KanColl Books



CHAPTER SEVEN

A Brave Man on the Plains

     In March, 1865, the Southern Cheyenne struck out for the north, leaving the Indian Reservation in Oklahoma. [1] All the long way to the north, they raided overland stages and otherwise kept white settlers in Kansas in an almost state of panic. Nothing seemed to daunt the run-a-way Indians as they fled northward to join the Northern Cheyenne and the Sioux, who always welcomed them with feasting and merry making.

     It was a time of great unrest among the different tribes. The Civil War had ended, a reconstruction period was at hand. Even the Indians realized this. It has been said that Charles Rath had practically begged the Indian chiefs not to join up with the Confederacy but a majority of the civilized tribes had gone ahead, siding with the Confederacy. Now they must make peace with the Union. In May, 1865, an important intertribal council was called and held in a cottonwood grove near Washita River. [2] Fresh outbreaks of trouble with outlaw bands of white men and with bands of Plains Indians bent on going on the warpath, made the calling of the council a necessity.

     However, after peace pipe smoking and an exchange of gifts, the main topic of the powwow seemed to be their own survival. They arrived at an agreement that should have been practiced from the beginning of meetings with the different tribes - "And Indian shall not spill an Indian's blood." Government plans were forgotten, the league of peace among the different tribes of Indians themselves, seemingly, was quite an accomplishment.

     During this same year, the Confederate Indians surrendered to the Union forces. A council was held with the Indians and they were told the terms for the resumption of treaty relations. In 1866, the Five Civilized tribes signed treaties with the United States, freeing their slaves and deeding the western half of Oklahoma for settlement of other Indians. Further, they agreed to a tentative intertribal organization.

     Kansas had known some peace in 1866. But with the coming of winter, there was much talk of Indian raids and it was reported the Indians threatened to begin war when the grass greened


1. Fighting Cheyenne, Grinnell.
2. Oklahoma Writer's Project. Norman Univ. Press.

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in the Spring. Along about that time, the Hancock expedition, headed by General Winfield S. Hancock, went into camp near Fort Zarah. This was in April, 1867. Beside the troops, there were other dignitaries along, General George Armstrong Custer, on his firSt trip into KansaS, and John W. Davidson, Acting Inspector General. They stopped overnight before going on to Fort Larned and may have had some effect on the Indians' plans.

     Judge Frank Doster says the Eleventh Indiana Cavalry in Kansas, of which he was a member, in 1865, dashed across Kansas and into Colorado and back again, probably for the main purpose of showing the Indians a demonstration of force-an armed parade to show the Indian that he was up "agin" it. [3] Along the trail, detachments left to do escort duty for mail coaches and trains of merchandise wagons bound for Santa Fe and other points.

     No sooner were they back than one hot August afternoon, some high offIcials, riding in a government ambulance, one or two dressed in military uniform, came in on the trail from the east. They stayed overnight, then were furnished an escort for a further trip. Young Doster was one of the detail. It was rumored they were going to meet with Indian chiefs of the plains tribes to make a treaty, which would make the west safe for settlement; the trails, for traveling. A two days' ride brought them to the juncture of the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers, where Wichita now stands.

     He says he saw a hundred or more blanket Indians, a few frontier scouts, one or two military offIcers, and one or two men in civilian clothes; also a company of soldiers and fifteen or twenty in the cavalry group, including myself (young Doster). Not until then did he learn they had escorted General Sanborn to the council and he says further, "It really was he, I learned later by reading."

Judge Frank Doster continues,

      "I laid on the grass under the shade of the cottonwoods and fought flies and cussed the powwow for not hurrying through to the end-Only one thing do I remember with distinctness. They told of one of the scouts, then present, who unaccompanied, had gone far out on the prairies among the wild Indians with a message for them to come in to conference. It was thought to be a daring venture, as it must have been, because recently the red devils had been much in the mood to go on the warpath and had given no assurance of safety to the white man's envoys. Years afterwards, relating the story to George Coble, an old Kansas pioneer, himself a participant in many of the events of the time, he told me the man's name was Charley Rath, `the bravest man of all the plains,' he said. This Charley Rath was he who a few years afterwards settled down to the prosaic life of a village storekeeper, going into partnership with Bob Wright, another old timer, at Dodge City."


