American History

I’m offering personalized copies of my latest book for Christmas!

 

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

For the holidays, I’m offering autographed copies of The Shenandoah Sharpshooter.

A great gift for the history buff or bookworm in your life – or a gift to yourself.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000446_00067]

Read the first chapter of The Shenandoah Sharpshooter HERE.


 

 

 

While the Civil War burns around him, a young man fights a battle of his own.

It is strange how a man’s best-made plans can change. Stephen Purcell’s quiet, happy life changed in an instant of violence. Then he found himself on the run. But before he left the war-torn Shenandoah Valley, Purcell vowed to kill the man who changed it all . . . an evil man named Striker.With the best horse in the valley underneath him, Purcell headed west with only a knife and a sack of potatoes. The buckskin jacket he wore was the only reminder of his loved ones that were so horrifically taken from him. Early in his journey, Purcell’s promise to a dying soldier gave him a weapon, a mission and some battle scars.

To save himself and his horse, Purcell hid in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He did not know how he would do it, but he would kill Striker. Along Purcell’s travels, his will would be tested, his life would be challenged, he would learn to trust again, and even find love. His knowledge of the telegraph became a valuable help to new friends and a crucial turning point for the Union army.

A boy becomes a man on a hard road through Confederate lines. Will Purcell’s path lead to destiny or blood? Discover what becomes of the man who finds himself known across the valley as a hardened shootist – a force to be reckoned with – the man they call The Shenandoah Sharpshooter.

Categories: American History, antique guns, Book, Civil War, guns, History | Tags: | Leave a comment

The Desperado’s Hidden Gun

1869 Smith and Wesson

Pond .32 Caliber Revolver

 

Manufactured by Lucius W. Pond – Worcester, Massachusetts.  This is a single action belt or pocket revolver made from 1861 to 1870.  It is a .32 caliber, six shot, rim fire cartridge gun.  Pond infringed on a patent owned by Smith and Wesson and lost a lawsuit over it.  He was forced to stamp on the barrels of the remaining inventory of pistols: “Manufactured for Smith and Wesson pat’s April 5, 1855.”  This gun is so marked.

 

One of the desperadoes in my latest book, The Shenandoah Sharpshooter, carried a hidden gun like this one.  On page 162, the criminal Canter goes for his hidden Pond revolver. In an instant Purcell meets the challenge. To read the exciting action surrounding this incident and others, order your copy today.

Set in the Civil war, this hero’s journey follows young Stephen Purcell as he takes to the Blue Ridge mountains to avoid the men who took away his entire life.  Armed only with a good horse under him and a will to live, Purcell is tried and tested many times as he heads towards the western frontier.  Action, mystery, romance, and surprising turns guide him to his final destination.

 

Available on Kindle and paperback here: The Shenandoah Sharpshooter

Read the first chapter in its entirety here: The First Chapter of the Shenandoah Sharpshooter.

 

Categories: American History, antique guns, Civil War, History | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The First Chapter From The Shenandoah Sharpshooter

Front-Cover

 

I am pleased to announce the release of my second book, The Shenandoah Sharpshooter.

This adventure novel takes place during the last year of America’s Civil War.  It begins in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  The fictitious characters are set against a backdrop of real places and real events.

For the most part, the characters are portrayed with the fears, anger, concerns, and emotions of people living the experience of war.  On both Union and Confederate sides there are the good, the bad, those that love, and those that hate.  Although the book is fiction, it is my intent to frame real life as it was.

This is the first book of an intended trilogy called The Coldiron Series.  The other two books are still in the works.  I have released The Shenandoah Sharpshooter to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the ending of the War of the Rebellion.

Here is the first Chapter of the book.  I hope you enjoy it.  The Shenandoah Sharpshooter is available at Amazon in both print and Kindle form.

Amazon.com – The Shenandoah Sharpshooter

 

 


 

