KanColl Books



CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Adobe Wall Trading Post

     The buffalo hide business had become enormous. Hunters made better than a hundred dollars a day. The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad, during 1872-73-and 74, shipped 459,453 buffalo hides from the Dodge City shipping point alone. [1] Although Charles Rath offered to send his men anywhere that men could kill buffalo to pick up the hides, many hunters brought in their own kill to Dodge City and picked up camp supplies before going back to kill more buffalo. Around the city, the buffalo had thinned and each trip meant going farther away. Since 1872, a number of them had been suggesting to Rath that he start an outpost to the south where they could bring their hides and buy supplies.

     At that time, Rath and Fred Leonard had thought much about the plan, so much so that word had reached the Cheyenne tribe. They had sent Chief Spotted Tail to reason with Charles Rath because he was their friend, with the disastrous result of his almost losing his life. From that time on for a number of years, no Indian would appear on the streets of Dodge City without protection. Whether that or other matters influenced Rath and Leonard to keep them from starting the trading post is not known but certainly they both kept the idea alive in their minds. Nor did the hunters give up the idea. So buffalo hunting went on as usual, Rath's freight wagon trains going after the hides and what meat was brought in at that time. But the freighting bills were mounting with the miles. Myers and Leonard, as well as Rath and Wright seemed to have arrived at an understanding early in the spring of 1874.

     It is said that Myers and Fred Leonard, now partners, had the first wagons headed south, with Rath a close second. well knowing he would not clerk in the store himself, he stayed behind to make arrangements for the business. Just why James Langton was brought into the business is not known.

     Probably when Charles Rath had approached his friend asking him to run the store, Langton had probably thought of the great risk to his own "hide" for practically everyone concerned knew "south" across the Arkansas River was Indian Territory through which by treaty they had been granted safe passage but no other privileges. As the whites well knew, when once they were past


1. Vol. 18, page 355. KSHS collections.

102 THE RATH TRAIL

the "dead-line" the Indians had treated all too lightly their part in the agreement to feel that they would sit idly by and allow the hunters to set up headquarters in their midst. So, taking all this into account, James Langton may have demanded a share in the store for managing it and again, he may have put in some capital.

     Be that as it may, Rath and Wright were in a position to offer him a one-third ownership in the Adobe Wall store. By this time Robert Wright had bought out A. J. Anthony's share in the Dodge City store and Charles Rath had put in an equal amount of money, so each now had one-half interest in the Charles Rath and Company store. Unfortunately, the Rath and Wright store at Adobe Walls was a short-lived business, with a terrific loss to the two main partners at its close.

     The site of Adobe Walls was the required distance into the buffalo haunts, suiting both merchant and buffalo hunter. The distance to the site today over our modern roads cannot safely be reckoned as the distance traveled in those early days. Some historians say one hundred fifty miles from Dodge City. Andy Johnson in his various articles about Adobe Walls fight, gives that number of miles and also a distance of one hundred eighty miles. Charles Rath numbers the miles as two hundred.

     Myers and Leonard had thirty well-loaded wagons of merchandise for outfitting their store in the new outpost. Perhaps as many as fifty men accompanied the train south, workmen and hunters who were more or less anxious to locate camps and be ready for the spring kill. Shortly, Charles Rath and his train followed. Charles Rath testified, "I took a force of men from Dodge City down there to put up those buildings. They had to be paid from Dodge City and then had to be transported." [2]

     The heavily loaded Rath train got rolling April 14, 1874. There was planking and flooring to be used for the roof and the boards for the necessary shelving and tables. Other wagons were loaded with merchandise, groceries, clothing, guns and ammunition. Accompanying the train were the hunters, with their skinners, who had not gone earlier with Myers & Leonard. Besides the workmen Rath had hired he had other employees along, Andy Johnson, foreman and builder, a bookkeeper, and a clerk, as well as James Langton, part owner. And strangely, there was a woman along, Mrs. William Olds, a very dear friend of Carrie Rath's. Perhaps she had decided to go along since her husband was going. Be that as it may, while Charles Rath well knew a woman in Indian territory presented quite a problem, he had promised to let her


2. His affidavit, case no. 4593, Charles Rath & Co. against the United states and the Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Commanche Indians.

ADOBE WALL TRADING POST 103

run a restaurant, but most certainly he had not persuaded her to go with the train. And so the cavalcade set out.

     Perhaps James Langton rode beside Charles Rath at the head of the train. There were eight or ten wagons, the lumber and immediate needs for the store trade; another train was readying to bring extra supplies. without doubt, they reached Crooked Creek for their first camp. The following morning they headed for the Cimarron Crossing. It was a dangerous one for the stream's bed was always changing; in fact, the Cimarron had become notorious for its shifting quicksands and sudden floods. They crossed No Man's Land and reached the Palo Duro, then followed Moore's Creek to the South Canadian, also noted for its quicksands and flooding. They stretched out toward Bent's Creek and lined along it to the ruins of old Adobe Walls. A mile and a half farther on, Rath led his train up what was to be the new outpost's lone street.

