Christmas, 1864 - The Two Bandits - The Midnight Raid - The Midnight Parley - The Return to Quarters - My New Orderly - My New Pony - An Arapahoe War Pony - An Indian Captive - The Orderly's Story - High Prices - Idaho Territory
ON DECEMBER 20, 1864, the report came that Thomas had whipped Hood down in Tennessee; so we had a celebration again, in which we fired off our cannon at a target, and thus gained experience in target exercise as well as venting our enthusiasm.
In the course of the proceedings, the work, the scouting and the escort duty, we had lost the use of ten or a dozen of our horses, and there had been sent to Cottonwood Springs a lot of horses for the cavalry service. They had been placed there in the corral subject to assignment by the Quartermaster. So, after we had a big Christmas celebration, the Captain went down to Cottonwood to see if he couldn't get horses enough for a full remount. Our Christmas at Julesburg was quite an affair. We had dress parade, fired off the howitzers at a target, cooked the best beef we could find in the herd, and everybody wrote letters home. But some of the men got boisterously drunk, and on inspection I found out the cause of it.
A man had come in, and about a mile below Julesburg, which itself was a mile below our post, had repaired up and rebuilt and put in shape a two-room sad house, and be had been running a whisky establishment patronized by pilgrims in the first room, and a poker establishment in the rear room. He had been afraid to sell any whisky to the soldiers, and he had not been discovered. But shortly before Christmas he had been joined by another bandit, and they had begun selling whisky to the soldiers, and cheating them out of their money playing poker in the back room. This went on for two or three days, until the first thing that I knew there had been a lot of my men down there, having a row with a lot of pilgrims, and having a shooting-match with these two proprietors, who needed killing as badly as any two men on the Platte river.
The next thing that I heard was that these two bandits had attempted to kill and rob one of my men, had cheated a lot of them out of their money, and that there was a posse of my company going down to kill them both. I could hardly believe the stories that were told me privately by the non-commissioned officers, and by some of the men who knew all about the proposed plan. It was given to me one afternoon between Christmas and New Year's that some of the boys in the company were going to go down and lynch those two ranchmen (as they called themselves). Finally, I heard that it was to be the night of the 29th. Captain O'Brien and First Lieutenant Brewer, the Quartermaster, had both gone to Cottonwood Springs as stated, to make requisition and receipt for horses, and I was left all alone, and I was told that night they were going to lynch those two men, sure, and that both of them were Rebel deserters.
Nobody seemed to understand the extent of the plot, nor how many there were in it, but from what I could learn, all the toughest characters in my company had, by a sort of Masonic secrecy, planned to work together. That evening at roll-call, while the men were all drawn up in line, I told them that there had been rumors that some of them were going out of the camp that night, and were going to commit some depredations. I told them that if that should take place, and any citizen would be killed, that it would result in my being dismissed from the service as being unable to command my company; that I did not intend to be dismissed from the service; that I did not intend to let anybody go down the road, and commit any impropriety. And I told them that in view of the fact I would change the guard somewhat tonight, and there would be a little stronger detail than before.
After the company disbanded the orderly sergeant came to me, and told me that he believed the whole matter had been abandoned, and that there would be no trouble. But I was fearful of it, and while I did not think that there should be any real reason why I should prevent the two bandits being lynched, I knew that I could never explain it, and that it was my military duty to see that it did not happen.
I selected particular camp guards for that night, and put them outside of the post, one on each of the four sides. Before the guards were set, I called them into my headquarters and told them that I expected that there would be some men start out to commit some devilment that night below the station. I told them that I wanted them to keep close guard that the men did not run past in bulk or did not slip out one by one, and join themselves together down the road. I also told the corporal of the guard that I wanted him to report to me every thirty minutes. Along about eleven o'clock the corporal of the guard came to me and told me that two men certainly had slipped out during the night, and had been seen. I immediately called my orderly, and had him saddle up my black pony, of which I will speak more hereafter. I immediately went into the barracks to see how many of the men were on hand, and I found ten of them gone. I had the pony tied up in front of the office while I got my carbine and revolver loaded with some cartridges, and a pocketful of crackers to eat.
Just as I had got about ready to start, the corporal of the guard came in, and said that there was about a dozen more of the boys that had run the guards. So I got onto my pony, and not desiring to give them any clue to my coming, I rode out in a big circle on the prairie as fast as I could go, so as to get ahead of them. It was a long ride. Coming down to about a hundred yards of Julesburg station, I got down to the ground, and in the darkness I heard and dimly saw a large squad of the men walking on down at a route step towards me. I had got in ahead of them in the dark.
