Ch. 3, The Rath Trail, by Ida Ellen Rath (Wichita, KS: 1961) KanColl Books



CHAPTER THREE

Indian Depredations

     During 1864 and up to that time, Indians were supposed to be friendly with the Whites but seldom did that supposition hold true. From very early days of crossing the plains, wagon trains were waylaid, drivers killed, as well as other personnel, and the oxen were either killed or driven off. Robert M. Wright, Rath's friend, and partner in later years, reported that Charles Rath respected the Indians but he never trusted them. No matter where he went he had the Indians to deal with.

     Scarcely an issue of any newspaper in Kansas came off the press without some report of Indian atrocities, or war among themselves. But the Kansas News of Emporia, reported August 6, 1859, "The Comanche, Arapaho, Kiowa, Otoe, Osage, and Kaw tribes of Indians are having a friendly meeting on the Walnut Creek about 130 miles west of Council Grove. Most of these tribes have been at war with each other for several years, but a grand treaty of peace has recently been made by the chiefs of the different tribes and now the tribes themselves are ratifying it by having a grand pow-wow together.

     "There are some persons who think all this bodes no good to frontier trading posts and settlements. We are of the opinion, however, that the Indians have had sufficient experience in the way of wars with the palefaces to learn them a little wisdom and they have full knowledge of the fact that although the Whites are few and weak on the frontier, yet they belong to a `mighty tribe' that is always prompt to avenge the wrongs of the least of its numbers."' The Leavenworth Daily Times, September 30, 1859, published news from Great Santa Fe Road, Beach Valley, in present Barton County. "Within the last few days there have been quite lively times, and matters of much interest to the few whites who have sought this far off place to locate. There have been several companies of troops stationed some 25 miles west of this place, for the past six or eight months. While there, the Comanches and Kiowas have appeared very friendly and only to blind the eyes of Uncle Sam, for within two days after the troops left, the Comanches violated their professed friendship by an attack at the Allison Ranch. They did not succeed. Several shots were fired by the Indians, who, not daring to enter the cabin, withdrew, threatening to clear them out in the morning.

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"Fortunately the troops had not got out of hailing distance, having encamped at their place for a few days. A dispatch was immediately sent from Walnut Creek which arrived about mid night. Two companies left for the Seat of War, arriving at Walnut Creek early in the morning. They succeeded in capturing a Comanche chief called Buffalo Hump. The chief not exactly liking his quarters attempted to escape, and in recapturing him, the soldiers were obliged to shoot him, which they did, after firing several more times over his head.

     "This may lead to an extermination of the Comanches, providing Uncle Sam has force enough to effect it. I am informed that there are encamped near Walnut Creek some 2,500 of the Comanches and only about 500 of the troops. Another dispatch arrived here about 12 o'clock yesterday for the balance of the troop, who left immediately for Walnut Creek to join the two companies which left the night previous.... The Comanches are encamped about ten miles from the Allison Ranch. The troops have made no attack yet."' This probably took place before Charles Rath took over the Allison Ranch. Up to this time, the ranch and trading post has been designated as being on Walnut Creek. The map of the Plains in 1864-1865 locates it there. Walnut Creek started in present Lane County and Little Walnut Creek flowed into it, from the south, not far from Rath's Ranch, the combined streams then emptying into the Arkansas River.

     J. W. Hickman says Rath's Ranch was close enough to either stream for a man to stand in the post doorway and cast a stone into either stream. The above mentioned map shows the Santa Fe Trail came southwest from Council Grove to the Little Arkansas Ranch, Cow Creek Ranch, and Rath's Ranch, which was about four miles east of the present Great Bend. [2] Charles Rath had a ranch near Ellinwood in 1859 and in an affidavit mentions the "upper station."

