Departure from Laramie - Points on the Road - Camp Shuman - Shad-blow - Chimney Rock Court House Rock - Table of Distances - Mud Springs - Camp on Lodgepole - September 4, 1864 - Julesburg - The Indian Situation
I WILL give a better description of the country over which we marched on our return than on our march up, because on the march up it was cloudy and we were very tired and fagged out; but we started down with our horses well shod, rested, and well fed, and everything in good condition for a rapid march.
That day we marched thirty-seven miles, passing the ranch of Beauvais, five miles from Fort Laramie; Bordeaux ranch, ten miles from Fort Laramie; the "First Ruins," so called, eighteen miles; and the Woc-a-pom-any agency, twenty-eight miles. We camped at the mouth of Horse Creek which was thirty-seven miles from Fort Laramie. This Horse Creek was the scene of a celebrated ancient treaty with the Indians, but which was no longer observed or recognized. But there had been heretofore many provisions in it which were referred to as the provisions of the "Horse Creek Treaty."
The ruins, first and second, were ruins of stone stations which had been put up by ranchmen for the overland express company running through to Salt Lake; but the express company, for the time being, was knocked out of existence, so that there was at the time of which I speak no mail, stage or express carried over the road except by soldiers. There was also a pile of stone about two feet high and ten feet square, where the celebrated Gratton massacre had taken place. This has been written of so often that I will not refer to it except to say that a lieutenant with a few men was sent to deal with some Indians, several years before, and make them surrender some property, and having a piece of artillery, the Indians being obstinate, he fired over the heads of the Indians to scare them, and the Indians immediately massacred the whole detachment.
The Woc-a-pom-any Agency was a little grassy flat consisting of several acres of land on the Platte river, susceptible of irrigation. In fact, there were old ruins of the irrigation ditch. The Indian agent at the time for that agency was named John Loree, so I was told, but he did not stay around the agency, and confined his time and services, as was said, to keeping in a safe place, and drawing his salary.
The road from Fort Laramie to Horse Creek, almost the entire distance, was sandhills and deep dust. The dust was almost insufferable. There was but little air stirring, and the long line of horsemen kept the dust in the air so that it was very difficult to breathe. Horse Creek, when we reached it, was absolutely dry, although there was said to be plenty of water up ten miles, and the guide said that forty miles farther up it was a very rapid and beautiful stream. But the stream sinks down in the sand, and in dry weather disappears. We were very much disappointed to get no water at the Horse Creek crossing, and tried to dig for it with our sabers, but could not make much headway, although we went down a couple of feet. We then went down to the Platte River and camped on its banks, where there was no wood, and where we ate a dry supper of bacon sandwiches made up of sliced raw bacon between pieces of hard-tack.
We got up September 1, 1864, at four o'clock, but did not get started until half-past five. On our road down we passed Camp Shuman. The men were busy building sod quarters with adobe trimmings on the North Platte River bank, south side, three miles west of the gap of Scott's Bluffs. Captain Shuman had just received a box marked "Saint Croix Rum Punch," and he opened a bottle in our honor. He introduced us to his First Lieutenant, named Ellsworth, and showed us the outline of the proposed walls which they were hurrying to build before cold weather set in. While there I noticed a young man who appeared to be the busy man of the occasion. He was ordering the men around, and keeping them at work, All at once he recognized me. He was First Sergeant, afterwards Lieutenant, of the company. We had a most fraternal meeting, because two years before that we had parted down in Arkansas, both being members of an Iowa cavalry regiment. I didn't know what his real name was when we met this time, because in the army the enlisted men all had "army names," and this young man's army name was "Shad-blow." I ought to stop to tell how this happened.
