Indian Life of the Plains
UPON the loss of our ranch (at Cimarron), Mr. Anthony and I thought we would take our chances again, and burn lime on the Buckner, or middle branch of the Pawnee, about thirty miles north of Fort Dodge.
We were well aware that the government could not furnish us with a guard. But the Indians were now supposed to be peaceable and not on the warpath. They had only captured a few trains, burnt a number of ranches, and murdered small parties of defenseless emigrants on the trail; still they were not considered at war. All the whites were forbidden to kill or molest an Indian in any manner, although it was perfectly legitimate for them to murder us.
Under such conditions we started to work to fill our public lime contracts; we were receiving big prices for it, however, comparable to the supposed risk, getting three or four dollars a bushel. Our positive instructions from the commandant at Fort Dodge were: "Under no circumstances, no matter how aggravated, you must not kill an Indian first; let them kill you; then it will be time enough to retaliate." Late one night, the quartermaster, Lieutenant Bassett, and his chief clerk rode into our camp, and told us that the Indians were killing everybody over in the Smoky Hill country. They had traveled all night, and laid by during the day, as they were unable to get any escort, all the troops being out in the field after savages.
They left for Fort Dodge early the next morning, warning us to take the utmost precaution against surprise and attack. After the departure of Lieutenant Bassett and his clerk, Jim Wrighting, an old wagon boss, and I started for a load of wood. We had to go about four miles down
the creek for it, but still in plain view of our camp. Suddenly we saw a dozen bucks, each with a led horse, rise over the top of the hill. The creek was between us, and we knew it was exceedingly boggy; it could only be crossed at certain places; if these places were missed, it would mire a saddle-blanket. I said to Jim: "What shall we do? There are some of the very lads who have been murdering the women and children over on the other river; shall we try to make it back to camp, or go right ahead, and pretend that we don't see them, or don't care for them if we do see them?" He replied: "We will take our chances, and go ahead. I hate to run, and have the boys laugh at us." "Here's with you," I answered.
We had only revolvers with us, and away they came lickety brindle. I thought: "Laddie bucks, you are tenderfeet, or young ones, or you would not come tearing down the hill that way. You don't know the creek like your forefathers, and if you keep at that gait, and don't tumble into a mire-pit up to your necks, never to get out again, then you can call me a horse thief. Then Jim W righting and I will go down and chop off your heads just even up with where the mire strikes them, as did Jack the Giant Killer." They left their led horses back on the hill with two guards, so they were free to ride at will. But when they arrived at the creek, they stopped short with a little jerk-up, and I think one or two of them-those in the lead-got a taste, and the others had to pull them out.
Now they began to slowly and carefully hunt a crossing, which was difficult to find. Then they tried other tactics; they rode along and commenced yelling and gesticulating, motioning for us to stop, but our eyesight was not very good in that direction, and then we lost them altogether. I said: "Jim, these fellows have given us up, or else have tumbled into one of these mire holes, and we will have a time chopping their heads off when we go back." Jim answered: "No, them 'ere fellows was born on the prairie, and is as true to instinct as a buzzard is to scent carrion.
They are sure to find a crossing, and be down on us in a holy minute, like a hawk on a chicken, and we are bound to have fun." You see I was beginning to get very ticklish myself-scared nearly to death-but did not want to let on for fear Jim would get scared too. I knew I must try to keep my courage up by keeping up his, and I said to him: "Jim, maybe they are only youngsters, and don't know how to shoot; they appear to be by the way they charged the creek." Jim replied:
"Youngsters! nothing; them is the worst kind." Said I: "Jim, perhaps they only want to pay us a friendly visit, and want us to go to camp with them and help eat their grub; what do you think?" Jim answered:
"More than likely they will take us into camp, but I will be at the taking." This was just what I wanted. Jim's metal had "riz," and I knew he was ready to fight a stack of bobtailed wildcats. As the savages reappeared, I turned to Jim and said: "Here they come." "I knowed it," he replied. "Don't waste any ammunition; we have got twelve loads apiece, and there are only eight of them." Four of their number had remained in the rear to guard the led horses, and the eight had only delayed to find a crossing; but they trimmed themselves up besides, to be ready for any emergency. Four of them now dashed ahead, two to the right of us and two to the left, making a detour wide enough to keep out of range of our pistols, which they could plainly see in our hands. Then the first four came in, while the others closed up behind. We kept right on, however, until they finally surrounded us, and we were obliged to stop. They held their six-shooters in front of them, but we had a decided advantage of them, for we were in a thick, heavy wagon box. They wanted to know where the main big camp of the Indians was. We told them that they had been camped at the Cimarron crossing, but the soldiers had got after them and they had gone south. Then we pointed out our tents-we had five of them and they made quite a respectable figure at a dis-
tance-and told them it was the soldiers' camp. They evidently did not believe us, for they went over to the camp, bound the cook securely, whom they found asleep (why they did not kill him is a mystery), cut open every valise and took several revolvers from our tenderfeet, who had left them in their grips instead of strapping them on their persons. They carried off all the ammunition they could find, all the horses, mules, ropes, and everything else that seized their fancy. Mr. Anthony and the remainder of our men were quarrying rock up in the bluffs, and had their rifles with them. These young bucks were certainly of those who had been concerned in the murder on the other river, for we noticed dry blood on their hands and clothing, and, as there was not an antelope or buffalo in the country then, it could not have been the blood of game in which they were ensanguined. They had evidently strayed away from the main band and were very anxious to find them, or get back south of the Arkansas River, where they were better acquainted with the country. They were a little out of their regular beat where they now found themselves, and that fact undoubtedly deterred them from committing further acts of deviltry.
