Dr. Jeff Broome:
The Hungate Massacre
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NOTES FOR PART 1 - THE HUNGATE MURDERS
1 Ed. L. Miller, Murder at the Hungate Place June 11, 1864 (unpublished manuscript, 2001), 49-60.
The Denver Commonwealth, June 15, 1864, indicates the mother and daughters were found about 400
yards from the house. The report commonly called the Freighter's Report, dated June 13 (Official
Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. XXXIV, 354) indicates the bodies were found 100
yards from the house. As will be seen later, because of the proximity of the house with Running Creek,
the 100 yard estimate makes more sense. Perhaps the newspaper article mistyped 400 for 100.
2 The actual location of the homestead is presently unknown, and is placed by others on Comanche
Creek anywhere from a few miles north of Highway 86 to a few miles south of Highway 86. I determined
my location according to the affidavits in the Dietemann Indian Depredation claim, which is noted in the
3 Apollinaris Dietemann Indian Depredation Claim #4941. Indian Depredations Claims Division, Record
Group 123. National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
4 The Denver Commonwealth, June 15, 1864. Western History Department, Denver Public Library,
5 The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate
Armies (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891), Series I, Volume XXXIV, Part IV, 319-320.
Hereafter cited as Official Records. Notice that in this appended note Evans says that the Hungate
killings occurred in the afternoon. Thus it was impossible for him to be aware of it in Denver at 12:00 p.
m., June 11, which is implied in the original missive. Also, the messenger is said to have had his house
burned, too. It is possible that Thomas Darrah was a neighbor of the Hungates, suffered lost stock at
about the time things went tragic for the Hungate family, went to Denver to report his loss and on the
way discovered the Brown loss (which was on the road to Denver), informed Brown in Denver of his
loss, then delivered the order to Davidson from Evans. It is after this that the Hungates are discovered
murdered. Darrah, Corbin and Brown inform Governor Evans of the murders late in the evening of
June 11. In other words, Darrah reports to Evans twice, once on June 10 (his stock is stolen plus
Brown's stock is stolen), and again late in the day on June 11, this second time accompanied with the
other freighters, and now with the news of the Hungate murders.
6 Official Records, 320-321. From this report, compared to the report dated June 12 (endnote 5), the
chronology is that Evans first hears of the stolen stock from Darrah, and after responding to this
depredation, he later learns of the Hungate murders.
7 Official Records, 354-355.
8 John M. Carroll, The Sand Creek Massacre: A Documentary History (New York, NY: Sol Lewis,
9 Official Records, 422. In a letter dated November 10, 1863, Evans gives North's statement: "The
Comanches, Apaches, Kiowas, the northern band of Arapahoes, and all of the Cheyennes, with the
Sioux, have pledged one another to go to war with the whites as soon as they can procure ammunition
in the spring. I heard them discuss the matter often and the few of them who opposed it were forced to
be quiet and were really in danger of the loss of their lives … the principal chiefs pledge to each other
that they would shake hands and be friendly with the whites until they procured ammunition and guns,
so as to be ready when they strike. Plundering to get means has already commenced, and the plan is
to commence the war at several points in the sparse settlements early in the spring." (Official Records,
100, emphasis added).
10 See, for example, Stan Hoig, The Sand Creek Massacre (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma
Press, 1961), 58-59; Margaret Coel, Chief Left Hand: Southern Arapaho (Norman, OK: University of
Oklahoma Press, 1981), 189-190; Gary Leland Roberts, Sand Creek: Tragedy and Symbol (Ann
Arbor, MI: UMI Dissertation Services, 1984), 244-245; Ed. L. Miller, Murder at the Hungate Place, 97-
100, 129-132. The ranch hand, Mr. Miller, gets added to the affair in 1892, when an unidentified man is
there reported to have been with Nathan Hungate when they saw the ranch on fire. The unidentified
man races to Denver while Nathan rushes to his death in a vain attempt to save his family. See The
Denver Republican, May 27, 1892. Mr. Miller is named as the unidentified man in 1935, when Van
Wormer's daughter has her account of the deaths recorded in The Colorado Magazine, Vol. 12, 1935.
On this standard view, the messenger reporting to Evans is mistaken as Miller.
11 "Depredations" Report, Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, Entry 96, Letters Sent,
1890, 20-21, Record Group 75, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
12 It should be noted that the 10,000 depredation claims in Record Group 123 were nearly all
ultimately rejected from compensation. The cause for rejection was not that the claims were deceitful,
but rather that there was some technicality in filing. The claims consulted for this article were not
approved. Philip Gomer's claim was rejected because he was residing in Indian Territory in 1864. The
land was not turned over for settlement until October 14, 1865. Gomer was unable to prove he was
lawfully residing in Indian Territory at the time of his losses. No file exists for the Hungate family, but the
likelihood is that claim would also have been denied for the same reason.
13 "Depredations," 19-24.
14 "Public Act No. 139, for the adjudication of claims arising from Indian depredations." The Carl Albert
Center, The University of Oklahoma, Sidney Clarke Collection, Box 6, Folder 32, Norman, Oklahoma.
15 Philip P. Gomer Indian Depredation Claim #693. Indian Depredations Claims Division, Record
Group 123. National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
16 Gomer Indian Depredation Claim. Gomer's depredation claim includes, in a later filing, an affidavit
from Gomer's sister, Martha Quinlan, who states that she was at the home, alone, and witnessed the
lone Indian steal the stock. She further states that it was shortly after the noon meal that "a man rode
by and said the Hungate family had all been murdered by Indians." This contradicts what Catherine
Ferguson said in her 1865 affidavit that it was only after returning from trying to recover the stolen
stock that she was informed of the Hungate murders. Obviously if she knew of the Hungate murders
before the lone Indian stole the horses she would have been very reluctant to follow him for two miles
in an attempt to recover the horses. It is possible that there were two adjoining homes, with one woman
in each home, and thus both women report what they remember. While this could explain the
discrepancy in testimony, the fact that neither affidavit mentions the other woman being present,
coupled with the fact that Quinlan's affidavit is taken August 27, 1886, more than twenty years after
Catherine's testimony, it is more likely that Martha Quinlan was not present on the ranch June 11, 1864.
