PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS
by Adolph Roenigk
FOSSIL CREEK STATION, Continued
A Lawless Character Brought to Time; A Speciman of the
Early Day Happy Hooligan and His Subsequent Discomfiture.
Firearms had always been my hobby and while with an old gunsmith in St. Louis I had learned something about the different makes. I had collected a small arsenal of my own. Besides the Spencer I had a Sharps rifle, a big Remington revolver, also a Colts of smaller caliber--far the best outfit at the station.
About March, 1870, a mysterious stranger came to the station. From where no one knew. His first move was to trade a new Remington revolver for a weeks board. He refused work, although there was plenty to do at good wages. When we practiced at target I noticed he was an excellent shot. I took no stock in him, but occasionally he would talk to me about Colorado as though he was expecting to go there. He was apparently well acquainted with the country farther west.
One morning our stranger was missing, so was my Spencer carbine and Remington revolver. He had pretended to be sick during the night, so some of the men who were awake said, using this as a ruse to avoid being noticed while he was securing the guns. The boarding boss also missed a fine ham, and the dog was gone. He had coaxed the animal with him to prevent his barking as he walked away. I was much aroused over the matter when the thievery was discovered and determined to make an effort to recover my weapons.
John J. Burns, the telegraph operator, was a good friend of mine. He wired the stations west describing my property and the thief with a request that he be taken into custody if he appeared.
The westbound train was due at eight oclock in the morning and it happened that Mr. Marshall, the Assistant Superintendent and General Roadmaster, was aboard. John Cook went to him and told him of the theft and the mans escape. Mr. Marshall passed me up the road and I left word with the marshall at Hays City, and at all stations as far as I went, asking them to arrest the man and secure my property. I did not see or hear anything of him and when the train going up met the eastbound, I returned to Fossil Creek.
The boss was an old plainsman and very hot-headed. He said I ought to have taken across the prairie toward the Saline river, for that is surely where the fellow has gone. But to take out across the prairie after a bad man whom I knew to be a crack shot, and he armed with the best rifle in the country, did not look feasable to me. Besides to look for a man in that wild, unsettled region was more likely to end in disappointment. I was now more angry than at first. The rifle was not only an excellent firearm, but it had quite a history, having been with Custer in several Indian fights.
It had been my intention to leave the station in the spring and this vexatious incident decided me to leave at once. Accordingly I bundled my possessions together and took the first train east. Besides my personal effects I carried a bundle of wolf skins, which I expected to sell at Ellsworth. As the train moved along I was plotting revenge and wishing I might meet him down the road, never once thinking I would have the good fortune to overtake the fellow who stole my guns.
It was intention to make some inquiries about him at Ellsworth. I still had my Sharps rifle and Colts revolver and felt wicked enough to use them if occasion required. As the train was about half way between Bunker Hill and Wilson, looking from the car window I saw in the hands of some railroad men beside the track what I took to be my gun. I knew it by a certain infantry strap which I had attached so I could carry it slung over my shoulder while out on long hunting trips. A fleeting glance only assured me the men had my gun.
As the train moved on I observed a small spot in the prairie ahead, but when we came opposite nothing could be seen. This object was my man in hiding. After we had passed the place some distance I looked back and the object was apparent. The next station was Wilson and I got off. Mr. Marshall had been to the end of the road and was returning. He also left the train and as I passed him on his way to the telegraph office, I remarked, I am going to find my man right here. He nodded as though he understood that I had good reason for the remark.
After the train pulled out and left me at the station I had not long to wait; a familiar figure was coming down the road. As he came nearer I dodged behind a shanty and waited. When only a few steps away I stepped out and covered him with my Sharps. Drop the gun, I commanded. I knew he did not have the rifle, but as he was an expert revolver shot I took no
chances. The revolver belt fastened in front I ordered him to unclasp and let the weapon fall to the ground. Instead of obeying he said, Johnnie I have no gun, and raised up his coat and turned around so I could see he was unarmed. I asked him what he had done with them and he said he had sold my guns to another fellow. This I already knew, as I was now certain the gun I had seen was mine.
I headed him toward the west and we took the line of march up the track. I was careful to keep him well in the lead. About a mile up the track we met the men coming in from their work, it being now six oclock. My prisoner was much crestfallen. I made him tell the men he had stolen the guns from me and I was demanding their return. He paid back their money and I took charge of my property. The men went on and we followed, my man in the lead as before.
