Thursday, April 9, 2009
WHEN HISTORY CAME TOGETHER, A WYOMING TALE
This unusual story came together for me over a period of forty years. Little bits of information began to fall in place over time to form this Wyoming historical tale.
I spent most of my high school and college years working for one or both of my Grandfathers after school and on weekends. My Grandpa, Dueward "Wick" Hopkins, owned a road construction company which worked out of Wheatland, Wyoming and built roads throughout the entire state. As we drove around on the job site, we often talked about Wyoming and times past. In the 1960s, we were working south of Wheatland near Slater, Wyoming on I-25 construction and passed over a creek named "RICHEAU". I mis-pronounced the name and Grandpa told me it was pronounced "Reshaw" and was named after John Richeau, a Frenchman who had built the first bridge across the North Platte River in central Wyoming on the old Oregon Trail.
My other Grandpa was Earl Harvey. His farm was located near Slater, Wyoming and in the general vicinity of this historical event. As mentioned, I sometimes worked for my Grandpa or his neighbor doing farming and haying. Grandpa would often stop by to check on my work and we would often take a break and visit. Grandpa Harvey was an avid arrowhead hunter when he was not farming during the off season of the year. On one visit he told me that years before while hunting arrowheads, he had come across a pile of very old spent cartridges near the field where I was working that day. He noted that the cartridges were odd as compared to any others he had ever seen. They had no primers in their bases like modern ammunition does and were very large in size. Only a tiny dent was visible in the center of the base of the shell casing. Grandpa looked them over but did not pick them up to bring along as he was hunting for arrowheads that day. Little did he or I know at the time he was telling me the story, but he had probably stood on the site of an early historical event in Wyoming history.
Years later in the early 1990's, I found an old rifle cartridge near Fort Robinson, Crawford, Nebraska. This had been the site of a cavalry fort and an early Indian Agency. The shell looked like the same type that Grandpa Harvey had talked about years earlier. My friend, Don Sheldon, is an avid cartridge collector and he identified the casing as a benet', inside primed cartridge which dated from about 1860 and was used up until about 1880. The common caliber was 45-70 and happened to be the same ammunition as had been used by General George Custer at the Little Big Horn.
Late in the 1990's, I purchased a rare book entitled "FOOTPRINTS ON THE FRONTIER", written by Virginia Cole Trenholm. There were only 1,000 of these books printed and it is a factual history of south east Wyoming. It just happened that the author's brother was good friend to my Grandfather, "Wick" Hopkins, and this book had been a favorite read for my other Grandpa, Earl Harvey. As I read the book, there was an account of an Indian skirmish that took place along the "Richeau" Creek in Wyoming.
The book tells a story of the 1870's about three men who resided on the M Bar Ranch in what is now known as the Slater Flats area and how they were attacked by Indians. The men had gone out to collect their livestock. The horses were herded into the corral and they had gone back out after the cattle which were further out on the range. As they were riding along the breaks of Richeau Creek, they were attacked by Indians who wanted their horses. Both groups fired repeated volleys of bullets at one another. The horses were killed and both men were wounded. The men did manage to get back to the ranch figuring the Indians were headed there for the livestock. There were three women and a boy at the ranch that evening along with a soldier. As they all sat at the dinner table that evening, the boy looked out the window and saw the Indians driving off the last of the horses. They figured the Indians got what they had wanted and probably would not lay siege to the cabin with one soldier there and more likely to come.
I came to realize that the pile of old cartridges that Grandpa Earl had found many years before along the creek were very likely laying in the exact spot where the skirmish with the Indians had occurred. The time frame, cartridge type, and location were all good clues. After over 40 years, the odd pieces of this story were all coming together. My Grandpa, Earl Harvey, passed away in 1974 but I have since wondered if he had realized, while reading his favorite Trenholm book, that he had probably stumbled across the scene of the skirmish years prior while hunting arrowheads along "Richeau Creek"? It was simply a compilation of people, timing, bits of history, and Grandpa's story that brought all these facts forward and led me to believe he had stood on historical ground.
As for me, I never cared for history when I was young and in school but Grandpa's little mysterious find set me on a path toward a great appreciation for my history. It was a start down the road to discover my past and learn more about the history of where I was born and grew up. Studying Wyoming and Nebraska early settlement, old firearms, family genealogy, and WWII history have all become of great interest to me over a lifetime, mostly because both of my Grandfathers' cared enough to include me in the telling of Wyoming Tales!
note: this blog post written by Geoffrey Hopkins, husband of the owner of "THOSE OLD MEMORIES" and the story of the Indian skirmish was abridged from a written account in the book "FOOTPRINTS ON THE FRONTIER" by Virginia Cole Trenholm.