Indians Around the Post - Duel at Long Range - Fight at Gillette's Ranch - The Big Haystack - Big Indian Camp-fire - Captain and I on Guard - The Fire-arrow - Jimmie O'Brien - The Indian Dance - The Wild-fire - The Retreat - The Indian Herd - Colonel Livingston Coming - Gillette's Ranch - The Trains of Machinery - The Poisoned Whisky - The Wasted Flour - Diagram of Post
WE GOT into the Post about half-past three. The Indians in a very short time circled around the post, howling and yelling and shouting defiance, and later went across the river to the camp. The carrying of sack corn on ponies across the river did not cease, but we did not consider ourselves able to stop them, as it was a mile from the post.
A little while before sundown I noticed a motionless Indian on horseback over in the bottom across the river from the fort, and I thought I would go and see what effect I could make on him with my target rifle. I started to walk from the post down towards the river, the boys of the post being out, ready to furnish me any protection I might need. The Indian on the other bank of the river dismounted and left his horse, and started walking towards me. He finally stooped down in the grass, which was quite heavy, but I could plainly see him. By throwing up the sights of my target, I pulled on him, but the bullet fell short, as I could see by the dust which rose where it struck. I had scarcely fired my gun when the Indian fired and a bullet went whizzing over my head in a way so familiar that I knew it to be a Belgian rifle-musket. I had heard them often down South. I then made three quick shots, to see if I could reach the Indian, but my rifle would not carry to him. I began to march obliquely back to the post, going somewhat to the left, so as to change the Indian's line of fire, but he got in two shots on me before I got back to the post, to which I went in a leisurely but somewhat interested way. The Indian had a better gun than I had, that is to say, one that would shoot farther, and I knew that the gun was one which had been furnished from some military command. The Indians did not buy Belgian muskets. This man had been standing out there making a target of himself so as to get somebody to come out and fire at him, and I had done exactly what he wanted me to do, and he had got three good shots at me before I was through with him. And I had to thank my stars that it was no worse.
In talking with one of the citizens, I was told that these Indians were the Arapahoes and Cheyennes mixed, that had gathered together and come up from the southern country; and that they had struck the river some little distance above Julesburg, but that they wanted to go up Lodgepole Creek, cross over the divide, and go up the Bluewater River, called by the Indians, Minne-to-wocca-pella. The word "to" in Sioux language means blue. They always put the color adjective after the noun; for instance, Manka-to, "Earth blue."
These Indians coming down had driven everything before them, but at Gillette's ranch, nine or ten miles west of the fort, they had met a stubborn resistance. But during the night the occupants of Gillette's ranch had made a dash for the river, and had come down on the ice, going from island to island and defending themselves from time to time by rallies upon these little willow islands. On the outside of Gillette's ranch were eight large, heavy freight wagons that had been held up. These eight wagons were filled with bottled liquors for Denver, and the Indians the next morning had got these liquors, and had come down to visit Julesburg. They also had a large number of oxen which they had captured, and they had a large herd of beeves which they were driving down to Julesburg. There were those among them who knew how to hitch up oxen, and so the oxen and the wagons with the bottled liquors were driven on down in a herd along with the cattle. The wagons were zigzagging along the prairie according as the oxen were herded here and there on the route, and they had got the whole business across the river to their camp. They had cut down telegraph poles, and camped from time to time, and burned the telegraph poles for a long distance. They had cut them up and dragged them with ponies so that in the camp, which was now in plain sight of our post and on the north side of the river, they were having high jinks with fires made out of telegraph poles, drinking "S. T. 1860 X," "Plantation" and "Hostetter" Bitters, and all kinds of good stuff which they found in those wagons. This was the condition of things at sunset on the day that we got into the Julesburg Post, February 2, 1865.
The arrangement which we made for the evening was that the guards should go one hour on and two off. We got the civilians together, divided them into groups of three, and put a civilian in charge of each group, so that he could have his men ready, the object being to stay prepared for a rush on the fort, and to have one-third of the garrison, soldiers and civilians, ready and on guard to repel the first symptom of attack. As for Captain O'Brien and myself, we determined to stay up all night, except that we would take turns in dozing if everything was looking favorable.
