Part 3 out of 9
now included the entire military force of the territory, mustered at
this date from four to five thousand men.
Though imperfectly armed and equipped, and, of course, no match for
regular troops, the Mormons were not to be held in contempt. In July,
1857, the Nauvoo Legion had been reorganized, the two cohorts,
now termed divisions, having each a nominal strength of two thousand.
The division consisted of two brigades; the brigades of two regiments;
the regiments of five battalions, each of a hundred men, the
battalions being divided into companies of fifty, and the companies
into platoons of ten. Each platoon was in charge of a lieutenant,
whose duty it was carefully to inspect the arms, ammunition, and
accoutrements. All able-bodied males in the territory, excepting
those exempt by law, were liable to military duty, and it is probable
that the Mormons could have put in the field not less than seven
thousand raw troops, half disciplined, indeed, but inured to hardship,
and from the very nature of their environment splendid rifle-shots.
It was not the intention of the Mormons to encounter the army of Utah
in the open field, or even behind breastworks, if it could be avoided.
In order to explain their tactics a despatch sent by the
lieutenant-general of the Nauvoo Legion to Major Joseph Taylor will
make plain what they proposed to do.
On ascertaining the locality or route of the troops, proceed
at once to annoy them in every possible way. Use every
exertion to stampede their animals and set fire to their
trains. Burn the whole country before them and on their
flanks. Keep them from sleeping by night surprises; blockade
the road by felling trees or destroying the river-fords where
you can. Watch for opportunities to set fire to the grass
on their windward, so as, if possible, to envelop their
trains. Leave no grass before them that can be burned.
Keep your men concealed as much as possible, and guard
against surprises. Save life always, when it is possible;
we do not wish to shed a drop of blood if it can be avoided.
When General Harney had joined his command and heard of the state
of affairs in Utah, he said in his characteristic bluff manner:
“I am ordered there, and I will winter in the valley or in hell!”
Before he reached the portals of the territory, however, his services
again being demanded in Kansas, Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, then
at Fort Leavenworth, was appointed to the command of the army of Utah,
and during the interim Colonel Alexander assumed command of the forces.
About the middle of August, General Wells, in command of twelve
hundred and fifty men, supplied with thirty days' rations, established
headquarters at Echo Cañon. Through this cañon, the Mormons
supposed, lay the path of the invading army, the only means of
avoiding the gorge being by a circuitous route northward to Soda
Springs, and thence by way of Bear River Valley, or the Wind River
Mountains. On the western side of the cañon dams and ditches were
constructed, by means of which the road could be submerged to a depth
of several feet. At the eastern side stone heaps were collected
and bowlders loosened from the overhanging rocks, so that a slight
leverage would hurl them on the passing troops, and parapets were
built as a protection for sharp-shooters.
At this juncture a letter from General Wells was delivered to
Colonel Alexander, together with copies of the organic act, the law
of Utah, the proclamation forbidding the entrance of armed forces
into the territory, and a despatch from Brigham Young. The last
was a remarkable document, and must have been somewhat of a surprise
to the colonel, who had proved himself one of the most gallant
soldiers of the Mexican War. He was informed that he, Brigham Young,
was still governor of Utah, who ordered him to withdraw by the same
route he had entered. Should he desire, however, to remain until
spring in the neighbourhood of the present encampment, he must
surrender his arms and ammunition to the Mormon quartermaster-general,
in which case he would be supplied with provisions, and would not
Colonel Alexander replied in brief and business-like phrase.
He addressed Brigham Young as governor; stated that he would submit
his letter to the commanding officer immediately on his arrival;
that meanwhile the troops were there by order of the President, and
that their future movements and operations would depend on orders
issued by competent military authority.
In writing to brother officers en route to join their commands,
Colonel Alexander said:
No information of the position or intentions of the commanding
officer has reached me, and I am in utter ignorance of the
object of the government in sending troops here, or the
instructions given for their conduct after reaching here.
I have decided on the following points: First, the necessity
of a speedy move to winter quarters; second, the selection
of a point for wintering; third, the best method of conducting
the troops and supplies to the point selected.
A council of war was held, and the point selected was Fort Hall,
on Beaver Head Mountain, one hundred and forty miles from Fort Bridger.
So little did the colonel know about the disposition of the command,
that at the time and place when he expected to be joined by Colonel
Smith, in charge of supply-trains, that officer was still at the
South Pass, with an escort of two hundred men.
On the 11th of October the troops commenced their march. Snow was
falling heavily, and for several days they were compelled to cut
a path for their wagons through the dense brush, their trains being
still of such unwieldy length that the vanguard had reached its
camping-ground at nightfall before the rear guard had moved from
its camp of the preceding day. Meanwhile bands of Mormons, under
their nimble and ubiquitous leaders, hung on their flanks, just out
of rifle-shot, harassing them at every step, seven hundred oxen being
captured and driven to Salt Lake City on the 13th!
There was as yet no cavalry in the force. A few infantry companies
were mounted on mules and sent in pursuit of the guerillas, but the
Saints merely laughed at them, terming them jackass cavalry.
The grass had been burned along the route, and the draught animals
were so weak that they could travel only three miles a day. When the
point was reached where Smith's detachment was expected to join
the army, the commander, disappointed and sorely perplexed, called
a council of war, at which many of the officers were in favour of
cutting their way through the cañons at all hazard.
At this juncture a despatch was received from General Johnston,
who was now at South Pass, ordering the troops to proceed to
Fontenelle Creek, where pasture was abundant, and a few days later
a second despatch directed them to march to a point three miles below
the junction of Ham and Black Forks, the colonel stating that he
would join them there. On the 3d of November they reached the place
of rendezvous, where Johnston arrived the following day, with a
reënforcement of cavalry and the supply-trains in charge of Smith.
Albert Sidney Johnston was a favourite officer, and had already given
earnest of the qualities that he displayed a few years later in the
campaigns of the Civil War, on the Confederate side. The morale of
the army was at once restored, and each man put forth his utmost
energy at the touch of this excellent soldier. But their troubles
were not yet ended. The expedition was now ordered to Fort Bridger,
and at every step difficulties increased. There were only thirty-five
miles to be travelled, but excepting on the margin of a few slender
streams the country through which their route lay was the barest of
desert land. There was no shelter from the chill blasts of this
mountain solitude, where, even in November, the thermometer sometimes
sank to sixteen degrees below zero. There was no fuel but the wild
sage and willow; there was little pasture for the half-frozen cattle.
The march continued on the 6th of November, and on the previous night
five hundred of the strongest oxen had been stolen by the Mormons.
The train extended over six miles, and all day long snow and sleet
fell on the retreating column. Some of the men were frost-bitten,
and the exhausted animals were goaded by their drivers until many
fell dead in their traces. At sunset the troops encamped wherever
they could find a particle of shelter, some under bluffs, and some
in the willow copses. At daybreak the camp was surrounded by the
carcasses of frozen cattle. Several hundred beasts had perished
during the night. Still, as the trains arrived from the rear,
each one halted for a day or more, giving time for the cattle to
rest and graze on such scant herbage as they could find. To press
forward rapidly was impossible, for it would have cost the lives
of most of the draught animals; to find shelter was equally impossible,
for there was none. There was no alternative but to proceed slowly
and persistently, saving as many as possible of the horses, mules,
and oxen. Fifteen days were required for this difficult operation.
Meanwhile Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, who arrived on the 19th by
way of Fort Laramie, at the head of five hundred dragoons, had fared
no better than the main body, having lost nearly half of his cattle.
On the 5th the command of Colonel Cooke passed the Devil's Gate.
While crossing what he calls a four-mile hill, he writes as follows:—
The north wind and drifting snow became severe; the air
seemed turned to frozen fog; nothing could be seen; we were
struggling in a freezing cloud. The lofty wall at Three
Crossings was a happy relief; but the guide, who had lately
passed there, was relentless in pronouncing that there was
no grass. As he promised grass and shelter two miles farther,
we marched on, crossing twice more the rocky stream, half
choked with snow and ice; finally he led us behind a great
granite rock, but all too small for the promised shelter.
Only a part of the regiment could huddle up there in the
deep snow; whilst the long night through the storm continued,
and in fearful eddies from above, before, behind, drove the
falling and drifting snow.
Meanwhile the animals were driven once more across the stream to the
base of a granite ridge which faced the storm, but where there was
no grass. They refused to eat, the mules huddling together and
moaning piteously, while some of the horses broke away from the guard
and went back to the ford. The next day better camping-ground was
reached ten miles farther on. On the morning of the 8th the
thermometer marked forty-four degrees below freezing point; but in
this weather and through deep snow the men made eighteen miles, and
the following day nineteen miles, to the next camping-grounds on
Bitter Creek, and in the valley of Sweetwater. On the 10th matters
were still worse. Herders left to bring up the rear with stray mules
could not force them from the valley, and there three-fourths of them
were left to perish. Nine horses were also abandoned. At night the
thermometer marked twenty-five degrees below zero; nearly all the
tent-pins were broken, and nearly forty soldiers and teamsters were
on the sick list, most of them being frost-bitten. “The earth,”
writes the colonel, “has no more lifeless, treeless, grassless desert;
it contains scarcely a wolf to glut itself on the hundreds of dead
and frozen animals which for thirty miles nearly block the road.”
At length the army arrived at Fort Bridger—to find that the buildings
in and around it, together with those at Fort Supply, twelve miles
distant, had been burnt to the ground by Mormons, and the grain and
other provisions removed or destroyed. All that remained were two
enclosures surrounded by walls of cobblestone cemented with mortar,
the larger one being a hundred feet square. This was appropriated
for supplies, while on the smaller one lunettes were built and
mounted with cannon. A sufficient garrison was stationed at this
point; the cattle were sent for the winter to Henry Fork in charge
of Colonel Cooke and six companies of the Second Dragoons, and about
the end of November the remainder of the troops went into winter
quarters on Black Fork of the Green River, two or three miles beyond
Fort Bridger, and a hundred and fifteen from Salt Lake City. The site,
to which was given the name of Fort Scott, was sheltered by bluffs
rising abruptly at a few hundred yards from the bed of the stream.
Near by were clumps of cottonwood which the Mormons had attempted
to burn; but the wood being green and damp, the fire had merely
scorched the bark.
Though most of the beef cattle had been carried off by the Mormons or
Indians, a sufficient number of draught animals remained to furnish
meat for seven months during six days of the week, while of bacon
there was enough for one day in the week, and by reducing the ration
of flour, coffee, and other articles, they might also be made to last
until the first of June. Parties were at once sent to Oregon and
New Mexico to procure cattle and remounts for the cavalry. Meantime
shambles were built, to which the starved animals at Fort Henry were
driven, and butchered as soon as they had gathered a little flesh,
their meat being jerked and stored for future use.
There was not an ounce of salt in the entire camp; a supply was
proffered as a gift from Brigham Young, whom Johnston now termed,
“The great Mormon rebel,” which was rejected with contempt. Salt was
secretly brought into the camp, but the commander would eat none
of it, and the officer's mess was soon after supplied by the Indians
at the rate of five dollars a pound!
