a good deal of a favorite. He was a young man, full of life and energy, exceedingly brave, exceedingly reckless, and almost without ballast. He seemed to dash into things without much premeditation, played a strong and magnificent game of poker, took one drink too much, once in a while, but was apparently a young man entirely devoid of fear and with an ambition to have military success and renown; his characteristics finally led to the necessary result: he was killed in an engagement with Indians which he ought to have avoided.
August 30th was a delightful day, and with my red silk sash, and imposing uniform, I mounted guard for the last time in due and ancient style, with the garrison, as usual, standing and looking on. In the evening we had our dress parade with all the style that could be displayed. It was my last one. Every soldier that could be got out was in line. The post commander was to issue a lot of orders which were to be read on dress parade. I marched up from the line; saluted the post commander with the customary formula, "Sir, the parade is formed"; walked around to his left and rear with the customary angular steps, and he drilled the post command for quite a while. We were cavalrymen on foot at the parade. Our parades were always on foot, and, the men were put through the saber drill. Then he gave me a lot of orders in which my company were ordered to one place, and others ordered to others, indicating that a permanent separation was about to take place, which made us all have a sort of depressed feeling. When the parade was closed, I went to my company and gave it a very careful inspection, and also carefully inspected the horses. That was by order of Captain O'Brien, who had been in charge of the company while I was post adjutant.
In order to get a good start, for General Mitchell was a prompt marcher, we had bugle sounded at 2 o'clock in the morning, and hastily getting our breakfast we filed out on horseback at 3 A.M. and started down the road.