Missouri

Handmade Turkey Calls and Memories

I sell handmade bookends and turkey calls at the booth when I do a book signing, and people really seem to like them.  My daughter encouraged me to open an Etsy store and make my handmade items available nationwide.  She asked me how I started making turkey calls, and I thought I’d share the story with the readers of the Sundown Trail as well.

To visit my Etsy store, you can click here: Sundown Trail Trading Post on Etsy.com


 

Elmer

In 1970, my wife and I moved to Fredericktown, a small town in Southeast Missouri.  I had accepted a job offer with an electric cooperative headquartered there.  We found the town and area people to be friendly and sociable.  We made many friends in Fredericktown and enjoyed our time there.

The Clark National Forest (now called Mark Twain National Forest), interspersed with small farms and towns, made up much of the area.  The tree-covered mountains, lush green valleys, and clear streams surrounded by granite outcroppings are very scenic.  It offered good deer, turkey, and waterfowl hunting.

At church I met a senior citizen named Elmer Wulfert.  I was in my thirties, and an enthusiastic hunter.  Elmer was retired, and having lived there all his life, knew the area well.  We hunted and fished together, when I could find the time.  We mostly hunted ducks on the area lakes and streams.  Elmer introduced me to turkey hunting.  He was a craftsman, and he made a fine turkey call for me.

The call was a well-made cedar paddle box call.  I was very proud of it.  A few days later Elmer and I were hunting some rough terrain on a mountain in Madison County.  We finished the morning’s hunt.  I had stowed the turkey call in my hunting jacket pocket.  Elmer and I started the trek back to the pickup parked on an access road.  We dropped into a hollow, traveled up a ridge, and walked through lots of timber before reaching the truck.  As I took off my coat, I discovered that my box call was missing.  We immediately returned to the woods and backtracked our route out.  The call was nowhere to be found.  I went back the next day and tried again to find the call.  No luck!

Elmer said not to worry, he would give me another one.  And he did.  When I look at my old well-worn calls, I think of Elmer, my friend from long ago.  I remember that a deteriorated old cedar box call lays mouldering in the leaves, and underbrush, somewhere on the west slope of Cedar Mountain in Madison County Missouri.

And I remember Elmer Wulfert as one of the best friends I have made along the Sundown Trail.

 

Sadly, I do not have any pictures of Elmer and me. I did find this picture taken at church of Elmer and his wife Bertilee.

Turkey calls that Elmer gave me. The two on the left are scratch calls operated with the piece of slate. The right one is the box call he gave me to replace the call I lost on Cedar Mountain.

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Categories: hunting, Missouri, times gone by | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Warm Memories

The church and school Christmas programs were over and we had settled in for the holiday.  Eight to ten inches of snow fell a couple days before Christmas.  Windblown drifts crusted by a freezing rain shut everything down.  We were able to feed the livestock and do the chores slipping and sliding around with the old tractor.  In the early 1950’s, four-wheel drive pickups and ATVs were not in existence.

In the late afternoon on Christmas Eve, Mom discovered we were out of coffee.  That was not good.  Coffee was a staple item around our house.  We lived about a mile and a half from a little country store called Portia.  It was always open for business and there was coffee there.  It was too dangerous for us to use the saddle horses.  Dangerous for them and us.  We finished the chores and Dad and I decided to walk to Portia.

The ice-crusted snow held me up, but sometimes Dad broke through and went deeper than his four-buckle overshoes.  We hiked along and soon we were there.  Like most country stores of times gone by, Portia had a fair-sized pot-bellied stove in the middle of the store.  When we opened the door, there sat several of our neighbors with chairs pulled up around the stove.  They too, had made a last minute Christmas Eve walk to shop at Portia store.

After visiting awhile, Dad purchased a pound of coffee and we hiked back home.  I have always remembered how the house looked in the dusk as we made our way back up the driveway.  Mom had just stoked the fires and the smell of oak wood smoke told us that warmth was there.  The sight of the light shining through the frosted kitchen window panes is vivid in my mind.  For my two younger sisters and me, homemade cookies and candy awaited.  And coffee with breakfast on Christmas morning was assured…

May your day be filled with warm mugs, warm kitchens, and warm hearts.  Merry Christmas from our house to yours.

