Julesburg - Wood - Ash Hollow - September 7, 1864 - Wolf and Bacon - The Shooting Star - Bancroft Ranch - Building-sod - Paid Off - Doctor Nosely - Thrown from Horse - Bugler
AT THIS time the telegraph station at Julesburg was in good working order, and there were two operators. General Mitchell had gone down the road, and was inspecting different points with a view to the distribution of cavalry troops. We were told to scout the country around Julesburg, and keep advised as to the presence of Indians. So details were made that went out daily in different directions to the south, from which at that time the trouble was apprehended. The Cheyennes were singing war-songs in their camps, and were "making medicine" as it was called; that is to say, getting ready for a military campaign. It was difficult for us to get information, but we got it from time to time through half-breed Indians. We had the guide Charley Elston with us. We were told that we would have to stay at Julesburg over the winter, and that some arrangement would have to be made for winter quarters.
The first thing we had to do was to get some wood for cooking. We had been using "bull-chips," and the boys had not had much cooked food. Captain O'Brien directed me to take the company wagons and an escort, and go for wood. There were no cedar canyons, and no trees anywhere in the neighborhood of Julesburg. The nearest point at which there was anything like a tree was over at Ash Hollow, and that was a day's march to the northeast, on the North Platte. The Captain was a little fearful that Indians might be found over in that neighborhood, and he suggested that I should take the two company wagons and a couple of idle freight wagons that were at the Julesburg station. These were mule teams, and he directed that I take along one of the twelve-pound howitzers, and an escort of thirty men.
Ash Hollow was a very rough piece of land; it was a wide gulch with a dry arroyo running from the south nearly north, into the North Platte River. The distance in a straight line was about thirty miles from Julesburg to the North Platte at Ash Hollow, but it was some little of a detour to get up onto the plateau, and down again to the North Platte, making the road about thirty-five miles. There were no roads in the country, and Elston, the guide, gave me the best of his information in regard to the direction, and very accurate, too, it was. He said that the mouth of Ash Hollow was ten miles east, and about twenty-five miles north; and he stood facing the north, and pointed the direction in which he believed it was, and I may say he pointed it out exactly as it was.
Bright and early in the morning of September 7, 1864, I started, and with four teams, picket-rope, howitzer, and provisions, taking the boxes off the wagons, and driving with only the running-gear, I started as nearly as I could direct in the line, crossing South Platte, going a little up the east valley of Pole Creek, and bearing off to the right so as to go through the hills. There was a sort of knob on the east side at the junction of the two valleys of Pole Creek and South Platte. We went around to north and west of this mound. It occurred to me that I would ride up to the top of this knob, which was a very conspicuous lookout, and see what sort of a place it was. When I got up there I found the top of it covered with water-washed gravel, some of it very large pebbles, and others smaller, as if at one time the river or the creek had washed over it, and it had been a stream-bed. I found a pile of "chips," and little light stuff that had been used in the making of a fire, and I found indications that the Indians had been there recently. This gave me an impression, for I saw that it was a signal station for the Indians, with preparations for use.
From there I struck out in a straight line for Ash Hollow. There was hardly an object upon which I could fix my course, but with a little attention I made the line practically straight. When I was well over on the plateau I came across a depression in which there were several acres of mud and a little water, and all around it were horse-tracks; some of them were recent. Shortly afterwards, not knowing but what these might be signs of Indians, I sent one of the boys on ahead, and he said that he saw at a great distance a horse without a rider. Afterwards I was told by Elston that this shallow pond was a place where the wild horses congregated, and I think that must have been the truth, although we saw no wild horses. There were also tracks of wolves and antelope and rabbits, in the mud.
We had gotten a good early start. We stopped at one place and let the horses rest, and pick up what they could of the dried buffalo-grass, and then pushed ahead. We struck the upper breaks of Ash Hollow, and the sun was nearly setting. We went down upon an old piece of trail which was badly washed out, and saw trees scattered on both sides of the Hollow -- an excellent place for ambuscades. We drove the wagons two abreast, and the men were deployed all out to the right and left, so that we might not run into an ambush. I went with a bugler in the advance, and we finally emerged out on the plain of the North Platte with a great deal of relief, and went clear out far from the hills, so that we could not be troubled.
We had cut some branches to be used for wood, and, putting the wagons together in a quadrangle, stretched the picket-ropes around on the inside, and were about ready to start to cook supper when one of the boys said he saw a fire-arrow go up from the bluff on the north side of the river. This worried us, and I was not sure that we ought to build a fire; it was best not to attract attention. But finally we dug a pit down in a little washed-out hollow, and by spreading blankets around, and making a sort of canopy, we made a fire and cooked some coffee. We always carried a pick and spade for the purpose of making our road, if needed, and we got our supper cooked without having a visible fire, but we had camped some little distance off upon a flat that had no deep ditches or arroyos near it. Then the men, leading their horses, grazed them around for a couple of hours, then fed them a quart of corn apiece which we had brought along, and got the horses all inside of the quadrangle after dark. We then put out four pickets extended from the corners, with instructions not to fire under any circumstances unless in self-defense, but to come in on the first apprehension. I was only a little over twenty-three years of age, and felt the responsibility heavily.
