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OLD WEST NEWSPAPER

PrinterWith frontier towns springing up over night, and disappearing as fast, an Old West newspaper had to be on the move to keep customers. This week’s story is about one such newspaper.

Following the Civil War two brothers, Legh and Fred Freeman, were hired to publish a newspaper out of Fort Kearney, Nebraska.  During this time the railroad passed through the area.  While the railroad was being built in the area things boomed.  As the railroad moved on, taking the workers with it, there was a bust.

 The Freeman brothers hit on the idea to create a newspaper that would move along with the railroad.  So, they bought a hand press, type, ink and paper, named their newspaper the Frontier Index, and hired wagons to take them to the next town where the railroad was to arrive.  As the crews arrived with men anxious to read the latest news, they did a booming business.  Merchants were willing to pay outrageous prices for advertising, and marked their goods up accordingly.

The masthead of the Index changed each time they moved to a new town.  During its existence the Index was published in 25 different cities.  Sometimes the Freeman brothers moved so fast that they outran their supplies.  One time they had to print the newspaper on wrapping paper.

 The Index came to an end in Bear River City.  As the population of the city grew, the lawless element started arriving along with the railroad workers.  The Index wrote an editorial stating, “Bear River City has stood enough of the rowdy criminal element.”  The next day, November 15, 1868, some of “the rowdy criminal element” grabbed a rope, and headed to the tent that headquartered the Index newspaper.  The Freeman brothers were able to escape, but when they returned nothing remained of the Index but ashes.  The lifespan of the Frontier Index was but two years.  Which, incidentally, was a long time for a frontier newspaper.

A TOWN TREED

JuanHunters are known to tree a mountain lion or a bear now and then, but in 1859, a gang of thugs treed a whole town. That’s right, a whole town.

It was the mid 1800’s. Anglos from other parts of the United States were coming to Texas in groves, and taking over land previously owned by Mexicans.

Juan Cortina, saw his family’s land holdings shrink. When he became a man, Juan put together a gang of disgruntled Mexicans and started taking back some of the land. In mid September of 1859 one of Juan’s men was arrested in Brownsville, Texas. Juan and his men shot the Marshal and freed the gang member. This, of course, infuriated the citizens of Brownsville. For days they talked about putting together a posse and getting revenge. But it seems that talk was all they were want to do.

Juan Cortina, on the other hand, wanted action, and getting tired of waiting for the posse to come after him, on September 27 he led a thousand cutthroats into Brownsville, captured Fort Brown, and took over the town. After killing anyone who had previously caused him grief, Juan demanded one hundred thousand dollars in gold or he would burn down the town.
News of the Brownsville situation got out and a contingency of men came to the rescue. Unfortunately, for them, news of what Cortina was doing also reached his friends and his gang had grown to a much larger size. After defeating the relief column, Cortina went after Edinburg, Texas and then took on Rio Grande.

Cortina then wisely retreated back to Mexico where for 15 years he made raids across the border. Finally in 1875, the Texas Rangers decided to put an end to Juan Cortina’s shenanigans, and went down to Mexico and kicked his butt. From then on Juan stayed south of the border and played politics there.

BATTLE OF BEECHER’S ISLAND

Beecher's IslandThe summer of 1868, Indians were conducting major raids on railroad work camps and homesteads. Major George Forsyth was ordered to put together a detachment of 50 volunteer frontiersmen to teach the Indians a lesson.

The first part of September they arrived at Kansas’ Fort Wallace, and immediately took after a group of Indians who had stolen some stock. On September 16, Forsyth and his men, low on rations, camped on the banks of the Arikaree River.

Unknown to Forsyth 4,000, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux had been following him for three days. The morning of September 17 Major Forsyth and his men were awaken by the sounds of war cries. The 50 volunteers, with their animals, retreated and dug into a 40-yard by 150-yard sandbar.

By 9 A.M. the Indians had killed all of the volunteers’ horses and mules. Now there was no way of escape. A half hour later 300-mounted warriors, headed directly for the 50 volunteers. But, what the Indians didn’t realize was that all of Forsyth’s men were equipped with Spencer seven-shot repeating rifles and Colt pistols. Waiting until the last second to start firing, the charge was broken.

