The History of Johnson County, by Ed Blair



Its course -- When First Traveled -- Established By The Government -- Santa Fe Trail Markers -- Dedication of Monument at Olathe -- Santa Fe Marker at Lone Elm -- Pioneers' Experiences on the Old Trail -- "The Santa Fe Trail" -- Recollections of a "Bullwhacker."


     The old Santa Fe Trail is one of the cherished historic landmarks of Johnson county, and in recent years increased interest has been manifest in this great highway of the plains in the early days. In the early history of the Santa Fe Trail, the outfitting point was at Old Franklin, Mo., but a large part of that town was undermined by the river and the outfitting business was transferred to Independence. Mo. In 1856 the landing at Independence was obstructed by a sand bar. Westport then came into prominence as an outfitting point and became, as it were, the eastern terminus of the Santa Fe Trail. The trail from Old Franklin entered Johnson county at the old town of Santa Fe in Oxford township, Johnson county, and followed a westward course about four miles south of Olathe, following the ridge. The trail from Westport ran in a southwesterly direction through Olathe and joined the trail from Franklin southwest of Olathe. Another road from Fort Leavenworth united with the main trail further west at a point in the southwestern part of Wabunsee county, where Wilmington is now located. It continued a southwesterly direction from Council Grove through the present counties of Morris, Marion, McPherson, Rice and Barton, striking the Arkansas river near the present city of Great Bend. From this point it followed the north bank of the Arkansas river to what is now the town of Cimmaron, Gray county, where it divided, one branch continuing up the Arkansas river to the Colorado line and the other running in a southwesterly direction through Gray, Haskell, Grant, Stevens and Morton counties, crossing the western boundary of Kansas near the southwest corner of the State and on to Santa Fe, N. M.

     Prentis, in his history of Kansas says: "It was a great road, 775 miles long, 550 miles of which were in Kansas, a hard smooth thoroughfare, from 60 to 100 feet wide. It had not a bridge in its whole extent, and was the best natural road of its length ever known in the world. In token that it had come to stay, the broadfaced, yellow sunflower, since chosen by the Kansas people as an emblem of their State, sprang up on either side where the wheels had broken the soil along the highway."




     There is much conflicting data as to the early history of the Santa Fe Trail. Some writers even attempt to set the claim that the famous old route had a prehistoric existence and that it was followed by the Coronado expedition in 1540. It is known that the Mallett Brothers reached Santa Fe, N. M., from the East in July, 1739, but there is no evidence of what route they took to reach their destination. Some of the early hunters and trappers in the employ of the Choteaus, followed this trail about, or prior to, the year 1800. James Pursley, a hunter, made the trip from Missouri to New Mexico, in 1802, but probably the first white man to follow approximately the route which later became the Santa Fe Trail was Baptiste La Lande, who went from Kaskaskia, Ill., in 1804. Soon after the beginning of the last century a few adventurous traders began to make expeditions to New Mexico over the course of the Santa Fe Trail. The first trip was made with pack mules, but the large profits in this trade soon encouraged heavier operations. As the trade became heavier, a movement was started to have the United States Government establish a highway from some point in Missouri to New Mexico. A bill to that effect was introduced in Congress and championed by Thomas H. Benton, of Missouri, and other Western members. President Monroe approved the measure, March 3, 1825, "to cause a road to be marked out from the western frontier of Missouri to New Mexico" and from this followed the official establishment of the Santa Fe Trail. Three commissioners were appointed to carry out the provisions of this act. They were Benjamin H. Peeves, Thomas Mather and George C. Sibley. They left St. Louis in June, 1825, with seven wagons and about thirty men, and their report states that on August 10, 1825, they "met the chiefs and head men of the Great and Little Osage Nations at a place called the Council Grove, on the river Neozo, 160 miles from Fort Osage, and here, after due deliberation and consultation, agreed to the following treaty, which is to be considered binding on the said Great and Little Osages from and after this day," The treaty provides that, in consideration of the sum of $500, to be paid to the chiefs and head men of the Osages in money or goods at their option, they give the United States the privilege of surveying or making the road through their territory. They further agreed to commit no hostile act against persons traveling along the road, and to permit them to go a reasonable distance on either side thereof to find suitable camping places and subsistence for their animals. In 1826, wagons had completely supplanted pack animals, and the trade of that year amounted to $90,000. A steady increase followed until 1843, when the trade aggregated $450,000. Organized bands of guerrillas began to prey on the trading parties along the trail. The leading band, under Snively, was disarmed and dispersed by a detachment of 200 United States dragoons under Captain  



     Coake, who was assigned to guard wagon trains over the trail. In August, 1843, the Mexican Government, by proclamation of its President, Santa Ana, closed all Mexican ports of entry. However, they were re-opened March 31, 1844. The next interruption of trade was caused by the Mexican war, but in 1850, after the close of that conflict, it was again resumed and continued until the railroads put the overland freighter out of business in 1872.


