Arrival of Colonel Livingston - Poles Ordered from Cottonwood - "Chief of Artillery" - Nothing Impossible - Rebuilding the Telegraph Line - Buffalo Springs - Valley Station - The Shelled-corn Bastion - Germans and Oysters - Forty Hours' Work - Line Reëstablished - Return to Julesburg
ON THE evening of February 3rd, 1865, after dark, in came Colonel Livingston from the east, with fully four hundred cavalry, four pieces of light artillery, telegraph instruments taken from some station along the road; and also forty-six mule-wagons loaded with supplies of various kinds. The Colonel had organized on his own account a little dwarf Indian expedition to keep the Cheyennes in motion. The forces were composed of Seventh Iowa Cavalry and First Nebraska Veteran Volunteer Cavalry -- about half-and-half each. The Iowa troops were in command of Captain Murphy, of Company "A," and the Nebraska troops were in command of a captain of that regiment, named Wetherwax, a very fine officer. The horses were in good condition and well shod; the men were tired, but full of zeal. The weather late in the afternoon turned quite cold; the tents were pitched on the windward of the post. The men crowded by invitation into the post and barracks. The Lieutenants and officers, several in number, together with Colonel Livingston, crowded into our headquarters room, where at night we all slept on the dirt floor. Our visitors were tired because they had been making forced marches to reach us for fear the Indians would capture our fort. The Indians knew of their coming. I reported promptly to Colonel Livingston on his arrival, and told him of the destruction of the telegraph to the west as I had seen it. I estimated for two hundred and fifty poles and a mile of wire. The Colonel, by telegraph to Cottonwood Springs, ordered wagons to be taken or impressed, to be quickly loaded with the lightest poles, started as soon as possible and pushed through night and day to Julesburg, as fast as the animals could stand it. There were a lot of cedar poles cut and stacked at Cottonwood and Jack Morrow's, ready for repair work along the line.
Then the next thing that Colonel Livingston did was to issue a special order detailing me as "chief of artillery." I did not know what particular use he had for a "chief of artillery," and I told him that I was already an aide-de-camp on the staff of the General commanding, and was not subject to his detail; but he paid no attention to my objections, and told me to immediately proceed to get my artillery corps together and drill them, in view of a proposed Indian expedition to the north.
Four of the guns were twelve-pound mountain howitzers and two of them were light three-inch Parrott guns. On the morning of February 4, 1865, 1 got the gun squads all together and had everything hitched up, and we drove around and drilled so as to get the men acquainted with one another and their duties. I found that a large wrought-iron bolt was out from the trail of one of the Parrott guns, and that if the gun were fired it would probably break itself to pieces, or turn a somersault. I went to the blacksmith of the company and told him to fix it if he could. After running around a good deal, he came and reported to me that he didn't have anything that he could use to fix the gun with; so I reported the fact to Colonel Livingston, and he, without discussing the matter, said to me, "I want you to go and have that gun fixed and put in shape, and don't fail to report to me that you have done it." I went, but after exhausting all my resources and getting the blacksmith to exhaust all of his, I saw no possible way in which the gun could be fixed, unless we could get the iron to fix it with. As we could get nothing to fix it with, I finally with great regret, some hours afterwards, went to the Colonel, after I had about run my legs off, and told him that it was impossible to fix the gun; that we didn't have the material to do it with and couldn't find any. He turned to me in a gruff manner and said: "I want you to have that gun fixed, and don't you report back here without it is fixed. So now attend to it right away." This was a novel proposition, and after I got over being angry and feeling that the Colonel was much displeased and somewhat unreasonable, it occurred to me to take some of the men and go a mile down the road to where the buildings had been burned and see if anything could be found among the ashes. So we went down there and scratched over the ruins of the burnt buildings, and the ashes, with our saber scabbards, and just about dark I ran onto a piece of wrought-iron, among the ashes of the stage office, that seemed to me to be the thing to use. I galloped up to the post, got hold of the blacksmith and showed him the piece of burnt bar-iron. He said, I think I can use it," and I said, "You go to work and do it right quick and fast." I stayed with him about an hour, and by the aid of the portable forge we fixed the iron so that it made a bolt that fitted the place, and by dark the piece of artillery was fixed.