Coming down Ash Hollow we saw a great number of deer, and in the valley were a great number of antelope, and wolves without limit. As each wolf can make as much noise as ten wolves ought to make, the chorus, after dark, began. It must have been after ten o'clock before we rolled up in our blankets. Each man had his saddle-blanket and accouterments all in a pile by itself, and the horses were on the inside of our extemporized corral. We fixed it so that each man would know where he was to go in case of an alarm, and we went to sleep pretty close to each other. I slept on the outer line, about twenty feet from my men.
About the time that we were going to sleep, one of the boys who happened to look in a certain direction, thought he saw a fire-arrow go up on the south side of the river, which was the side we were on. None of the others had seen it, but it was something that we could not take chances on, so I ordered the men all to get up and saddle their horses, but not to buckle the girths very tight, so that if we had time we could tighten them, and put on the bridles in case we needed our horses. Each man was to sleep with his bridle and his carbine under his head. I also saddled my own horse. In order to get a pillow, not having a saddle, I went and got a sack of bacon. The bacon had been cut in slabs about eight inches wide, two of them put together, and covered with gunny-sacking. I made up my mind that I would not sleep very heavily, and told the sentinels to come in and notify me of anything which might appear suspicious. So I put my head on this sack of bacon with my blanket over me, and put in my time looking at the stars and listening to the wolves. They kept up the wildest chorus that I ever heard. It seemed as if there were a million around us. I tried to see if I could ascertain whether any of the voices were Indians instead of wolves. The men had all gone to sleep, and I was studying up all the various things I might do or could do, or ought to do, in case an attack came from this side or that side, and indeed I was working my brain very actively, when all at once out from under my head went the bacon. I jumped up in a second, There was a wolf backing over the grass, pulling that sack of bacon, and making a sort of low growl. I did not dare to shoot him, and he was making small headway with the bacon. But I got my saber out, and made a pass at him without hitting him. He finally let go of the bacon, and lapsed back into the darkness. I then saw that the wolves were very hungry, and that the pillow which I had was not a very secure one. I went to the wagons, and put this bacon upon the rear running-gear of the wagon, and got part of a sack of corn. I was afraid that the wolves would make an attack on the mules and horses. Every once in a while a sort of dusky blur would whisk past the wagons, and as I wanted to keep awake anyhow so as to give the men a good sleep, for they had a big day's work to do, I from time to time, with my drawn saber, walked around the wagons, so as to be sure that the gang of wolves did not pitch onto some animal and have a feast. When morning came I was very tired and sleepy, but felt better after I had drunk a quart of hot coffee.
We then drove the wagons up Ash Hollow, put out pickets, and started cutting and loading the wood. It was a kind of cedar. I really don't now remember whether it was the piëon pine or whether it was cedar. The trunks were thick at the base, short and bushy, and hard to cut. But the men worked hard, and reinforced each other, and the pickets came in, and were relieved, and took turns, and in the afternoon about three o'clock we had as much on the wagons as could be safely loaded to get out of the gulch with. We then left them standing, and took all the mules and horses and everything down to the river, grazed the horses, cooked supper, and went back so as to get out of the gulch before it was too dark. Along in the afternoon a smoke signal was plainly seen to go up from the bluffs on the North Platte. We came from the river, hitched up the teams, and started to get out of the gulch. We deployed in a sort of circle. We went slowly, for the teams had to keep together. In some places we had to unhitch the animals from one wagon, and double team, to get up steep grades. But we kept at work with it, and by ten o'clock at night we were up on the plateau; but the men were very tired.
We parked the wagons together in quadrangular shape, took the saddles off from the horses because we now had wagon-loads of wood to fight behind if necessary, and we were not in any wise afraid that we could be taken in. We put out four sentinels at a considerable distance from the wagons, and one of them came in, saying he had seen a fire-arrow go up southwest of us. This was in the direction of Julesburg. It happened this time that I was looking in that direction; it was the apprehension of the soldier; what he really saw was a shooting star. The next morning we followed our road back, gave the horses a little of the dirty water that we could find at what we called Horse Lake, and got into Julesburg late that night. The boys chopped up the wood, saving every little splinter of it, dug holes in the ground, cooked coffee and bacon, and got a good square meal, which was the first one that they had had for a long while. In fact, the boys had not had a good square meal since we had left Laramie on the evening of August 31st, and it was now about the 10th of September. I told Captain O'Brien the wolf story; be just hooted at it, and I had to bring up one of the boys to prove it to him.
