There are three routes or wagon roads across the plains to Colorado-the Platte, or as it is usually designated, the "Northern Route;" the Arkansas or "Southern Route;" and the Smoky Hill or "Middle Route."
Of these routes the Smoky Hill is by far the most interesting, though not usually considered the safest, its course being directly through the favorite hunting-ground of several of the most warlike tribes of Indians on the plains. Disturb the game and you make the Indian "heap big mad," in which state he is not to be held accountable for any little indiscretion in which he may indulge. The Platte route has been established for a number of years. The traveler has many advantages by it not afforded over a newer route. It is longer, however, than the "Smoky," which is the most direct road to Denver yet laid out across the plains. A majority of the early pilgrims to Pike's Peak made use of this trail.
In 1865 a company was organized under the title of "The Butterfield Overland Dispatch," which at once undertook the establishment of an express and passenger line from Atchison, Kansas, to the city of Denver, a picturesque town near the base of the Rocky Mountains.
The Concord coach used for the convenience of passengers on the overland route is so arranged that nine persons may be crowded into it and seated. When so packed, and a journey of more than six hundred miles is to be undertaken, the passengers are said to be "accommodated." They certainly are "to circumstances." This packing may be avoided by securing a special coach, which can be done at a reasonable rate.
A party of four persons entirely innocent of any knowledge of the plains, or the inhabitants thereof, left Atchison at sunrise on the 17th of November, 1865. Their "outfit" (in the language of the plains this word signifies the conveyance, its contents, and the team) consisted of a Concord coach painted to a degree of redness that could not fail to attract the attentive consideration of the un-read men of the country into which four spanking steeds, driven by a Jehu who had never "upsot an outfit," were rapidly rattling us.
The "boot" and "shoe" of the coach contained a moderate quantity of necessary baggage and a comfortable supply of rations. Each of the party had provided himself with a Ballard rifle and a pair of navy revolvers, a pair of blankets, tobacco, a briar-wood pipe, and a stout sheath-knife such as is used by our men-of-wars-men.
One of th party had an assortment of beads, small mirrors, and a few books filled with brightly-colored pictures. These he fondly hoped to exchange with Indians for many bows and arrows, a few tomahawks, and a scalping-knife. another was prepared to pre-empt large tracts of land when he should discover a location entirely satisfactory to him. "A coal mine would be rather good," he remarked; "sell it to the Pacific Railroad people when they get their road out there." the price of hay, condition of stock (mules and horses, not Erie), and the progress made in the construction of stations, was the subject under consideration in the mind of the third, he being the Vice-President of the company over whose route we were traveling. The remaining member of the party-the writer hereof-was located on top of the coach in quest of such information as the Jehu might be willing to impart with reference to Indians, buffalo, antelope, and coyote.
Jehu divulged freely, the brass cap of a field-glass being mistaken by him for the top of an affair used to contain a something by means of which it is easy to see double-a whisky flask. "How far do you drive?" we inquired; to which he responded, "the drives is forty mile from home-station to home-station. Thar we changes drivers. Stock-stations be some twelve mile, and some fifteen. We'll get a hoss team next; then mules, till you get near Denver. Much good licker in the States?" eyes on the top of the glass. "Nips this morning? Like one myself!"
His effort at a joke was communicated to our friends inside the coach, and met with a prompt response in the form of a flask of goodly proportions. the production of this was imprudent; for the fact of its possession was communicated from driver to driver until the most energetic squeezing could not discover a wee drop more.
Smacking his lips and his whip at the same moment-tokens of his appreciation of the situation-our driver became once more communicative. "Deers your like to see this afternoon; buffalo to-morrow; an'Injuns! you bet you get enough of in two days from now if what the fellers say what's just come in is picters, an' they knows!"
Cheerful stories of the habits of the "gentle savage," and his method of showing contempt for his white brother, now followed. The contemplation of our chances for similar treatment did not present any very flattering prospect to our westward gaze.
We had by this time arrived at the first station out, a comfortable frame house of one story. At a little distance from it was a good stable, near which were great stacks of prairie hay. Evidences of thrift, too apparent to escape observation, pervaded the place. It was the Kansas home of a New England man. The land about it was a rolling prairie. The soil as rich as a garden.
"Yip! Yip!" from the driver announced his readiness to proceed, fresh stock having replaced the team with which we left Atchison. We were now fairly started on our journey. Long trains of "prairie schooners"-a name by which the plainsman designates the huge canvas-covered wagons used for the transportation of freight across this ocean of land-were passed so frequently as to become too familiar to occasion remark. The trains give a picturesque-ness to the plains that greatly enhances the journey across.
