Appendix 4: A Romanticized Account of the Death of Wesley Green Garrett

The following text is taken from an article written by Neil Eugene Marvin, a greatgrandson of Wesley Green Garrett and written while Neil was a student at Cotner College in 1933, some 70 years after the death of his great-grandfather. Neil died at Corregidor, Philippine Islands, on May 6, 1942, while serving in the United States Navy during World War II.

A True Story by Neil Marvin

From: The Cotner Collegian
Lincoln, Nebraska
April 21, 1933
“A hot July sun burned fiercely down upon the Middle West. Five covered wagons drawn by twenty horses crept slowly eastward across the rich Nebraska prairies. A pony bearing water kegs shuffled along beside the creaking wagons. The five bearded men silently cursed the heat, the dust, and the slow pace of the plodding horses, for that was 1863. The men were freighters who had carried supplies from Plattsmouth to the miners in Denver and were now returning with empty wagons. Their destination for that day was Plum Creek, about twenty miles west of Kearney. The sun had begun to turn red in the west when they reached their camping spot on the bank of the creek.

[It is as likely that the wagons were being pulled by oxen. Although wagons could have been pulled by horses, oxen were able to pull greater loads and could tolerate trail conditions better than horses. Elic Chalker’s biography stated that the trips were made by ox teams. The ‘pony’ may have been a horse or mule, and the year was 1864, not 1863.  The date was July 21st. ‘Kearney’ undoubtedly refers to Ft. Kearny. The city of Kearney, Nebraska, is on the north side of the Platte River and was previously called Dobytown. The ‘e’ was added in error by the postal service. crg]

“Wishing to refresh themselves after the long and dusty ride, they went up the creek a short distance to a well known “swimming hole.” The shadowy coolness of the water held them like a magnet and, before they realized it, the sun was sinking behind the distant prairies. They quickly dressed and hurried back to camp. When they reached camp, they discovered that their water pony had strayed or been driven away while they were gone. The gathering dusk prohibited a search for him until morning.

“The camp was guarded closely that night for the freighters feared that maybe a roving band of hostile Sioux Indians was in the vicinity. However, the night passed without incident and the men were up with the dawn, ready for the search. Lots were drawn to see which should stay and guard the camp while the others scouted the vicinity for the pony. To a young man in his early twenties (Elic Chalker Coleman, Jr., according to his biography) fell the lot of staying in camp. The others set out afoot with the agreement that if the pony were not located by noon, they were to return to camp and continue their interrupted journey. They started in different directions to increase the chances for finding the pony. The morning passed uneventfully for the man in the camp.

[If horses had pulled the wagons, it seems unlikely that the men would have set out ‘afoot.’ Although the narrative notes that there were Sioux Indians in the area, the Indians were actually Cheyenne Indians, perhaps some masquerading as Sioux Indians. The date of the search was July 22d. crg]

“By noon three of the others had returned and reported no trace of the missing pony, but the fourth man had not returned. At two o’clock the men became worried and feared that something had happened to their comrade. At three o’clock they start-out to search for him but immediately came running back to the wagons. The camp was surrounded by a small band of Sioux Indians! The Indians made no attempt to attack but it was impossible for the white men to leave camp. As soon as the men would get a short distance from wagons, the Indians would try to cut them off from the camp. Thus passed the first day.

[Again, these were likely Cheyenne Indians, not Sioux. crg]

“The men did not relax their vigilance during the long night and with the dawn of the second day they discovered that the Indians were still in the vicinity but had withdrawn to a short distance from the camp.  The men decided to stay there until they had some conclusive evidence as to the fate of their missing companion.

“About mid-morning another small caravan of freighters came up the trail and the four men asked them if they wouldn’t stop and help search for the missing man. When the newcomers learned of the circumstances, they whipped their horses into a gallop in an effort to
get out of the locality in the least possible time. The rest of the day was spent in camp by the disheartened men, and an atmosphere of gloom settled around them. A tasteless supper was eaten silently, and the weary men prepared for another long night of vigilances.

[This would have been July 24th, 1864. crg]

“The next morning (July 25th) a small detachment of soldiers from Ft. Kearney (sic) clattered into the camp and somewhat eased the oppressive suspense. The caravan of the day before had reported the affair at the fort and the soldiers had been sent out to aid those in distress. The freighters need not have any further fear of the Indians for just a sight of the dreaded “bluecoats” was enough to send the Redskin to some other territory. The men silently went out in different directions, they feared the worst. About three miles from the camp a small group rounded a hill and stopped as of one accord. Their breathing was suddenly restricted and their eyes dimmed. There before them lay the body of their companion pierced by seven arrows and a bullet. But greatest sacrilege of all, he had been scalped. Silently and tenderly they picked up the body and started the dreary march to camp. In the mind of each was a little homestead on Salt Creek, a waiting mother, and carefree child.

[The day described would have been July 25th. Although it is said that the men returned to the camp with the body, this is less than certain. Coleman noted in his biography that the day was hot and that he (Garrett) was buried where he lay. Nancy Jane Morton reported seeing ‘Mr. Garret’s body’ about 2 weeks later on August 8. If that is true, it seems unlikely that Wesley Green Garrett was buried in a coffin as noted in the next paragraph or perhaps he was merely covered with stones and other debris. crg]

“The boards from a wagon-box were made into a rude coffin. One of the men said a brief prayer over the body before it was lowered to its final resting place beneath the undulating swell of the undisturbed prairie. The men resumed their belated journey with heavy hearts.

“A summer Sunday dawned bright and clear and all about a cheerful homestead on the banks of Salt Creek was an air of bustling activity and expectancy. This was an important day to those sturdy pioneer folk. A circuit preacher had arrived the day before and was going to
hold a church meeting in their simple log house. No temple of brick or of stone this; no mighty edifice worthy of kings and emperors; but to this group of simple souls, it meant more than a mere kingly temple, for their worship was sincere.

“The mother of the household hurried about, followed by a roundeyed girl of three who understood little of what was happening except that her daddy would surely return today from the long and tortuous journey across the plains. Stern-faced parents followed by inquisitive but silent children soon began to arrive. When it was nearly time for the meeting to begin a rider came up to the house.

“He called aside the minister and whispered a few words to him. The suddenly pale minister hesitated a moment and then went resolutely to the kitchen where the mother of the house was still working. In a low voice the minister spoke a few short sentences to her. She, suddenly old and very weary, stood staring straight ahead with unseeing eyes. A choking hand seemed to close about her throat. Her ashen face quivered convulsively. She put her hand to her forehead, swayed, and then collapsed into the comforting arms of the elderly minister. The very much mystified child could not understand that her daddy was forever freed from the hardships and cruelties of a struggling pioneer’s life.”

© 2018