Little Wolf was a Cheyenne Indian who was often called “the greatest of the fighting Cheyenne.” Little Wolf was the chief of an elite Cheyenne military society called the Bowstring Soldiers. Little Wolf had demonstrated a rare form of bravery and a brilliant understanding of battle tactics from a very early age, which led to him becoming a trusted leader. His prowess showed first in conflicts with other Indians like the Kiowa, but even more in disputes with the United States Army, Little Wolf led or assisted in dozens of important Cheyenne victories.
While it has not been confirmed, most historians agree that Little Wolf was probably involved in the disastrous Fetterman Massacre of 1866. In that battle, the Cheyenne lured the 80 American soldiers out of the fort in Wyoming, and wiped them out. Cheyenne attacks also forced the United States military to abandon Fort Phil Kearney along the Bozeman Trail, and Little Wolf is believed to have led the war party in torching of the fort. He was also a leading participant in the greatest of the Plains Indian victories, the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.
Even with such an impressive list of victories to his credit, Little Wolf, like many of the other Plains Indian warriors, was finally forced to make peace with the White Man. After the horrendous loss at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the army launched a major offensive. In 1877, the government sent Little Wolf to a reservation in Indian Territory. Little Wolf was disgusted with the conditions and the lack of supplies the Indians were forced to endure. In 1878 Little Wolf made up His mind to leave the reservation. His plan was to head north for the old Cheyenne territory in Wyoming and Montana. Chief Dull Knife and 300 of his followers went with him.
Little Wolf and Dull Knife made it clear that their intentions were peaceful, but the settlers in the territory we’re afraid they would attack. So, once again, the government sent cavalry forces that assaulted the Indians. Little Wolf’s skillful defensive maneuvers kept Cheyenne casualties low. When the band neared Fort Robinson, Nebraska, Dull Knife and some of his followers stopped there, but Little Wolf and the rest of the Cheyenne continued to march north to Montana.
In the spring of 1879, while still traveling north, Little Wolf and his followers were overtaken by a cavalry force under the leadership of Captain W.P. Clark, who happened to be an old friend of Little Wolf’s. The confrontation could have easily turned violent, but with his force of warriors diminished and his people tired, Little Wolf was reluctant to fight the more powerful American army. Clark’s civilized and gracious treatment of Little Wolf helped convince the chief that further resistance was pointless, and he agreed to surrender.
After returning to the reservation, Little Wolf briefly served as a scout for General Nelson A. Miles. However, during this time he disgraced himself among his people by killing one of his tribesmen. The formerly celebrated Cheyenne warrior lived out the rest of his life on the reservation but had no official influence among his own people. After all of his honorable leadership and years of respect among his peers, Little Wolf was, in the end, taken down by his one dishonorable act. People always remember the things you do wrong, but the things you do right seem to fade quickly away.
Deadwood, South Dakota maybe started out as an illegal town, but once it was established, there came a need for things like mail, supplies, and transportation, the latter of which brought the need for a stagecoach. The biggest problem with the stagecoach was the fact that the lawless element in the area thought it would be an easy target for robbery. The stagecoaches became a ride for the very brave. Soon it became apparent that the stagecoaches were going to need some protection.
Daniel “Boone” May was born in Missouri in 1852. Going by the name of “Boone,” he was the son of Samuel and Nancy May, the seventh of nine children. Later, he moved with his family to Bourbon County, Kansas, where his father worked as a farmer. In 1876, “Boone” and his older brother moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where they worked in the freight business. During this time, the Black Hills were crawling with road agents and hostile Sioux Indians.It was a dangerous time to be working along the roadways in that area. Nevertheless, May did very well there, and he decided to buy a ranch between the Platte River and Deadwood by the end of that year.
“Boone’s” bravery and work ethic soon came to the attention of the stagecoach service, and he was soon recruited as a shotgun messenger for the Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage & Express Company. He also served as the station keeper at Robbers’ Roost in Wyoming Territory. Within just a few years, “Boone” was thought to have been in at least eight shooting incidents with outlaws. Many people said that he was the fastest gun in the Dakotas. His adventures soon became well known.
One of the first hold-ups “Boone” was involved in was in August, 1877, when a Deadwood Coach was intercepted at Robber’s Roost. On this occasion, even though “Boone” wanted to fight it out, he decided to lay down his weapons, because a woman and child were in the coach. The robbers made away with the passenger’s money, weapons and personal property. While they lost their things, I’m sure they decided that it was best to walk away with their lives. A short time later, “Boone” ran into one of the bandits, a man named Prescott Webb, in Deadwood and within no time, gunfire erupted between the two men. Though “Boone” was hit in the left wrist, he returned fire as Webb jumped on a horse to make his getaway. “Boone’s” shots hit Webb in the shoulder, and the horse several times, bringing it down. Webb was quickly arrested by Sheriff Seth Bullock and later that day, Webb’s companions who had aided in the robbery, were also arrested.