I have seen with my glass from the lookout on top of my building at the ranch (Cimarron) two hundred or three hundred wagons and two thousand head of mules and oxen, all waiting for the river to go down, so that they could cross; and I have watched a band of Indians charge upon them like an avalanche, kill the poor, panicstricken Mexican drivers as easily and unmercifully as a bunch of hungry wolves would destroy a flock of sheep.
Then the savages would jump off their horses long enough to tear the reeking scalps from their victims' heads and dash away after fresh prey. They, of course, drove off many of the horses and cattle. Sometimes the owners would succeed in getting the majority of their stock into the corrals, and for days and weeks afterward the miser-
able mutiliated oxen would struggle back to the river for water, some with their tails cut off close, some with ears gone, some with great strips of hide stripped from their bodies, others with arrows sticking out of them, the cruel shafts sunk deep into their paunches half way up to the feathers. The Indians did not care anything for the cattle as long as there was plenty of buffalo; they mutilated the poor creatures to show their damnable meanness. The horses, of course, they valued.
Once, while a train of wagons was waiting to cross, three or four of them having already made the passage, leaving the Mexican drivers on this side with the wagons loaded with loose wool, a lot of Indians swooped down upon them. When the men saw the savages, the poor defenseless wretches made for their wagons and concealed themselves under the wool, but the Indians followed them in and killed the last one with an old camp ax belonging to the train, afterwards mutilating their bodies in their usual barbarous manner.
Satank was chief of the Kiowas when I first knew him, but was deposed because he ran away from camp and left the women and children. Satanta took his place. The Indians were camped in a large bottom called Cheyenne bottom, about eight miles north of old Fort Zarah, and the same distance from where the town of Great Bend now is. All of the bucks were out on a hunt, or on the warpath excepting Satank. The soldiers from Fort Larned suddenly surprised them in their camp, when Satank jumped on his pony and skipped. He certainly would have been killed or captured had he remained; so Satank, deeming discretion the better part of valor, lit out. His tribe, however, claims that it was his duty to have died at his post in defense of the women and children, as they had left him back for that purpose, to guard the camp.
