Old West History Archives

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. 

Orlando Robbins and the Star Spangled Banner

Orlando RobbinsBorn in Maine, Orlando Robbins left home at the age of seventeen and headed out west. Eventually ending up in the gold fields of Idaho, in 1864 he became the deputy sheriff of Idaho City. 
 
With the Civil War taking place in the east, the miners were polarized into Union and Confederate camps. Robbins’ major job was separating and arresting drunken miners supporting their individual cause.
 
As Independence Day approached, the Confederate supporters said they were not going to allow any Yankee sing the “Star Spangled Banner.” Now, Robbins, a Union supporter, was determined that no one was going to tell him what to do. So, on July 4, 1864 Orlando Robbins walked into a tavern crowded with southern sympathizers, climbed on a pool table, pulled his two pistols, and with the tavern in complete silence started singing, “Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light.” After finishing, he walked out, and the crowd parted like the Red Sea for Moses. 
 
From deputy sheriff of Idaho City, Robbins went on to be deputy sheriff of Boise, and then United States marshal. In 1868 a gun battle had been going on for weeks between two mining operations in Silver City. Sent by the governor to settle things, Robbins did it in one day. In 1876 six bandits held up the Silver City stage. Robbins had them all in jail within two days. At the age of 46, Robbins covered 1,280 miles in just 13 days to catch outlaw Charley Chambers. When he was in his 60’s he was still a lawman dealing with outlaws one third his age.
 
Truly, Orlando Robbins was as great a hero as any of the more famous Old West lawmen.

Black Faced Charlie and the Dalton Gang

Marshal Ed ShortIt seems that everyone in the Old West had nicknames… And some of them were strange. But, none was as strange as Charles Bryant’s. He was called “Black Faced Charlie.” It seems that when he was a young man he was shot point-blank in the face. The bullet just creased his cheek. But, the burnt powder coming out of the pistol imbedded in his face, giving him his nickname.  
 
Bryant joined the Dalton gang. And during the gang’s shootout with a posse was heard to say something like, “Me, I want to get killed in one heck of a minute of action.” Well, Bryant put it out there, and on August 23, 1891, he got his wish. 
 
Being arrested, Bryant had to be transported to jail by Deputy U.S. Marshal Ed Short. Marshal Short was transporting the handcuffed Bryant in a train baggage car when he had to visit the john. Marshal Short gave his pistol to the railroad messenger and left. The messenger put the pistol in a desk drawer and went about his chores.  
 
Unnoticed, Bryant moved around to the desk and got the pistol, just as Marshal Short entered the baggage car. Bryant placed one shot into Marshal Short’s chest. Short, carrying a rifle, shot Bryant… severing his spine. Bryant continued firing his pistol until it was empty. The rest of his shots went wild.
 
Bryant was killed in one heck of a minute of action as he wished. Marshal Short helped the messenger pick up Bryant’s body. Marshal Short then laid down on the cot and died. He was also the victim of heck of a minute of action.
 
Both bodies were left on the train platform at the next stop. 

Texas Ranger Frank Jones

Texas Ranger Captain Frank JonesBorn in Austin, Texas in 1856, Frank Jones joined the Texas Rangers at the age of 17. He saw his first action when he and two other Rangers were sent after some Mexican horse thieves. The horse thieves ambushed the Rangers. Frank’s two companions were immediately taken out, but Frank was able to kill two of the bandits and capture a third.
 
Frank was promoted to corporal and later to sergeant. Once again while chasing a large gang of cattle rustlers, Frank and his six Ranger companions were ambushed. Three of the Rangers were killed, and Frank and the other two Rangers were captured.
 
Now, it would have been much better for the rustlers if they had also killed Frank, for while the rustlers were congratulating themselves on their victory, Frank grabbed one of their rifles, and proceeded to kill all of them.
 
A few years later, now a captain, while traveling alone, Frank was again ambushed. This time by three desperadoes who shot him, and left him for dead. With a bad chest wound, Frank tracked the three men down on foot until he found their camp. He waited until dark; took one of their rifles; shot one and brought the other two back to stand trial.
 
Over the next few years Frank continued his confrontations and victories over outlaws. But on June 29, 1893 Frank went on his last mission. He and four other Rangers went after some cattle thieves on the Mexico border. This time they did the ambushing. But it didn’t turn out well for Frank. In the ensuing gunfight this man of many lives was finally killed.

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.
 
 
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