     They passed Myers and Leonard's merchandise, in one huge pile on the bare ground, while workmen toiled on the building. James Hanrahan had staked his location by parking his wagon on the site, for as yet he had not started his building. Next in the line was O'Keefe's blacksmith shop, going up of pickets and poles, fifteen feet by fifteen feet. Riding on south, Rath signalled the drivers where to stop, the last one in the line from north to south, the time being May 1, 1874. [2]

     Andy Johnson, the builder, set stakes at once for the twenty-five by sixty building. Andy reported, "we hitched a yoke of oxen to a breaking plow and began to turn sod." [3] This was cut into lengths, perhaps sixteen inches, and hauled to the location. The building would face east as the others did, for the merchants occupied one side of the street only.

     Andy goes on to state, "I built the walls of Wright, Rath & Langton's store, three feet thick at the bottom and eighteen inches at the top. The roof consisted of cottonwood logs and poles laid across the walls and covered with sod and dirt." Maybe Andy had meant the roof for James Hanrahan's building.

     Charles Rath in his affidavit otherwise referred to, states, in reply to questioning: "It was a building made out of sod-the walls; the roof was of flooring and lumber. It was not floored," The size: "Fifty by 25 feet as near as I remember." Any other buildings? "Block houses on the corners." Opposite corners? "Yes." For what purpose? "For storing goods and for defense in case the Indians should attack." How many buildings did you construct? "Three, joint; all together." Give the dimensions of the corner buildings. "They were probably twelve by fifteen feet square." To other questions he reported, "They were of sods,


2. see note on preceding page.
3. This breaking plow on display at KSHS.

104 THE RATH TRAIL

too. Covered with planks and flooring." Then, "we had a stockade there they were building afterwards. I do not know anything about them."

     One of the buildings is one in an old drawing with a dug well behind it, to the south. It had driving distance between it and the larger building, where the drivers probably circled the small sod house to unload the buffalo hides. Right at the start the hides began coming in and shortly there were almost two thousand in the ricks.

     According to Andy Johnson, "Mr. Rath remained until June 1st when his buildings were completed, and then returned to Dodge City."

     In his affidavit, Charles Rath says, to the question about the style of the firm, "Charles Rath & Company" and "I was present and assisted until the store building was finished-the store building and those block houses." After that? "I left for Dodge City and did not return." About when were the buildings completed? "About the 20th of May." [4]

     Rath's leaving as soon as he did is in line with all his former and future behavior patterns. He did none of the heavy work of actual construction; James Langton was there to take care of the business, all of which left him free to return to Dodge City where other business matters probably awaited him. No doubt Charles Rath had gazed at the Surroundings many times during the days he was there, yet as he left he probably looked again. The outpost stood on a rise of ground, almost surrounded by lowlands. There was something definitely inspiring in the location. It lay one and one-half miles south of the old ruins, in the broad valley of Adobe walls Creek. Bent's Creek to the West flowed southeast to the Canadian. On the north side of this creek, southwest of the buildings going up, was a hill beyond which was smoother land. The creek to the east was wooded by a thick growth of willows, cottonwoods, hackberry, and Chinaberry, on the other side of which lay a high, bench-like hill. Off to the southeast several hundred yards were the low sandhills of the Canadian. Beautiful beyond imagination, the site was one that could prove treacherous to merchants and hunters assembled there.

     Charles Rath probably smiled and looked backward toward his buildings, the whole layout, as he rode onward toward Dodge City, little knowing he would never see them intact again. And as he rode away on that early morning, Andy Johnson must have looked with pride at the buildings he had finished for his very dear friend-the big building, windowless but with portholes


4. Andy Johnson's statement and Charles Rath's under oath refutes some historians' claims that he left June 26 when some thought Amos Chapman had brought word the Indians were coming.

ADOBE WALL TRADING POST 105

for defence, its double doors, made of two inch plank with a heavy crossbar inside to keep out intruders, facing east. In his mind's eye he could see the restaurant in the rear of the store where Mrs. Olds held forth, with a door in the south side and one in the west, with a transom above it for added light, opening in the back of the store where her husband William Olds was probably a clerk. Andy must have given his mustache a pretty twist as he smiled in satisfaction with his handiwork, then turned his attention to the job in hand. He would start Rath's stockade his first free moment but now he had agreed to lay the sod for James Hanrahan's saloon. Everyone figured Andy Johnson was a good builder, a good sod man. Already the sod blocks were piled ready for his hand and a man was mixing 'dobe for chinking. The pickets and poles were hewed and stacked for his hand. The shelving was still in Hanrahan's wagon and his supply of liquor left from what he had already sold.

     Perhaps O'Keefe, with help had raised his picket and pole fifteen foot square blacksmith shop. It may not have been exactly finished for the man had pounded and sweat, trying his best to get the hunters' wagons all repaired for them against the time the buffalo would be coming up from the south.

