Miller & Indians

Thursday, January 15, 1903 Elk City Democrat



The following narrative from the Wichita Beacon will be of interest to our readers, as the parties mentioned were well known to the older citizens of this county. The leading figure in the narrative is W.J. Miller, the account of whose death appeared in last week’s issue of the Democrat.

CHEYENNE, O.T. – Jan 3 – To be surrounded by hostile Indians at such close quarters that the twang of their bowstrings can be heard, to be shot with arrows until one’s body is pierced with twenty-seven wounds and then live to an old age is an experience that comes to few men. But this is what happened to William J. Miller, a ranchman who lives of the Sweetwater in Wheeler County, Texas and is known familiarly in western Oklahoma and the Panhandle as “Uncle Bill”, Miller.  He has lived for years with an iron arrowhead in one of his lungs, but in spite of it is a man of large physique and robust appearance.  Surgeons in Kansas City have located the arrowhead several times with an x-ray machine but declined to remove it, saying that the operation would be more dangerous than for the arrowhead to remain.

Miller comes frequently to Cheyenne where several of his relatives live. To him an Indian is the incarnation of all that is fiendish and blood-thirsty.  “If I had the power of lightening, I would not let it thunder till I had killed everyone of them” said he. To a group of listeners in front of “Smoky Joe” Miller’s hotel “Uncle Bill” told this story of his memorable fight:

“In 1869 I lived in San Saba County, Texas.  On the night of January 17 in that year, A.W. Morrow, [one account calls him Morell] a neighbor now dead and myself camped near the watermill of Major J.A. Rose where Brady Creek empties into the Colorado River.  [The water mill of J. A. Rose was 15 miles up the San Saba River from San Saba, Texas.  Miller and Morrow had gone there to purchase a load of corn and meal and were returning to their home further up stream. {about 18 or 20 miles}  This incident occurred just 11days after Bill Miller returned from trailing a herd of cattle to the “Missouri markets”.]  There had been no trouble with marauding Comanches and when we started home early next morning with a four horse team and armed with only two dragoon pistols.  We were traveling an inside road, between two settlements and had gone about eight miles when we heard the running of horses in our rear.  Morrow was walking and, calling to me, said: “Walt, a lot of cowboys are trying to overtake us; they must have bad news.’  A herd of cattle close by had led him to believe that our followers were cowboys. I saw that Indians, instead of cowboys, were coming, and shouted to Morrow to jump into the wagon or he would be shot full of holes. Our wagon cover was up and tightly drawn.  I whipped our horses into a run, but the Indians soon overtook the wagon and began the fight.  He shot one Indian whose horse whirled and threw him to the ground.  This caused the Indians to fall back a little and enabled us to see that there were about fifteen in the party.  They were a dirty greasy lot of wretches much of their war paint having been off since they started on their raid.  Several women were among then, riding astride and fighting as viciously as the men.  Our horses ran away and went at breakneck speed for about three miles.  The Indian kept close in our rear and fired at us with Winchesters, pistols and two old “Long Tom” rifles, doing little damage, however, as they were poor marksmen with firearms.   They killed one of our horses an then luckily or unluckily for us, ran out of ammunition.

We could see them unslinging their bows and shifting their arrow quivers into position and knew that the worse of the fight was to come.  The first arrow struck Morrow in the hand; the Indian who shot it tumbled yelling from his horse with a bullet in his chest.  In the runaway our horses threw the wagon into a ditch where we stuck fast.  We were reduced to less than a dozen cartridges and saw that we must make every bullet count.  We never fired at an Indian more than ten feet away.  The Indians charged us time and again, often coming within eight or ten feet of the wagon.  We could have hit them with clubs.  They talked to each other in the sign language, making as little noise as possible and pressing closer and closer upon us.  Their leader came within six feet of me and I shot him through the hips.  He yelled clutched his saddle and galloped away.

A squaw shot me in the right cheek with an arrow that protruded from behind my ear.  Six more struck me in the head, the points kinking against my skull, making it difficult and painful to pull them out.  Seven more lodged in my body between my neck and waist. I pulled one arrowhead from my abdomen that was as long as my finger and so keen that a person could whittle with it.  The Indians were at too close range for their arrows to acquire speed or else we would have been shot through and through.  In pulling one arrow from my left side, the head slipped from the shaft and remained in my lung.  It is still there.  Another hit me squarely in the middle of the chest sticking in the bone and standing out as straight as if it had been shot into a tree.  Another missed the femoral artery in my left leg by the width of a knife blade.  I carried a steel barb in my right thigh till 1874, when Dr. Dowell at Galveston removed it.  I presented the rifle to Morrow as a souvenir.  The cold acid sting of an arrow plowing its way in your flesh is a sensation never to be forgotten. It is less painful than maddening at first, but in the end it is sickening.

Poor Morrow was as desperately wounded as myself.  An arrow struck him squarely in the left ear and while I was pulling it out, another went whizzing into his right ear.  He could see both shafts and imagined that one arrow had passed entirely through his head.  He groaned and said that he was killed.  Before I could reassure him an arrow hit him in the left eye and glanced under the skin in his ear. Blood poured down his face in a stream and covered my hands and arms.  ‘They have shot my eye out,’ he exclaimed.  ‘No, it glanced,’ I replied, pulling the arrow from the wound.  Morrow was hit three or four times before I was touched.  When the Indians got under good headway, the arrows came so rapidly that I couldn’t put them out as fast as they went in.

