Civil War Survivor Story – Warner Lewis

The Osages were loyal to the Union in the Civil War. They destroyed a band of Confederate soldiers, who were crossing their reservation in May, 1863. The incident is worth preserving, and the account of Warner Lewis, the only survivor of the expedition, is here set out:

In May, 1863, an expedition was organized on the western border of Jasper County, Missouri, under command of Colonel Charles Harrison, who had been commissioned by Major-General Holmes to proceed to New Mexico and Colorado for the purpose of recruiting into the Confederate service the men who had fled there from Missouri and other states, to avoid being drafted into the Federal army—of whom there was then supposed to be a large number, anxious to make their way into companies, regiments and brigades—and as soon as this was done to drop down into western Texas and then unite with the main army. The plan appeared feasible, though very hazardous; so much so that many of those who had at first volunteered, finally refused to go.

Colonel Harrison appeared to be the man above all others to lead such an undertaking, since his entire life had been spent upon the western plains, and he had been a protégé of the celebrated Indian fighter, General Kit Carson. He was tall, athletic, and almost as brown as an Indian, of whose blood he was said to have a mixture. He knew no fear and he staggered at no hardships. On the early morning of the 22nd day of May, 1863, the mules were packed with rations for the men. The party consisted of eighteen men, rank and file. The starting point was Center Creek where it crosses the line of the state in Jasper county. The route pursued was westward over the trackless prairie in the Indian Territory about fifteen or twenty miles north of and parallel with the Kansas state line. There was no human habitation to be seen and no living person discoverable, and no incident worthy of note until the afternoon of the second day. After crossing a ravine fringed with brush and small timber, we halted on an eminence just beyond for rest and rations; our animals were tethered to grass or left to roam at will, while we were resting under the shade of some scattering oaks, inapprehensive of danger.

We had begun saddling up to renew our journey when we discovered a body of men on our trail at full gallop. By the time we were all mounted they were in hailing distance, and proved to be a body of about 150 Indian warriors. To avoid a conflict we moved off at a brisk walk, and they followed us. We had not gone far until some of them fired and killed one of our men, Douglas Huffman. We then charged them vigorously and drove them back for some distance. My horse was killed in this charge and I was severely wounded in the shoulder with an arrow. I mounted the mule from which Huffman was killed. The Indians kept gathering strength from others coming up. We had a running fight for eight or ten miles, frequently hurling back their advances onto the main body or with loss. Our horses were becoming exhausted, so we concluded to halt in the bed of a small stream that lay across our path, to give them rest. The Indians here got all around us at gunshot range, and kept up an incessant fire. We had only side arms, and pistols and were out of range. Here Frank Roberts was shot through the head and fell from his horse. I immediately dismounted the mule and mounted Robert’s horse. This incident was the saving of my life. Colonel B. H. Woodson of Springfield, Mo., preferred this mule to his horse and mounted it. When our horses were rested we made a dash for liberty. On ascending the bank of the stream the saddle of Captain Park McLure of St. Louis slipped back and turned and he fell into the hands of the savages. Colonel Harrison was shot in the face and captured. Rule Pickeral had his arm broken.

We broke the cordon as we dashed out, but from now on the race was even, and our ranks much reduced. It was about two miles to the Verdigris river. When we were in about two hundred yards of the timber Woodson was caught. I tried to get the men to halt and give them a fire so as to let him get into the timber but did not succeed. We could not cross the stream with our horses, owing to the steepness of the banks on both sides. I went down to get a drink and heard the Indians coming to the bank below us. John Rafferty stood on the bank above me, and I said to him “Follow me.” He obeyed. We made our way up the stream under cover of the bank for about half a mile, and noticing some fishing poles and some fresh tracks, and hearing the barking of dogs on the other side of the stream we concluded it safest to secrete ourselves in some dense bushes near the prairie until the darkness of the night came on.

We had just escaped a cruel death from savages. We were without food and about eighty miles from a place where relief could be obtained. We were without animals to ride, and our journey lay through a trackless prairie beset by hostile Indians.

We dared not attempt to travel by day, for fear of being discovered by roving bands of Indians and put to death. By accident I lost my boots in the Verdigris river, so we took it “turn about” wearing Rafferty’s shoes, and used our clothing to protect our feet when not wearing the shoes.

We concealed ourselves by day and traveled by night, with only the sky for our covering and the stars for our guide. Just before we reached the Neosho river we frightened a wild turkey from her nest, and secured nine eggs in an advanced stage of incubation. Rafferty’s dainty appetite refused them but I ate one with relish and undertook to save the rest for more pressing need.

We found the Neosho river not fordable, and Rafferty could not swim; so we constructed a rude raft with two uneven logs and bark. I put the eggs in the shoes and the shoes between the logs and undertook to spar Rafferty across the river. When we got midway of the river, Rafferty became frightened, tilted the raft, and we lost both the shoes and the eggs. On the morning after the second night the Missouri line appeared in sight, and we nerved ourselves for the final struggle. We reached the neighborhood from which we had started about 11 o’clock, footsore, wounded and half dead. The good women concealed us in the brush, and there fed us and nursed our sores until we were strengthened and healed. Rafferty was soon after killed, so that I, only, of the eighteen men who entered upon that fatal expedition, survived the war.

On the 28th day of May, 1863, Major Thomas R. Livingstone made a report to General Price from Diamond Grove, Missouri, in which, among other things, he says, “Colonel Warner Lewis is also here, who has just escaped from the Indians, and consequently without a force. He will make a report of the unfortunate disaster he escaped.”

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