Biography of Charles Decker, Salt Lake City, Utah
Retrieved 7/12/2012 from http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85058130/1897-07-11/ed-1/seq-8/
[Note: This Charles Decker of Salt Lake City, Utah was the uncle of the Charles F. Decker (b. 1863) whose biography is also on this site - his father was Isaac Decker (b. 1840), brother of this Charles Decker (b. 1824)]
SOME LIVING PIONEERS
Charles Decker was born at Phelps, Ontario county, New York, June 21, 1824 His parents were the late Isaac Decker and Harriet Wheeler Decker. He arrived in Salt Lake City October 2,1847, having in charge President Young’s farming utensils and the like.
Few men in the west have had a more varied experience than Mr. Decker. In 1851 he and the late Feramorz Little and the late Ephraim Hanks sublet the contract to carry the mail from Laramie to Salt Lake City from Colonel Sam Woodson, now of Atchison Kansas. Little and Hank went down in July 1851, to perfect all arrangements such as providing stock and the like. The contract called for a trip a month, the price being $8000 for the year. Mr. Decker made the second trip in September. He was accompanied by Alfred Higgins. With them went Dr. Bernhisel, the first delegate to congress from Utah. On Box Elder creek five miles beyond Deer creek and30 miles below the crossing of the North Platte, they had trouble with the Crow Indians. Their lead mules were lassoed and they were taken to a bend of the creek where the Indians began helping themselves to whatever they liked. While this operation was going on some squaws on the lookout saw a party of emigrants in the distance, and the Indians supposing Mr. Decker belonged to it, ceased their plundering and made off.
In 1852 Mr. Decker had an exciting experience with Big Robber’s band of Indians. There had been smallpox among them and many had died. Their bodies were all placed in a heap and covered with brush and timber until it made a good sized pyramid. This was but a temporary arrangement as the Indians had gone off to get some cloths and other things with which to perform funeral rites. While they were away a Frenchman, by the name of Rucheaux, with a party passed by and as the stench was something awful, he set fire to the pyramid and burned the bodies up. A few days after the Indians returned and saw what had been done. They were frienzied with grief and rage. Mr. Decker was the first white man to pass after the burning of the bodies and the Indians singled him out to wreak their revenge upon. As they came along he saw there was trouble for him and he put his team on the dead run. The Indians were fast gaining on him as he made the brow of a small hill. A short distance beyond he espied a white man’s camp, and made for it for dear life. It chanced to be Kit Carson’s, who was driving a band of sheep to California. He was accompanied by “five white men and 15 greasers,” to use Mr. Decker’s own words. Carson stopped the leader of the hand with a bullet. This Incident occurred close to where Mr. Decker had had trouble the year before.
Owing to this and some other troubles, Mr. Decker asked Lieutenant Grattan, who was stationed at Laramie, to furnish him an escort of soldiers until he had passed through the hostile Indian country. The lieutenant informed him that if he were afraid to travel the plains he had better go home and stay with the women folks. Mr. Decker replied that he was no more afraid to travel the plains than most men, but he thought the government mail should be protected. He got no escort. On his return trip he learned that Lieutenant Grattan and 27 soldiers had been killed at McClosky’s station, some eight miles below Laramie, and by the same band of Indians for protection against whom Mr. Decker had asked an escort.
These are samples of the experiences Mr. Decker had while carrying the mail. During one trip in the winter he was six days making 23 miles.
Mr. Decker was well acquainted with Old Smoke, who figures so prominently in Parkman’s Oregon Trail. He says he was a fine old fellow; that most of his girls married white men, but that the old chief was not held in the highest esteem by the Indians, because he believed in working after the manner of the white man.
He gives a graphic account of the killing of a big mountaineer known as the Lion of the Mountains. The Lion was a man who stood about six feet seven inches high and weighed some 220 pounds, and was nothing but bone and muscle.
Mr. Decker and the late Joseph A Young were going east and when they reached old Fort Bridger they went up to Simmineaux’s Hole, about two miles away. In one corner of the room were seated the Lion, Louis Tumley, a Frenchman, and other mountaineers playing cards. Louis discovered the Lion nigging cards from his great broad-brimmed hat and upbraided him for it, saying there was no need for him to steal cards as he was a better player than he (Louis). This angered the Lion and with a terrible oath he demanded if he accused him of stealing cards and cheating. Louis replied that he didn’t know what he called it in English, but that was what he meant. With that the Lion jumped and struck him, knocking him down. He then jumped on him, and kept beating Louis in the face, the latter doing what he could to avoid the blows. Mr. Decker and Joseph A Young were lying in the bunk watching the melee. “Louis has got his arm under him and can’t move,” remarked Joseph A Young. Hardly had the remark been made when Louis slow withdrew is arm and in his hand was his hunting knife, which he plunged into the Lion up to the hilt, some fouror five inches below the heart. As the Lion rose, Louis ripped him clean across the abdomen, completely disemboweling him. He got up, walked to a bunk and lay down. Calling to the mountaineers he said: “If I have a friend here, follow that --- --- Frenchman and kill him.” He died about 3 o’clock in the morning. All this terrible tragedy occurred about 9:30 in the evening, there being no other light in the room than that furnished by the glare from the fireplace. Louis was never caught though Mr. Decker and Mr. Young saw him near Laramie on that same trip.
Mr. Decker crossed the mountains between here and Laramie 53 times. He brought the first steam saw and plaining mill to Utah in 1864 or 65, John D Houtz of Ogden freighting it at 12 1/2 cents a pound.
Mr. Decker lives in this city and is hale and hearty and says he wouldn’t mind crossing the mountains to Laramie again just for the pleasure of the trip. Few men are better or more widely known in the west than Charles Decker.
|July 12, 2012