DANGERS OF THE TRAIL
A Narrative of Actual Events
By CHARLES E. YOUNG
GENEVA, N. Y. 1912
COPYRIGHT, 1912 BY CHARLES E. YOUNG
Press of W. F. Humphrey, Geneva, N. Y. H. DeF. Patterson, Illustrator, Geneva, N. Y.
I present this narrative of actual events on a trip across the plains to Denver, Colorado, in 1865 and of life in the Far West in the later sixties.
An interesting and valuable feature is a map of the country, made in 1865, by Henry Bowles of Boston, showing the old Platte River and Smoky Hill Trails of that day before there was a railroad west of the Missouri River.
Everything is told in a plain but truthful manner, and this little volume is submitted to the reader for approval or criticism.
CHAS. E. YOUNG July, 1912
CHAPTER I—Young Man, Go West
CHAPTER II—Arrival at Fort Carney
CHAPTER III—An Attack by the Indians
CHAPTER IV—Denver in 1865
CHAPTER V—A Proof of Marksmanship
CHAPTER VI—On to Leavenworth
CHAPTER VII—A Plucky German
"YOUNG MAN, GO WEST"
Early in 1859 gold was discovered in Colorado, and Horace Greeley, the well known writer and a power throughout the country both before and during the Civil War, made, in the interest of the New York Tribune, of which he was editor, an overland trip to Denver by the first stage line run in that day. He started from Leavenworth, Kansas, and with the exception of Mr. Richardson, of the Boston Journal, was the only passenger in the coach. The trip was not all that could be desired, for they met with numerous hardships and many narrow escapes, as did hundreds of others who had preceded them over that dangerous trail, many never reaching their destination—having met death at the hands of the cruel Indians of the plains.
During his stay in Denver Mr. Greeley wrote a number of letters to the New York Tribune, confirming the finding of gold in the territory and advising immigration. The people in the East were skeptical in regard to its discovery and awaited a written statement from him to this effect.
At the close of the war Mr. Greeley's advice to young men, through the columns of his paper, was to go West and grow up with the country, and it became a byword throughout the State of New York and the Nation, "Young man, go West and grow up with the country."
Could Mr. Greeley have foreseen the number of young lives that were to be sacrificed through his advice, I think he would have hesitated before giving it; yet, it was the most valued utterance of any public man of that day for the settlement of the then Far West.
After reading a number of these letters in the New York Tribune, I became very enthusiastic over the opportunities that the West offered for the young man. There was also a loyal friend of mine who became as enthusiastic over it as myself. Thus, while we were still so young as to be called boys, we made up our minds to follow Mr. Greeley's advice, and "Go West and grow up with the country."
In making our purchases for the trip we were obliged to make our plans known to an acquaintance, who at once expressed a desire to accompany us. After consultation, we consented and at the appointed time, the fore part of July, 1865, just at the close of the Civil War, we boarded a New York Central train at the depot in Geneva, N. Y., with no thought of the hardships and dangers we would be called upon to meet.
The first night found us at the Falls of Niagara—the most stupendous production of nature that the country was known to possess at that time. Our time was divided between the American and Canadian sides, viewing the grand spectacle at all hours, from the rising to the setting of the sun; and, awed by the marvelous masterpiece of grandeur, we were held as if fascinated by its beauty, until we were forced to leave for the want of food and to replenish our commissary. When we boarded the cars to be whirled through the then wilds of Lower Canada, we were liberally supplied with the best the country produced.
Upon the fifth day we rolled into Chicago, the cosmopolitan city of the West. Two days later we reached Quincy, Ill., where we made connection with the old Hannibal & St. Joe Railroad which was to take us through Missouri to Atchison, Kansas. Missouri, after the war, was not an ideal state for a law abiding citizen, much less for inexperienced youths of our age, and we quickly realized that fact. Many stations had their quota of what was termed the Missouri bushwhacker, or, more plainly speaking, outlaws, who, during the war and for some time after, pillaged the state and surrounding country, leaving in their wake death and destruction. They had belonged to neither side at war, but were a set of villians banded together to plunder, burn, ravage and murder young and old alike; as wicked a set of villians as the world has ever known. At many stations they would nearly fill the car, making it very unpleasant for the passengers. Their language and insults caused every one to be guarded in conversation. The condition of the road, however, often gave us relief, as we were obliged to alight and walk, at times, when arriving at a point where ties or rails had to be replaced. Its entire length showed the carnage and destruction of war, making travel slow and dangerous as well as uncomfortable. On reaching the state of bleeding Kansas and the then village of Atchison we were about used up. We at once called at the Ben Holiday Stage Office and inquired the price of a ticket to Denver, but finding it to be beyond our means, we decided to go by ox conveyance.
We were not long in finding what, in those days, was called a tavern, located in the outskirts of the town. Having been chosen spokesman, I stepped up to the rough board counter and registered. We were soon confronted by the toughest individual we had yet seen. I pleasantly bade him good morning but received no immediate recognition, save a wild stare from two horrible, bloodshot eyes. I quickly came to the conclusion that we were up against the real Western article, nor was I mistaken. He didn't keep up waiting long, for he soon roared out an oath and wanted to know where we were from. After telling him as near as I possibly could, under the circumstances, he again became silent. His look and brace of revolvers were not reassuring, to say the least. He soon came out of his trance and did not keep us long in suspense, for his next act was to pull out both of his life-takers, and, not in very choice language, introduce himself as Commanche Bill from Arkansas, emphasizing the Arkansas by letting the contents of both of his instruments of death pierce the ceiling of his story and a half shack. I have wondered many times since that I am alive. We had been told by a fellow passenger that Atchison was a little short of Hades, and we were fast realizing that our informer was not far out of the way; yet, it was a haven in comparison to other places at which we were yet to arrive. Commanche William, or whatever his right name might have been, was a different person after his forceful introduction.
He began to question me. He asked me if we had any money.
"Well, then you had better get straight back to them, for if you remain in these parts long, they will be unable to recognize you. Where are you fellows headed for, anyway?"
"No, sir. By ox or mule conveyance."
"You are too light weight. No freighter will hire you."
"They will or we'll walk."
"You will not walk far for the Indians along the Platte are ugly. By the way, do you pards ever take anything?"
Not wishing to offend such a character, I gave my companions the wink and we followed him into the bar-room with the full determination of making a friend of him. After all had done the sociable act—of course gentlemen only drink for sociability sake—I took him to one side purposely to draw him into a little private chat, and it was not long before his self-conceit had the better of him. He ordered grub—as all meals were called in the West in those days—for four, stating he was in need of a bite himself. Before the meal had been finished, I became convinced that the old fellow had a tender spot in his makeup, like all tough outlaws, and, if one had tact enough to discover it, he might have great influence over him; otherwise, we would be obliged to sleep with both eyes open and each with his right hand on the butt of his revolver.
THE AMERICAN INDIAN
The following day was passed in taking in the town and Indian Reservation, which was but a short distance from the place. There we came, for the first time, face to face with the American Indian, the sole owner of this vast and fertile continent before the paleface landed to dispute his right of ownership. Foot by foot they had been driven from East, North and South, until at that time they were nearly all west of the great Missouri River, or River of Mud, as the Indians called it. At the suggestion of our landlord, we took with us an interpreter, a few trinkets, and something to moisten the old chief's lips. Upon our arrival we were duly presented to the chief, who invited us to sit on the ground upon fur robes made from the pelts of different animals, including the antelope and the buffalo, or American bison, the monarch of the plains, and each one of us in turn took a pull at the pipe of peace. We then made a tour of their lodges. When we returned, the chief called his squaws to whom we presented our gifts, which pleased them greatly. To the old chief I handed a bottle of Atchison's best. As he grasped it, a smile stole over his ugly face, and with a healthy grunt and a broad grin, he handed me back the empty bottle. Indians love liquor better than they do their squaws. In return he gave me a buffalo robe which later became of great service. After taking another pull at the pipe of peace, we thanked him and took our departure, having no desire to be present when Atchison's invigorator commenced to invigorate his Indian brain.
The impression made by that visit to a supposedly friendly tribe, who at that time had a peace treaty with the government, was not one of confidence. The noble red men, as they were called by the Eastern philanthropist, were as treacherous to the whites as an ocean squall to the navigator. No pen or picture has or can fully describe the cruelty of their nature.
