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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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.)
I had just finished delivering some farm tractor fuel to a customer. The farm was located along an old country road in the Osage River bottoms just north of Roscoe in St. Clair County Missouri. I was making my way back to the highway when I noticed a large stone in the fence row. It is not unusual to see a rock in the fence rows of St. Clair County, but this one appeared to have lettering on it. I was interested in the things most young guys would be interested in, but I also had a keen interest in things historical.
I stopped my truck and walked back to have a look. The message carved in capitals read: “A BATTLE BETWEEN THE YOUNGERS AND DETECTIVES OCCURRED HERE, MAR. 17, 1874. KILLED JOHN YOUNGER, E. B. DANIELS AND CAPT. LULL – CWA 1934”.
I was aware that the James-Younger gang had family connections to the Monegaw Springs and Chalk Level area. As a teenager I had even visited Monegaw Springs and explored the nearby cave.
Back then, I was not aware of the Roscoe Gun battle. Finding that marker years later made me happier than if I had found a twenty dollar bill at the side of the road. I have continued researching the gun battle over the years…
The year was 1874. After the Gads Hill train robbery in January, Frank and Jesse James returned to their home area near Kearney, in Clay County, Missouri. James and John Younger were miles away in the Monegaw-Roscoe vicinity in St. Clair County, Missouri area by March. A Pinkerton detective, operating covertly as a farmhand seeking employment, was set upon and killed on a Jackson County road by parties unknown. Allen Pinkerton blamed Frank and Jesse James, and the Pinkerton Agency was desperate to capture or kill members of the James-Younger gang. Two men were assigned to pursue the Younger brothers: Louis J. Lull, a former Chicago police Captain turned Pinkerton detective; and another Pinkerton detective, James Wright.
After several weeks the detectives were directed to refocus on St. Clair County and the Monegaw Springs area. Arriving in Osceola, the St. Clair County seat, the detectives took rooms at the Commercial Hotel and began to visit with locals. The detectives pretended to be cattle buyers. They enlisted the guide services of 23-year-old Ed Daniels, a part time deputy sheriff. Captain Lull used an alias of “W. J. Allen.” Wright was a former Confederate soldier and decided to use his real name in case he ran into an old acquaintance.
Just thirteen years before, Osceola had been ravished, looted, and burned to the ground by the Kansas Jay Hawker Federalist force led by General Jim Lane. The townspeople were polite, but strangers in their midst were met with silence and suspicion. After a few days the detectives and their guide traveled twelve miles southwest of Osceola to Roscoe and took rooms in the Roscoe House Hotel. The owner of the hotel was Oliver Burch. Local historians believe that Burch rode with Quantrill during the war.
On the evening of March 16, 26-year-old James Younger and 23-year-old John Younger attended a dance at the Monegaw Springs hotel, a large log and frame three-story building. They danced, drank, and had a good time. After the dance, the brothers rode about three miles southeast to the Negro Settlement and stayed overnight with long time family friends John and Hannah McFerrin. The McFerrins were a much respected family at the settlement and were long time friends of the Younger family. Aunt Hannah, as she was affectionately called, was known for the Persimmon beer she made. The boys slept late and after visiting with the McFerrins, proceeded on down the road in a southeasterly direction to the Theodrick Snuffer home. They tied their horses out of sight behind the chicken house and loosened the cinches. Theodrick Snufffer was a close friend to the boys grandfather, Charles Younger, who lived in the Chalk Level area. To avoid capture, the Younger brothers were following a regimen of visiting family and friends briefly and moving on.
Meanwhile, back at Roscoe, Lull, Wright, and Daniels left the hotel just after noon. The trio crossed the Osage River on the ferry and proceeded north on the Chalk Level road. After a short distance they turned east on a narrow road, passed the Benton Green schoolhouse, and headed for the Theodrick Snuffer farm. It is believed they had a tip from an undisclosed source. Lull, using his alias of Allen the cattle buyer, would look the place over.
Inquiring at the hotel, Lull learned that a Widow Sims might have some cattle for sale. He also learned she lived on down the road north of Snuffers. Nearing the Snuffer farm, Wright decided to drop behind because he feared that he might be recognized. After all, Snuffer’s son had fought on the Confederate side too.
