This week’s chapter revealing the life of Dutch Henry could realistically be titled “Dutch Henry Born: The Greatest Horse Thief in the West.”
As we learned last week, while Dutch was buffalo hunting on the plains of eastern Colorado, Indians escaped with his horses. Soon after Dutch set out on foot in a desperate search for his four-legged transports, he fell and suffered a serious injury. Somehow he managed to drag his pain-racked body into Fort Lyon. The commanding officer of that frontier fort refused medical help and had the injured buffalo hunter unceremoniously dumped and left to his own devices back out where the grass grew high and the rattlesnakes long.
With a seemingly indomitable spirit, Born got back up on his feet and launched a new career. He stole horses from the Fort Lyons Army post that had abandoned him in a seemingly helpless state and then sold them to the Indians. Then he stole horses from the Indians and sold them to the cavalry. Somehow, it seems reasonable that Born was justified in pursuing his newly launched career.
His new-fangled lifestyle became decorated with a number of phantasmal shenanigans that defy belief. Years ago I spent several hours talking with Dutch’s daughter, Mabel Bennet, who served Archuleta County for several years as clerk of the county court.
“I’m not sure which if any of those stories are true,” Mabel said. “He always said the stories of his exploits had been seriously exaggerated.”
Those exploits included leading an outlaw gang which not only stole horses and cows here and there, but on more than one occasion robbed Army supply wagons crossing the Texas panhandle. Well-known western guide, buffalo hunter and Pinkerton lawman Charles A. Siringo claimed Dutch had as many as 300 men subject to his will.
It is also said that he reached a deal with Charles Goodnight. According to Goodnight, he met with Dutch Henry and 18 members of his band camped on Commission Creek near Fort Elliott. They made a pact, sealed with a drink that bound the outlaw leader not to raid below the Salt Fork of the Red River, the northern boundary of Goodnight’s cattle range. Dutch remained true to his word and Goodnight left him alone.
Next week, we’ll look at Dutch Henry’s involvement in the battle of Adobe Walls, a fight which involved Quanah Parker, Kit Carson and other early western notables.