The Shenandoah Sharpshooter

Chapter One

Granville Coldiron stood up and brushed the dirt from the knees of his pants. His eyes searched up and then down the valley below. His gray shaggy head moved slowly on his hunched shoulders. Suddenly, he locked in on something in the distance. He squinted at the valley road for a few seconds, shielding his eyes against the mid-morning sun with his hand. “Don’t stand up,” he said to his younger companion kneeling over the potato row. “There are riders coming up the road. Where’s Colonel Ben?”
“He’s tied in the sprouts below the back stone fence. He still has the harness on,” Stephen Purcell answered. “Who are they?”
Ignoring the question, the old man gazed intently down the valley road. He was uneasy. The younger man could tell.
Finally he answered, “They are some of Mosby’s Loudoun County cutthroats, coming back here again. Somebody has told them they missed some stock. I can see at least a dozen of them. Listen close, boy. They’ll be out of sight for a few minutes. When I give the sign, run to Ben, and take him up the hollow where the stock is hidden. Take the sack with the rest of the seed potatoes with you. Don’t leave any tracks.”
“Should I come back?”
“Stay there. Take the harness off Ben, and get ready to run. If they get too close, ride out. Go up into the mountains, you can lose them there. You can circle around, and come back in after a day or two.
“Now Stephen, they may go on without any problem, but if something happens to Eppie and me, you light out. You go west to get away from them. Don’t come back until this damn war is over. Go on across the Alleghenies. Go into West Virginia, or better yet to Pennsylvania. Follow the same route we used to take the mules to Ohio. As long as you’re on that horse you’re safe. He’ll outrun anything they got. Take care of him, and he’ll take care of you.
“This place is your home. We have done signed it over to you. Bos Hartley and Mose both know about it. The banker has the papers. Now you take good care of Eppie’s spring garden. Her garden has tolerable value. You can come back when all this is over.”
The old man turned and looked at the youngster. “Remember what I’ve told you, boy. All right they’re out of sight, get going.” As an afterthought the old man said, “Don’t go onto Massanutten Mountain unless you must. They could trap you against the river or the pike if they was a mind to.” Then he turned and started down towards the house.
Stephen Purcell ran to the sack, snatching it and his buckskin jacket as he went by. Reaching Colonel Ben, he threw the potato sack and jacket across the big chestnut horse’s withers. Jerking the picket rope loose, he grasped a harness hame and threw himself up behind the potatoes. Picking a path over hard ground, he traveled up the draw just below the crown of the hill and out of sight of the road.
The stock pen was under a large rock overhang. It was well-hidden and almost out of sight. The horse, a cow, and two sows had been kept there since the last raid on the farmstead the previous fall. Water trickled through the pens from a spring. Grain for the hogs was carried to the cave in sacks on Colonel Ben’s back. The cow and Ben had been grazed in secluded fields, well away from the farmstead.
Purcell circled around hurriedly and came in from the far side, still trying to hide his tracks. He jumped down and pulled the harness and collar off the horse. He tied the rope to an oak sapling and raced back down the draw. He feared for the old man. Uncle Granville had said, “If something happens to Eppie and me…” Purcell figured Granville was expecting trouble. He disobeyed the order to stay put, without a second thought. His mouth was dry, his chest tight. He wasn’t even conscious of his feet hitting the ground.
Purcell reached the lower stone fence and hurled himself over it. He paused to catch his breath. He heard shouting, followed by the crack of the squirrel rifle, and the thundering boom of a heavy caliber gun. There was more shouting accompanied by three pistol shots. Someone swore loudly. Then silence. Purcell crept along the fence on his knees. As he reached a vantage point over the yard below, he cautiously peered over. The scene below made him sick.
Eppie lay face down in front of the doorstep, the squirrel rifle still clutched in her hands. Granville lay motionless on the ground. A dead man in a Confederate uniform was sprawled a few feet behind his uncle, back against the wood pile, with his unsheathed saber lying across his legs.
Several feet away some of the raiders were standing over the body of another Confederate cavalryman. The woodpile axe lay nearby.
Purcell knew what had happened. The man with the saber had threatened or stabbed Granville. Eppie had grabbed the squirrel rifle and killed him. The other one had shot Eppie. Granville, in a fit of rage, killed Eppie’s shooter with the axe. The raider mounted on the gray horse had shot Granville. The pistol was still in the raider’s hand. He had deliberately put three balls into the old man.
Purcell dropped to the ground. He felt rage and despair. He was helpless, he could do nothing. He had no weapon except the old Green River butcher knife he had been using to cut the potato seedlings. If he only had a gun…
Purcell knew what he would do. He would wait. Wait for his chance. After the first raid, Granville had hidden his heavy old Hawken plains rifle and Ben’s good plantation saddle with some other things under the floor of the house. Purcell planned to retrieve the rifle and saddle after the Rebs left. He vowed that he would hunt down the man with the pistol.
He looked again. Some of the raiders were looting the house. Others were digging graves in the corner of the yard. He slumped down again, unable to watch them bury Eppie and Granville. He fought back tears of grief, and finally the tears came. He sat there for a long time collecting himself.
Suddenly he heard a crackling sound and the smell of smoke reached his nostrils. The raiders were burning the house! The feeling of utter despair filled his gut again. All Granville and Eppie’s belongings, the Hawken, the saddle, any supplies and utensils would be gone.
After a time, he heard the sound of men mounting up. He looked again to observe which way they were going. The bearded leader on the gray horse was sending them out in different directions. They were not leaving. They were searching for him.
Fear welled up in his throat. He fought the urge to jump up and run. The old man’s words came to him. “When you get in a tight spot, don’t panic, keep your wits about you. Act only as fast, or take as much risk as you have to.” Purcell would crawl back down the fence and save his strength for a last chance sprint to the horse.
He crawled fifty yards, and looked through a hole between stones in the fence. Two riders were making their way toward him. One stopped at the stone spring house. One rider poked the door open with the barrel of his carbine. The other rider kept on coming up the fence.
That rider stopped a few feet down the fence to wait. Purcell slipped the knife from the sheath, gathered his right leg under him, and flattened against the fence. His mind raced. No, that would not work. He put his knife back. His only chance was to wait them out.
They came nearer and stopped on the other side. The one with the gravely voice eased his horse over against the fence. He was directly across the fence from Purcell. Purcell could see a patch of horse hair through the hole between the stones. If the rider looked over the fence he would see him.
The other raider said, “They got a cow hid somewhere, there was butter and a crock of fresh milk in the spring house.”
“Yeah,” Gravel Voice answered. “Striker said he’d been told they had some stock hid out as well as a hell of a good horse. The horse is a big Kentucky Saddler. He wants the horse. Striker is still a huntin’ money, too. He says there is a boy here in his late teens. He wants to make the kid tell him if there is any money around. He says after we git the information, we need to kill the kid ‘cause he knows we killed the old folks.”
“I’ll tell you what I think of that. Striker can do his own killing. I’ve had enough of shooting helpless old ladies and old men. I ain’t for hurting no youngster.”
“Yeah, me too,” Gravel Voice responded. “That old man wasn’t exactly helpless, though. One on one, I would have bet on the old man. Against any of us. Did you see the way he threw that axe? He just sort of scooped it up and brought it over his shoulder. It just sort of slipped out of his hands, right through the air. Bennington never knew what hit him.”
“They say the old man was was a mountain man from the west,” the other rider explained. “Bennington shouldn’t have shot the old lady. She’d done all the damage she could do.”
Gravel Voice gestured toward the disturbed earth farther up the hill. “They were using that horse to scratch up this potato patch. See that double shovel. The dirt on it ain’t all dry, yet. The kid’s hidin’ out. I wish him luck. I hope him and his horse git away. A Kentucky Saddler is too damn good of a horse for the likes of Striker to be ridin’, anyhow. We better be movin’ on, or he’ll be hollering at us.”
Purcell waited until they were well away from him. Then he worked on down the rock fence. At the end, he snaked over the wall and crawled into the underbrush, retracing his earlier route.
When Purcell reached the overhang he went to the pig pen. He opened the panel gate. The hogs would survive if the raiders didn’t find them. He let the cow loose. Grass was coming on and the cow was heavy with calf. The milk flow was about ready to dry up, anyhow.
Looking at the small sack of seed potatoes, he realized that he had some scant provisions after all. He tied the open end of the gunny sack securely with twine, then he distributed the potatoes evenly in both ends of the sack. Picking it up in the middle he placed the sack over the horse’s shoulders. He pulled his jacket on to cover his easily-seen red shirt.
He picked up the harness bridle and despaired again at his lack of equipment. With the knife he cut the blinders off the bridle. Before this was over Ben would need to see on all sides.
He cautiously worked his way up the ridge. He turned the horse toward the top, knowing that he would probably be seen when he went over. There were four or five hours of daylight left. Once into the Blue Ridge he could lose them. When night came he would slip back, swim the river if needed, cross the Pike below Harrisonburg, and go into the Alleghenies. In his mind it was as simple as that. He would get supplies and equipment along the way, somehow.
There was a shout, followed by more shouts from below. They had found him. Purcell started over the crest, then he turned the horse around to face the riders below. He cupped his hands around his mouth to make his voice carry. “Come on, you women-shooting sons-of-Satan! I’ll give you a run for your money!” His challenge was met with curses and a volley of gunfire. Over the crest he let the big horse pick his way down the timbered hill.
Reaching the open valley floor at the bottom of the slope, he gave Colonel Ben his head and hung on. They entered the timber on the other side long before the raiders came over the ridge. The horse wasn’t even breathing hard.
The ground was higher. The timber thicker. The sun was getting low. Purcell was sure he had lost them. He found a grass-covered opening ringed by brush. He slipped off the horse’s back and opened the potato sack.
The horse eagerly began to graze. Squatting, Purcell held the picket rope and munched on a potato. It was crisp and tasted good. He would find something else tomorrow. He knew he would soon tire of raw potato.
The buckskin jacket felt good against the evening’s damp chill. Eppie had made it for him two years ago. He and Gran had scraped and tanned the deer hide themselves. She had made it much too large. Her explanation was that it would last a long time, and he would grow into it. Although it was still a little too large, he realized he was beginning to fill it out.
The jacket, the red flannel shirt he wore, and the jackknife in his pocket was all he had to remember Eppie by. In the hours since the killings he had reconciled to the fact that Granville and Eppie were gone. He was alone again.
The incident of the jackknife amused him. Like most youngsters he heard and saw a lot more than the adults realized. He recalled that he was sitting on the stairs leading to the loft, when the conversation drifted around the corner…