Thus did the army of Utah pass the winter of 1857-1858, amid
privations no less severe than those endured at Valley Forge
eighty-one years before.
But meanwhile events occurred which promised a peaceful solution of
the difficulty. The spirited resistance of the Saints had called
forth unfavourable comments on Buchanan's policy throughout the
United States and Europe. He had virtually made war upon the
territory before any declaration had been issued; he had sent forward
an army before the causes of offence had been fairly investigated;
and now, at this critical juncture in the nation's history when there
was a possibility of the disruption of the Union, he was about to
lock up in a distant and almost inaccessible region more than
one-third of the nation's war material, and nearly all of its best
troops. Even the soldiers themselves, though in a cheerful mood and
in excellent condition, had no heart for the approaching campaign,
accepting, as they did, the commonly received opinion that it was
merely a move on the President's political chess-board. In a word,
Buchanan and the Washington politicians and the Johnston-Harney army
must confess themselves hopelessly beaten, before a blow was struck.
The army was powerless before the people they had come to punish.
All that remained to do was to forgive the Mormons and let them go.
Through the pressure brought to bear, the President was induced to
stop the threatened war. On the 6th of April he signed a proclamation
promising amnesty to all who returned to their allegiance; and on
the 26th of June, 1858, the army of Utah entered the Valley of the
Great Salt Lake.
Thus ended this farcical demonstration on the part of the government
—a war without a battle! There was, perhaps, no genuine basis of
necessity upon which to organize the expensive and disastrous
expedition against the Mormons. The real cause, perhaps, should be
attributed to the clamour of other religious sects against what they
held to be an unorthodox belief.
The City of Salt Lake, the capital of the Mormon settlement, was
founded upon the arrival of that sect in the valley in 1847. It is
situated in latitude 40 degrees 46 minutes north, and longitude
112 degrees 6 minutes west, (from Greenwich), at the foot of the
western slope of the Wahsatch Mountains, an extensive chain of
lofty hills, forming a portion of the eastern boundary of what is
known in our geography as the Great Basin.
The growth of this delightful mountain city in its arid, desolate
environment is a monument to the patience, industry, and devotion
to a principle which has few parallels.
The corporate limits aggregate about fifty square miles; no city in
the world, perhaps, possesses streets of such an extraordinary width.
Through their whole vast length the magnificent trees which fringe
them are irrigated by streams of pure water flowing from the several
cañons in the vicinity. By this constant passage of these mountain
streams, the air is deliciously cooled, and Salt Lake City made one of
the most beautiful and charming places on the North American continent.
It is declared by the faithful that Brigham Young affirmed it was in
a vision that the place was designated to him by an angel from heaven
as the exact spot where the capital of Zion should be built.
By the requirements of an original ordinance each residence was to
be located twenty feet in the rear of the lot, the intervening space
forming a little park filled with flowers, trees, and shrubbery.
By the same system of irrigation which flows through the streets to
nourish the trees, the water runs into every garden spot, and
produces a beauty of verdure in what was once the most barren of
Even in its infancy, Salt Lake City was the only charming spot
between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean, for in the early
days of the hazardous passage across the plains, the whole region
with rare exceptions was conspicuous for the entire absence of trees.
There was one monotonous blaze of sunshine, day after day, as the
caravans and overland coaches plodded through the alkali dust of the
desert. The weary traveller gazed upon nothing but seemingly
interminable prairies and naked elevations, destitute of verdure,
or as he entered the rock-ribbed Continental Divide, only rugged
mountains relieved the eternal sameness of his surroundings.
Salt Lake City, nestling in its wealth of trees and flowers, was
a second “Diamond of the Desert.” In its welcome shade, the dusty
traveller, like the solitary Sir Kenneth, reposed his jaded limbs
and dreamed of the babbling brooks and waving woodlands he had left
a thousand miles behind him.
The temple and the tabernacle, of purely Mormon conception, are the
most elaborate and attractive architectural structures in the city.
It is claimed by the faithful that the site of the temple was
announced by Brigham Young to his people on an evening in July,
1847, a very short time after the arrival of the Mormon pioneers.
The story runs that while roaming in company with some of his apostles,
about the region of the camp, discussing and declaring that where
they had halted was the very place on which to rear the new Zion,
the prophet stuck his cane in the ground and said to those who were
with him, “Here is where the temple of our God shall rise.”
Of course there was no appeal from his dictum, and from the moment
of his declaration that spot was regarded as sacred by all the people,
who firmly believed that when their leader spoke it was through
inspiration from heaven.
MOUNTAIN MEADOWS MASSACRE.
The most terrible fate that ever befell a caravan on the Old Trail
was that known to history as the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
The story of this damnable, outrageous, and wholesale murder is as
In the spring of 1857 a band of emigrants numbering one hundred and
thirty-six, from Missouri and Arkansas, set out for Southern
California. The party had about six hundred head of cattle, thirty
wagons, and thirty horses and mules. At least thirty thousand
dollars worth of plunder was collected by the assassins after the
Owing to the impending war between the United States and the Mormons,
the Saints had been ordered not to furnish any emigrant trains with
supplies. In view of this fact the leaders of the train found it
difficult to get provisions for the party after reaching the territory
occupied by that sect. The party reached Salt Lake and camped about
the end of July, but finding the Mormons in so unfriendly a mood,
decided to break camp and move on. Continuing their journey, they
proceeded to Beaver City, thence to Parowan, where they obtained
a scanty supply of provisions.
Arriving at Cedar City, they succeeded in purchasing about fifty
bushels of wheat, which was ground at a mill belonging to John D. Lee,
formerly commander of the fort at Cedar, but then Indian agent, and
in charge of an Indian farm near Harmony.
About thirty miles to the southwest of Cedar are the Mountain Meadows,
which form the divide between the waters of the Great Basin and those
which flow into the Colorado. At the south end of the Meadows, which
are four to five miles in length and one in width, but here run to
a narrow point, is a large stream, the banks of which are about ten
feet in height. Close to this stream the emigrants were encamped on
the 5th of September, almost midway between two ranges of low hills
some four hundred yards apart.
It was Saturday evening when the trains encamped at Mountain Meadows.
On the Sabbath they rested, and at the usual hour one of them
conducted divine service as had been their custom throughout the
At dawn on the following morning while the camp-fires were being
lighted, they were fired upon by Indians, or white men disguised as
savages, and more than twenty were killed or wounded, their cattle
having been driven off by the assailants who had crept on them under
cover of darkness. The men now ran for their wagons, pushed them
together so as to form a corral, and dug out the earth deep enough
to sink them to the hubs; then in the centre of the enclosure they
made a rifle-pit large enough to contain the entire company.
Thereupon the attacking party, which numbered from three to four
hundred, withdrew to the hills, on the crest of which they built
parapets, whence they shot down all who showed themselves outside
The emigrants were now in a state of siege, and had little hope of
escape as all the outlets of the valley were guarded. Their ammunition
was almost exhausted, many of their number were wounded, and their
sufferings from thirst had become intolerable. Down in the ravine
and within a few yards of the corral was the stream of water, but only
after sundown could any of the precious liquid be obtained, and then
at great risk, for this point was covered by the muskets of the
Indians, who lurked all night among the ravines waiting for their
On the morning of the fifth day of the siege, a wagon was seen
approaching, accompanied by an escort of Mormon soldiers. When near
the intrenchment the company halted, and one of them, William Bateman
by name, was sent forward with a flag of truce. In answer to this
signal a little girl, dressed in white, appeared in an open space
between the wagons. Half-way between the Mormons and the corral,
Bateman was met by one of the emigrants named Hamilton, to whom he
promised protection for his party on condition that their arms were
surrendered, assuring him that they would be conducted safely to
Cedar City. After a brief interview each returned to his comrades.
It was arranged that John D. Lee should conclude terms with the
emigrants, and he immediately went into their camp. Bidding the men
pile their arms into the wagon, to avoid provoking the Indians,
he placed in them the wounded, the small children, and a little
clothing. While thus engaged, a man rode up with orders from Major
Higbee, an officer of the Mormon army, to hasten, as the Indians
threatened to renew the attack.
The emigrants were then hurried away, the men and women following
the wagons, the latter in front. All were in single file, and on
each side of them the militia were drawn up two deep, with twenty
paces between their lines. Within two hundred yards of the camp,
the men were halted until the women approached a copse of scrub-oak,
about a mile distant, and near which, it appears, the Indians were
The men now resumed their march, the militia forming in single file,
each one walking by the side of an emigrant, and carrying his musket
on the left arm. As soon as the women were close to the ambuscade,
Higbee, who was in charge of the detachment, gave a signal, which
had evidently been prearranged, by saying to his command, “Do your
duty”; and the horrible butchery commenced. Most of the men were
shot down at the first fire. Three only escaped from the valley;
of these, two were quickly run down and slaughtered; the third was
slain at Muddy Creek, some fifty miles distant.
The women and those of the children who were on foot ran forward some
two or three hundred yards, when they were overtaken by Indians,
among whom were some Mormons in disguise. The women fell on their
knees, and with clasped hands sued in vain for mercy, clutching the
garments of their murderers. Children pleaded for life, but the
steady gaze of innocent childhood was met by the demoniac grin of
the savages, who brandished over them uplifted knives and tomahawks.
Their skulls were battered in, or their throats cut from ear to ear,
and, while still alive, the scalp was torn from their heads. Some of
the little ones met with a more merciful death, one, an infant in
arms, being shot through the head by the same bullet that pierced its
father's heart. Of the women none were spared, and of the children
only those who were not more than seven years of age.
To two of Lee's wagoners was assigned the duty, so called, of
slaughtering the sick and wounded. Obeying their instructions,
they stopped their teams and despatched their unfortunate victims.
Some were shot; others had their throats cut.
The massacre was now completed, and after stripping the bodies of
all articles of value, Brother Lee and his associates went to
breakfast, returning after a hearty meal to bury their dead.
It was a ghastly sight that met their eyes on their return, and one
that caused even the assassins to shudder and turn pale. The bodies
had been entirely denuded by the Indians. Some of the corpses were
horribly mangled and nearly all of them scalped. The dead were piled
in heaps in a ravine near by and a little earth thrown over them.
This was washed off by the first rains, leaving the remains to be
devoured by wolves and coyotes.
It was not until two years after the massacre that they were decently
interred, by a detachment of United States troops sent for that
purpose from Camp Floyd.
On arriving at Mountain Meadows, the soldiers found skulls and bones
scattered for the space of a mile around the ravine, where they had
been dragged by the wolves. Nearly all of the bodies had been gnawed
by those ghouls of the desert, so that few could be recognized,
as their dismembered skeletons were bleached by the sun. Many of
the skulls had been crushed by the butts of muskets, or cloven with
tomahawks; others were shattered by firearms discharged close to
A few remnants of apparel, torn from the backs of women and children
as they ran from their merciless pursuers, still fluttered among the
bushes, and near by were masses of human hair, matted and trodden
in the earth.
