Return of Company to Julesburg - Ordered Back to Julesburg - Camped at Morrow's Ranch - Alkali - Andy Hughes - Beauvais's Ranch - Dick Cleve - Indians in Sight - Driving Off Cattle in the Valley - The Priming-Wire - Discovery of the Burning Station - The Rush for the Fort - Indians Taking Shelled Corn - Safe in the Fort - Indians Camped Across the River
WHEN we got back to Cottonwood on the 26th (January, 1865), we were told that war parties of Indians had appeared along the Arkansas River and on the Colorado frontier east of Denver, showing that they were on the wing. My company was immediately sent back, on the 27th, to Julesburg, but Captain O'Brien remained back at Cottonwood by order of General Mitchell, for the purpose of consultation as to some further movements. General Mitchell, the same as everybody else, took a great fancy to Captain O'Brien, and wanted to consult with him. Captain O'Brien always did his duty promptly and well, and his judgment was good. The company went up in charge of Lieutenant Brewer, who happened to be then at Cottonwood Springs. He was not on the recent expedition. A howitzer and ten men were left behind at Cottonwood as an escort for Captain O'Brien. I remained behind as aide-de-camp to General Mitchell. Lieutenant Brewer was ordered to push through as rapidly as possible to Julesburg. I was going now to Omaha with General Mitchell, and we were to start on the morning of the 29th. I said to myself, "Now I will see Omaha or know the reason why," but several officers said to me, "You will never see Omaha." In fact, it got to be a matter of interest to all of the officers of the different regiments and companies to see how the premonition was going to come out; they were all watching my movements, and several of them wanted me to write them if I did actually get into the city of Omaha.
Very strangely, on the evening of the 28th, General Mitchell was informed by wire that the Indians had been seen around Julesburg; that they had appeared at Gillette's ranch, nine miles west of Julesburg, in great numbers, and besieged it, but had been driven off; that they had also appeared east of Julesburg at Alkali station, and driven off some cattle in broad daylight; and that they had appeared at several other places. General Mitchell directed me to go up to Julesburg, and see what the condition of things there was, and report to him by wire. So, on the afternoon of the 29th Captain O'Brien and I, with the escort of the ten men of our own company who had remained behind to escort Captain O'Brien back, started up the Platte river with the howitzer; and as I went west, the officers, in bidding me farewell said, several of them, "Good-by! You will never see Omaha."
This new trip of mine -- starting back to Julesburg -- connected with General Mitchell's announced intention of resigning, or going South, led me to immediately see that it was quite possible that the premonition which I had received might be correct. Nevertheless, I was beginning to feel a little bit skittish, but I argued to myself that I would be in Julesburg only a little while; that I was still aide-de-camp for the General; that he would go South, which he in fact, soon after did; that I would rejoin him, which I soon after did; and that through natural causes and in the proper order of things I would "never see Omaha."
Captain O'Brien and I started out with our escort, and that night we stopped at Jack Morrow's, which, as stated, was ten miles up the river. The place was fortified and garrisoned by a lot of cowboys, trappers, ranchmen, and squaw-men; enough to hold the place.
Captain O'Brien and I had a gay and festive time at "Jack's tepee," as it was called, on the night of January 29th. That night we ate antelope-hearts and beaver-tails, and listened to the old pioneers tell Indian stories, Jack Morrow insisted on opening a quart bottle of champagne each for Captain O'Brien and me, but the Captain and I had business on hand, and touched it very lightly; and Jack Morrow, who always loved champagne, drank all the balance of it, and became very full and talkative. Among other things he told about how much money he was making and how the Indian scare had diminished it, and how he was going to put in a claim against the Government for not keeping the Indians where they would not restrict trade. Jack's legal ideas upon this subject were quite hazy, but he easily found out how, through the negligence of the Government he had "lost a million dollars."