It was his first Christmas with them. Eppie asked, “Granville, what are you going to give Stephen for Christmas?”
His uncle had grumbled, “Nothing. I’m giving him a home, and teaching him a man’s ways. He’s a good boy, that’s all he will need.”
“Now Granville, the boy follows you around like a hound pup. He hangs on to every word you say. There should be something from you Christmas morning.”
“If you say so,” he said. “What should I fix up?”
“Nothing, I took care of it. I bought a jackknife at the hardware store. The boy should be carrying something like that instead of a butcher knife in his belt, like a half-wild savage. Now, when he gets the knife, you just act like you knew all about it.”
The old man did too, saying proudly, “That’s a good one. It’s a Barlow.”
Granville and Eppie had treated Purcell well. He knew he had became the child they never had. Granville Coldiron was a great-uncle, the older brother of Purcell’s mother’s father.
Purcell’s mother died shortly after his birth in New York. His father was a sea captain, and left the baby with his maiden sister. When Purcell was ten years old, she succumbed to the ague. His father placed him in a private boarding school to prepare him for application to a military school.
Young Stephen Purcell was a bright student, full of energy that sometimes brought him trouble. Tall with dark hair, Stephen looked older than he was. The headmaster decided he needed something in addition to his studies to keep him busy. He was hired out to a telegraph office as an office boy.
In a few weeks time, Purcell had learned to use the telegraph. He worked as a part time operator. He became familiar with the sending and receiving equipment. He studied the maintenance of the batteries and wires. Purcell was all eyes and ears when the line construction and maintenance crews were in the office. He occasionally went to the construction site with them.
It was shortly after Purcell’s fifteenth birthday when the headmaster called him to the office and gravely informed him of his father’s death. His father’s ship was believed to have gone down in a storm off the coast of South America near Cape Horn.
Knowing that the money for schooling would soon run out, the headmaster quizzed the boy about relatives. He found that Stephen Purcell had few known relatives, the closest being an older brother to Purcell’s mother. The uncle was, or had been, a politician that had resigned his office and went west with the forty-niners seeking his fortune in California. He had not been heard from for many years.
The other relative was an older brother to Stephen’s mother’s deceased father. That uncle was living in the Shenandoah Valley near Cross Keys, and Port Republic. The headmaster wrote to Granville and Eppie Coldiron, inquiring what he should do with the orphaned boy. The response came back with a bank draft, along with instructions on how to send the boy by railroad. Granville and Eppie met him at the railroad station at Mt. Jackson.
They traveled to the farm in a carriage behind a team of horses. Staying overnight in New Market, they arrived at Granville and Eppie’s home late the next day.
When Stephen Purcell awoke the next morning, he realized he was in a strange and entirely different world than he had known before.
The farm was located among rolling hills, close to the mountainous area on the East side of the Shenandoah Valley. It consisted of rail-fenced fields, pasture, and timber. A large barn housed the horses and mules. Breeding pens and sheds were located on another run, a little farther from the main buildings. Other stables with smaller sheds and buildings for cattle and swine were located in an opposite direction. The Coldirons were traditionally a family of blacksmiths, so there was a blacksmith shop and a carpenter’s shop. A rock-walled flower garden, and a large vegetable garden completed the farmstead.
The first floor walls of the house were made of logs. There was an opening in the center with a flagstone floor, commonly called a dogtrot. The second floor, constructed of board and batten, contained the sleeping rooms.
Three log-and-board cabins located to the side of the yard made living quarters for the stock handlers and field hands. It looked nothing like the New York City streets Purcell was familiar with. He knew he would hate the farm, and had decided to leave as soon as he could.
It didn’t happen that way. He had liked the valley, the mountains, the farm, and the work that came with it all. He helped train and care for the horses and mules. The colt they called Colonel Ben became his constant companion.

Colonel Ben snorted, interrupting Purcell’s thoughts. Darkness had closed in around him. The Reb raiders would be around their cooking fires now. It was time to move.

 


To follow Purcell on the rest of his journey, order your copy of The Shenandoah Sharpshooter today.

Amazon.com – The Shenandoah Sharpshooter

Categories: American History, Book, Civil War, History, Military | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Historic Gun Display

Here is the information from the historic gun display I had at the Missouri State Fair this week. Many thanks to those of you who stopped by my booth and said hello.

Missouri State Fair

 

For those of you at the fair, if you found my book Tales from Clear Creek interesting, here are some blogs I’ve posted in the past about similar adventures.

Pre-Clear Creek Days: The Rusty Lantern, Alma’s Fire Shovel,

Post-Clear Creek Days: Lymon and the Broken WindshieldHarvest 1961

 

 

The Ealer Pennsylvania Long Rifle

longrifle

This gun is marked on the top land of the barrel near the breech; Ealer gun factory Phila. PA. The top land of the barrel is lightly engraved with an elliptic design. It is a full stock fifty caliber cap and ball with a 39 inch barrel. The right side of the buttstock has a brass oval cap box. The Buck horn type rear sight and a very fine German silver front sight are original. I purchased this gun at a rural auction several years ago. The auctioneer said it was from a Westphalia Missouri, area estate. The stock was in extremely poor condition with pieces missing. All the iron was there with the exception of the lock screw and tang screw. Nails had been substituted for these screws. The gun was probably made in the late 1840’s to the mid 1850’s. Note: Percussion caps were sold by St. Louis merchants as early as the 1830’s.

I dismantled the gun and cleaned it of dirt and scale rust. I inlaid pieces of maple to replace missing wood on the toe, both sides of the breech and along the fore stock. Screws similar to the original lock and tang screws were installed. Ordinarily it is best to leave old guns as found. This one was in very poor shape and I felt that it was a splendid piece of history that should be saved. As I researched its maker I found history indeed!

Lewis W. Ealer was born in 1791 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He received his gunsmith training in Maryland. He was first in the Fells Point area of Baltimore in business as a master locksmith and gunsmith. He later moved to Oldtown, Maryland. He had fought in the War of 1812, serving as a private in Hamilton’s rifle regiment, Pennsylvania militia. Ealer would have been 21 years old.

He returned to Philadelphia in 1837 and continued to follow the gunsmith trade. The 1839 Philadelphia Business Directory shows his occupation as gunsmith. The Federal Census lists him in 1840 and1850 as a gunsmith. The 1850 census shows that Lewis and Susanna had four daughters and one son. Their son being the youngest child at l8 years of age. The son Franklin A. Ealer is listed in later Federal and local censuses only once as a gunsmith, all others as a retailer. Apparently Lewis and Franklin were in business or working in Lancaster County in 1857 because they are shown in the county business and occupation records.

