INCIDENTS OF THE INDIAN OUTBREAK OF 1864
FREIGHTING ON THE PLAINS-PLUM CREEK MASSACRE
By JAMES GREEN
In the spring of 1860 I went with my
parents to Pike's Peak where I resided until January, 1862,
when my brother--S. S. Green, now of Schuyler, Nebraska--and
I, each with an ox team, started to Omaha after freight.
From January to November, 1862, we made three round trips,
traveling 3,600 miles in eleven months by "oxomobile."
1 Charles H. Brown, prosecuting attorney for Douglas county, assisted by George B. Lake, conducted the famous case against Cyrus H. Tator, and he was defended by Andrew J. Poppleton and William A. Little, both brilliant lawyers. Further accounts of this famous trial may be found in Sorenson's history of Omaha, page 125; Johnson's history of Nebraska, page 290; history of Omaha by Savage and Bell, page 136.--ED.
2 Shinn's Ferry was situated about one mile west and two miles
On May 30, 1864, I was married to Miss Elizabeth Garrett, who lived with her parents in Saunders county, twenty miles east of my claim. Not long after this, some time in July, I got a hankering for the old Rockys again, so we loaded our traps in the wagon and started across the plains, expecting to make our future home somewhere along the foot of the mountains. At the time we started there was a faint rumor that the Indians were going to cause trouble, and on arriving at Fort Kearny, 125 miles west, the officers there were advising the emigrants to travel in large companies for self-protection; but, being perfectly familiar with the country and also with the Indians along the route, we proceeded as far as Cottonwood Springs, afterward Fort McPherson. On our arrival at this point the air was full of rumors of depredations farther west, and it was said that one man had been killed and his stock run off. After due consideration we concluded the best thing to do was to go back and wait a year, when perhaps the Indian troubles would be settled.
So, early in the morning of August 6, we turned our oxen to the east and drove twelve miles to Gilman's Ranch and went into camp on the bank of the river, half a mile beyond. The river here was full of little towheads and small channels, a few inches deep, trickling over the sand. When we had been in camp perhaps an hour and a half and I was sitting on the wagon tongue thinking of hooking up, suddenly and silently nine of the biggest, blackest war painted Indians I ever saw suddenly appeared out of the river, all riding good horses. They at once began to parley, some of them talking pretty good English, for a trade of ponies for my "squaw." While my wife sat on the wagon in plain sight of them, they raised their bids from one to four ponies for her. All at once the whole party struck out for the bluffs on the full run, which for the moment
south of the subsequent site of Schuyler and about a mile and a half north of the site now occupied by Edholm, Butler county.--Ed.
PARADE GROUND, FORT McPHERSON
was a puzzle for me. But the mystery was soon solved. Looking down the road I saw, within a mile, a troop of cavalry on the march from Fort Kearny to Cottonwood Springs. The purpose of the detachment was to establish an outpost near where the trouble was expected. I don't think we would have been disturbed by these Indians at that time only in a badgering way; and my reason for this belief will be given farther on.
From this camp we drove on a day and a half and then camped at what was called the Deserted Ranch, which was situated on a dry gulch where some one had started a ranch and gave it up before completion. Soon after our encampment a mule train, consisting of ten four-mule teams, came from the east and went into camp on the north side of the road about one hundred yards from us. This was August 7, 1864. This train, of which I shall speak again, further on, belonged to Frank Morton, of Sidney, Iowa. Early in the next morning we broke camp and made what was called a "breakfast drive", a very common thing in those days. We drove to the twenty-one-mile point and went into camp, about ten o'clock, for our breakfast. We had been there but a short time when the east-bound stagecoach passed us at double-quick, and the driver shouted that we had better get out of that as there were ten or twelve dead men lying in the road a little way above. I could hardly believe that there was anything unusual, so I drove four miles to the seventeen-mile point--seventeen miles from Kearny. While there in camp, about ten o'clock, a troop of cavalry came up from the fort on double-quick. The captain halted and asked where I camped last night, and when I told him at the old soddy he asked if I saw any Indians. I told him I did not. "Well," he said, "it's damn strange, for just where you say you camped last night it was reported that ten or twelve people were killed and one woman taken prisoner and their mules run off and wagons burned."3
3 The site of this famous tragedy was half a mile east of Plum Creek station, which was situated on the California road, about a mile
And now, my friends, comes that part of my story, that if there is such a thing as providence interfering or assisting any one it certainly showed its full hand in our case from the time we turned around at Cottonwood Springs until we passed on and escaped the Plum Creek massacre. For it is a fact that the people killed in that raid were the same that we camped so near the night before; and the fact that we made an early drive that morning was the only reason that we escaped. Again, when I tell you that Mrs. Morton, who accompanied her husband on this trip, was an old schoolmate and chum of my wife, and the further fact that they failed to recognize each other in our respective camps, must be another act credited to providence. The people slain consisted of Frank Morton, owner of the outfit, ten men, drivers, and a colored cook. Mrs. Morton was taken prisoner and I believe remained with these In-
west of the mouth of the creek, and thirty-five miles west of Fort Kearny. The place is now in the northwest corner of Phelps county. See Nebraska State Historical Society, Collections, XVII, 256 note; Watkins, History of Nebraska, II, 177; Executive Documents, 1864-5, V, 398. Perhaps Mr. Green correctly accounts for twelve killed, but eleven is the number commonly agreed to. Lieutenant Thomas Flanagan, Sixteenth Kansas Cavalry, reports that on September 1, 1864, he counted eleven graves of victims at the place of the massacre. Official Records, first series, XLl, pt. I, p. 244.