Shad-blow was the chief bugler of a battalion of Iowa cavalry in the invading army under General Curtis, who was marching down through Arkansas from the Pea Ridge battle-ground to Helena. We had reached Batesville. I at that time, as Sergeant, had been detailed as forage master of the brigade, and being out with a large number of wagons, and a detail of cavalry, had scouted up Black River, Arkansas, and not finding forage enough, and supposing that we were going to fortify at Batesville, I had loaded in the balance of the wagons with slaves. They said that they could live on corn, and they were not adverse [sic] to going with us to camp. This was early in July, 1862, and I came stringing in on that day with four hundred husky negro slaves, cotton-growers, almost all of them grown men, and a few old negro mammies among them. I dumped them down alongside of the river (White River) and dumped out a wagon-load of corn to begin on, expecting the quartermaster to do the rest. Major-General Curtis's headquarters were not far from there, and his Adjutant came over to protest. He said I ought not to have brought those people in, and I said they were just what we wanted. We had been coming down through the mountain country where there were no slaves; we had been in favor of abolishing slavery from the beginning of the war, and that was the first time the occasion had come up in Arkansas. The negroes had some banjoes along, and the boys got some boards and doors and end-gates, and started a lot of them dancing, and "patting juba." In the evening, about as the dancing was over, this sergeant, Marsh, came down to see the fun and look at the colony. He was a nice trim fellow with a bright uniform, and with a burnished bugle, which hung over his shoulder with a yellow cord. He was a very conspicuous-looking young man. He was so tall and lean that the army name had been given to him of "Shad," and we all called him "Shad." He had been called that about a year. The darkies clustered around him with great admiration, and not knowing but what he was a brigadier-general, they asked him a lot of questions, and among them some one asked him what his rank was. Several of the men of our regiment were down there. Marsh, in order to bring his rank within the understanding and conception of the bystanders, said, "I's the chief blow-man of the regiment." The soldiers all laughed, but the darkies all stared with wonder. The remark of Marsh was evasive. The chief blow-man might be the man who gave the command to the army through the bugle, and they looked at him with much awe and admiration. The boys afterwards told this story, and Houghton, the Sergeant Major, treasured it up in his mind. The boys began to call Marsh "Chief Blowman," and finally, "Mr. Blowman," but Houghton with great sagacity combined the two names, and called him "Shad-blow," which tickled everybody, and Marsh always afterwards went by the name of "Shad-blow." When by order of the War Department there were mustered out all non-commissioned staffs of cavalry battalions, Marsh was mustered out, and went back to his father's home in Ohio and reënlisted. So it was that we parted at Helena, Arkansas, and less than two years afterward met at Scott's Bluffs, in Idaho Territory, as it was then called. We hugged each other. He could only remember my army name, which was "Link," abbreviated from Lincoln, which I was formerly called, not by way of compliment, but because I was tall and lean. The customary nickname for one who was tall and lean in those days was "Shanghai," which was abbreviated to "Shang," but as we had one Shang in the company I was called Lincoln, abbreviated to "Link." So that when Marsh and I met, and hugged each other there at Camp Shuman, he called me "Link' and I called him "Shad-blow"; then we explained what our real names were, and got back onto a true personal and military basis.
Leaving Camp Shuman, we passed through the gaps of Scott's Bluffs, halting at Ficklin, where a detachment of the Eleventh Ohio was stationed, and reported by telegraph our whereabouts to Major Woods in command at Fort Laramie.
Alcohol Butte, on the North Platte.
The marching down along the Platte River was indescribably beautiful. The days were tranquil, and ahead of us there seemed to be old castles, ruined cities, and vast cathedrals strung along the route. The plateau of the country, formed of what the pioneers called "joint clay," seemed to stand up in columns, joined closely together. The wind and storms of centuries had worn the plateau in places in to the most beautiful and fantastic shapes, and we could see everything depicted in the outlines of these hills and bluffs that could be seen along the Rhine or amid the ruins of Europe. The weather was most delightful. A haze hung over the whole country, the mirage was in front of us, and ever surrounding the foot of these worn rains were lakes and moats of water. We saw wild sheep sporting on Scott's Bluffs. We saw a lot of deer on Alcohol Butte, which was separate from the Bluffs at no great distance. We camped three miles east of Ficklin's, on the river, and in front of Alcohol Butte. We were apparently near the base of Chimney Rock, but were in fact some distance from it. We had marched this day about forty miles. The story about Alcohol Butte was that some half-breeds had "cached" some alcohol there to be used in making up "pilgrim whisky," and that the wolves dug it out.
Upon September 2, 1864, we got up as usual at about 3 o'clock, and started at 4:15. The names of all the hills and objects along the river had been named long before by the army officers, pioneers and trappers, and Charles Elston, our guide upon this occasion, told us the names as we passed by.
Chimney Rock, on the North Platte.
Most of the names had some tradition connected with them. When we started in the morning Chimney Rock was apparently quite near us, but we were two and a half hours reaching it. The air was so clear that the distance was very deceptive. Off to the south we saw lots of deer, and great droves of antelopes, and an occasional wolf. Our dogs jumped up rabbits from time to time near the highway, but we kept on without stopping for anything, General Mitchell being in a hurry. He was going down with us.
