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John B. Catlin

PART 2 - Catlin Goes West

As John Catlin noted, he participated in the Grand Review of The Armies in Washington D.C. at the conclusion of the Civil War. Held on May 23rd. and 24th., 1865, the ceremony not only celebrated the victorious Union Army, it also marked the end of mourning for the assassinated President, Abraham Lincoln.  Over the two day period an estimated 145,000 soldiers marched past President Johnson's reviewing stand, 12 abreast for 6 hours - stretching at one point for seven miles. The heroic cavalry officer, George Armstrong Custer, caused a stir on the first day when his mount spooked in front of the reviewing stand. On the second day, riding in front of his  65,000 man Army of Georgia, General Sherman was quoted as saying it was "the happiest and most satisfactory moment of my life."(See http://www.civilwarhome.com/grandreview.htm )

John Catlin’s biography from Progressive Men of Montana continued:

From Washington he returned to Indiana, remained until the spring of 1866, then started for the northwest, crossing the plains from Nebraska and making the trip by the Bozeman route and the Platte River. Near Fort Reno the party had an encounter with a band of Sioux Indians, one man being killed and two wounded. At Fort Reno the party joined Nelson Story, of Bozeman, and his train and they had no trouble with the Indians between that post and Fort Carney, from which point Mr. Catlin was one of a party of twenty-seven men who continued the journey in company with Nelson Story, fighting the Indians every day and traveling by night. They were fortunately equipped with modern firearms, and completed their trip without the loss of a man or any of their stock.

Oregon Trail map courtesy of BLM: http://www.blm.gov/or/oregontrail/ortrail-map.php

While Catlin did not mention the Oregon Trail we know that he traveled on it if he followed the Platte River to Wyoming.  It wasn’t the only way but it was by far the most common. The trail existed for over 20 years before Catlin got there. It is estimated that 300,000 to 400,000 people ‘migrated’ on this trail before its decline after completion of the Transcontinental Union Pacific railroad in 1869. Railroad workers began laying track from Council Bluffs, Iowa, in May of 1866 and were moving west 2 to 3 miles every day.  As we will see in an interview with Catlin below, when he started out the summer of 1866 it was still a hazardous and difficult journey for those willing to try it. His journey began at Nebraska City, Iowa, just south of Council Bluffs, Iowa.

John Catlin’s lifestory became a labor of love for one of Missoula’s early chroniclers, Arthur L. Stone. Stone is well remembered as an early editor of The Missoulian newspaper (1907-1914) and founder of the journalism school at the University of Montana in Missoula in 1914 – using borrowed army tents as classrooms.  Mount Dean Stone overlooking Missoula from the south is named for him. Following Old Trails, published in 1912, was a compilation of many local interest articles that he had written for The Missoulian.  After completing a series of friendly interviews with Catlin, Stone devoted two chapters in his book to chronicling Catlin’s life.  Now addressed as ‘Major’ Catlin, our subject’s story was gleaned only through Stone’s persistence.  He left us with a fascinating and gently humorous picture of John Catlin, beginning with his column in The Missoulian on Jan. 13th, 1912: (See also Following Old Trails, Arthur L. Stone, 1913)

Arthur L. Stone Interview of Catlin

It is his modesty which seals his lips when I ask him about the incidents which he refuses to discuss, but some day I am going to write the story of these deeds of the major’s as they are told to me by those who witnessed what he did. This story, however, deals with Major Catlin’s advent into Montana, and is told as nearly as possible as he has told it to me at different times during the couple of decades that I have been privileged to call him my friend.
[T]his story is the major’s own and I wish I could tell it as he told me. He is a good storyteller and is at times picturesque in his descriptions. This, however, is a Sunday morning story and it would not due to repeat verbatim some of the major’s descriptions of Indians and quitters. The ministerial association would not approve the story and the United States mails would not carry it. But it is set down here substantially as the major has told it to me at intervals during a good many years.

The major had served through the years of the Civil war. He was mustered out after the grand review at Washington and was turned loose as a civilian in Indianapolis in the summer of 1865. With him was a youngster about his own age –Steve Grover—they had been chums in the war days and they stuck together after they mustered out. They tried to become farmers in the Hoosier state. Until the spring of 1866 they made sort of a stagger at it, but how successful they were may be inferred from a talk which they had in April. Steve asked what could be done to relieve the monotony. Catlin declared it was the “far west” for him and his comrade joined in the declaration.

There were some formalities to be observed, but the summer found the two in the guise of bullwhackers, contracted to drive oxen from Nebraska City to Montana. Neither of them had ever spoken to a plains steer before and they had some interesting experiences before they learned that the plains “bulls” were a different lot of animals from the meek oxen of the Indiana farms. Major Catlin, with that good luck which had always characterized him and which has since attended him, drew the mess wagon as his assignment and with it the only bull-team that had any semblance of experience in the yoke. Even with good luck, Catlin managed to tip over the mess-wagon on the first day out. The experience which he gained from observing the way steers acted and the remarks which were addressed to him by the wagon boss and other members of the party made an experienced bullwhacker out of him, and that night’s camp found him a hardened plains-man. Some people learn quickly and some have their instruction handed to them in condensed form. The initiation of Catlin into western ways partook of each of these methods and was effective. After that first day’s experience nobody had to tell him anything about what to do with his team of bulls.

"The trouble with Steve Grover and me", said Major Catlin to me one day, as we were driving up the Coriacan defile to the Jocko agency, "was that we felt sure we were the men who had put down the rebellion. This made us over-confident, perhaps. But we were not over-confident more than twenty-four hours after we joined that bull train. Not much."

