Indian Charley

By W . S. Coburn

During the winter of 1865 I had a man and his wife working for me, and one day in December, just about noon, the lady saw someone chasing the pup around the house and exclaimed, “O, look! here is a squaw.” The supposed squaw heard her and came up timidly to the door and said, “Me no squaw.”

It was a white boy, apparently twelve years of age and could not talk English, only a word once in a while. He looked like he was nearly worn out and was carrying a dead raven. We asked him why he chased the pup, and he answered, “Me hungry; eat him,” and he made signs of catching it and eating.

After we had fed him, he told us his story, by means of signs and what little knowledge we had of the Indian language.

As long as he could remember he lived with the Indians. One white squaw in the same band told him that he did not belong to the Indians, and there was a better life for him back in the heap big villages (meaning the eastern cities), and that some day he must run away and find his own people.

One day there was a train of wagons crossing the plains and the Indians sent him and an Indian boy out to spy on it. They followed it until dark and yet it did not make camp. Finally the sayings of the white squaw came into his mind, and the more he thought of his own people, whom he had never seen, the greater grew his desire to see the heap big villages.

When the Indian boy rode back to the lodges, he was alone. The white boy had turned his pony’s head toward the north and was hurrying away from the Indian camp. By various ways he obtained food and would sleep out on the prairie some nights; at other times he would find shelter around some of the ranches. He would seldom go near the ranches, for he had been raised to believe the settlers were his worst enemies and that they were cruel and treacherous.

He had wandered about three hundred miles up the Arkansas river when his pony fell in its tracks, ridden to death.

The boy was determined to complete his undertaking, so he bravely started on foot. He did not know how far he had traveled when he reached my place, but had lived three days on the raven.

We named him Indian Charley and kept him three or four months. One day, after he got more used to us and knew he was in friendly hands, he asked me about the fight of Captain Peacock last October.

I told him all about it and took him down where the Indian bodies were lying just as they had fallen. Charley turned them over and called them by name. One he called Roman Nose.

Indian Charley was a bright and intelligent boy, and soon learned to like his new home. He picked up our language quite readily, but had been with the Indians so long that he had some of their traits. Every time he was offended it was, “Me kill; me scalp.” On one occasion someone was teasing him about a little girl at one of the neighboring ranches. Charley did not like to be teased, so he grabbed up a gun and said, “Me kill,” and was just ready to shoot when one of the men took the gun from him.

The other ranchers up and down the river for about forty miles began to get suspicious and decided that Charley was spying for the Indians. I did not think so, but at last, to ease the minds of my neighbors, I saw I would have to get rid of him.

Colonel King, with the Sixth Missouri cavalry, was starting for St. Louis, and I asked him to take Charley and see what he could do for the boy. King consented to take him. I fixed up a good outfit for him and told him of our arrangements for his welfare. He did not want to leave me, and said, “Tonight, all still, me scalp, take horse and come back.” I tried to reason with him, but could not; so I told King about his threat and also his Indian traits, so he would be prepared for any outbreak.

Colonel King arrived in St. Louis with the boy and advertised him. People came from far and near hoping it might be a child they had lost, or one of some of their friends, but they would all leave disappointed, and it began to look as though Indian Charley would not find his own people whom he took such desperate chances to see.

Several years previous to this, a family started across the plains for California. Their people never heard from them directly, but a short time after they started, a brother of the father of the unfortunate family was told that they had all been massacred by the Indians.

When he had heard so much about the unknown boy in St. Louis, he began to think possibly one of his brother’s boys might have been spared and taken captive by the Indians. He took some photographs of his brother’s family and went to St. Louis. By means of a particular characteristic he was enabled to identify Indian Charley as his brother’s youngest child, who was only a baby when they started across the plains.

Charley was taken to his uncle’s home in Quincy, Illinois, and put in school.

Four years later, when I was standing on a railroad platform, a fine looking young fellow jumped from the train, ran up to me, shook hands and asked me all kinds of questions about myself. I answered his questions and said, “Well, you have got me bested; I don’t know you.” “Why, don’t you remember Indian Charley?” I was greatly surprised and pleased to meet the boy again. We only had a few moments to talk before his train went on. I never saw him again, but have been told since that the Indian traits had been so impressed on his mind that he became a roving and reckless fellow and eventually went.

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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