It was dusk when we reached our tavern, and we found it filled with a lawless band of degenerates, as repulsive as any that ever invested Western plains or canyons of the Rockies. We were at once surrounded and by a display of their shooting irons, forced to join in their beastly carnival. It was not for long, however, for a sign from the landlord brought me to his side. He whispered, "When I let my guns loose you fellows pike for the loft." There were no stairs. No sooner had he pulled his life-takers than all the others followed his example. Bullets flew in every direction. Clouds of smoke filled the room, but we had ducked and scaled the ladder to the loft and safety. Sleep was out of the question until the early hours of the morning, for the night was made hideous by blasphemous language, howls of pain and the ring of revolvers. The first call for grub found us ready and much in need of a nerve quieter, which the old sinner laughingly supplied; but no word from him of the night's bloody work. Taking me to one side, he said, "Take no offence, but repeat nothing you hear or see in these parts, and strictly mind your own business and a fellow like you will get into no trouble." I thanked him and followed his advice to the letter during my entire Western life.
THE FIRST CAMP
After that night's experience, we decided to pay our bill and become acclimated to camp life. We had taken with us a tent, blankets and three toy pistols, the latter entirely useless in that country, which proved how ignorant we were of Western ways. We were not long in finding a suitable camping spot a mile from the town and the same distance from the many corrals of the great Western freighters and pilgrims, as the immigrants were called. For miles we could see those immense, white covered prairie schooners in corral formation. Hundreds of oxen and mules were quietly grazing under the watchful eyes of their herders in saddle. It was certainly a novel sight to the tenderfoot.
We soon had our tent up and leaving one of our number in charge the other two went to town for the necessary camp utensils and grub. Immediately on our return supper was prepared and the novelty enjoyed. After a three days' rest I started out to make the rounds of the corrals in search of a driver's berth. All freighters had a wagon boss and an assistant who rightfully had the reputation of being tyrants when on the trail, using tact and discretion when in camp. A revolver settled all disputes. On approaching them they treated me as well as their rough natures would permit; but I did not take kindly to any of them. They all told me that I was undersized, and too young to stand the dangers and hardships of a trip. I returned to camp much disappointed but not discouraged.
The following morning we proceeded to the large warehouses on the river front, where all Western freighters were to be found. In those days all emigrants and oxen and mule trains with freight going to the far Western Territories would start from either Council Bluffs, Iowa, Leavenworth, Kansas, Atchison or St. Joe, Missouri; Atchison being the nearest point, a large majority embarked from there. The freight was brought up the Missouri River in flat-bottom steam-boats, propelled by a large wheel at the stern, and unloaded on the bank of the river. The perishable goods were placed in the large warehouses but the unperishable were covered with tarpaulin and left where unloaded. They were then transferred to large white covered prairie schooners and shipped to their different points of destination in trains of from twenty-five to one hundred wagons. The rate for freighting depended on the condition of the Indians and ran from ten cents per pound up to enormous charges in some cases.
After making application to several of the freighters and receiving the same reply as from the wagon bosses, we went a short distance down the river to the last of the warehouses. On our approach we discovered a genuine bullwhacker—as all ox drivers were called in that day—in conversation with a short, stout-built fellow with red hair and whiskers to match. The moment he became disengaged I inquired if he was a freighter. He said that he was and that he wanted more men. His name was Whitehead, just the opposite to the color of his hair, and as I stepped up to him I wondered what kind of a disposition the combination made—whitehead, redhead. I at once made application for a position for the three of us. In rather a disagreeable voice, he asked me if I could drive. I replied that I could.
"Can you handle a gun and revolver?"
"How many trips have you made?"
"Then how the devil do you know you can drive?"
"For the simple reason I am more than anxious to learn, and so are my friends." Then I made a clean breast of the position we were in and urged him to give us a chance.
"Well," he said, "You seem to be a determined little cuss; are the rest of the same timber?"
I told him they were of the same wood but not of the same tree.
After thinking the matter over, he said, "I'll tell you what I will do. I will hire the big fellow for driver at one hundred and twenty-five dollars per month, and the little fellow for night herder at one hundred dollars a month, and yourself for cook for one mess of twenty-five men and for driver in case of sickness or death, at one hundred and twenty-five dollars a month."
We then gave him our names, and, in return, he gave us a note to Mr. Perry, his wagon boss. We at once started for his corral, two miles distant, where we found the gentleman. He asked where our traps were. We told him, and also assured him that we would report for duty the following morning.
When we reached our camp we were completely tired out, but passed the remainder of the day in celebrating our success, and feeling assured that if we escaped the scalping knife of the Indians, we would reach Denver in due time, and, when paid off have a nice sum in dollars.
The following morning we had an early breakfast, broke camp, and reported at the corral where each was presented with two revolvers and a repeating carbine. I was then taken over to the mess wagon which was liberally supplied with bacon (in the rough), flour, beans, cargum (or sour molasses), coffee, salt, pepper, baking-powder and dried apples; the latter we were allowed three times a week for dessert. There was also a skillet for baking bread, which resembled a covered spider without a handle.
When the assistant cook, with whom I was favored, had started the fire and sufficient coals had accumulated, he would rake them out and place the skillet on them. As soon as the dough was prepared, a chunk was cut off and put in the skillet, the lid placed and covered with coals; in fifteen minutes we would have as nice a looking loaf of bread as one could wish to see, browned to a tempting color. When eaten warm, it was very palatable, but when cold, only bullwhackers could digest it. An old-fashioned iron kettle in which to stew the beans and boil the dried apples, or vice versa, coffee pots, frying pans, tin plates, cups, iron knives and forks, spoons and a combination dish and bread-pan made up the remainder of the cooking and eating utensils.
EXPERIENCES AMONG THE BUSHWHACKERS
It seemed that my assistant was exempt from bringing water, which often had to be carried in kegs for two miles, so he fried the meat and washed the dishes. I soon caught on to the cooking, and doing my best to please everyone, soon became aware of the fact that I had many friends among the toughest individuals on earth, the professional bullwhackers, who, according to their own minds, were very important personages. Their good qualities were few, and consisted of being a sure shot, and expert at lariat and whip-throwing. They would bet a tenderfoot a small sum that they could at a distance of twelve feet, abstract a small piece from his trousers without disturbing the flesh. They could do this trick nine times out of ten. The whips consisted of a hickory stalk two feet long, a lash twelve feet in length with buck or antelope skin snapper nine inches in length. The stalk was held in the left hand, the lash coiled with the right hand and index finger of the left. It was then whirled several times around the head, letting it shoot straight out and bringing it back with a quick jerk. It would strike wherever aimed, raising a dead-head ox nearly off its hind quarters and cutting through the hide and into the flesh. When thrown into space, it would make a report nearly as loud as a revolver. A lariat is a fifty foot line with a running noose at one end and made from the hide of various animals. It is coiled up and carried on the pommel of the saddle. When used for capturing animals or large game, it is whirled several times around the head when the horse is on a dead run and fired at the head of the victim. A professional can place the loop nearly every time.
During the third day of corral life, the steers arrived, and the hard work, mixed with much fun, commenced. A corral is about the shape of an egg, closed by the wagons at one end, and left open to admit the cattle at the other, then closed by chains.
MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION
Our wheelers and leaders were docile, old freighters, the others were long-horned, wild Texas steers. All of the freighters had their oxen branded for identification, using the first letter of his last name for the purpose. The brand was made from iron and was about four inches in height, attached to a rod three feet in length. A rope was placed over the horns of the animal and his head was drawn tight to the hub of a heavy laden prairie schooner. A bullwhacker, tightly grasping the tail of the beast, would twist him to attention. The man with the branding implement heated to a white heat would quickly jab the ox on the hind quarter, burning through hair and hide and into the flesh. Then, after applying a solution of salt and water, he was left to recover as best he could. The brand would remain in evidence more than a year unless the steer was captured by cattle thieves, who possessed a secret for growing the hair again in six months. When the branding was completed, each man was given twelve steers to break to yoke, and it was three long weeks before we were in shape to proceed on our long Western tramp. The cattle were driven in each morning at break of day, the same time as when on trail. Each man with a yoke on his left shoulder and a bow in his right hand would go groping about in almost total darkness to select his twelve steers. When they were all found he would yoke them and hitch them to the wagons; the wheelers to the tongue, the leaders in front and the balance to section chains. For days we were obliged to lariat the wildest of them and draw their heads to the hubs of the heavily laden wagons, before being able to adjust the yoke, many times receiving a gentle reminder from the hind hoof of one of the critters to be more careful. I went into the fray with the full determination of learning the profession of driver and at the tenth day I had broken in a team of extras.
