History of Buffalo County
and Its People
by Samuel Clay Bassett
CHARACTER OF EARLY SETTLERS--VOTERS VOUCHED FOR--TOOK THE SHERIFF ALONG
CHARACTER OF THE EARLY SETTLERS
The early settlements in this county were not of a permanent character nor were there many in number. In 1867 there were eighteen tax payers, and the total levied was $241.08, no part of this school tax. The names of these tax payers and the value of their property for taxation purposes was as follows: D. W. Beach, $1,080; John Britt, $150; J. E. Boyd, $6,830; Joseph Boyd, $600; D. R. Champlin, $750; H. Dugdale, $940; C. Eddy, $715; W.Esty, $1,140; G. Gardner, $650; C. S. Johnson, $475; A. Meyer, $425; Ed_01iver, $335; Sarah Oliver, $540; Staats & Wilson, $3,760; W. D.Thomas, $2,800; Thomas Tague, $355; G. H. Hats, $650; A. J. Williams, $825. Total valuation of property in the county for 1867, $23,020.
In 1868 there were-twenty-one tax payers in the county; in 1869, twenty, and in 1870, thirty-eight, notwithstanding the Union Pacific Railroad had been completed and running regular trains as far as Kearney (now Buda), in August, 1866, and the railroad property had been listed for taxation in 1868.
The first school tax levied was in 1870 and amounted to about sixteen hundred dollars. The early settlers who were, it appears, of influence in the settlement and who took a more or less active part in matters of public interest were composed in great part of two classes or nationalities, English and Irish. The English were in the majority and were largely Mormon emigrants, some of whom had journeyed to Utah, becoming dissatisfied and returned to this locality, the others proceeding no further than Wood River Center settlement. The Irish were not Mormon emigrants nor does it appear that they were in any manner in sympathy with that form of religion. As a rule these early settlers came direct from their native land to the Territory of Nebraska and were therefore unacquainted with our form of government or the methods in common use in the states in conducting elections or of those relating to school, county and governmental affairs. All these things must be taken into consideration in passing judgment on the methods and manner in which some of the public business was conducted, in the early history of the county.
That no school tax was levied until 1870 would seem to indicate that the earlier settlers did not deem education of such immediate and pressing importance as those who came in 1871 and later. While the English were in the majority among the early settlers the Irish seem to have been more active in public affairs. Possibly this is accounted for from the fact that Sergt. Michael Coady, at Fort
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
Kearney, was of great use and influence among the early settlers and doubtless was inclined to favor his own people. James Jackson, a register of voters, relates that on his refusing to register certain Irishmen who under the law were not eligible to vote, complaint was made to Sergeant Coady that Mr. Jackson-- who, by the way, is of English descent--was discriminating against the Irish in this respect, and that when he (Jackson) convinced Sergeant Coady that he was following the letter of the law, there was no further complaint. That the early settlers were a peaceful, law abiding people is evidenced by the fact that while the county was unorganized until 1870 there is related practically nothing of lawlessness or crime on the part of the settlers. Something in the nature of tradition as to the manner in which public affairs were conducted is herewith given as illustrating the character of the early settlers.
VOTERS VOUCHED FOR
Previous to 1873 voters were required to register in advance of an election. At an election held in 1870 there were thirty-five registered voters in the county. It is related that on election day as the hour for closing the polls drew near it appeared that fifteen registered voters had failed to cast their votes, whereupon a judge of the election arose and said: "I am well acquainted with these men who have not voted; they are all good and true men, and I will vouch for them." He then placed fifteen ballots in the ballot box, which were later counted with those regularly cast. If this be true it is believed it was not done to further any partisan end or purpose but as a neighborly act, it not being convenient for the voter to attend in person, a neighbor kindly performs the necessary duty instead.
TOOK THE SHERIFF ALONG
While the county records show that On February 26,1870, the county commissioners appointed John Oliver both sheriff and assessor, there is good reason to believe that later James Oliver was appointed assessor and served as the first assessor in the county. It is related that in the western part of the county there were a few settlers who boasted that they had never been assessed and would not be and they would make it warm for anyone who attempted to assess their property. On this official trip the assessor was accompanied by his brother, John, the sheriff. When they arrived the few settlers at Elmcreek began making threats and firing their guns, but the Oliver brothers were not easily bluffed and replied that they had guns and could shoot if necessary, but that the assessment must be made and there was no use making a fuss about it. After a long parley the assessor was permitted to perform his official duty.
