KanColl Books


Indian Chief's Peril

     The advent of Spotted Tail, powerful Sioux chief, brought about one of the most exciting episodes that had happened before or since in the history of Dodge City. He arrived the latter part of December, 1872, when water in the streams was frozen to a depth of eighteen inches and powdery snow was banked against the rough stock lumber buildings in the newly organized town.

     At best there was a lawless element in Dodge City. Buffalo hunters and skinners were driven in by the storm and were ripe for any diversion of regular routine, especially if it provided any excitement. Kirk Jordan, one of the hunters was in town and, after what had happened to his sister's family, his followers certainly did not blame him for how he felt about Indians. He was desperate and had vowed he would kill the first Indian he met, on sight, no matter what the consequences. According to government treaty at Medicine Lodge, the Indians were to let the white men have safe passage through their territory but no buffalo were to be killed by them south of the Arkansas River. Most buffalo hunters felt that the extinction of the buffalo would do more than all else to bring the red men to terms and the government evidently concurred for no effort was made at any time to stop the continual wanton slaughter of buffalo for their hides and meat. Nor were the white men willing to give up the lucrative business.

     The Cheyenne, the white man's fiercest enemies, hearing rumors of an outpost to further the slaughter of buffalo, were very much opposed to the white men's plans. At one time, their chief, Spotted Tail had gone to Washington, along with other chiefs, to intercede with the president, their Great White Father, on behalf of his tribe. He was very friendly With the Whites. What better emissary could the Indians find to plead their cause?

     The Cheyenne sent Spotted Tail to warn Charles Rath of the impending consequence if he and Fred Leonard went ahead with their plans of outfitting a trading post at the old Adobe Wall site. Probably because the Indians feared Charles Rath, they also trusted him for he stood sponsor for Spotted Tail's forth-coming trip, for his safe return. But little could he dream the long cold spell would be upon him, that Spotted Tail would choose that exact time to come.


     Charles Rath, long a plainsman, even as early as 1853, had had a lot of experience with the Indians. He spoke the Cheyenne and Arapahoe languages well and was one of the best of sign men. Rath had lived among the Indians and had earned their respect, although he never trusted them. One of Dodge City's first settlers, he had established, along With R. M. Wright and A. J. Anthony, the Charles Rath Mercantile Company in a frame building on the location fronting West Wyatt Earp Boulevard, running along Second Avenue, With the rear of the building facing Tin Pan Alley. In those early days the front of the building faced Front Street.

     Besides being a resident of the town and one of its leading merchants, Charles Rath, sometimes familiarly called Charlie, was one of the great buffalo hunters, an excellent shot With a gun and a deadly shot With a revolver. J. W. Hickman said Rath could shoot the head off a turkey any time he tried. He was also a strategist, being noted for getting along well with the Indians and the white man, never "peaching" on either.

     Across the street to the west was Fringer's Drug store and postoffice. The building was of upright foot-wide boards, probably freighted in from a sawmill near Hays City. Fringer's room and Dr. T. L. McCarty's office were in the back part of the store.

     Behind the drug store building was an attached lean-to, divided into two rooms and even as today there was a housing shortage. The east room, its door facing east, was occupied by Charles Rath and his expectant, pretty, blonde wife, Carrie. The west room, its door on the north, was occupied by Dr. T. L. McCarty and his brunette, Kentucky-born bride, Sally. Between the rooms was a door with a transom above it. The back yard, extending to what was then Tin Pan Alley, later West Chestnut Street, and now West Wyatt Earp Boulevard. In the back yard was a Stable surrounded by a high board fence, a stockade for freighters.

     During this critical, hunter-skinner loafing time, much to the consternation of Charles Rath, thirty-nine-year-old Chief Spotted Tail arrived with the incoming freight from Camp Supply, brought in by Lee & Reynolds. He came dressed in the spreading eagle feather headdress, his person decked with rows of colored feathers, and many chalk-like beads. He wore beaded moccasins and the traditional brilliant-hued Indian blanket. Chief Spotted Tail was both proud and haughty, handsome and fit, with a great faith in himself; truly a resplendent figure. Beside his mission with Rath, the chief fully expected to see the wonders of this much-talked-of town - its gambling houses and saloons, its rail system, and the Rath merchandise mart. But when Mr. Rath saw his old friend of earlier fur-trading days, his first concern was for his safety.

     Knowing Kirk Jordan was in town, Charles Rath realized perhaps more than anyone else, the peril in which the chief was


placed. He recalled the threat he had often heard Kirk Jordan utter - that he'd kill the first Indian on sight. Everyone in town knew Jordan's sister's family had been wiped out by the savages, their home burned, and their stock stolen. No one knew better than Charles Rath about the intense hatred most of the hunters and freighters had of Indians; the loss and indignities many of them had suffered at their hands. He must get Chief Spotted Tail out of the store at once and to a place of safety.

