One family’s incredible journey in times of war

Wheeler

Edwin Wheeler, Union Soldier

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.

August 15, 1865, our family in company of our father whose name was Edwin Wheeler, mother whose name was Mary Hickman, and two brothers, one eleven years and one three, and myself left Weatherford, Parker County, Texas, then the frontier country, for Sedalia, Missouri. I think I am safe in saying it was the first big cattle drive after the war between the states. Our outfit consisted of one three yoke oxen and one, one yoke wagon of cattle loaded with 2,000 pounds of flour and a few crude cooking utensils and bedding.

Eight cowboys, Tod Eddey, and Tom Fox and an old Texas Ranger by the name of Kin Elkins, as chief herdsman, and 1,000 head of long horned, yellow hided cattle, named Texas steers, half wild, refusing to recognize anything of the human species except if it was mounted and carrying two six shooters and a bowie knife. These were always worn in Texas at that date, when every man was a law unto himself, and to be used in the event of a stampede.

By a fixed rule only one method could be used on a herd of stampeded cattle, that of getting them to milling. It is done by the boys all riding on one side of the herd and getting as near to the front as possible and discharging their guns and shouting.

It might be well to stop and explain just how we happened to be on the frontier of that half civilized lawless country at that time. I will begin by stating that my father, Edwin, was a native of the state of New York, a descendant of an old family who came to America with the early Pilgrims of sturdy English stock. His grandfather followed Arnold to Quebec and afterward fought through seven years of the Revolution, and finally ending his life in battle with the Indians in Western, New York.

His father was a captain in the War of 1812 and fought with General Scott at Lundy’s Lane. I offer this as a part explanation for the wander lust of my father. I will state he was a college bred man, having graduated from one of the best colleges in Eastern New York, a highly skilled mechanic. When the New York and Erie Railroad was being built, he identified himself with being a mechanic and worked until its completion. I heard him say at one time it owed him a year’s pay and offered him a directorship if he would take it in stock. Besides making him a Division Superintendent, his inborn lust took him, for about that time rumors were current that the Congress had offered a bonus to every mechanic working in sections of land across the state of Missouri, sixteen miles on each side of a survey starting at Hannibal and ending at St. Joseph.

My father came to St. Louis and as soon as the survey was complete and work begun about the year 1856, he joined the work and continued until about the year 1859. When the railroad was nearing completion, he was struck with the same wandering spirit, being invited to come to Beaumont, Texas and build a bridge across the Sabine River at that point. At this time, the family moved from Missouri to Texas.

When rumors of rebellion began to come in 1860, work was stopped and war talk was in the air. But father, like people in all ages, in particular in the beginning of a great war, never think it will amount to much, but by 1861 father had concluded to start North, fearing the Mississippi River would be blocked. So, buying a mule team and a wagon he attempted to go around the war by going west. He hoped to go North through Indian territory in Kansas and reach Missouri but war conditions were worse than at Beaumont.

A chapter of what frontier life was like in that early day might be of interest. It is a fact that an unwritten law in Texas at that date was to shoot and do your talking afterwards. And there was plenty of bad men to carry said law into fact. I have seen men shot on provocations for which no excuse existed whatever. But our greatest nightmare was the Indians. The Comanche held complete control from the Red River to the Brazos River and they chose to control the land with vengeance. It was a common saying that they could scalp a man and not dismount from a horse, running off bands of horses, murdering homesteaders, cattlemen, and worst of all was their custom of stealing young children. It was only by the quick action of the part of father that I escaped a kidnapping. It is strange how quick a white child would learn the savage ways and refuse to be reconciled to civilization. The only way that Cynthia Ann Parker had ever been a white woman was she maintained the ability to cry. Parker, who was kidnapped at the age of 10, was adopted by the Comanche and lived with them for 24 years, completely forgetting her previous way of living. I have seen a number of children taken in early childhood and they acted the same.

Four years of frontier life could make a book by itself, but I’ll cut it short by stating father moved the family to Weatherford, Texas where we would be safe from Indians and stored 40 bushels of wheat in Carter Mill, bought 40 acres of land just east of town, but not having time or material to build a house we moved in with a Mrs. Bock near the hotel and just across the street from Dr. Frank Milligan. One day I heard father tell mother he expected to be conscripted into the Confederate army, and I heard him say he would never fight against the best government the world ever knew.

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.

To be continued in the next History Edition on April 7