Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Buffalo Soldiers: Blacks in Blue

They endured prejudice, discrimination, and constant danger, but the Buffalo Soldiers were famous for their bravery, dedication and resilience.

Buffalo Soldiers was the term used to describe all-black regiments who fought alongside the white solders during the Indian Wars, fighting with little recognition for their sacrifice. In fact it is the Native American Indians, possibly the Cheyenne, who are credited with creating the name Buffalo Soldier, believed to be a reference to the dark, curly hair of the soldiers.

It is also believed that the Native American Indians viewed the black soldiers with great respect, recognizing their resilience and determination. As the buffalo are considered a sacred animal to Native American Indians, they honored the black soldiers by linking them to the buffalo. The soldiers didn't seem to mind the moniker of Buffalo Soldier--they used the buffalo as the central figure in their regimental crest.

On September 21,1866, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the troops of the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry were organized specifically as black regiments through an act of Congress. There were several black regiments in the Union Army during the American Civil War, including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, but only four established by Congress in 1866--two cavalry and two infantry all-black peacetime regiments.

Photograph of Corporal in the 9th Calvary. 
Image taken in Denver, Colorado in 1890 by U.S. Army personnel.

The men were also referred to as "Blacks in Blue." Their commanders were both white and black officers, including Henry O. Flipper, the first black graduate of West Point, but all of the soldiers in these regiments were black. Many officers were vocal about their prejudice against the Buffalo Soldiers, though some tempered their prejudice with praise. General William T. Sherman spoke against the Blacks in Blue during many social occasions, but according to a quote in The Story of the Great American West, Sherman also said, "They [Buffalo Soldiers] are good troops, they make first-rate sentinels, are faithful to their trust, and are as brave as the occasion calls for." In fact, thirteen enlisted men and six officers from the black regiments earned Medals of Honor for their service during the Indian Wars.  

During the Apache wars that took place between 1870 and 1880, the 9th and 10th Buffalo Soldier Calvary regiments were said to match their fellow soldiers in endurance during "furnace-like heat." They were greatly admired during these occasions by Frederic Remington, a highly-skilled artist who followed the troops and captured the American West in his paintings. Remington said, "They may be tired and they may be hungry, but they do not see fit to augment their misery by finding fault with everybody and everything. In this particular they are charming men with whom to serve. Officers have often confessed to me that when they are on long and monotonous field service and are troubled with depression of spirits, they have only to go about the campfires of the Negro soldier in order to be amused and cheered by the clever absurdities of the men...As to their bravery: "Who will they fight?" That is easily answered. They have fought many, many times. The old sergeant sitting near me, as calm of feature as a bronze statue, once deliberately walked over a Cheyenne rifle pit and killed his man. One little fellow near him once took charge of stampeded cavalry horses when Apache bullets were flying." One of Remington's more famous illustrations shows troopers, both black and white, attempting to rescue a wounded 10th Cavalryman as Apache bullets hit the ground surrounding them.

Buffalo Soldiers of the 25th Infantry, some wearing buffalo robes. 
Photo taken in 1890 at Fr. Keogh, Montana by a member of the U.S. military.

The Buffalo Soldiers had high reenlistment and low desertion rates, which may be explained by the fact that they were treated with more respect by the U.S. Army than other black civilians after the Civil War. They were said to have an "esprit de corps" (morale) that matched the best white regiments. In the words of historian David Nevin, author of The Old West: The Soldiers: "They fought frequently and hard, deserting far less often than whites and holding onto both discipline and morale during winter marches when white soldiers faltered. Yet they remained cordoned off in their own units, segregated from the rest of the Army, and when they went into action field dispatches mentioned them as having been merely 'engaged.' White officers shunned duty with the black regiments, regarding it as a form of exile. (In a letter home, one young soldier rationalized his stay with a black regiment by proclaiming, 'I won't have near as much to do with them personally as you would with a black cook.')" 

White soldiers called the black troops Brunettes, or Africans. The fact that they devised a name to distinguish them from other soldiers speaks for the prejudice they held against these men who fought hard, protected the pioneers and their fellow soldiers, and died as loyal members of the U.S. Army. It was believed that many white soldiers viewed military service as a temporary refuge from the poverty they faced after the American Civil War, whereas the Buffalo Soldiers viewed their service as a career, a career that they cherished in spite of racial discrimination, which they would have found in any career following the Civil War. This discrimination was apparent in many ways, including the issuing of supplies, which were often inferior to those given white soldiers, but the Buffalo Soldiers accepted what they were given without complaint. They were also provided with inferior food and shelter, and again accepted their circumstances without complaint. 

On the other hand, there were many white soldiers who recognized the equality, and in some cases, superiority of the Buffalo Soldiers. In fact, when the colonel of the 3rd Infantry told "those nigger troops" of the 10th Cavalry they could not stand near his own men during a parade, he was brutally cursed and reprimanded by their commander, the white Colonel Benjamin Grierson of the 10th Calvary. In some circumstances, their all-black status was preferred. The 9th Calvary was called upon to replace the 6th Cavalry during Wyoming's Johnson County Land War in 1892 because the members of the 6th cavalry were swayed by the political pressures of the battle. They created Camp Bettens and remained in this hostile environment for over a year until the tension between the parties calmed.  

The Buffalo Soldiers were also among 5000 black men who served in the Spanish-American War. They served as some of the first National Park Rangers in California's Sierra Nevada. They are responsible for the creation and use of the Ranger Hat, or "Smokey Bear Hat" worn by park rangers of the time.

The Buffalo Soldiers suffered the most severe prejudice in Texas. Their regiments were repeatedly attacked in Rio Grande City, Brownsville, and Houston. Nevertheless, they continued to enlist, fight, and survive. The 92nd Infantry "Buffalo Division" served during World War II. The last Buffalo Soldier units--the 27th and 28th Horse Cavalry Regiments--were disbanded on December 12, 1951. The oldest living Buffalo Soldier survived to the age of 111. Mark Matthews died on September 6, 2005, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cowboys Build Town for Re-enactment of Old West Shootouts

Raccoon Forks, which is located in a clearing not far from Valparaiso, Nebraska, is not an actual ghost town. No one lives there, and no one lived there in the past, though it may appear as if that could have been possible with buildings that include a bank, jail, saloon and other buildings considered requirements in Old West towns. The first hint visitors might have that this is not an actual ghost town is the pristine condition of the buildings--most ghost towns, even restored ghost towns, look old and faded.

The Blue River Regulators, a group of Nebraska Old West re-enactors, created Raccoon Forks by building one or two shops at a time, doing their best to maintain a sense of reality to the place, and any film maker will tell you that if you want to know the true nature of a time, as far as architecture, costume, language, and weaponry, consult the local re-enactor! The Blue River Regulators follow the history as best they can with cowboys, cowgirls, madams and their soiled doves, law enforcement, and even in the use of names, such as Yuma Kid and Cactus Jack. According to the Blue River Regulators website,

They also use the traditional Old West weaponry, with original and reproductions of Colts, Winchesters, and Remington rifles. They participate in re-enactments of Old West shootouts during their monthly meetings.

GunsmokeBonanza, and Have Gun, Will Travel are some of my personal favorite television shows, and these classics depicting life in the Old West also serve as the inspiration for the group and the construction of Raccoon Forks. Raccoon Forks is a small town as the Regulators only have about 40 members, but many Old West towns started small unless there was a gold strike.

The Blue Ridge Regulators are also members of The National Congress of Western Shootists, which is based in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and is "dedicated to the historic preservation and re-enactment of the Old West" according to a recent article by World-Herald staff writer Cara Pesek. There are currently 20 similar groups in 13 U.S. states, but the Blue River Regulators are the only group in Nebraska. Nearly all of the members are hunters or gun enthusiasts in addition to being fans of the Old West and study traditional cowboy shooting methods before participating in shootouts.

