Ch. 10, The Rath Trail, by Ida Ellen Rath (Wichita, KS: 1961) KanColl Books



CHAPTER TEN

The Buffalo Trade

Robert M. Wright said,

     My old friend and former partner, Charles Rath, was a great buffalo hunter and freighter. No one handled as many hides and robes as he, and few men killed more buffaloes. He Was honest, true, and brave. He bought and sold more than a million of buffalo hides, and tens of thousands of buffalo robes, and hundreds of cars of buffalo meat, both dried and fresh, besides several car loads of buffalo tongues.

     And again he says, "Charles Rath & Company have a yard in which are about fifty thousand green and dried buffalo hides." [2] Much ado was made about the great number of buffalo hides in the rick in the hide yard of the Rath and Wright store - forty thousand of them in a photograph. The hide yard was located east of the store on the ground Where the Santa Fe depot and freight yard now stand. In the photograph, Charles Rath is seated on the west end of the rick, in a characteristic pose, with his fingers clasped in the special way men had called Rath's two-finger clasp. This picture has been much publicized.

     Mostly, people looking at the photograph and reading the caption, figured that represented the number of hides in the yard. The man in the white shirt standing by the baler, the dog beside him, is D. W. (Doc) Anchutz, later of Meade, Kansas, who was employed by Rath to run the baler.

     One day While gazing at the photograph, along With Merritt Beeson, he remarked, "We had in the yards as high as 70 to 80 thousand hides at a time. Sure, it is Rath on the hides."

     The comment was because someone had said it was Wright, his partner. However, Wright, himself, does not say so for he captions the photograph in his book, Cowboy Capital, thus - Rath & Wright's Hide Yard in 1878, Showing 40,000 Buffalo Hides, of Which Author Had Half Interest.

     The hide yard was 175 feet long by 60 feet wide, packed with buffalo hides to be baled. Where did all these hides go? Mostly to the eastern markets, where the tanneries, many of them in Pennsylvania, were delighted with this vast business. Many were tanned with the hair on, while others had the hair slicked off. There was a tannery also for the Dodge City Times, April 21, 1887, had this


1. Cowboy Capital, page 199.
2. Cowboy Capital, page 264.

78 THE RATH TRAIL

item, The machinery and engine belonging to Rath & Co.'s old tannery has been sold to parties who are preparing to put it into operation again. It seems as though a tannery ought to do well.

     Various industries found many uses for the tough buffalo hide after it was tanned. The buffalo robe business was enormous. Few owners of buggies and surreys would have had them outside the barn without they had one or two buffalo robes to tuck around passengers' knees. A buffalo robe went over a Wagon seat and another robe covered the knees.

     Any sitting room had a robe in the center of the floor. There was one on the floor beside a bed. The robes were felt lined for a higher priced rug, with a three toned scalloped edge. Quite likely, a bed would have a buffalo robe for a spread. In the days of cold houses and no night fires, oh, What warmth!

     Almost any old timer can remember their men folk clad in winter with a buffalo hide overcoat. Any man who was out in the open in Winter would have one of these warm overcoats. They had great wide collars that turned up as high as a man's head, the shaggybrown-black fur and tough hide giving a man warmth.

     The listing above does not take into account the use the Indians made of buffalo hides. With the hair left on, the tanned hides made rugs for the lodge, spreads for the bed, both over and under the sleeper. The hairless hide was used for coverings for the lodge and clothing for the Indians, skirts, shirts, jackets, leggings, and moccasins.

     In those early days, almost any family knew how to tan a hide. Everyone made their own liquid lye from wood ashes. They were dumped into a hopper at the head of a sloping trough, both made of wood. The rains came and drained through the ashes and the trough carried the lye water to a container.