 
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Book Signing This Friday

Book Signing

Recent book signing at the Missouri State Fair

 

I wanted to let the readers of the Sundown Trail Blog know, I will be holding a book signing this Friday, November 6th, from 5-9pm at Hastings in Jefferson City, Missouri.  Below is a copy of the press release.  Hope to see you there.

 

MISSOURI AUTHOR HOLDING BOOK SIGNING THIS FRIDAY

Local author Walt Ryan will be holding a book signing this Friday, November 6th, from 5-9pm at Hastings.  Ryan will be signing copies of his Civil War novel The Shenandoah Sharpshooter.

This exciting 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.

“When Walt Ryan spins a tale you can bet he’s shared the same campfires, walked the same dusty streets and watched the same sun rise over the mountains as his characters. Walt’s latest effort is set in a time and place little explored by American western writers, the Shenandoah mountains during the Civil War. Upon finishing it, you will be begging him — as I did — for a sequel.”
– Jim McCarty, Editor of Rural Missouri magazine.

Original painting for the cover art done by Missouri artist Ann Shockley Schafer. The Shenandoah Sharpshooter is available for purchase at Hastings, and online at Amazon.com.

Walt Ryan is an independent author and blogger based in Mid-Missouri. Ryan grew up with an appreciation for the people of the western frontier, then and now. He enjoys writing about them in fact and fiction. Ryan’s many work experiences include mill hand, long haul truck driver, newsletter editor, photographer, writer, electrician, and over the years he worked through the ranks at several consumer cooperatives.

For more information about the author and his latest book, visit Ryan’s blog at http://www.SundownTrailBlog.com.

Categories: Book, Book Signing, Civil War, Missouri | Tags: | Leave a comment

A Christmas Gift From Me to the Sundowntrail Readers

I’d like to share a story from my book Tales From Clear Creek. The story is titled The Horse.

Some backstory to the tale below . . . the horse’s name is not mentioned in the story. My Tennessee-born grandfather came to visit us the same day we bought the horse. We gave my grandfather the honor of naming the colt. He promptly said, “Call it Dixie.” The name would have been more suitable for a mare than a colt, but Granddad said to call him Dixie, and we did. The horse soon learned to come to it. Dixie the horse was always trustworthy and gentle. My younger sisters and kids from the community rode him, yet I would get on him and ride breakneck, chasing cattle.

As noted in one of the stories in Tales From Clear Creek, I sold the horse in 1963. Earl Powers contacted me when I came home on leave between basic training and AIT training. He knew the horse was gentle, and wanted him for his grandchildren to ride. Years later, probably about 1968 or ’69, Earl came into my office at the local electric cooperative and showed me pictures of the horse with at least a half dozen kids sitting on him. They were lined up from his withers to his rump. The horse would have been close to twenty years old at the time Mr. Powers gave me that picture.

 

Dixie Horse picture

Mr. Powers and Dixie

 

I hope you enjoy the story. If you’d like to purchase a copy of Tales From Clear Creek, click the “Books” tab above. To see all the wonderful illustrations done for the book by Tom Runnels, go to my Facebook Page.

Merry Christmas from the Sundown Trail.

 

First Horse

 

First Horse

 

He was just a weanling colt. We bought him at an auction. I rode home in the pickup truck with him. I wrapped my arms around his neck, and talked to him to reassure him. We had other horses, but this one would be mine to break, to train, and ride.

The months went by. He learned to trust me. He let me handle his feet. He grew accustomed to the halter, saddle, and then the bridle. We trekked all over the place. The colt followed me decked out in full riding gear.

We were buddies. He thought he was my peer, my equal. He was a pet and that would cause him to be more difficult to break. I knew I must ride him soon before he grew older and stronger. It took a long time for me to work up the nerve to make that first ride.

Finally it was time. I led him out into the middle of the hay meadow. I fussed with the tack, tightening the cinch on the old rodeo association regulation tree saddle. Made by the Gallup saddle makers of Pueblo, Colorado, it was a splendid, all-around, old-time, working saddle. I figured that once I was firmly anchored in the deep seat, I could ride him out.

I caught my breath, turned the stirrup out, shoved my foot in, and swung on. I hooked the off stirrup and settled in. I had my firm seat.

He turned his head to size up what was happening. I clicked my tongue and nudged him with my right foot. He stepped out, got his head down, and started to buck.

