Legend of the Rawhide

Legend of the Rawhide, Rawhide Buttes-Lusk, Wyoming

Dickson, Arthur Jerome: “Covered wagon days, a journey across the plains in the sixties, and Pioneer days in the northwest: from the private journals of Albert Jerome Dickson”, Cleveland, The Arthur H. Clark Co. 1929.

‘About midway between Columbus and Grand Island we camped for the night on a small stream called the Rawhide. The story was then current that during the California gold rush, an emigrant party once camped there. Among them was a young fellow, thirsting for glory, who has vowed that he was going to shoot the first Indian he saw. Against the protests of the others he got his Indian – a defenseless squaw. When her people heard of the death they surrounded the camp in great numbers and demanded the guilty one, threatening to annihilate the whole party unless he was produced. He was promptly delivered into their hands. Then, before the eyes of the horror-struck white men, the Indians skinned their victim alive. This stream was ever since been known as Rawhide Creek.’

Laut, Agnes C.: “The overland trail, the epic path of the pioneers to Oregon”, New York, Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1929 p. 50

‘Five miles out on Elkhorn River, between the site of General Dodge’s first cabin and the modern city of Omaha, you will find the name on rail maps commerating an almost unknown episode. In 1854 the flood tide of Westward Ho was at its height to Utah and California. A brutal blacksmith on his way to California had sworn he world shoot the first Indian he saw just to have the nick on his gun. He did. His victim was a Shawnee boy. Now when the Mormons began moving across from Kanesville (Council Bluffs) to Omaha (Florence) they had made a treaty with Big Elk for a lease of land during five years till they could move the people gradually westward and both parties respected and observed that treaty: but there was a frightful crime unprovoked against the Pawnees. The Mormons did not want to stain their hands by becoming hangmen. Neither did any of the other pioneers, though crimes later along the Trail compelled them to overcome that reluctance. They handed the white murderer over to the Pawnees for punishment. The Pawnees tied him to a wagon wheel and shinned him alive. For years this gruesome spot was know as Rawhide.’

Spring, Agnes Wright: “The Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage and Express Routes”, Glendale, California the Arthur H. Clarke Company, 1949 p. 118

‘As to the Origin of the name Rawhide Buttes, H. Kelly said “A young man from Pike County, Missouri, had boasted that he would shoot the first Indian he saw on the plains. The young fellow had forgotten about it for the first month from the Missouri River. Upon his attention being called to his boast one day, about the first of June 1849, near the mouth of Rawhide Creek, he saw a camp of a few Indians on the Platte River and the fool shot one of them. That caused a lot of trouble as the Indians demanded the young man be turned over to them at once; else they would attack the train consisting of some thirty wagons of California gold hunters.

The man, who surrendered to the Indians, who, in broad daylight, tied and skinned him alive. It seems that the poor fellow fainted a number of times but lived till they had him nearly skinned. That was what originated the name Rawhide.’

Trenholm, Virginia Cole, and Carley, Maurine: “Wyoming Pageant, Casper, Wyoming”, Prairie Publishing Co., 1946, p. 126

‘On the soft, chalkstone bluff, now known as Register Cliff, may still be found the names of about five hundred of the emigrants who followed the trail. Many and varied are the stories back of these names. Let us take for instance, the name John Phillips. This was not John (Portugee) Phillips, who made a sensational ride from Fort Kearney in northern Wyoming to Fort Laramie in 1866.

This Phillips was a member of the ill-fated emigrant train that witnessed the incident giving rise to the name Rawhide Buttes. According to the story left in his diaries, a reckless young man vowed that he would shoot the first Indian he saw. It happened to be a squaw. The Indians furiously demanded that the young man be turned over to them. Fearing an attack upon the entire train the emigrants were forced to comply. The Indians proceeded to skin him alive. His mother, a horrified witness, died several days later along the trail.’

From our vertical files in the historical department:

“Rawhide Buttes – The Sioux for these buttes is ‘Tahalo Paha’. ‘Tahalo’ means rawhide, and ‘Paha’ is the Sioux word for ‘buttes’ or ‘hills’. The Indians had at one time killed a great number of buffalo, skinned them, and left a great pile of rawhides at the foot of one of the buttes, and when they returned the rawhides were gone, evidently stolen by white trappers.”

‘The historical Rawhide Buttes’ by Betty Harness

“In the wooded range of hills southeast of Lance Creek and south of Lusk, Wyoming, are the beautiful Rawhide Buttes. Most prominent are the two wooded, granite peaks that tower above the smaller hills.

Through this section winds the old Mormon Trail. Here, in the 1830’s, the Hudson Bay Fur Co. established a trading post. Indians brought their buffalo and beaver hides to trade for dry goods, beads, tobacco and whiskey. By 1840 the fashion for beaver hats waned and fur caravans no longer moved west.

To their place the lurching wagons of the emigrants streamed by the hundreds. It was here that a wagon train headed for the California gold rush, via Ft. Laramie, stopped to camp. Here a white man was skinned alive by the Indians because he killed an Indian woman in cold blood. Is was from this incident the name Rawhide originated.

When the Cheyenne-Black Hills stage line was established in 1876, the Rawhide Stage Station was situated near Rawhide Creek.

When land was opened for homesteading more wagon caravans came. Among them, in 1884, were grandparents of W. J. Wolfe of the Ohio’s pipe line department. It was they who homesteaded the Rawhide Buttes. Mr. Wolfe’s father homesteaded adjoining land and Wes, land that adjoined his fathers.

Mrs. Wolfe relates of a time before she and ‘Wes’ were married when they rode horseback to the foot of the Buttes and climbed to the top. ‘Wes’ pointing to the surrounding territory, said, “This is the Wolfe Den”.

After Mr. and Mrs. Wolfe were married they made their home in the Rawhides. In 1936 our pipe line department laid the trunk line to Ft. Laramie, under the supervision of Earl Mardis, now Bridgeport division superintendent. The pipe line follows along the old Mormon Trail. After completion of the lines, Wes took the job of line patrolman. He covered the 39 miles by walking from his home in the Buttes to Ft. Laramie one day, back the next, then to Lusk, next day, returning home the following day.

Mr. and Mrs. Wolfe have two children. Betty, who attends the university in Laramie, and Edward, who is in the Government service in China Lake, California. They own their home and live in Lusk where Wes is delivery gauger.

Relics of Indian and pioneer history of the Rawhide still remain. Wes has in his possession a bill of sale, dated 1892, where a former owner of some land, later bought by Mr. Wolfe’s father, purchased a log stable for $40 from the Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and South Dakota Stage Company. He has an old filing cabinet, made of native lumber from the Buttes that came out of the old stage station.

Ambitious searchers may still find arrowheads and Indian relics by climbing the jagged rocks and digging and sifting the dirt. These were the natural strongholds wherein white man and Indian barricaded during battle.

The story of how the Rawhide got its name has been annually narrated and produced into a pageant since 1946. It is a nonprofit enterprise presented at county fairs and rodeos, with proceeds used for community improvements.

“The Legend of the Rawhide” has gained wide acclaim. Its authentic covered wagons, trained ox teams, cast of 100 people, realistic make-up and enactment of the attack upon the wagon train, burning of a wagon in mock death, and the sensational gruesome climax, when the “Indians” skin the white man alive, make this spectacle on Wyoming’s outstanding and entertaining shows.

“Ohio Oil Co.”
The Beacon, Dec. 1949
p. 19-20

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