Walnut Creek Ranches
on the
Santa Fe Trail

     Trading ranches along the Santa Fe Trail were important to those who traveled the route, and the history of many of these has been recorded. Louise Barry, for example, wrote about the ranches at the Little Arkansas, Cow Creek, Walnut Creek, Great Bend, and Cimarron Crossing. Ranches also were established along the connecting routes, and these are also a part of Trail History. This article looks at those established on the Fort Riley/Fort Larned Road.

     Departing Fort Riley on May 15, 1860, troops under the command of Major John Sedgwick followed the Smoky Hill River westward to present Kanopolis, Kansas. Crossing the river at that point, the column took a southwesterly course to strike the established route of the Santa Fe Trail east of Pawnee Rock. From that juncture, Sedgwick marched his men on to Camp Alert, soon to be relocated and renamed Fort Larned.

     This campaign, known as the Comanche/Kiowa Expedition, followed what became the Fort Riley/Fort Larned Road. This road, used extensively by the army during the early days of the Civil War, became the route of the Kansas Stage Company for weekly delivery of mail between Junction City and Fort Larned in 1862. In 1866, with the arrival of the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division, at Junction City, the road became both the eastern leg of the Santa Fe Trail and the route of Barlow and Sanderson Company which superseded the Kansas Stage Company with tri-weekly mail deliveries from Junction City to Santa Fe by way of Fort Larned.

     Travelers on the Fort Riley/Fort Larned Road had access at the eastern terminus to provisions at Fort Riley and nearby Junction City. To the west were the villages of Abilene and Salina; but farther west there were no towns. Several trading posts or ranches were established beyond Salina to meet the needs of those traveling this route. These were located at Walnut Creek, two miles east of present Great Bend, Kansas; Smoky Hill River, near present Kanopolis and Elm Creek, near present Bavaria, Kansas.

The Other Ranch At Walnut Creek
     En route to the mountains with two wagon loads pf trade goods in 1855, William Allison and Francis Boothe stopped at the Walnut Creek crossing on the Santa Fe Trail east of present Great Bend, Kansas. Their mules having "give out," they decided to proceed no farther. They unloaded their wagons and began to sell the merchandise to passing travelers and Indians. Such was the genesis of the well-documented ranche at Walnut Creek. Subsequent to Allison and Boothe, the ranche was operated by a series of proprietors, including George Peacock, Charles Rath, and Joseph Douglass.

     Not nearly so well known was another ranche at Walnut Creek operated by Wilhelm (William) Greiffenstein, also known as Dutch Bill. Born in Germany in 1829, he was caught up in the political unrest which swept western Europe in 1848. He was arrested for participating in a so-called railroad riot. Though cleared of the changes, he subsequently emigrated to the United States. He first settled at the German enclave of Hermann, Missouri, where he found a home with his uncle and employment in a gerneral store. The following year he moved with his uncle's family to St. Louis where he continued his trade as a clerk.

     In 1850 the young immigrant moved to Westport where he again was employed as a clerk. There he discovered opportunities for business in nearby Indian Territory, present Kansas. There, also, he became acquainted with Joe Boinett with whom he formed a partnership to open a trading establishment on the Wakarusa River near present Eudora, Kansas. The site selected for the store was a fortunate choice because the area was populated by Delawares on the north side of the river and by Shawnees on the south. Of added advantage was the nearby Wakarusa Shawnee Mission and the ferry at the confluence of the Wakarusa and Kansas rivers operated by Paschal Fish.

     Not content to follow the life of a sedentary shopkeeper, Greiffenstein left the store in his partner's hands and undertook a trading expedition, in 1852, south into present Oklahoma. Accompanied by Shawnee guides, he journeyed deep into Comanche country near the Texas border and returned to the Wakarusa pleased with his profits.

     In 1854 he sold his intrest in the store and joined a group of traders and government officials traveling to the Southwest to reconnoiter the country for the establishment of Indian reservations and trading post. He traded with Indians in New Mexico. Returning to newly-organized Kansas Terirtory, Greiffenstein situated himself west of the infant town of Topeka and engaged in trade with the Pottawatomies.

     In 1858 he was summoned back to Germany because of his father's failing health. In the subsequent year, he buried his father, settles the estate, and returned to Kansas where he resumed trade with the Pottawatomies at St. Marys, Kansas Territory, and established a headquarters for trading expeditions westward to the Cheyenne country of the Smoky Hill Valley.

     During 1859-1860 Greiffenstein became acquainted with J. R. Mead, who in the previous year had established a trading ranche on the Saline River near present Tescott, Kansas. At the time of their first meeting, Mead recalled that Greiffenstein was accompanied by a partner named Hohneck and a Cheyenne woman. Mead's reference was to Ernst Hohneck, like Greiffenstein a German immigrant. The woman was Greiffenstein's wife, Cheyenne Jenny, later to figure prominently in the sad story of Clara and Willie Blinn who were killed during George A. Custer's attack on Black Kettle's Washita village, November 27, 1868.

