These Sunday's segments are written by my husband, Mr. Jenny. Here's what he has to say about his posts:
Since I’ve started writing “Sundays with Steve”, I’ve been thinking about vignettes of my life growing up in North Idaho. I realize the town where I grew up and the life I lived with my family is really a classic, all-American story. Perhaps you will recognize some of your childhood in these writings. And perhaps you will recognize the town you grew up in along with some of the characters you knew. Mrs. Steve has encouraged me to write these attempts of “creative writing” as opposed to the more factual journalistic style I was trained in and practiced in my early career many years ago. So my apologies if I stumble a bit here and there trying to blend the two styles together.
This is a continuation of Crossing the Plains, a fascinating tale of a covered wagon trip from Missouri to the Washington Territory in the post-Civil War period when the U.S. population poured to the West. It was written by a distant great great aunt, Barbara Jane Matlock McRae in 1939, when she was 81. This story will occupy this space for the next several weeks, as it is a fascinating peek into what we often consider the pioneer days.
The emigrant train moved slowly on toward Cheyanne which we were nearning. My father told all the emigrants that were in our train that when we would arive at Cheyanne Wyoming that we would stop for three days and rest the teams, they were getting tired of steady traveling. We had only stoped one day since we had left Omaha. He told them he had a friend and his wife in Cheyanne that he wished to visit, that he had writen to him several months a go that we were coming and he was expecting him. Well we finely arived in Cheyanne and found a nice camping place at the edge of the town by a small stream of water. The first day we spent in washing and cleaning up. The second day my father and mother dressed in their best and left me in charge of the younger children. They took my baby sister who was a bout too years old and went to spend the day with his friend whome they had not seen for several years. After they left camp some of the emigrants got restless and wanted to move on. I told them that my father wouldent move on, that he wanted his teams to rest well. The emigrants all talked a mong their selves back and forth. Finely they all decided to move on at noon. They all pulled out and left our too wagons a lone. When my father and mother returned to camp that evening they were some surprised.
We staid our three days and our mules got their needed rest, and the family got to rest too. Father and mother had a nice visit with their friend whose name was McKnoppf. He had been liviing in Cheyanne for five or six years when our time was up for us to move on. Mr. McKnoppf decided he would go with us for a couple or three days travel and perhaps he and father could get some big game but they dident have any luck. On the morning of the fourth day he left us to walk a cross the country a bout eight miles to the union pacific rail road to go back home. That was the last time we ever saw him.
Mr. McKnoppf intended to come out to Washington terrytory in a fiew years. A bout three years after we came a cross the plains he and too other men went out a bout eighty miles from Cheyanne on a hunting trip. One eavening just as they had pitched their tent for the night they were surounded by a bout twenty renegade indians. The three fought the indians but they had no chance. Too of the men were shot and the third man, a Mr. Oliver, when he saw his companions shot down, he took a big chance and ran out under the indians and got one of their horses that was staked near their camp. He jumped on the horse and road for his life without saddle or bridle to fort wallace and told his story. A troup of soldiers went out the next morning. They found the camp, the wagons and every thing the indians dident want was burnt. Mr. McKnoppf and his companion were scapled and their bodys striped and mutulated. The indians took the other horse and the guns and amunition. The soldiers could find no trace of them. They were just other victims of indian tragdy of early days on the plains.
Back to my story of our family traveling a long through the black hills in the most dangerous part of the trip. The souxs was on the war path. It had its origin like most of the 1876 predcesors and sussesors in an act of injustus on the part of the united states government and a violation of treaty rights. In 1868 a treaty had been made with the souxs by which the black hill country was reserved for their exclusive use, no settling of white men were to be allowed. In 1874 gold was discovered and the usual gold fever was followed by a rush of whites into the indian country. The souxs naturly resented the intrusion. Instead of atempting to placate them to the end so that the treaty might be revised, the government sent general Custer into the blackhills with instructions to intimediate the indians into submission. But Custer was too wise, too familier with the indian nature to adher to the instructions to the letter. Under the cover of a flag of truce, a council was aranged. At this gathering coffee, sugar and bacon was distributed a mong the indians and a long with these comotities Custer handed around some advice, that was to the effect that it would be to the advantage of the souxs if they permited the miners to ocupy the gold country. The coffee, sugar and bacon were accepted thankfully by them. But no nation tribe or individual since the world began ever welcomed that kind of advice, it was thown away on low.
