Famous Men of the Santa Fe Trail

The Indians, supposing that 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 they had reached 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; but 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 sand hills, 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

When the train camped for the night, the wagons were corralled, and the men and mules all brought inside the circle. The grass was cut with sheath-knives and fed to the animals, instead of their 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 to him the danger which threatened them all told him that it was in his power to save the lives of the company. 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, and in a wild country like New Mexico, with the outdoor life and habits of its people, such a journey was not an unusual occurrence.

Carson now returned to the camp, to watch all night himself, and at daybreak, all were on the Santa Fe Trail again. No Indians made their appearance 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 were 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, which they undoubtedly found, and 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; but failing to secure any sympathy, he continued his journey to Rayado, and procured from the garrison of that place immediate assistance. 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, and though it encountered no Indians, the rapid movement had a good effect upon the Indians, impressing them with the power and promptness of the government.

Early in the spring of 1865, Carson was ordered, with three companies, to put a stop to the depredations of marauding bands of Comanche upon the caravans and emigrant outfits traveling the Santa Fe Trail. He left Fort Union, Arkansas River, for the purpose of establishing 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 for some time 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. An expedition was therefore planned by Carson 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 a very severe one and lasted from half-past eight in the morning until after 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, wounded. The command destroyed 150 lodges, a large amount of dried meats, berries, buffalo-robes, cooking utensils, and also 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 never was deceived by Indian tactics but once in his life. He said that he was hunting with six others after buffalo, in the summer of 1835; that 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 a number of 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, after all, for he had two dried buffalo bones in his hands under the wolfskin, 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 I was suddenly aroused by a noise and a big blaze. I rushed out the first thing for our mules and held them. If the Indians had been at all 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 and 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.”

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