The Gene Pool Colorful Families: Martha (Husted) Leonard


Martha (Husted) Leonard
Her Adventures (& Tragedies) in the Wild West

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Some Interesting Information Concerning Local People

By Rev. Peter Jacobs, Perry, Iowa Newspaper - 1938 (1930?)

Note from JLT: Martha (Husted) Leonard was the step sister of Matilda (Husted) Whiton (my 2G grandmother) and a daughter of James Leamon Husted. Martha's mother was Druscilla (Landon) Husted, James' second wife. Many hours have been spent trying to uncover who James' first wife was (the mother of Matilda) --- still a great mystery waiting to be solved! I have narrowed my search down to a little town called Waltham in Addison Co., Vermont. Meanwhile, have managed to collect vast amounts of HUSTED family information!

Did you know that Mrs. Martha Leonard, who was ninety-one, May 1 of this year, crossed the western plains in 1866 sixty four years ago this summer? It was a daring venture, daring enough for men. How much more so for a young mother thirty seven years old with four children. Her husband, George W. Leonard, who was farming near Wilton Junction, Iowa, lured by the prospects of a fortune in the new west, disposed of all his interests and started April 6, 1866. Their outfit consisted of the family of six, her brother Zacariah Husted, and four men helpers, one as a cook, one to care for the children, two to look after the stock which included three riding ponies, the oxen and a big herd of young cows.

Following the trail across Iowa from the eastern border to Council Bluffs was quite an experience. It was a slow method of travel, with oxen and herding cattle. They became interested in the west through Mrs. Leonard's brother, Horace Husted, located at Virginia City, Montana who had gone out in the earlier days and made a fortune in the gold mines. He had urged them to come and try their fortunes. At Omaha they added several prairie schooners to their equipment and loaded up with an ample supply of provisions. In one of the wagons they had some young pigs and a dozen chickens. Here they became a part of a large covered wagon caravan, so characteristic of those early western movements. The larger groups were necessary for protection against hostile Indians. Their band was largely made up of families who expected to make their homes on the new frontier.

Mrs. Leonard loved the out-of-doors. She enjoyed riding her pony and had become quite expert in the use of a revolver. Since she had help to care for the children and do the cooking, she had much time to venture forth from the camp and made good use of her opportunity. To her the trip was a wonderful outing full of adventure. She entertained no fears of the Indians and felt that the protection possible through the members of their band and the government troops was adequate. There was no dread of the trip for her. She welcomed its privileges. Later, a great sorrow cast its gloom. She saw great seas of buffaloes, so immense was their numbers that their movements seemed like the waves of a sea. Elk, deer and antelope were found in large herds. Wild fowl and smaller game were in abundance. They never wanted for fresh meat and used only the choicest of the kill. The four children who accompanied them were Louella (Mrs. George Usry, New York City), Albert (who died in Nebraska in 1894), Carrier C.B. Minnis, Des Moines, and Frank (who died on their way back to Iowa).

At Fort Kearney, Nebraska, they received their first mail. Stages moved much faster than these large caravans. They followed the Platte River which was one of the old trails. As they went farther west they left the old trail and took up the new one known as the Bozeman Cut-Off, which saved them some 800 miles. At Fort Laramie, Wyoming, they were halted for two weeks because the Indians beyond were on the war path. Government troops accompanied them. While they were in the Black Hills region they came upon a caravan, whose guide had been killed. Some of the men with....own guide and the soldiers ....out to find the body. When ...distance from the camp they ....thirty-two were killed, including their guide and her brother "Zach".

Some of the men who escaped from the redskins returned to camp with their limbs pinned to the bodies of the horses because the arrows had gone clear through. It was necessary for those in the camp to pull out the arrows to release them. Others had arrows sticking in their bodies. Some of the horses that returned riderless were full of arrows. These clashes with the Indians brought them face to face with the horrors of that type of warfare. In raids made upon them they lost their ponies and their oxen and had to use the cows to draw their wagons. The bodies were brought back to camp. Some of the men had been scalped. A brief funeral service was held with the reading of the bible, a prayer and a few remarks. The bodies were wrapped in blankets and buried deep so the wolves would not disturb them. The next day after the fight, the bodies of their guide and her brother were found and buried by covering them with rocks. Their guide had crossed the plains thirteen times. The government troops accompanied them to Bozeman City.

When they reached Powder River it was at flood tide. These western streams were very swift. Many people were waiting for the waters to subside so they might ford it. The ferryman at that place wanted $1,000 to take Mr. Leonard's family and stock across. A man who was at enmity with the ferryman told Mr. Leonard of another ford where he might cross in safety. The ferryman knowing Mr. Leonard's intentions then offered to do it for $500. One of the trusted cattlemen using a pony they had bought from the Indians directed not only their own company and stock, but others as well. He made twenty trips across that dangerous stream and of all who crossed only one wagon turned over losing the oxen and the contents of the wagon. It was a trying ordeal for that young man. Their route took them through Yellowstone Park; it was not a national park then and there was but one trail to follow. Before reaching Bozeman they passed through the Gallatin Valley which impressed Mr. Leonard very much as an ideal place to keep his cattle, and as soon as he could do so he purchased 1,600 acres there.

He divided, his herd keeping a part in the Gallatin and a part in the Yellowstone Valleys. They spent the winter in Bozeman City. Their stock could not stand the rigors of that severe climate and most of them froze to death. The next spring they went to Salmon City, where a new gold rush had opened but it proved to be a fizzle. While here they opened an eating house. It was a great stage center. Stages drawn by six horses came in from a number of directions, stages from Red River drawn by dogs and at one time a stage came in drawn by reindeer. They lost their stock, they found no gold. Mr. Leonard's health was broken. He could not stand that high altitude so they started back to gain their fortune in old Iowa. On their return trip they left Salmon City in July and arrived in Muscatine in September. Going west they left in early April and arrived in November. They took the stage to Fort Benton. Then went by boat to Omaha. Enroute, their baby boy, Frank, three years old took seriously ill and died. They stopped at Fort Beauford and buried the little body. The next year, 1869, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard came to ? County where he rebuilt ... home.

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