Of Chimney Rock we talked considerable, and it was the general opinion of all at that time, making the best calculations we could make, because we could not climb it, that Chimney Rock was three hundred feet above the bed of the river. We estimated the height of the chimney itself to be eighty-five feet. Elston said that it was the belief of the trappers that during the last fifteen years it had crumbled down from the top about thirty-five feet. The chimney was of a square appearance, and we estimated it to be thirty by fifty feet through. It is situated three miles from the river and a third of a mile from the main bluff. The grand plateau back of it was projected out into a peninsula, which threw a bold headland towards the river. A vertical view of this headland from above it would make it look something like a written letter I, and the Chimney Rock was the dot above the "I" like this:
OUTLINE OF BLUFF, CHIMNEY ROCK; ALCOHOL BUTTE; SCOTT'S BLUFFS.
The road is marked by dotted line, and on the right of the picture runs through
the gap in Scott's Bluffs. Next is Alcohol Butte.
Chimney Rock had at one time been the terminus of this projected headland, but had been worn away from it so that it stood out alone as a conspicuous feature of the landscape. It is nothing but clay, but it can be seen plainly from Scott's Bluffs, coming east. It is visible fully twenty miles, and when first seen it emerges from the atmosphere which has shrouded it. The trappers said that it could be faintly seen several miles west of Scott's Bluffs, coming east, which would make it visible twenty-four or twenty-five miles. It is first seen going west, from the summit of the hill a mile and a half southeast of Mud Springs.
Court House Rock is first seen from the west five miles west of Chimney Rock, being twenty-three miles distant. As that country down the valley is quite level, to make an object visible at twenty-three miles it must be nearly three hundred and fifty feet high. We marched on down, and halted at Punkin Creek, two miles from Court House Rock. I have already described Court House Rock. I do not remember of a march that was so thrilling and entertaining as the march down from Laramie. Everything was so absolutely wild. There was nothing there but nature as originally created. The scenery was the handiwork of the Almighty, and a man as he rode along knew that he, the man, was the master of the situation, and that the whole business belonged to the Almighty and him. The men in the ranks enjoyed it as much as anyone. They thought they were leaving it for good, and they drank in the scenery and the situation as if it were champagne.
Court House Rock, on the North Platte.
Any private citizen could then, if he wanted to, come and settle where he pleased, could fence up all the land he pleased, take everything which he saw in sight, and be a king, providing some wild beast or wild Indian or wild white man did not seek to kill him, which they probably would in short order. But these hostile forces were nowhere to be seen. I asked General Mitchell what he would give for ten miles square amid that beautiful scenery, and he said: "All I could do would be to look at it. I have now looked at it. I would not give a dollar for a hundred square miles of it. It is of no use to anybody but animals and Indians, and no white man can live here unless he becomes both an animal and an Indian." There was no help from concurring in his views as we looked over the scenery. It was good for nothing but to look at. None of us ever dreamed that it could ever be cultivated or settled up, or become the home of white people, and made up into townships and counties and organized society. The very idea would have seemed preposterous. We were from humid lands, and here everything was a beautiful desert. Near Ficklin was a large cold spring. There were occasional cold springs in the country, but to us they were only phenomena. They prophesied nothing of the hereafter.
A short distance up from Court House Rock along the river stood a round-top butte which was called "Rankin's Dome Rock." It is about the same size of Court House Rock, which is about four hundred feet above the river. Shortly back of the Dome Rock come the outlines of the bluffs through which the river runs. Both Court House Rock and the Dome Rock are in slight bends of the river. Eight miles east of Chimney Rock is the junction where the old California Crossing road through Ash Hollow comes up the Platte. This was the route of travel until Jules, as stated, wanted to start a new and profitable ranch at Julesburg, and being an old mountaineer laid out the Pole Creek road and cut-off, taking the road past his ranch and within two miles of Court House Rock.
It is eight miles from Court House Rock easterly to Mud Springs. Half-way between is Punkin Creek, a prong of Lawrence Fork, which was dry where we crossed it, but it had plenty of water higher up, also some splendid grazing bottom-land where large herds of deer, elk and antelope could always be found. Mud Springs was a splendid watering-place, but without good grazing near it. Here was where another telegraph station had been planted. Lieutenant Ellsworth of Co. H of Eleventh Ohio, above referred to, had been made superintendent of telegraph lines, and he came down with us to this point. He was the one who told us that Captain Shuman posted pickets on Scott's Bluffs, and kept a picket stationed there always alert, and from that picket station on Scott's Bluffs, Laramie Peak, over one hundred and twenty miles distant in the west, could be plainly seen.
