PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS
by Adolph Roenigk
FOSSIL CREEK STATION,Continued
Hunting Buffalo and Antelope; Shipping Buffalo to an
Eastern / oo.
Hunting had always been my favorite sport. Here I was in a veritable paradise and could indulge my favorite pastime to its fullest. On Sundays while my companions amused themselves with a deck of cards, I would be found roaming the surrounding country with my rifle, mostly on foot and alone, although sometimes Cook would accompany me.
As the settlers were encroaching more and more and the railroad was creeping farther west every year through what the Indians considered their country, they were hostile and at war all these years, and I can not say that I was not afraid of them. While on my trips I was always on the lookout for any signs that looked suspicious. I had formed a plan in case of emergency to dodge into ravines, keep the low grounds and out of sight if possible. However I tried to be careful and not be caught unaware. It was known that buffalo hunters or those well armed and good shots were in less danger than the defenseless, for the Indian does not care to be killed and will not recklessly throw away his life. We practiced a great deal at target to improve our markmanship, and as a precautionary measure when out I always carried a plentiful supply of ammunition.
When not busy on Sunday Cook would accompany me and then I was not much afraid. On one of these trips Cook and I were on the Saline River. Straight north of the station as we came upon the site of a recent camp--evidently Indians. Sharp sticks and poles lay strewn all over the ground and cracked buffalo bones lay around the many campfires--the Indians cracked the bones to get the rich marrow. To the west were some scattering trees and brush where they had been doing some chopping. Near by was a spring. We scooped it out with our hands and sat down to let the water settle so we might get a drink--having found the river water salty.
Just to see what Cook would say, I remarked to him, Suppose the Indians should come upon us now, what would we do? Oh, he replied, we would make for the open ground, pointing to the south, get into a buffalo wallow and if any of them come near enough they would take a tumble,
and I guess we would be let alone. While we were sitting there an antelope came within range. Cook killed it, and as meat was getting low at the station we cut off the saddle, tied the legs together, ran a gun barrel through it and in this manner, by taking turns, carried the game home.
John Cook was a German and his name in his mothers tongue was Koch. He had been railroading in Ohio and coming west to Salina, where he was engaged to run the station at Fossil Creek. He was a man of little education, middle age, heavy set, strong as a mule and one of the best rifle shots I ever knew. On any provocation he showed himself to be a natural born scrapper. The last I heard of Cook was that he took a homestead near the mouth of Walnut Creek in Barton County.
In the summer of 1868 a carload of live buffalo was shipped from the sidetrack a mile and a half west of the station to some menagerie or zoological garden in the East. This occurred just prior to my coming to the station and the details of it were told me by men who worked there at the time. The work was done by Texas cowboys who roped the buffaloes from herds that came near. The greatest difficulty was experienced in getting them into the car. A chute eighteen feet long was constructed and used for that purpose. Five buffalo were killed in trying to get them into the car. These car-
Roping and loading a car of buffalo by Texas Cowboys near Fossil Creek
Station, September 1868
They Seem to be an Adjunct and Necessary Factor in the
Settlement of New Countries
Like all new countries this one had its share of bad men. This epoch marked the end of the stage period and deprived the gentlemanly Dick Turpin of his remunerative, if hazardous, occupation. In desperation, to keep the wolf from the door, he often resorted to the makeshift of borrowing horses without the owners consent. At that time it was said the Saline was a rendezvous of horsethieves, and an experience of my own gave me reason to believe it.
One nice day when I was out on one of my trips that brought me to the Saline river in a northeasterly direction, I saw in the distance what I took to be a herd of buffalo. I followed the low ground, keeping out of sight and coming nearer and nearer until I saw the objects were horses. I had often heard of wild horses but had never seen a herd of them and I thought, here is my chance. I was now very careful to keep out of sight and advanced cautiously and as I drew nearer crawled flat on the ground, pushing my gun ahead of me. For quite a distance I continued in this manner until within rifle range. The horses apparently could not or did not see me as I crawled through the grass. There were fity or more in the herd, and to my surprise I found they were not unattended--there was a man with them. He was lying down with his head resting on his saddle. The thought of horse thieves struck me at once. With that number of horses in his care the man certainly was not alone. I lay there perhaps ten minutes studying what to do, whether or not to approach the herder.