REV. DAVID MARQUETTE--FIRST RELIGIOUS SERVICES HELD IN BUFFALO COUNTY--JAMES JACKSON--"PAP" LAMB-GEORGE STEARLEY--CHURCH AND SUNDAY SCHOOL ORGANIZED.
FIRST RELIGIOUS SERVICES HELD
The first preaching services held in the county appears to have been in the winter of 1869-70. These services, a series of meetings, were held in "the first schoolhouse," elsewhere described, and were conducted by Rev. D. Marquette, a Methodist missionary, who is still living (1908) and now resides at University Place, Neb. As related, a pleasing and interesting feature of these meetings was the sweet singing by the Owen family, Mrs. David Owen, her two daughters and son, Joseph. As singers the Owen family seems to have been gifted, as it is related that two other daughters of this family, who resided in Utah, were members of the choir and sang regularly in the great Mormon Tabernacle at Salt Lake City, Utah. The writer is greatly indebted to Reverend Marquette for the following account of this series of meetings and of his labors in Buffalo and adjoining counties:
"University Place, Neb., Oct. 28, 1908.
"Replying to your inquiry concerning my work as missionary in the bounds of Buffalo County, I take pleasure in stating the following facts: In the spring of 1869 I was appointed pastor of Wood River Mission, a 'circuit' which consisted of a straight line from Silver Creek Station just west of Columbus, to Gibbon Siding, ten or twelve miles east of Fort Kearney, embracing all intermediate points where there were people enough, including Grand Island where wife and I lived. I visited and held services at three places west of Grand Island--'Pap' Lamb's ranch ten miles west but on Wood River, and at Wood River Station, holding the services at the station or at Jackson's store, about a mile northwest of the station. I am not sure whether Wood River railroad station and Jackson's store on the old freight road (overland trail) keeping close to the stream of Wood River, were either or both in Buffalo County. You will probably know more about the county lines than I do, these cutting no figure in my work in those days, my circuit embracing part of Platte and all of the inhabited portion of Merrick, Hall and Buffalo counties. At Wood River there was no class organized, and it is certain, from a study of the annual conference minutes, that no one had gone, as pastor, any farther west than 'Pap' Lamb's, where there was an organization; however, I went as far west as 'Gibbon Siding,' which I suppose is identical with the present Village of Gibbon. During the winter of 1869-70 I held a series of meetings which resulted in a gracious revival and in the conversion of about twenty and in the organization of the first class in the bounds of Buffalo County, and for that matter the first Methodist organization in all the territory now embraced in the West Nebraska Conference I cannot
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
now, after the lapse of thirty-eight years, recall the names of any who formed that historic first class. The meetings were held in an old board house which was open in many places, and the weather being cold, the people who crowded the house laid down buffalo robes on the floor and hung shawls up at the sides of the house to keep out the cutting winter wind and make the room endurable. We recall a sturdy and very pious German by the name of George Stearley, who with his excellent wife, lived on Wood River some two or three miles east of Gibbon Siding. He was not, at that time, preaching and could not have preached in English. He was the only one in that country who could lead in public prayer; when called upon to do so, he would usually, in deference to his English speaking brethren, begin his prayer in English, but would soon cut loose and pass over into German and make an excellent impression by his manifest earnestness and sincerity, though we could not understand a word he said. This couple by their royal hospitality, entertaining in their home the missionary and his wife, and the pleasant hours we spent there are among our precious memories of those times. But a royal hospitality was characteristic of nearly all of those early settlers and thereby greatly added to our comfort in sharing their humble dwellings and scanty fare with the preacher and his wife. Hoping this brief statement will assist you and expressing my appreciation of your effort to write a history of your county, I am,
Both prayer meetings and a Sunday school were held in this old schoolhouse but the church organization mentioned by Rev. Mr. Marquette seems to have fallen through, as it has not been learned that the organization existed at the time or after the arrival of the colony in 1871. The "Pap" Lamb referred to was a stage driver for the Western Stage Company and is highly spoken of by those now living who knew him. The Mr. Jackson mentioned is James Jackson, now a merchant of Wood River. Mr. Jackson is of English descent and with his young wife came to what is now Hall County in 1860. In 1864 he engaged in the mercantile business at a point some miles west of the present Village of Wood River and has continued this business to the present time. Religious (preaching) services were held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, and their home was popularly known as 'the "Preacher's Roost." Mr. Jackson attended the series of meetings held by Rev. Mr. Marquette in the old schoolhouse and states that there was great interest and the attendance taxed to the utmost the capacity of the house in which the meetings were held. The George Stearley mentioned will be readily recalled by early settlers in the county. After the arrival of the colony he took a homestead on section 22 in Shelton Township. On this homestead Mr. Stearley planted several acres of timber which he took much pride in cultivating and caring for and in time his homestead came to be one of the choice farms in the township. Mr. Stearley was licensed as a local preacher in the United Brethren Church, and took an active part in the affairs of the church. The United Brethren organization in the immediate vicinity of where he resided was one of the strongest in the state. Mr. Stearley resided on his homestead until his death, which occurred August 27, 1897.