I am still waiting for an answer to a request for an interview and will update when I receive more information. I'm not a hunter and do not practice with guns, but those of you who do might want to visit this fun little town. It is my understanding that safety classes are required prior to participation, though.

For more information you can visit the Blue River Regulators website or contact: Marshal John "Yuma Kid" Irons at; or Deputy Marshal John "Cactus Jack" Butcher at desert_rat

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fulfilling a Prophecy: Return of the Catalina Buffalo

I have an article in the Fall/Winter issue of Dezert Magazine called "Fulfilling a Prophecy: Return of the Catalina Buffalo."

In 1924, 14 buffalo were transported to Catalina Island off the coast of California for the filming of The Vanishing American by Zane Grey. The buffalo were left on the island and reproduced prolifically over the years, but they were much smaller than other buffalo due to the difference in their reproduction cycle caused by the change in seasons on the island.

There was a prophecy among the Lakota that the Little Buffalo would some day be returned to the reservation. In 2009, the Catalina Island Conservancy teamed up with the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Tongva Tribe of Southern California, In Defense of Animals, and the Rosebud Indian Reservation to return 100 of the Catalina "little buffalo" to the Rosebud Reservation. You can read the details in my story in Dezert Magazine, which is available both online and in print. Dezert Magazine also has a Facebook page. 

Bison photograph taken by Darla Sue Dollman.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Minnesota Massacre, or Dakota War of 1862

The Minnesota Massacre, or Dakota War, is considered the first great, (or serious), attack in the  Indian Wars. The event is believed to mark the beginning of the Indian wars for many reasons, including the horrific torture inflicted on the victims of the war, which fueled the flames of prejudice against Indians across the nation.

It was 1862, one year into one of the most tragic incidents in the history of the United States, the American Civil War. In Minnesota, many of the local men were fighting, either for the Union or Confederate Army, and their wives and children remained at home, and if possible they were protected by elderly family members, or in Texas by the Texas Rangers. However, some of the ranchers and farmers remained in the area, continuing to work on their land.

The women worked as well, either alongside their husbands on the farms, or as teachers and missionaries to the Santees, an eastern branch of the Sioux Nation. (The Santee are also known as the Eastern Dakota. The Western Dakota are now known as the Lakota.) The teachers and missionaries were actually working with the U.S. government in their attempts to "ease Indians into white society."

The situation between the Dakota and the settlers was precarious. In 1851, the Dakota sold 24 million acres of prime hunting ground for $1,665,000 and the promise of future cash payments, but the U.S. Senate deleted many of the terms during the process of ratification. In 1858, when Minnesota became a state, Chief Little Crow led a group of several Dakota bands to Washington, D.C. to discuss the previous land deal, the slow payment of annuities, and the frequent encroachment on what was left of their land. When they left the negotiations, the Dakota had lost the northern half of their reservation and their rights to a quarry at Pipestone. Chief Little Crow was blamed for this loss. The Dakota were offered brick houses for their families under the agreement that they would try to ease their tribe out of their hunting lifestyle and become farmers. Instead, the houses were used for storage and the families continued to live in tipis, also known as teepees. The loss of their hunting land and refusal to learn the ways of the farmers left them dependent on trade goods, which became a nasty business.

Chief Little Crow

The white traders provided supplies to the Dakota on credit, then collected the annuities for the Dakota from the government as payment for these goods. The annuities became smaller and smaller and sometimes never even arrived at the reservation. When a particularly hard winter hit the land in 1862 and what little was left of the annuities was delayed in arriving, the Dakota nearly reached a point of starvation. They resumed their hunting practices, but their hearts were filled with anger and resentment. They demanded that all future annuities be delivered to them directly through their Indian Agent, Thomas J. Galbraith. The traders were "offended," and refused to deliver any further supplies to the Dakota under this arrangement. It was a deadly impasse.

The younger generation of the Dakota felt as if their elders had betrayed their ancestors and lost their birthright through the sale of the land. The Dakota were fighting a generation gap within their tribe and fighting with the government for the survival of their people. It was a difficult time for the leaders of the Sioux who struggled to keep the peace.

On August 16, 1862, the annuities arrived at Fort Ridgely, but it was too late to suppress the anger and feelings of betrayal in the hearts of the Dakota. The next day, four young braves were returning from an unsuccessful hunting trip, walking near the banks of the Minnesota River in southwest Minnesota. According to The Old West: The Indians by Benjamin Capps, their names were Killing Ghost, Breaking Up, Brown Wing, and Runs Against Something When Crawling. They were disappointed in their failed hunt and they were hungry. They were also talking about their frustrations over the loss of the land of their ancestors.

One of the braves spotted a nest filled with chicken eggs on the land near the home of Robinson Jones, a farmer. As the young brave gathered the eggs, another young man in the hunting party warned him that the eggs did not belong to him and taking the eggs could cause trouble between the white people and the Dakota. "I am not afraid of the whites," the young brave replied, and to prove his point, he mounted his horse, road to the nearby home and murdered the farmer, his wife and daughter, and two neighbors, then stole the horses of the farmer and his neighbor and raced back to the reservation.

Thus began the Minnesota Massacre of 1862, also known as the Dakota War of 1862; the Sioux Uprising; the Dakota Uprising; the Sioux Outbreak; and Little Crow's War.

When the young braves entered the camp on horseback their family members immediately understood the implications--the horses were stolen, and a stolen horse in the Old West meant a hanging without trial. Then the tribal elders learned the rest of the story, and realized the young braves would be shot on sight. When they confessed to the murders, the elders called a council and the chiefs argued long into the night--should they turn the four braves over to the military, or start a war? If they did not turn the braves in for murder, the declaration of war would be automatically understood. They chose to fight. Chief Little Crow, the only chief who argued against a battle, realized he had lost the argument and ordered an attack on the nearby Redwood Falls government agency the following morning.

Surprisingly, the warriors met little resistance. The farmers, missionaries, and settlers were taken by surprise. They believed they had treated the Dakota kindly and with fairness and did not expect the attack. Most of the settlers were killed where they were found, working in their homes and fields. One young woman was tied to a table and her legs were slashed open while her mother looked on in horror. Another young woman, Julia Smith, stood in front of her mother to protect her from the attack. Both women were killed by the same bullet. Eleven-year-old Merton Eastlick watched as his father and two brothers were executed. When his mother was shot and lay dying at his feet she begged him to save his baby brother. Merton bundled the child into his arms and carried the infant 50 miles to the next town seeking help. Remarkably, Merton, his brother, and his mother survived and the three were reunited when the battle ended.

Families who managed to escape the Dakota Wars
sought refuge in the nearby prairie land.

Most of the victims, according to many historians, had never participated in any act to deliberately provoke the Dakota. It was a matter of timing--they were white, and they were there. However, those who had provoked the Dakota did not stand a chance of escaping. They were deliberately tracked down and murdered. Storekeeper Andrew Myrick, who refused credit to the Dakota and was often overheard commenting in public that "they can eat grass," was found dead in a field with his mouth stuffed full of grass. He had been captured and killed while trying to escape from the second floor window of the Redwood Agency on the second day of the fighting. 

On August 19 the Dakota attacked the New Ulm settlement. They started toward Fort Ridgely, killing many settlers in between, then decided the heavily-guarded fort was too much of a risk, so they turned back toward New Ulm, but the settlers of New Ulm were alerted in advance and organized in the center of town. The Dakota warriors started the town on fire, but a sudden thunderstorm saved many of the buildings. When the Dakota left, militia from nearby towns and volunteer infantry from Fort Ridgely arrived to build barricades. Instead of returning to New Ulm, the warriors ambushed a relief party headed for the town, then decided to take their chances with Fort Ridgely, attacking on August 20 and 22. They were unsuccessful with their attempt to take the fort, but the soldiers were also unable to leave the fort to protect outlying settlements and small bands of Dakota continued to attack the settlers throughout the day.

