1873: George Washington Chatterton, Jr. to George W. Chatterton, Sr.

How George might have looked in 1873
(W. Griffing Collection)

The following letters were written by 20 year-old George Washington Chatterton, Jr. (1853-1915), the son of George W. Chatterton (1822-1888) and Sarah S. Chatterton (1827-1916) of Springfield, Sangamon county, Illinois. George Jr. eventually became the proprietor of the oldest music house in Illinois, established by his father on the west side of the Springfield public square in 1838. In addition to selling pianos, other musical instruments, and sheet music, he sold jewelry.  It was from the Chatterton store that Abraham Lincoln purchased the wedding ring engraved with the words, “Love in Eternal” that he placed on Mary Todd’s finger in November 1842. In April, 1879, George purchased the Opera House in Springfield, and that season rebuilt it in elegant style, making Chatterton’s Opera House the finest in the State outside of Chicago. The Chatterton Home, called “Castle Cottage” was built in 1857 on Sixth Street in Springfield.

Both letters were only signed “George” and there were no accompanying envelopes to aid in the identification of the author. From the letters we learn that the author has traveled to Potter—a station on the Union Pacific Railroad near Lodge Pole Creek in the panhandle of western Nebraska. His letters speak of visiting a cattle ranch, hunting buffalo, and seeing an Indian for the first time. From the content of the two letters, I was finally able to identify him by discovering a long letter published in the Illinois Journal (Springfield, IL) appearing on 31 March 1873 which reads as follows (in part):

Nebraska—Life in a Cattle Ranch—Sketch of the Jouney Thither—Potter Station—Indians—A Buffalo Hunt—The Pest of the Plains

Potter, Nebraska, March 26, 1873
Editor of the Illinois State Journal

Here we are—-Chatterton and myself—comfortably seated in a cattle ranch on the extreme western edge of Nebraska, 430 miles west of Omaha. We have just been perusing the the columns of our Springfield Daily Journal, and the thought has penetrated our wise heads that perhaps the numerous readers of said journal might be interested in a brief description of life in a cattle ranch out on the mighty plains of Nebraska…It was on the 10th of March that George W. C—-, Jr., and myself, remembering the injunction of the old Patriarch: “Go west, young man, go west!”—started from the fair city of Springfield on the Beardstown express, enroute for Beardstown, and the mighty west. We remained but two hours at Beardstown, during which interval “Chat” shot at several celebrated Beardstown mosquitoes, with his newly purchase revolver, to the immense terror of several persons standing behind him, who narrowly escaped with their lives. From the latter vile we journeyed to Monmouth, and there took the cars of the B&MRR for Council Bluffs and Omaha.

We remained one night at the latter city, resting ourselves and examining the advantages and disadvantages of the metropolis of Nebraska…The following day at noon we took our places in the cars of the great Union Pacific RR and proceeded on our journey westward. We passed through a very fine farming country for about two hundred miles west of Omaha…We passed rapidly along, stopping ever and anon at the little towns of the railroad, which places I may say, excel in the number of of their liquor saloons, and lawyer’s signs—not that the two always go together, by no means…At one place where we halted, there were eleven saloons, one lawyer’s office, one drug store, and five residences. I suggested to my friend that nothing was wanting but a first class jewelry store…Through the night we journeyed on, and at nine o’clock the next morning we arrived at our destination—at Potter.

Potter is not a large town—Oh no! In fact I may say it is a small town, there being but two houses in it—one the depot, and the other the station agent’s abode; however, it has a mighty future before—or at any rate behind it. I would not advise any ambitious young man from the east to locate in Potter unless he desires to grow with the town...