THE BOYD RANCH, JAMES E. BOYD, OWNER LATER GOVERNOR OF NEBRASKA--RAISED CORN--TRAFFICKED IN OXEN--BREWED BEER--WHISKY $20 A GALLON--THE BOYD RANCH FIRST CLAIM TAKEN IN BUFFALO COUNTY--FIRST PIECE OF DEEDED LAND IN NEBRASKA, WEST OF HALL COUNTY--PAID FOR IN LAND SCRIPT ISSUED TO A SOLDIER OF THE WAR OF 1812.
THE BOYD RANCH
The place known as the "Boyd Ranch" was one of the first landmarks West of the Missouri River on the Utah-California-Oregon Trail, having its initial or starting points at Florence, Omaha and Bellevue on the Missouri River. This ranch was located on what is now the southwest quarter of section 14, township 9, range 14 west, in Buffalo County. As a business point for traffic with emigrants enroute over the trail it was an ideal location. It was located on Wood River at a point where that river approaches nearest to the Platte, less than three miles distant, thus causing the entire travel over the trail to pass close to the ranch. About twelve miles to the south and west and across the Platte River was Fort Kearney, near enough to afford some protection to the ranch but not so near as to cause Dobytown, the business point near the fort, to compete for the trade over the trail.
In describing the business of a ranch in those early days and of the store sometimes connected therewith, some writers seem to have exaggerated idea and quite often draw on their imagination in their written description. One writer in describing a ranch and store at Wood River Center, about ten miles east of the Boyd Ranch, says: "At this point he had a large outfitting store for the accommodation of the many who were rushing to the gold fields of California." As a matter of fact, early settlers still living in Buffalo County state that the principal business of this storekeeper at Wood River Center was as blacksmith and wagonmaker in repairing wagons passing over the trail and that the stock of goods carried by him would not make a wheelbarrow load on smooth road. Emigrants purchased their outfits, including provisions, before starting on the long journey over the plains and mountains. Just when a ranch was first established at this point is not known so far as can be learned. Riley Wescoatt states that in the spring of 1833 himself and brother Jonas, with their wives and three children, passed over this trail and camped just beyond what was later known as the Boyd Ranch. The Wescoatt brothers had a herd of 400 heifers which they were driving to California and had with them thirty-five men enroute for California and who assisted in driving
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
the cattle as compensation for board and transportation. In company with the Wescoatt brothers was Capt. John Fuller, who was in command of 100 men whom he had engaged to furnish board and transportation for to California in consideration of $100 each, $10,000 in all, each man to do his share of guard duty while enroute. These two commands made the entire journey together, and all being fully armed had no fear of successful attack from Indians. Mr. Wescoatt states that the principal business conducted at the ranch was trading in oxen and horses and selling whisky. In the journey over the trail both oxen and horses often became footsore, but after a few days' rest the hoofs would grow out out and the lameness disappear. Ranchmen traded for these footsore animals and after they had rested and recovered from their lameness were again in shape for another like trade. Mr. Wescoatt states that the Wescoatt brothers and the Fuller command each purchased at the ranch twenty gallons of whiskey, paying therefor $20 a gallon, $800 in all; that the wives of the Wescoatt brothers carried the money of the firm and they had quite a time to convince the women that the whisky was a necessary purchase; but the men in their employ thought they ought to have the whisky on the long journey and as it could not be secured elsewhere the purchase was made. James E. Boyd, governor of Nebraska in 1901-2, after whom the "Boyd Ranch" was named, came to Buffalo County in December, 1858--Morton History, -'Vol. I, page 594. Mr. Boyd had been married in August of that year to Miss Ann H. Henry and the family made their home on the ranch. Doctor Henry, father of Mrs. Boyd, made his home with the Boyds and spent some of his time, at least, in hunting and trapping on Wood River. Mr. Boyd says Eleanor, their eldest child, was the first white child born in Buffalo County, Nebraska. Mr. Boyd seems to have begun the ranch business in a very modest manner, as early settlers state that he assisted in breaking the prairie on his ranch and in 1860 was often seen plowing in his cornfields. From the first he engaged in the sale of liquor and in the early '60s had begun to raise barley and established a small brewery on the bank of Wood River where he brewed about ten kegs of beer at a time and which he sold at the fort and at Dobytown for from six to eight dollars a keg. In connection with the brewery he hand [sic] an icehouse which he filled from Wood River. This small brewery was on the bank of Wood River, east of the ranch house, and the cellar and part of the building was to be seen when the colony came in 1871. The hole in the ground where the cellar was is still to be seen in the hank of Wood River close beside the public highway. In the early '60s Mr. Boyd had more than one hundred acres under cultivation, on which he raised principally corn and barley, corn bringing a good price from travelers over the trail. Mr. Boyd also trafficked in horses and oxen and had at that date about one hundred head of native cattle.