     By now, Myers and Leonard's big building, the store, twenty by sixty feet was well nigh finished, and the mess hall as well. The well had been dug between the two buildings, which were both constructed of pickets and poles, brought from Reynold's Creek, across the Canadian, a distance of only six miles but a difficult haul. The large corral was being constructed of poles set into the ground, with a great driveway and gate at its southern end. The mess hall was in the southwest corner.

     All the buildings had been hastily put up, none of them really finished, but they did provide a place to get the merchandise in under cover. When the saloon building was finished, Andy had started in on the stockade. Until it was finished, the oxen, mules, and horses, were tied to the wagons at night and picketed out in the daytime. Later they would be turned loose inside the corral at night. But now part of Andy's chores were to look after the stock belonging to the store, which must be picketed out, changed as they grazed around the circle and lead to water, then made safe for the night. The hunters however often turned their horses loose to graze. They were so on the fateful morning when the Indians stormed the little settlement.

     The length of the one street outpost was approximately seven hundred feet, north to south, as it was stepped off by Tom Stauth December 2, 1922, when he took "Brick" Bond and Andy Johnson there to look the site over and reminiscence about past happenings. Mr. Rath had planned to have a look-out on the roof of the store

106 THE RATH TRAIL

but at the time he had left it was not yet constructed nor was the stockade. Nor was the lookout in place yet when trouble struck like a cyclone the early morning of June 27, 1874.

     Charles Rath probably had left with a good feeling that everything would go well in his establishment, the Charles Rath & Company store. James Langton, part owner, was manager. No one at this late day seems to know the name of the bookkeeper. William Olds was probably a clerk and all around helper, while his wife ably managed the restaurant in the back part of the store. Andy Johnson was to manage the hide yard and look after the stock.

     Owners of buildings had planned to finish everything shipshape but the store keepers were busy outfitting the hunters. The hunters let the horses and mules graze around-about, but at night they brought them in; later they let them graze untethered at night, or at least some of them did. Andy Johnson says at first Rath's were tied to wagons at night and picketed out in the daytime. When the corral was finished, they were turned into it at night and so were the cattle and horses belonging to Myers and Leonard. So the hours and days passed away with last minute additions like look-outs on the buildings being left for another day.

     As each day passed, a sense of security seemed to build up in the men's minds. The hunters idled their time away, running races, shooting at targets, playing cards and all too often drinking whisky. In the meantime, the stores were doing a thriving business, the hides in the rick beside the little sod house had risen and rounded into a huge pile. In fact, there was little the hunters could do but pass the time away until the buffalo came.

     The buffalo had not yet come from the south for the spring was unduly slow. Not yet were the buffalo stirred by that strange urge that started them northward. All men grew nervous and tense as they waited for their coming.

     However on a morning, the noise of their coming could be heard hours before the buffalo could be seen from the highest hill. It was breeding season and the roaring of the bulls could be heard day and night, the noise carried far on the morning air. In a trice all the hunters made ready to go after the buffalo, some even eating breakfast on the run.

     So, for the next few days while freighters were plying their trade bringing supplies to the Adobe Wall stores and hauling hides back to the Dodge City hide yards, the hunters were away shooting buffalo, setting up camps on the prairie. While all this activity was going on and the regular employees and merchants in the outpost numbered perhaps nine or ten, the first hint of Indian trouble was brought in when Joe Plummer had dashed into the Walls on one of his horses with the harness still on him.

     He had been in for supplies, then driven back to camp on

ADOBE WALL TRADING POST 107

Chicken Creek, only to discover the Indians had been there. He was horrified to find his two skinners, Dudley and Wallace, murdered, scalped and staked to the ground. He slashed the traces, freeing the horses, then mounted one and made a run for the Walls. His terrifying tale brought the few proprietors, clerks, and bookkeepers out of the lethargy that had Settled upon them when the hunters left, leaving them in a great state of excitement.

     While they were still full of the Indian talk, whenever a hunter dropped in, yet another Indian atrocity was taking place. A few days later, a hunter named Moore rode in to report his two skinners, Cheyenne Jack, and Blue Billy, had met death at the Indians' hands. Again they had pegged the bodies out on the prairie, even as the skinners pegged the buffalo hides, to die.

     Hunters began coming in, breaking camp and bringing the skinners along, leaving the hides on the prairie. Not all of them though. But once in, a hunter stayed to talk the matter over. The buffalo were darkening the plains; the hunters eager to proceed with the slaughter, and yet reluctant to go ahead with it. The upshot of the matter was the hunters decided to double up, for greater protection, but to go ahead with their labors.

     It was a night of merrymaking after they had reached their decision, perhaps extra hilarity in an effort to put in the background the fate of the skinners. Many were late getting to bed.

     All the hunters figured on arising early, getting back to the camps. Not one man among them suspected that the Indians were massing beyond Adobe Walls Creek. Hadn't they given a second warning with the pegged skinners?

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