KanColl Books


Among the Comanches

     At burst of dawn on the following morning, everyone was stirring at Rath's Ranch and the new employees were helping to ready the wagons for the Comanche trading trip. The men loaded trade goods into the wagons, blankets, sugar, coffee, salt, hand axes, coils of rope, strips of tin, beads both white and colored, bolts of calico of Dutch blue and turkey red, and strips of canvas; also a bolt of strouding which was a felt-lined material highly prized by the Indian women. The provisions for the journey were put into the cook's wagon. Then in a special place where it would be easy to get at, Charles Rath stowed away the store-bought outfit he had brought for Ten Bear, chief of the Comanche tribe.

     After all this was done, they were ready to roll. Minimic, Cheyenne chief and medicine man, had ridden in early that April morning, 1864, on his spotted pony. His family was camped not far from the store, quite likely on Rath's Ranch. He had been in Rath's employ for several years, acting as scout. Mrs. Ellen Campbell Fairchild of Hutchinson, Kansas, whose father was the first Indian agent at Camp Supply and was there herself until she was eighteen years of age, says she remembers Minimic well - at that time, he was a very old man, a big chief who had great influence with the Cheyenne. She also says he was rather cute but finally became a nuisance for he always had something to sell. No doubt he had acquired that selling habit by observing closely his former employer as he was with him the whole time from one trading trip to another. By now the train was heading west by south on their way to the Comanche camp on the Canadian River and the departing men and those who stayed behind lifted their right hand in a plainsman's salute.

     In short order Charles Rath had caught up with Minimic and the two men rode ahead of the train, both perhaps a bit fearful about the outcome of this trip among the Indians. Chris Rath had left the twelfth of March for the "Smoky" to trade with the Cheyenne. It was now the middle of April, so Chris had been away better than a month. The Cheyenne camp was about one hundred seventy-five miles up the Smoky Hill River. However Charles Rath probably was not unduly worried about the safety of his brother for Chris was well liked by the Indians and said they would tell him when they were going on raids.


     All the while as they headed in a southwesterly direction, the chief conversation between Rath and Minimic may well have been about the unrest among the different tribes of Indians, for not one tribe but all of them were looking for trouble. Anything might be brewing. It was quite true both the reds and the whites had their grievances. Rath and Minimic would admit that to one another but to all others there would be no tongue wagging.

     There were three white men beside Rath in the expedition. [1] J. W. Hickman and William Zere Hickman, both of Independence, Missouri, served as teamsters. No name is mentioned for the other white man in the record. The teamsters drove the teams, each wagon having splendid six-mule teams, and cared for them at camp sites. The other man probably served as cook and did many other odd jobs around camp.

     Rath and Minimic led the wagons south and west, riding far ahead sometimes as they scouted and shot game for the larder. The Comanche were supposed to be on the North Fork of the Canadian River. The wagons were heavily loaded and the going was rough for there were no roads, making the load doubly hard for the mules to pull across the prairie. But the signs were there and on the third day out, Rath reported they had struck the trail.

     Minimic then took his rifle and rode on ahead to find their camping ground. Rath was to lead the wagon as he followed the trail. After traveling all day and yet another day, Minimic returned that night, saying he had found the camp. Then something odd happened. Minimic took Rath out some distance from camp and they were there for quite some time, evidently having a long talk. Was something wrong?

     The three men left behind watched Rath and Minimic, fearing the worst. Yet when the two men finally returned to camp nothing was said to enlighten the waiting men, although Rath looked grave and Minimic's eyes were evasive. However, all evening the men were left to wonder what was the subject of that conversation. The following day, they continued traveling. When they reached the Comanche camp, the Indians were killing buffalo, tanning the hides, and drying the meat for Winter use. The buffalo were northward bound and at this time the hair was the longest and made the best robes.

     The camp had about five hundred lodges and included the whole Comanche tribe. Ten Bear was their chief. He was a very old man but he held a great sway with the whole tribe. However, as in other tribes, the young men were becoming restless under his rule. He had known Charles Rath for years and had always expressed a great friendship for him.

1. Kings and Queens of the Range. Tales of an Old Timer, by W. Z. Hickman given because it was only one of Rath's trading trips among the Indians of which author could find a record.


     As soon as the train reached camp, Trader Rath was scouting around for Ten Bear. When he found him he told him he had brought him gifts for trading with his people. The giving of gifts to the head men was customary for the privilege of trading with a tribe. It is very unlikely, however, that Rath gave such fine gifts to other chiefs as he did this time to Ten Bear. When they had reached the wagons, Charles Rath brought forth a bundle and from it he produced a suit of clothes the right size for Ten Bear, a hat, and shoes, nothing shoddy but all of the best.