I rode up towards them until I got within about two hundred feet of them, and I cried "Halt!" and dismounted from my pony, and raised my carbine. They huddled together, and came more slowly. Finally I again ordered them to halt, and told them that I wanted them to stay halted until they heard what I had to say. They halted in silence. I told them that I knew what they were after; that it was a crime which they proposed to commit; that they had no right to kill Rebels that way; that if I permitted it I would be unfit to command the company; that I didn't propose to let them go any farther; that I would shoot the first man that got up near enough for me to draw a bead on him; that if they started to run around me, I would get as many of them as I could with my carbine; that I wanted them to stay together; that I wanted them to turn about right face and march back to the post. They remained still, and commenced whispering to each other. I then threw the bridle-rein around my pony's neck, gave him a kick, and off he started back to the post. I then told them that I was going to march them back to the post. I heard a revolver click, and then I clicked my carbine, brought it up to my eye, pointed it in the midst; they were about forty feet from me. I said, "You cannot shoot so quickly that I cannot get one of you. Now make up your minds to go back, because there is where you are going. There is no hurry about it; take plenty of time, but decide it right. You are not going a foot farther down the river tonight." I held the carbine up to my eye; I pointed at the group, and I kept holding it. It seemed a long while. I knew the men could make a rush, but they could not keep me from shooting at least one of them, and as I had two revolvers in my belt, both of them cocked, I knew that I was as safe as any of them. I knew that if they had time they would come to the right conclusion. They did not want to hurt me. Finally, after a very long pause, I beard one of them say, "Well, let's go back," and they began turning around, and starting back. I followed them, and I said, "Quick time-march," and the speed became more rapid. Finally I said, after we had gone a while, "Double-quick-march," and they all started off on the run. And they ran away from me for the reason, which I did not think of, that they wanted to get up into the post, and perhaps far enough ahead of me to evade identification. I was weighted down so with lunch, overcoat, revolvers, carbine and ammunition, that I could not keep up, and they got ahead of me. The sentinel ordered them to stop, but they ran right over him, and he, disinclined to kill any of his comrades, let them go. My pony had come back to the post.
It was between one and two o'clock in the morning, and as bleak a December midnight as I ever saw. I sat up in my headquarters, not knowing whether they would attempt anything further or not, but determined to stay wide awake until morning.
After about an hour, say about three o'clock, one of the sergeants came in to me and said, "Those men who came back agreed among themselves, that they would come back, that then they would start out again, so you are liable to have a repetition before morning." I went out to the barracks, and I found them all awake. Everybody was sitting up, and the performances of the evening were being discussed. And I went in with my two revolvers buckled on, and told them that if anybody now started out to commit any depredation that they would know that I ordered them to stay in the barracks, and if anything was done I would have the offender court-martialed, and shot; that I thought I would have sufficient influence with the General commanding to have a man who would willfully disobey an order of that kind, shot, providing I couldn't do it myself, and that I would stay around until morning to see that no depredations were committed. I further said that I expected the support of all the honest and loyal soldiers in the company; that whisky was at the bottom of it all, and I thought perhaps by this time the effects of it had been worn off, and that I wanted all the members of the company to return to their duties and obligations; that we were soon going to have an Indian campaign, and I wanted my company to distinguish itself, and I did not want them to have a reputation in advance which would not commend it to the good wishes of the commanding officers of the district.
Matters finally sort of died down, but I went out to talk with the sentinels myself every thirty minutes, and when morning came the thing was a memory. But the occasion and circumstance of my being out on that wild prairie that black night has always been a weird recollection. Before thirty days were over many of the men were in their graves. The two ranchmen disappeared. I tried to get them, but failed by reason of their timely flight.
A word here in extenuation of the conduct of my men. The two ranchmen ought to have been killed. I tried to get them next morning so as to put them under guard, and do something with them, but they had fled. My men under the influence of such vile whisky felt like doing anything. The men only got into those conditions spasmodically and at long intervals. They always meant well and never dodged work, exposure, or danger. As a whole they were a likeable lot, and their transgressions were as few as their service was hard, lonesome and bitter. I pretended never to know who were in this trouble and I never had any with the company afterwards. It grieved me at the time, but I soon got over it, and forgot it.
Having told about my pony on the evening alluded to, it occurs to me that I ought to say something about that pony. Sometime during November the young man, a citizen, whom I had been employing to take care of my horses, and whose position was that of an "orderly," as it was called, desired to go back to the "States." While waiting for a train and a proper occasion, he communicated his intention to me, and a young fellow about nineteen came and applied for his job. He did not have much to say. I asked him if he was acquainted with the care of horses, and he said that he was. Then I asked him if he could stand the climate, and the disagreeable conditions of military service, and he said he thought he could; and I employed him. The Government issued rations to an orderly and the two horses that a lieutenant had. I paid an orderly $20 a month, and he got his rations from the Government, and all he had to do was to provide his own clothes and do the work.
