William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 8] [Cutler's History]


With the discovery of the revolutionary proclamations, and the confirmatory testimony of Lewis, it is not strange that the members of the expedition found little lenity in the hands of their captors. Only the fact that some Americans like Kendall, and some merchants of the party, were believed to be ignorant of the real object of the expedition, prevented the summary execution of every prisoner.

The return of some of the prisoners of this ill-fated expedition was immediately followed by the organization of guerrilla parties to prey on the New Mexican merchants along the Santa Fe trail. In the fall of 1843, a band was organized under one John McDaniel, who claimed to hold a commission as Captain in the Texan army. His band consisted of only fifteen marauders, collected on the borders of Missouri. He started for the Santa Fe trail, across the country, early in the spring of 1843, intending to join forces with one Texan, Col. Warfield, who, with his force of bandits, was then lurking in the region of the Cimarron River, south of the Arkansas. Don Antonio Jose Chevaz, a most exemplary merchant, and by no means unfriendly to the Texans, set out from Santa Fe in February, 1843, for Independence, Mo. His caravan consisted of five servants, two wagons and fifty-five mules. His cargo consisted of $25,000 in specie and gold bullion, besides a small lot of furs. The weather was severe; most of the mules perished from the cold, but the little party had managed to toll on without loss of human life or treasure, till April 10, when they reached the Little Arkansas River, then some hundred miles within the territory of the United States, near the present southwest corner of McPherson County. There they were met by McDaniel and his men and were taken unresistingly some miles south of the trail, where the robbers divided the booty obtained. Seven of them immediately set out with their share of the spoils for the Missouri frontier; the remainder of the party remained, and, after holding their prisoners two days, added murder to the crime by shooting down their defenseless captives in cold blood. They discovered more money on the person of Chevaz, which they divided, then, throwing his body, with his baggage and wagon, into a ravine, they packed their bloody plunder and followed their less guilty companions to the Missouri border. The organization and departure of this band was known to the United States authorities, and a detachment of dragoons were on their track, with the intention of intercepting them, when the murder occurred. They were subsequently apprehended by the United States authorities, the first party being convicted of larceny and robbery, and the last of murder.

The party of Texans under Col. Warfield, which McDaniel intended to join till the murder and robbery of Chevaz changed his patriotic aspirations to those of self-preservation, had been unfortunate. After temporary guerrilla success in burning the New Mexican hamlet of Mora, they had been followed by a party of New Mexicans, who stampeded their horses. Some of them escaped on foot and joined forces with Col. Snively, another Texan who had come out from Northern Texas to war on the Mexican traders on the Santa Fe trail. His force numbered, with the acquisition of the stragglers from Col. Warfield's party, nearly two hundred mounted men. They advanced along the valley of the Arkansas till they struck the path of a party of Mexican soldiers, who had recently crossed from the Cimarron to the Arkansas River. They pursued and overtook then in a few hours, and a skirmish or battle ensued, resulting in the killing of eighteen Mexicans and the wounding of as many more, five of whom subsequently died. The remainder of the troop, numbering a hundred men, were taken prisoners, except tow who escaped and fled with the news of the disaster to Armijo, who was encamped with a considerable force, of which this was the van guard, at Cold Spring, some one hundred and forty miles beyond. On hearing of the annihilation of his van guard, with characteristic cowardice, Armijo made a precipitate retreat to Santa Fe. The scene of this battle was south of the Arkansas River, within the present limits of Kansas, but at that time beyond the settled boundary of the United States territory.

