Part 4: A pioneer experience

Thursday, March 9, 2017 6:15 PM

After everyone was awake at Elk Mountain campsite, I told the Captain I thought it would be a good time to eat as we hadn’t eaten since we left this water two or three days ago. He gave the order to the soldiers to unpack. 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 but having two jars of pickles in his private bag he would divide with us.” Some of the boys ate some, but I wasn’t pickle hungry.

We got in the saddle as soon as possible and pushed on to get to Johnson Creek on the south side of Blue Mountain where we had seen some cattle tracks as we came over. We got there about 4; found the cattle a bunch of five head, two steers among them. It was a remnant of a bunch Uncle Charley Johnson had brought in there some years before and found the Indians worked on them so hard he moved out what he could find. We run them into camp, killed the two steers, turned one over to the soldiers, and went on to skinning the other. By the time we got it skinned the meat was all cut in chunks by different ones, every fellow had a stick with a chunk of meat roasting it. Us skinners had to pick the backbone, and in less than an hour after the animal was dead it was eaten up. We stayed that night, going on next day to Montezuma Creek, where we got some more beef, rested again that night, and next morning started out to make Dolores 60 miles away. Ten miles from there, at Piute Springs, my horse gave out. I turned my crippled horse loose here, as I knew I would be able to get him by the time he got well, and no one would want him while he was crippled. I stayed on foot, leading and sometimes driving my horse, for I wanted to get him to carry my saddle until I could get something else. The outfit had gone on, apparently unaware that I was in trouble. After about five miles I saw a man coming. It proved to be Mike O’Donnel, one of the boys who owned stock on this range with a home camp at Cahon, a spring 20 miles on the road toward Dolores. He asked what the trouble was, I told him. He said “Here, take my horse and I will walk awhile.” I told him, no, I was standing it fine, only I felt like it was a long time between eats. “All right,” he said, ‘if you won’t ride damn it, we’ll both walk.” So, we walked on while he told me how he happened to come back. He missed me and inquiring found the last seen of me was at Piute where I had stopped and appeared to be doing something with my horses. He told the Captain he was going back to hunt me. The Captain said, I forbid it, we are still in a hostile country, and if he stopped to monkey with that crippled horse it is his own look out. Mike replied, “All right I am quitting your command now.”

After walking on awhile an idea occurred to me, and I asked Mike if he didn’t have a bunch of broncos running up on Monument Creek to our left. He said he had, and he didn’t think the Indians had got them, as they were hard to handle. I told him if he thought his horse could stand it, and he could get those broncos down to the corral at Cahon, I could get something to carry my saddle. He said “All right, he would do it.” If I beat him in he had a baking powder can full of flour cache in the rocks just below the cabin, also, a little coffee in a can, and if I would have a fire built, we would eat. He struck out horse hunting. I worked my horse as fast as I could; when I got to the corral I turned the poor fellow loose. I found the flour and coffee, built a fire, and saw Mike coming with the horses. They were wild, but by careful management we got them in to the corral, and made flapjacks and coffee, and I think it was the best I ever ate.

We went to the corral and there was a mare about 4 years old without any colt.

I caught and threw her, tied her down, and put a blind fold on her, tied my saddle on good, untied her and when she started to get to her feet I piled into the saddle, pulled the blinds off, and told Mike to herd us toward Dolores, and we went some, so that we caught up with the outfit as they were getting there.

So ended the campaign against Mancos Jim that summer, and it was not far different from the ones before that when I had not been along.

Mancos Jim was back at the agency on ration day with no charges against him. I always felt bound to Mike O’Donnel by a tie that couldn’t be broken.

Information from a letter written at Kline, Colorado, March 2, 1925 by George Sam Todd. Copy of letter given to June Head by Harley and Bessie (Todd) Longenbaugh in 1970.

Sam Todd and family lived on the ranch, east of Cortez. Part of his ranch is now the Cortez Cemetery; also Denny Lake (then called Todd Lake). Bessie Longenbaugh and Lulu Todd Grasse, his daughters, lived in and near Cortez. Bessie was a nurse and Lulu was an original employee of Empire Electric Association.

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