to Denver Via the Butterfield Overland Dispatch
York Times, December 26, 1865
Smoky Hill Springs, Kansas,
Saturday, November 25, 1865
In my last epistle, I gave an
account of the murder of several persons along the
Smoky Hill route, and
depredations of various kinds by a band of
supposed to be
under the lead of one of their chiefs rejoicing in the
soubriquet of "Fast Bear.” We, that is the
Butterfield Overland Dispatch coach, containing General Brewster and
several passengers, left Chalk Bluff Station with an escort of
cavalry on the 23rd, arriving without adventure at Monument
Station the same evening. At Monument there is a military
post, so we considered our case a safe one.
A large wagon train
with an escort of Infantry was also at this point en route for Pond
Creek, a military post some twenty-five miles west of our present
We left Monument
yesterday morning to continue our journey to Denver, accompanied by an
ambulance, in which was Surgeon N.L. Whipple, who had been to Chalk
Bluff to care for the soldiers wounded at that place in repelling an
attack made by
a few days since.
Warriors by Edward Sheriff Curtis.
image available for photographic prints
seemed to think that there was so little danger that we felt very safe
with an escort of eight men, three in the ambulance with the doctor,
and five mounted men riding in advance of the coach.
We saw no sign of the
presence of Indians
during the morning, and had nearly reached the station when the
ambulance driver took a short cut which did not pass the station, but
joined the main road a mile beyond it.
When within fifteen
hundred yards of the station, Mr. Davis, of Harper’s Weekly,
discovered that a squad of Indians
were charging down on us. He at once gave the alarm and opened on the
redskins with his Ballard rifle, which performance was immediately
initiated by General Brewster, Mr. Hasbrock and Your Own, Mr. Perrin
doing duty his revolver from the outside of the coach.
As were all armed
with Ballard guns, we drove the party off quite as fast as they came,
two of them bearing tokens of our regard in the shape of curiously
shaped cones of lead.
The driver of our
coach was not wanting in pluck but quickly drove his team to the
We left the coach at
once, and discovered that another party of Indians
had rushed in among the horses and mules that were grazing near,
One of the
stock-tenders had started at the first alarm to gather the mules that
were grazing near the station; one of the
discovered him, and gave chase, just we got out of the coach. Mr.
Davis discovered him and started with his rifle to help the
stock-tender. The Indian drove an arrow at the herder, fortunately
missing him, when a bullet from Mr. Davis’ rifle, ended the little
performance and the Indian at the same moment.
The stock-tender was
saved, but the stock gone, and with it five horses belonging to the
cavalry stationed at this point. The garrison consisted of ten men of
the Thirteenth Missouri Cavalry. Five of the men were away on a
buffalo hunt, so saved their steeds.
We were congratulating ourselves on our
escape, when we thought of the Doctor and his ambulance, and saw at
the same moment some fifteen or twenty Indians
in hot pursuit of the vehicle, which was being rushed along at a
tremendous speed by the frightened mules.
The chase was exciting;
entirely out of our power to render any assistance. We dispatched our four
cavalry men to help the fugitives if possible. The cavalry men had gained
a little crest a half a mile distant, when we saw the men from the
ambulance running toward them; then we knew that they were safe. The
Doctor tells the story, thus: "I had just left you when I thought that it
might be a little imprudent, but kept on. We were so near the station and
there was no signs of the Indians.
But this state of affairs was changed by a number of the red niggers
coming yelling after us, frightening the mules so that we could not turn
them back toward the station. As soon as the scoundrels got near enough
they opened on the ambulance with their revolvers, we saving our few shots
until they were right on us, when we fired on them.
This had the desired
effect, but only for a short time, when after us they came again. Seeing
that it was impossible to escape if we did not take this moment, we now
left the ambulance and ran toward the four men that we saw leave the
station to help us.
at once gave chase, and for a short time made our run very interesting.
But when we got tired running, we turned on them; fired a few shots at the
gentlemen, and they would stop, so would we, but only take breath and
start again. We caught the four men, mounted behind them, and came to the
station. That’s the case as near as I remember it,” said the Doctor, "for
I was in a slightly mixed state after we left the ambulance.” While this
chase was going on we were watching the Indians.
The moment of the first attack seemed a signal for Indians
to start from every hillside, and from every point of the compass, at
the same time. That we were surrounded there was no doubt. So our next
thought was how to defend ourselves from attack.
Fort Wallace, Kathy Weiser, March, 2009. This image available for photo prints
The soldiers garrisoning
the station had dug into the side of the hill and built a sort of
bomb-proof, with a covered way dug around it for a rifle-pit. This was to
be our fortress, and a good one too. Upon the arrival of the Doctor and
his squad we found that we numbered twenty-one persons, variously armed.
If there had been any
horses we could have mounted them and made an attack on the
and certainly should have done so, when we saw the ambulance driven toward
us with a cargo of red-skins busily engaged in "going through” its
contents. But what could men on foot do with mounted
Certainly not catch them. Then when we moved toward them to get within
rifle-shot they left.
The ambulance was taken into a ravine a little more than a mile from us
and set on fire. At the same time some of the red devils set fire to the
prairie and nearly succeeded in their effort at burning us out.
A sort of council of war
was held and the decision arrived at, that we could whip the Indians
if we kept together. Our anxiety was for the five men who were out
hunting, and a careful watch was kept for them, to move toward them, if we
saw them approaching, so that the Indians
could not fight them unaided.
