In the Old West men and horses were called upon to perform great feats. But no man and horse did more in a short period of time than John Phillips and a big gray thoroughbred.
It was a cold December in 1866. Fort Phil Kearny was being harassed by Red Cloud and his band of Sioux. On the 21st of December Captain John Fetterman and 80 men left the fort to chase after a small group of Indians. The Indians were decoys, and Fetterman’s command was ambushed. Within minutes everyone was killed.
It was necessary for someone to travel to Horseshoe Station, 190 miles away, and telegraph Fort Laramie for reinforcements. That responsibility fell on John Phillips. He wasn’t a member of the military, but a local prospector who had brought his family to the fort for protection.
Riding a big gray thoroughbred, given to him by the fort commander, John started on the trip wearing a buffalo coat to protect him from the severe cold spell they were having.
Hiding during the daylight hours, John still ran into war parties, but the long legged thoroughbred was able to outrun the smaller Indian ponies. On December 24th John arrived at Horseshoe Station, but they were unable to send a telegraph to Laramie, because the line was down…either the result of Indian activity or the weather. Jumping back on his horse, he rode the remaining forty miles to Fort Laramie. A Christmas party was in progress when John arrived. A half frozen John Phillips entered the hall, told his story, and collapsed on the floor. Early Christmas day a column headed for Fort Kearny.
Although, at the time no one thought the 230-mile ride from Fort Kearny to Fort Laramie was anything more than a long cold ride, but shortly afterward it reached the level of myth…a man and horse enduring devastating weather and wild Sioux to save a beleaguered garrison.