If you have stories to contribute from your branch of one
of these families, please email
Marian Franklin. firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Go to Charles Murray
Miller's I Had Two Grandfathers stories.
Go to Five
Handed Down Stories as retold by Marilyn Watts
Vance McGaughey, PhD.
John S. Watts, Jr. : A life revealed in his Mexican War Widow’s Pension file.
The bare outline of John Schooling Watts, Jr.’s
life , born in 1827(1) on his father’s land in Washington Co.,
Kentucky, died in 1901 and buried in the Fort Douglas Military Cemetery,
do not hint at the twists and turns his journey through the years
took him. One letter and a fragment of another letter in the Watts
Letters are the only remnants of his life besides his Mexican War
Pension file.. In 1847 at the start of the Mexican War he was living
Co., Missouri and enlisted in the 1st Missouri Mounted Volunteers (2).
He went with the army to Mexico where he was wounded in the Battle
of Sacramento. Discharged in New Orleans, Louisiana he returned to
his family in Cass Co., Missouri. He went to California in 1849 and
in about 1850 wrote a letter to his half-sister (3), Margaret Wats Hays,
in Missouri from Cold Springs, a mining camp in El Dorado Co. He
lived in Mariposa Co., California with his family during the 1850’s.
In the 1860 Census he was living in Coulterville, Mariposa Co., California
with his wife Juana.(4) In 1870 he was living alone in Washoe Co., Nevada
working as a station keeper. The 1880 Census found him in Lake Co.,
Oregon living with his wife Carrie H. Watts and his occupation was
Justice of the Peace. John Watts second letter is from Salt Lake
City, Utah written about 1895.(5)
The widow, Dell Delores Watts
In applying for a Mexican War Pension in 1891 John Watts wrote that he had served
in Co. A, 1st Missouri Mounted Volunteers under Captain David Waldo and Colonel
A. W. Doniphan and that he was disabled because of a wound received at the battle
of Sacramento on the 28th of February, 1847 while charging on the Mexican battery.
He also fought at the battle of Bracite on the 22nd of December, 1846. His wife
is listed as Carrie H. Owens of Oregon. A year later he wrote the Pension Office
asking why he had not heard from them. The result was that he reapplied in July
of 1893 and after some confusion about his true birth date received the pension.
In support of his claim to have been a veteran of the Mexican War were affidavits
by former comrades in arms John Gibbin, John W. Tuttle, Elson Mann and William
T. Burton. The latter, Burton, wrote that he had lived in the same house as John
S. Watts as a child and knew him from birth. They had both served in Company
A under Captain Waldo in the Mexican War. John S. Watts received the pension(6) until his death in 1901.
In 1902, Dell Delores Patton Watts, a young woman he had married in 1901, filed
a request for his Widow’s Pension . Dell Watts’ Pension Claim states
she was married 29 May 1901 to John at Salt Lake City, Utah and he was divorced
from a previous wife, Caroline H. Owens, on 14 October 1889 in Lake Co., Oregon.
Dell was 26 years old and claimed to be disabled by “nervous disability
and anemic condition” and was dependent on Mrs. M. M. Patton for her support
although she had inherited about 55.000 shares of stock in the Victoria Gold
Mining Company which had no market value. On 2 August 1902, Dell’s attorney
J. R. Bowdle, filed a Declaration of Widow with the Pension Office which repeated
the information on the Claim form but added that she owned 77,000 shares of stock
in the mining company which she “ could not realize much of anything from
said stock”. She also claimed that “ (her) health ever since, and
long before the death of her said husband, has been very poor.” She could
only do light work part of the time and was dependent on her own work and the
aid given to her by friends and relatives for her support. This Claim was followed
on 1 October 1902 by a letter from Dell to Pension Commissioner Eugene E. Ware(7) , Ironquill, Washington, D. C. In it she makes a personal appeal to Ware for
the pension as they were both from Burlington, Iowa and adds “If you ever
read any contributions to the Burlington Hawkeye by Dell Delores Patton, know
that it is she who is making this inspirational second ‘special application’.” In
this letter she referred to husband as Judge John H. Watts.
Special Examiner E. D. McConnel’s Report
The Pension Office took a sharp look at the differences in their ages and noted
the previous marriage of Soldier Watts. The Commissioner of Pensions ordered
a Special Examination of the claim. E. D. McConnell investigating in Salt Lake
City, Utah confirmed that John had served in Company A, Missouri Mounted Volunteers
from 6 June 1846 to 22 June 1847 and obtained a copy of Dell and John’s
Marriage Certificate. Mrs. Estelle Harper and Lillie M. Miles both provided
affidavits that Dell and John had lived together at Payson, Utah in the months
his death, that they had not divorced and Dell had not married again. A copy
of the Suit for Divorce and Decree of Court was received on 2 August 1902 from
Lake Co., Oregon confirming that Caroline H. Watts had obtained a divorce from
John S. Watts in 1889. A page is missing from the document which would give
the details of the suit. Soldier John did not appear at the proceedings nor
Dell Watts waited for six months for the pension to be approved and then contacted
the United States Senator from Utah, Thomas Kearns, who wrote the Commissioner
of Pensions in March 1903 urging the office “ to do what you can to hurry
its adjudication”. About this time Special Examiner McDonnell, having finished
his examinations in Utah, recommended in his report to the Commissioner that
Soldier John’s former wife, Caroline, and their two sons be interviewed.
Special Examiner F. N. Libby’s Report
Special Examiner F. N. Libby of the Portland, Oregon office was dispatched
to interview Caroline Owens Watts who had since married Edgar Casebeer and
in Klamath Co., Oregon. He interviewed John S. Watts, a son of Caroline and
Soldier John, on 6 Oct 1903 and Caroline Casebeer on 7 Oct 1903. John stated
in his Deposition
that he was 23 years old, a rancher living in Bly, Oregon. He remembered his
father, John S. Watts, telling him about his service in the Mexican War. He
thought that his father may have had two children by a woman before he married
and thought also that the children may have used another name than Watts. “She
(Caroline) was married to John S. Watts about 30 years ago. I fix the time by
the age of an older sister(8) now dead. If living she would have been about thirty
years old.. Three of my sisters and two brothers have died. I have one brother
living.. Mother and father lived together until I was seven years old. They were
living in Eureka, Utah(9) . They separated and mother with us two boys came to Lakeview,
Oregon. I corresponded with him for five or six years and the last letter I received
from him was from Eureka(10) .” As far as John knew his father had not remarried
since he and mother separated. “ I have never heard of any such thing.” he
added. “Father had a brother, D. Watts(11) who lived in Eureka, Utah but he
is dead. Several of his children were living there the last I heard. Alice Watts
and John Watts were two of the children, two of the others died about the time
we came here. Father had another brother who left Eureka before we did. His name
was T. Watts(12) . ….There were no other brothers that I ever knew of. He had
a sister, a Mrs. Gashwiler(13) , I think. The last I heard of her she was in San
Francisco, Cal.” A man named Smart is mentioned “who knew father
and told me some about him but I don’t know what became of him”.
John did not know anything of his father’s property and added “I
did not know of his (father’s) death until just now”.
Mr. Libby must have raised his eyebrows at the mention of yet another possible
wife of Soldier John. Caroline Casebeer’s Deposition tells a little more
of John’s life. She stated that she was 49 years old had and married John
S. Watts on July 29, 1872 at Warm Springs, Modoc Co., California. “He had
never been married before to my knowledge. He frequently told me that he had
never been married and my parents traced his past history but could learn of
no former marriage. They wanted to get something against him to stop our marriage
but could find nothing. He had lived with a Spanish woman down in Tuwalme(14) Co.
Cal. on the Tuwalame river. She was a wealthy woman and gave him to manage her
estate. He told me this much of his history himself and I once saw one of the
children in Utah at Grand Junction, Utah.” About her former husband Caroline
said “ …he was born in Kentucky and, with his parents moved to Independence,
Mo. He was attending school at Pleasant Hill, Mo when the Mexican War broke out
and he always told me that he left that school to enlist. He served under Col.
Donavon(15) . When discharged he returned to Independence, MO. And his father fitted
him out a wagonload of goods and he went to the City of Mexico and there sold
the goods. In 1849 he went to California during the gold excitement. He landed
at San Francisco and went from there to Mari Posa Co., Cal. And was around in
that country for several years and while there studied with Judge Terry (16). From
there he went to Tuwalame Co. and took charge of the Spanish woman’s ranch
and was there for a good many years. Then he went to Buffalo Station, Nevada
and ran a stage station and salt marsh and was known through all that country
as Buffalo Jim. I do not know what county that was in but it was near Honey Lake
Valley. He sold out there to a man named Frank Murphy. After selling out there
he came through to Hayden Hill with a load of salt and I met him there when he
was selling the salt. …..He took up a place and stayed at Hayden Hill
until we were married.”