3. "Eleventh Indiana Cavalry in Kansas", Judge Frank poster. Vol. 15 - KSHS.

A BRAVE MAN ON THE PLAINS 57

     Frank Doster supposed they had effected a treaty with the Indians, but the paper signed was simply a preliminary agreement to meet at a later date and negotiate a treaty. [4] It was Signed by Gen. Sanborn, Colonel Leavenworth, and the chiefs and head men of the Comanche, Kiowa, Arapaho, and Apache tribes, and a separate agreement, with the same stipulation, by the chiefs of the Cheyenne tribe.

     However, the date and location were changed; the meeting was held, beginning October 14, at a point said to be "six miles above the mouth of the Little Arkansas." James R. Mead says, Colonel J. H. Leavenworth arranged for this peace treaty, and to him in a large measure should be given the credit for its success. [5] Mead goes on explaining the details of that meeting: "The treaty of the Little Arkansas was held on the east bank of the Little Arkansas, about six miles above its mouth, in the middle of October, 1865. The commissioners on the part of the United States were William S. Harney, Kit Carson, John B. Sanborn, William B. Bent, Jesse H. Leavenworth, Thomas Murphy, and James Steel. The Indians were represented by Moke-to-ve-to (Black Kettle), Oh-to-ah-ne-so-to-wheo (Seven Bulls), Oh-has-tee (Little Raven), Oh-hah-mah-hah (Storm), and other chiefs and head men on the part of the Indians.

      The Indians, several hundred in number, camped along the river, on either side, as did the one or two companies of soldiers who were present. The Wichita, Waco, Caddo, Ioneye, Towakony, Kechi, and other Indians, some 1500 in number, were living here at the time, and were scattered along down the river to the junction. They had cultivated extensive gardens, and had scaffolds covered with sliced pumpkins, beans and corn drying for winter use, with plenty of melons in the gardens, which were a feast to visiting brethren.
     Kit Carson came down the Arkansas River from New Mexico with an officer's ambulance and army wagons, with teamsters, cook, and an escort of six soldiers, and was well equipped with tents, provisions, etc. Colonel Bent came down from his fort on the big river up towards the mountains. General Harney and Kit Carson were the most noted persons present.... By invitation, I camped with Kit Carson while the treaty was in progress and heard from his lips some of his adventures on the plains and mountains. . . .
     All kinds of rumors were floating about during the progress of the treaty and there was considerable uncertainty and anxiety as to its success. The Indians were friendly but very independent and indifferent, and reluctant to relinquish their rights to all of their country north of the Arkansas, and much of that to the


4. Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1865, Page 396.
5. The Little Arkansas, Vol. 10, KSHS.

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southwest. They justified their depredations and cruelties by the wanton slaughter of their women and children by white men at Sand Creek a year before.
     While the treaty was in progress a rumor came that a party of Indians coming down from the north to the treaty had been attacked by soldiers on the Santa Fe Trail, and thirteen of them killed. At once the camp was in an uproar. A runner came into the tent where I was sitting with Carson and Charley Rath and told of the rumor. Instantly Carson said, emphatically, `I don't believe a word of it; those Indians could not possibly have been there at that time," and turning to me said, `If that rumor is true, the treaty is gone to hell. I had six soldiers coming down, and would need a hundred going back.'

     It was in 1867, Mr. Mead says, that a detachment of Fifth United States infantry, under command of Col. Thomas F. Barr, stationed near the mouth of the river, by the Indian village, where Wichita now stands, brought the cholera with them. The cholera spread all over the plains and many Indians died, as well as white men. As the Wichita Indians returned to their homes on the Washita River, that fall, so many of them died at one creek they were unable to bury their dead, the creek being called Skeleton Creek from that time on.

      In December, 1886, the Sioux went on the warpath, the Northern Cheyenne helping them. [6] For two years they cut off travelers, fell on unprotected posts, annoyed the railroad builders, and raided the settlements relentlessly. The whites retaliated mercilessly. It was the theory of the army that the Indians would never be quiet until they were thoroughly beaten, so General Hancock pushed vigorously against them.