     In childhood the author had helped with tanning hides. Into a barrel or keg went the hide that was to have the hair removed and it was filled with the ashes and rainwater solution. There the hide stayed until the hair slipped off with a swipe of the hand. Then the hide was spread out to dry, being turned frequently. After that, it went across a smooth pole, flesh side up, to be scraped with pieces of glass until the flesh was removed and the skin became soft and pliable to the touch. If the hair was to be left on the hide, it was spread to dry, With a sprinkling of salt to cure it, after which it went over the pole and was scraped with glass as the hairless hide had been. Sometimes for an extra soft finish, a fine sandpaper was used to put the last touches on a well-tanned hide. It is said the Indian Women chewed the hides to make them soft and pliable.

     When Andy Johnson had brought into Osage City the last buffalo hides and meat from the camp on Sawlog Creek, he says Mr. Rath shipped most of the load to market but salted down in barrels much of the meat and kept it for his own use. This could

THE BUFFALO TRADE 79

be used at any time, the in-between times when no fresh meat was at hand. Johnson also reports, "Mr. Rath at this time leased his farm (1,000 acres) to me for half the crops, furnishing all the teams and implements I required. He stayed at Osage City two or three months and then took a contract to distribute ties for the Santa Fe railroad then building into Dodge City."

     Andy Johnson was to follow later, working for Rath on the toll bridge. Later he worked in the hide yard and various construction jobs. For years he sold coal from Osage City in the city and also ran a blacksmith shop. Carrie Rath's son Robert said no one could do odd jobs for mother like Andy Johnson could for he went right ahead with the work even when she scolded him. All the sidewalks in Dodge City with A. J. stamped on them were laid by Andy Johnson.

     "When the railroad reached Dodge City," Andy wrote, "R. M. Wright and Rath started a store. Their principal business was outfitting buffalo hunters and buying and shipping hides and meat.

     At that time, G. M. Hoover was in business in Dodge City in a tent." G. M. Hoover, along with J. G. McConnell, had set up a tent saloon June 17, 1872. By September 19th, the track had been laid as far as Dodge City, a day of great rejoicing for the straggling community. An old buffalo hunter, who was in town when the first passenger train pulled in said, "It wasn't so very much of a train but, boys, it sure caused a big celebration." [3]

     The Smith Edwards store had followed the rails westward with their collapsible frame building which could be quickly set up in a new location and was certainly a treat for men who had seen mostly dugout stores in the towns that sprang up along the trails. They had met with stiffer competition in Dodge City. As the grade went ahead, the Smith Edwards store preceded it westward, reaching the state line by December 28, 1872.

     Replies to direct and cross examination in the Indian depredation case No. 4593, When Charles Rath tried to collect damages from losses at Adobe Walls, clears up a number of questions that no one knew the answers for in later years, especially the real start of the general merchandise store in Dodge City and its firm name.4

To the usual first questions, Charles Rath answered,

     My father was John Rath. He first settled in Hamilton County, Ohio.
Where and when did you first settle in the state of Kansas?
     I came here in 1855.
Where did you locate?
     My location was rather scattered. I was working all over the state.


3. Article. Dodge City Globe. "When the Rails Pushed West.," India Simmons; author in conversation with J. B. Edwards.
4. Microfilm copy in author's possession.

80 THE RATH TRAIL

When did you take up your residence in Dodge City?
     In September, 1872.
Give names of members comprising your firm.
     In 1872, it was R. M. Wright, A. J. Anthony, and myself.
What business was the firm engaged in?
     In general merchandise, and also buying buffalo hides and selling them.
About how much did each contribute?
     Mr. Anthony and Mr. Wright, each about four thousand, myself about two thousand.
At the time you commenced business at Adobe Walls, had there been any change in partnership?
     Yes, sir.
State what.
     Mr. Wright bought Mr. Anthony's interest.
What interest did that give Mr. Wright?
     I had one half interest at Dodge City. I continued additional amounts at the same time of this purchase, giving me one half interest in the firm means.

     No reason is definitely known why the firm first had the name of Charles Rath Mercantile Company. The supposition is that Charles Rath first had the idea and contacted these two friends to go in with him. Both probably figured he had the know-how for he had traded with the Indians and later had his trading post on the Walnut, while they both at this time had engaged principally in ranching. One thing is certain, Charles Rath was seldom in the store acting as clerk for he was away buying for the firm and seeing that his freight trains were kept on the move. Later he was away, buying up other store merchandise and starting other stores southward into the buffalo country.

