Chapter XXIV.


Leave Santa Fe for Home--Attacked by Robbers--A Shower of

Bullets--A Hard Ride--Incidents of Our Journey--A Novel Sign

WE LEFT Santa Fe about the 10th of September, 1860. Two young man that came through from Utah, whose homes were in the States, accompanied us on horseback. They were well mounted and we were all well armed. We took every precaution to make ourselves secure against thieves stealing our stock, or taking advantage of us in any way.

We took the open road by way of Las Vegas, Fort Union, passing along the Raton mountains and continuing on without molestation of any kind until the evening of the 23rd, when we were attacked and robbed, the particulars of which I shall give together with our trip home to the best of my ability and recollection. Late in the afternoon we arrived at a creek where we intended to camp, but found no water. We had traveled about thirty miles, and the next chance for camping was several miles further on. Some of my reflections would not be amiss here. There was some gain in sight. We killed some wild turkeys. My companions were out after antelope and I was alone awaiting their return. We were now quite out of the dangerous country to all appearances, having traveled over three hundred miles without disturbance. We were now where it was considered safe for any one to travel. Still I felt uneasy. I remembered the words of President Young and I never had felt entirely safe on the road. In my reflections I felt as though I would rather lose what I had made than be tempted to disobey counsel again, by being successful. Still I was in hopes we could keep our property, and would try and do right in the future. I asked the Lord to direct me for the best, but to spare our lives on our road home.

I had a positive feeling that we were in danger. Shortly before sundown we started on intending to make a night drive to the next watering place. After traveling a short distance we came to a hollow where a rain-storm, just passing over, had deposited some good fresh water, and where grass and fuel were plentiful. On approaching camp we descended from a ridge some three hundred yards to a flat. There was an open space some one hundred yards wide to the right of the road. We drove to near the center of this opening. The brush around was about waist high and not very thick. I commenced gathering up fuel, the others unhitching and taking care of the animals.

After getting some dry brush ready, I was about striking a fire when we heard a noise of horsemen back on the road. The full moon was shining and on looking up we saw some eight or ten horsemen just disappearing over the ridge, going from us. As we were near the road and had neither seen nor heard any one passing, this surprised us not being able to account for the move.

More and myself took our guns and went up to where we had seen them, to reconnoiter. On getting to the summit of the ridge we could see the tracks plainly where they had come following after us, and on seeing us had turned suddenly and run back. They, no doubt, had expected us to continue on some eight miles farther to the creek before camping, and had run on us unexpectedly. While examining these tracks and trying to solve the mystery, we heard the noise of horses about two hundred yards from the road, and discovered a small clump of cedars in the direction, being on the same side of the road as our camp and just back from the summit of the ridge.

We decided at once that they were robbers following us; that they were tying up and hiding, intending to creep upon us afoot, being too cowardly to make an open attack. We hurried back to camp, intending to try and get to the timber on the creek. I gave orders to hitch up as quickly as possible. The two horsemen were to take the lead and run where the road was good, holding back where rough. I was to drive while Moore did the fighting from the wagon, if we were followed.

Our team was full of life, so much so that we had to change the bits on the leaders, putting on heavy curb-bits, taking off the common ones with checks. This left the driving reins alone in the bits. The saddle horses were soon ready, one man holding them just in front of the team, three of us hitching as fast as possible. The mules commenced looking in the direction of the clump of cedars, now and then looking along the edge of the brush around us. I remarked that I believed they were surrounding us. Just as I was about taking the lines in hand, the team being all hitched except the wheel mules' traces, a shot was fired. I thought it came from one of our own party, so near by it seemed. I asked, "Who was that shooting?"

Moore answered, "You know as much about it as I do."

Suddenly several shots were fired. At this the mules started on the full run. I grabbed the nigh leader. The two men with horses now had hold of them, but were not mounted. All ran together, making a half circle back to the road about where we turned out, Moore holding to the off wheeler.