The state of open hostility between Texas and Mexico, and the fact that the Santa Fe trail was the scene of conflict, rendered it necessary that the regular caravan departing from Independence in May, 1843, should be accompanied by an escort of United States troops. It consisted of 200 United States dragoons, under the command of Capt. Philip St. George Cooke. On arriving at the Caches, near where Fort Dodge now is, Capt. Cooke was visited by Snively, who with about one hundred men, was encamped on the opposite side of the river. He deemed it his duty, in the interest of the safety of the caravan, which he could not protect beyond the American frontier, to disarm the force which he could not follow, should they choose to attack the train further on, after his protection was withdrawn. This was accordingly done, and the force soon after disbanded, a part returning to Texas and a part to Independence, Mo., with the United States troops. The action of Capt. Cooke was considered a national affront by the Texan Government, and resulted in a State correspondence, in which satisfaction and reparation were demanded on the part of Texas. A Court of Inquiry resulted in the acquittal of Capt. Cooke without censure; and the disavowal of all Governmental instructions derogatory to the dignity of Texas, coupled with an offer on the part of the United States Government to pay for the arms taken, was accepted as satisfactory to Texas. As the campaign of Snively was carried on within the present borders of Kansas, the following extracts from the State correspondence are given, as throwing light on an early incident in her history.

Washington, D. C., November 10, 1843.
The undersigned, Charge d' affaires of the Republic of Texas, has the honor to acquint (sic) Mr. Upshur, Secretary of State of the United States, that the government of Texas, with feelings of pain and surprise has received official information of the commission of an enormous outrage in the hostile invasion of its territory and the forcible capture and disarming of a party of Texans under the command of Maj. Jacob Snively, by a detachment of cavalry and artillery under the command of Capt. Cooke, of the United States Army. This extraordinary aggression was perpetrated on or near the Arkansas River at a point where that stream forms the boundary between the two countries, and was attended with circumstances on the part of Capt. Cooke more characteristic of the perfidy and cruelty of a savage than of that honor, fidelity, and magnanimity which was to be expected from one holding the high rank of an American officer. In order to a full understanding of this affair, the undersigned will submit a brief outline of some of the facts connected with it, to which the attention of Mr. Upshur is most respectfully invited.

The government of Texas having been informed that for some time past an illicit and contraband commerce had been carried on through its territory from the States of Missouri and Arkansas, with the settlements upon and beyond the Rio Grande, and that goods to an immense amount had been introduced in violation of its revenue laws, both by hostile Mexicans and by citizens of the Unites States, it became its duty to interrupt and prevent its further illegal prosecution. The people of Texas also, having suffered innumerable wrongs and injuries at the hands of Mexican soldiers and citizens, whose predatory bands have made repeated inroads into the country, and whose acts have been signalized by the grossest bloodshed and robbery, the government deemed it not only right, but proper, to retaliate and make reclamations (sic)for the losses and injuries thus sustained.

In order, therefore, to carry out those several objects, Maj. Jacob Snively was authorized to organize a force, strictly partisan in its character, with authority to operate in any portion of the republic above the settlements and between the Rio Grande and the boundary of the United States. Those forces took their line of march about the 25th of April last, from the settlements high up on Red River, known as Georgetown,; they then proceeded nearly due west 150 miles, to a point supposed to be fifty miles west of the boundary of the United States; from thence they traveled north, twenty degrees west, until they reached the Arkansas River at the point before alluded to, and encamped on the south or Texas side. While at this encampment, for the purpose of securing supplies of buffalo meat, to which they had to resort for subsistence, Capt. Coke and his forces arrived in sight on the opposite side, and immediately dispatched Lieut. Lovell to ascertain who Maj. Snively and his party were. The desired information having been given, Lieut. Lovell invited Maj. Snively to accompany him across the river to where Capt. Cooke had halted with his command, pledging the assurance of Capt. Cooke that he should have a free passport. Maj. Snively, not supposing that any hostile intention or undue advantage was contemplated by Capt. Cooke, who was represented to be an officer of the United States Army (a nation with which Texas was on the most amicable and friendly terms), under these assurances proceeded to where Capt. Cookes was stationed; when instead of receiving the courtesy of be expected, and which was due him, was told by Capt. Cooke that he should disarm him, and threatening him with his force of cavalry and artillery, said that if one of his men attempted to escape, he would throw his shells into the encampment, and send his dragoons across the river and cut the Texas forces to pieces. Without going into all the details of this disgraceful procedure (which will be found stated at length in an extract of Maj. Snively's report which is hereto annexed), it is sufficient to say that Maj. Snively, having been thus decoyed across the river, was not permitted to return to his own camp until accompanied by Capt. Cooke's force, who immediately formed in line of battle, and with port-fires burning demanded of Maj. Snively that his forces should march out and stack their arms. Thus deceived by the treachery of Capt. Cooke, and overpowered by his superior numbers and arms, no alternative was left but to submit unconditionally to this violation of their rights, and the high indignity offered to their country, or be sacrificed. But Capt. Cooke did not stop here; after disarming the Texan force, he offered them the choice, either to abandon their own country, and receive an escort to Independence, Mo., or to be turned loose with but one gun to every tenth man, to make their way through a wilderness of several hundred miles, inhabited by the most hostile savages, and by hunting to save themselves from starvation and death. Some accepted of the humiliating terms of an escort, while others attempted the more hazardous return to their homes. The latter joined a detachment then out under Capt. Chandler, but, from their destitute situation, a number fell a prey to the murderous Indians. Thus was accomplished this unprovoked and excessive outrage, which is alike a violation of every principle of international law, revolting to the feelings of humanity, and in contempt of the rights, and derogatory to the honor and dignity, of the Republic of Texas.

