Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Plum Creek Massacre

Tuesday April 26th  Rain threatened as we made our way past the now non existent pony express stations of Platte and Garden to Plum Creek.  This was the site of another 1864 Indian war massacre that took place a couple of miles away across the plain to the right in the photo below...
On the morning of August 8th, having unsuccessfully attacked a large wagon train approaching Plum Creek from the west, a war party of around a hundred warriors raided a group of three wagon trains carrying freight to Denver City and approaching the small settlement from the east. All thirteen men in the party were killed, but two women (Mrs Smith and Nancy Morton) and a young boy (Danny Marble) survived.  Mrs Smith managed to hide in undergrowth, while the two latter were abducted.  The attack took place within full sight of the Thomas Ranch and Blondeau's store at Plum Creek about a mile away.  Residents together with drovers from the first wagon train (which had reached Plum Creek) lacked the numbers and firepower to mount a rescue, although a plea for reinforcements was telegraphed to Fort Kearny.
The abductees were initially held captive with the victims seized in the Little Blue raids, but were later sold on separately. Laura Roper (see On the Warpath post) and the children were released after 37 days due to the efforts of Cheyenne chief Black Kettle, but it was many months before Nancy Morton, Lucinda Eubanks and her baby son Willie were freed after varying treatment at the hands of their captors.
I stopped for a midday break about a mile south of the massacre site at the farm of Jeff and Bertina Carlsen.. least I hope I have got the name right - in talking to them it transpired that British journalist Dylan Winter had camped in the trees behind during an impressive thunderstorm.  Dylan rode the Oregon Trail by horse and bicycle about twenty five years ago and I met up with him earlier in the year.  He wrote a very entertaining book 'A Hack Goes West' about the experience, but in it he refers to the Carson family.  Click here for links to the programmes he recorded for BBC radio.

 A short diversion to the Plum Creek cemetery was in order, as it contains a memorial to the massacre....
.....although eleven of the victims are in fact buried in a communal unmarked grave in a field to the south of the massacre site about a mile and a half to the east. The resting place of the other two victims is unidentified.  The memorial stone gives the date of the attack as August 7th, but from more recent sources I believe the correct date to be August 8th.
The site of the former Plum Creek Pony Express station was a little further west. After the Pony Express ended, it served as a telegraph station, presumably the one from which a message was sent at the time of the massacre.  A small garrison of troops was established there after 1864, but the log building was then burned and abandoned in 1867 and nothing remains.
Lady and Mo on the banks of the River Platte, or more correctly on one of the channels which make up this wide, shallow, braided watercourse...
..and this also explains the name which almost certainly comes from the French for flat.
Although the Platte valley became a significant routeway, the river itself was too shallow for navigation, and it was also not always particularly easy to ford due to quicksand.  The river was an important source of water for emigrants and their animals, but it was not good quality due to the heavy silt load.
 Bad weather and thunderstorms were forecast which did not bode well for camping, so I was lucky to find shelter after a last minute phone call to Dr Joe Jeffrey of Robb Ranch. He was away, but alerted his daughter and son-in-law Scott and Amy Hill to my arrival.  It poured with rain all night, but the horses were dry and cosy with plenty of feed and hay, and I slept like a log in the tack room.
The photo shows that Mo was now pleasingly putting on condition.
Amy and Scott, who invited me in for supper, and laid on breakfast as well..

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