Boone - the Early Years
CopyrightÂ© 2016 by Ernest Bywater
Santa Fe Trip
The trip of about five hundred miles to Santa Fe should take them about twelve to fourteen days to make the journey. After much talking on who’ll go Mary decides Nellie and Sam will accompany Boone and he’s to hire three or four of the Apache as scouts. After the decision is made preparations are made for the trip, the three family members will share the gold between them in their saddlebags, and the ladies will lead two pack-horses carrying their camping gear and food supplies.
To ensure their safety each member of the family now has two rifles, two shotguns, and a saddle pistol on their horse when riding. Even those staying in camp are to go armed the same way when out riding. While in camp they’re all to keep a rifle, shotgun, and pistol on hand with more loaded guns in strategic places within the camp. They’re worried about the miners, especially when they get to drinking. They know the Indians will help to keep them safe, but they need to be able to defend against the initial attack if it comes before the Indians can get there to help them.
It’s late April of 1863 when Boone, Nellie, Sam, Wild Horse, Gray Fox, Strong Fist, and Red Eagle ride out of camp on their way to Santa Fe just before the dawn on a Monday morning. By leaving in the dark and going south-east it’s hoped the miners won’t realize Boone has left the camp. The early part of the trip is across the river and along the mail road. The Indians take turns hunting for small game each day. Three of the Indians scouting well ahead and to the sides of the group while one hunts and Boone’s family members are leading the pack horses.
The travelers make good time along the road and when they leave the road Boone sets markers to show the trail to help with future trips. To be able to follow the trail you need to know the type of markers he uses. He does this to minimize strangers following the trail they set. Their passage to the Salt River and along the river is also fast. They follow the river to near where the 1849 Beckwith trail crosses the river before they head east to go through a mountain range then head north-east again.
Mid-morning of the tenth day of the trip the forward scout returns to report the road is only an hour’s ride ahead but there’s a large camp of white men near the road who are hidden from it. He says, “Many are in blue coats while some are in gray coats and some are in mixed clothes.”
Boone replies, “That sounds like a mixed group of bandits. Show them to me.” All in the party speed up while Boone and Gray Fox gallop away to get there faster so Boone has more time to study the men.
After showing Boone a place where he can watch the camp of white men Gray Fox leaves to find and bring back the rest of the scouts. About half an hour later Red Eagle arrives from scouting to the north and says, “Three wagons with a lot of soldiers coming this way.”
While Boone thanks him for the report two men ride into the camp and stop to talk to a man who appears to be their leader. The leader shouts orders and everyone in the camp heads toward the road after they grab their rifles. The horses are left at the picket line because the road is only a few hundred yards away through the scrub. There isn’t much scrub about, but there is enough scrub for the sixty or seventy bandits to hide in and behind when they spread out over both sides of about twenty yards of the road with all of them within about fifteen yards of the road itself. The rest of Boone’s group arrives at this time.
Boone’s group is about another fifty yards further away from the road and they now have the bandits spread out from just in front of them to their right with the bandit camp about as far from the road as they are but further off to their right. He turns to look at the approaching soldiers.
Raising the telescope Mrs Gray gave him he takes a closer look at the Army force. It appears to be about fifty troops with three smaller than usual wagons. From the way the wagons and horses move it’s clear the wagons are heavily loaded so Boone suspects this is either a load of gold, coins, or munitions being escorted to the east. The wagons are still over a mile from the ambush and are moving slow. So there’s time for them to get set up to deal with the bandits. Boone thinks, plans, and moves back from the knoll he’s on. It takes him a moment to crawl back through the scrub he crept through to watch the camp without them seeing him. The knoll is only about twenty feet higher than the road, but it’s more than enough to hide the horses and riders waiting behind it.