Over the last resting-place of the victims was erected a cone-shaped
cairn, twelve feet high. Against its northern base was a slab of
rough granite with the following inscription: “Here 120 men, women,
and children were massacred in cold blood, early in September, 1857.
They were from Arkansas.” Surmounting the cairn was a cross of cedar,
inscribed with the words: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith
The survivors of the awful slaughter were seventeen children, from
two months to seven years of age, who were carried, on the evening
of the massacre, by John D. Lee and others to the house of Jacob
Hamblin, and afterward placed in charge of Mormon families at various
points in the territory. All of them were recovered in the summer
of 1858, with the exception of one, who was rescued a few months
later, and though thinly clad, they bore no marks of ill-usage.
In 1859 they were conveyed to Arkansas, the Congress of the United
States having appropriated ten thousand dollars for their rescue and
restoration to relatives.
Those concerned in the massacre had pledged themselves by the most
solemn oaths to stand by each other, and ever to insist that the deed
was done entirely by Indians. For several months this was the
accepted theory, but when it became known that some of the children
had been spared, suspicion at once pointed elsewhere, for among all
the murders committed by the Utes, there was not a single instance
of their having shown any such mercy. Moreover, it was ascertained
that an armed party of Mormons had left Cedar City, and had returned
with spoil, and that the savages complained of having been unfairly
treated in the division of the booty.
It is claimed that when John D. Lee discovered that the United States
authorities suspected him as being the principal actor in the awful
tragedy, he left the valley of the Great Salt Lake, and hid himself
in one of the cañons of the Colorado, where he remained for years
suffering that terrible anxiety which comes to all fugitives from
justice, sooner or later, and which is said by those who have
experienced it to be absolutely unbearable.
In 1874, under the provisions of what is legally known as the
“Poland Bill,” whereby the better administration of justice was
subserved, the Grand Jury was instructed to investigate the Mountain
Meadows Massacre, and find bills of indictment against John D. Lee,
William H. Dame, Isaac C. Haight, and others. Warrants were issued
for their arrest, and after a vigorous search Lee and Dame were
captured, Lee having been discovered in a hog-pen at a small
settlement on the Sevier River.
On the 23d of July, 1875, the trial was begun, at Beaver City,
in Southern Utah. Much delay ensued, however, by the absence of
witnesses, and by the fact that Lee had promised to make a full
confession, and turn state's evidence. His statement was not
accepted by the court, and the case was brought to trial on the
23d of July, with the expected result, that the jury, eight of whom
were Mormons, failed to agree.
Lee was then tried a second time, and it was proved that the Mormon
Church had nothing to do with the massacre; that Lee, in fact, had
acted in direct opposition to the officers of the Church. It was
shown that he was a villain and a murderer of the deepest dye; that
with his own hands, after inducing the emigrants to surrender and
give up their arms, he had shot two women and brained a third with
the butt-end of his musket, and had cut the throat of a wounded man
whom he had dragged from one of the wagons; that he had gathered
the property of the emigrants and disposed of it for his own benefit.
It was further proved that Lee shot two or three of the wounded, and
that when two girls, who had been hiding in the brush, were brought
into his presence by an Indian after the massacre, the latter asked
what was to be done with them, to which Lee replied, “They are too
old to be spared.” “They are too pretty to be killed,” answered
the chief. “Such are my orders,” said Lee, whereupon the Indian
shot one, and Lee, dragging the other to the ground, cut her throat.
Lee was convicted of murder in the first degree, and, having been
allowed to select his own method of execution, was sentenced to be
shot. The case was appealed to the supreme court of the territory,
but the judgment was sustained, and it was ordered that the sentence
be carried into effect on the 23d of March, 1877. The others who
had been tried were discharged from custody.
A short time before his execution Lee made a confession in which he
attempted to palliate his guilt by throwing the burden of the crime
on his accomplices, especially on Haight and Higbee, and to show that
the massacre was committed by order of Brigham Young and the High
Council, all of which was absolutely false.
On the 13th of March he wrote:
I feel as composed and as calm as a summer morning. I hope
to meet my fate with manly courage. I declare my innocence.
I have done nothing designedly wrong in that unfortunate and
lamentable affair with which I have been implicated. I used
my utmost endeavours to save them from their sad fate.
I freely would have given worlds, were they at my command,
to have averted that evil. Death to me has no terror. It is
but a struggle, and all is over. I know that I have a reward
in heaven, and my conscience does not accuse me.
Ten days later he was led to execution at the Mountain Meadows.
Over that spot the curse of the Almighty seemed to have fallen.
The luxuriant herbage that had clothed it twenty years before had
disappeared; the springs were dry and wasted, and now there was
neither grass nor any green thing, save here and there a copse of
sage-brush or scrub-oak, that served but to make its desolation still
more desolate. It is said that the phantoms of the murdered emigrants
still flit around the cairn that marks their grave, and nightly
reënact in ghastly pantomime the scene of this hideous tragedy.
About ten o'clock on the morning of the 23d a party of armed men,
alighting from their wagons, approached the site of the massacre.
Among them were the United States marshal, William Nelson, the
district attorney, a military guard, and a score of private citizens.
In their midst was John Doyle Lee. Blankets were placed over the
wheels of one of the wagons, to serve as a screen for the firing
party. Some rough boards were then nailed together in the shape of
a coffin, which was placed near the edge of the cairn, and upon it
Lee took his seat until the preparations were completed. The marshal
now read the order of the court, and, turning to the prisoner, said,
“Mr. Lee, if you have anything to say before the order of the court
is carried into effect you can do so now.”
Rising from his coffin, he looked calmly around for a moment, and
then with unfaltering voice repeated the statements already quoted
from his confession. “I have but little to say this morning,”
he added. “It seems I have to be made a victim; a victim must be had,
and I am the victim. I studied to make Brigham Young's will my
pleasure for thirty years. See now what I have come to this day!
I have been sacrificed in a cowardly, dastardly manner. I cannot
help it; it is my last word; it is so. I do not fear death; I shall
never go to a worse place than I am now in. I ask the Lord my God,
if my labours are done, to receive my spirit.”
A Methodist clergyman, who acted as his spiritual adviser, then knelt
by his side and offered a brief prayer, to which he listened
attentively. After shaking hands with those around him, he removed
a part of his clothing, handing his hat to the marshal, who bound
a handkerchief over his eyes, his hands being free at his own request.
Seating himself with his face to the firing party, and with hands
clasped over his head, he exclaimed: “Let them shoot the balls
through my heart. Don't let them mangle my body.”
The word of command was given, the report of the rifles rang forth
on the still morning air, and without a groan or quiver the body of
the criminal fell back lifeless on his coffin.
God was more merciful to him than he had been to his victims.
Once one of Russell, Majors, & Waddell's trains, upon arriving at
the Little Blue River below Kearney, en route to Fort Laramie, had
a little skirmish with the Sioux. One of the party, who was going
to the Fort to erect a sawmill for the government, tells about it
I had travelled ahead of the train a mile or more, had gotten
off my mule, laid down awhile, and I believe fell asleep.
On awaking I saw three Indians coming out of the brush on
the creek bottom; I took a glance at them, and quietly stood
where I was. After a while they approached me; I mounted
my mule and held my loaded shot-gun before me across the
saddle, with my finger on the trigger. Two formed themselves
in front of me and one behind. I paid no special attention
to them, but they immediately began to make signs in relation
to swapping their horses for my mule. I merely pointed to
the U.S. on the shoulder of the animal, indicating that it
was not my property. They quickly saw they couldn't scare me,
though I didn't know but what they were making up their minds
to kill me; finally, however, without any further
demonstration they rode off one at a time, and left me,
where I remained until my train came up.
When we made camp that afternoon a good-sized band of
Cheyennes and Arapahoes gathered around with their usual
salutations of “How? How?” I suggested to the wagon-master
to boil some old coffee-grounds after we had eaten our dinner,
and with some sugar and crackers or something of that
character, give them to the Indians, which was done. In the
afternoon we moved out on the road toward Kearney and ahead
of us was a train going unloaded to the same place. As we
strung out on the trail I noticed that the chief of the band,
I think he was known as “Hairy Bear” of the Cheyennes, and
all of his warriors were riding along, one opposite nearly
every driver. I told the wagon-master that he had better
stop the train and tell the Indians they must take either
one end of the road or the other, as it was evident they
were getting ready for a row. Upon discovering that we were
“up to” their little job, they went ahead.
At dark, after we had encamped again, the assistant
wagon-master of the train in front came to us and told of
a little scrap he had with these same Indians. One of them
at first undertook to snatch the handkerchief off his neck;
another Indian had shot two or three arrows after a teamster,
then they rode off.
Our train went on five miles, where we were going to camp,
when a messenger was sent by the commanding officer at the
fort suggesting that the two caravans camp together, which
we did. In the morning, when we started out, I rode ahead
on my mule as usual, and when I had got about half-way to
the fort I saw the white shoulder-blade of a buffalo setting
up on end about fifty yards from the road. I rode out and
picked it up; it was standing on end with a little wisp of
grass wrapped around it; on the face of it were three men
painted red. The broad end of the blade in the ground was
marked out like a fort, with little black spots, meaning
tracks of soldiers, and a man in black was there with his
rifle drawn, and resting across one of the red men's necks.
Another was shot below the shoulder-joint, and one had his
arm broken. Painted in red, right up toward the joint,
was a wolf trotting from it. This indicated that the Indians
had had a fight; three of them had been wounded, one in
the back, one in the neck, and one had his arm broken.
There were also three spears, the points of which were stuck
in the ground, indicating that three Indians were dead and
had no more use for the weapons.
I took the bone to the fort and there the interpreter told
what it all meant. I discovered it to be a valuable history
of what was going on: the Cheyennes and Arapahoes who had
been with us had separated; the Arapahoes had gone away and
tried to steal some ponies; they would be along pretty soon.
All this occurred after the Arapahoes had separated from
the Cheyennes. The latter had placed the shoulder-blade of
the buffalo on the trail, to prevent their making the mistake
of going to the fort, where, after their trouble with the
train, the soldiers would make it hot for them; but as I had
found their message first, their plan was frustrated.
Later on the Indians came to the fort, and one of the
teamsters who had been wounded happened to be there, and he
picked out the very Indian who had shot him. The commanding
officer directed the sergeant of the guard to arrest the
savage, which he did, and proceeded to put him in irons.
While fastening on a ball and chain, the Indian struck the
soldier on the head who was holding him. Upon this the
commanding officer told one of the guards to shoot him, which
the man did very promptly. The bullet went clear through
the Indian, and shot one of the interpreter's fingers off.