He made several short bone-jarring jumps. Then he bucked sideways. I lost a stirrup, then regained it. It seemed like an eternity. The border fence loomed up beside us. A barb on the top wire caught my pants leg and ripped a hole. I bailed off, fearing injury to the horse or myself.

My knees were weak. I leaned against him, letting him calm down. I let him blow, building up my nerve. I knew I couldn’t stop. I had to finish the job. Finally I led him back out into the meadow.

I stroked his shoulder and talked to him, taking the reins up in my left hand. Mounting up, I kept a tight rein, holding his head up this time.

He began to run. When he started toward the fence, I turned him by pulling his head around. He ran the full length of the meadow and then back again.

He was larger and stronger, but I stayed with him. Out there in the meadow we finally came to terms. I would ride and he would carry. A partnership began that was to last many years. He never bucked again.

His training progressed nicely. He learned to work cattle. We drove them from pasture to pasture or to the barn lot. Nothing fancy was needed, our stock was a mixture of dairy and beef. Dad had given me orders to go easy on the dairy stock.

I decided to train him with the rope. After all, every good stock horse should know how to work under a rope. I started by dropping loops over fence posts. Then I secured the rope to the saddle horn. I would get off and make him back off to tighten the slack. I would jerk and tug on the rope. He would face me and set back on it like a pro.

I shook a loop out, and twirled it around his ears and across his rump, time after time. I would ride alongside and pop the flies off the cows with the loop just to keep him familiar with the rope…

Several weeks later, we were bringing some yearling heifers up from the pasture. The small herd consisted of some Shorthorn and some Jerseys. One of the Jerseys was a little roguish. She had a perfect picture book set of small horns. In fact, she looked just like the picture that we used to see on the condensed milk can.

The cows were filing through the gate when the Jersey decided to make a break for it. The horse wheeled and went after her on his own, but she had a lead on us and was about to get away. In frustration, I flipped the loop after her.

Then things started to happen. The loop floated out over her back and settled perfectly over her horns. The horse went into a slide, throwing his weight to his rear legs. He was as solid as an oak tree when the heifer hit the end of the rope. She went airborne, turning a cartwheel through the air and landed on her side with a sickening thud.

I jumped off the horse and raced to the heifer thinking I had killed her. I jerked the loop off her horns and she just laid there groaning with her eyes rolled back in her head. I nudged her with the toe of my boot. To my relief she finally scrambled up and trotted towards the gate.

I coiled the rope and started to get back on the horse. Looking toward the barn, I saw my Dad standing in the doorway. “Bring it here,” he said. Head down, I shuffled over and reluctantly handed the rope to him.

The rope disappeared for several weeks and then one day it suddenly appeared on a nail in the feed alley. I watched it for several days. Finally, I slipped it down and tied it back on the saddle.  The horse and I were back in business. I never had anymore trouble from that heifer. She knew I could reach out and touch her!

 

Categories: Missouri, times gone by | Tags: , | 1 Comment

The Copper Kettle Gun Show

I will be signing my book Tales From Clear Creek at The Copper Kettle Gun Show, Ashland, MO Saturday Oct. 4. Stop by and see me at The Copper Kettle this Saturday!
Categories: Book Signing, guns, Missouri, 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

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

The Burning of Osceola, Missouri and The Battle of Clear Creek

In September of 1861, Kansas Senator Jim Lane, newly appointed a Union General by President Lincoln, entered Missouri at a point near Trading Post, Kansas. His orders were to lay waste to as much of western Missouri as he could. In Abraham Lincoln’s own words, he was to “put it through.” General Lane had a force of about 1,500 Kansas Red Leg Jayhawker troops to get the job done. Osceola, Missouri, the county seat of St. Clair County was to be his principle target. Osceola was the main riverboat terminal on the upper reaches of the Osage River. It was the jewel of commerce for all southwestern Missouri. The despotic, paranoid Lane would change that, forever.

Lane proceeded down the Marais des Cygnes River to the Osage. At Papansville in southern Bates County, Lane crossed the Osage and proceeded east along the south side of the Osage River through St. Clair County to Osceola. A Union militiaman from Cedar County named Obie Smith, guided Lane to Osceola… It has been said that Confederate Guerrilla, William Quantrell ran into Obie Smith two years later and killed him with his own gun.

