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June 2008


Sam at Fort Kearny

Sometime between 1857 and 1859 Sam, at about eighteen years, made his way West with a wagon train. He would undoubtedly passed through Ft. Kearny, near present day Kearney, Nebraska.

An article from the Twenties, based on the comments of a friend, describes Lou's journey West with Sam by wagon train. This is obviously incorrect — Lou did not go West until after the War, and the railroad could easily take him to Salt Lake City — but we have to wonder if the story might be true regarding Sam:

Because of the active warfare being waged by the Indians in the West against travelers whom they considered were infringing on their preserves, General Kearney refused to allow the youths to continue their trip.
They remained at the fort for nearly six months, during which time their only shoes were worn from their feet. Then, when the opportune time arrived, they left the army garrison and started across country barefooted and with only meager provisions.
Their perilous journey was never discussed at length by either of the brothers. Indians in roving bands were active at the time against all travelers of the plains and many harrowing experiences must have been undergone by the boys.

Here's a description of the place written by a correspondent for the New York Herald who passed through in 1857 and 1858 as a member of the Utah Expedition:

Fort Kearny, like most of the forts in the West, has no fortifications but is merely a station for troops. It stands on a slight elevation a few miles from the Platte River. The fort consists of five unpainted wooden houses, two dozen long, low mud [sod or adobe] buildings. The houses are built around a large open square or parade ground, while the mud buildings extend in any and every direction out from the roads that run along the sides of this square. Trees have been set out along the borders of the parade ground, and they are the only bushes that can be seen in any direction except a few straggling ones on the banks of the Platte a few miles distant. Intermixed between these immature trees on the sides of the square are sixteen blockhouse guns, two field pieces, two mountain howitzers and one prairie piece. These constitute the artillery defences of the post against the Indians.
On the west side of the parade ground stands the house of the com- manding officer. It is a large, ill-shaped, unpainted structure, two stories high, with piazzas along its entire front on both floors. Within , however, the building is much more respectable being commodious, comfortable, well finished and neatly finished. Directly opposite the commanding offi- cer's house, on the other side of the square, is the soldier's barracks, seventy feet by thrity feet, and two stories high. The barracks has never been finished and now is in bad order. It can accommodate very well eighty-four men. There are in it now between ninety and one hundred men. The other wooden buildings are the officers' quarters, the hospital and the sutler's store. These structures do not present a very inviting appearance to the eye, but they are charming places compard to the spectacle of twenty-four long, winding, broken-backed, falling down mud buildings. These are of all sizes, the largest one being about one hundred forty feet long, forty feet wide and twelve feet high. (The Utah Expedition, 1857-1858, New Hampshire Historical Society Collections, Vol. 12, p. 233.)


Joe and the Bottom Dollar Mine

The Cerrillos Hills rise out of the New Mexican desert kind of like the scab of a giant pimple — the low, rolling remnants of a volcano that erupted here millions of years ago.

Cerrillos Hills

That volcano brought molten metal up from deep underground, silver and lead. The intense heat led to the formation of turquoise, a circumstance unique to Cerrillos, creating a type of stone found nowhere else. According to Bill Baxter: was the site of the largest prehistoric mining activity on the continent because the huge turquoise deposit was partially exposed at the surface. Miners from the San Marcos Pueblo, who later moved to Santo Domingo Pueblo south of Santa Fe, most heavily worked the mine. Using only stone axes, mauls, antler picks, and chisels, Pueblo miners removed 100,000 tons of solid rock to create a pit mine 200 feet deep... The turquoise obtained from this hard work traded among early peoples from Mexico to the Midwest and from the east to west coasts. In New Mexico, many pieces of Cerrillos turquoise for personal and trade use have been unearthed in the prehistoric ruins of Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon. The Pueblo peoples continued to extract turquoise from the Cerrillos mine until the 1870's when a silver mining boom raised interest in the area.

Around 1830, the Spaniards arrived in the area and put the Pueblos to work for them, digging for silver.

Joe was an early participant in the American stage of mining in Cerrillos, arriving in the area in 1879 from parts unknown. He remained in the area off and on for many years working claims of his own, and of others. One claim was particularly significant, the Bottom Dollar, or, as the Spaniards called it, the Santa Rosa. Following is a summary of what is known about the Santa Rosa, courtesy of Bill Baxter:

What we know is that a lead-silver mine called "Santa Rosa" was worked around 1830 by a man named Alvarado, about three and a half air miles south of Alamo Creek, the probable location of Vargas's Real de Los Cerrillos. This mine had a 50-foot decline shaft that was open but caved in when seen in 1869, but later old workings (drifts) were found at a depth of 110 feet. It still contained ore with 75 ounces or more of silver per ton, and one of the most reputable of the 1800s reporters on American Mines, Rossiter Raymond, reported it along with the Ruelena as the richest of the silver mines of the Cerrillos Hills. A new vertical shaft was dug or an old filled in one was reopened by Dr. Andrews in 1872. In February, 1883, the contractors digging yet another new shaft for the owners struck an old Spanish tunnel (drift) at a depth of 110 feet which contained stone axes and other tools. The shaft there now is either the 1883 shaft, reworked in the 1900s, or a post-1900 shaft on the same vein.

Joe and a guy named Whalen were the men who uncovered those early workings. Perhaps worth adding to the mine's history: the murder of Alexander Allan in 1897 — by his employee, Joe Blonger.

It seems Joe and Silas Smith wanted to leave camp at the Bottom Dollar for Santa Fe one evening, for a little recreation. The timbers needed to continue work were late in arriving, and there was little to do. According to Joe:

This seemed to anger Allan and he said we were nice fellows to leave him all alone. To this Smith replied: 'We have to look after ourselves and if we want to go away you can't help yourself.' Allan jumped up from the table and drew his gun and covered us with it and said he would see if he could not keep us there. At this time Ed Andrews came up to spend the evening at the camp. Allan lowered the revolver for a moment and then threw it at Smith. It fell near me and I picked it up. Allan clinched with Smith and threw him to the ground. Allan picked up a rock and as he held it over Smith's head said: 'I'll brain you right here.' I don't know how it happened, but I fired at Allan and the bullet struck him either in the chin or just below. Allan sprang up and ran in circles, falling as he ran. In less than five minutes after I shot him he was dead.

Joe promptly took a wagon into Santa Fe and gave himself up. The shooting was declared self-defense, and Joe was a free man. Assuming the story is true, Joe reveals something of his character with this addendum:

Before he died, I went to him and told him I was sorry, very sorry that the shooting had happened. He tried to answer me, but his breathing was so difficult and the blood was rushing from the wound so rapidly that I could not understand what he said."


June 2008



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