THE AMAZING STORY OF FORT WICKED by Steven W. Kohlhagen

THE AMAZING STORY OF FORT WICKED

Where were we? Oh, yes. November 29, 1864. The massacre of Black Kettle’s peaceful village at Sand Creek.

The aftermath? Well, it will come as no surprise that the Colorado settlers and ranchers paid a very high price for Chivington’s villainy. The Cheyenne and Arapahoes laid waste to the Southern Platte Valley for months, killing and kidnapping whites from Julesberg to the outskirts of Denver City itself, attacking farms, ranches, stage stations, and forts.

I ran across one truly amazing story about these Indian attacks in my research for Chief of Thieves in a little known book by Nell Brown Propst, The South Platte Trail: The Story of Colorado’s Forgotten People (Pruett Publishing Company, 1979).

On January 14, 1865, about 130 mounted, painted warriors attacked Holon Godfrey’s ranch on the east side of the South Platte, thirty miles southeast of Fort Morgan. Inside were the 52 year old Holon Godfrey, his 42 year old wife, Matilda, two of their daughters, 14 and 21, their six year old son, three month old daughter, and several men (accounts differ on how many and who they were).

But Holon was not unprepared. His ranch would be better characterized as a fortress, surrounded by six foot high adobe walls with one completed tower and one under construction, with port holes all around the compound.

For two days, the Indians laid siege to the ranch, setting the surrounding prairie, the fodder for the animals, and the Godfrey’s roofs on fire. They attacked with periodic sorties, raining arrows and bullets down on the defenders for the full two days.

Godfrey was a well known, colorful character in the Valley. He was known for his long, disheveled gray beard and hair flying out all over the place as he rode on his and his neighbors’ ranches. During the seige he was remembered for racing around the compound, up and down the towers, laughing and cackling and yelling and cursing, hair flying, as he directed the defenses. His wife and family worked at putting out fires, and kept up a continual rearmament of the men, even forging new ammunition in the blacksmith shop.

At one moment, Godfrey even directed everyone to place spare hats along the walls and shoot from odd portholes here and there to give the Indians the impression that they had mysteriously received reinforcements.

When dawn broke on the 16th, the Indians were gone, leaving seventeen dead braves behind. There were no casualties in the compound. Holon Godfrey’s resourcefulness and preparedness had saved his ranch, while many of his neighbors were being killed and driven off.

Godfrey went on to be one of the largest cattle ranchers in the West, and built the road from Denver City to Cheyenne around 1870. Matilda died in 1879, while Holon Godfrey died at the age of 88 in 1899.

When Godfrey learned that the Indians had named him “Old Wicked” for his efforts during those two days, characteristically, he cackled and then nailed a sign up over the compound’s entrance:

FORT WICKED
Kept by H. Godfrey
Grocery Store

As is so often the case, there are innumerable versions of the battle if you want to do your own research, but the above version comports pretty closely to the majority. Sadly, the ranch is gone, and, even more sadly, Fort Wicked is long gone as well. But there is still a plaque and a historical marker at the spot of the ranch and the battle on the side of Highway U.S. 6 about three miles southwest of Merino, Colorado.

Holon and Matilda figure prominently as characters in my forthcoming historical fiction novel Chief of Thieves, the sequel to Where They Bury You (both from Sunstone Press). The two day battle, as you might guess, plays an important part in the early action.

Holon Godfrey was, above all else, a hoot!

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