About ninety miles west of Council Grove, Kansas or about six days of travel by wagon train, less than a mile west of what is now the Rice/McPherson County line, the Santa Fe Trail crossed the Little Arkansas River. This area, which later became section 13 of Rockville Township in now Rice County, was destined to play a very active role in the history of Rice County and the Santa Fe Trail. The Little Arkansas is not a large stream, but it was not an easy river to cross. Major Bennett Riley, in the year of 1829, commented that the Little Arkansas was about ten feet wide with steep banks of fifteen feet high. Adding to the difficulties was the fact that the bottom of the stream was very muddy. Major Riley's military detachment shoveled down the banks to the river to make it passable for the wagons to cross. Some early group of Travelers placed stones in the muddy river bottom to improve the crossing. Most of these stones are still there and can be seen during dry periods when the level of the water in the stream is very low. Sometime during 1858, a trading post was established and a bridge was under construction, however it appears that bridge was not completed at that time. In February of 1859, the Kansas Territorial Legislature passed an act to authorize William T. Williamson and others to build a bridge at the Little Arkansas crossing. The legislature set the toll rates at: wagon or vehicle, 50 cents; each large animal, 10 cents, each small animal and person, 5 cents; man and horse, 10 cents.
The earliest known somewhat permanent operator of a ranch at the Little Arkansas crossing was William D. Wheeler. The Council Grove Press mentioned Wheeler in its newspaper on March 16, 1861. Wheeler placed the following ad in the Press to run March 23, 1861 through July 20, 1861:
Little Arkansas Ranche
The traveling public are respectfully informed, that the undersigned is located on the Little Arkansas, where the great Santa Fe road crosses the same. I keep always on hand provisions, groceries and liquors.
Also are prepared to accommodate travelers. I have several large corrals for penning stock. Also, have built a strong and substantial bridge across the Little Arkansas, for the accommodation of the traveling public. W. D. Wheeler.
It is possible that Wheeler, with the help of others, built the Stone Corral that existed on the site of his ranch. People in the area today argue that the task would have been to great for Wheeler and his crew, and they believe that the soldiers who occupied the site in 1865 and in 1867 did the work. That seems doubtful, since the number of troops was small. They were engaged in protection of the region from Indians, and there are references to the corral prior to 1865. Possibly Wheeler had constructd part of the corral and the soldiers made it larger after they arrived on the site.
The stone used for the construction of the Stone Corral was quarried from an outcropping of rock about one mile west of the Stone Corral location. Records indicate there was a prolonged drought from the fall of 1859 to the spring of 1861, which provided excelent conditions for the hauling of the stone from the quarry to the building site. The project, even with the most favorable conditions, must have been a gargantuan task to undertake! George Hodgson homesteaded in Rice County in 1870 near the corral. He called the work an "excelent example of dry masonry, the walls being so perfectly laid and the sandstone slabs so carefully placed together that little or no light could be seen through any place". Hodgson recalled that there was a small stone room built into one corner of the corral.
J. W. Bean, whose father had bought the property, saw a portion of the wall in 1880 and described it like this: "At the time most of the north wall was still standing erect. It was about eight feet high and perhaps thirty inches thick. The wall was well built with many stones extending while the ends and the south wall had mostly been removed, the southlines could be plainly seen and to my best recollection the corral was 300 to 400 feet long east and west, or perhaps northeast to southwest, and about 200 feet wide. The north wall had one or two openings about 10 inches up and down, and two feet long on the inside, tapering to about 10 inches square on the outside. A gateway at the southeast corner of the corral allowed wagons and livestock to enter.
Corral owner, bridge maker and rancher William Wheeler disappeared after May 1864. Throughout the summer of that year Indians residing on either side of the trail began raiding traveling caravans, killing travelers and stealing livestock and other property of ranchers along the Santa Fe Trail. It was a well known fact among trail travelers that the probability of Indian problems increased dramatically when one crossed the Little Arkansas. From this point westward millions of buffalo grazed on the prairie. Largely because of their presence the nomadic Indian tribes, the hunters and gatherers, roamed the plains all the way to the Rocky Mountains. Problems with the Indians may have caused Wheeler to move to a safer place.
The more peaceful Quivirans or Wichitas, very early inhabitants of Rice County, had already departed for Oklahoma Territory some time during the 1700's.
Indian troubles continued into 1865 and reached such serious proportions that troops were assigned to the Little Arkansas and the Stone Corral area in April. Company G, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, under the command of Captain Theodore Conkey, was the first troops to be stationed at the Stone Corral. Shortly after that Captain Carter Berkeley was ordered from Fort Zarah to the west, to command the station. By early May, ninety three men were stationed at the post, most of them from the 2nd U. S. Volunteer Infantry. Military records of June 30, 1865, listed the officer in charge as J. C. Shelley of the 13th Missouri Cavalry. In all there were 185 enlisted men and five officers from the 13th Missouri Cavalry and the 2nd U. S. Volunteer Infantry. One hundred forty five serviceable horses were there with the troops in July 1865. Most of that group of ninety-three men were probably "Galvanized Yankees", a term given to Confederate soldiers who had been captured and later agreed to serve in the Union Army provided they were not assigned to duty in the south.
Peace talks and signing of peace treaties with the Indians in the fall of 1865 resulted in a temproary cessation of hostilities and it appears troops were withdrawn from the Little Arkansas post late in 1865. This peaceful situation did not last for long. Military corespondence indicates that soldiers were again stationed at the Stone Corral site in 1867. At this time the camp was called Camp Grierson, to honor Colonel Benjamin F. Grierson of the 10th Cavalry. In this year of 1867 the camp was occupied from June to November by Company C of black troops of the 10th Cavalry, commanded by a Captain Edward Byrne. This company of some seventy troops constructed dugouts for protection from the Indians and the weather in the riverbanks of the Little Arkansas. They erected breastworks above the dugouts for protection. The cholera epidemic claimed eight of these troops and there were several soldiers killed by Indians. All were buried near the south end of the breastworks. Reportedly, 15 bodies were exhumed and moved to the Fort Leavenworth Cemetery in the late 1880's.
There has been some speculation that General George Custer was stationed at the Stone Corral but no military records have been found that would confirm this theory. None of the 7th Cavalry were ever stationed there according to the experts, but 7th Cavalry relics have been found in the area, that being a 7th Cavalry hat pin.
Near the end of 1867 the Indian problems were moving toward resolution and the territory was being surveyed prior to anticipated settlement. All military personnel were withdrawn late in that year.
The next owner of the Stone Corral was George M. Sternberg, a surgeon in charge of the Fort Harker Hospital in the year of 1867. However a census of Rice County taken in 1870 does not show him to be a resident of the county. This census listed only five Rice County homestead resident settlers.
