Major John O’Ferrell
Back to the Major John O' Ferrell Room
The year was 1862 and the Overland Stage line management had wearied of Indian harassment along their "north route." All along the way from Fort Laramie to South Pass, the stage company had problems. A new route, avoiding Indian trouble, through northern Colorado, across the Laramie Plains and then west to the Green River would join up with the old trail near present-day Granger.
Moving the personnel, supplies and horses from the old stations to the new ones would pose a problem, the managers reasoned, because the Indians could easily take advantage of the slow moving contingents. The army, asked to provide escorts for the stage companies, sent one detachment of troops from the 11th Ohio Cavalry to escort the men; equipment and animals from the old Devils Gate Station to their new stage stop further south.
Recent difficulties with hostile Indians caused a number of emigrants to join the group moving south to safer quarters. Among them was a "purveyor" of whiskey, or so Major John O'Ferrell, the commander of the detachment, was told after the first day's march.
The troops were 11 miles from Devils Gate and had chosen a campsite at a gap in the mountains where a fine spring flowed into a small pond. Plenty of wood was available nearby for cooking purposes.
The major, after discovering that a number of his men were drunk, ordered the officer of the day, Lt. W. H. Brown, to find the culprit who was selling the "fire water." Brown, a Marylander, ordered a four-man detail to conduct a search of all wagons. The last wagon the troops checked held the contraband whiskey barrel. C. G. Coutant in his "History of Wyoming," describes the rest of the incident" "The officer at once ordered his men to roll the barrel out, knock in the head and empty the contents on the ground.
"This was done, but it chanced that the spot where they whiskey was emptied was just above the spring, and the fiery liquid went pouring down into the water supply for the camp. The soldiers saw what was going on and they rushed forward with cups, canteens, buckets and camp kettles to save what they could of the whiskey.
"Those who were without the wherewith to hold the liquor stamped their bootheels in the ground and caught the whiskey in the hole, and lying down drank it."
Soon after the whiskey was dumped, most of the command was unable to "navigate" properly. The major, concerned that an attack on the camp was possible from the Indians, was not amused when one of his soldiers assured him with a "hic" that the water was the best he had ever tasted.
By morning the men had slept off the liquor and, fortunately, the Indians had not taken advantage of their condition during the night. The detachment continued on south from the site they called "Whiskey Gap" and two weeks after the whiskey incident, they founded Fort Halleck near Elk Mountain.
Slightly adapted from ‘The "Good Water" at Whiskey Gap’
By Phil Roberts, Dept. of History, University of Wyoming