After this little incident, there was a general free-for-all
fight, in which the Indians were badly worsted. After this
battle the Indians went south and were not troublesome for
When the snow began to melt from the mountain peaks in the spring
the little insignificant creeks swelled up and for a few weeks were
transformed into raging torrents, too deep or too dangerous to ford.
At such seasons the few ranchmen who were in the country built
temporary bridges across them, hardly ever exceeding fifty feet in
length. While the streams were high, these bridges were a veritable
gold-mine from the revenue paid by the freighters as toll. In order,
however, to make their toll lawful, every bridge-owner was required
to possess himself of a charter from the secretary of the territory,
and approved by the governor. This official document simply
authorized the proprietor to charge such toll as he saw fit, which
was always extravagantly high—usually five dollars for each team
of six yoke of cattle and wagon. These ranchmen also kept an
assortment of groceries and barrels of whiskey, for the latter of
which the teamsters were always liberal customers.
It very often happened, through ignorance of the law or from ignoring
it, that these ranchmen took out no charter, because its possession
was so rarely questioned.
At the trail-crossing of Rock Creek was one of these frontier
toll-bridges. In the spring of 1866 two trains were travelling in
company, one in charge of a man known as Stuttering Brown, because
of an impediment in his speech. He was a man of undoubted courage,
and determined. When angry, he indulged in some of the quaintest and
wittiest original expressions imaginable; but if you laughed at him,
he became very much offended, as he was particularly sensitive about
the impediment of his speech. Still, he was a man who appreciated
a joke, and enjoyed it even if it was upon himself.
Brown's train comprised twenty teams, and the other twenty-six.
His train happened to be in the lead that day, and as they neared
the bridge, Brown rode back to the other wagon-master and said:—
“B-B-Billy, wh-what are you g-g-going to do about p-p-paying t-t-toll
on this b-b-bridge?”
He answered that if the fellow had a charter, he would be compelled
to pay; otherwise he would not, as probably the charges were
exorbitant. Brown argued they might have some trouble with the
ranchman if pay was refused, as they generally had a pretty tough
crowd around them who were ready for any kind of a skirmish.
His friend called attention to the fact that together they had
fifty-five men, well armed on account of probable Indian troubles.
They were all good fighters, and they would ask for no greater fun
than cleaning out the ranch, if it was discovered that the proprietor
had no charter.
Brown returned to the bridge, where the ranchman stood preparing
to collect his toll, which was five dollars a team in advance.
This would require one hundred dollars from Brown and a hundred and
thirty from the other train. Brown refused point blank to pay the
bill, and the ranchman asked him upon what grounds.
Brown's reply was:—
“Y-Y-You h-h-haint g-g-got no ch-ch-charter.” The ranchman answered
him that he had, and if he would go back to the ranch with him,
he would show it. The ranch was only a few hundred yards away.
Brown accompanied him, and in a short time returned to the train.
His friend asked him if the charter was all right, to which Brown
replied in the affirmative, saying that he had settled for his outfit,
and that his friend had better do the same, which he accordingly did.
After crossing the bridge, the other wagon-master noticed that Brown
was very much amused about something, occasionally indulging in loud
bursts of laughter. His friend inquired the cause of his mirth, but
he refused to tell.
When they arrived at the camping-ground that evening, and after
corralling the trains and placing out the proper guards, Brown invited
his friend to take supper with him. While eating he was asked what
had so amused him during the afternoon. He said that when he went up
to the ranch to see the bridge charter, he rode to the door, sat on
his mule, and asked the ranchman to trot out his charter and be d——d
quick about it.
The man went into a black room and pretty soon returned, shouting:—
“You stuttering thief, here it is! What do you think about it?”
Brown looked up and found that he was peering into the muzzle of
a double-barrelled gun, probably loaded with buck-shot. The ranchman
was pointing it directly at his head, with both triggers cocked.
Brown saw he was in earnest, and asked if that was the charter.
The ranchman replied that it was.
His friend then asked, “What did you do, Brown?”
“N-N-Not much. J-J-Just t-t-told him, th-th-that's good, and settled.”
Some years afterward, when Brown was part owner and superintendent
of the Black Hills stage-line, he was waylaid and killed by the
Indians, while on a return trip from Custer City. Thus ended the
career of one of the bravest and best of the men on the frontier.
One of the most famous of temporary toll-ferries was over the
trail-crossing of Green River. It was owned by Bill Hickman,
a Mormon, and as the river was seldom fordable he reaped a rich
harvest of gold from the emigrant trains. His prices for crossing
teams depended upon the ability of their owners to pay, varying from
five to twenty dollars each. The old ford may still be seen just
below the station of Green River on the Union Pacific Railroad.
During the preparation for the Mormon war the supply-trains of the
government were constantly harassed by that people. The genius of
campaigning by destroying trains was Major Lot Smith. One evening,
at the head of forty men, after riding all night, he came in sight
of a westward-bound government train. On coming up to it he ordered
the drivers to turn round and go back on their trail. They obeyed
promptly, but as soon as Smith was out of sight, they wheeled around
and travelled west again. During the day a party of Mormon troops
passed them, and taking all of the freight out of the wagons, left
them standing there.
Smith was afterward informed by his scouts that a caravan of
twenty-six wagons was approaching. Upon this information he halted
his men and, after eating, started again at dusk, approached the
train while it was in camp at a place near Simpson's Hollow, and
ambushed his party for several hours. Meanwhile, he learned that
there were two trains, each of twenty-six wagons; but in fact as was
afterward discovered there were really three of seventy-five wagons
About midnight, while only a few of the teamsters were gathered
around their camp-fire, some of them drinking, some smoking, they
suddenly saw what seemed to be an endless procession of armed and
mounted men emerge from the darkness.
Smith, quietly coming up, asked for the captain of the outfit, whose
name was Dawson. As a majority of the teamsters were asleep, their
guns fastened to the covers of the wagons, and any resistance almost
hopeless, Dawson stepped forward, surrendered, and told his men to
stack their arms and group themselves on a spot designated by Smith.
Smith dealt successively with the other trains in like manner. Then,
after lighting two torches, he handed one of them to a Gentile in
his party, known as Big James, remarking at the same time, “It is
eminently proper for a Gentile to spoil a Gentile.”
Riding from wagon to wagon, Smith's men set fire to the covers, which
rapidly caught in the crisp mountain air, and were soon all ablaze.
Dawson, meanwhile, was ordered by Smith to the rear of the trains
to take out provisions for his captors, and when everything was
fairly burning he and his party rode away, first informing his
panic-stricken captives that he would return as soon as he had
delivered the provisions to his comrades near by, and instantly shoot
any one who should make any attempt to extinguish the flames.
The destruction of these supply-trains was a severe blow to the army
of occupation; both troops and animals suffered severely in
consequence of the loss of provisions.
The year 1865 was fruitful of Indian depredations along the Old Trail,
particularly that portion which ran through the Platte Valley.
The Sioux and Cheyennes allied themselves in large bands against
the whites, and raided the beautiful region from one end to the
other. Theirs was a trail of blood like that of Attila, “The Scourge,”
and their fiendish acts rivalled those of that monster of the Old World.
On the south side of the Platte River, about a hundred and twenty-five
miles from Denver, were located, successively, three ranches, known
as the Wisconsin, the American, and Godfrey's.
On the morning of the 19th of January, of the year above mentioned,
a company of cavalry, marching from Denver, passed along by the
Wisconsin Ranch a little before nine o'clock. As the Indians were
on the war-path, and upon request of the proprietor, the captain of
the company promised to send back ten men of his troop, to help
defend the property, as they were going to their station a few miles
east of there.
The cavalry had hardly disappeared from view across the divide when
the savages began their attack. The captain of the cavalry, hearing
the continuous firing, immediately returned with his command, and
at once a fierce battle took place a short distance from the ranch.
The troops retreated and went into camp at Valley Station.
There were seven white persons living on the ranch at that time:
Mr. Mark M. Coad, P. B. Danielson, his wife and two children, besides
two hired men. They fought the Indians until five o'clock in the
afternoon without any outside assistance, and had killed several.
About noon the savages set fire to the haystack and stable, which
caused a dense smoke to settle over the house in which the besieged
As the fight progressed, the Indians seemed determined to have the
building at any hazard; so they cut a large amount of wood and piled
it against the back door, with the intention of burning it down so
as to gain an entrance. The door was blockaded with sacks of grain,
to prevent the bullets from coming into the room, and while the
savages were placing the wood on the outside, the men quietly removed
the sacks of grain. When the besiegers were ready to kindle the fire,
the door was swung open, and Mr. Coad, springing to the opening as
it swung back, killed three of the Indians, and wounded several more
with his two pistols, then jumped back and the door was closed.
The daring act was performed so quickly that the savages were
instantly demoralized. They dared not return the shots for fear of
killing some of their own party who were attempting to enter the house.
After the door was again closed the Indians regained their senses,
and a perfect shower of bullets rained against the house. The savages,
now discouraged from the suddenness and effect of Mr. Coad's attack,
and the loss of so many of their number, retreated to their camp and
hostilities ceased for the time.
While this battle was in progress at the Wisconsin ranch, another
fight was going on at the American ranch, twelve miles east.
This ranch was occupied by the Messrs. Morrissey, one of whom had
his wife, two children, and six or eight hired men.
It was subsequently shown that the men must have fought very
desperately, as they were found locked arm in arm with the savages,
holding their pistols or knives in their hands. The ranch was
looted of its valuables and burned. The whites were all killed,
excepting Mrs. Morrissey and her two children, who were taken
prisoners and carried off by the Indians, but shortly afterward were
surrendered to the government. Early in the morning of the same day
the Indians attacked the Godfrey ranch. There were living there
Mr. Godfrey, better known as Old Ricket; his wife; his daughter,
a girl of fourteen years; and two other white men.
They fought the savages for several hours, and finally, seeing that
they stood no chance of capturing the place, the Indians determined
to burn it; so they set fire to the haystack which stood near the
building. After the Indians had lighted the stack, Mr. Godfrey's
little daughter rushed out of the door with a bucket of water,
extinguished the flames, and returned safely into the house,
notwithstanding the shower of bullets and arrows that rained all
The Indians just then, somehow learning that the American ranch
had been taken, and there was a chance for them in the division
of the spoils, withdrew all their force and went down there.
From there they went on to the Wisconsin ranch, which had not been
captured, for the purpose of reënforcing the besieging party at
that place. The besieged had succeeded in sending a messenger
during the day to the commanding officer of the troops at Valley
Station, asking for assistance to enable them to get away from
the ranch, well knowing that the savages would return in the morning,
with reënforcements. The captain sent up a detachment of fifteen
men, and escorted the people of the ranch down to the Station.
The next morning Mr. Coad, with a detachment of troops as escort,
and several wagons, started for the purpose of taking away the goods
to a place of safety. When approaching the ranch they found it in
the possession of the Indians; and the troops, seeing the strength
of the savage force, knew that it would be worse than useless to
attempt to drive them away; so they returned to the Station.
