Union Pacific Railroad in Summer and Fall of 1867

In July, 1867, the railroad was completed to Julesburg on the north side of the Platte River from old Julesburg or Fort Sedgwick; thus destroying the business of all overland feed ranches for the coming winter, when all the freighting would be done from Cheyenne, a new town to be surveyed and platted early in August. We at once closed out our surplus stock and abandoned the old fort and ranch, where we had spent several years and had all our experiences with the Indians that we cared for, and went to Julesburg. There we found a new element with the advent of the railroad, consisting of gamblers, thieves, murderers, holdups and lewd women, all of whom were in high spirits and doing a thriving business. The town soon had two to three thousand inhabitants, comprising ranchmen like myself, contractors, railroad men, merchants, hotel and saloon men, besides the former referred to. All these, mosty strangers to each other, formed a conglomerate mass of humanity that is seldom seen anywhere except in a new town on the frontier.

They formed a local town government, elected a board of councilmen, police justice, whose name was Hall, and city marshal. They also erected a log jail. We did not know at that time whether we were in Colorado, Nebraska or Wyoming, and as for that it made but very little difference, as the old police justice exclaimed with considerable emphasis, bringing his fist down on the table when a prisoner said he would take an appeal: “Sir, there is no appeal from this court.” Many amusing things took place, one of which I will relate: The marshal had six prisoners in the log jail on all kinds of charges from stealing to murder. The jail was located on the next lot from where I was stopping. While the guests were eating dinner one day the prisoners were making a great noise, singing and hollowing, and some of the guests at the table made the remark that the prisoners must feel very happy. All this noise was for a purpose, however; some of their friends had furnished the prisoners with a saw and revolvers and they were making this noise to drown the noise of the saw while sawing a log out of the side of the jail so they might escape. When dinner was over I walked out to the front porch and as I was lighting a cigar, the six prisoners came around the corner of the hotel, each with two revolvers, yelling and shooting as they came. They soon found the marshal and disarmed him and compelled him to accompany them to all of the saloons and dance halls and drink with them. Thus they held the town for three hours, when they scattered and took to the sand hills. The old police justice in the meantime had worked himself up to a high pitch, frequently slipping out of his office to get a drink, when the prisoners were down town, until he had about all he could carry. When the prisoners turned the marshal free, he made straight for Judge Hall’s office to report what had happened, just as though the judge was not familiar with everything that had gone on. The judge asked the marshal if he knew of any old pioneers that were well armed and mounted on good horses. He told him the three ranchmen from up the river had recently come in, meaning John Fuel, Harvey Blonck and myself. He ordered the marshal to bring us before him at once. When the marshal found us and told us that our immediate presence was wanted, we were at a loss to know what was wanted, and the ‘other two men asked me to be spokesman. When the marshal reported to the judge with us, he was fully “three sheets in the wind,” as the sailor would say, and very much excited. He asked about our horses and our arms and when we assured him there was no better armed or mounted men in the territory, he told us that the prisoners had sawed a log out of the jail and escaped. When we told him we were aware of that fact fully three hours ago, he ordered us to mount our horses and go out into the sand hills and capture them, dead or alive. I asked him how we were to know them, telling that hunters for antelopes, which were very plentiful, were out in the hills from town all of the time, and according to his description the prisoners were desperate men, and we would take no chances if we went after them; the first man we saw we would ride to within gunshot and dismount and throw our guns across the saddle and bring him down, then tie him onto a horse and bring him in, to see if he was one of the party wanted. In a new western town it was all excitement and everybody was a stranger to each other. It was a hazardous undertaking and besides, I told the judge that we were preparing to leave the next morning for the new town of Cheyenne, and taking everything into consideration, that we would not go out after his prisoners. One whom the judge was very anxious to capture, went by the name of “Shorty,” who he claimed had killed a man a few nights before. We left the judge swearing like a sailor and emphasizing his wrath by pounding his fists on the table and threatening us with dire vengeance.

The next morning we started for a journey of one hundred and sixty miles on our horses for Cheyenne. At noon we stopped at the first ranch, twenty-two miles up Pole creek from Julesburg, and got our dinner, and then sat down in the shade of a sod house to smoke and rest awhile.

While sitting there we saw a lone man about a mile away, coming toward the ranch. It was a very unusual thing to see a man out alone when the country was full of hostile Indians. He kept on coming until he got where we were and took a seat in the shade next to me and asked us which way we were traveling. When we told him we were going to Cheyenne, he asked where we were from, and I told him from Julesburg. He then wanted to know what the news was. I told him there was not much news excepting the prisoners in the jail broke loose the day before and shot up the town and skipped out. I then told him our experiences with the judge and how anxious he seemed to be to capture one of the prisoners, whom, he claimed, had killed a man for money a few nights before, who went by the name of “Shorty.” After telling him the whole story, which was very amusing to him, he told me he was the man “Shorty” referred to. After being very much surprised at his announcement, I advised him he had better not go back to Julesburg, or they would hang him as sure as fate. He informed me that he did not intend to go back, but was on his way to Cheyenne, stopping along the route at grading camps at night.

When Cheyenne got started and the track was finished that far in November, 1867, work on the grade was nearly all suspended for the winter, except in the deep cuts in the Black Hills and some rock work. This filled the town with all of the rough element, as well as contractors, graders and a large force of repair men.

I built one of the first buildings in Cheyenne of concrete, 22×80 feet, which stands on Seventeenth Street, and was used as a wagon and blacksmith shop a year ago. I also dug the first well on this lot.

When the winter closed in “Shorty” and his band were in full control, stealing horses and running them into the open forks of the mountains, holding up men in the streets in midday and shooting up the town at will. Their headquarters was a saloon by that name in Cheyenne, kept by Dad Cunningham, who was the captain of the band of seventeen men. They usually located in a camp or town one hundred to two hundred miles ahead of where the Union Pacific railroad was completed. During one year there were twenty-six men out of the gang that were hung and shot, and still they kept recruiting, and had seventeen at the finishing of the railroad at Promontory Point on the tenth day of May, 1 869.

I was selling goods all along the Union Pacific until it was completed and was personally acquainted with the most of the band of robbers, holdups and thieves, but the act of my first introduction by old Judge Hall of Julesburg and meeting one of the principals and relating my experience to him caused me never to be bothered by the gang.

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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