The best point for observation was the haystack in the northwest corner of our Post. The stable was nearly as high, but was sort of in the center, so that a person upon it could not see well over the haystack. The haystack was a large, heavy, weighted-down stack of about eighty tons. Captain O'Brien and I got on top of it, and worked holes down in it so as to be somewhat protected from the weather, and yet to have a good observation, The stack was between thirty and forty feet long on the summit. It could be reached by getting up on the sod wall, which at that point was about eight feet high, and then getting up from that portion of the stack whence the hay was being used. Fearing that the Indians might come up and start to set fire to the stack we had down on the ground several camp-kettles full of water with a quart tin cup floating in the top of each. The weather had very much moderated, and the afternoon of the day had been quite pleasant for a winter day, although freezing. The sun set gloriously, with a livid burst of red which held quite late. We could see a large smothered camp-fire, and could hear yells and shouting, and every once in a while some Indian shot off a gun. The Captain and I took a-plenty of ammunition and a lot of hard-tack to munch on, and as soon as dusk began to fall we got up into our holes on that haystack. Guards were also on the north end of the stable, and on the barracks, and on the headquarters building. Our fort, being made of sod, was incombustible, and we felt no real danger except as it might come to the hay, which, if it got on fire, might burn us all out. We had some of the men sheltered down under the sod wall on the inside at the end of the haystack, ready to take any action that might be required.
About the time that nightfall set in the big camp-fire of the Indians began to blaze up strongly, and we could see the cattle coming in in droves, both east and west, and also bands of American horses, not large in number, but they were prancing about. We could see with our glasses quite plainly. In a little while the fire grew larger, and the Indians began to caper around it in a war-dance. We could bear them shrieking and yelling, we could hear the turn-turn of a native drum, and we could hear a chorus shouting as if there were squaws there taking a part in the exercises. Then we could see them circling around the fire, then separately stamping the ground and making gestures. It seemed as if the fire grew larger and more scattered, and the ring grew larger and the yelling grew stronger, and finally it was a perfect pandemonium lit up with the wildfire of burning telegraph poles. We knew that the bottled liquors destined for Denver were beginning to get in their work and a perfect orgy was ensuing. It kept up constantly. It seemed as if exhausted Indians fell back and let fresh ones take hold, and around that fire they did jump and scream, and make motions with lance and tomahawk, and caper and cut up, in a wild and picturesque way.
It was a very thrilling scene, except that we knew if they had courage to make a dash on the post there would not be any of us left by daylight. Pioneers told us, however, that the Indians would not make a dash on us in that time, but that we might look for them at sun-up. In the mean time our telegraph line was down, from the burning of the station, and from the destruction of poles west of us, so that we had no way of sending out word of the post further than had already gone.
The Captain and I stood in our holes in the hay up about to our waists, with our target rifles on one side of us and our box of ammunition and crackers on the other side, and watching with the field-glass what might take place. We were suffering somewhat from anxiety. We had also a couple of dogs up with us in holes in the hay, and the dogs seemed just as earnest and as excited as anybody. As late as twelve o'clock there seemed to be no diminution of the orgy. It seemed to keep on just as strong as ever, and we saw ponies coming across the prairie dragging pieces of telegraph poles chopped down, and every once in a while the sparks would rise as a new piece was thrown on the fire.
Our dogs were muttering and grumbling all the time, but the ground was practically clear in front of us for quite a distance, with the exception of some little clumps of sagebrush and cactus, and these were scattering. We kept our eye, however, well upon the prairie in front of us, so that no skulking Indian might come up and pick us off. Some of the time we were crouched down so that we could just plainly see over the hay with our field-glasses.
All at once a spark came before our eyes. I could not understand it for a second. It seemed as if a star fell. it came in a curve, and fell into our hay. An Indian had crept up, in spite of us, back of a sage-brush, and had fired a fire-arrow right into our haystack. I was taken much by surprise, but by the time it struck the stack I knew what it was. Captain O'Brien happened to have his gun in his hands, and with great presence of mind he drew up and fired the best he could in the direction of the arrow. The hero of the occasion was Jimmie O'Brien. The arrow had scarcely struck the hay when it flashed. I struck the spot with my carbine, but Jimmie O'Brien grabbed a cup, jumped up on the wall, and with one dash he made a center shot with the tin cup and put the entire fire out with one effort. It was the prettiest thing I ever saw. The boys on detail all cheered, and Jimmie O'Brien never got over being complimented for his presence of mind and his steady nerve upon the occasion. But we saw no Indian arise from where the arrow came, and the Captain was almost an unerring shot. We all believed that the Captain killed the Indian, but we never got the Indian's body, because as a matter of fact, the Indians were skulking around the post that night and we never got a chance to see them or get a shot at them. What they did may be imagined from the fact that the next morning out on a telegraph pole within twenty feet of our sod fort the Captain's dog, "Kearney," was found with its throat cut, and tied hanging about six feet up on the telegraph pole. So that, if the Captain killed the Indian, they could have got him away that night, because towards morning it was cloudy and dark.