ON THE SICK LIST
I was then taken sick and for two long weeks kept my bed of earth under the mess wagon, with no mother or doctor, and two thousand miles from home. You may be able to imagine my feelings, but I doubt it. At the end of the second week Mr. Perry came and told me they would make a start the next afternoon and, in his judgment, he thought it unwise to think of making the trip in my present condition. I knew my condition was serious, but I would rather have died on the road, among those outlaws, than to have been left in Atchison among entire strangers. They were all very kind and did what they could for me, but were powerless to check my fast failing strength. I had wasted to less than one hundred pounds in weight and was too weak to even lift an arm.
I pleaded with Mr. Perry for some time and finally overcame his objections. "Well," he said, "Charlie, I will fix a bed in my wagon and you can bunk with me." I objected, for I did not wish to discommode him in the least and told him a good bed could be fixed in the mess wagon. "As you will," he said, and had the boys get some straw which together with the Buffalo robe made a very comfortable bed when not on the move.
A THUNDER STORM
The next day they picked me up and put me in the second or reserve mess wagon. Shortly after that the start was made. We had covered less than two miles when all of a sudden I heard the rumbling of distant thunder. Very soon rain began to patter on the canvas covering of my wagon. Then Heaven's artillery broke loose and the water came down in torrents. Never in my young life had I witnessed such a storm. It seemed as if thunder, lightning and clouds had descended to earth and were mad with anger. The racket was deafening. Between the angered claps could be heard the cursing of those Missouri bushwhackers, who, in their oaths, defied the Almighty to do his worst and hurled unspeakable insults at the memory of the mothers who gave them birth. I knew they were trying hard to make corral; whether they could do it, rested entirely with the wagon boss.
The cattle were crazed with fright and the moment they were loose, would certainly stampede. The oxen were finally unyoked and such a snorting and bellowing, it would be impossible to describe. As the racket died away in their mad race, my thoughts turned to my chum, who I knew was with them, and would be trampled beyond recognition by their death-dealing hoofs, if he had not gained his proper position in the rear.
THE LOG CABIN
At that juncture the front flaps of my wagon were parted and at a flash I recognized two of the men, who bore me across the way to the "Old Log Cabin" on the extreme edge of the then Western civilization. As they laid me down I swooned from sheer exhaustion and fright. Before I had become fully conscious I heard that gruff old wagon boss telling the good woman of the cabin to spare nothing for my comfort. She felt of my pulse, asked me a few questions and assured him that she would soon have me on my feet. He bade "God bless me," and passed out into the dark and stormy night. The good woman poked up the fire and placed an old-fashioned, iron tea-kettle in position to do its duty. At that juncture a young miss about my own age came from somewhere, as if by magic, and was told by the good mother to prepare a chicken, that she might make broth for the sick young man, pointing to where I lay. For two hours that good mother worked over me, now and then giving me draughts of hot herb tea, while the daughter deftly prepared nature's wild bird of the prairie, occasionally shooting darts of sympathy from her jet black eyes. When the bird had been cooked, the meat and bones were removed leaving only the broth which was seasoned to a nicety and given me in small quantities and at short intervals until early morning, when I passed into dreamland with the mother keeping vigil as though I were her own son. When I awoke I felt refreshed and comfortable, and found her still at my side, doing for me that which only a mother can.
At daybreak I heard footsteps above; presently the father and son came in. The daughter was called and breakfast was prepared. They told me that our cattle had stampeded and it might be days before they were found. After a three days search my chum and the cattle were overtaken miles from camp, but none the worse for their fearful experience. The moment he arrived he came to see me. I was sitting up for the first time, wrapped in Indian blankets, but very weak. I assured him that I would certainly get well, emphasizing the fact, however, that had we not run into that fearful storm, making my present haven of care possible, I could never have recovered, and believed that the prayers of a loving mother at home had been answered.
A CATTLE STAMPEDE
He then related his experience with those storm-maddened cattle. The first clap of thunder awoke him, and when the rain began he knew he was in for a bad night, and had taken every precaution to supply himself with all things needful. His description of the storm and mad race to keep up with those wild animals, crazed with fright, was enough to congeal the blood of a well man, and in my condition it nearly unnerved me. But I was delighted to know that he was safe, for we were like brothers. His safe arrival, together with the motherly care I had received and was receiving, put me rapidly on the gain. Not a morning passed that the daughter did not shoulder her trusty rifle and go out in search of some refreshment for me, always returning with a number of chickens of the prairie. She was a sure shot, as were the entire family, for they were all born and brought up on the border, moving farther West as the country became settled. From the father I learned the treachery of the Indians, their mode of warfare and different methods of attack; in fact, I had the devilish traits of the noble red men—as history called them—down to a nicety.
When the daughter's day's work was done, she would read to me and relate stories of her life, which reminded me of the "Wild Rose" in all its purity and strength.
The fifth day after the cattle were found the train broke corral and proceeded on its long Western tramp. Before leaving, Mr. Perry made arrangements with the old borderman for me to overtake them as soon as I was able.
The fourth day after the train had left, I made up my mind that I would start the next morning at sunrise and so informed my Western friends, whom, I felt, had saved my life. The old borderman expressed regret at my leaving and informed me that both he and his son would accompany me to camp. I thanked him and assured him that I felt a mother could not have done more for her own son than his wife had for me—they had all shown me every consideration possible—and that I should always remember them, which I have. At this juncture the mother spoke up gently, but firmly, and addressing her husband, said, "If you have no objection, daughter will accompany Mr. Young. She is a sure shot, a good horsewoman, and the horses are fleet of foot. We have not heard of any Indians in the neighborhood for some time, and besides she wants to go and the ride will do her good."
He replied, "My good woman, you cannot tell where the Indians are, they may be miles away today, but here this very night."
"That is true," she said, "but the stage driver told me that he had not seen a redskin since crossing the Nebraska line."
"That may be," he replied, "still they may have been in the bluffs, or sand hills watching their opportunity to surprise one of the many small trains of pilgrims, thinking to overpower them, run off their cattle and massacre all."
"Yes, that is all true, but I'll wager they could not catch our girl."
After thinking silently for a few moments, he said, "Well, if you wish, she may go; but if anything happens to our little one, you alone will be blamed."
That settled it. We talked long after father and brother had bade us good night. Mother and daughter finally retired; but, as for myself, I was nervous and restless, sleeping little, thinking of home and loved ones; not, however, forgetting the little "Wild Rose" that was separated from me only by a curtain partition.
The following morning we were up at break of day, and at just 5:30 on a lovely August morning the horses were brought to the door and both quickly mounted. Her riding habit of buckskin, trimmed with colored beads, was the most becoming costume I had ever seen on her during my stay, and for the first time I wished that I were not going, but it was for a moment only.
WITH THE WAGON TRAIN AGAIN
My destination was Denver, and nothing could change my plans except death in the natural way, or being cut down by those treacherous plains roamers. After a pleasant ride which lasted till noon, we came in sight of the corral. When within a quarter of a mile of it, she informed me she was going no farther. Both quickly dismounted. Our conversation would not interest you. Suffice to say, the parting was painful to both. I bade her good-bye and she was off like a flash. I walked slowly into camp, now and then turning to watch the fast retreating figure of as brave a prairie child as nature ever produced. The men appeared glad to see me; the gruff old wagon boss more so than any of the others, for he would not let me turn my hand to any kind of work until I was able. Then I did my best to repay him for his many kindnesses.
At 2 o'clock that afternoon the train broke corral, and for the first time I realized the slowness of our progress, and the long trip before us. Under the most favorable circumstances we could not make over ten miles a day and more often at the beginning three, five and seven.
Our bed was mother earth, a rubber blanket and buffalo robe the mattress, two pairs of blankets the covering, Heaven's canopy the roof; the stars our silent sentinels. The days were warm, the nights cool. We would go into camp at sundown. The cattle were unyoked and driven to water. After grub the night herder and one of the drivers would take them in charge, and if there were no Indians following, would drive them to a good grazing spot over the bluffs.