On September 2, 1862, the Dakota attacked again, this time at Birch Coulee where 150 soldiers were camped. The soldiers were trying to help survivors from the first attacks and to bury the dead. After three hours of fighting, 13 soldiers had died and 47 were wounded, but only two Dakota were killed and the Dakota believed this was a victory and a sign that they should continue. Later that afternoon, however, 240 additional soldiers arrived from Fort Ridgely and the Dakota moved on to the north.

As they moved northward, the warriors attacked the settlers and workers at stagecoach stops and river crossings in the Red River Valley. According to an article on Wikipedia, employees of the Hudson's Bay Company sought refuge in the nearby Fort Abercrombie near Fargo, North Dakota. Fort Abercrombie was also attacked, but it was well-defended and the warriors eventually left when  a relief company arrived from Fort Snelling. Those who sought refuge at Fort Abercrombie were move to St. Cloud.

The attacks continued. In addition to the rising number of murdered settlers, Minnesota was also facing an economic crisis as its steamboat and flatboat trade ended, mail carriers, stagecoach drivers, and military couriers were dying alongside the settlers, and the surviving settlers were deserting the area in large numbers. The local governments repeatedly begged for help from President Lincoln, but his troops were fighting the Civil War battles.

Lincoln finally agreed to assist on September 6, 1862 by sending General John Pope to command the 3rd, 4th, 9th and 10th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Divisions who were sent into battle with the Dakota as quickly as they were formed. The Governor of Minnesota, Alexander Ramsey, called on the previous governor, Colonel Henry Hastings Sibley, to help, as well. On September 23, at the Battle of Wood Lake, the 6th and 7th Minnesota Infantry Divisions managed an overwhelming defeat of the Dakota warriors, bringing the Minnesota Massacre to a bloody end.

When it was over, 2000 Dakota men, women and children surrendered to the U.S. military, though most of them were believed to be innocent and sent back to their homes. Only 392 were sent to trial, and 307 were sentenced to death. Bishop Whipple of Minnesota traveled to Washington, D.C. to plead for clemency for the Dakota, arguing that the fault lay with the U.S. Government and their numerous broken treaties, but Colonel Sibley insisted on a quick execution. On December 26, 1862, 38 Dakota warriors were hanged simultaneously in Mankato, Minnesota, the largest one-day execution in American History. (Although I have received a comment from a reader that there were more men executed at Goliad, Goliad was part of Mexico at the time of the Goliad Massacre.)

Three Dakota Chiefs managed to escape the initial trial and execution. Shakopee and Medicine Bottle crossed the border into Canada, but they were recognized, drugged, roped to dog sleds and returned to Fort Snelling where they also faced the gallows. The photographs of the two men awaiting trial are heart-wrenching. Chief Little Crow also managed to escape. It is his story that intrigues me most as he was blamed by both his own people and the U.S. Government. I could not find information on where he was hiding, but he eventually returned to Minnesota. He was searching for food and stopped in a field to pick berries when he was recognized and shot to death by a local farmer.  

Chief Little Crow

There are no accurate records regarding the exact number of settlers killed during the Minnesota Massacre, but estimates from various sources place the number at around 800. The acts of torture and murder were captured by a local artist, John Stevens, and his quickly-sketched paintings later toured the country. In spite of the crudeness of his artistic renderings, the visual display of torture and murder fueled the prejudice against Indians for many years to come, while the hangings of the 38 warriors created even more tension between the Sioux and the American government. The Minnesota Massacre was therefore one of the most influential events in Indian relations. Although it is believed that the majority of the Dakota helped protect the settlers and even hid them from the warriors during the month-long massacre, when the event was over, the U.S. government forced many of the remaining Eastern Dakota to leave Minnesota forever. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

30 Day eBook Project

I will be trying something new in November. In addition to writing articles, blogging, and my usual obsessive study of history, I am going to write an ebook. 
Each year, many of my friends participate in the NaNoWriMo project, trying to write a novel in 30 days. I've tried this project and found it is too much for me. In addition to my usual writing assignments, it happens during the month of November when I usually take a week off to spend with family. 
My friend and fellow writer, Angela England, founder of the website The Untrained Housewife, is hosting a different program this year where writers will support each other during the month of November as they produce an ebook. 
The program is based on England's book 30 Days to Make and Sell a Fabulous ebook, which is easy to follow and a much lighter project than the 30 day novel. 
If you're interested in the ebook trade, I suggest you take advantage of this opportunity and join me during the month of November as I piece together an ebook on a Wild West theme. I hope to see you on the forums!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Navajo Long Walks, the Bosque Redondo, and the Long Walks Home

Navajo prisoners of Kit Carson on the Navajo Long Walk to the Bosque Redondo.

The story of the Long Walks of the Navajo is a story of great drama, pain, and sadness. It is the terrifying and traumatic story of 53 forced marches that occurred from 1864 to 1866, the tragic deaths of over 2000 Navajo that occurred during these marches, and their eventual incarceration at the Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner, New Mexico. It is a story that defined the future of the Navajo people and will always remain an important part of their collective history, a complicated story with a beginning that is difficult to trace as it involves a complex style of communication and continuous breakdowns in communication, a cycle of retaliatory raids, treaties, broken treaties, and more raids.

The story begins with the people themselves. The Navajo, or Dine, lived in a pastoral society. They were sheepherders, raised livestock, and lived in large family groups. They had great respect for their elders, the leaders of their family groups.

According to the Bosque Redondo Memorial, they lived in large homes, called hogans. Their grazing land was lush, rich, and surrounded by mountains and canyons, with wide, flowing rivers. Their land was in what is now Arizona and western New Mexico, including the mineral-rich Canyon de Chelly, which will become more important later in this story. It was bordered by four mountains that the Navajo considered sacred. It was not always a peaceful environment. They lived through droughts, floods, wildfires, and other natural disasters and learned to survive. They survived so well that eventually they needed to expand to more areas to accommodate their growing sheep herds.

Canyon de Chelly circa 1873.

Unfortunately, their search for land for expansion created ongoing conflicts with the Apache, Comanche, and Ute tribes; it coincided with the arrival of the Spanish in the 1600s; and in the 1800s, clashed with the Anglo-European settlers and their beliefs in Manifest Destiny, the belief that a "dominant culture had the God-given right to spread across a continent, regardless of any preceding culture."

It was an interesting, though violent way of life for the Navajo, Comanche, Apache and Ute who lived in this area. They often made treaties, traded goods including their intricate weaving, lived in peace, then raided, retaliated, and lived in times of war. When the Spanish arrived, this way of life continued. The Spanish naturally wanted the best land for their own crops and livestock. They established numerous settlements in northern New Mexico in the 1600s, with remnants that exist to this day. Santa Fe, New Mexico is the oldest capital city in the United States! The Spanish also participated in the same established cycle of raids, treaties, trades, then more raids.

In the mid-1800s, life for the Navajo went rapidly downhill. Tension between the Navajo, the Spanish, the Americans, and particularly the American military reached an all-time high when their leader, Narbona, was scalped on August 30, 1849, during a clash with the American military. As you'll recall, the Navajo lived in family groups, not communally, but Narbona came from a well-respected and wealthy family and he was viewed as a leader of his people and their negotiator. He was also a highly-respected military leader, particularly in his younger years. In 1822, 24 Navajo heads of family were massacred at Jemez Pueblo while traveling to a peace conference to the newly formed Mexican government. In 1835, Narbona led a successful ambush of the Mexican enemies at a pass, now known as Narbona Pass, in retaliation. This, of course, led the American military to view him as a rebellious fighter, while the Navajo considered him a respected leader.