Boone looks at Wild Horse while saying, “Take Gray Fox and Strong Fist. Make sure all of their horses are tied to the long rope, undo the rope and lead all of the horses back here. Then hide on the side of the rise to shoot any of the bandits who come this way after the horses.” He turns to Red Eagle and says, “Find a place to hide on the left side of the rise and halfway up it. Be ready to shoot any of the bandits who reach the bottom of the rise. All of you take care not to be seen or shot.” He turns to Nellie and Sam to say, “Grab all of your guns. We’ll start with the rifles and go to pistols and shotguns if they charge us and reach the bottom of the rise. Lie on the top of the rise with just the rifle and your head above it. They’ll have trouble seeing you in the scrub. Nellie, you start on the men on the left edge, Sam, you start on the right edge, I’ll start in the middle with the leader. Shoot all on this side of the road first then start on the men across the road. Open fire when I shoot their leader.”
The four Indians are surprised he’s keeping them out of the main fight and when Wild Horse goes to speak Boone says, “The soldiers will get upset and shoot you if they think you’re attacking white men, so we have to do the shooting of the whites.” All four Apache nod agreement.
Five minutes later the four on the knoll are in place and the three at the camp are leading the horses away from the camp. That will stop the bandits from riding off. Boone gives everything another check: the Army group is about half a mile down the road and the bandits are all set with their rifles up ready to shoot at the soldiers when they enter the ambush.
While using the telescope for a long look at the soldiers Boone thinks, A captain, a lieutenant, an older sergeant with a few corporals. Only the Sergeant’s uniform looks worn. No scouts or flankers and a very worried looking sergeant. He’s probably the only regular Army man in a group of militia.
Boone puts the telescope down, takes up the first of his two rifles, aims at the bandit leader, and fires. The round hits the man between the shoulder blades and he goes down. His shot is followed by two more at the same times as the Sergeant shouts something while the two officers sit on their horses looking about them. Boone aims at another bandit and fires. A glance at the soldiers shows all of them except the officers are on the ground close to the wagons while the Sergeant arranges the defenses.
The soldiers aren’t in the ambush zone so the bandits are surprised when the first shots are fired. However, by the time Boone is shooting his third bandit there are seven dead or dying bandits and the rest are looking at the knoll to locate the shooters. The bandits across the road are returning fire, but all they see are some bushes, gun flashes, and smoke.
Nellie, Sam, and Boone are fast to work their rifles and aim at new targets, they’re so fast no one on or near the road realize there’s only three of them. For such constant rifle fire they feel there has to be a large group up there so seeing only three gun flashes confuses them. Due to their training the three Boone fighters fire five rounds, move to the side and fire another five rounds. This results in it looking like five shots from different shooters using five rifles each. Most of their moves are only a few feet to either side, so a shift doesn’t take long to make.
Boone and his family gunners only take a bit over a minute to shoot all of the bandits on their side of the road due to the speed in which they can use the Henry rifles. Also, they start with the bandits hiding from people on the road who’re fully exposed to the gunners behind them and they don’t have enough time to change position before they’re all shot. With all the bandits on this side of the road dead the next shots from the group on the knoll take a little longer to fire due to having to locate and aim at the people hiding behind trees and in the scrub on the other side of the road. So there’s a very marked reduction in the rate of the gunfire.
Sergeant Jensen isn’t happy with the two militia officers in charge of moving the California gold to Santa Fe where a regular Army unit will take over the task of getting it safely to the mints in the east. They won’t let him send out flankers and scouts plus they ride side by side at the head of the column as if this is a victory parade. They’re just asking to get them all killed.
Jensen’s thoughts on the breeding habits of the officers’ mothers are interrupted by a gunshot. His immediate reaction is to shout, “Dismount and take cover at the wagons,” while he does the same. While moving behind the middle wagon he can see no one in the column is shot, then he hears more shots from up the road and he shouts, “Don’t fire until I say to. Then open in volley fire.”
He looks around, and smiles when he sees everyone is at the wagons and taking some sort of cover except the two idiot officers who are still sitting on their horses while they look about them. Looking further down the road Jensen can see three rifle flashes firing across the road, but the speed in which they reload and fire again is astonishing and he can’t believe it. Even if someone is handing them another rifle they need more time to change guns than is being taken to shoot. He’s starting to think they have those Colt Revolving Rifles which are like a pistol with a longer barrel, but he changes his mind when they keep firing after six shots. He doesn’t know why the shooting is going on until he sees a lot of people beside the road shooting at the hillock with the three shooters on it so it’s obvious a nice ambush just got bushwhacked.