     It seems reasonable to assume that Charles Rath may have moved his stock of goods from the Walnut to Fort Dodge before he started the store at Dodge City. [5] Robert M. Wright had the sutler's store there. Rath and Wright may have had an interest together in a store there for it is certain Charles Rath Would not have tarried at Fort Dodge to look after a store. Anyway, when the new town of Dodge City started up, Rath's main interest was there.

     The short block long building, facing front and running to the alley started going up in short order. It had an upstairs and perhaps that is the first home Carrie Rath knew in Dodge City. The side of the building lines along what is now Second Avenue. Between its front and the Santa Fe track, ox trains crowded Front Street, travelers going through and freighters coming in to unload, Waiting to unload, and while they waited they refreshed themselves in a saloon for it is said every other building was a saloon.

     All the merchants and saloon keepers, and barbers, probably lived in a room at the back of their establishments and pitched the tin cans, after emptying their contents into the frying pan, out the back door into the alley. Then along came the heavily laden ox


5. Author has note stating this is so but cannot find proof.

THE BUFFALO TRADE 81

trains which flattened them out as they fell to the ground, until finally the alley had a solid pavement of flattened heavy duty tin cans, which furnished a music of sorts. Town's people promptly labelled the back thoroughfare, Tin Pan Alley - a likely sobriquet for the alley With the rattling tin-can music. The street now embracing this alley at length became West Chestnut Street and later, when the town wanted to honor its early day marshal, it was renamed West Wyatt Earp Boulevard.

     Across the north-south street was Fringer's Drug store, a long narrow foot wide board building-the front part the store, at its rear Dr. T. L. McCarty's office, and beyond that the north part was divided into two rooms connected with a door with a transom above it. In the main block to the east, the first building was the store that bore the firm name on a board nailed to the second story, just above the front porch. The sign proclaimed for all new-comers,

Charles Rath Merchantile Company,

and below that,

General Outfitters and Merchandise.

     Next in the row, was a building whose porch roof and top trim, the old fashioned square top that struck up above a building, was in sharp contrast to the inverted V-shaped one on the Rath-Wright building, extending perhaps a foot above the same shaped roof of the store building. Altogether, lined along the block's board walk, were ten buildings facing Front Street and beyond it, the magnet that brought about the town, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway, and few there were in the town who had not had a part in helping to bring the rails there. Following no set shape or design, the business buildings hugged one another, not even sporting a pathway between, and a few had the square false fronts, while one other had a second story and a railed in balcony porch, with a door leading out upon it. That building and Rath's had two full length upstairs windows. Mostly there were porches with the inevitable outer props to support them. Several feet from the board walk the hitchracks rose for the convenience of those who had driven into town in wagons or buggies, but mostly they were used by riders who tied the reins of their mounts to the worn cottonwood poles of the hitch rack. And who lived in the town? Issac Young, Ford County Census taker, was sworn in, October 21, 1872, by Herman J. Fringer, Notary Public, and completed his task the 11th day of January, 1873.

     The list starts with Charles Rath, age 24; Alice Rath, age 26; (With the inaccuracy of age and name) followed by Dort McCarty and Sally McCarty. Altogether 609 are numbered, while numbers 288, 320, and 330 have no names attached. In the listing are 84 Women and girls, and names that will be heard often in early day history, J. Updegraph, C. Bassett, Frank Warren, James Lang-

82 THE RATH TRAIL

ton, Thomas Nixon, B. Masterson, G. Masterson, Wright More, John More (J. Wright Mooar and his brother John Mooar), Robert Wright, Martha Wright, and Mrs. James Kelly.