The clash in views could only lead to more conflict, though there were also treaties. Remember, there was a pattern in place of raids, treaties, trades, broken treaties, raids. After the establishment of Fort Defiance in Arizona and Fort Wingate in New Mexico, the Navajo and the United States signed treaties in 1849 reducing the amount of Navajo land, then the Bonneville Treaty of 1858, reducing the land even further, and another in 1861. Each of these treaties was eventually broken with constant clashes between the two parties.

To make matters worse, in 1854, the Santa Fe District Court ruled that there was no such thing as Indian land in New Mexico, which allowed anyone who wanted to move onto Indian land and declare it their own, an act that seemed to beg for total chaos.

It is at this point that the story becomes one as old as history itself, a story of attempted genocide.

To say that there was extreme prejudice against the Navajo and other Indian tribes is an understatement. This prejudice made them particularly vulnerable to raids and attacks from the Spanish, Americans, and U.S. military. The soon-to-be General James H. Carleton arrived in New Mexico shortly after the Confederate Army was chased from the land. Carleton was eager for a fight, eager to prove himself and found an easy mark with the Navajo. He used his political connections wisely and was appointed Commander of the Military in New Mexico. President Lincoln approved the establishment of a new fort near the eastern border of New Mexico and Texas and Carleton named it Fort Sumner after his mentor. Carleton sold Lincoln on the idea by claiming the fort would offer additional protection to settlers in the Pecos River Valley, but his intention was to use the land as a reservation, which was essentially a prison for Indians.

At precisely the same time in history when the slaves were set free, the Native American Indians were imprisoned.

There were a few incidents that may have inspired Lincoln to believe he had no choice but to remove and incarcerate the Indians, including the Minnesota Massacre, which I will expand on in my next post. Surprisingly, as much as I have read about Old West history, I knew very little about this event until I started preparing for this post, and the Minnesota Massacre was extremely influential to the feelings and fears American Settlers held toward Native America Indians.

In 1862, when most able-bodied men were fighting in the Civil War, the Sioux in Minnesota, for reasons historians still to this day have trouble understanding, decided to rise up against the local settlers. Four young braves, returning from a hunt, found some hen eggs and one decided to take them home. Another brave pointed out that the eggs did not belong to him. The first brave threw the eggs on the ground and stated, "I am not afraid of the white man," and to prove this, he murdered the owner of the nearby home, his wife and daughter and two neighbors. When the young men returned to the reservation and admitted what they had done the tribal council met to decide a course of action. They decided they had two options, they could turn the braves over to the military or start a war. They decided to start a war that lasted for nearly a month.

They massacred many families in cruel and torturous ways, most of them women and children, teachers and missionaries whose husbands were fighting the war. One young boy, 11-year-old Merton Eastlick, whose story is told in The Old West: The Indians by Benjamin Capps, witnessed the brutal murder of his father and two brothers. His wounded and desperate mother placed his sister in his arms and the boy walked 50 miles to save the child and find help. Surprisingly, the mother, son, and baby all survived. Others were not as lucky. Eventually, 450 settlers were murdered and 2000 Sioux surrendered to the military. Two Sioux chiefs--Shakopee and Medicine Bottle--escaped to Canada, but they were soon identified, drugged, and returned to Minnesota strapped to dog sleds. Of the 392 Sioux accused of murder, 307 were sentenced to death.

Survivors of the Dakota Wars taking refuge in the prairies. 

The situation between the Indians and the U.S. military had reached an impasse and the U.S. government decided the best course of action was "removal and incarceration." According to The Old West: The Indians, it was decided that reservations would be the ideal situation, moving entire tribes to designated areas of land, but not the land with rich soil and minerals where the Indians once lived. Reservations were not originally intended to be prisons, though they eventually did resemble such facilities, in fact, it was expected that Indians would need to leave the reservations in search of game, but some came to resemble prisons, prisons as bad as those used during the American Civil War, and Fort Sumner was one of them. Fort Sumner and the Bosque Redondo Reservation were actually considered an "experiment" by the government, a particularly cruel experiment that failed.

Carleton had already moved 400 Mescalero Apache to the Bosque Redondo, promising them food sources and protection from raids. In fact, according to the Bosque Redondo Memorial, Carleton's original intention was to accommodate only the Mescalero Apache. The plan was to teach the Mescalero Apache to work as farmers, but they were a nomadic tribe, unfamiliar with living in one place for long periods of time, and their situation, along with that of the Navajo, their enemies, who would soon join them, gradually went from bad to worse. The camp and reservation was built to accommodate 5000 people. Eventually, more than 10,000 Apache, Navajo, and American soldiers would inhabit the reservation and Fort.

This is where Christopher "Kit" Carson enters the story. Carson was a well-known scout, trapper, guide and soldier serving under Carleton's command when Carleton made Carson a Colonel. Colonel Carson was head of the 1st Cavalry of New Mexico Volunteers. In the summer of 1863, Carson, his men, and his Ute spies and scouts marched into the high plateau country intent on driving the Navajo from the rugged desert east to the Bosque Redondo. According to Capps' The Old West: The Indians, Carson suggested to Carleton that the Ute scouts be allowed to keep some of the captured Navajo for slave labor as payment for their work in tracking the Navajo down, but Carleton vetoed this idea.

 Christopher "Kit" Carson

Carson established a partial camp at Fort Canby on the border of Arizona and New Mexico and another at Pueblo, Colorado. Then he began what is now known as the most infamous act of his career, the scorched earth campaign, burning all food sources. On their first mission, they burned 70 acres of corn, harvested 15 acres of wheat that the fed to the animals, burned an additional 50 acres of corn, captured several Navajo where they worked in their fields along with 43 horses and mules and over a thousand sheep and goats. This was the test run. Within the next month they destroyed every crop of wheat, beans, pumpkin, "and hundreds of acres of the finest corn ever seen." The Navajo were completely unprepared, working in their fields or on their homes, and yet, they were afraid to surrender. They were afraid that the true intentions of the U.S. government was to completely destroy their people, and they weren't far off in this guess. Carson and his men continued his scorched earth campaign far into the fall, destroying everything in their path, including fruit trees, anything that might provide sustenance to the people. Eventually, the Navajo were forced to surrender, having lived for months on pinon nuts and completely unprepared for the winter to come.

It was January, 1864, when Kit Carson and his troops invaded the last Navajo stronghold, the Canyon de Chelly. With no food or resources left, both sides were suffering--Carson's men had frozen feet; the Navajo, frozen corpses. The Navajo had no choices left--they surrendered, and began what is now known as The Long Walks to the Bosque Redondo. They moved southeast through the Tunicha and Zuni Mountains with no food, shelter or clothing for protection then followed the Rio Grande to the City of Santa Fe. Most of the Navajo traveled by foot, though there were a few wagons for the elderly. The first group of 2500, 126 died before they even left Fort Canby and another 197 on the forced march. Through a series of 54 marches, 8000 Navajo were eventually incarcerated at the Bosque Redondo. Many Navajo simply "disappeared" along the way, kidnapped by other tribes, Mexicans, and settlers for use as slaves, or worse.

Map of the primary Long Walk trails.

