The Tragic Story of Wesley Green Garrett’s Demise

It was while operating as a freighter along that Oregon Trail the Wesley Green Garrett had a fatal encounter with several Indians. Unfortunately, the freighters were caught during a surge of increasingly hostile Indian activities in the Nebraska territory during the summer of 1864.

Probably the most accurate telling of the events in July 1864 is taken from a book on the Sheffer Pioneer Cemetery, Cass Co., Nebraska:

“Lucy’s husband met with an awful death. The following is taken from the Biography and Obituary of Elic Chalker Coleman, Jr.:

‘Mr. Coleman took up the life of a freighter. These trips were made by ox team. It was during the uprising of the Indians and the tribes were not as tame as they are now. On one of these trips, Green Garrett was killed somewhere near Kearney, July 22, 1864. They had stopped to camp and all went swimming. While they were gone, their horse, which had been taken along to bring back the kegs of water, was stolen. The next morning all, except Mr. Coleman, went to search for the horse, he being left to guard the camp. One by one, all came back except his brother-in-law, Green Garrett. They tried to get passing freighters to stop and help search, but the presence of Indians had made the neighborhood a place to be avoided. They went to Ft. Kearny (sic) for soldiers. After a three-day search, they found the body in a partly disrobed condition, with seven arrows and one bullet hole in it.’

“Others add to this that Mr. Garrett had gone up onto a ridge, presumably in the hope of locating the missing horse, when the Indians attacked him. Evidently he had intended to hasten his flight by the removal of his boots, for one was off, lying some distance back
of where he died. He had not succeeded in removing the other. He was scalped. He had had such a beautiful head of hair. This was in the hot summer and they could but bury him where he lay.

“Mrs. Garrett was never told of the story. She mistrusted this and they were often aware she was listening, hoping to hear something more. ‘These were indeed days of adventure, and much credit must be given to the men who opened up our state. The foremost of these were the freighters.’

“The word of this son-in-law’s death was brought to Colemans one Sunday, while services were being held there. From then on, Mrs. Garrett and daughter, Mamie, lived with the Colemans. She was given forty acres of land by her parents.”

See Appendix 4 for a lengthy and more romaniticized version of events written many years later by his great grandson.

The search for Wesley Green Garrett also involve federal troops stationed at Ft. Kearny and possibly at Plum Creek. See Appendix 5 for information about Fort Kearny and the messages sent relating to the death of Wesley Green Garrett and Indian activity.

The following transcriptions of letters are included here because they represented the lore that had become attached with the death of Wesley Green Garrett.

Letter by Lorena Floye Beard Garrett, wife of Harley Garrett who would have been Wesley’s nephew:

"Killed by the Indians out in Nebraska or Colorado and buried under a lone tree. Charles (Wesley’s brother) was sure he could find that tree but if you know the country, there are many lone trees. Wesley G. was a freighter and they went in a company. One night two little Indian boys were playing around the camp in a destructive way, I suppose, and Wes thrashed them. The next morning his horses were gone. The men scattered trying to find them and ran across Wes' body. Uncle Wes was named for him and also one of Joe's sons."

From a letter by Nellie Viola Myers Bierma who would have been a niece of Wesley:

"He was camping one night near Schulyer, Nebraska, and was some Indians nearby and along in the night his horses got away. He thought an Indian boy did it, so he spanked the boy. The Indians scalped him and he was buried under a tree at Schulyer."

The following material is taken from the Encyclopedia of Indian Wars, “Plum Creek Massacre,” by Gregory F. Michno:

“8 August 1864, Lexington, Nebraska: In addition to raiding along the Little Blue River, Cheyennes attacked along the Overland Trail west of Fort Kearny. Two miles west of the Plum Creek stage station, on the south side of the Platte River southeast of present-day Lexington, Nebraska, Mart Bowler's corralled bull train was breaking camp when Cheyennes attacked. .With an arrow piercing his buckskin vest, 14-year-old bullwhacker William Gay fired a shot to alert his comrades, who blasted away. The Cheyennes rode right into the circle of wagons, but the teamsters managed to drive them out. After circling a few times, the Cheyennes disappeared, leaving behind two of their own dead and three wounded teamsters.

“The same morning, about five miles east of the first attack, a wagon train heading west-consisting of three wagons of Thomas F. Morton, three of William Marble, and six of Michael Kelly-was charged by 100 Cheyennes from bluffs to the south. Some believed there was no cause for alarm at first, but James Smith and his wife urged their team into a run and peeled away from the rest of the wagons. Mrs. Smith jumped from the wagon and hid in the cattails as he husband rushed on.

“The warriors swept in and the teams scattered. Nancy (Jane) Morton, age 19, began to run. She saw her cousin and brother firing at the Indians, but she saw both die before she was captured. Thrust up behind a Cheyenne rider, she noticed she had arrows in her thigh and
left side. The Indians also captured young Danny Marble.

“At Plum Creek Station, Bowler's bull train had arrived, but they had only one rifle and some short-range weapons. Lt. Joseph Bone, Company G, 7th Iowa Cavalry, was unable to do more than telegraph a message to Fort Kearny. But it was too late. The Cheyennes disappeared with their 2 captives (Nancy Jane Morton and Danny Marble), 13 (actually 11) emigrants dead in their wake.”

The same day as Mrs. Morton’s capture by the Cheyenne but recounted by her years later:

“Soon my attention was drawn to an object lying near the roadside which I soon recognized. It was [the form of] Mr Garret who had been cruelly murdered. They told me that would soon be my fate.”

End notes by Russ Czaplewski for this paragraph state the following: “A Mr. Garrett was found scalped and dead by a military scout on July 25 southwest of Fort Kearny according to the monthly report for Company A, Fort Kearny. Mrs. Morton may have heard of the incident but could not have seen the body. It was buried by the military scout. If Garrett was killed by Mrs. Morton’s captors, they had been in the vicinity for two weeks prior to the Plum Creek Massacre.”

For more information see Appendix 6 about the Plum Creek Massacre.

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