The wagons are generally doubled up-that is, the tongue of one wagon is passed beneath the body of the wagon next preceding it, and then securely lashed. Eight or ten yoke of oxen, under the lash of a "Bullwhacker," is the motive power furnished each double. This arrangement enables the wagon-master to handle his train with a smaller number of men than would be possible if each wagon had its separate team. By the side of each wagon hangs a musket or rifle, ready at hand in case of need, either for Indians or buffalo. Over the tops of the wagons are thrown the red blankets used by the teamsters for cover at night.
Beside the first yoke of oxen trudges the character of the plains-a Bullwhacker. Usually he is a well built man, bronzed by constant exposure to the weather; his hirsute and unclean appearance indicating a cat-like aversion to water. He is more profane than the mate of a Mississippi River packet, and, we have his word for it, "ken drink more whiskey." Accompanying this assertion were seven of the most astounding oaths that ever fell on an ear used to the strong language with which the army teamster encourages his mules. The Bullwhacker's oaths and his whip are both the largest known. The handle of the ordinary whip is not more than three feet in length; the lash, of braided rawhide, is seldom less than twenty feet long. From the staff the lash swells gradually for five or six feet, when it reaches a size of at least ten inches in circumference; from this point ("belly" is the term used here) it tapers to within a foot of the end, which is formed of a ribbon shaped thong. With this persuader the cattle travel eighteen or twenty miles a day. A lazy ox occasionally receives a reminder, in the shape of a whack on the flank, that causes him to double up as if seared with a red-hot iron. the blow is invariably accompanied by a volley of oaths that seems to startle the whole team into a more rapid pace.
General Sherman tells a story in defense of the extremely profane mule-drivers who kept his trains so well closed up during the long marches of the army under his command. It is to this effect: One of the members of a freighting firm in St. Louis desired to discourage the continual blasphemy of the Bullwhackers in their employ. Orders were accordingly issued to their train-masters to discharge any man that should curse the cattle. The wagon-masters were selected more for their piety than for any extensive knowledge of their duties in the handling of trains. The outfit had not proceeded more than a hundred and fifty miles before it was stuck fast. A messenger was dispatched to the firm with the information that the cattle would not pull a pound unless they were cussed as usual. Permission to do this was requested and granted, after which the train proceeded to Salt Lake, to which place good time was made.
The accuracy with which the Bullwhacker throws his lash is astonishing. A favorite pastime among them is the cutting of coin from the top of a stake thrust loosely into the earth. If the coin is knocked off without disturbing the stake it is forfeit; if the stake is disturbed the thrower of the lash loses the value of the coin. A Bullwhacker, noted for the accuracy with which he threw his lash, bet a comrade a pint of whisky that he could cut the seat of his pantaloons without touching the skin beneath. The bet was accepted. The blow delivered at the stooping form of the acceptor of the wager, who is said to have executed the tallest jump on record, at the sight of which the thrower of the lash remarked, "Thunder! I've lost the whisky!" The other party was minus a strip of skin as well as a large fragment of breeches.
The depredations committed on the stores with which the wagons are loaded are often very heavy, especially when wines or liquors form a portion of the freight. It is difficult to imagine a more perfect pandemonium than a corraled train presents at such a time. The value of the articles thus disposed of is deducted from the wages of the wagon-masters as well as the Bullwhackers.
Just at nightfall we arrived at the St. Mary's Mission-the Pottawatomie Reservation. Supper was provided for us in a room, the walls of which were hung with white-washed canvas. Although we did not leave the settlements until the following evening the supper at St. Mary's was the last meal that we could regard as civilized.
The first night in a stage-coach is undoubtably the most uncomfortable. As soon as night falls passengers evince a desire to make a noise. Conversation quickly gives place to song. This night our songs were of home, and our wandering thoughts annihilated the long miles between our rumbling coach and the bright firesides on the Atlantic coast. The drowsy god soon spread his wings among us, knocking the pollen of the poppy into our eyes to an extent that caused a general remark of bedtime. What a misnomer under the circumstances!
Sleeping in a stage-coach is not the most desirable method of passing the night, although it is far preferable to the deep mud of the battleground in which we have slept soundly more than one night. Campaign life certainly educates a person in the art of sleeping, and assists a quick selection of the best location for blankets. The "shoe" of the coach was not available owing to the quantity of baggage stowed therein. The top presented a prospect for longitudination if an arrangement could be projected to prevent being rolled off. That such a desirable fact was established may be known by the statement that the present writer slept on the top of the coach during the rest of the trip while traveling at night. The rest of the party disposed themselves as best they could inside, and complained of cramps.
