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The government was trying to arrange a treaty with the Indians in the northern part, around Fort Laramie, as it did not want to fight with them.
Watson Coburn, a Mark Code and several other ranchmen had a number of horses stolen. Coburn and Code went after them and found a large bunch of horses, and counted seventy-four that had their brand on them.
They went to the officers at the fort and asked them to help recapture the horses. The officers refused to do so, saying that an attempt to get the horses would interfere in making the treaty; but Coburn and Code could put in their claim to the government for the amount at which the horses were valued.
In April, 1866, the government succeeded in making the treaty. A slip of paper, with the Indian’s name on it, stating that he belonged to the band that had made the treaty, and no white man should molest him, was given to every Indian who made the treaty.
As soon as the treaty was made, the Indians divided into small bands and scattered all over the country. Some had not gone twenty-five miles from the fort until they made fun of the treaty and started in on their depredations.
A band of eight hundred crossed the river near Watson Coburn’s ranch. He did not know for certain if the treaty had been made, so as soon as he saw them approaching, he threw the sand bags in the gate to close up the entrance and got his hired men in readiness for defense, should it be necessary.
The fence around Mr. Coburn’s buildings was of sod and stood eight feet high and was two feet thick. He had several portholes in it; these were two or three feet square in the inner side and sloped to about four inches on the outer. This allowed the men behind the fence to be able to range their rifles over a larger territory and at the same time leaving the outer opening too small for the enemy to shoot through from the distance.
On this occasion, just as he had everything in readiness, he noticed the Indians tying white rags on the end of their arrows and holding them up in plain view of the ranchmen. Coburn at once realized that they were trying to show the flag of truce, so he went out to meet them. They exchanged friendly greeting with him and asked permission to make their camp near his place for a few days. Coburn said they could, and also get water from the stream running through his place.
The Indians soon wanted to begin to swap and trade buffalo robes and furs for coffee, sugar and other supplies that Coburn happened to have.
Every Indian that came to him would reach down in the pocket of his blanket and bring out a small bundle and begin to unwrap it. The process generally took about ten minutes. After they had taken off several feet of rawhide string and some old rags, they would hand out the paper given them by the officers. The Indians prized these passes very highly and were proud of them, which was the cause of such care being given them.
After a few hundred of the Indians had shown Coburn their passes, it was growing tiresome to him, so he began to tell them that he could not read.
He noticed an extra large and distinguished looking Indian, all dressed in gay colors and a magnificent headpiece of feathers, accompanied by a fine looking young squaw, who had two hundred and twelve silver dollars sewed to her blanket. Coburn thought they must be important members of the band and was curious about them, so when they offered to show their passes he was able to read. He discovered that his distinguished caller was Chief Standing Elk, the head chief of all the Cheyenne tribes, and his daughter.
Coburn asked the chief how long the treaty was to last. Standing Elk replied by signs, “One moon, grass so high, so long time (measuring off on his finger); me get heap scalps, heap ponies.” He meant that in about time for a new moon the grass would be good and their ponies would get in good condition, then he would be ready for another raid, so break the treaty. Close observation shows that most of the treaties were made by the Indians in the time of the year when their ponies were poor and weak and the Indians were not prepared for fighting. But as soon as spring opens up and the ponies fatten and plenty of wild game could be had, so they need not depend on their stored goods, and when the weather is warm so they can rove around without being burdened with blankets, tepees, etc., they always break their treaties and start on their depredations.
The uncivilized inhabitants of the western plains were shrewd enough when it came to looking after their own interests.
Source: True History of some of the Pioneers of Colorado, by Miss Luella Shaw, Press of Carson Harper Co, Denver, Colorado, 1909