Famous Men of the Santa Fe Trail

By Colonel Henry Inman, 1897

Several men’s lives are so interwoven with the history of the Old Santa Fe Trail that the story of the great highway largely comprises their individual exploits and acts of bravery. I have had the fortune of knowing nearly all intimately during more than a third of a century passed on the Great Plains and in the Rocky Mountains.

The Santa Fe Trail ends in Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Santa Fe Trail ends in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Kit Carson

Kit Carson, Indian Scout

Kit Carson, Indian Scout.

First of all, Christopher, or Kit, Carson, as he is familiarly known to the world, stands at the head and front of celebrated frontiersmen, trappers, scouts, guides, and Indian fighters. I knew him well through a series of years, to his death in 1868, but I shall confine myself to the events of his remarkable career along the line of the Trail and its immediate environs. In 1826, a party of Santa Fe traders passed near his father’s home in Howard County, Missouri. Young Kit, who was then but 17 years old, joined the caravan as a hunter. He was already an expert with the rifle and thus commenced his life of adventure on the Great Plains and in the Rocky Mountains.

His first exhibition of that nerve and coolness in the presence of danger that marked his whole life was in this initial trip across the plains. When the caravan had arrived at the Arkansas River, somewhere in the vicinity of the great bend of that stream, one of the teamsters, while carelessly pulling his rifle toward him by the barrel, discharged the weapon and received the ball in his arm, thoroughly crushing the bones. The blood from the wound flowed so copiously that he nearly lost his life before it could be arrested. However, he was fixed up, and the caravan proceeded on its journey, the man thinking no more seriously of his injured arm. In a few days, however, the wound began to indicate that gangrene had set in, and it was determined that only by an amputation was it possible for him to live beyond a few days. Every one of the caravan’s older men positively declined to attempt the operation, as there were no instruments of any kind. At this juncture, Kit, realizing the extreme necessity of prompt action, stepped forward and offered to do the job. He told the unfortunate sufferer that he had no experience in such matters but that he would take the chances as no one else would do it. All the tools that Kit could find were a razor, a saw, and the kingbolt of a wagon. He cut the flesh with the razor, sawed through the bone as if it had been a piece of the joist, and seared the horrible wound with the kingbolt, which he had heated to a white glow, to stop the flow of blood that naturally followed such rude surgery. The operation was a complete success; the man lived many years afterward and was with his surgeon on many expeditions.

Bent's Fort, Colorado by Kathy Alexander

Bent’s Fort, Colorado by Kathy Alexander.

In the early days of prairie commerce, Kit Carson was the hunter at Bent’s Fort, Colorado, for a period of eight years. There were about 40 men employed at the place, and when the game was found in abundance in the mountains, it was a relatively easy task and just suited to his love of sport, but when it grew scarce, as it often did, his prowess was tasked to its utmost to keep the 40 mouths from crying for food. He became such an unerring shot with the rifle during that time that he was called the “Nestor of the Rocky Mountains.” His favorite game was the buffalo, although he killed countless other animals.

All of the Plains Tribes of Indians, as did the powerful Ute of the mountains, knew him well, for he had often visited their camps, sat in their lodges, smoked the pipe, and played with their little boys. The latter fact may not appear to have much consequence, but no people on earth have a greater love for their boy children than America’s Indians. The Indians all feared him, too, at the same time that they respected his excellent judgment and frequently were governed by his wise counsel. The following story will show his power in this direction.

The Sioux, one of the most numerous and warlike tribes at that time, had encroached upon the hunting grounds of the southern Indians, and the latter had many a skirmish with them on the banks of the Arkansas River along the line of the Santa Fe Trail. In the upper valley of the river, Carson was sent to come down and help them drive the obnoxious Sioux back to their stamping ground. He left Fort Bent and went with the party of Comanche messengers to the main camp of that tribe and the Arapaho, with whom they had united. Upon his arrival, he was told that the Sioux had 1,000 warriors and many rifles, and the Comanche and Arapaho were afraid of them on account of the significant disparity of numbers, but that if he would go with them on the warpath, they felt assured they could overcome their enemies. Carson, however, instead of encouraging the Comanche and Arapaho to fight, induced them to negotiate with the Sioux. He was sent as a mediator and successfully accomplished his mission, so the intruding tribe consented to leave the hunting grounds of the Comanche as soon as the buffalo season was over, which they did, and there was no more trouble.

Army leaving Las Vegas, New Mexico

Army leaving Las Vegas, New Mexico.

After many adventures in California with General John C. Fremont, Carson and his inseparable friend, Lucien B. Maxwell, embarked on the wool-raising industry. Shortly after they had established themselves on their ranch, the Apache made one of their frequent murderings and plundering raids through Northern New Mexico, killing defenseless women and children, running off the stock of all kinds, and laying waste every little ranch they came across in their wild foray. Not very far from the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, they ruthlessly butchered a Mr. White and his son, though three of their number were slain by the brave gentlemen before they were overpowered. Other blood-thirsty Indians carried away the women and children of the desolated home and took them to their mountain retreat in the vicinity of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Mr. White was a highly respected merchant, and news of this outrage spread rapidly through the settlements. It was determined that the Indians should not go without punishment this time, at least. Carson’s reputation as an Indian fighter was at its height, so the natives of the country sent for him and declined to move until he came. For some unexplained reason, after he arrived in Las Vegas, he was not placed in charge of the posse, that position having already been given to a Frenchman. As was usual with him, Carson never murmured because he was assigned to a subordinate position but took his place, ready to do his part in whatever capacity.

The party set out for the stronghold of the Indians and rode night and day on the trail of the murderers, hoping to surprise them and recapture the women and children. However, so much time had been wasted in delays that Carson feared they would only find the mutilated bodies of the poor captives. In a few days after leaving Las Vegas, the retreat of the Indians was discovered in the fastness of the mountains, where they had fortified themselves in such a manner that they could resist ten times the number of their pursuers. As soon as he saw them, Carson, without hesitation and giving a characteristic yell, dashed in, expecting the men to follow him. However, they only stood in gaping wonderment at his bravery, not daring to venture after him. He did not discover his dilemma until he had advanced so far alone that escape seemed impossible. But here, his coolness, which always served him in the moment of supreme danger, saved his scalp. As the Indians turned on him, he threw himself on the offside of his horse, Indian fashion, for he was an expert in a trick of that kind as the Indians themselves, and rode back to the little command. He had six arrows in his horse and a bullet through his coat!

The Indians in those days were poorly armed and did not long follow up the pursuit after Carson, for, observing the squad of mounted Mexicans, they retreated to the top of a rocky prominence. From that point, they could watch every movement of the whites. Carson was raging at the apathy, not to say cowardice, of the men who had sent for him to join them, but he kept his counsel to himself, for he was anxious to save the captured women and children. However, he talked to the men very earnestly, exhorting them not to flinch in the duty they had come so far to perform and for which he had come at their call. This had the desired effect, for he induced them to make a charge, which was gallantly performed and in such a brave manner that the Indians fled, scarcely making an effort to defend themselves. Five of their number were killed at the furious onset of the Mexicans. Unfortunately, as he anticipated, only the murdered corpses of the women and children resulted from the victory.

Comanche Camp, 1873

Comanche Camp, 1873.

President Polk appointed Carson to a second lieutenancy, and his first official duty was conducting 50 soldiers under his command through the country of the Comanche, who were then at war with the whites. A fight occurred at a place known as Point of Rocks, where, on arriving, Carson found a company of volunteers for the Mexican-American War and camped near them. About dawn the next morning, all the volunteers’ animals were captured by a band of Indians while the herders conducted them to the river bottom to graze. Luckily, the herders ran into Carson’s camp in confusion, attending to the bold theft and having no weapons. As he and his men were ready with their rifles, they recaptured the oxen, but their captors successfully drove off the horses.

Several Indians were mortally wounded by Carson’s prompt charge, as signs after they had cleared out proved, but the Indian custom of tying the wounded on their ponies precluded the chance of taking any scalps. The wily Comanche were generally successful in his sudden assaults, but Carson, who was never surprised, was always equal to his tactics.

One of the two soldiers whose turn it had been to stand guard that morning was discovered to have been asleep when the alarm of Indians was given. Carson at once administered the Indian method of punishment, making the man wear a woman’s dress for that day. Then, he arrived at Santa Fe, where he turned over his little command.

While there, he heard that a gang of those desperadoes so frequently the nuisance of a new country had formed a conspiracy to murder and rob two wealthy citizens they had volunteered to accompany over the Santa Fe Trail to the States. The caravan was already many miles on its way when Carson was informed of the plot. In less than an hour, he had hired 16 men and was on his march to intercept them. He took a shortcut across the mountains, taking special care to keep out of the way of the Indians, who were on the warpath, but as to whose movements he was always posted. In two days, he came upon a camp of United States recruits en route to the military posts in New Mexico, whose commander offered to accompany him with 20 men. Carson accepted the generous proposal, by forced marches soon overtook the caravan of traders, and at once placed one man named Fox, the leader of the gang, in irons, after which he informed the owners of the caravan of the escape they had made from the wretches whom they were treated so kindly. At first, the gentlemen were astounded at the disclosures made to them but soon admitted that they had noticed many things that convinced them that the plot existed. But it would shortly have been carried out for the opportune arrival of the brave frontiersman.

The trustworthy caravan members were then ordered to corral the other conspirators, 35 in number. They were driven out of camp, except for Fox, the leader, whom Carson conveyed to Taos, New Mexico. He was imprisoned for several months, but as a crime in intent, it could only be proved against him. As the adobe walls of the house where he was confined were not secure enough to retain a man who desired to release himself, he was finally liberated and cleared out.

The traders profusely thanked Carson for his timely interference, but he refused every remuneration offer. On their return to Santa Fe from St. Louis, Missouri, they presented him with a magnificent pair of pistols, the silver mounting commemorating his brave deed and the donors’ gratitude.

Cheyenne Warriors by Edward S. Curtis

Cheyenne Warriors by Edward S. Curtis.

