A pioneer experience Part 3

Thursday, March 9, 2017 6:15 PM

Old Mancos Jim, who could talk English, jumped up, began to dance and hollered, “Oh, my God, boys come and help me” and before a bullet could reach him, he dropped down again.

He kept repeating every few minutes all afternoon. We supposed he was mocking Warrington’s talk when he was dying. So the day wore on until sundown, and consulting with the captain, we decided on a plan to try to get the bodies of Rowdy and Warrington after dark.

The plan was for all the soldiers to train their guns on that gap while they could see where the bullets struck, so when it got dark they could keep a steady fire on it, not allowing any Indians to come down, and a bunch of us boys would get up there and get the bodies. As soon as it was dark, four of us started crawling carefully to make no noise to attract rifle fire, and when we were within a few yards of Rowdy, sneaking along a trail on bare shale hill, I found I was alone and listening I heard horses’ feet coming towards me. I soon found they were on the little trail I had been crawling on and there seemed to be a number of them. So I quietly slid below the trail and lay flat. As they came on the trail I could see them plainly between me and the sky.

It was the seven saddle horses the boys had jumped off of and left standing in the attack in the morning; each one of them was led by an Indian and going toward the gap. I could easily have killed one or two of them, but it would give the rest of them my flash to shoot at.

I crawled on toward where Rowdy lay, and found there was a bunch around him, apparently stripping the body. Going on toward Warrington I found the same thing, only there was a dog and he began to growl. Still being alone I knew I could do no good, so I made it back down the hill.

The Captain now gave orders to gather up equipment as quick as possible for a retreat, saying if those Indians had got down the hill they were liable to be in our rear and cut us off from the only trail we knew of to get back to water. I hated to give it up that way, and called for 10 volunteers to follow the mesa south until we could pass that cap rock, go west and in back of the Indians position, but only two offered to go, Sant Bowen and Joe McGrew. As that number was too small to accomplish anything we gave it up. I could hardly blame the boys, though, they were worn out and suffering for water.

So the retreat began at 10 o’clock, I riding my one horse and leading my cripple. About 2 o’clock in the morning Joe McGrew and I were riding together and he remarked that he was awfully sick. I looked and saw that he was about to fall. I caught and held him on his horse, and called to Adam Lewy behind to help. We found he had fainted and carried him to one side of the trail, and were fanning him with our hats when the Sargent of the troop came along, asked the trouble, and when we told him, said “Take that man and tie him on his horse and come on. We can’t delay the whole command or a part of it here in the hostile country.” I said “Sargent, we have to quit, and are no longer under command.” Joe came around all right, and after an hour’s rest we went on, overtaking the outfit about 8 o’clock as they were climbing out of the valley.

About 11 we got to Elk Mountain and water and drank and drank. As soon as the men had drank all they wanted they began to tumble over and go to sleep. I sat on a big rock 10 feet high near the spring and watched them. They were all asleep but one soldier on sentry duty. He looked around and thinking everyone else was asleep, sat down by a pine tree and went to sleep. About 2 in the morning I went around to him, shook him, but he was hard to wake. Finally I told him to hurry up, Mancos Jim was coming. He came alive, grabbed his gun and started for his horse. I called him back, told him he had better wake the Captain it was time to move.

After everyone was awake I told the Captain I thought it would be a good time to open up something to eat, as we hadn’t eaten since we left this water two or three days ago. He said “All right” and gave the order. The soldiers went to unpacking and rummaging. Finally the Captain came over with a pint jar of pickles in his hand and said, “That through some misfortune the provision packs had been lost.”

Part 4 will continue Sept. 4

June Head is the historian for the Montezuma County Historical Society. She can be reached for comments, questions or corrections at 970-565-3880.