The little return fire from the right side of the road ends about the same time as the officers think to move off to the side of the road and fall back to the wagons. Jensen shouts, “Take aim down the road but wait for my order before you fire.” He watches the troops all move to have a good shot straight down the road. The two officers are still on their horses and are frowning at Jensen while obviously trying to work out what they should say about the situation. Suddenly a group of men charge across the road from the scrub on the left. Jensen shouts, “Open fire,” at the same time the shooting from the hill becomes faster.
Barry ’Bubba’ James is the second in charge of the group of deserters turned bandits and is in charge of the group on the north side of the road while they wait for the Army gold shipment to arrive. His cousin Robert ’Bob’ James is in charge of the group and controlling the men on the south side of the road. He’s thinking, Just another couple of minutes and we get to kill some blue coats while getting rich, when he hears a gunshot from the other side of the road and he thinks, What idiot opened up early? He’s waiting to see if his cousin will initiate the attack now when a flurry of more gunshots sound. Looking across the road he can see the flashes of three shooters on the hill behind where his cousin is and he realizes the shooting is from someone breaking up their ambush. He shouts, “Shoot them men on the hill.” His men open fire at the people on the hill.
James can’t believe how quickly those people are shooting their rifles. However, after about a minute their rate of fire slows down to about a fourth of what it had been. He thinks, They must have run out of loaded rifles and their loaders are now slow in getting new rifles to them. Now’s the time to break for the camp to get out of here while we can. He starts to stand while shouting out, “Get to the camp and get out of here.” Because of the lack of fire from the Army he’s forgotten they’re there, and so have those with him when they all stand and run across the road.
When he switches to shooting the bandits across the road Boone calls to Nellie and Sam, “If they stand up it’ll probably be to make a run for it. Be ready to switch rifles and fire at them as fast as you can when they do make a run for it.” He gets a short acknowledgment from both of them.
Boone is about ready to change rifles when he sees many of the bandits start to stand so he changes rifles while shouting, “Here they come. Swap rifles.” There’s a short lull in the shooting while Boone’s trio swap rifles at the same time as the bandits stop shooting to stand up and start their run for their horses.
There’s about thirty men racing across the road when Boone, Nellie, and Sam start to rapid fire into the group at different points. At that same moment there’s the sound of a rifle volley from the Army troops.
The deadly crossfire kills most of the bandits on the road so only four wounded bandits make it into the scrub on the south side of the road, the four in the lead of the charge at the eastern edge of the group. They race to their camp and stop when they see their horses are gone. They’re not standing still for long because Boone and Sam are quick to shoot them.
Boone calls out, “Everyone stay where you are while I settle the troops down.” He slowly stands up and he makes a signal to the soldiers to stay alert. He stands there while he reloads both rifles before loudly saying, “Sam, put my guns I leave here back on Morgan, please.” Boone walks down the knoll with a rifle in hand. A few minutes later he’s on the road and walking along it to the wagons.
When Boone nears the wagons the Captain rides forward and asks, “Who are you and what’s going on?”
Boone glances at the man still sitting on his horse and says, “Excuse me, I want to talk to the man in charge not the idiot with the authority on his shoulders.” A few of the troopers snicker at Boone’s comment. Facing the Sergeant Boone says, “Good morning, Sergeant. I’m Boone Nichols. When my scouts reported a group of men in the uniforms of both armies I went to see what they were doing. When they set up to ambush your column I felt I should interfere with their operation. We’ll strip the dead of what we can to repay us for our ammunition and trouble. If you want them buried you best arrange a detail, otherwise we’ll just drag them off the road for the scavengers to feed on.”
The Captain says, “You’ll give them all Christian burials.”