The following summer was spent on a visit to St. Louis. Early in the fall, he returned over the Trail, arriving at the Cheyenne village on the Upper Arkansas River without meeting with any incident worthy of note. On reaching that point, he learned that the Indians had received a terrible affront from an officer commanding a detachment of United States troops, who had whipped one of their chiefs. Consequently, the whole tribe was enraged, burning for revenge upon the whites. Carson was the first white man to approach the place since the insult. So many years had elapsed since he was the hunter at Bent’s Fort, and so grievously had the Indians been offended that his name no longer guaranteed safety to the party with whom he was traveling nor even insured respect to himself in the state of excitement existing in the village. However, Carson deliberately pushed himself into the presence of a war council, which was just then in session to consider the question of attacking the caravan, giving orders to his men to keep close together and guard against a surprise.

The Indians, supposing he could not understand their language, talked without restraint and unfolded their plans to capture his party and kill them all, particularly the leader. After reaching this decision, Carson coolly rose and addressed the council in the Cheyenne language, informing the Indians who he was, of his former associations with and kindness to their tribe, and that now he was ready to render them any assistance they might require. Still, as to their taking his scalp, he claimed the right to say a word.

The Indians departed, and Carson went on his way, but there were hundreds of Indians in sight on the sandhills, and though they made no attack, he was well aware that he was in their power, nor had they abandoned the idea of capturing his train. His coolness and deliberation kept his men in spirit, and yet out of the whole 15, which was the total number of his force, there were only two or three on whom he could place any reliance in case of an emergency.

Pilgrims on the Plains by Theodore R. Davis, 1869

Pilgrims on the Plains by Theodore R. Davis, 1869

The wagons were corralled when the train camped for the night, and the men and mules were brought inside the circle. The grass was cut with sheath knives and fed to the animals instead of being picketed out as usual, and as large a guard as possible was detailed. When the camp had settled down to perfect quiet, Carson crawled outside it, taking with him a Mexican boy and, after explaining the danger that threatened them all, told him that it was in his power to save the company’s lives. Then he sent him on alone to Rayado, New Mexico, a journey of nearly 300 miles, to ask for an escort of United States troops to be sent out to meet the train, impressing upon the brave little Mexican the importance of putting a good many miles between himself and the camp before morning. And so he started him, with a few rations of food, without letting the rest of his party know that such measures were necessary. The boy had been in Carson’s service for some time and was known to him as a faithful and active messenger. Such a journey was not unusual in a wild country like New Mexico, with its people’s outdoor life and habits.

Carson returned to the camp to watch himself all night; at daybreak, all were on the Santa Fe Trail again. No Indians appeared until nearly noon when five warriors came galloping up toward the train. As soon as they came close enough to hear his voice, Carson ordered them to halt and, going up to them, told how he had sent a messenger to Rayado the night before to inform the troops that their tribe was annoying him and that if he or his men were molested, terrible punishment would be inflicted by those who would surely come to his relief. The Indians replied that they would look for the moccasin tracks they undoubtedly found. The whole village passed away toward the hills after a little while, evidently seeking a place of safety from an expected attack by the troops.

The young Mexican overtook the detachment of soldiers whose officer had caused all the trouble with the Indians, to whom he told his story. Still failing to secure any sympathy, he continued his journey to Rayado and procured assistance from the garrison of that place. Major Grier, commanding the post, at once dispatched a troop of his regiment, which, by forced marches, met Carson 25 miles below Bent’s Fort. Though it encountered no Indians, the rapid movement had a good effect on the Indians, impressing them with the power and promptness of the government.

Kit Carson

Kit Carson.

Early in the spring of 1865, Carson, with three companies, ordered to stop the depredations of marauding bands of Comanche upon the caravans and emigrant outfits traveling the Santa Fe Trail. He left Fort Union for the Arkansas River to establish a fortified camp at Cedar Bluffs, or Cold Spring, to afford a refuge for the freight trains on that dangerous part of the Trail. The Indians had been harassing not only the caravans of the citizen traders but also those of the government, which carried supplies to the several military posts in the Territory of New Mexico. Therefore, Carson planned an expedition to punish them, and he soon found an opportunity to strike a blow near the adobe fort on the Canadian River. His force consisted of the First Regiment of New Mexican Volunteer Cavalry and 75 friendly Indians, his entire command numbering 14 commissioned officers and 396 enlisted men. With these, he attacked the Kiowa village, consisting of about 150 lodges. The fight was very severe and lasted from half-past eight in the morning until sundown. The Indians, with more than ordinary intrepidity and boldness, made repeated stands against the fierce onslaughts of Carson’s cavalrymen but were at last forced to give way and were cut down as they stubbornly retreated, suffering a loss of some 60 killed and wounded. In this battle, only two privates and one noncommissioned officer were killed, and one non-commissioned officer and thirteen privates, four of whom were friendly Indians, were wounded. The command destroyed 150 lodges, a large amount of dried meats, berries, buffalo robes, cooking utensils, and a buggy and spring wagon, the property of Sierrito, the Kiowa chief.

In his official account of the fight, Carson stated that he found ammunition in the village, which had been furnished, no doubt, by unscrupulous Mexican traders.

He told me that he was never deceived by Indian tactics except once in his life. He said that he was hunting with six others after buffalo in the summer of 1835; they had been successful and came into their little bivouac one night very tired, intending to start for the rendezvous at Bent’s Fort the next morning. They had several dogs, among them some excellent animals. These barked a good deal and seemed restless, and the men heard wolves.

“I saw,” said Kit, “two big wolves sneaking about, one of them quite close to us. Gordon, one of my men, wanted to fire his rifle at it, but I did not let him for fear he would hit a dog. I admit that I had a sort of an idea that those wolves might be Indians, but when I noticed one of them turn short around and heard the clashing of his teeth as he rushed at one of the dogs, I felt easy then and was certain that they were wolves sure enough. But the red devil fooled me, for he had two dried buffalo bones in his hands under the wolf skin, and he rattled them together every time he turned to make a dash at the dogs! Well, by and by, we all dozed off, and it wasn’t long before a noise and a big blaze suddenly aroused me. I rushed out the first thing for our mules and held them. If the Indians had been smart, they could have killed us in a trice, but they ran as soon as they fired at us. They killed one of my men, putting five bullets in his body and eight in his buffalo robe. The Indians were a band of Sioux on the war trail after a band of Snakes found us by sheer accident. They endeavored to ambush us the next morning, but we got wind of their little game and killed three of them, including the chief.”

Kit Carson House in Taos, New Mexico

Kit Carson House in Taos, New Mexico.

Carson’s nature was made up of some very noble attributes. He was brave but not reckless like George Custer, a veritable exponent of Christian altruism and as true to his friends as the needle to the pole. Under the average stature and rather delicate-looking in his physical proportions, he was nevertheless a quick, wiry man with nerves of steel and possessing an indomitable will. He was full of caution but showed a coolness in the moment of supreme danger that was good to witness.

During a short visit at Fort Lyon, Colorado, where a favorite son of his was living, early in the morning of May 23, 1868, while mounting his horse in front of his quarters (he was still fond of riding), an artery in his neck was suddenly ruptured, from the effects of which, notwithstanding the medical assistance rendered by the fort surgeons, he died in a few moments.

After reposing for some time at Fort Lyon, his remains were taken to Taos, his home in New Mexico, where an appropriate monument was erected over them. In the Plaza at Santa Fe, his name also appears cut on a cenotaph raised to commemorate the services of the soldiers of the Territory. As an Indian fighter, he was matchless. The identical rifle he used for more than 35 years, which never failed him, he bequeathed, just before his death, to Montezuma Lodge, A. F. & A. M., Santa Fe, of which he was a member.

James Bridger

James Bridger

James Bridger.

James Bridger, ” Major Bridger,” or ” Old Jim Bridger,” as he was called, another famous coterie of pioneer frontiersmen, was born in Washington, D.C., in 1807. When very young, a mere boy, he joined the great trapping expedition under the leadership of James Ashley and, with it, traveled to the far West, remote from the extreme limit of border civilization, where he became the compeer and comrade of Kit Carson, and certainly the foremost mountaineer, strictly speaking, the United States has produced.

Having left behind him all possibilities of education at such an early age, he was illiterate in his speech and as ignorant of the conventionalities of polite society as an Indian, but he possessed a heart overflowing with the milk of human kindness, was generous in the extreme, and honest and true as daylight.

He was especially distinguished for discovering a defile through the intricate mazes of the Rocky Mountains, which bears his name, Bridger’s Pass in Wyoming. During the early preliminary surveys for a transcontinental railroad, he rendered important services as a guide and scout. For a series of years, he was employed by the government in the old regular army on the Great Plains and the mountains long before the Civil War broke out. To Bridger also belongs the honor of having seen, first of all, white men, the Great Salt Lake of Utah in the winter of 1824-25.

After a series of adventures, hairbreadth escapes, and terrible encounters with the Indians, in 1856, he purchased a farm near Westport, Missouri [Kansas City]. He soon left it in his hunger for the mountains, to return to it only when worn-out and blind, to be buried there without even the rudest tablet to mark the spot.

Westport Landing, Missouri by William Henry Jackson

Westport Landing, Missouri, by William Henry Jackson.

“I would rather sleep in the southern corner of a little country churchyard than in the tomb of the Capulets.” This quotation came to my mind one Sunday morning two or three years ago as I mused over Bridger’s neglected grave among the low hills beyond the quaint old town of Westport, Missouri. I thought I knew, as I stood there, that he whose bones were moldering beneath the blossoming clover at my feet would have wished for his last couch a more perfect solitude and isolation from the wearisome world’s busy sound than even the immortal Burke.

The grassy mound, over which there was no stone to record its occupant’s name, covered the remains of the last of his class. This type vanished forever, for the border is a thing of the past, and upon the gentle breeze of that delightful morning, like the droning of bees in a full-flowered orchard, was wafted to my ears the hum of Kansas City’s civilization, only three or four miles distant, in all of which I was sure there was nothing that would have been congenial to the old frontiersman.