About John’s family Caroline remembers a brother(17) who died while they were
in Utah, a younger brother named Cleon Bolivar Watts who was called Tenie Watts
who moved to Southern California(18), a sister Margaret(19), a half-brother Jack and
a cousin John Gashwiler(21) who lived in San Francisco but had died. She listed the
places she and John had lived: Aiden, Modoc Co., Cal.; Susanville, Lassen Co.
Cal; Lakeview, Oregon; Tintic, Utah and Eureka, Utah. She had no direct communication
with John after they separated but he did write the children until a few years
ago. She had learned of John’s death from Special Examiner Liddy. “We
have never heard a thing about him remarrying. He told me he would never marry
again and I don’t think that he has.” Then she added that “He
had nothing when we separated but he claimed there was property coming from his
father’s estate at Independence, Mo.(22) ”
Following up on the people mentioned in the Depositions Special Examiner Liddy
located John Smart mentioned in the son’s Deposition and interviewed him
on 9 Oct 1903 at Fort Klamath, Oregon. Mr. Smart had met John S. Watts in about
1860 when he was staying with his brother, D. Watts in Alamo, Contra Costa Co..
Smart thought that John lived in Mariposa Co., California and would come to visit
his brother every year. “I have seen him but once since then and that was
when he was running for Co. Judge of Lake Co., Ore. I met him on the road one
day.” He thought that John had lived in Mariposa Co. with his parents and
then had lived in Merced Co. He had met Caroline Casebeer in Oregon and she had
told him she had been married to John S. Watts. He remembered that D. Watts had
told him about John’s living with a Spanish woman but did not know if
they had been married.
F. N. Liddy sent a report from Portland, Oregon to Commissioner Ware in Washington,
D. C. on 21 October 1903. He recommended that a search be made in the California
counties surrounding where Soldier John had lived for a record of a marriage
to the “Spanish woman”. He had interviewed all the people who know
something of Soldier’s life within his district and suggested that several
other people living in California and Utah mentioned by Caroline Casebeer and
John Smart be interviewed.
Special Examiner E. G. Hursh’s Report
Commissioner Ware directed Special Examiner E. G. Hursh of the San Francisco
Pension Bureau office to send out inquires to numerous counties searching for
a record of Soldier John’s marriage and attempt to locate T. (Cleon Bolivar)
Watts. No marriage records were discovered nor was T. Watts found. John W. Watts(23) of Moab, Utah was interviewed by James W. Stark, Assistant Postmaster of Moab.
Mr. Watts stated that he was “only a double cousin” of John S. and
Tenie Watts. He did not know the whereabouts of Tenie and suggested they contact
Dell Delores Watts and John S. Watts oldest son “who he is satisfied can
give you all the information desired”.
Special Examiner Hursh then went on the road to Eagleville, Modoc Co., California
and interviewed B. F Murphy on 4 March 1904. Mr. Murphy had met John S. Watts
in about 1865 at Buffalo Station, Washoe Co., Nevada where John had lived for
six years. When asked if Soldier was married, Murphy answered “not at that
time. He was supposed to be an old bachelor” and questioned further said “I
asked him if he had ever been married and he would never answer the question
but would say ‘I know what it is like to live with a woman’ ” Murphy
also said that John’s work at Buffalo Station was tending stage horses
for a company that ran from Chico to Silver City, Idaho. He was known there as
Jim Watts but told Murphy that his name was John and he had changed his name
because he had gotten into some trouble while living in Los Angeles. When asked
if he was known as Buffalo Jim Murphy answered “Not that I know of.” Murphy
described Soldier John: “He was a man about 6 feet tall and would weigh
170 to 180 pounds. Dark eyes and dark hair streaked with gray & dark beard.”
On 14 April 1904, Hursh was in Mariposa, California interviewing Attorney at
Law John M. Corcoran. Corcoran had met Soldier Watts about 1858 or 1860 and
knew him quite intimately. At that time Soldier John was ranching and stock
and lived with a Mexican woman and their two sons although he didn’t know
if they were married. One son, who he had heard had died, was named John S. Watts.
He had not seen Soldier John since about 1867 but had heard he was living in
Lassen Co., California and had some judicial position(24) . There is no indication
that Soldier John was a lawyer or had studied with Judge Terry but Corcoran did
say that John’s father had been a Justice of the Peace in Mariposa.
Still in Mariposa, Hursh interviewed William J. Howard on 15 April 1904. Mr.
Howard was an elderly farmer who had known Soldier John and his family in Mariposa.
About John he said “He was farming and stockraisisng and lived at what
was called New Years Diggings about 6 miles north of Merced Falls, near the Tuolumne
river. He lived there with a Mexican woman. . .called her his wife … and
she was recognized as his wife by people who knew them. He had children by her.
I can’t say how many.” He went on to say “After John S. Watts
left here, sometime after I learned he was in Oregon (he) got himself into trouble
there, at least he was accused of being mixed up with some stock thieves and
he left suddenly and never returned..” About John’s wife, he didn’t
know if she was divorced from John but had heard that Mrs. Watts had been living
up around the Tuolumne river. “It was Old man Nelson of Merced Falls
(now dead) who charged Watts with cattle stealing.”
Following the lead provided by Mr. Howard, Hursh next interviewed Henry Nelson
of Snelling, Merced Co. who described himself as a traveling man. He remembered
John Watts who lived with a Mexican woman, Mrs. Watts. “She went by the
name of Mrs. Watts and still goes by the name of Mrs. Watts and lives at La
Grange, Stanislaus Co. Cal. I knew him quite well a number of years. My father
arrested for cattle stealing. I think that was in 1867. . . The Sheriff allowed
him to get away and he never returned to this country again. We heard afterwards
that he was up in Lassen Co., Cal. . . He had two boys, John and Nick who are
The 22 of April found Special Examiner Hursh in La Grange interviewing Peter
McDonnell a farmer of that place. McDonald had known a John Watts who had lived
at New Years Diggings about 7 miles from La Grange. “He was a married man
his wife was a native of Ecuador, So. America. Some spoke of her as a Mexican
or Spanish woman, I am not sure what her first name was but something like Johanna.
She lives now in La Grange near here. She was always called Mrs. Watts. He had
2 children by her, Nick and John S. Watts, they are both dead. I have heard them
speak of having been married in San Juan, Cal. now San Benito Co., Cal. . . I
knew him well I have bought live stock of him for I was then butchering. He was
arrested sometime in the sixties. After he was arrested he got away from the
sheriff and left the country and never came back here again. I understood he
was heard from by his sons who were then young men as being in one of the counties
on the other side of the mountains.” McDonnel continues “I never
heard of any divorce between this Mrs. Watts who lives in La Grange and John
S. Watts. I am very certain that there never has been a divorce between them
for she used to say that he would come back to her.. . This woman owned a ranch
down near San Juan when she married Watts which they sold and think they went
down and sold it in 1862. He was quite an educated man. He was a tall straight
man between 5 ft 10 inches and 6 feet, light complexion, dark hair, am not
sure about the color of eyes. I would judge, if alive he would be somewhere
75 or 76 years old.
The next day Hursh interviewed Juana Ormena Watts with Marie F. Donahue as
interpreter Hursh would ask questions which Mrs. Donahue would interpret. “My name
is Juana Ormena de Watts. I don’t know exactly how old I am but think I
am 75 years old. I was born in Ecuador , So. America. I was first married to
Brancho(25) Vera. We came to California in 1849. We first lived in San Francisco,
Cal. then we went to San Juan. I got a ranch at “Bicina”, we lived
there for a while then we went to Sonora, Tuolumne Co. to cure my daughter,
then we went to Big Oak Flat, Tuolumne Co., Cal, then to Big Creek, now Groveland,
Tuolumne Co. My first husband died while we lived at Big Creek. He got lost
the mountains and nothing was heard from him again. No his body was never found,
no one ever saw him again. He had been drinking very hard and went off in the
mountains where he was lost and was never found. The men went and looked for
him. I had eight children by my first husband Vera and two by my next husband
John S. Watts. Only two of all of my children are now living namely Joseph
Vera of this place and Josephine Vera Silva, a widow and lives on a ranch near
Park, San Mateo Co., Cal.