The Younger brothers were just sitting down to late dinner with the Snuffers when they heard the sound of horses approaching. Jim and John climbed a ladder into the attic and peered out at the riders through a crack between the logs. Wright rode on past the house and on into a wooded patch up the road. From astride his horse Lull hailed the house.
Snuffer opened the door cautiously and stepped outside. Lull dismounted and asked, “Sir can you direct me to the Sims place?”
Snuffer asked, “Do you mean Col. Sims over by Monegaw Springs?”
“We were told that a Mrs. Sims had some stock for sale and that is the place we would like to find,” Lull replied.
As John and Jim watched the two men below they noted that both men were well-armed. Lull just did not look like he belonged to the area. They also noticed that Daniels was visibly nervous.
Snuffer gave the riders directions to Widow Sims farm and returned to the house as Lull remounted his horse. It was a few minutes past two o’clock in the afternoon. Lull and Daniels rode off at a leisurely gait. Jim and John returned from the attic.
Jim asked, “What do you make of that, Theodrick?”
“I dunno, they didn’t go the direction that I gave them,” Snuffer replied.
The riders had joined Wright and turned left onto a wagon road and proceeded in a northwest direction. The road taken would go by the McFerrin home and come out near the forks of the Monegaw and Chalk Level roads. The Sims’ farm was in the opposite direction almost a mile straight north of Snuffers.
The Younger brothers were at once very suspicious of the strangers.
“Jim, let’s go see who they are,” John said.
Jim the older of the two, said, “No, let them go on. There is no use in asking for trouble.” John kept insisting that the strangers should be checked out. Jim gave in. They went to their concealed horses, jerked the cinches tight, mounted up, and left in fast pursuit of the detectives. About a quarter of a mile from the McFerrin house the two detectives and their guide rode through a grove of smaller trees. Hearing hoof beats they turned to find the Youngers coming fast upon them.
John Younger was carrying a double barrel shotgun. In addition to the cocked shotgun, both men carried several pistols each. Wright, riding a considerable distance in front, could have turned left or right into the timber and flanked the Youngers using his two double action pistols to cover them in a crossfire if need be. Instead he put the spurs to his horse and ran. Jim Younger considered that as confirmation that he was a lawman and fired at the fleeing Wright. Even though he had a considerable lead, the pistol bullet took Wright’s hat off and only hurried the thoroughly scared detective along.
Lull and Daniels remained steady under the threatening muzzle of John’s shotgun. The Youngers ordered Lull and Daniels to drop their pistols on the ground and they complied. Jim dismounted and picked up the guns. Pinkerton’s detectives carried English-made Tranter revolvers. The guns are odd-looking but smooth-working double action guns. Lull carried two of these pistols on his belt. The Tranters were a dead giveaway that they were Pinkerton men. Jim commented, “John, these are fine guns. It is sure nice of these boys to make us a present of them.”
“Where are you fellas from?” asked Jim.
“We are from Osceola,” Lull answered.
“What are you doing here?”
“Just rambling around.”
“Are you sure you are not detectives looking for someone? I believe I have seen you over at the Springs,” John said.
“No,” said Daniels. “My name is E. B. Daniels and I can prove who I am and where I am from.”
“Then why in the hell are you carrying all these side arms?” asked John.
“Good God,” pleaded Daniels. “Doesn’t every man traveling through the country carry guns, and don’t I have a right to carry a gun as anyone?”
“That is enough of that,” answered John. “Let’s not have any of that smart talk.” John raised the shotgun in a threatening manner. Then something distracted John, possibly his horse, and he slightly lowered the shotgun.
Lull took advantage of the distraction. He reached for a hidden 32 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver and shot John in the throat.
As Lull’s startled horse started to run, John fired the shotgun and hit Lull in the left shoulder and arm. Lull tried to change rein hands to control his horse as Jim also fired at him but missed. Jim then turned his weapon on Daniels and fired. Daniels fell from the saddle with a mortal wound in the throat, dying almost as soon as he hit the ground. Lull rode through some nearby trees, still trying to control his horse. His horse ran under a low branch and Lull was knocked from the saddle. Though wounded, John managed to stay in his saddle and follow Lull. John approached the fallen Lull and shot twice at him. One round missed and the second went through the left side of Lull’s chest. John turned his horse back towards Jim who was still back where the battle started. But John fell from the horse before he reached Jim and expired. As he fell he went over a hog pen fence just across the road from the McFerrin cabin.
