Alvin Woods was a fullblood Osage, wearing a blanket and with the habits of other fullbloods. But Alvin could speak good English and could sign his name without mark to his annuity checks, a feat he was very proud of. He had received a fair education in a mission school. Robert Dunlap, an old trader of frontier days, used to tell a joke on Alvin Woods, for the truth of which he vouched; it related to Alvin’s life as a soldier.
Alvin was a member of a contingent of over 100 Osage braves that was attached to the 9th Kansas Cavalry, during the Civil War. At the battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, December 7th, 1862, the 9th Kansas was ordered to make a certain flank movement on foot, and in executing this movement they fell into a masked battery down at the forks of two small streams where it was very brushy. When the masked battery opened up on them the command to fall back was most imperatively and vociferously ordered.
"Fall back, fall back and remount," called the Colonel. "Ah-rin-to! Ah-rin-to; cowah-esky-a-gerak-pin-to," called out Alvin Woods, corporal and interpreter for the Indian company. The order was beautifully executed on the part of Arvin Woods’ Indian comrades. Early one morning, about a week later, Robert Dunlap, who had a stockade trading post near the mouth of Walnut Creek, several miles east of Great Bend, Kansas, was startled to see what looked like quite a body of mounted Indians coming up the valley in a wild ride. Dunlap was alone with the exception of a horse tender and was in no condition to make a defense against any considerable body of Indians. His partner had gone to West Port Landing with a train of hide wagons taking all the men they had to drive the teams.
Dunlap did not fear the Indians of any tribe except the Cheyennes, and at that time, as he could speak their tongue, he had thought he could talk them into a pacific mind by getting them to await the arrival of new goods from the Missouri River. They seemed to be approaching in a war-like attitude, however, and his fear was that they would not give him a chance to even speak with them. But were they Chey-
ennes? They looked like bareheaded soldiers, or Indians clad in soldier’s uniforms. If it should prove to be Indians in military uniform, it would mean that there had been an outbreak, and if so, the capture and death of many soldiers, there would be no peace possible with them under such conditions. Just as Dunlap had ordered the gates closed and was about to get his rifle, one of the front riders called out, "How, Pah-hah-pe!" It was Avin Woods, who was personally known to the trader. Dunlap knew that Alvin Woods and his Indian troops should have been with Blunt, in Arkansas; he was puzzled to find them nearly 300 miles from what should have been their base.
"What are you doing here, Alvin?" he asked.
"Oh, we jis fall back," said Alvin.
"Fall back where?" asked Dunlap.
"Me don’ know. Colonel he say fall back, twice he say it, an’ nobody tell me to stop. We in big fight, me glad to get away," he continued.
"Great God, Alvin, you will be courtmartialled and shot!" exclaimed Dunlap. "Here you are 300 miles from the battle, with no excuse."
"Yes, me like that tree hundred miles. And me got it good excuse; Colonel he say ’fall back,’ everybody fall back, but me beat ’em all the way."
"Alvin," said Dunlap, "this is serious. I tell you they may order you shot. How did the battle end?" "O, I guess it stop when we fall back. I don’t see it any more battle."
"Alvin, I tell you this is serious and I want you to turn around now and go back to the army just as fast as you can go and don’t stop till you get there. Make the best excuse you can; but I have no idea what they’ll do to you. I wish I could leave here, I’d go back with you and help you but I can’t leave now," said Dunlap.
"How, Allright, me go back and see Colonel; fix it up good, he know he tell me ’fall back.’ But first you giv it boys heap coffee. We got plenty meat," said Alvin.
I remember when Dunlap told the story that I fully intended to have Alvin’s account of the event when he came in to trade again, but he never came in. The next I heard of him he was dead, sometime in the winter, or early spring of 1887.
Charles J. Phillips.