KanColl Books


Where the Rath Trail Led

     In no way unmindful of the Indians' retaliation at Adobe Walls when the hunters and merchants had set up headquarters there in the spring of 1874, but rather because of that disaster, neither the hunters nor Charles Rath would stay out of the buffalo country. True to his claim that he was a frontiersman, first, last, and always, he talked Robert Wright, his partner, into again risking the firm's capital, hoping the outlay would bring big returns. Then he approached Lee & Reynolds, asking that firm to go in with them.

     W. D. Lee, one of the partners, often accompanied their freight wagons to Dodge City. Lee & Reynolds had established a sutler's store at Camp Supply in 1868, doing a large business as freighters, having as many as one hundred Sixty-eight head of oxen pulling the train. The partners were known as "Big Contractors" for they had the government contracts to keep the fort in wood, hay, and other supplies. They were Indian traders at the Cheyenne Agency to do business in West Texas; also the post sutlers at Fort Elliott. The combined resources of the two firms would be more than adequate.

     Charles Rath was in charge of the new venture. John Russell, wagon-master, of the Rath freight train, was waiting for an order to load, little dreaming, perhaps, what it would be or where it would go. But now, with everything settled, the loading began, and the hunters began getting their outfits ready to join the wagon train.

     One wagon was loaded with road building equipment, picks, shovels, and axes. In it rode the twelve men who were to help along the road and put up the store building when the far outpost was reached. Other wagons were loaded with lumber, nails, windows, and other building supplies, while the other wagons in the train held merchandise, whisky, tobacco, food stuffs, guns, ammunition, and other needed supplies for hunters. There were perhaps fifty wagons in all in the train. As the cavalcade left Dodge City, the personnel consisted of Charles Rath and Robert M. Wright, each mounted, the twelve men who rode in the first wagon, John Russell and his helpers, and the hunters, fifty or sixty of them.

     The plodding oxen got the train safely to Fort Elliott, where


Lee & Reynolds soon assembled their supplies to add to the train. There they probably acquired Charlie Sing, the Chinese laundryman, and his equipment, as well as two Scouts, one a part Cherokee Indian, the other a Mexican. [1] J. Wright Mooar says there were two or three hundred wagons in the outfit; with the freight wagons from each firm, those of the hunters who left Dodge City and those who joined along the way, the number does not seem out of line.

     From Fort Elliott, it is said, Charles Rath rode ahead with a compass in his hand, heading straight south, following a trail where there was one, his pick and shovel crew making one where none existed. They crossed the Salt Fork of the Red River, the Red River itself, went over to the Brazos, along Double Mountain Fork, and, not too far from the Double Mountains established camp, familiarly called Rath City or Rath's, and other times referred to as Reynold's City. The trail they followed, with Charles Rath in the lead, the needle of the compass he held in his hand ever pointing southward, was called The Rath Trail.

     Many trails had been laid out for others to follow that lead to points of commerce, others for the cattle trade, but The Rath Trail was for the convenience of the buffalo hunter, so a merchant could furnish him with supplies and buy his hides. Now it had reached its end on a hilltop, in the last days of December, 1876. It was a prize location and covered between two and three hundred acres of land. It lay in Stonewall County, one mile north of the Fisher County line and four and seven-tenths miles west of the northeast corner of Fisher County; ten miles northwest of the present town of Hamlin, Texas, between fifteen and eighteen miles east and a little south of the Double Mountains.2 Directly west, one-fourth mile from the hilltop, was an outcropping of rock. From there the laborers hauled rock for the store foundations, the crumbling ruins of which may be seen today. It probably was built of Adobe blocks, with a door facing west and windows in the south, while the back of the building was edged into a slight hillside. Its roof was stayed with cedar poles and covered with lumber, then sod. Perhaps it was the best building on the lot because a merchant could not afford to have his merchandise ruined by getting wet. It faced the one road which ran from north to south and circled around past the corral and on to the hide yard, east of the store.