The second day was almost without incident. We were traveling through a rolling country entirely destitute of wood. The grass, though snow has fallen and dispappeared, was still high, and in some places almost green. Droves of black-tailed deer were seen occasionally; but none near enough for a shot until late in the afternoon, when one of the party succeeded in bringing down a fine buck, whose saddle was quickly pitched into the shoe with the remark that we should have venison for supper.
At evening we passed Fort Ellsworth. By sunrise we were in Buffalo Country. The grass was no longer high, But short and thick as closely-shaven sod; tracks of innumerable herds were visible every where. A net-work of trails and paths seemed to cover the plain as far as the eye could reach. "Buffalo chips" were scattered in all directions. What better sign could we have of the presence of game? Who was to kill the first buffalo was now the topic. Each was certain of the first if he could only get a shot.
The "Yip! yip!" of the driver sounded wilder as we came to the next station. We were in the Indian country, and half fancied that a yell of such unearthliness could only have been learned from a native whose best garments consisted of the brightest paint. The station was yet to be built. At present a cave dug in the side of a hill, near the sink-hole from which water is obtained for stock, served for the two stock-herders who were content to abide therein for twelve dollars per month. The mules that were to be our next steeds grazed unpicketed at a short distance from the station.
While the stock was being driven up we set to work to prepare breakfast. One of us went to request a little wood from the stock-herder. The demand was met by a prolonged W-h-a-t! that conveyed extreme surprise. "Want to make a fire, eh? Get chips then."
A glance at the fire smoldering near solved the mystery. Buffalo "chips" were the substitute for wood. So, comprehending the situation, our chip-gatherer, bag in hand, departed to secure the necessary material with which to build our fire.
I am not Professor Blot; but yet consider myself a cook of no mean order. There is not a section of the country in which I have not hunted or fished, making use of the best means at hand to cook the game thus secured. This experience entitles me to consideration when I affirm that there is no better broiling fuel than a perfectly dry "buffalo chip."
That a doubt arose, as the smoke curled up from the newly-lighted pile, as to the judiciousness of depositing a juicy venison steak on those coals, it is useless to deny. the appearance of a bright red coal with an ash of almost snowy whiteness soon became apparent. The steak was quickly deposited on the fire, notwithstanding the expostulations of the chip-gatherer, who would have found a gridiron if such an article had formed a portion of the culinary furniture of the stock-herders cave.
The air of the plains is a wonderful appetizer. A cup of good coffee, steaming hot, is a good foundation. Venison steak, baked potatoes, and a hot corn-dodger composed the bill of fare. This disposed of, the pre-emptor of wild land proceeded to remove the dishes, the Vice-President to arrange the blankets and other contents within the coach, and thus our experience in the buffalo country was commenced.
The generally-accepted idea is that the plains, like the prairies, are perfectly flat, unbroken stretches of land. This is not the fact. They are rolling, and broken by innumerable gullies or cañons, through which the flood poured by the great rain-storms escapes to the creeks or, as they are dignified, rivers. Traversing ground of this character it is frequently possible to approach game that would have taken fright some time before you were sufficiently near for a shot had the ground been as level as the prairie.
Thus it was with the buffalo. We had seen them in the distance for some hours, but always too far away for our purpose, as we could not leave the coach to make any very considerable detour. Suddenly we came within sight of a considerable herd but a short distance from the road in advance of us. The coach was stopped at once, and by careful approach through cañons, the party reached a point within easy rifle-range. A fusillade was opened on the nearest of the herd, a huge bull, who, as the bullets hit him, expressed his contempt by a twist of the tail or shrug of the back. The number of leaden pills was too considerable for his thick hide and robust constitution. Down he came with a vigorous bellow as his death-song. The tongue, tenderloin, and a portion of the hump was quickly cut out, and the rest of the carcass left for the consideration of the coyotes that follow each herd of buffalo. Experience is, in buffalo-hunting as in many other things, the best teacher. We soon learned that a buffalo may be shot down by driving a bullet through the flank just under the back-bone; once down he is easy game.
