The Saline and Solomon Valleys were often visited by marauding bands of Indians who killed or carried away the settlers, and destroyed property. The territory which is now Lincoln County was considered unsafe and the settlers lived in constant alertness for their red foes. While the primary object of these raids was to get food and plunder, the savage nature of the Indian would not let him stop merely with compelling settlers to cook for them and to give up their valuables.
During the raids of August, 1868, the neighbors were gathered at Wm. Hendrickson's place on account of the Indians. Word came that the Indians had hoisted a black flag on Bullfoot. They were badly in need of food. But the women that had charge of the citadel would not allow them to go out while the danger lasted.
Among the people were Martin Hendrickson, John Strange, Tom Alderidice, Fred Erhardt, Phil Lantz, and a Mr. Shaw. The married men had their families there. Finally Martin Hendrickson and Fred Erhardt managed to get away and they crossed Bullfoot and found the black flag on the south side of the creek a mile from Erhardt's place. It proved to be a piece of calico put up by some white man for a joke. They then dismounted, and, leading their horses, began to look for Indian tracks. They came up the river to the mouth of the Spillman, crossed to the north side, and came toward home. They saw two people with handkerchiefs on their heads and thought at first they were Indians, but on coming nearer found them to be two little girls, aged six and eight. the elder said, "The Indians have had us." The younger said, "I wish I had a piece of bread and some water."
These children were captured on the Solomon in Beloit and carried away by the Indians who, when surprised by the soldiers, dropped them on the heights northwest of Lincoln. They had spent the night in a deserted house and when found thought they were still on the Solomon. The circumstance was reported to Fort Harker. A rumor was out that the two children had been taken from Beloit. A telegram was sent from Fort Harker and their father, Allen Bell, came and took them home. They remained a week at Wm. Hendrickson's.
A few days before this, about August 8, three women, Mrs. Shaw, Mrs. David G. Bacon, and Miss Foster, were captured is a raid on the Spillman. Mrs. Bacon had her baby with her. The women were abused terribly and bound with ropes. Mrs. Bacon became insensible by a blow on the head which cut to the bone, and was left on the prairie for dead. Later in the day she was picked up again by the Indians. At night they placed the women on ponies and told them to go to their wigwams. Mrs. Bacon was so nearly exhausted that she fell off her horse and the other women were obliged to go on with out her. She was found the next morning by Martin Hendrickson, who was the advance guard in the searching party. She still had her baby, but both were suffering intensely.
In connection with this raid, Mr. A.F. Schemerhorn says:
"Our first child was born August 8, 1868. The Indians made a raid in there that day."
The timely arrival of Colonel Benteen with his troops of the Seventh Cavalry, which was Custer's regiment, no doubt saved a general massacre. it is the opinion of many of the old settlers that Colonel Benteen just happened to be coming through here. We quote from Mr. Schemerhorn on this point:
"About three P.M., August 8, 1868, Colonel Benteen with his troops, A and G of the Seventh Cavalry, came to my ranch. The Colonel, being an old acquaintance, came in to call on me, and asked if there were any Indians to shoot. I said I thought not, as they had made a raid a few days ago, and I believed had left the vicinity as usual. He said the Government scouts reported quite a large body of Indians in our vicinity and that he had made a forced march from Fort Zarah, seventy-three miles, since two P.M. the day before. The horses had not been unsaddled since starting. He mounted his horse and said he was going over to the river about a mile and a half to await supplies which were coming to him from the fort. In about a half and hour I heard a lot of shooting and yelling and knew it was the soldiers.
"Pretty soon a young man, Insley, I think was his name, came running his horse, and yelling at every jump that the Indians and soldiers were fighting. 'Give me your revolvers,' he cried. he repeated the request several times but I told him under the circumstances I thought I had better keep them myself. I asked him where he was going and he said down the river after more men to fight the Indians. In about an hour a sergeant and four men came saying Colonel Benteen sent them to tell me that everything was O.K., that they had driven the Indians across the Saline and there was no further danger at present."
It seems hardly possible that this engagement was on the John Hendrickson place. The Indians are known to have attacked his house which was near Lincoln, and which was afterward occupied by soldiers, and now forms the corner of the Pioneer House.
It is known that during this attack some soldiers appeared on the scene and drove them away.
It is hard to reconcile the dates given by different people. Mr. Schemerhorn says the raid on the outskirts of the settlement occurred on the 2d and 3d, of August, and that the troops came on the 8th, how did they become bold enough to come back and raid again between the 1th and 13th, as we shall note later in E.E. Johnson's diary? We leave the question for a later historian.
It seems probable that some of Black Kettle's men were on the Spillman about this time and may have been the party to attack the Hendrickson place.
Black Kettle's territory was invaded by Custer a short time afterward, and his whole village was destroyed. One hundred thirty warriors were killed, and the squaws were taken captive.
Mr. Schemerhorn says further:
"General Sully came a few days after and established his headquarters and it was then that the blockhouse was built."
