A pioneer experience, Part I

Thursday, March 9, 2017 6:16 PM

This is about one of our experience with the Indians in early days.

In July 1884, I think it was on the third of July, the Ute Indians, under Mancos Jim, as had been their custom ever since cattlemen had come into the country, as soon in the summer and the grass was good enough for their horses, made an attack on the Cross Canon Blue Mountain cow outfits working on Montezuma Creek. They shot one of the cooks (a man by the name of Cook), and Dolf Lusk, who was holding the caviard, and burned the mess wagons. The Indians took the caviard amounting to 150 good saddle horses and whatever other loose horses that were handy, which were mostly unbroken and struck northward toward Uinta in Utah. The boys came back to Dolores, mounted in some cases two on a horse, on what horses they had left – and a sorry crowd they were. They had been taken unaware as usual early in the morning, and most of them out of cartridges, having shot them away at deer for fun.

Word was sent the same evening to Ft. Lewis, 40 miles east, and the next day a troop of cavalry came over, under command of a Captain Perrine. He called for volunteers from the boys to go and try to get the horses back. Nearly all the boys that could get mounts joined, amounting to about ninety.

The Captain told us to take no supplies, as they had 16 pack mules carrying plenty for the trip. So we hit the trail, reaching the scene of the attack the evening of July 5th. From there the trail skirted the base of Blue Mountains on the south around to the western point, then west along a very narrow ridge dividing the waters of the Colorado and the San Juan. Following it about 20 miles, it opened out into a mesa three or four miles wide with pine timber. In the center of the mesa there were two tall buttes known as Elk Mountain, with some springs and a lake at the base, where we camped for the second night.

Following the trail on west eight or ten miles, the mesa ended abruptly. In front of us and away below lay desert of rocks and bare white dirt, and while we were looking two smokes showed up about a half mile below us on the mountain side. We could see two Indians laying down on the ponies running down the mountain towards the valley below, and we knew the smokes were signal fires. Now we could see a cloud of dust way down about 20 miles away, and looking with field glasses we saw the Indian camp getting ready to move. Before we could get down the mile of steep mountain side their dust showed that they were well on their way down the valley. While we were going at a good stiff run they were too. When we reached their campground they had been camped at a rainwater tank in the rocks, and had used all the water. From the tracks the goat herd had been watered last, and they had taken it all. (The goat herd they always took with them on the war trail, as they could out travel a horse and they had them to eat while they were too busy to hunt.)

It was now one o’clock, awfully hot, and our horses were really suffering for water. I had brought an extra horse and changed about every five miles, as I was pretty heavy. But all the horses were wet with sweat after the first ten miles. We thought we could surely catch them before sundown and kept at a hard gallop. The soil was like ashes and rose in a cloud of dust with no wind to blow it away. We were in the dust of the Indians all the time. While we couldn’t see them we thought we were right at them and would catch them in a few minutes. So we kept up all that afternoon. Now and then we would find a horse standing in the trail that had given out with an Indian, unsaddled and left, and wouldn’t move out of the trail when we whipped them with a quirt. Sundown came and then dark, and we kept on as long as we could see the trail, which was plain enough as long as we were in soft ground.

We came to some bare flat rock country and in the dark couldn’t follow, and as the moon would rise at one o-clock we tumbled off, lay down with the bridle reins in our hands and lay there until the moon came up, and took the trail again. We were a tired, thirsty, hungry outfit, and our horses suffered for water more than we did.

Part II will continue July 3 in the Cortez Journal

Sam Todd lived in Disappointment Valley, Big Bend of the Dolores and in the Cortez area. Sam and his family lived on the ranch, and the lake known as Denny Lake was Todd Lake for years. Daughters Bessie Longenbaugh and Lulu Todd Grasse lived in the area.

June Head is the historian for the Montezuma County Historical Society. Contact her at 970-565-3880.