THE FIRST SHERIFF OF HITCHCOCK COUNTY  

(TELLS HIS OWN STORY)

   Gale E. Baldwin, the first sheriff of Hitchcock County, wrote this account of early days of Southwest Nebraska in 1923 at the age of 76. Mr. Baldwin's recollections include Indian raids and showdowns with desperadoes, including the man who reputedly killed "Wild Bill" Hickok. Mr. Baldwin's story of prairie hardships is told with a blend of color and humor typical of the men and women who settled the plains. His story was copied from the original in 1928 by Lorene Speer, a granddaughter. In 1944, Mrs. Myrtle Kreuger of McCook, made the copy which was submitted to the Gazette for use in the Centennial Edition. Mr. Baldwin died May 13, 1925.

 

In March, 1871, I bundled my wife and two children into a covered wagon, hitched up a pair of mules and started west to find a home. We landed in Republic County, Kansas, the first of May, and stayed there till September, and then with another home-seeker started up the Salmon (probably Solomon) River, hunting buffalo and a place for a home.

We hunted to the head of the south fork of the Salmon, kiled some buffalo and then went north across the north fork of the Sappy and Prairie Dog River. There we struck the Republican River about where Stratton now stands.

From there we drove down the first river to the mouth of the Blackwood, and there we camped and dried meat for about a week. As the rivers were full of fish and game was plentiful, we decided to locate around in there some place. So we drove down the river and the first settler we came to was at the mouth of Deer Creek just west of where Arapahoe now stands. Here we camped until next March.

In March, 1872, we drove to Lowell on the Platte River, where the west most land office was located, only to find that the land office would move to North Platte. When we reached home again I found that four of my old schoolmates from Iowa were there.

They were my brother-in-law, Lafe Talkington, his brother Sam, John Miller and George Foster. We rigged up a couple of wagons and started again for Hitchcock County.

About April first, when we reached the Blackwood again we found George Gesleman (brother of Charles) in a small dugout. We drew lots for choice of lots. Gesleman drew first, I second, Kelly third, Talkington fourth, Sam Talkington fifth and George Foster sixth. We hunted and dried meat and prepared materials for our dugout.

About May 1, I took a load of meat down to Republican County, taking my wife and three children with me. Eleck, four years, Olive, three years, and Rosella, two months. We brought back 30 head of cattle and two Chester White pigs with us. We landed on the Blackwood about June 2, and as our dugout was not quite finished, we moved in the Gesleman dugout. That night came the Blackwood flood.

About six mile up the creek, six soldiers were drowned and 35 head of horses and mules. The first we heard of the flood was about two o'clock in the morning when the pigs began to squeal, and looking out we saw that we were surrounded by water which was leaking into our dugout, but by spading up the floor we managed to bank up the door and thus keep the water out.

The next morning I had to swim out about 190 yards south of the dugout to where we had the corral, and to my surprise found my pigs. The corral was just high enough so the calves could keep their heads above water. If the water had rose a foot higher it would have swept us all of the face of the earth and that would have meant a lot to Hitchcock County's population.

John Klevin, Dan Hagen, Eben Bacon and John Murphy had just come in the day before and knowing they were just about six miles up the creek we started up the creek to find them, and reaching them we found them in the tree tops surrounded by water. One of Klevin's horses was drowned, and his team, a fine pair of grays, had broken loose and swam out.

We found the soldiers, which numbered about 100, with not a dozen suits of clothes and six were missing. Five were found in the next two days and their bodies taken to Fort McPherson for burial. One of the party found the other body several days later and his body was taken back some time in July.

Will Taylor and several more men representing the Lincoln Land Co. came up to organize the county and elect officers. I don't remember the date of the election but I was elected sheriff. A little lawyer by the name of Lew Carr was elected county judge, Will Taylor county clerk, and John Klevin, W.W. Kelly and George Gesleman county commissioners and Lem Corington surveyor.

About this time I went back to my old home in Iowa to attend to some business and I brought back with me the first sewing machine that was ever in Hitchcock County. I had left my wife and sister Mariah Talkington, who had just come from Iowa with her husband Lafe Talkington, and the three other men that first came there with me.

About six days before the historical Massacre Canyon Battle six Sioux Indians came to our dugout while the men were away working up the creek and robbed us of everything they could carry away. They took a Sharps 55 caliber (or 45?), 120 grams of powder and two .45 shooters. They also threatened to take my small son with them.

When my wife and sister saw them coming they thought they could reach the timber a short distance away, as our dugout was on the bank by the buyo, and near the mouth of the Blackwood near Culbertson, but the Indians saw them and rode their ponies after them, driving them back as one does cattle. When they got back, my wife, thinking they would kill them anyway, sat down on a bank preferring to die in the open, one of the Indians seeking the earrings in my wife's ears reached over and jerked them out.

All at once she saw that the Indians were quite excited. They would point to the buyo and then to my son and say "Pa?" My wife looked to where they were pointing and saw the men coming up the creek. She jumped upon the bank and screamed. When the Indians saw them coming to the dugout they got on their horses and rode away. I dread to think what would have happened if the men had not come when they did.

My wife sent a man to North Platte to wire me and to notify the soldiers at Fort McPherson of the raid. The soldiers reached our place the day of the Sioux-Pawnee fight. That is the kind of protection the government gave us.

My wife and sister stood on the dugout and could see the smoke and hear the guns of battle. I guess that the Indians were using my Sharps rifle, too. I reached home three days after the fight. I freighted in North Platte in 1874 and met a Sioux at the Red Cloud Agency, and he told me they lost only six men in the battle.