Once they arrived at the Bosque Redondo, the Navajo were forced to dig 30 miles of irrigation ditches, plow and plant 2000 acres with corn, then watch helplessly as cutworms and flooding destroyed their crops. They walked 12 miles to gather mesquite for firewood and carried it on their backs. While they were gone, their enemies, the Mescelaro Apache, would raid their camps and steal the few blankets and clothing they had left. Meanwhile, the Spanish, Mexicans, and white settlers stole their land back home with the approving nod of the U.S. Government.

The Mescelaro Apache, realizing the government could not possibly fulfill their promise of providing food and shelter for their people, escaped from the Bosque Redondo on November 3, 1865, leaving nine sick people behind to tend the fires and fool the military into believing they were preparing for bed. When Carleton's men discovered the Apache had fled the reservation the soldiers tried to follow, but found the Indians had separated into small groups, dividing some families forever, a sacrifice they made in order to ensure that at least some family members would survive.  Carleton's men later admitted to capturing and killing small groups of women and children, but the majority escaped.

The experiment had failed. The original inhabitants of the reservation fled. There was little food left for the remaining Navajo. Famed Texas cattle kings Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving delivered cattle to the Bosque Redondo, but most of this meat went to the soldiers. The desperate situation of the Navajo people did not go unnoticed. In June of 1865 the Doolittle Committee convened to investigate conditions on the Bosque Redondo and speak with the Navajo about their plight. They delivered a brutally honest report to Congress, but no action was taken as there was still tremendous prejudice against the Navajo, and the Navajo continued to die. 

Relief finally came with the removal of General James Carleton from his command on February 25, 1867. He was replaced by General William T. Sherman and Colonel Samuel F. Tappan whose assignment was to negotiate a treaty of peace with the remaining Navajo people. Chief Barboncito, the last Navajo Chief to surrender, signed the Treaty of 1868, and there is now a memorial in the field where the treaty was signed. The Treaty of 1868, according to the Bosque Redondo Memorial, "established, under Federal Law, the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation." In 1971, the Navajo people once again gathered at the Bosque Redondo Memorial bringing rocks from their homes to commemorate those family members who had suffered and died at the reservation.

Chief Barboncito

On June 15, 1868, the Navajo began The Long Walks Home in a ten mile long line, walking 12 miles a day for 25 days. Of the original 8000 Navajo captured, only 7304 survived to start the journey back to their homeland. They were given 1500 horses and mules, 2000 sheep, 50 U.S. Army wagons, a U.S. Calvary escort, and an apology. By July 4, 1868, they were 12 miles east of Albuquerque. At Fort Wingate, near Gallup, New Mexico, the Navajo established their headquarters. According to the treaty, they were given 15,000 sheep and goats that were delivered to Fort Defiance in November of 1869, and every surviving Navajo man, woman and child received two animals. It is believed that the Navajo people became stronger and more resilient in spite of, or because of, the horrific experiences of the Long Walks. They had survived. In fact, they prospered, eventually expanding their new reservation to over 17 million acres, eight times larger than Yellowstone National Park.

Bosque Redondo Memorial. Photograph by Darla Sue Dollman.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving: Cattle Kings

Sometimes in life people meet then go their separate ways, never to hear from each other again. Then there are times when a meeting between two people seems both destined and inevitable. When Charlies Gooodnight and Oliver Loving first met, they must have instinctively known that their friendship was both inevitable and destined to change the American West forever.

Goodnight and Loving both followed the path of typical Cattle Barons, or Cattle Kings, in the 1800s--they started out as cowboys, gradually learned business skills, and with a tremendous amount of hard work and an equal amount of luck they made themselves rich. Most of the Cattle Kings were Texas cowboys, former soldiers of the Texas Revolution, or ancestors of the first wave of Texas settlers led by Stephen F. Austin, though there were also Cattle Kings in Wyoming, Montana, and other states. Many of the Texas Cattle Kings came from back east, the "Gone to Texas" group who, like my own Texas ancestors, wanted a fresh start in a new country. (Remember, Texas was a country for 10 years, separate from both the US and Mexico, prior to the American Civil War.) This last group of people were known as GTTs, referring to the signs they left on their doors, signs that said simply "Gone to Texas."

Texas Longhorn surrounded by bluebonnets. 
Photograph by Darla Sue Dollman.

When Horace Greeley made the legendary command to "Go West, young man," he may have had Manifest Destiny in mind, but most of the young men who followed his advice were less concerned with conquering the West and more concerned with making money, either by panning for gold or starting a business. The dream of the cowboy was to make his money with cattle. Unlike gold mining, the cattle business was more than a dream, it was an achievable goal. By 1885 the cattle business was the most profitable line of business in the Old West. Cattle fed the miners, the businessmen, the soldiers, and the people back East who once preferred pork, but found they were much happier with steaks on their plates.

Charles Goodnight

Charles Goodnight (1836-1929) and his family were from the "Gone to Texas" group. Goodnight's father died when Charles was five and his mother remarried their neighbor, Hiram Daugherty. According to the Texas State Historical Association, young Charles Goodnight took great pride in the fact that he was born the same year the Republic of Texas was formed and arrived in Texas the same year Texas became part of the United States. In 1845, Goodnight and his family traveled 800 miles from his birthplace in Macoupin County, Illinois to central Texas with Charles riding bareback on a mare named Blaze. He wanted to teach himself how to be a cowboy. This was his childhood dream, and he may have had a sore bottom by the time they reached their destination near Nashville-on-the-Brazos, but one thing is certain, Charles learned how to ride like a cowboy. He also learned how to hunt and track as they made their way south.

In 1853, when his mother was widowed a second time, she married a Methodist preacher, Rev. Adam Sheek. Charles and his stepbrother, John Wesley Sheek, were close friends. When Charles was twenty, Charles and John made plans to leave the family ranch and explore California, possibly seeking gold. Instead, they made a deal with the neighboring CV Ranch to care for 430 cattle, a decision that would change Goodnight's life forever.

The CV Ranch was owned by Sheek's brother-in-law, Charles Varney. The arrangement was that the two young men could keep every fourth calf born to the herd as payment for their services. Goodnight and Sheek were dedicated to learning the cattle ranching business and apparently quite savvy about their work. In four years they had accumulated 180 head of cattle for their own herd. In 1857 they moved their heard to Palo Pinto County where they also built a log cabin for their aging parents. They remained a close family throughout their lifetimes, caring for each other as best they could.

Unfortunately, like all young men in the south, when their home state of Texas seceded from the Union, Goodnight and Sheek were forced to abandon their cattle and join the Confederate Army. Most of the ranchers made certain their cattle were carefully branded then set them free to roam the wilderness until they returned from the war.

Goodnight chose to serve with the Texas Rangers protecting homes and ranches from attacks by the Kiowa and Comanche. He was admired for his tracking skills and asked to assist in tracking down the location of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was captured by Comanche when she was ten. By the time she was recaptured 25 years later she was married to a Comanche warrior and had a family, and remembered nothing about her previous life. She was separated from her husband and son, the famous Comanche leader Quanah Parker. When Cynthia's infant daughter, Topsannah, died, Cynthia refused to eat and soon after died of a broken heart. Although I can understand her birth family's desire to have her returned, I can only imagine the pain and suffering she endured losing her husband, her baby daughter, and separated forever from her sons. The John Wayne movie The Seekers is loosely based on her story, as are many other Hollywood Westerns. Her son, Quanah Parker became an important leader to his people, one of the last warriors to surrender to reservation life.

When the war ended and Goodnight and Sheek, the two brothers, returned to collect their cattle, they were surprised to learn that their herd had grown to 5000 head. They purchased the remaining herd at the CV Ranch, gathered in a few strays, and in a short time had a herd of 8000. In spite of their great success, John Wesley Sheek's heart was not set on becoming a cowboy like his stepbrother. He wanted to become a family man. When he married, Charles Goodnight took over the herd. It was a huge responsibility, but one that Charles had been preparing for his entire life.