I always rode my black horse "Old Bill," and I turned over to my new orderly the other one, which had got into bad condition, and told him to bring the horse up to a better efficiency. My orderly went to work, and was a very satisfactory boy, quite taciturn, saying nothing, but keeping busy all the time, and I formed a good opinion of him, and so did those around me. He never said anything, however, to me, and was very silent, and lonesome. One day when there was quite a congregation of pilgrims going down the road he came to me and told me that he could trade my sorrel horse for a mighty good Indian pony, provided I could pay a little to boot, and I concluded to see what the trade might be. I told him to bring the man in, and he came. He was a strange-looking, impudent fellow, with a mustache like a cat's. He had about six bristles on each side that stuck out straight. He said that he wanted to go back to the "States," and he wanted a horse to ride, and he wanted $25 to pay his expenses. He said that he had been trading with the Arapahoe Indians, and that the pony which he offered to trade to me was the best war pony in the Arapahoe nation. He had got the pony, trained it, and it could run well and trot well, and could endure any amount of trial and tribulation that might be required of it. I took a look at the pony. It was jet black all over, with a roached mane. As it compared exactly in color with "Old Bill," I concluded to swap horses, and pay the man $25, and he went off on down the road.
At the same time that my orderly was employed, a young man named Pierce joined the company. I will speak of him further on. He and my orderly seemed to have been sort of chums at the time.
Concerning the black pony, I may say that it turned out to be one of the finest animals I ever saw. It was as fleet as the wind. It could run all day, and was the most useful little animal imaginable. It had always been a pet, and had a disposition like a Newfoundland dog. I became very much attached to it, and it would follow me around, come at call, was very bridle-wise, and never got ugly. I may anticipate my story a little bit by saying that I kept him until after I got to Fort Leavenworth, and an officer of the regular army got attached to him, and persuaded me to let him have the pony for $400.
Returning to my new "orderly," who afterwards turned out pretty bad, as we will see, and whose name I will withhold, I found him one day talking Sioux to Elston, the guide. I asked Elston if the boy was talking Indian, and Elston said, "Yes, and he talks it just like an Injun." I thereupon called the boy up, and asked him if he spoke Indian, and he said, yes; and I asked him how that came. And he said that when he was a boy between eight and nine, his parents, who were from Blandinsville, Illinois, were crossing the plains with a party and were murdered. And that he was carried off by the Indians and was raised among them, and had been with them about ten years. I then asked him how it came that he turned up in our camp. And he said that he had got acquainted with the two white women, Mrs. Kelly and Mrs. Larimer, who were captured by the Sioux shortly before we went up to Fort Laramie, and that one of them had advised him to run away and get back to the white people. And that, being out with a party of Indians, he had run away from them, and had come into the camp at Laramie, and had come down with some people to Julesburg, and was going on, when he heard about a place as orderly, with the soldiers, and he thought he would be safe, have a better time, and that was how he came with me. His story was probably true.
Upon inquiry be told us all about the two ladies above referred to, and about his own wanderings among the Sioux, and he answered questions frankly, and to the best of his ability. But the reason that he was so taciturn was that he had about forgotten his own language, and could only express himself with difficulty, but he picked it up again very rapidly, so that by the time he had been with us a few months he had got a good deal of it back. The real reason why he had been so taciturn was that he couldn't talk. He afterwards had a great deal to say about the Indians, and their habits. He had been adopted into the tribe, and had an inclination to stay, but one of the ladies referred to had told him that he was likely at any time to be killed, and after some reluctance he had made up his mind to leave the tribe. He was very tanned and sunburned, and in a blanket would have about passed for an Indian in color.
During December I got a pair of cavalry boots which I ordered from Omaha. It shows something in regard to the deterioration of money, and the price of things, when I say that those boots cost me $18. In normal times, on gold basis, they would have cost $5.
I also bought from one of the traveling outfits going west a twenty-pound keg of butter for $20 and a twenty-pound can of lard for $10, the prices being $1 and $0.50, respectively, per pound.
Concerning the relative location of Julesburg, there was some little difficulty as to the question whether Julesburg was in Nebraska or Colorado. For a while we called it Nebraska, but afterwards we were addressed as Julesburg, Colorado, and the post was deemed definitely located in Colorado, which was the correct place. But Fort Laramie was Idaho Territory. It is now in the eastern part of Wyoming, but that part of the country was then called Idaho Territory.