In the summer of 1855 two hardy, experienced plainsmen, William Allison and Francis Boothe, ventured to establish a Santa Fe Trail trading post at Walnut Creek Crossing, on the great bend of the Arkansas. The site was in the heart of the buffalo range, and 132 miles beyond the frontier settlement of Council Grove. Locating in the domain of the nomadic Plains tribes involved some risk but Allison and Boothe, as former conductors of the Santa Fe-route monthly U.S. mail, had become acquainted with the Indians, and were fully aware of the hazards. One objective of these Missourians was to set up trade relations with the Kiowas and Comanches.
In July, 1855 an article in the Ocidental Messenger, of Independence, Mo gave this account.
Mr. Wm. Allison and Booth, known as famed prairie men, have determined to make a settlement at Walnut Creek on the Santa Fe road. A short time since they started on an expedition to the gold region; their mules and provisions giving out, and not being able to purchase any on the road from any train, they abandoned the idea of going further toward the Wichitaw diggings, and returned here, determined to settle on Walnut Creek. Booth left a month or two since, and Allison this week, and from last reports of Booth's progress he was busily engaged in building houses and carrals.
This is the first attempt at building by citizens made West of Council Grove, and we hope it may grow up in a short time and flourishing settlement. The men at the head of this enterprise are well known here, and distinguished for their energy and determination, they have no fear about them. This settlement will be another stopping poing on the route to New Mexico, and will make, in a little while, the road less dangerous, by lessening the distance between civilized points and affording those in danger or want an opportunity to obtain relief.
On August 25, the Ocidental Messenger reported that the new fort of Allison and Booth, on the Santa Fe road at Walnut Creek was pretty well advanced toward completion, and its owners hoped to open a trade with the surrounding Indians and be prepared to furnish any travelers in want with provisions and aid as they journey. Also a party which recently had left Independence on a gold-hunting expedition had stopped at Allison and Boothe's ranch and made quite a successful game-hunt, and feasted on buffalo to their heart's content.
The site of the new Trading ranch was about 100 yards from the crossing of Walnut Creek on the east side, and north side of the Santa Fe road, according to James R. Mead, writing at a later time. Obrides Allen's guidebook, published early in 1859, simply stated, "north side of the road Allison's ranch, east side of the creek." Available descriptions do not give a clear picture of the trading post's appearance. William B. Parsons, in June, 1858, wrote, "This ranch is a large building made of logs of equal length, set endwise in the ground. It is large, commodious, and strong enough to resist the attack of hundreds of Indians or white men, unless they have the assistance of artillery." H. B. Mollhausen, in July 1858, referred to it as "the log cabin on the river bank." David Kellogg, in October 1858, called it "a stockade." In May 1859, A. E. Raymond recorded that the ranch was "built of Poles inclosed with sod. The roof is nearly flat one story high. The Stone Walls and Sods inclose about an Acre of Land. This affords a strong protection against Indians" Santa Fe trader James J. Webb called it "a small mud fort." Theodore Weichselbaum recollected the ranch was "of adobe, a one-story house, long and square."
In a later-day account, ex-cavalryman Robert M. Peck, who first crossed Walnut creek in 1857, commented on the "frontier ranches" which were "mere trading posts" and gave this generalized description.
As a necessary precaution against Indian attacks they were always enclosed by walls or palisades, the ranch buildings being strung around the inside of the enclosure, leaving an open court or corral in the center of sufficient capacity to contain all the animals belonging to the establishment. For traffic with Indians a long narrow opening, about waist-high, to be closed when need by a drop-door on the inside was made in that side of the storeroom that formed a part of the enclosing wall, and through this slit all trade with the redskins was conducted. A watch tower was frequently built on the prominent corner of the wall, and in dangerous times a lookout was maintained day and night.
Walnut Creek ranch had some sort of lookout in 1860, according to a later-day account. No contemporary description mentioned it. The New York Tribune of January 4, 1856, published this item. "On the 21 of December, 1855, Messrs. L. N. Ross, Daniel Patterson and William Allison returned to Independence, Mo., from the Plains, where they have been for some weeks on a buffalo hunt. The party brought in over 10,000 pounds of dried buffalo meat and tougues. They killed over 50 buffalo and more than 200 wolves."
Presumably Francis Boothe and companions occupied the ranch in Allison's absence. The winter of 1855/56 was a severe one on the Plains. Traders reaching Missouri in March, 1856 reportedly said it was "the Hardest ever experienced' up to that time. The Arkansas river froze to its bottom. A Santa Fe bound mail party which left Independence February 1 had to return because of the "immense depth of snow on the plains." All Santa Fe trail travelers, in this season of blizzards, undoubtedly stopped at the new shelter on Walnut Creek.