The gunshots and battle commotion attracted the attention of neighbors including George “Speed” McDonald as he worked in his yard at the Negro Settlement a short distance away. Fifteen-year-old Ol Davis was cutting sprouts from a fence row nearby. He saw the last part of the battle. Jim ran to his fallen brother and found that he was dead. He quickly removed John’s pistols, watch, and other personal effects.
Hearing a noise, Jim looked up and saw that Speed McDonald had came to the scene. Jim threw a pistol to McDonald telling him to keep it. He asked McDonald to catch a horse, ride over to Snuffers and tell them what happened, and then return and guard John’s body. Jim then caught John’s horse and raced up the Chalk Level road to try and catch Wright. Not finding Wright, he returned to the Snuffers to ask them to take care of John’s body. Jim mounted his horse and headed south to a place in Arkansas where he knew his brothers Cole and Bob would eventually return to.
Ol Davis ran home and told his father John Davis that he had seen a wounded man fall from a horse. Davis ran to the site of the first gunshots and discovered the bodies of Ed Daniels and John Younger about one hundred feet apart. Walking on down the roadway, he saw Lull. Lull had crawled across the road and managed to pull himself up to a sitting position against a tree. Walking up to Lull, Davis said, “It looks like you have had some trouble.”
Lull replied, “I hope I have fallen into good hands, Sir”
“I can assure you that I will not harm a hair on your head,” Davis replied.
Others arrived on the scene and assisted Davis in tending to Lull the best he could. They carried him to the McFerrin’s porch where Hannah McFerrin fixed a pallet for him. After his wounds were seared, he was carried into the house and placed on a bed, in the same room with John Younger’s body. When it was determined that Lull could be moved he was loaded into a spring wagon and taken to Roscoe. He was placed in a room at the hotel and medical doctors were sent for. A rider was dispatched to Osceola to alert the sheriff. Lull was first attended by local doctors A. C. Marquis and L. Lewis. Later a prominent Osceola surgeon, Dr. D. C. McNeill, was called in to attend Lull. Daniels’ body was taken to Roscoe and then removed on to Osceola.
Wright? During his flight up the Chalk road he worried that being without a hat would flag him for the Youngers. He came upon a farmer Thomas Rosbrough and his son splitting wood near the road. He asked if Rosbrough would sell his hat. The farmer said he would for a dollar. Wright bought the hat and kept running. He hid out for a day or so and then went into Osceola. He reported to the sheriff and then left town. Wright disappeared and was not seen again. One of several mysteries that occurred after the gun battle.
John Younger’s body was kept at the McFerrin cabin that night. An armed guard sat with the body. During the evening a young women appeared on the scene. She had a pistol belt around her waist. She paced back and forth in the room most of the night without saying a word to the guard. At daybreak she left, riding north over the Chalk road. Local belief is that she was Henrietta Younger, a sister to John and the brothers. The Snuffers were afraid that John Younger’s body might be stolen by strangers or desecrated by friends of the popular Daniels. At daybreak the body was buried in a shallow grave near the Snuffers home.
That night Speed McDonald and Snuffer moved the body under cover of darkness. They took it by wagon to the Yeater Cemetery which was on the south side of the Chalk Level to Osceola road. Members of the Negro Settlement took turns guarding the grave for over two weeks. Even Widow Sims took a turn standing guard. John Younger’s grave has lain undisturbed for well over a century.
When he was alive, Ed Daniels was well liked and had many friends. Daniels’ body was taken to Osceola the same day he died. A funeral was held and he was buried on the highest spot in the Osceola cemetery.
On March 18, a coroner’s jury was called. After hearing witnesses the verdict was reached. The verdict read: “We, the jury, find that John Younger came to his death by a pistol shot, supposed to be in the hands of W. J. Allen (Capt. Lull). We, the, jury also find that Edwin B. Daniels came to his death by pistol shot, supposed to been fired by the hand of James Younger.” Signed, A. Ray, foreman of the Jury.