     Soon after the beginning of the present century, the Daughters of the Revolution, in Kansas, began to agitate the subject of marking the line of the Santa Fe Trail through the State. By the act of March I, 1905, the Kansas legislature appropriated $1,000, "for the purpose of procuring suitable monuments to mark the Santa Fe Trail through the following counties," etc. The act also designates that the work should be done under the supervision of the regent of the Daughters of the American Rlevolution of the State and the secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society. The marking was done in 1906 and 1907. There are ninety-five markers along the trail in Kansas, six of which were paid for by funds raised otherwise than the prescribed method. There are five monuments along the old trail in Johnson county, the most elaborate of which is located on the southeast corner of the public square in Olathe.


     This beautiful granite monument, a cut of which appears in this volume, was erected by Johnson county, the old settlers and other contributors. It was dedicated on Old Settlers' Day, September 7, 1907, which was also the semi-centennial anniversary of the opening of the county offices of Johnson county at Gum Springs, the then county seat. The following address was delivered on that occasion by Grace R. Meeker, Kansas secretary of the Daughters of the American Revolution: "It gives me great pleasure to represent the Kansas Daughters of the American Revolution at this celebration of the semi-centennial of Olathe (the beautiful). One of the reasons for the being of our society is the marking of historic places, the preservation of old land marks.

     "Now, when this territory was a part of Virginia, no colonies were planted; Capt. John Smith did not penetrate so far into the wilderness to be saved by a Kansas Indian maiden. Later times brought no Revolutionary battlefields to commemorate. Yet our State has a history quite as wonderful as any of the thirteen colonies, historic stories just as thrilling. Very many of these stories cluster about the old 'Santa Fe Trail.' As an old pioneer puts it,'All the life there was in Kansas in the '20's and '30's moved along the Old Trail.'



     "So the Daughters of the American Revolution found their historic places, stretching the whole length of the State. Like so many other things in Kansas it is a big thing. Women, however, are never daunted by a small number -- we had fewer than 300 members when we begun this enterprise, nor entire lack of funds. Our State Regent, Mrs. Stanley, was enthusiastic in her advocacy of the undertaking; the wife of


the Vice-President of the United States, then our national president- general, visiting our State conference in Topeka, cheered us on with her hearty, 'I hope you'll mark your old Santa Fe Trail.'. We have the friendly co-operation of the State Historical Society, the pioneers everywhere and the State of Kansas through its legislature.

     "The beginning thing to do was to find exactly where ran the great highway we were to mark. Very vague ideas existed as to the path



the pioneers traveled to 'catch up with the sky line,' any old road leading west, was likely to be called the Santa Fe Trail. The State Historical Society, with the help of Hon. Victor Murdock, was able to find, and have copied the Government map, together with the field notes of the Government survey. This we were kindly allowed to have copied and applied to a map showing the present county divisions.

     "Along that great pathway, beside which Olathe sits, there are monuments now, properly inscribed. Ninety-five granite markers are few enough to trace the almost 500 miles of Trail, but we feel the work well begun. We are glad that we did begin before the "Empire Builders" had passed on, while there were still those -- as we see them here today -- who can tell us personal experiences of the traffic of the Trail which we do well to record.

     "Communities have shown the greatest interest and helpfulness, farmers at the cross-roads have given their time and labor to set the granite boulders. Nowhere have they responded so splendidly as in Johnson county, where, besides the seven boulders furnished by the State fund, have been placed two fine special markers bearing the handsome bronze tablet, designed by Mrs. Miles, of Kansas City, which tells the story of the Trail so plainly that 'he who runs may read.'

     "This monument standing in the heart of your beautiful city we dedicate today. It will speak to those who come after you so clearly that they will never forget."