We passed through Kansas, after crossing the Little and Big Blue rivers, and part of Nebraska without seeing another log cabin or woods. Every fifteen or twenty miles there was a stage station of the Ben Holiday coach line, which ran between Atchison, Kansas, and Sacramento, California. At every station would be a relay of six horses, and by driving night and day would make one hundred miles every twenty-four hours. They were accompanied by a guard of United States soldiers on top of coaches and on horseback.
ARRIVAL AT FORT CARNEY
Arriving at Fort Carney we struck the Platte River trail leading to Denver. We were compelled by United States army officers to halt and await the arrival of a train of fifty armed men before being allowed to proceed. In a few hours the required number came up, together with three wagon loads of pilgrims. No train was permitted to pass a Government fort without one hundred well-armed men; but once beyond the fort, they would become separated and therein lay the danger.
A captain was appointed by the commander of the fort to take charge. Here we struck the plains proper, or the great American desert, as it was often called, the home of the desperate Indians, degraded half-breeds, and the squaw man—white men with Indian wives—who were at that time either French or Spanish; also the fearless hunters and trappers with nerves of steel, outdoing the bravest Indian in daring and the toughest grizzly in endurance. It is a matter of record that these men of iron were capable and some did amputate their own limbs. A knife sharpened as keen as a razor's edge would cut the flesh; another hacked into a saw would separate the bones and sensitive marrow; while an iron heated to white heat seared up the arteries and the trick was done. There was no anesthetic in those days.
There were also the cattle and mule thieves who lived in the bluffs, miles from the trail of white men, a tough lot of desperadoes, believing in the adage "Dead men tell no tales."
There were the ranchmen at intervals of twenty, fifty and a hundred miles, who sold to the pilgrims supplies, such as canned goods, playing cards, whiskey of the vilest type, and traded worn-out cattle, doctored to look well for a few days and then give out, thus cheating freighters and pilgrims alike.
These adobe ranches were built of sod cut in lengths of from two to four feet, four inches in thickness and eighteen inches in width and laid grass side down. The side walls were laid either single or double, six feet in height, with the end walls tapering upward. A long pole was then placed from peak to peak and shorter poles from side walls to ridge pole. Four inches of grass covered the poles and the same depth of earth completed the structure making the best fortifications ever devised; no bullet was able to penetrate their sides nor could fire burn them. The poles used for building these adobe ranches were in most cases hauled two hundred miles and in some cases three hundred miles.
WILD ANIMALS OF THE WEST
On a graceful slope roamed immense herds of buffalo, bands of elk, thousands of antelope, herds of black-and white-tail deer and the large gray wolf. Coyotes about the size of a shepherd dog would assemble on the high bluffs or invade the camp and make night hideous by their continuous and almost perfect imitation of a human baby's cry, making sleep impossible. The prairie dog, the fierce rattlesnake, and the beautiful little white burrowing-owl, occupied the same hole in the ground, making a queer family combination. Contrary to the belief of all dwellers and travelers of the plains in that day, Colonel Roosevelt claims it is not a fact that the three mentioned animals occupied the same quarters together, and that the story is a myth.
The little prairie dogs had their villages the same as the Indians. I have frequently seen a prairie dog come out and return into the same hole in the ground. I have also seen a beautiful little white owl silently perched at the side of the same hole and finally enter it, and a few moments later a fierce rattlesnake would crawl into the same hole. Whether it was the snake's permanent abode and it went in for a much needed rest, or whether it was an enemy to the others and the snake went in for a game supper of prairie dog puppies and owl squabs, departing by another route, I am unable to say, as I never took the trouble to investigate one of the holes to confirm the fact. If I had, I would in all probability still be digging. However, in this case, I am inclined to give Colonel Roosevelt the benefit of the doubt for the reason that if nature had not created an enemy to check their increase, the prairie dog would now over-run the country, as they multiply faster than any known animal, and are very destructive to the farm. The Government, through its agents, have destroyed thousands every year in the West by distributing poisoned grain. Last, but not least, of the life of the plains was the Pole Cat. Conscious of his own ability to protect himself, he would often invade the camps at night, making the life of the sleeper miserable.
TROUBLE EN ROUTE
After leaving Fort Carney our troubles began. Many of the drivers were as treacherous as the Indians and would bear watching. One of them in our mess was a former bushwhacker, who bore many scars of his former unsavory life, one of which was the loss of an eye, which did not make him a very desirable acquaintance, much less a companion. He was of an ugly disposition, very seldom speaking to anyone and very few taking the trouble to speak to him. At times he acted as if he had been taking something stronger than coffee, but as we had not camped near any ranch where the poison could be procured, I came to the conclusion that he was a dope fiend. In some mysterious manner we had lost one of our cups, and at each meal for a week it fell to the lot of this particular bushwhacker to get left. He at last broke his long silence, and in anger with oaths, vowed he would not eat another meal without a cup, and would certainly take one from somebody, if obliged to. As soon as the call for grub was heard the next morning, all rushed simultaneously for a cup, and Mr. Bushwhacker got left again. Without ceremony he proceeded to make good his threat, the second cook being his victim.
TROUBLE EN ROUTE
For his trouble he received a stinging blow over his good eye, and was sent sprawling in the alkali dust. Not being in the least dismayed, he rushed for another and received a similar salute on the jaw, doubling him up and bringing him to the earth. By this time both messes joined in forming a ring and called for fair play. Mr. Perry tried hard to stop it, but was finally convinced that it was better, policy to let them have it out. How many times the fellow was knocked down, I do not remember, but the last round finished him. We carried him to the shady side of his wagon, covered him with a blanket and resumed our meal. On going into corral, we always took our revolvers off and placed them where they could easily be reached. We had been eating but a short time, when the report of a gun rang out and each man fairly flew for his weapons. Indians seldom made an attack except at early morning, when the oxen were being yoked or when we were going into corral at night. To the surprise of everyone Mr. Bushwhacker had taken another lease of life and with a revolver in each hand was firing at anyone his disturbed brain suggested. He was quick of action, firing and reloading with rapidity, and soon had the entire camp playing hide and seek between, around and under the wagons to keep out of the range of his guns, which we succeeded in doing, for not a man was hit. Finally, two of the drivers succeeded in getting behind him and overpowered him. His brother bushwhackers were in for lynching him on the spot, but wiser council prevailed, and his disposal was left to Mr. Perry who sentenced him to be escorted back three miles from the corral and left to walk the remaining two miles to Fort Carney alone. He covered less than a mile when he was captured by the Indians. I was obliged then to drive his team. A few evenings later my chum and friend were lounging by the side of my wagon smoking, and otherwise passing the time away, when finally the conversation turned to the departed driver who by that time had undoubtedly been disposed of by the Indians—not a very pleasant thought—but we consoled ourselves with the fact that no one was to blame but himself. My chum inquired the contents of my prairie schooner, and I replied that I did not know, but would investigate. Suiting the action to the word I crawled in, struck a match, and found a case labeled Hostetters' Bitters. Its ingredients were one drop of Bitters and the remainder, poor liquor. I soon found a case that had been opened, pulled out a bottle and sampled it. The old story came to me about the Irish saloonkeeper and his bartender. I called my chum and asked him if Murphy was good for a drink, he replied, "Has he got it?" "He has?" "He is then!" and we all were. I thought it would be impossible for the secret to be kept, but it was until we were on the last leg to Denver. The entire load consisted of cases of the Bitters. Fights were of frequent occurrence during the remainder of the trip, Mr. Perry being powerless to prevent them.
Arriving at Central City where the Bitters were consigned, the consignee reported to the freighter that the load just received consisted of one-half Bitters, the remainder Platte river water. Each man had twenty dollars deducted from his pay, and a large number of the drivers, in addition, bore earmarks of its effect.