I now gave vent to my feelings and told him in as mean words as I could command what I thought of him, for causing me so much trouble. When we came to a deep hollow I told him I had a great notion to shoot him right there. He began to beg and as it was getting dark I gave him his liberty and returned to the station. The dog, which had remained with his knavish master, now followed me, and when I boarded a westbound train in the morning he accompanied me to Fossil Creek Station.
The boys got the news by wire and met me at the train. When I got off the car they gave me an enthusiastic reception, even waving their hats and shouting. I had recaptured and brought back everything but the ham.
Gathering Wolf Pelts--Mingos Furry Coat Proves His
The first substantial house built at Fossil Creek was the section house. It was erected during the winter of 1869 and 70 and stood on the north side of the railroad track. It was not occupied during my stay at the station except by some soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry who were camping there for a time.
Sometime settlers who had taken claims further east would come out to the buffalo range to hunt and secure a load of buffalo meat. Sometimes healthseekers came to enjoy the salubrious climate and fascination of the West. Other men were engaged in hunting and poisoning wolves; some followed this for pastime, others for a livelihood.
Dugouts were built all along the line of the railroad by the grading gangs. After these men moved on there were abandoned. The roofs of some of them fell in, the walls caved down, but many remained intact and were fairly comfortable headquarters for hunters that chose to occupy them. One of these dugouts was on the first ravine a mile and a half west of Fossil Creek Station and a short distance north of the track. Two hunters made their headquarters here for several months. Another one boarded with us at the station, and Cook went into partnership with him.
Hunting wolves was not always easy, as at times they were hard to find. They would eat the poisoned meat and slink away to find water and die in out of the way places and were not found until the pelt was spoiled. When a fresh snow had fallen it was a great aid to us in getting the wolves. We would take the front quarter of a buffalo, hitch the pony to it and drag it in a great circle of several miles around the station, dropping pieces of poisoned meat along the way, and on the following morning we would walk around the circle and pick up the dead wolves that had eaten of the bait. Sometimes it was a good venture. I have heard of parties getting a large number in one night but Cook and his partner never got more than seven or eight at one haul.
I followed the various ways of securing wolf pelts for both pastime and profit. The grey wolf pelt was worth two-fifty to three dollars, and the coyote two. The wolf and his family, like the dog, is found in every climate, but the western grey wolf disappears when crowded to closely by civilization. Not so his cousin coyote. Whatever his choice of food before the white mans advent on the plains, the coyote shows remarkable versatility in this respect, for it matters not if the fowl be Plymouth Rock, Leghorn or Langshang, so it is easy of apprehension, and a vain young turkey, chasing the brown grasshopper far afield, is not to be despised, for our furry friend, unlike the Indians, loves the white settler like a brother, and has elected to abide with him and does abide with him, however unwelcome, to this day.
In most opportune manner the following from the Kansas City Star of November 15, 1911, corroborates the foregoing observation on the self-domestication of the Kansas coyote:
COYOTES CHASED A KANSAN
A Gray County Man Had a Pioneer Day Adventure--Fresh
Meat In His Buggy Probably Caused the Animals
to Pursue F. A. Norris and Two Companions.
MEADE, Kas., Nov. 15,--F. A. Norris, his daughter, Mrs. Beulah Robins, and Mrs. W. O. Johnson, living in Gray County, were chased by hungry coyotes while driving to their home from Meade Saturday night. It was shortly after dark when they started home by starlight. Shortly after they crossed Crooked Creek they noticed several animals following them. At first they believed the pursuers were dogs. Then others joined the pack and the party found themselves being chased by a pack of hungry prairie coyotes.
Ordinarily the Kansas coyotes are cowardly and seldom venture to follow human beings, but Mr. Norris had a lot of fresh meat in the carriage and it is probable the hungry wolves got the scent of this.
At first little attention was paid to the wolves, but as the pack grew in size and some of the bolder wolves made dashes at the horses, the situation became more alarming.
Mr. Norris was unarmed, but supposing the coyotes could be easily driven off he stopped the team and started back with a whip to lash the animals. To his surprise they showed fight and jumped an snapped at him in such a vicious manner that he hurried back to the carriage, whipped up the team and made a wild dash for the nearest settlement.
It was in a sparsely settled section of Southern Gray County. Mr. Norris succeeded in checking the pack for a time by throwing out to them the meat which he was carrying. The party finally reached home without mishap further than a good scare.
It is possible that they were loboes or Texas timber wolves, which are larger and fiercer than the coyotes, said Mr. Norris. Probably the scent of the fresh meat rendered the hungry wolves more ferocious than they otherwise would have been.