In 1878, stagecoaches known as “treasure coaches” were running regularly between Deadwood and Cheyenne. Their cargo was strong boxes filled with gold, as well as the U.S. Mail. These “treasure coach” stages often became the target of bandits, and after one of these coaches was held up on July 2, 1878, the U.S. Postal Service appointed a number of special agents to bring the outlaws to justice. “Boone” and ten other men were soon appointed as U.S. Deputy Marshals and equipped with good horses and ammunition. One of “Boone’s” first encounters with bandits as a U.S. Deputy Marshal occurred on the night of September 13, 1878. He and another messenger were trailing a Cheyenne bound coach which was approached by bandits near Old Woman’s Creek in the Wyoming Territory. “Boone” and another deputy, Zimmerman surprised the outlaws and shooting erupted. “Boone” wounded one bandit named Frank Towle and the others fled empty handed. Leaving their Towle wounded on the ground, the two messengers went after the other bandits but were unable to capture them. When they returned to the robbery site, Towle was gone.
On September 26, 1878, when “Boone” and other messengers were waiting to escort a coach at Beaver Station on the Wyoming-Dakota border, but the stage failed to show up. They went in search of the coach, and met another messenger who told them it had been robbed and a passenger killed. “Boone” quickly joined a posse to go after the outlaws, but they escaped. The following month, “Boone” learned of the hiding place of a robber named Archie McLaughlin and quickly went after him and his gang. Capturing them north of Cheyenne, the outlaws were sent under guard to Deadwood on the northbound coach. Unfortunately, the stage never make it, because on November 3, 1878, it was stopped by vigilantes who hanged Archie McLaughlin and another man named Billy Mansfield. The next month, “Boone” was in a posse that brought in a robber named Tom Price. The bandit tried to escape, and was wounded, and then was brought in. Late in 1879, “Boone” was sent to assist Special Agent William Llewellyn in the capture of a mail robber named Curley Grimes. They tracked the outlaw to Elk Creek, located halfway between Rapid City and Fort Meade where they arrested him. That night, as the group neared Fort Meade, Grimes attempted to escape and was shot and killed by “Boone” and Llewellyn. By this time, “Boone” had made such a reputation for himself that he became a target for many of the outlaws who repeatedly tried to assassinate him, unsuccessfully. “Boone” also worked as a messenger for the Black Hills Placer Mining Company in the summer of 1880, and was said to have killed at least one robbers during this time. A short time later, “Boone” resigned from the company and left the Black Hills. He turned up in Santiago, Chili in 1883. He shot an army officer in 1891, he fled to Brazil. He died of yellow fever in Rio de Janeiro in 1910.
I don’t always think of myself as living in a historic area, although I should, because during the days of the Old West, at least, much history happened here. In fact, on this day, July 28, 1865, twenty year old Caspar Collins…a gutsy lieutenant from Dogwood Knob and Hillsboro, Ohio led 20 men to fight a battle against 1,000 to 3,000 Indians, just outside Platte Bridge Station, which was near Casper, Wyoming, where I live. The battle had been coming, and everyone knew it. The Lakota Sioux and the Cheyenne Indians had been attacking the United States Army for a couple of months now. The Indians had raided outposts and stagecoach stations over a wide area of Wyoming. On this day back in 1865, the Indians assembled their warriors and descended on Platte Bridge Station. The Platte River bridge was guarded by 120 men near the bridge, and another 28 soldiers guarded a wagon train a few miles away. The Indians killed 29 soldiers, while only losing 8 warriors in the raid.
In reality, the Army was unprepared for this attack or the ones leading up to it. Colonel Thomas Moonlight had led a 500 Cavalry force out to seek out and punish the raiding Indians on May 26, 1865. He hung to minor Oglala leaders…Two Face and Black Foot. He left them hanging for days. I’m sure this infuriated the Indians. On June 3, the army began to worry that the 1,500 Lakota, mostly Brulé, and Arapaho who were living near Fort Laramie, might become hostile. So they decided to move them about 300 miles east to Fort Kearny in Nebraska. The Indians protested that Fort Kearny was in the territory of their traditional enemies, the Pawnee. The next day, near present day Morrill, Nebraska, most of the Indians refused to accompany the soldiers and began crossing the North Platte River, assisted by Crazy Horse and a band of Oglalas on the other side. Attempting to stop them, Captain William D. Fouts and four soldiers were killed. Informed of the disaster, Moonlight departed Fort Laramie with 234 cavalry to pursue the Indians. He traveled so fast that many of his men had to turn back because their horses were spent. On June 17, near present day Harrison, Nebraska, the Lakota raided his horse herd and relieved him of most of his remaining horses. Moonlight and his men had to walk 60 miles back to Fort Laramie. He was severely criticized by his soldiers for being drunk and not setting a guard on his horses. On July 7, Moonlight was relieved of his command and mustered out of the army.