Although Lewis W. Ealer was in his Autumn years at age 71 he enlisted in the 68th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, August 23, 1862. His gun making experience was no doubt valuable to the military. Some records show him as a Lieutenant and others list him as a Sergeant Major. He was listed as a 1st Lieutenant when he was wounded on July 2, 1863 at the Peach Orchard during the battle of Gettysburg. He died of his wounds on October 6, 1863.

 

Bibliography

Kentucky Rifle Association
United States Census, 1820, 1840, 1850, 1860
War of 1812 Service Records
U. S. Civil War Soldiers – Ancestry.com
1890 Veterans Schedules, Provo Utah
Philadelphia Directory, 1839
Lancaster County, PA Business and Occupation Records 1857
Kauffman, Henry J., The Pennsylvania – Kentucky Rifle pp. 216
The Lancaster Co. Historical Society – The Muster Rolls of the First Regiment Second
Brigade, Pennsylvania by Brigadier General John Adams
Bates, Samuel P., History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861-65

Categories: American History, antique guns, Civil War, guns, History, times gone by | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Sundown Trail salutes our fallen veterans on this Memorial Day

The Mystery of the Lone Civil War Grave

 

In April of 1973, I was driving down a dirt road near Grassy, Missouri, headed back to Highway 34 in Bollinger County.  Black River Electric Cooperative, my employer, had a branch office in nearby Marble Hill.  The day was coming to an end and I was anxious to check in with that office and head back home.  I can’t remember exactly what I was doing there.  I am sure it was in response to a cooperative member’s request for help with an electrical problem or a billing complaint.

A few hundred yards short of the highway, I glanced over at a scrub timber area to my left.  A lone white stone marker among the trees caught my attention.  It was strange and almost spooky. I stopped, grabbed my ever-present camera and walked out into the woods.  The inscription was brief and to the point with no dates.  It read: “W. Wood Union Soldier Died for his Country.”

Wood Gravestone Original

Photo taken in 1973.

 

Later as I worked in the area I quizzed locals about the grave.  No one seemed to know much about it.  The story that I eventually heard was that a group of soldiers escorting a wagon with a wounded soldier laying on a bed of straw approached a nearby farm and requested some fresh milk for the wounded man.  The farmer caught up a milk cow and extracted some milk for the soldier.  He raised up to a sitting position to drink the milk and died a short time later.  They buried his body just off the road.  For decades only a large rock marked his grave.

The grave was still unmarked as a nearby farm family left on a trip to town.  As they passed by when they returned that evening they noticed a new white marker was there.  Who placed it there?  That remains a mystery to this day.

Wood Gravestone 2

Photo taken at later time shows someone had decorated grave.


 

W. Wood was one of nearly six hundred thousand young men that lost their lives in a war with ourselves.  Let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of both Union and Confederate forces this Memorial Day.

Wood gravestone
 
 

Sundown Trail extends our thanks to Jeanie Layton of the Bollinger County Library at Marble Hill, for additional information.

 

 

 

Interesting facts about the area:

  1. The dirt road near the grave marker is part of the old Military Road that extended from Jackson, Missouri to Greenville, Missouri.  The original Greenville is now covered by the upper reaches of Wappapello Lake.  Greenville was relocated to just east of 67 highway near the lake.
  2. Originally the towns of Marble Hill and Lutesville were separated by a small creek, named Crooked Creek.  Marble Hill was the county seat.  The two towns existed side by side for over a century.  Finally in 1985 they were incorporated together under one name, Marble Hill.
  3. The timber industry has always been important to the area.  In modern times Lutesville and neighboring Glen Allen were the beginning of a burgeoning shipping pallet industry.
  4. The Civil War was particularly savage in Southeast Missouri.  Probably it was longer and even more ruthless for both sides than the much publicized Western Border area of Missouri.

 
 

Categories: American History, Civil War, History, Military, Missouri, soldiers | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

The Kidder Massacre

Much of it was a vast, level prairie broken up only occasionally by rolling hills and the breaks of small creeks and the Republican, Arickaree, and Platte rivers. Roughly, Custer’s patrol area covered the modern day expanse reaching from Sharon Springs, Kansas; north to Julesburg, Colorado; east to North Platte, Nebraska and south to Hays, Kansas. It was a beautiful land, a harsh land, and without a doubt a tough ride on horseback… I know, I have traveled it on a harvest combine and behind the steering wheel of a grain truck. And yes, just a little bit of it on a horse’s back.

 I found this old picture in my fathers things. My grandfather John M. Ryan owned some wheat land between Goodland and Brewster,Kansas. It was in the general vicinity of the turnoff north to the Kuhrt farm and the Kidder massacre site. My father pointed the land out to me many years ago. There was a dairy on it then. I think this picture may have been taken on that land.

I found this old picture in my fathers things. My grandfather John M. Ryan owned some wheat land between Goodland and Brewster,Kansas. It was in the general vicinity of the turnoff north to the Kuhrt farm and the Kidder massacre site. My father pointed the land out to me many years ago. There was a dairy on it then. I think this picture may have been taken on that land.

 

Lt. Colonel, George Custer (formally a General) left Ft. Hays, Kansas on June 1, 1867. He led a 1,100 man contingent of the 5th Cavalry. His mission was to put a stop to the Indian raids and punish the Indians severely. He traveled north to Fort McPherson near the location of modern day North Platte, Nebraska. From Fort McPherson he took his cavalry back southwest to a point where the Arickaree joins the Republican River. It was near the location of present day Benkleman, Nebraska. He set up a camp there for a few days.

At some point Custer sent a 50 man wagon train south to Fort Wallace, Kansas to get supplies. On the return trip the supply train was attacked at, or near the crossing of Beaver Creek by a group of Sioux under the leadership of Chief Pawnee Killer.

Chief Pawnee Killer

Chief Pawnee Killer

 

The attack was repulsed with the help of a relief force sent from Fort Wallace and the wagon train returned to Custer’s camp with supplies. Custer continued to scout the forks of the Republican River. He sent a ten man detail under the command of a Major Elliott to Fort Sedgwick on the Platte to obtain new orders. Elliott returned with no new orders or information.

On June 29, 1867, the day after Elliott left Fort Sedgwick, new orders and a dispatch from General Sherman was received. The commanding officer of the fort organized a new ten man detail to be led by 2nd. Lieut. Lyman S. Kidder and guided by a friendly Sioux named Red Bead. Kidder and his detail left that morning for Custer’s camp.

Kidder

 

Near the abandoned campsite they struck the recent trail of the supply train and apparently thought that Custer had traveled south towards Fort Wallace. One logical reason Kidder made the mistake was that his detail probably reached the trail after dark.

As a result, Pawnee Killer’s braves and Cheyenne Dog Soldiers caught them on the open prairie. It was later determined that hey made a running fight for about two miles until they came to a small ravine near the Beaver. They made their stand there and were wiped out by the overwhelming force of Sioux and Cheyenne.