In the morning we pushed on to Alkali, and there overtook a stage which had been driven in, and kept there. Alkali was a mere sod stage station with a sod corral, and with some sod works to fight the Indians from. Captain Murphy of Company "X" was there with his company, together with Tom Potter, my old friend. I had formerly belonged to Company "A," and I was glad to meet the boys at this time. The First Lieutenant of Company "A" was named Smith, and he had learned the Sioux war-song from a Sioux, and he got so that he could sing it as well as an Indian. That evening he lay in his bunk with his clothes on, for we never undressed in the Indian country, and he sang that war-song pretty near all night. In fact, I heard it so much that I was able to sing it myself, after a fashion, but none of us could come up to Lieutenant Smith in the tones, quavers and curlicues of the song. In the station was one of the agents of the stage company, going through to Denver, by the name of Andrew Hughes, a royal fellow, brave as could be, and pushing his way through to Denver, from post to post, seeking to reëstablish his stage line and then attend to the duties of his position. And with him was a man named Clift. They had a stage of their own.
We were furnished by Captain Murphy with an additional escort to go through on. Captain O'Brien and I had our piece of artillery and gun squad with us from Cottonwood Springs, making in all ten men. One of the men was taken ill, and we were furnished with ten more, and started on to Beauvais's ranch, which was twenty-five miles east of Julesburg. This was on the last day of January -- the 31st. The coach kept up with the procession, and in it were the two citizens referred to, and their camping outfit. They had two drivers on the box. Everybody was armed to the teeth. The provisions and bedding and baggage of the stage outfit were tied up on the rear of the stage on the trunk-rack. The stage had four horses. Our piece of artillery had only two, but they were large, strong horses.
We had hardly left Alkali in the morning before we saw smoke signals in the valley, and in a little while we saw Indians on the other side of the river in squads of two, seldom more or less. They seemed to be searching the other side of the river for cattle and horses which had been turned out to graze. We saw two Indians driving about fifteen head of horses. We went along the road as rapidly as possible, keeping our eye upon the Indians across the river, but passing them rapidly, and they were soon out of sight in the rear. But we noticed that when the Indians had a bunch of cattle they struck north through the bills, as if going to the North Platte. We had no guide with us, but we knew the route perfectly, and were enough familiar with the Indian manners and customs to be able to know that we were in danger. From time to time some Indian would rise up out of a swale or out of the grass on the other side of the river, and defiantly fire a gun or a pistol at us; but the distance was such that no good aim could be taken nor much danger experienced, except as showing the threatening conditions of the march. We camped at Beauvais's ranch, where there was a detachment of one of the companies, and where there was a telegraph operator. We sat up late at night, and told our superiors, by wire, how the Indians were acting along the river. Colonel Livingston, commanding the eastern sub-district, in the meantime had come to Cottonwood Springs, with some of the First Nebraska Veteran Volunteer Cavalry, owing to the rumors that were coming down the river in regard to the appearances of Indians along the line of route. Livingston ordered us to proceed immediately to Julesburg, and await his arrival; that he feared the Cheyenne Indians were to make another effort to cross the river, and go north and join their brother tribe, the Northern Cheyennes, which, at that time, was up in southern Dakota somewhere near the Deadwood country. The garrison at Beauvais was so small that we felt that we ought to leave some men there to help protect it. We were in entire ignorance of what was ahead of us, as we shall see; so we left six men there.
In the morning of February 2, 1865, we started out from Beauvais's ranch, and saw Indians from the very start. When we got to Dick Cleve's ranch, we saw some Indians rounding up his cattle on the other side of the river. There was quite a number of ranchmen gathered there, a sort of conglomeration left over from a train which, together with the garrison of a few soldiers, made a place which the Indians could not very well capture. But the Indians around Cleve's ranch were so numerous that we left them four men of our cavalry. They expected an attack, but we did not feel alarmed, because we had the piece of artillery, and our horses were the best.
From Dick Cleve's we started on, and Captain O'Brien and I with the coach, the piece of artillery and nine men, being the gun squad and four others; with the four civilians we were fifteen men. We had not gone far past Cleve's when we saw ten or fifteen Indians on the other side of the river. Having a very fine Smith & Wesson target rifle, I thought I would go down towards the river, and give them a trial shot. They were some little distance on the other side of the river, and after I had made my shot, an Indian arose out of the willows on the bank on the other side of the river, and, pulling a revolver, fired six shots, and then he pulled another and fired six shots more, and then he fired a gun at me. It was evidence that the Indian was better armed than I was, and as I stopped to reconnoiter, he began to fire a lot of good American words at me, and they were shot in such good English that I became satisfied that the Indian was not a Cheyenne or a Sioux, and I concluded he was one of the Confederate emissaries sent from the Indian territory. I was afterwards confirmed in this supposition.