     He had probably spoken low to his partner, R. M. Wright, Who Would realize also the position this untimely visit had put them into, saying, "I will take him home until I can get him out of town."

     That is exactly what he started to do but found it was impossible to get to his door. The mob was forming. No doubt, word had gone at once to Kirk Jordan that an Indian chief was in town. He started action at once. He had a following of hunters and skinners. No sooner were Rath and the chief on the street, than sensing trouble, the sponsor-host looked back and saw the men pouring out of the saloons and running forward.

     Rath raced the chief to the drug store entrance and hurried him in. He closed the door, bolted and barred it. Only for a brief space though would a barred door hold back a mob. Grabbing a hatchet on the run, Rath ripped loose a partition board. Motioning and pushing, he eased the by now thoroughly frightened Indian chief through the foot wide opening into the room adjoining where he landed under Sally McCarty's bed. His sudden appearance gave young Sally McCarty a great scaxe. But while this was going on, Charles Rath was swinging a few swift blows and the board was back into its place. Barely straightened from the task and the hatchet out of sight, Rath saw the murderminded mob filling the room and their perplexity as to the Indian's whereabouts.

     Charles Rath pushed through the crowd. Hurrying home, he saw men stationed already around the building, many of them well under the influence of liquor. But quick-witted Sally McCarty had lost no time motioning for the chief to stay hidden beneath the bed, then she had rushed through the door into the Rath apartment. When Charles Rath entered his home, he found the two women there, clinging to one another and probably figured Sally had disposed of the chief, then came to consult with her friend.

     The situation explained, Rath ended by saying, "No hunter will invade the privacy of your home so the chief is safe here for a time but I must find a way to get him back to his tribe."

     Then remembering his duty as a host, perhaps, he turned toward his wife, "The chief must be hungry," he said.

     But Carrie Rath was too thoroughly frightened to cook. Not so, Sally McCarty.


     Seeing her friend's predicament, she volunteered, "I will cook for the chief."

     After a moment alone with Spotted Tail, Rath hurried away to confer with his partner, R. M. Wright, at the store. They fully realized the gravity of the situation and decided to send a courier to Fort Dodge for help. Hopefully, Charles Rath hurried back again, arriving in time to sit down at the table for a belated meal in the McCarty home. Fearfully, now that the Indian was in sight, Sally stood at the window, guarding him from sight. Then it was, Carrie Rath, letting her curiosity get the better of her, climbed atop a chair and stood tip-toe, peeking through the transom, watching the great chief eat his dinner. The meal over, the chief went into hiding again. Mr. Rath departed to await word from the fort. When the courier did return, he reported failure. Nonplussed, and fearing the commander had not realized the gravity of the situation, the two men dispatched a second courier to Fort Dodge asking the commander to send the cavalry for an escort. And again they waited.

     Then Rath and his partner decided to make a try at getting the Indian to safety. While Rath explained to the chief he should mount and ride as fast as he could to his tribe, Bob Wright saddled the fastest horse in the stable; Lee had brought up a magnificent team and it was one of them he saddled. He led it around to the back door, with apparently not a soul in sight. But before he rapped on the door, to use his own words, "I looked around, and from the back of the dance hall, a hundred yards distant, there were fifty buffalo guns leveled at me. I knew those fellows had nothing against me, but I was afraid some of the guns might go off by accident, and wished right there that the ground would sink down deep enough to cover me from the range of those guns. I led the horse back to the stable as quickly and quietly as possible, feeling relieved when inside."

     The dance hall was the upstairs theatre saloon dance hall, where Nevin's Hardware now stands. More anxious now than before, as the afternoon waned, Rath and Wright awaited the report from the fort. when it came, it was a flat refusal by the commander. Perhaps both men had hoped but not really expected the escort. Dusk was coming on and another attempt must be made at a get-away.

     More anxious now than before, Charles Rath persuaded the chief to take off his regalia and dress himself in Mr. Rath's best, tailor-made brown suit, much to his wife's dismay. The change made, Carrie Rath wrapped the chief's clothing into a bundle.

     Then Charles Rath had said, "I will open the door and see how things are." But brave Sally McCarty remonstrated instantly, "No, Charlie, no, I'll go. I'm a woman. They won't shoot me."


     So saying, she held the lamp high in her hand, for already the quick Winter darkness had descended, and stepping to the east door opened it. One glance and she quickly closed it, her face paling. She explained that across the street, lined against Rath's store building, stood a row of determined men, their guns trained on the house. Would the men go away?