The table of distances which Elston gave, at that time, was as follows: Fort Laramie to Horse Creek, forty-two miles; Laramie to Scott's Bluffs, fifty-eight miles; Scott's Bluffs to Ficklin, nine miles; Scott's Bluffs to Chimney Rock, twenty miles; Scott's Bluffs to Court House Rock, thirty-eight miles; Scott's Bluffs to Mud Springs, forty-six miles.
Scott's Bluffs, as seen at a distance of 25 miles.
Lieutenant Ellsworth gave the telegraph distances, that is by the wire, as follows: Laramie to Ficklin, sixty-five miles; Ficklin to Mud Springs, forty miles, making a distance of one hundred and five miles, while by the road given by Elston it was one hundred and four miles. These distances were the approximations of various methods of measurement. Elston said that the difference arose in this way; that from Laramie to Ficklin the telegraph line was a little shorter than the highway, but that from Ficklin to Mud Springs it was longer.
At Mud Springs we reported by wire to Major Wood. On this day we marched from three miles east of Ficklin to Mud Springs, being thirty-seven miles. On September 3, 1864, we started early in the morning, and ascended the Bluffs to make the trip across to Pole Creek over "Jules Stretch." The sight northwest was as beautiful as ever. Court House Rock, over twenty-six miles distant, seemed close at hand, and Scott's Bluffs, over forty-six miles distant, were plainly in view. We had watered our horses all they would drink, before we started across. When we reached Pole Creek our horses were very thirsty; the men were not so much so, because they had filled their canteens, and most of the soldiers on the road poured water from their canteens into their hats and gave the horses drink, dividing water with them.
The horses would drink every drop of water out of the bottom of the hat, and then lick the inside of the hat. We reached Pole Creek, and that night camped seven miles below the crossing, which made twenty-eight miles from Julesburg. Antelope were seen by thousands upon thousands in the Lodgepole valley. The plains were literally alive with them. Upon the evening of September 4th we arrived at Julesburg. On the whole trip from Laramie to Julesburg we had not seen a single Indian. Our guide, Elston, and I myself with my field-glass, kept a constant lookout. We saw two or three smoke signals on each side of the Platte, but coming down Lodgepole there was never a signal of any kind; and at night no fire-arrows went up, -- so we came to the conclusion that the Cheyennes were all far south, and the Sioux had all gone far to the north. Yet, nevertheless, we never met a traveler nor a team nor a train on the entire march from Laramie down to Julesburg, a distance of 175 miles, which we made in five days, averaging 35 miles per day. The country was absolutely deserted by both Indians and white men.
We camped near the river at Julesburg station, and the men put up their "pup tents," as they were called, and slept under them. We had no regular tents, but only the little canvas sheet that had been invented during the war, and was called a "shelter tent." It was just long enough for a man, and wide enough for two, and stood from eighteen inches to two feet high according to the way the soldier put it up. We stretched our picket-rope between our company wagons, and the boys spread their pup tents wherever they wanted to, without any order or regularity, and, quite tired from the long and rapid ride, they went to sleep and rest. We found quite a collection of people at Julesburg station. They had fortified, and the road was being patrolled by soldiers from both ways. The Colorado soldiers patrolled down to Julesburg and our regiment patrolled from the east up the river that far, and brought through little trains consisting of rapid traveling horses or mule wagons, and stages; but there was no traveling either way on the road, owing to the lateness of the season, by "bull trains." It was too late for oxen to come up from the Missouri River, and it was too late for them to have started back, so that the road was practically clear of the usual freighting trains; but horse trains and mule trains going rapidly under escort were passing almost daily to Denver.
While we had been up at Fort Laramie, there had been great inroads made upon the ranches along the line between Kearney and Cottonwood. Many ranchmen and freighters had been killed, several ranches destroyed, many horses and cattle run off, and a great deal of destruction done in the Platte valley, but it was all east of us, none of it along the line where we then were, but everybody was prepared to resist Indians. Nobody was particularly afraid of them when in a ranch or doby house, or wherever gathered together in squads of armed men. But, nevertheless, there were no white men going out to trade with the Indians, nor were they hunting out in the hills or trapping along the rivers and streams. On the contrary, they were all bunched together in little nuclei along the river, and going from place to place, when they went anywhere, with an escort. But around Julesburg at that time there had been no indications of Indians, and it was believed that the Indians who had inhabited that portion of the country were far off, either to the north or south, and either afraid or without a desire to make any attack in the neighborhood of Julesburg. But this all changed.