Freight rumbling through Black Hills
by Ed Cook, Contributing Writer
Freight wagons have started rumbling through on their way to the Black Hills. Their drivers and passengers bring news that an Iron Bridge over the Platte River near Fort Laramie is completed, making travel to the "forbidden lands of gold" much easier. It has been one thing to sneak into the hills on foot or horseback "on the dodge" from the military and the Indians. It was now a simple matter to cross the river with the wagons of the freighters. Four-horse teams and wagons coming through recently included L.D. Waln who was carrying freight at $.05 per pound and passengers at $10 each. W.H. Cole's outfit had 12,000 pounds of assorted merchandise including rice and a full laundry outfit of Al Hong and Hong Lee. Emil Faust, H.B. Young, Cuthbertson and Young also came through with loaded freight wagons.
Close behind them came Dick Dunne's six ox-teams with a sawmill and medical, dental and surgical supplies for Dr. James Lehane. They also carried a stock of store goods and hardware for James Droney.
The freighters also brought news that the Laramie County commissioners had on June 2 approved $5.000 to construct a road to the Black Hills. (Laramie County at this time extended from Montana to Colorado.) On Dec. 1 the Territorial legislature also passed legislation to establish a Territorial road to the Black Hills along the west side of the Hills. They also told that efforts to start stage, freight, and mail lines into the Black Hills were at a fever pitch in Cheyenne.
These freighters were going across the "sacred hunting grounds" in violation of the 1868 Treaty and negotiations had broken down to buy the Black Hills back from the Sioux. While the freighters and miners were violating the Treaty, the Indians were also doing their share of violations. Over 400 horses stolen from settlers near the Union Pacific had been trailed to the Sioux reservation. After the negotiations at White Earth River broke down, in the fall of '75, marauding Indians began serious depredations south of the North Platte River and sometimes to within 40 miles of Cheyenne. They raided stock ranchers, killed and scalped herders, and shot 25 head of cattle in an attack on a freight outfit near Bridger's Ferry on the North Platte.
Commissioner Smith of Indian Affairs admitted that the "experience of the last summer proved the utter impracticability of keeping American citizens out of country where gold exists, by any fear of a cavalry patrol or by any consideration of the rights of the Indians." He also said that he felt that the "display of military force in the Black Hills operated as the surest safeguard of the miners against the attacks of the Indians. Some of the miners have brought suits against the military officials for false imprisonment, and much embarrassment to both the Army and the Interior Department is the result."
Early in December, the commissioner of Indian Affairs ordered the Indian agents along the Missouri River to notify the Indians in the unceded territory that if they did not come into the agencies before Jan. 31, 18776, they would be regarded as "hostiles." This order did not reach the agents until late in December. The messenger to the Indian camps up in the Big Horn country did not get back to Red Cloud agency until early February. Because of the winter weather, the Indians remained in their camps in the north and did not come in to the agencies at the designated time.
Meanwhile Fort D.A. Russell and Fort Sanders hummed with activity as preparations were made to ready a campaign into the Big Horn country in pursuit of "hostile" Indians who had not returned to their reservations as ordered.
(Information Source: The Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage and Express Routes by Agnes Wright Spring.)