Chronicles of the Yellowstone Continues
BY E.S. TOPPING
In the summer of 1862, gold was discovered at Bannock, Idaho, and the frontiersmen and gold-seekers came in from every direction. The gold fields found were neither rich nor extensive, and many men were lying idle. The next spring several parties went out hunting gold and that metal was discovered in many places in the territory. The party of whom we have to tell were but fifteen in number. They left Bannock early in the spring of 1863 to prospect the Yellowstone and Big Horn streams.
Their names were S.T. Hauser, George Ives, E. Bostwick, D. Underwood, C.D. Watkins, James Haxhurst, J.N. York, John Vanderbilt, H.E. Geery, H.A. Bell, Geo. Smith, William Roach, A.S. Blake, J. McCafferty, and James Stuart, the latter being elected captain. On their way to the Yellowstone they found light prospects on a little fork of Alder creek. They did not stop to thoroughly prospect this place, but intended to do so on their return.
They reached their second camp on the Yellowstone without remarkable incident. Here the Crows came into camp and were very impudent, and took anything that suited their fancy. All of the party were indignant and acted so, but the captain, who was very coolly talking to the Crow chief. Being addressed, he told the boys to be ready and watch his motions. Soon after, the chief, who had been watching Stuart closely, looked away and Stuart seized the opportunity and, covering the chief’s heart with his rifle, demanded that all the property taken be given up. At this juncture every one of his comrades brought their rifles to their shoulders and each covered an Indian who, in turn, presented their arms. In this position all stood for a moment; then Captain Stuart, with flashing eye, reiterated his demand and threat. The chief sullenly acquiesced and all of the things were brought back, and not till then was Stuart’s gun taken from off the chief.
This drama might easily have become a tragedy, yet was merely considered as a comedy by the whites, who laughed and cracked jokes at the outcome. One young Crow brave did not like this and stepping up to S.T. Hauser, with face aflame with passion, challenged that gentleman (by signs) to fight him with rifles. Mr. Hauser did not wish to carry the joke that far and declined and the Indians withdrew. The party went on down the river, and when they arrived at the mouth of the Big Horn, camped for several days. Here they laid out a town, to which was given the name of Big Horn City.
On their way up this river, and when just below the mouth of the Little Horn, they saw on the opposite side of the river three whites, and tried to get them to stop. They would not, but turning into the hills, went off at full speed. Some of the party gave chase, but could not overtake them. The three were [John] Bozeman, Jacobs and a nine-year-old daughter of the latter, who were prospecting for a wagon road from Fort Laramie to the Montana settlements, and mistook Stuart’s party for Indians.
The party saw plenty of Indian signs the next day, but as the Crows had been dodging them during all of their trip they took no extra precautions at their night camp, which was made on the Big Horn river about fifteen miles above the mouth of the Little Horn.
A Fearful Volley
The night was very dark and though the guards (one of whom was Capt. Stuart) heard noises, they saw nothing. Just after midnight Capt. Stuart heard a rustling in the brush and the click of guns being cocked. He sang out, “Lie low!” Then came a volley which did fearful execution, seven men being hit. No more rifle shots were fired, but the whiz of arrows could be heard during all of the night. At daylight the Indians drew off and the party, in summing up casualties, found one man (C.D. Watkins) dying, E. Bostwick mortally wounded and near death, H. Bell shot in two places and badly; S.T. Hauser, D. Underwood, George Ives and H.E Geery, slightly wounded; with five horses killed and others wounded by arrows. At about eight o’clock in the morning Watkins died, and Bostwick, who was suffering greatly, told the party to give him a pistol and leave him. They gave him one and he instantly shot himself. Each of the party had solemnly agreed to do this if mortally wounded, so that the rest might not be delayed. None of the party but himself thought that Bell could recover; but they helped him on a horse as they started, and though suffering greatly, he rode fifteen miles with them to their next camp at the foot of the Big Horn range.
Near evening of this day, Geery was drawing his rifle by the muzzle from under some blankets, when it exploded and he received its contents in his breast. Next morning the party wished to break the agreement and stay with him. He, knowing that death was sure for him, and probably for them, if they stayed, sent them out of camp and shot himself through the brain, nobly dying that they might live. He was a great favorite, and this was the saddest moment of the trip to all of the party, and they cried like children.
During the next four days, while they were crossing the Big Horn range, Bell suffered very much, though improving all of the time. From this on they had smoother sailing up Wind river, and across the country to Sweetwater, where they found an emigrant train, with which Bell stayed, the remainder taking the homeward trail through Idaho.
They arrived at Bannock early in June, and were glad to rest after their arduous trip of one thousand six hundred miles.
Five others started to overtake and go with the Stuart party; but at their first camp on the Yellowstone they were visited by a large party of Crows, who, taking away the stock and most of their provisions, gave them in return a few old plugs and made them turn back. This, their apparently bad luck, was in fact good, for on their way back they discovered the Alder gulch diggings and made their fortunes therefrom. The names of these fortunate ones were Wm. Fairweather, George Orr, Tom Coover, Barney Hughes and Henry Edgar. The rush to Alder gulch was great and a town was quickly built.
Among the first comers there were many who were in sympathy with the Confederate government and the town was named Varina, in honor of Mrs. Jefferson Davis. Before the summer was over the Unionists were in the majority and the name was changed to Virginia City.
All of the emigrants to Montana for this and previous years had come up the Platte river and crossed the mountains by way of South pass and Idaho.