From Potter we drove over the prairie three miles and soon found ourselves at the ranch of Duncan, Redington, & Co. These gentlemen—General Duncan, Henry V. Redington of New York State, and General Perry, at present Quarter Master General Department of the Platte—became impressed with the importance and profit of the cattle business two years ago, and at present own a herd of 5,000 cattle. Hon. T. Wilson from New York State, has also 1,000 cattle with these gentlemen. Their range, or grazing ground, is about 40 miles north of Potter, situated in a beautiful valley, undisturbed by everything except the Indians; and right here a word about the latter. Is the opinion of the western men and frontiersmen the correct one, or that of Vincent Colyer, Gen. Howard, and the eastern men generally, who know about as much of the noble red man as they do of the inhabitants of the moon—provided it is inhabited—I am strongly inclined to the opinion of the former. Not that I would deny but that the Indians are frequently and continually abused, defrauded and cheated—especially by the agents of the government in the distribution of their supplies, rations, &c., but I would and do most strongly assert that the red men will lie, steal, murder, and commit the most frightful depredations provided they can commit the same undiscovered by the government…The hersdmen throughout this region are obliged to keep armed from one hour to another with revolvers and rifles…

After remaining for a few days near Potter, we started on horseback with Mr. Redington for his other ranch forty miles north. While on the way we experienced that which men from all parts of the world come here to experience, viz: a buffalo hunt. We had been on the road but an hour, when the buffaloes came in sight. We each singled out a buffalo and “went” for him. After a chase of three miles I, recklessly for a novice, came up alongside within six feet of the huge animal, and, alas, fired. I will not say that I was frightened—oh no!—yet I felt uneasy at the proximity of the huge beast; my digestion was seriously impaired for the time being. I…unluckily hit the animal. At once he turned and charge upon me; and at once my horse turned and ran, thereby partly unseating me in the saddle. At this critical juncture my rifle dropped. Some audacious wretch might say I flung it away—’tis false!—it dropped and I clung to the saddle.”

The letter goes on to describe the Redington cattle ranch. It was signed, L. W. R.

The George W. Chatterton Store (center) in Springfield, Illinois

Letter 1

Potter Station [Union Pacific Railroad]
April 21, 1873

Dear Father,

I received your letter on Monday, also the watch though believe I notified you of it in Mother’s letter. Yesterday Wilson & I rode up to the Depot as usual for the mail & there found a small band of Indians which being the first I had seen were quite an object of curiosity to me. After saying “How, How” to them all, they wanted to “swap” for my revolver, but being on their way for buffalo were rather poor, so could not offer me a good trade. Tried to buy Irwin 1 a bow & arrow but asking me $30, gave it up, as they have no idea of money but he either wanted his bow, or something to hunt with, & today the Interpreter stationed at Sidney passed by here on his way to their camp, so Wilson & I went along. After a ride of 12 miles we came up on them as they were all packed up ready to start. After smoking the “Pipe of Peace” with them, Wilson & I came home, leaving the Interpreter to go with them as a warning to all the Whites that they were friendly. It was quite a novel scene to me, the squaws driving the pack horses along & the bucks riding at their leisure.

The pistol I told Mother I traded for was stolen so I am to send it back tomorrow to the owner and get mine with the $5.00. As I think I have an opportunity to sell mine, have written to Schuyler, Hartley & Graham [in NYC] to ascertain the price of one. Will R. told me today that he was to be admitted as an equal partner in the ranch. The others don’t sell but just make the capital so much more & buy cattle.

Am thinking of of buying me a pony. Have seen two that will cost with saddle & bridle near $75 each & after trying the one I like & suits, will buy as Mr. R. is rather short of horses since he lost & has use for them all & can sell a good pony any time.

Am very pleased where I am. Have a good bed, good country table, and feeling very well, while I am getting fleshier slowly, exercise a good deal & do just as I please. You evidently think from the way you write that the cattle business here should be an exception to any other & not have any risk to run, though I am sure there are not as many here as in the store, no busted Insurance to the companies, thieves, old stock, &c, to contend against. Am going to the cattle ranch Friday but back again by Saturday night. Told Mr. R[eddington] 2 that I wanted to stay here as long as I wanted to, would pay a reasonable board, as the house is run by the Company. Did not ask for a salaried place as then I would have to stay at the other ranch & that I would not do. Regards to Commodore & Freeman & love to all at home.

