Old West Shootout

Anyone who has made a serious study of Western history knows that the middle of the street, showdown gunfight is mostly a creation of pulp magazine writers and Hollywood filmmakers. There remain a few sketchy details of gun fights that might have been. Of all the stories, the most well-known gun fight may be the Wild Bill Hickok, Davis Tutt dual in July of 1865. Reportedly the combatants were 75 yards from each other and carefully drew, aimed and fired, one time, at the same moment. Hickok reportedly rested his gun across his left forearm to steady it before firing. Tutt’s shot missed while Hickok’s struck Tutt in the ribs. Tutt died a few minutes later and Hickok was arrested and later acquitted. Hickok’s killing of Tutt in Springfield, Missouri would make Hickok a Wild West legend, but this fight was far from typical.
Most old west gunfights - and there were not very many, involved several men, or were more killings than any kind of fair fight. One such fight took place in the rough and tumble Wyoming mining and ranching town of Hartville in 1883. A cowhand named Ed Taylor called Bad Man Taylor by most was shot and killed in a favorite main street saloon. The shot, fired with a rifle through a window, did not give Taylor a chance to draw and fire, dime novel style. Onlookers believe Bad Man Taylor became a target after ambushing another cowboy a month earlier shooting him in the leg.
Today Hartville still has a number of false front buildings
Note: The one fact that most stands out, for me, is that the Hickok-Tutt fight took place a distance of 75 yards. I have a tough time hitting anything from 75 feet, let alone 75 yards. My thought is that they stood far enough from each other that each felt reasonably safe, but could keep their reputations intact by shooting at each other.  Not sure if Hickok was that good of shot or just lucky or unlucky in this case.
Not sure how long since somebody called this place, near Hartville, home

The Great Wyoming Christmas Miracle – The Ride of John (Portugee) Phillips

The Great Wyoming Christmas Miracle – The Ride of John (Portugee) Phillips

On the morning of December 21, 1866, a wood train out of Fort Phil Kearny was attacked by a band of Sioux. Young Lieutenant Colonel William J. Fetterman rushed to the rescue. Fetterman, who had reportedly boasted that he could ride through the entire Sioux nation with 80 men, was sadly mistaken. Fetterman and his entire command were wiped out.
John (Portugee) Phillips

Fort Phil Kearny was now undermanned, running out of ammunition, and in a position that the fort could be lost with any type of attack. They needed help, but the nearest fort to get help would be Fort Laramie, over 200 miles away. John (Portugee) Phillips volunteered to ride for help, and the rest is legend. 

Phillips was given one of fort commander Carrington’s prize thoroughbreds to make the ride. It was more than 20 below zero when he started the famous, Paul Revere of the west, ride. Starting through hostile territory on the night of the 22nd he reached Fort Laramie on Christmas night. Phillips stopped at Horse Shoe Station long enough to resupply, warm up, and send a telegram, to Fort Laramie then went on. When he stumbled into a Christmas night party at Bedlam, the prized horse dropped dead and Phillips was nearly frozen. So goes the story.
Fort Laramie in the distance
As the years pass the story has proved to be a bit less than true. Phillips did make the ride, but not alone. Instead, he was accompanied by one, and sometimes two, men and no records show that Colonel Carrington’s horse, Dandy, dropped dead on arrival at Fort Laramie. Phillips was paid $300 for the ride and given a fine horse.
Bedlam - the back door
Today there is a monument to Phillips just east of Fort Phil Kearny.

Indian Wars In The West

In 1825 President James Monroe, after looking at reports from his top advisors, created, what was called, the Indian Frontier between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. It was believed at the time that this area was unfit for anything other than the native tribes and the wandering herds of bison.

The frontier designation came shortly after the government got out of the trade business with Americas western frontier. For decades the United States Government had licensed traders in the west, allowing them to build trading posts/forts, referred to by the government as factories. When the government gave up the selling of trade licenses for specific monopolies of trade territories, it cost the government some money, but they were no longer considered a significant economic boon to the country.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, formed in March of 1824, by Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, as part of his department and without asking for, or getting authorization from Congress. Calhoun recognizing that trappers and traders were going to operate in the West without the benefit of traders licensed by the government, but still wanted some type of organization in the western wilderness. He appointed, also with anyone’s approval, Thomas L. McKenney as the first Superintendent of Indian Affairs. McKenney called himself, the head of the Indian Office. He was removed by President Jackson in 1830 because of his belief that the Indian was morally and intellectual the equal of white’s.
President Jackson

In 1834, the Indian Intercourse Act was passed, forbidding whites from going into Indian lands without permission from the commissioner of Indian affairs. That date is important because there were already hundreds if not thousands of company trappers, free trappers, traders, hunters, and wanders, already in the forbidden, to whites, Indian lands.
From this came the new Army of the West. It took a few years but by 1849, the Bureau realized the need for a presence in Wyoming, purchased Fort John, and changed it to a military post, renaming it Fort Laramie.
Fort Laramie's Old Bedlam
From that point, troubles persisted. People moved west without permission, young military commanders wanted to fight Indians not make peace and the tribes grew more and more aggressive as the bison on the plains were shot up.