     Rath doubted it. What the night might bring no man could say but Rath decided to risk all to get the chief out of town. He and Robert Wright probably held a quick conference. While he went to apprise the Indian what he should do, Wright hitched a fast team to the buckboard. Rath drove it with a flourish to his own east door, headed south.

     With one hand he held the lines, the other the edge of a buffalo robe. The Indian darted out the blackened doorway and under the robe. Before he was fairly settled on the floor of the buck board, Rath lashed the team into a run, hearing the frozen snow crunching under their flying heels and the wheels.

     Caught off guard, hunters and skinners ran for their horses. The team thundered across the Santa Fe tracks, and turned eastward. Presently, above the din of the mob and the run-aways, Sally McCarty and Carrie Rath could hear the steady pounding of horses' hooves on the frozen ground. Cavalry from the fort! In their glad relief, the two women embraced each other and wept. The pursuers fell back for they too had heard Captain Tupper's troop of the Sixth United States cavalry from Fort Dodge.

     And then the wait began for Carrie Rath. As the days went by and her husband did not return, she was worried greatly. She confided her fears to her friend, Sally McCarty. Suppose the Cheyennes, in retaliation for their great chief's narrow escape, should scalp her husband?

     However, after being gone for better than a week, Charles Rath did return, bearing a gift from the great chief Spotted Tail for the frightened squaw. The lovely beaded moccasins have outlived Bertha Rath Meyer's "playing Indian days" and are now on display at Beeson's Museum. [1]

     Robert Rath and his sister Bertha often heard their mother and Mrs. McCarty retell the tale many times. After the terrible battle between the buffalo hunters and the Indians at Adobe Walls, their mother often said, each time she thought about it, "After events proved Chief Spotted Tail's advice, if followed, Would have saved the terrible disaster at Adobe Walls on that early morning, June 27, 1874." [2] He had come to warn Rath and Leonard not to establish the post at Adobe Walls. [3]

1. Now deceased. 2. Repeated by many of the relatives, by Robert and Bertha Rath, and several old timers; also in article by author Dodge City Daily Globe, Sept. 2, 1946. 3. Family history and finally verified by Henry Mueller in conversation with author and her husband, when he last visited in Dodge City.


     Then Carrie Rath always laughed and told her two children, "I thought I'd had enough excitement, so I went east to Ohio. Your brother Jesse was born there, the 31st of May, 1873."

     But for this trip to her old home, Jesse Rath, named for Rath's lifelong friend, Jesse Crane, would have been the first white child born in Dodge City. Sally McCarty's Son, Claude, had that honor, being born in December 1873. Little Jesse Rath was born in the old Markley home in Sweetwine and almost three years later, April 15, 1876, he was taken back for burial in the Markley Cemetery, beside the Little Stone Markley Church. It was probably at this time that Charles Rath started drinking and he was wont to say at those times that young Doctor McCarty had killed his son. To which his wife Carrie would excuse the treatment, saying, "He was young and inexperienced at the time." It was claimed little Jesse was coming down with the measles and he had been put into a tub of cold water to bring down the high fever.

     Both parents mourned Jesse's loss, sometimes spending an entire meal time talking about the child. They spoke of his sweetness, his beauty, which was quite real according to photographs. The talks went on so many years that both Robert and Bertha came to know this little lost brother well.

     It was in the spring of 1873 that Andrew Johnson came to Dodge City, at his friend Rath's request, bringing along a team of horses and a quantity of grain. He had been farming on shares Rath's thousand acres of land. Now he had other work for him. At the time Andy Johnson arrived Charles Rath, Robert M. Wright, and A. J. Anthony Were letting a contract for a toll bridge over the Arkansas River, to a Mr. McCarty of Leavenworth, Kansas. Andy began working With his team on the pile driver used on the bridge.

     The idea back of the toll bridge was probably Rath's. He had had experience in bridge-building before for he was one of a corporation for the toll bridge over the Walnut at his trading post and ranch at that location. A way to get the heavy loads of freight across the river was a necessity, now that so much freight was being moved southward.

     In those early days, before Colorado drained the Arkansas practically dry with irrigation projects, the stream was often "swimming full" and made the crossing hazardous. Often more yokes of oxen were needed to pull the load through, the yoking and unyoking making extra work for the freighters, several trips often being made before the whole train was across the stream. Then there was the problem of keeping the merchandise dry for


often the wagon beds were too low for the water depth to insure a dry crossing. At first everyone rejoiced when the toll bridge was finished. But shortly, the freighters began to try to evade the payment of the small sum to get their trains across. It was reported that

Messrs. Lee & Reynolds have just received a lot of new freight wagons from Chicago, the wheels of which are six inches higher than the ordinary wagon, made especially for crossing the Arkansas River when it is up. This enables them to cross this turbulent stream during high water without wetting their merchandise, besides they save the toll on the Dodge City Bridge.

