Dutch Henry Born: Wild West legend

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Dutch Henry, his wife, Ida, and child pose in front of the first log cabin he built by hand with an ax and crosscut saw at the family home at Born’s Lake on the West Fork of the San Juan River.

We’ve promised to give you a look at the Wild West through the eyes of “Dutch” Henry Born, who lived his last years in Pagosa Country.
Last week, we squinted at Lt. Col. George Custer, who a young Dutch Henry served as a scout while in Kansas. Dutch didn’t like what he saw in Custer and so transformed himself into a buffalo hunter on the Kansas plains.
You have to know that prior to white settlers entering Kansas, there were an estimated 20 million American bison, commonly referred to as buffalo, roaming the Great Plains. Early Kansas settlers hunted buffalo to sell the meat and hides for profit. Dodge City was a major shipping point. In the first three months of 1872, more than 73,000 buffalo hides and nearly 1.5 million pounds of meat were shipped from Dodge to the east on the Santa Fe Railway.
Because it was located on the Santa Fe Railway, Dodge was also the destination for thousands of Texas longhorn cattle driven from Texas by hard-riding cowboys to be loaded on the same trains and shipped to market in Chicago. With piles of cattle and buffalo money passing through, Dodge City was full of every scam and scamp there was to separate a big-eyed, adventuresome, even if hardworking, young man from his money pouch.
The young Dutch Henry decided to seek his fortune in just such an environment as surrounded Dodge City. You can be sure the back-storage vaults of his mind were filled with thoughts of impressing the girl he left behind by returning with a saddlebag full of silver dollars.
At first, Dutch Henry cooked for a camp of buffalo hunters. It wasn’t long before the young man put together his own camp of hunters with the idea that more of the money passing through his own camp would end up in his own pocket. Then, as so often happens, Lady Luck struck hard and heavy, this time in the guise of a band of Cheyenne Indians who ran off with his horses. Everyone who likes western movies knows that being afoot on the Great Plains was likely a death sentence.
A desperate Dutch Henry had scarcely struck out afoot into endless miles of cactus, sage and sand, hot on the trail of his pilfered ponies, when Lady Luck tripped him up again. Even though hurt bad by a fall, he managed to drag his weary bones into Fort Lyon in search of a doctor. The officer in charge of the fort refused to help. After accusing Dutch of stirring up trouble with the Indians, the officer ordered Dutch carried through the gate and unceremoniously dumped near a pile of rocks. Somehow, Dutch nursed himself back to health and, maybe in retaliation, launched a career which earned him the title of “Greatest Horse Thief in the West.”
Tune in next week. The story of the life and legend of Dutch Henry Born is growing.

This story was posted on November 25, 2018.