     Cow Creek rises north of old Fort Zarah and meanders southeast through Lyons, where the Santa Fe Trail crossed, finally entering the Arkansas River at Hutchinson. J. R. Mead says,

      "George Peacock was killed at Allison's Ranch, also his clerk and Mexican herder, on September 9, 1860. . . . The `Ranch' or trading post was built by Allison, of Independence, Missouri, in 1857. It was situated on the Santa Fe Trail about 100 yards from the crossing of Walnut Creek, on the east side, and on the north side of the road. Allison died suddenly of heart failure at Independence and Peacock rented the ranch." [3]

     Another report is left by Robert M. Wright about Rath's


1. Newspaper department of Kansas state Historical Society.
2. Map of the Plains in 1864-66. in Fighting Cheyennes, and Records and Maps of the Santa Fe Trail, by Kenyon Riddle.
3. Vol. 101, 1907-1908, B.S.H.S. Page 664. J. R. Mead note.

INDIAN DEPREDATIONS 23

Ranch. [4] He says, "The ranches in those days were few and far between. Beyond the Grove were Peacock's Ranch at Cow Creek, Allison's Ranch at Walnut Creek, and also that of William Griffinstein. Peacock kept a Whisky ranch on Cow Creek." The chances are Charles Rath owned both ranches or had control of them in various ways. The Allison or Peacock Ranch through some arrangement with Peacock's heirs, the ranch on the Walnut through the right of land on either side of the stream in the article of incorporation for the toll bridge; that is, if they were not one and the same ranch - Rath's Ranch on the Walnut. And one can imagine how unsettled his position must have been from day to day with literally thousands of warring Indians encamped to the north, the west all along the Walnut and the Arkansas, and south in the wilds of Kansas and Oklahoma Territory.

     Nor did all this tension ease as the years went by; in fact, any party surprised by Indians, if unable to defend themselves, were at the Indians' mercy. All this, although Indian atrocities were widely publicized in papers and magazines, by early day editors in their fearless and vigorous manner.

     Yet it seemed the men in Congress never could fully realize how great the Indian problem was nor how to cope with it. They apparently turned a deaf ear when Colonel William Bent and Kit Carson suggested a way to bring the Indians to terms, although either of these men probably knew more how to deal with Indians than any other man in that day. Giving advice to the government about how to handle the Indian situation did not seem to be in Charles Rath's line for no record has been found of his trying to intercede with the affairs of the White man or Indian.

     Always the government had a firm policy of "hands off" where Indians were concerned, and no doubt that was well. No white man was supposed to retaliate for any wrong done him; yet there was much of that being done by both sides. White men believed quite generally that government sympathies were with the red men and the Indians believed the same about their policy with white men. So matters stood.

     One wrongful act by either side often bringing swift retaliation, no one knew what to expect nor when disaster would strike. While many a man tried to look at the Indian problem fairly, yet few of them realized that Indians were on the lookout for what might happen to them also.

     It was well known to the Indians, as well as the whites, that the soldiers at the forts were too thinly scattered to ward off all trouble. The deduction was that there were more Indians watch ing what was going on than there were soldiers. Through the Years the tension did not ease; in fact, with the buffalo fast disappearing, the Indian unrest grew greater. Men like Charles Rath


4. Cowboy Capital, Robert M. Wright, Page 49.

24 THE RATH TRAIL

who were trading with the Indians were well aware of this situation, not knowing what could be done about it either.

     During the Civil War most of the tribes had aligned their forces with the Confederate Army. Union soldiers had fled to KansaS and forts were abandoned in Oklahoma. [5] Later in 1862, a military expedition got as far as Fort Gibson. In 1863, Union forces defeated the Confederates at Honey Springs, which was probably the most important battle in Oklahoma during the Civil War.

     While all this was going on conditions grew worse on the Kansas plains. The settlers had lived through the struggle to settle Kansas, with the guerrilla Warfare and Strife that went with it, the beginning of Civil War and the years it had dragged on. Loyally, they had felt that Kansas was worth all they had gone through. But now this tension that built up in a man's mind, as day after day, no one knew what the Indians were going to do, was a wearying outlook for the average settler; for the man who depended on his livelihood by trading with the Indians, it was a nightmare. If anything, the Indians were more restless, continually on the lookout for trouble.