     Of the five Santa Fe Trail markers for Johnson county, provided by the Daughters of the American Revolution and the legislature of Kansas, the one unveiled at Lone Elm, November 9, 1906, was the second to be placed in position in this county, and it might be said here that Newton Ainsworth, one of the original old settlers, and through whose farm the trail ran, together with George Black, were mainly instrumental in getting the marker located at Lone Elm. An appropriate program that had been arranged, and was carried out. Mr. Ainsworth delivered the following address:

     "We are here today to erect a monument in memory of that which more than anything else, wiped out the great American desert.

     "In the beginning, the Santa Fe Trail ran from Old Franklin, Mo., across the plains to New Mexico. The merchandise was shipped from St. Louis by steamboat to Franklin and from there was freighted west in ox and mule trains. Usually but one trip was made a year. After a time the outfitting point was moved from Franklin west to Independence, Mo., and later to Westport, the steamboat landing being called Kansas, the nucleus of the present Kansas City. This trail of those days was like the railroads of today: it made and unmade towns. The  



freighting business was immense. To give an idea of its magnitude, I will note the firm of Majors & Russell, who owned and worked on the trail, 1,200 ox teams, with six yoke of oxen to the team. This would make 14,400 head of cattle and 1,200 wagons, 1,200 drivers and 50 wagon bosses; and that was only a drop in the bucket compared with the grand total on the trail. I saw wagon trains camped on this Lone Elm camping ground, until they covered more than this entire quarter section. In their desire not to be detained, and to be on the road first in the morning, they commenced at 12 o'clock at night to hitch up and pull for the trail, and the last teams did not pass where we are now standing until 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

     "At one time, for three days in succession, the last teams going out of camp had not passed here before hundreds were going into camp. The rush to the Pike's Peak gold fields, in 1858, is what made the heavy emigration and the heavy loads of freight that year. All the roads north, east and south centered to the Lone Elm camp ground. The great Santa Fe Trail was the main artery to the Southwest, and the other roads from north of the river joined it here, going east.

     "In 1860 I have seen the dust here over six inches deep on account of the great drouth and heavy travel. The freight trains to New Mexico consisted of twenty-six wagons, with six yoke of oxen or ten span of mules to each wagon, twenty-six drivers and two wagon bosses. Lone Elm was the first camping ground after leaving Little Santa Fe, on the Missouri line. This town is noted for the fact that more than 1600 votes were cast there at the territorial election of October 5-6, 1857, when not more than a half dozen families lived in the neighborhood.

     "The Santa Fe Trail follows a dividing line or ridge from here to New Mexico, from which the waters run both ways, north and south. The bulk of the freight going west, consisted of provisions, merchandise, meats and breadstuffs, while the return loads consisted of gold and silver in nail kegs, buffalo robes and furs; and, strange to say the gold and silver in the kegs did not leak any on the trip.

     "During the height of this heavy freighting, the plains from here to Mexico, abounded in immense herds of buffalo, while antelope, deer and elk, were plentiful, though now almost extinct. The old system of transportation, slow and laborious, has given way to the new system of swiftness, ease and luxury, but we are sorry to say, with less honesty.

     "Fifty years ago I was a boy living in Miami county, Ohio. My father owned a farm a few miles north of Piqua, and while living there we took a newspaper published in New York by Horace Greeley, called the New York 'Tribune.' Mr. Greeley not only published glowing accounts of the great West, but kept a standing notice in his paper to the effect, "Go West, young man, and grow up with the country." After reading Mr. Greeley's grand editorials and his advice to young men for ten or twelve years, I managed to get together a little mule team and



wagon, and started from Piqua about the last days of September, 1856, fifty years ago. I drove through the states of Indiana and Illinois, crossed the Mississippi river at Rock Island, crossed the State of Iowa and northern Missouri, and there, crossing the Missouri river at Iowa Point, came south to Wyandotte county. I came to this Lone Elm camp ground, on the Santa Fe Trail in February, 1857, and located a claim, though the land was not yet open for settlement until May, 1858.

     "In May and June, 1857, I broke seventy acres of the virgin Kansas soil on the Lone Elm camp ground. I also broke prairie sod from May till October, all over this part of Johnson county for parties who were locating claims. On the fourth day of March, 1858, I unloaded the lumber to build a cabin. It was only 10 X 11 feet, with the ground for a floor, we lived in it for two years, and it was the first cabin erected in this part of the county.

