| || Notes for SIMPSON EVERETT STILWELL:|
Walla Owen, a.k.a. "Big Granny" in our family, often told us that we didn't want to know our family history because it was filled with outlaws and black sheep.He did tell us that he had an uncle Jack who was an Indian Scout and another named Frank who was killed by Wyatt Earp in Tucson, Az.Of course, we were fascinated by this little tidbit, but he wouldn't tell us any more than that.My interest was rekindled when I saw the movie "Tombstone" and Frank Stillwell was actually a character with whom I could identify.
Recently I decided to do some digging myself and found almost everything that I could want to know right here in the library here in Guthrie, Ok.I realized that Big Granny wasn't kidding us and that these men played roles in the Old West, even if the roles were not always positive.
In reading through THE OKLAHOMA LAND RUSH OF 1889, by Stan Hoig, I found a mention of Jack Stillwell as being an "old frontiersman" who had been at the Beecher's Island fight in Colorado.Further searching netted a story in the COLORADO HISTORICAL TOUR GUIDE of the battle, and even though there is no mention of Jack, I will quote from their version here.
In 1868 Col. George A. Forsyth was leading a group of scouts in a search for renegade Indians led by Chief Roman Nose."In early September, Forsyth and his men reached a point on the Arikaree River when they were attacked by Roman Nose and his Northern Cheyenne, Ogallalah and Brule Sioux Dog Soldiers.As the Indians appeared, Forsyth and his men took refuge on a small island in the river and took their positions for the fight that followed.The battle was fought Sept. 17-19 but the Indians held Forsyth and his men on the island for over a week.Lt. Fred Beecher and five other scouts were killed and half the defenders wounded.The beleaguered scouts subsisted on horse and mule meat and wild plums they found on the little island"
"The first night of the battle two pairs of scouts were able to escape and go for help.The nearest Army post was Fort Wallace in Northwest Kansas, 110 miles away.Forsyth and his men were rescued by the 10th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers) the ninth day of the battle."
This seemed to be a pretty good account of the fight, but I wanted to find Jack;s name mentioned and found it in Cyrus Townsend Brady's book INDIAN FIGHTS AND FIGHTERS.Not only was his name mentioned, but it was glorified beyond anything I had expected.Mr. Brady's account is longer, more detailed and decidedly more romantic, but the basic facts agree with the Colorado story.
In his account, Mr. Brady states that Jack Stillwell was picked along with an older hunter named Trudeau to "carry the news of their predicament to Fort Wallace".He says that Jack was only 19 but that "he already gave promise of the fame as a scout which he afterwards acquired".
In their escape, they were very cautious, taking off their boots and walking backward in the riverbed, crawling on their hands and knees, hiding in buffalo wallows during the day and narrowly missing bands of Indians.He gives only praise for young Jack by saying that on the fourth morning Trudeau "all but broke down.The brunt of the whole adventure thereupon fell on Stillwell.He encouraged his older companion, helped him along as best he could, and finally, late a night, they reached Fort Wallace and told their tale."
Help was dispatched to the island and Stilwell returned with the forces of Col. Bankhead.Trudeau was not able to and died a short time later of the "hardships and excitement of the horrible days he had passed through".Brady quotes Sigmund Schlessinger, a young Jewish boy, when he describes the rescue."Not long after a few horsemen were seen coming around the bend of the river bed, among them was my friend Jack Stilwell.Nearly all of us ran to meet the party.Soon Jack jumped from his horse, and in his joy to see so many of us alive again, he permitted his tears free flow down his good honest cheeks.I kept up correspondence with him all these years past.Last year he died.He was a big-hearted, jovial fellow, brave to a fault."In his footnote, Brady states that "Stilwell studied law, and ultimately became a judge in Texas.He was a friend of Generals Miles and Custer--also of "Wild Bill" Hickock, and "Texas Jack" Omohundro, and other famous figures on the frontier: and when he died, a couple of years ago, he was the subject of glowing tributes from high and low alike."