Unfortunately, Goodnight's situation was not unique. All Texans who returned from the war found their herds had increased in size and the market was soon glutted with cattle. Goodnight knew he would have to try a different approach than the other ranchers and decided to head northwest toward the soldiers in Colorado to ensure a higher profit. In 1866 he teamed up with his neighbor, the more experienced Oliver Loving whom he had met years earlier when he first moved to the area, and the two formed their legendary friendship.

Oliver Loving

Oliver Loving (1812-1867) was also from the "Gone to Texas" group. Loving was born and raised in Kentucky. In 1833, Loving married his childhood sweetheart, Susan Doggett Morgan, and started a family. Ten years and four children later the Lovings posted the legendary "Gone to Texas" sign on their door and left Kentucky forever along with Loving's brother, brother-in-law, and their families. Loving, however, originally chose the life of a farmer and gradually expanded his ranch in Palo Pinto County to include over 1000 acres. He also ran the general store near Keechi Creek, and his family grew with five more children born in Texas.

At some point through the years Loving started to raise cattle and accumulated a herd equal to the size of Charles Goodnight's. Like Goodnight, Loving was also a wise businessman and recognized that the greatest profits could be made by taking his cattle north. In 1857 he sent his 19-year-old son, William, on a cattle drive to Illinois by way of the Shawnee Trail.

The success of this first drive encouraged Loving to repeat the process, but the second time he chose to join his cattle with those of his neighbor, John Durkee. This drive was as profitable as the first, so he tried it a third time. Three years later, on August 19, 1860, Loving and another neighbor, John Durham, left Texas with 1500 cattle to feed the gold miners in the fledgling City of Denver. They moved their herd across the Red River then followed the Arkansas to Pueblo, Colorado where they decided to spend the winter. In the spring they sold the cattle for gold, and Loving started back through New Mexico to return to Texas. In a few short years Loving had established a reputation as an honest, expert cattleman.

By the time he started for home the Civil War had started and Loving was detained in Fort Sumner, New Mexico by Union forces. He turned to his friends, Colonel Kit Carson and wealthy landowner Lucien Maxwell, to convince the Union officers to set Loving free. Lucien Maxwell was the father of Pete Maxwell, friend of Billy the Kid and owner of the ranch where the Kid was shot. At one time, Lucien Maxwell--a former fur trapper who had traveled with explorer John C. Freemont--through inheritance and deeds, was the largest private landowner in the world with a total of 1,714,765 acres in New Mexico and Colorado. This made him a very powerful man and the Union soldiers were eager to cooperate.

The Union soldiers agreed to release Loving, and you can imagine their frustration when Loving returned to Texas and was commissioned to deliver cattle to the Confederate troops! This commission did not pay well in the end. When the war was over, and the Confederate Army disbanded, they still owed Loving between $150,000 and $200,000, which was a lot of money in the days of the Old West.

Loving knew he had to act fast to repair his finances as he still had a large family to support. This is when he formed the bond with the young Charles Goodnight who he had hired once before to run cattle through Kansas to the Colorado miners. There was a chemistry between these two men, an immediate understanding that they had equal intelligence and skill as ranchers and cowboys, and they quickly agreed to become partners. In 1866, Charles Goodnight created his famous invention, the Chuckwagon, and the two men started northwest with 2000 cattle, heading back to Fort Sumner where soldiers were guarding 400 Mescalero Apache and 8000 Navajo following the January 1864 Long Walks to the Bosque Redondo. Both the soldiers and their captives were desperate for food.

Chuckwagon photograph taken in Texas circa 1900.

Goodnight and Loving moved their cattle through dangerous territory as the Texas Panhandle was still heavily populated with bandits from Mexico, Apache, and Comanche. Goodnight, however, was familiar with dealing with the Apache and Comanche and realized it was wiser to offer them cattle in exchange for safe passage rather than fight a senseless and potentially costly battle. The men soon arrived safely with their herd in Fort Sumner, New Mexico where they sold most of the herd to the United States Army for $12,000. Oliver Loving moved the remaining cattle to Denver, and their path through New Mexico and Colorado became the legendary Goodnight/Loving trail.

In addition to their great success the two men also gained tremendous respect for each other. They trusted each other and were close friends. While Loving was in Denver, Goodnight returned to Weatherford, Texas with the gold from the Fort Sumner sale, gathered a second herd, and met up with Loving in New Mexico. The men decided to start a base camp ranch in the Bosque Grande where they could supply cattle to Fort Sumner and the City of Santa Fe through the winter months.

When spring arrived in 1867, Loving and Goodnight decided it was time to leave their base camp for another cattle drive to Colorado. They returned to Texas for more cattle, but the herd was moving slow due to bad weather and muddy, mucky trails. Loving made the fateful decision to ride west with their scout, Bill Wilson, in order to secure the government contracts before Goodnight arrived with the cattle. This was actually a wise business move. By this time, other cattle barons realized how Goodnight and Loving were making their money and Loving knew that he had to act fast to secure a written agreement before Goodnight arrived with the cattle or the value of their herd could drop considerably.

As a former scout for the Texas Rangers, Charles Goodnight realized the dangers that lay ahead and asked his friend to promise that he absolutely would not travel during daylight hours. Although Loving initially agreed to this request, he felt pressured to make the deal as soon as possible, so Loving and Wilson rode swiftly through the sagebrush and cactus, day and night, while at the same time watching for potential threats. Unfortunately Loving's luck ran out, and the two men encountered a party of Comanche.

Loving was shot in the arm and side. He fought valiantly, but could feel his body growing weaker. He told Wilson he would cover the man's escape and sent Wilson back to Goodnight for help. Somehow, Loving not only survived out in the desert alone, but he also managed to evade the Comanche for three days and nights. When he sensed that they had moved on, possibly assuming he was dead, he started crawling for the trail. He met a group of Mexican traders who lifted him up into their wagon and took him in to Fort Sumner. Goodnight arrived soon after, but Loving was already dying from gangrene. As he stood by his bedside, Goodnight agreed to fulfill his friend's dying wish and return Loving's body to his family in Texas for burial--not an easy task in the days of the Old West.

Oliver Loving was temporarily buried at Fort Sumner. Goodnight and the rest of the cowboys on the drive built a casket of tin cans to surround Loving's wooden casket then covered Loving’s body with charcoal. Then Goodnight moved the herd into Colorado for sale to the soldiers. He returned with the gold and exhumed Loving's body. Loving was escorted back to Weatherford, Texas and buried with Masonic honors in the Greenwood Cemetery on March 4, 1868. Charles Goodnight divided the profits from the cattle drive with the Loving family. In 1958, Oliver Loving was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. Loving County, Texas and Loving, New Mexico are named in his honor.

Charles Goodnight had lost a dear friend, but he did not lose his stubborn drive and determination. In 1870 he built the Rock Canon Ranch five miles west of Pueblo, Colorado, an area he had been observing for some time as he moved his cattle to Denver. Goodnight then married his long-time sweetheart, the beautiful Weatherford, Texas schoolteacher Mary Ann Dyer. The couple lived in Rock Canon for six years. Goodnight continued herding cattle with another Cattle King legend, John Chisum, and also sold apples the large orchard on the ranch. The Goodnights had no children, but decided to adopt the son of their long-time housekeeper. His name was Cleo Hubbard and he would later inherit much of the Goodnight fortune.