General Sheridan, who was in command of this department, came to the headquarters from Missouri. he met J.J. Peate (August, 1868) at Schemerhorn's store on the Elkhorn. As Mr. Peate was a government scout for Sheridan, and a good Indian fighter, the General selected him to help garner together and organize a company of volunteers from among the settlers and hunters to protect the frontier. Sixty men were enlisted, of which number twenty-three were from the Saline Valley. These were J.J. Peate, Chalmer Smith, E.E. Johnson, commander of the volunteers, D.C. Skinner, Fletcher Vilott, Louis Farley and his son Hutchison, Thomas Alderdice, Thomas Boyle, Eli Ziegler, Geo. Green, John Lyden, and John Haley, of the section which is now Lincoln County, and G.W. Culver, Frank Herington, Howard Morton, G.H. Tucker, G.B. Clark, A.J. Eutsler, E.E. Tozier, R.R. Tozier, Wm. Stubbs, and J.E. Green, from Ottawa and Saline Counties.
The operations of this body of scouts were not in Lincoln County, and it may seem far fetched to include an account of their campaign in this history, but the writer believes that it belongs here for various reasons.
The campaign ended with one of the greatest Indian battles ever fought on American soil, and the most important part in this battle was taken by Saline Valley men. The battle accomplished results important to Lincoln County, which was scarcely habitable and at least not attractive for settlement so long as the "dog soldiers" remained unchecked.
The battle of Beecher's Island on the Arickaree River, was the salvation of a large section of the country which included Lincoln County, and it is only right to acknowledge the debt we own to those who made the future development of our county possible and drove out the enemy that we might possess the land.
E.E. Johnson had the fortunate habit in those days of keeping a diary. The following are some of the entries:
"Tuesday, August 11. - Went on an Indian scout up to the head of Spillman Creek, rode about sixty miles. Got back at eleven o'clock at night, pretty well used up. The Indians had ravished two women and tried to burn one house."
"Thursday, August 13th. - Had another Indian scare. The Indians came in eleven miles above here and commenced firing on the settlers, but luckily enough just then there was a party of soldiers coming over from Fort Harker and happened on the ground just as the Indians commenced firing, and gave chase."
Some authorities say this firing was done at the home of John Hendrickson, the blacksmith, who lived near Lincoln, where the soldiers were quartered, if so, they did not attack the place on the 8th.
"Friday, August 14th. - Went up as far as Mr. Berry's last night and stayed till morning. The settlers kept coming in all night. Got breakfast and struck out on the trail and followed it about eight miles. Met some of the soldiers coming back; learned from them that they ran the Indians fifteen miles, and it came dark on them and they had to quit."
"Saturday, August 15th. - Went up the Spillman Creek to where the command was camped. The Colonel sent back to Fort Harker to know what he should do. Sent out scouts to find the Indians. They came back at night, having found nothing of note. Boys elected me captain to take command of the citizens."
The scouts were soon on their way west, but eight of them were delayed at Fort Hays, by a mistaken order until it was too late to meet General Forsyth at Fort Wallace, who, with fifty-one men besides himself, was soon pushing ahead into the heart of the enemy's country. Forsyth left Fort Wallace September 5, and followed the Indians trail till the afternoon of September 16, when he camped, expecting to meet the Indians the next day.
The Indians who were gathered in this region and had been retreating to get the scouts where they could easily annihilate them, planned a daylight surprise. They were in the beautiful valley of the Arickaree and not far away was an island in the river. The attack was made the next morning before the light was clear.
This little band of fifty-two men were surrounded by over a thousand warriors, who were armed with Springfield breech-loaders, Spencer and Henry rifles. their successful campaign and ultimate victory over these skilled warriors, their breaking of the brilliant charge of Roman Nose, and their endurance and courage during the terrible days and nights which followed form a chapter scarcely excelled in the annals of warfare the world over.
Their first move was to retreat mounted to the little island where, after the first charge was repulsed, they threw up sand heaps and dug little trenches for defense. Charge after charge was made upon them, but coolness and discipline battered the ranks of the enemy, and won the day. The most notable charge was the one lead by Roman Nose, the dog chief, who planned to ride right over the island, protected by the Indian sharp shooters, who were to engage the fire of the scouts. In this he was unsuccessful, as the scouts paid no attention to anything but the charging cavalry. Roman Nose was killed and his ranks badly shattered. Colonel Beecher, the man for whom the island was named, received his death wound during this charge.
This was the last charge which amounted to anything. Eight days of the most intense suffering from wounds, from day's heat and night's cold, from the stench of the dead horses and the lack of food and attention followed before the rescue.
Scouts sent out the first night succeeded in getting to Fort Wallace. Colonel Carpenter, who was in camp on Goose Creek, near the Kansas line, and with whose command the remaining scouts were at this time, was ordered to the relief.
They reached Beecher's Island the morning of the ninth day. J.J. Peate, of Beverly, was the first one to reach his wounded companions. Half the men were either killed or wounded. If there was anyone who deserved special praise it was Louis Farley, who saved the day by lying with two others near the edge of the island and killing Indians who were trying to creep up unseen and gain the island. He died of his wounds shortly afterward in a temporary hospital.
Now for the results to the border country. Louis A. McLouthlin, who was in the battle, and afterwards discussed the situation with the Indians says:
"The Indians told me they were concentrating for a grand raid, and at the full of the moon the intended to be in the settlements. They expected to have two thousand warriors, and they intended to spread out on both sides of the Republican and go east until troops drove them out."
Spreading out as they do and covering a large territory, they would have come into the Saline Valley, but this defeat at Beecher's Island settled the question of a raid. Besides seventy-five killed, there were a large number wounded, and they were thrown into confusion and disheartened.
The raid of May in which they had not lost a man had encouraged them and prompted them to plan this large expedition, but now they were completely crushed.