Just after the Stuart party left Bannock, John Bozeman and Jacobs went across the country looking for a shorter road for emigrants. When leaving the Missouri they went too far to the eastward and, crossing the Yellowstone near the mouth of the Big Horn, went up on the east side of the latter stream and through the rough country of the Wolf mountains; then, seeing their mistake, went up the Little Horn to the foot of the Big Horn range and along that to its end at Powder river, there finding a government wagon road leading direct to Laramie. From Laramie they went to St. Louis, where they organized an emigrant train. This they piloted through to Powder river, where they were met by a large force of Sioux, who ordered the party to turn back. Bozeman and Jacobs wished to defy them and go on. The emigrants would have none of it and turning went to the westward by South pass. Bozeman and six others, taking their riding and two pack horses, left the train and came along under the Big Horn range. After crossing the Big Horn river they went too much to the right and wandered around in the rough hills for several days, at last striking the Yellowstone river near the mouth of Pryor creek.
Their small stock of provisions had given out and from here to Virginia City they had to subsist entirely on what game they might kill.
In July of this year, 1863, a party of forty-three men, led by W.W. DeLacy, went from Virginia City around to and up Snake river to its head at Shoshone lake; thence across the divide to the Lower Geyser basin and Fire Hole river, and down to Virginia City again. From this trip DeLacy gathered the material for the first reliable map of the headwaters of the Snake, Yellowstone and Madison rivers.
About a month after Bozeman’s party left St. Louis, three Methodist clergymen, with a small party, followed his trail for Montana. Their intention was to found a mission among the Crows. At Old Woman’s Fork of Powder river they were corralled by Sioux and one of the clergymen (Rysmenger) was killed. The others were ordered back. They were coming out to talk and not to fight, so obeyed the command and went back to St. Louis.
By July Virginia City was overflowing with men. All of the ground in Alder gulch was claimed, and new diggings had to be found, so prospecting parties were going out in every direction. One of these, consisting of thirty men under the leadership of Austin, went to and up the Yellowstone. When they arrived at the east fork of the Yellowstone, they went up that stream to the first creek coming in from the left above Soda Butte creek, up which they went. They made a camp at its head and, as they had seen no signs of Indians, let their horses run loose. The next morning at daylight a band of Arrapahoes swooped in and drove away all of their stock but one jackass. It was useless to chase them without horses, and the boys, not being ready to go back, cached their things and, packing the jackass heavily and themselves lightly, went over the divide to Clarke’s Fork and down it to below the mouth of the canyon. Here they found some prospects, but no pay; so turned back to their cache, and taking from this the most valuable articles, struck out on their back trail for Virginia City. On the way they found fair prospects in a creek on the east side of the Yellowstone, and finding also a hairless cub, called the gulch Bear.
The gold found was not sufficient to induce them to stop at this place, and they went back to Virginia City, and the Yellowstone was left for the remainder of this year to the bear, elk and Indians.
Settlement of Gallatin Valley
The fame of Alder gulch spread abroad and brought many people to the country, and every part of Montana west of the Yellowstone was being visited by prospectors. Some of these saw that the Gallatin valley was a fine field for agricultural development, and quite a number of land claims were taken at its lower end, and Gallatin City laid out during the fall of 1863.
In the spring of 1864, one of these settlers from the lower valley, named Elliott Rouse, moved up some distance and took a claim. This not suiting him, and seeing probabilities of a town, he changed his location, and early in July, 1864, squatted on one hundred and sixty acres of the land on which Bozeman is now situated, and instantly commenced building. F.F. Fridley, Cy Mounts, W.W. Alderson, William Beall and Joe Merrivale began to build houses at nearly the same time.
About this date the nucleus of an expedition to prospect the Yellowstone was formed at Deer Lodge. As this party passed over the intervening country, men from all along its course joined it. Among the number that went from the Gallatin were William McAdow, Hubble, Maj. Graham and Indian Dick. When at the Yellowstone, James Stuart, who had commanded the Big Horn expedition of the summer before, was elected captain. The expedition went by Bozeman and across the Yellowstone; and under the Rocky Mountain range to Stinking Water.
Here a central camp was made, and prospecting parties went out in every direction, all finding prospects, but no pay. The Crows were dodging around the camp all the while it was there; but the horses being well guarded they did no harm.
One of the party, named Leonard, went out with his gun one day and never returned. Whether he was shot by Indians or accidentally shot himself will never be known.
Indian Dick, while after an antelope, was captured by the Crows, and was held by them till fall; at which time a little party of these Indians came to Bozeman to trade and brought Dick as interpreter. He slipped away from them at this place, and with one of their best horses went to the forks of the Missouri. Indian Dick was captured by the Shoshones, when he was but a child, from an emigrant train on the Sweetwater. He was brought up in Washikie’s lodge, and was treated like a son by that chief.
After satisfying themselves that no pay was to be found in that section, the prospectors returned to the Yellowstone and disbanded, the members of the party scattering to all parts of the territory.
From E.S. Topping’s Chronicles of the Yellowstone 1883). Topping discovered Yellowstone’s Norris Geyser Basin and a shorter route to Lower Geyser Basin, and operated boats on Yellowstone Lake (summers of 1874 and 1875). He fought in several Indian battles, one under General Crook, as a volunteer or scout, and near a trading fort on the Yellowstone in 1875. His experiences lent special expertise to his chronicling of Yellowstone history.