Soon, Charles Goodnight was one of the wealthiest cattle ranchers in Colorado and considered one of the legendary Cattle Kings. In spite of his great success, Goodnight continued to pay an exorbitant amount of interest on bank loans for his business deals, which irritated him for obvious reasons, so he co-founded the Stock Growers Bank of Pueblo. He invested in many other business ventures in the area, including an Opera House and meat packing plant. He founded Colorado's first Stock Grower's Association. Then, in 1873, the economy collapsed, and Goodnight lost most of his savings in the ensuing panic.

Goodnight was not the only man in the American Old West to find himself a king one day and poor the next, but he still had his cattle herd, his apple orchard, and his unwavering determination. In 1876, he decided to move his cattle to the Texas Panhandle where he was told by Mexican traders there was an oasis in the desert, a strip of land in a canyon that was filled with trees and had a river running through the middle. He found this oasis in Palo Duro Canyon and decided he would make the land his own and start over. He negotiated deals with the bandits, Apache, and Comanche to allow his herds to pass safely through the panhandle in exchange for cattle. Then he used his expert negotiating skills to secure foreign financing from Irish entrepreneurs John and Cornelia Adair.

His shrewd land investments made his second cattle venture even more successful than his Pueblo adventure. His herd grew to 100,000 and his ranch became a community of 50 houses. The community was named Goodnight, of course. Goodnight experimented with breeding bison and Angus cattle on his ranch, which he called “cattalo,” and raised elk and antelope on the land. A recent genetic report suggests that some of the cattle on Catalina Island of the coast of California were from Charles Goodnight's original experimental herd of cattalo, part cattle and part buffalo. In 1880, he organized the Panhandle Stock Association and served as its first president.

When Mary Ann Goodnight died in 1926, Charles became deathly sick, but he soon recovered with the help of his nurse, 26-year-old Corrine Goodnight (no relation). Friends, family, and pretty much everyone who knew him was shocked when Goodnight announced he was marrying the young woman--he was obsessively dedicated to his first wife from the time they met, and Corrine was young enough to be his great granddaughter. Nevertheless, they did marry at the home of Goodnight's nephew, Henry W. Taylor, and shocked the family once more when they sold the ranch home in Palo Duro and moved to Arizona for Goodnight's health.

Goodnight lived his last days surrounded by journalists begging for interviews with the legendary cattle king. Charles Goodnight died in Phoenix, Arizona on December 12, 1929. He was buried next to his first wife, Mary Ann, in Goodnight, Texas.

Along with his friend, Oliver Loving, Charles Goodnight was one of the first five cowboys voted into Oklahoma's National Cowboy Hall of Fame when it was founded in 1958. Many of his personal belongings were donated to museums by his adopted son, Cleo Hubbard. There are several streets in the Texas Panhandle named after Charles Goodnight, along with the highway to Palo Duro Canyon State Scenic Park. The park contains an earthen shelter believed to be Goodnight's first headquarters while he built his ranch. The Goodnight ranchhouse is still standing near US Highway 287.

Although it is widely believed that the characters of Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call in Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize Winning novel Lonesome Dove are modeled after cattlemen Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnight, there is a note on the IMDb stating that McMurtry denied the connection. The note, however, is not linked to a source.


  • Banks, Phyllis Eileen. "Bosque Redondo--Destination of the long walk."
  • "Bosque Redondo Memorial." New Mexico State Monuments.
  • “Charles Goodnight.” The Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association.
  • "Charles Goodnight." PBS-The West.
  • Forbis, William H. The Old West: The Cowboys. Time Life Books. Canada: 1974.
  • Leonard, Randy. Trail Drives of the Old West: The Story of Oliver Loving and the Goodnight/Loving Trail.
  • "Oliver Loving” The Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association.
  • Story of the Great American West. Readers Digest Association. Montreal: 1977.
  • Strotter, Mike. Wild West. Kingfisher. New York: 1997.
  • We Americans. National Geographic Society. Washington: 1975.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Charles Goodnight and his Famous Invention: The Chuckwagon

I want to tell you the story of Charles Goodnight, a man who epitomized the Wild American West in every aspect of his life, but like all good stories, it is best to begin in medias res--in the middle of things. And so, I will begin with an explanation of his most famous invention: the chuckwagon.

Charles Goodnight, circa 1880. Photo by Billy Hathor/Public Domain.

Charles Goodnight decided he was going to be a cowboy when he was nine years old. He rode the family's horse from Illinois to Texas following dutifully behind his family's wagon so he could learn what cowboys need to know about horses. That's determination. That's the type of boy he was, and the man he grew to be--determined. He was determined to build a cattle kingdom, and he succeeded. He lost his kingdom, and built another, refusing to give up even when the odds were stacked against him. When there was work to be done, Charles Goodnight was ready to complete the task. It's not surprising that Charles Goodnight was the man who recognized the one thing necessary to the survival of men moving herds on the cattle trails, and not surprising that he would be the man to invent it. In fact, to this day, it still uses the name of Charles Goodnight--the "chuck"wagon.

Charles Goodnight was a cattle rancher, a Texas Ranger, and eventually one of the most successful cattle kings in Texas. Goodnight made a few cattle drives to Kansas after the American Civil War came to a close, but the market was quickly glutted with cattle after the war and Goodnight wanted to try something different to increase his profits. In 1866 he approached his longtime friend, Oliver Loving, and proposed a 2,000 mile drive, which eventually became the Goodnight-Loving Trail extending from the Texas Panhandle, through eastern Colorado and into southern Wyoming. However, when preparing for this adventure Goodnight realized the men would need food and water and someone to prepare the meals, so Goodnight sat at his desk and began to sketch out a plan.

Two-Bar chuckwagon camped at Dry Fork of Elkhead Creek during spring of 1907. 
Photo by J.H. Sizer.

Goodnight had a bit of experience with wagons during his travels with his family and his time with the Texas Rangers. He knew what was necessary for a cowboy to complete a long trip walking alongside a herd of cattle. He made a list of what would be necessary for the trip, then designed alterations to the sturdiest wagon he had worked with in his career so it could carry these supplies. The wagon was a Studebaker, a favorite of the US military at that time due to its sturdy iron axles.

His next task was to figure out how to redesign the wagon so it could carry enough supplies for at least ten men on a drive that might last as long as five months. The bed of the wagon could remain relatively the same. It was used to store the bed rolls, the weapons of the cowboys on the trail and ammunition, lanterns, kerosene, axle grease, rain slickers, corral rope, an extra wagon wheel and a hefty supply of salt pork. Bulk food items were also stored in the wagon bed, including green coffee beans (I'm not sure why they were green, but I'm intrigued now and intend to find out), pinto beans, sugar, salt, dried apples, onions, potatoes, and grain.

Next, Goodnight added a water barrel to the side of the wagon, a barrel large enough to carry a two day supply of water. On the opposite side (to even the weight) he added a heavy tool box for wagon repairs. Then he covered the wagon with bentwood bows and stretched canvas across the top to protect the supplies from the rain.

Now comes the fun part. At the rear of the wagon, Goodnight added the invention that made him most famous--the "chuck" box. This was a hinged box that has been compared to a Victorian desk with numerous tiny drawers and cubbyholes and a lid that unfolded to form a working table space for the cook, complete with a swinging leg.

In the chuck box, the cookie stored utensils and food needed to prepare the day's meals, which generally included flour, sugar, dried fruit, coffee, beans, plates, cups, and cutlery. He also kept items that might be needed for emergencies, such as castor oil, calomel (a white powder used as a fungicide), bandages, needle and thread, and a razor and strop, which was used to sharpen the razor. Other drawers and cubbyholes might hold salt, lard, baking soda, vinegar, and the chewing tobacco and rolling tobacco, matches, and molasses. Larger cubbyholes held the skillets, dutch ovens, pot hooks to hold the pots over the fire, and the very important coffee pot. There was also whiskey on board for serious injuries, which the cook guarded very carefully, and often took a sip or two to make sure it was still good.