     Charles Rath may have had brushes with the Indians for about this time he came into the possession of several trophies. One was a gold ring with a stone setting that had come from the finger of Dull Knife. Rath gave the ring to his sister, Carry who had married Joseph Morrison and lived in Council Grove. The ring was passed on to Carry's daughter, Clara Kent, Beloit, Kansas, now deceased. If Charles Rath had given other details about the ring, they were forgotten through the years and many a conjecture was voiced concerning the ring's former owner. whatever he had collected in his associations with the Indians he gave to relatives.

     The day after Lieutenant Eayre's men killed Lean Bear, a Cheyenne chief, the Cheyennes made a raid on the stage road between Fort Riley and Larned. [6] "They went to a ranch on Walnut Creek where lived a man who had a Cheyenne wife. They took his wife from him and warned him to leave the country, telling him that the soldiers had attacked them and killed their chief and that they were going to kill every white man in the country."

     This was undoubtedly at Rath's Ranch for according to information from Roadmaker's descendants, she had begged Charles Rath to leave her, fearing the Indians would kill him. Quite possibly she had persuaded him not to interfere when the Cheyenne were determined to take her away. The Cheyenne had a camp farther to the west along the Walnut and between the camp and the Walnut crossing, their warriors were camped. It was no time for stirring up trouble and Charles Rath would have been


5. Oklahoma Writer's Project. Norman University. 6. Fighting Cheyennes, Grinnell, page 146, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, LXIII, 661; also a better report in LXIV, page 150.

INDIAN DEPREDATIONS 25

the first to realize the importance of Soft-pedaling the affair. There had been trouble in May, 1864, when Major Downing, with a body of troops, was sent against the Cheyenne to punish them for taking a white man's horses in Apri1. [7] He surrounded a sleeping village and killed twenty-six Indians, wounded thirty, and burned lodges and other property. It was an event which could mean the beginning of war.

     Gladys Book, Sedgwick, Kansas, granddaughter of Chris Rath, wrote, "Grandpa Rath traded with the Indians. I heard him say that when the Indians were going on the war path, they would tell him. My mother (Chris' daughter Gabriella) and her relatives would tell of everyone's getting into the wagons and tell the neighbors and they would all Start for Council Grove, Kansas, from Antelope. They would cross the prairies for there were no roads at that time. My mother was just a little girl at the time the Indians came through the country.

     "My mother's aunt had a beautiful head of hair. She wore a big braid down her back. She told how the Indians would point at her hair and laugh. She was scared to death. I have quite a keepsake, a watch-chain made of her hair. When she grew up and married, she had it made for her husband and it is a beautiful piece of work. This aunt was married to my grandmother's brother, who was named Wise." Sometime after the Cheyenne took Roadmaker away, the Little Bear tribe went to Oklahoma Territory near Fort Supply. George Bent, son of William Bent, wrote that his brother Charles was at Charley Rath's place on Walnut Creek at the time the Kiowa and Comanche attacked a train or two on the Walnut. [8] He also claims to have been in the Cheyenne village on the Solomon River when one of their war parties and other tribes were sent to the Indian Territory.

     With the tribe, were Roadmaker and her brother, Man-Walking-on-a-Cloud, also Cheyenne Belle. The Indians called her White Girl, in their tongue, Vehoo-Kis-a-ee. According to Neatha Seger of Geary, Oklahoma, she was two years old at the time which would make the year 1863.

     Even at this time the little maid was a much travelled person, having been in camp with the Cheyenne along Walnut Creek, before coming south. The tribe had ranged as far west as the site where Trinidad, Colorado, now stands and north as far as the Solomon River, maybe farther; Wintered in Cheyenne Bottoms, north Of the Great Bend in the Arkansas River, which was a favorite camping ground of the Cheyenne Indians. Now she was in Oklahoma Territory.


7. A short History of United States. Bassett, Page 684.
8. On the Upper Arkansas in 1864," Col. Milton Moore, Vol. 10 KSHS, Page 417.

26 THE RATH TRAIL

     During all this time Cheyenne Belle was sheltered from actual warfare for mostly, especially on the Walnut, the Dog Soldiers and other soldier clans, were camped between the main camp and the greatest point of danger. But the half-white, half-Indian girl was to learn the sound of being besieged, the fear of being hunted, and the alarm of possibly being killed by the white soldiers if they should find her.

