Home -> Miscellaneous Books -> Reminiscences of a Pioneer -> Chapter 18 - Another Attack That Miscarried

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Chapter XVIII.

Another Attack that Miscarried.

Everything was in readiness. Two hundred rounds of ammunition was distributed to the men, and all were in high glee at the prospect of being able to revenge the cruel murder of friends and neighbors.

At 2 o'clock we were roused by the guards. Horses were quickly saddled and after a meal of bread, meat and coffee we mounted and filed out of camp. Besides the scouts I had ten men belonging to the John Day volunteers. As daylight began to peep over the mountain tops we reached the head of the canyon in which the Indians were encamped. We had kept a close lookout for any signs of the Indians abandoning the canyon but found none. There could be no question as to their whereabouts - not more than a mile below us.

We halted here and engaged in a discussion as to the advisability of going around to the west side of the canyon, and when the attack began to open on them from that side. The John Day men were decidedly in favor of the move. But Gen. Brown had especially requested that I should be with the main force when the fight began, and I must return and meet him. It was finally arranged that I should return, taking one man with me, while the others should go down the west side of the canyon. Accordingly I selected the boy Eugene Jones and we started back. It was arranged that the main force should follow me up the mountain within an hour after I left camp, and I expected to meet them about the time the attack began. I did not consider it as being particularly hazardous, as they could not be very far away. We rode at the gallop, expecting every moment to hear the report of the opening guns. It was broad daylight now and we sped on as fast as our horses could carry us. But nothing could be seen or heard of the command. Our situation was now serious in the extreme. We passed within 600 yards of the Indian camp and could see the smoke curling up out of the canyon. But the only alternative that presented itself to us was to go ahead as we should certainly meet the troops within a short distance. As a matter of fact we were "so far stepped in that to retreat were worse than going o'er." On and on we sped until the brow of the mountain was reached overlooking Murderers Creek Valley, and nowhere could we get sight of man or beast. "What does it mean?" These were the questions repeated one with the other. We finally concluded that the Indians had slipped out behind us, or that we had overlooked their trail, and that Gen. Brown finding it had started in pursuit.

Descending the mountain we struck across the valley and at or near the creek we found the trail of the command. It was easy to distinguish the trail as our men rode shod horses while the Indian ponies were bare-footed. Picking up the trail we rode as fast as the condition of our tired horses would permit. About four miles from where we struck the trail we found the carcass of one of our pack mules. We at first thought there had been a skirmish and that the mule had been killed. An examination, however, showed us that the mule had fallen over an embankment and broken his neck. Following a well beaten trail we did not discover that the command had left it until we had gone some two or three miles past the carcass of the dead mule. We therefore began to retrace our steps. It should be understood that the course taken by the command was due east, at right angles to that which they should have taken in following me in the morning. Returning, we carefully examined each side of the trail in order to discover where it had been left. We finally came back to the carcass of the dead mule. We knew they had been there, but what had become of them? Eugene suggested that they had "had an extra big scare and had taken to wing."

While we were looking for the trail six of the men from whom we had separated in the morning rode up. They were as much bewildered as I. In fact, I could not account for the actions of the command except that there was rank, craven cowardice somewhere, and the language I used was freely punctuated with adjectives not fit for print. After a long search we discovered where they had left the trail. They had followed a shell rock ridge for a quarter of a mile, probably, as some of the men suggested, to hide their trail for fear the Indians would follow them. The course was now due north. This they kept until reaching the summit, when they again turned west. We followed on as fast as the jaded condition of our horses would permit, until I discovered pony tracks following behind. Keeping a sharp lookout, however, we continued on until we came to where one of the Indians had dismounted, the imprint of his moccasin being clearly outlined in the dust. This presented a new difficulty, and we now understood why they had not picked us off in the morning. They were entrenched and were waiting to be attacked, but seeing the main force turn tail, the hunted had turned hunters.

To follow the trail further appeared madness, and we turned down the mountain, keeping in the thick cover. I concluded the command would simply circle the camp and return to the Stewart ranch that night. Accordingly we bent our course so as to strike the head of the valley, which we reached at sundown, but nowhere could we discover the presence of man or beast. We waited until dark and then led our horses up through the willows lining the banks of the creek, and finding an open space picketed our horses, and leaving a guard of two men, laid down to sleep. I told the boy Eugene to wake me up and I would stand guard, but he failed to do so, saying he was not as tired as I and stood both guards.

At daylight we again saddled up and began a search for the command. We had eaten nothing since 2 o'clock on the previous morning and began to feel keenly the effects of hunger. All that day we wandered through the mountains, returning to our hiding place in the willows of the night before. At daylight I wrote a note and left it at the Stewart ranch and then determined to reach John Day Valley. Food we must have, and we knew we could find something there. Striking a course through the mountains we reached the Cummins ranch at 4 o'clock that day. We had now been without food for 62 hours, and from that day to this I could never bear to see anything hungry - man or beast. Here we found Gen. Brown with most of his command enjoying their ease. Some kind ladies at the house, learning our condition, quickly set us some food, mostly soups and articles of light diet.

