Some Native American raiding parties made a practice, when on their hunting trips in the fall of each year, of killing cattle belonging to the cattlemen.
The Stock Association made an effort to catch the Native Americans in the act with proof enough for conviction, but with no success The inspectors for the Association, the sheriffs of the different counties, and the cowboys of all the interested ranches were continually watching out. They were constantly finding where animals had been killed, but only the feet and heads were left. The ears had been cut off close to the head and burned to get rid of any proof by way of ear marks, and the hides had either been burned or made into ropes to get rid of the brands.
The lawmen would come across camps of Native Americans with beef in their possession, cut in strips and either spread on scaffolds or hung on ropes to dry and cure in the sun for winter use. When questioned, the Native Americans claimed that it was elk meat, and although the lawmen knew better, there was no proof to the contrary that any court could accept. This went on for awhile. The Native Americans got bolder all the time, and were killing cattle more frequently, but never relaxing in their cunning, or in their vigilance not to be surprised by Anglo men while they were killing beef.
It was believed that one conviction of a Native American would put a stop to all cattle theft from the ranchmen. Going into a camp or village of Native Americans to arrest one for stealing was something that up to that time had rarely been attempted by any but Rangers or an army squadron, and they were not hankering for the job.
There was a standing reward of $250 for evidence leading to the arrest and conviction of horse and cattle thieves. McClennan and Glass were old hunters and trappers, who made their living by killing bear for the oil and hides, and trapping beavers. Ranchmen sent for them, explained the condition of things and offered them the reward if they would bring the necessary evidence for the conviction of any Native American. They agreed to be on the lookout.
It was only four or five weeks after that when the hunters appeared later one afternoon leading a pinto pony, on which was an Indian saddle packed with a beef hide. They said that the day before they were following a bear trail. They crossed a little spring branch and as they came up out of the little canyon of the creek, they ran onto two young Native Americans in the act of skinning a cow which they had just shot. The Native Americans were not more than a hundred yards away, but they saw McClennan and Glass come out of the canyon. They had two ponies, one was black and standing close to them. The other was a pinto which was tied to a sage brush abut fifty feet away. Both Native Americans picked up their rifles, jumped on the black pony and escaped before the hunters could stop them. All that McClennan and Glass could attest to about the Native Americans was that both were young and that one in particular was very fine looking. They took possession of the pony, finished skinning the cow, cut off the ears, took about 75 pounds of the best part of the meat, all they could carry, rolled the ears and meat in the hide, packed it on the pony and rode in.
They also found lying on the ground close by the cow an old Stetson hat, which at one time had been nearly white, and a medicine bag, which they took with them. The hide had a brand on it, and the ears had special marks for the cattle ranch that owned the cow. Hunting for some particular Native Americans was like hunting for a needle in a haystack. There was a name written on the inside of the hat. It had gotten dim from exposure to the weather, but they were able to make out the name “Samuel.”
The lawmen thought that the Native Americans belonged to a small hunting party who were camped in the basin near the mouth of a creek, and that it was likely they had gone down there after leaving the beef and the men would find them within a few miles of that place.
The first night the lawmen camped on the little creek where the cow was killed, and in the morning, they took up the trail of the pony on which the two Native Americans escaped. They found signs of quite a hunting party having been camped. The Native American party appeared to have consisted of nearly one hundred. Evidently when the two Native Americans came into camp and told their story of having been surprised while skinning the cow, the whole party became frightened and started at once to flee.
The moon was close to full, and rose about nine o’clock so that it was quite light from that time on. About midnight, the lawmen reached the camp which was located on a little flat in the edge of the timber bordering the river. One man dismounted about one hundred yards away and left another to hold the horses. Everything was quiet as a graveyard, not even a dog barking, which seemed unusual in a Native American camp.
They walked in among the sleeping Native Americans. They all started up but the strong light at their back blinded the lawmen from the Native American men. The Native Americans stampeded and took to the brush, but so far had not made noise enough to awaken the rest of the camp. The men found eight Native Americans just rousing from sleep, two of them on one side by themselves under a fine buffalo robe. A lawman pulled the robe off and uncovered a young female and a young male that answered the description of Samuel. The man took hold of him and told him to get up on his feet. They put handcuffs on Samuel and started out of the lodge, holding onto him while they ran to their horses.
The camp by that time was in an uproar. It was bedlam. Native Americans were running in every direction catching and saddling horses, dogs howling and barking, woman chanting war songs and men with war whoops mingled with the rest of the noise. The lawmen had put Samuel on the pinto pony, which had been brought along for that purpose, tied his feet together under the horse, and started on a fast ride away. They got away without having to fire a shot. They put Samuel in the guard house.
The lawmen rounded up the other Native American named Beaver. The lawmen asked for the Judge to give the lightest sentence because the lawmen had told the Native Americans through an interpreter when they came up in an armed band after the lawmen rode away to try to prevent the men from taking the Native Americans away that the lawmen would ask for a light sentence.
The Native Americans were given a year and credit for time when they were held before the trial. They were allowed to keep their hair long and to tend to the horses for the lawmen at the jail. They also helped the lawmen find a murderer at the jail that tried to escape from prison. They were in jail about six months. After this there were very little Native Americans taking the cattlemen’s beef.
There is a Native American exhibit at the Brown County Museum of History. This article is a summary of events described in Frontier Trails, edited by Edward Everett Dale.