Twenty-three days after the shoot out, it is reported Lull died. The newspapers stated that his body was placed in a coffin and hauled by wagon to the railroad depot in Clinton, Missouri. But did he die? There are those that believed the recuperating Lull was in danger and the only way to get him out of the area with out harm was to fake his death. That perhaps his wife and Pinkerton friends spirited him in a coffin to a Chicago-bound train. The shifty Allen Pinkerton would have not hesitated to make such a move. Historians cite an overheard discussion between Dr. McNeill and a lawyer friend named Frank Nesbit. The very reluctant and ethical Dr. McNeill had sought his lawyer friend’s council about falsifying Lulls death. There we have yet, another mystery in the real life story of the James-Younger gang…
About twenty years ago, I asked the Pinkerton Security Service to let me have access to the company archives on Detective Lull. I contacted them by telephone and by letter. My request was politely stonewalled…
Before we leave the story of the Roscoe Gun Battle, I’d like to take a minute to explain a couple of things. In the narrative, the word dinner was used for the noon meal. Back then and even in my youth, in the rural areas the day’s meals were referred to as breakfast, dinner and supper. Also, the location of the Monegaw Springs cave was purposely not disclosed. Exploring caves is dangerous. It was dangerous when my friends and I did it and I do not recommend unsupervised exploration.
And so this ends the story of the Roscoe Gun Battle, and we touch history again along the Sundown Trail.
Suggested follow up reading:
The Roscoe Gun Battle
By Wilbur A. Zink
Democrat Publishing Inc.
(may be out of print)
A definite work by a local
historian. Good original
pictures. Booklet form.
The Burning of Osceola Missouri
Written and compiled by
Richard F. Sunderwirth
The author’s own research, plus
family histories and information
passed down through the years.
Three hundred seventy five pages
of good reading.
Available from: Richard F. Sunderwirth
P. O. Box 543
Osceola, Missouri 64776
The Younger Brothers
By A. C. Appler
Published by Frederick Fell Inc.
(may be out of print)
Appler was the publisher of the
Osceola newspaper when the gun battle
happened in 1874. Critics fault him for
being too close to the Youngers and event
dates are a bit foggy. But, we must
remember that Appler was living at the time these events happened.
Historical Information for this blog gathered from the above books and these sources:
- St. Clair County Historical Society
- The Outlaw Youngers by Marty Brent
- St. Clair County Courier, Remnants of the Past
- The Pinkertons by James D. Horan
- Desperate Men by James D. Horan
They came out of nowhere, five men on horseback, their pistols at the ready. The drivers of the stagecoach and the two accompanying freight wagons were not of a mind to resist.
The date was January 15, 1874. The stagecoach passengers had departed the train at Malvern, Arkansas and boarded the coach for a twenty-five mile ride to Hot Springs. Mainly they were affluent people intending to spend a winter vacation enjoying the hot mineral water bathes and luxurious accommodations the town was famous for. They were rowed up beside the coach and systematically relieved of their money, watches, and jewelry by the polite but demanding highwaymen. The James-Younger gang took a little over two thousand dollars from that robbery. They were Jesse and Frank James, Arthur McCoy and two others. Later it was determined that the unidentified men were probably James and John Younger.
The gang disappeared and efforts to find them turned up no clues. We now know they headed north. Twelve days later they showed up at Chalk Bluff, Arkansas near the Arkansas/Missouri border. They probably had holed up in nearby Greene County. The former Confederate guerillas would have found many friends in Greene County. At Chalk Bluff they had the local blacksmith re-shoe their horses. He wisely asked no questions. They paid him for his services and went on their way.
Back in July the gang robbed a train in Iowa, but their money was running low and somewhere along the way they devised a plan to rob a train in Missouri. This was to be their first train robbery in Missouri. They determined Gads Hill would be a good location to hit. The village consisted of few houses, a store, a railroad loading platform, and siding switch. Trains were sometimes switched off to pick up loads of logs or lumber or passengers. Gads Hill was about ten miles north of Piedmont. While the robbed train was going south to Piedmont to report the hold up, the robbers would travel north lengthening the distance between them and any pursuers. Then they would turn northwest into some of the roughest terrain in Missouri.
They followed a route from Arkansas into Missouri that many a Confederate raiding party had used a scant decade before. Much of the area was yet swampland. They entered Missouri near Chalk Bluff and traveled the high ground between the Black River and the St. Francis River.