Until about the year 1864 the buildings at the Boyd Ranch were of logs with dirt roof. Soon after the stampede in 1864, it is related, Mr. Boyd went to Missouri and purchased twenty-four mule teams, all young mules; he also bought new harness and new wagons with the intention of engaging in the freighting business. Among the first freight brought out from the Missouri River by Mr. Boyd's teams was lumber with which a frame house was erected on the Boyd Ranch. This would not be considered a very pretentious structure
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
in these days, but it was something entirely out of the ordinary in those days, being the first frame house in the county.
On December 2, 1863, ground was first broken, near Omaha, for the building of the Union Pacific Railroad, but it was not until 1865 that much progress had been made in the grading and construction of this road. In 1865-66 Mr. Boyd secured a large contract for grading on the railroad in which work he found profitable use for the mule teams he had purchased in Missouri, At the close of the first year's work of grading Mr. Boyd informed one of his neighbors that he had cleared $20,000 on his contract that season. This neighbor states that Mr. Boyd cleared at least one hundred thousand dollars on his contracts for grading on the Union Pacific Railroad. The land comprising the Boyd Ranch was first purchased from the United States by Joseph Boyd, his deed from the United States bearing date of December 10, 1867, and is signed by Andrew Johnson, President. Joseph Boyd paid for this land in "land script," issued to Private Thomas Davis in Captain Henry's company, Georgia Militia, War of 1812. This land script was first assigned to William Henly and by him to Joseph Boyd. Land script, as here mentioned, was issued by the general Government to soldiers of both the Revolutionary war and War of 1812 for services in those wars. This script was negotiable and could be used in securing title to Government lands. Joseph Boyd deeded this land to James E. Boyd for a consideration of $500, the deed bearing date of April 5, 1867. On April 8, 1874, James E. Boyd deeded the Boyd Ranch to Asahel Eddy for a consideration of $2,500. "From the first establishment of this ranch, at least as early as 1853 continuously until its sale to Mr. A. Eddy in 1874, it is believed the sale of intoxicating liquors formed a regular part of the business of the ranch. After the arrival of the colony at Gibbon in 1871 there was a saloon located close beside the old brewery cellar on this ranch.
Few people realize the immense number of emigrants that have passed over the California-Oregon-Utah Trail across what is now the State of Nebraska. A very large per cent of these emigrants traveled the trail north of the Platte River and thus passing the Boyd Ranch, though it was probably not known by that name until about the year 1858 when the Boyds first came to Buffalo County In order to give at least some idea of the emigrant travel over this trail we quote a few illustrations from Morton History, Vol. II: "In 1845 Col. S. V. Kearny estimated that 850 men, 475 women, 1,000 children, with 460 wagons, 7,000 cattle and 400 horses had emigrated by the Oregon Trail that year. Major Cross, in the report of the march of the regiment of mounted riflemen to Oregon in 1849 estimates that from 8,000 to 10,000 wagons passed over the trail that season, with an average of 4 people and seldom less than 10 oxen to each wagon, nearly all bound for California. In 1852 an agent of the Indian Department reported passing at least 500 wagons on the trail each day. In 1859 the secretary of the Columbus Ferry Company at Loup Fork (this ferry was over the Loup River near the present City of Columbus) reported that up to June 25th of that year 1,987 wagons, 20 hand carts, 5,401 men, 424 women, 480 children, 1,610 horses, 406 mules, 6,010 oxen and 6,000 sheep had crossed at that point. This statement included no portion of the Mormon emigration, but merely California, Oregon and Pike's Peak emigrants. It was thought that not less than
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
4,000 wagons had passed over the trail north of the Platte from March 29th to June 25th."