With great pride I went up to the Colonel and saluted him with much ceremony, and said, "I have the honor to report that the piece of artillery is fixed." Thereupon he called me up, and he said: "Young man, anything can be done if a person goes to work at it intending to do it. Don't you ever, during your military career, report that a thing isn't done and can't be done. Nothing is impossible, sir, nothing. You have been taught a good lesson, sir. You ought to have been reprimanded for reporting in the first place that the gun couldn't be fixed. Let this be a lesson to you, sir, let this be a lesson. Don't ever give up anything as impossible; people who give up things as impossible, sir, don't get anywhere, sir. In this case, sir, you are to be commended for your success, and I take great pleasure in complimenting you."
On the forenoon of February 5, 1865, Captain Murphy of Company "A," with about a hundred men, was ordered up on the Denver road and told to go on up until he had crossed the trail of the Cheyennes and had reached that portion of the telegraph line which was uninjured, so that messages could be sent to Denver. Holcomb, the expert young telegraph operator, was sent up with them.
At the same time, Captain Wetherwax, of the First Nebraska Veteran Volunteer Cavalry, with a like number, was sent up Lodgepole to see what there was to be seen of the Indians, but not to bring on any engagement with them. They both started out at a rapid gait. On the next day, the 6th, towards the evening, both of these parties came back. Captain Murphy reported that at a place about twenty-five miles west, the lines were uninjured to Denver, and that he had had a talk with the Denver office and was told that the people of Denver were in great anxiety and at great inconvenience on account of the destruction of the wire; that the people of Denver wanted the wire put up just as fast as possible, as a great quantity of messages needed transmission, and that being cut off wholly from the outside world, the people were despondent as to the situation and did not know what had happened or might happen.
Captain Wetherwax returned, bringing back a straggling herd of cattle which had gotten away from the Indians, and saying that the Indians were crossing Jules Stretch for the Platte River, and that they were taking their time and herding the cattle along more carefully and with less expectation of pursuit and attack.
For a couple of days small scouting parties were sent in every direction, towards the south and up and down the north bank of the river, among the hills, to see what the Indians were doing and where they were, if there were any. Colonel Livingston received a telegram to guard the road, open up trade, protect the posts and the stage lines, as a first matter of duty; and the overtaking and punishing of the Indians as a second, but cautioned him against too bold an attack against so large a party of Indians as appeared to be within striking distance of him, and which seemed so strong and warlike. In fact, it did not seem safe for any party of cavalry that we then had to attack the large Indian band which had gone north.
On February 6, 1865, a large party of freighters and travelers came up the road, under escort, and the stage lines were reëstablished from the east. Captain O'Brien was detailed to take the train on up the river towards Denver, together with such of the refugees at our post as had been stopped and held there. The Captain started out and delivered his valuable train, and its following, far up the river to a party of Colorado cavalry that were starting down with another large train and outfit, going through to "the States." This train Captain O'Brien brought down to Julesburg.
I was mostly engaged in drilling my new battery and exercising it in rapid flying movements and in target practice, although the supply of ammunition did not give much room for that. In Indian warfare, as in all other kinds, accuracy and rapidity are the chief things to acquire; so we drilled all of the variety known as "flying drills." In the mean time, the poles for the telegraph line had been started up the river towards us, with instructions to put the teams through night and day until they reached Julesburg. No communications could be had with Laramie, Salt Lake or the Pacific Coast, owing to the destruction of the telegraph line. Always before this time the Indians had respected the telegraph wire, for reasons hereinbefore stated, but at this time they had emissaries among them, civilized Indians from the Southern Confederacy, as we believed, who were not disturbed by any superstitions and who knew the value of telegraph lines to an enemy, and who did not neglect to destroy the communications whenever convenient. It was urged upon us that the lines of wire must be fixed up; that was imperative. The demand of the overland telegraph company was constantly and urgently reiterated. The restoration of the telegraph seemed to be the principal thing to be done, and to be paramount to any question of punishing the Indians or recovering property. Those were the days when there were no railroads and no rapid mail communications, and the telegraph wire was in very great demand, and as there was only one wire to do the business through on each route, it was busy every minute of the day, from the end of one month to the end of another; and so when the line was down, great interests suffered, as did also many private and personal matters.
