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Colonel Moore's Graphic Description of a Fight with Cheyennes.[1]

That Colonel Milton Moore for a quarter of a century has been a prominent practitioner at the Kansas City bar, a member of the election boards, and is now serving as a school commissioner is well known, but that the old commander of the Fifth Missouri infantry was ever a Santa Fe freighter in the days when freighting was fighting, was not generally known until there appeared a month ago in Hal Reid's monthly, Western Life, a paper written by Colonel Moore for the Kansas Historical Society.

The story is that of an engagement between a party of freighters, with whom was young Moore, and a band of Indians, in 1864, not far from Dodge City.

The story as told by Colonel Moore was incomplete in that he admitted he did not know by what Indians his party was attacked. A week ago the sequel appeared in the form of a letter from George Bent, at present residing at Colony, Okla., who has written to Colonel Moore to tell him that the leader of the Indians he fought with forty-four years ago was the notorious "Little Robe," no chief at all but a great warrior. With the Bent letter Colonel Moore's story is complete, and both are here given:

"After the commencement of the Indian war on the upper Arkansas in 1864 caravans were not permitted to proceed westward of Fort Larned on the Pawnee Fork, or the confluence of that stream with the Arkansas, near where the city of Larned now stands, on the river road, in parties of less than 100 men. In August two trains of Stuart, Slemmons & Co., who had the general contract for the transportation of government stores for the posts on the Arkansas and in New Mexico and Arizona that year, reached the mouth of Pawnee fork, and found awaiting them a Mexican train bound for some point below the Santa Fe, also a small train of fourteen wagons under the direction of Andrew Blanchard of Leavenworth. The name of the wagonmaster of the Mexican train is not remembered, but he was either a Frenchman or Castilian. The S. S. trains were under the charge respectively of Charles P. McRea and John Sage, both of whom were men of experience and tried courage. The four trains having a force of men numbering more than 100 were allowed to proceed.

"A full train of the period was twenty-five wagons loaded with freight, and a provision wagon, commonly known as the 'mess wagon,' each drawn by six yokes of oxen; the freight of each wagon was from 6,000 to 7,000 pounds. There was one wagonmaster, one assistant and one extra man, denominated the 'extra hand,' who were mounted, twenty-six teamsters and two night herders. In practice the night herders soon became teamsters, replacing sick men, or those who for some reason had turned, or were turned back, and the slavish duty of night herding cattle fell upon the teamsters.

"Thomas Fields of Jackson County, Missouri, route agent for the S. S. company, was elected captain of the combined trains. He was a man of many years' experience on the plains, and had been in more than one contest with the Indians.

"The rule of travel was: The train having the advance today should go to the rear tomorrow, and so on. Blanchard, having light wagons, which could be moved easily and rapidly, was dissatisfied with the rule, and refused at times to be governed by it, with the result hereinafter stated.

"On Sunday, August 21, the trains, after a hard morning drive, reached the head of the 'dry route,' which left the river some miles below the present Dodge City, ran over the hills by old Fort Larned, not touching the Arkansas valley again until the crossing of Walnut creek. McRea was in front, followed by Sage, the Mexican, and Blanchard, in the order named. The region was known to be dangerous because near the great trail of the Indians in their journeyings from north to south and the reverse.

"McRea went into corral just south of the road about 10 o'clock a.m., and Sage and the Mexican in their order, but well closed up. The three first trains corralled so as to leave room for Blanchard's train with its rear resting on or near a bayou in such way that it would be practically impossible for a band of Indians to sweep around it. Instead of camping at the place designated, Blanchard continued on and went into corral about half a mile beyond McRea. The cattle were placed south of the trains, near the river, and guards put out. The trainmen were armed with Minie rifles, and the order in force required that these be carried in slings on the left sides of the wagons--a rule but little observed. As a matter of fact, the guns were usually in the wagons, and practically inaccessible when needed in an emergency, except as hereafter stated. The teamsters of McRea's train were largely from Missouri; and a number of them had seen military service upon one side or the other in the Civil War. They were a well-controlled and reliable body. The first mess on the right wing were white men, excepting the negro cook, Thomas Fry, who was afterwards a ragpicker in Kansas City, and died there. He was an honorably discharged soldier from the United States volunteer army on account of the loss of the first two fingers of the right hand in battle.

