Genealogy to Historical Fiction — Part Three
by Bev Scott
This is the third in a serial documentation of the journey Bev Scott traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of her grandparents. ~~ Anne Bradshaw
On the Trail of John Howard Scott
I knew from the depositions I found in the National Archives, that John’s first wife Harriet reported he had abandoned her in 1879 leaving her “destitute” with five children and a sixth on the way. She believed he was dead. But I knew he lived until 1911 under the name of Harvey Depew Scott. Looking for clues, I combed the depositions he gave to government agents when he was trying to prove his identity as a Civil War Veteran.
There he acknowledged that he was in Kansas and in 1880 went to work as a cook for an “overland” expedition from Fort Dodge to Laramie, Wyoming. Another time he reported that he worked cattle. It was the time of cattle drives from Texas up to Dodge City.
Thousands of longhorn cattle were driven by drovers up the Chisholm Trail and the Western Cattle trail. It is estimated that over five to six million cattle driven up the Western were packed into wooden rail cars and shipped to Kansas City, Omaha, St. Louis and Chicago. 1880 was one of the peak years for cattle drives. Some cattle were to be delivered farther north and were driven across western Kansas to Ogallala, Nebraska, Dakota Territory, Wyoming, Montana and as far north as Canada.
Life on the Cattle Drive
Going from Texas to Dodge City at ten to fourteen miles a day easily took two to three months. Life on the cattle drive was dusty, lonely and frequently dangerous. Any strange noise or unexpected event especially at night could precipitate a stampede of the thousand to fifteen hundred skittish animals. Heavy rains meant flooded rivers and the trail drivers had to get reluctant cattle into rushing water, make sure none of them were carried downstream with a fast-moving current or got stuck in the quick sand at the river’s edge.
Cattle towns provided distractions and entertainment for the drovers. Dodge City was infamous as a wild and lawless town. A typical frontier town, it acquired a reputation of glamour, excitement and opportunity. Buffalo hunters, cowboys, gamblers, gunslingers and railroad men were drawn to Dodge City for thrill of adventure and easy come, easy go money.
Although killings didn’t happen every day, they were not a rare occurrence either. In the saloons where drinking, gambling and female entertainment occurred, and arguments among the rough characters who frequented these establishments were usually settled by gun fights. The men shot dead were often buried in unmarked graves on famous Boot Hill. Wyatt Earp, his brother, Dave Mathers and other famous gun slingers and killers hung out in Dodge City.
Where was John Howard?
Did John Howard join a cattle drive from Texas to Dodge City and then go on to Wyoming? Did the lure of Dodge City entice him north from Texas? I believe there is a strong possibility he was in Dodge City or passing through during its rough and tumble days in the 1880s.