On the evening of February 9, 1865, Colonel Livingston sent for Captain Murphy, who was a most active, industrious and enduring officer of our regiment, to form plans for the restoration of the line from Julesburg west, and ordered him to plan an active party to take charge of the work and restore the lines through to make communication with Denver, and telling him that he could have forty soldiers. Captain Murphy was to make the plans, consider them well, and submit them to Colonel Livingston; and was told that he might take along a piece of artillery. Captain Murphy came to me to talk the matter over, and said that he wanted me to go along with him, and that he wasn't satisfied with only forty men and one piece of artillery. He asked me if I couldn't take two pieces of artillery and go with him and assist him in the very arduous task which the order entailed, adding in a humorous way, "You will never see Omaha." I was not particularly attracted by the idea presented by Captain Murphy, and told him that I did not think that Colonel Livingston would permit his artillery to be divided up in that way; that I would go, of course, if I were ordered, but that if there was an expedition up to attack the Indians Colonel Livingston would probably want me along with him, and I would prefer to go on that expedition, instead of putting up telegraph poles. All this time I was an Aide-de-Camp for General Mitchell.
On the next morning, Captain Murphy went to the Colonel and told him his plan, and succeeded in getting me detailed with two pieces of artillery to go with his party. Colonel Livingston sent for me and told me about it, and I objected, saying that I desired to go with the expedition, if any were sent out; but the Colonel said that be was not certain as to any future movements, and thought I had better go with Captain Murphy. Thereupon, I went to see the Captain and told him that I was going with him and would take two twelve-pound mountain howitzers. We then together discussed the methods of doing the work, and what we would need to take along; got a lot of rations cooked up, tools and implements prepared, two wagons, and awaited the arrival of the telegraph poles.
In the mean time, Captain O'Brien had been down the road on escort duty, and, having struck the head of the telegraph-pole train, ordered it to push forward as rapidly as possible. The Captain was always pushing things. The result was that the pole train reached our fort about ten o'clock in the evening of February 11, 1865. As they were heralded as coming, Captain Murphy got his detail of men, which in fact amounted to 46 men, exclusive of him and me, and when the train arrived it was ordered that they should stop two hours, rest and feed and water the mules, and then push right on. The train was scattered and strung out for several miles down the road, and, as the teams kept coming up, the same order was given to each of them. Such a volley of oaths and protestations I hardly ever heard before. These men had been coming night and day and were all used up, and the profanity was terrible, especially that of the wagon-boss. His remarks had a sublimity that no unprofessional wagon-boss could hope to excel. He had a collection of compound adjectives that equalled anything I had ever heard. Nevertheless, at twelve o'clock at night the head of the wagon train and our squad of cavalry started west, and the teams fell in one by one, as they became fed, watered and hitched up, and we kept going until we came to where the first pole was out. As stated before, the whole matter being one of emergency, the lightest poles had been selected for transportation to Julesburg, and they were smaller in diameter than most of the poles which had been used on the line. We detailed the men by fours; "number four" held horses; numbers one and two had picks; and number three had a spade or shovel. Instead of digging holes to put the posts in, it was immediately discovered that the quickest way was to pull out the stump of the old pole and put the new pole in its place; so numbers one and two drove their picks into the stump at the ground, and number three put in his spade and they pried the stump out. Then the wagon came up and a telegraph pole was taken out, put into the vacancy, tamped down and filled in, In the mean time others of the company had moved on to the next stump, where four more were detailed, and so on, and in a short time the company was strung out a quarter of a mile "by fours" and as fast as a post was set, the order was, "Mount! Forward! Gallop! March!" and the four men went past all the other fours and seized on the first vacant stump. We had about six sets of fours running. We also had guards riding out. It was moonlight.