     "When I first came to Kansas it was occupied and held by the Indians; the Wyandottes were located in Wyandotte county, the Shawnees partly in Wyandotte and partly in Johnson county, and the Delawares in Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties; while the Pawnees, Sioux, Cheyennes, and several other tribes occupied the lands farther north and west. I feel today that the advice of Horace Greeley was good and that in taking it I have not lived my life in vain. I have lived to see Kansas the center of the United States; to see her pass from the great American desert to the most fruitful soil in the world; from savagery to the highest point of our present civilization; and I feel proud to think that I have assisted in her advancement."

    After Mr. Ainsworth's address, George Black read a letter from William Brady, one of the first county commissioners of Johnson county, as follows:


     "Mr. Newt. Ainsworth:

     "Dear Old Friend -- I learned through my daughter, Mrs. Susie Du Bois, of Kansas City, that you are to have an unveiling of the old Santa Fe Trail marker at Lone Elm, which was situated on your farm. The old tree stood at the branch just south of your house. I camped there myself on the night of November (December -- note: As will be seen in the fourth paragraph of this letter, Mr. Brady fixes the date of his camp as the day following the Wakarusa war treaty, which occurred on December 8, 1855, a month later) 9, 1855. It rained all day on the 8th. I was coming from near Topeka, going back to Cass county, Missouri. It turned to snow about night, when we came to Lone Elm camp ground and there we struck camp.

     "We had some loose cattle and two ox wagons. One of the wagons had bows and a sheet on it, and we took those off, stuck the bows in



the ground, put the sheet on, made our bed under it, and had a nice place to sleep. Way in the night I heard the bell tinkling and thought it went north down the branch. I got up, put my boots and overcoat on, went out, but could not hear one thing. It was dark and spitting snow. I thought the bell was going north, as I supposed to the nearest timber. The grass was very tall and frozen so that it was very difficult to travel. I kept near the branch as best I could as it was the only guide I had. The grass was so tall and frozen I sometimes fell down, but I got up and tried it again, and came as I thought to a smart piece of ground; it looked dark like it had been burned off. I stepped off into water up to my boot tops. I scrambled out and went my way.

     "After going some distance I concluded I must be a mile and a half or two miles from camp. I stopped and listened, but heard nothing and I concluded I had best return to camp or I might get lost. I went back quite a ways and came to another piece of ground that looked smooth and covered with a skift of snow. I reasoned about it, and thought. "When I stepped in water before, it was dark like burned prairie but this is white,' and thinking it a skift of snow I stepped on it and went into a pool of water to my waist. I scrambled out on the bank and there I lost my way for the time and started due north again. I did not go north until I discovered that the wind was in my face again, and I knew that would not do, for I had left camp with the wind in my face, and as I was now going to camp I must keep the wind to my back. I avoided all dark or light spots, and traveled in the grass. I found my way to camp all right though the distance back seemed farther than going away. I concluded then the cattle might go till daylight, and crawled in under the bows and sheet where my friend and little son lay. My outside clothes were frozen. I pulled off my boots, poured the water out of them and put them under my head, pulled off my socks and wrung the water out of them, put them on again and crawled into bed with all my wet clothes on, except my overcoat. I was soon warm and sweating. Before I went to sleep I heard the bell tinkling close to camp. I slept good the rest of the night.

     "We got up the next morning about daylight. The cattle were within a hundred yards of the camp, among some gooseberry bushes. We got a little breakfast and started on our way to Missouri, feeling all right. It was quite cold that morning; just a little skift of snow. We had not gone a mile from camp before we were overtaken by a score or more of boys going home to Missouri. They had been up to the Wakarusa camp -- the pro-slavery troops were encamped there. The free State party was encamped at Lawrence, and were fortifying themselves as we came through here on the 8th. Both parties were expecting to fight on the 9th, but the did not. The boys told us that they



had compromised and there would be no fight, and that all the men from Missouri went home.

     "I first saw Lone Elm camp ground in 1854 as I came back from looking at the country in Douglas county. The old tree was lying on the ground, the greater part of it being burned up. I remember seeing a waybill for emigrants to California, starting from Independence, Mo. The first points were Barnes' Spring, Big Blue, State Line or New Santa Fe, which is north of Stanley now. Next point was Lone Elm, then Bull Creek; there the Santa Fe Trail and the California Trail forked; the Santa Fe Trail went on west to Black Jack while the California Trail went by Spy Bucks, Wakarusa, and the Devil's Backbone, on which the State university now stands, overlooking the city of Lawrence.