During the first day in the Indian country we saw thousands of buffalo, and for days they were continually in sight. To estimate their number would be impossible. It is said that they are rapidly decreasing in number, but that would seem impossible. The herds move in regular order, the cows and calves occupying the centre, and the bulls ranging themselves on the outside. In this way the wolves are kept off. But the coyote is patient; he lives in hope, if he has an empty stomach. He watches continually near the herd, keeping a respectful distance from it, however. A sick or wounded buffalo leaves the herd, or is left behind in its movement. The coyotes are about him in a moment, all prepared to do full justice to his juicy meat. But the gray wolf does not permit this; he is the largest, and insists on the first seat. His appetite satisfied, he retires, and permits the coyotes to pick the bones. By this time a number are collected to join the feast; ravens are hovering over the spot, swooping occasionally to seize some fragment. Like an Irish wake, this feast invariably ends in a fight, in which the coyotes alone participate. The size of the gray wolf seems to protect him as he sits admiringly gazing at the row.
As soon as a bull becomes old he is driven out by the younger males, and not again permitted to join it. These old fellows may be seen wandering over the plains singly, though occasionally four or five will herd together, seemingly to protect themselves from the coyotes, that are now become persistent and familiar in their attentions. They are evidently in haste to attend a feast that will be certain to occur at the funeral of the aged bull.
The plains are dotted with circular cavities of ten or twelve feet in diameter, known as "wallows." To these the buffalo resorts to roll, covering himself with a coat of moist earth, that he seems perfectly aware will discommode the lively inhabitants of his shaggy coat.
During the afternoon we reached Fort Fletcher, a newly-established government post, garrisoned by a force of three hundred men, under the command of Colonel Tamblyn. The fort is so in name alone, as the work is yet to be built. A cotton-wood grove, had been selected as a camp-ground, which was not only picturesque but comfortable.
From the Colonel we learned that the Indians were not troublesome-that is, they had not committed any outrages for a few days past. This was encouraging, and we continued our journey, congratulating each other on the prospect of meeting "friendly" Indians. We were not then aware that fifty miles in advance of us these very "friendly" persons were at the moment engaged in the neighborly employment of roasting two poor fellows who had fallen into their hands. An Indian, like a rattlesnake, may be trusted only when his fangs are removed; otherwise it is well to give him a wide berth, or be prepared to kill him on sight.
At sunset we arrived at Ruthden Station, 22 miles distant from Fort Fletcher, where a cave similar to the one previously described served as an abode for the stock-tenders and made the station. A small train was camped here, water being plenty and the grazing good. Much of the waters on the plains is so strongly impregnated with alkali that the grass and weeds on the brink of the sink-hole containing the water are covered with a frosting coat. The water is said to be healthy, however, after it has been used for a sufficient length of time to accustom the system to it. Any way, fair coffee can be made with it. Sunset this evening was the most gorgeous that we ever witnessed. The western skies were gold, then crimson, with the brightest of golden ripples threading through. As they purpled with the twilight the crimson became fire. The splendor of color was dazzling. Boasters of the glory of Italian sunset, see through the pure air of this wonderful country the choice colors spread at sunset in the skies of our Western plains, and you will convince yourselves that not until that moment have you seen old Sol retire in his imperial robes.
At Ruthden a discovery was made by one of the party. The stock-tenders were using roots to wash with. The root of the soap-weed, or amola, as it is commonly designated, is an excellent substitute for soap. For washing woolens it is particularly valuable, as it cleanses without shrinking them. We will advertise it. "No family should be without it," unless there are boys growing up, when the shrinking of a flannel shirt causes its regular descent from father to son, and so down to the two-year old, for whom it is a good fit after a few months experience of the modern improvements-hot and cold water.
Our repast of buffalo steak and et ceteras disposed of, we started off on our journey. As the darkness settled about us a feeling pervade the party that all was not right. Conversation turned upon Indians. We heartily wished that it was morning. Shortly after midnight the coach stopped. "Turn out!" shouted the driver-"Indians!"
We were off the coach in a moment. A small body of men were visible advancing toward us through the darkness. Revolvers in hand, one of the party started toward the strangers, who were discovered to be white men. From them we learned that the coach preceeding ours had been attacked by Indians, from whom, after a desparate struggle, these men had escaped. The men were perishing with cold, and were out of ammunition. The Indians were in strong force, and evidently intent on their work of murder and destruction. All things considered, it was determined to return to Ruthden and dispatch a messenger to Colonel Tamblyn asking for an escort. The coach was turned about, the newcomers having been made as comfortable in it as possible.
