KanColl Books


An Act of Bravery Saves Two Lives

     When Charles Rath hired an Indian, it was for Some special reason and one who had great influence with the chiefs of others tribes. Such a one was Minimic, chief of the Cheyennes and a medicine man. He was also a very great friend of Rath's and friendly with all white men at this time. However, this friendship did not last as will be learned later, for he became one of the fiercest enemies after his wife and daughters were killed during the raid on the Cheyenne on Sand Creek by Major Chivington. [1] At this time, Minimic had been in the employ of Rath for several years. It was early springtime, 1864.

     Minimic rode ahead of the wagons and unerringly found an Indian camp, during trading expeditions. He apprised the head man of the approach of Rath's wagon train, then galloped back to meet the oncoming train. At this time, the Cheyenne were camped about sixty miles up the Walnut from the site of Rath's Ranch. However, Minimic's family were camped much nearer the ranch, perhaps on the ranch itself. He had a wife and two daughters, aged fourteen and sixteen years. Rath gave them food and other small necessities for Minimic's services. The family was well liked at the post and the men were especially pleased when the women folk began patterning their dresses like the ones they admired on the pale-face ladies who came in on the stage and stopped overnight. In fact, the whole family was on very good terms with the ranch personnel and often came to pass a pleasant hour with the employees.

     While not one word is said about Roadmaker and Cheyenne Belle, both must have been in the Cheyenne camp some sixty miles up the Walnut from Rath's Ranch. It may well have been that, Roadmaker and Charles Rath were divorced for she had urged him to leave in 1863 when the Indians were considering an uprising, fearing the Indians would kill him. [2] In the Darlington Records, at Concho, Okla., Roadmaker listed the year 1863 when she and Charles Rath were divorced by Indian custom, and gives no record of marriage after this divorce. Further along the Walnut, was the war camp, consisting mostly of the Dog Soldiers, the

1. Article, "Kings and Queens of the Range" by Wm. Zere Hickman, Tales of an Old Timer.
2. Conversation Mr. Gordon Crump with author.


best ranking group among the various Soldier Societies, and to which every able bodied man and growing youth wished to belong. The Indians called Rath's daughter White Girl; Vehoo-Kis-a-ee, in Cheyenne.While no one could have foretold at that early day, Cheyenne Belle was destined to bring great credit to herself and the whole Cheyenne tribe. She was too young to be worried about the mutterings among the tribesmen. For at this time Roadmaker was hearing many grumbling noises and threats which she did not like to mention to her husband.

     No matter, Charles Rath had not lived among the Cheyenne for years for nothing. He had his private fears of an Indian uprising. Anyway, he would have known otherwise.Wasn't he hearing about it on every side? Weren't the soldiers at Fort Larned asking him about the Indian unrest? They were anxious to learn what was in the air throughout the Indian camps.

     While Charles Rath had great respect for the Indians, yet he never trusted them. [3] But he did trust Roadmaster's judgment and accepted the divorce. In the meantime, as in other years, he was always on his guard.

     Nevertheless, never being a man to back down on any plan he had in mind that he thought advisable to try, he went ahead with his plans for Indian trading. The winter of 1863-1864 had been mild, so early in March he began helping his brother Chris outfit for a trip northward. He left March 12, 1864, With two wagons and one contraband. He was headed for the "Smoky" to trade with the Cheyennes camped 175 miles to the north.

     With Chris on his way, Charles Rath set about preparations for his forthcoming trip to the Comanche, camped Somewhere to the south, probably along the Canadian River or some of its branches, for Indians always camped by a body of water. Needing to replenish his stock of Indian goods, he set out for Council Grove, and he also hoped to pick up a couple of hands for the forthcoming trip.

     Being in a great hurry, he did not take the freight wagons but drove a fine team of mules hitched to a light springwagon. Usually these supplies of Indian goods were brought in along with other supplies and taken on to the Indian camps. A trader was either licensed himself or worked under a man who was licensed and had listed him as being an employee.