     "Well, Newt., I wish I could be there and meet with some of the old friends who will be there, particularly Beatty Mahaffie and Colonel Burris, and probably many others. Give them my kindest regards. Yes, fifty-one years to the night before you have the unveiling of the marker, I had my experience at the Lone Elm camping ground. I am now in my seventieth year.

"Yours respectfully,

"W. H. Brady."

     Then followed short addresses by old settlers. Dan Ramsey, the first one introduced, had driven an ox team all the way from North Carolina and settled on the flower bespangled plains of Kansas when the Santa Fe Trail was the only artery of commerce between the East and the golden West. Mr. Ramsey had on exhibition an old ox bow that had come west with him from North Carolina, a curiosity to many of the younger generation.

     Mr. Rutter, of Spring Hill, another pioneer who arrived in Leavenworth in 1855, and who came to Johnson county in 1857, was the next speaker. He told the assemblage of his trip to Pike's Peak in 1859, when Council Grove was the last frontier settlement on the long journey.

     V. R. Ellis responded by telling of some of his early experiences and reminiscences of the Santa Fe Trail. Mr. Ellis has been a resident of this county for about fifty years, and has taken a great interest in the movement for marking the great old highway.

     Jonathan Millikan, who boasts of building the first house in Olathe, and of having married the first woman in that town, was called upon. Mr. Millikan told of his first experience when he landed in what is now Kansas City, about half a century ago, describing the great Mexican freight trains that passed over the Santa Fe Trail in those days. These trains contained from twenty-five to fifty wagons, each wagon being drawn by six, eight, ten, and sometimes twelve yoke of oxen, and on some occasions he had seen as many as twenty yoke of oxen drawing



one wagon, and always huge swarms of flies following the meat that was being dried on the sides of the wagon beds.

     Maj. J. B. Bruner, the next speaker, said he did not get here till 1865, but remembered the great trains on the Santa Fe Trail, also the unbounded generosity and hospitality of Newton Ainsworth, who at that time had just completed the finest house in the territory, and had invited all the boys and girls of the neighborhood, which at that time included Olathe, Spring Hill, Gardner, etc., to come in and help initiate the house. "The girls of forty years ago" said the major, "were as sweet and pretty then as the girls are of today." The Major is authority on that subject, for he married one of the girls of forty years ago, and she has never gotten away from him.


     Senator George H. Hodges, who assisted in putting the bill appropriating $1,000 towards the purchase of the markers through the Senate, was called upon to say a few words. Mr. Hodges said he had immigrated to this county at a very early and tender age, and had brought his parents with him in wagons; that when they had stood upon the eastern hills and looked out upon the undulating plains, they, too, like the Shawnee Indian, had given utterance to the adjective "beautiful." He thought that the star of empire that Horace Greeley had seen start for the West had stopped when it had reached a point over Kansas, and had continued to hover and shed its rays over this State ever since.



     Mrs. John P. St. John was next called upon for a few remarks. She said that in her opinion some praise should be given to the Daughters of the American Revolution, those women who had by their efforts made possible the occasion they then celebrated, by their untiring endeavors and final success in having the historic old trail marked.

     Uncle Beatty Mahaffie, the senior of all old settlers present, was next called upon, and though very feeble, responded with a recollection of long ago.

     David P. Hougland, who has lived on the trail for about half a century, was the next speaker. He related some of the sights he saw in Kansas City when he first came west; how he had seen twenty mules trying to pull one wagon up what is now called Main street. His description of the first pack mule he ever saw was humorous, as was also his story of his hunt for the man who had died of cholera and had been buried with $1,000 in gold secreted about his person. It was at Lone Elm that Mr. Hougland saw a great flock of blackbirds, and remembering the old nursery rhyme, of four and twenty blackbirds baked into a pie for a king, took his shot gun and killed fourteen, which he cooked with some bacon. That was his first meal on Lone Elm campground, and one that he would always remember. Newton Ainsworth says that the main reason why Hougland will always remember his blackbird dinner was because, after he had cooked the birds to a beautiful and appetizing brown, he stuck his knife into one of them and it sizzed like a bottle of champagne. He had forgotten to clean them.

