PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS
by Adolph Roenigk
RUNNING THE BLOCKADE
A Desperate Battle to Death with Indians and Renegades.
Before the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad from Kansas City to Denver, when the track had reached a point about as far west as Manhattan, there was, of course, no way of reaching the plains farther west than on horseback or in a semi-occasional stage, which was about as irregular and uncertain in its arriving as it was in its departure. There was an established line that was supposed to reach Denver with all its passengers alive and uninjured; more often the stage did not arrive, or if it did its passenger list had to be revised to read correctly.
There were a number of government forts established (though they were more nearly camps than forts) for the protection of travelers and to preserve the military discipline so much needed in this rawest of raw countries.
It is no disrespect to the good element to say that at this time there were about as many bad white men in the west as there were bad Indians. The really peaceable, non-combative traveler passing through this part of Kansas and Colorado at the time spoken of, was about in equal danger from white and red. The lure of gold in the great mountain ranges to the west drew many men across the plains. The trail to Denver never grew to such fame as the great Santa Fe trail, for it was supplanted sooner by the surer and swifter transportation of steam. Many caravans crossed from the Missouri to the mountains, piloted by men who knew the plains as a schoolboy knows his letters. To these hardy men seldom anything arose to disconcert them. If storms arose they weathered them as best they could; if Indians attacked them they received such a stiff welcome that the nomads hesitated before attacking the next caravan. The soldiers stationed at the forts were not called on so often to come to the rescue of these well-equipped caravans, and it came to be known that in the matter of crossing the plains, there was strength in union. The trail passed the forts, at each of which a halt would be made, and it became the policy of the post Commanders to advise the travelers to wait until their number was strong enough to proceed to the next place of safety. But during the serious troubles of 1867, when many tribes of Indians who had been put on Reservations refused to
adhere to their treaties with the Government and began raiding Western and Central Kansas, the forts were made into camps of detention, and all travelers were held until it was thought they were strong enough to proceed.
Usually this was a very satisfactory arrangement but occasionally some one, impatient to be getting along would chafe and fret under the enforced restraint. To see that the orders were obeyed, pickets were set to guard the encampments of overland voyagers and any caught surreptitiously stealing away were subject to arrest if they refused to return. The great part of those traveling this perilous trail were of great endurance and natural personal bravery, and were willing to assume great risks rather than be delayed, but took the orders to be of the greatest benefit to all. Some did escape the post guards and come to no harm thereby, but the story of three men who left Fort Wallace late in October, 1867, is sufficiently terrifying as to have been an example to all, had they known of it.
The men were John Royer, Ed. Schammel, and an old hunter and Indian fighter by the name of Long, who had been called Long Texas from his having spent a great many years of his checkered career in the Lone Star State. It was through him this tale was preserved by being related to a man who offered it for this volume.
Care has been taken to verify much of it by comparing dates and locations, and it stands fairly authenticated as one of the unwritten tragedies of the early days of Kansas.
The party of three men with Long Texas as guide and advisor, were making a quick trip across the plains, their destination being the new and wonderful town of Denver. Royal and Schammel were totally unacquainted with the west, and were trusting entirely to the guidance of their older companion. Their outfit consisted of an excellent span of young mules, purchased east of the Missouri River, and a strong wagon, light but very well made. It was fitted up in the best of campers of style, with bows and top, well arranged cooking outfit and stock of supplies. Plenty of blankets, arms and ammunition completed a load not at all heavy and containing no unnecessary articles.
The team and wagon possessed a value of several hundred dollars in those days, and it seemed the owners played directly
into the hands of some villians who had observed the jaunty outfit as it came to Fort Wallace with a large party from the east. They wished to press on immediately, but as the post commander was holding all comers until the jaded cattle of some of the caravan was fit to proceed, they saw no way except to slip away without awaiting the others. This was a difficult matter, but they succeeded in accomplishing it by a clever ruse worthy of a better cause. Some were allowed to go in and out of the cordon formed around the camp, to look after stray stock and to gather buffalo chips for fuel. Under the latter pretext the three made several trips out, each time carrying away a portion of their equippage and concealing it in a deep draw, until in the course of a day they only need drive out with the empty wagon, load up their supplies and be off.
How sad for the unfortunate men that this plan worked so well, but quite early one morning they drove out to their cache, loaded up, sprung the bows on their wagon and were soon out on the lonely trail, many miles from the fort.
They were unaware that their every movement had been observed by the spies of a band of desperadoes who hung on the flanks of the caravans, seeking to kill and steal, as opportunity offered. The day was cool and bracing; no thought of their impending danger entered their minds. Their mules were fresh from the several days enforced rest and set off at a lively pace. By noon they had almost reached the west line of the state, which was about 25 miles from the Post. They camped on a small, dry creek and while eating dinner, congratulated themselves upon their escape from the military authorities and upon their good prospects for a speedy arrival in Denver. Fate had willed otherwise.