At one time, early in the 1860s, while the engineers of the proposed Union Pacific Railroad were temporarily in Denver, Colorado, an insignificant mushroom hamlet, they became somewhat confused about the most practicable point in the range over which to run their line. After debating the question, they determined, upon a suggestion from some of the old settlers, to send for Jim Bridger, who was then visiting in St. Louis, Missouri. A pass via the overland stage was enclosed in a letter to him, and he was urged to start for Denver at once, though nothing of the business for which his presence was required was told him in the text.

In about two weeks, the old man arrived, and the next morning, after he had rested, asked why he had been sent for from such a distance.

The engineers then began to explain their dilemma. The old mountaineer waited patiently until they had finished, when, with a look of disgust on his withered countenance, he demanded a large piece of paper, remarking at the same time, — “I coulda told you fellers all that in St. Louis, and saved you the expense of bringing me out here.”

He was handed a sheet of manila paper to draw the bridge plan details. The veteran pathfinder spread it on the ground before him, took dead coal from the ashes of the fire, drew a rough outline map, and, pointing to a certain peak just visible on the serrated horizon, said: “There’s where you fellers can cross with your road, and nowhere else, without more diggin’ an’ cuttin’ than you can think of.”

I have been told that that crude map is preserved in the great corporation’s archives. Its line crosses the prominent spurs of the Rocky Mountains, just where Bridger said it could with the least work.

John Simpson Smith.

John Simpson Smith.

The resemblance of old John Simpson Smith, another of the coterie, to President Andrew Johnson, was absolutely astonishing. When that chief magistrate, in his “swinging around the circle,” had arrived at St. Louis and was riding through the streets of that city in an open barouche, he was pointed out to Jim Bridger, who happened to be there. But, the venerable guide and scout, with supreme disgust depicted on his countenance at the idea of anyone attempting to deceive him, said to his informant, — “H—l! Bill, you can’t fool me! That’s old John Smith.”

Many years ago, during Bridger’s first visit to St. Louis, Missouri, then a relatively small place, a friend accidentally came across him sitting on a dry goods box in one of the narrow streets, evidently disgusted with his situation. To the inquiry about what he was doing there all alone, the old man replied, —  “I’ve been settin’ in this infernal canon ever since mornin’, waitin’ for someone to come along an’ invite me to take a drink. Hundreds of fellers have passed both ways, but none of ’em has opened his head. I’ve never seen such an unsociable crowd!”

Bridger had a fund of most remarkable stories, which he had drawn upon so often that he really believed them to be true.

General Gatlin, who graduated from West Point in the early 1830s and commanded Fort Gibson in the Cherokee Nation over 60 years ago, told me that he remembered Bridger very well and had once asked the old guide whether he had ever been in the Great Canyon of the Colorado River.

“Yes, sir,” replied the mountaineer, “I have many times. There’s where the oranges and lemons bear all the time, and the only place I ever was where the moon’s always full!”

He told me and also many others, at various times, that in the winter of 1830, it began to snow in the valley of the Great Salt Lake and continued for 70 days without cessation. The whole country was covered to a depth of 70 feet, and all the vast herds of buffalo were caught in the storm and died, but their carcasses were perfectly preserved.

“When spring came, all I had to do,” declared he, “was to tumble ’em into Salt Lake, and I had pickled buffalo enough for myself and the whole Ute Nation for years!”

He said that there had been no buffalo in that region because of that terrible storm, which annihilated them.

The heart of the Rockies

The Heart of the Rocky Mountains by the Detroit Photographic Co., 1901.

Bridger had been the guide, interpreter, and companion of the distinguished Irish sportsman Sir George Gore. His strange tastes led him, in 1855, to abandon life in Europe and bury himself for over two years among the Indians in the wildest and most unfrequented glens of the Rocky Mountains.

The outfit and adventures of this titled Nimrod, conducted as they were on the largest scale exceeded anything of the kind ever before seen on this continent, and the results of his wanderings will compare favorably with those of Gordon Cumming in Africa.

Some idea of his outfit’s magnitude may be formed when it is stated that his retinue consisted of about fifty individuals, including secretaries, stewards, cooks, flymakers, dog-tenders, servants, etc. He was carried over the country with a train of 30 wagons, alongside numerous saddle horses and dogs.

During his lengthened hunt, he killed an enormous aggregate of forty grizzly bears, 2,500 buffalo, numerous antelope, and other small game.

Bridger said of Sir George that he was a bold, dashing, successful hunter and an agreeable gentleman. His habit was to lie in bed until about ten or eleven o’clock in the morning. He took a bath, ate his breakfast, and set out, generally alone, for the day’s hunt, and it was not unusual for him to remain out until ten at night, seldom returning to the tents without augmenting the catalog of his beasts. His dinner was served, and he generally extended an invitation to Bridger. After the meal was over and a few glasses of wine had been drunk, he was in the habit of reading from some book and eliciting his comments from Bridger. His favorite author was Shakespeare, which Bridger “reckin’d was too highfalutin” for him; moreover, he remarked “that he rather calculated that thar big Dutchman, Mr. Full-stuff, was a little too fond of lager beer” and thought it would have been better for the old man if he had “stuck to Bourbon whiskey straight.”

Bridger seemed very much interested in the adventures of Baron Munchausen but admitted after Sir George had finished reading them that “he be dog’oned ef he swallered everything that thar Baron Munchausen said,” and thought he was “a darned liar,” yet he acknowledged that some of his own adventures among the Blackfeet would be equally marvelous “if writ down in a book.”

A man whose one act had made him awe-inspiring was Belzy Dodd. Uncle Dick Wootton, in relating the story, says: “I don’t know what his first name was, but Belzy was what we called him. His head was as bald as a billiard ball, and he wore a wig. One day, while we were all at Bent’s Fort, while there were many Indians about, Belzy decided to have some fun. He walked around, eying the Indians fiercely for some time, and finally, dashing in among them, he gave a series of war whoops which discounted a Comanche yell and, pulling off his wig threw it down at the feet of the astonished and terror-stricken red men.

The Indians thought the fellow had jerked off his own scalp, and not one of them wanted to stay and see what would happen next. They left the fort, running like so many scared jack-rabbits, and after that, none of them could be induced to approach anywhere near Dodd.”

They called him “The white-man-who-scalps-himself,” and Uncle Dick said that he believed he could have traveled across the plains alone with perfect safety.

Jim Baker

Jim Baker, mountain man

Jim Baker, mountain man.

Jim Baker was another noted mountaineer and hunter of the same era as Kit Carson. He was born in Illinois and lived at home until he was 18, when he enlisted in the American Fur Company’s service, went immediately to the Rocky Mountains, and remained there until his death. According to Indian customs, he married a wife from the Snake tribe, living with her relatives for many years and cultivating many of their habits, ideas, and superstitions. He firmly believed in the efficacy of the charms and incantations of the medicine men in curing diseases, divining where their enemy was to be found, forecasting the result of war expeditions, and other such ridiculous matters. Unfortunately, too. Baker sometimes took a little more whiskey than he could conveniently carry and often made a fool of himself, but he was a generous, noble-hearted fellow who would risk his life for a friend at any time or divide his last morsel of food.

Like mountaineers generally, Baker was liberal to a fault and eminently improvident. He made a fortune by his work, but at the annual rendezvous of the traders, at Bent’s Fort or the old Pueblo, he would throw away months’ earnings in a few days’ jollification.

He told General Marcy, who was a warm friend of his, that after one season in which he had been unusually successful in accumulating a large number of valuable furs, from the sale of which he had realized the handsome sum of $9,000 he resolved to abandon his mountain life, return to the settlements, buy a farm, and live comfortably during the remainder of his days. Accordingly, he was ready to leave and on the eve of starting when a friend invited him to visit a monte-bank organized at the rendezvous. He was easily led away, determined to take a little social amusement with his old comrade, whom he might never see again, and followed him, the result of which was that the whiskey circulated freely, and the next morning found Baker without a cent of money; he had lost everything. Thus, his entire plans were frustrated, and he returned to the mountains, hunting with the Indians until he died.

Jim Baker’s opinions of the wild Indians of the Great Plains and the mountains were very decided: “That they are the most onsartinist varmints in all creation, an’ I reckon thar not more’n half-human; for you never seed a human, arter you’d fed an’ treated him to the best fixin’s in your lodge, jis turn round and steal all your horses, or any other thing he could lay his hands on. No, not adzactly. He would feel kind o’ grateful and ask you to spread a blanket in his lodge ef you ever came his way. But the Injin don’t care shucks for you, and is ready to do you a lot of mischief as soon as he quits your feed. No, Cap.,” he said to Marcy when relating this, “it’s not the right way to make ’em gifts to buy a peace; but ef I war gov’nor of these United States, I’ll tell what I’d do. I’d invite ’em all to a big feast and make ’em think I wanted to have a talk, and as soon as I got ’em together, I’d light in and raise the har of half of ’em, and then t’other half would be mighty glad to make terms that would stick. That’s how I’d make a treaty with the dog’oned red-bellied varmints, and as sure as you’re born, Cap., that’s the only way.”

When he first met Baker, the general asked if he had traveled much over the United States settlements before he came to the mountains, to which he said: “Right smart, right smart, Cap.” He then asked whether he had visited New York or New Orleans. “No, I haven’t, Cap., but I’ll tell you what I have been. I’ve been mighty nigh all over four counties in the State of Illinois!”

He was very fond of his Indian wife and children and usually treated them kindly; only when he was in liquor did he maltreat them.

Once, he came over to New Mexico, where General Marcy was stationed at the time, and determined that for the time being, he would cast aside his leggings, moccasins, and other mountain dress and wear a civilized wardrobe. Accordingly, he fitted himself out with one. When Marcy met him shortly after he had donned the strange clothes, he had undergone such an entire change that the general remarked he should hardly have known him. He did not take kindly to this and said: “Consarn these store boots, Cap.; they choke my feet like h—l.” It was the first time in 20 years that he had worn anything on his feet but moccasins, and they were not ready for the torture inflicted by breaking in a new pair of absurdly fitting boots. He soon threw them away and resumed the softer footgear of the mountains.

