Ben Stone was an African American hired to cook for a group of men from Helena who toured Yellowstone in August 1877, the year the Nez Perce passed through there. The Helena Party fought a couple of gun battles with Nez Perce scouts. Leaving the body of one of their companions behind, several members party made their way to Mammoth Hot Springs where there was an incipient resort.
When two young men failed to show up at Mammoth, two others went to search for them, leaving Stone, a music teacher named Dietrich, and a wounded man named Stewart to wait for a ride. Here’s how Stone described what happened then.
No more of our party, having shown up in the three days after arriving at the Springs, we were alarmed about them, and Andy Weikert concluded to go and see if he could find anything of them. James McCartney, proprietor of the Mammoth Hot Springs, kindly volunteered to go with him.
The next day after they left an ambulance arrived to take Stewart, Dietrich, and myself to Bozeman. The boys with the ambulance begged Dietrich to go with them, but he said, with tears in his eyes, “My God! What will Mrs. Roberts say if I go and leave Joe?” Through my inducement he came. “What shall I say when I meet his mother, when she asks me where Joe is?”
Dietrich and I concluded to remain until we heard from Weikert and McCartney. If Joe or any of the rest of the party were brought in, we wished to be there to care for them, in case they were wounded. One of the party, with the ambulance (Jake Stoner), remained with us.
Dietrich and Stoner went down to Gardiner’s River fishing, not returning until three in the afternoon, leaving me to keep house alone at the Springs. After they returned, I cooked dinner and, after eating, Dietrich and I concluded to go up and take a bath. Stoner said he would go along to look at the Springs, and took his gun with him, as he said, “To knock over a grouse, as grub was getting scarce.”
After taking our bath and drinking some of the water out of the Hot Springs, we went back to the house.
Dietrich said: “I’ll go down and water and stake the mare for the night.
“All right,” I answered, “and while you’re gone, I’ll keep house.
Taking a seat in the doorway, I felt uneasy. On glancing towards the Springs, I saw Jake Stoner running to the house. I smilingly asked him if he had caught any grouse.
He said: “No, but I’ve caught something else.”
I inquired of him what he had caught, when he said that, while up on top of the Springs, he had caught sight of a large party coming this way.
I replied: “You did! That must be white men. How many did you see?”
“I saw two parties, with about ten persons in each nearly forty yards apart, and traveling very slowly.”
I said: “They must be white men. Andy and McCartney have found the boys, and are bringing them in. Of course, they are wounded, and have to travel slowly. I’ll go in the house, make a fire, and have grub ready for the boys by the time they get here.
“No,” said Jake: “don’t do that. We had better cache ourselves in the timber until we know whether they are white men or not.”
I replied: “That’s a good idea—we’ll do that.”
He then asked for Dietrich, saying, “I’ll warn him, so he can take to timber too.”
I told him where Dietrich was, and he went down the flat towards him. I started up the gulch to cache myself. After advancing twenty-five or thirty yards, I took to the timber on my right, and went up in it to a point of rocks overlooking the house, and where I could see both trails approaching the house. After waiting there fifteen or twenty minutes, and the parties not coming, I began to think the boys were a long time coming. Looked out, but could not see anything.
Sat down and waited ten minutes—nothing in sight. I exposed myself in trying to find out if the parties were coming. When I got to where I could see, I descried an object in the distance, in what appeared to be a long white blanket. He dodged around out of sight, as if intending to go behind the Springs. Another appeared closer to me, in what also appeared to be a blanket. He dodged around in the same manner as the former one.
Another soon appeared. I had no doubt that he was an Indian, and I said to myself: “Mr. Stone, it’s about time you were traveling!” I “lit out” for timber about one hundred yards up the gulch. While I was waiting to see who were coming, the Indians had worked around and got into the gulch I had to go up, and get to the timber. I had to go within five or six yards of them through the brush. Moving as fast and cautiously as I could, I accidentally stepped on a piece of dead brush, which broke with a loud crash. Some of the Indians heard and one made for me. I then moved very fast, for I knew I had to work for my life, if I did not get to timber soon, I was a dead man.
In a few moments, I found that the Indian would cut me off, as from the crash of breaking twigs I knew he was close to me. I thought I was a dead man, sure, and said: “My God! What shall I do!” Just then, I chanced to run under a tree, with low branches. I took hold of the branches and hoisted myself in, without any expectation of saving my life. I had no more than got into the tree, before an Indian on horseback dashed under it, gazing in every direction for me, and seeming surprised at not seeing the object that made the noise.
After going about ten yards, he stopped his horse, raised his gun up on his arm, and listened for an instant. He then went through an opening out of sight.
I now considered myself perfectly safe, but remained in the tree about two hours.
While in the tree I heard several shots at the house, and saw they had made fires there. Suppose they had burned the buildings.
After the Indians left, Stone decided to make for a ranch north of the Park. On the way, he met a group of soldiers who were pursuing the Indians. Later he learned that the Indians had killed Dietrich and other members of the party were safe.
— Abridged from “Two Narrow Escapes from the Clutches of the Red Devils in 1877: His Own Story Told by Benjamin Stone.” The Avant Courier, Bozeman, September 6, 1877.
— Photo from the Yellowstone Digital Slide File.