     With the completion of the bridge, Andy Johnson took charge of the hide yard for his employer. It was just West of the present Santa Fe Freight house, having a storage shed 175 feet long by 60 feet wide, generally packed full of buffalo hides. All these must be sorted and baled for market, which kept a number of men working under him. It is said that at times there were 70,000 to 80,000 hides in the yard at a time. Andy Johnson states that it was part of his duty to help care for the hides as they came in and bale them preparatory to shipment to the eastern markets.

     This was the first of the Rath hide yards but certainly not the last. Wherever buffalo hunting and the selling of hides were mentioned, the name of Charles Rath came up, and the tales of the many buffalo stands he had made. In some diaries, he is listed as Charlie, others Charley, but mostly he was known as Charles Rath. And his hide yards were known far and wide-at trading posts where he always bought hides and other furs and pelts, at Fort Griffin, Hide Town, Sweetwater, Mobeetie, and at Rath City where perhaps he had the greatest hide yard of all, great long ricks of hides ready to be hauled to market. Always, it seemed, Charles Rath wound up in Dodge City for short periods of time, although his business interests kept him away from home for months at a time. [4]

     It may well have been that Charles Rath was at commission meetings when it was felt that drastic measure must be taken because of the lawless element always present in a frontier town. In March, 1874, the County Commissioners passed a resolution, "-any person or persons carrying concealed weapons in the city of Dodge City, or violating laws of the State shall be dealt with according to law. To take effect March 12, 1874."

     And again in May, 1874, the Commissioners of Ford County thought it necessary to pass another resolution: "Any man who has ever borne arms against the government of the United States, who should be found within the limits of this town of Dodge City, carrying on his person a pistol, Bowie knife, dirk, or other deadly

4. Ford County Globe, July 29. 1879.


weapon shall be subject to arrest upon the charge of misdemeanor." Now that Charles Rath and his wife Carrie were settled in the lean-to of the Fringer building, Will Rath moved his family in from the Fort and occupied the apartment space above the store building. Probably he helped out in the hide yard. Or he could have clerked in the store for no one living seems to know exactly what he really did while he lived in Dodge City, certainly a matter of more than a year for his daughter Lucy has the year's perfect attendance record certificate from Mrs. A. J. Anthony, who taught a Sunday school class.

     One incident that happened in the early days of the store is told by R. M. Wright to highlight the immense business carried on under the firm name of Charles Rath Mercantile Company.

     No date is given so the store name may have changed by that time to Charles Rath & Company. The firm ordered from Long Brothers of Kansas City, two hundred cases of baking-powder. An employee went to Colonel W. F. Askew to whom we were shipping immense quantities of hides, and said, "These men must be crazy, or else they mean two hundred boxes instead of cases." They added further there were not two hundred cases in the city. Askew wired us, asking if we had made a mistake. we answered, "No, double the order." Askew was out a short time later and saw six or eight carloads of flour stacked up in the warehouse. Askew said he now understood, the baking powder was to bake this flour up into bread.

     But if this store business was immense, Rath's business interests were greater. He bought for the store and hauled for the store. And his freight trains were now going far to the south with merchandise, bringing back loads of buffalo hides and other pelts, all of which meant more business for the store. And he and Fred Leonard were still discussing With the buffalo hunters the feasibility of a trading post at the site of old Adobe Walls, in Texas, where William Bent had once traded with the Indians.

     A market for the hides was already established. W. C. Lobenstein had called on Charles Rath and Myers to supply him With 500 buffalo hides. What the two buffalo hunters did not have, they bought from J. Wright Mooar and other hunters in the field. After the order Was filled, Mooar had fifty-seven hides left over which he sent to his brother John who lived in New York. If the English could make use of the hides, maybe the eastern tanhers could also.

     John Mooar and his brother-in-law sold the hides to a New England tanner, who then sold them to two Pennsylvania tanners for $3.50 each, promising to buy more if they could successfully be turned into usable leather. Mooar Was then asked to buy 2,000 additional hides. Both the American and English


experiments had been successful, paving the way for the great buffalo slaughter.

     Mooar's brother and brother-in-law had given up the jobs in New York and rushed out West to join him. Shortly John Wrote Sharp's Rifle Company, Bridgeport, Connecticut, explaining the kind of gun needed for buffalo hunting. The firm developed the much needed rifle, weighing twelve to sixteen pounds, .50-1.10 caliber, which used a long brass shell containing 110 grains of powder which hurled its leaden missiles to incredible distances. The first cost was $150.00 but later when manufactured in quantities, the rifle sold for $50.00. The Sharp's rifle hastened the great buffalo slaughter.

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