Grizzley Bear.

Grizzley Bear.

Baker was a famous bear hunter and had been at the death of many a grizzly. On one occasion, he set his traps with a comrade on the Arkansas River’s headwaters when they suddenly met two young grizzly bears about the size of full-grown dogs. Baker remarked to his friend that it would be a big thing to boast of if they could “light in and kill the varmints ” with their knives. They both accordingly laid aside their rifles and “lit in,” Baker attacking one and his comrade the other. The bears immediately raised themselves on their haunches and were ready for the encounter. Baker ran around, endeavoring to get in a blow from behind with his long knife, but the young brute he had tackled was too quick for him. He turned as he went around so, as always, to confront him face to face. He knew if he came within reach of his claws, although young, he could inflict a formidable wound; moreover, he feared that the howls of the cubs would bring the infuriated mother to their rescue when the hunters’ chances of getting away would be slim. These thoughts floated hurriedly through his mind, making him desirous to end the fight as soon as possible. He made many vicious lunges at the bear, but the animal invariably warded them off with his strong forelegs like a boxer. However, this tactic cost the lively beast several severe cuts on his shoulders, making him more furious. At length, he took the offensive and, with his mouth frothing with rage, bounded toward Baker, who caught and wrestled with him, succeeding in giving him a death wound under the ribs.

While all this was going on, his comrade had been furiously engaged with the other bear and, by this time, had become greatly exhausted, with the odds decidedly against him. He entreated Baker to come to his assistance at once, which he did, but much to his astonishment, as soon as he entered the second contest, his comrade ran off, leaving him to fight the battle alone. He was, however, again victorious and soon had the satisfaction of seeing his two antagonists stretched out in front of him. Still, as he said, ” I made my mind up I’d never fight nary another grizzly without a good shootin’ iron in my paws.”

He established a little store at the crossing of Green River. He had for some time been doing a fair business in trafficking with the emigrants and trading with the Indians. Still, shortly, a Frenchman came to the same locality and set up a rival establishment, which, of course, divided the limited trade, and naturally reduced the income of Baker’s business.

This engendered a bitter feeling of hostility, which soon culminated in ceasing all social intercourse between them. About this time, General Marcy arrived there on his way to California, and he described the situation of affairs:

“I found Baker standing in his door, with a revolver loaded and cocked in each hand, very drunk and immensely excited. I dismounted and asked him the cause of all this disturbance. He answered: ‘That thar yaller-bellied, toad-eatin’ Parly Voo, over thar, an’ me, we’ve been havin’ a small chance of a scrimmage today. The sneakin’ polecat, I’ll raise his har yet, ef he don’t quit these diggins’!’

“It seems that they had an altercation in the morning, which ended in a challenge when they ran to their cabins, seized their revolvers, and fired from the doors, which were only about 100 yards from each other. They then retired to their cabins, drank whiskey, reloaded their revolvers, and renewed the combat again. This strange duel had been going on for several hours when I arrived, but, fortunately for them, the whiskey had such an effect on their nerves that their aim was very unsteady, and none of the shots had as yet taken effect.

“I took away Baker’s revolvers, telling him how ashamed I was to find a man of his usual good sense making such a fool of himself. He gave in quietly, saying he knew I was his friend but did not think I would wish to have him take insults from a cowardly Frenchman.

“The following morning at daylight, Jim called at my tent to bid me goodbye and seemed very sorry for what had occurred the day before. He stated that this was the first time since his return from New Mexico that he had allowed himself to drink whiskey, and when the whiskey was in him, he had ‘nary sense.”

James P. Beckwourth

James Pierson Beckwourth

James Pierson Beckwourth.

Among the many men who have distinguished themselves as mountaineers, traders, and Indian fighters along the Santa Fe Trail line was one who eventually became the head chief of one of the most numerous and valorous tribes of North American Indians, James P. Beckwourth. Estimates of him vary considerably. Francis Parkman, the historian, who I think never saw him and writes merely from hearsay, says: “He is a ruffian of the worst class; bloody and treacherous, without honor or honesty; such, at least, is the character he bears on the Great Plains. Yet in his case, the standard rules of character fail; for though he will stab a man in his slumber, he will also do the most desperate and daring acts.”

I never saw Beckwourth, but I have heard of him from my mountaineer friends who knew him intimately; I think he died long before Parkman made his tour to the Rocky Mountains. Colonel Daniel Boone, the Bents, Kit Carson, Lucien Maxwell, and others ascribed to him no such traits as those given by Parkman. As to his honesty, it is unquestioned that Beckwourth was the most honest trader among the Indians who were then engaged in the business. Kit Carson and Colonel Boone were the only Indian agents I ever knew or heard of who dealt honestly with the various tribes, as they were always ready to acknowledge. The withdrawal of the former by the government was the cause of a great war, so Beckwourth was an honest Indian trader.

He was a born leader of men and was known from the Yellowstone to the Rio Grande, from Santa Fe to Independence, and in St. Louis, Missouri. He ran away from the latter town when a boy with a party of trappers and himself became one of the most successful of that hardy class. The woman who bore him had played in her childhood beneath the palm trees of Africa; his father was a native of France and went to the banks of the wild Mississippi River of his own free will, but probably also from reasons of political interest to his government.

In person, Beckwourth was of medium height and great muscular power, quick of apprehension, and with the courage of the highest order. Probably no man ever met with more personal adventures involving danger to life, even among the mountaineers and trappers who, early in the century, faced the perils of the remote frontier. He always wore suspended a perforated bullet from his neck, with a large oblong bead on each side of it, tied in place by a single thread of sinew. This amulet he obtained while chief of the Crows, and it was his “medicine,” with which he excited his warriors’ superstition.

Santa Fe Trail Trader

Santa Fe Trail Trader.

His success as a trader among the various tribes of Indians has never been surpassed, for his close intimacy with them made him know what would best please their taste. They bought of him when other traders stood idly at their stockades, waiting almost hopelessly for customers.

But Beckwourth himself said: “The traffic in whiskey for Indian property was one of the most infernal practices ever entered into by man. Let the most casual thinker sit down and figure up the profits on a forty-gallon cask of alcohol, and he will be thunderstruck, or rather whiskey-struck. When it was to be disposed of, four gallons of water were added to each gallon of alcohol. In 200 gallons, there are 1600 pints, for each one of which the trader got a buffalo robe worth $5. The Indian women toiled many long weeks to dress those 1,600 robes. The white traders got them for worse than nothing, for the poor Indian mother hid herself and her children until the effect of the poison passed away from the husband and father, who loved them when he had no whiskey and abused and killed them when he had. $6,000 for 60 gallons of alcohol! Is it a wonder with such profits that men got rich who were engaged in the fur trade? Or was it a miracle that the buffalo were gradually exterminated? — killed with so little remorse that the hides, among the Indians themselves, were known by the appellation of ‘A pint of whiskey.'”

Beckwourth claims to have established the Pueblo, where the beautiful city of Pueblo, Colorado, is now situated. He says: “On the 1st of October, 1842, on the Upper Arkansas River, I erected a trading post and opened a successful business. I was joined by 15 to 20 free trappers with their families in a very short time. We all united our labor and constructed an adobe fort 60 yards square. By the following spring, it had grown into quite a little settlement, and we called it Pueblo.”

Uncle Dick Wootton

Richens Lacey “Uncle Dick” Wootton

Richens Lacey “Uncle Dick” Wootton.

Immediately after Kit Carson, the second wreath of pioneer laurels for bravery and prowess as an Indian fighter, and trapper, must be conceded to Richens Lacy Wootton, known first as “Dick” in his younger days on the plains, then, when age had overtaken him, as “Uncle Dick.” His father was born in Virginia when he was seven years of age and moved with his family to Kentucky, where he cultivated a tobacco plantation. Like his predecessor and lifelong friend Carson, young Wootton tired of the monotony of farming and, in the summer of 1836, made a trip to the busy frontier town of Independence, Missouri, where he found a caravan belonging to Colonel St. Vrain and the Bents, already loaded, and ready to pull out for the fort built by the latter, and named for them.

Wootton had a fair business education and was superior in this respect to his companions in the caravan to which he had attached himself. It was by those rough but kindhearted men that he was called “Dick,” as they could not readily master the more complicated name of ” Richens.”

When he started from Independence on his initial trip across the plains, he was only 19 years old, but, like all Kentuckians, he was perfectly familiar with a rifle. He could shoot out a squirrel’s eye with the certainty that long practice and hardened nerves assure.

The caravan, in which he was employed as a teamster, was composed of only seven wagons, but a larger one, of which were more than 50, had preceded it, and as that was heavily laden. The smaller one only lightly; it was intended to overtake the former before the dangerous portions of the Santa Fe Trail were reached, which it did in a few days and was assigned a place in the long line.

Every man had to take his turn in standing guard, and the first night that it fell to young Wootton was at Little Cow Creek in the Upper Arkansas River Valley. Thus far, nothing had occurred during the trip to imperil the caravan’s safety, nor was any attack by the Indians looked for.

Wootton’s post comprehended the whole length of one side of the corral, and his instructions were to shoot anything he saw moving outside the line of mules farthest from the wagons. The young sentry was very vigilant. He did not feel sleepy but eagerly watched for something that might come within the prescribed distance, though not expecting such a contingency.

About two o’clock, he heard a slight noise and saw something moving about, some 60-70 yards from where he was lying on the ground, to which he had dropped the moment the strange sound reached his ears. Of course, his first thoughts were of Indians, and the more he peered through the darkness at the slowly moving object, the more convinced he was that it must be a blood-thirsty warrior.

He rose to his feet and blazed away, the shot rousing everybody, and all came rushing with their guns to learn what the matter was.

