KanColl Books


Lone Tree Massacre

     Buffalo hunters had been killed by the Indians and all but driven out of the buffalo haunts. The Adobe Wall hunters had arrived at Dodge City August 5, 1874, and Andy Johnson, worked for Wright and Rath who had a contract to furnish hay to Fort Dodge. There were Indians around and he and his helper always carried a rifle in the hay wagons. Henry Sitler was shot and wounded by an Indian while they were hauling hay. Nor were the hunters and Sitler the only ones the Indians tried to butcher.

     Contracts had been let, July 8, 1874, for Captain Oliver Francis Short and Captain Abram Cutler to survey 1,055 miles of sections lines; Captain Thrasher to survey 920 miles. Captain Short was commanding officer and Captain Thrasher Was second in command. The location of the main camp was just a short distance east from Lone Tree, a well known landmark on the east side of Crooked Creek, six miles southwest of Meade, Kansas, and forty miles south and twenty west of Dodge City.

     When the soldiers came from Fort Dodge to drive the Cheyenne back to their reservation, they had stopped at the surveyors' camp and Captain Short had asked for a small detail of soldiers for a guard. The commanding officer said he had no authority to grant his request and furthermore stated there were no Indians in the vicinity. So the surveyors went busily about their work preparatory to getting the land ready for settlement by laying out the section lines. They agreed in case of an attack by the Indians, they would set the grass afire as a warning to the others for the crews were widely separated. But the plan was not feasible, they learned for they must guard against fire so the oxen would have grass to eat.

     The Meade County expedition consisted of twenty-two men, eighteen for field work and four for camp duty, including Prather, a mulatto of Lawrence. Among the workers was a young man from Marion, Kansas, Charlie C. Brooker. Later, he married the daughter of Chris Rath, Gabriella, a niece of Charles Rath. For many years, Charlie Brooker was the oldest survivor of the massacre, living beyond the hundred year mark.

Charlie Brooker said:

I was twenty-one when I entered government service in July, 1874. [1] It was my first employment for until then I had helped my father with the farm work on his home

1. Interview with Charles Brooker by author.


instead. But like most young men of that time I wanted to go West. Tales of the wealth to be made in the plain's country fired my imagination considerably and I was in a great hurry to be off With the surveying party. Little could I know that in a few short weeks' time the stark reality of an Indian massacre Would send me scurrying back to the safety of home.

     Brooker says the party numbered twenty-three and that he remembered some of the men's names Well, Captain Short and sons, Harry and Dan, Captain L. A. Thrasher, Mr. Shaw and son, John Keuchler of Illinois, Dick Douglas, Sam W. Howe, Harry Jones, Henry Wood, and another man he knew only by his given name, Sam.

     He told of the little details that stand out after a tragedy and recalled the happenings the Sunday of August 23, 1874. In the morning, was wash day. Later some of them wrote letters home and Captain Short read from the scriptures and they sang hymns. The letters were sent to Dodge City by hunters passing by camp August 24, a Monday morning.

     Monday morning, they prepared as usual to start the day's work. They worked in three groups, six men each, the other men taking camp duty. Captain Short, first in command, selected his men; his son Dan, Mr. Shaw and son, John Keuchler and Harry Jones. Daniel Truman Short was fourteen years old. He was chosen and his older brother Harry who had been chainman for his father was left in camp that week, under protest, to smooth out some camp diffIculties. Captain Short and his party took provisions for a week, surveying equipment and a barrel of water. Daniel waved gayly as the oxen settled into their collars and started with the heavy load for camp about six miles southwest of the main camp.

     Hurriedly, then the others got ready for work. Captain Thrasher's crew went southeast of the camp. Captain Cutler's crew, which included young Brooker, went east. Both of these crews were laying the townships into sections and returned each night to camp. Monday passed and Tuesday, then toward noon on Wednesday Captain Thrasher sent Sam Howe to the breaks along a creek for cornerstones. So it fell to Mr. Howe's lot to discover the abandoned wagon, the bodies of the murdered men.

     Urging the oxen as fast as he could across the prairie, Sam Howe bore the sad news to Captain Thrasher. Hurriedly, the captain armed himself and his men. Unloosing the oxen from the cart, they drove them ahead as they set out to investigate what they would find. The bodies of Captain Short and his five helpers lay on the ground beside the wagon. The Indians had scalped Captain Short, his young son, and Harry Jones; the others had their heads bashed


in. The oxen were dead, their hind quarters cut off. The bodies were placed in the wagon and brought to camp.

     At sundown, they were buried a hundred yards southwest of camp. Each body wrapped in tent cloth, the Six victims were laid in one grave, about three feet deep. Carefully, they covered the dead with earth, but not before a rock with carved initials had been placed at each one's head, then the men proceeded slowly back to camp.