Late in the year on December 24, a post office was authorized for "Walnut Creek" and William Allison was appointed postmaster. In less than a year later it was discontinued.
In February, 1857, the Santa Fe Gazette published this notice. Walnut Creek Station. Allison & Booth. Respectfully informs their friends, and the public generally, that they have established a trading house and general depot, at Walnut Creek, on the Santa Fe road, where they keep constantly on hand Groceries, and provisions, suitable for travellers. Also for Forage, with Corrals, and inclousures for the security of animals. Prices resonable.
In September, 1857, the Allison & Boothe partnership ended abruptly. This item was in the Santa Fe Gazette on October 31. "The Mexican who brutally murdered Mr. Booth at Walnut Creek, last month, by splitting his head open with an ax, was arrested in San Miguel county last week."
Sometime in 1858 Hall & Porter, mail contractors on the Santa Fe road, built a mail station at Walnut Creek Crossing. This log cabin was on the "west side of the creek." Also this year, in the autumn, Ashel Beach and son settled at Cow creek only 24 miles to the east of Walnut Creek Crossing. Their establishment was known as "Beach Valley."
George H. Peacock, of Independence, Mo, and lately of California, a ranch visitor in July, 1858, was Allison's successor at Walnut Creek trading post. Formerly in the Santa Fe trade, and more recently in charge of the Ives expedition's mule train, Peacock was an experienced plainsman and adventurer in the West.
Events at Walnut Creek ranch on September 9, 1860, were briefly stated by Bvt. Maj. Henry W. Wessells, writing from "Pawnee Fork" on the 12th. "Mr Geo. Peacock and two other persons were treacherously murdered at Walnut Creek on Sunday last by a party of ten Indians." The other persons were Peacock's clerk Myers, and a Mexican herder.
The story that Wessells failed to tell was that the Kiowas war chief Satank planned the attack and personally killed Peacock, in revenge for a trick the trader had played on him. An account in the West post Border Star gave some details of the murders. "Mr. Geo. H. Peacock, formerly of Independence, was killed on last Sunday week by a Kiowa chief named Satank. Satank and two or three others of the tribe reconnoitered around Peacock's Ranch until an opportunity offered when they fired on him, one ball entering his left temple, killing him instantly. They then fired upon a man named Myers, a German, also from Independence and wounded him so that he died in a short time. There was another man in the house lying sick, but he was not molested. The Indians then loaded themselves with considerable plunder and left.
Peacock's indscretion cost him his life, it was explained as follows in the Western Journal of Commerce.
Sometime last spring Satank applied to Mr. Peacock for a letter of recomendation to any whites that he might meet, as to his character and honorable conduct. Mr Peacock knowing the treachery and cunning of the old red skin, instead of commending him to whomsoever he met, gave him a piece of writing warning all who might be called upon to read, to beware of the bearer as he was treacherous and dangerous, presuming that as the old fellow could not read it, he would never know what it contained. Some Mexicans to whom it was shown translated it for him, and told him what it read. He swore vengeance against Peacock, but the latter being on good terms generally with the Kiowas and paying little attention to the bravado of old Satank thought nothing of it. Even a few days before his death, he had intervened to protect Satank against a sergeant and corps who sought to arrest him while on Peacock's premises and take him to the Fort.
Charles Rath probably took over Walnut Creek ranch within a matter of weeks after Peacock's murder. No firsthand information on Walnut Creek ranch in 1861/62 can be found at this time. Indications are that Charles Rath got along well with all the Plains tribes. Rath formed a special relationship in the early 1860's. He had a Cheyenne wife, Making Out Road or Roadmaker. Their only child, Cheyenne Belle, was born near Bent's Fort.
Charles Rath, John F. Dodds, James A. Robbins, F. Lederick and A. D. Robbins, in January, 1863 formed the Walnut Creek Bridge Company "for the purpose of building a toll bridge over Walnut Creek in Peketon County, State of Kansas, where the Great Santa Fe Road crosses said stream." The bridge was completed in time for collection of tolls from the spring traffic.
