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Captain Silas S. Soule, a Pioneer Martyr
by C. A. Prentice
The Rescue of John Doy
Excerpt from: Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent
persons, etc.; Chicago: Standard Publishing Co., 1912.
John Brown Papers, 1826 – 1948. Kansas State Historical Society.
Williams, Burton J. Quantrill's Raid on Lawrence: A Question of Complicity. Kansas Historical Quarterly, 1968.
___________ Erastus D. Ladd's Description of the Lawrence Massacre. Kansas Historical Quarterly, 1963.
Barry, Louise. The Emigrant Aid Company Parties of 1854. Kansas Historical Quarterly, 1943.
Cramer, Lt. Joseph A. Letter to Major E.W. Wynkoop, December 19, 1864. Rocky Mountain News. “Sins of Sand Creek,” September
Roberts, Gary L. Sand Creek, Tragedy and Symbol. Norman: University of Oklahoma; University Microfilms Intnl.,1984. Available at
the Denver Public Library Western History Department - call: C970.3 C428rob
Soule, Hersa. Letter to Annie J. Soule, August 6, 1865. From the private materials of Byron Strom, Anne E. Hemphill Collection.
Hickman, Russell K. A Little Satire on Emigrant Aid - Amasa Soule and the Descandum Kansas Improvement Company. Kansas
State Historical Quarterly, November, 1939 Vol. 8, No. 4.
Hoig, Stan. The Sand Creek Massacre. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961.
Selected Articles about Silas Soule:
Coberly, Carroll H. Carroll H. Coberly Papers (MSS #125). Colorado State Historical Society.
Michno, Gregory F. The Real Villains of Sand Creek. Wild West, December 2003.
Perkins, LaVonne. Silas Soule, His Widow Heresa (sic), and the Rest of the Story. Denver: Denver Westerners Roundup, Vol LV, no.2,
Mar-Apr, 1999. Held at the Denver Public Library, Denver, CO.
Milavec, Pam. Alias Emma S. Soule: Corrected Historical Fictions Surrounding Silas Soule and the Sand Creek Massacre. Denver:
Denver Westerners Roundup, July-August, 2005. Held at the Denver Public Library, Denver, CO.
Morse, O. E. An Attempted Rescue of John Brown from Charlestown, VA Jail. Kansas State Historical Society, Vol. VIII, 1902-1904.
Other Points of Interest:
|Sand Creek also
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The following article, Captain Silas S. Soule, a Pioneer Martyr, by C. A. Prentice, appeared in The
Colorado Magazine, Vol. IV, May 1927, reprint November/December, 1935. Written in 1927, the
article is based largely upon the reminiscences of Soule’s friend, Sam Dorsey. While the article
is not without merit, it should be noted that some inconsistencies exist due to the passage of
time and more thorough information about Soule that is now available. While Prentice’s article
provides interesting anecdotal information about Captain Soule, a list of notes are provided at
the end to help clarify some of the inconsistencies.
Captain Soule’s father, Amasa Soule, was sent out to Kansas as an agent of the Emigrant Aid Society of
Boston in the spring or early summer of 1854. He took up a homestead on Coal Creek, about ten miles
south of what was afterwards the town of Lawrence, and established the first “Underground Railroad”
station in the then Territory of Kansas. He was at the head of the operations of this work for Kansas,
Missouri and Arkansas. Silas, his second son and the subject of this sketch, was at the time a boy of ten or
twelve years. He was raised in a very active abolitionist atmosphere and before the Civil War started, while
yet in his ‘teens, he became an active Jayhawker and was one of the members of the “Dow” band
comprising twelve men, pledged to the cause of John Brown of Osawatomie when Brown was condemned to
hang at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.
These twelve men formed a plan to rescue John Brown. They established a pony relay extending from
Osawatomie to Harper’s Ferry and Silas Soule was chosen to make personal contact with John Brown and
arrange for his rescue. He established the contact but Brown did not approve of the plan of rescue and
contended that his execution would do more to bring about the abolition of slavery than he could possibly
accomplish by a continuation of border warfare in Kansas and Missouri. He told Soule that he thanked the
Dow party for their plan and work for his delivery but that the cause was greater than the man, that life was
only an incident in the great struggle for human liberty. Soule returned to Kansas taking the pony relay
back at Brown's suggestion. Brown was later hanged at Harper’s Ferry.