     Charlie Brooker said,

I'll never forget the discussion that night around the embers of the fire as we sat trying to piece together the incidents of the massacre. It had occurred on the morning of their departure, on Monday. On a small stream crossing, a bad place for any defense, the living had made their last stand, not having time to unyoke the oxen. A count had shown close to thirty bullet holes in the wagon bed and eight in the water barrel. Had Captain Short's saddle horse been taken in the beginning of the fight?
The older men said Captain Short had spent many years on the frontier and had just recently come from surveying in the Indian Territory. They believed he had been unable to control the young men in the face of their grave danger or else that they had been surprised so suddenly they had no chance for defense. Captain Thrasher thought that otherwise Captain Short would have headed for a buffalo wallow and shot the oxen for added protection. They might have held off the savages until we could have come to their rescue.
The following morning, some hunters stopped at our camp. They reported seeing a party of twenty-five Cheyennes camped fifteen miles West of our camp. After the Indian abandoned the camp, they had found a compass, surveying chains, and some papers.
Being second in command, Captain Thrasher had taken over and this same morning, Thursday, August 27, 1874, we all set out for Dodge City to await orders, men and equipment. During the wait, I left for Marion and home. Although many years have passed since the massacre, even yet today remembrance of that tragic happening sends a chill through my body just as it did the Wednesday noon when we found Captain Short's wagon and the bodies of the murdered men.

     The party had reached Dodge City August 31, and Captain Thrasher requested Governor Osborne the following day that arms and ammunition be sent him. This was done and he had an escort of soldiers from Fort Dodge. They resumed work October 1st, West of Lone Tree. But from the start Captain Thrasher's work was hampered by Indian depredations and bad weather.

     Beginning June 25, 1874, the Dodge City Messenger carried screaming headlines - in big type -




     After that these news items followed: "The Camp Supply mail again started out this morning, with a guard of thirty-one mounted men." And -"There is now a wounded soldier at Fort Dodge and another at Camp Supply, who were shot while enroute each way with the mail."

     The shocking news was lightened by an item of local interest, "Mr. Jacob Collar has purchased the property formerly belonging to Conductor Simons and is now putting a "sod" (!) fence around it."

     Regardless of all this news, the hunters were still after the buffalo for the paper reported that ten wagons loaded with buffalo hides had come in from the Canadian this Tuesday morning last, the hides belonging to Myers and Leonard of this city. The editor made a correction of former news. "The man who was scalped a few days since, is L. L. Warren, instead of John Warren as we published.

     Another item followed: "A little memento of the skirmish between soldiers who were with the Camp Supply mail and the dirty Indians, can be seen at the saloon of Hoover and McDonald, in the shape of some long braided hair! It is a great pity the soldiers did not bring in the heads of the devils."

     While Charles Rath had been going about his business at Dodge City, after he came back from Adobe Walls, A. C. Myers of the firm of Myers & Leonard had been on the Canadian hunting buffalo.

     Around June 25th, the Dodge City Messenger reported that he came in Friday last. [2] He reports the buffalo as being in immense numbers in that locality-also that the Indians are more than plenty. He says there are 1,000 lodges encamped within forty miles of his trading post (Adobe walls). The Cheyennes, Arapahoes, and Kiowas, and the number of the devils are estimated at about 3,000. There are quite a large number of hunters in that locality and they are `red hot' to pitch into the Indians. That he never saw a set of men so eager for a fight - so anxious to exterminate the whole race of Indians, as the hunters now on the Canadian are."

     Myers tells about three hunters who have been killed by the Indians, then goes on to state,

The hunters there (Adobe Walls)

2. This news item clears A. C. Myers of deserting his post before the fight at Adobe Walls.


have a very formidable stockade and it is believed they can whip the entire 3,000 fiends - at least they have so much confidence in themselves to be able to affect this much to be wished for result, that they are fairly spoiling for a fight.

     The editor then reports that they have just received a reliable report of the capture of the mail near Medicine Lodge and the killing and scalping of six persons including the mail agent. Several emigrants had returned from the West and reported quite a large body of Indians, east and south of Syracuse, who were having an old time war dance, that there are only a few soldiers at the different stations, and between these points the settlers have to look out for themselves. Then the editor reported editorially in his paper.

The soldiers should be mounted and patrol the whole line of road West of Dodge City. we can now reiterate What We said last Week, that the Indian War has commenced in dead earnest and the opinions of our croaking Eastern friends to the contrary notwithstanding. If any of our friends in the east are loth to believe that an Indian War is now progressing let them make us a visit and take a trip to Camp Supply and We especially invite the Editor of the Commonwealth to be one of the party.