Thus three of the finest ranches on the trail at that time were
One of the most disastrous and effectual raids by the savages during
the year 1865 was the burning and sacking of Julesburg, which was
within rifle-shot of Fort Sedgwick, on the South Platte River, in
what is now Weld County, Colorado.
There the government established a military reservation, comprising
sixty-four square miles, in the exact centre of which the fort was
located. The reservation extended across the river, and included
the mouth of Pole Creek, a small tributary of the Platte, which
debouches into it from the north.
The original Julesburg, at that time, was a mere hamlet of crude
frame buildings, and but for the proximity of Fort Sedgwick it would
have been destroyed long before it was.
On the morning of the 2d of February, the men at the stage station,
called Julesburg, discovered a small band of Indians in the valley
to the east of them, who were evidently out on the war-path, as they
had all their paraphernalia on, were finely mounted, hideously
painted, and profusely decorated with feathers. Possessing a fair
knowledge of the savage character and rightly conceiving the intention
of the savages, the station employees incontinently left for the fort
for safety, and to give the alarm of the presence of the Indians.
Captain O'Brien, who was in command of Fort Sedgwick, had already
had some experience in savage warfare; and, although his force was
extremely small, immediately upon receipt of the intelligence that
hostile Indians were in the vicinity and that the overland stage
station was in danger, he sounded boots and saddles. Thirty-five
soldiers reënforced by volunteer citizens were soon on the trail
of the savages, led by the gallant captain.
The government scouts had that morning reported that there were no
Indians near, and consequently no apprehension of danger entered the
minds of either soldier or civilian; little did they surmise that
just out of sight over the divide more than two thousand of the
painted devils were hiding.
The small band of savages that had entered the valley, and which had
been first seen by the station men, were pursued for some distance,
when they separated and rode out into the sand-hills. At almost the
same instant, while the soldiers were after them, swarms of savages
began to pour into the valley in the rear of the troops, about
a half a mile west of them. They soon massed in great numbers, and
rapidly closed every avenue of escape, riding in bands and giving
vent to the most horrid war-whoops and unearthly yells as they saw
Captain O'Brien ordered his troopers to dismount, and, enjoining his
men to keep cool, to make every shot tell, turned upon the Indians
and opened fire where they were thickest. There ensued one of the
most sanguinary struggles, considering the few soldiers engaged,
that the plains have ever witnessed.
“Load and fire at will” was the order, and the repeating rifles of
the soldiers made awful havoc; the slaughter immediately in front of
the white men was indeed terrible, and the Indians, demoralized at
the manner in which their ranks were being decimated, hurriedly
fell back. This permitted the troops to make considerable advance
in the direction of the fort before they again halted.
Pressed on each flank and in rear, the troops were compelled to
divert their fire to those points, but when the progress of the
savages was again stayed, they once more concentrated their shots
where they were densely massed in front. It appeared as if every
ball found its victim. The discharges were so rapid, and the aim
so careful, that the Indians had to give way before it, permitting
the soldiers to advance once more. Thus they fought step by step,
with great loss, but brave to the last degree.
It was a fortunate matter that the savages were armed principally
with bows and arrows, there being very few rifles among them. Had it
been otherwise, had the Indians been armed with repeating rifles,
as were the whites, it is probable that not a single soldier would
have been left to tell the story. The Indians filled the air with
flights of arrows, but woe to the Indian who came within range of
the deadly rifles! Many shafts with spent force fell harmlessly
among the soldiers. Many inflicted slight wounds, and some were
fatal. Some of the whites were killed by bullets, some by arrows.
Reënforcements from the fort finally opened an avenue of escape
for the remaining whites, and eighteen of the forty men who went out
in the morning came back; the rest were killed, scalped, and
mutilated by the savages! Their bodies, however, were recovered and
buried on the side of the bluff just south of the fort, and headboards
with appropriate inscriptions mark the final resting-place of each.
When they found that a part of their prey would escape, the Indians
began to turn their attention to pillaging at the stage station.
One house contained a general assortment of groceries and outfitting
goods. These they loaded upon their ponies and carried over the
river. They then disappeared among the hills, leaving all the
buildings on fire.
The stage company had a large amount of grain and supplies stored at
the station. These were burned, and a treasure-coach with fifty
thousand dollars in money was captured.
As soon as Captain O'Brien reached the fort, he ordered out the
field-pieces and commenced shelling the enemy. Being a very expert
gunner, he directed the fire of the guns so effectively as to kill
a large number of savages. A crowd of redskins had gathered round
some open boxes of raisins and barrels of sugar, when a shell burst
in the midst of them, killing thirteen, as was afterward admitted by
some of the Indians present. They also admitted the loss of more
than a hundred warriors during the fight.
In January, 1867, Mr. J. F. Coad, now of Omaha, had a contract with
the United States army to supply all the government military posts
between Julesburg and Laramie with wood. He left home about the 17th
of the month, and was escorted by a company of soldiers, who were
en route to Fort Laramie, as far as forty miles beyond Julesburg,
where he left them, and proceeded up Pole Creek, thence to Lawrence's
Fork, where his men and wagons were, to commence work on his contract.
On the morning after his arrival at his wagon-camp, Mr. Coad and
three of his employees, while loading wood about a mile and a half
from camp, were attacked by about forty Indians, who came charging
down the valley and prevented their retreat to the ranch. Seeing
that they were entirely cut off and without any hope of assistance,
they immediately concluded that their only escape from death was to
run for their lives, and get back into the hills, if possible,
believing that on account of the steep and rugged trail the savages
could not pursue them.
It was fearfully cold, the thermometer ranging about twenty-five
degrees below zero. Just as they started to put their plan in motion,
another band of Indians was coming up the valley. These joined the
others, and bore down on the white men.
On arriving at the base of the hill up which the white men were
climbing, the Indians dismounted and started on foot after them.
Seeing their tactics, Mr. Coad and his companions took off all their
superfluous clothing and threw it away, notwithstanding the severity
of the temperature. One of the men, in passing near a ledge of rock,
discovered a hiding-place under it, dropped down and crawled in,
filling his tracks with dirt as he backed into the cave. The Indians
in trailing the party passed by this rock, returned to it, and held
a council. They then went back to their horses. The other white men
secreted themselves in a cañon, built a fire, and there remained
until long after dark.
Left in the wagon-camp were three other men, who had a hard fight
with the Indians from about eleven o'clock in the morning until
three in the afternoon. They were inside of the cabin, and managed
to keep the savages at a safe distance by firing at them through
the crevices whenever they came within rifle-shot. The Indians kept
riding in a circle around the cabin for several hours, and, finding
they could not dislodge the three brave men, they abandoned the
attempt, after losing one of their ponies, which received a
rifle-bullet in his foreleg.
Some of the wood-choppers who had been at work a mile and a half up
the valley also had an exciting experience during the day with the
savages, but came out unharmed.
After the entire party of white men assembled in camp that night,
a council was held, and it was determined to send a messenger to the
commanding officer of the post at Julesburg, stating the condition
of affairs and the number of Indians supposed to be in the vicinity.
The next morning Mr. Coad and his men gathered what cattle they could
find, intending to leave for the fort. They started, got on top of
the divide, and camped for the night. A raging blizzard set in,
one of those terrible storms of snow and wind characteristic of the
region, and the cattle sought shelter from the fearful weather by
returning to the valley which they had left the day before, and where
there was plenty of timber. The party was able, however, to hold
a few head. So they hitched them up to the mess-wagon and returned
to their old camp, intending to wait until the messenger they had
sent to the fort should arrive with troops; but they were not sure
he had gone safely through.
The next morning Mr. Coad started east on the divide on the only
horse the Indians had left him, and about nine o'clock that night
he met Lieutenant Arms, of the Second Cavalry, in command of
Company E of that regiment.
Lieutenant Arms told him that he had met a large war-party of savages
about four o'clock that afternoon, and was detained fighting them
until after dark, when they disappeared and went south, at a point
about ten miles west of Sidney. Lieutenant Arms had captured several
head of cattle and two of Mr. Coad's horses from the Indians in this
Mr. Coad returned with the troops to the camp on Lawrence's Fork,
arriving there at two o'clock in the morning. The temperature that
night was thirty degrees below zero, and the troops suffered terribly
from the extreme cold during their march. After arriving in the
timber and getting something to eat, all turned in in their blankets
and rested until daylight the next morning. As soon as breakfast was
disposed of, the command started on their return march, crossed the
divide which they had travelled over the previous night, and at three
o'clock in the morning reached Pole Creek, where they rested until
daylight. As soon as the day dawned they started south, endeavouring
to find the trail of the Indians. The weather was extremely cold,
the thermometer ranging about thirty degrees below zero. In the
afternoon, while on the divide, the snow being very deep, the command
was completely lost, and wandered aimlessly for several hours, not
knowing which course to take. Finally, when it was nearly dark, they
came within sight of Pole Creek, immediately recognized the locality,
and were saved.
At night, after travelling all the next day, they reached a ranch
about thirty-five miles west of Julesburg, where they stopped and
were made comfortable. It was discovered, after the command had
thawed out, that out of thirty-six men thirty were more or less
frozen; some had frozen noses, some their ears, some their toes,
and two had suffered so badly their feet had to be amputated.
On the following day an ambulance arrived from Julesburg, to bring
in the men who were in the worst condition. Those who were able
mounted their horses and reached the post all right.
During those early years, before the growth of the great states
beyond the Missouri, a mighty stream of immigration rushed onward
to the unknown, illimitable West. Its pathway was strewn with
innumerable graves of men, women, and little children. Silence and
oblivion have long since closed over them forever, and no one can
tell the sad story of their end, or even where they lay down.
Occasionally, however, the traveller comes across a spot where some
of these brave pioneers succumbed to death. One of the most noted
of these may be seen about two miles from the town of Gering, on the
Old Trail, in what is now known as Scott's Bluffs County, Nebraska.
Around the lonely grave was fixed a wagon-tire, and on it rudely
scratched the name of the occupant of the isolated sepulchre,
“Rebecca Winter,” and the date, 1852. The tire remains as it was
originally placed, and, as if to immortalize the sad fate of the
woman, many localities in the vicinity derive their names from that
on the rusty old wagon tire: “Winter Springs,” “Winter Creek Precinct,”
and the “Winter Creek Irrigation Company”!
THE PONY EXPRESS.
Owing to the gold discoveries of 1849, the state of California was
born in almost a single day. The ocean route to the Pacific was
tedious and circuitous, and the impetuosity of the mining population
demanded quicker time for the delivery of its mails than was taken by
the long sea-voyage. From the terminus of telegraphic communication
in the East there intervened more than two thousand miles of a region
uninhabited, except by hostile tribes of savages. The mail from the
Atlantic seaboard, across the Isthmus of Darien to San Francisco,
took at least twenty-two days. The route across the desert by stage
occupied nearly a month.
To reduce this time was the absorbing thought of the hour.