"More haste the less speed" was our fortune. In crossing a gully the king-bolt was displaced, making it necessary to unload the coach before it could be rearranged; while this was being done our chip-gatherer started off to find a rail. As there were none within a hundred miles he returned without it, but remarked that the coyotes were thick out in that section: from the noise that they were making he was evidently correct. The coach was repaired, and we proceeded on our return, during which we learned the story of our new passengers.
The coach had arrived at Downer's Station about two o'clock in the afternoon, one passenger, the messenger, and the driver being the occupants. At the station they found two stock-tenders, two carpenters, and a negro blacksmith. The mules were unharnessed and turned loose, when a band of mounted Indians charged, whooping among them; the men retreated to the cave, or "adobe," as they designate it. Indians came from all directions, and completely surrounded the adobe, the occupants of which prepared to fight. An Indian will never fight until he has obtained every possible advantage; then he makes a rush. A half-breed son of Bill Bent, the old mountain man, was one of the leaders of the Indians; being able to speak English, he managed to call to the occupants of the adobe that he wanted to talk. This was assented to. He came up and inquired whether the treaty had been signed. He was informed that it had, to which he replied, "All right!" They would have peace if the occupants of the adobe would come out and shake hands, leaving their arms behind, and the Indians would do likewise. The men came out, and a general hand-shaking followed. The Indian is great at this; he will shake your hand all day and at nightfall will take your scalp. It is simply a way that he has of expressing his brotherly sentiments toward the white man.
The Indians still further deceived the party by driving up the mules that had been stampeded by them, telling the messenger that the coach should proceed without molestation. Such evidences of friendship disarmed the party of any suspicion of hostility, though the Indians were in full paint and without squaws. In a moment all was changed. The Indians turned upon the party-bows, arrows, and revolvers were produced, and a desperate attack at once inaugurated. The messenger, Fred Merwin, a very gallant young man, was killed instantly; others of the party were wounded, and the two stock-tenders captured. Mr. Perine, the passenger, the driver, carpenters, and blacksmith ran for the neighboring bluffs, which they succeeded in reaching. Taking possession of a buffalo wallow they fought until nightfall, when the Indians withdrew, and they made good their escape.
Mr. Perine gives a very interesting account of the fight from the wallow:
We had by this time reached Ruthden. Mr. Perine's narrative had made us particularly anxious to reach a point where we could have a chance of fighting without giving the Indians all the advantage. It was not yet daylight, but we made all arrangements for a fight if we should be attacked at dawn, as we fully expected. A messenger was dispatched to Colonel Tamblyn. The stock was picketed sufficiently near the corral of wagons to enable us to drive them into the circle. Our party were disposed at points sufficiently distant from the corral to give alarm in case of danger, and we were ready to fight Indians.
This day, the 20th of November, passed without incident. Buffalo were in sight on all sides, but we considered the risk too great in hunting them. The quantity of Buffalo skulls scattered about the plains near this place seems remarkable. The coyote and gray wolf abound near hear in greater numbers than we have before seen. At nightfall we discovered a welcome sight-soldiers marching toward us from the direction of the fort.
Very soon the Colonel rode up to us with a small escort of cavalry. A company of infantry soon followed and camped near us. For the time being our anxiety was relieved. The night passed quietly-that is, if we except some quarrels between the soldiers and coyotes that ventured into camp to dispute the possession of rations.
Governor Gilpin declares the coyote to be a sociable little fellow that serenades you all night, the gray wolf doing the baser portion of the musical performance. The Indian does not kill the coyote, as he regards him as his watch-dog. There is much truth in this, as the coyotes surround a camp at nightfall, and at nine or ten o'clock open a chorus that would indicate the presence of a thousand or more instead of twenty or thirty. Let any one approach the camp, however, and the music ceases. Then it is time to be on the qui vive and keep away from the fires.
On the morning of the 21st we left Ruthden, but moved slowly to enable the troops to keep pace with us. Chalk Bluffs, a picturesquely located station, we found deserted and burned. What strange convulsion caused this strange crag-like mass? It rises from the plains like a vast castle, fashioned by the most ancient of architects. A fine spring, the water of which is strongly impregnated with magnesia, is located here. We could find no trace of any fight at this place, and conclude that the herders have escaped or been carried off by the Indians.
In the afternoon we reached Downer's. The devastation here has been complete. The coach, and every thing that would burn about the station, was destroyed. The ground was everywhere tracked over by the unshod hoofs of the Indian ponies. We could not find a trace of the bodies of Merwin or the stock-tenders; neither could we account for their disappearance. Mr Perine, who had now become one of our party, was at a loss to know the reason, as he was confident that Merwin was killed at the first fire, and he very sagely concluded that men that underwent the torture inflicted on the stock-tenders were not likely to live but a very short time.