Wootton told the wagon master that he had seen what he supposed was an Indian trying to slip up to the mules and that he had killed him. Some men crept very circumspectly to the spot where the supposed dead Indian was lying while young Wootton remained at his post, eagerly waiting for their report. Presently, he heard a voice cry out: “I’ll be d—d ef he hain’t killed ‘Old Jack!”‘ “Old Jack” was one of the lead mules of one of the wagons. He had torn up his picket pin and strayed outside of the lines, resulting in the faithful brute meeting his death at the hands of the sentry. Wootton declared that he would not be blamed, for the animal had disobeyed orders while strictly observing them!

Pawnee Fork Crossing, Kansas.

Pawnee Fork Crossing, Kansas.

At Pawnee Fork, a few days later, the caravan had a genuine tussle with the Comanche. It was a bright moonlight night, and about 200 mounted Indians attacked them. It was rare for Indians to begin a raid after dark, but they swept down on the unsuspecting teamsters, yelling like a host of demons. They were generally armed with bows and arrows, though a few had fusees (a fire-lock musket with an immense bore).

Although they were not expected, they received a warm greeting, the guard noticing the Indians in time to prevent a stampede of the animals, which evidently was the sole purpose for which they came, as they did not attempt to break through the corral to get at the wagons. It was the mules they were after. They charged among the men, vainly endeavoring to frighten the animals and make them break loose, discharging showers of arrows as they rode by. However, the camp was too hot for them, defended by old teamsters who had made the dangerous passage of the plains many times before and were up to all the Indian tactics. They failed to get a single mule but paid for their temerity by leaving three of their party dead, just where they had been tumbled off their horses, not even having time to carry the bodies off, as they usually do. Ten years before, Kit Carson was on his first journey and met with the same adventure while on post at Pawnee Rock, Kansas.

Wootton passed sometime during the early days of his career at Bent’s Fort, Colorado, in 1836-37. He was a great favorite with both of the proprietors, and he went to several Indian villages with them, where he learned the art of trading with the Indians.

The winters of the years mentioned were noted for the Pawnee’s incursions into the fort region. They always pretended friendship for the whites when any of them were inside of its sacred precincts, but their whole manner changed when they, by some stroke of fortune, caught a trapper or hunter alone on the prairie or in the foothills; he was a dead man sure, and his scalp was soon dangling at the belt of his cowardly assassins. Hardly a day passed without witnessing some poor fellow running for the fort with a band of the red devils after him; frequently, he escaped the keen edge of their scalping knife, but every once in a while, a man was killed. At one time, two herders with their animals within 50 yards of the fort, going out to the grazing ground, were killed, and every hoof of stock ran off.

A party from the fort, comprising only eight men, among whom was young Wootton, made up for lost time with the Indians at the crossing of Pawnee Fork, the same place where he had had his first fight. The men had set out from the fort to meet a small caravan of wagons from the East, loaded with supplies for Bent’s Fort. It happened that a band of 16 Pawnee warriors were watching for the train’s arrival, too. Wootton’s party was well mounted while the Pawnee were on foot, and although the Indians were two to one, the advantage was decidedly in favor of the whites.

The Indians were armed with bows and arrows only. While it was an easy matter for the whites to keep out of the way of the shower of missiles that the Indians commenced hurling at them, the latter became easy prey to the unerring rifles of their assailants, who killed 13 out of the 16 in a very short time. The remaining three took leave of their comrades at the beginning of the conflict and, abandoning their arms, rushed up to the caravan, which was appearing over a small divide, and gave themselves up. The Indian custom was observed in their case, although rarely any prisoners were taken in these conflicts on the Santa Fe Trail. Another curious custom was also followed. When the party encamped, they were well fed, and the next morning, they were supplied with rations enough to last them until they could reach one of their villages. They were sent off to tell their head chief what had become of the rest of his warriors.

As he expected, the Ute followed on his trail and came up with his little party on a prairie where there was no chance to ambush or hide. They had to fight because they could not help it, but they resolved to sell their lives as dearly as possible, as the Ute outnumbered them twenty to one; Wootton had only eight men with him, including the Shawnee.

The pack animals, of which they had a great many, loaded with the goods intended for the Indians, were corralled in a circle, inside of which the men hurried and awaited the first assault of the foe. In a few moments, the Ute began to circle the trappers and open fire. The trappers promptly responded and made every shot count, for all the men, not even the Shawnee, were experts with the rifle. They did not mind the arrows which the Ute showered upon them, as few, if any, reached where they stood. The Indians had a few guns, but they were of the poorest quality, and they did not know how to handle them then as they learned to do later, so their bullets were almost as harmless as their arrows.

The trappers made terrible havoc among the Ute’ horses, killing so many of them that the Indians, in despair, abandoned the fight and allowed Wootton and his men to get away, which they did as rapidly as possible.

Raton Pass, New Mexico

Raton Pass, New Mexico.

The Raton Pass, through which the Old Trail ran, was a relatively fair mountain road, but originally it was almost impossible for anything in the shape of a wheeled vehicle to get over the narrow rock-ribbed barrier; saddle horses and pack-mules could, however, make the trip without much difficulty. It was the natural highway to southeastern Colorado and northeastern New Mexico. Still, the overland coaches could not get to Trinidad by the shortest route, and as the caravans also desired to make the same line, it occurred to Uncle Dick that he would undertake to hew out a road through the pass, which, barring grades, should be as good as the average turnpike. He could see money in it for him, as he expected to charge a toll, keeping the road in repair at his own expense. He procured charters from the legislatures of Colorado and New Mexico, covering the rights and privileges that he demanded for his project.

In the spring of 1866, Uncle Dick took up his abode on the top of the mountains, built his home, and lived there until 1893, when he died at a very ripe old age. The old trapper had imposed on himself anything but an easy task in constructing his toll road. There were great hillsides to cut out, immense ledges of rocks to blast, bridges to build by the dozen, and huge trees to fell, besides long lines of difficult grading to engineer.

Ox team in Raton Mountains between Trinidad and Raton

Ox team in Raton Mountains between Trinidad and Raton.

Eventually, Uncle Dick’s road was a fact, but when it was completed, how to make it pay was a question that seriously disturbed his mind. I will quote the method he employed to solve the problem in his own words: “Such a thing as a toll road was unknown in the country at that time. People who had come from the States understood, of course, that the object of building a turnpike was to enable the owner to collect tolls from those who traveled over it. Still, I had to deal with many people who seemed to think they should be as free to travel over my well-graded and bridged roadway as they were to follow an ordinary cow path.

“I had no trouble with the stage company, the military authorities, and the American freighters. With the Indians, when a band came through now and then, I didn’t care to have any controversy about such a small matter as a few dollars toll! Whenever they came along, the toll gate went up, and any other little thing I could do to hurry them on was done promptly and cheerfully. While the Indians didn’t understand anything about the system of collecting tolls, they seemed to recognize that I had a right to control the road, and they would generally ride up to the gate and ask permission to go through. Once in a while, the chief of a band would think of compensation for the privilege of going through it in order and would give me a present of buckskin or something of that sort.

“My Mexican patrons were the hardest to get along with. They were totally unused to paying for the privilege of traveling over any road, and they did not take to it kindly. They were pleased with my road and liked to travel over it until they came to the toll gate. They seemed to see this as an obstruction that no man had a right to place in the way of a freeborn native of the mountain region. They appeared to regard the toll gate as a new scheme for holding up travelers for the purpose of robbery, and many of them evidently thought me a kind of freebooter who ought to be suppressed by law.

“Holding these views, when I asked them for a certain amount of money before raising the toll gate, they naturally differed with me very frequently about the propriety of complying with the request.

“In other words, there would be, at such times, probably an honest difference of opinion between the man who kept the toll gate and the man who wanted to get through it. There was a difference, and such differences had to be adjusted. Sometimes I did it through diplomacy, and sometimes I did it with a club. It was always settled one way, however, and that was by the toll schedule so that I could never have been charged with unjust discrimination of rates.”

Soon after the road was opened, a company composed of Californians and Mexicans, commanded by Captain Haley, passed Uncle Dick’s toll gate and house, escorting a large caravan of about 150 wagons. While they stopped there, a non-commissioned officer of the party was brutally murdered by three soldiers, and Uncle Dick came very near to being a witness to the atrocious deed.

A Fandango by the U.s. Printing Company, 1900.

A Fandango by the U.S. Printing Company, 1900.

Las Vegas, New Mexico, where the privates had been bound and gagged by order of the corporal for creating a disturbance at a fandango the evening before.

“They were taken into custody and made a confession, in which they stated that one of their numbers had stood at my door on the night of the murder to shoot me if I had ventured out to assist the corporal. Two of the scoundrels were hung afterward at Las Vegas, New Mexico, and the third sent to prison for life.”

The corporal was buried near where the soldiers were encamped at the time of the tragedy. His lonely grave frequently attracts the passengers’ attention on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.

In 1866-67, the Indians broke out, infesting all the most prominent points of the Santa Fe Trail and watching an opportunity to rob and murder so that the government freight caravans and the stages had to be escorted by detachments of troops. Fort Larned, Kansas, was the western limit where these escorts joined the outfits entering New Mexico.

There were other dangers to travelers by the stage besides the attacks of the Indians during the passage of the Trail. These were the so-called road agents — masked robbers who regarded life as of little worth in accomplishing their nefarious purposes. Particularly, they were common after the mines of New Mexico began to be operated by Americans. The bandits’ object was generally the express company’s strongbox, which contained money and other valuables. Of course, they did not hesitate to take what ready cash and jewelry the passengers might happen to have upon their persons, and frequently, their hauls amounted to large sums.

Wootton Ranch on the Santa Fe Trail

Wootton Ranch on the Santa Fe Trail.

When the coaches began to travel over Uncle Dick’s toll road, his house was made a station, and he had many stage stories. He said:

“Tavern-keepers in those days couldn’t choose their guests, and we entertained them just as they came along. The knights of the road would come by now and then, order a meal, eat it hurriedly, pay for it, and move on to where they had arranged to hold up a stage that night. Sometimes, they did not wait for it to get dark but halted the stage, went through the treasure box in broad daylight, and then ordered the driver to move on in one direction while they went off in another.