The Jayhawkers pillaged and burned anything in their path. The path of 1,500 violent men would cut a large swath indeed. Confederate General Price had left Osceola with only a handful of Home Guard to protect it while he moved on Lexington. The small force retreated after a short engagement. Lane’s men pillaged and stole over a million dollars in goods and money. Lane himself stole a fine carriage and had a piano and some silk dresses loaded into a wagon for his wife. It is said that a Rev. Hugh D. Fisher, one of Lane’s chaplains, made off with the alter, pews, and pulpit of one of the churches. He used them to furnish a church he was building in Lawrence, Kansas.

The pillaging went on through September 22 and 23. By the 24th the town was burned to the ground. A once prosperous community was now left destitute. Only one house was left standing in Osceola. Speculation was that it was just overlooked. Many people left and never returned.

Lane’s army left with a long train of stolen wagons full of stolen goods and commodities. They took with them 350 horses and 400 head of cattle. According to Lane’s report to his superior officers, he returned to Kansas by way of Clinton, Pleasant Gap and Butler.

It is reported that there was so much political backlash over the infamous attack on Osceola that Lane was never given another command by the Union. The politicians finally figured out that Lane was unstable and unfit for command. In 1866 Lane took his own life while visiting his wife’s sister and her husband at their farm in eastern Kansas.

 

Here lies another bit of history: An orphan teenage boy from Iowa was staying with the sister’s family that winter and going to school. He did chores for his keep. The boy’s name was Billy Dixon. Billy said the family were the best and kindest people, and he held them in high esteem all his life. Billy was there when Lane went out to his buggy, got his gun and shot himself. Yes, frontier history enthusiast, he was the Billy Dixon of Adobe Walls fame: The Buffalo hunter marksman, later awarded the medal of honor for bravery in performance of his duties as a frontier army scout.

 

The immense hatred for Union General Lane and his Kansas Jayhawkers made St. Clair county a fertile place for recruitment of Confederate soldiers. Let us go forward to the Battle of Clear Creek, fought in St. Clair County. It was almost a year after Jim Lane’s infamous raid…

 

Campbell's New Atlas of Missouri

Campbell’s New Atlas of Missouri, 1874 – shows the town of Eaton in Cedar County. A local historian once pointed out to me, the approximate location of Eaton. He indicated that it was closer to Clear Creek than this map shows. Keep in mind that maps of the time were not as accurate as modern maps. Many times the roads shown were just trails.

 

The battle occurred on the north bank of the creek about six or seven miles southwest of Taberville. Taberville is on the north bank of the Osage River. Clear Creek runs into the Osage a few miles east of Taberville. Local historians have said the battle location was one and one half miles up the creek west from Short’s Ford. There is a bridge at Short’s Ford now. That location would put the battle site almost to the St. Clair/Vernon County line and just north of the Cedar County line. That would be approximately a mile or two north of the frontier hamlet of Eaton in Cedar County. Eaton was destroyed during the civil war and never built back. In my research, I have never determined when the town was destroyed, but a good guess would be when Lane came through in 1861. Both an 1865 and an 1874 map show a trail through Eaton and in the vicinity of the battle site.

 

It was the morning of August 2, 1862. A Captain Hancock was in St. Clair County recruiting soldiers for the Confederate army. He had recruited about 200 men. Only 70 had arms which consisted of shotguns and squirrel rifles. Hancock had only one keg of black powder. Hancock figured that the Federals were aware that he was in the area, so on the morning of August 2, he called his men together and announced that they would march to Greenfield in Dade County, Missouri and then on into Arkansas. Greenfield had recently fell into Confederate hands.

Indeed a detachment of 135 men belonging to the Command of Col. Fitz Henry Warren, First Iowa Cavalry, was in the immediate area. The detachment was commanded by captains Caldwell and Heath. The Federal advance found five of Hancock’s men eating breakfast at a local farm. They captured four of the men, but were soon put to rout by the fifth man when he charged them with a six shooter in each hand. The federal advance skirmishers raced back to report and the breakfasting rebels raced back to their camp to warn Hancock.