I first saw John S. Watts at Big Creek, Cal. then when we moved to New Years
Diggings, he and I went down to sell my ranch down there, and while we were down
there I and John was married at San Juan, Cal. by the Catholic Priest there.
I have my marriage certificate. I had to get a dispensation from the Bishop at
San Francisco to be married because Mr. Watts was not a Catholic. I do not like
giving up my marriage certificate. You can make copies of them. After we were
married we came back to New Years Diggings, where we lived a while and then we
went to Dom Pedro and lived there a while then we went to a ranch to what was
called Marshall’s Flat in Tuolumne. We lived there on the ranch when John
S. Watts was arrested when charged with stealing cattle but he did not steal
them, it was his vaqueros who took them. Mr. Watts got away from the sheriff.
I got a letter from him about four years afterwards, he said he was coming back.
I wrote him one letter, but I never heard from him again.” Juana continues “Mr.
Watts told me he had been in Mexico. I could not understand English and he talked
Spanish very well. He never was divorced from me. I have never married since
he left here.” The two children of the marriage were Nick and John Watts. “they
lived to be men, Nick died at Menlo Park and John Watts died here in this town
about six years ago.”
My husband had three brothers, Teney Watts, Jack Watts and D. Watts., I can’t
remember his first name. Last year my husband’s nephew Charley Watts(26) came
to see me and told me that my husband . . had died, and he wanted me to sign
some papers, and give him the marriage certificate, but I would not do it, so
he went away. I don’t know where he lives.“ Juana added that her
first husband died in about 1855 and she married John Watts in about 1860.
The next document in the file is a copy of the marriage certificate. John Watts,
a native of Kentucky and Juana Ormeno, a native of Brasilio Vera del Ecuador
were married by a Catholic Priest at San Juan Bautista, San Benito Co., California
on the first day of September, 1860.
Joseph Vera was next to be interviewed by the diligent Agent Hurst on 23 April
1904. He testified that he was a laborer, about 60 years old and the son on
Juana Ormena de Watts and Branchio Vera. He was about 12 years old when his
died. “If he had not died he would have come back. I went to Ecuador some
years after that where his relatives live, but they had never heard from him
or seen him. We all thought he had died in the mountains” He remembered
that John and Juana had gone to San Juan to be married about 3 to five years
after his father died. He was in Ecuador when John Watts left his mother. Marie
F. Donohue interpreted his answers and Joseph signed with an X.
Special Examiner O. Sues’s Report
Special Agent O. Sues of the Monterey, California office was sent to interview
Josephine Vera de Silva in Menlo Park, San Mateo Co., California which he did
on 27 April 1904. She confirmed she was the daughter of Juana Ormena Vera Watts.
And stated that her father, Bravlio Vera disappeared and was never seen nor
heard from again when she was about 8 years old. “I was at home with him at the
house and he left to go to Big Oak Flat to see a man. When my father was gone
two days a man went….to look for him. Bravlio had never reached the man …..and
others looked, too, sent out by my mother. There was no reason for my father
leaving home, he had a good ranch with about 300 head of cattle and that ranch
at San Juan and there had been no trouble between my father and my mother but
he had been sick a year before he left home but had recovered, only he was very
weak.” She mentioned her brothers and said “ Nick died in my house..
Watts was arrested in Merced County and was in jail there and my mother went
to see him and then his brother took him away and I never saw him after that
but he used to write her from Washoe County, over the mountains and told my mother
he was coming back but he never came back.” She had lived with her mother
until 1875 and knew her mother had never received any divorce papers. The Deposition
was signed Josepina V. de Silvae.
Widow’s Pension Denied
In 1904 Dell Delores Patton Watts was notified that she was not qualified to
receive a Mexican War Widow’s Pension because John S. Watts had been legally
married to another woman at the time of their marriage. Shortly after that, Juana
Ormena Vera Watts applied for the Widow’s pension. This application was
dropped when Juana died in December 1905. Dell Watts, not discouraged by her
earlier rejection wrote a letter to the Pension Office on December 16, 1912 from
the Cumberland Hotel in Salt Lake City. “I am writing to request a copy
of the war record of Judge John Schooling Watts and to ascertain if Juana Ormena
Vera – Watts at San Pedro, California is still receiving the pension. Will
you kindly send me the desired information at your earliest convenience? I shall
appreciate your kindness most highly.” She signed the letter Delores Watts.
Commissioner J. L. Davenport replied on January 6, 1913. “I have to advise
you that as it appears that your above entitled claim for pension was rejected
on the grounds that you were not the legal widow of the soldier as, at the
time of your marriage to him, he had a wife living from whom he had never been
your request is not complied with.”
Was Soldier John a gambler, cattle thief and escaped felon or just a man who
was plagued by bad luck and poor judgment? Juana Watts testified that he did
not steal cattle, it was his vaqueros who were guilty. There is no deposition
from the Sheriff but the Examiner’s report indicated that Soldier John
was tried and convicted but never sentenced before his brother came to take
him away so it is possible that there was some doubt of his guilt. It is unlikely
that he studied law with Judge Terry and yet he was an attorney during his
years in Salt Lake City. Although separated from his children he kept in touch
with them until about the time that he claimed to be disabled in 1891.
Teeny (Cleon Bolivar)Watts, the brother who disappeared to Southern California
in the 1890’s was never found and the family papers contain no mention
of what happened to him nor does he appear in the 1900 Federal Census. It was
his son Charles B. Watts who visited Juana after John S. Watts’ death and
asked for a power of attorney and her marriage certificate. In 1900 Charles was
living in San Luis Obispo Co., California where Teeny Watts may have gone after
he left Utah. It is interesting to note that the handwriting in the 1893 letter
in the pension file is quite different from the handwriting in the letter John
S. Watts wrote to his half-sister Margaret in about 1850. According to the Watts’ Family
Bible, John was born September 15, 1827. In the pension application John wrote
that his birth date was September 15, 1826. When he joined Doniphan’s Regiment
on June 6. 1846 for the Mexican War he claimed to be 20 years old. In his second
Pension application he gave his birth date as September 15, 1828. When queried
about the different birth dates he wrote “I was born in Washington County,
State of Kentucky on September the 15th 1826 and am now sixty-seven years old.” He
went on to write that the 1828 date was an error made by somebody else, although
it was written in his handwriting as on the application and on the letter sent
to the Pension Office. .Teeny (Cleon) Watts was born August 7, 1831. It is
possible that Teeny filled out the application for his brother except that
is in the same handwriting as the rest of the Pension application.
•(1) The Watts Family Bible lists the date as 15 September 1827.
•(2) John Watts appears in the booklet “Westport at 100” among
the names of the Jackson Co., Missouri men who volunteered for service in the
•(3) The Watts Hays Letters, Letter 2. After a description of California and news
of family and acquaintances he wrote: “You must tell Mother that Father
Sends his love to her, D and Teny also. They are all very anctious to See her.
I dont nowe what her feelings is towards me. I think she had heard that I had
lost the money gambling. That person who told it Swore to me that he never
said not told that in his life and he would give a certificate if I wanted.
all the goods to me, they were considered perfectly solvent and as at the time
as it was the only way I could not Collect the money and Would hold the notes.
Now some of the men are in this country and Say they will pay me as Soon as
they make the money. I did not know that I had Such friends at home as would
advantage of my absence to tell a great pack of lies. Tell mother if She new
the facts as they are she could not think hard of me. If be able to make any
money in this country She Shall have it as long as I have one Dollar left.”
•(4) His sister Margaret wrote to her mother in March 1861: “Mother
I think a great deal about you, write as often as you can. Write where Brother
is, I have Dreamed so mutch about him lately it makes me uneasy. I think that
might write to me.”
•(5) The Watts Hays Letters, Letter 95
•(6) No. 16,668
•(7) Mr. Ware’s title was Commissioner, Bureau of Pensions, Department
of the Interior.
•(8) Florence E. Watts, born about 1871 in California.
•(9) Juab Co., Utah.
•(10) Eureka, Juab Co., Utah.
•(11) Dewitt Clinton Watts
•(12) Cleon Bolivar Watts
•(13) She was John S. Watts cousin. Her married name was Herald or Herold.
•(14) Tuolumne Co., California
•(16) Terry was Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court and lived at Stockton,
San Joaquin Co., California
•(17) Dewitt Clinton Watts who had lived in Tintic, Juab Co., Utah.
•(18) Tenie had 4 children and two of the sons, William R. Watts (1875-?) and Charles
B. Watts (1862-1940) were living in San Luis Obispo Co., California in 1900.
•(19) Margaret Watts Hays Overstreet of Kings Co., California was a half-sister.