We break camp at daylight. A few miles from Downer's we found a body, or rather the remains of a man, evidently killed the night before. The wolves had stripped the bones of all flesh; face, hands, and feet alone were unmarked. As we came near the wolves withdrew. The scalp was gone, and a few arrows that still remained in the ribs marked the tribe to which the victim belonged-Cheyenne and Apache.
The buffalo were more numerous than usual: two fine ones were brought down. An antelope, too, formed a portion of our larder that evening. The meat of the antelope is as tender as venison tenderloin. There is a strange difference between the coat of the antelope and that of the deer. It is difficult to describe the substance fo which the coat of the antelope is composed. it does not seem to be hair, but a curiously brittle imitation that has the appearance of a vegetable fibre. Catch hold of it, and it leaves the skin by the handful.
The stations thus far had been deserted. We were unable, however, to discover any signs of Indian visitation. Wolves were abundant. The soldiers were arranging poison traps for them. Slices of buffalo meat, in which strychnine had been inserted, were placed upon small stakes set up a short distance from camp, seemed to be the favorite method; but one old soldier had taken a quantity of marrow and mixed strychnine with it. This he was rubbing into a number of auger-holes in a board made for the purpose. The deadliness of the poison may be imagined by the fact that on the following morning he found four dead wolves within ten feet of his trap.
At noon the next day we reached a station where we found a Government train corraled. The Indians had attacked the train and driven off a number of the mules. One soldier had been killed, and another shot through the neck with an arrow and scalped, having feigned dead while the Indians were engaged in "lifting his hair." His wounds were not considered serious, but the doctor says that he will have a bald spot on the top of his head. A coach was here on its way east.
The mysterious disappearance of the bodies of Fred Merwin and the two stock-tenders was accounted for. The train corraled here, passed Downer's the morning following the massacre, and buried the bodies, beating down the grave to prevent resurrection by wolves. Here Colonel Tamblyn left us, considering it safe for the coach to proceed with an escort of five cavalrymen.
One of our party returned with the Colonel to convey the body of his late friend Merwin to the States. We afterword learned that he reached the States in safety after three different fights with Indians, in which, with his Ballard rifle he took no mean part.
"The Monuments" were reached this evening; near them is a camp of more than two hundred soldiers. A fort is to be built, also a station. These Monument Rocks are considered the most remarkable on the plains; at a distance it is difficult to realize that they are not the handiwork of man, so perfectly do they resemble piles of masonry.
The wind that night was terrific. Two tents were blown away, and a wagon that was not brought into the corral overturned. The mules stood with their backs to the blast, that caused their hair to stand out like fur.
The air of the plains is glorious, pure, and dry-consumption is not known. There is no odor to a dead body, as it does not decay but simply dries up. Men of fair education and some property may be found driving coaches. They have left the Atlantic coast, given up by physicians as in the last stage of consumption-a fact that would never be mistrusted from their present robust condition. There seems to be a strange fascination in stage-driving. Though it is one of the most toilsome of lives, a man once located on the box of a coach seldom or never leaves it for any other employment.
We left Monument early on the morning of the 25th to continue our journey. A ambulance, containing a surgeon and four men, accompanied us as well as the escort of five cavalrymen. The next station was twenty-two miles distant. Our road lay over a picturesque country in which buffalo and antelope were more than abundant. The antelope ont the distant slopes remined one of vast flocks of sheep.
By eleven o'clock the driver pointed out the station. "Thar's Smoky Hill Springs-purty place, ain't it?" When within half a mile the ambulance left us, taking a short cut to the road on the other side of the station, which was located for convenience to water at some distance from the direct route. The cavalrymen galloped on to the station, which they reached, while we were some distance from it.
When within two hundred yards of the adobe we glanced back to see the country over which we had passed, and discovered, within sixty yards of the coach, a band of nearly a hundred mounted Indians, charging directly toward us. The sight, frightful as it was, seemed grand. "Here they come!" and the crack of a rifle was responded to by a yell, followed by the singing whiz of arrows and the whistle of revolver bullets. The first shot dropped an Indian. Next a pony stopped, trembled, and fell. The driver crouched as the arrows passed over him, and drove his mules steadily on toward the station. The deadly fire poured from the coach-windows kept a majority of the Indians behind the coach. Some, however, braver than the rest, rushed past on their ponies, sending a perfect stream of arrows into the coach as they sped along. We were by this time in front of the station. The cavalrymen opened with their revolvers, and the Indians changed their tactics from close fighting to a circle. One, more daring than the rest, was intent on securing the scalp of a stock-herder whom he had wounded. He lost his own in so doing.