According to Aaron Johnson, who settled in the Stone Corral area in 1872, the bridge was burned prior to that year by Indians who did it in an attempt to stop travel on the Santa Fe Trail. The only thing the Indians accomplished was to maybe slow the travelers down some. At that time none of the original stone had been removed. A man by the name of Cowger, described as a "man of rough character and a heavy boozer, who sold a great deal of whiskey, especially to the Indians" lived in the stone house in one corner of the corral.
Actually, anyone living in the Stone Corral before 1870 did so without official ownership. The county was organized on August 18, 1871, and before that time the land belonged to the State of Kansas who gave it ot the Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in November of 1870.
It appears that Nathan A. C. Bean was the first to officially settle on the Stone Corral site in the 1870's. He lived in the corral for several months. Even then there was considerable travel over the trail by land seekers. Bean said that "during his occupancy there was seldom a night when from eight to as high as thirty wagons camped within the walls of the Stone Corral enclosure.
Early in the 1870's Mr. Bean began selling stone from the walls of the corral. Some of this was used to build a school house a mile south and three quarters of a mile west of the Stone Corral location. Known as Stone Corral School, it has not been used for many years but the building is still standing, although in disrepair and needing to be restored. Some of the stone was hauled to Nickerson for the constructin of a railway roundhouse. Early settlers in the area used some of the stone to line water wells and build foundations for the homes and farm buildings that were being constructed in the area. Within a few years nearly all the stone was gone and the land was cleared for cultivation.
The govermment maintained a post office at the old Camp Grierson site from December 6, 1872, to August 4, 1880. It was called "Stone Corral". George W. Hodgson served as postmaster.
We Trail buffs regret the demise of the old Stone Corral. What a marvelous monument to the Santa Fe Trail is would have been had it been preserved for future generations to marvel at and wonder the stories the old walls could tell if left standing. Now is is all gone and scattered to the winds. Oh! It's still here but not in the same location.
However, we must keep in mind that those early settlers were a resourceful bunch of people, dedicated to surviving and building homes and communities in this raw and rough new land. They used whatever materials were available to accomplish their purpose. By 1872, the Santa Fe Trail in Rice Counry was no longer a highway of commerce, it was slowly being replaced by railroads, it was becoming obsolete. Why not use that stone as building material to meet their present needs? When one considers this viewpoint the destruction of this old and important landmark appears inevitable. So be it.
Fortunately, there are some traces of the past still in existence and some monuments that testify to the important role of the Santa Fe Trail in our nation's history and the State of Kansas. At a point five miles south of U. S. 56 highway on Plum Street on the southeast corner stands a granite Santa Fe Trail Marker. The Daughters of the American Revolution is resopnsible for the earliest and most ambitious effort to mark the Trail. There are about 100 DAR markers along the Santa Fe Trail in the State of Kansas, eight of these granite markers are in Rice County. There are three DAR markers within a mile of the Stone Corral Site location.
If you proceed west from the Plum Street Road marker, past the farm home on the south side of the road, you will approach the present day bridge over the Little Arkansas River. On the east side of the river and on the south side of the road is a sign that gives a brief history of the Stone Corral. Visible today are the grassed over remains of several trenches or breastworks which probably are the ones that were constructed by the troops in 1867.
There were two trail crossings in the Stone Corral area. The south crossing was just to the south of these trenches. A little farther south is the burial area known as "Cottonwood Grove Cemetery". The south crossing may have been just south of these trenches. This is the location where the fifteen bodies were exhumed in the 1880's. It appears the empty graves were abandoned, unfilled. The elements over the years have partially filled the graves and reduced the mounds of dirt by quite a bit. A protecitve mantle of prairie grasses now covers these shallow depressions and mounds. Back on the township road, proceed west across the bridge to the next intersection and turn north or to the right. Less than one half mile from this intersetion, on the east side of the road, is another DAR marker, probably the newest DAR marker of the entire Trail, having been placed there in 1979. To the east of this marker, between the marker and the river, the Stone Corral was located. There is no way to be sure of its exact location at this time. It appears every stone was removed.
North of this DAR marker is another bridge. To the right along the edge of the field, along the northeast riverbank, within walking distance are two large cottonwood trees. The second large tree, called the "marker cottonwood", is the site of the upper or north crossing at this location. The trail makes a quarter turn around this large cottonwood as it approached the riverbank. This "rut" is still visible deep in the ground in this day and time. The marker cottonwood is most impressive because of its large size. It has been reported that this tree was visible from quite a distance during the time the Santa Fe Trail was in use and was used as a guide point for the wagon train leaders to guide them to the upper crossing. Much of the timber along the Little Arkansas was used by the travelers for fuel but this cottonwood was spared to be used as a guide post. If it was large enough in the 1830's to the 1870's to server as a landmark is has to be one of the oldest trees in Rice County, Kansas, perhaps approaching the age of at least 200 years. This is entirely speculative, not at all scientific, but the present size of this marker cottonwood lends credibility to this theory.
Returning to the original road and proceeding west one will see another DAR marker on the south side of the road in Section 23. In the next mile on the south side of the road, on the farm of Mr. Fry, is a very interesting rock fence, something not often seen in Central Kansas. This is a prime example of dry wall construction, the same technique used in the building of the Stone Corral. The rock for this fence probably came from the same general out cropping that supplied the stone for the Stone Corral.
About ten miles west of the Little Arkansas crossing is a place called Jarvis Creek. For those wagon trains camping overnight at the Stone Corral, Jarvis Creek was probably the mid-day stop. The name 'Jarvis" is a corruption of the name "Chavez'. Don Antonio Jose Chevez, member of a prominent Spanish family of traders and merchants residing in New Mexico, was robbed and murdered in this area in 1843. The creek was named after him but in the process of becoming a written record, probably written by one unfamiliar with Spanish names, it became "Jarvis". Something that has been neglected in the past is the fact that there may have been more Mexicans from New Mexico and Chihuahua serving as merchants, wagon masters and drovers than there were Anglos. The Chavez murder threw the frontier into an uproar; it threatened to disrupt the profitable overland trade of the Santa Fe Trail. For an excellent account of the complex chain of events leading up to this murder and the investigation and trial that followed, it is highly recommend to read "Murder on the Santa Fe Trail, An International Incident, 1843, by Marc Simmons, Texas Western Press, University of Texas at El Paso. After extensive research Marc Simmons has written this book that contains the excitment and intrigue of a murder mystery as well as the most accurate and complete historical account of the incident put out to date. This is a whole story in it's self.
It has been reported that the Chavez family erected some sort of monument in the Jarvis Creek area to commemorate the death of their family member. The exact location is not on record; what happened to the monument is unknown. Some historians speculate that it may have ended up as part of the foundation of some of the structure's in the area.
From Jarvis Creek the Trail angles slightly north westward to Section 12 of Atlanta Township, then heads almost due west. Highway K14/K96 crosses the Trail at a point one and one half miles south of U. S. 56. There is one of the larger DAR granite markers on the west side of the highway at this point. The town of Atlanta was established in this area in December of 1870, and was later moved northward and renamed Lyons. The Little Cow Creek Crossing is near the center of Section 8.