During all of this time the teams were going along until they finally overtook and passed the head of the column and dropped a pole at each stump. With the train was a light ambulance wagon with a lot of wire and insulators and telegraph instruments. We held the teams occasionally, so as to have them equally unloaded, and that the mules might share their burdens equally. From the telegraph wagon the wire was uncoiled and a climber went up and fixed the insulator and set the wire. From time to time the wire was fastened to the wagon and stretched tight by the pull of the mules. A rear guard of two men, an advance guard of two men and a flank patrol of two men were all that was needed. It was arranged so that every man was hard at work doing something. We loaded onto the wagons the stumps we pulled, to be used as firewood. When morning came we stopped and got breakfast (February 12th), and rested our horses and ourselves for two hours; then we started on and worked all day. It was a hard, severe task, but every man seemed to be animated by a desire to get the job through with and get back to the post at Julesburg, so as to get into the expedition north, if one started. We did not let the teams get very far ahead of us, and from time to time we coralled them, so that if any attack might occur or any danger might appear, we could rally on the wagons. The artillery went along in the center, among the wagons. We worked all day, got the poles all in, strung up the wire and established communications with Julesburg, showing that the line was open to Omaha. We were now about twenty-five miles west of Julesburg, at a place called Buffalo Springs, and Indians, for the last two or three miles, had been seen in the hills south of us.
From this place, Buffalo Springs, the telegraph line west was but little damaged, but still the line would not work to Denver. There was some fresh trouble. We got through with setting poles about 8 p.m., but there was a bright, beautiful moon. The day had been an exhausting one, because many of the pole-holes had to be deeply dug, and tamped down. The new poles in many instances were as big as the old one had been, and would not fit. We fried bacon and made hot slapjacks for supper, and every one ate heartily. We were a very tired lot of young men. Captain Murphy was the oldest man in the party. He had been quite active, and at night was thoroughly exhausted.
A stray steer was grazing on the river-bottom, and we killed and skinned it that night, and with the pole stumps we boiled beef all night, with the guards to watch it. The wolves howled around us that night as if there were a convention. The moonlight and the swell of the meat kept them going in concerts all night. We slept until 6 a.m. (February 13th), and at 8 a.m. we started west; occasionally a pole was down or out, and at places the wire was cut, but we made repairs with such rapidity that the train kept moving steadily on. We kept in constant touch by wire with Julesburg.
Finally we reached Valley Station, 52 miles west of Julesburg; at that place we found we could talk over the wire with Denver, and the telegraph wire was restored. There we found some teams that were coming down in a train from Denver. They had been held up by the appearance of Indians in the hills, and had got into a sod ranch and were holding themselves in readiness. It was about three o'clock in the afternoon when we got there. There was a large supply of corn in the stage station, in sacks. About twenty-five Indians made their appearance in the hills, and the position of the ranch was such that the artillery could not be used from the inside of it. Captain Murphy and I talked the matter over, and decided that the appearances were that the Indians were going to make an attack. We thereupon put every man to work and carried out the sacks of corn onto the prairie, where there was a good chance to put the artillery, and we made a large shelled-corn bastion. It would be bullet-proof as against the Indians, and we had two embrasures from which to fire the artillery. It did not take us over thirty minutes to put up this bastion. The Indians pranced around in the hills, but did not seem desirous of making an attack, and we stayed there until the sun had nearly set and our horses were rested, and then the question was, whether or not we had better go on down that night or wait until morning. Captain Murphy decided that we would go in the evening, as soon as our horses were rested; those civilians who were penned there determined to go with us.