Boone spins toward the Captain while drawing his thigh pistol. He points it at the Captain as he says, “I’m not in the Army and under your command, so I do not have to listen to you. Nor do I take orders from total idiots who don’t put out scouts and flankers while traveling through a dangerous area. If you try to interfere with the actions of me or my group I’ll shoot you and explain why at your court-martial. If you want them buried get your men busy at digging the grave for them.”
Jensen details ten men to dig a large grave for all of the dead bandits.
Walking back up the road Boone makes signals to his people on the ridge. Sergeant Jensen watches for a moment, smiles, and says, “Captain Johnstone, that’s a man you do not want to mess with. I’ve heard of him back in California. While crossing the Oregon Trail he eliminated several groups of bandits who attacked his family, he cleaned up most of the trail and made it safer for those coming behind him. He’s a good shot and is well liked by the Indians. The same is true of his whole family. Also, the hand signs he just made to his people on the ridge are regular Army command signs so he’s had proper training as an Army officer at some time. When you consider his age you have to wonder if he’s an officer on a special assignment or not. Nothing about him makes much sense. Not as a civilian, that is.”
The Captain looks at Sergeant Jensen and roughly says, “Just give those men a decent burial,” before he turns away and leaves the Sergeant to handle everything.
Boone kneels down and strips the pocket contents, boots, guns, gun belt, and hat from the first dead bandit. He ties the boot laces together, places the pocket contents in the hat, the gun belt over his shoulder, picks up the man’s rifle with his own, and carries it all to a spot on the side of the trail near where the leader was hiding. Then back to do the same with the next dead bandit. By the time he starts on the second bandit he can see Nellie busy at the other end of the line of dead, Sam and Gray Fox are leading the horses onto the side of the road while Strong Fist and Red Eagle are dragging dead bandits onto the road from the scrub. Boone is sure Wild Horse is keeping an eye on things from up on the rise.
Boone, Nellie, and Sam are soon busy stripping the dead while the three Apache move the stripped gear to the stack Boone started near where the dead bandit leader is. Over half the dead bandits are stripped of what they want when some soldiers arrive to carry the dead to the mass grave. Boone takes time to check the bandit leader and strip him of useful items but he waits until the Captain moves away from the grave before he has the soldiers take him over to the grave and toss him in. For some reason Boone isn’t happy with the Captain’s attitude and behavior. It takes a lot longer to strip the dead than it did to kill them.
Once all of the stripped goods are in a pile Boone sends Sam, Nellie, and Gray Fox to pack up the bandit camp and bring it to the road. They take the bandits’ pack-horses with them to do that. Boone is still packing things into the saddlebags of the dead when the soldiers finish filling in the grave and continue on their journey. He notices the Captain has a close look at the horses lined up beside the road. They’re all there except for the pack-horses being loaded at the camp and the distinctive horse of the bandit leader Boone has hidden in the scrub.
Twenty minutes after the Army moves on Boone’s group is about to leave when Wild Horse comes down from the knoll and says, “Several Navajo approaching. Not a war party.” Boone nods to show he heard then he continues to do what he’s doing to finish getting ready to go.
The Navajo Indians ride out onto the road and call out a greeting. Boone replies with a Pawnee greeting and he gets a response. They chat for a few minutes to talk about what happened here, then he trades a few of the rifles from the bandits for furs. He feels it’s better to trade with them than to risk them attacking him for a few rifles.
When they make camp that night Boone examines the contents of the bandit leader’s saddlebags and pockets. While he does that the ladies go through all the saddlebags to sort the contents better. All the rifles, balls, and gunpowder are gathered together into a few blankets, wrapped up, and stored on the pack-horses. The handguns and gun belts are packed up in a similar way. The boots and hats are left on the saddle horns while the clothes are all shoved into a few bags and packed on the pack horses.
Boone selects the two best horses for them to keep then he has each of the Indians select five horses each for them to keep. Making them very happy to be involved in this work.
A few days later Boone’s party arrives in Santa Fe in the afternoon. The first thing they do is to establish a camp in the area set aside for travelers to camp in just outside of the city.