The country from Fort Carney for four hundred miles up the Platte river valley and back from the high bluffs, that skirted the river on either side, was one vast rolling plain with no vegetation except a coarse luxuriant growth of grass in the valley near the river and beyond the bluffs; in spots that were not bare grew the prickly pear, and a short crisp grass of lightish color and of two varieties—the bunch and buffalo grasses—which were very nutritious, as the cattle thrived and grew fat on them. There was the clear sky and sun by day, with an occasional sandstorm; the moon (when out) and stars by night, but no rain—a vast thirsty desert. On the small islands of the river a few scattered cottonwood trees were to be seen. Their high branches embraced a huge bunch of something that resembled the nest of an American Eagle, but on close inspection was found to be the corpse of a lone Indian a long time dead. This was the mode of burial of some of the tribes in the early days, using fur robes or blankets for a casket. There was nothing to relieve the monotony in this desert land, except desperate Indians, immense herds of animal life, daily coaches—when not held back or captured by the Indians or mountain highwaymen—returning freight trains, and the following points where there were adobe ranches: Dog Town, Plum Creek, Beaver Creek, Godfrey's, Moore's, Brever's at Old California Crossing and Jack Morrow's at the junction of the north and south Platte, Fort Julesburg, Cotton Wood and the Junction, each one hundred miles apart, and John Corlew's and William Kirby near O'Fallow's Bluffs. It was said of these ranchmen that some were honest and some were not; others were in league with the Indians, and cattle and mule thieves, and, as a rule, a bad lot. They traded supplies to the Indians for furs of every kind. The winter passed in hunting, trapping, drinking, and gambling.
O'Fallow's Bluffs was a point where the river ran to the very foot of the bluffs making it necessary for all of the trains to cross, then again strike Platte river trail at Alkali Creek, the waters of which were poisonous to man and beast. The trail over the bluffs was of sand, and those heavily ladened, white covered prairie schooners would often sink to the hubs, requiring from fifty to seventy-five yoke of oxen to haul them across, often being compelled to double the leading yoke as far back as the wheelers, then doubling again, would start them on a trot, and with all in line and pulling together, would land the deeply sunken wheels on solid ground. It took one entire day to again reach river trail, which was hard and smooth. O'Fallow's Bluffs was a point feared by freighters and emigrants alike. At this point many a band of pilgrims met destruction at the hands of the fiendish redskins of the plains. Directly upon going into camp at night a party of them would ride up, demand coffee, whiskey, or whatever they wanted, and having received it, would massacre the men and children, reserving the women for a fate a thousand fold worse, as they were very seldom rescued by the tardy government, whose agents were supplying the Indians with guns, ammunition and whiskey to carry on their hellish work unmolested. When captured, which was seldom, were they hung as they deserved? No, the chief with a few others, who stood high in the councils of the tribe, were taken by stage to Atchison, Kansas, there transferred to luxuriantly equipped sleeping cars of that day, and whirled on to Washington; and, in war paint and feather and with great pomp, were presented to their great white father (the President) as they called him.
ABUSES OF THE INDIAN DEPARTMENT
They were then taken in charge by Representatives of the Indian department of the Government, that in those days was honeycombed with corruption from foundation to dome; a disgraceful and blood-stained spot in the Nation's history. Day after day and night after night they were shown the sights of that great city. The capitol of a free and growing Republic whose people respected the Constitution their fathers had drafted, signed and fought for. Day after day and night after night they were courted, dined, toasted and wined until they had become sufficiently mellow to be cajoled into signing another peace treaty, and were then given money and loaded down with presents as an inducement to be good. They were then returned to the agency at the Fort, having been taken from there and back by those red-nosed, liquor-bloated Indian Department guardians of the United States Government and were freely supplied with whiskey until they were willing to part with their cattle, furs, and beaded goods at extremely low figures, in exchange for provisions, guns, ammunition, and liquor at fabulously high prices. Robbed of their money and presents, and in this condition allowed to return to their village, where when they become sober, they would quickly awaken to a realizing sense of how they had been deceived, swindled and robbed.
What could you expect from those copper-colored savages of the soil after such treatment? With no regard for the treaty they had signed, they would resume the warpath. Revenge, swift and terrible, was meted out to the innocent pilgrims and freighters who had left home, comforts and friends. Hundreds sacrificed their lives by horrible tortures in their heroic efforts to settle the West, unconscious that they were making history for their country and the nation, great.
With no respect for the United States Government, with no respect for the flag with its cluster of stars and stripes of red, white and blue that fired the heart of every living American soldier to win victory at Valley Forge, which gained our independence, Antietam, and San Juan Hill, saved the nation, reunited the union of states in lasting friendship, lifted the yoke of tyranny from an oppressed people; and, as if with one stroke, swept from the high seas two powerful naval squadrons—the pride of the Spanish nation.
Washington, Lincoln and McKinley were backed by the old glory that electrified every loyal American with patriotism to respond to the call of duty for the love of their country and the "Star Spangled Banner," that at that time fluttered high above the parapet of every Government fort as an emblem of protection to all that were struggling on and on over that vast expanse of unbroken and treeless plain; can you wonder then that the unspeakable crimes and mistakes of the Government of those days still rankle in the breast of every living man and woman that in any way participated in the settlement of the West? If you do, look on the painting of the terrible annihilation of the gallant Custer and his five companies of the Seventh U. S. Cavalry with the old chief, Sitting Bull, and his band of Sioux Indians on the Big Horn River, June 25, 1876, from which not a man escaped to tell the tale, and you may form some conception of the hardships, suffering, and cruelties inflicted on the early pioneer. It was left for the resourceful Remington to vividly portray life and scenes of those days, perpetuating their memory on canvas and bronze for all time. The name of Frederick Remington should not only go down in history as the greatest living artist of those scenes, but his bust in bronze should be given a place in the Hall of Fame as a tribute to his life and a recognition of his great worth.
AN ATTACK BY THE INDIANS
O'Fallow's Bluffs was the most dismal spot on the entire trail. Its high walls of earth and over-hanging, jagged rocks, with openings to the rolling plain beyond, made it an ideal point for the sneaking, cowardly savages to attack the weary pilgrims and freighters. The very atmosphere seemed to produce a feeling of gloom and approaching disaster. The emigrants had been repeatedly instructed by the commander at Fort Carney to corral with one of the trains. Many of the bullwhackers were desperate men, so that the poor pilgrims were in danger from two sources, and very seldom camped near either corral. Our consort was a day's drive in the rear. That evening the emigrants camped about a half mile in advance of our train. It was at this point, when unyoking our oxen at evening that a large band sneaked over the bluffs for the purpose, as we supposed, of stampeding our cattle. They did not take us unawares, however, for we never turned cattle from corral until the assistant wagon boss surveyed the locality in every direction with a field glass, for the tricky redskin might be over the next sand hill.
Fifty good men could whip five times their number, especially when fortified by those immense white covered prairie schooners in corral formation. On they came in single file, their blood-curdling war whoop enough to weaken the bravest. Closer they came, bedecked in war-paint and feathers, their chief in the lead resembling the devil incarnate with all his aids bent on exterminating as brave a band of freighters as ever crossed the plains. Nearer they came, their ponies on a dead run, the left leg over the back, the right under and interlocking the left, firing from the opposite side of them, ducking their heads, encircling the camp and yelling like demons. Their racket, together with the yelping of their mongrel dogs and the snorting and bellowing of the cattle, made it an unspeakable hell. Every man stood to his gun, and from between the wagons, at the command of the wagon boss, poured forth with lightning rapidity his leaden messengers of death. For about an hour they made it very interesting for us. It was almost impossible to hit one as they kept circling the camp, drawing nearer with each circle made. How many were killed we did not know as they carried them off, but from the number of riderless ponies, a dozen or more must have been dispatched to their happy hunting grounds. During the fight a portion of them bore down on the poor pilgrims' camp, in plain sight, and massacred all, running off their cattle and such of their outfit as they wanted.
SAVAGES IN THEIR GLORY
Mothers with babes at their sides and with uplifted, clasped hands, implored the cruel warriors for mercy, but it was like pouring water on the desert sands. Crazed by thirst for blood and the scalps of the whites, they knew no mercy. The hatchet-like tomahawk glittering in the evening twilight, held with a vice-like grip in the hand of a cowardly savage, came down at last with such force as to crush through skull and brain, and all was over. We were powerless to render assistance. The scene was heartrending. The depredations of these savages is too revolting to relate, and after completing their hellish work, they sneaked back as they came, keeping up their sickening yell until distance drowned it entirely. Few days passed that they were not seen as evening approached, and after dark we were able to know that they were in the vicinity, watching their opportunity to surprise us at early morning, by signal arrows of fire shot into the heavens to make known their whereabouts to companions. Could these silent bluffs of sand but unfold the butchery and unspeakable outrages inflicted on innocent men, women and children, could the trail through the valley of the Platte, and even more dangerous trail of the Smoky Hill give up its secrets, it would reveal a dark page in the history of our Government, which was directly responsible for a great deal of it; responsible in so far as sending unscrupulous peace commissioners to the different agencies to make treaties of peace with tribes of Indians, and who kept them just long enough to become liberally supplied with provisions, clothing, guns, ammunition and whiskey, then ravish and murder in the most diabolical manner pilgrims and freighters alike. On both trails many a silent monument of stone was all that remained of their cruel depredations. Such was not the uncommon work of the fiends, known to readers of fiction as the noble red men of the plains. More dastardly cowards never existed. Their struggles against destiny have long since been broken, and the offspring of those cruel warriors are being educated by a gracious government.