On the other hand, The Omaha Nebraskian of August 17, 1864, contains a letter from Lieutenant Charles F. Porter, dated Fort Kearny, August 9, in which he says that in the morning of that day Colonel Summers and Lieutenant Comstock, of the Seventh Iowa Cavalry, made a thorough search of the locality where the train was captured and found the bodies of thirteen men killed--several scalped and horribly mutilated, nearly all stripped of clothing. Five men were supposed to be still missing, also three women and several children it was thought had been carried away prisoners, one of them a Mrs. Baker of Council Bluffs, Iowa. At eleven o'clock the same morning sixteen Indians attacked Fred Smith's ranch, nine miles below Plum Creek, killed the hired man, burned the store, and drove off all the stock but five head. Smith and his wife had left for Kearny City two hours before the attack.
Lieutenant Bowen, Seventh Iowa Cavalary, "and others" were at the Thomas ranch, three-quarters of a mile west of the place of the Plum Creek massacre. They saw a hundred Indians attack the train,
dians for about five months when she was rescued through some friendly Indians, carried to Denver and was finally restored to her friends.
Another remarkable escape occurred at this time. About four miles east of our camp was a new ranch owned by a German called "Dutch Smith." As we passed the Smith place on our drive that morning he was seated in a buggy at the door, and his wife was pleading with him to go along, to Kearny, but he seemed to be quite anxious for her to remain home. However, she prevailed, for within half a mile they passed us on the road to Kearny, and the Indians that committed the murders at the Morton camp followed down the road as far as Smith's place, killed his hired man, ran off his stock and burned his
completely encircling it. Very little resistance was made by the men of the train. Apparently revolvers were the only weapons they had. Lieutenant Bowen could not find a soul left to tell the story. All the wagons but three were burned. The train was well loaded with dry goods, clothing, and household goods, apparently the outfit of some well-to-do settlers going west.
Under date of August 15, Fort Kearny, Lieutenant Porter writes that James and Baker of Council Bluffs were not killed at Plum Creek. The names of those certainly killed were Charles Iliff, Mable and boy, Smith and his partner, all of Council Bluffs, William Fletcher, of Colorado, and five others not known. "Six wagons loaded with corn and machinery from St. Joe belonging to Michael Kelly, and the outfit belonging to E. F. Morton, from Sidney, were destroyed." General Mitchell had brought this information from Cottonwood.
A correspondent in the Nebraska Republican of August 19, 1864, said that there were about twelve wagons in the Plum Creek train, that one hundred Indians attacked it and that thirteen men were shot and mutilated. The Republican savagely assailed Colonel Summers on the basis of a report that the operator at Plum Creek, in full view of the massacre. telegraphed Fort Kearny about it at seven o'clock in the morning, soon after its occurrence. Summers did not start until eleven o'clock and was on the road until ten o'clock at night--eleven hours for a march of thirty-two miles. He stopped two hours for dinner on the way. His command was cavalry with fresh horses.
On August 7, 1864, there were concerted attacks by Indians on settlers, travelers, and stations along the California road between the Little Blue River and the mountains.--ED.
buildings. Whether these different escapes all just happened or whether the hand of providence was guiding us are things that to me are not comprehensible.
In referring back to the episode at Gilman's Ranch with the nine Indians, I have come to the conclusion that they would not have harmed us at that time; for I consider it a premeditated attack. There were depredations committed all along the line for a distance of two hundred miles, and thus this little squad would not have dared to start the scrap before the time arrived.
