KanColl Books


Quite a Start in Life

     Charles Rath heard the news almost at once -George Peacock who ran the Peacock Ranch and trading post on Walnut Creek was dead-shot full of holes by Satank, wily old war chief of the Kiowas. [1] They were camped north of the ranch on Cheyenne Bottoms, probably so called because the site was a favorite camping ground of the Cheyenne tribe.

     All of which was very disconcerting but, judging from his actions, Charles Rath must have thought, "If ever opportunity knocked at a man's door, this was its knock for him. Now was his chance to have a trading post and the stage business!"

     It is not surprising that Charles Rath, aged twenty-four years, should be ready to take advantage of Peacock's removal from his place of business. Already the young man was forging ahead almost beyond his years. From headquarters at a ranch near the present location of Ellinwood, Kansas, he ran a freight line from Fort Hays to Fort Riley. He had been in Kansas Territory since his return from the far west, Bent's Fort on the north bank of the Arkansas River, in the middle 1850's. Without doubt, he, as well as other men, had been smitten with a desire to own land on Walnut Creek when he first laid eyes on it as he crossed westward in 1853.

     When James R. Mead, as he writes,

"- roamed all over the hills and valleys of the Solomon, Saline, and Smoky Hill, from 1859 to 1862, he imagined that the most beautiful country on earth. Then his red brethren warned him of impending wrath soon to come and, thinking of his loved companion and baby boy, he wisely decided to seek a new field of activity toward the Sunny South. Here, he discovered that the `raging Walnut,' as it was called, and the Little Arkansas, were just as beautiful and interesting as the country to the north, and in later years has found that all of Kansas is very good." [2]

     In this report it is learned that Walnut Creek had been on many a rampage, flooding the country on either side, even as it did in the fall of 1959. The chances are Charles Rath knew about the creek at flood stage even as James R. Mead did and still looked

1. Version in Cowboy Capital by Robert M. Wright who had a ranch near Fort Larned at the time the killing happened.
2. Vol . 1, page 7, Kansas State Historical society (KSHS) "The Little Arkansas" by James R. Mead


longingly at its rich lands and its strategic location for a business venture. Edw. J. Dodge, later a resident of Barton County, said,

      "I fell in love with Walnut Creek at first sight. The broad extent of beautiful prairie it contains-level without being low, flat or marshy; undulating without being hilly, rough or stony; and about equally divided by one of the most beautiful streams of water that ever coursed its way over the green prairie-the Walnut Creek. The banks are fringed with elm, hackberry, ash, cottonwood, and black Walnut; the very sight of which made the traveler feel like pitching his tent and possessing himself with as many acres as Uncle Sam would allow him to own." [3]

     Charles Rath must have written glowing letters home to Sweetwine, Ohio, telling the family about this region for within a year his brother Chris had come westward. Later another brother, will, came and, by the time the three brothers were settled, their sister Caroline came for a visit and stayed. At a later date, after the mother's death, her husband, John Christian Rath, and her daughter Louisa arrived to make their home in Kansas. Yes, even in these early days, Charles Rath, ever the loyal pioneer, was boosting the land where he lodged and talking about the expansion to come with the settling of the land. Weren't the surveyors already staking out the land?

     Anticipating a growing custom trade, Charles Rath and his older brother Chris began scraping a channel for a grist mill. Not far from the Rath farm in Ohio, Henry Markley had a mill, the water from Five Mile Creek ditched to turn the overshot wheel that ground the grain for feed and bread. Both young men as boys had helped Markley at the mill. They quarried rock and hauled it to the site on Mill Creek, one and a half miles south of the present town of Alma, on the Droege farm.

     Quite likely Chris did the masonry work and Charles drove the oxen to scrape the earth from the ditch that would bring water to the millrace, and let the passersby know they could get their grain ground at the mill. But no sooner was all this done and the overshot wheel in place than the flood waters of June, 1858, descended, sweeping away the fruits of their labor and leaving the brothers stranded.

     Again they headed west to the ranch headquarters near the present town of Ellinwood. From this point they again skinned hides from poisoned wolves and coyotes, as was the common practice of many plainsmen as "Dutch Bill" Griffinstein, of Cowskin Grove near wichita. And from this point also they carried on the freighting business, delivering their pelts on each eastward trip. Charles Rath was in the immediate neighborhood when George

3. Biographical History of Barton County, Great Rend Tribune.


Peacock met his fate at the hands of Chief Satank and his Kiowa warriors. If Peacock had cached money and other valuables in his corral along the Walnut, as Matt Thomson says in his article, On the Ground Floor, in the Early History of Wabaunsee County, Charles Rath and his brother Chris would certainly have known about buried treasure and dug for it when Charles took over the ranch and trading post. Mr. Thomson also writes, "- if rumor is to be credited his good luck dated from his digging holes in the sand on the banks of the Walnut."