     Algerita, a very sticky bush, with queer sage-green leaves and bright red berries, grew at the side and back of the store. Off a way, one could see the broad-leaved, heavily thorned cactus, and sometimes an occasional dried sunflower stalk, a Scraggy oak, but otherwise only grass, now crisp and dry, adorned the hill.

1. Cowboy Capital, Wright, page 190.
2. Drawing by Lester B. Wood, Breckenridge, Texas.


     Here and there was a temporary shelter for workmen and hunters and merchants, hides stretched around cedar poles and over them, where one stooped to get inside and closed the flap after him. Even these make-shift shelters were scarcely put together when the New Year, 1877, dawned bright and clear but very cold, although no storm had preceded it.

     In short order, Rath's store was going up and with all hands working, soon finished. In the back of the store, Charlie Sing set up his laundry. North of the store was the hide man's holdout, to the east the hide yard, and to the south the corral, its walls built of sod with a block house tucked in a corner for the sentry and guard. On the West side of the road, facing east, and north a way, George Aiken held forth in a saloon and restaurant. Later, it is said, there was another saloon with a planked floor for dancing, a barber shop and probably someone had a blacksmith shop.

     Below the hill to the north, where the cedar trees and oak, and other small bushes grew, was a creek which furnished water for the town. There the stock was driven twice a day in one common herd to be watered. One enterprising man, "Smokey" Thompson dug a cistern in front of Aiken's saloon and filled it with water from the creek, hauling it in barrels and selling it by the bucketful'. Rath had brought along a trusted friend and employee to put in charge of the store, W. H. (Harvey) West. In 1859 and the 1860's, he had been with Rath in his store on the Walnut, at the great bend of the Arkansas River, in Kansas, and at the store above, and had been with Rath, along with Dan Jones who had charge of the ranch, on trips when he went to trade with the Indians, so he was an experienced man in merchandising. Harvey West kept an eye even on James Knight who had charge of the hide yard.

     John Russell, also a long time employee and trusted friend, was in charge of Rath's wagon train. It was he who would go from camp to camp, gathering up the hunters' hides, hauling them in to the hide yard, later hauling them to market and bringing back supplies for the store.

     His arrangements all made and everything going nicely, as was his custom, Charles Rath betook himself to his Fort Griffin store. And it must have been with a good feeling that everything would go well. Didn't Harvey West know all the hunters from Kansas, Colorado and many from Texas? The hunters who had come from the south would soon be his customers too, for he as well as Charles Rath was known by hearsay to every hunter in the southwest had a list of every hunter's name and the location of his camp. He had probably stood in the doorway of the store to lift his hand in the prairie man's "so-long" salute as Charles Rath rode out on his horse toward Griffin way.


     His sense of well being, however must have had a rude jolt when news of Indian depredations and actual killings finally reached him. The runner, Lewis Keys, had rushed into Rath City with the disquieting news that Billy Devin's camp had been destroyed by the Indians and his stock stolen, the men barely escaping with their lives. Two Englishmen, while out afoot hunting buffalo, had their wagons run between their stacks of hides, and a torch set to the whole, while the Indians lashed their ponies as they hurried to get out of sight with all the ammunition and the better part of the leather from the harness owned by the two men. Marshall Sewall had been killed by the Indians, his three pronged rest stick being stuck into gashes in his temple and navel. Knowing the import of the terrible news, what it would mean to the hunters and to his business, Charles Rath had hooked his driving team to the buggy and set out posthaste for the outpost, arriving early in April.

     There he found the hunters had gathered, fully three hundred men at one time. Harvey West, he learned had put at the hunters' disposal food, ammunition, and guns, so they could ward off the Comanches. How well Rath knew from former experience that unless the Indians could be driven from the field, buffalo hunting was a losing game. What Harvey West had done was quite in line with his own thinking. Never one to tarry long, Rath had found a way to Wichita, leaving his driving team and buggy, from Newton by Santa Fe to Dodge City by April 20th. The Dodge City Times, May 26, 1877, under title, "A Bloody Battle," reported: "-This week one of the hunters who went out on a mission of vengeance arrived in Dodge City and gave us an account of the engagement which resulted from the expedition.

