One family’s incredible journey in times of war
Written by Porter Moss
Compiled by Mandi Kindhart-White
During the 1850’s, pioneers and settlers were moving west, using skills and talents to assist in making travel simpler. Located near the Salt River, Edwin Ruthvin Wheeler, had settled with his family in Hunnewell to build the St. Joseph-Hannibal railroad bridge over Salt River. Wheeler was a contractor, who was living the American dream with his wife and three sons. After finishing the bridge over the Salt River, Wheeler won the bid on another railroad bridge, taking his family to Texas to build there. While in Texas the Civil War broke out. In an attempt to keep from being drafted into the Confederate Army, Wheeler rode North by horseback, leaving his family, to join the Union Army in Illinois. The following article was written in January 1927 of his father’s account traveling from Texas to Hunnewell in 1865, by Julian A. Wheeler, the second son of Edwin Wheeler.
…. Continued from March 3 History Edition, which can be found online at www.lakegazette.net if you missed part one.
Of course, I was too young to understand his words, but one day I saw him ride away and oh I will pass up the three long years of want, sickness, and sorrow that we suffered while he was gone. For mother never heard a word from him the entire time.
All things have an end, for one wonderful day in June 1865, I looked up from my play and saw what I thought was the handsomest man I had ever seen, dressed in a neat blue Federal uniform with a regulation cap. A man, six feet in height, weighing 170 pounds, swung from his horse. Dad was home.
The first thing that my eyes saw was his two six shooters and bowie knife, something looked natural about it. I stepped up and took the bridle, the next moment I got a glimpse of mother as she rushed by with wide outstretched arms and as an equally strong pair met and drew her to that big manly form. I turned to admire the beautiful horse, with the brass mounted saddle and bright, shiny carbine that hung in its sling from the pommel. The next moment mother said to me, “Son, this is your father.” He laid a gentle hand on my head and said, “My boy are you glad I came?” Yes, I was glad for I knew it was the same brave man and father that had snatched me from the Comanche Indian years before. I have only one comment to make, it is the world old claim that there are three things a man will die for, his politics, his religion and his family. My father had made good in two of them.
Brave men rarely talk much, but in after years he told me how he had gone North until he struck General Banks army. After a short stop in the government shops at Little Rock, Arkansas, he went North and joined an Illinois regiment and followed General Sherman in the March and later doing police duty, his being the first regiment to go over the stricken country and protect what property was left and the repair of the roads.
When peace had been declared in April 1865, he went immediately to General Sherman stating to him that he had left a family in Texas three years before and that he would like to go and see if they were still alive. Without a word Sherman turned to an orderly and commanded him to write out a furlough and as he signed it and handed it to him, he stated, “Wear your full uniform and side arms, draw a horse and saddle, and if that doesn’t protect you, a company of troops will.” But it did. It is wonderful what a respect one of Uncle Sam’s uniforms will command. I have seen it tried out more than once.
Father wore his blue uniform for the three-month cattle drive from Weatherford, Texas to Sedalia, and then to Hunnewell and back to Dalton, Georgia where he mustered out on December 31, 1865.
Getting all things ready for a big cattle drive is a big undertaking. Wagons are to be remodeled, ox yokes made, wagon bodies of a special type made, and one of the great problems was chains for use in hitching a long string of oxen to a wagon. Each yoke has a separate chain about 10 feet long with a hook in one end and a ring in the other, enabling the animals to work in pairs, pulling together the load.
Poverty has always been the mother of invention, steers was only worth two dollars per head and father had purchased two or three head to bring along, killing them as needed for meat. They took the raw hides, cut them in long broad strips, twisted them into rope, putting a hook and ring in each end and staking them to the ground until dry. This was a great was to make a fairly good ox chain for the wagon.
I recollect going with him to see some timber Northeast of Weatherford and cutting two cottonwood trees 14 feet long, hewing them into squares 10x10 and then using the tongue and groove method, he had rails for a wagon box, a bottom was made by nailing heavy plank crosswise, sides were made by heavy staples drove into the cottonwood side rails. Heavy planks to which cleats were nailed to the ends held together iron rod wagon bows and a 10-ounce duck cotton made to cover over the wagon.
It was sure a strong wagon box, the wagon equally solid, about 3,000 pounds was to be drug across 800 miles of rough country. On August 15, 1865 we left Weatherford, Texas for our long trip. About 20 miles out we met the big herd of cattle. The third day we passed through Fort Worth, it was just a small settlement numbering 1,000 people I suppose. There was a brig guard house on Bull-Pen, and it was the last town until we reached Fort Smith, Arkansas. I don’t know when we crossed Red River, I only recollect a small flat boat took our wagons across, the cattle and horses swimming it. We drove about half mile to a campground when we got our first thrill.
About 2 p.m. a lone Indian rode up and stopped his horse and just stopped and stayed not saying a word. At the head of the heard rode Kin Elkins, the first thing that caught his eye was the Indian. He rode over to father and I heard him say, “Wheeler that Indian is up to some devilment. We had better put the cattle in the corral tonight.” There was a good one there, I don’t know when it was built, but the government might have had something to do with it as large herds of cattle were kept at times to feed the Indians.
About sundown 1,000 head of cattle were drove in. But let me tell you what this corral was like. It was built entirely of 10 foot rails, three rails high, staked and double sided, the top side was a round pole that must have taken four men to lift. It sure looked strong and was, but 1,000 wild steers were to be reckoned with.
Elkins gave orders for every cow man to sleep on his saddle blanket, his head and both six shooters buckled on, and the camp fire burning.
But if you can out-wile an Indian you have to know something; the Indians knew just what the weak point of those cattle were; namely a man on foot.
Wheeler's journey North will be continued in The Lake Gazette’s Next History Edition on May 5.