Senator Gwinn of California, known after the Maximilian escapade in
Mexico as “Duke Gwinn,” first made the suggestion to the proprietors
of the Overland Stage Line that if they could carry the mails to the
Pacific coast in a shorter time than it then required, and would
keep the line open all the year, increased emigration and the building
of a railroad by the government would be the result.
The following is an authentic history of the Pony Express, as related
to the authors of this work by Colonel Alexander Majors, the surviving
member of the once great firm of Russell, Majors, & Waddell, who were
the originators of the scheme.
In the winter of 1859, while the senior partner of the firm was in
Washington, he became intimately acquainted with Senator Gwinn of
California, who, as stated previously, was very anxious that a quicker
line for the transmission of letters should be established than that
already worked by Butterfield; the latter was outrageously circuitous.
The senator was acquainted with the fact that the firm of Russell,
Majors, & Waddell were operating a daily coach from the Missouri River
to Salt Lake City, and he urged Mr. Russell to consider seriously
the propriety of starting a pony express over the same route, and
from Salt Lake City on to Sacramento.
After a lengthy consultation, Mr. Russell consented to attempt the
thing, provided he could induce his partners to take the same view
of the proposed enterprise as himself, and he then returned to
Leavenworth, the head-quarters of the firm, to consult the other
members. On learning the proposition suggested by Senator Gwinn,
both Colonel Majors and Mr. Waddell at once decided that the expense
would be much greater than any possible revenue from the undertaking.
Mr. Russell, having, as he thought, partially at least, committed
himself to the Senator, was much chagrined at the turn the affair
had taken, and he declared that he could not abandon his promise
to Mr. Gwinn, consequently his partners must stand by him.
That urgent appeal settled the question, and work was commenced to
start the Pony Express.
On the Overland Stage Line operated by the firm, stations had been
located every ten or twelve miles, which were at once utilized for
the operation of the express; but beyond Salt Lake City new stations
must be constructed, as there were no possible stopping-places on
the proposed new route. In less then two months after the promise
of the firm had been pledged to Senator Gwinn, the first express was
ready to leave San Francisco, and St. Joseph, Missouri, simultaneously.
The fastest time ever thus far made on the “Butterfield Route” was
twenty-one days between San Francisco and New York. The Pony Express
curtailed that time at once by eleven days, which was a marvel of
rapid transit at that period.
The plant necessary to meet the heavy demand made on the originators
of the fast mail route over the barren plains and through the
dangerous mountains was nearly five hundred horses, one hundred and
ninety stations, two hundred men to take care of these stations,
and eighty experienced riders, each of whom was to make an average
of thirty-three and one-third miles. To accomplish this each man
used three ponies on his route, but in cases of great emergency
much longer distances were made.
The letters or despatches to be carried by the daring men were
required to be written on the finest tissue paper, weighing half
an ounce, five dollars being the charge for its transportation.
As suggested by two members of the firm, when they protested that
the business would not begin to meet the expenses, their prophecies
proved true; but they were not disappointed, for one of the main
objects of the institution of the express was to learn whether the
line through which the express was carried could be made a permanent
one for travel during all the seasons of the year. This was
determined in the affirmative.
One of the most important transactions of the Pony Express was the
transmittal of President Buchanan's last message, in December, 1860,
from the Missouri River to Sacramento, over two thousand miles,
in eight days and a few hours, and the next in importance was the
carrying of President Lincoln's message, his inaugural of March 4,
1861, over the same route in seven days and seventeen hours.
This was the quickest time for horseback riding, considering the
distance made, ever accomplished in this or any other country.
In the spring of 1860 Bolivar Roberts, superintendent of the western
division of the Pony Express, came to Carson City, Nevada, to engage
riders and station-agents for the Pony Express route across the
Great Plains. In a few days fifty or sixty were engaged—men noted
for their lithe, wiry physiques, bravery and coolness in moments
of great personal danger, and endurance under the most trying
circumstances of fatigue. Particularly were these requirements
necessary in those who were to ride over the lonely route. It was
no easy duty; horse and human flesh were strained to the limit of
physical tension. Day or night, in sunshine or in storm, under the
darkest skies, in the pale moonlight and with only the stars at
times to guide him, the brave rider must speed on. Rain, hail, snow,
or sleet, there was no delay; his precious burden of letters demanded
his best efforts under the stern necessities of the hazardous service;
it brooked no detention; on he must ride. Sometimes his pathway led
across level prairies, straight as the flight of an arrow. It was
oftener a zigzag trail hugging the brink of awful precipices, and
dark, narrow cañons infested with watchful savages eager for the
scalp of the daring man who had the temerity to enter their mountain
At the stations the rider must be ever ready for emergencies;
frequently double duty was assigned him. He whom he was to relieve
had been murdered by the Indians perhaps, or so badly wounded, that
it was impossible for him to take his tour; then the already tired
expressman must take his place, and be off like a shot, although he
had been in the saddle for hours.
The ponies employed in the service were splendid specimens of speed
and endurance; they were fed and housed with the greatest care,
for their mettle must never fail the test to which it was put.
Ten miles at the limit of the animal's pace was exacted from him,
and he came dashing into the station flecked with foam, nostrils
dilated and every hair reeking with perspiration, while his flanks
thumped at every breath!
Nearly two thousand miles in eight days must be made; there was no
idling for man or beast. When the express rode up to the station,
both rider and pony were always ready. The only delay was a second
or two as the saddle-pouch with its precious burden was thrown on and
the rider leaped into his place, then away they rushed down the trail
and in a moment were out of sight.
Two hundred and fifty miles a day was the distance travelled by the
Pony Express, and it may be assured the rider carried no surplus
weight. Neither he nor his pony were handicapped with anything that
was not absolutely necessary. Even his case of precious letters made
a bundle no larger than an ordinary writing tablet, but there was
five dollars paid in advance for every letter transported across the
continent. Their bulk was not in the least commensurable with their
number, there were hundreds of them sometimes, for they were written
on the thinnest tissue paper to be procured. There were no silly
love missives among them nor frivolous correspondence of any kind;
business letters only, that demanded the most rapid transit possible
and warranted the immense expense attending their journey, found
their way by the Pony Express.
The mail-bags were two pouches of leather impervious to rain, sealed,
and strapped to the rider's saddle before and behind. The pouches
were never to contain over twenty pounds in weight. Inside the
pouches, to further protect their contents from the weather,
the letters and despatches were wrapped in oil-silk, then sealed.
The pockets themselves were locked and were not opened between
St. Joseph and Sacramento.
The Pony Express as a means of communication between the two remote
coasts was largely employed by the government, merchants, and traders,
and would eventually have been a paying venture had not the
construction of the telegraph across the continent usurped its
The arms of the Pony Express rider, in order to keep the weight at
a minimum, were, as a rule, limited to revolver and knife.
The first trip from St. Joseph to San Francisco, nineteen hundred
and sixty-six miles, was made in ten days; the second in fourteen,
the third and many succeeding trips in nine. The riders had a
division of from one hundred to one hundred and forty miles, with
relays of horses at distances varying from twenty to twenty-five miles.
In 1860 the Pony Express made one trip from St. Joseph to Denver,
six hundred and twenty-five miles, in two days and twenty-one hours.
The Pony Express riders received from one hundred and twenty to
one hundred and twenty-five dollars a month. But few men can
appreciate the danger and excitement to which those daring and plucky
men were subjected; it can never be told in all its constant variety.
They were men remarkable for their lightness of weight and energy.
Their duty demanded the most consummate vigilance and agility.
Many among their number were skilful guides, scouts, and couriers,
and had passed eventful lives on the Great Plains and in the Rocky
Mountains. They possessed strong wills and a determination that
nothing in the ordinary event could balk. Their horses were
generally half-breed California mustangs, as quick and full of
endurance as their riders, and were as sure-footed and fleet as
a mountain goat; the facility and pace at which they travelled was
a marvel. The Pony Express stations were scattered over a wild,
desolate stretch of country, two thousand miles long. The trail
was infested with “road agents,” and hostile savages who roamed in
formidable bands ready to murder and scalp with as little compunction
as they would kill a buffalo.
Some portions of the dangerous route had to be covered at the
astounding pace of twenty-five miles an hour, as the distance between
stations was determined by the physical character of the region.
The day of the first start, says Colonel Majors, on the 3d of April,
1860, at noon, Harry Roff, mounted on a spirited half-breed broncho,
left Sacramento on his perilous ride, covering the first twenty miles,
including one change, in fifty-nine minutes. On reaching Folsom
he changed again and started for Placerville at the foot of the
Sierra Nevada Mountains, fifty-five miles distant. There he connected
with “Boston,” who took the route to Friday's Station, crossing the
eastern summit of the Sierra Nevada. Sam Hamilton next fell into line
and pursued his way to Genoa, Carson City, Dayton, Reed's Station,
and Fort Churchill, seventy-five miles. The entire run was made in
fifteen hours and twenty minutes, the whole distance being one hundred
and eighty-five miles, which included the crossing of the western
summit of the Sierra Nevada through thirty feet of snow! Here Robert
Haslam took the trail from Fort Churchill to Smith's Creek,
one hundred and twenty miles through a hostile Indian country.
From that point Jay G. Kelley rode from Smith's Creek to Ruby Valley,
Utah, one hundred and sixteen miles. From Ruby Valley to Deep Creek,
H. Richardson, one hundred and five miles; from Deep Creek to Rush
Valley, old Camp Floyd, eighty miles. From Camp Floyd to Salt Lake
City, fifty miles, the end of the western division, was ridden by
On the same day, and the same moment, Mr. Russell superintended the
start of the Pony Express from its eastern terminus. An arrangement
had been made with the railroads between New York and Saint Joseph
for a fast train which was scheduled to arrive with the mail at the
proper time. The Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad also ran a special
engine, and the boat which made the crossing of the Missouri River
was detained for the purpose of instantly transferring the letters.
Mr. Russell in person adjusted the letter-pouch on the pony.
Many of the enthusiastic crowd who had congregated to witness the
inauguration of the fast mail plucked hairs from the hardy little
animal's tail as talismans of good luck. In a few seconds the rider
was mounted, the steamboat gave an encouraging whistle, and the pony
dashed away on his long journey to the next station.
The large newspapers of both New York and the Pacific coast were
ready patronizers of the express. The issues of their papers were
printed on tissue manufactured purposely for this novel way of
transmitting the news. On the arrival of the pony from the West,
the news brought from the Pacific and along the route of the trail
was telegraphed from St. Joseph to the East the moment the animal
arrived with his important budget.