The first intimation of their danger came as they were hitching up to continue their journey. The mules were very uneasy, their sensitive ears working back and forth as though listenting for the approach of an enemy. Long Texas took note of this danger signal, but said nothing until they were well under way, then he quietly told the others that they might expect an attack at any moment. Royer, who was the best shot of the two was posted at the rear opening of the wagon sheet, while to Schammel, who was a good horseman, was assigned the task of driving. Long kept a lookout ahead, searching keenly the surroundings for any suspicious sign.
The instincts of the mules and the old plainsman were true monitors, for about 3 oclock in the afternoon as they were driving up the valley of a small creek, which must have been a tributary to the Smoky Hill River, three men suddenly rode from a deep draw and seemed to be carelessly trying to cross the trail as the team came up. Long at once spoke to his companions, bidding them wait his command to fire, then shoot with the utmost care and coolness. He counseled them to not be afraid as they would doubtless come off the victors in the impending contest. In another moment the horsemen were directly in front of the team, and in a loud voice the leader commanded, Halt.
Scarcely had the words left his lips when Longs rifle cracked and the outlaw pitched headlong from his horse, dead. Royer, who had crawled forward, fired and killed the horse of another of the attacking party and if it had not been for Schammel becoming frightened and whipping his team into a run, the Texan and his plucky comrade would have finished the villanous trio then and there. There were a few ineffectual shots fired at them as they flew by, but the pace soon carried them to the level prairies, and apparently the battle was over.
Such, however, was not the case, for on looking back the two remaining outlaws, accompanied by about twenty Indians, dashed furiously upon them. Though dressed as Indians many of the band were renegade whites, the most cruel of all outlaws that ever roamed the borders. As they came within rifle shot they divided into two parties, sweeping by on either side and delivering their fire as they passed. Several bullets passed through the wagon cover but no one was hit. Again they charged, and two were toppled over by Long and Royer. Poor Schammel was a young German, a student and a thorough good lad, but totally unused to scenes of violence, and was so unnerved as to be almost incapable of even guiding the mules.
The attackers were now a little more cautious, but continued to fire upon the wagon from a distance. About an hour after the fight started, Schammel suddenly threw up his hands and crying out in German, I am shot, pitched headlong from the wagon. The mules, frightened by the fall of the body nearly upon them, started to run away, and it occupied some time to control them and return to the fallen man.
As Royer and Long were lifting the lifeless body of their
companion into the wagon, the renegades closed in on them, but two or three shots sent them galloping back. Long now favored turning back toward the fort, as night was near at hand and they stood a good chance of beating off their pursuers and getting away in the darkness. The renegades had no idea of giving up the chase. They hung to trail until night, but kept pretty well out of range, losing no men, but several horses in the running fight. The two men were forced out of their course by their enemies, so they were obliged to drift north, and a dark night closing in on them, halted on a small stream (perhaps Goose Creek) to rest themselves and team. It was decided to dig a grave and bury Schammel on the banks of this stream, which was accordingly done.
In silence and grief the two men performed this dreadful task, not knowing how soon their own fate would be the same or worse than that of their unfortunate comrade. The team was not unhitched but fed and watered as they stood, to be in readiness for instant flight if need be. The relentless renegades were aware of their position and made a camp close by to be in readiness for an early attack. At daybreak they rushed down upon the wagon with whoops and yells. That the greater part were white men in disguise was veident from their shouts and dreadful threats in English, not of the Indian pattern. They were received by the two plucky men in style to discourage a very near approach. Two renegades fell as the defenders of the wagon drove out of the sheltered creek to higher land. This fresh disaster to the renegades set them frantic with rage, but they seemed to fear to close in for a decisive combat.
Up to this time the team had received no wounds, as these were the primary object of the attack, they still hoped to capture them alive, but now one of the animals received a ball in the shoulder that nearly deprived it of the use of that leg. Long and Royer had put two more of their enemies out of the running by their skillful handling of the rifle, leaving the remainder furious with the desire for retaliation. Now began a running fight to the finish. It lasted through all that long, trying day. The weather had turned bitterly cold and a high wind was blowing from the north. Long and Royer had both sustained flesh wounds of an aggravating character. They were driven far out of their course by the maneuvering of their enemies, who hung on, seemingly determined to wear them out or force their surrender. The team was fast failing; everything but the
ammunition, a little provisions and some blankets, were thrown out to lighten the load. By four oclock they had reached the north fork of the Smoky Hill, thus leaving them farther from the Fort than when they had started in the morning. The region was wild and rugged; no signs of human habitation appeared, only the human vultures relentlessly upon their trail, more savage than the wild beasts of the mountains and more cruel than the bitter winds that swept the desolate plains around them.
As the now exhausted team wearily scrambled down to the little flat bordering the river. Royer sank down in the wagon with the glaze of death dimming his eyes.