     He reached again into the wagon and brought to light a bag of coffee and also one of sugar, two food stuffs all Indians dearly loved. Only then did Rath tell the chief that he would like to trade with his people and would need a lodge to store his goods in. Ten Bear, it developed, had two big lodges of his own and he sent men to clean one out for trade goods. Only then were the teams circled to the lodge opening for unloading.

     All the while the men were unloading the goods, stowing it away in the lodge, they watched and listened as Ten Bear spoke earnestly to Charles Rath, and noted their employer's grave at tention to what the chief was saying. They guessed that Ten Bear was telling Rath there was going to be an uprising among all the tribes on the plains and he feared for the safety of them but he would see that no harm came to them while they were in his camp. The men now knew that was exactly what Minimic had told Charles Rath back on the prairies and had perhaps tried to dissuade him from going on, perhaps urging him to turn back. Now they felt that Ten Bear may have been doing the same.

     It is easy to see how Charles Rath, though probably quite alarmed at Minimic's report, chose the course he did. He may have figured his white employees, if they heard the news, would not go on willingly. But once in the Comanche camp they would be willing to stay until the trading was done, if they heard the news later, which is exactly what happened.

     Their stay was prolonged to eight days, only, for Charles Rath had become expert in dealing with the Indians and they trusted him. By that time, he had traded all his goods for horses and mules, and a great number of robes. In fact, when the trading was done, Rath had seventy horses and mules and fifteen hundred robes. The following morning as the trading party had the mules hitched to the wagons, preparatory to starting the trip homeward, Ten Bear appeared on a horse. He was accompanied by about twenty-five of his warriors and he announced that they would escort the train part of the way home. All day the Indians traveled beside the heavily loaded wagons and when night came they camped with the men. While the men were readying the mules for travel, early the


following morning, Ten Bear was talking earnestly with Charles Rath. Later the men learned the import of his words.

     He had been cautioning Charles Rath not to tarry in the country at all but to get home as quickly as possible. He gave his promise that he would not let his tribe hurt him or his men but he could not keep other tribes from doing so. After he was through speaking, Ten Bear bade all the men goodby and turned his horse homeward, his warriors also backtracking toward the Comanche camp.

     Mr. Hickman reported that anyone could see that Charles Rath was worried, what with being responsible for the three men he had along beside Minimic and himself, he had a small fortune in stock and robes he had taken in trade, roughly he had around $10,000 for the trade-ins besides the value of his wagons and mules, which he felt he must make a supreme effort to save.

     He probably knew more than his employees did and had spent some thought figuring out what should be done. Minimic was sticking close to Charles Rath, saying nothing, but anyone could see he too was worried. Then Rath announced his plans. He and Minimic were to drive the horses and mules home, that is to the ranch. The three men were to stay with the wagons. Then, ready to leave, he and Minimic both mounted, the horses and mules already on the go, Charles Rath spoke quietly to the teamsters, the two Hickman men.

     "You cannot travel in double-quick time over the rough prairies," he said, "but get home with the wagons as fast as you can. Travel hard and stop only for eating and sleeping. You have splendid teams of mules and do not spare them."

     He lifted his hand in salute and galloped after the horses. Since the men all knew how Charles Rath loved good horses and could not stand to have them abused, this information must have sounded a real alarm to the men left behind. It must have pleased them to know that Rath would sacrifice the splendid teams of mules if it meant getting his men back to the ranch safely.

     But while the men were still pondering his words as they urged the mules ahead, Rath and Minimic were far ahead urging the herd onward. They had started them fast and they were fresh from the night's rest. The men learned later, much later, that Rath and Minimic had not stopped at all until they had reached home base, the ranch on the Walnut. They had made the trip of one hundred miles in twenty-four hours, which proved that Rath feared they might lose the herd to the Indians.

     Then when they had reached the ranch, Rath had more bad news. All was in a state of excitement for Minimic's wife had told of coming events. Again she spoke of it, telling Minimic she thought their tribe, the Cheyenne, were preparing to go on the warpath. They were then camped about sixty miles up Walnut


Creek from Rath's Ranch. Minimic believed what he heard but thought he might do something about it.

     After discussing the matter with Charles Rath, bright and early, the following morning, Minimic got a fresh horse from the corral and Set out for the Cheyenne camp, thinking to talk the Indians out of their plans. However, as soon as he reached the Cheyenne camp, the head men told him of their determination to go ahead and furthermore that they were coming down to clean Rath out. Minimic reasoned with them, even plead with them but to no avail, they would not alter their plans.