The Santa Fe Trail enters what is now Center Township near the southeast corner of Section 1, then angles slightly southwest to the Cow Creek Crossing. Many incidents of historical significance took place in this area. Way more then can be put in this short article. There are enough to fill a major book. At this point only a summary of what seems the most important of the incidents will be covered. This area was also known as Beach Valley. Dr. Asahel Beach and his son Abijah established a supply ranche here in the 1850's. In addition to supplying feed for livestock and garden vegetables in season, the Beaches also built smoke houses and cured buffalo meat for eastern markets. Perhaps the best known surviving feature of the Cow Creek Crossing area is Buffalo Bill's Hand Dug Well. The well, with a DAR marker to the north of it is still there serving as a monument to all those who took part in the human drama during that period of nearly sixty years when the Santa Fe Trail was the most important highway of commerce in the nation. The well was nearly wiped out a number of years ago when a road improvement project was under way. It was saved by the timely action of several local historians.
William Mathewson, the original Buffalo Bill, established a trading post near the Cow Creek Crossing in 1853. A very young William F. Cody worked for Mathewson and also became known as Buffalo Bill. He later became well known as a performer in his own Wild West Show, which performed throughout the United States and much of Europe.
Among the several confilicts with Indians was the attack on the trading post by a group of Kiowas in the early 1860's. Captain Charles Christy gives an account of this in his personal memoirs. Christy writes; "About a hundred and fifty yards above the post the creek was spanned by a bridge eight feet wide and thirty feet long." The Kiowas were defeated at this bridge by four men using a "six pounder cannon" and carbine rifles. According to Christy the four men were "Hurricane Bill", "Bronco Sam", Bill Mathewson and Christy. Christy fails to positively identify Hurricane Bill and Bronco Sam. I have found some information on Hurricane Bill in an excellent book by the late Horace Jones, Up From the Sod Horace Jones, Up From the Sod. Huricane Bill is described as "Big, tough, powerful and fast as lighting with a pistol".
Early in the summer of 1864 a supply train of 80 wagons, 500 mules and oxen and 100 men were pinned down in a six day siege by a group of 600 Indians. This wagon train had been organized at Fort Leavenworth and was loaded with military supplies destined for Fort Union. The big attraction for the Indians was the 96 high quality mules being used to pull some of the wagons. The wagon train had crossed Cow Creek and camped in a good grazing area just west of the stream, with wagons in the usual horseshoe formation. The night passed without incident but at daybreak, July 18, the warning shout of a sentinel brought the entire crew into action. A band of aproximately 600 Indians came galloping out of the southwest with war whoops intended to stampede the animals and cause them to break out of the enclosure. Since this was a military supply train they were well supplied with arms and ammunition. The critical item was water. By the fourth day of the siege the men began digging a well. Fortuately the battleground was near enough to the creek that water from seepage was found at a depth of about ten feet. After six days the Indians gave up and departed. The wagon train remained in that area three more days because of the possibility of an ambush. Ironically, at the crossing of the Cimarron River ten days later, a small band of Indians succeeded in stampeding and capturing the prized mules.
Perhaps the bloodiest incident in the area occurred in the summer of 1864. The wagon train involved belonged to H. C. Barrett who had had some difficulties recruiting enough men. The Civil War and the knowledge that the Indians were especially active that year discouraged many from joining up. Many of those who did agree to join this wagon train were mere boys. Among them was a seventeen year old named Robert McGee.
This was another military supply train organized at Fort Leavenworth and headed for Fort Union. Because of the high risk of Indian problems a detachment of troops accompanied the wagon train. They arrived at Cow Creek without incident and after camping overnight the wagons broke camp and departed earlier than the troop detachment. There seemed no eminent danger and the military escort expected to catch up with the train a short time later. During that brief unguarded period 150 painted Sioux led by Chief Little Turtle swept in to attack the wagon train. The troops heard the sound of the battle in the distance and rushed to the site to find wreckage of the caravan and scalped and mutilated bodies scattered about. In doing the gruesome task of removing the bodies for burial it was discovered that two men were still alive. One of them died later, the other, Robert McGee, survived in spite of the fact that he had been scalped and also had several serious body wounds. McGee recovered and lived to a ripe old age.
There may have been more than one Cow Creek Crossing but the presence of rocks in the stream bed convinces people that the main crossing was just south of the present bridge and very near the west end of the bridge. When the water level of the creek was low in 1980 the rocks were visible from the bridge and the bank of the creek.
From Cow Creek the Trail proceeds west to southwest crossing the sections of 11, 10, 9, and 8 of Center Township. Near the east side of the Sharpe farm, the northwest quarter of section 8, Center Township, a short segment of the Santa Fe Trail can still be seen. This is a small acreage of native sod that has never been touched by the plow, so says Mr. Sharpe. One day when on a research trip and immediately after a cutting of prairie hay had just been taken from the field, four ruts not to deep showed up quite well.
The Santa Fe Trail leaves this farm and cuts across the southwest corner of section 6. The Chase/Alden county blacktop crosses the Trail about nine tenths of a mile south of U.S. 56 Highway. On the west side of the blacktop, is another DAR marker. I believe the barn on this farm is sitting on the Trail as it travels through the farmstead. In this area the Trail begins angling toward the northwest, enters Raymond Township in section one and cuts across the northeast corner of section two.
On the northeast quarter of section two of Raymond Township there was once a water well. It was said to have been there in the 1920's and had assumed there had been a home at this location also. A Mr. Linville of Lyons, whose parents once owned this farm, tells of the well. He also stated that the well was there before the first settlers arrived in the area. This was a hand dug well, lined with wood rather than the usual rock, with a wooden structure above the surface of the ground that would have provided a place to hook a well pulley. This was the most used system for the open well. By use of a bucket, a rope and the well pulley one drew water from the well. The location of the well was near the trail and just east of the small drainage channel that angles from the southwest to the northeast. One can only speculate as to the origin of this well. Some group of travelers must have needed water urgently at some time in the past. Something must have detained them more than one day so that the only solution to the water problem was to dig a well at the campsite. Its origin is another of the Santa Fe Trail mysteries that needs to have farther research done to determine its scource.
U.S. 56 Highway crosses the Trail about two and one tenth miles west of the Chase/Alden blocktop. The highway also crosses the drainage channel just mentioned at this point. On the north side of U.S. 56, in the Sieker pasture or the southwest quarter of section 35, of Pioneer Township, two ruts can be seen. The Trail is headed due northwest, directly toward a small metal building. Close examination cause one to believe there were originally four ruts here, one on either side of the ruts presently visible. These may have been obliterated by highway construction and the building of an oil field lease road in the area. The most prominent feature here is the high ridge between the two ruts, you will have to look real close on these.
