I would like to thank Mrs. Louise Cox for sharing this article on her ancestor with us.
Thank you, Louise.
When the bullet slammed into his head, Jordan Bean told his companion-in-arms to
take his horse and make a run for safety. Then he lay back to die in desolate Castle
Courtesy Colorado Historical
Jordan Bean ~1886
Jordan Bean's story of the Indian fight in Little Castle Valley, with supplemental
notes by Edgar C. McMechen.
Explanatory note: This article first appeared in The Colorado Magazine XX January
20, 1943 and was edited by Edgar C. MeMechen. The story was brought to our
attention by Mr. and Mrs. Roy C. Bean.
At the time the article was originally printed, Jordan N. Bean was the sole survivor of
the Little Castle Valley Indian battle, which took place June 15th and 16th, 1881,
about twenty miles east of Moab, Utah, between renegade Indians and a detachment
of cowboys and miners, most of whom were from southwestern Colorado. Mr. Bean,
then eighty-four years old, dictated the following story to his wife, who wrote it down
and sent it to the State Historical Society of Colorado.
WE LEFT Texas the twentieth of May 1872, went to Paul's Valley, Indian Territory
(now Oklahoma), stayed there until May 20, 1875. Left for Colorado, landed in Del
Norte about the tenth of August 1875. Had moved overland with a wagon train.
In the spring of 1876, we moved to Los Pinos River by way of Pagosa Springs. My
father took up a ranch between where Bayfield now stands and the Southern Ute
Reservation. I also took up a ranch. I lived there until the fall of 1879. While living
on Pine River I ran cattle with Charles Johnson, the race horse man. Summer of 1878
I worked for George W. Morrison, who died just a few years ago at Dove Creek, Colorado.
Al Nunn, who died at Cortez two years ago, left the Indian Territory with us and he and
I rode the range together until I left there (Montezuma Valley) in 1884.
Tom Click and I drove a herd of cattle from San Luis Valley to Pine River in 1876. We
were friends until he was killed in the Little Castle Creek Valley fight in 1881.
While living on Pine River, my brother and I were looking for cattle on the Ute
Reservation. We saw some Indians coming and they had a dead Indian lying across
a pony, tied on. Our curiosity was aroused, of course, and we started to follow, but
didn't get a good start until a big Indian rode out of the crowd and yelled at us and
motioned for us to go back, and we did, without ever hesitating. A few days after, I
was at the Agency and was told it was Chief Ouray, who had died there while on a
Frank P. King, assistant civil engineer for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, also
had cattle on the Los Pinos. His brother Charley lived on Pine River and ran his
brother's cattle. I knew them well.
In the fall of 1879 I left Pine River and went to the Dolores River. My father took up
a ranch one-half mile above where the town of Dolores stands, but our cattle were in
the Montezuma Valley along with those of I. W. Lacey (Henry Goodman, foreman),
the Johnsons and Spud Hudson of Pueblo (Green Robison, foreman).
The Indians were bad all the time. At night we never exactly knew where we were
going to wake up, above or below. The first post office was started in 1879. Mrs.
Crumley named it Dolores and it was located about four miles up the river from the
We had good times, too. Charles Johnson went to Kentucky and brought back some
race horses and three Negroes, all banjo pickers and "fiddlers."
When we were moving from Pine River to Dolores River we camped at Mancos and
went to the blacksmith shop to get some work done. The blacksmith and my father
were visiting and I found they had been Texas Rangers together under "Big Foot"
Wallace. The blacksmith was J. M. Rush, father of J. M. Rush, Jr., now living at
Dolores, Colorado. No man ever had truer or better friends than the Rush family, Mrs.
Rush included. The Rush family and their son-in-law, Jack Wade, were the whole town
of Mancos at that time (1879).