•(20) Andrew Jackson Watts who died in Kings Co., California in 1894
•(21) John Watts Gashwiler, Jr., a wealthy miner or mining investor of San Francisco.
He died in Nevada in 1883.
•(22) Soldier John’s father, John S. Watts, Sr. died in Mariposa Co.
California in 1860. He had lived in Cass Co.., Missouri about 30 miles south
Jackson Co. Missouri. Before leaving Missouri in 1852 he sold all of his property
•(23) John William Watts (1856-1934) was a grand nephew of both John S. Watts
mother and father.
•(24) In the 1880 Census for Lake Co., Oregon John S. Watts is listed as a J. P.
(Justice of the Peace).
•(25) In the files the name appears as Brancho, Bravlio and Braulio Vera.
•(26) Charles B. Watts (1862-1940) a son of Cleon Bolivar “Tenie” Watts.
The following story was written by Charles Murray Miller, my grandfather,
born February 14, 1896, in Grant City, Missouri. The story depicts
values of the times and has not been changed in any way in respect
of my grandfather.
The first Grandfather my grandfather wrote of was
James Alexander Miller born September 04, 1826 in Natural Bridge,
and died in Redding, Ringgold County, Iowa on December 02, 1902. James
was also known as "Henry". He was married to Susan E. Mackey
born March 21, 1829, in Rockbridge County, Virginia.
The second Grandfather my grandfather wrote of was Charles Russel Murray
born December 20, 1836 in Green County, Kentucky, and died in Redding,
Ringgold County, Iowa, June 07, 1911. He was married to Susan Elgin born
March 24, 1839, in Pratt County, Missouri, and died December 22, 1923,
in Redding, Ringgold County, Iowa.
Charles M. Miller, Kent, Washington
(note: Charles M. Miller was a descendent of Frances Watts,
a sister of John S. Watts)
I HAD TWO GRANDFATHERS
One of the most vivid memories I have of my Grandfather on
side, was watching him die. He had been ill for sometime, then one day one of
the relatives, I forget which one there were so many, rode in on a sweaty horse
and left word that if we wanted to see him before his death we’d better
hurry. We made it and I remember very well how, awed and hushed, we tiptoed into
his death-room in the big house. And there was Grandfather propped up in bed.
His face had a slightly purplish tinge and his long white beard flowed as neatly
over the clean white sheets as though someone had spent hours straightening each
single hair. He lay as perfectly clam and dignified and quiet in dying as he
had been in living. He was a religious man and he was going to meet his God and
it gave him no fear, only the quiet satisfaction of a full life well lived. And
now it was time to end it. It was as simple as all that. I hope I can meet death,
when it comes, with as much calm dignity as did my grandfather Miller.
He had come to this country in southern Iowa near where the town of Redding now
stands in the early 1800s. The trip had been made from Virginia in a covered
wagon and one of his children had been born on the way. The first that I remember
of him was his gray beard and the fact that everyone, no matter whom, deferred
to him. He was a dominating man, but not domineering one. He had the personality
of a natural leader of men and in recognition of that he was always called Esquire
Miller. Esquire was a title of considerable respect in those days. Fifteen children
had been born to him and when a neighbor's house burned leaving two small orphans
he took them to raise. As he said, “After fifteen a couple more won’t
be much bother.” I never tried it but I suspect what he said is true.
My father was, I think, the thirteenth child and the only one who went to college,
for the farm was big and hands were needed to work. I never remember Grandfather
doing more than give orders. He had a team of spanking bays which were harnessed
at his command. These, hitched to the buggy, took him all over the farm so he
could watch the planting and the harvesting with an eagle eye. The buggy had
no top for he seldom went out in bad weather as he had the asthma.
With fifteen and sometimes as many as sixty mouths to feed (those fifteen children
were grown and bringing children of their own home to Sunday dinner when I was
born) crops and harvest were important. So was canning and the big garden, and
the orchard, and the steers and pigs for butchering. The farm was practically
self-sustaining and had been more so before I came along. There was the time
before the country was settled when Grandfather had driven a team and wagon eighty-five
miles over very questionable roads with a load of wheat or corn. St. Joseph,
Missouri, had the nearest mill for grinding grain and the mill took one-half
the grain for the grinding. But it produced flour and corn meal for those fifteen
mouths. And there was the sorghum mill for black strap molasses. The cane was
raised on the farm and a threshing machine came with a mill to press out the
thick, dark syrup.
This always brought out Old Nigger Ben. Nigger Ben had been a slave. I remember
him as a kindly, white-haired Negro with a couple of coon dogs who lived with
him in his little cabin down by the river. He would come to the back door of
the big house and, hat in hand, inquire about the health of all the family. Grandfather
would watch him quietly, never a twinkle in his eye, nor a smile on his lips,
and when Old Nigger Ben had finished his kindly song and dance he would be invited
in. Food was set before him. Biscuits, ham, eggs, gravy, a feast. He would eat
and eat and eat always having trouble making things come out quite even. If he
had a bit of gravy left it called for more biscuit to finish it. But the gravy
always ran out before the biscuit and that called for more gravy and so on and
on until Old Nigger Ben could scarcely waddle from the kitchen. Grandfather always
sent him home with a side of bacon or a ham. But it was the sorghum mill that
fascinated Old Nigger Ben. Perhaps it reminded him of his south, for he was always
on hand to hold Grandfather’s horses for they were afraid of the puffing
engine, and to watch the mill. Besides, there was the gallon or two of molasses
he would take home, free, or course. One week old Nigger Ben did not show up
and Grandfather sent a man down to the river cabin to see why. Nigger Ben had
died in his sleep and Grandfather superintended his burial.
The orchard was west of the big house and on beyond the orchard was a row of
huge maples Grandfather had planted as a break against the sharp, west winds.
And it brought the fruit on earlier too. On beyond the maples was the weaning
cottage, but more of that later. The big house sat on the hill above the barns
and on beyond the barns were the pastures and the river with its groves of oak
and maple and walnut and hickory trees.
Every carpet in the house had been made by hand. Rag carpets, they were, some
with paper and some with straw matting under them. The cones of red and blue
and white string used in making the carpets, were always on my kites. The cellar
out back served two purposes. Food storage and a refuge against cyclones. I recall
one time when the wind began whipping up and a dark cloud came from the north
and west. Grandfather quietly gave the order and every fire in the house was
immediately extinguished. Supposing a wall blew down on the hot stove? The whole
house would go. We went to the cellar. I was frightened and so were the others,
so frightened they had forgotten the lantern and the ax. Grandfather took another
look at the cloud and sent one of the boys to the toolshed. “We need light
down here,” he said. “And if one of those big cottonwoods back of
the house blows down we may have to chop our way out.” He always seemed
to think of everything.
It was in the fall when the cellar came into its own. Canning started then. Jellies
and jams, peaches, plums, tangy apple, and peach butter, and apple sauce. I’ve
no idea how many hundred jars went into that cellar but I do know it was large
and the walls were lined. Then there were squash and pumpkins, turnips and apples
and canned meat and peas and beans and canned corn and dried apples and peaches
and apricots. The cellar was filled to the brim and still that was not enough
So the boys were set to work on the pit. Not far from the garden a pit perhaps
ten feet square and six feet deep was dug. Into this was put twelve inches of
fresh manure from the barns. The manure was covered with twelve inches of clean
straw then in went more food. Apples, pumpkins, squash, all the perishables that
would not go into the cellar. The food was covered with more straw then the dirt
was piled on top. When the cellar was empty the pit was dug out. Heat from the
fresh manure had kept the frost from the fruits and vegetables and they were
as fresh and tasty as the day they were taken from the fields and trees. The
cellar was full again.
Meat? There was plenty. Chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys were there for the
taking. So were fat, grain-fed steers and milk-fed hogs and the sheep that came
from the river meadows. It took two or three steers and five or six hogs to carry
through the winter. It depended on how many extra mouths there were to feed.
If more was needed they were in the pastures and the twenty-two rifle was back
of the door. The big, scalding kettle was fired up. A hog was shot, scalded,
scraped and in the cooling room before you knew it. Then there was the smoke
house with its pipeless old stove for burning only seasoned hickory, the beams
for holding the hams and sides to be smoked. When smoking time came the delicious
odors were carried down wind clear to the river. There is no daintier perfume
in the world than a pork side that has reached the smoking stage where a little
of the fat is beginning to drip from its bottom edge. Of course butchering always
meant a balloon for me, too as the pigs’ bladders, when blown up, were
practically indestructible - until they began to dry out and crack. Sausage went
down in ten gallon jars with melted fat poured over it to seal off the air. In
January it could be chopped out of the jars with a hatchet and served with pancakes.