The trail followed the Union Pacific construction up the Platte. It was monotonously dull, plodding along beside the train. And there was no variation in the monotony when the trail left the railway line and swung up to Fort Laramie. But at Fort Laramie the pilgrims left the beaten path. They were planning to take the Bozeman trail from there into Montana and the condition of the country ahead of them made it necessary that they travel with a big outfit. By this time the youngsters had acquired a mule team and a pair of saddlehorses; they had a wagon to go with the mules and might have traveled alone but they were warned and looked about them to find a large outfit with which they might make the journey.

Nelson Story was at Fort Laramie on his way to Bozeman with 3,000 head of Texas cattle which he was going to feed on the Gallatin. He had also a big wagon train, loaded with the stock for a grocery store which he was going to start in Bozeman. The boys were glad of the opportunity to get away under such good conditions and they were welcomed by Mr. Story. Their outfit became part of his train and they started northward.

Along the trail the government was erecting a chain of military posts. General Carrington, who afterward negotiated the removal of Charlot from the Bitter Root, was in command of the troops engaged in the construction. One post, Fort Reno, had been completed. The building of Fort Kearney was in progress. The posts further north had been located but not built. Some of them were never built.

The train moved on without serious incident. The country was alive with Indians. There were signs of fighting – burned wagons and dead stock – in places and at times the Story outfit would spy Indians at a distance. But it was not until within about 10 miles of Fort Reno that there was any open hostility toward the train. This was probably due to the keen lookout which Story kept and to his intimate knowledge of the country. There were thousands of Indians within striking distance of the trail, but the train was not molested until it reached a point so close to the new post as to seem safe.

In the edge of the bad lands, the train was attacked. There was a brisk engagement; it didn’t last long; probably the Indians, who had been spying upon the train, were merely trying it out or perhaps they couldn’t resist the temptation of the stock cattle that were being driven with the train. However it was, the reds swooped down upon the travelers with a flight of arrows and a charge to stampede the stock. The men of the train responded quickly with their rifles. Two of the drivers were wounded by arrows, but nobody was killed.

The Indians retreated as fast as they had advanced, but they took with them a little bunch of stock cattle, hustling the steers ahead of them as they withdrew into the fastnesses of the bad lands.

"How many cattle did you lose?" I asked Major Catlin. "Lose?" repeated he. "We didn’t lose a single head. We just followed those Indians into the bad lands and got the cattle back."

"Did they yield the steers willingly?"

"Yes. We surprised them in their camp and they were not in shape to protest against the surrender of the cattle."

The recaptured stock was driven back to the trail. The train had camped where the little battle had taken place and there the cattle were turned back into the herd. Three of them had been wounded in the fighting and had to be killed; they furnished beef for the train.

Messengers were sent to Fort Reno for an ambulance for the wounded. When this transportation came, the whole outfit moved to Reno, where there was a brief rest. The wounded men were left at Reno, where they subsequently recovered, but they never rejoined the train. One of them was a Texan who had been in charge of the longhorns that had been driven up from his state.

"About an hour before we had the little fight below Reno," said Major Catlin, "we had met a little Frenchman and a boy with what seemed to be a trapper’s outfit. They were unharnessing their team and making camp. We told them the Indians were thick and that we were going to camp a short distance above. We invited them to turn back and camp with us for greater safety. The Frenchman said he wasn’t half as much afraid of Indians as he was of some white men. That set us going and, telling him to be careful, we moved along. After the fight, we went back – a couple of us – to see if the Frenchman had escaped. We found the bodies of the man and boy, scalped and mutilated. Their wagon was burned; their horses were gone; their provisions were scattered over the ground. We buried the bodies and went back to the train."

From Fort Reno the train moved on to Fort Phil Kearney. There General Carrington was personally directing the erection of the new buildings. The train was halted by soldiers, three miles from the new post and Story was told not to camp any nearer to the post than that, as the general wanted to save the meadows for the army stock. Also, Story was forbidden to proceed on his march on account of the danger from Indians along the trail ahead.

"Here was our predicament," said Major Catlin as he laughed over the situation when he told me about it. "We were camped three miles from the post, so far that the soldiers could not have rendered us any assistance if we were attacked; we were forbidden to proceed, as the soldiers couldn’t leave their building operations to escort us; we just had to sit still and twirl our thumbs. There were three miles of the fine meadow grass between us and the post. The troops had a few mule teams that were being used to transport logs and hay and General Carrington had one saddle horse left that the Indians had not captured. That three miles of grass was for the saddle horse, I suppose.

"We built two field corrals, one for the work cattle and one for the Texas stock. Then we settled down to wait for Carrington’s permission to move on. We waited two long weeks and one night Story proposed that we move ahead without Carrington’s permit. He said if we started in the night, we could get so far from the post before morning that none of the soldiers would dare come after us and we could then keep going.

"That listened good to us. We talked over the plan and then voted on it. There was only one man who voted against it. His name was George Dow and we at once arrested him and placed him under guard so he could not tell Carrington of our plan. We took him along with us for the first night’s march and then turned him loose to go back to the post. It was too late for them to catch us then.

"There were 27 men in our party. There were 300 troops at the fort. But the Indians were more afraid of us than they were of the soldiers. We were armed with Remington breechloaders and the troops had only the old Springfield rifles. The little brush we had with the Indians below Reno had taught them something of the effectiveness of our fire, and I guess they were a little superstitious. Twenty-seven of those Remingtons were enough to stand off the 3,000 reds with bows and arrows after we had got them scared. But the troops had never scared them and they were bold enough around the fort.

