Monday, March 30, 2015

Recollections of Life in Douglas, Wyoming

General Henry Blanchard Freeman, an early hero of my great-grandfather George Rutherfurd.  Source

In sorting through my grandmother's family history files, I found a number of short biographies and mini-memoirs compiled by her and in various forms of completion.  My Grandma, LaVerne Rutherfurd Smith, was a writer, too.  She wanted to leave behind personal accounts of family life, and I'm so glad she did.  As all family historians know, we can usually find names and dates, but it's the stories that get lost.  My Grandma was good at preserving stories.

I recently found one document that relates the memories of her father's youth in Douglas, Wyoming. George Roscoe Oliver Rutherfurd lived in Douglas from his birth in 1895 until his step-father's sudden death in 1913.  Here is what my grandmother wrote about those formative years in her father's life.

Growing to manhood on a cattle ranch in Wyoming left vivid and treasured memories that stayed with my Dad all his life.  He was interested in the Indians and admired their careful preservation of nature.  One of his regrets was leaving behind a fine collection of arrowheads when they left Wyoming so unexpectedly.  I will try to remember some of the things he told me.

As a very young boy he met a retired Army General Henry B. Freeman who told Dad tales of his life in the Army.  He recounted many experiences with the Indians and my Dad relived them all.  General Henry B. Freeman enlisted in the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War.  He became a Major (Brevet Major.  His true rank was 2nd Lieutenant).  He received the Medal of honor for bringing a wounded comrade off the field of battle at Chicamauga.  He spent two hitches in Libby Prison (Confederate).  The first time he escaped.  A sentry spotted him in the river and kept him there for two hours in the icy water before taking him back to prison.  He escaped a second time.  As he was being pursued he approached a southern plantation.  The daughter of the house hid him and when he returned after the war, he married her (Sarah).  He was later assigned to Indian posts in Wyoming.

Freeman served as commander of a military guard getting out timber to build Fort Fetterman.  Freeman and his wagon were ambushed by Cheyennes and Dakotas of the Sioux tribe.  They were surrounded for three days in a southeastern valley before rescue.  Freeman's was the first detachment sent out to rescue Fetterman.  He was also the first unit sent out to help General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn and was the first on the field after the battle.  In both cases Fetterman and Custer were decoyed by Indians until out of range of help and were then cut down.  (Freeman said Custer was an insufferable martinet).

A string of forts was set up from Cheyenne, Wyoming into Montana to protect settlers from the Indians during the 1870s and 1880s.  Freeman spent the balance of his military career in those forts.  He was so taken with the beauty of the country that he homesteaded there after his retirement.  He lived formally with his lovely southern wife in that open country.  It was during his retirement that he related his adventures and taught Dad [George Roscoe Oliver Rutherfurd] the game of chess.

Dad's aunt Elizabeth Dickson, his mother's sister, owned the hospital in Douglas.  She was a very proper lady but when Mrs. Pike, a rustler's wife, became ill, she managed somehow to allow her husband in to visit her.  He was not supposed to be there because the sheriff was looking for him.  Auntie [Elizabeth Dickson] let the nurse go and eased him in the back door before the night nurse came on duty and then she herself left.  The night nurse told the sheriff Pike wasn't there because she didn't know he was, and Auntie was away and couldn't be questioned.

Famed cattle rustler George Pike.
Image courtesy of the Wyoming Pioneer Memorial Museum, the Douglas Historic Preservation Commission, and the National Park Service.

Some wealthy cattlemen started out as rustlers, among them George Pike who could not reform.  He was always in trouble for picking a good-looking animal to call his own. The sheriff usually had a warrant out for him.  He was brought by friends to Auntie's hospital for treatment of "cowboy's bellyache."  (It was appendicitis!)  Dad was about eleven years old at the time and visiting in town.  Doctor Jesurun was summoned, very hush hush, and surgery was performed.  The patient did not survive.  The rustler's friends gave a very large funeral for a well-loved scallywag.  a large fence was built around his grave but it was decided he needed more than an iron fence, so they sent to Denver for a large stone and had it inscribed as follows:

Underneath this stone in eternal rest
Sleeps the wildest one of the wayward west.
He was a gambler and sport and cowboy too
And he led the pace in an outlaw crew.
He was sure on the trigger and staid to the end
But was never known to quit on a friend.
In the relations of death all mankind is alike
But in life there was only one George W. Pike.

To be continued...

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