As we got near to Julesburg but not in sight of it, we saw large bunches of cattle over on the north side of the river, being driven. At one time on the other side of the river there were five little droves of from five to ten cattle each, being driven separately by two or three Indians each. They seemed to be heading diagonally northwest towards the bluffs. That is to say, they were going up the river and obliquely to the right so as to strike the valley of Lodgepole. They paid no attention to us, and never attempted to rally and come over and make an attack on us, nor did they appear at all alarmed. We also saw Indians peering up over the hills far to the south, but they did not appear to be in motion or active. They just stood and looked at us. They made no signals and did nothing to alarm us, knowing we were marching right into danger.
Our line of march was that the Captain and I marched at the head, then came eight men on horseback, then one man, the ninth, riding the near artillery horse, and behind them the coach. The captain and I had an anxious consultation as we went along. We determined to push forward, and get into the post at Julesburg as rapidly as we could, but we did not know what was ahead of us. East of Julesburg the plateau pushes a promontory north to the edge of the river, so that the view of the fort at Julesburg was shut off from us until we had got entirely around that plateau and promontory. On the other side was the arroyo of which I have spoken before, called the "Devil's Dive." As we got up to this promontory it was a little after noontime. We noticed a number of black specks far out on Lodgepole. They were Indians, but we could not see our fort, on account of the intervening bluff. We stopped there to reconnoiter a little as to the passage around this promontory. The ground was quite broken, and we did not wish to run into an ambuscade.
While we stopped there I inspected the artillery fully, to see that everything was all ready for use; imagine my horror to find that the priming-wire had jolted out of its fastening and been lost. The priming-wire was an absolute necessity, because the cartridges were in thick flannel bags, and when rammed down they had to be opened, so that the friction primer would throw the fire down into the powder. This priming-wire had to be pushed down through the vent into the flannel or the charge could not be exploded. A feeling of great horror ran over me as I vainly searched in the chest of the howitzer. Near us ran the telegraph line. I told one of the boys to climb up a pole, swing out on that wire band over hand, and pull it down to the ground. With the aid and assistance of several, we finally got the wire swung down nearly to the ground, but not near enough. Thereupon, with an artillery hatchet, we chopped down a telegraph pole so as to give the wire more sag. We then cut the wire, and tying one end of it to the rear of the coach we had the four horses pull on it until we got all the slack that could come from that direction. Then we pulled the other line and got all the slack that could come from the other, and we managed to get off two feet of wire, and then put the wire together, and make a new connection. This took us nearly half an hour, but we got a priming-wire made out of this telegraph wire which was all right. We pounded it to a point on the iron tire of the howitzer, and were then ready to go ahead.
When we had finished with this telegraph wire, Captain O'Brien observed a smoke over the promontory, and called my attention to it. He said: "What do you think that smoke can be? It is this side of the post, and yet beyond the hill. Go carefully up with your field-glass, and see what is the matter, and see what those black specks mean up the Lodgepole valley." I went up on horseback, looking in all directions, and could see no indications of Indians nor ambuscade, and finally peeped over the hill Indian fashion through a cactus bush. And lo, and behold I could see Indians scattered everywhere in front of us; they were crossing the river, running around the stage station, blacksmith shop and telegraph office, which were burning. The haystacks of the stage station were also burning. Back on the hills west of the post was a large group of Indians, apparently motionless, while between us and the fort was a body of Indians running around and evidently shouting and yelling and having a good time, although they were so far off I could hear no noise. I came down to see the Captain, and told him what I had seen, and I said, "You go up there, and see what you think about the matter." He came down, and said, "There is a large body of Indians crossing on the ice north, and a large body at the stage station a mile this side."
The question then was what to do. What could 15 men do with a thousand Indians on the war-path in front with no outlet for retreat and no place for defense?