In 1860 a stage line--Western Stage Company--was established from Iowa to Fort Kearney, via Omaha. The Boyd Ranch was a stage station on this route. In 1866 came the Union Pacific Railroad, following the identical trail past the Boyd Ranch first followed by emigrants as early as 1845 so that it will be seen that for more than sixty years there has been a daily stream of travel over this trail and passing a point locally known as the "Boyd Ranch." The early emigrant, with his ox teams and prairie schooner was satisfied if he accomplished fifteen miles a day on his journey. He cooked his meals beside the trail, sometimes his fire was of wood, at other times of "buffalo chips," but no matter how cooked, he relished and enjoyed his food, for he was blessed with a good appetite. At night he slept in his wagon or on the ground and complained not that he "could not sleep," or that he "did not rest well."
ACROSS THE PLAINS IN 1853--WESCOATT BROTHERS TAKE 400 HEAD OF COWS TO CALIFORNIA--CAPT. JOHN FULLER WITH HIS COMMAND JOIN THEIR PARTY--INDIANS MASSACRE EMIGRANTS ON BANKS OF PLATTE RIVER--JOHN HODGES ESCAPES AND SWIMS THE PLATTE--PURSUIT OF INDIANS AND THIRTY-SEVEN KILLED--BURIAL OF MASSACRED EMIGRANTS--THE BOYD RANCH--TWENTY DOLLARS FOR A GALLON OF WHISKY--THE BOY, JOHN HODGES, FINDS HIS UNCLE IN CALIFORNIA--SIXTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS PROFIT ON THE HERD OF COWS--WESCOATT BROTHERS RETURN TO IOWA.
ACROSS THE PLAINS IN 1853
Capt. Riley Wescoatt, an early settler in Central Nebraska, relates his experience in crossing the plains in 1853.
In the spring of 1833 Riley and Jonas Wescoatt of Albia, Ia., arranged to take a herd of 400 young cows across the plains to California. Jonas Wescoatt had made the trip to California and back the year previous with the view to the present enterprise. Their cows cost them about four thousand dollars, and in addition the expense of the necessary outfit, comprising saddle horses, wagons and twenty yoke of oxen, provisions, bedding, ammunition and other necessaries for so extended a journey along the route of which nothing could be purchased. The Wescoatt brothers were both married and their wives and three children accompanied them. Their wagons were covered and the wagon boxes extended over the wheels so as to provide comfortable sleeping quarters and as they carried feather beds and plenty of bedding they made the journey with comparative comfort. The saddle horses were for use in driving the cattle, the Wescoatt brothers furnishing board and transportation for thirty-five men who wished to go to California and who assisted in driving and caring for the cattle and doing each his share of guard duty as compensation for board and transportation. The Wescoatt family had moved from the Tippecanoe battle ground in Indiana to Monroe County, Ia., in 1831, and the thirty-five men who accompanied them on this journey were neighbors with whom they were well acquainted, as it was a somewhat hazardous undertaking and only men of character and courage were wanted.
They crossed the Missouri River on April 28th at Bellevue, then a trading point, and Mr. Riley Wescoatt states that they saw no house or habitation after leaving the Missouri River until their arrival in California, except the ranch later known as "Boyd's Ranch" on Wood River, about ten miles northeast of Fort Kearney, the location of this ranch being about a mile west of the present Village of Gibbon in Buffalo County.
