Lincoln Sentinel-Republican, Sept. 22, 1932
Dear Friend and Comrade:
At your request I will tell you about the Indian raid on Spillman creek as I saw it, May 30, 1869. It has been a long time and I have seen John Alverson a few times but do not remember that we talked about those days, but will try to tell the tale without exaggeration.
There were but few settlers on Bacon creek and hearing of an abandoned claim near Bacons, and that there were eight or 10 acres broken on it, I concluded to take it. I understood that the man who did the breaking, fearing the Indian raid, had left the country. John Alverson, my brother-in-law, took his team and wagon which we loaded with corn and oats to plant, also provisions for two weeks for ourselves and horses, expecting to be away that length of time.
We started from Fatherís place (near where Beverly now is) Sunday, May 30, 1869, and got up to Thomas Alderdiceís at noon and ate our dinner there. Thomas Alderdice, I think, was in Salina. I do not remember of talking with any man in that settlement. Report said the Indians had been on the Solomon river a few days before but they had been driven off by a company of soldiers. My sister, Mrs. Alderdice, mentioned that and told me to keep a sharp lookout. After eating dinner with my sister I bade her goodbye, little thinking that she would be in the hands of the Indians before sundown, her children killed or wounded, and that I would never see her again.
After going a short distance, I saw a man on horseback up toward the head of Lost Creek, riding fast toward the west. John thought it looked like an Indian spy, but I thought it was someone looking for cattle. We kept close watch on him to see where he was going, but he gained on us so rapidly that we could soon see him only on the highest hills. He was still riding at full speed the last time we saw him on a hill east of Trail Creek and the course he was taking he would cross Trail Creek about where the wagon road crossed or a little above.
We kept on going on across Trail Creek when John made the remark that he did not like the appearance of things. After we left this creek going toward the Spillman Creek as we approached the highest ground we could look up the bottom of the south of party of horsemen quite a ways up the creek and coming down the bottom quite rapidly. We stopped a moment to look at them. John thought they were Indians, that was their spy who went ahead of us, but I thought they were soldiers returning from the Solomon river. They deceived me the way they rode, riding like a company of soldiers in uniform line, and coming at a gallop. The sun glistened on their guns so plainly that I still thought they were soldiers, but John would not have it that way, but said they were Indians, and I had about made up my mind they were. They were getting by this time about opposite us and we tried to count them several times. As near as we could make out there were between 45 and 60 of them.
At this time they were still south of Spillman Creek and a little above the Dane settlement. We had made up our minds that there was no way of avoiding an attack. Just then they stopped and we stopped just a moment, the distance between us being about one-half mile. They all started for us on the run except 10 or 15 who went down the creek toward the Dane settlement. There was a knoll just north of us and I thought best to get on that and fight them there, thinking we would have time to unhitch the horses and tie them to the wagon before they got to us. So we drove to the knoll and jumped out but John thought it would not do to stop there, there being so many Indians he thought best for us to get to the creek. I jumped back in the wagon and we started toward Trail Creek, going in a northeast direction to the nearest point. We came to the creek about a half-mile above the crossing. As we were not well armed we talked the matter over while going to the creek; I having a neddle [sic] gun and 40 round of cartridges, John an old muzzle loader, we concluded that I would do the shooting and John would hold the load in his gun as a reserve shot.
When we got the creek the Indians were lose behind us. I looked across the creek and thought there was a little bank on the other side that would protect us some. So I drove across, but John misunderstood me and jumped in to the creek as I drove up the bank. John ran along under the bank on the side I was on; the Indians were coming across the creek within a few yards of us, shooting and yelling. John was calling for me to get out of the wagon [and] when I got to that little bank I stopped the horses. Seeing nothing more could be done to save the team, and that we must defend ourselves, I dropped the lines, grabbed my gun and jumped out on the off side of the wagon, reaching in the box for my cartridges. I could only get one box of about 20 rounds.
While I was getting the cartridges, the Indians were close all around. One of them rode up, picking up the lines just as I had laid them down, and held the horses. I thought sure "Iíll put a hole through you" but before I could get my gun around he jumped off his pony down beside the wagon and still held the horses. The Indians were shooting all this time. John was calling me to get under the bank. Just then another Indian darted up right close to the wagon and I thought I would get him sure, but before I could cover him with my gun he jumped off his pony on the opposite side of the wagon, so I could not get him.
John was still begging me to jump over the bank, I had about made up my mind that I would have to. As I stepped out from the wagon I looked toward the rear and behind the wagon and saw three Indians standing about four rods away, having me covered with their guns. I had no time for a shot so made a spring for the creek bank, my foot slipped and I fell just as they fired. I think they overshot me. I also think that the slip is what saved me. I kept going on my hands and feet over the bank.
As they were pouring the shots right at us at short range we saw a log lying up the bank a little below us, and ran to that, thinking it would protect us on one side. We expected a good long hard fight, but as we ran to the log and jumped over, getting our selves into position, the Indians I guess, saw that we were going to try to protect ourselves. They kept back of the bank out of our sight and drove the team away just after we got behind the log and the Indians quit shooting at us. Then we could hear shooting down the creek near the Dane settlement when John said, "My God, they were fighting down at the Dane settlement."
This firing did not last long and we thought it was the small band that went down that way and that there would be enough of the whites there to stand them off and get in position by the time the band that had attacked us concluded to withdraw and go down and reinforce their comrades.
We kept waiting behind that log for some time, expecting the Indians were going to slip up on us in some way around the creek banks, and we were prepared for them. If John had a good repeating gun when he was under the creek bank, he had plenty of opportunity to make a few GOOD Indians, but did not dare to shoot the one load while by himself. We lay there quite a little time in readiness, but did not hear any more of the Indians and did not see anything of them. I then crawled up the creek bank to take a look. way down on the east side of Spillman Creek I saw two or three horsemen whom I thought were Indians. Concluding that the Indians had left us, we would try to go down to the Dane settlement.