Satanta was considered the worst Indian on the plains, and for a long time the most dreaded. He was
war-chief of the Kiowas. There were many stories afloat about his doings at Fort Dodge, some of which are true, others not. In 1866 a committee was sent from Washington to inquire into the causes of the continued warfare on the border, and what the grievances of the Indians were. Of course Satanta was sent for and asked to talk his mind freely. He was very pathetic. He had "no desire to kill the white people, but they ruthlessly killed off the buffalo, and let their carcasses rot on the prairie, while the Indian only killed from necessity. The whites had put out fires on the prairie and destroyed the grass, which caused their ponies to die of starvation, as well as the buffalo. They cut down and destroyed the timber and made large fires of it, while the Indian was satisfied to cook his 'chuck' with a few dry limbs. Only the other day," continued he, "I picked up a little switch in the road and it made my heart bleed to think that small limb so ruthlessly torn up and thoughtlessly destroyed by the white man would have in the course of time become a grand tree, for the use and benefit of my children and my grandchildren." After the powwow, and when he had a few drinks of red liquor in him, he showed his real nature, and said to the interpreter: "Now, didn't I give it to those white men in good style? The switch I saw in the road made my heart glad instead of sad, for I knew there was a tenderfoot ahead, because an old plainsman never would have anything but a quirt or a good pair of spurs. I said, 'Come on, boys; we have got him;' and we came in sight of him, pressing him closely on the dead run; he threw his gun away and held tight onto his hat, for fear he might lose it." Another time, when Satanta had remained at the fort for a long time and had worn out his welcome, so that no one would give him anything to drink, he went up to the quarters of his friend, Bill Bennett, the stage agent, and begged him for liquor. Bill was mixing a bottle of medicine to drench a sick mule, and the moment he set the
In the fall the Indians would come in, make a treaty, and draw rations, and break the treaty as soon as the grass was green in the spring. I have seen the Arkansas bottom for miles above and miles below Fort Dodge covered with Indians' tepees and ponies-thousands of the former and many thousands of the latter-the Indians all drawing rations, and the whole country full of game, black with buffalo and large bands of antelope, with deer on the islands and in the brush, and not a few elk in the breaks and rough country.
I think it was in 1867 our government got a very liberal streak, and sent the Indians thousands of sacks of flour, pantaloons in abundance, and a big lot of stiff-rim hats, bound around the edge with tin or German silver, to hold the rim in shape. They also sent them a few light-running ambulances. The savages, to show their appreciation of these magnanimous gifts from the "Great Father," threw the flour on the prairie in order to get the sacks for breech-clouts. They cut out the seats of the
pantaloons, as they said an Indian's posterior was too warm anyhow; they cut the crown off the hats and used them as playthings, shying them in the air like a white boy does a flat stone, to see them sail away. The ambulances they were very proud of. The government neglected to send any harness with them, so the Indians manufactured their own. They did not understand anything about lines, and, instead, they drove with a quirt or short whip; when the near horse would go too much gee, they whipped up the off horse, and when he would go too much haw, they pounded away at the near horse again, and vice versa, all the time. This unique manner of driving kept the poor animals in a dead run most of the time. I remember taking a ride with Little Raven, chief of the Arapahoes. At first we started off gently; but the ponies did not go straight, so he kept tapping them, now the off horse, then the near, until finally he got them on a rapid gallop, and I thought, at one time, that my head would surely pop up through the roof of the ambulance. The country was very level, fortunately, or I don't know what would have been the outcome.
In the fall of 1869 Mr. Anthony and I were filling a hay contract at Camp Supply. Our camp was about ten miles up the Beaver. One afternoon I started from Camp Supply for my own camp, after having partaken of an excellent dinner at the officers' mess. It was issuing day to the Indians; I think the first time that live beef was ever distributed to them. Several hundred big, wild Texas steers were turned over to them, but the Indians didn't care for the meat; they could always get plenty of buffalo, which they infinitely preferred, but they took great delight in the sport of killing them after their manner of hunting buffalo. They ran the frightened creatures on horseback, lanced them with their spears, and shot them full of arrows, until the last one was dead. The whole trail was strewn with dead steers, though scarcely one of them was touched for food. Occasionally I would
notice one whose skin was covered with pretty white spots, and this fact having struck the savage fancy, they had peeled off the most beautiful of them to make quivers for their arrows.
As I was approaching my camp, yet some two miles distant, a large, fat Indian rode out of the brush on a peculiar piebald pony, and by signs indicated to me that he wanted to swap. I asked if he meant that pony; he answered, "Not my pony." "What is it, then?" said I. He tried hard to make me understand, but I could not talk. He finally motioned for me to ride into the brush, but I said: "Here, old fellow, none of your tricks; I don't want any squaws." He said: "No squaw," so I rode in, and saw a fine dog with his hindquarters gone. I said to him: "You go to hell, what do you take me for?" He replied: "You're a fool; you don't know what is good." I answered him: "Eat it yourself, if you think it is so nice." He then said he had just traded the saddle to some white folks, and wanted to trade me the other part. The skin was still hanging on, attached to the body of the dog where he had stripped it from the saddle, but I looked at him in disgust and rode off.