     In 1860 Greiffenstein dissolved his partnership with Hohneck and moved to Walnut Creek. He may have been associated with the stage company operating over the Santa Fe Trail. Mead recalled meeting him there in that year and also in 1862, when a group of Southerners returning from the gold fields of Colorado raided Salina, terriorized the citizenry, looted the stores, and drove off the stock. Continuing southwest on the Fort Riley/Fort Larned Road, the brigands raided the Farris Ranch four miles east of present Kanopolis, Kansas and the Page-Lehman Ranche at the Smoky Hill River crossing where Fort Ellsworth was later established. West of the Smoky Hill, they stopped an eastbound stage, emptied the mail sacks, drove off the mules, and left the hapless passengers afoot. recalling the incident, Mead wrote, "Among the passengers was William Greiffenstein, known on the plains as 'Dutch Bill' who had a little trading establishment on Walnut Creek."

     Robert Wright, who traversed the Santa Fe Trail in 1863, also remembered Greiffenstein at Walnut Creek. He wrote, "The ranches in those days were few and far between. Beyond the Grove were Peacock's ranch at Cow Creek, Allison's ranche at Walnut Creek and also that of William Greinffenstein with whom I afterwards had the pleasure to serve with in the house of representatives." Wright, never known for his memory, wrongly placed Peacock at Cow Creek. One hopes he was correct about Greiffenstein's presence at Walnut Creek.

     Matt Thomson, who was at Walnut Creek in 1864, wrote, "we were in camp at the upper crossing of the Walnut at which point Dutch Bill had located a small trading post." Thomson went on to relate that Phil Block, an associate of Grieiffenstein, married to Cheyenne Jenny's sister, warned him to "break camp and don't stop this side of the Smoky Hill. The Indians are going on the warpath." Thomson and his party, heeding Block's warning, fled northward beyond the Smoky Hill River where they were joined by a stock tender employed at the stage station located at Greiffenstein's ranche. His news? Block's prediction had proved true. The Indians had struck.

     Other accounts described the 1864 depredation in some detail, especially that of Louise Barry in her well-researched article, "The Ranch at Walnut Creek Crossing." Ariving at Walnut Creek on May 16, a small band of Cheyennes warned Charles Rath, then proprietor of the ranche originally established by Allison and Boothe, that others of their tribe, not so well disposed, were headed in his direction. Taking Rath's Cheyenne wife, Making Out Road, they made a hasty departure. Rath loaded his trade goods on a passing caravan and stayed to wait out the storm. The following day Rath watched helplessly from the roof of his store as Cheyennes drove away stock belonging to Postmaster John Dodds, the stage company, and himself.

     The Cheyennes continued east on the Santa Fe Trail to the Curtis-Cole Ranche near present-day Ellinwood, Kansas. There they drove off the stock and warned Frank Cole that they intended to kill every white man on the road to Santa Fe. Turning north, the Cheyennes proceeded to the Cow Creek station on the Fort Riley/Fort Larned Road where they killed Suel D. Walker, a stage company employee.

     The Prater brothers, John J. and C. L., also employed at the Cow Creek station, raced to the safety of Salina. Rath and his companions retreated to Fort Larned, and Greiffenstein apparently did likewise. Troops were soon stationed at points along the Fort Riley/Fort Larned Road, including Salina, the crossing of the Smoky Hill (which became Fort Ellworth, later Fort Harker), and Walnut Creek (which became Camp Dunlap, later Fort Zarah). It may be presumed that Rath and Greiffenstein returned to their ranches when Camp Dunlap was established about mid-June. The camp was named Fort Zarah on July 28, 1864. Rath became the post sutler or trader and apparently remained there until he sold his business to Joseph W. Douglass in 1867. Greiffenstein did not remain at Walnut Creek so long, but his activites after the Cheyenne raid were more difficult to ascertain.

     The Smoky Hill and Republican Union, Junction City, July 9, 1864, reported the following: "Mr. Charles Rath has sold the Walnut Creek Ranche to Messrs. Ennis & Griffenstein....Mr. Rath has had a good trade there and made money, and we wish his successors equal success." Whether this was rumor or fact has not been determined. Whatever the correctness of the article, Greiffenstein soon left Walnut Creek. One account declared that he and Cheyenne Jenny fled to J. R. Mead's ranche on the Walnut River near present Towanda, where Greiffenstein proclamed, "He had been cleaned out by hostile Indians."