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
It was an unusually early spring and even at that early date the emigrant travel was so great that six steamboats had come up the Missouri River from below and were used for ferrying purposes at the Bellevue crossing. At the crossing of the Missouri the Wescoatt brothers met a party of 100 well armed men enroute for California and under command of Capt. John Fuller. Captain Fuller had made the journey to California the previous year and had arranged to furnish board and transportation for these 100 men, they to pay him S100 each, $10,000 in all, and each man to do his full share of guard duty. The Wescoatt brothers and Captain Fuller arranged to make the journey together and did so, not camping more than a mile apart during the entire journey. The party traveled the trail north of the Platte and because of the heavy emigration over the trail found the pasture very short. Because of the scantiness of the pasture they were compelled to range their cattle, at times some distance from the regular trail and so for the first month their rate of travel was very slow. On May 28th, about one hour before sundown, when the party was about four miles south of the present Village of Wood River, in Hall County, Nebraska, and was preparing to camp for the night, it was noticed that there was a commotion on the south side of the Platte River and the firing of guns was heard. By means of field glasses which both commands carried, it was seen that a large party of Indians had attacked an emigrant camp on the south bank of the Platte and were scalping women in the camp. The fight appeared to last but a short time, ten minutes, Mr. Wescoatt says, and while there was some talk of crossing the river it was finally decided not to do so. In explanation of this decision Mr. Wescoatt says: "The Platte was very high, and also our own commands were in danger of attack, as there appeared to be a large party of the Indians, and it was thought best not to divide our own forces." As a matter of general information in connection with this tragedy it might be well to state that the Platte River at this point is more than a mile wide from its north to its south bank. There is one large and several small islands in the river and three main channels. The largest or north channel is about 1,400 feet in width, the middle one about 1,000 feet and the south channel about 350 feet, in all the water channels are nearly 3,000 feet in width. High water occurs in the Platte from May 15th to June 15th, varying with the earliness of the season when the melted snow from the mountains comes rushing down on its way to the ocean. The fall in the Platte River is 3,400 feet in the 400 miles across the State of Nebraska, being an average fall of about eight feet to the mile. When we compare this fall with that of the Mississippi River, averaging less than one foot fall to three miles between its mouth and St. Paul, Minn., it will be seen that the fall in the Platte is nearly twenty-five times as great as in the Mississippi. The Platte has a sandy bottom and in high water numerous quicksand holes, also in high water there is somewhere between its banks what is termed a "main channel," here today, elsewhere tomorrow, continually changing, in which the water is much deeper and runs with a stronger current than the remainder of the stream, making it an extremely dangerous river to cross when the water is an average of three feet in depth and much deeper in the "main channel" referred to. These explanations are deemed necessary because the casual reader, not understanding the surrounding conditions, might be led to think the Wescoatt and Fuller com-
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
mands were heartless and lacking in courage in not at once going to the rescue of attacked emigrants. Also the reader will in some measure be the better able to realize what a small boy braved and endured in his escape on this occasion.
The Wescoatt and Fuller commands camped at this point for the night. About 2 o'clock the next morning the camp guard brought a small boy to Mr. Riley Wescoatt. The boy's clothing, consisting of shirt and trousers, was wet and the child, while greatly excited, seemed able to control his feelings. He said he belonged to an emigrant party going to California and camped on the other side of the river; that last evening they were attacked by a large party of Indians and he was afraid all but himself were killed; that he hid in the brush on the bank of the river and when it became dark he saw a camp fire on the other side of the river and knowing how to swim had crossed over; that he was carried down the river a long ways, five miles he told Mr.-Wescoatt, and when he got across he had followed the river until he reached the camp. The boy said his name was John Hodges and that there were five in the family, his father, mother and three children. John was at once taken to Captain Fuller. Messengers were sent to camps below on the trail, requesting as many men as could be spared to come, armed and mounted, ready to cross the river at daylight. Mr. Wescoatt states that guns carried on this journey were flint-lock muskets, although some of the party had revolvers with percussion caps. Little John was given a revolver and a horse and took an active part in the fight with the Indians later in the day. Mr. Wescoatt states that John was about thirteen years old and a boy of more than ordinary intelligence, energy and courage. At daylight a party of 185 men, armed and mounted, crossed the Platte, going direct to the place of the massacre. They found the emigrant party consisted of fifteen men, nine women and four children, all killed except the boy, John Hodges. The women had been scalped, but not the men. The wagon train, consisting of seven wagons and the necessary oxen, had been destroyed, the Indians burning most of the wagons and contents. It appeared that the Indians were armed with bows and flint pointed arrows, though little John thought some of the Indians had guns. If the emigrants had killed any of the Indians the dead bodies could not be found.