During his brief, 16 months, Presidency, Zachary Taylor, moved Indian Affairs to the U. S. Department of the Interior, believing it was a better fit for the unsettled lands.

Some have argued that the BIA created as many problems as it solved. Five years late, 1854, the Grattan Massacre just east of Fort Laramie began histories Plains Indian Wars period.

Winter With the Tribes and Mountain Men

Wonderful snowy day across much of Wyoming. The wind and temperatures in the 20s kept our walk today to only a mile.
North Platte River a 1/4 mile south of our place
Weather like this always makes me wonder about the early tribes and the first mountain men, trappers and how they survived the cold. The coldest temperature in Wyoming history was -66, that makes me and today feel a little better.

Tribes and mountain men lived through winter in much the same fashion. It was not a terrible time, instead, it was a relaxing enjoyable time for most. Tribes moved to low valleys, set up against south facing walls and lined the floor and first few feet of their teepees with furs. A small fire in the middle could keep a buffalo robe wrapped person comfortable in days that reached 30 or 40 below zero. Days were spent telling stories and laughing, an enjoyable, time.

As for the mountain men, they often spent winters with the tribes, others built cabins and many wintered, swapping yarns around the stove at Fort Laramie, Taos or Saint Louis.
4th of July at Fort Laramie
We did take a drive out to the lake hoping to see the eagles that are in the park this time of year.
From the main boat ramp in Guernsey State Park this afternoon
Over the years, I have seen quite a few bald eagles but this year is the first that I have seen goldens. There is a nice pair in Guernsey State Park this winter, and they are spectacular.
Golden Eagle in the park

Wyoming the Railroad and What If

The transcontinental railroad was a brainchild of Eastern businessmen and politicians in the 1830s. It took a while, about two decades before any real planning took place and another decade before work was started. It took President Lincoln to finally push through legislation to build it. The Central Pacific started building in 1863 and the Union Pacific in 1865. Promontory Summit was reached and the railroads joined in 1869.

Wyoming was a big part and a big challenge for the railroad. The original route was to follow the Oregon Trail, but the Pony Express proved there was a better route through southern Wyoming to South Pass, the only feasible way to cross the mountains. This route saved a couple of hundred miles and was no harder to build.  Although original plans called for a route that was nearly the same as the finished railroad, there was a controversy about the route. Texas wanted a southern route, using better weather as their public reason. Privately they wanted the railroad for the huge economic benefit they knew it would bring. When the Civil War started, Texas was out and the tracks through Wyoming were not far away.
Trains are a bit faster today
Not everyone was happy with this, Denver had lobbied for the railroad, but no route including Denver was ever considered. But the early people of Denver, knowing that they could connect to the railroad and reap most of the benefits of its northern neighbors. Thus was born the Denver Pacific, a bit over 100 miles of track connecting Denver to Cheyenne completed one year after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

It was another 20 years before Wyoming became a state in 1890.  Most of the early population lived along the railroad, it brought jobs and with jobs came the people. It is always interesting to speculate as to what could have happened, what if.  How long would it have taken for Wyoming to become a state without the railroad? As the least populated state today, would it be even smaller if it would have taken another 20 or 30 years to have adequate rail service? Would the cattle drive era been a time when cowboys drove cattle south from Wyoming to the railroad in Texas?

I may have had too much time to think about offbeat subjects today. Hey, what if . . . . . .

Wyoming Timeline and Mark Twain Too

Archeological evidence suggests that humans were living in Wyoming for thousands of years before it became famous for trappers and traders. The first trappers had pioneered, by the 1830s, what would become the Oregon Trail.
Deep Ruts of the Oregon Trail 
Meanwhile back east wheat crops failed in1836, and in 1837 panic spread as banks failed and depression stretched across America and Europe. It was hard times, a time when people started to question their lives and what they were doing with them. Time to move west. Horace Greeley would not utter his famous, “Go West Young Man, go West and grow up with the country,” for another two and a half decades, but Americas were moving and they were moving west.

The great fort at the confluence of the North Platte and Laramie rivers, destined to become the most famous stopping off point on the Oregon Trail, Fort William (1834) and then Fort John (1841), and finally Fort Laramie, (1847), was a welcome relief for westward travelers. The fort was well supplied and attempted to cater to the needs of all types of travelers.
Laramie River on the grounds of Fort Laramie
From 1841 until the end of the civil war as many as a half million men, women and children traveled the trail west. Some wanted to farm, others a new life, and a few, gold and riches, but they all came through, only a handful stayed. Wyoming was much like a modern-day Interstate highway, people quickly traveled through, in a hurry to get somewhere else.

