FROM THE PENNEY FAMILY TREE BOOK
BY PROF.DAVID PENNEY U.S.A.
Below is the text of “ The Black Hills Days” a brief recounting of his adventures about the time of the Custer massacre.It was dictated to his daughter Grace ca 1918.As you will see from the postscript it was intended to be submitted to a local newspaper for publication.
July 4th 1870 William Penney fresh from England,crossed the St.Clair river at Sarnia ,Ontaria and headed for what was then the far west. His goal was Kansas City , where he stayed some time .In 1874,lured by stories of fabulous discoveries of gold he started for the Black Hills of Dakota ,joining the prospectors on French Creek.
“”The passing away of Captain Jack Crawford (John Wallace Crawford) recalls to mind some memorable incidents in the writers western experience of 44 years ago ,in what was the heart of the Sioux country – the most hostile tribe of the various Indian Nations .It hd become known for some time that the Black Hills might soon prove to be a profitable place for gold seekers ,but the government was rather reluctant to throw it open to settlement until they were sure the prospects and other conditions warranted them in doing so.
They engaged Professor Jenny ,a sort of “technical expert “to go and explore the country first, and sent General (George Armstrong )Custer and his force ,I think General Crook also , as the college gentleman’s escort.
His report to headquarters was that the prospects for paying diggings at Deadwood were not as good in his opinion as they were 75 miles further south .at Custer City on French creek .A wild delusion ,as was afterwards proved when the experienced miners came in the camp.They did not tarry long there ,for with so much water in the creek, and it being 15ft. to bed rock it seemed to them a poor prospect .As it was a good place for a camp ,General Custer had his men build six large log cabins near the creek and the street bore his name; and another one parallel to it, Crook St., with one log cabin there was probably the General's headquarters or that of the professor.
It was certainly an ideal town site if the diggings had paid. There was no gold bearing quartz near either, while further north it was rich in abundance. In the meantime, a lot of us were waiting at the border towns ready for the rush as soon as the government said the word "go". It was in the early part of February, 1874, we were allowed to start. General Custer and his troops had left the Hills for the Big Horn, 300 miles north to meet their unfortunate doom there later.
The writer, after his stay of 3 months in Cheyenne had engaged to build a store for a party in Custer. As the goods were to be shipped by ox train, we, four of us went ahead with a pair of . bronchos and a light rig, expecting to make the distance of 300 miles in 10 days. It was a little risky, but gold seekers generally- don't give that much concern. After passing Fort Laramie, we overtook a party of four more with a rig like ours, which were welcome to us. After reaching a fork of the creek just south of the divide and another hundred miles further on our journey we met quite a strong party, halted; and they gave us quite a scare as they recited their reasons for waiting for reinforcements before proceeding further.
The terrible "Red Canon (canyon) Massacre" had just happened 20 miles ahead of there, several being killed. One poor colored woman the red devils seemed to take a fiendish delight in most horribly mutilating. It occurred in a canon or gulch that leads into Custer City, and they being but a small party were taken by surprise and easily overpowered. The writer often feels very thankful that he just escaped such a fate and got out of that country with his scalp. After waiting in camp a few days our party got to be about 100 strong; so we all started on again, there were a few Indians visible at a distance, watching us. They evidently didn't care to tackle so big a force since they did not molest us. We were all well armed and probably would have made it a bit interesting for them if they had. We arrived in Custer the next day, and on descending into the beautiful valley after crossing the lofty divide, the change in the climate was delightful, and we found the people going about coatless. Only a few of us stayed in Custer, as there was little or no gold mining going on. Most of the party made for other parts as they were experienced gold miners and spurned such prospects that appeared there. Not many days after we arrived, Captain Eggn and his famous troops on grey horses came in town and received a right royal welcome. They had been scouring the hills to drive the young Indians back to the agency who had been on the war path around there. Our next notable arrival was Jack Crawford.
He told us he was a correspondent of the Omaha Bee, and we soon learned too that he had been scouting for General Custer, when located here with Professor Jenny. Jack Crawford had obtained quite a little notoriety by carrying the General's dispatches to Fort Laramie in several hours less time than did an indian scout sent at the same time, but who followed his regular trail. Jack certainly appeared a fine-looking fellow, about 26 I judged,and was dressed all in black even to his broad brimmed hat .He was polished and refined in manner and very different I thought from the ordinary frontierman.When he mounted his his broncho and galloped up and down the street with his long raven curly locks down to his shoulders ,I could not help admiring his smart appearance .It was easy for us to see he was no novice at his business.Jack had no use for the saloon in town .He was a pleasant talker and I remember him one day he called us together and urged upon us the necessity of organising ,so that we might be the better prepared to resist an Indian attack, since he considered our condition , isolated as we were ,very perilous.
In appreciation of his kindly offer to lead us in case the Indians came upon us ,we naturally looked upon him as our Captain ,and so afterwards , called him “Captain Jack”.I am sure ,had the occasion arrived ,we all had every confidence in his ability to make us a brave and noble commander .He did not stay in Custer but a few weeks ,as I suppose he made for the Big Horn to join General Custer’s force .Three months afterwards we all deserted Custer City and followed the rush to Deadwood .To be continuedlater,unless dear editor, your readers wish to be spared the affliction .
Addressed to State Editor;-
Dear Sir ,
This communication I submit gratuitously for Sunday Tribune if you can kindly oblige me by publishing same .
Yours Respectfully Wm. H .Penney Royal Oak ,Mi.
A few years later William returned to England