The monotony of that lonesome and tedious tramp was enlivened only by fights among the men, and an occasional lay-over for a day to set the tires of the many wagons, having had no rain to keep them tight during the entire trip after leaving Atchison, Kansas.
With many encounters and bearing scars received from warring tribes of Indians, we tramped along in moccasin covered feet, now and again throwing our long lashed whips with such force as to awaken the dead-head ox to life and quicker action.
Day after day the same scenery faced us; yet, it was an experience never to be forgotten. We passed Fort Julesburg and Cottonwood with the loss of but three men, arriving late at night after a forced drive at the junction or division of the two trails leading to Denver. The distance to Denver by the "Cut-off" was seventy-five miles; by the river route one hundred miles; but as water was to be found only at long distances on the former, all cattle trains took the river route.
It was early in November, the nights and mornings were cold and frosty, the air exhilarating. We were up the next morning at the usual time, and as the sun rose in all its splendor and warmth, one hundred miles in the far away distance could be seen with the naked eye, the gigantic range of the Rockies whose lofty snow-capped peaks, sparkling in the morning sun, seemed to soar and pierce the clouds of delicate shades that floated in space about them, attracted, as it were, by a heavenly magnet. It was a sight I had not dreamed of, and one that made an impression on my young mind to last through life.
DENVER AT LAST!
When about ten miles from Denver—so we at least thought, and fearless of danger, my chum and myself obtained permission from Mr. Perry to walk to the city over the rolling ground. We tramped until the sun was well up in the heavens. One would think it but a few miles to those mighty and solemn mountains of rocks, so deceptive was the distance, yet, they were twenty miles beyond the city. At noon we knew we had made ten long miles and were completely tired out. We were on the point of taking a rest when I urged my chum to cross the next knoll, and if the city did not loom up we would halt. We did so and to our surprise and joy were right in the city of Denver, the "Mecca" of nearly all Western freighters and distributing point for the far Western territories. It seemed to have risen beneath our feet. The grand old range of mountains with their sky-soaring pinnacles and scenic background of grandeur, together with the surrounding landscape, made it the sight of one's life. Our sixteen mile walk and previous seventy days' living on a diet of bacon, beans, and dried apples, certainly placed us in condition for a civilized meal.
We were directed to a first-class restaurant, both in price and quality of food. We were about famished, and to satisfy our hunger seemed impossible. We ate and ate, and probably would have been eating yet, had not the waiter presented us with a ticket demanding a five dollar gold piece from each, when we decided we had better call a halt, if we intended to remain in the city over night.
AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE
On walking up the street we stepped into the first hotel we came to, the old "Planters," registered, paid for our supper, lodging and breakfast. When about to leave the hotel, who should walk in but a Genevan by name, Michael C. Pembroke, with his arm in a sling. He had been propelled across the plains by mules, and one of the ugly brutes had broken his right arm with one of his ever active hoofs. I asked Michael why the mule kicked him? He replied, "Charlie, I may look foolish but was not fool enough to go back and ask him." Never approach a Missouri mule from the rear, for there certainly will be trouble if you do. He asked if we had any money.
We replied that we would have when paid off.
He advised us to go direct to the Ben Holiday stage office and buy a ticket for the States as soon as we received our pay, as Colorado was no place for boys.
At his suggestion we started out to do the town, and came very near being done ourselves. Colorado at this time was a territory with a Governor appointed by the President. Law, except as executed by a vigilance committee, did not amount to much more than the word. If one wished to depart life in full dress, he could be accommodated by simply calling another a liar or cheat at gambling. If desirous of taking a long rest by being suspended by the neck from a limb of the only tree in Denver at that time, which was on the west side of Cherry Creek, all he had to do was to appropriate to himself an ox, mule, or anything of value, and the vigilance committee would manipulate the rope.
The gambling places, which occupied long halls on the ground floor of tall buildings—nearly always on the business street of the city—kept open until the small hours of morning. There was always a brass band in front, and a string band, or orchestra, in the extreme rear, so if one wished to dance, he could select a partner of most any nationality; dance a set, step up to the bar, pay two bits or twenty-five cents for cigars, drinks or both and expend his balance on any game known to the profession, which games occupied either side of the long room.
We had been in the place less than fifteen minutes when bang went a revolver and on the instant the room was in total darkness. I mechanically ducked under a table. Where my companions were, I knew not; I began to think that Mike's advice was about correct, and before emerging wished more than once I was back in my home. When the lights were turned on, I discovered my chum occupying a like berth of safety on the opposite side of the room.
Mike had evidently followed his own advice and taken his departure, for he was nowhere to be found. The band struck up a lively tune; the fiddles, a waltz; dancing began, gold and chips commenced to fly, and, if I had not passed through the ordeal, I never would have known anything had happened. The dead were quickly disposed of, the wounded hurried to physicians, and old timers gave it no further thought, as it was of frequent occurrence, and one soon became hardened. Denver at that time was a hotbed of gambling, with murder and lynch law a secondary pastime. Not being deterred by our experience, we continued our sightseeing, ending up at the only theatre in the city, afterwards called the "Old Languish."
JOINING THE CATTLE TRAIN AGAIN
The following afternoon our train reached town and we joined it during the evening to be ready for an early start for Golden City, the entrance to the mountains leading to Black Hawk and Central City where our freight was consigned. The most hazardous part of our trip was before us, one that to this day makes me shiver when I think of it. The first team entered the canyon at 11 A. M. in a blinding snowstorm. The road for nearly the entire distance was hewn from solid rock out of the side of steep mountains, gradually ascending to a great height, then descending to what seemed a bottomless canyon. We finally arrived at Guy Hill, the most dangerous part of the route. It took us one entire day to reach its pinnacle, where we camped for the night. The road at the top was cut through solid rock at a height of twenty feet, seven feet in width and led to a steep precipice. It then made a sharp turn to the right and, in a serpent shape drive, continued to the canyon below. At this point it was said to be fifteen hundred feet straight down, and a number of outfits had previously gone over its rocky edge and been hurled to destruction by a slight error of judgment on the part of the driver.
The cold and snow, together with summer clothing, made our suffering indescribable. The following morning I started in the lead of the train with a nine thousand pound boiler, with the rear wheels securely locked, and twenty yoke of oxen to haul it to the edge of the precipice. Then discarding all but the wheelers and leaders, we began the descent. There was not room enough on either side for the driver to walk. He generally rode the off ox, but I took my position on the rear of the wagon tongue and found it decidedly the safest place in case of an accident. By night all wagons were safely in the canyon below. The road for nearly the entire distance presented the same dangers, taking ten days to reach our destination from Denver, the entire trip occupying eighty days.
A THRILLING COACH RIDE
On receiving our pay, which was our promised salary less twenty dollars for the Hostetter's Bitters, my chum and myself decided to go direct to Denver, our friend remaining in the Mountain City. We boarded a Concord coach with six snow-white horses to wheel us on a dead run over and around steep mountains and through dismal canyons, first on four wheels, then three, then two and occasionally one, keeping us constantly busy retaining our seats and fearing at every turn that we would be dashed into eternity; and yet, it was one of the most picturesque and thrilling rides one could take. Being tossed from side to side in the roomy coach, now and then grabbing a fellow passenger with desperation, gazing down from lofty peaks to yawning chasms below, hearing the crack of the long-lashed whip urging the noble steeds to faster speed, turning the rough, ragged, serpent-shaped drive, thundering through clouds and mist with lightning rapidity, and always in constant terror of a breakdown or error on the part of the fearless driver, gave one a sensation that would nearly make his hair stand on end. During the descent a slight error on the part of the horses or driver, would have hurled all to a horrible death; but those mountain drivers, strapped to their seats, were monarchs of the Rockies and unerring in every move. From among the snow-covered glaciers sparkling in the morning sun, emitting the many tints of a midday storm-bow and presenting a sight of unsurpassed grandeur, we emerged from the mouth of the last canyon and struck the smooth rolling trail. All the way from Golden we were going, it seemed, on the wings of the wind and were landed in Denver on scheduled time.
