Transcript for Smith, Job, "An Experience on the Plains," Improvement Era, Aug. 1908, 755-58
It might interest the readers of the Era to learn of a rather novel experience which myself and others had about the 6th and 8th of August, 1854. I was captain of a train of forty wagons bringing English emigrants from Kansas City to Salt Lake City. At the date named, we took our noon halt a few miles east of Laramie, halting near the road. Between the road and the Platte river, at a distance of several hundred yards from the road, was a very large encampment of Indians, said to be two or three thousand strong who were quite friendly. From the road we could see a large bowery, roofed and walled up with branches of green trees, in which evidently there was "something doing." Out of curiosity myself and Elder Martel walked over, and, meeting with no opposition, stood in the doorway where we were surprised to see inside the bowery a very strange sight, and to hear strange music. What was said to be a sacrifice was being offered, and a ghost or other kind of dance was being performed. Looking straight in from the doorway was an Indian, standing a few yards away, naked, except the usual "clout." Around him were four posts, about four or five feet apart, each set in the ground and secured in place at the top, forming the four corners of a square, the Indian in the middle. Securely tied into the Indian's skin, back of each shoulder and upper arm, back of each hip and front of thigh, were strong buckskin strings, (eight altogether) each string passed upwards nearly tight to one of the posts and was securely tied to it; thus each post received two strings, so that the Indian could not move without pulling on the strings. This was called the sacrifice. Beyond him a few feet were a half circle of other Indians standing, also naked, a dozen or so-each one, also the sacrifice, having a flute or whistle in his hands. To the left, in a corner, was a tanned Buffalo skin stretched tight by two pegs driven into the ground. Beside it sat an Indian to beat time with a small club. As he struck the drum, each Indian in the half circle, together with the sacrifice, would jump, and simultaneously blow their whistles, which was timed by the drum about one second apart. This, kept up a half minute or more, would then cease for perhaps another half minute. Then start again. We were informed that this exercise had been already continued twenty-four hours without intermission, and was intended to be continued until the "sacrifice" should become so exhausted as to fall down and tear every string out of his body. The other whistlers were there for his encouragement. After fully satisfying our curiosity, we returned to our camp and moved along on our journey. Following us some hours afterward was another train of emigrants, which made camp for the night, not very far from the locality aforesaid. One of their cows becoming lame was left behind to rest, with a view of retuning for her later when she had become able. But in the meantime, an Indian from the big camp, finding the cow alone, killed her and took the meat to the Indian camp. The emigrant, on going back after the cow, not finding her, went straight to the Fort and complained of the Indians for stealing his cow, hereupon the commander at the Fort ordered out a posse of twenty men to go and make claim for the cow. What specific orders were given to the officer in command of the posse is not known, but the story goes that there was a log shanty in the vicinity where whiskey was dispensed to soldiers, traders, or emigrants; and the "command," on their way to the Indian camp, paid this place a fraternal visit and became unusually braced up for a contest about the cow. Instead of being satisfied with pay for the cow, which the Indian offered, the claim was made for the Indian to be given up to the military for punishment for stealing the cow. To this the Indians objected and refused positively to give the man up. A row followed; the officer either himself fired or commanded one of his men to do so, which he did, killing it is said on of the chiefs; whereupon the Indians, maddened with revenge, poured a shower of arrows at the poor soldiers, killing seventeen of them on the spot. The Indians then pulled up their encampment and moved across the river. The news of this horrible affair reached my company the next forenoon, as we were climbing a long hill on our way, the messenger warning us to prepare for defense, as the Indians were mad. There was, however, but one thing for us to do, and that was to make as good haste as possible to a camping place and be prepared for what might happen. Very provokingly, on our way before reaching a camp ground, one of our wagons broke down, and a stay was necessary to repair the wagon and protect, if necessary, the inmates. However, we got safely to camp and spent a very nervously watchful night. Next morning we were agreeably surprised by being informed by another messenger that the Indians were peaceable, but that the safest plan was to make the best possible time, in making distance between us and possible danger. Before the last messenger arrived, however, we were somewhat frightened by seeing large volumes of smoke arise from the eastward which inclined us to think the Indians were destroying the fort by fire, and would thus be liable to follow us for vengeance. But no damage to emigrants was reported, only the lose of a sore-footed cow.Sugar House, Utah.