     Senator J. W. Parker recited a few amusing incidents he had run across in looking up the history of the old Santa Fe Trail; how Rutter and Hovey, and two other young men at the time had advertised for wives in a Boston paper, and how they had received answers to their advertisements; the correspondence that followed, and the result. The Senator then related the history of the trail so far as he had been able to find it, and from an old Government survey, on record in the county surveyor's office, he marked the original trail from its entrance into Johnson county at New Santa Fe across what is now Oxford, Olathe, Gardner and McCamish townships. No one really knew how far back the trail dated, but there was an old Indian tradition and other proofs which clearly established that along parts of its course, at least, there was a prehistoric, well marked and used highway to and from the Southwest. The fitting-out point was at one time Franklin, Mo., later it was Independence, and still later Kansas City and Westport. Then the course of the trail was changed to come along the top of the divide, through what is now Mission township, thence on through Olathe and Gardner, intersecting the original trail at Bull Creek crossing near the present site of Edgerton. The Senator dedicated the monument to the care of the rising generation, admonishing them that the marker was placed in position not merely to mark the old trail, but to perpetuate  



the memory of those old hardy pioneers who braved the dangers of the great American desert in the early days, and who made possible the fertile farms and comfortable homes of today.

      John T. Burris, the next speaker on the program, was in fine humor, and jollied the old boys who had advertised for wives when young, or who had married the prettiest girl in Johnson county forty years ago. He said that he had not come from Boston, nor North Carolina, nor Kentucky, but from Iowa, where he had captured one of the sweetest and dearest sixteen-year-old girls that ever lived. "Monuments," said the Judge, "are erected to perpetuate important events. The custom is by no means of modern date, but tradition ragards such a custom as andedating Biblical history." Judge Burris then spoke of some of the great epochs leading up to modern civilization and its constantly increasing superiority over the civilization of yesterday; of the great change in this country's progress at the close of the Mexican war, and how the Santa Fe Trail was made the great auenue of commerce between the Missouri river and the great West; of the coming of the railroad and the gradual passing away of the freighters and obliteration of the trail, until today it is but a memory.

     A. Rebsamen, an old settler who had last Wednesday returned from a month's trip to California, was an interesting witness to the ceremonies. The children of Lone Elm school and their teacher, Miss Rebecca Zimmerman, and the childdren of Clare school, with their teacher, Miss Nelle Zimmerman, took a prominent part in the exercises of the day, and with their songs raised the curtain of by-gone years, and gave the boys and girls of the Santa Fe Trail time a glimpse of the past -- carried them back in memory's chariot to the days when they, too, were carefree and venturesome.

     The monument is a rough boulder of Oklahoma red granite, one side chiseled smooth, and the inscription, "Santa Fe Trail, marked by the Daughters of the American Revolution and the State of Kansas, 1906," cut thereon. The boulder is set on a concrete foundation into which is sunk a marble slab bearing the words, "Lone Elm camp grounds, 1822- 1872."


     Written by Ed Blair on the dedication of the marker on the Santa Fe Trail at Lone Elm, Johnson county, Kansas.

Fifty years -- 'Twas a prairie then

And the deer roamed wild and free;

Fifty years -- I see it again

As it appeared to me.

The old trail runs where the barn stands now,

The trail was here long before the plow,




And we drove ox teams with sometimes a cow,

In the days that used to be.

Fifty years -- Yes I lived here then

And a lively place 'twas too.

Wagons for miles with their fearless men

Coming and passing from view.

On the wagon covers, "Pike's Peak or bust!"

Yes, the fever was high for the yellow dust

Just a lot of grit and then their luck to trust,

For those that won were few.

Fifty years -- 'Twas a camping ground

Where the trees now cast their shade,

And the faithful oxen rambled around

And rarely if ever strayed,

And the camp fires burned each night of the year

In the pastures there and the cornfields here,

Yet I slept each night with never a fear,

And many the friends I made.

Yes, fifty years -- What a striking change

From the way we do things now,

No less these farms from the boundless range

Or the way we sow and plow

The sickle is gone and the binder's here,

But the sickle still to my heart is dear,

But I look in vain for the roving deer

And the prairie chicken now.

Fifty years -- Ah, I love to know

That the old trail shall remain,

That the markers tell in the years to go

Where the ox team crossed the plain

Of the men who travelled the toilsome way

But few are left to tell it today,

But their march was Progress on its way,

And its glory ne'er shall wane.


(By William Johnson.)