17 The depredation file officially states that the Brown loss occurred June 9 or 10 (in more than one
place June 10 is overwritten as June 9 or 10), 1864, and Darrah's testimony simply states that his loss
was suffered at the same time of Brown's loss. Studying the file however, shows the more likely
scenario that Darrah suffered his loss and then discovers the Brown depredation and informs Brown of
such (in Denver). For that time sequence to occur, it appears more likely that their losses occurred at
least a day before the Hungates were murdered.
18 John Sidney Brown Indian Depredation Claim #2196. Indian Depredations Claims Division, Record
Group 123. National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
19 Brown Indian Depredation Claim.
20 It seems odd at first glance that a freighting outfit would be so poorly armed, but until this time there
had been little molestation on the trails to and from Denver, hence there was little need to be well
armed, a fact noted in the affidavits of the depredation file several times. The purpose of freighting was
to deliver the goods to their destination, so there was not time to hunt near the trail, and thus little need
for rifles and having each teamster armed. Of course, this changed after June 11, 1864.
21 Brown Indian Depredation Claim, Statement of Loss, 15.
22 Brown Indian Depredation Claim. In another affidavit Hammer gives more detailed testimony: "The
Indians came over the hill yelling and flirting buffalo robes. There were two Indians then; they were 20
or 25 feet of the mules when I first saw them. The Indians dashed in between the wagons and men and
where the mules were. The Indians rode between the mules and the wagons. When this dash was
made the men were in front of the train from 5 to 20 feet of it, varying. When the dash was made we
rushed out to do all we could to get hold of the stock, but they were frightened by the buffalo robes and
this prevented us from getting them. We had small fire arms, two or three in the train. All the men did
not have arms. To the best of my knowledge only three wore arms. In the excitement the fire arms were
not thought of until the stampede was thoroughly started and the horses and mules were taken. There
were horses and mules in the train besides those belonging to claimants. There were four tied to a
wagon. The wagon was joining ours in the corral of wagons. I do not remember the name of the owner.
It was one wagon and one man; he asked to travel with us. He was with our men when the attack was
made. There were 8 men in all, 7 of Brown Brothers' men and one unknown man. The man who owned
the four mules tied to the wagon refused to let us have them and declined to join in the pursuit himself.
I asked him for the use of the mules. He positively refused and broke down and cried like a child when I
had temporarily taken them by force, guaranteeing to pay for the mules if lost. He did not join in the
pursuit. The man was about 35 years of age. He had been traveling with us five or six days. He did not
finish the trip with us. He went ahead of us. We used two of his mules in pursuit of the Indians. The
other two were so wild we could not get on them. We followed the Indians from about noon until dusk."
Statement of Loss, 13.
23 Brown Indian Depredation Claim
24 Brown Indian Depredation Claim, Statement of Loss, 2.
25 Brown Indian Depredation Claim, Statement of Loss, 2, emphasis added. There is a minor
discrepancy in the Brown depredation file regarding the Hungate home. In what appears to be the
earliest affidavit, dated February 9, 1888, the typed deposition says the Hungate home was burned,
but the word "burned" is crossed out and the word "pillaged" is placed in its stead. The earliest
documents about the Hungate murders all state that the cabin was burned to the ground, and indeed,
the evidence from modern archeology reinforces that fact. It appears the later report was amended
because of the further statement that a note was pinned on the cabin. Perhaps the note was simply
pinned on some wooden object that somehow escaped the burning.
26 Brown Indian Depredation Claim, Claimants' Request For Findings of Fact, 9, emphasis added.
27 Official Records, 319-320.
28 Brown Indian Depredation Claim, Claimants' Reply Brief, 4, emphasis added.
29 Brown Indian Depredation Claim, Statement of Loss, 12.
30 Jeff Broome, Dog Soldier Justice: The Ordeal of Susanna Alderdice in the Kansas Indian War
(Lincoln, KS: Lincoln County Historical Society, 2003), 76, 118.
31 The Denver Commonwealth, June 15, 1864, emphasis added.
32 C. C. Augur, General Orders No. 14, Headquarters Department of the Platte, Omaha, Nebraska,
March 2, 1867. Part 1, Department of the Platte, Letters Sent, 1867, Record Group 393, National
Archives Building, Washington, DC.
33 Royal and Becky Moore are the property owners of this historic site and from the arrangements of
Dr. Ed. L. Miller of the University of Colorado at Boulder, the chair of my dissertation committee in
1998, the Moores gave me permission to metal detect the site, which is today a pasture. The site is
about 100 yards to the south of County Line Road and about 150 yards east of Running Creek and
about 200 yards west of the junction of County Line Road (Rd 50 for Arapahoe County and Rd 194 for
Elbert County) with Rd 29. The precise location is identified as the N. E. quarter of Section 3, T6S,
R64W, 6th p.m.
34 The numerous nails show that the Hungate home was constructed mostly of wood and not sod,
thus supporting the hypothesis of the house burning.
35 These items were examined in Lincoln Nebraska on August 17, 2001, by Dr. Doug Scott, Chief of
the Rocky Mountain Research Division, Midwest Archeological Center, National Park Service, and
Richard Harmon, noted Indian wars archeologist and weapons expert respectively. Nearly all of the
items were dated from the era of 1864. The most remarkable item was the exploded Warner carbine.
The Spencer shell casings were established as being fired from the Warner. The Warner carbine had
exploded when it was fired, not because of the house fire. This indicates it was fired repeatedly until it
became too hot and the barrel then slightly separated from the stock, thus causing it to explode when
fired. It was then burned. What is remarkable about this weapon is that it was brand new in
manufacture in 1864 and is today a rare weapon to collect. That it is linked to the Hungate site shows
that Nathan was well armed in weapons, and further, he had the money to acquire such a weapon. The
analysis of this weapon alone solidified for me the belief that there was a siege at the Hungate place.
The other weapons would have been stolen by the Indians, and there would not have been an
exploded Warner if Nathan Hungate was away when the Indians attacked his family, killed them,
pillaged the house and then burned it, thus alerting Nathan from the ensuing smoke that his family was
in grave danger, which is the standard view of the Hungate tragedy. It is false.
