Old West Book Review: The Boys Of Company K

Boys Of Company KThe Boys of Company K, Lee M. Cullimore, High Plains Press (800-552-7819), $18.95, Paperback. 318 pages, Maps, Photographs, Notes to the Chapters, Bibliography, Index.

This book is a very carefully researched, well-written documentary about the men who volunteered to “go west” during the Civil War to fight Indians on the northern plains.  They marched on foot (horses were scarce due to the war back east) to Wyoming where they built forts, protected telegraph lines, lived in remote outposts where they were sometimes deprived of proper shelter, food and clothing.

The Eleventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, Company K is fascinating reading for anyone interested in the Plains Indians and their last days in relation to America’s Westward expansion.  Important skirmishes, battles and fights are chronicled here sometimes by the men themselves who wrote letters home to family members, or to their local newspapers.

The soldiers suffered greatly, sometimes putting up with commanding officers who did not always have their welfare in mind.  Food and supply shortages hindered camp life as did some horses who were little more than rugged Indian ponies bolting and bucking, offering more danger during emergencies than the Indians did.

Some letters included stories about Jim Bridger, a mountain man known for spinning wild yarns that entertained the troops.

The book is divided into sections beginning with “The Long Road to Laramie,” then comes “Life at the Fort”, which tells about such things as teamsters quarters, sutlers store, horse corrals and graveyard. Information covers daily drills, horse grooming, inspection and maneuvers, pulling guard duty or cutting wood.  Laundresses on “Soapsuds Row” charged one dollar per month which was taken immediately out of soldiers pay.  Terrible weather conditions included blizzards and sub-zero temperatures.  More than one soldier froze to death when caught overnight on the plains.  The term “firewater” came from the buyer tossing a splash of whiskey into a fire to see if it flared up.  If not, that meant the whiskey had been watered down.

By July 1862 Indian attacks along the Oregon Trail forced the migration of travelers to stop for a while to allow time for soldiers to ride to the rescue.  The government was worried that Indians could stop communication between East and West.  Stage holdups, cut telegraph lines, and attacks on freighters kept the soldiers riding day and night.

For three years the men battled hot dry summers, cold winters, hail storms, sudden drops in temperature, unrelenting thunder storms, lice, poor rations, barren living quarters and always Indians.  Readers get a glimpse of a soldier’s life on the lonely prairie where death could come at any moment.

The book tells of some chiefs who came to the fort with their followers seeking peace, food and a chance to voice their opinions concerning white people who had invaded their land and driven away buffalo and deer previously found in abundance.

The boys were glad when the 1866 they were told they were finally going home to Ohio.  This time they rode their horses on the trip.  Some friends were left in graveyards, killed by Indians, disease, and even suicide.

This book covers an important chapter in our Old West history that has been overshadowed by the eastern fighting during the Civil War time period.  This chronicle is a must read for anybody interested in the Plains Indians Wars during the 1860s.

Editor’s Note:  The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de La Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including Hell Horse Winter of the Apache Kid published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988 (845) 726-3434. Www.silklabelbooks.com

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE.

Sierra Mountains Telegraph Line

 For development to take place there has to be men of vision.  Men of vision developed the pony express to deliver mail to the western frontier faster than stagecoach.  Unfortunately for the pony express, at the same time other men of vision were developing a faster way to connect the east with the west.
One such man was Fred A. Bee. Fred lived in Virginia City, Nevada. On July 4, 1858 he and four partners started the Placerville, Humboldt and Salt Lake Telegraph Company. Carson Valley residents had passed a bond referendum for $1,200 toward the project, and so they started immediately. By fall of that year the telegraph had connected Placerville, California with Nevada. Six months later it arrived in Carson City, and finally it stretched all the way across Nevada.
 
In the process of doing this, they had to cross over the rugged Sierra Mountains. Less than ten years later the Central Pacific Railroad would spend about 20 million dollars crossing those same mountains. The ground was granite. The winds were strong, and the snow deep.
With limited funds and manpower Fred Bee decided that rather than blast holes in the granite for telegraph poles, they would string the wire on the pine trees that had been able attach themselves to the granite and withstand the winds and snow. So, the telegraph wire was strung from treetop to treetop with some spans of wire being quite long. This led people to nickname the Placerville, Humboldt and Salt Lake Telegraph Company, “Bee’s Grapevine Line.” But when it was completed, even the skeptics used it with pride.
 
Two years later Congress authorized constructing the Overland Telegraph Company, and Fred A. Bee’s Grapevine Line became a major link in the completion of the transcontinental telegraph.
 
 

Tombstone, Az. Sheriff John Behan

John Behan was the sheriff of Cochise County, the county that contained Tombstone, at the time Wyatt Earp was there. He was a friend of the cowboys, the political power at the time. We know of him as a foe of Wyatt. And, the result of movies about the O. K. Corral shootout, we know him as a corrupt lawman. But, just who was John Behan?
John Harris Behan was born in Missouri in 1845. As a young man he went to California, and then to Prescott, Arizona where he became the sheriff of Yavapai County. And, according to locals was trustworthy, brave and intelligent. He even served a couple of terms in the state assembly.
 
When Tombstone was founded Behan moved there. Then in 1881 Tombstone was made the county seat of the newly formed Cochise County, and Behan was appointed the county sheriff. The conflict between Behan and Wyatt Earp was probably more the result of two men displaying their testosterone than a conflict between good and bad.
 
After being voted out of office, Behan became the superintendent of the Territorial State Prison at Yuma, Arizona, the most severe federal prison in the southwest. Later Behan served as a U. S. agent along the Mexican border fighting smuggling. He joined the military during the Mexican-American War. And continuing his service to his country, served as a “secret agent” for the United States in China during the Boxer Rebellion.
Finally, at the age of 67, on June 7, 1912, after spending most of his life in service to his government, he died in Tucson, Arizona.
 
I believe you can agree John Harris Behan was much more than just a corrupt sheriff who opposed Wyatt Earp.

Old West TV – Bucky O’Neill

On this episode of Chronicle of the Old West TV Dakota Livesay tells us about Old West journalist and Rough Rider Bucky O’Neill. Bucky was portrayed in the film Rough Riders by Sam Elliot.

Chuckwagon: Sourdough Cornbread

This recipe comes from the Hashknife Outfit of Winslow, Arizona.

1 cup starter.

Enough cornmeal to make a beatable batter.

1 ½ cups milk

2 tablespoons sugar

2 eggs beaten

¼ cup warm melted butter, or fat

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon soda

      Mix starter, cornmeal, milk, eggs and stir thoroughly in large bowl.  Stir in melted butter, salt and soda.  Pour into a 10 inch greased frying pan or Dutch oven, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE.

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