The Platte River bridge was a key crossing point of the North Platte River for wagon trains of emigrants traveling the Oregon and Bozeman Trails. The Indians wanted to stop traffic on the Bozeman Trail which led through the heart of their hunting territory. The bridge had been constructed in 1859 and was almost 1,000 feet long and 17 feet wide. On July 20, Indian leaders made their final decision to launch an attack against the bridge. The warriors gathered and set out southward from the mouth of Crazy Woman Creek on the Powder River. The Platte River Bridge was 115 miles south. The army was the largest they had ever seen. It was estimated to number 3,000 men. U.S. army accounts state that the wagons were forced into a hollow where they held out for four hours, using fire from Spencer rifles to repel assaults until a large group closed on foot and overwhelmed the defenders, killing all.
Then came the attack of Platte Bridge Station. The battle that left 29 men dead…including Lieutenant Caspar Collins, and at least 10 more men seriously injured. The battles before had involved maybe 1000 Indians. This battle was different…this one involved 3000. They were seriously outnumbered, but Lieutenant Caspar Collins went out to fight anyway. The day after the battle, the Indian army broke up into small groups and dispersed. A few remained near the Oregon Trail for raiding but most returned to their villages in the Powder River country for their summer buffalo hunt. Indians lacked the resources to keep an army in the field for an extended period of time. The Army officially renamed Platte Bridge Station to Fort Caspar to honor Collins, using his given name to differentiate the post from an existing fort in Colorado named after Collins’ father.
Trains have always fascinated me. I love to ride them, and I love to watch them. I suppose that it could be something that is in my blood, since some of my family members, including my grandpa and my Uncle Bill both worked for the railroad. Or maybe it is just my personal opinion, but I think trains are cool. Whenever Bob and I go somewhere that offers a train ride, we try to plan that into our trip. If you have never taken a ride on a train, you really should consider it sometime. You won’t be disappointed. It is like a time machine, of sorts, taking you back into history.
The history of trains and the railroad itself is a fascinating one. In a very primitive form, trains existed back as far as 600BC, to move goods from ships to where they needed to go. Early miners had a primitive train since about 1500, called a Wagonway. It really was an invention of necessity. It was very difficult to haul ore out of a mine with a horse and wagon…or a wheelbarrow for that matter. By coming up with a way to transport the ore in wagons on a rail system, it got much easier. Of course, this system wasn’t much good if you were going to go very far, because let’s face it, a series of wagons going very far is a slow mode of travel, and it wouldn’t be a Wagonway anyway, because that is called a Wagon Train…oddly enough.
The implementation of the rail system in the United States was necessary to our future too. Getting from one side of this country to the other is not an easy task. Even with the benefit of cars these days, driving cross country takes several days. And while the early trains weren’t much faster than our cars are, you could sleep at night, and keep going. At first the trains only carried supplies and such, but it wasn’t to be very long before they carried people. The first fare paying passenger train began operating in 1807 in Swansea, Wales. From that time on, more and more trains would carry passengers, and in many ways the world became a smaller place after that. Soon trains would criss-cross the United States, and train travel became common. It wasn’t common to just everyplace right away, however, but on this day, January 22, 1888, the first passenger train came into Cheyenne, Wyoming. It left the same day, making Wyoming history…two years before we even became a state.
Travel by train would begin to make people feel like they had really come into the modern ages for a while, but with cars and airplanes, it wouldn’t take long for train travel to almost become obsolete. These days, I think that like me, most people ride the train systems because it is a novelty. Bob and I like to ride the 1880 Train from Keystone, South Dakota to Hill City, South Dakota. Basically it is like riding a train to nowhere, because while the two towns are real towns with stores, and people living there, for those riding the train, they are just a quick stop on the journey from one to the other and back again. The whole trip takes an hour one way, and with an hour layover in Hill City, we are back in Keystone in 3 hours…having done nothing more than to relax and enjoy the ride.