"We made our preparations according to Story’s plan and pulled out one night after the post was asleep. That first night’s drive was so successful that we decided to keep up the plan of traveling nights and resting days. The result was that we were attacked only two or three times and each time was when we were resting during the day; we easily stood off the reds and had no trouble at all. Close to the fort there were more than three thousand Indians. As we moved up toward the Big Horn Country, they became fewer. We left Kearney on the night of October 22; on December 21, the Indians attacked the post and killed more than a hundred of the troops; probably they were mustering for the attack while we were there. All the while they kept up their attacks upon the hay trains, wood trains and detached parties of soldiers. But they got only one of our men on the whole trip.

"That was while we were waiting on Carrington’s orders at Kearney. One morning a herder dashed into camp saying he had heard suspicious noises and he suspected that something was wrong with his partner on the night herd. We hurried down to the stock corral and, after some search, found the man’s body. He had been scalped and his body was shot so full of arrows that he looked like a big pincushion. We buried him. That was our only fatality. Had we remained under Carrington’s orders, we would all have been included in the December massacre."

Catlin’s account of the Indian attack on December 21, 1866, is historically inaccurate. His recollection of events that had occurred over 40 years prior to his interview with Stone should be viewed as a personal narrative, not a comprehensive analysis. Known as the Fetterman Massacre, the fight took place after a wood train had been attacked outside of the fort. A large party of Indians led by Crazy Horse killed seventy-nine soldiers and two civilians, led by Captain William Fetterman. They had been decoyed into following a small party of Indians over Long Trail Ridge, out of sight of the fort. Ironically, the aggressive Fetterman had been quoted as boasting that a heavily armed troop of eighty men, armed with repeating riflles, could “ride through the Sioux Nation.” (See Shannon Smith Calitri, "'Give Me Eighty Men': Shattering the Myth of the Fetterman Massacre," Montana: Magazine of Western History 54 (2004): 44-59)

The Story train continued by night marches as far as Fort Smith on the Big Horn. This brought them into the territory of the friendly Crows and it was possible to relax somewhat the vigilance of the earlier march. The Yellowstone was forded at the site of Fort Fisher, which was one of Carrington’s forts that was never built. Then it was an easy journey down through Emigrant gulch to Bozeman, where Story paid off his men, left the cattle and unloaded his grocery stock. He took the rest of the train through to Virginia City, which was reached December 9. There the Hoosier boys [Catlin and Grover] left him, but they have always remained admirers of the sturdy old pioneer, who built the city of Bozeman.

"I never saw Nelson Story after we left him in Virginia City," said Major Catlin the other day, "until he came over to Missoula in 1892, talking for Bozeman for the capital. We had a pleasant visit then. But I want to say now that, even after three years on the skirmish line in the Civil war, I had never seen a fighting man like Nelson Story. He hunted a fight and when he found it he knew how to handle it. He never carried a rifle, but there were always two big navy revolvers on his hips. He was always splendidly mounted and would ride like the wind. He would say ‘Come on, boys,’ and ride away. Of course, we’d follow him - we’d have followed him to hell - but accustomed as the Civil war had made me to following almost any daredevil leader, there were a good many times when Nelson Story had me guessing. The Indians soon got to know him. Also they feared him. They knew he would go through with whatever he undertook and they had no time to bother with him."

At Virginia City the Hoosiers bade goodbye to Story. They took their team and their saddle horses and started out to find the best place in Montana. How they found it and the troubles they had in getting to it must furnish the material for another story some day. 

The Bozeman Trail Corridor

Story followed the famous Bozeman Trail to drive his cattle from Wyoming to Montana. It already had a bad reputation by the time they traveled on it. The fact that Story chose it - and convinced his men to follow him - shows us the type of leader he was.

The Bozeman Trail derives its name from John Bozeman, an enterprising pioneer who saw the Trail as an economic opportunity. Starting in 1863, his road led to the Montana gold fields by taking a much quicker route that left the Oregon Trail at Deer Creek Station, near Glenrock, Wy., and turned north through the Powder River country of Wyoming rather than over the South Pass to Fort Hall, Idaho, route. It saved hundreds of miles for those who wanted to get there quick. The drawback was the likelihood of an encounter with hostile Native Americans.

The Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahos embraced the headwaters of Powder River Country as their own.  Their presence there was the result of the steady pressure by whites moving westward for over a century. As these tribes moved west through the Black Hills they pushed their enemy, the Crows, out of the Powder River country.

Government efforts to pacify Native Americans in the upper Missouri region occurred with the Fort Laramie Treaty in 1851. The Fort Laramie Park History, by Merrill J. Mattes, describes events that led to the treaty: (See http://www.nps.gov/fola/historyculture/index.htm )

Contrary to popular fiction writers the Plains Indians were not in the habit of attacking wagon trains, at least during the main period of migrations up the North Platte, 1841-1858. Because of chronic rumors in the border towns about the Indian menace, emigrants were wont to arm themselves heavily and practice the formation of defensive corrals, but actual sieges were rare. In practice the emigrants came to look upon the natives as, at worst, a nuisance because of the habits of begging and pilfering. At best they were a curious part of the scenery, particularly at Fort Laramie where they had tipi encampments, and buried their dead in tree scaffolds. As to the Indians, they stoically observed the white nation on wheels, hoping that the Platte region would soon revert to its accustomed solitude. But when the great migration continued year after year, disrupting the buffalo herds, unrest smoldered and finally broke into flame.