There appeared in the present juncture only one thing to do that had any wisdom in it, and that was to make a bold dash for the fort; because if the whole gang of Indians got after us we could find no shelter and we could not hold them off. The Captain ordered the gun shotted with "canister." Canister was a large tin can fitting the calibre of the gun and filled with iron balls. The boys called it "canned trouble." The gun having been loaded, one of the soldiers carried a friction primer so as to be able to fire the gun quickly from horseback without dismounting. The Captain detailed me as an advance guard with my field-glass to go on ahead and feel the route along the cape of the promontory and to prevent an ambuscade.
We started on, and we went just as fast as we dared. We went around the point, carefully inspecting the road. I went ahead about two or three hundred yards, and we were visible to the Indians up at the post only for a short time as we rounded the cape, but were not recognized, on account of the film of smoke from the burning stage station. Then there was a little rise in the ground ahead of us, that kept us out of sight from the post, and by following around the rim of it outside of the road, we were able to go unseen a little nearer to the post. And so it happened that we got up within much less than two miles of the post, and there did not seem to be any alarm among the Indians. We then rushed our horses, and determined to make a bold dash for the post. As we came over the hill we deployed at intervals of about twenty yards, with our artillery and coach up in the center of the line. Some of the Indians began to see us; then we went a-howling and yelling towards the post. It did not take us long to pass the burning stage station. The Indians were rallying on both sides of us, and shooting at us from a distance; they did not know but what a regiment was coming behind us. Around the cape behind us then came a squad of Indians on the run.
When we got to the stage station it was a sight. A lot of the Indians were there before us, and they started away. We saw that a large number of Indians were carrying off corn from the stage station. There were so many of them that they had sanded a road across the ice of the river, and this road was about six feet wide. Their ponies being unshod, they could not carry the corn across without the road being sanded; it was too slippery. There were enough of them to sand the entire road, and there was a line of them all around the burning stage station. There were animals killed; a couple of horses; and a cow, that had been grazing around. Chickens were killed. It seemed as if the Indians thought it was a funny thing to shoot an arrow down through a chicken and pin the chicken to the ground. We saw chickens still fluttering that were thus pinned down to the ground.
We fired the canister at the Indians ahead of us. The post was still a mile off, and they had evidently seen us coming. There was no use of our trying to compete with the Indians, who were flocking in on both sides, in pistol-firing. Captain O'Brien ordered all the boys to draw sabers, and we started. After we had gone about two hundred yards a group of Indians were in front of us. Our men at the post had run the other howitzer out, and began firing shells directly at us, and we stopped long enough to fire a shell towards the post. The Indians in front of us got out of the way, and the post kept firing in our direction. The Indians did not understand the situation. Our appearance had been too sudden. They did not know it was a bluff. They did not know what was behind us, or what the smoke might conceal. They did not dare to charge us, but got out of our way and hovered on our flanks. We, all the time, were going as fast as our horses would carry us toward the post. We went through with the Indians firing and cavorting all over the prairie. Not a man in our party was injured. The Indians, like a hive of bees, showed great alarm, and were dashing around in groups. Andrew Hughes and his companion Clift, on the stages, kept up with the procession in fine style; they seemed to enjoy the occasion. They kept their horses on the run -- yelled as much, and fired as often, as they could, kept the stages right side up, and seemed filled with hilarity. We made a royal bluff, and it won. I never felt so relieved in my life as I did when we got up nearer the post.
When we got to the Post we found, besides our diminished Company "F," about fifty citizens there, all armed, who had been driven in. We were told that fifteen hundred Indians had struck the post that forenoon, and had run all around it, had fired at the post, at everybody whose head appeared, and that their camp was right across the river above the mouth of Lodgepole. I never could account for why the Indians did not make an attack on us sooner. But the smoke from the burning hay, which we had seen miles before, obscured the atmosphere, and the wind was blowing gently from the northwest and spread the smoke over the ground, and the Indians, who were running all over the country, failed to distinguish us as soldiers until we got up within a couple of miles or nearer. And then the alarm could not be conveyed to the body of Indians any faster than we could go ourselves, so we kept up with the information, and it was not until we dashed past the burning buildings that the Indians got any comprehension of the situation, and they were unable to get us before we got in, owing to the coöperation of the fort.
A Colorado man, somewhat of an artist, happened to be among the citizens at the post on that eventful day, and many years afterwards I saw a picture that he had drawn at the time in commemoration of the event.