     My talk at this time will have to be more explanatory than anything else. The things that we used then and now have changed as well as words. Words that were used in earlier times to express a certain meaning, today convey quite a different impression. The word "trail" as used then, in regard to a route, meant about what we would now  



call a "patch," and often a very dim one. At that time they were further designated as "foot trails" or "mule trails," meaning that the "foot trails" a man could travel but a mule couldn't, or that a mule could travel but a wagon couldn't. When the route became plainer and larger so it could be traveled by wagons it became a road.

     At the time of which I speak, during the later fifties, there were two main routes across what we then called the "plains." The southern route, which was the Santa Fe route, went from the Missouri river in a general western direction passing through Council Grove and on until it struck the Arkansas (as we called it), river about Great Bend and then followed up the river to the mouth of the Purgatorie (pronounced Picketware) river to Trinidad, then crossing the Raton mountains and on by way of Fort Union to Santa Fe.

     The northern route run from the Missouri river in a general northwest direction, striking the Platte river a little east of Fort Kearney, and then following up the river. The outfits bound for Fort Laramie, Salt Lake, California, and Oregon, usually followed the Platte about the mouth of Pole creek and followed up that stream. The Denver outfits continued up the Platte to their destinations; some of them, however, took what was known as the "cut off," leaving the Platte at the mouth of Bijou creek, by so doing saving quite a distance.

     I have seen a good many pictures of Government wagons that were used on the plains. These were made by some officer or soldier, who was artist enough to use a pencil, and naturally made pictures of what was around him. Bullwhackers, as freighters were called, were artists in the use of a whip or gun, but knew very little about the pencil; consequently no pictures of freight wagons.

     The principal difference of the Government wagon was the body or box of the Government wagon was always paneled -- the freight wagons never were. The Government wagons always had iron axles while the ox-freight wagons had wooden axles, the wheels held in place by linchpins. The Government wagons had straight ends, while the freight wagons' end was longer at the top than bottom. The Government wagons were shorter than the freight wagons.

     I will make a slight description of a freight wagon. The front wheels were 3 feet 10 inches high, the hind wheels 5 feet, the box was 3 feet 10 inches wide, 12 feet long at the bottom, 16 feet long at the top, with side boards 5 feet high, with wooden bows fastened to the box with staples, over these bows went the wagonsheet; an ordinary man could just about stand up under the sheet. These wagons were usually loaded from sixty to eighty hundred. Such a thing as a brake or a lock on a wagon was not known in this country at that time. We used a lock chain fastened on the side of the box; this chain went around the fellow and fastened with a toggle. When you wanted to lock the wagon, you had to stop to put the chain in place, and the same when you wanted to unlock it.



     A large portion of the freight hauled at the time of which I speak, was Government supplies largely consisting of corn, flour and bacon, most of which was purchased near the Missouri river. I remember one peculiar phase of the freight contracts: The freighter was responsible for shrinkage but not for leakage, hence it was not very uncommon for wagons loaded with corn, if a rain came up a day or two before reaching their destination, to have the sheet blown off and the corn a little damp, and sometimes a whiskey barrel was found to be only half full.

     A train consisted of twenty-six wagons, twenty-five for freight and one mess (or, as we called it grub) wagon, five and six yoke of cattle to the team, one wagon-master, one assistant wagon-master and one extra hand. These three were mounted on mules and the only mules there were in a full train, twenty-six drivers and two night herders. A good many freighters did not furnish night herders. A train usually traveled from sixteen to eighteen miles a day.

     Alex Majors demanded of his wagon-masters that they do no traveling on Sunday, and to allow no swearing among the men. Neither order did I ever know to be carried out, in fact, a wagon-master, after he had been out a month, hardly ever knew when Sunday came, but he usually laid up one day in the week because he found his cattle did better, but usually he laid up one-half day at a time.

     Uusually a train commenced yoking up about daylight or soon after and traveled until about 9:00 or 10:00 o'clock and then stopped for breakfast, remaining in camp until about 3 o'clock and then traveled until dark or nearly so, when we got our supper, never eating but two meals a day.