Custer continued to scout the area northwest of the Republican River forks. He arrived at Riverside Station forty miles west of Fort Sedgwick on July 5. Using the newly constructed telegraph, Custer immediately telegraphed Sherman at Fort Sedgwick for new orders. He learned of Kidder and that Kidder may have ran into a large Indian force. Kidder’s order was to find Custer. Now, Custer was to look for Kidder.

On July 10, Custer’s advance scouts found two dead army horses on the trail. Further on they observed buzzards circling above the Beaver Creek crossing. Custer immediately sent out a search party. One of his Delaware Indian guides came upon the bodies and gave the signal. The bodies of the 11 soldiers and the Indian Scout were found piled together. It was estimated they had died 9 or 10 days previously.

The bodies were mutilated and desecrated by the Indians.

Custer could not identify any of them at the time. His troops buried them in a mass grave on a level area above the creek. The bodies were exhumed in late February 1868 and reburied at Fort Wallace. Lt. Kidder was identified by his father and taken home for a funeral and burial in the family burial plot at St. Paul, Minnesota.

 

I first visited the Kidder Massacre site as a child and revisited it about twenty years ago. It is on private farm land. If you visit remember that, and treat it with respect. Pull off I-70 and visit the town of Goodland while you are there be sure and visit the Sherman County museum. The town is aptly named. On down the railroad tracks, take a look at the huge concrete grain storage bins. For years if not decades the United States’ top export was grain and agricultural products. Western Kansas and its neighboring states have contributed their share. It is one of our favorite places to visit along the Sundown Trail.

Brochure

 

 

Some interesting facts about the Kidder tragedy:

1. Kidder’s dispatch from Sherman to Custer was a warning, “Beware of hostiles.”

2. Lt. Kidder was just a month short of his 25th birthday. In spite of his youth, he was a seasoned soldier. He had joined the Union army and served as an under age enlisted man during the Civil War.

3. Kidder later joined the Minnesota Volunteers with the rank of Lieutenant and fought the Northern Sioux in several battles in Minnesota and the Dakota Territory.

4. Most of the ten men were in their late teens or early twenties. All had been in the Army and on the Plains for at least a year.

5. Kidder’s father identified his son’s body by his shirt collar. The Indians had left it on the body, cutting the remainder of the shirt off. His mother had made the shirt for him.

6. Lt. Frederick Beecher led the reburial detail in February 1868. Kidder’s father accompanied the group. Beecher was destined to die later that year in a fight with the Indians on up the Arickaree River (now labeled a creek).

 

Suggested reading:

Find Custer! The Kidder Tragedy
By Randy Johnson
and Nancy P. Allan

Categories: American History, Civil War, History, Military | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Bravery Personified: The Life of John Colter

Colters Hell

Steam rises from the pools of hot water at Colter’s Hell during a winter visit to Yellowstone Park a few years ago. As I snapped the pictures, two brave souls walked the catwalk above the bubbling hot water.

Today, I’d like to welcome a guest blogger, Mary Lou Schulte, Editor of the Osage County Historical Society newsletter.  She has graciously given me permission to print this article she had published some time back about John Colter.

I worked for several years in Osage County, Missouri, with Eric Thompson, triple great grandson of John Colter.  Like his ancestor, Eric has exhibited considerable athletic prowess.  When I mentioned that to him, Eric laughed and said, “He ran from the Indians, and I raced against opponents.”

Here in Missouri, where the real west started, history is all around us, all we have to do is look for it.

– Walt Ryan, Sundown Trail

 
 
 

Bravery Personified:  The Life of John Colter

by Mary Lou Schulte
 

The saying goes that “truth is stranger than fiction.” Sometimes truth is much more incredible than fiction. The life of John Colter is a testament to that concept. His adventures were so unbelievably daring in scope, thrilling in discovery, and terrifying in life-threatening ordeals that we modern folk can hardly take them in. He deserves a place in history beside that of Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett Zebulon Pike, etc. Yet many do not know his name.

John Colter was born about 1775, the fourth generation of his family in America, the first being his great grandfather, Micajah Coalter, a pioneer of Scottish ancestry, who came to Virginia from Northern Ireland around 1700. It is written that John Colter was of sturdy frame, five feet ten inches in height, and a pleasing countenance of the Daniel Boone type. (His last name has also been spelled “Coulter,” but Colter is the accepted version.)

John Colter

Colter joined the Corps of Discovery, also known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, on October 15, 1803 at Maysville, KY, the fourth man to join the company. As a private, he was entitled to $5.00 per month pay, but Congress voted to raise the pay to $10.00, and to grant each man 320 acres of land west of the Mississippi River. Meriwether Lewis informed Clark that he had made “a judicious selection,” and although Colter was taken on trial, Lewis believed he would answer “tolerably well.” This opinion turned out to be quite an understatement.Colter was experienced in woodcraft and the use of firearms, and was strong, active and intelligent. At first he was somewhat unruly, but after being forbidden to leave camp for ten days, he settled down and became one of the most dependable members of the company. The party needed fresh meat in their diet, and Colter was an expert hunter. In the late summer of 1804, after a few days’ hunting, it was recorded that Colter brought back “1 buffalo, 1 elk, 3 deer, 1 wolf, 5 turkeys, 1 goose and a beaver.”

In the fall of 1804, they arrived at the Mandan village, and here they built Fort Mandan, which was their winter home. In April, 1805, they again set forth–a total of 33 souls, including Toussaint Charbonneau, his wife Sacagawea (the young Shoshone woman who was to render inestimable service to the expedition), and their infant son, Jean Baptiste. After incredible toils and hardships, they reached the mouth of the Columbia in the first week of November. Near the Pacific Ocean they built a post named Fort Clatsop, where they spent the second winter.

 
On the way back to St. Louis, Colter met up with two trappers, Joseph Dickson and Forrest Hancock, near the mouth of the Yellowstone. They asked Colter to join them, and he, eager for more adventure, asked for his discharge. Captain Clark wrote, “As we were disposed to be of service to anyone of our party who had performed their duty as well as Colter had done, we agreed to allow him the privilege.” The rest of the company traveled on downstream toward St. Louis. Author Stephen Ambrose writes, “Colter turned back upstream, back to the wilderness, back to the mountains, on his way into the history books as America’s first mountain man and the discoverer of Yellowstone National Park.”

After parting company with Dickson and Hancock in the spring of 1807, Colter came across another fur trading expedition, that of Manuel Lisa. Some of his former companions were in the group, so he was easily persuaded to join them. During his travels, he encountered hostile Blackfeet Indians and was severely wounded in one fight. However, he was determined to trap in the Three Forks region. A one-time companion, Thomas James, once wrote, “Dangers seemed to have for him a kind of fascination.” The next time he confronted the Blackfeet, the result would become a legend known as “Colter’s Run.”

