I love reading about the Old West. The years between roughly 1840 and 1890. Days of the expanding frontier, cattle drives, Native Americans, covered wagons and stagecoaches, outlaws, buffalos, the Gold Rush, gambling and saloons. Not the dime store novels but real history and real people like Kit Carson, Quanah Parker and the Commanches, Black Bart and Sitting Bull. Places like St. Louis, Texas and Old Mexico, Denver and Deadwood, South Dakota.
So along that line, I began listening to an audio book about Wild Bill Hickok by Tom Clavin. About an hour into the book, I heard the narrator describe something that made me suddenly pay attention and come to full alert, then run the recording back a 2nd time and then a 3rd. What I had just heard was that Wild Bill Hickok was in the same place at the same time as someone in my family!! My great-great-grandfather probably rubbed shoulders with Wild Bill Hickok and they may have even sat around the same campfire together back in 1862! I’ll bet they probably even knew each other!
My family has done a good job of preserving many historical documents, photographs and letters that are a part of my heritage. I have tried to line up my own family history with these kinds of historical events too, tracing my roots back through both of the World Wars, the Civil War to the early colonies and the Revolutionary War and all the way back to England, Sweden and Germany.
My great-great-grandfather on my father’s side was Elihu A. Pratt, born in Illinois in 1841 and died in 1912. He spent most of his life farming around the small community of Cambridge, Illinois. For a short time during the Civil War, he served with the Union Army in 1862. I have a certificate (see the attached photos) that commemorates the battle he fought in at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. It was the 2nd battle of the Civil War, even though it took place far away from the eastern states.
There was fear that as our country expanded west, that Missouri and the new states that would become Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado, would become slave states. Wild Bill was adamantly opposed to that and had signed on to help with the Union Army to act as a scout and also a courier between the Generals and the forward line of troops. My great-great-grandfather had signed on as part of that same U.S. Army, serving in the 59th Infantry under Generals Curtis and Sigel. On March 7th and 8th, Union forces engaged at Pea Ridge, killed Confederate General McColloch and defeated General Price’s rebel army. During those 2 days, Wild Bill Hickok and Elihu most likely shared the same campfire, or took aim together with their rifles, maybe had a meal together or perhaps even shared stories. I don’t know the real details but it sure is tempting to imagine that they crossed paths at some point during the battle.
The certificate that I possess was presented to Elihu Pratt’s mother, Electa, on September 12, 1862. That would mean that Elihu (born 25 June 1841) was 21 years old and that he was not married, otherwise the certificate would have been presented to his wife.
Eventually, Elihu A. Pratt would marry Lucinda Angeline Maxey who would have four children, one of them being my great grandfather James Maxey Pratt (born in Illinois in August 1867). James would marry Anna Carin Swanson (born in Sweden in January 1868) and they would have 3 children Hazel (who was my grandmother, born 9 August 1893), Myrtle and Inez. They would also adopt a young boy named Bengt Broderman, who I always knew as my Uncle Ben. Hazel L. Pratt would marry Earl F. Brodd and have one child – my father, Ralph J. Brodd (born 8 September 1928). Dad married mom, Dorothy L. Siegle in 1950 and I was born in 1953.
Though some came to despise Wild Bill for killing men who tangled with him as a tough lawman or while hired as a peacekeeper in a frontier town, it was always said that he never killed a man that didn’t deserve it. Regardless, I was pretty excited that the famous gunslinger, scout, gambler, showman, actor, lawman and soldier actually crossed paths with a member of my family. Elihu A. Pratt and Wild Bill Hickok! Pretty amazing.
There is a State Park now at the site of this battle, located about 40 miles northeast of Fayetteville, Arkansas. I visited it a few years back. It’s a very peaceful open field surrounded by thick forests and low hills which make it hard to image that a major battle occurred here. Still, it’s a wonderful park and definitely worth seeing.
This was a great book. Put it on your reading list or heck, give it a hearing on audio books. Who knows, maybe you’ll find your family is connected here too!