As many a sixty or seventy people were sometimes fed in the big dining room.
Grandfather presided in quiet dignity while the first, second, and even third
setting ate. There would be chicken and turkey and beef and pork on the table,
not to mention the jams and jellies and bread and two or three kinds of potatoes
and two or three kinds of pie and cake. It was a job to serve a meal for there
might be as many as a dozen grandchildren standing, wide-eyed and hungry, around
the walls and getting underfoot. I often thought I would starve or the food would
run out before my time to eat came. But the time always came and there was always
plenty for us. The hired girl would be there, too with her fly shooer. The shooer
was a six foot stick to which had been tacked a shredded newspaper. It was her
job to shoo the flies from the table and there are always flies in hot weather
Somethings on the farm were bought in town. Then there were the itinerant peddlers
who came through. Their visit always meant new cloth for a dress for someone,
or new pans for the kitchen. I recall the photographer, too. He drove a rickety
wagon with a large body built on it that served him as home and studio. Grandfather
decided the whole family should be made into one picture. But the size of the
family and the smallness of the studio forbad. Ingenuity solved that one. Grandfather
and the boys, dressed in their best, were seated in the far end of the studio.
A picture was taken. Then Grandmother and the girls took their places on the
same spot. The two photos were put together on the same stiff cardboard and there
was the family group in one picture!
There was almost always company. One old lady, a relative, but I’ve forgotten
what degree, came often. She was the one with the long, high-collared, black
alpaca dress with enormous pockets, and I doubt if she even knew how many petticoats.
She was a domineering person, but she, too, stood just a little in awe of Grandfather
and deferred to him almost as much as I did. Her pockets, though, were loaded.
In one she had a pound sack of tobacco and a clay pipe with a bamboo stem. I’ve
seen her fill her pipe then reach into the kitchen stove, take up a coal of fire
in her bare fingers, lay the coal on her pipe and calmly puff it alight. As a
consequence those two fingers were scored with fire to the toughness of a steer’s
horn, but matches cost money and she had learned the trick back in the days before
matches. In fact she was the one who told me the story of the log cabin. I recall
the picture of that cabin quite vividly, but do not remember whether or not the
picture came out those bottomless pockets. Anyway the cabin was complete even
to the drying coonskin tacked on the wall alongside the door.
Members of her family had lived in the cabin and Indians had come for a visit.
Whether they were hunting food, or whiskey I’ve forgotten, but I recall
shivering when she told me about the baby. The Indians somehow became angry and
had wiped out the family. The baby they had taken by the heels and bashed its
head in by swinging it against the log corner of the cabin.
Other visitors came. Gypsies, and peddlers with packs on their backs and just
stragglers through the country. Stragglers like Appleseed Johnny who ate apples
continually and always planted the seeds for he considered himself a disciple
who must plant the country side with apple trees. Appleseed Johnny was before
my time and so were the James boys, Frank and Jesse, but I recall hearing tales
told of them around the evening fire in the living room. That living room gathering
was a winter’s night institution. There were red apples and popcorn and
Grandfather reading from the Bible while Grandmother sewed or just rocked and
Grandmother was the doctor and every one of the fifteen children were raised
to maturity and married off. She must have been a good doctor to have done that
when she had only her common sense and no particular training to carry her through.
But none of the children had ever seen a surgeon’s knife, nor been to a
hospital. Fifteen pairs of tonsils and fifteen healthy appendix grew up and left
that big house still perfectly healthy and intact. In fact, when the doctor,
who came to that country later, was stuck with a case he always said, “Call
Grandmother Susan. She knows more about sick people than I do.”
her remedies may, by modern standards, seem crude, but results were what counted.
There was sheep dung tea for measles. Cow manure poultices for sore muscles and
pains. However, the manure must be fresh and warm. Sulfur and molasses for the
spring blood thinning, and a few drops of kerosene on a spoonful of sugar for
croup. Raw turpentine and soap and water were the disinfectants for open wounds,
and a man could dance a real jig when that turpentine was poured into a deep
cut. It burned with all the sting and smart of a coal of fire.
Then there was the quart bottle of castor oil from the buggy shed. It served
its usual purpose, also it was poured on the buggy axles when they and the fifth
wheel needed greasing. I’ve seen my father pick up that bottle and take
a swig as if it was water but the thoughts of it made me hurry away for fear
I might be next. Somehow, I suspect the main idea of treating the sick was much
as it is today, vix: something must be taken and it doesn’t matter much
what it is as long as it does not taste good.
Everything was not work and slave on the farm. There were bee trees on the river
bottom and some of them yielded as much as a couple of washtubs of sweet honey.
There were red fox squirrels, too, which were delicious either fried or made
into a squirrel pie. Cottontail rabbits were always in the corn shocks, and prairie
chicken and coon and possum for the night hunts with hound dogs.
Fox, too, were
there but they usually ran a pack of dogs to death by switching foxes. They were
clever about that. When the dogs got the trail of a fox it always
ran for the high ridges so we did not follow the dogs as with coon and possum,
but went directly to the nearest ridge, built a fire and settled down to wait
until the chase came to us.One night it did and we saw the foxes switch. The
dogs had run this one for some time then he pointed for the ridge. We could hear
the baying coming closer and
closer and knew that soon the fox would be near. A tall snag of a stump was close
by and we, all of us on our feet now and listening breathlessly, were looking
that way. The baying dogs were close and the fox could not be far away. Then
we saw him streaking low as he came from the brush. Our fire was big and the
stump was lighted plainly so we saw him take a desperate leap into the air and
light on top of the stump. Then another fox streaked from the brush made a quick
circle of the stump and took off through the brush. The first fox made a long
leap at right angles to the scent he had left when he came up, broke his trail
and took off again. Then the dogs burst into the ring of light, picked up the
scent of the second fox, and followed, baying excitedly. Those two foxes ran
our pack of dogs off their feet that night by switching off so the dogs were
always chasing a rested fox.
Grandfather went on these trips occasionally but only when he could use the team
and buggy. I don’t know whether he had no interest in hunting or whether
he considered it a waste of time. It did lack dignity. Fragmentary memories consist
of the bullet mold that had doubled as forceps for pulling teeth. The candle
molds and the old spinning wheel. The fact that, so I was told, none of the boys
wore shoes except in the winter. Bare feet can get awfully cold when hunting
cows on a frosty morning as I can well testify. But the remedy is always handy,
namely: find a cow that is laying down, case her up and stand where she lay.
That ground is always warm.
The old muzzle loader that my father loaded experimentally
no one would shoot it, so he put the butt against a log, tied a string to the
trigger, hid behind a tree and jerked. The gun blew up. The gourd vines that
grew on the garden fence. Why, I do not know but they were always there. One
gourd was used, however, as a dipper in the well. The smell of honeysuckle and
lilac, heavy on the evening air and the rustling of the tall cottonwoods back
of the house.
The grown cousins who helped with the housework. They always drew a flock of
beans on Saturday night. Grandfather watched tolerantly as if he had seen it
all many times and no doubt he had. I got in on that, for the beans would bring
five or ten cent bags of jelly beans or peppermint hearts. The hearts came in
different sizes, were flat and had amorous
slogans printed on their sides. The slogans went something like this: “Take
a bite, my sweet and be mine,” or something just as touching. There was
always kiss me gum. It came in squares held together by a rubber band and it
was real piracy when I got a whole square for myself, as each large square was
usually broken into four small thin ones no more than half an inch across. A
mere taste to my cavernous mouth. But this pirating of sweets was not destined
to last forever as now it was our turn to move to the little cottage a half mile
to the West. That small two-roomed house with its barn and five acres of land
was known all over the countryside as Squire Miller’s Weaning Cottage.
I believe everyone of the fifteen children had their turn at it. The house was
comfortable and the barn was just large enough for a team of horses and a couple
of cows. There was sufficient land for pasture and a large garden and pig pen.
Moving to the Weaning Cottage was like a bird being pushed from the nest when
it came time to fly. It meant The Squire was through. Rent your own land. Start
our own farm. You were always welcome to come home to borrow needed farm machinery
that you were not able to buy. You could come for seed corn, or oats, or to borrow
additional horses for harvesting, or to work on The Squire’s five hundred
acres and in return had hired men sent over to help you with your rented ones.