In 1845 the Government had sent five companies of Dragoons under Colonel S. W. Kearny on a peaceful mission to Fort Laramie to impress the natives with American might, and to discourage depredations against Oregon Trail travelers. In 1847 Thomas Fitzpatrick, veteran of the fur trade and trail guide, became the first agent for Indians of "the Upper Platte and the Arkansas." Aware of the mounting tension he urged a treaty council to ensure the peace. Early in 1851 Congress appropriated $100,000 for such a purpose. This led to the great Fort Laramie Treaty Council in September of that year, unique in western annals because of its immense size and the number of tribes from all over the Northern Plains, including hereditary enemies such as Cheyenne and Shoshone, Sioux and Crow, who attended peacefully. Superintendent of Indian Affairs D. D. Mitchell, Jim Bridger with the Shoshone, and the Catholic missionary Father De Smet with Mandan, Gros Ventres, and other tribesman from the Upper Missouri, were among the other white notables present. The countless ponies accompanying an estimated 10,000 Indians required much forage, and grass around the fort was so depleted, that the commission decided that the vast assemblage should move 30 miles east, to the meadows of Horse Creek, near Scotts Bluff. There parades of Indian tribes in full regalia were held, oratory flowed, presents were distributed, the pipe of peace was smoked, and a solemn agreement finally reached that peace should reign between red men and white. For promising not to molest Oregon Trail travelers, the Indians would receive annual gifts or "annuities" worth $50,000.

The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 created six geographic districts for nine different Native American tribes, designating these areas as "their respective territories." These territories covered an area from the Canadian border to New Mexico, involving substantial portions of seven modern plains states, including Montana. All signing parties promised to abstain from hostilities against each other and agreed to "maintain good faith and friendship." The U. S. Government was given the right to establish roads and military forts in these territories, while guaranteeing protection for the nations against depradations by "people of the United States." The original agreement to provide the tribes a $50,000 annuity for fifty years was reduced to ten years by Congress, with the assent of the tribes, however, the Crow did not sign the revised document.

The Treaty makers could not have foreseen the series of events that would cause its collapse. As emigrant traffic increased on the Platte trail, hostilities soon resumed between aggrieved travelers, angry Indians, and a U. S. Military intent on punishing Indians for treaty transgressions. One incident near Fort Laramie occurred in June of 1853 when an argument involving a ferryman and Indians resulted in the killing of three young Sioux. In response a party of Sioux then threatened the fort and nearby emigrants.

In August of 1854 an incident that became known as the 'Gratton Affair' struck a new level of violence. Upon the butchering of a stray Mormon cow at a camp of Brule Sioux, eight miles from the fort, Lieutenant John Gratton and 28 enlisted men were dispensed to arrest the offender. When an important chief, Conquering Bear, was shot, the Indians responded by killing the entire complement of soldiers and its interpreter.

The following summer of 1855, a force of soldiers under General Harney punished a village of 'hostiles', near Ash Hollow, killing eighty-six, and wounding many more. Indian attacks became more frequent as they sought to disrupt everything connected with white traffic, including mail transport and telegraph stations. Gold strikes in Colorado in 1859, and shortly thereafter in present Idaho and Montana, also had a tremendous impact on emigration.

Serious Indian problems were occurring all over the region. Military reprisals rose to a new level in November of 1864 at Sand Creek in southeast Colorado, near Fort Lyon. After a series of incidents, Colonel John Chivington attacked a village of 250 Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho, killing men, women, and children. The leader of the encampment, Chief Black Kettle, survived and would later report that he had surrendered prior to the massacre. When a military inquiry of Chivington's actions brought up the topic of killing children, Chivington was quoted as saying, "Nits make lice."

In early 1865 over 1,000 Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho attacked the town of Julesburg on the Overland Trail to Denver. It was an important stage station and was on the Ben Holladay mail route. Before being fired in 1862, the notorious Jack Slade (noted for carrying human ears in his pockets) was the division agent for the Overland Mail Company between Julesburg and South Pass. Slade met his death at the end of a vigilante rope in Virginia City in March of 1864. Every building in the town of Julesburg was destroyed and burned, along with equipment, supplies, and hay. Holladay reported losses of over $100,000.

In June of 1866 the government had a change of heart. General William T. Sherman and other officials organized another peace conference at Fort Laramie with several leaders of Sioux and Cheyenne, including Red Cloud and Dull Knife. Sherman sought an agreement that would allow whites to cross Indian lands to Montana Territory and permit the construction of three military forts along the Bozeman Trail. Talks quickly ceased without any agreement when an angry Red Cloud warned that he would fight if these encroachments did not stop. In a classic display of military arrogance construction of the forts had started even as the talks were in session.

Thus, the famous Red Cloud War began. Indian hostilities increased with attacks on any targets that were presented, even at the great sacrifice of Indian lives. Red Cloud was able to bring forces in greater numbers and put increasing pressure over the whole region. Within two years a series of battles took place at or near each of the hated Bozeman Road military forts. (See below)

By late 1867 the U. S. Government, prompted by a Congressional peace campaign, again called another parley at Fort Laramie. Red Cloud refused to meet with the peace commission until the garrisons were withdrawn from the military forts. In March of 1868, the President ordered the troops withdrawn, and when they were finally evacuated that summer, Red Cloud saw to it the forts were burned. Signing the second Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868, Red Cloud secured the sacred Black Hills and all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River as Sioux territory. Sadly, the treaty would not survive the discovery of more gold, this time in the Black Hills in 1874. 