"The second mess was wholly negroes, or 'black men,' as the Missourians of the period termed them. The negroes, possibly from the novelty of having far-shooting guns in their possession, habitually had their arms at hand when in camp, practicing at targets as far as allowed by the rules of the wagonmaster. At about 1 o'clock in the afternoon the camp was quiet, many of the men asleep; one big fellow was lying on his back under his wagon singing 'Sweet Eloise,' and three men from McRea's train were out more than 100 yards towards the ridge, shooting at prairie dogs.

"Suddenly the cry of 'Indians' came from one of these. A glance at the ridge not more than half a mile away showed it to be covered with mounted Indians, and a dozen or more coming down the slope at full run, evidently intending to overtake the three men before they could reach the corral, and were in a fair way to do so, and possibly pass between Sage and McRea. The six negroes of the second mess instead of running inside the corral and firing from behind wagons, as they would have been justified in doing, boldly opened fire on the advancing party and walked out to the road towards them. This turned the Indians and the three men came in safely. Nevertheless five of the Indians, led by a man on a yellow pony, dashed through between the trains of McRea and Blanchard and very near the latter. Probably forty or more passed around the head of Blanchard's train and came in south of it.

"The ridge was still covered with mounted men who had not then descended into the valley. When Blanchard saw the five Indians pass by the mouth of his corral he mounted his pony, drew his revolver, an ordinary 36-caliber, and rode out after them, evidently not noticing those who had passed around the front of his train. By the time he had gotten possibly 200 yards from his camp the Indians, who by that time had concentrated, divided into two parties, and one began to drive off his cattle and the other to circle around him, lying on the sides of their ponies and covering their bodies with shields. By this time the train men in the corrals of McRea and Sage had got their arms and those on the south side opened fire, but at too great a distance to protect Blanchard, or to do the Indians serious injury.

"The Indians closed on Blanchard, and either knocked him off his horse in an effort to get him onto one of their own ponies, to take him out of the fire or he fell from wounds. As he fell his fourteen teamsters and one night herder left their corral, and without a word of command formed a line, and charged the mass of Indians, firing rapidly as they advanced. The Indians hesitated before giving up their victim, but finally retreated. Blanchard was able to get on his feet and run to his men, who brought him to McRea's camp where he died in an hour. He had been shot one or more times, lanced behind one shoulder, and an arrow had entered his back near the spinal column and protruded about eight inches out through the stomach; this he pulled through himself before reaching his rescuers. When his pistol was found, which he had dropped, two chambers were empty, but there was no evidence that he had wounded any of the Indians.

"We buried him by the side of the road, and upon our return in the fall it appeared that his grave had been opened, but whether by savage Indians, wolves or loving hands we never knew. After retreating some distance, driving the cattle of Blanchard's train, four Indians dashed back into McRea's herd and took out about one-third, and a few belonging to Sage. This was done under a heavy rifle fire, but so far as ever known no Indians were hurt. They left two of their ponies down on the river bank, which probably had been disabled. The Mexicans sustained no loss. After the skirmish was ended a few well directed shots dispersed the party that had remained on the hill; and one Indian, not exceeding 800 yards away, who seemed to be acting as a signal man, was directly fired at--the rifleman resting his piece on a wagon tongue; so far as we knew no harm happened to him, but he galloped swiftly from his post, and was not seen again.

"The Indians drove the cattle so captured across the river to a point two or three miles away, then unsaddled their ponies and rested. About 4 o'clock in the afternoon another herd, consisting of horses, mules and cattle, the proceeds of other raids, were driven down on the south side of the river, and added to those taken from Blanchard's train and the S.S. trains. The combined herds were then driven southward over the sand hills. We saw no more of this war party. It was anticipated that some might remain and watch for a messenger that must necessarily be sent back to Fort Larned; if any were left we had no evidence of it.