An account called "Arikaree" in a magazine called FRONTIER TIMES, summer 1962, features a photograph of Jack and details the campaign of Col. Forsyth which ended with the battle of Beecher's Island."Faced with demands for protection from the settlers of Western Kansas and eastern Colorado, Sheridan got the idea of using a body of picked men, composed of entirely of battle-wise scouts-the best who could be found on the frontier- to destroy these Indians.Colonel George A. "Sandy" Forsyth, Sheridan's aide, was picked to lead these adventurers."
After trailing the Indians for some days, "Forsyth decided to stop and allow the horses to graze.Two of the scouts, Tom Murphy and Jack Stilwell, the latter only eighteen years old, urged the colonel to bivouac just opposite an island in the river.The Arikaree River, normally seventy feet wide and perhaps a foot deep, had shrunk during the dry summer until only a thin trickle of water oozed down the channels on either side of the island.Murphy and Stilwell argued that in the event the Indians attacked, the island would have strategic value. Forsyth accepted the advice.Later they were told that the Indians had set an ambush half-a-mile further.Had they ridden into it they undoubtedly would have been wiped out."
When they were attacked in the night by a small band of Indians, "at Stilwell's suggestion, Forsyth ordered his men to saddle their horses and move to the island."
Wave after wave of attacks were made upon the beseiged scouts who had dug in as best they could.At one point"Jack Stilwell called out, waving at Roman Nose, "We'll have to kill that fellow, or he'll ride us down!"Suddenly Roman Nose reeled on his pony.Dropping his rifle, he clutched his horse's mane to keep himself from falling.He was fatally wounded, killed by Louis Farley, mortally wounded himself.Later, Young Jack Stilwell, who had a reputation for being reckless and foolhardy, volunteered (to go for help)."If I can get someone to go with me, I'll take the risk."Immediately Pierre Trudeau stepped forward to accept the challenge.Forsyth wrote a brief message and gave it and a map, showing the men's position, to Stilwell to give to the commander of Fort Wallace."
To make sure that someone made it through to help, two more scouts, C.B. Whitney and A.J. Pliley, were sent out the next night.The ARICKAREE account states that Stilwell and Trudeau met two soldiers from H Troop, Tenth U.S. Cavalry, an all-Negro unit commanded by Col. Louis H. Carpenter, that at the time was camped at Lake Station on the Smokey hill Trail only seventy miles south of the Arickaree.These soldiers took the two scouts back to the fort, where they sent the news of the seige to Col. Bankhead at Fort Wallace.General Sheridan at Fort Hays ordered them to go to the aid of Col. Forsyth and his men, and Col. Bankhead left about midnight of the same day."Stilwell and Trudeau, unfortunately, had not been able to tell Carpenter's troopers the exact location of the island.They had referred to the Arickaree as the "Dry Fork"-a name by which it was commonly known, but one which made no sense to Carpenter.Thus the colonel did not know quite where to look.He had a map, but it was vague and unreliable and none of his men were acquainted with the area."
Two days later, they were "hailed by five men who came riding toward them out of the prairie.Their leader was Jack Donovan.Donovan and Pliley had reached Wallace to find the fort manned only by Lieutenant Hugh M. Johnson and seven enlisted men... Donovan led Carpenter and thirty men of H Troop (the others followed more slowly with the wagons) to the Arickaree. The next day Bankhead's party, consisting of about 200 men, and two troops of the Second Cavalry under Colonel Brisbin joined Carpenter.One of the scouts said later that the sweetest sound he ever heard was being awakened that night by a sentry's cry, "Post number one, one o'clock and all is well!"