Just as the sun was about sinking, the Indians disappeared, and I got up on the bastion with my field-glass to see if I could see anything, and casting my eyes down the river, I saw a black speck which to me looked like a moving team. After watching it for a while, it slowing emerged into view, and sure enough, there was coming up the river a lone wagon, with two dark-colored horses, and two men walking, one on each side of the wagon. Not knowing what it could be, Captain Murphy sent a corporal and four men out towards the team to tell them to hurry in. After a while they came into camp. I wanted to talk with them and find out how it was that they were traveling around all alone, through that kind of danger, when to my surprise, I found that they were two Germans who could not speak English. We finally got a man out of the company who could speak German, and strange was the story which the Germans told. They said that they had just arrived at Omaha from Germany and were going west to the mines; that they wanted to make some money, and had concluded to haul a wagon-load of fresh oysters to Denver. They had put the rectangular tin cans of oysters in their wagons at Omaha, poured in water and froze the whole wagon-load into one solid lump. They had got all that their two mules could possibly haul, and covering it all up, started for Denver. They had been so afraid that they might be seen and robbed, that after they got past Fort Kearney they had gone down and hid near the river and then traveled all night; they had never seen any trouble nor heard of any trouble. They had made good long travels every night, and had hidden down by the river every day; and supposing everything was safe where they now were, they had just started on their evening trip. They had been hidden alongside of the river, about three miles below the place where we then were. They said they were afraid to travel in trains for fear they would be robbed. This was all told in German; they couldn't speak any English, and hence had not been told anything which they could understand.
I thought I would see if they were telling the truth, so I dug into their ice-bank and found it as they had said, and I bought two quart cans of them for five dollars, one for Captain Murphy and one for myself. Several of the men bought cans. Sitting out on the corn bastion after sunset, Captain Murphy and I each ate a can of frozen oysters, as delightful and fresh as if they were just out of Chesapeake Bay. Under the circumstances, we did not feel like saying to those two Germans that they could not go any farther, and when we had our interpreters tell them about the Indians, they simply shook their heads, and said, "Es macht nichts aus" (it makes no difference). So on they went, and as they had each taken forty chances on their lives, I have always hoped that they sold their oysters for two dollars and a half a can, and if they did, they made a great deal of money.
There was much objection and protest on the part of the men toward starting back. We had in forty hours built eight miles of telegraph, strung up twenty-one miles of down and damaged wire, and marched fifty-two miles. This was a lot of work to do in so short a time. Captain Murphy concluded to rescind his order, and to camp all night where we were, at Valley Station. This made the civilians angry, and they protested. They wanted to get on down the road, but we stayed in camp, ate boiled beef, drank quarts of hot coffee, and enjoyed our rest. Captain Murphy was used up. He was too well along in years to stand so much; he was resolute, but he had to succumb. During the night he was quite ill. His trouble was principally over-work.
Many were the congratulations which we received for our quick work in putting up the line. The Denver papers and the Omaha papers gave us great commendations.
We started back at 8 a.m., just as a train under escort arrived from the west with a squad of soldiers who were trying to overtake us, they having by wire found out our whereabouts. The soldiers (I think, Third Colorado Cavalry) were ordered to stop and garrison Valley Station, and to hold it so that the stage line could be reëstablished. We started on down to Julesburg with a great retinue of travelers. Murphy was being hauled in a wagon. The command fell to me. We marched carefully, solidly and slowly. We saw no Indians, not even a smoke signal. The weather in the morning changed to bad, and the wind began to blow from the north terrifically. It blew so hard we could not see ahead of us, and we rode with our capes over our heads and faces. Twenty miles down, we struck Moore's ranch, and having the stumps of some of the telegraph poles in our wagons, we camped for the night, and made fires. The weather turned quite cold, and it was zero weather. We saw no Indians during the whole day's march of twenty miles, but we marched solidly and carefully all day. Twenty miles was the best we could do for that day. We were thirty-two miles west of Julesburg. I am not now sure about it, but I believe the place was called Lillian Springs.
The next morning when we got down to Buffalo Springs, which was twenty-five miles west of Julesburg, we were overtaken by another detachment of cavalry from the west, with a convoy of stage coaches from the west. The soldiers were ordered to garrison Buffalo Springs and turn the coaches over to us, for us to guard to Julesburg. This opened up and completed the stage line again from Denver to Omaha, and thereafter the stages ran regularly. It was a bitter day going down to Julesburg, but every one did his best to make it cheerful.
We arrived in Julesburg at 6 p.m., after a march of thirty-two miles. The wind blew hard all day and the weather was exceedingly disagreeable, and we went with our wagon-train and stages in a compact and solid column. When we got in I found a telegram for me to immediately come to Fort Kearney. I also found Colonel Livingston ready to start back to the east, and we were told of the proceedings which had taken place up on the North Platte while we were gone, which I will tell of in the next chapter.