     With this census report, Governor Thos. W. Osborn issued a proclamation declaring Ford County, Kansas organized:

Whereas a memorial signed by forty householders, residents of Ford County, Kansas, and legal electors of the State "whose signatures have been duly attested by the affidavits of three householders thereof, showing that said County had six hundred inhabitants and praying for the organization of the same said affiants, also setting forth that they had reason and did believe said memorial and,
Whereas it appears from actual enumeration by census returns duly made and certified according to laws by an officer regularly Commissioned and qualified that there are six hundred Bona-fide inhabitants in said County of Ford.
Now therefore know ye that it Thos. A. Osborn, Governor of the State of Kansas by authority vested in me have appointed and Commissioned Charles Rath, J. G. McDonald and Daniel Wolf Special County Commissioners and Herman J. Fringer Special County Clerk for Ford County, Kansas, who were the persons recommended in said memorial and do hereby declare Dodge City the temporary County seat for said County.
In testimony whereof I have hereunto subscribed my name and caused to be affixed the Great Seal of the State.
Done at Topeka this Fifth day of April, A. D. 1873. (Seal) (Signed) Thomas A. Osborn By the Governor, W. H. Smallwood (Signed) Secretary of State.

     When commissions arrived from the Governor, Daniel Wolf was no longer a citizen of the County. James Hanrahan Was appointed by the Governor as Special County Commissioner in the place of Daniel Wolf.

     Chas. Rath, James G. McDonald and James Hanrahan Were qualified as Special County Commissioners for Ford County on April 30, 1873, and Herman J. Fringer Was qualified as Special County Clerk April 18, 1873.

     Board organized April 30, 1873 - Chas. Rath being appointed Chairman, it was agreed to call a special election on the 5th day of June, 1873, for the election of County Officers to continue in office till the next general election. The voting to be done at Dodge City, Kansas.

On the 5th day of June, 1873, the following officers were elected, F. C. Zimmerman, Chas. Rath, A. C. Myers, County Commissioners, Herman C. Fringer, County Clerk, A. J. Anthony, County Treasurer, Chas. E. Bassett, Sheriff, M. V. Cutler, Attorney, H. Armitage Register of Deeds, Geo., B. Cox Probate Judge, W. Collar Trustee, T. L. McCarty Coroner, Herman J. Fringer Clerk

THE BUFFALO TRADE 83

of Districts Court, P. T. Bowen and Thos. C. Nixon Justices of the Peace, county seat of Ford County to be at Dodge City, Kansas. Herman J. Fringer (County Seal)

     The list of house holders and Legal Electors of the County of Ford and State of Kansas, listed in their request for the governor to appoint Issac Young to take the census, was headed by Chas. Rath. [6] With this request the County of Ford and the Capital City of Dodge City, were well on their way to becoming a reality. The buffalo hunters would have a place to outfit and sell their hides, and a place to make merry when they were in from their hunts.

     However if a man got too merry, the city fathers had figured out a way to take care of him until he sobered up. The old caboose was a well fifteen feet deep in which a drunken man was given time to sober up. The effective cooler sometimes held four or five inmates at once; the sentence, "until able to climb out" proved to be quite effective.


6. Other names - L. B. Shaw, E. Richter, R. M. Wright, J. H. Rice, G. H. Schoellbrugf, E. D. Lecompte, H. J. Fringer, Wm. Krause, George F. Jones. Geo. Smith, Geo. S. Crawford, T. A. Seyfers, H. O. Weiss, I. L. Leavitt, F. C. Zimmerman, Chas. H. Helinke, Rich McCormic. John Shepard, M. Collar, P. F. Lull. Gary John McDonald, George Merritt Hoover, Peter Taschetta, Amos Buckart, Daniel Wolfe, Henry Munson, D. J. Jones. G. W. Hollinger, F. Williamson, D. S. Smith. Charles Stuart, Wm. W. Bener, Mrs. Brunt Mitchell, M. V. Cutler, A. Ruden, W. R. Nelson, Arthur Wilder. C. M. Jordan. Chas. H. Drew. J. M. Essington, A. Guillemin.

Go to the top of the page Go to the previous chapter Go to the next chapter Go to the title page Go to the table of contents