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Big Timber

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. Please consider reading our editorial policy to understand how and why we publish the resources we do.

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Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria

11 June 1867; Arapahoe, Colorado: Lt. James M. Bell, Company I, 7th Cavalry, stationed at Fort Wallace, constantly juggled his few troopers among the western stage stations, trying to protect the passengers that traveled to Denver and back. On one return trip from Denver, the fear of Indians was so bad that the stage had no passengers. With only one driver and one mail guard, Bell started east.

In eastern Colorado the stage picked up three men of Company I, and at the next station the men took aboard a sick private from Company E, 3rd Infantry. When they reached Cheyenne Wells, the station keeper's wife insisted upon going east with them.

At a dry fork of the Smoky Hill River, four miles from Big Timber Station, just east of today's Kansas-Colorado border, about 25 warriors, probably Cheyennes, opened fire on the stage, riddling it with bullets. Bell and his three troopers grabbed their Spencers and returned fire. Across the creek bed, they got out to shoot, and Bell told the woman to lie on the floor. The sick infantryman tried to clamber down from the top, but he was hit in the open doorway. He tried to give Bell his dying message to his mother, but the hot fire kept Bell otherwise occupied.

The quick-shooting Spencers drove the Indians off for a time. Bell saw them place the bodies of two warriors on horseback. As the stage continued on to Big Timber, the warriors returned for another try. The soldiers shot one more Indian from his mount. After two more hours, the attackers gave up. Bell's stage, with the horses badly wounded, pulled into Big Timber Station.

One soldier and three Indians were killed.

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