About a mile west of Julesburg station, and almost exactly south of the mouth of Lodgepole, a man had started a ranch which had been almost completed during peaceful times. He had an adobe house one story high, an adobe store-room, and a sod corral not entirely finished. The man's name was Samuel D. Bancroft. A fine well had been dug in front, and was curbed up; it yielded very good water. The road led straight past the house. There was also a stock well in the rear. We were ordered by telegraph to make a fortification, and prepare to hold the place at any odds. The weather was getting chilly, and we came to the conclusion that we could not get a fort built in time for the cold weather, and by aid of the telegraph, we got permission to negotiate for Bancroft's ranch. Captain O'Brien carried on the negotiations; we got a provisional agreement, and went immediately to work on the ranch to enlarge and strengthen everything. There was a large sod-plow at the station, which had been much used. Our blacksmith took the share of the plow, drew it out wide and thin, and proceeded to harden it very hard all through. We put the company mules onto this plow, and, going down into the bottoms where the sod was tough and fibrous, we began to plow it in slices twelve inches wide. The tangled grassroots that had been forming for centuries were tough as felt, and we had to plow at least six inches deep in many places to get under them. The way we worked was systematized as follows: A soldier rode the front team of mules to the plow. We had about five spans of mules. Another man held the plow, and another with a gad kept the mules almost on the trot. The furrows were long, and the slices were thrown up over-lappingly. Men came behind with broadaxes, and, guessing at a three-foot length, chopped down through with a blow onto the furrow-slices. Men and teams followed, who hauled this sod up to the Bancroft Ranch, and others there laid it up as fast as it came, while others were puddling mud to make a mortar junction. The sod was laid up, breaking joints, and there were alternate running and cross layers, and it was rammed down as fast as laid. There was lots to do, and everybody worked well. Bancroft continued to occupy one of the houses, and let us go ahead and build, but he would not surrender complete possession until he got a Government voucher. Captain O'Brien and I went into one of the houses, and Bancroft in the other.
By telegraph we got a lot of cedar poles cut down at Cottonwood Canyon, and the post wagons there brought us up a lot under escort. There was nothing growing along the Platte of much consequence. The statement used to be that one could not get a riding-switch for seventy miles on each side of Julesburg along the Platte. It was thirty miles south of Julesburg to what was called the White Man's Fork of the Republican River, but it was seventy miles, nearly, to the Republican River. Pioneers had said that there was nothing on White Man's Fork and nothing until we went seventy miles to the Republican, and there only cottonwoods.
Inside of the corral we started to build our stables, and company quarters; the rear of the company quarters was the sod wall around the outside of the place. These we divided into rooms. On following page is a plan of the post as we established it.
Bancroft, during the summer, had cut down a great quantity of grass, on the north side of the river, and raked it up for the purpose of selling to the pilgrims, but he had been disturbed, and could with difficulty get assistance. He still had the grass, and was fearful that a prairie-fire at any time would sweep the country. We hauled up and piled the hay on the inside of our inclosure, and we set the mowing-machine at work upon the grass that now remained. There was plenty of it, but it was somewhat frosted, and dry. We continued however, to cut that grass so as to carry us through the winter, and it was brought up and stacked inside of our fort.
Down at Julesburg station was a great quantity of shelled corn. There had been an intention of trying to put the stages to running on the Salt Lake trail, in which event a large amount of shelled corn would be necessary. So there were stored at Julesburg station many thousand bushels of shelled corn. As the stage line on the Salt Lake trail was not yet restored, via Fort Laramie, we confiscated and took what we wanted, giving vouchers for it, which were honored and paid by the Government; so that we had hay and corn for our horses.
On the 15th of September 1864, we were busy at work, as busy as bees, when, under an escort, along came Major Fillmore of the army, and paid us off. We had not been paid since back in the spring sometime, and there was no money left in the company. The boys were in the habit of lending to each other, so that the members of the company always went broke about the same time. Now that Major Fillmore had paid us up the boys felt better, but there was nothing they could buy. All that they could do with their money was to play cards for it or send it home. Those who wanted to send home money notified us, and the money was put in separate envelopes and duly sealed, for we had plenty of sealing-wax, and I wrote my name across the back of the envelopes as a witness to the amount which was put in. After all the money which the boys desired to send home had been fixed up, Lieutenant Brewer waited until a train and escort were going down, and he took the money down as far as Fort Kearney, where it could be safely turned over to a responsible express company.