The next morning Boone leaves Nellie, Sam, and two of the Indians at the camp while he and the other two Indians enter the city leading the horses they have for sale. The horses are loaded with all of the extra gear they don’t want, but the bandits’ rifles are left at the camp. The clothing, furs, handguns, boots, hats, and saddles are soon sold. An Army Sergeant is happy to give Boone a payment voucher for the forty-seven horses he has for sale as the Army still has a huge need of horses. With those goods sold they go back to their camp to get their gold coin before going to the Land Office to buy the land they want.
Sam rides into town with Boone, both have heavily loaded saddlebags full of gold coin. Their first stop is the Wells Fargo Bank to deposit the bulk of the coins and the Army vouchers. They’ve a very healthy balance. The next stop is the Land Office to check the maps, complete a form listing the land they wish to buy, and lodging the request. The staff have to check it out and tell them to return the next day.
The last stop is Fort Marcy. At the gate Boone asks for Sergeant Jensen, and when asked for a name he says, “Tell him the Pawnee Scout Raging Buffalo wants a word with him.” The soldier on duty stares at Boone for a moment because he sure doesn’t look like a Pawnee Indian.
A few minutes later a perplexed Sergeant Jensen arrives at the gate, and his frown changes to a smile when he sees Boone. Jensen says, “What can I do for you, Raging Buffalo?”
“I’ve papers the fort commander should see, but he doesn’t know me so I want you to introduce us.”
Jensen slowly nods as he says, “Follow me.” The guard at the gate lets Boone and Sam enter the fort. Boone looks about the fort, and he realizes it’s little more than an open area with a fighting wall and a Headquarters Building, not much of a fort at all. Jensen says, “Captain Johnstone is still angry and he’s trying to convince the Major to have Boone Nichols arrested for threatening him with a gun. The Major says he knows a man by the name of Boone Nichols and he wonders if it’s the same man. If it is he feels Boone Nichols was probably justified in his actions.”
After leaving Sam and the horses at the water trough in front of the building the two men enter the Headquarters Building and Jensen leads the way to an office door in the back of the main room. He knocks, waits for an answer, and enters the room with Boone right behind him. Jensen says, “Sorry to disturb you, Sir, but I’ve a Pawnee Scout named Raging Buffalo who has some papers for you.”
Boone has the papers from the dead bandit leader in his left hand when he enters the room. He sees a major behind a desk, a man he knows, and Captain Johnstone standing beside the desk. Boone’s right hand is very quickly filled with his thigh pistol before anyone else can move. He smiles and says, “Congratulations on the promotion, Major Stone. According to these papers I retrieved from the body of the man who was leading the bandits after the gold shipment you need to place Captain Johnstone under arrest for treason, or whatever you call it when an officer writes to a cousin to arrange the theft of the government property under his protection.” Johnstone’s face goes white.
Stone smiles and says, “I don’t recognize the face due to the beard, but I know the voice. We’re both a long way from Pennsylvania, Boone. What’s with the Pawnee name?”
“It was given to me by a Pawnee Chief when I was passing through his land near the Niobrara River in the Nebraska Territory. He liked the way I quickly dealt with bandits and how well I hunted the buffalo.”
Sergeant Jensen moves to the side, takes the papers Boone is holding out, and walks behind him to give them to Major Stone. After reading the letters Stone calls for guards to place Johnstone under arrest. They all watch Johnstone being taken away. When the office door closes Stone, asks, “What brings you to Santa Fe?”
“Buying some land along the Gila River to establish a farm...,” they’re interrupted by shouting outside. All three race for the door, across the main office, and out the front door. Johnstone is lying on the ground and it’s clear his neck is broken with his chest caved in.
Boone looks at Sam, and she says, “When they brought the Captain out he knocked the guards down and jumped on Morgan. He dug his heels in and Morgan went up on his hind legs. Threw the Captain right off. He landed on his back. I think he broke his neck when he landed, but Morgan spun around and stomped both front feet on his chest to make sure he didn’t get up.”
Boone smiles, walks over to Morgan, and spends a few minutes telling him what a good horse he is while stroking him and calming him down.
