Sunday, July 24, 2011



J. O'Hare, Co.II, 5th Cav., a historic inscription
in Baca County, CO. Photo: Peter Faris, 1982.

In Baca County, southeastern Colorado, on a private ranch, this historic petroglyph was recorded in 1995. It is deeply inscribed in a rock shelter in a tributary of Soldier Canyon and says “J. O’Hare, Co II, 5th Cav.” The name of Soldier Canyon commemorates an event from the Indian Wars still related by local residents who tell of an Army column that got caught in a blizzard in those canyons and that many animals and a number of soldiers froze to death. It provides an intriguingly personal touch in an environment that still feels isolated, because of its distance from modern civilization, and perhaps because the many ruined homesteads in the vicinity give one a feeling of the fragility of civilization. Attempts to establish the identity of J. O’Hare have so far proved unsuccessful but much of the background of this story can be determined.

5th Cavalry, Nat. Anthropological Archives.
In 1868, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was hired by the U. S. Army as the Chief Scout for the 5th Cavalry stationed at that time at Fort Lyon. The 5th Cavalry had been designated as the northern prong of the great 3-pronged winter campaign against the tribes of the southern Great Plains.

Old Fort Lyon, Colorado. Colorado State
Historical Society.
H. Allen Anderson described the events of December 1868 on the website of the Texas State Historical Society as follows: On December 2, 1868 (Major Eugene) Carr led seven troops of the Fifth Cavalry and one company of the Third Infantry out of Fort Lyon, Colorado. His orders were to join Bvt. Brig. Gen. William H. Penrose, who had left Fort Lyon on November 10 with five troops of cavalry, and set up a supply base on or near the North Canadian (Beaver) River from which they could scour the area to the southeast. The column, which included 100 pack mules and 130 wagons, fared well for three days but then ran into a severe blizzard. - it was not until December 23, after much agony, that Carr finally reached Penrose’s beleaguered camp, with its supplies greatly depleted, on Paloduro Creek in present Texas County, Oklahoma. Pushing on south into the Texas Panhandle, Carr sent out scouting parties and on December 28 established a base on the main Canadian, probably in what is now Roberts County, about twenty miles west of the supply camp set up by Maj. Andrew W. Evans’s Canadian River expedition. What was more, forty of Carr’s teamsters quit and forfeited their pay rather than endure the icy weather any longer.

Camping in the Snow, p.220, The Life of Hon.
William F. Cody Known as Buffalo Bill,
autobiography, 1978, Univ. of Neb. Press
Other sources list a higher number of casualties from the blizzard. “Carr was also having his troubles. He left Fort Lyon on December 2 in clear but cold weather. Three days later, however, a howling blizzard struck the column, froze four men to death, and caused the loss of more than two hundred head of cattle that were to supply fresh meat for both Carr and Penrose. Carr fought his way slowly through the mountainous drifts, worrying increasingly about the fate of Penrose and the possibility of not being able to locate him in such weather.”

The 5th finally found Penrose’ column and, after resupplying them, they scouted around the area for hostile Indians with no success. Considering the fact that Carr’s and Penrose’s columns never saw a hostile Indian was a plan that led to such loss of life justifiable? Carr and Penrose had accomplished their mission, although they had not seen a single Indian as the position of their forces had prevented the Cheyennes from moving north or west and kept them firmly in the path of the principal striking force. There was now nothing for them (Carr and Penrose) to do but retrace a cold and weary path back to Ft. Lyon, which they reached on February 19.

Carr and the 5th Cavalry went on to deliver the final blow to the free Cheyenne on the Northern Plains with their July 11, 1869, defeat of the Dog Soldier band at Summit Springs, Colorado, in which their chief Tall Bull was killed.

Apparently, while confined by the storm in Soldier Canyon, in what was to become Baca County, Colorado, J. O’Hare passed some of his time inscribing this record of his presence in the sandstone of the cliff. Then, in February 2010, I received a communication from Pamela Owens who located enlistment records on for a John O’Hare who enlisted in the U.S. Army in August 1864 in Detroit, Michigan, and served in the 5th US Cavalry, Company I. Born in Detroit, O’Hare enlisted at the age of twenty. The records located by Owens further show that he survived the blizzard because he was discharged from the army at Camp Grant, Arizona Territory in August 1872 at the end of his service contract.  He could not be identified on the 1870 or 1880 federal censuses. Mr. O’Hare may well have living descendants who have no idea of this record and I hope that somehow one of them runs across this story.


Anderson, H. Allen

1 comment:

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