You were always welcome to come home on Sundays and holidays and for advice,
which was freely given and seldom wrong; or for help in sickness, or need. But
you were on your own when it came to making your living.
The system must have worked well for everyone of those fifteen children made
good, mostly on farms. Some died wealthy. Two of them are still living, but each
went forth and obeyed that biblical phrase, “Go forth and be fruitful.” In
fact, they were terribly fruitful, for a man who in later years married into
the family, told me, “when I first came here I was afraid to kick a yellow
dog for fear he would yell, “I’m a Miller!”
My Grandfather Murray I might call my Romantic Grandfather. He was full
of fun, he liked a joke whether on himself or someone else. And he had known
and worked with Kit Carson and Buffalo Bill! He was County Tax Collector when
I, his first grandchild, came along and he lived in a big house on a hill in
Grant City, Missouri. I was born in that house and one of the earliest recollections
of it that I have is of Lucy. My Grandmother’s father had been a southern
plantation owner and Lucy was born of a slave mother on that plantation the same
day my Grandmother came into the world. She and Lucy had grown up together and
when Grandmother reached the age of marriage, Lucy became her personal maid.
Lucy had gone with Grandmother when Grandmother was married, had crossed the
plains with her in a covered wagon and when the slaves were freed, Lucy’s
loyalty made her stay on. Grandfather took her into the family and she lived
as one of them until the day, in Kansas, when she stepped on a rusty nail got
blood poisoning and died.
Lucy ruled the kitchen, where she cooked, and had her bedroom just off it and
when I came along she adopted me and proceeded to spoil me in every way she knew,
and she was an expert at it. I learned to run away and Mother would tie me to
one of the big maples in the front yard. Lucy, kindly soul that she was, would
slip around the house, untie me and take me to her realm and no one dared to
come after me - that is, if they had a whipping in mind.
Father was selling organs, the tall fancy kind that you pumped with your feet
while playing. He had a team and a buckboard and his hefty sample was carried
in the buckboard from farm to farm. He knew a few cords on the organ and he would
tilt his hat to one side of his head and play those cords with such confidence
that he had quite a reputation as a musician, though that was all the music he
did know. I remember one time when he came in from his trip around the countryside
and told of an experience that made Grandfather howl with glee.
It seems Father was looking for a prospect and drew up to a farmhouse that seemed
a likely place. No one answered his knock on the front door so he proceeded around
back. No one answered there either, but he heard a noise in what appeared to
be a smokehouse out back. Thinking the lady of the house might be there doing
her wash, he confidently walked down the path, stepped through the doorway and
stopped dead in this tracks.
There was no light in the single-roomed building except that which came over
his shoulder. However, it was plenty for him to see the figure that raised up
off the bed in the corner and to the tune of clanking chains, came shuffling
toward him. It was a tall man, huge he seemed in that semidark room. He had a
long, matted beard and shoulder length white hair. His clothing was merely rags
that hung on his gaunt body like they had been draped there. He was barefooted
and his toes were gone and there were chains on his ankles. As he raised his
hands to the level of his staring eyes Father saw that his fingers, too, were
gone and that there were chains on his wrists.
The yell of sheer terror that Father let out must have been terrible, to hear
him tell it. He looked no farther for his prospect but, coattails flying, he
took off for anywhere. Somehow, he went the wrong way out toward the orchard
still farther from the road and his rig. There he ran into a man cutting hay
with a scythe. He told the man what he had seen and the man sat down on the ground
and howled at Father’s bug-eyed terror. When the man had wiped away his
tears and gotten his breath he told Father who it was Father had seen.
The big bony man in rags was a family relative. He had gone crazy and one night
in the dead of winter escaped from the asylum where he had been. His fingers
and toes had been so badly frozen they had had to be removed. The family, not
wanting a similar accident, had brought the crazy man home, but they had to keep
him chained or he would wander away. It was a pathetic thing to have happen,
but, under the circumstances the best the family could do. Father drove away
without even mentioning the organ. He had forgotten it completely. But Grandfather’s
laughter when he heard the tale, brought, even Lucy, from her quarters and into
the white folks part of the house.
It was shortly after this that we moved to Grandfather Miller’s, then to
the Weaning Cottage and from there to town where we got a Big House of our own
and Father went into business. Then Grandfather Murray, now retired, bought a
house in the same small town and came to live just a few blocks from us. It was
then I really began to know him and hear his tales of the far west. He was as
interested in hunting and fishing and trapping as I was and despite his rheumatism,
and the pain from fourteen wounds on his body, he began teaching me these arts.
He gave me my first 22 rifle, an old, octagon barreled, single shot Stevens with
a bone sight and a broken shell ejector. As a result I had to carry a ramrod
when I went hunting and each time I fired the gun I ran the ramrod down the barrel
to drive out the spent cartridge casing. But the gun shot true and under Grandfather’s
tutelage I was soon able to shoot a match stick in two as far away as I could
see the match.
He liked to fish and we would go out with a horse and buggy and fish for hours,
even when his legs pained so badly he had to walk with a cane. We had a fishing
trip planned for the day he died. That night he awoke, said he was not feeling
well and went into the living room and sat in his favorite rocking chair. He
sat there rocking for a few minutes and pitched to the floor, dead. And so passed
one of the most wonderful men it has ever been my good fortune to know. He was
kindly and generous and full of fun and good stories. There was the one when
he got the sword in his knee.
Grandfather was serving as a guide and scout and interpreter for Government troops
keeping order in the Indian Country. Kit Carson, then an Army Colonel, was in
command of these scouts. They were out with a company of Army Cavalry to run
down and chastise a group of marauding Apaches. They found the Apaches and the
fight started. A trooper was shot out of his saddle and an Indian grabbed up
his fallen saber. The Apaches were fighters and as Grandfather told it this group
was in the middle of it. The Indian with the saber was afoot and Grandfather
was on horseback. The Indian stabbed upwards hoping to run the saber through
Grandfather’s middle. Grandfather’s gun was empty so he stuck out
a leg to fend off the blow. The point of the saber caught him just below the
knee cap, passed under it and the point came out well above the cap. Someone
shot the Indian but the saber was stuck there and in that fight there was no
chance to get it out. It hung, dangling, bouncing up and down with every jump
of Grandfather’s horse. And every bounce was an agony that seared itself
into his brain. The Indians routed, they laid Grandfather on the ground and pulled
the saber out by sheer jerk and yank. The wounded were then moved to camp and
tents. Grandfather said Buffalo Bill and Kit Carson both came to see him, but
he was not interested in company just then.
Then there was the one when a small detachment was sent from Fort _________ to
find an overdue stage coach. Comanches were on the prowl in that neighborhood
and it was feared they had intercepted the coach. The detachment was several
miles from the fort when they found the Comanches and were surrounded on a small
hill. They killed their horses for a fort and settled down for a fight. As Grandfather
explained it there are two ways of forting with horses. One was to lead them
into a small circle shoot them and as they fall shove their bodies into position
so they form a wall behind which the beleaguered could hide. The second way to
fort is to draw your knife across the horses jugular vein. As he bleeds, his
knees begin to buckle, then, at the right moment a shove of your shoulder puts
him where you want him. This method has the advantage of saving precious ammunition
and of not emptying your gun at a moment when you might need it.
True to form, these Indians rode in a yelling, screeching circle just out of
gunshot. It was open prairie country not far from the old Santa Fe Trail and
an Indian rush could be spotted a mile away. However the Indians did, at time,
rush, hiding behind their ponies, shooting under the ponies’ necks, both
bullets and arrows.The white men killed a few Indians, but the Indians were getting
some of the white men. To make matters worse it was dry, hot weather and by the
next day the dead horses were beginning to bloat. Water was running low and the
dead soldiers were beginning to swell inside their clothes. As best they could,
within the narrow confines of their fort of bloated horse-bodies the survivors
scraped holes in the sandy ground and buried their dead comrades. But more of
The Comanches were out for scalps and they did not give up the fight. Three days
passed. There was still plenty of ammunition but the water was gone and the hot
sun and wind were sapping the strength of the little group of white men inside
that rotting fort. They stopped perspiring. Saliva dried up. Their throats began
to feel cottony then, after a time, they lost the power of speech. Still the
Indians stayed so there was no way out. At last help came in the form of a second
detachment of soldiers sent out to find them. The stagecoach driver had heard
of the Comanches and left the usual road to drive through hidden draws, making
the Fort safely. Grandfather said the men on that little hill spent the remainder
of their ammunition in the wild celebration they had when those fresh troopers
rode into sight and the Comanches fled.