Notwithstanding the many grievous circumstances attending this affair, the government of the undersigned has likewise seen with regret a published letter of Maj. Gen. Gaines to Brig. Gen. Taylor, in which the acts of Capt. Cooke are not only not condemned, but sanctioned and applauded; while, at he same time, the most odious epithets are expended upon the forces of Texas. This officer likewise assumes that he most extraordinary doctrine, that, because the boundary line has not been run, the armies of the United States have a right to operate as far West as the Rio Grande. The undersigned feels that it is quite useless to enter upon the argument of a proposition so absurd. With equal propriety could Texas claim the right to march her forces to the Mississippi River, or even beyond it. Mr. Upshur cannot fail to discover that such a doctrine as that assumed by Maj. Gen. Gaines, should it be attempted to be practically carried out, must inevitably lead to a collision between the two countries.

The Government of the undersigned, fully aware of the great sensibility with which the Government of the United States always views an indignity offered to itself cannot for a moment but believe it equally resolved to give no offence to others; and that these several acts set forth, and now complained of, were neither done in pursuance of its orders, nor have they received its sanction. Influenced also by this belief, the hope is confidently indulged that the Government of the United States will at once disclaim these acts of its officers, as well as the principles assumed by them.

The undersigned also informs the honorable Secretary of State that he has been instructed to ask and respectfully demand (which he now does), that such course may be adopted as will afford that proper and speedy satisfaction and indemnification for these wrongs and injuries, which the Government of Texas, firmly relying upon the justice, magnanimity and friendly disposition of the Government of the United States, expects to obtain; and also the exemplary punishment of Capt. Cooke, who committed the outrage, as well as the Major General by whose authority and under whose sanctions it appears he acted, in order that others may be deterred, by their example, from the perpetration of acts calculated, in their nature, to jeopardize the peace and concord of nations.

The undersigned with pleasure avails himself of this occasion to offer to Mr. Upshur renewed assurances of his distinguished consideration.

[HON. A. P. UPSHUR, etc., etc., etc.]

The Texan view of the affair appears in the foregoing letter. In the letter of reply, from Secretary Upshur to Mr. Van Zandt, under date of January 19, 1844, the American version is given as follows:

From the statements made to this Government, the following appear to be the facts of the case:

On the 15th of March last, an application was made by several American citizens to the Department of War for an escort from Missouri to Santa Fe, in Mexico. On the 17th of the same month, Gen. Almonte, the Mexican Minister, addressed a note to the Secretary of State, desiring a similar escort for certain Mexican merchants, then in Missouri, who desired to transport a large amount of goods which they had purchased to Santa Fe. On the 28th of that month, directions were issued by the War Department to have the escort organized for the purpose of protecting such of the citizens of the Republic of Mexico and of the United States as should be desirous of availing themselves of the same. This escort was to proceed as far as the territory of the United States extended on the route to Santa Fe. Some subsequent correspondence took place, but it did not alter the purpose of the escort, or the extent to which it was to proceed.

Capt. Cooke, of the dragoons, was detailed for this duty, and a force of about one hundred and ninety men was placed under his command to carry out the orders of the Department. They rendezvoused at Council Grove, Neosho River, on the 3d of June, and proceeded on their route with the caravan of traders.