To form some idea of the enthusiasm created by the inauguration of
the Pony Express, the _St. Joseph Free Democrat_ said in relation
to this novel method of carrying the news across the continent:—
Take down your map and trace the footprints of our
quadrupedantic animal: From St. Joseph, on the Missouri,
to San Francisco, on the Golden Horn—two thousand miles—
more than half the distance across our boundless continent;
through Kansas, through Nebraska, by Fort Kearney, along the
Platte, by Fort Laramie, past the Buttes, over the Rocky
Mountains, through the narrow passes and along the steep
defiles, Utah, Fort Bridger, Salt Lake City, he witches
Brigham with his swift pony-ship—through the valleys, along
the grassy slopes, into the snow, into sand, faster than
Thor's Thialfi, away they go, rider and horse—did you
They are in California, leaping over its golden sands,
treading its busy streets. The courser has unrolled to us
the great American panorama, allowed us to glance at the
home of one million people, and has put a girdle around
the earth in forty minutes. Verily the riding is like the
riding of Jehu, the son of Nimshi, for he rideth furiously.
Take out your watch. We are eight days from New York,
eighteen from London. The race is to the swift.
A whole volume might be gathered of the stirring incidents and
adventures of the hardy employees of the Pony Express in its two
years of existence. The majority of the actors in that memorable
enterprise have passed beyond the confines of time.
J. G. Kelley, one of the veteran riders, now living in Denver,
tells his story of those eventful days, when he rode over the lonely
trail carrying despatches for Russell, Majors, & Waddell.
Yes, I was a Pony Express rider in 1860, and went out with
Bolivar Roberts, and I tell you it was no picnic. No amount
of money could tempt me to repeat my experience of those days.
To begin with, we had to build willow roads, corduroy fashion,
across many places along the Carson River, carrying bundles
of willows two and three hundred yards in our arms, while
the mosquitoes were so thick that it was difficult to tell
whether the man was white or black, so thickly were they
piled on his neck, face, and arms.
Arriving at the Sink of the Carson River, we began the
erection of a fort to protect us from the Indians. As there
were no rocks or logs in that vicinity, it was built of
adobes, made from the mud on the shores of the lake. To mix
this and get it to the proper consistency to mould into
adobes, we tramped all day in our bare feet. This we did
for a week or more, and the mud being strongly impregnated
with alkali carbonate of soda, you can imagine the condition
of our feet. They were much swollen and resembled hams.
We next built a fort at Sand Springs, twenty miles from
Carson Lake, and another at Cold Springs, thirty-seven miles
east of Sand Springs. At the latter station I was assigned
to duty as assistant station-keeper, under Jim McNaughton.
The war against the Pi-Ute Indians was then at its height,
and as we were in the middle of their country, it became
necessary for us to keep a standing guard night and day.
The Indians were often skulking around, but none of them ever
came near enough for us to get a shot at him, till one dark
night when I was on guard, I noticed one of our horses prick
up his ears and stare. I looked in the direction indicated
and saw an Indian's head projecting above the wall.
My instructions were to shoot if I saw an Indian within
rifle-range, as that would wake the boys quicker than anything
else; so I fired and missed my man.
Later on we saw the Indian camp-fires on the mountain, and
in the morning many tracks. They evidently intended to
stampede our horses, and if necessary kill us. The next day
one of our riders, a Mexican, rode into camp with a bullet-hole
through him from the left to the right side, having been shot
by Indians while coming down Edwards Creek, in the Quaking
Aspen Bottom. He was tenderly cared for but died before
surgical aid could reach him.
As I was the lightest man at the station, I was ordered to
take the Mexican's place on the route. My weight was then
one hundred pounds, while I now weigh one hundred and thirty.
Two days after taking the route, on my return trip, I had to
ride through the forest of quaking aspen where the Mexican
had been shot. A trail had been cut through these little
trees, just wide enough to allow horse and rider to pass.
As the road was crooked and the branches came together from
either side, just above my head when mounted, it was
impossible for me to see ahead for more than ten or fifteen
yards, and it was two miles through the forest. I expected
to have trouble, and prepared for it by dropping my
bridle-reins on the neck of the horse, putting my Sharp's
rifle at full cock, and keeping both my spurs into the pony's
flanks, and he went through that forest “like a streak of
At the top of the hill I dismounted to rest my horse, and
looking back saw the bushes moving in several places.
As there were no cattle or game in that vicinity, I knew the
movements to be caused by Indians, and was more positive
of it, when, after firing several shots at the spot where I
saw the bushes in motion, all agitation ceased. Several days
after that two United States soldiers, who were on their way
to their command, were shot and killed from the ambush of
those bushes, and stripped of their clothing by the red devils.
One of my rides was the longest on the route. I refer to
the road between Cold Springs and Sand Springs, thirty-seven
miles, and not a drop of water. It was on this ride that
I made a trip which possibly gave to our company the contract
for carrying the mail by stage-coach across the Plains,
a contract that was largely subsidized by Congress.
One day I trotted into Sand Springs covered with dust and
perspiration. Before I reached the station I saw a number of
men running toward me, all carrying rifles, and one of them
with a wave of his hand said, “All right, you pooty good boy;
you go.” I did not need a second order, and as quickly as
possible rode out of their presence, looking back, however,
as long as they were in sight, and keeping my rifle handy.
As I look back on those times I often wonder that we were not
all killed. A short time before, Major Ormsby of Carson City,
in command of seventy-five or eighty men, went to Pyramid Lake
to give battle to the Pi-Utes, who had been killing emigrants
and prospectors by the wholesale. Nearly all of the command
were killed. Another regiment of about seven hundred men,
under the command of Colonel Daniel E. Hungerford and Jack
Hayes, the noted Texas Ranger, was raised. Hungerford was
the beau-ideal of a soldier, as he was already the hero of
three wars, and one of the best tacticians of his time.
This command drove the Indians pell-mell for three miles to
Mud Lake, killing and wounding them at every jump. Colonel
Hungerford and Jack Hayes received, and were entitled,
to great praise, for at the close of the war terms were made
which have kept the Indians peaceable ever since. Jack Hayes
died several years ago in Alameda, California. Colonel
Hungerford, at the ripe age of seventy years, is hale and
hearty, enjoying life and resting on his laurels in Italy,
where he resides with his granddaughter, the Princess Colonna.
As previously stated it is marvellous that the pony boys were
not all killed. There were only four men at each station,
and the Indians, who were then hostile, roamed over the
country in bands of from thirty to a hundred.
What I consider my most narrow escape from death was being
shot at by a lot of fool emigrants, who, when I took them to
task about it on my return trip, excused themselves by saying,
“We thought you was an Indian.”
Another of the daring riders of the Pony Express was Robert Haslam.
About eight months after the Pony Express was established,
the Pi-Ute war commenced in Nevada. Virginia City, then the
principal point of interest, and hourly expecting an attack
from the hostile Indians, was only in its infancy. A stone
hotel on C street was in course of construction, and had
reached an elevation of two stories. This was hastily
transformed into a fort for the protection of the women and
children. From the city the signal-fires of the Indians could
be seen on every mountain peak, and all available men and
horses were pressed into service to repel the impending
assault of the savages.
When I reached Reed's Station, on the Carson River, I found
no change of horses, as all those at the station had been
seized by the whites to take part in the approaching battle.
I fed the animal that I rode, and started for the next
station, called Buckland's, afterward known as Fort Churchill,
fifteen miles farther down the river. It was to have been
the termination of my journey (as I had changed my old route
to this one, in which I had had many narrow escapes, and
been twice wounded by the Indians), and I had already ridden
seventy-five miles; but, to my great astonishment, the other
rider refused to go on. The superintendent, W. C. Marley,
was at the station, but all his persuasion could not prevail
on the rider, Johnson Richardson, to take the road. Turning
then to me, Marley said:—
“Bob, I will give you fifty dollars if you make this ride.”
I replied, “I will go at once.”
Within ten minutes, when I had adjusted my Spencer rifle,
which was a seven-shooter and my Colt's revolver, with two
cylinders ready for use in case of emergency, I started.
From the station onward it was a lonely and dangerous ride
of thirty-five miles, without a change, to the Sink of the
Carson. I arrived there all right, however, and pushed on
to Sand Springs, through an alkali bottom and sand-hills,
thirty miles farther, without a drop of water all along
the route. At Sand Springs I changed horses and continued
on to Cold Springs, a distance of thirty-seven miles.
Another change and a ride of thirty more miles brought me
to Smith's Creek. Here I was relieved by J. G. Kelley.
I had ridden one hundred and eighty-five miles, stopping
only to eat and change horses.
After remaining at Smith's Creek about nine hours, I started
to retrace my journey with the return express. When I
arrived at Cold Springs, to my horror I found that the
station had been attacked by Indians, the keeper killed,
and all the horses taken away. I decided in a moment what
course to pursue—I would go on. I watered my horse, having
ridden him thirty miles on time, he was pretty tired, and
started for Sand Springs, thirty-seven miles away. It was
growing dark, and my road lay through heavy sage-brush,
high enough in some places to conceal a horse. I kept a
bright lookout, and closely watched every motion of my poor
pony's ears, which is a signal for danger in an Indian
country. I was prepared for a fight, but the stillness of
the night and the howling of the wolves and coyotes made cold
chills run through me at times; but I reached Sand Springs in
safety and reported what had happened. Before leaving,
I advised the station-keeper to come with me to the Sink of
the Carson, for I was sure the Indians would be upon him the
next day. He took my advice, and so probably saved his life,
for the following morning Smith's Creek was attacked.
The whites, however, were well protected in the shelter of
a stone house, from which they fought the savages for four
days. At the end of that time they were relieved by the
appearance of about fifty volunteers from Cold Springs.
These men reported that they had buried John Williams,
the brave keeper of that station, but not before he had been
nearly devoured by the wolves.
When I arrived at the Sink of the Carson, I found the
station-men badly frightened, for they had seen some fifty
warriors, decked out in their war-paint and reconnoitring.
There were fifteen white men here, well armed and ready for
a fight. The station was built of adobe, and was large enough
for the men and ten or fifteen horses, with a fine spring
of water within a few feet of it. I rested here an hour,
and after dark started for Buckland's, where I arrived without
a mishap and only three and a half hours behind schedule time.
I found Mr. Marley at Buckland's, and when I related to him
the story of the Cold Springs tragedy and my success,
he raised his previous offer of fifty dollars for my ride to
one hundred. I was rather tired, but the excitement of the
trip had braced me up to withstand the fatigue of the journey.
After a rest of one and a half hours, I proceeded over my own
route from Buckland's to Friday's Station, crossing the
Sierra Nevada. I had travelled three hundred and eighty miles
within a few hours of schedule time, and was surrounded by
perils on every hand.
After the Pony Express was discontinued Pony Bob was employed by
Wells, Fargo, & Company as an express rider in the prosecution of
their transportation business. His route was between Virginia City,
Nevada, and Friday's Station and return, about one hundred miles,
every twenty-four hours; schedule time, ten hours. This engagement
continued for more than a year; but as the Union Pacific Railway
gradually extended its line and operations, the Pony Express business
as gradually diminished. Finally the track was completed to Reno,
Nevada, twenty-three miles from Virginia City, and over this route
Pony Bob rode for more than six months, making the run every day,
with fifteen horses, inside of one hour. When the telegraph line
was completed, the Pony Express over this route was withdrawn, and
Pony Bob was sent to Idaho, to ride the company's express route of
one hundred miles, with one horse, from Queen's River to the Owyhee
River. He was at the former station when Major McDermott was killed
at the breaking out of the Modoc War.