The first brush was over. A dash was made to secure the body of the fallen brave, but given up as soon as it was evident that he had lost the top of his head. Indians have strange ideas with reference to a scalp. The body of a scalped brave is neglected; he can not enter the happy hunting ground with a bare head, so no trouble is taken to bury him. The ravens and coyotes save the trouble. Plainsmen tell you that "coyote wil not eat Indian." This we do not believe.
From the adobe we discovered a sight that was not to be looked at quietly. The four mules attached to the doctor's ambulance were flying across the plains at a dead run. Indians enveloped the ambulance like a swarm of angry hornets. The men in the ambulance were fighting bravely, but the Indians outnumbered them ten to one. If rescue was to be attempted there was not a moment to lose. The five cavalrymen were sent off at a gallop. Seeing them, the men in the ambulance jumped out and ran through the Indians toward them, rightly conjecturing that the Indians would secure the ambulance before turning to attack them.
It was a plucky thing to do, but the doctor determined that it was their only chance. The Indians caught the mules, then turned to look for scalps, which they supposed were to be had for the taking. The doctor and his men were giving them a lively fight when we came up. The value of a well-sighted and balanced rifle was soon evident. With every crack a pony or an Indian came to earth. This fire was evidently unendurable, and the circle quickly increased in diameter, when, with the rescured men mounted behind, we slowly moved toward the station, before reaching which two more dashes were repulsed.
The strain on the nervous system of the rescued men must have been intense. As we reached the station one of them broke down completely and sobbed like a child. The doctor was one of the gamest of little men. "Ah!" quoth he, as he gazed through the glass at the crowd of Indians about the ambulance, "I put the contents of the tartar emetic can into the flour before I left the ambulance, and if that does not disorder their stomachs I won't say any thing-I wish that it had been strychnine!"
A redskin had mounted each of the mules, and as many Indians as the vehicle would contain had locted themselves in the ambulance for a ride. The cover had been torn off, as it probably impeded their view. Becoming tired of this they detached the mules, unloaded the ambulance, and drew it to a point which afforded us the best view of their performance; when, greatly to the indignation of the doctor, they crowned their disrespect for him and his carriage by setting fire to what he declared to be the best ambulance on the plains.
The Indians now engaged in a successful dance about the burning ambulance, during the continuance of which a survey was made of our situation.
The station had been furnished with a garrison of ten soldiers. five of these, with the best arms and most of the ammunition, had started early in the morning on a buffalo hunt. We had altogether twenty-one men, armed with seven rifles and thirteen revolvers. For four of the rifles and five of the revolvers we had an abundance of ammunition, which it was not possible to use on the other arms, for which there was but a scant supply. The adobe was well located for defense, and surrounded by a well-constructed rifle-pit. To attack the Indian was not prudent, although all were anxious to do so. We could count in the circle about us one hundred and five, many more being visible on the bluffs near.
A new style of fighting was now inaugurated by the Indians. The bluff in which the adobe was located was covered with tall dry grass. This was in flames before we were aware of a fire other than that about the ambulance. Each man seized his blanket and started out to meet the fire, which was nearly subdued, when a sudden attack was made by the Indians on all sides. For a few moments it was a doubtful contest. The Indians were at last driven back and the fire extinguished. Several of our men were suffering with arrow wounds, none of them severe, fortunately; but all needed attention. If poisoned arrows had been used our loss would have been serious.
The arrows used were about three feet in length, and supplied with an iron head two inches long. Poisoned arrows are made very differently from the arrow ordinarily used. A rattlesnake is caught and pinned. He is made angry by being poked with sticks, when a piece of deer liver is held toward him on the end of a stick. Into this he strikes his fangs. The liver is then withdrawn, and a piece of dog-wood about four inches long, carefully sharpened, is thrust into the incision made by the fangs. The stick is permitted to dry for a short time, when it is dipped into a glutinous solution, which, drying, hermetically seals the poison, which would otherwise decompose. This piece of dog-wood is used as the head of the arrow. To be wounded with such an arrow is almost certain death.
The buffalo, or hunting arrow, is made differently from the war arrow. The notch in which the string of the bow fits is cut differently, and the head of the arrow is fastened on much more firmly. The Indian desires that the head of the war arrow shall detach itself from the staff as soon as it enters the body of an enemy. It is not a rare thing to meet on the plains men who have heads of Indian arrows buried in their bodies, the wound having healed.