In the northeast quarter of section 34, Pioneer Township, the Santa Fe Trail takes a more westerly direction. Along the west side of this quarter, known to local residents as the McGuire farm, trail ruts are faintly visible. It was on the next quarter, the northwest quarter of section 34, that the Plum Buttes Massacre occurred. This is the farm on which the grandparents of Ralph Hathaway, John L. and Mary E. Hathaway, filed a homestead claim in 1878. While breaking sod on the northeast forty acres of this quarter John L. Hathaway and his sons plowed up a pistol, a watch, pieces of hardware from burned out wagons and bits of broken ironstone china, grim evidence that some group of travelers had met with some sort of tragedy at this location. The early settlers were quite aware of the Santa Fe Trail but it apears their attitude, like that of early settlers in the Stone Corral area, was that the Trail was of the forgotten past. It probably ceased to be used in this area as a trail of commerce some time in 1872, that was the year the Santa Fe Railway reached the town of Great Bend, some miles to the west. By this time the trail was only used to get from one place to another not the trail of commerce it once was.
Therefore most of the ruts slowly disappeared as cultivation progressed over the years. It remaind for us trail buffs, some of them two generations later, to revitalize the intrest and intrigue of the Trail and other historic treasures of the State of Kansas.
Prior to 1985 there was very little reliable information concerning the Plum Butes Massacre that could be found. The only written record of this tragedy that could be located was in Rice County, 1876, written by a John M. Muscott and published in the Rice County Gazette of Sterling, Kansas, edited and reprinted in 1976. The following quotation from Muscott's account reads like this; "Report says that a train of emigrants was broken up near the Plum Buttes in '63 and I learned through William McGee, who lives on section 34, range 10, the south part of Farmer Township, about two miles from the Buttes, that the trail runs through his section, and since his settlement there in April 1874, he found on that section broken and partly burned wagons parts, plows, barrels, tubs, boxes and earthenware; and for miles around lay scattered unworn boots and shoes, crisped by prairie fires and the scorching sun, with other articles everything denoting the palce to have been the scene of a general massacre, as a row of graves was visible for some years after near this spot.
Prior to the arrival of Ralph Hathaway's grandparents there was a "squatter" living on this farm. This must have been the William McGee mentioned by Muscott. The legal description is correct and this was Farmer Township at that time. A short time later several township lines were revised and the southwest part of Farmer Township became Pioneer Township. The graves mentioned were never found during the over one hundred years the Hathaway family has operated the farming operation in the area.
In 1985 a great deal of additional information on the massacre came to light from trail buffs, historian and the author Marc Simmons of Cerrillos, New Mexico. The information that was obtained from Aaron and Ethel Armstrong of Roswell, New Mexico was also very helpful in understanding this massacre. This was in the form of memoirs of two people who were involved; one was the trader Franz Huning and the other is Captain Charles Christy who had been stationed at Fort Zarah, Kansas. The two accounts do not agree on every detail but both are rather specific in the geographical location. Captain Christy places the year as 1866 whereas Franz Huning's memoirs include copies of letters to his wife, which place the time of the massacre to have been September 9, 1867. Of course neither of these agree with Muscott's date of 1863, but it is believed Huning's record of the date to most likely to be correct, historians in the area have accepted that date as being correct.
Franz Huning was one of many traders hauling merchandise over the Santa Fe Trail in the 1860's. His home was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, his wife Ernestine having moved there in 1863. Prior to this paticular trip he had gone to Dayton, Ohio, to bring his mother in law and her youngest son, Fritz, to Junction City, Kansas, where his wagon train was to be assembled. These relatives were to accompany him west and they intended to make there home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The wagon train traveled south from Junction City some thirty miles and "struck" the Santa Fe Trail at a place called Lost Springs.
Huning says in his memoirs that he was apprehensive about the danger of Indian attacks in the area between Cow Creek and the Big Bend of the Arkansas River, and had hoped to have a military escort as far as Fort Zarah. There were troops stationed at the Little Arkansas Crossing and Huning tells of requesting a military escort from "Captain Burns". This was probably Captain Edward Byrne of the 10th Cavalry who was in charge of colored troops stationed there in 1867. This adds considerable credibility to 1867 as being the year of the Plum Buttes Massacre. Huning's request was refused, a situation that irked him very much because he had noticed; "two of his company teams, with one of the wagons full of Negro wenches and the other one with an escort for said wenches besides some horsemen. They were bound on a pleasure excursion to a creek about ten or twelve miles away to hunt plums! The Captain had plenty of men to spare to escort his wenches on a plum hunt, but to protect the lives and property of the travelers he had none." Huning's further remarks in his memoirs reflect considrable anger toward Captain Byrne because of this refusal to provide military escort for his wagon train.
Huning accurately establishes the point of attack as being near Plum Buttes; "About midways between Cow Creek and the Big Bend of the Arkansas and about fifteen miles from Fort Zarah, twenty five miles from Little Arkansas and about thirty five miles from Fort Harken, this Harken in his memiors is probably Fort Harker, the present site of Kanopolis, Kansas. Huning further states that the attacking party appeard to be members of three tribes: Cheyenne, Kiowas and Arapahoes. His discription of the attack is described as this; "I was riding ahead of the train when all at once one of the teamsters at the rear end of the train called, Indians, Indians! At first I could not see them on account of a dense growth of high sunflowers along the road and as they made no noise in the grass and soft sandy soil.
"They were coming from the rear or the left side of the wagon train. (This would have been from the southeast, probably from behind a small hill that is in the McGuire Pasture, this is in the northeast quarter of Section 34, Pioneer Township). Ahead rode the chief on a gray horse, (this was in all proablity not a chief but just the leader of this group of renagade Indians), and probably about 10 more on horseback, then followed about 100 more on foot. As soon as I saw them I jumped off the mule I was riding and with my Spencer rifle ran towards the train. When I reachd the second or third wagon I stopped and shot at the chief. This shot divided them into two parties; one swept through the center of the train driving four wagons, the barouche (carriage) and the amblance with the old lady and her son off the road until they stalled in the deep sand, about 200 yards off the road.
"The other party rushed at the head of the train, but the lead teamster stuck to his lead lines and so they only got the loose mules, my riding mule with the saddle, this though came back to the train. As soon as the Indians cut through the train I ran through it myself trying to to get another shot at them, but could not, because the loading apparatus of my Spencer had got jammed."
In his memoirs Franz Huning says that his harrowing experience caused him to be quite "bewildered". He felt the urge to charge the Indians and do what he could to defend his relatives but he was aware also of the overwhelming odds and his shortage of ammunition at the moment. "Now we ran our remaining wagons together for protection. And even then if the Indians had then made a charge on us, we would certainly all have been killed. Such anguish as I then suffered I had never experienced in my life. To stand there and look on, was terrible.