Perhaps he was not a horsethief, but the only traveled
trail fit to follow with a large bunch of horses (on account of convenient water) was twelve or fifteen miles south on the Smoky Hill river and if the driver was on legitimate business why was he so far from the road and the settlements? It might be there was a regular camp of the horsethieves near at hand. I decided to consult John Cook and the boys at the stations, and so, cautiously withdrew in the same manner I had approached. When out of sight I made straight for the station and reported what I had seen. The boys thought the same as I about the matter and decided that they had lost no horses, so we did not molest them.
We never heard anything to confirm my conjecture as to the man and his band of horses, but I am sure he never had a suspicion of my proximity. Colorado was the market for the horses that were stolen farther east. It was just then being opened up for settlement and those who were in the horse stealing business found it a good place to dispose of the horses to emigrants, settlers and freighters.
Not all the lawless men were horsethieves, there were many hard characters who were bad simply for the glory of it. They found the new West a good place in which to give reign to their vicious tendencies and yet escape the consequences through sheer bravado. As a man man, Jim Curry was one of the most notorious of that time. Among the various occupations he followed was that of railroad engineer, and for a time ran the engine of a construction train between Ellsworth and Hays. It was said of him he had killed more than a dozen persons. We had heard so much about him that the first time his train came to our station, to take water, Cook and I made a pretense of having some business about the engine, just to get a look at him. On our way back to our dugouts Cook remarked, I would not be afraid of him.
Curry in the early days of Hays City kept a hotel where it is said he killed his own barkeeper. Hays was one of the frontier towns, which depended upon freighters and soldiers stationed at the fort a mile distant for patronage to keep up the half dozen small stores, saloons and gambling house, which latter two enterprises greatly outnumbered all other lines of business. The nature of such establishments caused the precipitation of many a jolly row--a fight ending in a fatal stabbing--a man shot or hung was nothing out of the ordinary in the events of a day.
At one time two negro soldiers of the Tenth Cavalry had some trouble with a party in a saloon in which one of them shot and killed a white man. The vigilance committee composed of citizens of the town gathered up the negroes and hung not only the one who did the shooting but his companions as well, on a railroad trestle works west of town. It was about some trouble of this kind that the citizens of Hays and the negro soldiers at the fort had a falling out when Jim Curry was running the hotel.
The negroes tried to clean out the town. They marched up in line of battle and fired into the business houses, but the citizens were not slow to take up the defense. From doors and windows they returned the fire. The negroes, finding they were getting the worst of it, took to their heels leaving their wounded, five or six of them, on the ground. At this junction Jim Curry rushed out with a six-shooter in each hand and blew the brains out of all who could not get away.
Later when Curry was running a railroad engine he made his headquarters at Ellsworth. There, during a drunken brawl one night in a disorderly house, he shot two men and two women, killing two of them outright. The next morning he was seen on the streets heavily armed. To an acquaintance across the way he called out, Oh, Joe, those people over there had bad luck last night--did you hear about it? He went to his engine as if to go to work as usual, but sobering up, he realized the reckoning in store for him and lent his efforts to flight. The vigilance committee was too slow in atending to this case--when they went to look for him he could not be found.
Some years later I read that Curry left Ellsworth in the water tank of his engine. Again I read in a newspaper that a Jim Curry shot a theatre actor in Texas, and I suppose it was the same Jim Curry. I was not present at the doing of Curry in Ellsworth or Hays. The information we got from men who worked with us afterward. We got our news that way and from transients passing by. We read no papers--local papers were unknown to us in those days in the towns mentioned.
The vigilance committee were kept busy administering justice and many a bad man was strung up on the notorioius hangmans tree on the bank of the Smoky at Ellsworth. The stories we heard were generally true, or more than true, as we seldom received all the details. We had no courts or
lawyers--there was not such thing as a fine or a jail sentence, if the offense was not great enough to hang a man he went free.
Murder of a Railroad Man
A few months prior to my coming to Fossil Creek Station a railroad man was killed by a deserter from the army, who had been working on the railroad at this station. The information obtained was very meager, but as a matter of history I will here give what I learned about the affair.
I was told there had been some words about informing the military authorities of the deserters presence at the station. The men were inside the small box house near the track, the deserter outside with a rifle. He had made threats to kill the first man that stepped outside, but he was not taken seriously. When the train came in sight from the east, one of the men came out of the house and was instantly killed. There was no one who dared avenge his death and the murderer took across the prairie toward the Saline river, taking with him the rifle, which was the property of the railroad company. He was never apprehended. The bullet had gone through the mans body and into the boards of the house.
Although it happened only a short time previously, I could not learn the name of the murderer or his victim. I believe that many a man dropped out of sight in some such way, and now lies buried beneath the sod of the Kansas prairies, never to be heard of by friends and relatives.