“One of the most daring and successful stage robberies that I remember was perpetrated by two men when the eastbound coach was coming up on the south side of the Raton Mountains one day about ten o’clock in the forenoon.

“On the morning of the same day, a little after sunrise, two rather genteel-looking fellows, mounted on fine horses, rode up to my house and ordered breakfast. Being informed that breakfast would be ready in a few minutes, they dismounted, hitched their horses near the door, and entered the house.

“I knew then, just as well as I do now, they were robbers, but I had no warrant for their arrest, and I should have hesitated about serving it if I had because they looked like very unpleasant men to transact that kind of business with.

“Each of them had four pistols sticking in his belt and a repeating rifle strapped onto his saddle. When they dismounted, they left their rifles with the horses but walked into the house and sat down at the table without laying aside the arsenal they carried in their belts.

“They had little to say while eating but were courteous in their behavior and very polite to the waiters. After finishing breakfast, they paid their bills and rode leisurely up the mountain.

“It did not occur to me that they would take chances on stopping the stage in daylight, or I should have sent someone to meet the incoming coach, which I knew would be along shortly, to warn the driver and passengers to be on the lookout for robbers.

“It turned out, however, that a daylight robbery was just what they had in mind, and they succeeded in it.

“About halfway down the New Mexico side of the mountain, where the canon is very narrow and was then heavily wooded on either side, the robbers stopped and waited for the coach. It came lumbering along by and by, neither the driver nor the passengers dreaming of a hold-up.

“The first intimation they had of such a thing was when they saw two men step into the road, one on each side of the stage, each of them holding two cocked revolvers, one of which was brought to bear on the passengers and the other on the driver, who was politely but very positively told that they must throw up their hands without any unnecessary delay, and the stage came to a standstill.

“There were four passengers in the coach, all men, but their hands went up at the same instant that the driver dropped his reins and struck an attitude that suited the robbers.

“Then, while one of the men stood guard, the other stepped up to the stage and ordered the treasure box thrown off. This demand was complied with, and the box was broken and rifled of its contents, which fortunately were not of very great value.

“The passengers were compelled to hand out their watches and other jewelry, as well as what money they had in their pockets, and then the driver was directed to move up the road. In a minute after this, the robbers had disappeared with their booty, which was the last seen of them by that particular coach-load of passengers.

“The men who planned and executed that robbery were two cool, level-headed, and daring scoundrels, known as ‘Chuckle-luck’ and ‘Magpie.’ They were killed soon after this occurrence by a member of their own band, whose name was Seward. $1,000 had been offered for their capture, which tempted Seward to kill them one night when they were asleep in camp.

“He then secured a wagon, into which he loaded the dead robbers, and hauled them to Cimarron City, where he turned them over to the authorities and received his reward.”

Among the Arapaho, Wooten was called “Cut Hand” because he had accidentally lost two fingers on his left hand in his childhood. The tribe had the utmost veneration for the old trapper, and he was perfectly safe at any time in their villages or camps; it had been the request of a dying chief, whom Wootton once greatly favored, that his warriors should never injure him although the nation might be at war with all the rest of the whites in the world.

Uncle Dick died a few seasons ago at the age of nearly eighty. He was blind for some time, but a surgical operation partly restored his sight, which made the old man happy because he could look again upon the beautiful scenery surrounding his mountain home, really the grandest in the entire Raton Range. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad had one of its freight locomotives named “Uncle Dick,” in honor of the veteran mountaineer, past whose house it hauled the heavy-laden trains up the steep grade crossing into the valley beyond. At the time of its baptism, now fifteen or sixteen years ago, it was the world’s largest freight engine.

Bill Williams

Old Bill Williams by Alfred Jacob Miller, 1839

Old Bill Williams by Alfred Jacob Miller, 1839.

Old Bill Williams was another character of the early days of the Santa Fe Trail and was called so when Carson, Uncle Dick Wooten, and Maxwell were comparatively young in the mountains. At the time of their advent in the remote West, he was one of the best-known men there and had been famous for years as a hunter and trapper. Williams was better acquainted with every pass in the Rockies than any other man of his time and only surpassed by Jim Bridger later. He was with General John C. Fremont on his exploring expedition across the continent. Still, the statements of the old trappers and those of General Fremont in relation to his services then differ widely. Fremont admits Williams’ knowledge of the country he had wandered to have been extensive, but when put to the test on the expedition, he came very near, sacrificing the lives of all. This was probably owing to Williams’ failing intellect, for when he joined the great explorer, he was past the meridian of life.

Now the old mountaineers contend that if Fremont had profited by the old man’s advice, he would never have run into the deathtrap which cost him three men and in which he lost all his valuable papers, his instruments, and the animals which he and his party were riding. The expedition followed the Arkansas River to its source, and the general selected a route that he desired to pursue when crossing the mountains. It was winter, and Williams explained to him that it was perfectly impracticable to get over at that season. However, the general ignored the statement and listened to another of his party, a man who had no experience but said he could pilot the expedition. Before they had fairly started, they were caught in one of the most terrible snowstorms the region had ever witnessed, in which all their horses and mules were literally frozen to death. Then, when it was too late, they turned back, abandoning their instruments and able only to carry along a very limited stock of food. The storm continued to rage so that even Williams failed to prevent them from getting lost. They wandered about aimlessly for many days before they luckily arrived at Taos, New Mexico, suffering seriously from exhaustion and hunger. Three of the men were frozen to death on the return trip, and the remaining 15 were little better than dead when Uncle Dick Wooten happened to run across them and piloted them into the village. Immediately after this disaster, the three most noted men in the mountains — Carson, Maxwell, and Dick Owens — became the guides of the pathfinder, with whom he had no trouble and to whom he owed more of his success than history has given them credit for.

At one period of his eventful career, while he lived in Missouri before he wandered to the mountains, Old Bill Williams was a Methodist preacher. Of that fact, he frequently boasted while he trapped and hunted with other pioneers. Whenever he related that portion of his early life, he declared that he “was so well known in his circuit, that the chickens recognized him as he came riding by the scattered farmhouses, and the old roosters would crow ‘Here comes Parson Williams! One of us must be made ready for dinner.'”

Upon leaving the States, he traveled extensively among the various tribes of Indians who roamed the Great Plains and in the mountains. He invariably adopted their manners and customs when sojourning with a certain band. Whenever he grew tired of that nation, he would seek another and live as they lived. He had been so long among the Indians that he looked and talked like one and had imbibed many of their strange notions and curious superstitions.

To the missionaries, he was very useful. He possessed the faculty of easily acquiring languages that other white men failed to learn and could readily translate the Bible into several Indian dialects. However, his own conduct was in strange contrast with the precepts of the Holy Book with which he was so familiar.

To the native Mexicans, he was a holy terror and an unsolvable riddle. They thought he possessed an evil spirit. At one time, he took up his residence among them and commenced to trade. Shortly after establishing himself and gathering a stock of goods, he became involved in a dispute with some of his customers about his prices. Upon this, he apparently took an intense dislike to the people whom he had begun to traffic with and, in his disgust, tossed his whole mass of goods into the street and, taking up his rifle, left at once for the mountains.

Among the many wild ideas he had imbibed from his long association with the Indians was faith in their belief in souls’ transmigration. He used so to worry his brain for hours, cogitating upon this intricate problem concerning a future state that he pretended to know exactly the animal whose place he was destined to fill in the world after he had shaken off this mortal human coil.

Uncle Dick Wootton told how once, when he, Old Bill Williams, and many other trappers were lying around the camp-fire one night, the strange fellow, in a preaching style of delivery, related to them all how he was to be changed into a buck elk and intended to make his pasture in the very region where they then were. He described certain peculiarities that would distinguish him from the common run of elk and was very careful to caution all those present never to shoot such an animal, should they ever run across him.

Williams was regarded as a warm-hearted, brave, and generous man. He was at last killed by the Indians while trading with them but has left his name on many mountain peaks, rivers, and passes discovered by him.

Tom Tobin

Tom Tobin, frontiersman

Tom Tobin, frontiersman.

Tom Tobin, one of the last of the famous trappers, hunters, and Indian fighters to cross the dark river, flourished in the early days when the Rocky Mountains were a veritable terra incognita to nearly all excepting the hardy employees of the several fur companies and the limited number of United States troops stationed in their remote wilds.

Tom was an Irishman, quick-tempered, and a dead shot with either rifle, revolver, or the formidable bowie-knife. He would fight at the drop of a hat, but no man ever returned from his cabin hungry if he had a crust to divide or penniless if anything remained in his purse. Like Carson, he was rather under the average stature, red-faced, and lacking much of being an Adonis but whole-souled and as quick in his movements as an antelope.

Tobin played an important role in avenging the death of the Americans killed in the Taos Massacre at the storming of the Indian pueblo. Still, his greatest achievement was the ending of the noted bandit Espinosa’s life, who, at the height of his career of blood, was the terror of the whole mountain region.

At the time of the acquisition of New Mexico by the United States, Espinosa, who was a Mexican owning vast herds of cattle and sheep, resided in his ancestral hacienda in a sort of barbaric luxury, with a host of semi-serfs known as Peons, to do his bidding, as did the other “Muy Ricos,” the ” Dons,” so-called, of his class of natives. These self-styled aristocrats of the wild country all boasted of their Castilian blue blood, claiming descent from the nobles of Cortez’s army. However, with rare exceptions, the fact is that their male ancestors, the rank and file of that army, intermarried with the Aztec women. They were really only a mixture of Indian and Spanish.