On one of his rides he passed the remains of ninety Chinamen who had
been killed by the Indians, only one escaping to tell the tale.
Their bodies lay bleaching in the sun for a distance of more than
ten miles from the mouth of Ives Cañon to Crooked Creek. This was
Pony Bob's last experience as Pony Express rider. His successor,
Macaulas, was killed by the Indians on his first trip.
A few daredevil fellows generally did double duty and rode eighty or
eighty-five miles. One of them was Charles Cliff, now living in
Missouri, who rode from St. Joseph to Seneca and back on alternate
days. He was attacked by Indians at Scott's Bluff, receiving three
balls in his body and twenty-seven in his clothes. He made Seneca
and back in eight hours each way.
James Moore, the first post-trader at Sidney, Nebraska, made a ride
which may well lay claim to be one of the most remarkable on record.
He was at Midway Station, in Western Nebraska, on June 8, 1860, when
a very important government despatch for the Pacific coast arrived.
Mounting his pony, he sped on to Julesburg, one hundred and forty
miles away, and he got every inch of speed out of his mounts.
At Julesburg he met another important government despatch for
Washington. The rider who should have carried the despatch east had
been killed the day before. After a rest of only seven minutes and
without eating a meal, Moore started for Midway, and he made the round
trip, two hundred and eighty miles, in fourteen hours and forty-six
minutes. The west-bound despatch reached Sacramento from St. Joseph
in eight days, nine hours, and forty minutes.
The authors of this book may be pardoned for the inevitable
introduction here of the part taken by one of them in this service.
Their old friend Colonel Majors, a well-known figure for many years
in frontier life, when speaking of “Billy” Cody, as he was called in
those days, says that while engaged in the express service, his route
lay between Red Buttes and Three Crossings, a distance of one
hundred and sixteen miles. It was a most dangerous, long, and lonely
trail, including the perilous crossing of the North Platte River,
which at that place was half a mile wide and, though generally shallow,
in some places reached a depth of twelve feet, a stream often much
swollen and very turbulent. An average of fifteen miles an hour had
to be made, including change of horses, detours for safety, and time
He passed through many a gauntlet of death in his flight from station
to station, bearing express matter that was of the greatest value.
Colonel Cody, in telling the story of his own experiences with the
Pony Express, says:—
The enterprise was just being started. The line was stocked
with horses and put into good running order. At Julesburg
I met Mr. George Chrisman, the leading wagon-master of
Russell, Majors, & Waddell, who had always been a good friend
to me. He had bought out “Old Jules,” and was then the owner
of Julesburg Ranch, and the agent of the Pony Express line.
He hired me at once as a Pony Express rider, but as I was so
young he thought I was not able to stand the fierce riding
which was required of the messengers. He knew, however, that
I had been raised in the saddle—that I felt more at home
there than in any other place—and as he saw that I was
confident that I could stand the racket, and could ride as far
and endure it as well as some of the old riders, he gave me
a short route of forty-five miles, with the stations fifteen
miles apart, and three changes of horses. I was fortunate in
getting well-broken animals, and being so light I easily made
my forty-five miles on my first trip out, and ever afterward.
As the warm days of summer approached I longed for the cool
air of the mountains; and to the mountains I determined to go.
When I returned to Leavenworth I met my old wagon-master and
friend, Lewis Simpson, who was fitting out a train at Atchison
and loading it with supplies for the Overland Stage Company,
of which Mr. Russell, my old employer, was one of the
proprietors. Simpson was going with this train to Fort Laramie
and points farther west.
“Come along with me, Billy,” said he, “I'll give you a good
lay-out. I want you with me.”
“I don't know that I would like to go as far west as that
again,” I replied, “but I do want to ride the Pony Express
once more; there's some life in that.”
“Yes, that's so; but it will soon shake the life out of you,”
said he. “However, if that's what you've got your mind set on,
you had better come to Atchison with me and see Mr. Russell,
who, I'm pretty certain, will give you a situation.”
I met Mr. Russell there and asked him for employment as a
Pony Express rider; he gave me a letter to Mr. Slade, who was
then the stage-agent for the division extending from Julesburg
to Rocky Ridge. Slade had his headquarters at Horseshoe
Station, thirty-six miles west of Fort Laramie, and I made the
trip thither in company with Simpson and his train.
Almost the first person I saw after dismounting from my horse
was Slade. I walked up to him and presented Mr. Russell's
letter, which he hastily opened and read. With a sweeping
glance of his eye he took my measure from head to foot, and
“My boy, you are too young for a Pony Express rider. It takes
men for that business.”
“I rode two months last year on Bill Trotter's division, sir,
and filled the bill then; and I think I am better able to ride
now,” said I.
“What! are you the boy that was riding there, and was called
the youngest rider on the road?”
“I am the same boy,” I replied, confident that everything was
now all right for me.
“I have heard of you before. You are a year or so older now,
and I think you can stand it. I'll give you a trial, anyhow,
and if you weaken you can come back to Horseshoe Station and
Thus ended our interview. The next day he assigned me to
duty on the road from Red Buttes on the North Platte to the
Three Crossings of the Sweetwater—a distance of seventy-six
miles—and I began riding at once. It was a long piece of
road, but I was equal to the undertaking; and soon afterward
had an opportunity to exhibit my power of endurance as a
Pony Express rider.
For some time matters progressed very smoothly, though I had
no idea that things would always continue so. I was well
aware that the portion of the trail to which I had been
assigned was not only the most desolate and lonely, but it
was more eagerly watched by the savages than elsewhere on the
Slade, the boss, whenever I arrived safely at the station,
and before I started out again, was always very earnest in
his suggestions to look out for my scalp.
“You know, Billy,” he would say, “I am satisfied yours will
not always be the peaceful route it has been with you so far.
Every time you come in I expect to hear that you have met
with some startling adventure that does not always fall to
the average express rider.”
I replied that I was always cautious, made detours whenever
I noticed anything suspicious. “You bet I look out for
number one.” The change soon came.
One day, when I galloped into Three Crossings, my home station,
I found that the rider who was expected to take the trip out
on my arrival, had gotten into a drunken row the night before
and had been killed. This left that division without a rider.
As it was very difficult to engage men for the service in that
uninhabited region, the superintendent requested me to make
the trip until another rider could be secured. The distance
to the next station, Rocky Ridge, was eighty-five miles and
through a very bad and dangerous country, but the emergency
was great and I concluded to try it. I therefore started
promptly from Three Crossings without more than a moment's
rest. I pushed on with the usual rapidity, entering every
relay station on time, and accomplished the round trip of
three hundred and twenty-two miles back to Red Buttes without
a single mishap and on time. This stands on the records as
being the longest Pony Express journey ever made.
A week after making this trip, and while passing over the
route again, I was jumped on by a band of Sioux Indians who
dashed out from a sand ravine nine miles west of Horse Creek.
They were armed with pistols, and gave me a close call with
several bullets, but it fortunately happened that I was
mounted on the fleetest horse belonging to the express company,
and one that was possessed of remarkable endurance. Being cut
off from retreat back to Horseshoe, I put spurs to my horse,
and lying flat on his back, kept straight for Sweetwater,
the next station, which I reached without accident, having
distanced my pursuers. Upon reaching that place, however,
I found a sorry condition of affairs, as the Indians had made
a raid on the station the morning of my adventure with them,
and after killing the stock-tender had driven off all the
horses, so that I was unable to get a remount. I therefore
continued on to Ploutz' Station—twelve miles farther—thus
making twenty-four miles straight run with one horse. I told
the people at Ploutz' what had happened at Sweetwater Bridge,
and went on and finished the trip without any further adventure.
About the middle of September the Indians became very
troublesome on the line of the stage-road along the Sweetwater.
Between Split Rock and Three Crossings they robbed a stage,
killed the driver and two passengers, and badly wounded
Lieutenant Flowers, the assistant division agent.
The redskinned thieves also drove off the stock from the
different stations, and were continually lying in wait for
the passing stages and Pony Express riders, so that we had to
take many desperate chances in running the gauntlet.
The Indians had now become so bad and had stolen so much stock
that it was decided to stop the Pony Express for at least six
weeks, and to run the stages only occasionally during that
period; in fact, it would have been impossible to continue
the enterprise much longer without restocking the line.
While we were thus all lying idle, a party was organized to
go out and search for stolen stock. This party was composed
of stage-drivers, express-riders, stock-tenders, and ranchmen
—forty of them all together—and they were well armed and
well mounted. They were mostly men who had undergone all
kinds of hardships and braved every danger, and they were
ready and anxious to “tackle” any number of Indians.
Wild Bill, who had been driving stage on the road and had
recently come down to our division, was elected captain of
the company. It was supposed that the stolen stock had been
taken to the head of the Powder River and vicinity, and the
party, of which I was a member, started out for that section
in high hopes of success.
Twenty miles out from Sweetwater Bridge, at the head of Horse
Creek, we found an Indian trail running north toward Powder
River, and we could see by the tracks that most of the horses
had been recently shod and were undoubtedly our stolen
stage-stock. Pushing rapidly forward, we followed this trail
to Powder River; thence down this stream to within about forty
miles of the spot where old Fort Reno now stands. Here the
trail took a more westerly course along the foot of the
mountains, leading eventually to Crazy Woman's Fork—
a tributary of Powder River. At this point we discovered that
the party whom we were trailing had been joined by another
band of Indians, and, judging from the fresh appearance of the
trail, the united body could not have left this spot more than
twenty-four hours before.
Being aware that we were now in the heart of the hostile
country and might at any moment find more Indians than we had
lost, we advanced with more caution than usual and kept a
sharp lookout. As we were approaching Clear Creek, another
tributary of Powder River, we discovered Indians on the
opposite side of the creek, some three miles distant; at least
we saw horses grazing, which was a sure sign that there were
The Indians, thinking themselves in comparative safety—never
before having been followed so far into their own country by
white men—had neglected to put out any scouts. They had no
idea that there were any white men in that part of the country.
We got the lay of their camp, and then held a council to
consider and mature a plan for capturing it. We knew full
well that the Indians would outnumber us at least three to one,
and perhaps more. Upon the advice and suggestion of Wild Bill,
it was finally decided that we should wait until it was nearly
dark, and then, after creeping as close to them as possible,
make a dash through their camp, open a general fire on them,
and then stampede the horses.
This plan, at the proper time, was very successfully executed.
The dash upon the enemy was a complete surprise to them.
They were so overcome with astonishment that they did not know
what to make of it. We could not have astounded them any more
had we dropped down into their camp from the clouds. They did
not recover from the surprise of this sudden charge until
after we had ridden pell-mell through their camp and got away
with our own horses as well as theirs. We at once circled the