Jack Stilwell

(Frank) We’re back. (Deb) Welcome back. And you know, my first love of course is history and especially the old west. So, I read a lot of magazines and a lot of books on the old west and one of my favorites is True West by my good friend, Bob Boze Bell, who puts out a phenomenal magazine. He’s an incredible artist and always just has interesting little tidbits. So, one of the articles that was just in his magazine was on Jack Stilwell. Have you ever heard the name Jack Stilwell? (Frank) Hmm huh. Yes. (Deb) Well, it’s an incredible story with a great Kansas connection and if you’re familiar with the Battle of Beecher’s Island then you’ll be somewhat familiar with his incredible story. Let’s take a look. When he was 14 years old, Jack Stilwell was sent to fetch water at the family’s homestead north of Palmyra, Douglas County. Instead, he went to Kansas City and joined a wagon train bound for Santa Fe, traveling between New Mexico, Kansas City, and Leavenworth several times, spending the winters in New Mexico. His adventures taught him the countryside and the customs of the Plains Tribes. He landed in the history books as a Deputy U.S. Marshal, Police Judge, U.S. Commissioner in Oklahoma, and as an Army Scout. In 1868, Jack Stilwell joined Major George A. Forsyth’s company, one of fifty U.S. Army Scouts from Fort Harker and Fort Hays. On the morning of September 10, Forsyth’s troops at Fort Wallace received information that Cheyenne Indians had attacked a freighter’s train about eight miles east of Ft. Wallace. The soldiers set out at dawn to find the hostiles. The detachment went into camp on the Arikaree Fork of the Republican River. At dawn the Scouts were attacked by a large party of Cheyennes under the leadership of Roman Nose. Surrounded, the men took cover and dug in on a sand bar in the dry riverbed. Casualties were heavy and their chances were grim. At around midnight on the first day of battle, Forsyth knew their only chance of survival was getting word to the forces stationed at Fort Wallace, 120 miles away. The 19-year-old Stilwell volunteered for the suicide mission and chose Pete Trudeau, an older scout, to go with him. The pair crawled for three miles to get past the enemy lines. According to Marshall Trimble in True West Magazine, On the fourth day they found themselves on an open plain with no cover when they saw a Cheyenne war party approaching. Frantically searching for cover they came upon the carcasses of two dead buffalo lying in some tall grass. The two scouts crawled inside the dead animals and waited anxiously. Suddenly Jack heard a hissing sound. A big rattlesnake slithered out of the skeleton and coiled about a foot from his head. Young Stilwell just happened to have a chaw of tobacco in his mouth and before the snake could strike, with all the aplomb of a veteran muleskinner, Jack spat a juicy wad that hit that snake right in the eyes. That rattler backed off and made a hasty retreat into the grass. The Cheyenne, unaware of what just happened, turned and rode off. They reached Fort Wallace but Trudeau died from the ordeal days later. Stilwell, however, was part of the relief column that came to Forsyth’s rescue in one of the most dramatic stories of the Plains. Stilwell died in Wyoming in 1903.