A pioneer experience, Part 2

Thursday, March 9, 2017 6:16 PM

We thought we could catch the Indians before sundown and kept at a hard gallop.

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. The soldiers had filled their canteens that morning before at Elk Mountain, but they had drank it all during the day without offering to share with the boys and now had more to say about wanting water than we did.

The trail now began to leave the valley and climb into the foothills of a high mesa lying west of us that seemed to be, as daylight appeared, capped by an unbroken rim rock as far in each directions as we could see, that appeared to be from 50 to 200 feet thick. When full daylight came we were at the foot of this wall, and the trail led to a narrow break in it, barely wide enough for one horse to go into. We halted to investigate. We knew we were close to the Indians because for the last three miles we had found a number of give-out horses wet with sweat, and some of the last ones were still panting. While we were talking we heard a goat bleat just on top. It was plain to us boys that we were in a trap. The Captain, however, said there was no trap and we must climb that mesa, but considering the necessity for water we would halt and send a detail to hunt for a rain tank.

When this order was given, a government scout named Warrington dismounted and said, “All right, Captain, while you find water I’ll scout around and see what’s up there,” and started walking up toward the gap. A cowboy named Higgins, commonly known as Rowdy, jumped down and said, “I’ll go with you.”

Just as they reached the foot of the gap there was a roar of guns from overhead, and Warrington and Rowdy tumbled down. They both rallied, though, Rowdy crawling into the shelter of a big boulder, but Warrington got to his feet and started to run down the hill when another volley sent him tumbling again. When he stopped his feet and legs were up on a big boulder and his head and shoulders were down below it. We couldn’t see his face, and he never moved again, but we could hear him moaning and saying something that we couldn’t understand. We couldn’t see an Indian, as they lay flat and shot over the edge.

As soon as Warrington and Rowdy were down they turned their guns on the rest of us. They shot down among us and tore up the ground. The only hit they made was my horse. He was hit through the muscle of the front leg and went down but recovered himself. Leading him I was not far behind the crowd tearing down the hill to a bunch of cedars for shelter. Some of the boys were in such a hurry to get there that they jumped off and took it afoot, as the horses were slow to lead down such a steep place, and seven horses with saddles on were left standing there, and afterwards fell into the hands of the Indians. All loose horses and pack mules were in the rear in charge of some soldiers, and so were not in the mi up. We sent men with the rest of the horses to them while we got our men arranged in shelter and tried to figure out how to win out, or let our commander figure it out, at least, to get those dead bodies. But the Indians now had got over their excitement, got the range, and were shooting close at whatever they could see, so that a hat held up on a stick was sure to get a hole in it.

As the sun got higher it got to be awfully hot, and most of the talk was water, and we knew there was none close. With the glasses we watched the two boys that were shot. At nine o’clock Warrington was still alive. Though he couldn’t move we could hear him moan and say something we couldn’t understand. After that we heard him no more, but Rowdy was still alive at noon. We could see his face; he was very pale and breathing in gasps. After that we could see no sign of life.

About this time old Mancos Jim, who could talk English, jumped up and began to dance and hollered, “Oh, my God, boys come and help me” and before a bullet could reach him, he dropped down again. This he kept repeating every few minutes all afternoon, as we supposed mocking Warrington’s talk when he was dying. Being directly over him he could hear him much plainer, of course, than we could down below. Sometimes he would substitute, “Oh, my God, boys, a drink of water.” So the day wore on until sun down, and consulting with the captain, we decided on a plan to try to get the bodies after dark.

Part 3 continues Aug. 7 in the Cortez Journal

June Head is the Historian for the Montezuma County Historical Society. She may be reached for questions at 970-565-3880.