The lives of some frontier characters are well chronicled by way of journals, military records, newspapers, and family accounts. Others have only a paucity of data to document their lives. Such is the case of Samuel Parker who briefly appears in a local county history, a single letter from the commanding officer at Fort Larned, and one solitary sentence from Fort Supply: Indian Territory, a history of the post established in 1868. These few references provide a fleeting glimpse of Mr. Parker.
Compiling a centennial history of Pawnee County in 1876, Henry Booth, former post trader at Fort Larned and the principal founder of Pawnee County and the City of Larned, wrote in his verbose style, "In the meantime the Star of Empire was rolling westward, and in 1864 Samuel Parker, the advance courier of the hardy pioneers,---who were to develop this country and cause it to blossom as a rose-arrived and built a ranch on Pawnee Fork about one and a half miles above its mouth."
The year was 1864 and the location was just west of the Wet Route Crossing of the Santa Fe Trail on the Pawnee River. Not content with a single enterprise, Parker moved upstream about three miles to open a second ranche in 1865 near the Dry Route Crossing of the Santa Fe Trail on the Pawnee River three miles east of Fort Larned. In time, Parker sold the ranche to partners identified only as Fortat and Fletchfield who in turn sold out to Dwight and Wagginer. Finally, in 1867, Wagginer assumed full ownership of the ranche. In the same year, unidentified Indians raided the ranche, driving off the stock and burning the building. Thinking discretion to be the better part of valor, Wagginer sold the burnt-out remains of the ranche to A. H. Boyd and moved to safer quarters.
How long Parker maintained the ranche near the Wet Route Crossing is not known, but he was still there in 1867 according to the following letter.
Hd. Q Fort Larned, Kansas
March 6th, 1867
To the Asst. Adjt. General Hd. Q. Dist
In compliance with Gen. Orders No. 3 Hd Qs Dist Upper Arkansas, I have the honor to make the following report:
On last Thursday, the 28th of February, a small party of Cheyennes went to a ranch; kept by a man by the name of Parker, six (6) miles below this Post, and ordered him to cook supper for them. He had to comply and they, on finding he had no sugar to give them, threatened his life and would undoubtedly have killed one of his men, if he had not concealed himself. . . .
I am Sir Very Respectfully Your Obdt. Srvt.
Henry Asbury, Capt. 3rd US Infantry
Bvt Major USA Cammanding
The next notice of Parker comes from court-martial records of May 21 and June 22, 1869, when 2nd Lt. B. F. Bell, 10th U. S. Cavalry, was arraigned and tried at Fort Harker on various charges. The 4th specification of Charge I reads, "In that 2nd Lieutenant B. F. Bell, 10th Regiment U. S. Cavalry, a person in the land forces of the U. S. did wrongfully and knowingly sell, convey, or dispose, to one Samuel Parker, one mule, the property of the U. S. furnished for the military service of the U. S. This at Fort Zarah, Kansas, on or about the 1st day of April, 1869."
The 2nd specification of Charge II reads, "In that 2nd Lieutenant B. F. Bell, 10th Cavalry, a commissioned officer in the military service of the U. S., having loaned or disposed of, to Samuel Parker, one mule, the property of the U. S., when called upon by his commanding officer to have the said mule returned to the government corral, replied that said mule was lost, which reply was willfully false and intended to deceive, within the knowledge of said Lieutenant Bell. This at Fort Zarah, Kansas, on or about the 5th day of April, 1869."
The 4th specification of charge III reads, "In that 2nd Lieutenant B. F. Bell, 10th Cavalry, a commissioned officer in the military service of the U. S. did say to one Losse, a beef contractor for the Subsistence Department at Fort Zarah, Kansas, when asked by said Losse to settle a dispute between him, Losse, and one Samuel Parker, relative to the killing of two cattle, each of the parties claiming said cattle, the following words: 'If there is any money in this thing, I will decide in your favor,' or words to that effect, thereby intending to convey to said Losse, the idea that if he, Losse would bribe him (Lieutenant Bell), he (Lieutenant Bell) would decide in his (Losse's) favor. This at Fort Zarah, Kansas, on or about the 27th day of February, 1869."
The 1st specification of charge IV reads, "In that 2nd Lieutenant B. F. Bell, 10th U. S. Cavalry, a commissioned officer in the military service of the United States, did, in an official communication addressed to his commanding officer, say: 'I consider Mr. Parker's present arrest an outradge and an injustice,' referring to an arrest made by his commanding officer. This at Fort Zarah, Kansas, on or about the 7th day of April, 1869."
The court found Lt. Bell not guilty on the above-mentioned specifications in Charge I. As to the specifications in charge III, the prosecution, in both instances entered a nolle prosequi (refuse to pursue). The court found Bell guilty in the above-mentioned in charge IV and in other charges not here discussed. Resultantly, Bell was "dismissed and cashiered" from the U. S. Army. While Parker, a civilian, was not a subject of the court-martial, at least on one occasion he was placed under arrest by Fort Zarah's commanding officer.
In September 1869 Parker was in residence at Fort Supply, Indian Territory, where he had secured a contract to supply hay to the post. Evidently, he had other business interests, as Robert Carriker reported, "Samuel Parker, post hay contractor, was discovered to be doubling as a whiskey runner; trading his potent wares to the Indians for horses."
As to the character of Samuel Parker, it would be safe to conclude that he did have a certain entrepreneurial streak as observed in his various places of residence at or near U. S. Army posts. On the frontier of the 1860s, opportunities for commercial ventures of any kind were largely limited to army posts and trading ranches. Such is seen in Parker's ranches near Fort Larned, his legal and illegal activities at Fort Supply, and whatever pursuits he followed at Fort Zarah. As such, the author's speculation is that Parker may well be an archetype of those men who exploited the few resources available on the 19th-century frontier.
Used With Permission of the Author
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