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Dangers on the Trail



Doodle or letterHE NEXT summer I was not very well, and so I made a trip to Leavenworth, Kansas, by the Southern or Smoky Hill route.

We made the trip by mule train of twenty wagons with six mules hitched to each. The driver rode the nigh mule and with one line guided the team. If he wanted the leaders to go to the right he simply jerked fast or slow, depending on how quick he wanted to make the turn; if to the left, a steady or quick pull. The Indians on this trail were more numerous than on the Platte and scarcely a day passed that they were not to be seen, and continually trying to drive off our stock. We did not receive any great scare until we reached the Big Blue River where on the fourth day of July at ten o'clock in the morning a large Concord coach filled with passengers and a small guard of the United States soldiers,

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which had previously passed us, were awaiting our arrival before daring to proceed. On reaching the crest of the bluff leading to the valley of the river we saw hundreds of Sioux Indians, in war paint and feathers, camped on the opposite side in the underbrush and woods, and in the main trail directly in our path.

We at once went into corral. Thirty men against a horde of savages, if they were there to dispute our right of progress, was not a pleasant position to be placed in nor a fitting manner in which to celebrate the glorious Fourth. Consultations were numerous and all took part. The redskins, camped in plain sight, were hurrying to and fro, evidently in council like ourselves. To the right of the trail was a dense wood close to the river bank; on the left was a high perpendicular bluff, its sides unscalable, so our route As a genuine death trap, should they attack us. After grub all gathered in a circle and with pipes we proceeded with our last council. The situation was talked over from every point as to what the

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Indians might do or might not do. We finally arrived to the conclusion that they had the best of us whatever move we made. A majority vote decided to proceed with every man for himself in case of attack. Our wagons were empty which was a little in our favor as we could go on a mule trot or gallop. The coach filled with passengers was placed in the lead; and, being the youngest of the party, they were considerate enough to let me follow, and I did so as closely as possible. On reaching the river bottom, the driver of the coach started his horses on a run and the lash was put to every mule. We were all yelling like demons and on our approach the Indians left the trail and took to the river, thinking that we were a hundred or more strong. All passed safely through that valley of what might have been a horrible massacre. The unearthly racket we made was undoubtedly our salvation, but we were not out of danger by any means and continued our flight until eleven P. M. when we went into corral for food and rest. At three A. M. we again

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struck the trail and it is well that we did, for those blood-thirsty redskins laid death and destruction in their wake and came very near overtaking us a day later. Arriving at Leavenworth, I boarded a Missouri River palace for St. Louis, thence to New Orleans.


On returning to St. Louis, I met a Westerner that I knew only by sight, and by him was induced to remain over a few days and take in the city. I did and was scooped. On the third morning I went through my pockets and the bed, piece by piece, dumping its contents in the center of the room, but my roll was gone. At once I sought my friend, but he was nowhere to be found. Plain case of misplaced confidence. He had made a touch. In my desperation, I made a confident of the caretaker of the hotel register. Being of a sympathetic nature, he consoled me with an invitation to stimulate, which I did. Being without a trunk, I was informed on my arrival it was customary to pay as you enter; fortu-

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nately I had a meal to my credit. I was in good condition, having had sufficient victuals to last the day, after which I proceeded to the river front and here discovered a boat bound for Omaha. I boarded her, sought out the steward, and applied for a position. He replied that he did not want any help.

"Well, I suppose you will let a fellow work his way, won't you?"

His answer was "Get off this craft," and without further talk, in not a very gentlemanly manner he assisted me.

On landing, I was mad clear through, and made up my mind I was going on that boat, and I did go. Just before the gang plank was pulled in I walked on board, keeping a sharp lookout for the steward. After I had avoided him for an hour and just as I was on the point of congratulating myself, I bumped into him.

"You on board?"

"It looks very much as if I were in evidence."

He grabbed me by the coat collar and hustled me before the captain. I told a

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straight story, and he, being a man, told the steward to take me up to the kitchen and set me to work. He did, and had his revenge in seeing that it was nearly continuous. After supper I worked the dish racket until twelve o'clock. At three the next morning he awoke me out of a sound sleep and set me to cleaning the woodwork of the cabin. Another of my desirable duties was to wash and polish the silver, throwing the water over the sides of the boat.