Colter had gone with a companion named Potts to the Jefferson River to look for beaver. Suddenly a war party of several hundred Blackfeet approached and ordered them to come ashore. Colter obeyed, thinking he might escape with losing furs only, but Potts stayed in his canoe, seeing Colter stripped naked by the Indians. Potts foolishly shot one of the Indians, and was then shot, dragged to shore, and cut to pieces with hatchets and knives. Colter had no idea what horrible fate awaited him. After holding a council, the chief waved him away. As he walked toward freedom, he saw some of the braves throwing off all encumbrances, as if for a race. He realized he would have to run for his life. He ran like the wind toward the Madison branch, five miles away. His nose began to bleed profusely. Finally, in looking back, he saw that he had outstripped all his pursuers, save one. He turned, accosted his enemy, seized his spear, and stabbed him to the ground. He reached the stream ahead of his attackers, plunged in, and took refuge inside a pile of driftwood or beaver dam. He remained there until the next morning, when it was evident that the Blackfeet had gone. He headed for Manuel’s Fort, and after about a week, arrived there exhausted by hunger and fatigue. He was emaciated and his feet were swollen and pierced by many thorns, but he was alive. He not only recovered, but went back on his own voyage of discovery.

In the winter of 1807-08, Colter was sent by Manuel Lisa from ‘Fort Manuel, also known as Fort Raymond, at the mouth of the Big Horn River, to invite Indians to bring furs to the fort. He started late in November, alone and on foot, carrying a thirty-pound pack on his back, besides his gun and ammunition. It was during this time that he made the discovery of what is now called Yellowstone National Park. It wasn’t recorded at the time, and many doubted his veracity, but trees and rocks were found there with dates and names on them to verify his claim. Colter is believed to be the first white man to see the stunning hot springs and geysers, one of which is now called “Colter’s Hell.” He must have returned in the spring of 1808, since he made several trips from Fort Raymond that year. When he crossed the rough country to the North Fork of the Shoshone, he noticed the odor of sulphur, and gave that stream the name “Stinking Water River.”

One more time Colter ventured into the Three Forks area and was again attacked, but managed to escape. Finally, he made a vow to God that he would never repeat such a foolhardy venture. However, in late September, 1809, he met up with an expedition headed by Manuel Lisa and Pierre Chouteau. They asked him to be their guide, and forgetting his vow, he agreed. A fort was constructed near the Jefferson River, but only a few days later the Blackfeet attacked. Five members of the expedition were killed, and they lost most of their traps, horses and beaver pelts. This crushing blow caused the enterprise to be abandoned. Colter finally returned to St. Louis, where his stories of discovery and adventure were met with skepticism by some and with awe by others. His claims have been verified over the years, however, and a stone with the inscription “JOHN COLTER -1808” carved on it is now on display in Yellowstone National Park.

 

John Colter took a tract of bounty land on the south bank of the Missouri River in Franklin County and turned to farming. He married Sarah “Sally” Loucy, and had at least two children: a son, Hiram and a daughter, Evalina, both of whom grew to adulthood.

Never one to shirk his duty, Colter served in the War of 1812 under Nathan Boone, son of Daniel, beginning his service on March 3, 1812 and being discharged three months later on May 6. He must have been ill when he enlisted, as he died of jaundice on May 7, 1812. Nathan Boone held Colter in very high regard, naming his son, born May 13,1816, “John Colter Boone.”

Ruth Colter-Frick, author of Courageous Colter and Companions, believed that John Colter was buried in Franklin County on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River near New Haven. This is the cemetery where his son, Hiram, is buried. An old headstone with the initials “J.C.” carved into it was uncovered close to Hiram’s grave. Other writers have speculated that he was originally laid to rest on Tunnel Hill, a bluff overlooking the Missouri near Dundee, where he lived. When the Missouri Pacific Railroad tunneled through that area in the 1850’s, a number of bones were found, indicating a burial ground. But where he is buried is not as important as the legacy he left. His name will forever be synonymous with adventure, discovery, devotion to duty, and bravery in the face of death.

 

The story of John Colter is of more than passing interest. Many of his descendants inhabit the mid-Missouri area; some are natives of Osage County, including the children of Frank and Clara Colter Knoerr: John, Wilbur, Marie Thompson and Helen Reed, who descend from Hiram’s eldest son, John B. Colter. Hiram’s daughter, Mary Ann, married Charles C. Davis, from whom the Leonard and Perry Davis families of Linn were descended. In 1994, Blackfeet Indians joined whites at Three Forks in a celebration to honor the memory of “Courageous Colter.”
 
 

Categories: American History, Guest Blogger, History | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Where I was 50 years ago today

It was November 22, 1963. I was driving down Highway 32 south of El Dorado Springs, Missouri. I listened to the truck radio on my way to make a fuel delivery in the Hazel Dell community. Just as I passed the farm of the late Mahlon Coale, the newscaster broke into the program to announce that President John F. Kennedy had just been shot in Dallas, Texas. I was just old enough to vote in the 1959 election. I was devastated.
 
 
 
 
 
 
The grave of John F. Kennedy with the Eternal Flame
Categories: American History, History, Presidents | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Five Interesting Things About The Battle of Beecher’s Island

Recently I wrote a blog about The Battle of Beecher’s Island.  There were some interesting stories about this battle that I did not include.  I’ve listed them here.

 

1) The man the battle was named after had several other family members who were in the public light.

Lieutenant Beecher was the nephew of Abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher. He was also the nephew of Harriet Beecher Stowe, known for writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Lt. Beecher’s father was Reverend Charles Beecher, a well-known evangelist of his time. Only a short time before the death of the Lieutenant, the family had lost his two younger sisters in a drowning accident. Beecher’s last words before he expired were of concern for his mother.

 

2) The indian chief refused to lead his men because he was afraid he would die.  After he was talked into leading the second charge, he died.  Also he was not a chief.

Roman Nose had initially refused to join the fight at Beecher’s Island because the night before he had unwittingly violated a taboo.  As a guest at a Sioux Chief’s lodge, he had been served a piece of meat taken from the fire by an iron fork.  He believed that the iron would draw bullets.  His men talked him into leading the second charge, where he was shot and killed.

Contrary to many reports, Roman Nose was not a chief. He was a warrior with the reputation of being a fearless battle leader. The Cheyenne had camped outside of Ft. Laramie and Roman Nose observed the soldiers as they drilled. Roman Nose copied many of their tactics. He was a large impressive individual, 6 foot 3 inches tall. His given name was Sautie (the bat). The soldiers nicknamed him “Roman Nose” because of his large hook nose. He took it as a compliment and adopted the name in English and in Cheyenne (Woqini).

 

3) One solider fought half the battle with an arrowhead in his skull.  

Early in the battle, Scout Frank Harrington was struck in the forehead by an arrow. He asked another scout to pull the arrow from his head. The arrow shaft came loose from the arrowhead. They could not dislodge the arrowhead. Harrington fought on with the flint arrow point sticking from his forehead. In the heat of the battle an Indian musket ball struck the arrowhead and dislodged it. Harrington survived and his wound eventually healed.

 

4) A rattlesnake almost ended a rescue attempt, but was stopped with chewing tobacco.

