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

A Visit to Cody and The Cap From Meeteetse, Wyoming

In July of 2006, my wife and I were returning from a vacation out west. We stopped overnight at Billings, Montana, and traveled south into Wyoming the next day. We followed the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River towards Cody, Wyoming. We cut across country to the Shoshone River and stopped at Cody to visit the Buffalo Bill Museum.

I learned that the annual meeting of The Western Writers of America was in progress in Cody. They had set up a meet-the-authors book signing room at the museum. Looking over the room of tables, I spotted Texan Elmer Kelton, one of my favorite Agricultural Journalist/Western Authors.

I introduced myself and bought a book, which he signed. We visited awhile and learned that some of our ancestors left tracks across the same general area of Texas. Mine of course, wandered on into New Mexico. Sadly, Mr. Kelton passed on a few years later. He was, as they say, a gentleman and a scholar, but most of all he was the real thing. It was an honor just to sit and talk to him for a few minutes.
Of course the motels were full up in Cody. Calling around, we found a room at Worland. We left Cody and journeyed across the grassland country southeast of Cody. We watched the landscape for antelope and other wild critters. We observed plenty of sheep and cattle and fields of alfalfa. Suddenly, just as we passed it I spied a large antelope standing stoically in a fence-corner next to the road. I braked hoping for a picture. Glancing in my rear view mirror, I saw it cross the road behind us. It was road-smart and was long gone by the time I stopped.

By the time we reached the small town of Meeteetse it was time for a gasoline and restroom break. I pulled into an old-fashioned corner service station turned modern day convenience store. As I went inside to pay the young man behind the counter for the gasoline, I spied a row of caps on a shelf. They were the out-of-style high crown sign board type. Now that is my kind of cap and I just had to have one. They all had the same logo, a strange looking little masked varmint wearing a kerchief and a cowboy hat. I picked one and brought it to the cash register.

“What kind of animal is that?” I asked the young man behind the counter.

“It is a black-footed ferret,” he replied. “There is a story behind the cap. The black-footed ferret was thought to be extinct. One day my grandparents’ dog brought a dead one in and left it on their doorstep. My grandfather, noting it was a different looking little feller, took it to a local taxidermist. The taxidermist recognized it as being an important find and called in the Wildlife people.

“They conducted a local search and found the colony. The US Fish and Wildlife people captured several animals from the colony and are using those animals to raise enough in captivity to start new colonies in the wild.”

Ferret Hat

It is one of my favorite caps. I wear it and remember Meeteetse, a friendly little town with a story to tell. Meeteetse is approximately halfway between Cody and Thermopolis. It is beautiful country where the grasslands of northern Wyoming touch the mountains. A tip of my cap to Meeteetse, Wyoming.

Best wishes from the Sundown Trail.

Black-Footed Ferret

“Mustela nigripes 2” by USFWS Mountain Prairie – Black-footed Ferret Uploaded by Mariomassone. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mustela_nigripes_2.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Mustela_nigripes_2.jpg


Some interesting facts about Meeteetse and its informal mascot:
1. The name of the town is a Native American word meaning, “a meeting place”.
2. The town is also known far and wide for its gourmet chocolate.
3. Saddle bronc rider Tim Kellogg was needing money to buy a new saddle and decided to manufacture and sell chocolate to earn some funds. He still makes and markets chocolate goodies.
4. The black-footed ferret’s main food is prairie dogs.
5. The ferret’s population declined as the number of prairie dogs started to decline.
6. A disease named sylvalic plague was thought to have wiped the black-footed ferret out.
7. The surviving colony was found at Meeteese in 1981.
8. New colonies have been established again in eight western states.


Elmer Kelton’s Official Website
The Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Program
The US Fish and Wildlife – Black-Footed Ferret
Meeteetse, Wyoming Website


Categories: Endangered Species, travel, Wyoming | 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

Historic Gun Display

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

Missouri State Fair


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

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

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



The Ealer Pennsylvania Long Rifle


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Sundown Trail salutes our fallen veterans on this Memorial Day

The Mystery of the Lone Civil War Grave


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

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

Wood Gravestone Original

Photo taken in 1973.


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

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

Wood Gravestone 2

Photo taken at later time shows someone had decorated grave.


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

Wood gravestone

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




Interesting facts about the area:

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


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

The Kidder Massacre

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

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

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


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

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

Chief Pawnee Killer

Chief Pawnee Killer


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

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



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

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

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

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

The bodies were mutilated and desecrated by the Indians.

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


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




Some interesting facts about the Kidder tragedy:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Suggested reading:

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

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

The Rusty Lantern

I wrote this story years ago, long before lanterns became valuable antiques.  The story, or condensed versions, has been picked up and ran by several publications over the years.