     These men were listed in various ways. On one license Charles Rath was listed as trader, others as clerks and salesmen, trader and general employee. Once, with Charles Rath listed as trader among the Kiowas, and Comanches, under E. E. Durfee, the following teamsters were listed: T. J. Adams, A. J. Fitzpatrick,

3. Cowboy Capital, Robert M.Wright.


Daniel Ryan, C. Knowles, A. S. Hardin, Fred Severty, James Richmond, Chas. Rutledge, and C. A. McFarland. [4]

     All of which shows what an important business the Indian trade had become in the sixties, chiefly because the Indians were now largely dependent on supplies from the white man for their livelihood. The licenses were renewed year by year.

     The licensed trader, Lederick of Council Grove, under whom Chris Rath traded at one time, gave bond for $5,000 to trade with the Kiowas, Comanche, and Apache tribes, With James A. Robbins and Joseph Dunlay as sureties. [4] The application was filed November 28, 1865, and granted December 15, 1865.

     Lederick, after listing all his employees, declared, "- all of which persons I am satisfied from my own knowledge, sustain fair character, and are fit (persons) to be in Indian country."

     The application was issued by J. H. Leavenworth, Agent for the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Indians of the Upper Arkansas." During the period from 1864 to 1868, when Leavenworth was agent for the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Indians of KanSas, the agency had no permanent headquarters. [5] Leavenworth traveled a great deal and reported from many different places, including Council Grove, Beach Valley, Ft. Zarah, Leavenworth, Topeka, and Eureka Valley, Kansas.

     At first Lederick had listed John Smith, J. Christian Rath, and Charles H.Whittaker, clerks and salesmen, or trader and general employee. Later he added the names of more employees, Henry Lederick, Oscar Rose, and Charles Ellsworth, as clerks and salesmen, and Mr. Baskett, A. B. Brown, John McGee and John Stranger, as teamsters, claiming they were all known to me as trusty and reliable men. The date of E. H. Durfee's license, under which Charles Rath is listed as trader, granted by J. H. Leavenworth, was dated as approved April 15, 1867. [6] The National Archives were unable with their limited staff to find an earlier license for trading, explaining that often more than one person operated among the Indians on a specific license, the additional individuals being listed as "voyageurs" and "pelters" etc.

     But of course the record must be there in the National Archives for Charles Rath must have operated under a license, Supposedly all the time. Most certainly in April, 1864, for at that time W. Z. Hickman stated that Charles Rath was operating under an Indian license and went on to explain some of the requirements. [7] Then again certainly the meticulous and exacting John W. Davidson, Acting Inspector General, on his mission at Camp near Fort Zarah,

4. Photostat of License in Author's possession.
5. Letter date July 8, 1957, from General services Administration, National Archives and Records.Washington 25. D. C., to author.
6. Photostat copy of license.
7. See note 1.


must have asked to see Charles Rath's license for trading with the Indians and if he could not have produced it, he would have been sure to give a sound reason why the trader Rath should be put off the reservation. [8]

     He had reported, "Rath, the trader, I learn, sells whiskey to the Indians, in violation of military orders and Act of Congress and should be put off the reservation."

     While Charles Rath had married into the Cheyenne tribe so he would be free to trade with them, no doubt, he did sell whisky to the Chief when he was leaving, as many another trader did, that could later be apportioned out to the Indians. All Indians demanded firewater and it is doubtful if any trader would have had much trade among them unless the Indians were pretty certain whisky would be left behind. However, just how this was with Charles Rath, no proof has been found that he did sell whisky to the Indians nor no definite word to refute it. Assuredly, it was an early day custom to have whisky to sell for both white men and Indians demanded it.

     However, Charles Rath had his permit to trade with the Indians from Major Colly, his application in for a license. It may have come through. Anyway, he had another trading trip in mind and was now on his way to procure his Indian goods.

     Arriving in Council Grove around April 1, 1864, Charles Rath was delighted to find a former employee, J.W. Hickman and his companion, W. Zere Hickman. Once while in Dodge City, in the Rath & Bainbridge Drug store, J.W. Hickman, in conversation with Robert M. Rath, son of Charles Rath, said he had known his father since 1856. He had worked for him at that time, saying Charles Rath could shoot the head off a turkey any time he tried. Later during buffalo hunting time he had ridden beside Rath to reload his gun and claimed that Charles Rath was one of the best shots in the West. At the time he met Mr. Rath in Council Grove he and his companion were returning from Fort Union, New Mexico, where they had spent the previous winter.