Stone looks at Johnstone and says, “Well, no need to arrange a court. I would like to have watched him hang, but it’s easier this way.”
Several minutes are spent with people writing a report on what they know of what happened then Sam and Boone leave the fort. When they get back to their camp and tell the others they all laugh about Morgan kicking the Captain so thoroughly.
Purchasing the land takes a lot of their money. However, they are left with a decent amount in the bank and Boone spends some of it on tools and the materials to build the dam. The purchases include rock chisels, hammers, and an engineering book on building a dam of the type Boone wants to build. The last of their money is taken out as coin and placed in Boone’s saddlebags.
The trip back to the Gila River is without incident and they return to the camp in late May. All are glad to see them back safely and with the title to the land they want.
The ladies remaining in camp have a good time interacting with the Apache women and both groups learn things from each other. Although it doesn’t take up their whole day a lot of the time of the Nichols ladies is spent distributing stores belonging to the Apache and also selling or trading other items to the miners and the Indians. The miners buy a lot of coffee, sugar, flour, and other food items while the Apache men trade for gunpowder, balls, and lead. Some of the Apache women trade for small quantities of the other goods which aren’t part of the agreement with the Army.
On the whole the weeks spent in camp waiting for the others to return from Santa Fe are a pleasant time for the Nichols ladies. However, there is one unpleasant event about two weeks after Boone leaves on the trip.
A few miners who are angry about the disarmament rule arrive and take their time tying the horses to the rope line. Mary, Heidi, Olive, and Light Fawn are all visible unloading some goods from Wagon 6 for the Apache. The men at the horses quickly draw their guns and point them at the ladies. One of the smirking men is about to speak while walking to the wagons when a shotgun blast knocks him on his back when it hits his chest. The men turn to where the blast came from to see Lee standing beside the front of Wagon 5 with a shotgun in her hands and gunpowder smoke in front of one barrel. Another man is turning toward Lee when Dark Fawn says, from the rear of Wagon 6, “Drop the guns.” The men turn to look her way to see Dark Fawn, Gretel, and Elsa all pointing shotguns at them. A noise at the wagon has them turn to see the ladies who were unloading the goods are now pointing shotguns at them too.
Mary says, “Drop your guns or we’ll shoot.” The men drop the guns. “You can collect the guns from the Town Marshall in Arizona City after his next visit here. Now git, and don’t ever come back. And take that garbage with you.” The men pick up their dead, mount up, and leave.
In the middle of the night one of the Apache guards knocks on Mary’s wagon and tells her of some men sneaking along beside the river. The Apache aren’t allowed to hurt the white men, but they do have scouts out to warn the village of approaching danger.
Mary thanks Tall Elk, dresses, and wakes the others. In a few minutes all of the ladies are wearing dark clothes and are kneeling beside the back wheel of Wagon 4 on the south side of the camp beside the river. Mary says, “Gretel, Elsa, Lee, put some hay out for the stock near the top end of their run. Then stay under the wagons up there to watch for any attackers coming from that end of camp.” The three girls move off with their shotguns in hand. They’re soon moving some hay out from where it’s stored under a wagon to the spot they put hay for the stock at the end the rope corral. The horses and mules slowly move to where the hay is, and start eating. This moves them from the danger area near the river.
Turning to the others Mary says, “I’ll go set up beside Wagon Three and challenge them when they round the end of Wagon Six. The rest of you get back in the shadows of this wagon where you’ve a good view of them coming out of the river. If they raise a gun, shoot.” They all nod and start moving to hide under the wagon while Mary walks further into the camp. Soon they’re all set and waiting for the intruders to appear.
Several minutes later four armed men can be seen as moving dark shapes near the river water while they walk bent over in an attempt not to be seen. When they’re several feet past Wagon 6 they go up the bank to enter the camp. Mary shouts, “Put your guns down!” All of the men start to raise their rifles and the area under Wagon 4 lights up with the flash of the four shotguns at the same moment as Mary fires her shotgun. All four men go over backward due to being hit in the chest by the shot going up from the ground level firing positions.