On our arrival at the old home and starting point we concluded that Nebraska was good enough for us, and we have rounded out a full half century within her confines. We have two sons, thirteen grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, all born in Nebraska and all living in the state to-day, without a death in the family for forty-six years.
It is marvelous to stop for a moment to consider what has taken place in this great America of ours in half a century. Every mile of railroad west of Minneapolis, Fort Des Moines and St. Joseph has been constructed since I settled in the territory. Fort Des Moines, Iowa, was the nearest to a railroad at the time of my settling in Butler county.
FROM MEMORANDA OF CAPTAIN EDWARD B. MURPHY4
Reports came to Fort Kearny that every ranch and stage station between Fort Kearny and Big Sandy Creek was burned. The commandant was ordered by his superior officer to investigate this report. He ordered me to go east on the Overland stage road to Big Sandy Creek,
4 Edward B. Murphy was captain of Company A, Seventh Iowa Cavalry. Companies A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and H of this regiment were detached to Nebraska on account of Indian hostilities, and they arrived at Omaha on September 19, 1863. The other four companies of the regiment had been sent northward and camped at Sioux City, Iowa. Ware, The Indian War of 1864, p. 8; Official Records, first series,
if necessary, find out what there was in the report, and fight the Indians if compelled to do so. I was to take ten days' rations, one hundred rounds of ammunition for the carbines and the same for the pistols. We were also to take two pieces of artillery, the chests of each to be filled with spherical case grape and canister. We had but one
XLI, pt. II, p. 30. On July 30, 1864, Company A was at Dakota City, C and F at Fort Cottonwood, B and D at Fort Kearny, E at the Pawnee agency, Nebraska, G at Topeka, and H at Fort Riley. Company I was at Sioux City and K, L, and M in Dakota with General Sully's "northwestern Indian expedition." Companies A and D First Battalion Nebraska Cavalry were at Omaha; Company B at Dakota City; Company C, under Captain Henry Kuhl, on the march to the Pawnee agency. Ibid., XXXIV, pt. IV, pp. 620, 621, 628.
On July 19 General Robert B. Mitchell, in command of the military district of Nebraska, and then at Fort Cottonwood, was urging General Samuel R. Curtis, commander of the department of Kansas, which included Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Indian Territory, to send reënforcements. On that day the acting assistant adjutant general at Omaha issued the following order:
Captain E. B. Murphy, Company A, Seventh Iowa Cavalry, is relieved from command at Dakota City, Nebr. Ter., and will march his company to Fort Kearny, Nebr. Ter., via Omaha, without a moment's delay.
On the 25th the same officer telegraphed to Colonel Samuel W. Summers, of the Seventh Iowa Cavalry, in command at Fort Kearny, that Company A left Omaha for the fort on the 24th. Ibid., XLI, pt. II, pp. 276, 277, 347, 399. On May 3. 1864, General Mitchell ordered Captain Murphy to establish the headquarters of his company at "Dakota Post", Nebraska. Ibid., XXXIV, pt. III, p. 425.
On August 12 Colonel Summers sent word to Captain John Willans, assistant adjutant general at Fort Leavenworth, department headquarters, that all the mounted men at the fort--only fifty in number because a part of the command were at Plum Creek--"Started for the Blue this morning." Ibid., XLI, pt. II, p. 673.
In a dispatch to General Curtis, dated at Fort Kearny, August 19, 1864, General Mitchell described the battle of August 15, on Elk Creek, between Captain Murphy's command and the Indians as follows:
Captain Murphy has just returned from the Blue. Undertook to go from the Blue to the Republican. Got as far as Elk Creek. Met 500 well-armed Indians; had a fight; killed 10 Indians and lost 2 soldiers. Was compelled to fall back after driving Indians ten miles. Indians followed him thirty miles on his retreat. Things look blue all around this morning. Ibid., p. 765.
Captain Murphy enlisted from Ottumwa, Iowa, September 12, 1862; mustered in April 27, 1861; Promoted to captaincy July 8, 1863; after-
wagon with us. I got ready, and told the colonel that I would return by way of the Republican River. He said "Do not do that."