Forsyth knew they were in a bad spot. He selected Jack Stilwell and an older frontiers man, Pierre Trudeau, to sneak through the Indian lines under the cover of darkness and go to Ft. Wallace for help. The next day they hid in a buffalo wallow to await darkness again. A group of Indians rode near. The two Scouts flattened against the wall of the wallow and waited. The Indians stopped nearby. A large rattlesnake slithered through the grass and dropped into the wallow. It crawled towards the Scouts. Stilwell silently spit a big wad of tobacco juice right onto the snake’s head. The snake made a hasty retreat. Finally the unsuspecting Indians moved on.

 

5) The youngest fighter was only 16.  

Jack Stilwell was 19, but the youngest Scout was a 16-year-old Jewish boy from New York City. He asked to join the Scouts and was turned down at first, but Forsyth relented and let him join them. His name was Sigmund Schlesinger. Forsyth wrote later that he preformed with great bravery. Schlesinger went home to New York City and told the story of The Battle of Beecher’s Island many times.

 

Categories: American History, Civil War, History, Military, Missouri, soldiers, times gone by | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Battle of Beecher’s Island

A Place Called Beecher’s Island

Church was over and the group of friends were looking for something to do that Sunday afternoon.  They were teenagers.  Beecher’s Island, Colorado, made a nice outing.  Just across the Kansas/Colorado state line, it was about twenty-five miles from St. Francis, Kansas, their hometown.  They loaded up the old Dodge touring car and a Model T Ford.  For a group of teenagers in the late 1920’s, it was an enjoyable ride across the Kansas/Colorado prairie.  They still wore their Sunday-go-to-church clothes.

The group’s destination was a small park on the Arikaree branch of the Republican River.  It was named Beecher’s Island in honor of Lieutenant Beecher, the army officer that lost his life there.  This area is the site of a battle between Frontier Scouts and a large Indian force.  Like most streams in that dry country, the Arikaree is a wide, shallow stream, with sandy banks and bottom.  It was subject to flooding in the winter and spring months, drying down to a mere trickle between a few pools of water in the summer and fall.

Thirty years after the 1868 battle, some Scouts returned to mark the site and start an annual September reunion of the survivors.  The survivors have been gone for many years, but the annual reunion is still held in September each year.  The September 24, 1903 issue of the St. Francis newspaper reported that four of the surviving Scouts attended the annual reunion.  Some of the descendants of the Scouts have attended in modern times.

I recall my family attending the get-togethers when I was a child.  I think I remember attending church services in an old round-topped assembly hall building.  The grounds form a park belonging to the Beecher’s Island Association.  An Obelisk with the names of the Scouts on it commemorates the battle.

Obelisk

The bottom of the Obelisk on the grounds. The Scouts are named on the other sides.

 

After many floods, only a small vestige of the original island remained as my mother and her teenage friends walked along the sandy shore that day.  She worried about scuffing and damage to her dress-up shoes.  Her high heels sank into the sand and one struck something.  She stopped to take the shoes off.  A friend suggested that she might want to check out what the heel had touched.  They dug in the heel print and retrieved a musket ball.

Since the Army Scouts were shooting .52 cal. Spencer rifles and .44 cal. Colt revolvers, the much larger caliber lead ball would have came from an Indian musket.  The ball had a distinct crease in it.  It appeared to have struck a saddle ring or a belt buckle.

Through the years my mother kept the lead ball in a small box, with arrowheads she had found in a former buffalo wallow on our Cheyenne County, Kansas farm.  She stored the box in a drawer of her sewing machine cabinet.  The story of the musket ball intrigued me through the years.  It nourished my interest in Beecher’s Island and the western frontier.

Sisters

Twin sisters in the late 1920’s. My mother is on the right.
She was struck down by cancer in mid-life. Her fraternal twin lived into her 80’s.

 

The Battle of Beecher’s Island

During the Civil War, westward expansion slowed.  The Indian Tribes of the plains took advantage of the lull and formed alliances with former enemy tribes.  Together they vowed to stop the migration of the whites.  The Indians attacked the new settlers and railroad crews with a savage vengeance not seen before the Civil War.

The regular Army had difficulty in mobilizing and pursuing the raiding Indians.  A large force of soldiers and the required support force just couldn’t move fast enough to catch the raiders.  General Sheridan authorized the formation of a special strike force.  A well-armed group of 50 civilian frontiersmen under the command of regular army officers was formed.  The Scouts were issued Spencer seven shot repeating rifles, Colt six shot revolvers, blankets, horse gear, and other supplies.

Major George A. Forsyth of General Sheridan’s staff was placed in charge.  Forsyth had been on Sheridan’s staff since the last year of the Civil War.  In fact, Major George Forsyth made the famous ride to Winchester with Sheridan.  Forsyth had been breveted a colonel for bravery during the Civil War, giving him the right to the title but not the pay.

Second in command was Lieutenant Fred H. Beecher.  Beecher also had a Civil War background, having suffered a leg wound at Gettysburg that left him with a limp.  The surgeon assigned to the Scout group was Dr. J. H. Mooers, a former major and surgeon in the Union army.  Many of the civilian Scouts had been in the Union or Confederate service.  Scout William H. H. McCall had been a brevet brigadier general in the Union army.  With the exception of one, all the Scouts had military or frontier experience.

Forsyth picked up 30 Scouts at Ft. Harker and proceeded to Ft. Hays.  At Ft. Hays he signed on 20 more men to finish his allotment of 50 Scouts.  Among the Scouts was a former army Scout and interpreter named Sharpe Grover.  Grover had married a Sioux woman and lived for a time with the Indians.  He was still recuperating from a wound in his back that he had received a month earlier in a fight with hostile Indians.

The Scouts traveled west and north to Beaver Creek and found much old sign of a large group of Indians.  Since the sign was old, they returned to Ft. Wallace and Sheridan City, the temporary end of the Kansas Pacific Railroad, then under construction.  They arrived at Ft. Wallace on the evening of September 5th and found that a wagon train had been attacked.  Two teamsters had been killed.  The surviving teamsters estimated the raiding party to be about 20 strong.

Forsyth drew rations and struck out at daylight on September 6th, to track the Indians.  The Indian raiders broke up into smaller groups to foil attempts to follow them.  Grover and Forsyth suspected the move, picked a track, and kept following.  They would lose the track and circle around the area until they found it again. The process took several days.  They crossed the South Fork of the Republican in the proximity of the modern day Kansas/Colorado state line.  On the north side of the river they found signs of much larger numbers.  In fact, they knew they had found a large village on the move.

On September 16, they stopped early to camp in a large open valley on the south side of the Arikaree River, a tributary of the Republican River.  The valley had good grass for the horses and pack mules, and the stream had fresh water..  There was a small island in the stream near the camp.  Forsyth later described the island as about sixty yards long and thirty yards wide.  It was covered by grass and brush.  A lone small cottonwood tree was growing at the upstream end.  The island was about three to four feet higher than the stream bed.