There was humor, too, in the stories he told as for instance the one of the cavalry
troop and the patched pants. Troopers, in those days, wore heavy, blue uniforms
and they spent days in the saddle. As a consequence the seat of their pants got
more wear than any other part of their clothing. The Quartermaster wagons were
not always available to issue new uniforms. Boots that reached almost to the
knee were also a regulation issue, so the troopers would cut off their trouser
legs leaving just enough to tuck into the boot tops and use this as clothing
seat patches. But when both trouser legs are gone, you were on the trail, no
Forts with new issue uniforms to hand, and the last patch on the seat of your
pants worn through. What to do?
One group solved the issue neatly. There were always Quartermaster wagons hand
with food and flour. After one long and particularly hard trip into the Southwestern
mountains on the trail of Apaches almost every pair of pants in the troop was
seatless. Some wag got the group together and they fixed it. Every man went to
the Quartermaster wagon that hauled the flour and then went to his blankets and
set to work with needle and thread. Next morning at mount each man blossomed
out in blue uniformed trousers. But sewed to the seat of each pair of pants was
a large white flag attesting to the virtues of Smith’s Best Blend of Flour.
And there were sacks of flour in the Quartermaster’s wagon, but there was
not one of then that did not have the label cut out with a hunting knife.
These tales were not only interesting to me but they also fascinated a certain
minister. I’ve been told his name and denomination but time has removed
the names form my memory. However, this minister began writing Grandfather’s
biography and the Kansas City Star ran it serially as it was written. I’ve
seen old, yellow clippings of the story Grandfather had taken from the paper.
Many must have been missing as I recall seeing only one or two. However, the
minister died before he finished the biography, and his widow would not part
with the manuscript so it could be finished. As a result Grandfather’s
biography was never published.
And there was Shungopavi. He was an Indian and a graduate of Carlisle. His father
was Chief of the Moquis. Grandfather knew the Moquis tribe well and Shungopavi
came to our little town as a speaker on the Chantanqua platform. Someone told
him of Grandfather and the Indian went to Grandfather’s house for a visit.
I recall how another boy and I stood around watching in awe as this tall, straight
Indian went into the house. But when he came out we began to wonder it the Indians
weren’t going sissy. Did he let out a war whoop; or try to scalp Grandfather;
or do a war dance on the lawn? No, he did none of these things. He kissed Grandfather
Nevertheless, he was still an Indian and perhaps all Indians were going soft.
The kissing in no way dulled our interest in hearing Shungopavi speak and we
were all in the Opera House that night at eight o’clock. I recall as vividly
as though it happened yesterday, the sentences with which Shungopavi opened his
speech. The Chantanqua manager came to the platform to introduce the speaker
of the evening. I don’t remember what he said. But when Shungopavi stepped
from the wings! Here was an Indian! Tall, straight, in beautifully fringed, beaded
and quilled buckskin, and a war bonnet that would make a dead chief roll over
with envy. Here was a real live Indian!
And he spoke in faultless English. He said, “The gentlemen who introduced
me has just saved his own life. He pronounced my name correctly. I have been
called Shungopoki, Shungopeveo, and dozens of other names, but in the last city
where I spoke the gentleman who introduced me called me Shungopaki. That was
the final insult and I reached out my hand with the intention of scalping him,
but low and behold, nature had beat me to it. Shungopavi set off a string of
Indian games with my friend and myself. Next day we were after Grandfather to
make us bows and arrows. He showed us how to cut and season hickory for the bows.
He showed us how to straighten a stick in our teeth for making an arrow. He showed
us how to feather those arrows. But when it came to fitting a metal point to
the arrows he balked. There was danger there. Nevertheless, for some weeks, the
surrounding woods were the scene of many Indian raids by two young Indians with
bows and arrows. However, those two Indians wore overalls instead of fringed
buckskin and eagle feather war bonnets.
There was the time Grandfather got an arrow in the back. This was a real arrow.
An Indian arrow. He was riding Pony Dispatch between Army Forts. Pony Dispatch
must not be confused with the well known Pony Express of Buffalo Bill. Pony Dispatch
was the duty of carrying a dispatch cased with Army papers between the widely
scattered military Posts. A man was given two of the fastest, best winded horses
on the Post. Both horses were saddled and bridled and had been trained to run
side by side no matter what the circumstances.This particular time Grandfather
set out with the two horses for the nearest Army Post some two or three days
away. He threw his dispatch case, or saddle bag as it was called, across the
horse, climbed on and was off. The other horse, true to its training, kept pace
at his side. Two hours of this and he switched himself and the bags to the other
horse, letting the first horse run free of weight and giving it a rest of sorts.
Days were traveled in this manner, switching back and forth from horse to horse.
Then the Indians jumped him and the race started. One man alone with two horses
running neck and neck. Both horses saddled, bridled and with guns tied to their
saddles. A good man could toss that dispatch case from one horse to the other
and change himself without touching a foot to the ground. Then the Indians began
to gain. They were shooting now, shooting with their old Henry Rifles and bows
and arrows. Wild shooting it was, but one lucky shot was all that was needed.
Grandfather’s horse began to lag a bit. An Indian got close and that luck
bullet hit the lagging horse. It stumbled. It’s knees began to buckle.
In one wild leap Grandfather and the dispatch case were on the fresh horse.
The arrow hot then, just on top of Grandfather’s right shoulder blade.
The bone stopped deep penetration, but it hurt and it hung there flapping with
every leap of his madly running horse. The wounded horse was gone, left far behind
by the chase. The Indians had no horses to switch to. Soon they were left far
behind and Grandfather pulled the arrow free himself. The scar became just another
one of the fourteen he could count.
Then there was the way to catch a wild horse. It took a lot of maneuvering. A
lot of belly-crawling in the high grass or through scraggly sage. But sometimes,
if you were lucky, it got you a fine, tough, long winded, good running horse.
The method? Simple when you knew how. But tricky. First find your band of wild
horses and pick the one you wanted. Then began the job of maneuvering yourself
within close gunshot distance. When you were in position and the horse you had
picked was standing just right, you put a bullet through the roots of his mane.
If you shot one inch too high, the whole band was gone and that was the end of
that. If you shot one inch too low the band was gone anyway and you had a dead
horse. But if you could place that bullet just right your horse would drop like
he had been axed. However, the apparent death was only temporary as the bullet
shocked the horse like a good right uppercut to the chin shocks a man into insensibility.
You would have plenty of time to get a rope on your horse before he came out
of it. After that it was up to you, and the horse.
Fort Laramie, Fort Bridger, Santa Fe, names of romance and adventure! Tales of
grizzlies, and snakes and Apaches on the warpath hunting scalps, until, at night,
I would go to bed trembling with fear and certain that there was an Indian crouching
behind every chair and a shaggy grizzly under the bed waiting for me to go to
sleep so he could satisfy his hunger. I suppose, today, a psychiatrist would
say these bloody tales had, somewhere, left a hideous scar on my subconscious
mind. If so, it is a pleasant scar and one with which I would not willingly part.
In return for the stories and the fishing trips Grandfather found jobs for me
to do. There was the hickory for his canes. He would describe just the kind of
a piece of wood he wanted, then hatchet in hand I would take to the hills. I
usually brought in a half dozen pieces as near the kind he wanted as I could
find. He would select two or three and discard the rest. These two or three he
would cut to length then put the ends in the wash boiler. Then came the boiling.
The boiler filled and on the stove, the hickory ends would be boiled and boiled
for hours until they became supple and easily bent.
They then were put in the form he made and bent and wired to hold the bend. Then
set aside to cure. After a session of curing the wire was removed from the bent
end and there was the crook. The draw knife and the wood vise in the toolshed
were the next steps. Knots were trimmed off, the bark was sanded down to glass
smoothness, varnish was applied and there was a new cane.
Then there was the time he had a bronchial cough and nothing the doctor gave
him did any good. So I was called in again. I was handed the hatchet and asked
if I knew where a wild cherry tree grew. Of course I did. So I was told to go
to that tree and with the hatchet trim off the bark and bring it to him. This
I did and the bark went into the oven to dry. When it was crisp and brittle it
was put in a pan of water and sugar and boiled until most of the water was evaporated
away. The whole concoction was then strained through a cloth until only a dark,
brownish sweet tasting syrup was left. This syrup was taken in teaspoonful doses.
Whether or not the cherry bark syrup cured the cough I cannot say, but the cough
left, which, after all, was the important thing.
Grandfather had a thousand acres of land in Kansas some five miles out of Garfield,
Pawnee County. Somehow, I don’t recall the circumstances which brought
it about, but we moved down there, and shortly afterwards Grandfather came, too.