After the fire-arrow episode we kept a still closer lookout. Once in a while we would think we saw a moving form or something crawling on the ground, and we kept plugging away with our rifles at all such symptoms, so as not only to get an Indian if we could, but keep them on the qui vive, to let them know we were waiting for them. About one o'clock the orgy seemed to reach its height. The yells were the most blood-curdling and frantic I ever heard, and although we were a long distance off, perhaps a half-mile, we could hear them all upon the midnight air quite plainly. And we discussed among ourselves whether or not the bottled liquors would not get them finally worked up to a point that would lead them to besiege us. Suddenly the fire began to grow brighter, and greater, and the Indians circling around it seemed to form a larger ring. We soon saw that the fire had spread to the prairie-grass, and that the Indians were not trying to put it out. The night was perfectly still. There was no breeze of any kind, and the prairie-grass burned slowly, and the Indian ring kept growing larger and larger as the fire increased. And still the thing went on until the fire was an acre in extent, and still an undiminished ring of Indians were going around it shouting and yelling, and it kept growing in extent until there were at least four acres of this burning prairie in a ring, and still the Indians were shouting and prancing singly and in groups. Then we all began to think that the thing was going to break up with an attack. The fire finally spread and spread until it lit up the whole country, and all at once the Indians were not seen between us and the fire, and the smoke prevented us from seeing where they were.
We concluded they were all coming towards the post. The smoke began to bang sort of in a pall, not being borne in either direction. We got the bugler up, and had him sound the assembly. We got him up on top of the stable to blow bugle-calls. Everybody turned out, everybody was assigned to a duty. One of the howitzers we got on top of the stable, which was really heavy enough to hold a cannon. At the corners of the fort several sentinels were placed to watch carefully, and still we watched, and still the prairie-fire spread. It finally struck the river on the south, and stopped; then it struck up Lodgepole on the east, and stopped; and then it started up the river, going quite slowly, but still no Indians. We imagined a short time before daylight that we saw some Indians south of the post, and then we imagined that we saw some among the hills. It turned out, however, that they were simply reinforcements of Indians, few in number, coming with great speed. They passed west of the post, going towards the river.
Finally it became dawn, with us all on the watch. There were no Indians in sight. It was impossible for so great a number of Indians to be hidden, and Captain O'Brien and I determined that we would get on our good horses and make a survey of the condition of things; and we sent some men on down to the telegraph station, which had been burned, to repair the wire. We had a telegraph operator in the post by the name of Holcomb, who was one of the most capable young men I ever saw. After we had got the line up running east we had no instruments, nor any means of telegraphing. Yet this man Holcomb succeeded in sending off a message and in receiving one. First he chopped an ax into the ground, and taking hold of the wires with gloves, he alternately played the ends of the wires upon the iron poll of the ax in such a way as to telegraph, and then he put the wires in his mouth and read the dispatches. At least he said he did, and the message was: "Get ready to follow. Am coming. Livingston." But we could not send or receive any telegrams to or from Denver or Laramie.
The Captain and I got on our horses and rode over the river to the late Indian camp. There were places where the grass had been trodden down so that it was not burned near the camp-fire. We saw there the business cards of the manufacturers of various kinds of liquor, together with pamphlets, and advertisements, great quantities of broken bottles, and heads of one hundred and fifty-six cattle, that had been slaughtered. The fire had died down, and was only going up in a narrow streak on the west side of Lodgepole. The Indians had driven off a great quantity of beef cattle. It looked as if there were at least five thousand head. Along with the beef cattle that had been driven were the irregular and waving lines of the wagons drawn by oxen that went along with an undulating track because the draft oxen hitched to the wagons had been herded along with the balance of the cattle. The wheel-tracks were sunken, indicating that they had got the wagons loaded with something. They had gone up Lodgepole, and there were a great number of them. Elston believed that it was the whole Southern Cheyenne nation that was on the move, together with the Arapahoes and some Sioux.
As a matter of fact, we did not know it but Colonel Livingston, with a large detachment, was within thirty miles of us that morning. The Indians knew it, and that was why they started off as they did. Their signals had told them a story which we did not know, or comprehend.