On June 14, 1864, Maj. T. I. McKenny, inspector-general and party, en route to Fort Larned, and escorting a mail stage, reached Walnut creek, after a forty mile journey from Smoky Hill crossing, where work on a blockhouse was under way. He camped at a point where the road intersects the old Santa Fe road, and where the Leavenworth and Kansas city mails are due at the same time, "found the ranch (Rath's) entirely deserted." McKenny saw the owner next day at Fort Larned. In his June 15, report written at Fort Larned, he stated that he intended to "build a block-house" at Walnut Creek on his return trip. At Walnut Creek, forty miles this side Larned, commenced stone fort, and left Captain Oscar F. Dunlap with forty five men, Fifteenth Kansas.
The small defense post at Walnut Creek, first called Camp Dunlap, was named Fort Zarah in July of 1864. Up to July 1868 it was under Fort Larned's control, from that time till abandoned in December 1869, it was an independent post.
Charles Rath no doubt returned to his trading post as soon as Camp Dunlap was established. He seems to have been there in July 1864. George Bent, at a later time stated, in July 1864, the Kiowas and Comanches attacked a train or two at Walnut creek. They killed several teamsters. Brother Charles was at Charley Rath's place on Walnut creek at the time. He told me about it when he came to the village on Solomon river.
A military report of 1867 stated, "A trader named Rath claims a stone building near the Round Tower blockhouse as private property and also a toll bridge over Walnut Creek, at this point Fort Zarah." Part of the trading post evidently was constructed of stone, but Ado Hunnius, who was at Fort Zarah in 1867 described the trader's place as "Adobe Mud Roof House partly underground."
Early in 1867 there were complaints by some military men about Rath's trading activities. Maj Henry Douglass, commanding at Fort Dodge, asserted in a January letter, "Charley Rath, a trader, who lives at Zarah, has armed several bands of Kiowas with Revolvers, and has completely overstocked them with Powder." And Gen. John W. Davidson reported April 5; "Rath, the trader, I learn, sells whiskey to the Indians, in violation of military orders and Act of Congress and should be put off the reservation." Davidson was with Gen. Winfield S. Hancock's expedition then en route to council with the Plains Indians. So, also, was Henry M. Stanley newspaper correspondent, who wrote on April 6th.
One house at Fort Zarah is occupied by a fellow called Charley Rath, a notorious desperado, who had contributed not a little to the Indian disturbances which have occasionally broken out in this vicinity. He has sold revolvers, knives, and powder to the Kiowas. He has been warned by the Indians not to approach their villages, and yesterday he was warned off the Indian Reserve by Inspector General Davidson for selling whiskey to soldiers and Indians. There are five graves not a hundred yards from the fort, where the victims of Indians lie buried.
Apparently Charles Rath's tenure as Fort Zarah's trader ended at this time Probably his successor was Joseph W. Douglas, who in 1868 was the post trader. It seems logical that the newcomer would occupy the quarters Rath had used. On May 19, 1868, the trading post of Joseph W. Douglass was burned by a party of some 25 Cheyennes and a few Arapahoes. The victim subsequently filed a claim against the Cheyennes for $5,445 to cover his loss of "merchandise."
On the supposition that it was Rath's former trading post that went up in flames, the story of Walnut Creek ranch would have ended here except for this 1969 story.
In May 1969, archeologists of the Kansas State Historical Society working with member of the Kansas Anthropological Association, comprised mostly of amateur archeologists, excavated the remains of a burned stone building near the historic Walnut Creek Crossing of the Santa Fe Trail east of Great Bend, Kansas. It had been a large sandstone structure, 80 X 20 feet, with footing two to three feet wide. The south two thirds seems to have been a storage area and was virtually devoid of artifacts.
Most of the recovered pieces were found in the north portion which was apparently the living area. The archeologists unearthed the remains of a wood-burning stove and pieces of furniture, household and kitchen utensils, coiled springs, such as occur in furniture cushions, scraps of cloth, leather fragments, ironstone dishes, gun parts, and a large section of sickle bar from a mowing machine. Remnants of heavy tarpaulin, such as used on covered wagons, suggest that one may have been spread as a rug, to cover the earth floor.
Larry J. Schmits of the University of Kansas examined the recovered gun parts, which consisted of brass and iron butt plates, ram pipes, patch box covers, barrel pin plates, barrel bands, trigger guards, and one lock plate. His tentative conclusions indicated that these artifacts dated as late as the latter 1860's.
Thus we have an outstanding example of research in the documents of history dovetailing with the findings of archeologists and a gun expert. Together they establish that the structure excavated in 1969 was Rath's building in which Joseph W. Douglass housed his Fort Zarah trading post when raiding Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians burned it to the ground in 1868.
Used With Permission of the Author
Santa Fe Trail Research Site
"E-Mail & Home Page"
Larry & Carolyn
St. John, Ks.