The men on the watch soon
discovered a small body of mounted men moving toward us, who we were sure
was the returning buffalo hunters. But while they were far in the distance
discovered them too, and gave chase at once. The small squad that we
thought to be our men went scampering off over the hills in the direction
of the next station west (Eaton Springs.)
It was now determined to
stay by our mud fort until the next day, when the government train with
its infantry escort would arrive, and make it safe to continue with our
Our hole in the hillside
was a place of comfort. The roof, composed of boughs of trees and earth,
was supported by posts of sufficient strength to make us sure that the
might ride over the top of our fortification without a danger of their
coming through. Night coming on, we organized a guard – seven on a tour,
the tour being of four hours’ length.
The first relief
consisted of our party, with a soldier addition. We did not discover the
usual plan of walking a beat to be the safest at this place, for
will crawl up, and are not particularly careful in the use of their
arrows; so we took each one his post in such a position as would command
the best view of a certain space in his immediate vicinity.
An hour after dark, a
whirring noise was heard over our heads; all kept quiet; soon another, and
we knew that some prowling scoundrel was driving arrows over our position,
to discover the whereabouts of our guard. The game did not succeed in
discovering our location to Mr. Indian, so they left us to the quiet
possession of our "dobe.” Just before daylight the whole garrison was
roused, and we made ready for an attack, which did not come. Indians
have two favorite moments for attack. Just as day breaks the white man
sleeps the soundest, and this the Indian knows. At midday the white man
feels a confidence in the broad day, and is less likely to be on this
guard. The Indian takes advantage of this for his sudden attack.
So far as our experience
goes no fear is to be apprehended from Indians,
unless they can surprise their foe, and this, too, when they outnumber him
ten to one. The red-skins are more like wolves than anything else that I
can liken them to; cowardly in the extreme when they find that their
enemy, no matter how interior in number, is ready for an attack and
willing to fight. They are more wantonly cruel than it would seem possible
for a human being to be.
Our sentinel has just
given us the information that "a considerable body of something has just
come into sight.” Whether they are Indians
or our expected train we cannot tell.
The result of the
information is that we are to be on the anxious seat until the party is
near enough to discover whether we have a fight on hand or a friend to
welcome. The party has arrived, proving to be Captain Musgrove of the
First United States Volunteers, with an escort, and Mr. Baker, the
Division Agent of the
Butterfield Overland Dispatch Company. Mr. Baker was
within sight of Captain Musgrove’s camp yesterday afternoon, driving
toward it in a light wagon with a man named Brigham, when they were
attacked by twenty or thirty Indians.
Mr. Brigham took the lines and Baker, with his Ballard rifle, kept the
off, and reached the camp in safety.
Soon after this the
red-skins came in greater force and endeavored to drive off the stock from
the camp, but a few shots from the infantry drove them away. The Indians
were seen hovering about the camp beyond rifle range during the entire
afternoon. While we were listening to the different Indian stories of the
party just arrived, another body of mounted men were seen coming from the
direction of Denver.
This caused another
sensation, but soon after their blue coats were visible, and showed them
to be friends.
do not ride like white men, and are readily known in the distance by the
frontiersman whose eye becomes wonderfully strong by the constant watch
that he keeps.
Soon Captain McMichael,
who is stationed at Pond Creek with his command, Company A, thirteenth
Missouri, came riding into our camp with an escort of twenty men, and the
five men that had been buffalo hunting. The buffalo hunters said that they
were within sight of our camp when a number of Indians
came charging toward them from the bluff near, and seeing other Indians
coming from the direction of the station, they concluded that the Indians
had possession of it, so start3ed at once for the next camp, "Eaton
Station,” at which place they arrived just as the Indians
were driving off the stock.
that had pursued them they had kept at a distance by an occasional shot.
When the boys left camp they had taken no ammunition except that in their
revolvers and rifles, so it was necessary to be as economical as possible.
A short consultation was
now held and a decision arrived at that Captain McMichael should return to
Pond Creek with his men, acting as escort to our coach.
Pond Creek Station,
460 miles from Atchison, November 27th.
We left Smoky Hills
Station the afternoon the 25, reaching Eaton Springs that evening without
adventure. The place found deserted, so occupied the little huts built by
the men who had been stationed there as garrison. The night passed without
adventures; we continued our journey at the early dawn, reaching Henshaw
Springs, a very beautifully situated station, in time to devour our
customary meal of Buffalo met, cooked on a fire made of "chips.” The mules
needed rest, so a long halt was made. We reached this place just at
evening, where we met two coaches from Denver that had been stopped until
it should be considered safer to travel. Some Indians
have been seen along the route above, but in any great force. An escort
will go with us for some distance, when it is anticipated that it will be
safe to dispense with the late necessity.
The late raid of the
will prove to the government how useless it is to make treaties, and
supply arms and material to parties that take every opportunity to murder
and rob citizens. Some of the most horrible barbarities have lately been
committed, that I shall describe in a future letter. General Brewster is
making every effort to restock the line, and preparations are being made
for a military protection of the route, which when perfected, will render
the route safer than any other. The Indians
on this foray have been led by white men on every occasion; but they are
careful to keep out of the range of our rifles. In the attack on our
coach, General Brewster shot twice at a white man, who ran off with much
greater haste than the Indians
that he led, cowardly as they were.
The weather, fortunately,
has been excellent, which has been a source of much congratulation to us.
Compiled and edited by Legends
of America, updated April, 2017. Source: New York Times,
December 26, 1865
Fort Harker Kansas
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