In explanation of his remarkable course, Gen. Brown declared he was misled by the John Day volunteers, while they in turn laid the blame on Gen. Brown. I was furious over the whole shameful affair and took no pains to conceal my disgust. Capt. Humphrey told me that he knew they were going in the wrong direction, and told Brown so, but the latter said Lieut. Angel was acting as guide and that they would follow him, and on the head of that officer the blame finally rested.

This incident and others led next day to the enforced resignation of Lieutenant Angel and the election of George Chamberlain as his successor.

From the Cummins ranch we went to Canyon City for supplies, and from there to Bear Valley, on the mountain to the west, and on the road leading to Camp Harney. After resting our horses for a day, Gen. Brown and I, with a small escort, went to Camp Harney hoping to get some news, and while awaiting the return of Chamberlain. At Camp Harney a small force of regulars was posted and some thirty or forty families had gathered there for protection. Many of the women and children had escaped from their homes, scantily dressed, and had been unable to procure any clothing during the lapse of more than a month. It was a sad sight, especially those who had lost husbands, sons and brothers.

The day after our arrival, two ladies, the wives of Major Downing and Major McGregor, sent for me. The latter had two or three children besides her mother. Their husbands were with Howard's column and they were anxious to reach Canyon City and go from there to Walla Walla. Would I escort them to Canyon City? I said certainly, I would do so, as I would go within a few miles of that place on my return to camp. Lieut. Bonsteil of the regulars spoke up and said he would provide them with an escort at any time. But Mrs. McGregor told him plainly that she would not go with the soldiers that if they got into trouble the soldiers would run away - but the volunteers would stay with them. The Lieutenant suggested that "it was a fine recommendation for the United States Army." "I know the army better than you do, Lieutenant, and have known it much longer, and I will not risk my life and the lives of my children with them," said the plain spoken Scotch lady. The next morning, bright and early, we started out. The ladies were riding in an ambulance, driven by a soldier. When near half way to Bear Valley and near Mountain Springs, we crossed the fresh trail of a strong party of Indians, but we arrived at our destination safely, and next morning returned to camp. Here we rested a couple of days and, Chamberlain returning, we moved to our head camp at Grindstone. We had accomplished nothing in the way of destroying hostiles, but had prevented them from scattering and committing all kinds of atrocities as they had done before reaching John Day Valley.

Arriving at our camp we found ourselves without any provisions. Accordingly Gen. Brown and I started to Prineville with a four horse team to obtain supplies to send back to the men who were to follow. We took along a teamster and the quartermaster. Starting in the evening we arrived at the crossing of Beaver Creek, and I captured an old hen, all that was left at the ranch after its plunder by the Indians in June. We drove until midnight and arriving at Watson Springs, stopped for the night. We dressed the hen and had the driver to sit up the balance of the night and boil her. When daylight came we tried to breakfast off the hen, but it was a rank failure, and we harnessed up and drove on, getting a meal at a ranch ten miles from Prineville, to which place we drove that night.

Thus ended my last Indian campaign, and one of which I never felt any great amount of pride. In one respect it was a rank failure, due, I have always thought, to the rank cowardice of some one - probably more than one. We had, however accomplished some good, as before remarked, and probably saved some lives, and that was worth all the hardships we had endured.

I cannot close this narrative without a further reference to the boy, Eugene Jones. During the first two weeks of the campaign my eyes became badly affected from the dust and glare of the sun, reflected from the white alkali plains on the head of Crooked River. At times I could scarcely bear the light, which seemed fairly to burn my eyeballs. From the first Eugene had attached himself to me. He would insist on taking care of my horse in camp, and often would stop at a spring or stream and wetting a handkerchief would bind it over my eyes and lead my horse for miles at a time. At Murderers Creek, too, he was the only man to follow me when I made the dash after the Indian horse herd. Another thing I observed about the boy was that I never heard him use an oath or a vulgar, coarse expression. What then was my surprise on arriving at Prineville to find a letter from Sheriff Hogan of Douglas County telling me that the boy, Eugene Jones, was none other than Eugene English, a notorious highwayman and stage robber. He was a brother of the English boys, well known as desperate characters. I was stunned, perplexed. The Sheriff asked me to place him under arrest. But how could I do so, after all he had done for me? It appeared in my eyes the depth of ingratitude. In my dilemma I laid the matter before Judge Frank Nichols of Prineville. I related all the boy had done for me, and asked him what, under like circumstances, he would do. "By George, Colonel, I would not give him up. It may be wrong, but I would not do it," replied the old Judge. We then went to Mr. Brayman, a merchant of the town, and laid the matter before him. He fully agreed with us that the boy should be saved. I then went to the quartermaster, got a voucher for the boy's services, obtained the money on the voucher from Mr. Brayman, and putting a man on a horse, explained to him that he was to hand the letter and money to Eugene, first having him to sign the voucher, or warrant, over to Mr. Brayman.

The young man found the boy with the volunteers. He called him to one side, gave him my letter as well as the money. He signed the voucher, and that night disappeared and I never saw or heard of him again. But of this I feel certain, if he fell in with the right class of men he made a good man and citizen. Otherwise, otherwise. Do you blame me, reader? I have never felt a regret for what I did. Put yourself in my place.

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