36 Robert L. Akerley, "Cultural Resources Inventory of Ward Hungate Family Massacre Site." In an
unpublished article "An Overview of the Ward Hungate Family Massacre," Akerley repeats the standard
interpretation of what befell the Hungate family. Both articles are unpublished but available at the
Aurora History Museum, Aurora, CO.
37 This hypothesis regarding what happened to the Hungate family is exactly what happened in other
recorded instances involving Cheyenne and Arapahoe warriors. In 1865 a similar tragedy befell the
William Morris family near present-day Merino, Colorado. See Nell Brown Propst, Forgotten People: A
History of the South Platte Trail (Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing Company, 1979), 90-92.
38 Ed. L. Miller, Murder at the Hungate Place, 57.
|The following article, appearing here in two parts, was published by Dr. Jeff Broome
in the Denver Westerners Roundup, VOL. LX, No. 1, January-February 2004.
It is reprinted on this web site with the express permission of the author.
|The pamphlet, which
of the Hungate
plus artifacts and
recovered there, is
available for $12.
To order, contact
the link below:
E-Mail Jeff Broome
|Indian Massacres in Elbert County, Colorado:
New Information on the 1864 Hungate and 1868 Dietemann Murders
by Jeff Broome
© 2003 All Rights Reserved
On June 11, 1864, Nathan Ward Hungate, his wife Ellen, and daughters Laura and Florence, were all killed by Indians
and their house burned along Box Elder Creek about thirty miles southeast of Denver City. Nathan, originally from
McDonough County, Illinois, was twenty-nine. His body was located about a mile from the burned home. Ellen Eliza
Decker, originally from Pennsylvania, married Nathan in Cass County, Nebraska Territory on January 21, 1861. Born
August 3, 1838, she was twenty-five when murdered. Daughter Laura, born in the fall of 1861, was not yet three when
killed. Little Florence was a week shy of five months when she died with the rest of her family. Ellen and her daughters
were found about one hundred yards from the destroyed home. 1
Four summers later, on August 25, 1868, Apollinaris Dietemann, along with business partner and soon to be
brother-in-law Anton Schindelholz, were returning to their adjoining cabins along Comanche Creek, located just south
of where present Highway 86 crosses Comanche Creek about four miles southeast of present-day Kiowa, probably
just south of and within visual distance to the highway. 2 When reaching the Stage Station known then as Running
Creek, situated about nine miles south of where the Hungate massacre occurred four years earlier and two miles
north of present-day Elizabeth, they were informed that the Indians had raided homesteads along Comanche Creek
and that a woman and her child had been killed. Apollinaris immediately knew this was probably his wife and one of his
children, as his homestead on Comanche Creek was the only one at that time that included a family. 3
Beyond these basic facts of who was murdered and when, there has been little information available to tell a more
complete story. Of course, with the subsequent infamous event at Sand Creek on November 29, 1864, the Hungate
murders are more commonly featured in history books as the motivation for retaliation at Sand Creek. There is more
information, however, that can be learned regarding both of these family murders. This comes from an archeological
survey done at the site of the Hungate murders, and from heretofore-untapped files housed in the National Archives
Building in Washington, DC. These files come from long neglected Indian Depredation Claims.
The first written accounts informing the public of both family murders come from newspapers. Because of a
devastating flood in Denver shortly before the Hungate murders that destroyed the presses of The Denver Rocky
Mountain News, their murders were reported in The Denver Commonwealth on June 15, under the title "Indian
Depredations – Murder of an entire family:"
The Hungate Murders
On Saturday night [June 11] two Indians stampeded 49 mules belonging to Daniels &
Brown, about thirteen miles from this city, on the 'cut-off,' while the teamsters, four in
number, were preparing supper. Two of the men pursued the Indians some thirteen
miles, until they came in sight of about 120 head of ponies, horses and mules, when
they judiciously returned to the wagons, as the Indian camp was evidently near…. On
Saturday afternoon, the buildings of the ranche of Mr. Van Wormer, of this city, on
Living Creek, thirty miles southeast of Denver, were burned down by Indians, as were
the buildings of the next ranche. Mr. Hungate and family, who occupied Mr. Van
Wormer's ranche, were barbarously murdered by the Indians. The bodies of Mrs. H
and two children were found near the house --- They had been scalped, and their
throats cut. A later report brings news of the discovery of Mr. Hungate's body, about a
mile from the same place. Mocassins, arrows, and other Indian signs were found in the
vicinity. The bodies of these will be brought to the city this afternoon, and will, at the
ringing of the Seminary bell, be placed where our citizens can all see them. 4
Military and government authorities were aware of these depredations shortly after they happened. In a letter dated
12 p.m. June 11, Territorial Governor John Evans wrote Col. John M. Chivington, commanding the military district in
Colorado, informing him of depredations occurring in the vicinity of Coal Creek and Box Elder Creek, the other name
for Running Creek. Though the document is dated as 12 p.m., this is probably a mistake, and Evans really meant
12:00 a.m., June 12. Apparently the missive was not sent to Chivington until early June 12, for appended to the
document with a June 12 date is this note:
P.S.— Since writing the above there has arrived a messenger from Mr. Van Wormer's
ranch, 10 miles south of the cut-off road, on Box Elder. He says that yesterday
afternoon the Indians drove off his stock, burned Mr. Van W.'s house, and murdered
a man who was in Mr. Van W.'s employ, his wife, and two children, and burned his
house also…. 5
Enclosed with this report and dated 10 p.m. June 11, is a statement signed by J. S. Brown and Thos. J. Darrah,
informing Evans of the loss by theft to Indians of 49 mules and one horse, the incident noted above and reported in
The Denver Commonwealth for June 15. Mr. Darrah was one of the three messengers that reported to Governor
Evans of the Hungate murders, as will be shown later. In yet another report dated June 11, Evans orders Captain
Joseph C. Davidson to pursue and punish the offending Indians. Davidson is there informed that Darrah will guide his
detachment of fifty men to where it was believed the Indians were in camp. 6 This report was probably written before
the report sent to Col. Chivington with the appended announcement of the murder of the Hungate family.