They probably tarried just long enough to find two more local men to obtain the train schedules and act as guides and lookouts. The area and the people had been savaged terribly by Federal troops. To the west of the Current River a former Federal militia officer, the nefarious Colonel Billy Monks, still held control over Howell and adjoining counties, forcing former Confederate sympathizers to leave or face destruction and death by night riders. To the east in Stoddard County, night riders were active also. Along Crowleys Ridge several murders had occurred. In short the war, for some, had not ended in 1865. In 1874 the local newspaper often had whole pages of abandoned or repossessed property listed for Sheriff’s sale. It would not be difficult for the gang to find a couple of helpers.
About three o’clock in the afternoon on January 31st, 1874, seven masked well-armed men rode into the village of Gads Hill. The store owner was robbed and the rest of the village inhabitants were rounded up. Some accounts say they were placed in the store. Some say they were kept around a large bonfire. Others say a small station house was used to detain them. This writer believes that it is more likely they were held under guard in the store. A bonfire would attract unwanted attention and a crowded station house would have looked suspicious.
The James-Younger gang was well aware that the railroad owners and the bankers had hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to capture the gang and put a stop to the robberies. Pinkerton was becoming increasingly frustrated and was said to be riding some trains himself. They fully expected to find a Pinkerton man on this train.
The siding switch was opened and a red flag readied to warn the train to stop or face derailment on the siding. At about four-thirty in the afternoon the southbound St. Louis to Little Rock passenger train braked to a stop even though the man waving the red flag wore a mask. The conductor stepped off the train and was promptly relieved of his money and valuables. Four other outlaws appeared and boarded the train. They announced that they were there to rob the rich and would not take money from working men and the ladies. They checked the hands of the men for calluses and those with soft hands were promptly robbed. Those with fancy clothes and hats were given special attention. When one lady was found to have four hundred dollars in her purse they reneged on their promise to rob men only and took her money. They asked the male passengers their names and place of residence, checking them closely. They were looking for a Pinkerton detective. In the express car they broke open the safe with a sledge hammer and proceeded to take anything of value from it. The gang collected at least two thousand dollars. Some sources put the amount taken at five thousand.
Satisfied they had found all the money they could, the robbers called in their lookout, and released the train to go on to Piedmont. They stole three more horses from the residents to use as spare mounts. The seven robbers then mounted their horses and rode west into the night. Once out of sight the two mystery men rode in a different direction and faded into the landscape. The remaining five turned right and proceeded to the West Fork of the Black River, carefully concealing their trail. It was reported later that five mysterious riders were spotted near Lesterville about daylight the next morning.
A large posse left Piedmont the next morning after the robbery and picked up tracks near Lesterville. A light snow had fallen that night and aided the pursuers’ efforts. One of three horses stolen at Gads Hill was found and identified. It was in jaded condition.
In the breaks of the upper Current River the gang found a farm that offered food and an overnight rest stop which they paid for. The next morning they stole a fresh horse from their host and were on their way. The next report of strange riders came from near Phillipsburg. Then as time went on, suspicious looking men were seen at Boliver on the west side of the state. The Piedmont posse had stopped for rest at Licking and then gave up the chase. One gets the idea they may not have been too eager to have caught up with the desperadoes. Each of the five robbers openly carried four pistols and in addition several carried shotguns as well. A rifle and ammunition had been taken from the Gads Hill store. The posse gave it a good try. Perhaps after the first adrenalin rush some may have began to wonder just how much they owed the railroad magnates.
In those days it was customary for travelers to stop at farms for meals and lodging. They paid for the services much as we do at bed and breakfast accommodations today. The extra money was welcomed as well as a chance to catch up on current events. When the James-Younger gang took a horse it was almost always reported as stolen.
Before we leave the subject of the stolen horses, let us stop and think a moment. While the fields were plowed and worked by mules or oxen, a horse was a valuable transportation and light draft animal as well as essential in producing mules. The James-Younger gang was certainly foolish to take up a life of crime. They were not fools when it came to the value of the animals. Most likely they paid for the horses they “stole”. The farmer may not have been given a chance to say no but a generous payment bought his cooperation, as well as a poor memory and dim recollection of the direction taken by the unknown strangers. Jesse and Frank James eventually made it back to their home area around Kearney, Missouri. James and John Younger were in St Clair County by March. We will discuss brothers James and John in a later blog.
