"The Indians are coming! The Indians are coming!" cried Tina Trexler that October day in 1878, as she rode her pony at breakneck speed from the hills north of Vincent, Kansas into the valley to warn her relatives and neighbors that the dreaded Red Skin would soon be upon them. She had just seen them coming from the northwest, headed for the valley.
Authentic news, if such was to be had, at a time when a community was standing practically defenseless in the face of a threatened Indian invasion, was out of the question. There was always plenty of news such as it was, but it was hard to sift through from the false, and folks are always more prone to belive the worst.
A band of Cheyennes that had left the reservation in Indian Territory, was enroute northwards. They had had a skirmish with some cowboys, who resisted their helping themselves to enough range cattle to supply them with meat. The cowboys killed and wounded some of the Indians, which put the band in an ugly mood. Should they have been allowed to have slaughtered enough cattle to supply them with meat for the time it is not likely that any trouble would have developed. They were traveling across the open prairie in western Kansas. They had their women and children, as well as all their worldly belongings with them. The Indians evidently did not intend to show any hostility enroute or they would not have taken their women and children with them through an open country, where there was no chance to run to cover. They were disatisfied with conditions in the territory, and were trying to get out of there before winter set in. Troops stationed at both Fort Hays and Wallace should have had little difficulty in heading them off should they have been ordered to do so. As it was they crossed, or rather went under (this was due to a superstition), the Union Pacific tracks, closer to Fort Wallace than Fort Hays. This was no doubt because there were a larger number of soldiers stationed at Hays than at Wallace. They appear to have moved across western Kansas for a long distance without molesting any one, but they fell upon the defenseless settlers near the Sappa, in the northwestern part of the state, where they murdered and pillaged. It is said that the soldiers were after them, but the Indians outmaneuvered them, which was considered a remarkable feat, considering that the Indians were burdened with their families and equipment.
It is not to be wondered at, that reports so vague, unreliable and startling reached the settlers more than a hundred miles from where the Indians were crossing the state. Two mail hacks ran daily between Osborne and Russell by way of Bristow, Covert, Grand Center and Woodville. Those stage drivers put out more or less reliable information to the settlers along their routes. Telegraph facilities at Russell should have been able to put out reliable information to the settlers along their routes. Headquarters at Fort Hays should have been in close touch enough with the location and movement of the Indians, and it should have been to the best intrests of the Indians, and it should have been to the best interests of the government to have seen to it that a feeling of unrest or panic did not develop, but it does not appear that any such effort was made. Perhaps the fact that the troops couldn't locate the Indians, the government in turn, could give out nothing definite as to their whereabouts.
I have never doubted but that the stage drivers gave out just such information as was given them, on the most part but folks were so anxious for news concerning the whereabout of the Indians that they disregarded what the stage drivers told, perferring to believe the wild rumors afloat. But the drivers didn't always tell all they must have known. I recall overhearing a stage driver tell at Grand Center one day that the Indians were crossing the Saline (River), which was no doubt correct, but they were not crossing at a point between Grand Center and Russell, as one would infer, but at a point over a hundred miles farther west. The days while the Indians were moving across western Kansas were a time of great suspense. As seen now the settlers would have known that the Indians would avoid getting to close to Fort Hays, but that doesn't appear to have occurred to them.
I recall that at no time did my parents take the alarming reports seriously, but we children lived in constant fear lest we should be nabbed by the Indians. This was no doubt brought about from the reports that had come to us by a couple of years previously concerning the Custer massacre. For all that, one evening during the days of suspense, my other discovered a couple of figures peering through the dugout window. It was a couple of neighbors, but mother afterward said her heart all but stopped beating, her first impression being that it was Indians.
Al Paschal drove one of the mail hacks that made daily trips between Osborne and Russell, Kansas. The home of John Transue, the farm now occupied by Fred Gillett in Valley township, was the point where the carriers got their dinner and changed teams. Later the change was made at the Grand Center post office. Here, no doubt, during the dinner hour, matters pertaining to the advance of the Indians, were discussed, as well as at the post offices along the route. Al appears to have kept his head through those days of alarm. He told about an eastern man boarding the hack at Russell one morning, enroute to Osborne. When out of Russell several miles the story of the Indians became the topic for discussion. The traveler had not heard it. He insisted that the hack take him back to Russell. This Al refused to do. The fellow climbed out of the hack, grabbed his satchel, and in the excitement neither Al nor the traveler thought of the fare that had been advanced for the trip. The eastern man walked back to Russell and took the first train east out of the zone of danger. Al told how the night that the Covert folks came to Osborne for safety he got little sleep. There was so much noise and confusion. The next morning he was asked if he was going to make this route. When he told them that he was they replied that he was running into certain death. He made his route as usual, but found few folks at home along the way. Just the nature of the report that was the cause of the Covert community leaving as they did was not revealed. However, I don't think, the alarm had yet reached the valley.
Tina Trexler (Mrs. Christena Brown), then a small girl, was herding cattle in the hills north of Vincent. She chanced to look to the northwest, and there a scene met her gaze that nearly paralyzed her with fright. She saw what she took to be a host of mounted Indians coming straight toward her. What she really saw was a field of corn that had recently been cut up. she saw the shocks. It took no stretch of imagination on her part to see in the shocks mounted Indians, and thinking not only of her own safety, but that of her relatives and neighbors, her impulse was to get the news to them at the earliest possible moment. Riding at breakneck speed she halted occasionally only long enough to tell them what she had seen. It does not appear to have occurred to them that Tina might have been mistaken.
That warning cry threw the Vincent community into a panic. Word spread like wildfire. A few hastily gathered belongings were thrown into the wagon, then loading the family, in most cases leaving chickens, hogs, cattle, and all else to whatever might befall it, they took the trail east and north to get out of the zone of immediate danger. Incidents both pathetic and humorous occurred during that stampede for safety have been told. Many did not stop until they got to Beloit, a few turned back the next morning. The Grand Center neighborhood went to the Ira Pitzer home one evening. That family lived in a stone house, and the neighbors felt that the stone house afforded a measure of safety. After gathering it was found but few firearms were brought, and in most cases they had little or no ammunition. Mr Wilson had a small supply of bird shot left but no powder.
Santa Fe Trail Research Site
"E-Mail & Home Page"
Larry & Carolyn
St. John, Ks.