Company “A” under Captain Theodore Cree and Lieutenants Charles Cass and Al Soper was mustered in at Denver and ordered to go down the Fountain River and take Jim Reynolds and his gang with them. It has been stated in a previous chapter how the regiment disposed of the prisoners.
The Company moved on south, following the old Squirrel Creek road to Colorado City. Here the soldiers were divided into small squads and stationed along the Fountain road from Colorado City to the present site of Pueblo, to protect the settlers and guard the United States mail. During the stop at Fountain, which was all of September and part of October, six soldiers, Albert Neiland, Alston Shaw, Ad Williamson, Ike Bakeman, Joe Connor and Oscar Packard, were detailed to escort for the stage carrying the U. S. mail from Pueblo to Colorado City.
They made three trips a week, going up one day and back the next, making their headquarters at Dick Ooten’s ranch near Pueblo.
To break the monotony of camp life the soldiers would stir up a little fun. Company “A” had a team of four unusual jolly fellows; these were Shaw, Neiland, Packard and Jim Taggart. What one could not think of the others would. If all their pranks were related it would make a book itself, so only a few will be told to show how they spent the time when off duty.
In the hills north of Hall’s and Turl’s ranches on Squirrel Creek, at the foot of the divide, was a herd of cattle on the range. The soldiers discovered the herd and made up their minds to have some fresh meat. Neiland, Shaw and a few of their companions stole and killed a heifer, burying its hide in the sand, and taking the meat into camp.
That evening one of the cattlemen missed one out of his bunch of cattle and after looking around he found tracks in the sand. Following these he came upon a pile of loose sand and suspecting the cause of it, he began to dig and found the hide. Having an idea that the soldiers knew something about it, he immediately hurried into camp and told his troubles to the captain.
Captain Cree was quite sure which soldiers were guilty, but he called them all out and began to question, first the man and then the soldiers, who seemed to know nothing about it. Finally Cree said, “Shaw, what are you going to do about it?”
Shaw studied a moment before replying, “Well, we stole the heifer and she had his brand on all right, and now we are trapped, so there is only one thing for us to do, boys go down in your pockets and cough up.”
After the collection was taken there was fifteen dollars to pay for the fresh meat. The owner thinking it a fairly good price for the heifer went away happy.
The next day Neiland and Shaw were given a layoff from the escort, so wanting a little adventure, they left their horses and stole a couple of the cabbyyard horses (all broken down and worn out horses were called cabbyyard horses). After mounting their stolen steeds the two soldiers struck out for Pike’s Peak, eight miles from camp for a day’s hunt. They did not see any signs of game, so turned back for camp, getting in about noon. Colonel Chivington, who had been inspecting the company and settlements, rode into camp just in time for dinner. He noticed the meat tasted unusually tender and juicy, so asked, “What kind of meat is this?” Shaw answered in an unconcerned sort of way, “Elk,” and went on eating.
The Colonel just laughed. Of course, he knew better and also had a strong suspicion where the meat came from, but nothing was said as it was against the discipline of the regiment to play such tricks. It was Colonel Chivington’s duty to punish the soldiers if he really knew that they had stolen the meat. But the kindhearted Colonel sympathized with the volunteers in their struggles, and did not wish to inflict any unnecessary trials on them, and as long as the calf had been paid for, he just played green on the meat question and enjoyed his feast on elk. He was greatly amused at Shaw’s way of getting out of what might have been a serious scrape.
One day several of the soldiers took dinner at a farm house about eight miles from their camp. They saw the farmer’s wife making butter in the spring house. Oscar Packard took particular notice that there was a “big heap” of butter, and how every bite just called for more. One evening bread was handed to the soldiers without butter, which was very often the case. Oscar suddenly remembered how good the butter tasted a few days before and vowed he would have some for breakfast. When the camp fires had burned low and all was still, Oscar cautiously left camp to pay his respects to the spring house, eight miles away. At first the dogs interfered but he managed to get around them, entering the spring house he found the butter that was not all, he also found a wolf trap fastened to his heel. The trap had been set and had a double spring on it. Oscar took the butter and started home, the trap following along behind with its own accord, for he could not unfasten it. Arriving in camp about daylight, his comrades relieved him of the butter and trap. They took the trap into Colorado City and traded it for whiskey. This made the soldiers think they had an up to date bill of fare for several days.
Things were getting a little too funny, so Captain Cree gave orders not to leave the camp without per mission. If they did, they could expect punishment on return.
As usual Neiland and Shaw were first to disobey orders. They left their horses on the picket rope and again stole cabbyyard horses and went on another hunting trip, returning with the same fruitless results but meeting with a different reception in camp.
Captain Cree meant what he said about punishment. Although Al and Bert were favorite soldiers of his he determined to enforce his orders, consequently that night they were put on guard without any supper. These two jolly soldiers took it in good part and were willing to pay for their fun and at the same time to get fun out of their punishment.
The first question before them was how to scheme a way to get something to eat. They were not long in finding a way.
Al went down to the creek and got two strong willows. He and Bert split these on the end and pushed them through the openings on the cabin where the chinking had been knocked out. Then the comrades on the inside put the edge of a tin plate in the end of the willows and when the officers were not looking, the sergeant, who was passing the rations around, would fill up the plates, then Al and Bert would pull them out and enjoy their suppers in their private dining room on the outside.
As the night grew darker, duller grew their tread up and down the picket rope, so just to break the silence and to disturb the slumbers of the other soldiers, these two guards would keep hallooing to each other.