As we ran the shots came thick and fast from the brush, clear along the half-circle up to the road. Just as we struck the road, crossing it to the west--our direction of travel being to the north--shots commenced coming from the left side, one striking and killing the nigh wheel mule. This stopped the team, as the leaders alone could not pull the wagon and drag the dead mule.

The shots were now coming thick and fast from all sides. The lead mules were trying to get away. I called to Moore to cut the breast strap of the dead mule so that the leaders could continue toward open ground. He made a strike or two with his knife, but while doing so the off wheeler fell dead. An instant after the off leader fell. I now had hold of the only mule left standing.

The two horsemen were just in front of the team, and when it stopped they halted also. One of them, Daniel Dafney, I shall always remember for his coolness and courage. I felt like giving the word to run and abandon the team, but knowing that we were some eight hundred miles from home, did not much like the prospect of footing it through.

Moore raised his gun to shoot. I told him not to do so, as they, no doubt, would make a rush for us if we fired. In those days muzzle-loaders were all we had. One of the horsemen had a rope knocked from his hand with a bullet. On this he said to Dafney, "It is getting too hot, let's run."

Dafney replied, "I will not leave till all leave."

Just at this the off leader sprang up, not having been injured much, only grazed across the loins. I spoke to Moore, telling him to cut the mule out of the harness, and I would do the same with the nigh one, and we would try to get away.

Dafney came and assisted each of us in getting our mules out of the harness. The most of the shots being directed toward the team, Dafney ran ten times more risk in coming to our assistance than if he had remained in front.

The lead mules were fine large animals and full of life. They were terribly frightened at the shooting, which continued almost without ceasing. Once I called to them to stop shooting; that there was no need of killing us, as they were strong enough to come and take what they wanted. This I spoke in Spanish. No reply, except a stronger volley of shots.

The mule I had hold of had never been ridden, but there was no time for "swapping horses." Each of us had heavy, old-fashioned rifles. I got a little the start of Moore, as Dafney assisted me first. My mule had a long rope tied to his neck, and when I mounted and started with the rope dragging it tangled in the harness, bringing my mule to a sudden halt. I managed to untie the rope from his neck. While doing this Dafney succeeded in helping Moore with his mule, which was almost unmanageable. We finally all got about an even start. The balls were still coming thick and fast, the robbers having advanced up as near as possible without coming into open ground. Some of them being within thirty yards of us.

Our road led to the north, that was blocked, the firing coming from every direction but the west, where there was no brush. Our animals needed no guiding. As soon as they were free to run they broke with full speed to get away from the shots. It would be hard to tell which was the most frightened, we or the mules. Most of the shooting was done with revolvers. The mules soon took the lead of the horses.

The prairies had many badger holes and broken spots and my mule came near throwing me several times in dodging them. I had not removed the mule's collar, and when I could scarcely stick on for these side plunges I ran my arm under it, taking my gun in my hand and clinching it tight. This steadied me so that I felt safe.

After running some distance my mule commenced to act as though he was wounded and about to fall. This continued for several minutes, giving us much uneasiness, but he soon recovered himself. He must have been in pain from excitement, as he was not wounded.

Moore and I were now neck and neck on the lead, going at full speed. I asked him to turn to the north and get our right direction of travel. He paid no attention to my words, so I repeated them rather sharply, when he answered, "D--n it, turn to the north yourself, I cannot turn my mule any more than a saw-log." We found we were much like the old parson who yoked himself to the calf, we were running away in spite of ourselves.

On looking back we saw that the horsemen were about twenty yards in the rear. I called and asked them if their horses were under control. They answered, "Yes."

"Then ride up and take the lead."

They answered that our mules were too fast for them, so we managed to check their speed a little. The horsemen, whipping up, at length got the lead, when they turned to the north in the direction we wished to travel. Shortly after turning to the north we came to a clump of cedars. Here Moore and I tried hard to persuade our companions to stop, tie up and go back with us and creep on to the robbers, believing we could surprise and whip them. This we could not prevail on them to do. We continued on some few miles, coming to the creek bank where it was so steep that we could not cross. This forced us to go down toward the road, which we finally struck.