Soon after, George Bauer come and started a little store and gin mill (if you know
what that means). Manse [Reid] got married on the Mancos. The roundup come in
for the dance. George Bauer was shy any liquor in the morning but that eve we had
a whole barrel of what he called gin, but it tasted like hell. Still it made the boys all
feel good and we all wanted to kiss the bride (but, nix). Manse Reid's wife was Minnie
Weston, a sister of Dave Willis' wife.
THE INDIANS got worse and worse. They would round up our cattle, cut their tongues
out, shoot at us and didn't care if they hit; stole our horses.
John Thurman was running J. B. Alderson horses at Burnt Cabin Srings. Alderson lived
in Nevada. R. W. May and a man by the name of [Frank] Smith went to Thurman's camp
the evening of April 30, 1881 to stay all night. That winter about flfteen cowboys had
wintered at Thurman's camp. On the last day of April they packed up and moved up to
Piute Springs. The next morning some of their horses were gone. Mike O'Donnell and
Jess Seeley tracked them to where Thurman's cabin had been. They rode up on a rise
and looked for the cabin but couldn't understand the situation, so they rode down to where
the cabin had stood and found it burned to the ground. Dick May was in the cabin, John
Thurman about one-fourth of a mile from it, dead, with his bridle on his arm-evidently
looking for his horse. Smith had gone about half-way with Thurman and had turned to the
right. His body was never found, so much high sagebrush. Then, of course, all the settlers
were mad. They buried Thurman where he fell and brought May's body back to the Dolores
and buried him on his own place. As soon as the boys were buried, the roundup started at
Blue Mountain. Mike and Pat O'Donnell, Spud Hudson, the Johnsons, Lou Paquin [Louis
Pequan], Al Nunn, George West and Dave Willis.
(An article in The Overland Monthly, December, 1893, gives Smith's first name as Byron,
and adds two curious facts not found elsewhere namely: that Smith escaped and was found
years later living in Santa Fe under an assumed name, and that Thurman and May had $1,000
at the ranch when the murders took place. The story ascribed to Smith was that he had been
chased out of the country by the Indians and then, fearing that he might he suspected of
complicity with them, left the country entirely. However, we have been unable to find any
confirmation of this Smith story and it appears to be fiction. In a letter dated September 30,
1942, Bean ridicules this Smith story. He also gives the names of two white men who sold
their hats to Indians soon after the Little Castle Valley fight for $20 apiece. These Indians
apparently had plenty of money but little idea of its value.)
The first day the Indians attacked them the men killed one Indian. None of the whites were
hurt, they got into the timber. The roundup stopped right there. The men came to the Big
Bend of the Dolores and started looking for volunteers to fight Indians. The volunteers came
from Mancos, Dolores and Rico, mostly from Rico. Hi Melville (Contemporary references give
this name as Melvin, a San Juan pioneer of 1873. Denver Tribune, July 9, 1881, p. 3. A letter
from Jordan Bean, par dated September 30, 1942 states that Melville was the right name.)
Tom Click Billie May and myself went from the Big Bend. Dave Willis, Tom Pepper, Jess
Seeley and Hi Barber come from the Mancos. Marion Cook, Harg Eskridge, and Ike Stockton
come from Durango. The two Tarter boys, the two Taylor boys, Tim Jenkins, Billy Parks, Jimmie
Heaton, Charley Reynolds, Jimmie Hall, Jack Galloway (Tar Heel Jack), Bill Dawson, Purdy, Ed
Summers, Bill Robbins and Tex La Fone. We all met at the Big Bend May 31, organized and
elected our officers: Bill Dawson, captain; Billy May, first lieutenant; and Tom Pepper, corporal.
On the morning of June 1 we started. We picked up their trail at Blue Mountain (Sierra Abajo) at
Lacomb Wash, then went down through the head of Indian Coulee. While camped here we
realized we were getting short of grub. So the captain sent Green Robison and Pat O'Donnell
up the hill to Hudson's cow range to get a beef. They never come hack and we didn't get any
(O'Donnell and Robison were cut off by eight Indians and chased into the timber. They then
rode to the Big Bend and gave word of the fight. Denver Tribune, June 25,1881.)
