Old West History Archives

Cheyenne Chief Dull Knife

During the 1860’s and 70’s Dull Knife was one of the leading chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne. Early on, he realized the need to be at peace with the United States. But, what he saw happening worried him. For instance, in 1864, a group of Colorado militiamen attacked and killed a peaceful Cheyenne village at Sand Creek.
 
Although Dull Knife didn’t personally participate in the Little Big Horn, some of his warriors did. This resulted in their village being attacked the following winter while camping along the Powder River in Wyoming. Because of the loss of lives and supplies, he surrendered in the spring. 
In 1877, Dull Knife and his people were relocated from their homeland in Wyoming to the area that is now Kansas and Oklahoma. Not able to hunt on their traditional lands, and unable to live on government rations, a year later Dull Knife and his tribe started on a march back to Wyoming. Although Dull Knife had told everyone that his return was a peaceful one, the army looked upon them as renegades, and attacked them at every opportunity.
 
Again, they were captured and held at Fort Robinson in Nebraska. But, Dull Knife was determined, and he and about a hundred of his village escaped from Fort Robinson, and headed to Wyoming.
 
On January 22, 1879, Dull Knife had his last confrontation with the army. Although Dull Knife escaped, his remaining followers accepted their fate and returned to Fort Robinson. Dull Knife found refuge at the Sioux reservation with Red Cloud.
 
Four years later the government allowed the Northern Cheyenne to return to their traditional homeland.  But Dull Knife was not with them. He had died a few months earlier.

Alexander Todd Strikes “Gold” in 1849

Orlando RobbinsAlexander Todd got gold fever. But when he got to California he realized he didn’t have the physical stamina to work the gold fields.
 
However, it didn’t take Alexander long to see a need and fill it. The gold miners yearned for word from home. But the nearest post office was in San Francisco. It was a two-week trip there and back, and the miners couldn’t leave their claim that long.
 
So, on July 14, 1849 Alexander Todd started charging $2.50 to take a letter to the San Francisco post office. There was a $1.00 fee just to inquire if a miner had a letter at the post office, and $16.00 for each letter he brought back.
 
On his first trip some merchants wanted him to deliver $150,000 in gold to a company in San Francisco. He gladly did it, for $7,500.
 
When Alexander handed the clerk at the San Francisco post office the long list of names, the clerk showed his entrepreneurial capability. He swore Alexander Todd in as a postal clerk so he could search the stacks of letters himself. Incidentally, the clerk charged Alexander 25 cents for each letter he found.
 
That didn’t bother Alexander because he had discovered another way to make money. He bought a stack of old New York newspapers for a dollar each… which he sold for eight dollars back at the gold fields.
 
For his trip back to the gold fields Alexander bought a big rowboat for $300, and charged people to be transported back to the gold fields… and incidentally, they did the rowing. At the end of the trip he sold the boat for a $200 profit.
 
Alexander Todd made a fortune using what was to become known as goodold American ingenuity.

Harry Wheeler – Too Late For The Old West

Harry Wheeler
Harry Wheeler was born on July 23, 1875 in Jacksonville, Florida… the wrong part of the country and too late to be an active part of the wild Old West. But, today Harry Wheeler is considered one of the premier lawmen of that era we generally call the Old West.
 
Orphaned at the age of one, he was adopted by a military officer named William Wheeler. Raised around the military, Harry knew this was the life he wanted to live. But, he was unable to enter West Point. Some say it was because of his short stature.
 
This didn’t stop Harry from becoming a military man. He joined the 1st Oklahoma Cavalry until he had to retire because of an injury. When the Arizona Rangers were formed in 1903, Harry signed up. Four years later he became the Ranger’s top officer.
 
Harry Wheeler never shirked his duty. During 1904 in Tucson a man came running out of a saloon and told Wheeler, “Holdup inside! Don’t go in!”
 
Wheeler responded, “That’s what I’m here for,” and went inside and stopped the robbery by killing the holdup man.
 
After the Arizona Rangers were disbanded Wheeler was appointed a deputy U.S. Marshal for Tucson. Then he was elected the Sheriff of Cochise County. When World War I broke out Wheeler volunteered, and was sent to France as a captain. And to cap off his career, Harry Wheeler traveled Europe as a trick shooter with the Miller 101 Wild West Show.
 
One can only surmise that if Harry Wheeler had been born 25 years earlier, we would have talked about Wild Bill, Buffalo Bill, Wyatt and Harry all in the same breath.

The Hanging of Robber Tom Bell

hangingTom Hodges was a brilliant surgeon who served in the U. S. Army during the Mexican-American War. In 1855 he gave up his medical practice and headed out west to make his fortune in the gold fields. He soon found that the gold fields were a lot harder than he had thought. 
 
So, Dr. Hodges started down the slippery slope by becoming a gambler in the central California saloons. Not being a good gambler, he took to robbing travelers. Dr. Hodges was caught and sent to prison for five years. Not wanting to soil his name, during this time, Dr. Hodges became Tom Bell. After a short time Tom Bell, as we now know him and some other men broke out of jail. Continuing down the slope, Tom organized a gang.
 
On August 12, 1856 Tom Bell’s gang attempted to rob a stage carrying $100,000 in gold. But the Bell gang didn’t count on the resistance put up by shotgun rider, Bill Dobson. Quite a firefight ensued. In the process the Bell gang shot three passengers, killing one, a woman. Dobson, in turn, shot two of the Bell gang. 
 
Now, this was too much for the citizens. A half dozen different posses took after Tom Bell. One by one the Bell gang was caught, and each informed on the others.
 
Finally in October a posse lead by Judge Joseph Belt found Tom Bell. It didn’t set well with the Judge that Tom was entitled to a due process of the law. Tom was taken to a tree, and a rope put around his neck. They were compassionate though. They did allow him to write a letter to his mother before hanging him. 

The 1867 Hayfield Fight

The Hayfield FightThe Hayfield Fight: the year was 1867 and the Red Cloud War had been going on along the Bozeman Trail for almost two years. On August 1 some 500 Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho led by Dull Knife and Two Moon, attacked a small detachment of eight troopers and nine civilians that were led by Lieutenant Sternberg. At the time of the attack, Lieutenant Sternberg’s group was in the open crossing a hayfield. Fortunately, they were able to make it to the shelter of a nearby corral. Even more fortunately, the troopers and civilians had repeating rifles. 
 
The Indian’s traditional plan of attack against single shot, breech-loading rifles, would be to draw fire, and while the rifles were being reloaded, attack in force. But, with repeating rifles, the fire was constant. Stymied, the Indians decided to set fire to the hay field and burn out the whites. But it wasn’t to be. As the fire got close to the corral, a strong wind came up, and put it out.
 
By late afternoon, the Indians decided to take their fight elsewhere. During the Hayfield Fight, as it was called, 20 warriors were killed and more than 30 seriously wounded. For the other side, only Lieutenant Sternberg, two soldiers and one civilian were killed. 
 
The interesting thing about the conflict was that it took place near Fort C. F. Smith, where it could be seen and heard. Although Fort Smith contained a garrison of troops… none was ever sent. About seven months earlier at Fort Phil Kearny, Captain Fetterman and a command of eighty men were wiped out when they left their fort to help some woodcutters. It’s speculated that the commander was in fear of a repeat of the Fetterman Massacre. 
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