On one occasion Dow, the leader of this band, was arrested and placed in the county jail at Liberty,
Missouri, on a charge of “Jayhawking,” that was stealing slaves and transporting them by the “Underground
Railroad” to Canada and thus freeing them. The “Dow band,” disguised as a band of Missouri officers,
presented themselves to the sheriff at Liberty to deliver a prisoner. Silas Soule was the prisoner. He was
handcuffed but the lock on the cuff was purposely uncaught. He was taken to the bull pen of the jail where
Dow was confined. When the jail door was opened he knocked out the sheriff with his handcuff and took
the jail keys away from him and then locked the sheriff in Dow’s place, took Dow out of the jail and the band
rode “Hell for Leather” back to Kansas and were in DeSoto, Kansas, before daybreak. Their headquarters
at DeSoto was in the basement or cellar of a home of Mr. Hadley, a mill and elevator man. (This was the
father of Herbert S. Hadley who was afterward elected Attorney General and then Governor of Missouri, the
same Hadley who drew up the constitutional amendment to the Colorado constitution for the building of the
At the commencement of the Civil War Captain Soule enlisted as a private in the first contingent of
enlistments in the Federal Army at Lawrence. He was very shortly after his enlistment, at the personal
request of Kit Carson (who was a friend of his father and who had repeatedly stayed at his home on Coal
Creek) transferred and became a member of Carson’s scouts with headquarters at Raton, New Mexico, and
he was successively Sergeant, then Second Lieutenant, then Lieutenant of Carson’s Company of Scouts.
When the scout service was extended and Kit Carson became Major and Soule was transferred to the First
Colorado Cavalry he became Captain of Company D of the famous “Chivington” regiment, the First
Colorado Cavalry. His top sergeant was Sam Dorsey, who died in Denver some five or six years ago.
Dorsey was for a great many years a police officer in Denver and in his later years a trusted employee of
the claim department of the Denver Tramway Company. He told me many incidents in the personal life of
Captain Soule with whom he was a very congenial and a close friend.
Captain Soule was a great favorite with the men of his own company. He was at one time playing a game of
cards in his quarters with his sergeant and some of the other men of his command when one of the players
asked for a chew of tobacco. It seemed that no one present had any chewing tobacco, so Captain Soule
offered a bet of a dollar that he would get a plug of tobacco off of the next man that passed by on the road.
The next man that passed was evidently a prospector, a tall and gangling man leading a pack animal.
Soule, sauntering out on the road, accosted him and accompanied him a piece down the road. In about ten
minutes Soule returned to the game, chewing tobacco. He resumed the game and in a moment or two he
reached in his hip pocket, drew out a full plug of tobacco and passed around. He met the stranger,
borrowed a chew of tobacco, told a total stranger a funny story and so completely entranced him that he
forgot that he had loaned his tobacco and that Soule had pocketed the plug and returned to camp. The
bet was promptly paid. On another occasion a member of his command, who was largely given to telling big
tales of his prowess as a hunter and fisherman, told a story of shooting a porcupine. Soule joined the
conversation and before the story was completed the teller had changed the game from a porcupine to first
a wolf, then a mountain lion, then a bear and wound up with a tiger hunt in India. The Soule made him
admit, amid a roar of laughter, that the nearest the story teller had been to India was Indiana.
Soule on one occasion walked from near La Junta (Colorado) to Lawrence, Kansas, and returned in the
dead of winter, to see his mother. He explained to the folks at home that the Indians were quiet, there was
noting to do, so he got a furlough, walked 550 miles, stayed over night and returned to his army duties.
Though badly frostbitten on the way east, the weather turned warm on his return trip and he suffered no ill
effects from the trip. On this trip home Captain Soule started to ride horseback home but his mount
became lame and concluded to make the trip on foot.