DENVER IN 1865
In that period Denver was appropriately called the "City of the Plains." Situated sixteen miles from the base of the nearest Rocky Mountain peak, and six hundred and fifty miles from Atchison, Kansas, the nearest town to the East; while seven hundred miles to the west loomed up as from the very bowels of the earth, the beautiful city of the Mormons, Salt Lake City, Utah. The nearest forts—two hundred miles distant—were Fort Cottonwood to the northeast, Collins to the north and Halleck to the northwest. Its northern limits extended to the South fork of the Platte River; Cherry Creek running through one-third, dividing it into East and West Denver. Its population numbered about five thousand souls. Here was to be found the illiterate man—but a grade above the coyote—lawbreakers of every kind and from every land, to men of culture and refinement. Here it stood, a typical mining town, a monument to the indomitable energy of man in his efforts to settle that barren and almost endless plain and open to the world the Rocky's unlimited hidden gold. Here were brick structures modern for that day, the brick being made from the soil of the territory; a United States mint, a church, a school house, large warehouses, stores, and the home of the Rocky Mountain Daily News, which kept one partially in touch with happenings in the faraway states. Isolated from the outside world, it was an ideal place of refuge for those anxious to escape the outraged law. Knights of the green cloth held full sway. Men in every walk in life gambled. A dead man for breakfast was not an uncommon heading for the menu card, the old tree on the west bank of Cherry Creek furnishing the man. Society was just a little exclusive and to gain admission the pass was, "Where are you from?" and in some cases, "Your name in the East."
Desperadoes made one attempt to lay the city in ashes and certainly would have accomplished their purpose had it not been for the timely action of the Vigilance Committee in hanging the ring-leaders. When the guilt of a suspect for any crime was in doubt, he was presented with a horse or mule and ordered to leave between sun and sun and never return. During my four years of residence in Denver there was but one Indian scare and it made a lasting impression on the tablet of my memory. A church bell pealed forth the warning over the thirsty desert of an Indian attack. Business places were closed, the women and children were rushed to the mint and warehouses for protection, armed men surrounded the city, pickets on horseback were thrown out in every direction. Couriers kept thundering back and forth between picket line and those in command and others were despatched to the different Forts for assistance that never came. A look of determination stood out on the face of every one and not a man, from clergyman to desperado, within the confines of the city who would not willingly have given up his life's blood to protect the honor of the women and lives of the little ones. For three weary days and the same number of nights the terrible suspense lasted, but no Indian came. It was a false alarm.
Denver, in its early settlement, was never attacked by the Indians except in isolated cases. The only reason that I ever heard given for their not doing so was that they knew not their strength, for there was no time in the sixties that they could not have swooped down on the place, massacred all and buried the little mining town in ashes.
SECURED WORK AGAIN
For a young man to obtain work other than oxen or mule driving, we were told, was simply impossible. Not being deterred, however, by this discouraging information we at once started out to secure work. Board was twenty-five dollars a week in gold, and you had to furnish your own sleeping quarters, so not to secure work at once would quickly reduce our wealth. We had called on nearly all of the business places, when my chum secured a position with a grocer and freighter. As for myself, I received little encouragement but finally called at a large restaurant where I was offered work. I told the proprietor it was a little out of my line, but he told me that if I could not find a position to suit me, I should walk in at any time, pull off my coat and go to work, which I did three days later. About the tenth day the proprietor told me his lease expired and that the man who owned the building was going to conduct the business. He came in that afternoon, and I was introduced to him. Before leaving he stepped into the office and informed me that he wanted a man next to him; or, in other words, an assistant and that the former proprietor had given me a good recommend and he thought that I would suit him. He made me a tempting offer and I accepted. The restaurant was located on Blake street, one of the then principal business streets of the city, and kept open until early morning as did the gambling places in the immediate vicinity. I soon discovered that the new proprietor could neither read or write and that he conducted one of the largest private club rooms in the city where gambling was carried on without limit. He paid me a large salary and allowed me everything my wild nature craved. I had charge of the entire business as well as his bank account.
The restaurant was the headquarters of nearly all oxen and mule drivers and also of the miners who came from the mountains in winter, and were of the toughest type of men of that day. All professional oxen and mule drivers after making one round trip to the river and points in the far Western territories were paid off in Denver and many of them would deposit with me, for safe keeping, a large share of their dangerously and hard earned dollars. They would then start out to do the town, now and then taking a chance at one of the many gambling games, always returning for more money, which I would give them; and this they would continue until all was expended except enough to keep them a week, when sober, and a commission for doing the business, for which I was careful to look out. An individual who bore the name of "One Eye Jack" boarded with us and I could always depend upon him in time of trouble. His vocation for a long time was a mystery, until one evening, as I was passing down a side street, he popped out from an alley and with uplifted blackjack would have felled and robbed me had he not recognized the unearthly yell I gave. I forgave him, and afterwards he doubled his energies to protect me and on more than one occasion saved my life. When in his professional clothes he was a tough looking customer and could fight like a bull dog. He was always liberally supplied with someone else's money. Yet with all his bad traits, his word was as good as his gold; but like other similar individuals that infested Denver at that time, he finally went to the end of his tether, and was presented by the Vigilance Committee with a hemp collar that deprived him of his life.
Before his demise, however, a party of ten tough-looking individuals entered the restaurant and, in forceful language, demanded the best the country offered in eatables and drink. My friend, or would-be-murderer, was in at the time and I noticed a look of cunning pleasure steal over his rough countenance. The strangers were dressed in corduroy trousers, velveteen coats, slouch hats and black ties. Their shirts and collars of red flannel made a conspicuous appearance and caused their undoing later. After seeing them well cared for, I returned to the office and calling Jack inquired his opinion of the gents.
"Well," he replied, "I may be mistaken but I will just bet you a ten spot they are road agents." "Yes," I said, "I am inclined to agree with you, but keep mum."
You may think it strange I did not give this bold highwayman away; but life in those days was sweet and I had no desire to have that young life taken so I followed Commanche Bill's advice and strictly minded my own business. If I had not, I would not be living today.
HIGHWAYMEN OF THE WEST
Two mornings later on entering for breakfast one of the band had his head done up in a bandage. From words he dropped I was satisfied that Jack or one of his cronies had been improving their spare time by relieving him of his over abundance of gold. The reckless manner in which they disposed of their money and their conversation when flushed with wine betrayed their true characters and stamped them a murderous band of mountain highwaymen who had made their headquarters in the fastnesses of the Rockies, near the overland mountain trail and there devoted their time to holding up stage coaches, compelling the driver with a shot from a carbine to halt, descend, disarm and be quiet. The passengers were then ordered to alight and stand in a row, continually being covered with guns by a part of the band and by others relieved of their personal effects. Then the stage coach was systematically gone through together with the Wells Fargo & Co's. safe, which often contained gold into the thousands. These hold-ups were not infrequent and were the fear of all who were obliged to pass through these canyons of robbery and often death. The bunch that we harbored were undoubtedly as bold a band of robbers and murderers as ever infested the silent caves of the Rockies. Could their dingy walls but talk they would reveal crimes unspeakable. I knew there were many strangers in town and was almost certain their every movement was watched; nor was I mistaken. The seventh day after their arrival a young school teacher whom I knew by sight called at the restaurant and inquired by name for one of the band. I asked if he knew him. He replied, no more than that he had met him in one of the corrals of the city and had been offered free passage to the States if he would do their cooking. I told him of my suspicions and all I knew about them and advised him not to go with them, but like many others he gave no heed. Two days later they were missed at meal time. The next morning word came by courier that the entire band including the school teacher were dangling by the neck from the branches of cottonwood trees twelve miles down the Platte River with their pockets inside-out and outfits gone. Thus was meted out innocent and guilty alike the Vigilance Committee justice, which was not of uncommon occurrence.
Mr. Pembroke secured a position at Black Hawk, Colorado, in the year 1865, with the first smelter works erected in the Rocky Mountains. He was employed in the separating department where sulphur was freely used, and he inhaled much of the fumes emitted therefrom, which was the direct cause of a severe illness.