The chronology of events as it was reported to Governor Evans probably went like this: Darrah had stock stolen
along Running Creek. On his way to Denver to report the theft and seek military assistance in recovering the stolen
stock he comes upon the Brown freighters and learns of their loss. He informs Brown in Denver of his loss thirteen
miles away, and the two go to Governor Evans and make their report. Evans then writes his order to Davidson and
Darrah volunteers to deliver the order. Meanwhile Brown gets his friend Corbin and together they go to where his
freighters are stranded with their wagons. Learning that his wagon master had recovered enough stock to bring the
wagons into Denver he then leaves with Corbin to search for his remaining stolen stock. They soon meet up with
Darrah and a company of soldiers and later discover the Hungate massacre. It is at this time that Darrah learns that
his cabin has been burned, which would have occurred while he was away reporting his loss of stock. The soldiers
leave and the three freighters then find Nathan Hungate's body about a mile away from his house. They then go to
Denver and report the murders to Governor Evans late in the day on June 11. Evans then appends his order to
Chivington informing him of the murders. The affidavits in the Brown depredation claim support this sequence of
On June 13, Brown, D. C. Corbin and Darrah submit a report to Captain Maynard regarding their observances of the
Hungate killings. Speaking of a Mr. Johnson, who resided nearby at a lumber mill, the report notes that Johnson and
others from the mill had first discovered the bodies of Mrs. Hungate and her two children, and had removed them to
The party from the mill and himself [Johnson], upon reaching the place, had found it in
ruins and the house burned to the ground. About 100 yards from the desolated ranch
they discovered the body of the murdered woman and her two dead children, one of
which was a little girl of four years ands the other an infant. The woman had been
stabbed in several places and scalped, and the body bore evidences of having been
violated. The two children had their throats cut, their heads being nearly severed from
their bodies. Up to this time the body of the man had not been found, but upon our
return down the creek, on the opposite side, we found the body. It was horribly mutilated
and the scalp torn off. The family are spoken of by their neighbors as having been very
worthy and excellent people. 7
More than three months after these accounts were produced, there is another report about the Hungate massacre.
This comes from the Arapahoe Chief Neva, who participated in the Camp Weld Conference, held near Denver on
September 28, 1864. In this conference Governor Evans asks the seven Indians present, who killed the Hungate
family? Neva responds that it was a small party of four Arapahoes, led by "Medicine Man, or Roman Nose, and three
others." 8 This contradicted an earlier report given to Governor Evans just four days after the massacre. In this
report, Robert North, a man who was married to an Arapahoe woman and had lived and traded among the Indians
for years, warned Evans the fall before that the Indians were only trading for arms and ammunition in anticipation of
a general Indian war for the purpose of driving all white people from Colorado. He then identifies the Arapahoe
Notnee as being with the party that killed the Hungates:
Robert North, the same who made statement last autumn, now on file, reports that John
Notnee, an Arapaho Indian, who was here with him and Major Colley last fall, spent the
winter on Box Elder. He was mad because he had to give up the stock that he stole
from Mr. Van Wormer last fall. He thinks he was with the party who murdered the family
on Mr. Van Wormer's ranch and stole the stock in the neighborhood last Saturday, but
thinks that the most of the party were Cheyennes and Kiowas. 9
As far as contemporary reports exist of the Hungate massacre, the newspaper accounts, military reports and Camp
Weld Conference noted above are what contemporary historians use to depict the Hungate massacre. What come
later are reminiscences from pioneers, and it is from these accounts that certain embellishments to the murders
begin to develop. These embellishments, I believe, deter one from understanding the actual truth of what happened.
Nevertheless, modern authors, culling from all of these sources, develop this scenario, which can be called the
standard view. It is not correct: Nathan Hungate was away from his home, working the ranch with a ranch hand
named Miller when the Indians surprised Ellen and her children. His family is soon killed, the house then looted and
burned, and Nathan then learns of the tragedy when he sees smoke coming from the direction of his home. While he
goes to his now burning home he is overtaken by the murderous Indians and killed before getting there. While
Nathan races to his death the ranch hand, Miller, turns his tracks to Denver, where he soon reports the massacre to
the authorities, and is thus the messenger noted in Evans' reports. 10
There is, however, primary source material never before consulted that relates to the Hungate massacre. These
documents present a clearer picture of what was happening at the time the Hungates were murdered. Further,
modern archeological evidence points to an entirely different understanding of the massacre than the standard view
The heretofore-untapped primary source documents are found in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC,
from individual Indian depredation claims housed in Record Group 123. Record Group 123 is not the only record
group housing depredation claims. But it is the largest, housing about 10,000 separate claims, and it is from this
record group that are found the claims of John S. Brown, one of the freighters noted in the report of June 12 by
Governor Evans, and again in the report dated June 13, 1864. Philip Gomer also filed a claim for his losses at this
time. Gomer owned the mill near the Hungate place where the bodies were first taken.
Before presenting this new information, a word of explanation is in order regarding Indian depredation claims. In
1796 Congress first passed laws allowing for compensation for U.S. citizens who had property stolen by Indians in
treaty with the United States. Compensation for a successful claim was to be taken from the annuities provided in the
various Indian treaties. This law was tweaked and changed many times over the ensuing decades, but the driving
thought behind it was twofold: to prevent settlers from seeking revenge against the depredating Indians (education),
and to cause the Indian to refrain from committing depredations (civilization). The claims were processed through
the "Civilization and Education" Division of the Office of the Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs. 11
The law worked both ways. If an Indian suffered property losses from an American citizen, then they could petition
congress to reimburse them for their loss, and compensation to the grieved Indian would come from the U.S.
The requirements for filing a successful claim for an Indian depredation included several components. First, the
raiding Indians had to be in amity with the United States, which usually meant the Indian tribe and the United States
had agreed to an existing treaty. Sworn affidavits had to be signed by victims of Indian assaults, including at least
two witnesses who could testify to the merits of the losses and the truthful character of the victim. The Indian tribe
responsible for the depredation had to be identified, and there had to be an investigation at which time the claim was
presented to the tribe and the tribe's response was received. If the depredation occurred on Indian land, the
claimant had to produce evidence showing their permission to be in Indian Territory. 12 Only occasionally do the
offending tribe admit to committing any depredations. A special agent with the Department of the Interior would then
investigate the claim as to the validity of the losses and the amounts of the goods stolen or destroyed. Often the
agent would not allow the entire dollar amount detailed in the claim to be accepted.