An extensive study of the Bozeman Trail, quoted below, is included in the National Register of Historic Places documentation form, provided by the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office.  (See U.S. Dept. of Interior – National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places – Historic Resources of the Bozeman Trail in Wyoming – Sec E.
http://wyoshpo.state.wy.us/pdf/hrbozet.pdf )

The Powder River Basin of Wyoming is a physiographic region featuring wide plains bounded by the Big Horn Mountains on the west, North Platte River on the south, Black Hills on the east and extending into Montana to the north...

The unobscured landscape associated with the Bozeman Trail’s main corridor is the representational artifact of the high, untrammeled grasslands which provided the Native Americans sustenance and was the region from which they evolved a cultural life recognizable worldwide: the celebrated horse culture of the Plains Indians...

The year 1841 was a turning point for the Plains Indians as that was when the first Oregon-bound emigrant train traveled on the North Platte. It was a harbinger of things to come, of swarms of emigrants moving across the Plains. Until then the Indians saw only an occasional fur trader. The Cheyenne and Sioux were alarmed by this development because emigrants depleted scanty wood and grass supplies along the road and from the countryside and frightened buffalo herds, critical to Indian survival.

Over the next several decades, emigrants followed the North Platte road to California, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, and Montana, their numbers increasing annually. Joining the “Forty-niners,” John Bozeman’s father left his wife and five children to try his luck in California’s gold mines. He was never heard from again and the family presumed he died during the overland trip. In 1860, at age 24, John Bozeman followed his father’s example, leaving a wife and three daughters in his native Georgia to prospect in Colorado. By the time he arrived in the Rocky Mountain area, however, the best claims were taken. Undaunted, he moved on to Idaho Territory. Potential gold mines in Idaho and Montana were drawing miners in droves.

While wintering in Bannock, Idaho Territory, in January, 1863, Bozeman heard rumors of an old traders’ trail along the Big Horn Mountains that could serve as a shortcut to the Montana gold fields. Bozeman and John Jacobs, who had knocked around the Rocky Mountains for a number of years, were intrigued by the possibility of exploring this route and guiding emigrants and miners to Montana for profit.

Up to that point Montana-bound emigrants had two travel options. One route followed the heavily traveled wagon road up the North Platte, along the Sweetwater River, over South Pass to Fort Hall, Idaho and the western Montana mines. This was a long, tiresome trip. The other alternative involved traveling up the Missouri River via steamship to Fort Benton. Although this option was slow, expensive and only a seasonal alternative, it drew many emigrants. '"When faced with the high cost of wagon transportation, the length of time the journey consumed, and the Indian problem,"' wrote one historian, '"a majority of travelers from the east chose to go to Montana by way of the Missouri."' Major Howell recorded that in 1867, some 10,000 miners went to and from the Montana mines, on Missouri River steamers.

Recognizing the disadvantages of these two alternatives, Bozeman, Jacobs, and Jacob’s half-blood daughter left Bannock in spring, 1863, to search for a shorter, less expensive and more convenient route to Montana from the south. On May 13th, the three met a party of Crow on the east bank of the Big Horn River, near Rotten Grass Creek. Although some of the Indians wanted to kill the intruders, they instead stripped them of their possessions, beat the girl for associating with white men and sent them on their way. Upon the Crow’s approach, Bozeman had stashed his rifle and a handful of bullets in some sagebrush, so the small party was not totally defenseless. They proceeded two hundred and fifty miles out to the North Platte emigrant road, arriving destitute and famished. Bozeman and Jacobs recuperated at Deer Creek Station, and not dismayed by their encounter with the Crow, began organizing a wagon train to travel their “new” route.

On July 6, 1863, forty-six wagons, eighty-nine men and an unspecified number of women and children crossed the North Platte at Deer Creek and became the first wagon train to try the new cutoff. Led by John Bozeman, John Jacobs, and Rafael Gallegos, a Mexican familiar with the old trader’s trail, the emigrants were attracted to the route because it promised to shorten the trip to Bannock from 800 miles via the Oregon Trail to about 450 miles via the Bozeman Trail.

Several diaries and reminiscences from this first Bozeman Trail wagon train survive and provide clues to Bozeman’s physical appearance and personality. "Bozeman," according to James Kirkpatrick, "not as valuable as Jacobs, was a tall, fine looking Georgian of somewhat light complexion, a tinge of red in his cheeks. He wore a fine suit of fringed buckskin, and had the looks and way of a manly man." And W. Irwin, II, later reminisced that "He was six feet two inches high, weighing 200 pounds, supple, active, tireless and of handsome stalwart presence. He was genial, kindly and as innocent as a child in the ways of the world."

All went smoothly for the first Bozeman wagon train until it reached a branch of Clear Creek near present Buffalo. At that point, about one hundred and fifty Sioux and Cheyenne interrupted the train, protesting its movement further north and threatening to attack if it did not return to the Platte road. Uncertain about proceeding, but dreading the prospect of backtracking to the Oregon Trail, the emigrants discussed their options. A small group raced down the Bozeman to seek a military escort, while the rest of the wagons retreated at a more leisurely pace. Unable to secure military aid, the train returned to Deer Creek under Jacob’s leadership.

About ten men, however, including Bozeman, chose to continue through Indian country. This group crossed the Big Horn Mountains at the headwaters of the Powder River, turning north upon reaching the Wind River Country. They eventually reached the Yellowstone River and the Gallatin Valley without encountering any more Indians.