     Mead reportedly supplied Greiffenstein with trade goods, Possibly in 1865, and he set forth on a trading mission into Indian Territory. In a matter of weeks Greiffenstein was back for more merchandise. Sometime in 1865 he established a trading ranche on Cowskin Creek in present Sedgwick County, Kansas. In that year he cleared $5,000. Such success belied Mead's original estimate of the little, weak-eyed immigrant, "altogether he was the last man on earth one would suppose would ever attain fame or fortune." From that point on Greiffenstein did attain a considerable reputation and accumulated a substantial fortune. First at his Cowskin Creek Ranche near present Clearwater, Kansas, and later at his ranche near Fort Cobb in Indian Territory, Dutch Bill made his mark on the frontier.

     He earned the respect of the Indians with whom he traded, and he was a trader they trusted. Marshall Murdock, editor of the Wichita Eagle and a friend of Greiffenstein, later recalled that "there was a time when nearly every worthy Indian in this part of the country seeking aid or avoiding trouble could pull from the recesses of his blanket a dirty, crumpled letter from Bill Greiffenstein notifying the public that this was a good Indian." He was a friend of the Indian, married to a Cheyenne, which assuredly helped his trade.

     George Bent, who knew Greiffenstein and Cheyenne Jennie (who died in the fall of 1868), said of the latter, "This woman, Cheyenne Jennie, was an invalid, and always traveled in an army ambulance which her husband had bought for her. She was a fine woman and had often succeeded in recorering white captives from the Comanches, Kiowas, and other tribes. She did more good work in fostering peaceful relations between the Indians and the whites than many an official or high commissioner sent out by the government." She undoubtedly contributed to her husband's standing among the Indians.

     Military leaders, particularly General Philip H. Sheridan, held a different view of the Indian trader. After Greiffenstein moved to Indian Territory in 1867, he was suspected of trading guns to the Indians. This was probably true, but the sales may have been authorized by the Indian agency. Even so Sheridan charged Greiffenstein with selling guns to the Cheyennes, which were used for raids in Kansas and at the Battle of the Washita. Sheridan ordered the trader to leave Indian Territory, threatening to have him shot on sight.

     Greiffenstein denied the charges but fled to Kansas, leaving others to dispose of his trade goods. He filed a claim against the government for his losses and received compensation. With the money received from the claim and sale of his property, he purchased the trading post of Edwin H. Durfee near the mouth of the Little Arkansas River. There he later joined with other Indian traders, J. R. Mead, William Mathewson, and others to establish Wichita, Kansas.

     There was a delightful epilogue to the story. In 1880, when Greiffenstein was mayor of Wichita, General Sheridan visited the young town to give a speech. The two men appeared together, apparently on friendly terms, and Sheridan remarked in his address that he had provided Wichita with one of its most important founders when he exiled Greiffenstein from Indian Territory nearly a dozen years before. As Wichita historian Craig Miner observed, Sheridan "had unwittingly provided the city with one of its leading citizens, complete with the capital to get started in business." Greiffenstein was one of the leading businessmen as well as a political leader of the rising city.

     William Greiffenstein died in 1899 at age 70. He had operated trading posts at Walnut Creek, Cowskin Creek, in Indian Teritory, and at the site of Wichita, Kansas. Although details of his operation at Walnut Creek on the Fort Riley/Fort Larned Road and Santa Fe Trail are sketchy, perhaps more information about the other ranche at Walnut Creek will surface someday.

     Barry, Louise. "The Ranche at Walnut Creek Crossing" Kansas Historical Quarterly, (Summer 1971): 121-147.

     Hoig, Stan. "Jesse Chisholm: Ambassador of the Plains" Niwot, CO: University of Colorado Press, 1991.

     Hyde, George. "Life of George Bent" ed. by Savoie Lottinville. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968.

     McIsaac, Robert Hughes. "William Greiffenstein and the Founding of Wichita" Master's thesis, University of Wichita. Wichita Kansas, 1937.

     Mead, James R. "Hunting And Trading On The Great Plains 1859-1875" Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986.

     Miner H. Craig. "Wichita The Early Years, 1865-1880" Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.

     "Santa Fe Weekly Gazette" September 12, 1857.

     The Smoky Hill and Republican Union, Junction City, July 9, 1864.

     Taylor, Morris F. "First Mail West: Stagecoach Lines On The Santa Fe Trail" Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1971.

     Thomson, Matt. "Early History of Waubaunsee County, Kansas" Alma, Kansas: Matt Thomson, 1901.

     "Wichita Eagle" September 26, 1899.

     Wright, Robert M. "Personal Reminiscences of Frontier Life in Southwest Kansas" Kansas Historical Collections, 7 (1901): 47-83.
Used With Permission of the Author:
David Clapsaddle

Back to Research Articles

Santa Fe Trail Research Site

Santa Fe Trail Research Site
"E-Mail & Home Page"
Larry & Carolyn
St. John, Ks.
© "Forever"