     Both men were looking for work and anxious for adventure. As Mr. Rath explained the task ahead and his need for help, the two must have exchanged eager glances. He wanted them to go back to his ranch at the mouth of Walnut Creek and go from there with him on a trading expedition to the Comanche Indians. Hickman related, "We soon made the trade and it was not long until all three of us were seated on a spring wagon, drawn by a pair of fine mules, headed for the ranch."

     All of which means that Charles Rath had probably arrived the day previous and laid in the special Indian goods he needed.

8. Manuscript Division of Kansas State Historical Society, letter to Assistant Adjutant General. Dept. of Missouri. dated April 5. 1867.


     Such stock consisted of flashy trinkets of all kinds, sugar, coffee, bright red and deep blue calico, and tobacco. Then because he was especially fond of Ten Bear, a very old man and head chief of the Comanche, he had purchased a complete outfit of wearing apparel for him. It was customary to give the head men gifts before trading started but this rich gift may also have been bought because there was so much unrest among the Indians that Rath thought nothing but a gift of this kind would do for a goodwill offering.

     Driving along Charles Rath kept the mules going at a pretty good clip explaining that he was in a hurry and hoped to be at the ranch in three days. The ranch was a distance of one hundred fifty miles from Council Grove and the load was none too light, what with all that packed Indian goods and three men.

     However for a time all went well. They arrived at the Little Arkansas stage station on an evening and unhooking the mules from the spring wagon so they could graze, the men went into the station for a mug of coffee, planning to hear the latest exchange of talk. Undoubtedly there was the usual sharp questions about the Indian unrest, even of an uprising. But on this subject, Charles Rath would have no comment.

     The men did not tarry long for Charles Rath was in a hurry and would not waste evening hours. So they started out fully expecting to get to Cow Creek that night, although they would be somewhat late getting there. After they had travelled some time, right after nightfall, the weather took a hand in delaying them.

     A very dark cloud came up in the west and there was every indication of a heavy rain.While the trade goods was covered with tarp and made as snug as possible, the three men had only the heavy blanket on the springwagon seat to save their skins from a soaking. Rath kept looking ahead, watching the cloud and after a bit he told the men of a house on Chavez Creek kept by an old man and his wife.

     He said nothing, however, about stopping. The mules kept up a steady trot. It thundered and lightning flashed and the sky became increasingly darker. Just before they reached the house, Rath commented that it was getting entirely too dark to travel. Shortly he turned off the road, easing the mules along the hard-to-see trail, remarking, "We will stop and stay all night with the old man."

     Briefly he mentioned that the old man made a scanty living by trading for lame oxen that became footsore and unable to travel. The owners sold them cheap so they would not be burdened with them on the road. Then it must have been the repelling scent wafted on the night air that reminded him to add the old man trapped skunks. By that time, he had drawn the mules to a halt about a hundred feet from the house.


     Instructing the two men to unharness the team of mules, he started toward the house, Saying he would order Something for them to eat. He had set off at his usual pace, not especially hurrying, but when he reached the house and saw how things were, that is not the way he came back.

     Almost at once, he came running back and, when he had reached the men, he spoke in low tones, "Boys, that house is full of drunken Indians and I wouldn't be surprised if they have killed those two old people but we will go see."

     Hurriedly, Rath took the blanket from the spring seat and stretched it over the rear wheel of the springwagon to exclude the light from the house. After that, he struck a match, telling the two men as he did so, to examine their pistols and see that they were fully loaded and in good working order. Each of the Hickman men carried a pair of Colt's Navy Six-shooters. They found them fully loaded and ready for instant action. Then Rath asked them to take off their coats and pull the pistols around in front where they could get at them quickly.

     "Now, Boys," Charles Rath said, after seeing that everything was in readiness, "follow me closely. Don't start shooting unless I do. If you see me start to draw mine, draw yours. Turn them loose as fast as you possibly can and try to make each shot count."

     All three men were now nearing the house. Charles Rath walked up to the door as softly as possible.Without stopping to knock, he turned the latch and walked into the house with both men following closely. There was an immediate greeting, "Hou, Charlie, hou !"

     In that room, not over sixteen feet square, there were about fifteen Kiowa Indians, all more or less under the influence of whisky. They sat there with their bows all strung up and their arrows in their hands, their eyes watching every move the white men made, especially Charles Rath, the leader.