It so happened that Espinosa met an adventurous American, who, with hundreds of others, had been attached to the “Army of Occupation” in the Mexican War or had emigrated from the States to seek their fortunes in the newly acquired and much-over-rated territory. The Mexican Don and the American became fast friends, the latter making his home with his newly found acquaintance at the beautiful ranch in the mountains, where they played the role of a modern Damon and Pythias. With Don Espinosa lived his sister, a dark-eyed, bewitchingly beautiful girl about 17 years old, with whom the susceptible American fell deeply in love, and his affection was reciprocated by the maiden, with a fervor of which only the women of the race from which she sprang are capable. The fascinating American brought a large amount of money from his home in one of the New England states, for his parents were rich and spared no indulgence to their only son. He very soon unwisely made Espinosa his confidant and told him of his wealth. One night after the American had retired to his chamber, adjoining that of his host, he was surprised, shortly after he had gone to bed, by discovering a man standing over him, whose hand had already grasped the buckskin bag under his pillow which contained a considerable portion of his gold and silver. He sprang from his couch and fired his pistol randomly in the darkness at the would-be robber.

Felipe Espinosa

Felipe Espinosa.

Espinosa, for it was he, was wounded slightly, and, being either enraged or frightened, he stabbed with his keen-pointed stiletto, which all Mexicans then carried, the young man whom he had invited to become his guest, and the blade entered the American’s heart, killing him instantly. The pistol-shot report awakened the other household members, who came rushing into the room just as the victim was breathing his last. Among them was the sister of the murderer, who, throwing herself on the body of her dead lover, poured forth the most bitter curses upon her brother. Espinosa realized the terrible position in which he had placed himself, then determined to become an outlaw as he could frame no excuse for his wicked deed. Therefore, he hid at once in the mountains, carrying with him, of course, the sack containing the murdered American’s money.

Some time passed before he could gather a sufficient number of cutthroats and renegades from justice to enable him to defy the authorities wholly. Still, at last, he succeeded in rallying a strong force to his standard of blood and became the terror of the whole region, equaling in boldness and audacity the terrible Joaquin of California notoriety in after years.

His headquarters were in the almost impregnable fastnesses of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, from which he made his invariably successful raids into the rich valleys below. There was nothing too bloody for him to shrink from; he robbed the overland coaches indiscriminately to Santa Fe, the freight caravans of the traders and government, the Mexicans’ ranches, or stole from the poorer classes without any compunction. He ran off horses, cattle, sheep— anything that he could utilize. If murder was necessary to the completion of his work, he never for a moment hesitated. Kidnapping, too, was a favorite pastime. Still, he rarely carried away to his rendezvous any other than the most beautiful of the New Mexican young girls, whom he held in his mountain den until they were ransomed or subjected to a fate more terrible.

In 1864, the bandit, after nearly ten years of unparalleled outlawry, was killed by Tobin. Tom had been on his trail for some time and at last tracked him to a temporary camp in the foothills. He accidentally discovered it in a grove of cottonwoods, surrounded by the campfire smoke as it curled in light wreaths above the trees.

Tobin knew that there was but one of Espinosa’s followers with him at the time, as he had watched them both for some days, waiting for an opportunity to get the drop on them. To capture the pair of outlaws alive never entered his thoughts; he was as cautious as brave, and to get them dead was much safer and easier, so he crept up to the grove on his belly, Indian fashion, and lying behind the cover of a friendly log, waited until the noted desperado stood up when he pulled the trigger of his never-erring rifle, and Espinosa fell dead. A second shot quickly disposed of his companion, and the old trapper’s mission was accomplished.

To claim the reward offered by the authorities, Tom had to prove, beyond the possibility of doubt, that those whom he had killed were the dreaded bandit and one of his gang. He thought it best to cut off their heads, which he deliberately did, and packing them on his mule in a gunny sack, he brought them into old Fort Massachusetts, afterward Fort Garland, Colorado, where they were speedily recognized. Still, whether Tom ever received the reward, I have my doubts, as he never claimed that he did. Tobin died in 1904, gray, grizzled, and venerable, his memory respected by all who had ever met him.

James Hobbs

Captain James "Comanche Jim" Hobbs

Captain James “Comanche Jim” Hobbs.

Among all the men I have presented a hurried sketch, James Hobbs had perhaps a more varied experience than any of his colleagues. During his long life on the frontier, he was, in turn, a prisoner among the Indians and held for years by them; an excellent soldier in the war with Mexico; an efficient officer in the revolt against Maximilian when the attempt of Napoleon to establish an empire on this continent, with that unfortunate prince at its head, was defeated; an Indian fighter; a miner; a trapper; a trader, and a hunter.

Hobbs was born in the Shawnee Nation on the Big Blue River, about 23 miles from Independence, Missouri. His early childhood was entrusted to one of his father’s slaves. Reared on the eastern border limit, he very soon became familiar with the use of rifles and shotguns; in fact, he was the principal provider of all the meat that the family consumed.

In 1835, when only 16 years old, he joined a fur-trading expedition under Charles Bent, destined for Bent’s Fort, Colorado, on the Santa Fe Trail over Pawnee Fork without special adventure. Still, there they had the usual tussle with the Indians, and Hobbs killed his first Indian. Two of the traders were pierced with arrows but not seriously hurt. The Pawnees — the tribe that had attacked the outfit — were driven away discomfited, not successfully stampeding a single animal.

When the party readied the Caches on the Upper Arkansas River in Kansas, a smoke rising on the distant horizon, beyond the sandhills south of the river, made them proceed cautiously, for to the old plainsmen, that far-off wreath indicated either the presence of the Indians or a signal to others at a greater distance of the approach of the trappers.

The next morning, nothing had occurred to delay the march; buffalo began to appear, and Hobbs killed three of them. A cow, which he had wounded, ran across the Trail in front of the train, and Hobbs dashed after her, wounding her with his pistol, and then she started to swim the river. Hobbs, mad at the jeers that greeted him from the men at his missing animal, started for the last wagon, which was his rifle, determined to kill the brute that had enraged him. As he was riding along rapidly, Bent cried out to him, — “Don’t try to follow that cow; she is going straight for that smoke, and it means Injuns, and no good in ’em either.”

“But I’ll get her,” answered Hobbs, and he called to his closest comrade, John Baptiste, a boy of about his own age, to go and get his pack-mule and come along. “All right,” responded John, and together, the two inexperienced youngsters crossed the river against the protests of the party’s veteran leader.

After a chase of about three miles, the boys came up with the cow, but she turned and showed a fight. Finally, Hobbs, by riding around her, got in a good shot, which killed her. Jumping off their animals, both boys busied themselves to cut out the choice pieces for their supper, packed them on the mule, and started for the train. But it had suddenly become very dark, and they were in doubt about the direction of the Trail. Soon, night came on so rapidly that neither could they see their own tracks by which they had come nor the thin fringe of cottonwoods that lined the bank of the stream. Then, they disagreed as to which was the right way. John persuaded Hobbs that he was correct, and the latter gave in, very much against his own belief on the subject.

They traveled all night and, when morning came, were bewilderingly lost. Then Hobbs resolved to retrace the tracks by which, now that the sun was up, he saw that they had been going south, right away from the Arkansas River. Suddenly, an immense herd of buffalo, containing at least 2,000, dashed by the boys, filling the air with the dust raised by their clattering hoofs, and right behind them rode about 100 Indians, shooting at the stampeded animals with their arrows.

“Get into that ravine !” shouted Hobbs to his companion. “Throw away that meat, and run for your life!”

It was too late; just as they arrived at the brink of the hollow, they looked back, and close behind them were a dozen Comanche.

The Indians rode up, and one of the party said in very good English, “How d’ do?”

Comanche Painting

Comanche Painting.

“How d’ do?” Hobbs replied, thinking it would be better to be as polite as the Indian, though the state of the latter’s health just then was a matter of small concern.

“Texas?” inquired the Indian. The Comanche had good reasons to hate the citizens of that country, and it was a lucky thing for Hobbs that he had heard of their prejudice from the trappers and possessed the presence of mind to remember it. He replied promptly: “No, friendly; going to establish a trading post for the Comanche.”

“Friendly? Better go with us, though. Got any tobacco?”

Hobbs had some of the desired articles and was not long in handing them over to his newly found friend.

Both boys were escorted to the Indians’ temporary camp, but the original number of their captors was increased to over 1,000 before they arrived there. They were supplied with some dried buffalo meat and then taken to Old Wolf’s lodge, the head chief of the tribe.

A council was called immediately to consider what disposition should be made of them, but nothing was decided upon, and the assembly of warriors adjourned until morning. Hobbs told me that it was because Old Wolf had imbibed too much brandy, a bottle of which Baptiste had brought with him from the train and which the thirsty warrior saw suspended from his saddle-bow as they rode up to the chief’s lodge; the aged rascal got beastly drunk.

About noon of the next day, after the dispersion of the council, the boys were informed that if they were not Texans, would behave themselves, and not attempt to run away, they might stay with the Indians, who would not kill them; but a string of dried scalps was pointed out, hanging on a lodgepole, of some Mexicans whom they had captured and put to herding their ponies, and who had tried to get away. They succeeded in making a few miles; the Indians chased them after deciding in council that, if caught, only their scalps were to be brought back. The moral of this was that the same fate awaited the boys if they followed the foolish Mexicans’ example.

Hobbs had excellent sense and judgment, and he knew that it would be the height of folly for him and Baptiste, mere boys, to try and reach either Bent’s Fort, Colorado, or the Missouri River without knowing where they were situated.

Hobbs grew to be a great favorite with the Comanche, was given the daughter of Old Wolf in marriage, became a great chief, fought many hard battles with his savage companions, and at last, four years after, was redeemed by Charles Bent, who paid Old Wolf a small ransom for him at the Fort, where the Indians had come to trade. Baptiste, whom the Indians never took a great fancy to because he did not develop into a great warrior, was also ransomed by Bent, his price being only an antiquated mule.

At Bent’s Fort, Hobbs went out trapping under Kit Carson’s leadership, and they became lifelong friends. In a short time, Hobbs earned the reputation of being an excellent mountaineer and trapper, and as an Indian fighter, he was second to none, his education among the Comanche having trained him in all the strategies of the Indians.