I started immediately after dinner, and had one hundred and twenty-five men when I left the fort. About eight miles east of the fort I met Lieutenant Giger,5 selected twenty of his best men, and took them along with me. When the lieutenant arrived at the fort he reported to the colonel that I had taken twenty of his best men. This was more than the officer wanted to spare, as he feared an attack on the fort. He sent a courier after me. The citizens who were camped on the reservation were anxious to know what devilment had been done east of the fort by the Indians, and no one was more interested than Benjamin Holladay, owner of the stage line, who was on the ground. So they raised a purse of twenty-five dollars to bribe this courier, and sent a man after him mounted on a swift horse. He was to give the courier the twenty-five dollars,
ward transferred to Company A. of the reorganized Seventh Cavalry; resigned December 23, 1865. He was in very active service on the Nebraska plains during the campaigns of 1864 and 1865; was at Plum Creek, August 31, 1864; on the Republican River, just below Medicine Lake Creek, September 13; early in October he established and took command of Alkali post, thirty-five miles west of O'Fallon's Bluff, and was there, chasing Indians, in the spring of 1865. Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion, IV, 1263, 1336, 1397, 1456, Official Records, first series, XLI, pt. I, pp. 245, 826, 830; ibid., pt. II, pp. 734, 765; ibid., XLVIII, pt. I, pp. 90, 91, 399, 1040; pt. II, pp. 274, 1251.
After retiring from the military
service Captain Murphy settled at Plattsmouth. In 1871 he
joined a company which founded the town of Arapahoe, Furnas
county, of which he became a resident and where he died in
the year 1900. Nebraska State Historical Society,
Proceedings and Collections, second series, V, 302;
Andreas, History of Nebraska, p. 888.--ED.
and he was not to deliver any order to me, but to come back and tell the colonel that the Indians drove him back, and that he could go no further. This worked all right for the citizens, and the courier did not follow me; so I went on my way, making fifteen miles that afternoon, and twenty-live miles the next day.
The Indian spies were watching us. We put out strong guards at night, slept on our arms, started before breakfast and arrived at the dining station of the stage company, where we took breakfast. The stage people and the passengers had sat down to breakfast. The stage was waiting at the door. Mounted men came from the nearest ranch and told the passengers to fly for their lives--that the Indians had killed three men five miles south of this eating station. They left the table without touching their coffee. The ham was cooked and on the table and the bread on the plate. The ladies of the ranch put a few things into the stage the driver put on his whip, and they struck out for the fort.
That was the condition in which I found that eating station. The Indians did not molest the passengers on their way to the fort. We fed our horses, had breakfast, and started about ten o'clock.
We soon came to a place where eight wagons had been camped. They had formed no corral, and as they were hitching up in the morning the Indians came upon them. One team started out one way and the others in opposite directions. The savages killed the eight men, owners of the wagons, and took their stock, arms and ammunition.
Their wagons were standing there on the prairie, their bodies lying in the hot sun with no one to bury them. They had been scalped and had then been dead five or six days. We gave them as decent a burial as was possible, and started for Pawnee Ranch to stay over night.
We arrived at Pawnee Ranch quite late, and found that ranch all pierced with bullets.6 Several wagon loads of
6 Pawnee Ranch was built by Jefferson B. Weston in 1857; at the
goods were scattered around on the ground. The ranch looked as if it had been besieged. We put out a strong guard for the night and divided the command, half of then sleeping at the house and half at the stable. Indians were watching us all night and firing at our guards, who returned the fire. We had everything arranged in case of a night attack. There was a war party sent out from the main body to harass us. Several parties of this kind were kept out all the time, and relieved by others when they were worn out. That is their custom in spying and guarding, and posting the main body as to the whereabouts of the enemy. We found some hay near this ranch and hauled in two loads of it, and stayed at the ranch another day and night.
About three o'clock in the afternoon I saw a party of men coming up the road. I climbed upon the stable, and discovered that they were white men. They halted, as they were uncertain as to who we were. I sent out a mounted man with a guidon. (A guidon is a V-shaped flag on a long staff.) When they discovered it was "Old Glory", they were wild, and came on a run for the ranch. They were a company of militia from Beatrice, Nebraska. One of them, the captain, was sheriff of Gage county, Nebraska, and the lieutenant was the deputy sheriff. I welcomed them, and made inquiries about the Indians. They told me about a big train of wagons that were all stripped of their covers. The wagon master of this train was along with the company. He was a very wild man, owing to the loss of his cattle and mules, and would like something to hap-
mouth of Pawnee Creek, now in the southwest quarter of section 16, township 5, range 8, west, in the southwestern corner of Clay county. It was on the principal highway from the Missouri River to California, Oregon, Utah and Colorado, the line of the original Oregon Trail, 54 miles southeast of Fort Kearny and 26 miles west of Little Blue station. Johnson, History of Nebraska, p. 265; John Gilbert, seq., p. 22; Official Records, first series, XLI, pt. I, p. 825. The ranch was unsuccessfully attacked by Indians late in the afternoon of August 9. Wells, A Frontier Life, pp. 81-89.--ED.
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