     While Minimic was away on this mission, Charles Rath was being questioned by some of the military men who probably were nearby, where Fort Zarah later was built. But Charles Rath, running true to his firm convictions that he should not turn informer against neither Indian nor white man, would give no true answer. Accordingly, on his report, John F. Dodds wrote from Kiowa, Peketon County, Kansas, May 11, 1864, to S. N. Wood, Brig. Gen., and the postscript to his letter was, "Chas. Rath has just got in from the Comanches and reports all quiet in the Indian boundary." [2]

     It is presumed that Chris Rath had not returned for Dodds makes no further mention of him other than in the body of his letter, "The Indians say he will be home in four days." "Home" suggests that Chris Rath and Margaret Hall Wise already were married at this time and he may well have been for their first child, Gabriella, was born in 1867, in Ellis, Kansas, where they were running a hotel which Margaret operated. Perhaps long before this time her first name had been shortened to Maggie and shortly after that to Mag. Be that as it may, it is doubtful that Chris was living in the establishment of his brother Charles for no mention is made of his being there when Minimic returned from the Cheyenne camp to report his mission had failed.

     Minimic had gotten a fresh horse for the return trip to the ranch, reaching it just at sunrise. He had ridden one hundredtwenty miles, sixty there and sixty back and while at the camp exhausted every means at his command to stay the raid, all in a matter of less than twenty-four hours.

     Minimic told Charles Rath at once what to expect, for he would most certainly be cleaned out by the Cheyennes. But it is said that Rath shook his head, slowly, not believing, thinking Minimic must Surely be mistaken. When Minimic insisted, his friend spoke, giving his reason why he thought the whole thing must surely be a mistake.

     "I do not think the Cheyenne Indians will mistreat me for I

2. Vol. 8. 1903-1904, Page 463-6, KSHS.


have known them and have been on good terms with them for years."

     He could have added that he had been adopted into the tribe. That later there was the second reason, the tie of marriage into the tribe and now the daughter, Cheyenne Belle. But he stayed his tongue. Surely he could have conjured a picture of George and Charles Bent, sons of William and Owl Woman, going against their own father and openly taking part in Indian atrocities against the whites that should have convinced him that Minimic told the truth. Probably he did believe but did not want to admit it.

     Minimic of course knew all his friend Rath could have said and pictured but it so happened that he was convinced the Indians were coming and he would not give up. The Indian medicine man even went beyond the bounds of an employee entreating his very dear friend to prepare for the worst. Again, and yet again, he urged Charles Rath to move everything to a safe place.

     While he was trying to persuade his friend, by a rare streak of luck, an empty wagon train from Mexico rolled over the toll bridge and stopped for the usual refreshments and to hear the news. They were going to Leavenworth for supplies. Minimic motioned for Rath to follow him and, when he had stepped aside, entreated him to take advantage of this fortunate circumstance, for Rath's wagons were all away at the time.

     So, reluctantly, scarcely yet believing, Charles Rath employed the wagonmaster and his train to haul his goods to Council Grove for safety. The bargain made, all hands set to work getting the wagons loaded with whatever they could put into them. A man rounded up the horses, cattle, and mules - all excepting the stage coach mules. One by one, the wagons rolled out on the trail going eastward and a rider drove the herd of horses, cattle, and mules beside the trains. Testimony by Charles Rath later proves that he stayed with his ranch and business trying in every way he could to protect his property.3 John Dodge, an employee of the mail company and Lewis Booth, a hunter at the ranch, stayed on. If there were other men left behind no mention is made of them, excepting, of course, that Minimic was still there.

     While all this was going on, the loading and getting ready to leave, Charles Rath had been up and down, up and down, from the ground to the roof, his spyglass in his hand, watching, waiting for the sight of his incoming wagons with their teamsters and cook, the heavy and very valuable load of buffalo robes. Then, when the last of the wagons were clearing the yard, he went up yet again to the lookout on the roof. Was that the wagons coming? He strained forward for yet another look and was sure he had

3. Photostat copy of Charles Rath's testimony from National Archives, Washington, D. C.


caught sight of the men and wagons coming. What a welcome sight! What a weight from his mind!

     But there was something he must do. Hurriedly he descended the ladder to the ground and told the news. It is reported that he sent a runner to meet them at once, very probably Minimic, with instructions to ride fast and deliver his message.

     When Minimic had come up to the wagons, he gave Rath's message to the teamsters. They were to cross the river below and turn east. The wagon train loaded with Rath's goods would catch up with them. Naturally the teamsters and cook were greatly excited and started talking but through it all Minimic had agreed to do what he could for the men. After urging them to hurry, he left them to go their way, while he returned to Rath's Ranch.

     While Rath's goods were steadily moving onward toward Council Grove, the men at the ranch, according to W. Z. Hickman, who told the tale as it was told to him, turned the stage mules out to graze under the care of a herder. But a few minutes later, he came running back, calling that the Indians were coming. By that time the men could hear the Indians whooping and yelling. They saw them surround the mules and start them off. But in Charles Rath's deposition, asking damages from the government, the account is more exact and he should know for he sent his goods and horses on but he himself stayed with his property and, fearing fire, he had earthworks thrown up to protect it.