"In an incredibly short time they emptied the wagons of their contents and loaded the captured mules with them. Some barrels of whiskey they set on end, stove in the heads and set fire to them.
"I saw a big crowd in one place with much noise and laughter and then a pistol shot. I knew that they were gathered around my unfortunate relatives and that pistol shot killed the old lady. The boy having been killed at the first onset, as one of the teamsters told me.
"As soon as the Indians had left with their booty and when they had started a fierce fire in the grass, we also left with the remaining wagons as quickly as possible to get out of the way of the fire. It was just before sunset and we traveled until midnight when we arrived at a trading station at the big bend of the Arkansas.
After a very late supper Franz says that he and two of his men went on to Fort Zarah on the Walnut (Creek) "about ten miles away." This brings up an interesting point. This "big bend" in the Arkansas River that Huning and othr traders often referred to was not the site of present day Great Bend, Kansas, as we might be inclined to assume, but was near the southwest corner of what is now Ellinwood, Kansas. A close look at a county directory map discloses a big bend in the Arkansas River at this point. This was the next reliable source of water after leaving Cow Creek and was a favorite overnight campsite on the Santa Fe Trail.
Huning says that it was just before sunset that his regrouped wagon train left the massacre area and they arrived at the "Big Bend" about midnight. The distance involved here is nine and one half miles, that was covered in a probable four and one half hours from sunset to midnight. A bit of calculation shows this to be about 2.11 miles per hour, which is very close to the expected rate of travel for a wagon train, and they may have been in just a little hurry to get out of the area of the massacre and Indian danger. This can be added to evidence that the "Big Bend" that many travelers talk about was at or near the west edge of Ellinwood, Kansas. To have traveled to the present site of Great Bend would have added another eight miles.
At Fort Zarah, Huning asked for an escort to go back to the scene of the tragedy to check on the possibility of survivors. His request was granted, with "three or four" soldiers, Huning, and several of his teamsters returned to the scene of the massacre only to find the area so filled with smoke that there was danger of an Indian ambush. A very discouraged Huning returned to the Big Bend campground and moved his wagon train on to Fort Zarah. According to Huning's memoirs he returned the following day, this would be September 11, 1867, and was able to remove the bodies, which were buried temporarily near Fort Zarah. The next spring, on his annual trip east, Huning had the bodies moved to Ellsworth, Kansas which had become the Kansas Pacific Railroad shipping point.
Several letters to his wife were included in Huning's memoirs, however the inforamation in them does not agree with his written report. His first letter dated September 10, 1867, states that Fritz was severely injured and the mother in law suffered great mental and physical stress because of the Indian raid. His next letter two days later reported to his wife Ernestine that her mother had died, and a letter the following day reported the death of her brother. These letters carrying incorrect information were probably Huning's way of trying to break the tragic news gently to his wife and friends back home. A few days later Huning's wagon train joined another train and they proceeded westward on to Santa Fe.
Captain Charles Christy was a hunter, trapper and U. S. Governmment Scout from 1850/80. His memoirs and account of the Plum Buttes Massacre are included in a book by Marc Simmons entitled "On the Santa Fe Trail", University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. 1986.
Captain Charles Christy states that in 1866 he was a Government Scout at Fort Zarah which was located near the mouth of the Walnut Creek. He says that Fort Zarah was more of a stage station than a fort, and rarely had more than fifteen or twenty soldiers stationed there. These soldiers acted as escorts for stage coaches and freight wagons and they came and went each day, so the number of soldiers there varied from day to day.
"One day a man by the name of Frank Hunig (Franz Huning) rode into Fort Zarah with the startling announcement that a band of two hundred Cheyennes had surprised his party at Plum Buttes, Hunig had made his escape and had come to the fort for assistance." It appears there were no saddle horses available so a small detachment of Infantry started marching toward Plum Buttes. The Commandant ordered Christy "to get to the scene as quickly as possible".
"I harnessed four of the fastest mules to an ambulance, and taking with me for my fighting partner a little Mexican named Roma, we started for the Buttes on a keen jump. We left the soldiers to follow after us on foot as best they might." Arriving at the massacre scene east of Plum Buttes Christy says they came upon a "Dreadful sight". There was evidence of a terrific struggle, blood stained articles from the wagon were strewn about and the wagon had been burned. The body of the teamster, "scalped and hacked in a horrible manner", was found near the wagon and the bodies of Huning's mother in law and her son were among the wreckage, so mutilated that Christy thought these to be the bodies of two women.
Christy and his helper loaded the three bodies into the ambulance and started for Fort Zarah. They had gone scarcely a mile when a group of mounted Indians came galloping toward them, firing and yelling as they came. Christy urged the mules to do their best as his helper crawled to the back of the ambulance, sat astride the bodies and began firing his carbine at the Indians. Christy and Roma were able to hold the Indians off and after a chase of about four miles and dust from the marching soldiers could be seen in the distance, the Indians gave up the chase.
Christy states the massacre of the Hunings was the work of a band of "Dog Soldiers" gathered from various tribes and headed by Charlie Bent, the half breed outlaw son of William Bent of Bent's Fort in Colorado. "The dog soldiers were the worst renegades the troops had to fight against on the plains. They were Indians who had been kicked out of there villages by their own tribes for various offences. They were always more blood thirsty than the ordinary Indian."
David Lavender has written an excellent historical account of the Bent Brothers, Charles and William, and their business partner, Ceran St. Vrain, who established a trading post near the present site of La Junta, Colorado, known as Bent's Fort. Mr. Lavender describes the bitterness Charlie Bent felt toward both the Indian and the Anglo. At one time he became so enraged he returned to Bent's Fort with the intention of killing his own father. Fortunately, the elder Bent was away from the fort at that time. I think James Mitchner must have thouroghly researched Mr. Lavender's book before writing his book, "Centennial". There are many parallels between some of Mitchner's characters and the real life characters that were actually involved in Bent's Fort. It appears that Charlie Bent and his band of renegades roamed a big share of the counrty between the Little Arkansas and the Rocky Mountains. It is amazing the distances they covered. Christy's memoirs indicate that he had had many unpleasant experiences with "dog soldiers". His involvement with the Plum Buttes massacare is an example of the complexity of our area history. The two accounts of the Plum Buttes Massacre leave us feeling uncertain as to who actually removed the bodies from the massacre site, Hunning or Christy? This is a question that may remain unanswered until more evidence can be brought to the surface in years to come.
West of the massacre area, in the northwest forty of the Hathaway homestead are some of the most pronounced and fine Santa Fe Trail ruts to be found along the full length of the Santa Fe Trail. These have become know among trail buffs and historians as "Ralph's Ruts". This forty acres has been saved from the plow because Ralph's grandfather discovered it was to sandy to become satisfactory crop land. Having been left in the native sod the ruts have been well preserved. One unique feature of these ruts is that there are seven, instead of the four that you find at most rut sites. This is probably due to the sandy soil at this location. The ruts became so deep and the layer of loose sand offered so much rolling resistance to the wagon wheels that from time to time some of the drivers simply moved over to one side and made a new path parallel to the others.