The following season [1864] three wagon trains chose to follow the Bozeman Trail to Montana. The first was guided by Bozeman himself and left the Lower Platte Bridge around July 18, 1864. The wagon train took forty-two days to reach the Gallatin Valley and encountered no Indians who resisted their movements.

The same luck did not hold for the next train, often called the Townsend Train. Several different groups of emigrants decided to take the Bozeman cut off over a five day period, consolidating about thirty-four miles out on the trail by July 3rd. The train was a large one of 150 wagons, 369 men, 36 women, 56 children, 636 oxen, 79 horses, 10 mules and 194 cows. Further, it had the capacity to fire 1,641 shots without reloading.

Near the Powder River, the train was attacked by Cheyenne. The emigrants corralled the wagons and held off the Indians for several hours. Four emigrants died, one inside the corral and the others outside of it. The next day the Townsend Train proceeded up the trail and eventually reached its destination...

Word of the Bozeman route’s hazards reached westering emigrants and very few chose to follow it during 1864. Civilian traffic along the Bozeman became infrequent. Between 1864-1868 it has been estimated fewer than a thousand of Montana’s population came to the gold fields via the Bozeman. The vast majority took either the Oregon Trail or the Bridger Trail, another shortcut that traversed the Big Horn Basin on the west side of the Big Horn Mountains. Bridger’s trail crossed more arid land, was a bit slower, but was safer than Bozeman’s. In 1864, the year of the heaviest emigration from this direction to the Montana Mines, nine trains used Bridger’s route compared to three on Bozeman’s.

In the aftermath of the Fetterman disaster [Dec 21,1866], General Phillip St. George Cook ordered Lt. Col. Wessels to take command of Fort Phil Kearney and Carrington was ordered to Fort Casper. Two companies of the 2nd Cavalry and four of the 18th Infantry marched up the Bozeman trail to reinforce Forts Reno and Phil Kearney. Wessels, who served thirty-three years in the military including the Mexican and Civil Wars, reopened communications with Fort C.F. Smith, concentrated on training the soldiers and saw that supply trains passed along the Bozeman road. Finally, the troops were supplied with new breech-loading rifles, an innovation that proved important the following summer...

With spring the Powder River tribes commenced their annual raiding and again succeeded in virtually closing down the BozemanTrail to all civilian traffic. For the most part the Army posts were only protecting themselves. These raids culminated in two fights, the Wagon Box Fight [Aug. 2, 1867] outside Fort Phil Kearney and the Hayfield Fight [Aug. 1, 1867] near Fort C.F. Smith... Oglala, Miniconjou, Sans Arc Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapahoe congregated on the Little Big Horn River in July for their annual sun dance. From there about 500 Indians proceeded to Fort C.F. Smith and engaged a small party of hay cutters in a three hour fight. Another 1000 Indians rode to Fort Phil Kearney where they attacked thirty-two men in a wood camp. Captain James Powell ordered the men to make a corral out of their wagon bodies or boxes and at the cost of several casualties, successfully prevented Indian attempts to overrun their position. The Indians withdrew from the field when Major Benjamin Smith’s relief party appeared from the nearby fort.

The Indians, however, did not view either fight as a defeat since they lost relatively few men and did run off military stock and killed several soldiers. They could not successfully storm the wagon box breastworks, because its defenders had new breech-loading rifles, seriously undermining the Indian tactic of attacking while the soldiers reloaded. For the soldiers, on the other hand, both fights represented at least a psychological victory. With discipline and improved weapons they successfully turned back large numbers of Indians and avoided Fetterman’s fate. From the onset of “Red Cloud’s War,” very few trains followed the Bozeman Trail. This fact did not escape official notice. Several weeks after the Wagon Box Fight, Captain Wishart reported to a Philadelphia newspaper from Fort Kearney:

That the road is not kept open all who have been on it lately know full well. No train can be sent along it without from two to three companies of soldiers, one of which is generally a Cavalry company, and one piece of artillery, and at the present time the safety of government trains, seven with these large escorts, is considered questionable... trains only come along the road semi-occasionally, and the consequence is that the miners take the Salt Lake Route.

Several parties did use the Bozeman route during 1866, however. General W.B. Hazen conducted an inspection of the northern plains forts in 1866 and traveled the Bozeman. Among his recommendations was that blockhouses be built on one of the forks of the Cheyenne, one on Crazy Woman Creek and one on a fork of the Tongue River. Nelson Story, a Montana merchant followed Hazen up the trail several weeks later with a wagon train, a herd of Texas cattle and twenty-six cowboys. Indians harassed Story’s cattle drive, bound for the Gallatin Valley market, but the cowboys fended them off.

In the wake of the Fetterman fight, however, no significant number of emigrants or miners chose the Bozeman route in 1867 or 1868. One historian estimated that between 1864 and 1868 not over one thousand emigrants took the Trail to Montana – out of the entire territorial population in 1868 of 20,000.

One Bozeman Trail emigrant was Ellen Fletcher. Her legacy was a series of diary notes and letters which describes her experiences along the Bozeman Trail in the summer of 1866. One day on Ellen’s trek a small set of isolated mountains came into view to the northeast. These isolated buttes stand along on the table-like plains to the north, west and south. The Pumpkin Buttes attracted Ellen’s attention, "they slope evenly each way up to the top where it is perfectly level for quite a distance." Camp is made in the early afternoon this day. Ellen viewed the snow capped peaks of the Big Horn mountains to the west. "It is a grand sight, the lofty mountains covered with snow."