Went from there to Hatch Springs. The morning of the fifteenth of June we come onto
the Indians about 9 o'clock on what is called Mill Creek, which rises in the La Sal
Mountains about twenty miles east of Moab, Utah. Right there the fun began. The Indians
scattered and went across a deep canyon. We shot a few times then Dawson said, "Boys,
get over there where they are." We crossed the canyon but the Indians kept going. Bill
Dawson picked Dick Curtis, Harg Eskridge, Ike Stockton, Harg Tarter, Billy Parks and
myself to overtake the Indians and make a stand on them, and he would bring the rest as
fast as possible. And he did. Then it was each man for himself. Harg Tarter and I rode
together. Hadn't gone far when Tarter's horse was killed. There was an old mare with a
mule colt close to us. I roped her. Harg rode bareback with my rope for a halter. We soon
found some big rocks, lay down and were shooting at some Indians above us on the
mountainside. We were doing fine until one Injun seemed to be a pretty good shot for he
got me in the left temple. I had my head thrown back so far-the hill was steep-the bullet didn't
go in very far but grazed my skull and knocked me out. I told Harg I was done for, and for him
to take my outfit and hunt up some of the men we knew were farther down the mountain. He
did and told them I was dead. Soon he was killed. Right here I want to say Harg Eskridge did
not die from the wound he received in the fight. He was shot in the foot. If there was ever a
reward for Harg Eskridge "dead or alive" I never heard of it, and I knew him well. He was no
quitter. He had his faults, but I never heard of but one perfect person on earth, and he was
crucified. When a man like Harg Eskridge and the boys we left on the side of La Sal Mountain
offer their lives so men like some of the historical writers of Dolores, Colorado, can stay at home
and talk about them then I want to fight again.
(Mr. Bean here refers to later events when the so-called Eskridge-Stockton gang was
active. Ike Stockton was killed by a deputy sheriff near Durango and Eskridge disappeared.
Pam 360, u.109, State Historical Society. Stockton, a noted gunfighter, later became
involved in a Silverton bank robbery, and was killed by a deputy sheriff. Harg Eskridge was
in a cattle war between the Stocktons and Farmington cattlemen, but was not mentioned
in connection with the Silverton affair.)
I DON'T remember when Harg Tarter left. The last I remember is when I told him
not to stay there alone. About four o'clock in the evening I come to and jumped to
my feet and looked up the mountain. There was a big Indian standing on a rock.
He never saw me. I got down as quickly as possible. He got down off the rock
and I crawled under some scrub oak. The old mare and colt had never left me. The
Indians come after her. They talked about the blood. That was the longest
conversation I ever heard in my life. While they were talking, I heard an Indian start
for the brush. He made a whistling sound, but I never moved. By that time it was
getting late and they had a lot of mutilating to do, so they left. I lay still until dark,
but oh, how I suffered for water. I had my gun and remembered where Harg and me
had got a drink that morning. I crawled most of the way to the spring. I drank so
much it made me sick. I lay and rested, finally took a regular drink and I could stand
up and walk part of the way.
That morning, before the fireworks started, we agreed on a meeting place if any of us
were left. We also all agreed if any of us got into a jam we would save one cartridge
for ourselves. Day was breaking when I saw some of the men starting out again. I
"hollered" and Ed Summers came to me. They couldn't believe it was me, because they
were so sure I was dead. Ed put me on his horse and led the horse to camp. My head
by this time was terrible.
I stayed in camp. The second day the boys fought all day. But, there would bave been
no second day if the Mormons who were herding cattle on the mountain hadn't heard the
shooting and come to us. There was a big Mormon by the name of Walt Moore who
gathered up sixteen men and come to the men. Some time during the first day there was
two of the Wilson boys from Moab come and they were both killed where Hi Melville, Tom
Click, Harg Tarter, Jimmie Heaton (just a boy), Jack Galloway and Hiram Tarter were.