One requirement for a successful claim was that it had to be filed within three years of the loss; otherwise the claim
was barred from compensation. However, so many claims were denied on this statute of limitation that Congress in
1885 removed the three-year time clause, effective back to 1873. Thus, several thousand claims were re-filed in the
late 1880s. 13
With this amended act of 1885, all Indian depredation cases were transferred from the Department of Interior to the
United States Court of Claims for final adjudication. But it was the following requirement that today makes such
claims a rich and useful research haven:
That all claims shall be presented to the court by petition setting forth in ordinary and concise language, without
unnecessary repetition, the facts upon which such claims are based, the persons, classes of persons, tribe or tribes,
or band of Indians by whom the alleged illegal acts were committed, as near as may be, the property lost or
destroyed, and the value thereof, and any other facts connected with the transactions and material to the proper
adjudication of the case involved. The petition shall be verified by the affidavit of the claimant, his agent,
administrator, or attorney, and shall be filed with the clerk of said court. It shall set forth the full name and residence
of the claimant, the damages sought to be recovered, praying the court for a judgment upon the facts and the law. 14
Philip Gomer filed a claim for the loss of six horses and a colt on June 11, 1864. Gomer was apparently the nearest
neighbor to where the Hungates lived. While Gomer himself testified that he was away in Denver at the time of the
raid, like Isaac Van Wormer, he had a ranch hand that lived at the ranch and took care of his stock. Gomer's main
business was ranching and freighting. Mr. Ferguson and his wife, Catherine Calander Ferguson, were living at the
ranch when the Indians raided it on June 11. Ferguson himself was away and Catherine was left alone. On March
26, 1866 Philip Gomer testified that the raiding Indians were Arapahoe and Cheyenne and "murdered one entire
family, known as the Hungate family, driving off his stock and a large amount for Mr. Van Wormer and others…." 15
Catherine Ferguson testified on March 9, 1865 that she was alone in the home when at about five o'clock in the
afternoon a lone Arapahoe Indian approached her house and took the horses picketed and grazing nearby. Mrs.
Ferguson quickly mounted another horse and followed the Indian for nearly two miles in an attempt to recover the
horses. The Indian, though armed, did not try to molest her but rather kept the horses just out of her reach. Mrs.
Ferguson finally went to a neighbor's house and enlisted a man to assist her in trying to recover the horses. By this
time though, the Indian was able to escape with the horses. She said, however, that it was subsequent to this that
she learned of the deaths of the Hungates. 16
The depredation claim of John Sydney and Junius F. Brown, brothers in the freighting business, contains dozens of
pages of affidavits, of which more than 75 pages are relevant to the Indian raids occurring at the time of the Hungate
murders. Included in the affidavits is one by Thomas J. Darrah, one of the freighters who wrote the report to Captain
Maynard on June 13. Darrah was also in the freighting business, and had apparently suffered his loss of mules
shortly before Brown, probably on June 9. It is Darrah who reports to John Brown, who was in Denver at the time, of
the loss, probably on June 10, of several mules from Brown's freighting excursion to Denver. 17 Junius Brown had
overseen the loading of six wagons in Atchison, Kansas in early May. Younger brother John Brown was awaiting the
goods to be delivered to Denver, 640 miles from Atchison. The Browns would usually average two trips per season,
each round trip taking about sixty days. This was the first one for 1864. They had been in the freighting business
The freighting excursion included two wagons pulled by six mules each, and an additional four wagons, each pulled
by four mules, for a total of twenty-six mules and two horses. Six men drove the six wagons, with a seventh man
serving as wagon master. 18 When the party was just thirteen miles from Denver, they had stopped on Coal Creek
near a watering hole, to prepare dinner (the noon meal) and rest the animals. They unharnessed the animals,
placing them about seventy-five feet from the wagons, where the mules then began to roll on the ground. It was
about twelve o'clock in the afternoon, June 10. The men were in the process of making a fire to cook their meal.
Wagon master John Hammer, twenty-two at the time, testified what happened next: "At first I saw two Indians come
dashing by the mules, flirting buffalo robes. It frightened the mules and drove them away. They were unharnessed,
prepared to graze, and rolling near the wagons in the road." 19
Only two or three of the seven men were armed with pistols, none having a rifle. 20 In the moment of the surprise
and the boldness of the raid, the freighters had forgotten to use their pistols to prevent the theft. All twenty-eight
animals bolted. The Indians had placed themselves between the rolling animals and the freighters. When this
happened Hammer ran to the nearest mule, but "just as I made an effort to catch a mule one of the Indians threw a
dart fastened to a lariat rope, and in dodging it I fell to the ground and the mule got away from me." 21 There was
a seventh wagon with the wagon train, a lone man who met the freighters on the road about six days earlier and
asked if he could join the train. His four mules, however, were wild, and when the other mules were unhitched the
four wild mules had to be tied to the lone man's wagon, or else they would have run away.
Quickly Hammer asked to use the wild mules to pursue the fleeing Indians. The owner refused. Taking matters into
his own hands, Hammer then informed the unidentified man that he was going to use the mules anyway, and he
would be reimbursed later if the mules were hurt or lost. However, none of the mules had ever been ridden and only
two could be successfully mounted. Hammer and another man, Joseph Ferguson, then went in pursuit of the
scattering stock, while the man who initially refused the use of his mules, "broke down and cried like a child…." 22
The two men followed the Indians several miles, until dusk, when other Indians began to bring their stolen stock and
join the Indians Hammer and Ferguson were pursuing. By this time eight other Indians had joined with the other two.
All of the Indians were armed with rifles. During the chase and before the other Indians joined the two being
pursued, the Indians "would drive the herd as fast as possible, and flirt robes at our wild mules to head us off when
ever they could get a chance." When the herd would scatter the two pursuing freighters were able to "cut out those
that were the slowest and fell behind." 23 In this way Hammer and Ferguson were able to recover eight mules
before ending the recovery effort. With these recaptured mules they then returned to where the raid began. The
next day John Brown, with his friend Corbin, arrived to where the wagons had been stopped prior to the raid. The
eight mules were then used to slowly bring the wagons into Denver while Brown and Corbin went in the direction the
Indians ran with the stolen stock, hoping to still recover them. 24
John Brown testified what happened then:
There was a camp of U. S. soldiers camped on what was known as Cherry Creek, Capt.