     About the 4th of March, nearly sixty hunters started to follow the trail of the braves who it appears fled from the vicinity of the murderous exploits with all speed possible. But day after day, and week after week, the relentless hunters followed their trail like sleuth hounds. Their provisions were finally entirely exhausted, after several days of rations, but the trail was getting fresher, and over the last morsel of food every hunter registered a solemn vow not to taste food again until they had made Indian blood flow on the ground like water. By that time their horses were so weak from continued travel and meagre diet that they were unable to carry their riders but they continued their search on foot, leading their horses. On the eve of the second day the party came upon a camping ground which had evidently been occupied by the Indians the same day. There the weary hunters paused only to quench their thirst. For forty-eight hours they had traveled without food but the evident proximity to the objects of that hate fired them with new zeal and added fresh vigor to their gaunt attenuated frames. If the noble red man could have witnessed the terrible earnestness


with which on the evening the hunters pledged themselves neither to eat nor sleep until the mutilated remains of Marshall Sewall had been ten fold avenged, they would not have slumbered quite so serenely as they had. All night long the party pressed wearily and painfully forward. when day dawned they had traveled about twelve miles. A little before sun-up a sight met their view which lit up their haggard and unshaven countenances with demoniac glee. On the banks of a small stream a short distance ahead they saw a camp of Indian warriors and squaws - the hostile Apaches who had murdered, scalped and plundered their friends. The Indians at first seemed inclined to retreat but soon discovered the comparative small number of whites and concluded to take the offensive. The first shots were fired by the Indians. The hunters did not appear to realize the fact that the Indians numbered fully twice their strength, were equally as well armed and in good fighting condition. They only knew that the time to fulfill their vows of vengeance was at hand. The days of weary pursuit and gnawing hunger were forgotten. Desperate hate lent strength to steady their aim of the well tried buffalo guns in their emaciated hands. Each hunter felt himself to be a fell destroyer. Some of them were severely wounded but they laughed at the pain and their aim was more deadly than before. The Indians soon began to realize that their boldest braves were being shot down and their enemies becoming more bloodthirsty. At each volley, they therefore retreated to a more sheltered locality. The hunters followed them all day long and firing was kept up. Every time a brave exposed his person to get a shot at the hunters the same daring brave would soon be on his trip to the happy hunting grounds of his forefathers. When the shades of evening draped the scene of carnage in mourning, the Apaches gathered up their dead and wounded and silently stole away, leaving gore enough to fully quench the hunters' thirst for revenge. The number of killed and wounded Indians could not be ascertained. Only a few hunters were wounded and none killed.

Again the Dodge City Times reported, June 2, 1877,

Indian News, Double Mountain attacked but not captured. Mich Ross, one of the sixty hunters engaged in the Indian fight referred to last week, called the other day and gave us some items in reference to Indian troubles about Double Mountain. when the hunters returned to Reynolds City after the fight, the Indians followed after, taking the horses and mules from the various camps along the route, killing the owners when convenient. Bickerdyke and Billy Benson lost 8 head of stock from their camp 40 miles northwest of Reynolds City. The Indians also attacked Glenn and two Englishmen 60 miles from the Brazos, shot Glenn through the calf of the leg, destroyed the wagons, took 2200 rounds of ammunition and run off seven head of stock.


On the night of the 5th inst. about 65 Indians made a raid upon Reynolds City at Double Mountains and captured 25 head of stock which Frank Foster was herding nearby.
The Tonk Indians and soldiers who have been out hunting hostile Indians arrived at Reynolds City the 10th inst. with four scalps, 6 squaws, and 40 head of ponies.
A party of Tonks and hunters have since started out on the war path hunting Indians. Capt. Lee says the country is full of them. Two or three men were killed out West of Reynolds by the Indians.