Word of the chuckwagon's usefulness spread quickly and soon there were chuckwagon manufacturers across the country. Although some Western films show the Conestoga Wagon used as a chuckwagon, in truth, they were too bulky for use on cattle trails and manufacturers tended to stick with what worked--the military wagon. In fact, Studebaker, the manufacturer of Goodnight's original wagon, soon had a line of chuckwagons ready-made for the trail, along with other companies such as Springfield Wagon, Old Hickory Wagon, the Mitchell Wagon Company and Moline Wagon.

The popularity of the chuckwagon did not disappear with the Old West. There are still quite a few chuckwagon companies, from New Mexico to Montana, that serve authentic cattle drive food and provide musical entertainment, as well. In fact, my family had an authentic chuckwagon dinner when I was a child.

Canadians are particularly fond of chuckwagons. Canada is home to the World Professional Chuckwagon Association, which sponsors chuckwagon races--a very competitive and somewhat dangerous sport--their website is called Half Mile of Hell! The races were introduced in 1923 by Guy Weadick, the founder of the Calgary Stampede, in an attempt to preserve the history of the American West. In addition to the races, participants compete in cook offs, are judged on the authenticity of their wagon construction and setup, the cookie's wardrobe, the food that is served, and even their hospitality.

It would be interesting to know what Charles Goodnight would say if he was told that his invention was still used to this day. I think he would be proud.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Funny Coincidence

I was at a garage sale today at my neighbor's house on Wagon Train Drive. I mentioned to my neighbor that I write about the Old West and she said, "Now isn't that an interesting coincidence for a fan of the Wild West." I wasn't sure what she meant, so she said, "Take a close look at the street signs on your drive home."

So I did. To return to my home, I drove down Wagon Train Drive to Campfire Road, turned onto Western Hills Drive, then drove past Chuckwagon Road, Buckboard Road, and Stagecoach Road, then took a right on Stallion Road to Lariat Road. This is how I find my way home. Seems to be a metaphor in there somewhere...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Few Words on Saddles for the Cattle Trail Cowboy

I've been thinking about the importance of the saddle to the cattle trail cowboy. It seemed logical to me that there must be many reasons the saddle was considered a valuable possession, so I did a little follow-up research in Cowboys, Indians and Gunfighters by Albert Marrin and The Cowboys by William H. Forbis, and a few other books.

One of the more obvious reasons the cowboy's saddle was important is comfort. Cowboys spent most of their lifetime in the saddle, so they were willing and wise to invest in a well-made, comfortable saddle. They did not skimp on quality. A saddle could be purchased for $30, a month's pay, but the top-notch saddle could cost $100, and if you'll recall the cost of a cattle trail horse, the cowboy's saddle often cost four to five times more than the value of the horse! The seasoned cowboy understood the importance of this investment, though. The saddle was expected to last for most of the cowboy's career, or at least 30 years. In fact, there was a saying among cowboys about saddles that signified when a cowboy was leaving the profession: "He's sold his saddle." No saddle, no cowboy.

As you'll recall, the horses on the cattle drive belonged to the owner of the cattle, but the saddle belonged to the cowboy. The price of the saddle was still tied to the health of the horse, though. Remember, part of the Cowboy Code is to be kind and compassionate toward animals. A cowboy with a good saddle could travel 70 miles a day on one horse and the horse would still feel strong at the end of the ride. A poor saddle could destroy a horse's posture, and I suppose the cowboy's too.

Like so much else in the world of the cowboy, the Western saddle also evolved from a Spanish invention, the Spanish war saddle. Spanish war saddles weighed as much as 40 pounds with thick velvet padding on a wood frame. They had pommels in front for the soldier to grab onto during a fight, or tie a rope to, and a high-curved cantle at the back to keep him from sliding off if the horse stumbled during battle. The Spanish war saddle's pommel and cantle was silver, and the saddle also had ornate silver plates descending from the pommel to prevent a sword or lance from piercing the horse beneath the saddle or shoving the saddle from the horse and sending the rider to the ground. The spurs hung much lower than those on Western saddles. In fact, the rider was practically standing on his horse.

The Western saddle evolved around the 19th century in cattle country. Each part of the saddle was created to meet a specific need for the cowboy on the trail. The horn was used for roping. The stirrups were generally broad to help the cowboy balance when riding down steep slopes and much higher than Spanish war saddles so Western cowboys were sitting more than standing during the ride. The wooden frame remained. The cantle remained, but was moved back and tilted for comfort--though modern chiropractors might disagree that this was a wise choice as it gave the cowboy the ability to slump a bit in the saddle. The pommel was changed to accommodate a lariat. The velvet, of course, was traded for quality leather. The silver thigh plates were removed and strings were added in various places so the cowboy could tie down anything he might need during travel.

In the 1830s, the California style saddle was invented, again by the Spanish vaqueros. The horn was slimmer than contemporary Western saddles. The stirrups were made of hollowed wood, but covered with leather flaps, called tapederas, to protect the rider and horse from cactus thorns. In the photos I am looking at, the tapederas appear to be about four inches wide.

In the 1850s, the Texas saddle appeared with changes to accommodate the special needs of cowboys moving longhorn cattle on the trails. The horn was thicker to hold more rope, much of the fancy--and heavy--leather work disappeared, the stirrups were made from steam-bent wood as opposed to the earlier versions of hollowed-out wood, which was an important change as they lasted much longer. Leather flaps, or fenders, were added to protect the cowboy's pant legs from the sweat of the horse during the heat of the day. Temperatures can reach as high as 110 degrees in Texas, sometimes higher, and for months at a time.

The Colorado cowboys created their own version of the saddle in the 1870s. The frame was longer, there was much more leather across the back of the horse, and once again the saddle weighed around 40 pounds. For the Spanish fighting a few hours in battle, this may have worked, but 40 pounds on the back of a horse working the sand and sage in 100 degree summertime temperatures, this saddle turned out to be a curse for the horse, creating saddle sores on their backs.

In the 1880s, the California saddle was revived. At least 10 pounds of leather was removed from the seat and sides. The horn was made slimmer, too, which also lightened the weight of the saddle. There was fancy tooling on the leather, but this proved to be more than decoration as it actually helped hold the rider in place.

There was another important difference added to the California--the double-cinch rig. The rigging rings were used to tie the saddle to the horse with canvas or cords and their placement proved to be critical to the balance of saddle and rider. The original Spanish war saddles had one rig toward the front so the cinch circled the horse's belly. This did not work for cattle trail cowboys as it caused the saddle to rise during roping and the rider could be thrown from the saddle. Saddle makers then tried a three-quarter rig with a strap behind the cantle and another in front of the horn. The side straps were shorter toward the front--thus the name three-quarters. This appeared to provide more stability during long rides--literally, when you look at pictures it does appear more stable--but during roping activities the cinch tended to slide forward causing the saddle to become loose and slide. I can't imagine anything more embarrassing to a cowboy than to suddenly find himself hanging upside down beneath his horse's belly.

The rig was then moved to the center for balance, which proved more stable during roping, but the double-cinch rig proved to be best for the heavy roping tasks required of cattle trail cowboys. The extra cinch in the rear provided more balance, and although it may appear to create the possibility of pulling or chafing on the back belly of the horse, it proved to be much healthier for the horse.

There is obviously more to discuss as far as gearing up a horse for a cattle drive, but I wanted to share what I'd found about the importance of the saddle and its evolution since I mentioned this in my last post and my next posts will return to discussions of the actual cattle drives and the cattle kings who started the movement of beef to the Eastern customers.

Christmas dinner for a family, from a series of photos documenting Gen. John J. Pershing's 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico. ...