Later the Indians committed several raids and atrocities and the military authorities became cognizant of it.
Colonel Chivington ordered an attack on the Indians who were located on Sand Creek southeast of
Denver. His military order was to attack without quarter and kill all Indians including squaws and papooses.
He was commonly quoted as saying in his order, “Nits make Lice.” Captain Soule refused to give his men
the order, but read the order to his company making the comment that the order was contrary to military law
and contrary to the principles of civilized warfare. General Henry ordered an army investigation into the
Sand Creek engagement, which investigation was held partly in Denver and continued at Fort Lyons (sic).
General Henry declared Denver to be under martial law and Chivington was later tried by military court.
General Henry appointed Captain Soule as Provost Marshal. The feeling was pretty high and two or three
attempts were made on Soule’s life. On the night of the 23rd of April, 1865, a drunken brawl was started at
Lawrence and “G” Street, four or five shots were fired. Soule, in company with his bride returning from the
theater, heard shots and hurried towards the sound. He was met with a pistol shot that entered his cheek
and ranged upward through the brain killing him almost instantly. He left a bride of but a few weeks. The
spot where he was shot is about where the Daniels and Fisher’s store is now located. He was buried with
military honors from St. Johns Church. The Reverend H. H. Hitchens preached the funeral sermon. He
said, in part: “It is of Captain Soule as a soldier that I may say something without fear of encroaching upon
that sacred private memory that belongs alone to his widow, his mother and his friends. It is from the
testimony of others that I must speak. By his commanding officers I am told he was a good soldier, and how
much does that short objective involve? It involves all that can be said of a soldier. It implies that he had no
fear of work, of fatigue, of suffering, of danger, of death. And was it not so? Did he not in the darkness of
the night, almost at the midnight hour, go out to discharge his duty as commander of the Provost Guard of
this city? Did he not go when he had every reason to believe that the alarm which called him out was only to
decoy him into danger? Did he not go when he knew positively that his life was threatened, and that weeks
ago five shots had been sent at him with deadly intent? Did he not go, feeling so certain that his doom was
sealed, that he took farewell of his young wife, telling her what she must do in case he returned no more
“Yes, and there is the spirit of the soldier, and the good soldier, too; he did his duty in the midst of danger,
did his duty in the face of death, and fell by the assassin’s hand.”
Captain Soule was one of a great galaxy of pioneer spirits who builded (sic) the foundation of our state.
Such men as Kit Carson, General Blount, General Henry, Colonel Cody and numerous other men of strong
convictions, honesty of purpose, physically and morally brave, men who laid a firm foundation in the
Territorial life, for the future of a great State and it is to these pioneers that we owe a debt of gratitude for
the moral strength and fortitude, that we have today.
* Mr. Prentice, a member of the Historical Society from Denver, has made a number of contributions to the
There are numerous errors in Mr. Prentice's article that should be considered by serious researchers:
Silas Soule was born in Bath, Maine, in 1838. He would have been 16 years old in 1854 when he came to
Lawrence with his father and his older brother, William L. G. Soule.
Mr. Prentice makes several references to the “Dow band.” The actual name was Doy, after Dr. John Doy, a
New York physician who joined the abolitionist Kansas Jayhawkers cause in 1854.
The infamous abolitionist, John Brown, originally from New York, moved to Osawatomie, KS in 1855.
Most historical accounts of the Doy Band put the number of members at ten, in addition to Dr. Doy: James
B. Abbott, Joshua A. Pike, Jacob Senix, Joseph Gardner, Thomas Simmons, S.J. Willis, John E. Stewart,
Charles Doy (son), Silas Soule, and George Hay.
The tale of Soule’s 550-mile walk to Lawrence and back undoubtedly grew to legend after his death. It is to
say the least open to scrutiny. Because other accounts of Soule include his masterful proclivity for practical
jokes and tall tales, however, he may indeed have sold this gem to his more gullible friends.