     In regard to provisions -- grub, we called it, -- we had bacon, bread and coffee, beans enough to have about one mess a week and enough dried apples for a mess once in two weeks. We usually started with some sugar but I never knew it to hold out the trip. One time I had a barrel of pickles. Sometimes in driving up the cattle a man would kill a jack-rabbit. This was his individual property, but he usually divided it. Once in a great while someone would kill a deer, antelope or buffalo. This always went to the mess of the men who killed it unless there was more than one mess could use. If so, it was divided among the others. I never knew any of the freighters to furnish a man just to hunt. The Mexican trains always furnished hunters. The bacon furnished us was always the heaviest that could be bought, the sides often being five or six inches thick. This was cheaper than other meat, besides furnishing us more shortening for our bread. Our bread was made with flour, bacon grease, salt, soda and water (at this time baking powder was unknown, at least to us), and baked in an oven set over a small fire of buffalo chips with more fire on the lid. All of this sounds strange with the unlimited varieties of canned goods at the present time, but at that time the only canned goods on the market were a very few  



peaches, cove oysters, and sardines, and from a train-owner's view, they were altogether too rich for a bullwhacker's blood. But I never knew of a case of dyspepsia on the plains, neither do I remember a time when a bullwhacker wasn't ready to eat when grub pile was called.

     We lived out of doors all the time, sometimes for months at a time without being in a house, sleeping in our blankets and buffalo robes on the ground, sometimes waking up in the morning covered with snow. I never had a tent, nor do I remember of seeing one with a freight outfit, and I don't think I ever had a lantern.

     The word "outfit," as herein used, meant everything, consisting of men, wagons, stock, provisions and mess-kit. We also used the word "outfit" in another way. A great many of the men, when hired, had nothing but the clothes they had on; they were taken either the day before or the day the train was ready to start, to some store, where the owner of the train had made arrangements, and allowed to purchase such things as they needed, such as blankets, clothing, tobacco, knives, or anything in reason. These things were charged to them and entered in the train book, and taken out of their wages when they were paid off.

     The men were generally hired in two ways: So much a month for a round trip, or a larger amount per month and take their discharge when the train was unloaded.

     A good many of the owners of trains, who followed freighting on the plains, lived in and around Westport, Mo. Some of them whom I remember, that lived on their farms, were Majors McKinney, Carr, Yeager and the four Hays brothers. These men usually corraled their wagons on their farms and herded their cattle near them. Among those that I remember, who lived in Westport, were the Bernards, Kearney, Hamilton and Findley. These usually corraled their wagons near the edge of the timber and close to water. They ordinarily considered that grass would be up enough by the twentieth day of May for the cattle to travel on and made their arrangements to make their start as soon after this as they could get off. Westport was a very busy place from the middle of May to the first of July.

     The Mexican trains and Indian traders began to come in soon after the first of June. These ordinarily were not freighters, although they used the same kinds of outfits. Possibly one-fifth of the Mexicans had mule trains; These trains usually corraled their wagons on what is now the Kansas side of Brush creek.

     Among the Indian traders, Bent always made his camp on what we always called "Bent's Hill." The ground is now owned by John Roe. Ward's camp was at a spring three-quarters of a mile west of the State line at about 60th street, on ground lately sold by Henry Coppook. Lexton made his camp at a spring on the Reinhardt place.

     These men, Indian traders and Mexican merchants, left their train here while they went to St. Louis and bought their goods and shipped



them to Kansas City by steamboats. The trains would generally be in camp here from one to two months. The traders brought in with them mostly buffalo robes, buck skins, (antelope skins were classed as buck skins), beaver felts, and anything else along this line that they could trade for these goods, they shipped to St. Louis and sold them there. They also brought with them a good many ponies, these they sold at their camps or at Westport.

     This is how we made axle grease, "dope" as we called it. We took rosin with us and bought tallow from traders. (I am speaking now of the time when buffaloes were plentiful.) This tallow was rendered out in the buffalo hunter's camp in a kettle over a buffalo chip fire. A receptable to hold it was made by taking one-half of a hide and cutting holes in the four sides of it, through which were run sticks, then pressing it down in the center, thus forming a bag. Then four sticks with a crotch at the top were driven in the ground and the four corners of the bag with the sticks still in place were placed on the crotches, the bag cleaning the ground. In this was poured the melted tallow and allowed to stand until the tallow hardened and it was then turned out and the bag was ready to be filled again.

     In the time of extreme wet weather, our cattle's hoofs would become soft and traveling in the sand, would become very thin, sometimes breaking through and then it became necessary to shoe them. We always carried shoes and nails with us. The shoes used for this purpose had neither toes nor calks, different from the shoes used for rocky or icy roads. If a steer's foot was broken through, and it was necessary to use a pad, we usually cut the pad out of our hat rim. 

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