Coburn surrounded by Indians

Coburn surrounded by Indians

In the fall of 1865 I took eight well armed men who were familiar with Indian fighting, with me after some timber. We went eighty miles up the Lawrence branch of the North Platte, through a very wild country and inhabited with hostile Indians. We were gone sixteen days and had only one scrap with the Indians and much to our surprise, we all arrived home safe and sound.

This same fall I put up two hundred tons of hay, and all the time we were working at the hay, we were surrounded by the dangers. One day a man, who happened to be in the field alone, was shot off the machine and his team stolen by the Indians. After that a guard was sent out to see that there were no Indians secreted in the field, before I sent the men out to work.

The buffalo and antelope were so numerous over the prairie that a herd of a thousand head at a time would be grazing right around my fields. They were killed to supply the government stations with meat for the emigrants. There were times when the emigrants were not prepared to hunt, so we scouts generally did the hunting. On account of the Indians always sneaking around in the way, it was necessary for us to take a large supply of cartridges with us. We had no means of carding them except in our pockets, and they were so heavy they nearly always kept our pockets torn down. I finally grew tired of that and decided to study out a new way. While I was studying, I carelessly v/rapped a string around a cartridge and noticed that it held the cartridge firm. It dawned on me that I could fix a belt that way. After I figured it all out, I went to the harness maker at Fort Sedgwick, and said, “Mr. Mitchell, I want you to do a job for me. Take a strip of leather about three or four inches wide and long enough for a belt, then take a buck string about half inch thick and sew in loops on the belt, just so these cartridges will fit in them snug, and not lose out.” I paid him two dollars and fifty cents for making the belt. When I wore it back on the plains, all of my friends greatly admired it and praised it very highly. Some advised me to get a patent on it, but I was over a hundred miles from Denver, and four hundred from Omaha, therefore was unable to go.

Later I went to Fort Sedgwick and asked for Mr. Mitchell. I wanted to tell him of the satisfaction of my belt, in the general opinion of my friends on the plains. But I was told he had invented a cartridge belt, sold the patent for a large sum of money and left the frontier, leaving me the satisfaction of knowing I had told him how to make it, while he got the credit and money for the belt.

In the spring and summer of 1867, the Indians again got so bold and numerous up around Greeley, that freighters refused to load for the west. Four hundred miles of the road to Denver and Greeley was cut off and emigrants and freighters dared not travel. What freight was taken west was raised to twenty cents a pound; grain was twenty and twenty-five cents a pound, while hay was very high, and finally there was none to be had.

Gus Hall, who was injured in the American ranch fight six months before, came back to my ranch with a cork leg and foot. He proposed to me to go in with him and get some cows and capture some buffalo calves and raise them. We got ready the first to the tenth of May, when buffalo calves were due. There was a bunch of twelve or fifteen hundred buffalo cows near my place, where we expected to get what we wanted in a few minutes. On the tenth day of May, we started out with a pair of Mexican mules and a spring wagon to gather the calves. The buffalo shifted around so that we missed them and we kept on going, thinking they had sought the table land above my place. Just before making the rise onto these broad, level table lands, we stopped, and I got out and walked on ahead of the team, so I could see the country and locate the buffalo. To my utmost surprise and consternation, instead of finding the buffalo, there were about a hundred Indians about a mile from us, coming in our direction on the march, as if moving. I did not know if they had seen me or not, and did not care to spend any time to find out, but knew if they found our tracks we would be doomed. One of us took the lines and the other the blacksnake and the way we flew down through those sand hills was a caution. When about half way home we dashed down through a small basin and there we found the buffalo cows and the calves were lying thick all over the ground. We could have loaded up in just a few minutes, but the sight of those Indians had left no desire for anything but to get to a place of safety. After that we were cautious about going out and abandoned the project.

We were out hunting, once after that, and again encountered a band of Indians, but being well mounted, made our escape. I told Gus that he seemed to be unlucky and I should decline to go out with him anymore. About two years afterwards Gus Hall and Bill Comstock, with two other men, while out in the cedar canon for wood, were all killed and scalped by the Indians.

The Indians believe that no one can go to the happy hunting ground baldheaded; that is the reason they always scalped the white men, for they did not want them to get in on their happy hunting grounds. They would always try to save their dead before the settlers could scalp them, so they would be sure to enter their heaven.

On June 3rd, 1867, I went out to hunt antelope, and when about half a mile from the house and in plain sight of it, I was surrounded by Indians. They were all on ponies and kept circling around me. The Indians would usually surround a man and induce him to shoot away his ammunition the first thing, then they were sure to get him. I happened to know this, so was saving with mine and intended to make every shot count. It was nearly an hour before I got a good aim and as they ran past me I killed one of their horses. The Indians had seemed to think I did not have any cartridges, and were somewhat surprised at the shot, but as I did not shoot again for nearly an hour, they began to think that I did not have any more, and got reckless. One of them came up behind me and shot an arrow that just buzzed past my ear and stuck in the ground a few feet ahead of me. The Indian then whirled his horse, and just as he started away, I tried my luck, and he raised up and went over his poor’s head like a leapfrog. I was getting reckless, too, for I thought I was a goner, and was going to see how many I could send on ahead of me. My attention was drawn towards the Indian I had shot, and I noticed that he was not dead, so I got my knife and started for him, but another Indian saw my intention and threw a rope on the wounded Indian and dragged him out of my way. The Indian that was riding the horse I killed, had left the circle and started on a run for the canon, and I was expecting more Indians to arrive at any time. The stage coach drove up to my place and stopped, and the passengers, numbering about twenty, were all watching my fight. But I did not have time to wonder if they would come to my rescue, or to look if the other Indians were coming. The Indian, in dragging the wounded one away, caused the ring to be broken, and I was not long in darting out of it and on my way home as fast as my legs could carry me, expecting at every step to be struck by an arrow. The Indians had me penned in about two hours and a half, all of which time I could feel my hair raising my hat up. About five minutes after I reached the house, I saw the Indian runner return with about forty-seven more. I escaped just in the nick of time. The passengers on the coach were the only people near and they were poorly armed, so would have had no show in helping me against fifty-eight Indians.

That night General Custer, with three hundred soldiers, camped a quarter of a mile from me, and the next morning he asked me if there were any Indians in my neighborhood, and I told him of my experience the day before and thought that they were camped in the cedar canon, as it was the only place near that they could get both wood and water. I also told him that twenty picked men could clean out the bunch, and I would guide them to the canon, which was about twenty-five or thirty miles from my ranch. He then told me that he was not out fighting Indians, but to make treaties with them, and he supposed the band in the canon was a forerunner of a large band of several hundred that had been following him.

One of his soldiers told me about camping one night on the Republican River. A band of Indians camped near and refused to make a treaty. They ordered Custer to move his camp, and fired a few volleys of shot among the soldiers, so Custer had to move. A great many of his soldiers deserted him; said they would not stand and be targets for the Indians and not have the privilege to defend themselves.

Custer had orders not to shoot at the Indians and he intended to obey orders. He turned back, reported at Fort Sedgwick and went on into Fort Wallace.

Some of the Pioneers of Colorado

Source: True History of some of the Pioneers of Colorado, by Miss Luella Shaw, Press of Carson Harper Co, Denver, Colorado, 1909