     General Carleton was in command along the country around the Rio Grande and gave orders to hunt down the Indians and recognize no flag of truce, and clear the land for the whites. His severe policy tamed the wild Comanches and broke the spirit of the Apaches. All this created sympathy in the East for the Indians and congress appointed a commission to visit the tribes.

     The Peace Commission left Fort Larned, October 13, 1867, for the camp on Medicine Lodge. [7] The Cheyenne took their time coming in. In fact, again, Charles Rath had brought them in. [8] There were 250 lodges of them. A very great quantity of goods had been freighted to the site and was in three great piles. The east one was for the Kiowas and Comanches; the middle one for the Cheyenne; and the west pile was for the Arapaho and Apache. The talks lasted for days, the main one taking place October 19, the treaty being ratified in 1868.


6. Bassett's History of United States, Page 686.
7. Fighting Cheyenne, Grinnell.
8. Beeson Museum Records. Dodge City. Kansas.

A BRAVE MAN ON THE PLAINS 59

     The goods provided by the government was in great amounts. The Indians left piles of blankets on the ground. Most of the Indians started out afoot, their ponies and all the travois heavily laden with the goods and food rationed out to them. The government then issued rifles and ammunition to the Indians. This the whites felt, was a grave error. The Indians promptly began making raids on wagon trains, and unprotected settlers, throughout all the Kansas plains. Editorials, written with all the vigorous language of the early day editor, made much of the matter, and the white traders and settlers were much incensed.

     All during 1868, in and around Fort Zarah, the Indians were very troublesome to the settlers and ranches in the country. They would attack ranches and wagon trains, run off horses and cattle and sometimes kill people. [9] Around August 12, 1868, word came to Fort Zarah that the Indians were murdering the settlers on the Saline, and Col. Menteen, with his company of 7th cavalry "marched swiftly" to their relief, and ran the Indians about ten miles away.

On October 2nd, 1869, General Hazen reports that

      about 100 Indians attacked the fort at daylight, and were driven off; then they attacked a provision train, killed one of the teamsters, and secured the mules from four wagons; then attacked the ranch about eight miles below, near Ellinwood, and drove off the stock." On the 10th, Lieut. Kaizer, 3rd infantry, reports that "at 4 p.m. a party of Indians surrounded and drove off six horses and two mules from citizens near Fort Zarah."

     In the fall of 1868, General Phillip Sheridan, headquartering at Fort Hays, planned a campaign into Indian territory, against Cheyenne and Arapahoes, as well as Comanches and Kiowas. [10] Cheyennes and Arapahoes were responsible for the Massacre of the whites on the Saline and Solomon Rivers. Being asked, Jim Bridger advised against the plan which could not get underway before severe winter weather set in and he even came from St. Louis to discourage the plan. Sheridan went anyway. He had the 19th Kansas Voluntary Cavalry, eleven troops from Seventh Cavalry under George A. Custer, and a battalion of five companies of infantry under Brevet Major John H. Page. Gen. Albert Sully, District Commander, was in charge of operations.

     Camp Supply was set up about 100 miles below Fort Dodge. It was at the junction of the Beaver and Wolf creeks, now Woodward County, Oklahoma.11 October 15, 1868, supplies were unloaded on the ground and covered with tarps. The site had been :chosen by "Uncle John" Smith, an old scout who had been on the


9. Biographical History of Barton County, Great Bend Tribune.
10. James Bridger, Pathfinder of the West, Louis O. Honig, Lowell Press.
11. Life of Billy Dixon, Olive Dixon.

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plains over fifty years. Theodore Weichselbaum Was in charge of the sutler's store.

     Supply first came into existence as Fort Supply in 1867. [12] It was an army base of operations against plains Indians, especially the Cheyennes and Arapahoes. At different times, it was headquarters for General Miles, Sheridan, Custer and Sully.

     General Sheridan ran into a blizzard the first night, which carried away the tents. As the gale grew more violent, men drenched With rain and snow, spent the rest of the night under wagons, shivering from wet and cold.