     While the editors referred to the settlement at the end of The Rath Trail as Reynolds City, the hunters did not. After the destruction of Billy Devin's camp, as the hunters snatched up camp outfits and started their mad rush to Rath's, they read signs along the way - at Pat Garret's camp, a card tacked up, "Gone to Rath's store"; another, had a finger board and on it was written, "Rath's store." After the fight, March 18, 1877, Captain Lee took up his march back to Fort Griffin where he was stationed and his Indian captives, the women and children of Nigger Horse's band, were sent to Fort Sill. The last of March, 1877, Captain Lee, G Company 10th Cavalry, with five Tonkawa Indians as scouts and trailers, and his seventy-two colored troopers, took the field under orders from General Ord, who at that time was in command of the Military Department of Texas, with his headquarters at San Antonio. [3] He was to find the Indians and bring them in.

     Two days after this last raid, Tom Lumpkins ran amuck, making a slighting remark about the expedition of the hunters and got a reprimand. After wounding a man in the shoulder, he backed out the saloon door, closely followed by Jim Smith, who finally shot Lumpkins down. The boys made arrangements to give Lumpkins a decent burial, with Smith defraying all expenses. Smith and several eye-witnesses went to Fort Griffin where Smith gave himself up to the Civil Authorities in Shackleford County. The record of the trial in April, 1877, says, "Justifiable Homicide."

     Later, "Spotted Jack" killed one-fourth mile north of town by the Indians was buried beside Thomas Lumpkins on the east. Both graves are walled around with rocks, but Lumpkins is much the higher wall, and each has a headboard. Thus started the "Boot Hill" of Rath or Reynolds City, but before the town was abandoned, many other graves ringed the city.

     April 30, George Cornett came into Rath's store, according to John R. Cook, saying John Sharp had been badly wounded the day before near Double Mountains and he wanted to bring him in. The Indians had plundered his camp, cut the spokes out

3. The Border and the Buffalo, Cook.


of the wagon wheels, and run off his stock. West had immediately offered Rath's buggy and driving team, Cook doing the driving, while Louie Keys, Cornett, Hi Bickerdyke, Squirrel-eye, Joe Freed, and Jim Harvey rode along on their horses, to bring him in. They started back with him that night and reached Double Mountain Fork where they stopped to feed the horses and eat a cold lunch. As the day streaks were visible in the east, on the morning of May 1, 1877, they heard rapid firing in the direction of Rath's, being only four miles distant. They hooked the team to the buggy and started for Rath's store, anxious to learn what was going on. While John Sharp was being taken on to Fort Griffin to the hospital, the men returning in four days, the hunters were figuring what to do about the loss of their horses, which had been the cause of the shooting. The scene when the Indians surprised them was thus: camp wagons were spread over forty acres of ground, some of the hunters sleeping at their camps. Others had come in and were sleeping at the store, in their beds spread between the rocks of buffalo hides. The Indians had dashed along the one Street, between the buildings, firing and yelling, and on through to drive off the horses. The horses had been turned out to graze with a guard, who may have been asleep when the Indians rushed the stock, for although there had been Indian troubles, these rough and ready men were prone to be lax on their vigilance when the worst was over.

     The group of hunters resolved to make an effort to get their horses back from the Comanches and, perhaps feeling the effort might not be successful, captioned themselves, The Forlorn Hope. Even as four men made ready to leave in a wagon for the settlements near Fort Griffin to try to get some horses for the men to ride, word came that the Indians had slipped in, taking horses for a hundred miles up and down the border. All this, when all the hunters were afoot since their horses had been taken when the Indians raided Rath's outpost.

     Again Harvey West did what he knew Charles Rath would do were he on hand. He called the four men in and told them to take anything from the store that they would need on the trip. He probably stood in the door and lifted his hand in a salute as the men drove from the store.

     The men returned with horses and bills of sale for stock they might recover. Twenty-four men set out to recover the horses. When they had one hundred thirty-six horses, they divided them selves into two groups. One was to take the horses back to Rath's picking up any they could find on the way; the other group to go back to the sand hills to get other stock. In the Blue Sand Hills, the men rounded up one hundred seven more head of horses


and drove them to Rath's. They then sent word to the hunters to come and get their horses.

