Old West History Archives

Freed Slaves Head West

It was early 1877. The Civil War had been over for more than ten years. But blacks still didn’t have the freedom they had hoped for. Tenant farming had replaced the plantation system. Because of the price of rented land, and supplies, the black farmer seldom broke even at the end of the year. So, they started looking for somewhere else that would give them true opportunity.
 
Prior to the Civil War, by the vote of the residents, Kansas had changed from a slave to a free state. Although blacks had moved to Kansas on an individual basis, the first serious attempt to establish a black colony was on March 5, 1877 when Benjamin Singleton led a group from Tennessee to Baxter Springs located in the southeast corner of the state. Cherokee County Colony, Singleton Colony, Hill City, and Nicodemus Town followed. Most failed because of poor leadership, the transient nature of the emigrants, and having only marginal land available for settling.
 
It’s estimated that between fifteen and twenty thousand blacks migrated to Kansas in just a two-month period. Realizing the loss of cheap labor, southern landowners tried to stop the migration with intimidation and attacks against those involved in the “Colored Exodus.”
 
The biggest obstacle for blacks was that they had little or no money when they started their trek to Kansas. Many had only the possessions they could carry on their backs. However, they were assisted with relief efforts along the route from churches and private citizens.
 
By 1879 word got back to the south that the Kansas immigrants were facing tremendous problems in establishing a new life, and almost as fast as it started, the Kansas immigration dropped off to a trickle, and stopped.
Stephen Austin

George Custer’s Favorite Scout

William Averill Comstock was a military scout who could, “easily read all the signs Indians left for the information of other Indians, could interpret their smoke columns used in telegraphing, and after a party had passed, could tell with remarkable accuracy from its trail how many were in the party.”
 
Comstock was the prototypical military scout. He earned the name “Medicine Bill,” because he bit off the finger of a young Sioux woman who had received a rattlesnake bite.
 
But William Comstock had a secret past. Not that he was some bad criminal on the run, but the opposite. He was the grandnephew of James Fenimore Cooper. You see, Cooper wrote about the “noble savage”, and the whites on the western frontier hated Cooper’s romantic tales about the savage Indian.
In August of 1868 a band of Indians attacked a village near Hays, Kansas.
  
Comstock and another scout named Abner Grover were sent to the camp of Cheyenne chief Turkey Leg to see if the rampaging braves could be brought under control. While in negotiations, Turkey Leg received word that the military had killed several Indians in retaliation. The negotiations were over, and on August 16, 1868, while traveling home Comstock was killed.
 
Now, the interesting thing is that William Comstock was George Armstrong Custer’s favorite scout. One of the few people Custer would listen to. The question is, would the Little Big Horn have taken place if Comstock had been riding alongside of Custer instead of dying eight years earlier?

Texas Joins The United States

In 1837 Mexico didn’t like Texas being an independent nation. And then, when Texas became our 28th state, it was just too much. With diplomacy breaking down, in 1846 President Polk declared war on Mexico.
 
In battles it wasn’t unusual for the Mexican forces to outnumber the U. S. forces as much as four to one. But superior weapons and battle tactics gave the American forces victory. And in less than a year and a half, American soldiers occupied Mexico City.
 
Envisioning the possibility of additional slave states, southern politicians started calling for the conquest of all of Mexico. The northern states, not wanting additional slave states, not only opposed the conquest of Mexico; they introduced bills that said “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude” would exist in any territories acquired by the Mexican War.
 
Finally, on February 2, 1848, after three months of negotiations, a treaty was signed in the Mexican city of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
 
The treaty said the United States would pay Mexico 15 million dollars. The U. S. would take care of any claims American individuals had against Mexico, by paying these Americans 3.25 million dollars. In turn the United States got over one million square miles of territory. It included all or part of what is now California, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.
 
Counting the money given to Mexico and the Americans, it cost the United States about $15 a square mile. Not a bad deal.
Stephen Austin

The Controversial George Armstrong Custer

George Armstrong Custer seemed to always live on the edge.  Even while at West Point, where, incidentally, he graduated at the bottom of his class, Custer was almost expelled because of demerits for actions like food fights in the cafeteria.

However, one of the low points in his career took place on November 25, 1867 when he was court-martialed.  Supposedly, Custer’s officers fell into two categories…those who were related to him, and those who hated him.  As for the enlisted men, they fell into one category…those who feared him.

Custer was found guilty on eight counts.  They included being absent without leave from his command.  He had left his post to visit his wife, Libby.  He had also taken along troopers as escort during this trip.  Another count was shooting deserters without trial.  Incidentally, when Custer left to visit his wife, he was considered a deserter himself.

Libby Custer

The testimony of Captain Frederick Benteen, an officer with Custer at Little Big Horn, was particularly damning.  Other charges included abandoning two men, failing to recover two bodies, and cruelty to three wounded troopers.  The average officer being found guilty on any of these counts would have meant the end of his career.  But George Custer wasn’t average.  His sentence was, “to be suspended from rank and command for one year, and to forfeit his pay proper for the same time.”

At the end of the year Custer’s friend and advocate, General Phil Sheridan, called him back to active duty.  Custer felt he had to do something spectacular to redeem himself.  And he did on November 27, 1868, when Custer and 800 men attacked the peaceful camp of Black Kettle that was flying the American Flag and a white truce flag.

Wild West Renaissance Man

Granville Stuart was born with his brothers in West Virginia, and at a young age, he started migrating west. After reaching Montana, Granville and his brother, James discovered gold there, and they spread the news, the result of their writing their brother back east. Unfortunately, the Stuarts didn’t get rich from their discovery.
 
In 1863, Granville rode with the vigilantes that wiped out the “The Innocents”, a gang led by Henry Plummer, who also happened to be the town marshal.
 
Being interested in cattle, and seeing the lush grasslands in Montana, Granville helped start the cattle industry there. By 1883, things were not going well for the cattlemen. Because of rustling, cattle attrition was considerable. So Granville, using his earlier experience, help organize the Montana Vigilantes, who were known as “The Stranglers”, the result of their frequent use of the rope… And supposedly as many as 70 men ended up with hemp around their necks.
 
The harsh winter of 1886 all but wiped out Montana’s cattle, and Granville left the cattle industry behind for…an appointment as Minster to Uruguay and Paraguay. For five years, he lived in South America, only to return to Montana to become the Butte, Montana… librarian.
 
Granville Stuart has been described as an intellectual, a fine writer and a wise man with an engaging sense of humor. Although he had no formal training, Granville was an excellent artist. He wrote and illustrated three books. One was a geographical description of Montana. Another was a narration of the discovery and early settlement of Montana.
 
Granville was commissioned by the state of Montana to write a history of the state. But unfortunately, he died on October 2, 1918 before he could finish it.
 
I think you can agree that Granville Stuart was truly a renaissance man. 
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