Hancock began immediately to deploy his men for an ambush. Almost all the Confederates were inexperienced local recruits. A road ran along Gordon’s Farm to Clear Creek. A deep ravine followed one side of the road. Fences and heavy brush on each side made the road on the banks of Clear Creek a perfect ambush site. Hancock positioned his 70 men with weapons along the ravine. Horses were secreted further back into the woods and brush, out of sight and out of harm’s way. The unarmed men were interspersed among the armed, so they could pick up the arms of fallen comrades or those of the downed enemy. Powder from the keg was rationed out to each armed man. A decoy squad on horseback was to go back up on the prairie and induce the Federals to chase them down the road into the timber. One of the squad would hang back using the ‘crippled bird’ trick in case they hesitated to follow. They were to lead the Federals through and in front of the hidden ambushers. Then the squad would wheel into the the cover of the timber and provide flanking fire on the enemy.

The Federals, thinking they had an easy kill, rode right into the trap. A Confederate broadside of withering fire at thirty yards was bound to take a toll. Even if it was from shotguns and squirrel rifles. One story has it that the Confederates were able to reload their muzzleloaders twice and fire three volleys before the confused Federals could take cover and protect themselves.

 

Now we find one of the ambiguities we often find in civil war history. Let us first review excerpts from the Federal commander, Col. Warren’s report to his superiors as found in the The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

 

“I have the honor to report that a detachment of my command under Capts. J.W. Caldwell and Heath, consisting of 135 men, made an attack on a body of from 400 t0 500 guerrillas, near Gordon’s farm, on Clear Creek, corner of St. Clair County.-”

“-Heath took fire on his flank and fearing for his horses fell back. When he was assured of the safety of his rear, he moved up for a second attack and found the enemy had disappeared. -4 men killed and 9 men wounded including Captain Heath.”

 

The informal Confederate report:

“Out of 200 Federals that came down the valley of Clear Creek, only about 120 escaped unhurt. Nearly 80 fell dead in their tracks. Captain Hancock lost one man killed and two wounded. The dead man’s name was Lee Bradley, of Bates County. He was buried there, near Clear Creek, before Hancock’s men moved on to Greenfield. Local tradition has it that Bradley’s family retrieved the body from the grave near Clear Creek and reburied Bradley in Bates County.”

 

 

In 1950 my parents purchased a farm in Vernon County near Clear Creek. It was two miles or less, as the crow flies, southwest of the battle site. I spent many happy hours in the early 1950’s hunting and fishing on Clear Creek. I mostly hunted the upper reaches of the creek. I can remember following coon hounds to the Short’s Ford vicinity twice. Usually we went down one side of the creek and up the other. I am sure I have walked over the Clear Creek Battlefield and maybe even the site of Eaton. I have hunted ducks on the creek and later along the sloughs of the Osage River. I have shot Quail in St. Clair County.

Again, we have touched history along the Sundown Trail.

 

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

The Runaway Snowman

Sundown Trail has a guest blogger today – my daughter, Marti Ryan.  She is a musician and video blogger in Nashville, TN.
NashGirl01.com
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I have always loved my Dad’s stories of when he was young. He grew up in a time that I can’t imagine – one room schoolhouses, riding horses, heading off into the woods with his dog to hunt furry woodland creatures . . . those days are long gone, but live on in stories and pictures. I’ve encouraged Dad to write a blog for years, and was tickled pink when he decided to start writing Sundown Trail. He has a collection of short stories called Tales from Clear Creek that will be available as an e-book soon, and he’s currently working on his first western novel.

But I didn’t come over here to write a guest blog to brag on my Dad (although I could spend an entire page doing just that). I thought it would be fun to write a blog about one of MY childhood memories. As you can probably tell from the title – it’s about a snowman.

 

Winter is drawing to a close, and as usual, Mother Nature is keeping us on our toes. She’s been teasing us with beautiful sunny warm weather, and then promptly throwing snow and cold back in our faces to remind us that’s she’s not quite finished with winter yet. I live in Tennessee, and bless their hearts, Tennesseans FREAK OUT when they see a snowflake. Missourians just slow down and plow ahead with their lives, but everything screeches to a halt here in Nashville at the MENTION of snow. Everyone cancels everything, and races to the store to buy milk, bread, and eggs. It’s become a local joke to post pictures on Facebook of empty shelves in the grocery stores when snow is forecasted.

Snow doesn’t last long here, so when we get any kind of accumulation, children rush outside for a few hours in a few inches of snow to have snowball fights, sort-of-kind-of sled, and build itty-bitty snowmen. Last week I opened my back door to an accumulation of snow, and briefly thought of building one of these itty-bitty snowmen as a tribute to the end of winter. After drying off my snowy, muddy doggies, I instead chose to make a hot cup of tea and remember a Missouri winter long ago when I built my very first snowman . . . .