Taylor's body was never found. >Dave Willis was killed out on a little flat. On the trip I ate
and slept with Dave Willis, and no braver man ever gave up his life for his country than
Dave Willis. The evening of the first day, (name deleted) and one of the (name deleted)
boys run. Walt Moore shot at them but didn't hit them. They went to Dolores and Rico
and a bunch of men at Rico started right now. Led by a man by the name of Worden
Grigsby, they didn't wait for anything.
I'm sorry I don't know the names of the men who came to our rescue. I was too sick to pay
attention to anyone.
The morning of the third day the boys went out, but the Indians had left in the night and our
boys had enough, too. They looked around and found the dead. Walt Moore knew the Wilson
boys but didn't know when they come into the fight. This Walt Moore was a big man and had
a principle and heart to go with his body. I always wanted to see him again. I don't believe
there was a finer bunch of men in one group. Jimmie Heaton was about nineteen years old.
I was twenty-three. The rest were all older.
On the way-fifteen days of traveling together, there was never a cross word spoken.
The morning we left the Big Bend, Hi Melville told me he would never get back. He
said he would rather go to be killed than to be called a coward. He didn't want someone
else to fight to protect his property. He and Cal House had a bunch of cattle in partnership.
I went for my father and myself. Lots of the boys didn't own a cow but they didn't want
anymore killed and burned as Dick's was. Harg Tarter was one of them.
THE seventeenth, a man by the name of Frank Beck and his partner came to us with
a spring wagon. They put the three wounded in the wagon and we all went to Pack
Creek. The wounded ones were taken to a man's house by the name of Peterson. He
had three wives. We rested there five days and started back to the Dolores. In the
meantime, the rescue party from Rico, led by Grigsby, went to the battlefield and we
passed while they were looking for us. The third day after we made camp on Pack
Creek (we had traveled nearly all night), the men went back to bury the dead. They
had to bury them chaps and all. Cal House went after Hi Melville's body and buried
it by Dick May (I think). Mrs. Willis took Dave's body to Mancos and buried it. The
first day back we went to Hatch Springs and were there met by my father and brother,
William Denby, Willis Rogers, Charley Foster, I can't remember the rest, but feel
grateful to everyone that came. From Hatch Springs we went to Hudson's Camp right
where Monticello, Utah, now stands. While we were camped at Hudson's camp, the
Grigsby rescue party come to us on their way back and Major Carroll from Fort Lewis
with a company of Negro soldiers met us too. Told us we were every one under arrest
for attacking and disturbing the Indians. Bill Dawson drawed his rifle out of the scabbard
and told Carroll he just didn't have soldiers enough to arrest his men. Every man pulled
their guns. Grigsby and his men, too, never faltered. Carroll said, "Tut, tut, I don't want
to fight." Dawson said, "We have just come from a fight and can fight some more." Then
Carroll said, "If any of your men will show us the Indian trail, we will overtake them."
Dick Curtis and Gus Hefferman (of Rico) stepped out and said, "We will show you the trail."
They started back the next morning. Carroll had a cannon. Dick and Gus said everything
was fine and Carroll wanted to fight until the Indian signs got fresh, then Carroll discovered
he was short of rations and turned back.
(Considerable mystery attaches to the action of the troops in this matter. The Indians
were never punished. In view of the pending removal of the Utes to Utah after the Meeker
massacre, this suggests that pursuit of the Little Castle Valley renegades by the troops
might not have been pressed because it might have started a general Ute war again.)
There was no certain tribe among the renegades, but they were led by Posy (Posey),
Utes, Navajos, Pah Utes and more, all bent on doing all the damage they could.
(Indian police of the Los Pinos Agency captured two of the renegades and turned them
over to "the commanding officer at the cantonment, near the agency." No reference as
to their disposition has been found. These prisoners said they belonged to
Tah-kun-ni-ca-yatz's band, which had been committing depredations during the previous
six or seven years. Report of the commissioner of Indian Affairs ,1881, p. 20, by Indian
Aqent W.H. Berry.)