Your Son, —  George

1 Robert Irwin Chatterton (1859-1897) was George’s younger brother.

2 Henry Vining Redington (1840-Aft1920), the son of Hon. George Redington (1798-1850) and Amoret Stone (1811-1843) was the first rancher in the panhandle of Nebraska. He located his ranch in 1870 on “Lorren’s Fork” about a mile from its junction with Gonneville or Pumpkin Creek. Stage routes from Sidney and Cheyenne, and the tremendous freight transportation opened up this new country in 1876 and later. In 1874, John M. Adams came to Sydney and formed partnership with Redington. Adams, Redington & Company ran 4,000 to 6,000 cattle and they principal ad best known brand was H-bar.

Letter 2

Potter Station, Union Pacific Railroad

Dear Father,

Well, I believe it is said that every man is destined to  accomplish something great that will astonish the world, and if so, Reddington and I have certainly astonished ourselves, if not the  world—viz: the killing of a large buffalo this evening, and rare  sport it was. We left the house after dinner on our ugly little ponies—but must say they are adapted for the purpose for which they are used as they climb a steep bluff on a full gallop very  easily—and rode four miles when we saw him grazing on a side of a bluff. [We] went way beyond him to get behind him and drive him into the valley where we could have a good and fair run, but in trying to do so we had to pass so many bluffs that when we got behind him, we lost the bluff where we saw him, so we parted and tried to find him.

Finally I looked around and saw Reddy & the buffalo about half a mile away having a race across the bluffs, and such a race as I had running up and down such steep bluffs as fast as my pony could run and I expecting every moment he would fall and brake my  neck, until finally I lost sight of them, when we heard a gun & followed the report, and there was Reddy & the buffalo in a valley having it between them. He had wounded it in the leg when it turned on him and came very near being run over but his horse got away. But when he saw me coming he felt relieved when we put three or four bullets into him and at last he fell on his knees and then over (dead).

Was going to send the head home but we killed it so far away from home and had no way to carry it. Had three hours hard work this morning in grinding cane in a horse machine, but you would have laughed to have seen me a few moments ago. But to commence, we are all going over to the large ranch tomorrow. This morning Mr. Reddington drove the ladies to Sidney to remain while we are gone, so Reddy went to work after we came from our hunt and got us supper for five—beefsteak, coffee, & baked potatoes—and after I went to work and plated Biddy in washing the dishes. Am in hopes that someone else will offer to do it at next meal as I am heartily sick of it.

Mr. Short—the man that I have heard so many comical stories of and is head herder came home this evening and while I am writing, I can hardly keep from laughing as Reddy is telling him his European stories and such comical expressions as he has that no doubt he will prove quite and acquisition.

We start tomorrow for the ranch 30 miles away and shall have a job of a week as they are going to “round” (get them together) the cattle and count them, and as they are running over a section of land 20 miles long that we will have riding enough to last us for  some time. Am not homesick as yet as they are all very, very kind to me. Have not said anything as yet about my remaining with them for any length of time but shall do so soon and after I have my plans made for a couple of months, I shall try to make some arrangements about a pony and rifle. They never think of leaving the house without a revolver and knife with them as they are expecting trouble any time now with the Indians as a white man killed a chief and they want vengence.

Tom Short is expounding his opinions on things in general and especially of letter writing as Reddy has spoken to me of getting up a letter for the Journal and think we will send it if they will publish it. You might ask Major Balbach about it though don’t say anything about it to anyone else as we might give it up.

Was sound asleep last night when I heard a gun fired from our window and thought my time had come and as I felt for Reddy and he was not in bed and then I was pretty near dead from fright for a moment when I heard a voice and there they were in the window, shooting at “Kiotes” a species of wolf that were around trying to kill the goats and chickens and felt quite relieved. Write soon. Your Son, — George

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