Maynard in command. The above Darrah, had before informing us of our loss, carried an
order from Capt. Maynard to have those troops [under command of Lt. Dunn] to go over
to Running Creek, to march from Cherry Creek to Coal Creek and back in 48 hours. We
went to Box Alder [sic] and traveled about 14 miles up Running Creek, where we found the
soldiers in camp eating dinner, and was also joined by Thomas J. Darrah. After dinner the
soldiers saddled up and traveled up the creek, we in company with them. A few miles up
the creek we found Hungate's cabin pillaged and a note pinned on the cabin, signed by a
party from Gomer's Mill, containing the information that Mrs. Hungate and two children
were killed; a short distance from the cabin we left the soldiers as they had to return.
We then started from the station at Box Alder [sic] and while on the way, we found
Hungate killed and scalped. We made a report of it in town and the bodies of the
Hungates' were brought into where is now Denver City, and buried. 25
Thomas Darrah's affidavit in Brown's depredation file supports Brown's testimony. After reporting his loss of stock
and subsequently delivering a message from Captain Maynard to Lieutenant Dunn of the 1st Colorado Volunteers,
Darrah stayed with the soldiers until the next day:
When we camped for dinner we were joined by J. S. Brown. In company with the soldiers
we followed the trail of the Indians until we came to a cabin which had been pillaged on
which we found a note signed by a party from Gomer's Mill, stating that Mrs. Hungate and
her two children had been killed and were at the mill. We skirted around in the timber
looking for Mr. Hungate but did not find him. At a short distance from the Hungate cabin we
left the soldiers as they had orders to return. We then started for the station at Box Elder
and on the way found Mr. Hungate killed and scalped. We reported it to the stage station
and at Denver and the bodies were brought in to where the City of Denver now is and
Darrah's statement is significant for a couple reasons. First, he indicates that the trail of stolen stock led them to the
Hungate place, where they then learned of the murders. This implies that the same Indians they had been chasing
were involved with the Indians that had killed the Hungates, with their murders occurring subsequent to the two
freighter's pillaged stock. Second, Darrah identifies himself and Brown as then reporting the deaths in Denver, thus
making them the "messenger" to Governor Evans noted in Evan's June 12 addendum to his earlier letter to
Chivington of June 11. 27 This is further supported by yet another report from Governor Evans.
The Brown depredation file includes this report of Evans, dated June 15, and addressed to the Commissioner of
Indian Affairs. The report makes it clear that the "messenger" reporting the Hungate murders was plural:
The last company left Denver for the Arkansas River on the 11th inst., and camped 15
miles up Cherry Creek under orders to join the regiment east of Fort Lyon. On that night
three messengers came in from the settlements some ten or twenty miles east of this
place, on Box Elder Creek, and reported an extensive stampede of stock, including some
50 or 60 head of mules, and the murder of an entire family, a man named Hungate, his
wife and two children, and the burning of their house. The scalped and horribly mangled
bodies were brought to the city yesterday. 28
The Hungates, then, were in all probability killed by the same party of Indians who had been involved in stealing
stock in and around the area between Box Elder/Running Creek and Coal Creek for at least two days before the
murders. How big was this party? Elsewhere in the Brown depredation file it is noted that a total of 113 mules were
stolen between June 9 and June 11. 29 In Evans' report dated June 11 he there notes 49 mules lost to Brown,
Darrah and "others." We can assume that Darrah's loss is similar in numbers to Brown, but this still leaves
unaccounted about fifty mules/horses taken from other persons, in order to account for the final number of 113
stock stolen. Nathan Hungate and Isaac Van Wormer lost some, but probably much less than what is still
unaccounted for. So what does this signify regarding the Indians involved in this large raid that culminates in the
murders at the Hungate home? The raiding warriors had to be a large party of Indians in order to be able to divide
and commit their various sorties. It must have been at least twenty Indians at the fewest, and probably more,
perhaps as many as fifty or sixty. It wasn't a haphazard raid conducted by a small number of Indians. It was a large
raid, and large raids take planning and careful execution in order to achieve success. 30
While all of this information in the depredation files provides some answers about the Hungate massacre and gives
us a more complete understanding of the number of Indians involved and what was happening at the time when the
Hungates were killed, still unanswered is the question why they were murdered. Why were they killed when it is
obvious from the testimony of Hamner in the Brown depredation claim and Catherine Ferguson in the Gomer claim
that the Indians doing the raiding, while armed, were not interested in molesting people? There had been no killing
while the Indians were depredating for at least two days until the Hungates were murdered. So why were they killed?
Two possible answers emerge from the known documents. One is that Robert North correctly reported that the
Indians were about to start a major war against encroaching white people residing in Colorado Territory and
surrounding states/territories and thus the Hungates were the first in this new war. The other is that a vengeful
Arapahoe, Notnee, retaliates against Van Wormer by killing his ranch hand and family. Neither of these hypotheses,
however, holds water. To the first, if a general war were being commenced, then the armed Indians would have at
least tried to kill those people encountered in stealing stock before and after the Hungates were killed. But in fact
the opposite occurs. Thus North, even if reporting the truth of what he observed the preceding fall, is wrong, at
least, for June 9-11, 1864. What happens later that summer along the immigration/freighting trails is another matter.
If there is a direct road to Sand Creek from earlier events in 1864, it does not originate in the Hungate murders.
Rather, it germinates from the many murders that occur on and near the Santa Fe and Platte River trails throughout
the summer but after the Hungates were killed. The Hungate murders fuel the thirst for retaliation, but the Indian war
of 1864 is really about the subsequent raids along the trails of immigration and freighting.