 Even Mark Twain seemed in a hurry to get through and didn’t seem overly impressed with the Wyoming scenery. “We passed Fort Laramie in the night, and on the seventh morning out we found ourselves in the Black Hills, with Laramie Peak at our elbow (apparently) looming vast and solitary -- a deep, dark, rich indigo blue in hue, so portentously did the old colossus frown under his beetling brows of storm-cloud. He was thirty or forty miles away, in reality, but he only seemed removed a little beyond the low ridge at our right.” This quote is from Twain’s trip through the state and recounted in his novel, Roughing It, (page 55), published in 1871.

Two things have always struck me about the Twain quote. First why would a stage pass on through the most famous stopover in the west, and at night? Second, how did it take a week to write about Laramie Peak being at his elbow? This area, with the peak at his immediate left elbow, would be on the trail between present day Guernsey and Glendo. The trip from Fort Laramie, through Guernsey to Glendo is a bit less than 45 miles. If Twain and his stage coach had only traveled that far in six days, they were creeping at a snail’s pace. Wagon trains traveled twice that speed or better. Maybe his notes or his memory was a bit off on this point, or it is possible he was having one of those, “are we there yet,” times.
Laramie Peak from the trail near Guernsey
  When Wyoming became a recognized territory in 1868, a few came. Later the railroad (1869), brought people and business to the southern part of the state.  Spreading across the state were would-be homesteaders and ranchers who brought in cattle and helped build settlements in the wide open spaces of Wyoming. Enough settled for the territory to become a state by 1890.

Interesting that many history sources mention the first travelers on the trail were going to Oregon and California and later travelers headed to Utah, Colorado, and Montana, not many mention Wyoming.

Not today!

Today Wyoming is no longer a pass through state. It has become a destination for tourists and for business, still small in population, the West lives on in this rugged state.
Mark Twain's view hasn't changed much
Now that’s funny – my grammar and spell checker highlighted three errors in the Mark Twain quote, not sure Mr. Twain would like that. He didn’t like editors messing with his stuff, liked the way it looked after he wrote put it down on paper.

The Curious Case of Lieutenant Hugh Fleming

The Grattan Massacre, Aug 19, 1854, is often listed as the event that started the Indian wars on the plains. Anyone who is interested in Wyoming history knows the story of the killing of the cow from a Mormon wagon train and Grattan leading his troops to their death in the ensuing battle. But very few know the story of the commanding office at Fort Laramie, who either ordered him or allowed him to take the troopers on the ill-fated journey.

Brevet Second Lieutenant Hugh B Fleming was the commander at Fort Laramie at the time. The fact that a Brevet Second Lieutenant was in charge is a bit of a mystery itself. Fleming was promoted from cadet, upon his graduation from West Point, to the rank and sent to Fort Laramie. One year later he was in command. I am not sure how officers were chosen for command, but it is likely that Fleming was neither ready nor capable of this command, only a year removed from Cadet status at West Point.

Fleming was in charge but undoubtedly was not meant to be the permanent commander. In 1854 alone, four different men commanded the Fort. Fleming followed, Lt. Richard Brooke Garnett and proceeded Major Andrew W. Evans who was followed by Major William Hoffman who stayed through 1857. It is possible that Fleming was ushered out as soon after the August Grattan massacre as the Army could make the move.

It was not this brief time as the commander alone that left his stamp forever on the Indian wars of the west. In June of 1853, Fleming was sent by Fort Commander Lieutenant Richard B. Garnett to a Miniconjou Sioux encampment that had fired upon Sergeant Raymond and captured an army supply boat near the fort. Although no one was injured and the boat was soon recovered, Fleming was sent with orders to demand the Indians turn over, to the army, the person who had fired at them. Fleming took along 23 men and an interpreter. His orders in addition to bringing back the shooter allowed for Fleming to capture and bring back two or three prisoners if the Miniconjou would not turn over the one who fired on them.  

The tribe refused to turn over the wanted man and Fleming marched his men into the center of the village to take prisoners. A battle started and three warriors were killed and three more wounded. Fleming grabbed two more as prisoners and returned to Fort Laramie. A few days later a group of Miniconjou came to the Fort, asking to parley. Whatever happened here, the tribe was not satisfied.  It took a bit over a year before Grattan and his men were killed, but Lt. Fleming and his two very bad decisions may have directly led to the Indian or Sioux wars in the west.

Fleming went on to a long but rather ordinary career in the military, serving as a recruiter and not seeing action in the Civil War, he retired as a Major.

Note* I am pretty deep into research on a new book about Fort Laramie and have found dozens of stories, like this one, that seem to give a different and deeper view of history. When researching I try to be very painstaking in getting it right. In ten minutes of looking at online sites on the Grattan Massacre I found it happened on August 17 or August 19 in either 1853 or 1854. As I told my students for 42 years, check and verify before putting it on paper. By the way -  It happened on August 19, 1854.
Couldn't resist - here I am at Fort Laramie on the Fourth of July - thanks for reading