It is interesting to note, as illustrating the conditions of the times, that there were issued to us, as a company, so many quills for pens, and so much red sealing-wax, and so much tape, as stationery supplies for the company. No mucilage was issued, because that had not yet become a matter of scientific manufacture, but the druggist sold gum-arabic in the cities; and as for us, we made boiled paste from flour. Our muster-rolls used to come in sections, and we boiled the flour, pasted them together, and then with some smooth piece of hot iron, would iron down the junction smooth; we had no difficulty.
There was but very little sickness in our company. There were sick civilians from time to time who needed attention, and our application for a post surgeon was granted.
There was sent to our post a doctor named Wisely. My recollection is that he came down from Denver to us, but the first thing I knew of him he appeared at the post, and went directly to work on some of the sick who were there, and he was a very satisfactory doctor. His title was Acting Assistant Surgeon. He was thoroughly and loyally devoted to his profession, didn't know anything or talk anything but medicine and surgery, stayed with the boys carefully and attentively, drank no whisky, played no cards, and was in fact as satisfactory an army surgeon as I ever saw. He had a peculiar face. His nose was the most grotesque and disproportionate nose that I ever saw on a man. It was more than a nose -- it was a combination of beak and snout. The boys, quickly catching onto these things, started to speak of him as Dr. Snout; but Dr. Wisely would have received no permanent nickname had not one of the boys one day called him Dr. Nosely. This appellation stuck. The Doctor received it good-naturedly, and we always after that called Dr. Wisely, "Dr. Nosely."
Our dogs here were a great benefit to us, and much society. Captain O'Brien ever and anon would direct me to go over into the hills with my field-glass, and see what I could see. The Captain was wide awake, and always on the alert. His natural mental and physical activity were so reinforced by nature that he had to be doing something or saying something at all times, and this made him so exceedingly valuable as an army officer. The Captain desired himself to get acquainted with all the lay of the country south of us, and desired that I also should; so I frequently, after the work of the day was almost over, say a couple of hours before dark, would whistle up the dogs and run my horse over into the hills. I could make a good deal of a reconnoissance in a couple of hours. The wolves were exceedingly plenty, and we could always find one. These reconnaissances were generally accompanied by a wolf-hunt; that is, the dogs would go after a wolf, and if they went in anywhere near the direction I desired to go, I followed them a reasonable distance. The ground rolled considerably, and the plateau was a good deal broken.
On one of these occasions after I had got about four miles south of the post, seeing nothing and starting west, the dogs jumped up a wolf which I kept up with, my horse going at full speed. Going down an incline at a rapid gait, my horse stepped into something where there had been an old hole. He was going as fast as he could run. He about turned a somersault and when I gathered myself up I felt as if I were all broken to pieces. I was stunned. In a few minutes I was able to sit up. My horse was much strained, and stood still. I began to feel of myself all over to see whether I had broken any bones. I could with difficulty get my breath, and things were in a good deal of a whirl. I sat there as much as ten minutes, collecting myself together. I saw the fresh-made dirt where the horse had stepped. I finally made up my mind that although I had bounded and rolled considerably, I was still intact. I marked the place where I was sitting, and got up and with some degree of pain and effort, was able to walk to my horse, and I made an examination of him. In the meantime the dogs and wolf were out of sight. I walked around and led the horse, and came to the conclusion that he was pretty badly shaken up, but had no broken bones. I then measured the distance from where I had landed, back to the hole. It was thirty-two feet. I walked slowly, leading my horse back towards the post. He limped some little, and I finally succeeded in mounting him and we went back to the post slowly, leaving the dogs to take care of themselves. I was a week getting over it. The prairie-dogs would dig holes; then the badgers would dig down and eat the prairie-dogs; and then the wolves would dig out the badgers, and leave dangerous holes.
The Captain, when he made his explorations, generally killed a wolf, and he often got an antelope. We could get an antelope with our dogs almost any day if we took the time. In the breaks among the hills we often lost a wolf on account of the fact that a wolf would disappear over a ridge, and by making a flank movement would get out of sight, and stay out of sight of the dogs. We acquired a tramp dog that some one had lost. He was a genuine Virginia stag-hound. He ran by smell and not by sight, and he would go along the trail yelping at every jump. We called him "Bugler No. 2." We had lost "Bugler No. 1." The greyhounds ran by sight, and when the wolf eluded their sight they stopped, and were unable to proceed in the right direction. They could outrun Bugler, so he followed in the rear yelping, and if at any time the dogs were puzzled Bugler would follow right off on the trail, and lead the other dogs to the point where they could see the wolf. Then they would dash on ahead, and if they could keep sight of the wolf they could catch him; and if they lost him again Bugler would find him again, so that "Bugler No. 2" became as valuable an addition to our pack as was his predecessor.