A new scenario buries the vengeful Notnee hypothesis. This proposal is more consistent with what has been
recently discovered at the Hungate homestead site via the use of metal detectors. This new evidence points to the
hypothesis that the Hungates were burned out of their home before they were murdered, and only after they had
made a staunch defense using as many as five weapons that were later burned because they were left inside the
burned out home. Had the Hungates been killed before the house was burned these weapons would have been
stolen by the Indians before torching the house. In addition to the weapons, many personal items recently
discovered at the original home site also would have been stolen rather than left and destroyed by fire. And if the
house was burned during a siege, it is more likely that Nathan was present and not the standard view, which claims
that he saw his house burning from a distance and died coming to his family's assistance. Further, a more likely
motive for burning the house and then killing the Hungates would be that Nathan probably shot and killed one of the
raiding Indians when the Indian's first raided the ranch, either late in the day of June 10, or early in the morning of
It makes more sense that the Indian's original intent with the Hungates, as it was with all of the other thefts during
this time, was simply to steal stock. If it was to start a general Indian war, then why wasn't Mrs. Ferguson killed, or
the freighters associated with Brown and Darrah? And if there were 113 mules and horses stolen during this time,
why weren't the other victims of theft also killed? Something had to have gone bad during the raid at the Hungate
place that would motivate such retaliation. And in order to take the time to burn the family out of their home, there
must have been several Indians present, or else Nathan would have in all probability been able to keep them from
torching the house. This fact is what makes the vengeful Notnee hypothesis unreasonable.
Since the Indians had stolen the stock from Brown's freighting outfit and then left in the direction of the Hungate
home on the afternoon of June 10, then perhaps it all began in the early evening on that day when Nathan might
have killed one of the marauding Indians. That would make their retaliation to begin in the early hours of June 11,
the house finally being burned down a few hours later, and then the family killed when their only choices were to
burn to death in the house or flee in terror from the engulfing flames.
This scenario fits well with their deaths being discovered in the afternoon of June 11 and Governor Evans learning
of it from the freighters in the late evening that day. Further, this understanding makes more sense than the idea
that a pouting and angry Notnee, with perhaps three other Indians, chastised by having to give back some stock he
earlier stole, would then return and viciously kill two baby girls, violate and murder Mrs. Hungate, and surprise and
kill a worried Nathan coming to check on the welfare of his family, all to "get even with Van Wormer." That is simply
a senseless scenario, as is Neva's claim that Medicine Man and three other Indians killed the Hungates. No, it took
more than four Indians to kill the Hungate family, and the best motive for that would be to avenge another Indian's
death, an Indian likely killed by Nathan as the warrior attempted to steal stock from near the home.
This does not mean that Nontee was therefore not involved with the Hungate tragedy. It is possible that he was with
the larger party that killed the young family. It is even possible that Notnee was with the small raiding party when
Nathan surprised and killed or seriously wounded one of the Indians. For that matter, perhaps Medicine Man was
also involved. But what is not plausible is that the motive for killing Nathan and his family was anger at being
chastised for an earlier theft at the Van Wormer site. Equally implausible is that it was only a few Indians who were
responsible for the murders.
It is a fair question to ask what evidence is available to support this new hypothesis. Two sources are found in the
past and one in the present. One is another newspaper account in The Denver Commonwealth of June 15. This
article is infrequently mentioned in contemporary writings on the Hungate massacre. What is important in this article
is that it places Nathan at the home when the Indians attacked his family. That it is recorded just three days after the
murders adds credence to its reliability. After reporting on the murders, the article continues:
Since writing the above we have had a conversation with Mr. Follett, who has just arrived
from Running Creek. Mr. F. is one of the party that went after the bodies. He says that the
woman was found about four hundred yards from the house, with the children both in her
arms –- one a babe three or four months, and one, a little girl about two years old. The
bowels of the younger one were ripped open, and its entrails scattered by the sides of the
mother and children. The body of the man was found about two miles from the house, but
his whip was found at the [burned] ruins, and some other marks seemed to indicate that he
had first been attacked there, and finding himself overpowered, had made an effort to
It is not clear what the "other marks" were that suggested Nathan was present at the home when the attack began,
but what is important is the fact that it was believed at the time that he was present and tried to escape. The second
primary source evidence is simply the knowledge how Indians retaliated when one of their tribe was killed. Brevet
Major General C. C. Augur, commanding the military division of the Department of the Platte, noted in an order he
sent that it "is a well known rule with Indians that when injured, they retaliate upon the first favorable occasion that
offers." 32 This first favorable retaliation often involved innocent people, but in the case of the Hungate family,
Nathan in all likelihood provided the Indians their desire for retaliation by shooting one of the Indians raiding his
ranch. It is already known from the other depredations that the raiding Indians were split up into small numbers, so it
was probably just a few Indians who approached his ranch for the purpose of stealing stock. Nathan, seeing the theft,
probably shot one of the Indians.
This is a much more plausible motive for what had to be several Indians coming back to the ranch and taking the
necessary means and time to set Nathan's house on fire. They would have carefully assaulted the house from all
sides, in order to get close enough to torch it. Three or four Indians couldn't have accomplished this with any
success, as Nathan could have defended his family as long as he had ammunition. No, it had to be a larger party,
and such a party needs a motive to retaliate. Notnee's motive of anger at Van Wormer is not enough, nor was he and
two or three other Indians capable of flaming the house while the family was inside defending themselves. Recovered
artifacts from the Hungate home site support this new interpretation. Indeed, it is the artifacts themselves that
produced this interpretation.
In the spring of 2001, no less than twelve trips were made to the Hungate massacre site for the purpose of exploring
what artifacts might be uncovered via metal-detecting. 33 What was recovered is remarkable. What is no doubt still
in the ground must be equally significant. It clearly shows that a siege occurred at the Hungate place. The following
items were recovered:
GLASS: 326 pieces, representing bottles, windows and other glass objects. Sizes ranged from as small as a dime to
as large as a palm of a hand. 5 bottle stems and one bottle plug also found.
CERAMICS: 190 pieces, mostly white, representing dishes and pottery. Many pieces have evidence of lettering.
Pieces varied in size from a dime to the hand of a child.
IRON RINGS: 24, mostly saddle tack. 7 buckles, probably horse tack.
NAILS: 204, varying from one inch to five inches, all square nails of the era of 1864. 34
ANIMAL SHOES: 18 horse shoes, 4 mule shoes, 3 Ox shoes.