The trail ruts are still present for another one half mile on the farm owned by the Kern family, the northeast quarter of Section 33 of Pioneer Township. These ruts were somewhat disturbed by oil development back in the 1930's and do not show up like some of the ruts. They do not show up well from the Bushton/Raymond County blacktop, the ruts are definitely Santa Fe Trail ruts and can be seen if you walk the area.
Farther west on the northeast quarter of Section 32 in a pasture owned by the Ringwald family are some very good trail ruts. Toward the west end of this pasture there is a ridge running north and south. Several trail ruts converge to cross this ridge. Almost sixty years of trail travel has worn a wide notch in this ridge, some refer to it as the "gunsight" notch. Two very deep ruts on the east slope of this ridge are especially impressive. On the west side of this ridge the several ruts appear again. Directly north of this on the north side of the present county road, in a pasture owned by the Bayer family there are many small grassed over sand dunes. This is on the south half of Section 29 of Pioneer Township. This was the site of three tall sand dunes called "Plum Buttes". They acquired this name from the fact that there were wild plum bushes growing around their bases in trail days.
Hobert E. Stocking, in his book The Road to Santa Fe, describes Plum Buttes: "Twelve miles west of Cow Creek and the site of Quivira rose Plum Buttes. There were three and in mid summer the thickets which grew on and about them provided plums for many transients, including coyotes and wolves. They were not buttes in the topographic sense; rather they were unusually high sand dunes standing perhaps a hundred feet above the prairie. Long, long ago winds sweeping eastward across the great North Bend of the Arkansas had mobilized the rock debris, moved it from the floodplain and heaped it in dunes out on the prairie. Also long ago, their slow migration had been tempoarily halted by brush and grass on them, springing up after some mild wet winter and damp spring. They were there when the first wagon passed but soon after the last, by some whim of weather, nature and wind erosion began their reduction".
Plum Buttes was an important landmark for travelers of the Santa Fe Trail; they could be seen immediately after crossing Cow Creek. In all this distance, as with much of the plains, there was not a single tree to obstruct the view. Ralph Hathaway's father, was born on this farm in 1882, told Ralph that the Buttes, although reduced in size, were still quite prominent when he was a boy. One in particular was easily seen when looking westward. Ultimately they were destroyed by the same force that built them, the Kansas wind. Remaining is the wide notch in the Ringwald pasture, a very impressive sight to trail buffs to see and marvel at. Like Pawnee Rock in Barton County, one can only see what Plum Buttes might have been in one's mind.
From Plum Buttes the Trail appears to have gone almost due west for about five miles. The DAR marker that is now in Ralph Hathaway pasture was originally at the intersection just west of Plum Buttes. I know of no actual ruts still visible that would confirm the exact route of the Santa Fe Trail as it enters Barton County. A fellow trail buff, Mr Stephen, who lives on the northwest quarter of Section 32, Lakin East Township, Barton County, feels certain that the trail angled to the southwest across his farm, and also across the present site of Ellinwood, Kansas to the "Big Bend" of the Arkansas River. A DAR marker in the southwest part of Ellinwood confirms that the Trail was in this vicinity. This marker is on the north side of Santa Fe Boulevard (U.S. 56 highway) near the United Methodist Chrch. Fredric pointed out the location of the campground which lays south of U.S. 56 highway and west of the west line of Ellinwood.
The following intresting information is from the Elliinwood Leader Twentieth Century Souvenir copy, Volume VIII, Number 40, Ellinwood, Kansas, Thursday, December 19, 1901.
"The Authentic history that comes down to us particulary describing what is now Lakin Township, does not go farther back then the establishment of the old Stanta Fe Trail in the early years of 1800. It seems quite certain that the Spaniard, Coronado, and his adverturous expeditions journeyed through this township. The space and time to describe these expeditions, nor how this part of the Great American Desert appeared to them is just not there. Suffice it to say now that for more that eight years the history of this vicinity is clear and very lengthy.
The north bank of the Arkansas river at the west side of Ellinwood was the objective point on the old Trail from the Cow Creek Crossing on account of water and fuel. In 1820 there was already an island, heavily timbered with cottonwood only. The main channel was then along the north bank and on the south side of the river in the bends was quite a forest with some hardwood trees. Then there were quite considerable bodies of heavy timber all along the river. The flood of 1844 verged the main channel away from the north bank, but as late as 1872 the channel north of the island was part of the main channel.
The greatest flood in recorded times in these parts was in 1844, occasioned by extorordianry supply of mountain water in the river and the heaviest long continued downpours of rain ever known in the great plains country. In May of that year all the present town site of Ellinwood was buried many feet under water, except the knolls on the south half of the town site. A freight caravan was water bound on the hills northwest of Ellinwood some two weeks and obtained their wood supply from now Dalziel grove by floating it across the Little Cheyenne Creek. During the early part of the last century Dalziel grove was large in extent and was the most considerable body of timber in this part of Kansas. Prairie fires during the 50's greatly reduced it and timber cutting in the 60's and early 70's did the rest. The most ancient tradition does not account any trees along the Little Cheyenne Creek.
The Santa Fe Trail approached the north bank of the river on the west line of Ellinwood just west of the Wolf's residence and orchard, near where the Iten's house now is (1901). The point of contact was one of the favorite camping places on the Santa Fe Trail. During the 50's and 60's ranches of supply were maintained there, earlier the supply posts were exclusively at the Walnut Crossing some seven miles west. Burial of most of the bodies of people that had passed away on the trail after crossing Cow Creek were intended to be made at Walnut Crossing but ofttimes bodies were buried on reaching the river here at the Big Bend Campsite. Probably more than one hundred persons were, soon or later buried near the junction of the west section of Ellinwood and the north river bank. Their bodies were coffinless, their funerals prayerless and their graves unmarked. The fatality on the old Santa Fe Trail, especially during cholera times, was large. The three Santa Fe Trail graveyards in Barton County are located near the west line of Ellinwood, east of the Walnut Crossing, and at Pawnee Rock point.
No considerably battle between white men and Indians ever occurred in now Lakin township but there were several small skirmishes in the vicinity of Ellinwood. A massacre occurred during the 60's on the old Harker/Zarah trail where it swung around the bluffs northwest of town. A haying outfit in the late 60's was attacked near the river west of Iten, by Indians and part of the outfit was killed. From about the Johnson's farm all the way to Great Bend and again at Pawnee Rock Point was the "Dark and bloody ground" in Barton County along the Old Trail.
Along the river southwest and southeast of town was a favorite locality for Indian Villages in winter time from time immemorial down to 1872.