At the election in November in 1874 there was no contestant for any of the county officers except sheriff and that was because there were some horse thieves working under the guise of hunters and were opposed to my mode of tracking stolen horses, so they ran a man by the name of Tom Grimes against me.

They all had a vote as all the unorganized territory west to the Colorado line was under the jurisdiction of Hitchcock County. Those rustlers were a pretty tough bunch, too. Especially the gang that went by the names of "Big Jack," "Curly Jack," "Fat Jack," and "Long Jack."

Curly Jack came down the day before the election to see how the outlook for sheriff was and if it looked like I would win he was prepared to use his gun. The morning of the election my wife begged my to leave my guns at home.

After I had gone Curly Jack came to my house to try to lecture Eben, who worked for me, to try and get him to vote for Grimes.

As they were on the way up town Jack asked Eben who he was going to vote for, and he said "Baldwin," and Jack threw him down and stuck his six shooter in his mouth and made him say "Grimes." In the shuffle Jack's horse got loose and while he was catching it Eben ran to the store and told me that Jack was going to kill me.

As at my wife's plea I had left my guns at home, and I had no weapons except the one Judge Carr had and as it was only a .22 I told Judge to keep it as it would only make Jack mad to shoot him with it. There were about ten men in the room and I told them to keep out of the way and I would take care of Jack myself.

I picked up a piece of a two-by-four about three feet long and when he rode up to the door and yelled, Taylor opened the door and Jack said to tell Baldwin to come out," and I hollered out for "him to come in" and in he came with a gun in each hand. As his head came in sight I hit him on it with the two-by-four and he dropped like a log not even so much as pulling a trigger.

Dr. Banderslice pronounced him dead, so they wrapped him in a buffalo robe and laid him outside as we were short of room and went on with the election.

In the afternoon Grimes came in and wanted to see him. When they unwrapped him they found that he was still alive so we took him in and wrapped him up again. About twelve o'clock that night he called for water. I rigged up a bed on my wagon and took him home with me and my wife nursed him about two months, then he was able to go back to camp.

About two years later he killed "Wild Bill" Hickok in Deadwood, South Dakota, and was hanged in Yankton, South Dakota.

Of all the twenty-six men that voted that day I think only three of us are still alive. Grimes and I had thirteen votes apiece, and the "County Commissioners had to decide between us so they gave it to me. Grimes was killed next year in a gun fight in North Platte, Nebraska.

(County records show that each received seven votes.)

At that time we freighted all of our supplies from North Platte, going four or five teams together on one of these trips. The teams had to lay over a day or two to get some freight from Omaha, and as Kleven and I had to get back to Culbertson, we started about two o'clock p.m., took a short nap on the Medicine Creek and reached Culbertson the next day at two o'clock and I was not in the lead when we got there, for Klevin could outwalk anything I ever saw on legs.

One time in November, I think, we ran out of bread stuff, especially cornmeal, which was our favorite. I hitched up two yoke of oxen to a covered wagon, loaded my wife and children in and drove to Naponee, Nebraska, got caught in a snowstorm and camped out every night for ten nights and got back with a load of meal flour all fine and dandy.

At one time when I was out with the soldiers, the children saw a group of horsemen in the hills and thinking it was the soldiers and myself returning, my wife hurried with the churning and preparations to get us supper, but going out to see how near we were, she was horrified, (for)what she had taken for soldiers was a band of Indians. She quickly called the children and with them his in a field of barley where she could see the Indians and counted them as they were coming so as to know if they all left.

After eating everything they could see, carry off on their horses and including most of the bedding, some of them played liked children with two little antelope that were staked close by and that the children were raising for pets.

You will probably wonder how we got money, but we did not need much as we made our moccasins, instead of shoes, out of tanned buffalo hides and caps out of beaver skins, and we never had a doctor bill.

The homesteaders in the eastern part of Nebraska would come out to kill buffalo, but they usually had to hire some of us old-timers to kill them as their guns would hardly tickle a buffalo hide. I took several loads of hides to Fort Wallace on the K and P railroad for myself and other hunters.

Will Taylor built the first store building out of cottonwood lumber hauled from Republican City. John Klevin built the first post office out of cedar logs that he cut and hauled from the Driftwood with oxen. It was one and a half stories high and I don't know what became of it, but I would give a lot to see it standing in Culbertson today in honor of one of the most honorable men that ever came to Hitchcock County. Will Taylor was another that was never appreciated as he should have been for, as I recall, those days showed who was who.

The first white man buried in Hitchcock County was a man by the name of Bess. He was bitten by a skunk and died of hydrophobia, and it was one of the most horrible deaths I have witnessed. He was buried west of the Crews Canyon. Two horse thieves wee buried there later. They were killed in a gun battle with Bill and Jim Doyle in the Bluffs west of where Palisade now stands. There were some more farther up the trench, and that we will say nothing about, but we managed to take care of ourselves.

In 1874 I sold five yoke of oxen to a North Platte freighting outfit, and hired out to drive seven yoke of oxen to the Red Cloud Agency at one hundred dollars a month. I had Mrs. Baldwin move over to North Platte until fall. Then in June, 1875, with John Asher McPerson and Lafe Talkington and their families we moved to Red Oak, Iowa. We took ten head of buffalo calves…one two year old heifer, three coyotes and three little antelopes and some prairie dogs, and I had thirty-five head of cattle. That was my worst move and I have made many bad ones.

We came back to Hitchcock County in 1879 and have had a home in range thirty-two ever since and still like it. Mrs. Baldwin and I are each seventy-five years old and will celebrate our fifty-fifth wedding anniversary on the twentieth of March, 1923, and think we have made a host of friends since we came here, and lost none only by death.

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© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 by Brenda Lawless Daniel