After going through the Mexican War with an excellent record, Hobbs wandered about the country, now engaged in mining in old Mexico, then fighting the Apache under the orders of the governor of Chihuahua, and at the end of the campaign going back to the Pacific coast, where he entered into new pursuits. Sometimes, he was rich, then as poor as one can imagine. He returned to old Mexico in time to become an active partisan in the revolt that overthrew the short-lived dynasty of Maximilian and was present at the execution of that unfortunate prince. Finally, he retired to the home of his childhood in the States, where he died a few months ago, full of years and honors.

William F. Cody

Buffalo Bill Cody, 1872

Buffalo Bill Cody, 1872.

William F. Cody, “Buffalo Bill,” is one of the famous plainsmen of later days, after Carson, Bridger, John Smith, Maxwell, and others. Perhaps Kit Carson’s mantle fits more perfectly on the shoulders of Cody than any of the great frontiersman’s successors, and he has had some experiences that surpassed anything that fell to their lot.

He was born in Iowa in 1845, and when he was barely seven years old, his father emigrated to Kansas, which was far from civilization. When he grew old enough, he went to work as a guide and scout in an expedition against the Kiowa and Comanche, and his line of duty took him along the Santa Fe Trail. When not working as a scout, he carried dispatches between Fort Lyon, Colorado, and Fort Larned, Kansas, the most important military posts on the great highway, as well as to far-off Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on the Missouri River, was the department’s headquarters. Fort Larned was the general rendezvous of all the scouts on the Kansas and Colorado plains, the chief of whom was a veteran interpreter and guide named Dick Curtis.

When Cody first reported there for his responsible duty, a large camp of the Kiowa and Comanche was established within sight of the fort, whose warriors had not yet put on their war paint but were evidently restless and discontented under the restraint of their chiefs. Soon, those leading men, Satanta, Lone Wolf, Satank, and others of lesser note, grew rather impudent and haughty in their department and were watched with much concern. The post was garrisoned by only two infantry companies and one cavalry.

General Hazen, afterward chief of the signal service in Washington, was at Fort Larned at the time, endeavoring to patch up a peace with the Indians, who seemed determined to break out. Cody was a special scout to the general. One morning he was ordered to accompany him as far as Fort Zarah, Kansas, on the Arkansas River, near the mouth of Walnut Creek, in what is now Barton County, Kansas, the general intended to go on to Fort Harker, on the Smoky Hill River in Kansas. In making these inspection trips, with incidental collateral duties, the general usually traveled in an ambulance. Still, on this journey, he rode in a six-mule army wagon, escorted by a detachment of a score of infantry. It was a warm August day, and an early start was made, which enabled them to reach Fort Zarah, over thirty miles distant, by noon. After dinner, the general proposed going to Fort Harker, Kansas, 41 miles away, without an escort, leaving orders for Cody to return to Fort Larned the next day with the soldiers. But Cody, ever impatient of delay when there was work to do, notified the sergeant in charge of the men that he was returning that very afternoon. I tell the story of his trip as he has often told it to me and written it in his autobiography.

“I accordingly saddled up my mule and set out for Fort Larned. I proceeded uninterruptedly until I got about halfway between the two posts, when, at Pawnee Rock, I was suddenly jumped by about forty Indians, who came dashing up to me, extending their hands and saying, ‘How! How!’ They were some of the Indians who had been hanging around Fort Larned in the morning. I saw they had on their war paint and were evidently now out on the warpath.

“My first impulse was to shake hands with them, as they seemed so desirous of it. I accordingly reached out my hand to one of them, who grasped it with a tight grip and jerked me violently forward, then pulled my mule by the bridle, and I was completely surrounded in a moment. Before I could do anything, they had seized my revolvers from the holsters, and I received a blow on the head from a tomahawk, which nearly rendered me senseless. My gun, which was lying across the saddle, was snatched from its place. Finally, the Indian who had hold of the bridle started toward the Arkansas River, leading the mule, which was being lashed by the other Indians who were following. The Indians were all singing, yelling, and whooping, as only Indians can do when they are having their little game all their own way. While looking toward the river, I saw an immense village moving along the bank on the opposite side, and then I became convinced that the Indians had left the post and were now starting on the warpath. My captors crossed the stream with me, and as we waded through the shallow water, they continued to lash the mule and myself. Finally, they brought me before an important-looking body of Indians, who proved to be the chiefs and principal warriors. I soon recognized old Satanta among them and others I knew and supposed it was all over with me.

“The Indians were jabbering away so rapidly among themselves that I could not understand what they were saying. Satanta, at last, asked me where I had been. As good luck would have it, a happy thought struck me. I told him I had been after a herd of cattle, or ‘ whoa-haws,’ as they called them. It so happened that the Indians had been out of meat for several weeks, as the large herd of cattle that had been promised them had not yet arrived, although they expected them.

“The moment I mentioned that I had been searching for ‘whoa-haws,’ old Satanta began questioning me very eagerly. He asked me where the cattle were, and I replied that they were back a few miles and that General Hazen had sent me to inform him that the cattle were coming and that they were intended for his people. This seemed to please the old rascal, who also wanted to know if there were any soldiers with the herd, and my reply was that there were. Thereupon, the chiefs consulted, and presently, Satanta asked me if General Hazen had really said they should have the cattle. I replied in the affirmative and added that I had been directed to bring the cattle to them. I followed this up with a very dignified inquiry, asking why his young men had treated me so. The old wretch intimated that it was only a ‘ freak of the boys ‘; that the young men wanted to see if I was brave; in fact, they had only meant to test me, and the whole thing was a joke.

“The veteran liar was now beating me at my own game of lying, but I was very glad, as it was in my favor. I did not let him suspect that I doubted his veracity, but I remarked that it was a rough way to treat friends. He immediately ordered his young men to return my arms and scolded them for their actions. Of course, the sly old dog was now playing it very fine, as he was anxious to get possession of the cattle, with which he believed there was a ‘heap’ of soldiers coming. He had concluded it was not best to fight the soldiers if he could get the cattle peaceably.

“The chiefs held another council, and in a few minutes, old Satanta came and asked me if I would go to the river and bring the cattle down to the opposite side so that they could get them. I replied, ‘Of course; that’s my instruction from General Hazen.’

Chief Satanta of the Kiowa tribe.

Chief Satanta of the Kiowa tribe.

Satanta said I must not feel angry at his young men, for they had only been acting in fun. He then inquired if I wished any of his men to accompany me to the cattle herd. I replied that it would be better for me to go alone, and then the soldiers could keep right on to Fort Larned while I could drive the herd down to the bottom. Then wheeling my mule around, I soon recrossed the river, leaving old Satanta firmly believing that I had told him a straight story and that I was going for the cattle that existed only in my imagination.

“I hardly knew what to do but thought that if I could get the river between the Indians and myself, I would have a good three-quarter of a mile the start of them and could then make a run for Fort Larned, as my mule was a good one.

“Thus far, my cattle story had panned out all right, but just as I reached the opposite bank of the river, I looked behind me and saw that ten or fifteen Indians, who had begun to suspect something crooked, were following me. The moment that my mule secured a good foothold on the bank, I urged him into a gentle lope toward the place where, according to my statement, the cattle were to be brought. Upon reaching a little ridge and riding down the other side out of view, I turned my mule and headed him westward for Fort Larned. I let him out for all he was worth, and when I came out on a little rise of ground, I looked back and saw the Indian village in plain sight. My pursuers were now on the ridge I had passed over and looking for me in every direction.

“Presently, they spied me, and seeing that I was running away, they struck out in swift pursuit, and in a few minutes, it became painfully evident they were gaining on me. They kept up the chase as far as Ash Creek, six miles from Fort Larned. I still led them half a mile, as their horses had not gained much during the last half of the race. My mule seemed to have gotten his second wind, and as I was on the old road, I played the spurs and whip on him without much cessation; the Indians likewise urged their steeds to the utmost.

“Finally, upon reaching the dividing ridge between Ash Creek and Pawnee Fork, I saw Fort Larned only four miles away. It was now sundown, and I heard the evening gun. The troops of the small garrison little dreamed a man was flying for his life and trying to reach the post. The Indians were once more gaining on me, and when I crossed the Pawnee Fork two miles from the post, two or three of them were only a quarter of a mile behind me. Just as I gained the opposite bank of the stream, I was overjoyed to see some soldiers in a government wagon only a short distance off. I yelled at the top of my voice, and, riding up to them, told them that the Indians were after me.

“‘Denver Jim,’ a well-known scout, asked me how many there were, and upon my informing him that there was about a dozen, he said: ‘Let’s drive the wagon into the trees, and we’ll lay for ’em.’ The team was hurriedly driven among the trees and low box-elder bushes and there secreted.

“We did not have to wait long for the Indians, who came dashing up, lashing their ponies, which were panting and blowing. We let two of them pass by, but we opened a lively fire on the next three or four, killing two at the first crack. The others following discovered that they had run into an ambush, and whirling off into the brush, they turned and ran back in the direction whence they had come. The two who had passed by heard the firing and made their escape. We scalped the two we had killed and appropriated their arms and equipment; then, catching their ponies, we made our way into the Post.”


By Colonel Henry Inman, 1897. Compiled and Edited by Kathy Slrcsnfer/Legends of America, updated November 2022.

Also See:

Early Traders on the Santa Fe Trail

Overland Mail on the Santa Fe Trail

Santa Fe Trail – Highway to the Southwest

Pathways To the West

About the Author: Excerpted from the book The Old Santa Fe Trail by Colonel Henry Inman, 1897. Note: The text is not verbatim, as minor edits have been made throughout the tale. Henry Inman was well known both as an officer in the U.S. Army and an author dealing with subjects of the Western plains. During the Civil War, Inman was a Lieutenant Colonel, and afterward, he won the distinction of a magazine writer. He wrote several books, including his Old Santa Fe Trail, Great Salt Lake Trail, The Ranch on the Ox-hide, and other similar books dealing with the subjects he knew so well. Colonel Inman left several unfinished manuscripts at his death in Topeka, Kansas, on November 13, 1899.