     The dream of a profitable business at Adobe Walls was now a thing of the past. With all the new Indian atrocities headlined in the paper, Charlies Rath may have recalled the end of another enterprise on the Walnut in the late sixties. And he may have been happy that his other store enterprise was at Fort Griffin where his property would be protected from Indian depredations. But, without doubt, he had plans for other stores within the Texas borders for he was not a man to sit idly by when there was a frontier yet to be supplied with hunters' supplies and general merchandise, buffalo hides and meat to be bought and shipped to eastern markets. with a weather eye and ear tuned to the screaming headlines in the news, to the wild tales being circulated by the hunters and stage line drivers, he is never quoted as saying anything one way or another. However, he must have been deeply concerned about what was happening to white men and to the Indians, wondering how the struggle between the two factions would end.

     The government had taken a step in tribal dissolution in 1871, when congress ordered that in the future no tribe "Should be recognized as an independent nation . . . with whom the United States may contract by treaty." [3] Now, as everyone knew, the government was trying out another policy - a school for Indian children, whereby the parents, badly in need of funds, would have

3. A short History of United States, Bassett.


help only if their children were placed in the school at Darlington. Strangely, after Charles Rath left the lodge as Roadmaker had begged him to do, he seems never to have learned much about his former wife and daughter. Much later, when John H. Seger, superintendent of the Darlington School, was in Mobeetie, he had asked him if there was a half-breed girl in the school. Mr. Seger, fearing Rath would take the girl away if he knew she was there, had shook his head and said "No," with no enlargements whatever. There were many angles - the girl was needed in school, Roadmaker needed the subsidy, and maybe all the way around, he had felt that no was the proper answer.

     Cheyenne Belle had been born in Colorado, near Bent's Fort, in August, 1861, and came with her mother to Camp Supply when she was two years old. She had lived in the Cheyenne camps until she was thirteen years old.

     She told of remembering hearing the firing of guns and the noise of battle while the Battle of Washita was going on, when General Custer attacked Black Kettle's band, November 27, 1868. [4] Her uncle, Man-Walking-on-a-Cloud, was a hero of the Black Kettle Fight, having saved several women and children. Her mother, uncles, brothers and sister, all belonged to the Little Bear tribe, last of the Cheyenne to surrender after the outbreak of fighting in 1874. She was crouched down in a pit, under the fire at Sand Hill, about two miles up the river from Darlington, and there the soldiers found her.

     When the Indians surrendered, they were compelled to remain camped near Darlington and Fort Reno. Cheyenne Belle was brought to the Indian school by the soldiers and turned over to the care of Mr. and Mrs. John H. Seger, who was superintendent of the school. She lived in their home and cared for the Segers' children, releasing Mrs. Seger for other duties around the school.

     In January, 1875, she was put into the school at the agency, the first Indian to enter a white man's school. At this time she was known as Cheyenne Belle, and was the most beautiful and brilliant Indian maiden at the agency.

     She was a very bright student and willing to learn. The second year she was put in charge of the so-called "camp class," the newly arrived Indian children, and taught them to speak English. They trusted her and she could make more progress with them than the white teachers who could neither speak Cheyenne nor know of their ways. The third year, Cheyenne Belle taught fifty pupils, all fresh from camp, taking them through the chart and into reading in the first reader. She taught them to sing gospel hymns and about the white man's ways. All this, while she was learning the art of bread making, being employed in the school bakery. For a few

4. Geary Times Journal, May 5, 1939, and conversation with Neatha Seger.


months she was in charge of the dining room. She learned quickly to run the sewing machine, and became especially proficient at sewing.

     When she had been at the school four years and was seventeen years old, Cheyenne Belle made one of her periodic visits to the Cheyenne camp to visit her mother. [5] On this occasion, she arrived at the exact time Mike Belanti, a soldier of Austrian descent, was bargaining for her half-sister, twelve years her senior, Mandy Whitewolf, or as her name is listed at the Indian Agency, the Indian name, Shaking Herself.

     At sight of Cheyenne Belle, Mike Belanti shook his head and, turning to Roadmaker, said, "This is the one I want."

     According to Indian custom, it was an honor to sell a daughter. So, perhaps with no comment from the one asked for, Cheyenne Belle's girlhood days were over. Balenti took her to her new home and there he learned his bride knew little about getting a meal together. But she was an apt hand at learning.

     It was after their marriage that the husband suggested to Cheyenne Belle, or Belle, as she was shortly to become known, that she write to her father. After their first child was some months old, Belle and her husband journeyed by horseback to see the father she had not seen since she was a child, bringing along his first grandchild. He put them up at the hotel the O'Loughlins run in Mobeetie, where no doubt, mother and child received a considerable amount of attention from kindly Mrs. Tom O'Loughlin. But all this is a few years hence from the events of the story to now.

5. The Author in conversation with Hattie Crumb.

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