In the critical examination we have given this painful and horrible affair, we do not find of the immediate participants any officer living deserving of censure; and, even if evidence justifies it, it would ill become us to speak evil of or censure those dead who sacrificed life struggling to maintain the authority and power of the government and add new lustre to our arms and fame. . . .
The difficulty, in a “nutshell,” was that the commanding officer of the district was furnished no more troops or supplies for this state of war than had been provided and furnished him for a state of profound peace.
In May, 1857, I started for Salt Lake City with a herd of beef cattle, in charge of Frank and Bill McCarthy, for General Albert Sidney Johnston’s army, which was then being sent across the plains to fight the Mormons.
Nothing occurred to interrupt our journey until we reached Plum Creek, on the South Platte River, thirty-five miles west of old Fort Kearny. We had made a morning drive and had camped for dinner. The wagon-masters and a majority of the men had gone to sleep under the mess wagons; the cattle were being guarded by three men, and the cook was preparing dinner. No one had any idea that Indians were anywhere near us. The first warning we had that they were infesting that part of the country was the firing of shots, and the whoops and yells from a party of them, who, catching us napping, gave us a most unwelcome surprise. All the men jumped to their feet and seized their guns. They saw with astonishment the cattle running in every direction, stampeded by the Indians, who had shot and killed the three men who were on day-herd duty; and the red devils were now charging down upon the rest of us.
I then thought of mother’s fears of my falling into the hands of the Indians, and I had about made up my mind that such was to be my fate; but when I saw how coolly and determinedly the McCarthy brothers were conducting themselves and giving orders to the little band, I became convinced that we would “stand the Indians off,” as the saying is. Our men were all well armed with Colt’s revolvers and Mississippi yagers, which last carried a bullet and two buckshot.