We were then in desperate straights suffering with dreadful wounds, out of ammunition save one load in Morrow’s pistol and our horses unable to pull the wagon from the ditch.  The Indians in their excitement had shot away most of their arrows.  The “chuck” box fastened to the end of the wagon, bristled like a porcupine.  I believe that a double armful of arrows was sticking in the wagon and ground.  I told Morrow that our only hope to escape was to cut the traces and make a run on horseback.  The Indian had withdrawn to parley knowing that they had only a few arrow left in their quivers and fearing that we still might have ammunition.  Morrow and I mounted a horse each and started.  An arrow whizzed and struck his horse in the hip, causing the animal to pitch.  Morrow was thrown fully ten feet high falling on his head.  He called to me that he was killed. I answered, by pulling him up behind me, and I was thankful to find that he still held to his pistol with its remaining load.  We ran our horse as rapidly as possible toward a clump of trees.  The Indians shot at us about twenty times while we were cutting the traces, but upon reaching the wagon they replenished their supply and stream of arrows poured after us.  A friend afterwards trailed us for 150 yards by the line of arrows sticking in the ground.

We rode but three-quarters of a mile before reaching cover in the timber.  Then a singular thing happened.  Whether it was due to their savage admiration of our pluck and seemingly charmed lives, I am unable to say.  We had killed, as later reports showed, about seven Indians.  The remainder of the band now galloped to within sixty feet of where we crouched in the timber and stopped.  Their leader rode out and looked steadily at us for a few seconds, without saying a word and returned to his former position.  Each Indian in turn did the same thing and then the band rode away and disappeared over the ridge.  Although expecting death, we were in too much anguish to feel thankful for our immediate deliverance.  Fearing that they would return we secreted ourselves as closely as possible in the timber.  Both of us soon nauseated and burning with fever.  We remained hidden till about nine o’clock next day.

Early in the morning of the fight, Jack Flood was cutting cedar posts in a canyon when he heard the Indians coming, secreted himself and saw them pass by.  The appearance of a Comanche in Texas meant war.  Flood ran to the farm of John Fleming, gave the alarm and raised a posse of twelve men.  They reached our wagon about an hour after the Indian had gone.  Morrow and I were wild with thirst and tried to reach Brady Creek but I grew so sick that I could go no further.  I told him to scan the country and fire the remaining shot in his pistol if he saw white men.  He saw the posse, mistook our friends for Indians and crept back to me with one of his boots full of water, I drank so much that I was unable to walk.  The posse searched all day without finding us.  Four of its members agreed to remain all night in an old log house nearby and resumed the search next morning.  Major Rose now of Belton, Texas and J.Z. Sloam of San Saba, were two of these four volunteers.  About daylight on January 19 Sloam found an arrow sticking in the ground and a few steps away another and another which he followed till he reached the timber where we were hiding.  He was within thirty yards of me before I saw and recognized him.  Our rescuers got a wagon and hauled us home, reaching there about dusk.  We recovered three of our horses.  One of them had two arrows in him.  I cut down into his haunch eleven inches to remove an arrowhead.  Morrow and I were pitiable looking objects, covered with blood, gashed with wounds and almost dead.  Both recovered after a number of surgical operations.  I was compelled to use crutches for two years.

The Indians escaped from Texas before they could be captured.  They had stolen away from the Fort Sill reservation, in what is now Oklahoma, to burn and pillage and murder.  We brought suit against the government for losses due to their depredations, but lost through the delay of our lawyers in prosecuting the case.

The Indian I shot in the hips proved to be old Asaharbar, who died in 1884.  I saw him in 1883 for the first time after the fight at a cow camp in the Panhandle where I had gone to run horse races with the Indians.  He was in the grub shack eating when I entered.  He stopped instantly and watching me carefully got up and went outside, keeping his face constantly toward me.  Through an interpreter he said that he knew me.  I replied that there was no doubt of it and felt an itching to kill him.  Next morning his camp at the mouth of Sweetwater had disappeared: he had headed for Fort Sill.

‘I hate Indians’ said Uncle Billy, his eyes flashing with anger.  Then in greatest scorn: ‘the poor homeless man of the forest?  I want to kill a man when he talks that way.  These devils did enough in that raid to turn any white man against their whole race.  They stole a 10-year-old boy, William Herbert in Mason County, carried him tied on a horse to the head of the Concho, then to Pueblo and New Mexico, finally trading him for a horse.  The boy was old enough to tell his name and the man who got him wrote to Sheriff Milligan and the boy was restored to his father.  In Gillespie County they killed two women by cutting off their heads, raised a baby by the heels and dashed its brains out against a tree.  A year later in Llano County they scalped a Mrs. Dancer four times.  She had remarkable courage.  The Indians jabbed arrows into her body to see if she was dead, but she never flinched and crawled away after the Indians left.  In Burnett County a farmer named Benson went about 120 yards from his house to tie a horse, his 8-year-old boy following him.  The Comanches surprised him and killed Benson, tied the boy and left him on the ground near where they concealed themselves all day and night.  The child saw neighbors bury his father’s body.  He was taken to Fort Sill and exchanged four or five years afterward.  He returned to the Comanches, married a squaw and may still be living with the tribe.’”

Bill Miller died about one year following his relating the above story.

Bill Miller is buried in the “Old Rock” Cemetery in Wheeler Co. Texas.