Near the camp was a farm which had been deserted on account of the Indian raids and the cattle had been driven away by the raiders. About midnight some of the bunch drifted back to their old homes. The clouds had broken away and the night grew lighter, so Al and Bert run the cattle in a corral and got the Company’s branding iron, then roped and began branding some of the young stock. Just as they were putting three A’s on a two year old, one A to represent the Company, one for Albert Neiland and the other for Alston Shaw, they were startled by a stern voice saying, “What are you fellows doing there?” Is that the way to guard picket?”
Looking up they saw Captain Cree. Being in need of help and since the Captain was of a venturesome disposition, they talked him into the notion of helping them in their midnight frolic. Cree had been smoked out of his quarters by an antelope head that Shaw had poked down the flue. As long as he was up, he decided to go down to the picket rope and see how the guards were getting along. Coming to the picket and not finding them, he looked around and finally heard a noise in the direction of the corrals. He went down and perched himself on a nearby fence where he could not be seen by the men in the corral and watched the performance before he made his presence known and joined in the fun.
Rations were getting low and they had just the same old things over and over. Oscar Packard, who was noted for his appetite, wanted a change of fare and intended to get it. Down the river about a mile from camp was a nice looking potato patch. Oscar’s mouth began to water. “Wouldn’t they taste good”? Ain’t had a good old Irish spud since Adam was a yearling. If I don’t get one now my name ain’t Packard.” So saying, he took a nose bag from his saddle and jumped over the fence into the patch. He was soon busy grubbing out potatoes, so busy was he that he did not notice the farmer approaching, and suddenly he was conscious of an angry and stammering voice trying to order him out of the patch. Oscar was not going to be cheated out of such a square meal so easily, no siree; he had dared too many of the Indians’ bullets to let a volley of hot words make him run, so he just went on digging and quietly said, “These spuds are not very big, are they?”
“No-no-n-no, they a-ain’t very b-bi-big po-po-po-pota-toes.” While the farmer was stammering out the answer, Oscar dug a few more. When he was through digging all the potatoes and was ready to leave, he took a piece of tobacco from his pocket, bit off a chew and offered the angry farmer some. While the farmer was saying, “I d-do-don’t ch-ch-chew to-to-bacco. Drop th-th-those po-po-ta-ta-toes.” Oscar was over the fence and on his way for camp with his precious sack laden with potatoes.
Although these soldiers were venturesome and mischievous, rough and wild in outward appearance, they were honest to the core and true men through and through.
The following sketches will illustrate that even after many years spent in the wilderness they had not entirely forgotten the lessons learned at home, or the sweet influence of that mother way back there many hundreds of miles in the civilized world.
All up and down the Fountain were homes where the inmates had hurriedly fled, leaving everything just as they were. A soldier who was lacking respect for himself or anyone else, entered one of these homes and arrayed himself in one of the girls’ finery; he then went down near the camp and promenaded among the soldiers and made light of all girls in general. The other soldiers, remembering sisters or daughters at home, resented the insult thrown at them, so the soldier was taken to the farm house, upon the return of the family, and made to get down on his knees and apologize for his conduct.
Another one, who was not worthy to be called a soldier, would steal little trinkets, that were of no use to him but might be highly valued by the owners as remembrances from home or other keepsakes. Before long those who missed articles became suspicious of him and got permission to search his bundle. As they had expected, the missing articles were found.
Being of a demoralized nature he naturally tried to lie out of it. Five soldiers took him down to the creek and kept dipping him under the water until he confessed. He went into the camp and complained to the Captain of the soldiers’ treatment towards him, ending by asking, “Captain, what are you going to do to those five fellows?” The Captain, knowing that the soldiers were justified in their act, replied, “Why, I can’t do anything with five men.” The soldier said he couldn’t either and walked away, deciding he had better leave good enough alone.
A short time after this the Company was ordered back over the divide, down the other side into Bijou Basin. Here the men did not feel so good natured. It was cold and stormy, bedding was scarce and rations were low. Captain Cree had bought straw to feed the horses, but the soldiers used some of it to lie on and cover with their blankets.
There had been more blankets ordered but for some unknown cause they had failed to arrive. The Captain had put a horse blanket on his horse; before a great while he discovered it was gone, so he put another one on it, but it, too, disappeared. Finally he sent an escort around to search the tents. Jim Taggart hurried ahead of the escort and ran into Neiland and Shaw’s tent, which was right by a straw stack, and pushed the horse blankets out under the edge of the tent into the straw stack. He did not want his friends to be punished for trying to protect themselves from the cold. The blankets were found, but none of the soldiers knew how they got there.
The Company was stationed here for four weeks and during that time the men and horses suffered a great deal with the cold. It snowed three or four feet after their arrival in the Basin.
The meat supply was getting low again, so Captain Cree and several of the soldiers went out to look for some game. They ran on to some antelope and turned them down the trail into camp. The soldiers all took a shot at them and nearly every tent had an antelope hanging outside.
At last, much to their delight, orders came for the Company to move back down on the Fountain near Dick Ooten’s place, forty miles below old Colorado City.
The snow was so deep on the north side of the divide, that it took all of one day for the company to plow its way through the snow and out of the timber. It did not reach the summit before dark, so the cold and tired soldiers were compelled to put their blankets down on the snow and wait until morning. One soldier, who was sick, died during the night. It was supposed that the extreme cold and exposure, together with his weak condition, hurried his death.
Next morning about daylight the company crossed over the divide and reached the Dirty Woman’s ranch (so called because the house was always dirty) the second night. The third night found them down on the Fountain, near Ooten’s ranch, where they joined some companies that had already arrived, and waited for the others before marching on to Fort Lyons.
Source: True History of some of the Pioneers of Colorado, by Miss Luella Shaw, Press of Carson Harper Co, Denver, Colorado, 1909