     Be that as it may, in a very short time, the young man was firmly established on his new holdings, a ranch, trading post, stage stop-over, and restaurant, and accordingly the name was changed to "Rath's Ranch." [4] Probably he bought whatever rights the Peacock heirs owned. Later he formed his own corporation and it went down in family history that he owned the old Peacock Ranch near Great Bend.

     However, Barton County records do not bear out the claim, having no deed to the land recorded in the name of Charles Rath. John w. Davidson, Acting Inspector General, in his letter dated April 15, 1867, from Camp near Fort Zarah, to Assistant Adjutant General, Dept. of Missouri, stated, "A trader named Rath claims a stone building near the Round Tower as private property and also a toll bridge over Walnut Creek, at this point, as one of an incorporated company. He produces no legislative act of the State of Kansas granting this privilege, but simply a certificate of incorporation before a Justice of the Peace." [5] Walnut Creek had high banks and was very deep, therefore a bridge was needed.

     This document was filed January 14, 1863, after being made out by Isaac Sharp, Justice of the Peace of Morris County, Kansas, January 10, 1863, and certified by John F. Dodds, County Clerk of the same county. [6] The body of the record reads, "This is to certify that we, Charles Rath, John F. Dodds, James A. Robbins, F. Lederick, and A. D. Robbins, have associated ourselves together, under the name and style of the `Walnut Creek Bridge Company,' with a capital stock of one thousand dollars which is divided into shares of Ten dollars each for the purpose of building a toll bridge over Walnut Creek, in Peketon County, State of Kansas, where the Great Santa Fe Road crosses said stream. The lands on each side of said stream belongs to the Government of the United States and we claim the exclusive right and privilege of said stream for that purpose to the exclusion of all others for the distance of five miles above and below said bridge.

4, Map of the Plains in 1864-1865, in "Fighting Indians" by Grinnell.
5. From part of Fort Larned records, from letter to S. N. Woods, Brig. Gen. by John F. Dodds, May 10, 1864.
6, KSHS Corporations Book I.


"Witness our hands and seals this tenth day of January, 1863.
"Attest: Charles Rath Seal
Pw. A. D. Robbins, his attorney in fact

John F. DoddsSealF. LedrickSeal [7]
James A. RobbinsSealA. D. RobbinsSeal

     According to Robert M. Wright, Peacock, the former owner of the ranch, was more concerned with selling his vile whisky to the Indians than he was with selling them other necessary items and was more afraid of the soldiers than he was of the Indians.$ It was said that he cached the whisky in every conceivable place to keep it hidden from the soldiers' prying eyes. Also that he was quite chummy with Satank and was always more or less in a state of drunkenness.

     His death was a personal matter, the result of a letter he had written for Satank to present to wagon masters so they would be good to him. Upon learning the letter did not bring good results, Satank had a friend read its contents to him, "This is Satank, the biggest liar, beggar, and thief on the plains. What he can't beg of you he will steal. Kick him out of your camp, as he is a lazy, good-for-nothing Indian." The next morning he took some of his braves and rode to Peacock's Ranch.

     He called out to Peacock that the soldiers were coming and snatching up his field-glass, Peacock ascended to the look-out on the roof. There he was riddled with bullets. After that the Indians went into the building and killed every man excepting one who was laid up in one of the rooms, having been gored by a buffalo, because they feared the man might have the dread smallpox. James R. Mead says the date was September 9, 1860, which agrees with T. J. Richardson's account, "In September, 1860, while returning from a trip to the Rocky Mountains, I stopped overnight at Peacock's Ranch, an adobe concern then situated a short distance below the Walnut, about where Fort Zarah was built." There he learned of the massacre of Mr. Peacock and five others, part of them members of his own family, by the Kiowa Indians, one or two weeks previous. There seems to be a difference of opinion about the chief, however, that killed Peacock.9 But according to Major Inman the lookout would be found quite handy to keep watch on marauding Indians also.