"As all of Blanchard's herd except two oxen had been taken it was necessary to communicate with Fort Larned, the nearest military post. The distance was estimated to be about sixty-five miles. The night herder of Blanchard's train expressed a willingness to go upon this perilous undertaking. While making his preparations at McRea's camp he was asked if he wanted any money, that a little might be found in the train. He replied that money would not 'help' him 'on a trip like this,' but he would be glad to have a small bottle of whisky and some tobacco, as he might not get anything to eat before the afternoon of the next day. These having been furnished him, and when it was dark, without a word of parting, he mounted the pony, off which Blanchard had been shot, and rode away towards the hills, saying that it was his purpose to keep away from the road and travel under the 'tops of the ridges.' On the second morning after his departure, and just at daylight a body of soldiers arrived, accompanied by the messenger, together with a long train of wagons. The commanding officer took charge of Blanchard's wagons, and within an hour McRea, Sage and the Mexican were moving on to their several destinations under an escort, commanded by Captain Butcher, Eleventh Missouri Volunteer cavalry. The remainder of the journey was made by the three trains without incident--Indians having been seen but once, and that was a short distance below old Fort Lyon; the party disappeared rapidly, and was evidently traveling and not on the warpath.

"Returning to the messenger, his courage and boldness stamped him as a man whose name should be preserved, if possible, in Kansas historical collections, but I never heard of him again, and do not remember his name, possibly never knew it. The plainsman of that period, like his successor, the cowboy, was not inquisitive. He might ask another where he was from, but rarely his name--never his former business. The messenger was then of full middle life, rather stout, with sandy colored hair and beard, and brown eyes. He was simply a night herder, probably had no other occupation, but like the trapper, the hunter and the plainsman, he has probably joined his class.

"In 1877 I was at Dodge City several days taking testimony in a case growing out of the loss of a train of mules near the Cimarron crossing in the year 1864, and one afternoon, in company with a former member of the firm of Stuart, Slemmons & Co., drove down to Fort Dodge and below to identify, if possible, the place where Blanchard was killed, but could not. From the course of a bayou I was led to believe that the guard house at Fort Dodge was located at or near the place where the rear of the Mexican train stood. However, there was no landmark by which the place could be reasonably identified. In years past I have made many inquiries to learn if possible what band of Indians made the attack, but have obtained no satisfaction. It was the opinion of our captain, Thomas Fields, judging from their mode of attack, that the Indians were Comanches or Kiowas, or both."

In 1908 I wrote George Bent, a former school mate, and received the following reply:

"Colony, Okla., Jan. 17, 1908.

"Colonel Milton Moore, Kansas City.

"Sir: I have seen published in a Western periodical your paper now in the archives of the Kansas Historical Society relating to a battle your train had with a war party in August, 1864, near where Fort Dodge was. Cheyennes were camped on the Solomon river. Several war parties started from this village to make raids on trains. Most of these parties went to Platte river. The Sioux joined these war parties that went to Platte river. 'Little Robe,' now dead, was head of this party that your trains had fight with. There were twenty or thirty warriors in this party. The man you speak of riding the yellow horse in the lead was 'Bear Man.' He was no chief; only grand warrior in battles. I was in the Cheyenne village when these war parties started out and I knew this young man well. He died at Darlington agency several years ago from an old wound he got fighting Utes. He was about twenty-five years old when he led that charge through between the trains. The war party did not drive the cattle very far out when they left them. Just before this fight, in July, I think, the Kiowas and Comanches attacked a train or two at Walnut creek. They killed several teamsters. Brother Charles was at Charley Rath's ranch on Walnut creek at the time. He told me about it when he came to the village on Solomon river. The whites started this war in 1864. As I was with the Cheyennes at the time I knew what took place. The Kansas Historical Society ought to get the Indian side of the history of all these wars between the whites and Indians.

"Respectfully yours,

"GEORGE BENT."

[Footnote 1: NOTE.--Colonel Milton Moore, the signer of this Preface, is a man of unusual legal ability. The confidence reposed in the old commander of the Fifth Missouri infantry is clearly set forth by the fact that for more than a quarter of a century he has been a member of the police and election boards and has served for a long time as school commissioner and is one of the most prominent practitioners at the Kansas City Bar, with offices on the third floor, suite 3, Rialto Bldg., Kansas City, Mo.]