Deadwood Magazine

Metz massacre

1876 tragedy

       Marauding bands of Indians, an ever-present danger in the early gold rush days of the Black Hills, on more than one occasion undoubtedly had help from white outlaws.

       Evidence at the scene of the grim Metz massacre indicated participation by at least one white man. Four members of the Metz party, their bodies horribly mutilated, were massacred in Red Canyon about 12 miles south of Custer on April 24, 1876.

Charles Metz had moved his prosperous bakery operation from Laramie to Custer in early February 1876. With assistance from his wife and an experienced colored cook, Rachel Briggs, his baking business thrived until news of the big gold strike in Deadwood Gulch virtually emptied the Custer camp.

            The prospect of pulling up stakes and joining the rush to another gold town didnít appeal to the quiet, unadventurous baker. Deciding to return to Laramie, Metz sold out his stock for $2,000.

            Hiring a teamster named Simpson, Metz loaded his wife, colored maid and camping gear into a covered wagon and prepared to head out. Apparently Metz was so anxious to leave the Hills he ignored the recommendation of Scott Davis who had just arrived from Cheyenne with a mule train of freight. Although Davis hadnít seen any Indians on the trip in, he advised Metz not to travel alone, suggesting he wait until the next day and accompany the mule train back to Laramie.

            About noon on April 24 the Metz party reached the head of Red Canyon, approximately 12 miles south of Custer, where they apparently stopped for dinner.

            Robert Flormann and a party enroute to Custer came upon the covered wagon and deserted campsite the next morning. Shot twice in the body and once in the head, The of the bakerís body was found near the wagon. Simpsonís body was located on the trail back to Custer and the body of Mrs. Metz was down a slope toward the creek.  

From the evidence it appeared the driver was gathering firewood and Mrs. Metz was going after drinking water when they were attacked. The wagon had been ransacked, trunks broken open and rifled and the contents scattered across the ground.

             The Flormann party found no trace of the colored maid. Her body was discovered several days later when Captain C. V. Gardner came into the canyon leading a party of discouraged prospectors out of the Hills. Gardner found the body of the black woman in a small ravine with her hands behind her neck, her face against the top of the bank and an arrow between her shoulders.

            Boot and shoe marks, as well as knee prints of cloth breeches, could be plainly seen in the mud of the hiding spot where attackers had waited to ambush the Metz party, indicating white men were involved in the attack.

Persimmon Bill, a notorious road agent known to hang out with Indian renegades and instigate depredations, was commonly believed to have been the leader in the Metz massacre.

Demands for military protection of the vital Red Canyon route from Custer to Cheyenne were finally answered after the Metz massacre. On May 8, 1876, Company K, Second Cavalry, and Company F, Ninth Infantry, were sent out to build Camp Collier at the mouth of the canyon. The outpost was abandoned two years later when the stage company opened a route to Deadwood along the foothills west of the dangerous Red Canyon trail.

Fifteen months after the Metz tragedy another outbound family group was massacred near Bear Butte. On July 17, 1877, two Wagner brothers and the wife of one were leaving the Black Hills, trying to catch up to the main wagon train traveling north on the Bismarck-Deadwood Trail. Ambushed by Indians, the Wagners were slain, scalped and their oxen shot, their possessions despoiled.

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Deadwood Magazine ©2002