     The Forlorn Hope had accomplished its purpose. Of all that brave band of men only three were left in 1907 when the organization held a reunion - Mortimer (Wild Bill) M. Kress, of Nebraska; Sol Rees, of Kansas; and John R. Cook, of Oregon. Then with Indians quieted down the hunters went in small parties to bring in their hides. Kress, Rees, Benson, Moore, Crawford, and Cook Went in a body. Charles Rath sent freight wagons and teams to haul them in and it took better than two weeks to get the hides in.

     The summer of 1877 was the last of the Comanches. John Cook says Rath boarded the hunters at the restaurant until the fall hunt. By September, the hunters were as safe in the camps as in a Quaker neighborhood, according to Cook. This last statement must have made Charles Rath draw a full breath again when the Indian troubles were over, for he had other things to think about.

     April 21, 1877, the Dodge City Times carried a notice that Charles Rath arrived home last Monday from an extended business expedition through the Indian Territory and Texas, looking after the branch stores of the firm of Charles Rath and Company. Several of these stores were on the Palo Duro as evidenced by two items in the Times, citing, M. H. Brixner, March 24, 1877, who has been in charge of the Charles Rath & Company's Palo Duro store for some time arrived in the city this week where he will remain. Mr. J. W. Skinner, the former rattling, lightning rod agent of the city, is now the man who wields the ceptre of power at the prosperous branch. The last of August the same year, the Times reported:

J. W. Skinner, who has had charge of one of Charles Rath & Company stores on the Palo Duro for the past year returned to Dodge City yesterday, looking hale and hearty from the effects of the balmy southern breeze." Charles Rath also had a half interest in the Conrad and Rath store at Fort Griffin and he and Frank Conrad had been stock piling buffalo hides on the Sweetwater below Fort Elliott. The Charles Rath & Company in partners with Lee & Reynolds had the store at Rath city which was always designated by the name of Rath, probably never having a sign tacked above it.

     Perhaps this was his first trip home since he had left in the fall of 1876 with the merchandise for the Rath City store, to lay out The Rath Trail. He stayed long enough to see the new sign on the store go up of which the Dodge City Times wrote, "H. T. McCarty has just completed one of the most showy signs ever hung out to view for the front of Charles Rath &


Company's new store."[4] He must have left shortly after it was hung for The Times reported, May 12, 1877, "Mr. and Mrs. Charles Rath started for Texas last week," and on the 19th, a notice said they were expected home in a few days. This had probably been a quick trip to Fort Griffin.


     This time Charles Rath seemed to remain in the city for some time. He was at the commission meeting June 23 and to see the big new safe installed in the new store, which the Times declared, "will no doubt contain many bundles of greenbacks during the summer." But he had probably gone to Osage City to see about the new home going up in that city and also to accompany his sister to Dodge City, for the Times again reports the sister's visit and under a July 28, dateline, "Charles Rath has the finest residence house in Osage City."


     Perhaps he had planned that his wife Carry should move there, since there would be the new baby and he was away from home for weeks on end. August 4th, they advertised a closing out sale of furniture at private sale. They even moved from the house on Bridge Street, moving into the two story white house, enclosed within a big white boarded fence, on the site where the Dodge City library now stands. It was to be their home until they left the city after the birth of their son, Robert. Rath owned the rooming house and later sold it to Robert Wright. September 8, 1877, The Dodge City Times announced, "Charles Rath has started on a business visit to Texas. Mrs. Rath decides to remain in the city."


     The last item means - Carrie Rath, for some unknown reason, had decided to remain in Dodge City until her child should be born instead of going east to Cincinnati, Ohio, as she had for the birth of her first child, Jesse.

     The Times reported that Charles Rath had gone east along with Messrs. M. W. Sutton, P. L. Beatty, & H. B. Bell, last night, escorted by the fighting editor of the Times. Mr. Rath goes to Texas and the balance of the men to Larned and Great Bend.

     It must have been an anxious time for Charles Rath as well as his wife. She began running an advertisement in the Times, which was carried through September and until October 13th - "Wanted a man to cook for small family and do chores.
Apply Charles Rath & Company." September 22nd, Charles Rath was marked absent at the commission meeting.

4. A replacement of the old building on the same lot but no further information about it.

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