All writers describing the Santa Fe Trail from 1820 down to the permanent settlement, refer to the multitudes of buffalo in the vicinity. Their great numbers is beyond belief of the young people of this day. And the number of ravens, like small crows, were innumerable, but they belonged to the buffalo era and disappeared with them.
Bears were greatly numerous until during the 50's. The gray wolf abounded and coyotes, still common, were to be seen everywhere. Antelope were so common as not to be noticed. deer were common until during the early 70's and so were elk until in the early 50's. Beaver were plentiful along the river as late as 1871/72. Other fur animals were common as late as 1871 along the river. Old time writers describe this region as abounding in animal life but birds were scarce save the raven. The prairie rattlesnake and the prairie dog were innumerable until the settlement of the country. Wild horses were plentiful in this neighborhood down to 1868/70. They were common in the west part of the state ten years later.
All travelers who wrote descriptions of this vicinity from 1820 to 1840 agree that the south side of the river was destitute of vegetation. August 9, 1820, a traveler records: The chief produce of these tracts of unmixed sand is the sunflower, often the dense and almost exclusive occupant.
Josiah Gregg on May 30, 1831, over a hundred fifty years ago, thus describes what is now Lakin township, while standing on the bulffs northwest of Ellinwood; "The landscape presents an imposing and picturesque appearance. Beneath a ledge of wave like yellow sandy ridges and hillocks spreading far beyond, descends the majestic river, averaging at least a quarter of a mile wide". What a lovely real estate agent he might have been in later times!
The distance from the Little Arkansas River to the big Arkansas River was at best, two days travel for a wagon train. Actually, each day's run would be about 18 miles. Somewhere around fifteen miles per day was the average. To make it from watering place to watering place must have necessitated getting an early start and traveling well into the late afternoon or early evening. Water, of course, was essential. In The Commerce of the Prairies, Josiah Gregg wrote that it was "an unfailing rule with us to carry in each wagon a five gallon keg always filled with water". This would take care of the human needs but would not go far in watering the six or more animals pulling each wagon. It was common practice on the trail to reach a source of water each day and to camp near a supply of water whenever possible.
Although many of the ruts and sites of the old trail are no longer visible, it is possible to follow fairly closely the route from the Little to the Big Arkansas. The evidence that remains is impressive: the "Marker Cottonwood," ruts, gravesites, and trenches at the Little Arkansas; Buffalo Bill's well at Cow Creek; ruts on several farms between Cow Creek and Plum Buttes, including those on the Hathaway farm; remnants of the Plum Buttes; the "big bend" of the Arkansas; and others. The history of adventure on this section of the trail, as with other parts of the route from Missouri to New Mexico, forms a part of our rich heritage, which deserves to be preserved and interpreted for generations to follow.
In later study and research of this part of the country other places and information has came to light. In many cases this included facts told to residents of the county by their parents or by early owners of certain farm or pieces of ground. Several of the local Santa Fe Trail buffs were led to the probable site of the Jarvis Creek crossing by the present owner of that farm. This crossing is very near the center of Section 17 of Wilson Township. There is a very pronounced swale there that bars all the characteristics of a creek crossing. We cannot say with certainty that this is the crossing but there is little evidence to dispute this theory. Also of note is a large cottonwood tree, not as large as the "Marker Cottonwood" at the Little Arkansas Crossing several mile to the east of this location, but large enough to have been there when the Santa Fe Trail was in use as a highway to the west in trail days. The exact site of the murder of Don Antonio Jose Chavez in 1843 will probably always remain a mystery as will the fate of the commemorative monument placed at or near the scene of the tradedy by his family.
Another point of intrest is the discovery of what a group of "Rice County trail buff's" believes to be two difinite trail ruts in a pasture in the southwest quarter of Section 10, Wilson Township. It is felt forsure that they have been noticed before, but there is no written record of them to be found. These ruts can be seen from the intersection at the southwest corner of Section 10 by those trail buffs who know just what it is they are looking at.
The exact location of the Cow Creek crossing has always been uncertain, was it to the north or south of the present bridge that is near the Buffalo Bill's Well? Mr. Tappan, responding to a narrative that was put out for information, he came forth with an offer to guide several people to the spot. He pointed out a shallow depression in the west creek bank just south of and very near the present bridge location. This is the location his mother pointed out to him when he was a boy. The old channel just north of the road was his favorite fishing hole. The sign of the trail crossing is very faint and there are now several small trees growing from it. The crossing would never have been recognized as a crossing without the help of Mr. Tappan and his memory. More evidence that this is the location of the crossing was when He pointed out rocks in the bottom of the stream. Just as with the Little Arkansas Crossing, rocks had been placed in the muddy bottom of the stream. This was done to prevent the wagons from becoming mired down in the mud as they crossed the stream. When the water level of Cow Creek is low these rocks can be seen from the bridge.
The location of the east cutdown for the crossing is probably directly under the present bridge. In preparation for the building of this bridge the channel of the creek was straightened. If there were any signs of the crossing on the east bank of Cow Creek they would have been wiped out by the bridge or the straighting of the creek.
Where did the rocks in the creek bed, and also those used to line Buffalo Bill's Well, come from? The nearest natural outcropping is on the Loesch farm east of Raymond, about ten miles from the Cow Creek crossing. Another source of rock, it the outcropping near the Little Arkansas Crossing, this location is much farther away, about 17 miles, but would seem less likely to have been the source for the rock bottom.
Mr. Tappan stated that he was told that the probable location of William Mathewson's trading post was north of the east end of the present bridge and about midway between the creek and an oil well pumping unit now located at this location. This would place the trading post a few hundred yards from the well. (Not all historians agree on the location of Mathewson's trading post, a subject to be looked at a little later.) On the slope to the northeast there were some entrenchments probably used for defense of the area during those times when troops were stationed there. Mr. Tappan told us that these were still visible until the 1940's when the virgin sod was broken and turned into crop land for farming.
According to Captain Charles Christy the toll bridge which once spanned Cow Creek was located about 150 yards above the Trading post. So far no one has found a clue as to the exact location of the bridge.
Returning to the trading post location, Buffalo Bill's well and the source of rock question we will look at what Rice County historian Horace Jones says in his book, Up From the Sod. Both William Cody and William Mathewson are quoted as saying they dug the well. A few local persons who have studied the situation a bit more closely believe they have the answer. They believe that neither man actually dug it but that either or both may have helped and perhaps used it later. Pure logic would lead to such a conclusion.
The well is on the east bank of the stream. Mathewson's ranch and trading post were on the west side. Also on the east bank was once an establishment of U. S. Army known as Cow Creek Station. The exact number of troops stationed there at any given time is not known but there must have been quite a few because the installation included a sutler's store, blacksmith shop, barracks and parade ground, also at this location a wooden bridge once spanned the creek. (Probably the same bridge mentioned by Captain Christy.)