In August 18975 Custer City was laid out. In too weeks its population numbered six hundred. General Crook drove out the inhabitants and as he marched triumply out of one of the villages, the people marched in the other end. The result of this bad faith was inevetable. Every where a mong the indians the soux raised in arms stronger, as it seemed the government policy condesended was to stock the indians with rifles and amunition, and provide him with first class reasons for useing them a gainst the whites. During the year 1875 they received several thousand stands of armes and more than a million rounds of amunition. For three years before that, they had been regularly suplied with wepons from the government. The soux uprising of 1876 was expensive for the government. One does not have to go far to find the explanation. The incident of Custer’s fight and fall are too well know that it is not nesesary to repeat them hear.
It was very dangerous for my father and mother and all that big family of children to travel through that indian infested country. The roads we were on were just mear trails and our trail did not lead through the mineing regeion. We onley passed through a spur of the blackhill. When I look back now, and think how easy we could have all been slaughtered by a roving band of indians, it makes me shuder yet. But it seamed that most of the souxs were interested in Custer’s council and lots of other tribs were gathering in the big horn country in 1875.
We were sure one eavening that indians were not far from our camp. Late one eavening we drove off the wagin trail down in a steep revene to camp for the night. The four mules were turned loose a round camp to get some green grass before dark or before they were tied up for the night. We were all busy a round the camp and all at once old Beck who was one of our bigest mules raised her head and gave a loud snort, and came running to camp being onley a fiew hundred yards a way, and all the others came after her and all of them began to whistle and snort. You could hear them for a mile being in a canion, it echoed so loud and they kept it up for fifteen or twenty minutes. We expected to be surrounded by indians. You never hear such snorting and whistling as those four mules did. My farther guessed if there were indians a round they would hear those mules. They would think it was some kind of a new explosion and would freighten them indians a way. Old Beck was always like that when she would see or get a sent of indians, she would stick her head up and begin to snort and whistle even after we got out in Washington terrytory. As long as she lived, she hated indians. Nothing happened that night where we campted in the blackhills. The next morning we broke camp and drove out of the canion back to the trail. When we got back to the wagon trail we could see signs of where the indians had been. Tracks of their poneys and where they had draged their tent poles on the trial.
We traviled several more days over a rough mountain country and when we got to ort larime we found all of our company of emigrants that had left us at Cheyanne. They were waiting for us to come. They were all pleased to see us and said they couldent travil any further without us. They found fault with each other, one would blame the other, even the too men who left council bluffs with us apoligised and said they were sorry they left us and wouldent do it a gain. When we arrived at fort larime we camped and their were a camp of men of a bout 60 camped near us. They dident say where they were going but from their own conversation we found out they were going to the black hill mines. Some of their teams were oxen that were used to haul their camp out fit and cooks. Some of the there teams were horses. They would travil on with the emigrants and find a camp. The ox team would come on later. They had regular military training. They were well armed with needle guns and had loades of amunition. They traviled and campted a long at the side of us for several miles. My father thought as long as they traveled with us were were beter protected from the indians.
We came to north plat river, a very deep and mudy stream. With towering mountains close by, some timber a long the river, the color of the rocks on the mountain peaks in black and red and brown with blewish hase hanging over, and the siluett of the mountain a gainst the blew sky with the white of the cluds and the green of the timber, and glistening of the river bending in the distance, it made a beautiful picture.
TO BE CONTINUED ON SUNDAY, March 13
(c) 2010 Stephen J. Matlock
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