A little backstory on Molly the mule.  A “Molly” is a name sometimes used for a female mule.  My older brother was in his mid-teens at the time of this story. He was a cowboy. He had ridden every horse on the place.  But the mule was his nemesis.  The hands mentioned in the story would talk him into trying to ride her and then place bets.  The odds were long but he was game.  They took her into a newly-plowed field close by, so he would have a softer landing.  Molly threw him off several times and then she let him ride clear to the other end of the field.  Once there, she unceremoniously dumped him and made him walk back.  End of game, she was tired of playing.


A story of days gone by.

It was rusted in a place or two, covered with grease and dust. The globe was still intact. The auctioneer set it in for a dollar and started begging for a dollar fifty, wanting someone to get him off the hook. He turned it in his hands and I saw the word Dietz embossed across the top. Dietz kerosene lanterns, they must have made a million of them. They were a common item in rural America a generation ago.

Dietz and John Deere, I could spell the words long before first grade.

I nodded my head and I swear he breathed a sigh of relief. I took it home and hung it on the stairwell.

On impulse, I worked the lever and raised the globe. Now, there are sounds and sights that we remember for only a day or a year and there are some we remember for a lifetime. The screak of the lantern took me back to my childhood on the Kansas plains …


The kitchen is warm, the smell of sausage, biscuits and gravy, and fresh coffee permeate the predawn air. The hands and family all set at the long table and the platters empty quickly.

We pick our corn by hand. One to three corn huskers work at it most of the winter. They are paid a few cents per bushel and board. I think the board is the most important part of their wages.

Breakfast finished, we put on the heavy clothes and step out on the porch to light the lanterns. The frozen ground crunches underfoot as they move to the barn.

The horses are waiting to be grained and Dad moves through the feed way dropping corn in the feed boxes as the hands put the harness on by lantern light.

“Watch that Molly son, she’ll bite.”

He is right, she will bite, unless she sees that you have a club handy. I guess we keep her because she is good to break young horses to harness with.

It is getting light and there is a flurry of activity. The harness creaks and chains jangle as they bring the teams to the wagons. Ned, Jim, Buck, and Shorty, and the others. They dutifully step across the wagon tongue and back in to be hitched. All but Shorty, every morning she balks at stepping over the tongue. Every morning the hands pop her on the rump with the end of the line and she steps over. She seems to think that is a required procedure.

The wagons rattle as they jolt over frozen ruts on the way to the field. Soon the sound of ears hitting the wagon backboards can be heard. The hands shout the horse’s names and few choice words in the clear morning air. Mom doesn’t allow cuss words around the house, but they are given freely in the field!

By this time he is milking and the lantern’s warm glow is lost in the cold morning light. I’m getting cold and start to whimper.

He ignores my pleas to go to the house, until he finishes milking. He rises from the milk stool and takes the lantern down. He raises the globe and blows out the flame.

“Here,” he says. “Take this back to the porch. Go in and warm up while you are at it.”

I grab the smelly lantern and scamper across the barnyard mindful of its warmth in my hands…
Dusk to dawn security lights, weatherproof lamps, three way switched circuits, and remote controls are a part of my life now. I have no use for an old kerosene lantern, but I’ll leave it hang in the stairwell. When I go by I’ll work the lever and listen to the screak of the globe going up, and remember how it was in the times gone by. 

Molly the Mule

The left foreground wagon is a two horse hitch. Oops! That is Molly the mule, and a horse to her left. I have ridden the wagon seat on the front wagon with Granddad Ryan. He would always buy me an ice cream cone after the wagons were unloaded at the grain elevator.
The rationing of gasoline during WW II did not bother my Grandfather Ryan. Even though we had tractors and access to trucks, he hauled his stored grain to market with horse power. The two back wagons are hooked together in tandem. Both the tandem hitch and the right front wagon seem to be three horse hitch.


Walt and his Uncle

Here I am (on the left) with my Uncle Art back in the days of rusty lanterns. Art Cole was a funny guy. Everything he said or did was spiced with humor. He was a good guy and my favorite Uncle. He worked in the California Citrus Industry. When he had time off he enjoyed visiting us on the farm.
As Mom prepared to snap the picture, he said, “Quick, stand up on the saddle.” We did, and instead of the “run-of-the-mill” cowboy picture it was forever different and a lasting memory along the Sundown Trail.

Categories: farming, Photography, times gone by | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bravery Personified: The Life of John Colter

Colters Hell

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

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

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

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

– Walt Ryan, Sundown Trail


Bravery Personified:  The Life of John Colter

by Mary Lou Schulte

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

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

John Colter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Where I was 50 years ago today

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

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