     Hickman also reports that Minimic tried to lend a hand by racing after the Indians but they turned a deaf ear to his pleadings. They would not give up the mules and among them they decided to take Minimic with them also. He begged for permission to come back to tell the boys goodbye, which they granted, not knowing that he was also going to tell Charles Rath that he would not go to war with the whites.

     Since more will be heard later on, chiefly at the battle of Adobe Walls about Minimic, the Cheyenne chief and medicine man, it seems a good place to tell more W. Z. Hickman said about him.' At this time, Minimic felt deeply the injustice the red men were meting out to the white men and tried his best to do something about it.

     Mr. Hickman relates, A little while after that (leaving Rath's Ranch) a party of immigrants were attacked and all were killed excepting two little girls. They were taken captive. Minimic bought them from their captors, giving fifteen ponies for them. He took them up to Fort Lyon and turned them over to the post commander, refusing to take any pay for them. "He then told the commander that he did not want to go to war with the whites and that several others of his tribe also wished to be friendly and asked that they might be allowed to remain undisturbed so long as they remained true. The commander told them to go up on Sand Creek, about forty miles from Fort Lyon and they would be protected.
"They did so and remained there until November, 1864, when Major Chivington ran in on them with his command and spared neither age nor sex and butchered everything they could kill. Minimic's wife and daughters fell victims, and were all killed. Minimic escaped and made his way to the tribe, vowing vengeance on every white man he could find. Afterwards, in every fight, he was to be seen in front, urging his followers on. He was the most blood-thirsty of all that band of terrible Cheyennes that ravaged the plains for years.
But like all preceding wars, it had to end in the surrender of the Indians. He was among the last to lay down his gun and was brought to Fort Leavenworth in chains. From there he was sent to Florida as a prisoner. Whether he be living or dead I don't know, but this I believe -if ever a man had a right to fight, murder, and kill for being wronged, he had, and in the day of final accounting before a Just Judge he will be rewarded for his good deeds on earth." [4]

     This massacre was at Black Kettle's village on Sand Creek, November 29, 1864. [5] There were perhaps 500 Cheyenne Indians of which George Bent claims 150 were killed. After the village was destroyed, Black Kettle took his people to the valley of the Washita, about twenty-five miles north of Fort Sill, Indian Territory. He was killed there November 27, 1868, in an attack of United States Cavalry under Custer.

     Since J. W. Hickman said he was in the employ of Charles Rath for several years at this time, going with him on Indian trades, one trip at least must have been made from Council Grove to save moving his stock of goods back to his trading post on the Walnut. But he eventually did move his belongings there for he was still in business and going strong in 1867. [6] The chances are he was in business there until he got the contract to furnish teamsters and teams for the Santa Fe grade being built out from Topeka, also an agreement to furnish buffalo meat for the workmen, probably in the fall of 1868. No record is left of how he disposed of his business nor the toll bridge on the Walnut.

     Meantime the raid on Rath's Ranch and business place must have shaken his faith considerably in the integrity of the Cheyenne tribe. Among the relatives, the raid was mentioned, always, as "when Charles Rath was burned out at Great Bend." After the raid, whether or not his ardor for Roadmaker may

4. He was later around Camp Supply; also at Adobe Wall Fight, having incited the Indians to attack the white hunters.
5. "Col. Milton Moore Santa Fe Freighter in his Youth," Kansas State Historical Collection. 1931-1932.
6. Davidson report from Camp near Fort Zarah.


have cooled a bit because of the rough treatment he had been subjected to by her tribe, the rift between the two was not mended. It is said, however, that Roadmaker herself had urged Charles Rath to leave, fearing the Indians would kill him. And such could well have been the case. [7] There is no record that he ever saw her again, but he did ask the daughter, Cheyenne Belle, to bring her mother to Mobeetie when she came again for a visit. Roadmaker refused, it is said, adding, "He left me and married the white woman; Indians have their pride too."

     Nor is there any record that he ever lived among the Cheyenne again after he left Roadmaker. In fact, according to relatives, he once asked Neatha Seger if he had a half-breed girl at the Darlington school. Mr. Seger, fearing Rath would come for her if he said Cheyenne Belle was there, answered negatively.

     It was probably late in 1869 that Charles Rath fulfilled his promise to himself and returned to his Ohio home. He had a girl in mind who had now grown to womanhood and he would ask her hand in marriage. In that he was to be disappointed; the wait had been too long and he found she was the wife of another man. One and all, the relatives stated that Charles Rath was very well dressed, a fine looking man; in short, they said, the general opinion was, "He was quite the cat's whiskers." An era was over, another begun.

7. Mrs. Gordon Crumb in conversation with the author.

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