     After establishing Camp Supply, General Sully's command, which included Custer and his cavalry began on November 12, 1868, to search for Indian villages to punish Indians for vengeance they had taken out on white settlers. On the 23rd, soldiers set out in a blinding snowstorm, finally locating the trail of a war party. The troops divided into four sections to surround the village. Closing in on the savages before dawn, Custer signalled the band to play. Then he galloped with his men down through the lodges, firing right and left as the Indians came out to see what was happening. No quarter shown, when smoke cleared Black Kettle and all his warriors were dead. A few young men got away. Many squaws and children were unavoidably killed or wounded by the indiscriminate firing. It was during the Battle of Washita that Man-Walking-on-a-Cloud, uncle of Cheyenne Belle, became a hero by hiding several women and children.

     The Indians say that from Camp Supply where Custer's command started, the cavalry went up Wolf Creek to a point about eighteen miles above Supply. [13] From Wolf Creek, Custer crossed over by way of Antelope Hills, to the South Canadian River, following a trail made by a war party that had been raiding on the Smoky Hill River. The snow lay two feet deep on the ground and the trail was easily followed from the point where the Osage scouts had found it on Wolf Creek. As the soldiers traveled along, they found buffalo on the South Canadian River and some were killed to replenish the larder.

     The Battle of the Washita, on November 27, 1868, with Custer in command of the Seventh Cavalry, was the major battle fought on Oklahoma soil. There twenty-one soldiers were killed and one hundred-three Indians, including Black Kettle, chief of the Cheyenne. The site was twenty miles south of Antelope Hills. [14] Many interesting things have taken place around Antelope Hills. The hills were once, 1819 to 1836, a landmark between the international boundary of the United States and Mexico. They are situated to the northwest of Rober Mills County, Oklahoma,

A BRAVE MAN ON THE PLAINS 61

where they rise to an elevation of 2400 feet. The South Canadian River makes a bend of eighteen miles around the hills before it empties into the Arkansas River. The Big Washita eight miles south, flows into the Red River. Northwest of Antelope Hills, the little creek where Little Robe died in the 1880's, was named Little Robe Creek. After the Battle of the Washita, General Custer on his return march going to Camp Supply, camped on a little creek directly east of Antelope Hills, where he abandoned some packsaddles. Ever since, the creek has been known as Packsaddle creek and the bridge which was built across the South Canadian River near the creek is known as Packsaddle Bridge. Also on their return trip, fording the South Canadian River, the cavalry lost a canon in the quicksand a little northwest of Antelope Hills. Even to this day, travelers on land and in the air, are guided by the welcoming sight of Antelope Hills.

     In those early days, the old Indian buffalo trail ran from Fort Supply to a huge buffalo wallow northeast of the Antelope Hills in a bend of the South Canadian River. [15] Many Indian hunting parties once filed along this trail and General George A. Custer and the Seventh Cavalry rode south on it from Fort Supply to the Washita River when he met the Cheyenne and Allied Tribes in the Battle of Washita.

     Amos Chapman, famous army scout, had been along this trail also. He was the hero of the Buffalo Wallow Fight when he lost a leg attempting to save a soldier. Although his wife was a relative of the Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle, the Indians had taunted him, calling out his name, so they knew at whom they were firing.

     Many a freighter and buffalo hunter must have blessed these early day landmarks, the Antelope Hills and the old Indian buffalo trail. Often were the times Charles Rath, along with other early day men, had sighted the Antelope Hills, then threaded his way along them, even followed the buffalo trail.

     During the sixties, with Indian depredations going on almost daily, freighters hit the trail at night, resting during daylight hours if necessary. It was safer, especially if a man was alone, for Indians never fought after night. They were afraid to tackle anything they could not see. All the early plainsmen knew about this Indian trait and took advantage of it. Andy Johnson, freighter for Charles Rath, wrote about these all night drives and, no doubt, Rath, himself, was along on some of these trips.


11. Writer's Project of Oklahoma. Norman Univ.
12. Oklahoma Writer's Project, Norman Univ. Press.
13. Fighting Cheyennes, Grinnell.
14. History of Antelope Hills, W. K. Suthers.

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