Give me a drink of water, Texas, and let me die beside this little stream, was his last words on earth. The one request was complied with but the other was denied. Long dared not pause to bury his fallen comrade. For the moment his pursuers were out of sight but he knew they would reappear. Such was the desperate position of the remaining man that he dared not let the renegades know of his comrades death, which occurred immediately after he had taken the drink of water.
One cannot censure the sorely beset man for the act to which he resorted to assist in keeping his enemies at bay. He propped up the body of the unfortunate Royer in the front of the wagon in the attitude of one driving, and thus, even in death, the brave young man helped his comrade continue the defense. Longs courage and skill in border warfare made his chance of ultimate escape good, provided he could prolong the fight until darkness came to his assistance. He saw the party of pursuers had dwindled to twelve, and these seemed to be in no hurry to rush conclusions, feeling sure of finishing the fight to their satisfaction when their quarry stopped for the night.
The team was so exhausted they could scarcely move, and the wounded one fell repeatedly. Slowly and painfully they continued to struggle along until nightfall, when Long descended into a deep creek, which, from the description given me must have been Sand Creek, in the northeastern part of Wallace County. Here Long made preparations for a last stand or escape, as the fates would have it. He made a shallow grave in the yielding bank of the creek and with tears and grief, interred the body of his gallant companion.
Scarcely had this sad rite been concluded when a shower
of bullets poured upon him, killing one of the mules and breaking Longs left arm at the wrist. Notwithstanding this he completed his preparations for escape. The night was dark and stormy: a furious wind, laden with particles of drifting sand and snow, roared through the dismal canon. The besieged man knew he was surrounded by his enemies who had trailed him with beastlike ferocity, expecting to mete out to him a fearful death if they succeeded in his capture. Wounded and fearfully exhausted by the two days and night of battle, Long was still game. Taking only his arms and ammunition, he defiantly set fire to the wagon before abandoning it to his pursuers. As he had expected, the renegades made a rush for the wagon, hoping to take him alive to be put to the torture, but he sprang nimbly into the shadows and was about to get free of the cordon when three men rushed upon him, going toward the now blazing vehicle. Much hurry, one of them called to him in broken English, heap ketch um now, having fortunately mistaken him for one of their own party. Long turned and retraced his steps a few rods, then allowing them in their eagerness to be in at the death, to pass him, he struck the last one to the earth with his revolver handle and plunged into the storm and darkness. Looking back he could see the blaze of the burning wagon lighting up the steep banks of the creek; he could hear shouts and savage yells, and, just as he had passed almost beyond the range of hearing, a fearful howl of baffled rage as the renegades realized that their prey had escaped. He laid his course east, supposing that to be the direction of the fort, but in truth he was almost due north of the post.
He traveled all night, and related how, in half delirium, his overwrought fancy peopled the surrounding darkness with his enemies, who mocked and derided him continually, stretching out their hands which he was able to elude only by a fingers length. Again and again he lived over the heartbreaking scenes of the past forty-eight hours, beating away hordes of savages who, hydra-like, sprang up in ever increasing numbers. Crazed and reeling, unconscious of fatigue and hunger, he staggered onward, at daylight finding himself many miles from the scene of his last stand.
It is more than probable that the gang of desperadoes did not continue the pursuit after Long set fire to the wagon in the bed of the creek. The morning opened bright and clear; the storm had died away, leaving a brilliant sun lighting up
the lonely landscape. Lying down in a little cove the weary man fell asleep, but the pain of his shattered arm and a wound in his shoulder awakened him in time to see, far to the south, the winding of an overland train moving in the direction of Fort Wallace. He started in pursuit with little hopes of over taking it or being seen, but as he crept weakly along, some of the party, scouring the country for game saw him and came to his rescue, and none too soon, as he was delirious and had abandoned his weapons where he slept.
Upon the arrival of the wagon train at Fort Wallace a strong party was organized to pursue the band of renegades and render them less of a terror to the overland travelers, but they were unable to come up with them, as the trail, two days old, led into the bleak sand hills of Western Nebraska. They found the place on Sand Creek where the plucky Texan had set fire to the wagon rather than have anything fall into the hands of the renegades. The well picked bones of the mules and the irons of the wagon testified how thoroughly they had been cheated of any reward for their long and costly chase. The body of the gallant young Royer had not been disinterred.
Long could not remember how many of their pursuers fell during the two days fight, but thought not less than ten had bit the dust, while the plan of killing as many of their horses as possible, put several more out of the race.
For heroic defense against almost hopeless odds, the fight of Long Texas and his young companions exceeds anything known to the history of Western Kansas. That the gang making the attack was principally white men, Long was positive, for they repeatedly called to him, making proposals for his surrender, or shouting out blood--curdling threats. To all these his only reply was a messenger of lead, the deadly accuracy of which the renegades grew to fear. The wholesome respect inspired by Longs and Royers rifles kept them from closing in on the two defenders of the wagon. To this circumstance was due the extreme duration of this most unfair, ill-matched and cruel combat.