     In 1860, Inman says Black Kettle, chief of the Cheyennes, had moved from the Canadian and settled with his band to hunt on the Arkansas bottom and watch his enemies, the Pawnees, located near where Brown's Grove was later. There were forty wigwams

7. Generally spelled Lederick, note his signature.
8. Cowboy Capital by Robert M. Wright.
9. Cowboy Capital, Wright says, it was Satank, Page 91: says Satank was chief of the Kiowas when I first knew him but was deposed when he ran away from camp and left the women and children. Satanta took his place. James R. Mead says it was Satanta, but Inman in his book agrees with wright on both counts.


scattered under the grateful shade of the thickest clumps of timber and on the hills a herd of two or three hundred ponies grazed. There were two fights between the two tribes on Lowry Island, in the river opposite Fort Larned. With the country full of Cheyenne, Pawnee, and Kiowa Indians, it paid a man to climb to the top of his roof and scan the prairie from his lookout to see what the Indians were up to.

     Probably Charles Rath had taken over almost at once after Peacock's death for it was a going concern when T. J. Richardson stopped overnight, classifying it as an adobe concern. Theodore Weichselbaum reports further about the building, "It was of adobe, one story house, long and square."lo It had rooms for :sleeping, for the stage passengers stopped overnight, the drivers not willing to take the risk of being caught on the prairies after night. And it had the lookout on the roof. Best of all, the trade was brisk at the store and restaurant.

     Without doubt soon after taking over, Charles Rath must have set about improving his property, especially the buildings for Davidson in the letter mentioned earlier, gave this information,

     "The military reservation here is four miles square running two miles up and two miles down the Arkansas. Regarding the Round Tower as about the center of its southwestern side, with Walnut Creek running diagonally through it, I regard it as a judicious selection ...
"There are two public buildings of stone at Zarah. The material of which they are composed is a soft red sandstone, found in the bluffs bordering Walnut Creek, four miles above Zarah.
I consider it practically a good building stone for the character of buildings probably required by the government here, not over one story high."

     Of course this was in the spring of 1867 and Rath's stone building near the Round Tower had probably been built by the same contractors who built the government buildings. Certainly it was a far more pretentious trading post than the one he had acquired with the other property shortly after Peacock's death. Furthermore, even though he may have been running a business on land not his own, others were doing the same. Theodore weichselbaum claims he ran a store at Fort Zarah in 1864 or 1865,10 which was before Davidson made his report. In fact it was a common practice during those early days in the west to locate first in a strategic location, without worrying much about title to the land.

     And it was fortunate that it was thus for the west was built by men who staked their very lives, lose, win, or draw, to settle the country and some few men carved a place for themselves in

10. Vol. 11-1909-1910 KSHS.


     history. Yes, these men ventured greatly, braving the dangers of Indian attacks, the rigors of cold and the debilitating effects of heat, and far more times than present day people realize, the torments of thirst and the pangs of hunger. And it is the nature of things that one of these men should come into the limelight from an immigrant boy, not quite twelve years, in 1848, when he arrived from Stuttgart, capital of the Kingdom of wurttemberg, Germany.

     Again and yet again, when he was a family man, Charles Rath was wont to tell of an incident which happened after his arrival that was to affect him throughout his entire lifetime thereafter. The wait for clearance had been long in the Philadelphia custom house, allowing time for a small grievance to build into big trouble for the sensitive youth. In after years, when he was grown, he often spoke of the matter, saying the immigrant children had teased him because he was wearing his brother Chris' outgrown suit. While he himself was all too conscious that the clothing hung from his shoulders instead of fitting, nevertheless, he felt the slighting remarks belittled him, his father, and the whole Rath family. It was the spark that set off the fire which burned within him to be somebody, on his own, so he could dress if need be with the best of men.

     Shortly, his mother Philomene Bertha had arrived, leaving her new-born son Adolph with her brother, a Steifel. As time wore on, John Christian Rath settled his family near Sweetwine, a store-postoffice community near Cincinnati, Ohio, and now long since swallowed up by the big city. Beside his wife, there were the children, Chris, Charles, will, Lewis, Hanna, Caroline, and Louisa, all fine healthy youngsters.

     There were back-breaking tasks for German boys in the fields, leaving little time for school work. All of which was not to the liking of young Charles, neither one nor the other. A boy of vision, he began enlarging on his dream of being on his own, getting clear away from home. He longed to make a name for himself and earn a lot of money, enough to buy rich farmland for his father, beautiful silk dresses for his mother and sisters, and a fine outfit for himself.

     While this is to anticipate the story, in after years, Charles Rath did all that and more for he bought land for his father and brothers and at least two of his sisters, and, by the time he got around to silk for the dresses, his brothers were married and their wives fared the same as his sisters. And he also found the time and exerted the proper amount of energy to become a self-educated man, being able to write out his own contracts and sign his name properly, while his brothers, Chris and Lewis, signed with an X to the end of their lives.

