H.G. Rust’s story is true, he made one of the most incredible rides in American
history. If not, he sure told a good yarn.
In the fall of 1858, the young
soldier stationed at Fort Mason in the Texas Hill Country got a tall order: Carry
a satchel of important dispatches to Albert Sidney Johnson, commander of the 2nd
Cavalry. That would have been routine enough except for the fact that the colonel
and most of his regiment were somewhere between Fort Leavenworth, Kan. and Utah.
Rust’s commanding officer told him to ride to Pike’s Peak in the Colorado
Territory, and intercept Johnson along his expected route.
“I never learned
just why a dispatch...should have to come from Washington to San Antonio and thence
via Fort Mason, and across a vast stretch of intervening wilderness, infested
by hostile tribes of Indians, in order to reach...Johnson,” Rust recalled in 1910.
Neither did Rust ever figure how he came by the assignment to risk his neck
on a 1,200-mile haul. “When an important duty was to be performed,” he recalled,
“it was usually the custom to call for volunteers, but in this instance this custom
The officer who handed him the assignment did offer an
escort, but Rust opted to go it alone since “one man, well mounted, stood a better
showing to get through than a small body of men.”
Armed with a rifle
and two six-shooters, Rust left the post on the best horse the garrison had.
The trip nearly ended a day after it began. At the end of a hard ride, the
soldier made camp near present-day Brady. The next morning, he awakened to yelling
and shooting as a party of Indians charged toward him, intent on claiming his
scalp and his horse.
But that horse outran the Comanche’s ponies and
out-swam them when they reached a rain-swollen Colorado River. His weapons useless
until they could be dried and reloaded, Rust managed to stay a few hundred yards
ahead of his pursuers.
The Indians trailed him to present-day Coleman
County before they gave up. When Rust rode his exhausted horse into the military
post at Camp Colorado later that day, his uniform hung on him in shreds, and he
was minus his hat.
When Maj. Earl Van Dorn saw him, Rust recalled, the
camp commander said he looked like a flying Dutchman. “Look at his wings,” the
officer said, pointing to the puzzled soldier. As a crowd gathered, Rust realized
his back bristled with arrows.
Fortunately for Rust, the shafts – shot
from some distance – had not penetrated deeply. His system surging with adrenalin,
he had not even felt them. When Rust had recovered, Van Dorn also offered to send
him on with an escort. Again, Rust declined.
“He said I was a fool,”
Rust remembered, “and that no man on earth could traverse that vast distance and
keep his scalp. He swore at the officer at Fort Mason for sending a man on an
errand that could but lead to certain death; that it was cruel and inhuman, and
that a whole company should have been assigned to the duty imposed on me.”
Rust’s ride would have made a compelling book, but he never wrote of his
experiences. “I will not attempt to give the incidents, the sufferings, the battles
and narrow escapes of that long, lonesome ride from Camp Colorado to Pike’s Peak,”
he said. “The details would fill a volume and would weary the reader.”
He summarized the rest of his ride by noting that “on three occasions I found
myself in a close place where escape seemed impossible.”
Luck, grit and
a good horse got him through. Three days after reaching the trail at Pike’s Peak,
Rust saw the advance element of Johnson’s Utah-bound command.
his dispatches and got a sound cussing from Johnson “for being a fool-hardy dare-devil”
and the officer’s gratitude “for the faithful discharge of my duty.”
Johnson ordered Rust not to return to Fort Mason the way he had come, sending
him to Fort Leavenworth with an escort. From there, he went to St. Louis where
he took a river boat to New Orleans. Traveling at government expense, he sailed
from Louisiana to Indianola on the Texas coast, and returned to Fort Mason along
with a government wagon train carrying supplies.
The trip back to Texas
took a while, but Rust must have thought it pretty easy going compared to the
first half of his journey.
© Mike Cox