I now became for the first time thoroughly frightened. During the whole scene that I have been describing, I had never felt much fear. While I was untying the rope the balls came so thick that the flesh on my ribs twitched a little. Moore says he could not help dodging when the bullets flew so thick and close. Dafney laughed and asked if he thought he could dodge them.

It would have been an easy matter for the robbers to have come on and got to the crossing ahead of us, and ambushed us, as the brush was thick on each side of the road. This I fully realized and insisted that we should not take the road, but to no purpose. The others felt that we had got clear and it would be best to keep on to the next ranch, some forty miles distant. This we reached about sunrise.

Moore and I rode all night bareback, most of the time on a hard trot.

We arrived at Zan Hicklin's on the Green Horn river early in the morning. Hicklin was an old acquaintance and treated us kindly, furnishing us with saddles and blankets, and such provisions as we could take. We stayed with him three days before we were able to travel on, being so sore from our bareback feat.

The night after our arrival Hicklin sent back a man to where we were robbed. The man reported finding the wagon all right, with a sack of bacon and some horse feed; also the dead mules and some parts of the harness, all the light straps being taken. From all the signs we judged the robbers to be Mexicans. Hicklin offered to get the wagon for us, but we felt like getting home the quickest and best way, and thought best to take it muleback. So we told Hickman to get the wagon and keep it.

When we started on we had but little money and very poor clothes, as we were saving our good ones that we had bought in Santa Fe until we got home; but we had two first class mules, about as fine ones as are often seen, and we made up our minds to make as quick a trip home as possible. Our friends Dafney and companion were well mounted; they were going the same road as far as Denver. They got away with several hundred dollars, carried on their persons.

Moore and I had expended our cash all but a few dollars. Our friends were liberal while we traveled together paying most of the expenses.

The country was just being settled. There was but one house where Pueblo now is, besides the old shanties where the Mormon Company wintered in 1846-47. From Pueblo to Denver there were a few new farms just started. There were several cities by name but no one living in them. These were started to boom some mining camps, but the prospect failing the city also was abandoned. Some of these places are only remembered by a few of the old prospectors, never having been put upon record.

We stopped one night with quite a pleasant, thrifty settler, on the Fountain Creek. During the evening he told us that he had lost quite a number of horses, some thirty or forty head, mostly good American mares and young stock; he had spent much time hunting them and finally given them up, supposing that they had been stolen, and taken entirely out of the country.

The road from this place continued on up Fountain creek for some thirty miles then crossed over and down to Cherry creek; estimated eighty-five miles from this place to the next station, where we could find a stopping place. This looked like having to camp out. Something we were not prepared to do. Again we still were timid not having recovered from our stampede. We felt much better when in a safe place.

Our landlord told us that a more direct route, that he had recommended to different ones and tried to get opened through, that would shorten the distance about half from his place to Cherry City. There was no trail through, but the country looked upon and favorable, and as our host had been kind to us and manifested quite a desire to have us go through, after receiving his directions and locating the points where the country showed best, we started out.

After traveling about forty miles we saw quite a bunch of horses. On approaching them we discovered, from the brands and descriptions given us, that they were the lost stock of our kind entertainer.

Not long after seeing the horses we struck the main road, having saved many miles of travel as our route was almost direct, while the old road was very crooked. Soon after striking the road we met a train, by which we sent a note to the owner where his horses were.

After getting home we received a letter acknowledging our act and saying the animals were his. I have forgotten the name of the owner of the stock, but have often thought of the circumstance, for I will admit that we were tempted at first to try to make something out of the find.

Notwithstanding our loss and sore feelings we found much on the trip to amuse and entertain us. Two of us were Missourians--Dafney and I, the other two were Yankees. The settlers along the route were mixed, some Missourians, others eastern people. The question generally was, shall we stop with a dirty Missourian or a stingy Yankee? We finally agreed to take it time about as much as possible. Various signs were put up along the road to attract the attention of the traveler, one I remember read something like this: "Bran, coal, pies, hay, whisky, eggs and other fruit."

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