Captain Fuller was in command and his party took the trail of the Indians and it was soon learned that the Indians had already broken camp and were going south towards the Republican River some fifty miles distant. The Indians were surprised and attacked some miles south of the Platte River on the divide where it was broken by ravines and draws. The Indians were mostly mounted on ponies and it was a running fight, lasting two hours or more. At the close thirty-seven dead Indians were counted. It was estimated that the Indians numbered one hundred and fifty. They were Sioux, all warriors, and undoubtedly a war party as they were in Pawnee territory and the Sioux and Pawnees were traditional enemies.
The Fuller command returned to the place of massacre about 2 o'clock in the afternoon and planned for the burial of the murdered people. Graves were dug on a rise of ground near the emigrant camp and members of families, all identified by little John, buried side by side. There was nothing of which coffins could be made and the dead were wrapped in their clothing and committed to the
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care of Mother Earth who is ever kind. The Wescoatt and Fuller commands remained in camp two days before the burial of the emigrants was completed. Their next camp was near a place known later as "Boyd's Ranch," before mentioned in this paper, the Wescoatt party camping on what is now section 21 and the Fuller command on the hill or bluff on what is now known as section 16, both in Gibbon Township, Buffalo County.
It was somehow understood that a war party of Sioux, 400 strong, were preparing to attack these two commands in revenge for the Indians killed in the fight south of the Platte and an anxious night was passed, but the commands were not molested. The Indians had been troublesome all along the trail that spring and word was sent to the officers at Fort Kearney in regard to the massacre of emigrants less than twenty-five miles east of that fort, but the officers of that garrison made no response and Mr. Wescoatt spoke of the officers of the fort at that date in terms not at all complimentary. The buildings of the ranch mentioned were of sod with dirt roofs and the owner had a large corral in the bend of the river west of the house. He trafficked in oxen and horses, trading for such animals as had become lame on the trail. He had a considerable number of men about the place, frontiersmen, some half-breeds, most of whom could speak the Indian language. He seemed to be on good terms with the Indians and did not seem to fear an attack. The ranchmen kept liquor for sale, freighting, as he said, alcohol from the Missouri River and making out of one barrels of alcohol twenty barrels of whisky, selling his whisky for $20 a gallon. Both the Wescoatt and Fuller commands bought each twenty gallons of whisky, paying $800 in all. The wives of the Wescoatt brothers carried the money and the men had quite a time to convince their wives that it was advisable to purchase the liquor, but the men in their employ insisted that liquor was needed on so long a journey and as it could not be secured elsewhere it was nurchased.
The boy, John Hodges, was made one of the family by Mr. and Mrs. Riley Wescoatt, Mrs. Wescoatt coming to love and care for him as one of her own family, and he accompanied them to California, where the two commands arrived on August 17, 1853. The boy made his home with the Wescoatts for more than two years, when he one day accompanied, as usual, Mr. Wescoatt to Sacramento, some five miles distant from their ranch. On the street John saw and recognized an uncle who had gone to California some years before and who had not before learned of the massacre of his relatives. This uncle was a rich ranchman and accompanied Mr. Wescoatt home and remained several days, finally inducing his nephew to make his home with him.
The Wescoatt brothers realized a profit of more than sixteen thousand dollars for their cattle, some of the choicest cows bringing $150 each and the heavier oxen $300 a pair. Jonas Wescoatt and wife soon returned to Iowa where Mr. Wescoatt served for many years as a judge in that state. After the death of his wife he returned to California, living in a hotel in San Francisco, where he lost his life in the destruction of that city by earthquake a few years ago.
Riley Wescoatt and wife returned to their Iowa home about the year 1856, coming via Panama, crossing the isthmus soon after the completion of the railroad at that place. Mr. Riley Wescoatt was a soldier in the Mexican war, serv-
HISTORY OF BUFFALO COUNTY
ing under General Taylor. He was wounded soon after reaching Mexican soil and returned home. On the breaking out of the Civil war he raised in his own county Company H, First Iowa Cavalry, being commissioned captain of that company and promising the members of the company that he would remain with them during their term of service. He remained with the company as captain and was mustered out with his regiment April 16, 1864. In 1875 Mr. and Mrs. Wescoatt came to Nebraska, taking a homestead on Elm Island, in Hall County less than two miles distant from where the massacre of the emigrants occurred in 1853, and repeatedly visited the place where they were buried. Mrs. Riley Wescoatt died July 15, 1905. The death of Mr. Wescoatt occurred on March 6, 1909. He was buried beside his brave and courageous wife in Riverside Cemetery, near Gibbon.