     At this late day, it is hard to determine the time he ran away


from his Ohio farm home, although relatives are fairly certain it was springtime. But it is reasonably certain he had heard it said, as older men were wont to say, "A young man can go west with a wagon train, start out green, Stand up to the hardships, and come back a man." However, Charles Rath did not start out with any idea of coming back to settle in any eastern community. Many years later, he is said to have told a relative he had crossed the plains in Bent's wagon train; just that, with no enlargements upon his experiences on the long, hazardous trip. And little is known of those early days when he was possibly engaged in many a hair-raising experience in his many encounters with the Indians. Ida warren wrote, May 27, 1946, at Dodge City, Kansas, "My father and mother, Mr. & Mrs. Rufus Tarbox, moved to Dodge City in 1877, and they were very pleased to learn that Charles Rath lived here for they had known him in Colorado -that was before he was married, when he worked as commissary man at Bent's Fort." In fact all is hearsay, handed down from relatives, in-laws, and friends, and the year he actually came west may even have been before 1853.

     While many of the early day men, especially at a later date, wrote of their adventures and sent them off to newspapers to be published, even magazines, Charles Rath was not given to reporting. He did not have the education at that early date to have done so if he had been so minded, nor the fluent tongue to spin a good tale that he was to develop in later years.

     Among relatives who have heard their elders discuss the matter, it is an accepted fact that the elder brother, Chris Rath, came to Kansas Territory some time after his brother Charles left for the west. It may have been and very likely was the latter part of 1854 that Chris came, certainly no later than the early part of 1855. It would seem that he had been at Wabaunsee a right smart period of time according to comment by J. W. Brisbey in an article."

     He writes, "The forepart of February (1856) we thought we would have some corn ground, so Christian wrath (Rath) and I Made a sled of hickory logs to go to mill but just as it was finished and loaded it began to thaw, so we put the grist on the wagon, and Christian Wrath, Mr. Leonard, and his eldest son, started for the mill."

     It is intriguing to note, "They found the creek (Antelope) so high they had to put rails on top of the box and the corn on the rails to keep it dry. They got home on the third day, nineteen miles."

     By his own admission on cross examination, in Wichita, Kansas, October 10, 1892, Charles Rath said he came to Kansas in the year 1855 and gave his address thus, "My location was rather scattered. I was working all over the state." [12] Assuredly he

11. Brisbey. Vol. 11, KSHS.


had a number of years behind him for he had been working at Bent's Fort in the commissary, had lived among the Cheyenne, and was already a successful Indian trader, all of which would not be accomplished in less than two years and possibly it may have been three.

     In fact sometime in the fifties, he had been adopted into the Cheyenne tribe, had lived among them, and family history Says he was made Indian chief, all of which is quite probable, for in the Darlington records, his Indian wife listed him as Cheyenne. [13] However, no records can be found to further substantiate the claim of Rath being made chief.

     In order to gain an insight of the make-up of this young man in the far west, it is necessary to know something of his thinking, his ability, and his physical appearance. Assuredly, he wanted to get ahead and he had a laudable reason for doing So. Through his initiative and tireless energy in those early years, he began to acquire an education and diligently stayed with the task all through the 1850's, '60's and '70's, according to the tale often repeated with pride by his wife at the beginning of the seventies. Carrie Markley Rath often told the two children, Robert and Bertha, that their father sat beneath the shade of the hoisted wagon tongue during the noon hour, studying from a book, while the oxen rested. Already by the time he came to Kansas, he was accredited as being one of the best sign men and spoke several Indian languages well, especially the Cheyenne tongue. [14] For in those first years in the far west, the young man observed the Cheyenne Indians closely, noting their facial and hand movements, which spelled out the sign language, practicing at odd moments. Nor did he stop at that, for, finding his voice was especially suited for the soft tongued Cheyenne speech, he first mastered that language, later other Indian languages. And while all this was taking place, he began figuring right ways to protect himself against the Indians when the inevitable moment of danger should come and make the Indians realize he was their equal or better when it came to resourcefulness and bravery. Also, though few men could master the harsh gutteral speech of the Kiowa tribe, it is a matter of record that he spoke it fast enough and fluently enough to make a group of nine Kiowa Indians unstring their bows and take to their heels in short order when he found them terrorizing an elderly couple. [15]

     Charles Rath had the broad, high forehead of the thinker, the blue-black eyes that often go with silken, jet-black hair, and a

12. Case No. 4593, Charles Rath & Co. versus U. s. & the Cheyenne, Kiowa and Comanche Indians. Have copy of document.
13. Old Darlington Records at Concho, Okla.
14. Article Dodge City Daily Globe by J. W. Hickman and his conversation with Robert M. Rath, son of Charles Rath in Rath & Bainbridge Drug store at Dodge City.
15. Cowboy Capital and J. W. Hickman article (above).


