Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria
14 January 1865, Merino, Colorado: During their January raids in the Valley Station area, Lakotas and Cheyennes hit American Ranch, about 13 miles upriver from present-day Sterling, Colorado. On the morning of 14 January, ranch hands Gus Hall and a man known as Big Steve were crossing the South Platte River to cut wood when 100 Indians appeared. Big Steve was killed and Hall was shot in the ankle. Hall holed up in the sandy bluffs by the river and held his ground.
At the ranch were the current owners, Bill and Sarah Morris, their two little boys, and several hired hands. The warriors rode in shooting and set the stables and hay on fire. When the main house caught fire, the occupants ran out to the corral, where they were surrounded and the men were cut down. A Minneconjou named White White stopped the other warriors from killing Sarah Morris, offering them a horse for her, and took her for his own. The two boys were also taken prisoner, but the younger was later killed.
As Hall watched the events helplessly from the riverbank, a warrior came upon him and shot an arrow, which cut Hall across the chest but landed on the ice behind him, and hall shot the Indian. When the Indians left, Hall stumbled 12 miles down the frozen South Platte River to Wisconsin Ranch, also recently raided. There he found a store of grain and flour and buried and buried himself in it for warmth until soldiers rescued him.
At the ruins of American Ranch, soldiers counted seven white bodies and three Indian. Near the dead Indians were open whiskey decanters, making Hall later speculate that Bill Morris had laced the liquor with strychnine, as he once said he intended to do.
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