Massacre of the Hungate Family

In June, 1863, just before the call for volunteers to subdue the Indians, Isaac P. Vanwomer had his cattle and horses on the range in the Coal creek country.

Hungate, with his family and five hired men, were living at the Vanwomer camp, as Hungate was looking after the cattle and horses.

About four o’clock one afternoon, Hungate and his men were on the west side of the creek when the Indians attacked the cabin. Knowing that his wife and children were in the cabin alone, Mr. Hungate hurried across to their aid, but was too late, as the Indians had already murdered them. He then tried to make his escape, but had only gone a few miles before the Indians overtook him. His companion stood on the opposite bank of the creek and witnessed the scene. Realizing that he could do nothing to help his friend, he hurried into Denver with the news of the uprising.

After riding forty-five miles, with dangers on every side, and expecting to fall into the hands of the dreaded redskins at any moment, he finally arrived at Vanwomer’s home a little after midnight.

The report was not a surprise to the citizens of Denver, as there had been so much trouble with the Indians.

It did not take long for these brave, stouthearted and strong frontiersmen to get ready for a start towards the camp, where they hoped to trail the Indians and rescue their friend and avenge the terrible death of his wife and children.

About noon that day, sixty-four heavily armed and well mounted men bid their families and friends goodbye and turned onto the trail leading to the scene of the massacre. It took a great deal of courage to start on such a mission, for these men of the plains, being familiar with the treacherous habits of the Indians, knew that when they ventured out on such an undertaking they were in great danger, not only from exposure and hunger, but captivity by the Indians, which meant suffering and torture, eventually ending in death.

It was the knowledge of the terrible agony a captive must suffer at the hands of the bloodthirsty savages, that urged the unselfish and never fearing pioneers to forget their danger and hurry to the rescue of Hungate.

After traveling all that afternoon and far into the night, some on account of exhaustion, or horses giving out on them, and for different reasons, one by one they were compelled to turn back. When at last, worn out, they decided to camp for the night, only four were left to go on with the work. Three of these were Alston Shaw, Dave Armstrong and Isaac Vanwomer. We are unable to learn the name of the fourth one.

Despite the many dangers surrounding them, they made camp just two hundred yards from where the Hungate cabin had stood. After a hasty breakfast, early the next morning, these four men began to investigate the horrible massacre. They found the bedding all torn up and the feathers from the bed ticks scattered all over the yard; the cabin was burned to the ground; a few feet away they found the body of Mrs. Hungate; it was lying with face downward and her throat cut from ear to ear. In one arm she was holding the body of her little girl, whose throat was also cut. Clasped in the other arm was her little boy with his throat cut and scalped as well. Their bodies were placed in a conveyance, brought for the purpose, to take the dead back to Denver for burial.

Vanwomer, Shaw, Armstrong and their companion went on to trail the Indians. They soon found thirty head of horses that had been stolen from Vanwomer’s camp.

Hungate’s saddle horse was shod, so by noticing the tracks, it did not take long to get onto his trail and also made it easy for them to follow it. After going about two miles from where the cabin stood, Shaw found Hungate’s cow quirt. The stalk was all bloody, which indicated a struggle, so they were prepared for the worst.

A mile or two from where the quirt was found they came upon his body. Such a sight! No wonder these strong men were unnerved, for lying before them, stretched on the ground, horribly cut up, was their old friend Hungate. He had an arrow in each breast, his heart cut out, scalped, his throat cut and otherwise greatly mutilated and the wounds all fly blown.

The body was sent into Denver and buried by the side of his wife and children.

Vanwomer, Shaw and Armstrong continued their search for the horses. After looking several days without success they returned to Denver, none the worse for their adventure.

A band of Indians raided up the Fountain River, followed up Monument creek over the divide, stealing horses or whatever they could get their hands on. On Monument creek they took about sixty head of horses from Teachout. At the foot of the divide on the south side, they stole a number of McShane’s horses; crossing the divide and going down on the head of Plum creek; they stole a large bunch of horses from Wakeman and his two sons, Mose and Wash. Then they headed for Cherry creek.

Henry Teachout raised a band of fifteen or twenty men in Colorado Springs and started in pursuit. They trailed the Indians over on to the Bijou Creek, but were unable to recover any of their horses.

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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