     They had not long to wait, for almost at once, he began speaking very fast and loud to them, for he had been in the country long enough to speak several languages well. Mr. Hickman said that neither he nor his companion understood one word of what he was saying but they saw the effect of his words on the Indians was magical. They began at once, hurriedly, to unstring their bows and put up their arrows and started sneaking outside.

     The magic was worked, undoubtedly, by the fearlessness of Charles Rath and his fast talk. The Indians, too, may have feared facing three white men all fully armed and ready for any emer gency; that probably helped to stay their arrows. However that may have been, those Kiowa Indians were greatly impressed and inside three minutes there was not an Indian to be seen.

     Then looking around, the men found the old folks in an adjoining room. They were crouched in a corner, almost crazed with


fright. Everything in the whole house was topsy-turvy, which was explained by the old couple. They Said the Indians had come into the house demanding whisky.When they told them they had none, the Indians would not believe them. They had ransacked the house looking for it. The house bore out the correctness of their statement.

     Mr. Hickman reported that Charles Rath was agile and quick and he set about helping the old woman. They set the house to rights, preparatory to getting things in shape so they could prepare a meal.When he started this task, he instructed the two Hickman men to bring the team and springwagon to the door, which they did.

     They unhooked the mules and tied them to the rear of the vehicle. The men were as determined as Charles Rath to do everything in their power to keep the Indians from taking the mules, if they could help it. There was probably no danger of losing the springwagon unless it were burned for Indians at that time had no use whatever for wagons. Robert wright in his book, The Cowboy Capital, tells a tale of Indians pulling the tails from their ponies as they tried to drag a Concord coach, tied to their tails. Even when they plundered a train, they burned the wagons instead of taking them. However the springwagon was loaded with goods the Indians prized and which Charles Rath could ill afford to lose, so was anxious to take any precautions necessary to save them.

     After sharing what they could find to eat, the old folks went to the adjoining room for the night and the men spread their blankets on the floor by the door. But there was little sleep for any of the three men for each of them kept a weathered eye on the team and goods and incidentally themselves. In the meantime, the rain clouds had been forgotten. They must have dispersed their moisture elsewhere for not a drop of rain fell during the night.

     They were on the road early the following morning, on their way to Cow Creek. That was where they had hoped to be the night before instead of the little house on Chavez Creek where they had the scary adventure. It was after they had travelled some distance that Charles Rath thoughtfully slapped the lines across the mules' rumps and began talking about the Indian affair.

     "Boys, I didn't fully realize what we were getting into last night until we had gotten into that room," he admitted. "Then I knew that I had to bluff those fellows out right on the start or it would have been all over with us and that in a mighty short time."

     It was many years later when J.W. Hickman of Independence, Missouri, was in Dodge City, that he came into the Rath & Bainbridge Drug Store to talk with the proprietor, Robert M. Rath, son of Charles Rath. He was very profuse in his praise of his very dear friend and former employer, Charles Rath. Mr.


Hickman had farm land in the surrounding country and Said he made his headquarters in Dodge City while looking after it. This conversation took place during wheat harvest time, as Robert path recalls it, either in 1912 or 1913.

     After telling about the time he had helped to save the lives of the old couple on Chavez Creek, he ended the story saying, ,,That instance will show the true character of your father. There was this old couple, the man and his wife, either killed or in grave danger of being killed and your father knew it was his duty to go to their relief. He was willing to take a chance to do it and he did do it, while many a man would have hitched the mules instead and driven away. I have seen many brave acts in my life but I do not know that I ever saw a man display any more genuine nerve than he did on that occasion.

     "I am free to confess that had I known what we were getting into it is extremely doubtful if I would have gone in there with him. It was such men as Charles Rath that instilled in the Indian mind the idea that he was not the equal of the white man when it came to bravery."

     When the son had told him of his father's death in Los Angeles in 1903, Mr. Hickman was thoughtful for a moment, then said, "I am sorry to hear of his death. I never saw him but once after I left his employ and that was while he was in Kansas City buying his outfit for the Adobe Wall store and I thought at the time, wherever there was a new frontier, Charles Rath would be there." [9]

9. Told mostly as J.W. Hickman has reported it because Charles Rath is credited. according to relatives, with saving other men's lives from Indian attack. but this is the only record left.

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