My First Trip across the Plains

By W. S. Coburn

After several months in business in Omaha, Nebraska, my partner, Silas Reena, took sick with typhoid fever and died, and after closing and settling his estate, I determined to come west to Colorado.

Accordingly I rigged up a four mule team and loaded with goods for Denver, accompanied by fifteen other teams.

When we arrived at Fort Kearney, about two hundred miles west of Omaha, we were notified by the officers at the fort that we could proceed no further until enough emigrants and freighters came along to make a party of one hundred well armed men and that we should have to organize and elect a captain whose orders would have to be obeyed for self protection against the hostile Indians, who were very numerous for the next four hundred miles. At the end of two days we had the required number and proceeded to elect a captain to take charge and much to my surprise and much against my protest, they elected me to this position. I argued and protested, having never had any experience with hostile Indians, but to no purpose, so I accepted and promised to do the best I could and we started the third morning with emigrants and freighters, including women and children with all kinds of dispositions. No one but those who have had experience with such a conglomerate mass of humanity can realize the anxiety and trials to keep them all satisfied, and in spite of my best efforts misunderstandings would arise.

In one day’s drive we passed the remnants of what would have been eleven wagons, loaded with a stamp mill for Central City, Colorado, that had been burned, the men scalped and killed and the oxen driven away. This had a tendency to keep the rear teams well closed up.

This was in July and the weather was quite warm in the middle of the day and for this reason it was necessary to start early in the morning and camp for a few hours in the heat of the day. This starting at daylight caused much inconvenience among the families of women and children and some of the men.

However, we were making good time and had seen no Indians until we got about forty miles west of Fort Sedgwick, when we camped one night just before crossing some sand hills. Our crowd had begun to think that we were comparatively safe from the Indians and the next morning some of the families were slow in getting ready to start, and one team loaded with dry goods and owned by two men by the names of Auery and Smith came to me and asked permission to pull over the sand hills before it got too hot, saying they would take all chances of seeing Indians. I reluctantly consented. They were about one-half mile ahead of the train when Mr. Auery missed his meerschaum pipe and stopped and turned to search for it in the wagon. Smith got off the wagon and said he would walk on ahead. While Auery was back in the covered wagon he heard a war whoop, and he looked out and saw twelve Indians ride from behind the sand hill and surround Smith, scalp and kill him just two hundred and twelve feet from the wagon. Auery thought his time had come, but when all the Indians dismounted and began to yell and dance around the body of Smith, he quickly slid off the wagon, dropped the tugs, mounted one of the horses, and came dashing back to the train. When the train got to the place of the killing, the Indians, after looting the wagon, had mounted their ponies and went flying over the prairie with whole bolts of calico and red flannel streaming behind them in the wind.

We wrapped poor Smith’s body up in a blanket and buried him near where he fell. We were then a hundred and sixty miles from Denver, where we arrived safe and sound on the seventh day of August, 1865.

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

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