 

 

I don’t remember if it was my idea, or Mom’s idea, but I remember being super-excited as I bounded into the front yard to play in the snow with Mom. My parents and I lived in a little yellow house on a little street in a little town in Southeast Missouri. The front yard was covered in a thick blanket of fresh snow, and I tramped around in the sparkling stuff, fascinated that it was sticking to my boots, and comparing my small bootprints to Mom’s big ones. She showed me that the snow not only stuck to my boots, but it stuck to itself, and I watched in amazement as she rolled a small snowball around the yard and made a large snowball. We repeated this action two more times, and soon had a stereotypical snowman ready for personalizing.

Our little yellow house was heated with a wood stove in the basement, and Mom took pieces of bark from the woodpile and made eyes and a smiling mouth for the snowman. The bark mouth kinda looked like he had teeth, which gave him a whimsical look. She then completed his face with the traditional carrot nose. I remember really really wanting a top hat like I’d seen on the Frosty the Snowman cartoon, but we didn’t have one. Instead, Mom placed one of Dad’s hunting caps on his snowy bald head. I was too little to reach the snowman’s face to help with the personalization, but not to be left out, I took little pieces of bark and made buttons down his front. Mom completed his look with a piece of pink plaid fabric for a scarf.

He was perfect. Or at least, in a little girl’s eyes he was perfect. My very first snowman. I was thrilled. Dad was impressed when he came home from work, and happy to sacrifice his hunting cap for a short while. My snowman was right by the living room window, so I spent the rest of the evening beaming at him from inside the warmth of the little yellow house. I went to bed that night and dreamed happy snowy little girl dreams.

 

The next morning, I bounced out of bed and raced to the living room. Mom was working on something on the dining room table, but I barely noticed her as I raced to the window . . . 

. . . and noticed the curtains were closed.

This was odd. Even as a little girl, I was attune to the circadian rhythm of the household, and the living room curtains were always closed at night, and opened first thing in the morning.

Yet there they were. Closed.

Not to be deterred, I threw open the curtains to greet my snowman. . . and the front yard was empty.

Now I know what you’re thinking.

The snowman melted overnight. That would have been the logical explanation.

However, that would also have been a really boring story. And I don’t do boring.

With glistening, wide eyes, I whirled around to Mom and opened my mouth to ask where my snowman was. No words could come out. I was so shocked he had vanished. Mom was coming around the side of the dining room table with her arms outstretched to administer comfort and an explanation. I sat in a miserable heap in her lap as she told me what happened.

It had gotten bitterly cold overnight, and everything froze solid. Including my snowman. There was a basketball game in town that night, and so all the high school kids were cruising around town afterwards. Mom and Dad woke up in the middle of the night when they heard noises in the front yard. They went to the window just in time to see some teenage boys load my entire frozen-solid snowman in the back of a pickup truck and drive away.

I was positively heartbroken.

Mom gathered up the tearful little girl piled in her lap and carried me over to the dining room table. She was making me a brand new snowman. There was not enough snow to make another snowman outside, so she created me one out of posterboard and construction paper. And this one had a top hat! Also, buttons and teeth.

Me and my Snowman

He was a very cool snowman.

Later in the week, we heard that several people had seen a snowman with teeth in the back of a pickup truck cruising around town. Looking back, I’m pleased to know he had quite an adventure before he reached the fate of every snowman when winter ends. And I’m happy that the boys had so much fun cruising around with my snowman.

A friend of my mother’s who wrote poetry immortalized my snowman in verse, and titled the poem “The Runaway Snowman.” There’s a book published somewhere with my snowman’s poem in it.

 

 

I learned very early the “make lemonade out of lemons” lesson as I played with my posterboard snowman well into the summer. There were other winters, and other snowmen, but my first one – my perfect snowman that I had for less than 24 hours – I will always remember. I hear that seven inches of snow was dumped on Missouri today. I imagine there are hundreds of snowmen in hundreds of yards across the Show-Me-State tonight, happily smiling frozen smiles throughout the night and ready to be greeted in the morning, while little boys and girls are dreaming happy snowy little boy and girl dreams.

 

 

Snowman The 3 of us

 

 

Categories: Guest Blogger, Missouri, times gone by, Winter | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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