On the 22d of June, Capt. Cooke states that, when at Walnut Grove, he received intelligence that Col. Snively, having about one hundred and eighty Texans under his command, had avowed his intention to attack the caravan, whenever he could find it unprotected, and had also made many threats against the American portion of it, and three of their spies had been reconnoitering in the territory of the United States, and had returned on seeing his command. He, however, proceeded with the escort and caravan, in the direction of a crossing, and on the 30th of June, he saw three horsemen about a mile in advance whom he supposed to be those spies; and in pursuing them, came in sight of the Arkansas River, on the opposite side of which he saw, in a large grove, a force of men and horses. They hung out a white flag, and he sent a subaltern with a trumpet and flag to ford the river to their camp. He directed him to demand of their commander who they were and what they did there, and to give such commander, or another, safe conduct over to him and back. On his return, Col. Snively and another officer, his aide, accompanied him; when Capt. Cooke informed him that his people were in the United States, and desired to know who they were, and if he had a commission. To which Col. Snively replied that he had a Texan volunteer force of 107 men, 75 having recently returned to Texas; that he believed that he was on the territory of that republic, and that he had a commission which he exhibited, and a copy of which accompanies Capt. Cooke's communication. That document is not in the form of a commission, but of an order, signed by the acting Secretary of War and Marine, and authorized the raising of a partisan force, without expense to the Government, the object of which was to retaliate and make reclamation for injuries sustained by Texan citizens, and declaring that the merchandise and all other property of Mexican citizens would be lawful prize; such as might be captured to be brought into Red River -- one-half of it to be deposited in the Custom House of that district, subject to the order of the Government; the other half to belong to the captors, and to be equally divided between the officers and men. The force was to operate in any portion of the territory of Texas above the line of settlements, and between the Rio del Norte and the boundary of the United States; but would be careful not to infringe on the territory of that Government.

Capt. Cooke, about this time, observed some twelve or fifteen men crossing from the north to the south side, and proceeding to the Texas camp. The land on the north side of the Arkansas River was confessedly (sic) within the territory of the United States. Capt. Cooke states that he believed the ground on which the Texans were encamped was within the territory of the United States; that the line, it is true, had not been run from Red River to the Arkansas; but that it was understood by all to strike the latter river at least fifteen miles above the point where they were, while some believed the line to be as high up as Chouteau Island, sixty or seventy miles above the Caches, or seventy-five or eighty miles above the Texas camp; that he then disarmed the force -- offering such as chose to go to the State of Missouri an escort to Independence of that State; of which about fifty availed themselves. The residue, preferring to return to Texas, were furnished with ten rifles, and with provisions of which they said they stood very much in need.

Capt. Cooke justifies his conduct on the ground that he found this force within the territory of the United States, engaged in the attempt to interrupt the lawful trade between the United States and Mexico; and that he had a right to disarm, so as to take from them the power of molesting our own citizens, and those of Mexico engaged in that trade; that he used no harshness, nor more force that was necessary to accomplish the object.

The burning of Mora, the murder of Chevaz, the defeat of the Mexicans by Snively's men, and the belief, in the face of the fact that the United States Government had brought the murderers to justice and disarmed Snively's force, that the Americans sympathized with the Texans, and rendered them aid whenever practicable, resulted in the prohibition of the overland trade by the closing of all the Mexican frontier ports of entry in August, 1843, by proclamation of Santa Anna.

This closed what may be termed the first period of the overland trade. Although the wide-spread dissatisfaction of the New Mexicans, which threatened revolt, induced Santa Anna to re-open the ports by decree March 31, 1844, the war with Mexico, which followed soon after, again changed and disarranged the traffic; and it was not till 1850 that this great overland avenue again became the path of a constantly increasing tide of trade and travel. Its further history is interwoven with the development of the vast trans-continental line of which the old Santa Fe trail was the pioneer, and which stretches across the plains of Kansas and along its abandoned path to the golden land of summer and of flowers.

[TOC] [part 8] [Cutler's History]