After having viewed the late Indian camp, and got the telegraph line restored to the east, Captain O'Brien thought we ought to scout the hills and see if there were any Indians in hiding that might become dangerous to the post. So he took a squad with a bugler to go south and east, and sent me with a squad to go west. A signal to come in if necessary, was a shot from the twelve-pound howitzer at the post. Everything was to be done as fast as possible, and we all started off on the gallop. I was told not, on any account, to go west farther than Gillette's Ranch, which was nine miles. The Captain started for the hills on a rush, and I started with eight men for the west. At a point one-half mile west of the post we found the telegraph wires all cut and the poles gone; they had been used for cooking at the Indian barbecue which I have described, across the river. The valley was wide before us on our trip west; we saw no Indians in the hills south of us, and we kept up the south bank of the river and were soon at Gillette's Ranch. Most of the telegraph poles all the way from Julesburg were gone. The posts were up one-half mile west of Gillette's Ranch, but the wire was down, how much farther we could not see. The grass around Gillette's Ranch clear down to the river had been burned off, evidently a month or two before. The whole country looked black and desolate. Out on the plain were 24 large freight wagons, not parked, but scattered out separately as if they had been run in hastily and abandoned. They were loaded principally with mining machinery, bar-iron and cast-iron piping. Apparently no effort had been made by the Indians to burn these wagons; in fact, there was nothing for them to burn the wagons with; there was nothing inflammable to use within a half-mile. On one of the wagons was a large cast-iron wheel, with a wide, smooth rim which projected over the sides. On it was written in a large bold hand, "Go to Hell." The words were freshly written in charcoal, and had been done by someone among the Indians. I have briefly stated that the vanguard of the Cheyenne incursion first struck Gillette's Ranch, and that the people there made a fight until dark, and in the cover of the night retreated to the river and came on down to Julesburg. These fugitives told of an Indian, with the attacking party, who wore a hat, blanket cape and high-top cavalry bouts, and who shouted loud swear-words in English, and had a rifled musket of the new United States pattern. He was probably the man who wrote on the flywheel. He was probably an ambassador from the Southern Confederacy sent to keep the Indians fired up, and was an Indian from one of the "civilized" tribes of the Indian Territory. We heard of him several times and in several different ways. Off to one side a little east of Gillette's Ranch were several large wagons with a lot of whisky and liquor advertisements in. They had been in little burlap-covered bales, and had been ripped open and scattered.
Standing out on the prairie not far from the house was a barrel of whisky, all by itself, untouched. One of my men said that it was poisoned; that he had heard one of the men who came down from Gillette's Ranch say that they put a lot of strychnine in a barrel of whisky and stuck it up where the Indians could get it; that the Indians never touched it but helped themselves to other goods of the same kind, in the wagons. I shot out the bung and emptied the barrel. All over the prairie were large white spots leading down toward the river. These spots were in pairs, and quite many. Upon investigation I found that they were of flour, and it happened in this way: There was at the ranch quite a lot of flour, and it was 50-pound sacks in heavy paper and 100-pound sacks in muslin. The Indians threw these sacks across their ponies and started off; if the ponies got to trotting, or bucking, the sacks would break in two and fall on opposite sides of the pony, and maybe the Indian gathered up the flour and maybe not. There was a great waste of flour. We led our horses around and got them a good feed each of this flour, and then on a gallop started home, -- where we arrived at just about the time that Captain O'Brien did. We both reported no Indians seen, no smoke signals, or anything to indicate the presence of any Indians south of the Platte River. A party had been sent up Lodgepole composed of soldiers and citizens, to see what they could see. They came back reporting that the Indians were making the fastest time possible up Lodgepole; that the cattle were making lots of trouble for the Indians, who were hurrying them forward on the run; that the scouting party could hear the Indians yelling and shouting furiously in the distance; that the dust rose up in clouds; that the Indian line from front to rear was about five miles long; and that the tracks of the wagons were zigzagging all over the prairie. This party brought back more than 500 head of cattle which they had picked up from those that had escaped or bolted the herd. The Indians had no time to stop and round them up. We afterwards got a lot more. Our post was packed as full as it would hold of people and horses; when all of the scouting parties had got in and reported, and when it was found that there were no more Indians and no more danger, there was general rejoicing among the civilians, and some of them, by means of concealed supplies, got gloriously drunk, and had to be put into the guard-house.