Air Photo of Beecher's Island

I took this picture on a flyover of Beecher’s Island area heading west about 20 years ago. The island would have been just past the left end of the modern day bridge. On the right is the Association grounds. At the time of the battle there were no trees excepting the lone cottonwood on the island. Floods have changed that and obliterated the island.

 

The Scouts had not seen an Indian, but suspected they were being watched.  They were indeed being watched.  A short distance upstream, around a bend the Indians had an ambush set up.

By stopping early the Scouts had unwittingly saved themselves.  The frustrated Indians went back to their camp and considered their next move.  The large Indian force, later estimated from 500 to 1,000 strong, was made up of North and Southern Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapahoe.  While the chiefs debated the next move, a group of young braves anxious to get at the hated whites and demonstrate their warrior skills, made their own plans.

A small group of mounted Indians struck just at daylight, rattling dry hides and yelling in an attempt to stampede the horses.  However, thanks to their experience and military know-how, the Scouts had their mounts well secured and many of the Scouts were up and ready for trouble.  Only six horses were lost.

Forsyth ordered the men to secure their mounts, stand their ground and return fire.  After a short skirmish the Indians retreated.  It was soon evident that a larger force was assembling around the battleground.  Indians came into view, upstream, across the river and on the grassy plain in front.  Only the downriver valley, the way the Scouts came in the night before, was left open as the Indians closed in.  Forsyth, Grover, and McCall recognized it for what it was.  A trap!  Forsyth ordered the Scouts to retreat to the Island, tie their horses and start digging rifle pits.

The Indians were both surprised and enraged at the maneuver.  It took them time to regroup and organize their attack.  During this time the Scouts distributed ammunition and continued digging rifle pits in the sand.  Two Scouts were killed and several were wounded by Indian sharpshooters.  Forsyth was the first to be wounded, taking a bullet in his right thigh as he directed the fortifications.  He would receive two more wounds later on.  The Scouts withering rifle fire stopped the first charge.  The Indians regrouped and changed their tactics.

The Indians were not prepared to attack a dug-in enemy with seven shot repeating rifles.  According to George Bent, the educated son of fur trader William Bent and his wife Owl Woman, a Southern Cheyenne and daughter of a Cheyenne Medicine Man, the Indians were armed with bows and arrows, lances, assorted muskets, and rifles picked up off other battlefields.

 

*Side note on George Bent
George and his brother Charles were in a Military Academy in St. Louis when the Civil War started.  George enlisted in the Confederate Army at age 17 and fought at Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge and other battles before his capture.  He was spotted in the prisoner camp in St. Louis.  Members of the Bent family and his father’s political friends obtained his release.  He went to Westport, joined a wagon train and returned home to Bent’s Fort.  He said he had not been home in 10 years.  Once there, George Bent embraced his mother’s Indian heritage and lived the rest of his life with the Cheyenne.

There were two renegade white men present with the Indians at Beecher’s Island.  Many would later claim that George was also in the Beecher’s Island fight.  He was in other fights, but he never admitted to being at Beecher’s Island.  However, he was able to give a good description of the battle from the Indians’ viewpoint.  In my opinion, Forsyth and Bent give the most reliable accounts of the battle.  Other writers of the period seem to use the bravado dime novel style that was common at that time.

 

The Indians regrouped and prepared for a full-fledged charge to overrun the island.  Roman Nose, a Cheyenne Dog Soldier War Chief, was persuaded to lead the charge.  He had refused to join the fight previously because the night before he had unwittingly violated a taboo.  As a guest at a Sioux Chief’s lodge, he had been served a piece of meat taken from the fire by an iron fork.  He believed that the iron would draw bullets.

The Indians posted rifles on the banks to keep the Scouts down in their rifle pits.  A mounted force of several hundred Indians led by Roman Nose and another chief approached in a headlong charge from the downriver side of the island.  They again intended to run full tilt over the Scouts.  The entrenched riflemen calmly shot down line after line of charging Indians.  At the last second the charge broke and skirted around both sides of the Island.  Roman Nose and his horse were both downed at this time.  The other Indian leader had been killed early in the charge.  Nineteen-year-old Jack Stillwell was credited with killing Roman Nose.

The Indians regrouped and charged again with large losses.  By this time, Lieutenant Beecher had been killed and five more Scouts were dead with Dr. Mooers mortally wounded.  Fourteen other Scouts were also wounded.  All of the horses had been killed by the Indians.  The Scouts were out of rations and later resorted to eating horse meat and one coyote that wandered too close.

Forsyth prepared to send Scouts Stillwell and Trudeau out on foot to Fort Wallace for help.  The 110 mile journey took them four days and nights.  On September 19, it appeared that the Indians were withdrawing.  Forsyth sent two more men out after dark with a dispatch to Ft. Wallace.  These Scouts, Donovan and Pliley, struck south and after two days intersected the Ft. Wallace to Denver road.  They soon made contact along the road with Col. Carpenter of the Tenth Calvary and his troop of “Buffalo Soldiers” as the African American troops were called by the Indians.  The Colonel sent a messenger on to Ft. Wallace and proceeded at once to assist the Scouts.

The Scouts spent a total of nine days on the island.  Of 51 Scouts, 5 were killed and 15 wounded.  The island was named in honor of the fallen Lt. Beecher.  It was later determined 75 Indians were killed and hundreds wounded.  Years later a Sioux Indian, talking to Forsyth, confirmed the number killed at 75.  The Indian then opened his shirt and displayed the scars of his own wounds from the Beecher’s Island battle.

Beecher’s Island.  My mother visited it before me, and I have visited there several times as well along the Sundown Trail.

West

Looking west from the location of the island. The bluff in the background is mentioned by Forsyth as the one where the squaws and children gathered to cheer the warriors on.

 

 

*Technical note:  The arms of the Scouts have been called rifles and the next writer will call them carbines.  Forsyth called the Scout’s shoulder arms rifles.  He also said they slung them across their back…  The longer barrel rifles had sling mounts, carbines have saddle rings.  I take Forsyth at his word on this one.  Also, in comparing my mother’s musket ball, I used .52 caliber to compare to the Spencers because that is the actual bullet size.  Normally they designate the Spencer by the cartridge case size of .56 caliber.  Thought I should explain, before I get called on it.

 

Information for the above article was obtained from:

My family’s historical comments and local lore.  Letters and papers of George A. Forsyth from the Manuscripts Collection, Stephen H. Hart Library, Colorado  Historical Society, Denver CO and The Colorado State Archives.  The Story of  the Soldier, by George A. Forsyth, published by D. Appleton and Company, 1900.  The Beecher Island Battle Ground Memorial Association.

 

Recommended reading:

Indian Fights and Fighters
Cyrus Townsend Brady  1904
Republished  1971  By the University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska

Life of George Bent: Written from His Letters
George E. Hyde 1968
University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma

(The struggle for the plains as seen through an Indian’s eyes.)

 

Categories: American History, Civil War, History, Military, Missouri, soldiers, times gone by | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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