I was privileged to live for twelve years in southeast Missouri. I worked for Black River Electric Cooperative headquartered in Fredericktown with branch offices at Ellington and Marble Hill. My work took me by Gads Hill many times. I was already aware of the 1874 train robbery before I moved to the area, so I took note of Gads Hill when I passed by. There was not much there. A bar (closed I think) and a farmhouse or two down the road. I remember a huge aggregate pile and rock crusher. The railroad had been cut deeper into the south slope of the mountain than it probably was in 1874. Highway 49 took us southward down into the beautiful Piedmont Valley and to Clearwater Lake.
My great, great grandparents lived in Stoddard County during the 1870’s, a fact that was unknown to me at the time I lived in southeast Missouri. I became aware of that only in recent years. In my quest for more information I searched county newspaper files and legal records for information on my ancestors. I learned a great deal about Stoddard County at the state archives in Jefferson City. Much violence went on there during and after the war of the rebellion. The newspapers seldom reported it, choosing to report the violence and turmoil in other states. In fact the newspaper in Stoddard County extolled the virtues of the county continuously. They were trying hard to leave the sorrows of war behind. And they do have one of the best farming communities and best places to live in the country. I visited the county a few years ago searching for my roots. While there I met nice and helpful people.
My Irish immigrant great, great, grandfather Michael Ryan was set upon, robbed and murdered by highwaymen on the evening of November 19, 1874. The attack occurred near the southwest corner of the current city of Dexter, probably near the location of the golf course. An inquest was held and the murderer was identified. He was never brought to justice. I have yet to find my ancestors grave. My reason for being in America is there, somewhere in Stoddard County.
—Best wishes for the new year.
“I was born on December 24, 1809, in Madison County, Kentucky. My parents moved to Missouri when I was one year old and settled in what is now Howard county. —-” So begins Christopher (Kit) Carson’s autobiography.
Indians harassed the Franklin and Boonslick community constantly in what was to become Howard County. Carson notes that his family was forced to remain forted for two or three years, after moving to the Missouri frontier. The settlers resorted to posting guards in the fields and spending the nights in Fort Hempstead for protection. Fort Hempstead was located in the hills above the river bottoms just a short distance northwest of the current town of New Franklin. Carson’s father and older brother took their turns standing guard against the Indians.
Kit Carson spent the next fifteen years in Howard county. After his father was killed by a falling tree limb, he was apprenticed out to a saddle and harness maker, plying his trade in Franklin.
Franklin became the starting place of the Santa Fe trail when in 1821 a trader named William Becknell loaded up a few pack horses with trade goods and started west with four other men for the purpose of trading with the Indians. Before reaching his original destination, Becknell ran into a troop of Mexican rangers that assured him that he could journey into the previous off limits New Mexico territory. Becknell sold his trade goods in Santa Fe for Spanish silver. The Santa Fe Trail route had been launched. The rest is history.
The capricious Missouri River washed Franklin away a few years after Kit Carson left, but Howard County remains the birthplace of the the Santa Fe Trail. Franklin was moved back to the foot of the bluff and then New Franklin was born on the bluff high above the flood waters.
The boring life of a leather worker became too much for the teenage Carson and he ran away to join a group of trappers and mountain men on the Santa Fe Trail. This is really no surprise because his older half-brother Moses Carson was already a mountain man working in the fur trade. It is a bit difficult for those of us with agricultural roots to understand why Kit would want to leave the fertile soil of Howard County for the cold of the mountains and sand of the desert. But, picture a sixteen year old boy, sitting long hours, day after day, straddling a stitching horse, a needle and string in one hand and a leather awl in the other, sewing on harness and saddles.
The Santa Fe traders coming into the shop were talking about the adventure, the mountains, the money to be made, and those pretty Spanish girls in Santa Fe. In August of 1826 Kit Carson jumped ship, as they say.
He took a job driving oxen hooked to a wagon of trade goods. According to Josiah Gregg in his book Commerce of the Prairies, a hitch of oxen consisted of eight animals hooked to a wagon in pairs. The driver usually walked along side to control them. Kit Carson says in his autobiography that he received one dollar per day in wages.