At nighfall the Indians withdrew. But this was not a subject for congratulation, for we expected them back during the night. The anticipation was not erroneous. Three hours of darkness had passed, when a rustling whiz cut the air over our heads. The sharp twang of the bow-string informed us that the Indians were very near. Arrows came in flights. The Indians were within close revolver range; but a shot from a pistol or rifle would have exposed the person firing, as the flash would reveal his precise location. So many arrows could not be fired among our small party without inflicting serious damage.
That something must be done to drive off the Indians was plain. One of the party, an old hunter, volunteered to stampede the Indians if he might be permitted to take four revolvers. If he failed, the revolvers would be lost, which loss would severely cripple the party. Still, it was the last resort. Divesting himself of garments, with the exception of under-clothing, he crawled out into the darkenss toward the spot from which the twang of bow-strings came the most frequently. In five minutes the repeated crack of his revolvers and the yells of the Indians told of the successful issue of the bold effort. The bows were still, and in another moment our Indian fighter returned to the adobe to receive the heart-felt thanks of the garrison.
The remainder of the night was passed in quiet. Sleep was impossible, and dawn found the party on the alert for another attack. Mid-day and dawn are the favorite times of Indians for an attack. It was well for us tht we were ready; for the Indians had crawled up as closely as possible, evidently intending to rush upon us if there seemed any chance for success. A single rifle-shot seemed to satisfy them, as they withdrew in haste, with the exception of one. His scalp locks were "saved."
Toward noon a body of men were seen aproaching from the east. If they were Indians we were "gone." If white men, the danger might be said to be over. The Indians observed them as quickly as we, and a band of twenty or thirty started off to reconnoitre. We watched the result anxiously, riding up toward the new-comers. The Indians wheeled about and returned to our vicinity. A moment more and the whole band were galloping off out of sight over the bluffs. Then we knew that the strangers were white men. They were a company of infantry in wagons, who, together with a small cavalry command, were coming to bury us. The Monuments had been attacked the day previous, and a number of stock driven off. We afterward learned that a general attack had been made along the entire line of two hundred and fifty miles. The stage company lost eight men and nearly two hundred mules; the Government lost several men and a hundred animals; the Indians committing the outrage being at the time on the way to Fort Zarah to secure the presents stipulated for in the late treaty.
We had come to the discovery that it was not "Lo, the poor Indian!" but Lo, the poor white! Cooper might have his Indians; we did not care for their company. It is useless to make treaties with the Indians, put them on a "Reservation," build them comfortable houses, and endeavor to make them comfortable. It is perfectly useless, as they regard this as an evidence that the white man is afraid of them. They are right. He most undoubtedly is, and will suffer loss of property and bodily injury to avoid any conflict.
It is, to be sure, a hard thing to say, but there is safety in extermination alone, and this can be effected only during the early spring, when the Indians are in their villages. The grass is then too scanty to keep their ponies up for use on the war-path. At this time the Indian is friendly. Grass comes again; he has fooled the white man, and is again on the war-path. Each year more white men lose their lives on these plains than Indians. The Platte route is marked by a line of graves nearly three hundred miles long. The Arkansas is as bad, and the Smoky is fast becoming lined with the graves of a race of hardy pioneers that we can ill afford to lose.
We left the adobe at Smoky Hill Spring, and proceeded with a strong escort, and camped at night at Henshaw Springs, which we found deserted. The following evening we arrived at Pond Creek. During the day a great number of dog villages were passed, the little villagers squeaking out a salute as we passed.
Pond Creek is the most picturesque station on the route. The creek comes out of the plains near a fine cotton-wood grove, runs with considerable current for five or six miles, and sinks into the plains.
Among the branches of the cotton-wood trees are swung the remains of Indians encased in a basket-work of twigs. An engineer party is here purposing to start for Fort Lyon over a new route. The distance is thought to be seventy miles over a country destitute of water. Wood and water are the great necessities of the plains. Over dry stretches it is frequently necessary to transport water for a considerable distance, and fire-wood is frequently hauled to a post a distance of seventy-five or eighty miles. The soil can not be cultivated unless it is located convenient to water with which to irrigate it.
From Pond Creek the stage line had not been disturbed, and we traveled uninterruptedly to Denver, which place we reached on the 2d of December, after a trip of fifteen days across the plains from the Missouri River to the base of the Rocky Mountains.