Death at Pebble Creek, Early 1874

The month following the “Moon of the Popping Trees” is called the “Moon of Frost in the Teepee” (January) by some bands of the Teton Sioux. These colorfully descriptive terms will probably never replace our Roman numeric/gods based calendar. We might agree they better reflect the seasonal conditions here in the Central Plains.

January, the dark, dreary and often coldest month of the year has never been a good month for traveling far from the fire. Yet, one of the more interesting sequences involving settlers and Indians in the Loup Valley occurred on the 18th and 19th of January in the year 1874.

Sunday, January 18th was a cold, wintry day with the north wind driving a hard snow. Not the level of ‘blizzard’ but a nasty day by any standards. A band of forty Indians were in the Loup Valley that day. They were a raiding party from either the Spotted Tail Agency (Brule) or the Red Cloud (Ogallala) in northwest Nebraska. They were returning from a raid on their hereditary enemies, the Pawnee. The Pawnee were a village dwelling tribe of agriculturalists. Excellent warriors in their own right, they were somewhat restricted in their mobility because of the nature of their agrarian subsistence base. . Their reservation was in present-day Nance County. It lay about seventy miles down stream from the “upper settlement” of the Loup-Calamus forks vicinity.

Regardless of the apparent success of the Sioux raid upon the Pawnee, we may appreciate that they might need warmth and refreshment when they reached the pioneer settlements on their long trip home. The first homestead they stopped at was the cabin of Richard McClimans. This site was about a mile southeast of the mouth of Jones Canyon on land now farmed by Rich Burnham.

Pioneer families were noted for sharing, as were the American Indians. Sometimes Indians did not understand the settlers’ need for conserving their provender or husbanding their livestock for production over the long term.

Mrs. McClimans was probably as generous to the Sioux band of warriors as she could afford to be. This was not enough to satisfy the hunger of active young men. They helped themselves to pretty much everything edible in the house and then captured as many chickens as cold be run down before they moved on.

The Indians proceeded to the ‘trapper boys’ cedar log cabin. It stood about one-third mile due south of the junction of highway 91 and the county road leading to Jones Canyon. The boys were temporarily away from their well-provisioned camp. We are indebted to George McAnulty for his eyewitness description of events which followed.

McAnulty observed the Indians action from a vantage point on the south side of the river. He got a friend and proceeded toward the scene of the activity.

“We crossed the river on the ice and were nearly through the willows on the east (north) side, when we saw them leaving the shanty, taking with them everything of any, skins worth perhaps a hundred dollars and all the clothing and provisions. When we were within four hundred yards of the house the last Indian came out, his arms full of blankets and coats. Just as he was trying to mount his pony, I fired at him. The ball must have whizzed too close for comfort, for he dropped his load, jumped on his pony and soon overtook his party. When we reached the house, we found it completely looted, not a thing they could carry off remained.”

“A meeting of trappers and local citizens was held that Sunday evening. It was determined that the forty Indians were in camp near Pebble Creek, two or three miles to the northwest. The sixteen pioneers resolved to approach the Indians’ camp next morning and seek reparations.”

“…the morning of January 19, 1874 was the coldest of that year…”

We will continue to refer to George McAnulty’s account as related thirty-two years later in The Trail of the Loup. Twenty-one year old McAnulty had homesteaded about a mile southeast of the rodeo grounds near present-day Burwell in 1873. In 1875 he joined the army at Fort Hartsuff and served with Company “C” of the Ninth Infantry Regiment throughout General Crook’s campaigns in Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota in 1876-77.

During his five-year enlistment he kept up a regular correspondence with a young lady in Scotia, Ms. Lillian Moore. They were married when his service period ended and he spent the rest of his life in the Scotia area. Their graves lie on the scenic cemetery hill just north of Scotia, an appropriate place for a man of Scottish ancestry, near a town named for Scot’s Land.

A discouraging event occurred while McAnulty was off in the army. His homestead was ‘claim jumped’ by another popular local character, James Barr. It was McAnulty’s understanding that his time in military service would cont toward his requirement for proving up. He was wrong and Barr was legally in the right. One would have wished that Barr might have been more considerate of the young soldier McAnulty, whose own father was killed during the Civil War. Barr himself, was a hero of the terrible American conflict, which ended nine years earlier.

Now we will return to McAnulty’s description of the Pebble Creek Battle. We recall that the settler and trapper federation of fifteen of sixteen men had avowed either restitution for damages or armed retaliation as punishment. Although the morning of Monday the 19th of January 1874 was the “coldest of the year”, the little command was on the way to Pebble Creek ‘bright and early’. There were under the command of Charley White, known locally as Buckskin Charley. Their own regular hero and guide, “Happy Jack” Swearingen, was far up the Calamus River running his trap lines and so unavailable to add his Indian fighting expertise.

“…at dawn we were within three hundred yards of the big tepee. White entered the camp and demanded the return of the property (and compensation for a cow they had taken from another homesteader after leaving the trapper’s). Here White no doubt made a mistake. He found the redskins breakfasting on the remnants of their last night’s feast and in no humor for compromise. Charley, who knew a little Sioux jargon, talked with the chief who emerged from the tepee, took a cartridge from his belt, held it above his head, summoned his followers, and standing in their midst in the gray light of the morning uttered the Sioux war chief’s battle cry, always terrible in its’ character. Many a time since I have heard that same peculiar chant, but never when it sounded more awe-inspiring…”

We must note here that McAnulty could speak with authority on the subject of Indian battles based on his later experience. His Company C of the 9th Infantry was with General George Crook’s command at the Battle of the Rosebud on June 17th, 1876. This major battle of the Indian War period took place on this picturesque creek in southern Montana only one week before Lt. Col. George Custer was killed with one-third of his command on the Little Big Horn River twenty-five miles away. The Indians engaged were the same aggregate of warriors in both battles, estimates range from 1500 to 5000. Crook’s command consisted of more than a thousand men including a number of Crow and Ute Scouts.