For eight days the Indian attacks continued, and the Spencer rifles kept them away from the volunteers. Two of the volunteers were able to get away and make it to Fort Wallace for help. By the time reinforcements arrived, the bulk of the Indians had left, with only a small contingency staying to starve out the volunteers.

Technology had made it possible for 50 men to face and essentially defeat a force of 1,500 warriors. During the battle, 10 of the volunteers were killed, and 20 wounded. But Indian causalities were estimated to be around 50 killed and as many as 200 wounded.

TODAY’S HERO – TOMORROW’S BUM

Often things moved fast in the Old West.  Today’s hero is sometimes tomorrow’s bum.  Or, in Caldwell, Kansas toGeorge Flattday’s hero is tomorrow’s dead bum.

Born in Tennessee, George Flatt, went out to Caldwell, Kansas.  George had a bit of a stubborn streak that came out in July of 1879.  After more than a few drinks, a couple of cowboys in the Occidental Saloon started shooting their pistols.  Constable Kelly and a posse that included George Flatt came to take care of the problem.  The posse cautiously entered the saloon, and saw the two cowboys with their guns pointed at them.  The cowboys started for the door.  But Flatt stepped forward and blocked the door.  Carrying two guns, the cowboys demanded that he drop them.  Flatt responded, “I’ll die first.”  A shot from one of the cowboys whizzed past Flatt’s head.  Flatt went into action.  Each gun took out a cowboy.

Things moved fast in Caldwell.  In a matter of weeks, George Flatt advanced from posse member to the city’s first marshal.  And capitalizing on his new found fame he went into partnership with William Horseman operating a saloon.

But many times as fast as things go well, just as fast they turn bad.  Flatt was a heavy drinker.  And within a year not only had his partnership with Horseman fallen apart, but Horseman had even replaced him as city marshal.

Then on Saturday evening, June 19, 1880 after spending some time drinking in the bars, George Flat headed for home.  From the dark a rifle shot rang out.  It hit Flatt in the skull.  Once he was down, three more slugs filled his body.  Yes, things moved fast in Caldwell, Kansas…From a marshal and businessman to a dead drunk laying face down in the dirt in less than a year.

SEMINOLE-NEGROES

Seminole-NegroOn April 8, 1875 four soldiers encountered 30 Comanche.  Three of those four soldiers received the Congressional Metal of Honor.  This was but one escapade in the life of a most unusual group of soldiers.

During the 1870’s there was a small group of men who guarded the Texas–Mexico border against Comanche Indians.  These men were the Seminole-Negroes.  They were runaway slaves who had gone to Florida and lived with the Seminole Indians. When the Seminole were chased west, the black families went with them.

In 1870, looking for extra help in fighting the marauding Comanche, the Seminole-Negroes were hired as a special unit to track down the Comanche Indians.  Although the Seminole-Negroes were a rag-tag looking bunch with a combination of military and Indian attire, which even included war bonnets, they had the ability to follow trails that were weeks old and live on nothing but rattlesnakes.

The commander of this group was a white Lieutenant by the name of John Bullis.  Lieutenant Bullis had the respect of the Seminole-Negroes, because he was willing to live and fight right along side of his men.  One time while on a patrol Lieutenant Bullis and three of his enlisted men encountered some 30 Comanche.  Being vastly outnumbered, the soldiers retreated.  Unfortunately, in the process Lieutenant Bullis was captured.  Not willing to leave their commander behind; the men changed into the midst of the Comanche, rescuing Lieutenant Bullis.  Each enlisted man received the Congressional Metal of Honor.

For their service, the government had promised the Seminole-Negroes land, but, mysteriously, when it came time to pay up, the War Department had run out of land.  But, living up to their commitment, and ever hopeful, they stayed on until their job was done.

Incidentally, as an indication of their skill as scouts and fighters, during the service of the Seminole-Negroes, not one was ever killed or injured in battle.

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