He owned a Big House in town. There was a pond in the yard and it drew so many
snakes he had it filled. Snakes were all over that country. Snakes, sandhill
cranes, ducks, geese, plover, coyotes, and jack rabbits. The snakes were of the
harmless variety. Bull snakes, hognosed adders, puff adders, and the like. I
recall riding on the wagon while Dad would be gathering cowchips to burn in the
kitchen stove. The technique was simple enough. The hot sun and wind would soon
dry out the cow dung until it was a brittle, grayish plate-like substance that
made an excellent fire.
There were no fences in the country and a man with a wagon could start straight
across it making a beeline for his destination and certain nothing would stop
him. We did that with the wagon, me driving, Dad walking. Cattle ran free and
cowchips were plentiful. You merely slid the pitchfork under the chip and tossed
it into the wagon box. But sometimes those chips would straighten out in mid
air. Walking and tossing, walking and tossing often got monotonous. No wonder
a coiled snake, at the first fleeting glance, looked like a cowchip. Snakes were
often tossed into the wagon, then had to be fished out.
Our house stood on a hill overlooking the Arkansas River Valley and, in season,
it was not unusual to see two and sometimes three tornadoes going up that valley.
One day one of them headed for our hill and we headed for the cyclone cellar.
But, fortunately at the foot of the hill the tornado split in two, one part going
around one side of our hill, and the other going the other way so the house was
Our nearest neighbor lived in a sod house with a pole and slough-grass roof in
a little valley about a mile away. All they ever had to eat was beans. That I
learned from a boy about my age, who lived there. What his father did I don’t
know. But the thoughts of that slough-grass roof gave me shivers. We had the
same kind of a house for our chickens and that roof was a rendezvous for three,
four and even five foot bull snakes. They were always rustling around in that
dry grass when we went for the eggs. And they got some the eggs, too.
All this was nothing new to Grandfather. He knew that country well, but it was
tough on Father. He was no farmer and was not destined to live there long for
we moved back to Iowa. But Grandfather doted on it. The Arkansas was handy for
fishing. Jack rabbits and coyotes made good targets for shooting and in spring
and fall the ducks and geese were flying in clouds.
He would take me out in the buggy and he pointed out the route of the old Santa
Fe Trail. Then it was marked by granite markers set up by the DAR. Some people
even claimed to be able to make out the old wagon tracks across that wide prairie,
but to my inexperienced eye they were not visible. However, I did learn to pick
out the old buffalo wallows, now grass grown. There were depressions in the land
where water and mud gave great shaggy beasts a chance to wallow and cool off
and incidentally plaster themselves with a coat of muddy armor that would keep
off the pesky flies. It also loosened their long hair at shedding time.
It was on one of these trips Grandfather pointed out the very hill where he and
the soldiers had been surrounded by Indians. By coincidence, the ground was being
plowed for the first time, and the man turned up the bones of the men and horses
that had died there long years before. It gave Grandfather a start and brought
back all those horrible memories of the torturing thirst and men dying there
in the hot sun. Quiet and subdued, we drove away from that hill and did not go
The Santa Fe railroad followed the river here and Mexican section hands were
always at work somewhere along those rails. I was destined, in years to come,
to work with them myself, but I had no thought of it then. One day we came upon
a group of them lining track and Grandfather stopped and began talking with them
in Spanish. I stood, slack-jawed, listening to their unintelligible gibberish,
as I thought it, but the Mexicans were eating it up. The white man was talking
their language. They laughed and clapped each other on the shoulder, but they
were respectful to Grandfather.
When we had left my questions came in a torrent. But Grandfather just laughed
them off then began teaching me the gibberish as it seemed to me. Soon I could
count to a hundred, but that was all the Spanish I learned then, or ever.
Humor, drama, romance, Santa Fe, Indians, shooting, racing for your life, all
these things he told me. I had all the five cent Street and Smith thrillers right
in the family. It was a bloody life, the day of an eye for an eye and a tooth
for a tooth and it better be the other man’s tooth first, or it would be
That was how the Story of the Massacre in the Snow struck me. It was Apaches
again. They had a warlike reputation and were slippery as greased pigs when it
came to escaping into the hills. A group of them had raided a small village not
far from Santa Fe, killing or carrying off to slavery, every white person in
the place. Troops were sent out to catch the Indians. Grandfather was with the
troops and they tracked the Apaches into the mountains. The Indians evidently
thought they had baffled their pursuers for they made camp in the hills. Their
teepees were set up, their squaws and children were with them, and then the troopers
rode up through the snow. The fight was short and bloody and when the soldiers
rode away Grandfather said that not a single Indian, man, woman, or child, was
left alive. The thoughts of it gave me the shivers, but I did not live back in
those eye for an eye days. Protection for your life and property and the search
for food were the three most important things a man lived for then.
Food meant almost constant hunting. Buffalo, antelope, deer. He told me the technique
for getting a nice fat antelope. They were curious beasts, and were swift, so
swift and wary that man took advantage of their curiosity in order to kill them.
On hands and knees the hunter crept as close to a bank of them as possible, then
he tied his handkerchief or neckerchief to his ramrod, held it just above the
tall bunch grass and began waving the improvised flag back and forth. The antelope
would spot this waving rag instantly and their innate curiosity would begin drawing
them close. The hunter, crouching in the grass, breathlessly watched then coming
nearer and nearer. Heads up, ears pricked forward, stepping daintily, ready at
the first suspicious sign to scatter and run with their white flags waving, derisively
at the disappointed hungry hunter.
It must have been hard work, squatting there, holding your fire, picking the
one that looked like it might be tender when roasted, and wagging that flag.
When they were close enough for a quick shot, you dropped your flag, raised your
gun and got your meat.
It was not a very sportsmanlike procedure, but it was practical and that was
what counted when you were out for food. And sometimes their food was very scarce.
Like the time Grandfather and some soldiers were in Northern Utah and ran out
of supplies. It was wintertime. Snow was on the ground and the game had gone
somewhere else to feed. Not even porcupines were to be found. The troopers were
thinking seriously of killing a horse when they rode into a village of Digger
Indians. The Diggers were not a warlike tribe, neither were they very advanced
as Indians went in those days. But they did have some food. It was corn, ground
into a meal and mixed with grasshoppers and locusts that had been cached from
last summer. Grandfather said it was the first and last time he every ate bugs,
but they weren’t bad. The cornmeal cakes tasted like nuts and had been
mixed with them. I suspect hunger had something to do with the flavor.
And there was the time in the Dakota Country when he went with the Army to negotiate
an Indian treaty. The commanding officer wished to impress the Indians with the
importance of the Great White Father in Washington, so, before negotiations were
started, he invited all the chiefs and sub-chiefs to a big dinner at his encampment.
The dinner was served with all the pomp and glory at the officer’s command.
There was course after course served very formally and at the end of each course
the officer would clap his hands. At the signal privates dressed in their best
white, would come into the tent remove the dishes and immediately serve the next
course. It was all quite impressive and something new to the Indians. As the
dinner came to a close and the speeches ended the main chief arose and invited
the commanding officer and his staff to his wigwam next day for a dinner. Of
course etiquette demanded acceptance and Grandfather went along as interpreter.
They were ushered into a big wigwam in the center of the Indian encampment and
seated cross-legged on the ground in a circle around the skin walls. The chief
clapped his hands even as the white men had done and in waddled a fat squaw with
an iron kettle. She set the kettle in the center of the circle and waddled out.
The accepted Indian etiquette was for each person to reach into the pot with
either his fingers or his knife, fish out a piece of meat and start eating. Grandfather
did as custom demanded. He said the meat was good, even delicious, but faintly
unfamiliar. He ran over a mental list, antelope, buffalo, cow, horse, porcupine,
venison, and none of them fitted. He had never eaten beaver pup as they were
mostly trapped out by the time he came to the mountains.
When the chief figured that each man had had plenty out of that pot he clapped
his hands. The squaw waddled in, took out the pot and another equally fat squaw
waddled in with a fresh pot of meat. All in all the chief, taking his cue from
the white man’s style of serving, clapped his hands thirteen times, and
thirteen times a fat squaw waddled in with an iron pot, every pot contained the
identical meat from the identical, huge pot that boiled on the fire outside.
Finally filled to the brim and still curious, Grandfather asked the feathered
and blanketed Indian at his elbow to name the meat they had eaten. The Indian
looked just a little disdainful at the white man’s ignorance as he replied, “Him
nice fat dog”.
WILLIAM B. MILLER