Ellen’s fascination with the contrast of mountain and plains is echoed in Margaret Carrington’s description of her first view of the Big Horn Mountains in the same year:

"[The Big Horns were first viewed]... at a distance of 80 miles, and it was indeed magnificent...The sun so shone as to fall with full blaze upon the southern... sides as they rose toward Cloud Peak... the whole range so closely blended with the sky as to leave it in doubt whether all was not a mass of bright cloud; ... many, even with the aid of a glass, insisted that they were immense gleaming sand hills, with no snow at all."

Nelson Story's Account of the Cattle Drive

Nelson Story furnished his own account of the cattle drive in his biography, in History of Montana 1739 – 1885, by M.A. Leeson, published 1885. After his excellent success mining at Alder Gulch in 1863 and early 1864, he traveled back east before he went to Texas. Ever the merchant, he saw an opportunity he could not pass up.

In the spring of 1864 Mr. Story left Virginia City for the states, taking the Ben Halliday coach via Salt Lake, Denver, and Atchinson Kans., traveling day and night for a month with $40,000 worth of gold dust which he shipped from Atchinson, Kan., to New York city. He then visited his old home in Meigs Co., O., where his two brothers still lived, and in a short time went to New York city and sold his gold dust at 127½, after which he visited several eastern cities, and returned to Leavenworth, Kan. He then attended several government sales in different parts of the country, visited the battle ground in front of Nashville, Tenn., and returning to Leavenworth bought some government stock, hired two men, took wagons and went to Dallas, Tex., and there purchased 600 head of cattle; drove them through the Indian nation, up the Neosho, where he was intercepted by the people of Kansas, who objected to Texas cattle being brought through their country. He then went to the Santa Fe road, thence to Topeka and crossed the river on pontoon bridges into the Delaware nation and drove them within 20 miles of Leavenwoth city, after which he bought 15 wagons in Leavenworth, loaded them with merchandise, attached 150 head of cattle and started for Montana July 10, 1866, driving the balance of the cattle loose with 15 head of riding stock and 22 men. They went by way of Big Blue and Kearney, on the Platte to Julesburg, where they crossed the Platte river to the north side, and at Fort Laramie crossed the North Platte, went by Fort Reno to Powder river, then to Bellfourche river. Here 75 hostile Indians appeared with a flag of truce. Mr. Story met them, took them by the hand and led them to the corral; kept all the other Indians out and corralled the stock. The Indians remained until near night and left without hostile demonstrations. The second morning the party were attacked by some 20 Indians at Dry Fork, on the Powder river, at or near the Barrel Springs. Mr. Story was riding at the head of the train when they heard the cry of “Indians” in the rear. He rode back through the timber and found the loose cattle and a half dozen teams running through the woods, surrounded by Indians, firing rapidly. He emptied two revolvers at them causing a retreat. Wm. Petty was wounded by a bullet, George Overholt by two arrows, and half a dozen cattle were killed. The train was moved half mile to camping grounds. After pitching camp they took the wounded men from the wagons, fearing Petty would die, and the arrows drawn from Overholt’s back by pincers. In the afternoon they traveled within 10 miles of Fort Reno. That night Thos. A. Thompson, one of the party, volunteered to go to Fort Reno after an ambulance to carry the wounded men to that place. He returned at one o’clock that night and the men were taken to the fort. During the night a Dutchman subject to fits died from the effects of the scare. Arriving at the fort the following day they opened a camp about a quarter of a mile distant, and located the cattle a half mile from where they camped. About ten A. M. one of the herders announced that the other was killed and the cattle driven away. Upon hearing this Mr. Story immediately mounted a horse bare-back, strapped on two revolvers, and rode across the Powder River and down near the cattle on the riverside. He came across two men who joined him in the pursuit. As they went through the skirt of timber they saw three Indians who ran up to the main band, that was driving thirty to forty head of cattle. Mr. Story and the men pursued to within 200 yards, when they began to form so as to trap the pursuers. The latter wheeled and ran toward camp the Indians after them. After having gone about 200 yards, Mr. Story observed that the Indians were close to one of the men, and realized he must protect him. While thus acting, he discovered the Indians had nearly surrounded him, but was relieved by the remainder of his company on foot. He then mounted twenty men and followed the Indians about 15 miles. After a continuous fight of three or four hours, they returned to camp about midnight with all the cattle except three or four. He then moved to Fort C. F. Smith, on the Big Horn, where the cattle were stampeded about midnight, but were recovered the next day. Taking the old Bozeman road, crossed the Yellowstone and came to Gallatin Valley December 3, and camped where is now the site of Fort Ellis. A day later they moved to a cabin near Bozeman and unloaded the goods.

Nelson Story - Freighter, Miner, Vigilante

Long before the cattle drive Nelson Story's accomplishments were legendary.

In his biography, in Leeson’s History of Montana 1739 - 1885, Story also left us a detailed account of his early life and a description of his experiences in Virginia City, Montana. He had already left some heavy tracks in Montana prior to his Texas cattle drive, which occurred in 1866.

After attending college for two years Story taught school in Ohio in 1857 for a short time, and then moved to Nebraska City where he worked in a “mercantile business.”  He then spent the next two years freighting merchandise back and forth across the prairie between Kansas and Denver, selling timber and various other ‘goods’ and groceries, even dabbling briefly in mining in Colorado in 1859 - with no success.

Story’s luck would change radically in March, 1863, when he "started for East Bannack, with three yoke of cattle and wagons loaded with goods, together with fourteen Mexican Jacks as packers, and two men in his employ; traveled via South Pass, Bitter Creek and Fort Bridger, lying at the latter place two weeks, with seven other ox teams." [Catlin and Grover were not part of this trek.]