After dinner of the second day I proceeded with the tin bucket to the side of the boat and overboard went its contents, including three silver spoons. The spoons had no sooner left the bucket than I felt something of great force come in contact with the seat of my trousers. For a moment I thought surely perpetual motion had been discovered. Turning I was face to face with that infernal steward. Nor did that end my troubles for during the entire trip that particular locality of my person was the target for that

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fellow's boot. With a terrible oath, he informed me that my landing would be reached about midnight a day later and was called Wood Pile Landing. A short time before reaching the place, I was hustled from my bunk by the steward and in no gentle manner forced to the bow of the boat. The night was pitch dark, and produced a decidedly lonesome feeling in the one that was to be put off at a Wood Pile on the edge of an immense forest and undoubtedly miles from a dwelling. As the boat reached the bank, not even waiting for the gang plank to be shoved out, the old sinner gave me a push and at the same time applied the now familiar boot. I reached the earth on all fours. My first thought was to present him with a rock, but I curbed my temper, for I had no idea of deserting the old ship.

In those days the boilers of the boats were fired with cord wood purchased of the planters and delivered on the bank of the river. All boats plying on the Missouri River at that time were flat bottom with

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paddle wheel at the stern. Two long heavy poles were carried at the bow and worked with a windlass, being used to raise the bow of the boat when becoming fast on a sand bar. The pilot was obliged to keep a continuous lookout for these bars, as the channel was treacherous and changed often.

On approaching the river bank one of the deck hands would jump off with the bow line and make fast to a stump or tree, then the stern line was thrown to him and similarly connected. Then the negro deck hands would proceed to carry on the wood on their bare shoulders to the tune of a Southern plantation melody. When ready to start the bow line was cast off, the paddle wheel was started by the engine, and by means of the steering gear the craft was swung out into the stream, then the stern line was thrown aship, and the boat was off-but not without the steward's victim. No sooner had the colored gentlemen reached the deck, than I followed. Waiting until all was quiet aboard, I sought my berth. The next morning I proceeded with my work as if nothing had happened.

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I anticipated the steward's next move would be to throw me overboard, and in that belief told the cook of what he had done the previous night. At that point he came in, and on discovering me said, "You here again," his face purple with rage. His right foot at once became restless, he made a rush for me, but the cook with butcher-knife in hand prevented the action of said foot, and my troubles with that gentleman were over.


We soon reached Leavenworth, and I left the boat without regret, but a much wiser youth. I went to the First National Bank of Leavenworth, drew my money, and after a few days' rest, I again embarked for Denver astride a mule. We saw plenty of Indians, but as the train was a long one they did not molest us.

On reaching the city of the plains I at once hunted up my old friend, the Major, who introduced me to the head of a firm of contractors, who were at that time engaged in getting out ties in the "Black Hills," for

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a portion of the Union Pacific railroad, then under construction. He told me that he wanted a man to go there and straighten out a set of books that a former employee had left badly mixed. He also took the trouble to inform me that the country was alive with Indians, and that the man who went there took big chances; and, if I were at all timid, I had better not accept the position. My friend gave me a strong recommend and I clinched the matter by telling the gentleman that I was not afraid of man, ghost or Indian. He replied that I was just the man he was in search of, and would give me five hundred dollars in gold, a good horse and pay all expenses; that I should get my traps and be at the Planter's Hotel for dinner.

He expected his two partners from the east to inspect the camp and business, and everything was to be in readiness to depart on their arrival. Our conveyance was a full sized Concord coach with six good mules to draw it. The boot of the coach contained the best of everything to eat and drink the latter being just as essential in that

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country as gun and ammunition. The partners were detained en route, and did not arrive until the second day, when they wished to rest and see the western sights, so we did not leave until the fourth day. Two Denverites accompanied us, making six in the party.

The first afternoon we made thirty-two miles, and camped near a stage station, where they keep, for the weary pilgrims, supplies and the rankest kind of corn juice known to the professional drinker.

The following morning we made an early start, and before noon rolled into La Port, on the Cachella Pondre River, the only settlement on the trail to the hills. We put up at the stage station for the night. There we met a drover, and a party of cow boys with one thousand head of California bronchos bound for the States. Those cowboys were as wild as western life could make them, yet, a jolly good lot.

During the evening, at the suggestion of someone, a poker game was started which lasted all night, and in the morning those who had indulged in the game were not feel-

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© 2005 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, Ted & Carole Miller