As an explorer, trapper and Indian fighter, Kit Carson became as they say “a legend in his own time.” The skills gained in the Boonslick country and a liberal helping of Howard county grit served him well on the western frontier.
On a trip through the western states the traveler sees a myriad of commercial enterprises using the Kit Carson name to capitalize on the fame and heritage of the renown frontiersman.
New Mexico has its Carson National Forest. Colorado and Texas have counties named Carson. The states of Washington, Colorado, Nevada, California and North Dakota, have towns named for Carson. Yet, in Howard County, Missouri where it all began, the only marking of Kit Carson’s passage, for many years, was a neon sign in front of the rustic little Kit Carson motel along old highway 40. Even the motel and sign are gone now. They were torn down in the 1990’s to make way for the north end ramp of the new highway bridge.
On a recent drive through Howard County I was pleasantly surprised to see the growth in southern Howard County. New road construction and two new Missouri River bridges have helped spur new home and business construction. The first settlement on the frontier west of St. Louis and the Mother of Counties is growing. Mother of counties you ask? Twenty-nine counties and parts of nine others came from the vast area which was once Howard County.
For years, there was no marker at Old Franklin at all, but recently its place and importance to the Santa Fe trail has been marked quite well. Where it stood is marked by a flag pole in a bottom field. The flag pole marks the exact center of the old town square.
Several sign boards and markers now tell the story. A new building nearby and directly across the river from Boonville is privately owned by the estate of the late Robert Biesemeyer. Howard County native Chris Rolphing told me that Mr. Biesemeyer had intended to establish a river history museum there, but he was struck down by cancer before he could finish the project. Hopefully someone will finish it, the history should be told.
Many historically famous people have lived or visited in Howard County. I could not leave the subject of famous people without mentioning the beautiful and talented country music star, Sara Evans. Her home town is New Franklin.
I lived and worked in Howard County for nine years. I managed the consumer owned electrical distribution cooperative. The people there are friendly, wonderful people to know and work with. Howard Countians are some of the nicest people I have met on my journey along The Sundown Trail.
Some places to visit along the Santa Fe Trail:
–Boonslick: Nathan Boone and his brother Daniel Morgan Boone extracted salt from the salt spring there. Old Daniel himself lived in a cabin near there for a short time.
Boonslick State Park
–Arrow Rock: Lewis and Clark named it. The Santa Fe Trail put it on the map. A restored frontier town. A must see if you are in the area.
Arrow Rock, MO
–Fort Osage: in Missouri near the Missouri river.
–Council Grove, Kansas: in the beautiful Flint Hills area of Kansas. An Indian treaty made there played an important part in Trail history. One of my ancestral cousins, Mahlon Stubbs, was an Indian Agent there, appointed by then President Grant. Stubbs was a Quaker. Quakers were chosen by Grant for their honesty.
Council Grove, KS
–Pawnee Rock: an interesting place out in the middle of the Kansas plains. Josiah Gregg climbed the rock and counted three thousand buffalo on the surrounding plains before he stopped counting. The grave on top is listed as Kit Carson. It may be a Carson, but it is not Kit. He is buried in Taos, New Mexico.
Pawnee Rock, KS
–Bent’s Old Fort: Near La Junta, Colorado. Another must see. Great for children. Completely restored on theoriginal foundations. A fabulous bit of history. Kit Carson worked there as their hunter, meat provider. When I visited during the summer months they had re-enactors working at the daily fort activities. National Park Service operates it.
Bent’s Old Fort
–Taos, New Mexico: Visit Kit and Josepha Jaramillo Carson’s humble home, now a museum. Don’t miss the Rio Grande gorge just west of town on 64 hwy.
–Santa Fe: It is just a dandy place to visit. Check out The Governor’s Palace museum on the Square. Native Americans sell their jewelry crafts on the sidewalk. Traders brought their wagons loaded with trade goods into town on the street in front of the La Fonda Hotel. That is where the trail ended.
Santa Fe, NM
The Commerce of the Prairies
By Josiah Gregg
buy at Amazon.com
Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico
By Susan Shelby Magoffin
First woman over the trail, her diary.
A young woman newly married to a Santa Fe
trader. A woman’s perception is keener than a mans. A good read.
buy at Amazon.com