very fair skin. And, strangely, there was a quite prominent dimple in his left cheek which Still enlivened his pictures even in middle age. He was strong and healthy, well-built, though quite agile, and he was tender hearted, having a passionate love for children. And he always took the part of the down-trodden. But, without doubt, he was easily ruffled where his feelings were concerned. To the longest day he lived he was wont to let little things build up into big things until they became unbearable. Then he had to do something about the trouble, like running away as he had in his teens. Nor did he ever quit running away from troubles that he could do nothing about. Nevertheless, he could stand up to anything but inner turmoil, and generally came through with credit to himself in those encounters.

     It seems probable that the Cheyenne tribe had crossed the plains eastward on their annual buffalo hunt in the spring of 1855 as they were wont to do and that Charles Rath, had accom panied them. Throughout much of the time, when it Suited his plans, he was in their camp. Being a good shot he probably provided more than his share of buffalo hump and tongue and other fresh meat. However, when other business was at hand, he may have been gone from camp for months at a time. In his trade with the Indians, he got herds of horses which he must then drive to market, mostly to government forts and oftentimes to the Kansas City market. Also he would have loads of furs and pelts, buffalo hides and robes, which he sold at Hays and Kansas City.

     By now he had a very nice freighting business going, possibly acting as his own teamster. Probably it was later that he had his brother Chris handling one of the wagons.

     Theodore weichselbaum reported, "Rath was a teamster at Fort Riley in 1858, and I remember his coming down to my store at Ogden on a little black pony which I later bought and drove with another in my buckboard for several years. He was a very nice fellow." [16] Again and again, this last remark was heard or written in answer to a query about Charles Rath.

     Sometime after this, Charles Rath must have followed the Cheyenne westward to the Big Timbers at Bent's Fort or joined them there. It is doubtful that he drove his own freight wagons. The chances are that this is where his brother Chris got into the freighting business on his own, making use of Charles' outfit. Maybe he had met with william Bent and drove some of his wagons through.

     All this is conjecture, but anyway he was again at the Cheyenne camp near Bent's Fort or he could have been, as one relative thought, near the present site of Grand Junction. Be that as it may, the Cheyenne were often there and the young man was

16. Vol. 11, KSHS.


riding along with the tribe, trading with them wherever they went. A thought of marriage was in his mind, troubling him greatly. To marry into the tribe meant greater safety trading with the Indians; the renouncing of marriage with his own race, a marriage of which he would not feel free to discuss with his mother and sisters. He may even have considered airing his troubles in public as other Cheyenne young men did in the Sun Dance.

     The Cheyenne Sun Dance was always held the hottest time in the year, July and August, never when it was cool and comfortable. It was something to cast out evil spirits, something that bothered young men in a clan. It was supposed to act as a good luck charm. The "bothered" young men in a group, a certain clan, as they had these organizations with so many in each group, would have a feast. They would have a big tent and an arbor of willows at a certain place. At one end they would build an altar. Their wives and mothers would prepare the food that was to be served at meal times, which served a double purpose-to tempt the fasting men and feed the audience.

     Each brave stood or sat in the same place, sit and smoke awhile; stand and dance awhile, all in the same place throughout the four days' fasting. The wives and mothers would bring food and put it on the ground before the fasting men. This food, water, and coffee, was brought to tempt them. This food, after being used to tempt them, was later passed out to the audience to eat to further tempt the dancers. Each dancer had a willow whistle, feather decorated, in his mouth. They would be up and down, up and down, run out the open door and back in another, until some fell exhausted, couldn't make the distance. And the dancers had a drummer. They had the tom-tom and singers, always men. But sometimes a high melodious voice in the audience would join in. All this went on for the four day fast. And at its end the troubled young men were supposed to be rid of their troubles.

     But even that, participating in the Cheyenne Sun Dance, was denied Charles Rath. Alone, he must make his decision. It would not take much imagination to see him sitting in some lonely place, his knees drawn up and resting on them, his hands in the typical Rath two-finger clasp. The left thumb went over the right; the right forefinger under the left hand, left one over right hand, second and third fingers of the right had crossed over the two left fingers; and the right little finger crossed over the left onean odd clasp that would identify a man anywhere. It was a handclasp many men noticed, yet few, if any, ever tried to imitate. Quite possibly many a problem may have been figured out while Charles Rath sat thus, his hands clasped lightly with the two- finger clasp.

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