The article also features a picture of the monument at Beecher's Island.The inscription reads "The first night Stilwell and Trudeau, crawling out on hands and knees, started for relief, and hiding days and traveling nights reached Fort Wallace.The third night, Donovan and Pliley started.Arriving at Fort Donovan with four others immediately started back and coming upon Col. Carpenter's command, on the S. Fork of the Republican, guided them in a twenty mile dash, reaching the island at 10 am the ninth day, 26 hours in advance of Col. Bankhead with scouts Stilwell and Trudeau.The return to Fort Wallace was begun Sept. 27th the wounded being carried in government wagons."
Our Jack a.k.a. Comanche Jack,was actually born Simpson E. Stilwell.Information that I gained from my second cousin, Clint Chambers, who has been researching Jack for many years, has shed a lot of light on his life.Clint states in his article entitled "USING THE TESTIMONY OF S.E. STILWELL IN THE UNITED STATES VS. THE STATE OF TEXAS TO SCOUT THE LIFE OF "JACK STILWELL", that"A story told to me by my grandfather, Daniel Clinton Cooley, about his uncle, Jack Stilwell, has haunted me since childhood.As a boy, Jack Stilwell was sent to the well for water.When he failed to return home, family members sent to look for him found only empty buckets by the well...In 1862, Jack's father purchased land just North of Palmyra (Baldwin City), Kansas.Palmyra had a well which was famous as a watering place for the Santa Fe caravans.This may have been the well where Jack left the empty water buckets and started his life on the Santa Fe Trail in 1863."His research turned up the fact that his father and mother divorced in 1863, and this event, and perhaps dislike of his new step-mother, probably precipitated his decision to leave home at such an early age.
Jack's testimony in the case which was to decide whether Greer County should belong to the State of Texas, or whether it should be part of the Oklahoma Territory, showed a lot about his life after leaving home.He states that "In 1863, I went out to New Mexico from Kansas City over the Arkansas route to a point above Fort Dodge, there crossed and took what was known as the Cimarron Route which went in past wagon mounds into Las Vegas, Las Vegas being the first town we struck.I made several trips from new Mexico to Kansas City and Leavenworth in 1864, 1865, 1866, wintering in New Mexico.In the wintertime we used to come down on buffalo hunts, down the Canadian River and in on the head of Wolf River and through that country, over the Beaver north of there, so I became pretty familiar with that country.In 1867 I was first employed as a guide for troops at Ft. Dodge, Kansas and in 1868, i came south with General Custer's expedition to what is now Ft. Sill.From 1871 until 1876, I was employed at Fort Sill as post guide.Between 1868 and 1876 I was employed almost continually between the Red River and I might change that a little and say between the Brazos River and the Canadian River, embracing the Red River Country, in the cpacity of scout and guide and in that way became familiar with that country.I have lived (since 1976) in the territory almost all the time; made one or two trips to Mexico.About the Comanche country and at the opening up of the Oklahoma territory here, I... about 1887, I was transferred from Anadarko in the Marshal's service up here to Darlington, but then I was down there as much as up here; between Anadarko, Darlington and Ft. Sill you might say has been my headquarters.
From 1877...until 1879 I was not in the Comanche Territory.I made a trip from Anadarko through to Prescott, Arizona up the Washita, over on the Canadian up the Canadian to Ft. Bascom and from there on west.I was employed as a scout in West Texas at Ft. Davis and Ft. Stocton and (was) there during the Apache war."Clint states that his younger brother, Frank, was probably with Jack on this trip because "both men showed up in Prescott, Arizona in 1877.Jack Stilwell had left Arizona and moved on to Fort Davis, Texas in 1878 to work as a chief packer and then scout at both Fort Davis and Fort Stocton.If Frank had returned to Ft. Davis with his brother, Jack, he might have avoided such bad company and averted an untimely death."
