Historical Details

Rawhide: Creek, Buttes and Pageant

Courtesy of The Lusk Herald, 09/28/1950

Colorado Man Tells of Naming of "Rawhide Creek" in Neb.; Believes May Have Tieup With Story of Niobrara Pageant

Clarence Reckmeyer of Black Hawk, Colo. writes The Herald this week a story of unusual interest regarding the naming of a "Rawhide Creek" in Nebraska and other history that may possibly tie up with the story of the naming of our local Buttes. Mr. Reckmeyer's material, which follows, was sent first to the Wyoming State Historical Department for photostatting.

September 12, 1950
Editor of The Lusk Herald:

As I was born and lived in Fremont, Nebraska for 66 years, nearby a creek known as Rawhide Creek, the story of your annual "Skinning On The Rawhide" celebration was of especial interest to me.

I enclose you herein the story of how the Rawhide Creek at Fremont got its name - as told by the Fremont Tribune.

I was quite active in the study of old history in Nebraska, and over twenty years ago, I wrote letters all over the United States in an attempt to ascertain if a man was ever skinned alive on the Fremont Rawhide and after about three years of research I concluded that the story was only a myth. I read in one old paper that a man named Wasson from Bureau County, Illinois was the man who was skinned at Fremont and finally located an uncle of his in Pasadena, California. I wrote and asked the Uncle if his nephew had been skinned. His reply was, "I have not seen my nephew for about 20 years, but when I last saw him he did not appear to have ever been skinned alive." As the incident was supposed to have taken place at a point about 30 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa, where the Mormon people published a newspaper from 1849 to 1852, when the town was known as Kanesville, it seemed clear that an account of the skinning would have appeared in that paper, as it was said to have happened in 1850. In the winter of 1929-39 I made a trip to Salt Lake City and went through the entire files of the 1849 to 1852 Frontier Guardian, but found nothing whatever in regard to the Fremont skinning, but on May 1, 1850 the following item appeared:

"The Galena (Illinois) Jeffersonian says, among the overland emigrants for California last spring, was Mr. Green, of Green's Woolen Factory, Fox River, and two of his sons, the youngest a youth. It is reported that while passing through a tribe of Indians, this young man, naturally full of mischief, killed a squaw. The tribe having become well advised of the fact, hastened after the company and overtook them, and demanded the murderer. At first the demand was resisted; but after the Indians had informed them that they would destroy the company if their request was not granted, the youth was surrendered into their hands. They then stripped him, and in the presence of his father and the whole company, they skinned him from his head to his feet. He lived four hours after he was thus flayed."

After reading this I corresponded with Illinois historical societies, but was unable to verify the account.

After the Mormons made their 1847 trip to Salt Lake, they published "The Mormon Emigrants Guide," which listed all of the rivers, creeks and camping places from Omaha to Salt Lake. The creek near Fremont, which was later called the Rawhide, did not have a name at that time as the guide only referred to it as "a creek with steep banks," but when they crossed the Rawhide near Fort Laramie, it was then listed as "Rawhide Creek." This appears to prove that your Rawhide antedated the Fremont Rawhide. In conversation with the late John Hunton at Torrington, some twenty years ago, Mr. Hunton told me that the story of the naming of the Wyoming Rawhide was about as follows. In about 1815, as far as he could figure, a band of French Trappers came down from Canada and one of their number killed or raped a squaw and was skinned in accordance with the usual story. As Mr. Hunton bunked with Jim Bridger at Fort Laramie in 1867, I placed considerable confidence in Mr. Hunton's story.

In chasing down this story, I ran across a tale in some historians writings that said this story just as previously related, occurred on the Mohave River - that mysterious river which has no outlet and disappears in the sands of the Mohave Desert southerly from Death Valley in California. In this particular story it is stated that when the moon is in its glory and the stillness of the night fills one with fear and awe, that the wails of the man who was skinned can be heard floating through space. I do not recollect what man wrote this book, but perhaps Miss Mary Elizabeth Cody of the Wyoming Historical Department in Cheyenne can inform us - it sort of runs in my head that the book of this Mohave (Mojave) story was written by a man named Stansbury.

Of course your Lusk story of the Rawhide must continue to be the REAL story, but tales of the other Rawhides will add interest to the scheme.

In order that the people of Fremont may know that they do not have a corner on this skinning business I have mailed the Lusk story as it appeared in the Denver Post to the Fremont Tribune. Even if this is all a fairy tale, let us recollect that people love fairy tales.


The feature article from the July 29, 1950 Fremont (Nebr.) Guide and Tribune, follows:

The name Rawhide Creek, long since become legend, was derived from the literal skinning alive by vengeful savages of a brash young immigrant who had shot and killed a woman of their tribe, for the mere sake of making good a boast that he would shoot the first Indian he saw.