FAMILY PERSONAL ITEMS: cast iron cooking lid; 20 pounds of various metal, most from a heating stove; 25
different harmonica reeds and one metal pitch pipe; silver back of a pocket watch; silver thimble, brass thimble; three
brass boot heels; four suspender catches; three brass buttons for a woman's dress, 2 glass buttons, one ivory
button; one spoon, one fork, one handle to a knife; several pieces of lanterns, from wicks to control knobs; one
clothing iron; numerous pieces of lead for making bullets, many melted; an 1862 and 1863 Indian head penny, both
with minimal circulation wear, one burned; one four inch square brass lock for wooden chest; twenty pounds of
unidentified metal; one brass U.S. Major General Officer Staff button; one U.S. cavalry bridle buckle.
BULLETS: 18 unidentified because melted from fire; 7 round lead pistol and rifle balls; 2 fired .44 caliber Henry; 1
fired .56 caliber Spencer; 3 unidentified fired .44 caliber; 1 impacted fired, unidentified .50 caliber; 4 unidentified fired
SHELL CASINGS: 21 Henry .44 caliber casings; 20 Spencer casings (for Warner Carbine: see Weapons); 9 nipple
shaped .32 caliber pistol casings; 5 small Henry .44 caliber casings; 8 .32 caliber casings; 10 various other 1864
dated metallic casings.
WEAPONS: Brass firing plate of 1864 Warner Carbine, exploded while being fired, and burned; unidentified .32
caliber 5 shot pistol, unloaded and burned in fire; burned barrel of pepper box pistol, probably .22 caliber; brass
plate covering trigger for 1862 Colt pistol, Serial Number 27644 (1862); trigger mechanism for unidentified rifle; brass
cover for muzzle loading powder case. 35
In addition to the excavations conducted in the spring of 2001, Robert L. Akerley in 1985 made three excursions to
metal detect the Hungate massacre site. His finds corroborate the above noted finds, including, for example, a
burned silver thimble, several harmonica reeds, buckles, horse and mule shoes, nails, stove fragments, several .44
caliber Henry and .56 caliber Spencer casings, impacted lead bullets, ceramic pieces and civilian buttons. These
items were all donated to the Cherry Creek Valley Historical Society, as was his thirty-one-page report. 36
The most impressive artifacts recovered have to be the weapons, bullets and shell casings. The fact that these were
burned in a fire supports the hypothesis that there was a siege at the Hungate place. The most impressive evidence
for this has to be the breech of a Warner Carbine, one of the rarest carbines from the Old West. The carbine had
exploded when it was fired. The best explanation for this is that it was fired repeatedly until it became so hot that the
barrel separated from the stock and when fired the last time the inability for the bullet to pass into the barrel caused it
to explode. The many recovered Spencer shell casings support this hypothesis.
What was not recovered at the site was the Henry rifle. The many Henry shell casings support the hypothesis that
this rifle was also fired many times. There is a plausible explanation why this rifle was not recovered. When the
flames of the burning house finally forced the family to flee, this was the weapon Nathan probably carried when he
left the inferno. Nathan's most effective weapon had exploded during the siege (the Warner carbine), and his most
effective weapon remaining would have been the Henry. A Henry rifle in 1864 represented what would become one of
the most popular rifles of that era. It was a repeating rifle, capable of maintaining sixteen rounds before being
reloaded. The likelihood is this is the weapon Nathan took with him when he fled the burning house. Perhaps his
hope was to make it to the stage station on Running Creek. That is the direction he fled, anyway. Probably his
murdered family was found one hundred yards from the burned house in this same direction Nathan fled, i.e., toward
Box Elder Creek. They may have traveled that far before his family fell victim to their fate. Nathan knew the Indians
would kill him. Perhaps he hoped they wouldn’t do that to his wife and young daughters. 37 Regardless of his
thinking, he was able to make it more than a mile before he ran out of ammunition and then fell victim to his murder.
Nathan had only been in Colorado about two months before he was killed, having come from Nebraska to work for
Van Wormer in the spring of 1864. 38 He came well armed, but probably without much understanding of how to deal
with Indians. The biggest mistake he ever made in his life, a mistake that his whole family consequently suffered from,
was to take the law into his own hands, so to speak, and shoot an Indian, whose purpose for encountering the
Hungate family was not murder, but theft. By killing, or gravely wounding this unknown Indian, Nathan gave the
raiding Indians their motive for retaliation. He and his family paid the ultimate price in their tragic, untimely and
horrendous deaths. After their bodies were removed to Denver, they were placed in pine boxes and buried in what is
today Cheesman Park. In 1892 they were removed from there to their final resting place at Fairmont Cemetery.
About the author . . .
Dr. Jeff Broome has been a professor of Philosophy and History at Arapahoe Community College (Littleton, CO)
since 1985. He received his M.A. degree at Baylor University in 1976, and earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the
University of Colorado-Boulder in 1998. Prior to teaching, he was a detention counselor with the Arapahoe County
(Colorado) Sheriff’s Department and Treatment Director for the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center.
Dr. Broome has published articles in the Journal of the Indian Wars, Pacific Historical Review, Wild West, Denver
Westerners Roundup, Greasy Grass, and Research Review. He was awarded the Lawrence A. Frost Literary Award
from the Little Big Horn Associates, and contributed a chapter, Libbie Custer's Encounter with Tom Alderdice . . .The
Rest of the Story, (Custer and His Times, Book 4, Little Big Horn Associates, 2002). Dr Broome’s book, Dog Soldier
Justice: The Ordeal of Susanna Alderdice in the Kansas Indian War (Lincoln County Historical Society, Lincoln,
Kansas, 2003), is now in its 2nd printing.
|Order a copy of Jeff Broome's
Indian Massacres in Elbert County, Colorado:
New Information on the 1864 Hungate and 1868 Dietemann Murders
The pamphlet includes never-before seen photographs of the
Hungate massacre site, plus artifacts and personal items recovered there.
Available for $12
To order, contact Jeff at the link below:
E-Mail Jeff Broome
|Order a copy of
New Information on
the 1864 Hungate
and 1868 Dietemann
|LISTEN to Dr.
Broome discuss his
Justice: The Ordeal
Alderdice in the
Kansas Indian War
with Mike Rosen on
KOA 850 Denver
|Sand Creek also
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1860s era Henry Rifle
1864 era Warner Carbine
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