Clint's research also turned up that Jack worked at the Ward Bugby Cattle Co. as foreman for three years starting in 1883.He was then, in 1885, elected Marshal at Anadarko, serving there for two years.In the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WESTERN LAWMEN AND OUTLAWS, the author, Jay Robert Nash, says that he was "a gunman and lawman, scouted for the army in Texas, served as a deputy U.S. Marshal in the Indian Nations and brought in several outlaws."This was also stated in THE OKLAHOMA LAND RUSH OF 1889 by Stan Hoig."He was appointed Deputy U.S. Marshal and remained at Fort Reno and Darlington (OK).On Page 181 it states that he was appointed "City marshal of Reno City, May 6, 1889 when the town was organized."Reno City failed because the Rock Island Railroad changed the course of its line and went to El Reno instead (the Oklahoma Daily Capital, May 12, 1889)
In 1892 he became Police Judge in El Reno, Oklahoma. Clint states that "Judge Stilwell's legal education is open to question as stated in the December 15, 1893 of THE NORMAN TRANSCRIPT: "'Comanche' Jack Stilwell, the Old Indian Scout of the 60's is the City Judge of El Reno.He says he accepted the office because he didn't know any law and could therefore make an impartial judge".I think that it is interesting that Jack makes no mention of the Beecher's Island fight, but it had little relevence to the trial, and he might have been a little embarassed by the attention.Diron Alquist, who I met via thecomputer due to our interest in Jack, showed me the research that he had done for an article of his own.He had had access to the records and letters kept at the Ft. Sill Museum and they show when Stilwell was assigned for different trips, their purposes and the outcomes.He found that in "the summer of 1872, Stilwell made a trip from Fort Sill to Fort Dodge, Kansas with General Philip Sheridan (Shirley, 33)."Also in 1872, Stilwell was sent by Major George W. Schofield, commanding Fort Sill, to intercept troops who were escorting Kiowa chiefs Santana and Big Tree to Fort Sill to serve life sentences.As the fort was not able to handle them, they were taken to Atoka in Southeastern Indian Territory Nye, 158-159).Jack was under command of Lieutenant Colonel John Davidson, during the Comanche outbreak in September, 1874 (Nye, 212).He also states that in March, 1882, after hearing that his younger brother, Frank, had been killed at Tucson, Arizona by Wyatt Earp and several others, Jack went west in hopes of avenging his brother's death.However, he soon returned unsuccessful (Thrapp, 1371).In1895 Jack was appointed U.S. Commissioner at Anadarko, and Clint discovered that at that time he went back east to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.There he married Esther Hannah White, a young woman in her 20's, and brought her to Anadarko.In 1898, he was invited toWilliam F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody's ranch near Cody, Wyoming and it was there that he died in 1903.
The fascinating feature to me about researching Jack's life has been that stories told two brothers, Walla Owen and Daniel Clinton Cooley, inspired a great deal of interest in me and Clint Chambers, who has far surpassed me in his efforts and results, and to whom I will be eternally grateful.He has made it possible for me to have a GREAT story to tell my grandchildren, and perhaps it will help them to have an interest in the history of the family as it is entwined in the history of this country.
More About SIMPSON EVERETT STILWELL:
Fact 1: August 18, 1850, Born in Iowa City, Iowa.
Fact 2: 1863, Went out to New Mexico from Kansas City
Fact 3: 1867, First employed as a guide for troops at Ft. Dodge, Kansas.
Fact 4: 1868, With Gen. Forsyth's band of scouts-Battle of Beecher's Island.
Fact 5: 1871, Employed at Fort Sill as post guide
Fact 6: 1877, Made trip from Anadarko through to Prescott, Arizona.
Fact 7: 1878, Worked as a chief packer and then scout at Ft. Davis and Ft. Stockton.
Fact 8: 1883, Foreman at Ward Bugby Cattle Co. for three years.
Fact 9: 1885, Marshal at Anadarko for two years.
Fact 10: 1892, Became Police Judge of El Reno.
Fact 11: 1895, Appointed U.S. Commissioner at Anadarko.
Fact 12: 1895, Went east to Pittsburg and married Esther Hannah White.
Fact 13: 1903, Died at Buffalo Bill Cody's ranch in Cody, Wyoming.
Cause of Death: Bright's Disease