The gruesome details are told, in somewhat florid style, in the diary of Arthur N. Ferguson, in the Union Pacific historical museum.

Ferguson, in 1866 a civil engineer on the location survey for the railroad, was a son of Fenner Ferguson, by presidential appointment the first chief justice of the territory of Nebraska.

During his spare time young Ferguson read Blackstone; after the completion of the railroad he finished his study of the law and was admitted to practice, first at Bellevue, later in Omaha, and subsequently became one of Nebraska's district judges.

The entry in the diary relates: "During the afternoon we crossed the Rawhide Creek, a small muddy stream, which an active man could jump across, and of note chiefly from the fact that a few years prior a white man was skinned alive and tortured to death upon its grassy banks, which circumstance gave rise to its present name.....

"In the early spring of the year 1849 a wagon train of about 15 wagons, comprising the families and household effects of a small band of emigrants, was slowly wending its way over the green and beautiful prairie, toward the golden land of the far-off Pacific.

"Among these emigrants was a young man of about 24 years of age, with his young wife, a bride of only a few months, his parents, and one married brother and his family.

"The entire group was from one neighborhood in the east, and were in fact all old acquaintances and neighbors.

"The young man, a hot-headed and impulsive youth, boasted at the time of crossing the Missouri River that he would shoot the first Indian he saw.

"And though taken to task by some of his associates for this expression, none believed that he was foolhardy enough to put his threat into execution.

At this time the different Indian tribes east of the Rocky Mountains were at peace with the whites, and a small handful of men could safely cross the vast plains and meet with no resistance; there was not the least danger to be apprehended of attacks by Indians.

"The most they would do would be to occasionally enter the camps of emigrants and annoy them by begging.

"This bright morning, after the little band had broken up their camp on the Elkhorn and moved but a few miles further west, and were in the vicinity of what is now known as the Rawhide Creek, then without any name, the people perceived an Indian sitting upon a log by the side of this creek a squaw it turned out to be, apparently enjoying herself in the bright sunshine of this beautiful spring morning...a sharp report startles all - the flash of a gun is seen.

"The Indian falls lifeless to the ground. Without thought and without a moment's warning, this mad young man has fulfilled his rash vow.

"The train halts - a few men go and visit the body, and find it in its last agonies. A half hour elapses, and the train is still by the banks of the creek and the side of the victim. In the distance, dust in clouds, way over on these high bluffs - see that dark body like a herd of buffalo rushing headlong!

"What is it? All eyes are intent upon this unknown moving mass. Nearer it came, like a whirlwind, until it is within a short distance of the camp, when the moving body is described to be Indians. They charge up, dismount, a few appear to be chiefs; they confer together for a moment, and then the entire band some 500 in number, with terrific yells surround the emigrants. A dozen or more savages advance in a body and demand that he who has thus wantonly killed the squaw be given into their possession. This is refused.

"The Indians draw closer until the little party is completely hemmed in. Again they demand the man, and threaten that if he be not at once given up they will kill the entire party, which threat they seem to be about to execute, as bows and arrows are unslung, guns brought to the front - some grasping their tomahawks and scalping knives. At last, as a final resort, the unfortunate man is given up. How fiercely they now yell, what horrid cries are sent fourth upon the air!

"The unfortunate man is now led and securely bound to a tree. The entire band of emigrants is forced to assume a position directly in front of the captive - his wife, parents, and brother within but a few feet of him. The savages dismount, surrounding the entire group. Two naked and stalwart Indians advance, strip the captive stark naked, and with scalping knives in hand, proceed to the horrid torture of skinning the man alive. Oh, how he cries out in agony! Soon he is deluged in his own warm, bright blood.

How agonized are his family and friends, and how they seek to shun the terrible sight, but are sternly forced to witness the details of the torture. Soon the victim is slashed and cut to pieces, the emigrants are liberated, and permitted to drive forth from this scene of horror. The little band rolls slowly westward, the Indians depart to their village, and in an hour's time no one, if passing, would dream of the horrors that had been committed amid the flowers and bright grasses of that beautiful locality."

In the course of the survey across Nebraska and Wyoming, several of the survey across Nebraska and the company's best civil engineers were killed and scalped by hostile Indians, among them some of Ferguson's friends.

His own party was attacked by bands of the savages on several occasions. The bitter hatred which developed in the minds of the white men toward these merciless and cruel enemies is illuminated by a letter attached to the fly leaf of the diary.

In this letter, written two years later at Fort Fred Steele, Wyo., Ferguson tells of an Indian attack, beaten off by soldiers from the fort, who had killed one of the hostiles, cut off the head and dismembered it as horrible souvenirs of the event. Ferguson added, "I have the bloody scalp hung up to dry, in my tent."

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