No stone suitable for the well would have been available closer than ten to seventeen miles. One or two men might have dug the well and walled it but one would have had to be a stonemason and they would have needed to travel far, to quarry the rock, dress it and haul it back to this location. This would not have been a likely undertaking for anyone who had potable water close at hand in the stream as Mathewson had, but it would have been for the Army with it need to keep idle soldiers busy when they were not in use protecting the trail.
In the light of that reasoning it would appear that it was really the Army's well, but that Cody and or Mathewson both may have helped with its construction at some time.
Mathewson was no doubt at the place more of the time than the troops, who came and went as Indian trouble demanded. He may have used the well when they were not there and Trail travelers may have come to associate it with him more than they did the military who were there only part of the time. Whatever the excact circumstances, it was "Buffalo Bill's Well" when the first settlers arrived in 1871 and it still is known by this name to this day. Visitors are left to marvel at the existence of such a feature, "in the middle of nowhere" more than a century ago, but they can be supplied with only a fraction of the details they would desire because none has been left for us to study.
As in any research project there are more questions than answers brought into the picture! The best source of information that one can use in confidence has been written down by both Horace and Paul Jones. They were thorough in their research and these two men had the opportunity to discuss first hand the history of Rice County with many of the "Old Timers" who had witnessed the making of history during those years when the Trail was in use. One can believe the site on the east side of Cow Creek which some believe to be the location of the Mathewson trading post was actually the site of the sutler's store. More than one historian and source has said that Mathewson's ranch and trading post were on the west side of Cow Creek.
Where did the rocks that were used in lining the well and improving the creek crossing come from? It seems logical that they were hauled from the outcropping east of present day Raymond, Kansas since that would have been the nearest source.
Who dug and lined the well? Since this was no small undertaking it seems logical that army personnel, Mathewson and Cody all had a part in the construction of the well. That would account for both Mathewson and Cody having a claim in the well. It was generally referred to as Buffalo Bill Mathewson's well, probably because he spent more time at the Cow Creek Crossing than any other individual that was associated with the crossing.
It is believed that both men earned the title of "Buffalo Bill", Mathewson was the original or you might say the first "Buffalo Bill". In 1860 he hunted buffalo to supply meat to settlers of Eastern Kansas whose cattle herds had been reduced by adverse weather. Then in 1867 Cody was hired by the Kansas Pacific railroad to hunt buffaloes to feed the construction gang then working in the Ellsworth, Kansas area. Cody went on to become well known both Nationally and Internationally because of his Wild West Shows but Mathewson was the original "Buffalo Bill".
While recently on a research trip, we took a walking tour of the Ringwald pasture, south of the Plum Buttes site, it was discovered that there are ruts there that are even more profound and dramatic than "Ralph Hathaway's Ruts". Their actual depth is not detected when one views them from the county road. Walking this area one will find where there are two very deep ruts up the east slope of the ridge, these ruts gives one a whole new concept of the volume of traffic that obviously traveled the Santa Fe Trail Trail during its almost 60 years as a highway of commerce to Santa Fe.
The November, 1988, issue of Wagon Tracks Newsletter, carries information on another trail crossing, an Arkansas River Crossing in Rice County. Donald J. Blankeslee, Professor of Anthropology at Wichita State University, is especially interested in Indian Trails throughout the Great Plains. In his article, "The Rattlesnake Creek and Walnut Creek Crossings of the Arkansas", he says that William Becknell probably crossed the Arkansas near the mouth of the Rattlesnake Creek on his second trading mission in 1822. "The crossing at the mouth of the Rattlesnake Creek was in use as early as 1601 and provided a ford of the river for a trail that led south into present Oklahoma and east to the present Kansas City area". Mr. Blakeslee says that in 1602 a Plains Indian named Miguel was taken to Mexico by Spanish explorer Juan de Onate and his expedition. Miguel drew a crude map for the Spaniards that depicts Quiviran and other settlements in what are now Kansas and Oklanoma. "The Miguel map shows a north/south trail that runs from the Great Salt Plain in Oklahoma past the Great Salt Marsh (now the Quivira Game Refuge) in Stafford County, Kansas to the Arkansas River and then northeast to a village name Tancoa. The later is presumably one of the Quiviran settlements visited by Coronado in the vicinity of Lyons, Kansas. A second map showing the crossing was published by Zebulon Montgomery Pike. It reflects information gathered during his 1806 expedition through Kanasas. It is this map that William Becknell might have used in 1822. While Becknell was credited both with opening the Santa Fe Trail and with discovering the Cimarron Cutoff, both trails were many years old by the time Becknell followed them. In fact all trails in the State of Kansas were at one time just old Indian Trails. They may have been modified as far as the routes go a little, just to accomadate the wagons that used them but they all followed these old Indian Trails that were already there.
At the Coronado/Quivira Museum in Lyons, Kansas, a large Rice County map, drawn to the scale of one inch equals one mile, which shows a "Kansas Crossing Place" near the mouth of Rattlesnake Creek. This map is the excellent work of the late Parker F. Parish and is extremely accurate in every detail. This crossing is probably the same one referred to by Professor Blakeslee. All signs of this ancient crossing are now gone but it is believed to have been just east of what is now the Nielson farm near the section line of sections 19 and 20 of Valley Township.
In the book, The Santa Fe Trail by William E. Brown (The Patrice Press, St. Louis, MO, 1988 now of Tucson Arizona), it mentions an incident that probably occurred in what is now Rice County in 1822: "Becknell's company had a scrape with Osage Indians on the south bank of the Arkansas." This crossing was frequently used by traveling parties of several Indian tribes, therefore it seems most likely Becknell and the Osages would meet by chance at this crossing or on this Indian trail. Author David Dary, in his book More True Tails of Old Time Kansas (University Press of Kansas) confirms that Becknell's party had trouble with a group of Osages after crossing the Arkansas in what is now Rice County.
Author, William E. Brown mentions several interesting facts relating to Becknell's second trip: Becknell left Arrow Rock, Missouri, on May 22, 1822, with twenty companions carrying $3,000 worth of trade goods in three wagons. This second expedition was noteworthy for three reasons: It was organized solely for the Santa Fe trade, no trapping or Indian trading was contemplated as was in Becknell's first trip: this second trip used wagons for the first time on the trail and it pioneered the Cimarron Cutoff between the Arkansas River and San Miguel, a shorter, more level route than the one through Raton Pass. It was in fact the true beginning of the Santa Fe Trail Trade Route to Santa Fe.
The first trip that William Becknell took was to trade with the Indians and he got lost, almost died, but was found by Mexican troops and then he was taken to Santa Fe, there Becknell did his trading of the goods he had taken with him, not with the Indians.
This excelent book by William E. Brown has been highly recommended by Marc Simmons, Past President of the National Santa Fe Trail. Brown's book and David Dary's book are both available at the Coronado/Quivira Museum.
Used With Permission of the Author:
Santa Fe Trail Research Site
"E-Mail & Home Page"
Larry & Carolyn
St. John, Ks.