We expected the Indians to lie in ambush for us along the creek. Therefore, we worked our way slowly and carefully every little way going up the bank to see if we could see anything of the Indians. Seeing no signs of our foes, we would keep on going and we passed the Dane settlement before sundown. We would go up the bank and watch closely and listen, expecting to see somebody or see where the Indians had been. We knew there were settlers near there, but did not know where the house was located. Not seeing the house we went on, continuing our journey along the creek slowly and cautiously. We thought that the Indians had gone farther than the Dane settlement and that they had probably gone back, as we could not see or hear anything of them. It was growing dark and thinking it best to keep on the safe side and keep close to the creek, in case they had gone farther down and were on their way back, we would meet them in a place where we would have the advantage.
(Continued next week)
Sept. 29, 1932
(Continued from last week)
Following Spillman Creek down to its mouth, then down the Saline River, I did not know what time of night it was but it was several hours after dark. We had not seen or heard anything since leaving our log on Trail Creek, and concluded that the Indians had not passed down Spillman Creek farther than the Dane settlement, that they had not been in the settlement, that they had not been in the settlement on the Saline River. We were now about a mile west of where the depot now stands at Lincoln, when the stillness of the night was broken by a loud war song northeast of us and down the valley. John said, "My God, Eli, they have been down to the settlement."
We heard more singing father down and nearer the river. I said, "Yes, John, I fear it is a big party and think it is a different part from the one we ran into." I thought this was a larger party that had come down the Salina, probably dividing on Wolf Creek. We could tell they were moving up the Saline bottom by the noise that they made, sounding like a large party or else they were scattered out. They did not seem to be coming very fast, some were signing and others were talking loudly.
We got to the bank of the river, one of the beds which points to the north. When they got opposite and close enough we were going to fire toward them. We were going to fire together and I was to keep on firing while John loaded again. If the Indians came toward us, we would cross the river, but we did not think they would attack us in the dark. By this time they were pretty well north of us, but quite a ways off out on the bottom.
All at once they commenced hallowing and fired several shots. As the last shots were fired, we heard a woman scream one loud piercing scream. A scream more of horror than agony, then all was still. We could not imagine who it was that had fallen into the hands of the Indians, there being no one living in the direction from which the scream came. We almost held our breaths while we listened, wondering what the Indians were doing and which way they were moving. Waiting and listening for the sound of their ponies walking through the grass, a voice, a sigh, or a moan, but not a sound reached us.
In a few moments, which seemed like hours to us, we heard them east of us down the river. Being sure that they were down in the settlement, we crossed the river in the direction of Bullfoot Creek, by so doing we could travel faster and perhaps get there ahead of the Indians. Starting a little east of south, when we got on high ground between the Saline and Bullfoot, we saw several fires or signal arrows shooting up into the sky, from up Bullfoot west of us. Thinking then there must be three bands of Indians, one coming down the Spillman, one down the Saline and the other down the Bullfoot, we feared that when daylight came all we could see would be Indians everywhere.
Wishing to get ahead of them we turned a little east, getting to the creek as soon as possible. When thinking we were below them we hurried on down the creek as fast as we could under the circumstances, keeping our guns ready to fire at the first sight of a moving Indian. We had made up our minds that if we ran into them again we were going to do some shooting at the first one we saw without waiting for a good one or a fat one.
Traveling down the creek, dawn was fast approaching, we were still hugging the creek for protection in case of need. We had not heard a sound nor seen a signal light since those mentioned. About sunup or a little after we were near Fred Erhardtís place, where we found a company of U.S. Cavalry in camp. We reported to the captain what we had seen, told him what we had heard in the night, out on the Saline River bottom, and of the fire arrows we had seen just above the Bullfoot. I begged him to saddle up at once, to furnish me a horse and I would lead them right to the Indian camp where I thought we could catch them if we moved. He said, "I canít move any farther until I get orders to do so, the Indians were in the settlement over the river yesterday afternoon but I do not know how much damage they have done." He had sent a dispatch to Ft. Harker for orders and would wait there until he received an answer.
We were disgusted with his reply, drank a cup of coffee, ate a hard tack and started on home, keeping on the south side of the river and just before noon got home.
I got my pony, intending to go back up the river, but as we had told the folks the story, they would not let me go until the next day when I went up. But the dead, except one, had been found and all the wounded. My sister, Mrs. Alderdice, had been captured. The next [day] A.M. Campbell and some others who had come up from Salina, with whom I went up on Spillman Creek to look the ground over and to see if we could find Peterson, the missing Dane. Finding his body we dug his grave right where he fell, on the south side of the Spillman. We also saw the graves of the others whom the Indians had killed. They were buried by the party that had been there May 31, 1869. We also saw where the Indians had been at the dugout where the Dane lived. I knew now that we were wrong in regard to thinking there had been three parties or bands of Indians. There was but one band, we were following this one party around and that made us think we were seeing different bands.
The shooting on the Saline River was where T. Meicherhoff and C. Weichell were killed, and Mrs. Weichell was captured. They must have cross the river after killing those two men near us, and went over to Bullfoot and not down the river as we thought at the time. But we, following them over, thought them another party.
Very truly yours,
Note by J.J. Peate: Eli Zeigler was born in Ohio, June 12, 1852. Died in Salem, Oregon, April 5, 1916. Aged 64 years, 10 months, 7 days. He was married to Isadora Goble, Sept. 26, 1875, who died Jan 13, 1914.
Surviving him are five daughters, Verda, Carrie Harrison, Nina McFarland, Evelyn and Luella, all of Portland.
The rest of the war you know better than I.