When I arrived at my camp Mr. Anthony and the boys were eating supper. I threw my bridle-reins over the front standard of a wagon and walked up to the fire where they were eating. They said to me, "Come and get some supper." I told them no; I had partaken of a hearty dinner at the officers' mess just before I left Supply. Anthony said: "You better have some; I bought the saddle of an antelope from an indian this afternoon; it's the sweetest and juiciest meat I ever tasted. So did all the men urge me to try it. Indeed, they were lavish in the praise of their antelope meat. I said: "Are you sure that is antelope meat? Antelope are very scarce; I haven't seen one for a long time." They were certain it was antelope; it tasted like antelope; they knew it was antelope, and remarked it was a good one. After they had finished
with a lot of other chiefs. It is so much like the wants of Indians who visited Fort Dodge in early days, that I can't help relating it here.
"We want our provisions sent to the agencies that I have mentioned. You told us your nation increases; we want to increase, too, in prosperity and in numbers. You said you wished us to be like white men, and so we are here today, dressed in white men's clothes. I want the kind of cattle the white men have, short horns. I want everything in writing, before I go home, so there be no mistake. We want teachers of English; we want Catholic priests to teach us. We should like saw mills and grist mills and agricultural instruments and seeds. We want five or six stores; then we could buy cheaper from one than at another. I am very well dressed and so are the others. They want forty dollars apiece to buy things for their women and children, and they would like to have a trunk apiece to carry their clothing in. As the weather is getting a little cold, we should like to have an overcoat apiece. We see you wearing overcoats, and we should like to have them." Some of them, who came to Fort Dodge to state their grievances, wanted more than these. They wanted even the earth and it fenced in.
Continual danger from the Indians made the pioneers of early days continually apprehensiv~ of Indian attack and continually on their guard against surprise, and keenly watchful when any suspicious move on the part of the Indians was observed. Naturally, this caution and watchfulness were, at times, somewhat overdone, Indian alarms sometimes proving groundless, and precautions, against seemingly threatened outbreak, proving needless, or even laughable. In the fall of 1874 I went to Texas, and when I came home I found my partner, Mr. H. L. Sitler, who was interested with me in a government hay contract, laid up with a bad flesh wound he had received in a fight with
the Indians only the day before, and the men in camp thirty miles west of Fort Dodge badly demoralized, as the Indians had jumped them a time or two very recently.
I mounted a good horse, taking with me a fine rifle and two revolvers, and started for camp, where I
arrived about sundown that night. I had a long talk with the boss, and I promised to stay right with them, which promise and my cheering conversation soon placed them in good humor, and they declared their intention to keep on at work. In the night there came on one of our late, cold, misty, drizzling rains. The tent was leaky and the next morning we all got up feeling wet and generally miserable. The storm looked as if it had set in for the week.
Of course, I did not want to remain there, but the only compromise, after my promise of the evening before, was to leave with the boss my fine rifle, as well as my horse, and ride back in its place an old, wornout one. I thought that anything was better than staying there; so I exchanged horses, left my rifle, and started for Fort Dodge.
The misty rain was constantly beating in my face, so that it almost blinded me. I left the main road and took the trail, or near cut-off, around by the river, and when I got about ten miles from camp, and at nearly the place where Mr. Sitler was shot, up jumped, as I thought, a lot of Indians, yelling and shouting. They seemed to be traveling in Indian file, one right behind the other, as I had often seen them. Thinks I to myself, I will just fool you; I will make a long detour around the hollow and come back into the trail about two miles below here, and you fellows are trying to cut me off. When I don't come out below, as you expect me to do, you will go over to the main road and watch there. So I carried out my plan and came back to the place two miles below, but they were again running and yelling ahead of me, it seemed, worse than before. I tried again, with the same result. Then I went out to the main road, chose my position, and waited for their coming, intending to shoot my old horse
and then lie behind him. How many times I wished I had not left my good horse in camp, as I could easily have run away from the Indians; and I further cursed my luck that I was so foolish as to give up my rifle also.
After waiting and waiting in the rain, until I was completely soaked and tired out, expecting them to be on me every minute, I thought I would go back to the trail along the rough breaks by the river and take my chances.
When I got back the last time, up they jumped again; but the wind and rain had let up a little and I saw what I had taken for Indians was nothing but a flock of blue cranes. You see the wind and rain were so blinding one of those awfully cold, misty storms-that when I approached the river the birds would rise and merely skim along through the willows, one after another, and so I kept chasing them down stream a mile or more every time I scared them up; but they scared me worse than I scared the1p.; they chased me back to the main road nearly frightened to death. We had many a hearty laugh over my fright from the cranes.
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