From Hudson's camp we went to Piute Springs, Cross Canyons, and on to the Big
Bend of the Dolores. There we all separated. The men from Mancos went hack to
Mancos with Dave Willis. The Rico and Durango men went their way, and what was
left from the Big Bend went home and glad to be there.
Adam Louie and myself were riding on the Lower Disappointment one day and we
came onto a dead Ute Indian. He wasn't cold. I took a handmade silver bracelet and
Adam took his blanket. I still have the silver bracelet.I left Colorado July 21, 1884, with a
pack horse (my folks had left in 1883). I came by the Green River Desert, through Fort
Bridger, and reached the Rosebud about the twenty-fifth of September. Took a pre-emption
of 160 acres and my father and me took out the first ditch on the Rosebud River - 1885-86.
In 1888, I went back to Wisconsin and got married while there to a girl by the name of Bean,
but no relation of ours. We come back to the Rosebud River and went to housekeeping in a
dirt - covered shack, 16x16, but it was home. Soon built more house. Had horses' and cattle.
The spring of 1893, we sold out our ranch and cattle and moved to Pryor Mountain, sixty-five
miles south of Billings, Montana. Took up a homestead on the ceded strip of the Crow
Reservation, which had been thrown open in October 1892. We had a boy four years old
when we left the Rosebud in a covered wagon. We moved by the Crow Agency on the
Little Horn River and to Billings, then turned south. We were sixty-five miles from a post
office. We got our mail and all supplies from Billings. We crossed tbe Crow Reservation
going and coming. Made friends with the Pryor Creek Indians and still have them. We
always attended strictly to our own business and the Indians to theirs, but we could always
go to the Reservation to fish and pick plums or camp just as long as we wished.
In 1906, we sold the ranch on Piney (Pryor Mountain) and come to Clark's Fork River.
Bridger was started in 1898 and we lived one-half mile par south of the town. We have
seen this country grow and prosper, and feel we had a part in it. When the first mail line
was started from Billings, Montana to the Big Horn Basin in Wyoming, we had one of the
stage stations and a post office-Bean. We got rid of that as soon as we could but there
had to be so many offices to get the line established.
We have lived the life of the West and loved it. We have always been lucky to have good
neighbors. I don't believe any one family in the West ever had better neighbors than we
have. Our youngest son was born in 1898. We sold our place on Pryor Mountain to move
where our boys could go to school.
We have met lots of noted people and like them. They are just common, everyday folks
same as we. I will mention Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane. In 1895, Cody came to
Wyoming and started the town of Cody. We were living at Pryor Mountain at the time,
about sixty-five miles from Cody, but most of the stuff was freighted from Billings and lots
of the freighters camped at our place on Piney.
Bridger sprung up in 1898. Coal was discovered. The winter of '98, Calamity did laundry
work in Stringtown (Bridger). The land wasn't surveyed, so the town was built in the county
road. At that time she was married to one of the Dorsey boys of Livingston, Montana and he
hauled water in barrels for the residents of Bridger.
We were almost "in heaven" when we could come only twenty-five miles for supplies. The
railroad was built into Bridger the winter of '98-'99. Calamity was the main drawing card for
I would like to go back to Moab or La Sal Mountain and see the graves of the boys we left
behind.... I went there in 1929, but could not get up to where the fight had been. I saw
Henry Goodman in Moab and he told me I couldn't possibly make it. When this war is
over and we can get tires, I hope to back.
I have a grandson, Roy Bean, on Corregidor. That is, he has never been on any casualty
list and we hope to see him. Our other grandson, Harry Bean, is in Temple, Texas in the
Tank Corps. They each volunteered and got to go where they wanted. So, if they don't
come back, we have that for consolation.
If any of the old-timers of Southwestern Colorado, ever come this way I want them
to stop. We are on the main highway from Billings to Cody, Wyoming, Yellowstone
© Gail Meyer Kilgore 2001
Back to In Their Own Words
Back to LaPlata County Home Page