Trading ranches established along the many routes of the Santa Fe Trail often served as stage stations, as did the ranche at the Smoky Hill River. Upon securing the mail contract for weekly deliveries between Junction City and Fort Larned in 1862, the Kansas Stage Company dispatched Henry Tisdale to establish stations at the infant towns of Abilene and Salina and at the Crossing of the Smoky Hill River, Cow Creek, and Walnut Creek.
At the Smoky Hill, Tisdale found "Two young men lived there by killing buffalo for their pelts and tallow and by killing wolves for their pelts" Tisdale's reference was to Daniel Page and Joseph Lehman who had established a ranche at the crossing, a well known location on the Fort Riley/Fort Larned Road.
At that point Lieutenant Francis T. Bryan, topographical engineers, departed the Smoky Hill toward the southwest during his 1855 survey of a proposed road from Fort Riley to the Arkansas River. There, in 1857, upon Bryan's recommendation, the army constructed a bridge. There, also, troops engaged in the campaign against the Kiowas and Comanches under the command of Major John Sedgwick, First Cavalry, camped in 1860. Sedgwick's subaltern, Lieutenant J.E.B Stuart, noted in his diary that only the "rocky foundation of the bridge" built in 1857 remained. Flood waters had destroyed the bridge in 1858.
Within months of Lt. Stuart's observation, the Page/Lehman Ranche was established, and two other ranches were opened nearby. Four miles to the northeast was the ranche of Faris brothers on Clear Creek, and five miles to the southeast was the P. M. "Smoky Hill" Thompson ranche on Thompson Creek.
Page and Lehaman both arrived in Kansas Territory in 1858. Daniel Page was born in Rockingham County, New Hampshire, April 13, 1839. At Phillips/Exeter Academy he prepared for the rigorous Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Completing three years of study there, Page was employed as a tutor for a family until 1858 when he migrated west to Westport, Missouri, and soon after to Wyandotte in Kansas Territory. Joseph Lehaman was born in Buffalo, New York. Completing a common school education, he left home at an early age and eventually went west to Wyandotte, Kansas Territory, in 1858.
At Wyandotte Page and Lehman met and set out together on an expedition to New Mexico Territory. Returning to Wyandotte in 1859, they quickly outfitted themselves and trekked westward to Salina. After a brief tenure at Salina, where they engaged in buffalo hunting, the partners subsequently established their ranche on the Smoky Hill.
These two men formed an excellent partnership. The well-educated Page looked after the business interests while Lehman, the consummate frontiersman, attended to the responsibilities of the firm which required physical courage and the skill of marksmanship. James Mead, well acquainted with both men, opined, "Joe Lehman was rated as an expert hunter and had the reputation of being a man who could take care of himself and his companions under all circumstances." Elsewhere, Mead wrote, "Joe Lehman was the most active of the two." According to Mead, "These men were engaged exclusively in hunting doing little trading"
A ledger kept by Page indicates such to be the case. While a wide range of merchandise was retailed to Thompson, the Farises, and others indicated in the ledger, it does not appear that much business was conducted with transients. The major enterprise was, without doubt, hunting, and the chief products were buffalo hides and tallow which found a ready market at Leavenworth to the east, some 200 miles distant.
The context of Page's journal changed abruptly on August 1, 1862, when the ranche began serving as a station for the Kansas Stage Company. From that date forward, the entries were all but monopolized by charges for stage company employees' meals and feed for the mules. Shortly after the opening of the stage line, the ranche was raided by sixteen Southerners on September 17, 1862. Earlier in the day, the brigands terrorized the citizens of Salina, looted the stores, and drove off twenty mules and four horses. Christina Phillips Campbell, an eyewitness to the raid, recalled that they, "cleaned out Charles Tressine's gun shop, breaking off the stocks of guns they didn't want." Continuing down the Fort Larned/Fort Riley Road, they stopped at the Faris Ranche where they stole more guns and horses, and rode on to the Page/Lehman Ranche where they took seventeen mules belonging to the stage company. Crossing the Smoky Hill, they stopped an eastbound stage, held the driver Jim Hall and his passengers at gun point, ripped open the mail sacks, unhitched the mules, and rode away leaving Hall and his charges at the mercy of shank's mare.
Two years later trouble of a far worse connsequence struck. On May 17, 1864, Cheyennes attacked the Cow Creek stage station southwest of Smoky Hill Crossing. Suel Walker was killed. Two other employees, C. L. and J. J. Prater, escaped. Racing to the Page/Lehman Ranche, the Praters sounded the alarm, and word of the raid and killing was quickly dispatched to the Thompson and Faris settlements. That night personnel from the ranches met with Page and Lehman to discuss their options. The following morning the ranches were vacated, and the proprietors hurried to Salina where they found the townspeople huddled within a makeshift stockade fabricated by a ring of wagons around the flagpole.
Following their flight to Salina, Page and Lehman abandoned the ranche which was occupied in August 1864 by 20 soldiers from the 7th Iowa Cavalry and a like number from the 15th Kansas Cavalry. The troops were immediately put to work building a blockhouse with logs, hewn smooth on two sides, found at the ranche. The only other building of note to grace the post was a commissary building described by William Darnell in 1865 as, "a sod house about 25 by 40 feet in size, overlooking the Smoky Hill River." Presumably the commissary was the building formerly used by Page and Lehman as their store and stage station. The post was named Fort Ellsworth in honor of its first commanding officer, Lieutenant Allen Ellsworth, 7th Iowa Cavalry.
In the meantime Page and Lehaman settled on a farm southeast of Salina. The following November Lehman Married Sarah Combs of Salina and in 1867, the couple purchased a farm three miles northeast of Lindsborg, Kansas from John Lane, Lehman's brother in law and former employee at the Page/Lehman Ranch. Mrs. Lehman died several years later at their Lindsborg home, and soon after Lehman and their four children moved to Gunnison, Colorado.
Page married Maggie Combs in December 1866 and moved to an 80 acre tract east of Lindsborg, Kansas, purchased from the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division. There, not far from Lehman's farm, Page built a log house which was used as both residence and store. In 1870 Page was elected to the office of McPherson County Attorney, and in 1876 he represented McPherson County in the Kansas House of Representatives. Subsequently, the Democrat Page found himself engulfed in a Republican stronghold with little hope of reelection. Forsaking Kansas politics, Page moved to Higgins, Texas, where he reared eleven children. He died at Higgins in 1906.
As to the Smoky Hill ranche site, Fort Ellsworth was renamed Fort Harker in November of 1866 and moved in the following January one mile north of its original location (present town of Kanopolis, Kansas). In 1996 the Kansas Anthropological Association conducted an excavation at the ranche/fort site.
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Lehman, Joseph, File, unpublished manuscript, Kansas Collections, Salina Public Library, Salina, Kansas.
Letters Received, Office of Adjutant General, 1867, microcopy 619, roll 562, Record Group 94, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D. C.
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Page, Daniel H., File, unpublished manuscript, Kansas Collections, Salina Public Library, Salina, Kansas.
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Root, George A., "Reminiscences of William Darnell" Kansas Historical Collections, 17 (1928).
"Table of Distances from Junction City to Santa Fe as Given by Sanderson's Southern Overland Stage Company, Junction City Union, August 4, 1866.
Taylor, Morris F., First Mail West. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1971.
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The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, ser. 1, v. 34, pt. 4 (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1891), 402-404.
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