Prentice’s numerous references to a “General Henry” is a mystery. The military investigation of Sand Creek,
one of three (the other two by the Committee on the Conduct of the War and a Joint Special Committee of
the two houses of Congress), was ordered by Senate resolution, directing the War Department to convene
a military commission (Special Orders no. 23), presided by Colonel Samuel Tappan. Captain E. A. Jacobs,
and Captain George H. Stilwell were also on the commission.
No historical records refer to a “General Henry” involved in the Sand Creek controversy in Denver. Colonel
Thomas Moonlight was appointed command of the Denver District in late 1864, and he was in command at
the time of the February 1865 military hearing. Moonlight appointed Tappan to preside (Stan Hoig, The
Sand Creek Massacre, p. 169-170).
Colonel Chivington was not “tried by a military court.” The Military Commission was appointed only to take
testimony of soldiers and officers involved in the Sand Creek affair and present its findings to the War
Department. Chivington was allowed to cross-examine witnesses and present rebuttal witnesses (which was
done by Chivington and his lawyer, Major Jacob Downing, who was also present at the massacre). As a
result of the Commission’s investigation, the War Department issued a written condemnation of Chivington’s
actions, but because Chivington was no longer in the service of the military, he could not be tried by a
military court. (According to Samuel Tappan, Chivington’s enlistment ran out a month prior to the Sand
Creek Massacre, and he was officially mustered out of the Army in January 1865, a few weeks before the
military investigation took place. Hoig, The Sand Creek Massacre, p. 169, with reference to Paper by
Samuel F. Tappan, Kansas State Historical Society.)
Colonel Moonlight assigned Soule to the Denver Provost Guard after Soule’s enlistment in the First
Regiment expired and he joined the Colorado Veteran’s Service.
Soule’s confessed killer, Private Charles Squire of the Colorado Second Regiment, and his accomplice,
William Morrow, escaped after killing Soule. Squire was later apprehended in New Mexico and brought back
to Denver to stand trial by court martial. He escaped from jail, however, and was never seen again. That
Colonel Chivington hired Squire to kill Soule is a popular but unproven allegation that remains to this day.
Emotions over the Sand Creek investigation indeed ran high between Chivington’s supporters and
detractors during this time. Although Soule did escape a few attempts on his life before Squire killed him,
no evidence has ever been presented to prove Chivington’s complicity in the murder. Unlike Colonel
Tappan (Chivington’s avowed enemy), Soule was not in any position of authority to spearhead a campaign
to punish Chivington. He was but one of many officers and soldiers who testified against Chivington, and
he had already appeared before the Commission at the time of his murder. It is more likely that Tappan
would have been Chivington’s target, if indeed Chivington had any murderous intent, but because he knew
he was immune to any criminal prosecution, this too seems an implausible scenario. Whether Soule’s
murder was an act of vengeance, drunken anger, or unfortunate happenstance will likely forever be based
on rumor and innuendo. More information on Soule’s killer, Charles Squire, is available in Gary L. Roberts
dissertation, Sand Creek: Tragedy and Symbol, available at the Denver Public Library Western History
Department. Also, Silas Soule: A Short, Eventful Life of Moral Courage, by Tom Bensing (click link for
Hersa (Coberly) Soule married Silas on April 1, 1865. Hersa was the daughter of the late James Coberly, a
Colorado pioneer whose ranch (Halfway House) in the Huntsville (now Larkspur, CO) vicinity was a popular
stage stop on the East Plum Creek wagon road from Denver to Colorado Springs. According to the Carroll
Coberly family papers available at the Colorado State Historical Society Library, Mr. Coberly was killed by
Indians during the tumultuous summer of 1864.
The Daniels and Fisher store is now a historical site in modern day Denver, 16th and Arapahoe St. The
store is now gone, but the tower, built in 1910, remains a familiar Denver icon. A plaque dedicated to
Soule's memory is mounted at the approximate site of the murder, one block SW of the tower at 15th and
Arapahoe St. in Skyline Park.
Photo, courtesy of Byron Strom, Anne E. Hemphill Collection.
Colorado Magazine archived at the Denver Public Library Western History Department.
|Captain Silas S. Soule, a Pioneer Martyr
C. A. Prentice*