Bear River Expedition - Letter and accompanying papers September 3, 1859

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Bear River Expedition - Letter and accompanying papers September 3, 1859 - Shepperd Massacre  (1859) 
by F. Dodge

F. Dodge was an Indian Agent Carson Valley, U.T.

OFFICE INDIAN AGENT, Carson Valley, U. T., September 3, 1859.

SIR : The two widows and four orphans survivors of the late massacre on Sublett's cut-off, arrived here yesterday, wounded, overwhelmed in grief, and totally destitute of money, clothing, and provisions, their all and only dependence being lost in that deplorable affair; they are from Howard county, Missouri.

Application was made to this agency for assistance which was immediately rendered, and nothing in my power will be left undone, to ameliorate the suffering condition of these poor women and children.

I have the honor to inclose, for the information of the department, a copy of a letter addressed to me ; also a copy of a statement of that indiscriminate massacre, made in the presence of Judge Cradlebaugh and myself by persons, two of whom were on the spot, and the others in the immediate vicinity at the time of the tragedy.

This emergency devolves on me the responsibility of incurring some additional expense, but, under the circumstances, I feel confident the department will sustain me.

With great respect, your obedient servant,


Indian Agent.


Com. of Indian Affairs, Washington, D. C.


September 2, 1859.

SIR : We, having taken into our charge and brought thus far the widows and orphans of the late massacre on the Sublett's cut-off, at considerable expense, Mrs. Wright and her infant child being seriously wounded are unable to proceed further, and all being totally destitute, we respectfully request that you take charge of them, and furnish such aid as may be in your power.





Major F. DODGE, United States Indian Agent.


September 2, 1859.

About six o'clock, p. m., the 26th of July, when some men of a small emigrant train, camped at Cold Springs, on the Sublett's cut-off, eighty miles from Salt Lake City, were at supper, a party of eight Indians, armed with rifles, bows, and arrows, came down and asked for something to eat. Having obtained some bread, they started to a hill where the cattle were herded by two men. After saluting the cattle-guards, and passing them, one of the Indians suddenly turned his pony, lowering his rifle, shot one of the men, Mr. Hall, through the heart, killing him instantly. The other man fled to the camp. The Indians were in the meantime running off nine head of cattle and two horses.

At the time of this depredation there were only a small train of emigrants present, and some time afterwards, at about nine o'clock, the horse-train led by Mr. Ferguson Shepherd arrived. The night passed on quietly, and in the morning Mr. Shepherd's train left at seven o'clock, at the arrival of Mr. E. Skaggs's train.

At about half-past eight o'clock a party of Indians, twenty-five or thirty in number, came down over the hills from the Salt Lake road, and tried to run off the cattle grazing there. A man on cattle-guard, in trying to drive down the herd, was wounded by a rifle ball in the fleshy part of the thigh, and by two arrows, one in the wrist and the other in the shoulder. The men at camp were armed hurriedly, and met the Indians, and, exchanging shots with them, killed two and wounded some eight or ten.

The Indians carried off, along with their wounded and dead, some twenty-one head of cattle.

The horse-train, which started out in the morning under Mr. F. Shepherd, was attacked in a canon, seven miles from Cold Springs, and, while doctoring a sick horse, Mr. Ferguson Shepherd was shot down. Almost at the same time. Mr. James D. Wright was dangerously wounded through the chest and back. Bill Diggs, Clayborn F. Rains, and Wm. Shepherd, were killed in rapid succession, the Indians firing from behind the bushes on the ridges of the heights on each side of the canon.

About one o'clock two men, James Ward and Geo. Everett, arrived on horseback, to the encampment at Cold Springs. Shortly after Geo. W. Parson and J. McGuire arrived; an hour later Mr. James R. Shepherd, wife, and infant, Mr. Townsend Wright, and Ignatius Smith, came down to the camp of emigrants at the spring, Smith being shot through the muscular part of the right arm. The rest of the fugitives were uninjured, though fired at by the Indians.

At five o'clock, p. m., the trains of Messrs. Fairbanks, Hereford & Pierce, came along, and united with the trains already at Cold Springs, and,, after taking every precaution to guard against surprise, the night passed without being interrupted by any event of importance.

The next morning, at an early hour, the united trains, to the number of fifty-two wagons and two hundred men, started through the canon. No Indians were to be seen; but, at the place of the murder of the day previous, the bodies of Ferguson, Wm. Shepherd, Wm. Diggs, and C. Rains, were lying in the middle of the road, covered with blood and dust, and bloated by the heat.

The wagons were turned from the road, the ground being covered with feathers from bedding, and fragments of clothing. Under a wagon, with a crippled babe in her arms, laid Mrs. James Wright, with a serious wound in her back ; and inside the wagon, half delirious and exhausted by loss of blood, Mr. James Wright, mortally wounded. The poor sufferers were attended by a little son five years of age, who supplied their feverish lips with water, and also brought to them the sorrowful news that all their companions. were either killed or had fled.

Mrs. Wm. Shepherd, who was the last one to leave the place of carnage, arrived the evening before at the camp of refuge at Cold Springs, but, previously weakened by attending a sick husband, they had to leave an infant of eight months in the bushes a few rods from the place of disaster. The babe was found by the advance party in the morning, and, although severely scorched by the sun, uninjured.

Mr. James Wright and wife, together with the four dead bodies, were put on board some wagons of Geo. M. Pierce' s train, and conveyed eighteen miles further, where the wounded were attended to and received surgical aid. The four dead ones were buried in one grave; and the next morning Mr. Oscar F. D. Fairbanks generously offered his carriage to convey the wounded. It was a spring carriage, better adapted than the wagon to carry them along ; and from this place to Genoa he and his sister paid the greatest attentions to the comfort of the sufferers.

Mr. James Wright did not survive but ten days, and was decently buried.






September 2, 1859.

The foregoing statement was made and subscribed in our presence.


Judge Second Judicial District. F. DODGE,

United States Indian Agent.

Dr. A. W. Tjader's statement of condition of the wounded now living.

Mrs. Wright had a rifle ball shot in her back while leaning forward to button up the front part of the wagon. The ball entered half an inch below the right kidney, and passed directly downwards, grazing the sacral plexus of nerves, and pursuing its course downwards and ala, and turning inward, lodged somewhere in one of the lower vertebrae or said bones. It could not be touched at a distance of twelve inches from entrance, and, not seemingly causing any discomfort, was allowed to remain. She is now recovering slowly, since any amount of clothing being partly removed and partly discharged from the wound.

A little girl, daughter of Mrs. Wright, aged about eighteen months, was taken up by the Indians and thrown against the rocks, whereby her left thigh was broken in the middle. The poor little thing was partly deranged for some time after so cruel a treatment. She is now bodily and mentally mending. The fracture is uniting, although the bone is slightly bent, the continuous traveling and want of space to apply a proper apparatus being the cause.

Another little girl, daughter of Mrs. William Shepherd, who was left in the bushes over night, was severely blistered all over neck and legs by the severe sun heat, had her neck injured, and remained in a pitiable plight for more than a week afterwards. She is recovering, although her neck is still very stiff.

The sufferers are now in the hands of Major F. Dodge, United States Indian agent, who is assiduous in his endeavors to render them all the assistance in his power. They are furnished with comfortable quarters, good nursing, clothing, and surgical aid.



September 2, 1859.

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.