He made it to Bannack with ox teams on June 4, 1863. Only a day prior, on June 3, a group of men had arrived at Bannack just after their discovery of Alder Gulch, the richest gold deposit found since California in 1848. When the discovery party headed back to Alder Gulch, Story followed along with two hired men and fourteen pack animals, on "the trail to where Virginia City now stands." He staked claims of 100 feet on either side of the creek, where he remained for only a week, "when he returned for his wife, wagon, and cattle, bringing them to his tent at the mouth of the Alder, where he remained for a short time.  On the last day of June, representation day came by performing a day’s labor upon the claim he held under the mining laws of the gulch."

Finishing his work that day Story returned home to find that a man named Dillingham had been murdered, "the first crime of the kind committed in Montana."  What happened next surely became the impetus for the formation of the vigilante movement in Montana.

Following is Story’s account of two famous incidents as he saw them.

In the first account the lack of any effective law enforcement became painfully clear to the citizens of Virginia City and nearby Nevada City:

The names of the murderers were Hayes, Lyon, Buck Stinson, and Chas. Forbes. They were arrested the following day and tried by a jury resulting in the acquittal of Forbes and the conviction of Lyon and Stinson, with a sentence to be hanged the following day. By ten o’clock several hundred people had assembled, a scaffold was built and ropes provided, and the prisoners were brought on a wagon to the place of execution, when they asked to have a letter read which was prepared the previous night for their mothers. This privilege was granted and the letters read by J.H.P. Smith, an attorney. Their contents excited some sympathy among a portion of the crowd, who procured a vote on the propriety of carrying out the sentence. Two tellers were appointed, and while a vote was being taken, a horse was brought on which the desperadoes mounted, armed with revolvers, and rode away at full speed...

In Story's second tale, Nevada City's citizens had had enough:

In the fall of 1863 a man by the name of Clark, having some mules on a ranch, sent a German [Nicholas Thiebolt] to bring them to Summit. The man failing to return in reasonable time, Clark went to see what was the cause. About this time the German was found by some hunters and brought to Virginia City, wounded [killed] by a gun shot in the right eye. Clark and others went to Stinking Water valley and arrested Geo. Ives, Long John and Bob Dempsey, and brought them to the lower town, two miles west of Virginia City. Ives was tried by a miner’s court of twenty four jurymen and found guilty. Col. Sanders announced the verdict and advised hanging without delay. Robt. Hereford, the sheriff, led the prisoner between two buildings to where a log extended from one to the other. The prisoner was placed upon a box, and Hereford adjusted the rope around his neck, guarded by some two hundred men. The tops of the buildings were covered with roughs, one of whom said he would shoot the rope from the prisoner’s neck. At this moment the sheriff vacated his position and inquired what should be done next. Instantly Mr. Story and Ben Exekiel stepped forward and jerked the box from under the prisoner, and as he fell, the guards leveled their guns on the crowd, but fortunately no shot was fired as a terrible slaughter would have followed. The next day the other men were tried and acquitted. The law abiding citizens from this time on took the law in their own hands, and hanged some 20 men before spring.

(For more on Vigilantes/Masons see http://www.mtpioneer.com/2010-Dec-bozeman-masons.html )

Death of John Bozeman

In Leeson's History of Montana, Nelson Story also furnished an account of the death of his friend, John M. Bozeman:

On the last day of April, 1867, John M. Bozeman and Thos. Coover started from Bozeman for Fort C.F. Smith, and at the end of the first day arrived at Mr. Story's camp on the Yellowstone and stopped for the night. Coover fed his two horses while Bozeman allowed his to graze with others, and on going for them was driven back to camp by five Indians, who took the horses down the river. Boyer and another man mounted Coover's two horses and overtook the Indians some distance below where they had left the animals and went into the brush, taking only a pony and a lariat. The men brought the rest back to camp. The next morning Coover and Bozeman started on their journey across to the east side of the river, and after having gone about twelve miles, picketed their horses near their camp, beside a small stream that came from the bluff, where Bozeman was killed, as related in the general history. They had built a fire and cooked dinner, when they saw five Blackfeet Indians coming up with the pony they had taken the night before. On manifesting a friendly disposition they upon invitation took dinner with the two men. While eating, Coover left his gun with Bozeman and went to the horses, about two rods away, and while there the Indians shot Bozeman throught the breast, and fired at him, the ball grazing his shoulder. The Indians then retreated toward the river, while Coover hid in a bunch of cherry bushes until they returned, mounted the horses and rode away. Coover lost his weapons and horses, and on going to where Bozeman fell, found him dead, turned him over, took his watch, and left for Mr. Story's camp. The next day he came to Bozeman and reported the facts stated above. W.S. McKenzie, John Richards, Nelson Story and others went to where Bozeman fell and buried him. In 1870 Capt. Camp removed the remains of Bozeman to the cemetery near Bozeman, where they now rest.

The spelling of Bannack was sometimes a controversial subject. E. Bannack referred to the settlement in what is now Montana, while W. Bannock referred to the mining settlement in what is now Idaho. At one time both towns were in Idaho Territory and mail was apt to be delayed because of these names.  Dorothy Johnson addressed the question succinctly in her book, The Bloody Bozeman:  "The camp became known as Bannack City, named for the Bannock Indians. Nobody worried about how to spell either one."

For more information on the Bozeman Trail see: http://www.bozemantrail.org/

For more information of the Oregon Trail see: http://www.42explore2.com/oregon.htm

PART 1 - John B. CatlinPART 3 -  Finding A Home