He fought retirement for a long time, but was finally forced to give up.
The latter part of February, 1886, he arrived in Denver on his way to his home in Geneva, N. Y., but remained with me at the restaurant for ten days where he was cared for and given the best of medical aid available in those days.
He finally prevailed on a mule freighter to take him as a passenger to Atchison, Kansas. Arriving at Fort Carney, Nebraska, he had a relapse and was ordered by the Commander of the Fort to be placed in the Army Hospital for treatment, where he remained until able to continue his journey by stage to Atchison, thence by rail home.
He left Colorado with the full determination of returning on recovering his health. A mother's influence, however, changed his plans and he finally decided to remain in the East. He purchased a grocery business and conducted it with great success until his death, March 17th, 1910. By his strict attention to business, square dealing, genial disposition and original wit, he gained the confidence and respect of his fellow-men. He was buried in St. Patrick's cemetery in his home city where a surviving sister has caused to be erected an appropriate and costly monument to his memory.
I remained with the restaurant keeper one year, when through the assistance of influential men that boarded at the restaurant, I secured a position with a grocer. Shortly after entering his employ I made the acquaintance of an ex-army officer, a graduate of West Point and a well educated man, who afterwards became my boon companion. At that time he was an ex-pork merchant from Cincinnati; an eccentric old fellow without chick or child, and with plenty of money to loan at 3% a month. He owned a large warehouse on Cherry Creek in West Denver where he slept and did his own cooking. His evenings were passed at the store and many were the nights that we told stories and otherwise enjoyed ourselves. He was a silent member of the firm and I was wise enough to keep on the right side of him. During that time the head of the firm ran for Congress on the Democratic ticket. Such an election I never want to see or go through again. Large wagons loaded with barrels of all kinds of liquor on tap were driven from poll to poll. Many more ballots were cast in each precinct than there were voters and by night nearly the entire male portion of the inhabitants were a drunken, howling mass. The outcome of the election resulted in the Governor giving the Democratic nominee the certificate of election; the Secretary of the territory favoring the Republicans. The Governor left the city that night and never returned. The contest terminated in a Republican Congress seating the Republican candidate, and Andrew Johnson—then President of the United States—appointing the Democratic candidate Governor of Colorado. A year from that time General Grant was inaugurated, and shortly afterwards the Governor's head went into the basket and mine fell on the outside.
On another occasion there was to be a prize fight at Golden City, sixteen miles from Denver. My friend, the ex-pork merchant, I could see was anxious to attend but did not wish to lower his standard of dignity by doing so, so the subject was not mentioned save in a casual way until the morning of the fight, when he entered the store, puffing and blowing, stamping the floor with his hickory cane and mopping his crimson brow with an old-fashioned bandana handkerchief, said "Charley, let's go to that infernal fight. I don't approve of it, but let's go."
"All right," I said. I was in for any kind of sport.
AN EXPERIENCE IN MULE RIDING
I left everything, locked the store and started out to procure a rig, but found there were none to be had for love or money. The only article of propulsion we could hire were saddle mules. Both quickly mounted and on a slow trot started for the ring. We had been there less than an hour when both of us became thoroughly disgusted and started on the return trip. When about seven miles from Denver and going at a lively pace—for a mule—the Major's animal stiffened both front legs, and placing his hoofs firmly in the sandy road, permitted the Major's chunky little body to pass over his head and through space for about ten feet, landing, with much force, on his stomach. The old fellow was an artist at curse words and the more I laughed the more he cursed. He was a sprightly little fellow and on gaining his feet grabbed for the bridle, but Mr. Mule shook his head, made a side step, and the devil could not have caught him again until he reached the barn. I dismounted and with much difficulty my friend scrambled into my saddle, with myself on behind. But my long-eared critter objected and the fun commenced. He bunted and kicked. All of a sudden his hind quarters rose and like lightning his long lanky legs shot high into the air. First, I went off, and on gaining a sitting position with mouth, ears and eyes full of sand, I witnessed a spectacle befitting the clumsiest bareback rider on one of their first lessons. The old Major had both arms affectionately entwined around the mule's thick neck and was hanging on with desperation. Up and down went the hind quarters of that unkind brute, bunting and kicking, the Major's little body keeping taps with the ups and downs and every time he caught his breath he let out a war whoop that would do credit to a Commanche brave. The old mule finally dumped him all in a heap and followed his mate to Denver. Such an appearance as both presented, each blaming the other for our misfortune and vowing we would never be caught at another prize fight. Lame, bruised, and crestfallen, we walked the remainder of the way into Denver. Each cautioned the other to say nothing of our misfortune; but the two Mauds had carried the news ahead, and we were the laughing stock of the town for the next nine days.
At another time I was attending a performance in the "Old Languish Theater," when from the stage I was informed I was wanted in the bar room of the building, a necessary adjunct to all western theaters in those days. Upon entering I was taken by the hand by one of those trusty and warm-hearted stage drivers of the plains and Rockies, and told that my chum had been caught in one of those treacherous mountain snow storms on the Catchla Purder River two miles above La Port and was badly frozen, and, if he didn't receive medical aid at once, could not survive. I left the theater at once and commenced preparing plans for the trip. I started unaccompanied the following afternoon at 2:30 o'clock on a one hundred fifty mile ride.
A RIDE IN A STORM
My conveyance was a long old-fashioned buggy. The buggy, which was well filled with straw, blankets, medicine, grub, and a commissary bottle, had two good roadsters hitched in front to wheel me to the rescue of my friend or to an ignominious death. I had not only Indians to fear, but the treacherous elements. The trail ran close along the base of the mountains. It was a lovely May day. I was obliged to make thirty-two miles that night to reach cover. Less than half of the distance had been traveled when the wind veered suddenly to the north, mild at first, then a hurricane of anger, roaring and blowing with such force as to nearly upset the buggy. Dark clouds gathered and floated around those silent peaks of ages. Lightning darted hither and thither among the stalwart pines, which were creaking, bending and crashing. Clap after clap of thunder pealed through and from those dismal canyons, vibrating between Nature's slopes of granite, quartz and rock. The din was fearful, rain fell at first, then turned to snow. Just before it became dark I adjusted the front piece of the buggy. My compass was useless. I urged my faithful steeds to faster speed, and at the same time gave them the rein. As I did so, they left the trail. Cold and chilled to the marrow or very bone, I took frequent drafts from the commissary bottle, and fought with all my power against sleep, but it was useless.
On gaining partial consciousness two squaws were bending over me rubbing me with all their Indian strength and a third forcing something warm down my throat. Men, rough of dress, were smoking and playing cards. Revolvers, chips and gold was in front of each, with plenty of the latter in the center of the table. I knew not if they were friends or mountain highwaymen. Many claim that horses are dumb brutes with no instinct, but that faithful pair on leaving the trail avoided a long bend and made straight for the adobe stage ranch, sixteen miles away. On reaching it, they ran the buggy-pole through the only opening of that mud shack rousing the inmates to action and bringing me to safety.
The large Concord coach filled with passengers soon arrived from Denver, and owing to the severity of the storm, put up for the night. The time was passed in smoking, drinking and playing cards. At six o'clock the next morning the coach pulled up at the door. The storm was over, but not the wind. The cold was intense. My team soon came up, but their ears and noses were badly frost bitten and otherwise showed the effects of the storm. I followed the coach but for a short distance only, as the snow which was drifting badly obliterated the trail. The six black horses on the coach were too much for my two bays and soon left me far in the rear. My compass had been lost and by noon I was back at the ranch I had previously left, the horses having made nearly a complete circle without my knowledge. I secured another compass and at nine o'clock that evening rolled into La Port, a city of adobe ranches, and stage station, where I put up for the night. (A place of two or three houses in those days was called a city.) I was informed that my chum was two miles up the river and in bad shape. The next morning I was up at day break. After grub I started and found my companion quartered in a little old log cabin at the base of the mountains, and being cared for by an aged squaw and her daughter—the old buck being out caring for the cattle. My chum had encountered the same kind of a storm as his rescuer, and unable to find his way was obliged to remain out the entire night and only one hundred feet from the cabin. Both of his feet were badly frozen. The Indians had done everything possible for him. The daughter, for an Indian, was extremely pretty, and I soon discovered that she was very much taken with my chum. I applied the remedies which I had brought. Then the little Indian maiden bundled him up, and with the promise that he would return they parted.