     As a child of perhaps eight years, she remembered hearing the firing of guns and the noise of battle when Custer attacked Black Kettle's band, November 28, 1868. It was at the Battle of Washita that her Uncle, Man-Walking-on-a-Cloud, held back the soldiers while several women and children could hide, which made him a hero in the Indian's eyes.

     Her mother Roadmaker, her brother, and uncles, all belonged to the Little Bear tribe. They were the last of the Cheyenne to surrender after the outbreak of fighting in 1874 at the Sandhill fight, April 6, 1875, which was the outbreak while "ironing" of prisoners, resulted in the start of the fourth flight to the north.9 In this last fight, Cheyenne Belle was crouched down in a pit under fire during the fighting of the battle at Sandhill, two miles up the river from Darlington, Oklahoma. It was there the soldiers found her.

     The soldiers took her to Darlington school and turned her over to John H. Seger, superintendent of the school. The records say she was thirteen years of age, the first of the Cheyenne children to enter the school. Her first duty was to care for the children in the Seger family, freeing Mrs. Seger for other duties about the school. When Cheyenne Belle had learned to speak English, she taught the newly arrived Indian pupils, acting as a helper for the teachers who would have them later. It could well be that the Seger family began calling her by the shortened name of Belle. Mr. Seger and his wife reported that she was quick to learn and eager to please and Mrs. Ellen Fairchild, daughter of Charles E. Campbell, said, "Belle was ever a gentle soul."

     While there was fighting going on in the Indian Territory and many Indian depredations in Kansas, some of the Cheyenne Indians wanted peace.10 During the summer of 1864, they sent a messenger to the military commander, asking for an agreement. He sent word on to the governor of the territory of Colorado who agreed to give the Indians protection and permitting them to set up their lodges of Sand Creek.

     Relying on the governor's word, about 500 Indians, men, women, and children gathered at Sand Creek, near Fort Lyon, Colorado. There they were attacked and slain most cruelly by a

INDIAN DEPREDATIONS 27

regiment of Colorado soldiers commanded by Colonel Chivington, Nov. 28, 1868. Women were killed while praying for mercy, children had their brains dashed out and men were tortured and mutiliated, something that was to rankle in the Indians' minds forever, and many a white man's too. Few of the women and children escaped.

     Minimic's wife and two daughters were among those slain, which set off his desire for vengeance against white men with whom he had been friendly before this happened. Those who escaped Chivington's onslaught fled to the north to join the Northern Cheyennes.

     War now came in earnest, the Southern Cheyenne and the Arapahoes now started a fighting campaign which 8,000 troups could not end in a year. Finally, in October, 1865, a treaty was made. The Indians were to have larger annuities and be moved to a place selected by the president. While neither party was satisfied with the arrangement, it did provide an interval of peace in Colorado and western Kansas.

     Writing of the Battle of the Little Big Horn in which Custer and his 260 men who accompanied him to the top of the ridge, and lost their lives to the Indians commanded by Sitting Bull, the author makes this comment, "One mingles his admiration for the gallantry of the heroic Americans with his sympathy for the Indians, whom a hundred wrongs had nerved for the signal vengeance which chance threw in their hands.""

     Charles Rath had lived with the Cheyenne and he respected them as he did the Indians of other tribes, yet he was continually on his guard for he did not trust them. His work, however, was among them.

     When Fort Dodge was established, Charles Rath freighted in supplies, his trains often traveling at night because Indians attack during daylight hours, never liking to attack anything they can't see. He also sent his men and mules to put up hay for the fort. And at the proper times, he went among the Indians on trading trips and his brother Chris as well. In later years, Chris Rath told his family the Indians would tell him when they were going on a raid, so he could be safely away. Without doubt, Charles Rath had information also, as happened on a trading trip among the Comanche Indians in 1864.


9. Cheyenne Autumn, Mari Sandoz.
10. Bassett, Page 684 - same as note 7.
11. Bassett, page 688.

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