Four Foot Soldiers on the Trail
An Illinois Odyssey

     The odyssey began with the existence of war between the United States and Mexico as announced by President James K. Polk on May 13, 1846. On the following day, Colonel Stephen W. Kearny was given the command to organize at Fort Leavenworth the Army of the West, and overland expeditionary force to be composed of the First U. S. Dragoons and volunteer units from Missouri. Subsequently, between June 6 and 27, over 1300 volunteers were assembled at Fort Leavenworth to be enlisted for a twelve-month period.[1]

     As the war wore on and spring came in 1847, Secretary of War William L. Marcy called for 6000 Missouri and Illinois volunteers to replace those whose one-year enlistment was soon to expire. Unlike the 1846 requisition, these volunteers were to serve for the duration of the war. Included in the request was one infantry regiment from Illinois. an enthusiastic response was made to Illinois Governor Augustus French's call for ten companies of infantry. No where was the enthusiasm more pronounced than at Salem, Marion County, where five companies (A, B, C, D, E) were organized in early May. Among the volunteers were Thomas Bryan Lester, 23, Co. C; James McBride Gaston, 23, Co. C; and Robert Easley, 34, Co. C, all from Marion County; also Benjamin Ladd Wiley, 26, Co. B, Williamson County.[2]

     By some good fortune, Lester, Gaston, and Wiley, all left diaries of their adventures during the days of their enlistment: Lester's Notes by the Wayside: From Fort Leavenworth to Santa Fe N. Mexico;[3] Gaston's Journal of Travels During the Mexican War;[4] and Wiley's Mexican War Diary.[5] All three diarists left accounts of Easley's death and burial at the Pawnee Fork crossing of the Santa Fe Trail on August 5-6, 1847.

     These four, a few among many, marched to Alton, Illinois, with their comrades where they were joined by other companies from throughout the state. On June 8, 1847, the ten companies were mustered into the First Illinois Volunteer infantry by Caleb C. Sibley, Fifth Regular Infantry. At that time, the volunteers elected officers of the regiment: Colonel E. W. B. Newby, Lieutenant Colonel H. P. Boyakin, and Major I. B. Donaldson.[6] Though common in volunteer units, such a practice would have never been allowed in the regular army. This is the first of several such irregularities to be recorded.

     Leaving Alton by the steamboat Amelia, Companies B and C departed up the Missouri River on June 17 en route to Fort Leavenworth with all four of the protagonists aboard. Companies A, D, and E followed on the 19th.[7] The Amelia had a regular run on the Missouri with frequent stops, among which was Arrow Rock, Missouri. The layover there was long enough for Lester to disembark and visit his sister Agnes Lester Hall who lived within 200 yards of the landing.

     The Illinois volunteers reached Fort Leavenworth before the end of June where they were joined by Missouri volunteers. In all, 2,250 officers and men were in readiness for the long march to Santa Fe.[8] There, on the 29th, Gaston reported that the First Illinois was issued "arms and accutaments (sic);" and on the 30th, Colonel Newby conducted a general inspection. On July 4, Lester described the celebration of Independence Day with Colonel Clifton Wharton's dragoons, a company of the Third Missouri Mounted volunteers and the entire regiment of the First Illinois Infantry, all marching around the parade ground. The Declaration of Independence was read by the chaplain and ten rounds were fired in quick time from three nine pounders. Almost without notice among all the festivities. and epidemic had broken out. Louise Barry devoted a single sentence to this problem, "About a dozen Illinois volunteers died-some from measles-at Fort Leavenworth.[9]

     On the 4th, Gaston wrote that Companies B, C, and E were in preparation for the 800-mile march; and on the 6th, Wiley reported that Co. B "bargained for the purchase of a wagon and 2 yoke of steers to haul our knapsacks." Such would have never been allowed in the regular army. Detachments were dispatched from Fort Leavenworth at various intervals to accommodate the anticipated lack of water along the way. Companies B, C, and E made up the first detachment. By a happy coincidence, all four of the protagonists were included in this unit. The detachment departed Fort Leavenworth at 2:00 p. m. on July 7. Officers were Lieutenant Colonel Boyakin and Captains John M. Cunningham, Van Trump Turner, and George Hook. Under escort was a train of 30 supply wagons commanded by a Captain Finley, a trader from Westport, Missouri.[10]

     Marching south through present Leavenworth, the volunteers followed the route pioneered by Captain William Wickliffe in 1833 from Fort Leavenworth to Round Grove (later called Lone Elm) and used in 1835 by Colonel Henry Dodge at the end of his 1645-mile expedition to the Rocky Mountains and return by way of the Santa Fe Trail. In 1837, the Fort Leavenworth-Fort Gibson Military Road was established which replicated Wickcliffe's road for the first 29 miles before veering to the southeast. Subsequently in 1843, Captain Philip St. George Cooke and his First Dragoons followed Wickcliffe's route to Lone Elm in their celebrated escort of American and Mexican freighters on the Santa Fe Trail. At the onset of the Mexican War in 1846, a supply train of 100 wagons used the route from Fort Leavenworth to Lone Elm to initiate the delivery of provisions to Bent's Fort, preceding any troop movements. In June 1847, shortly before the Illinois volunteers departed Fort Leavenworth, Lieutenant Alton R. Easton's infantry battalion began their trek to Santa Fe via the Lone Elm road.[11]

     Marching south through present Leavenworth, the volunteers crossed Three Mile Creek. Two miles further they camped at Five Mile Creek, the present site of Buffalo Bill Park. Wiley wrote, "This night sentinels were posted for the first time." This was the first of many times that the Illinoisans exhibited and irrational fear of Indians. The Delawares in the area who had come to their reserve on the north side of the Kansas River in 1830-1832 posed no threat to the volunteers.[12]

     On the following day, the command continued south, paralleling today's Kansas Highway 7 through present Lansing. Fording Seven Mile Creek, the men marched on to Nine Mile Creek, like all the above mentioned streams named for its distance from the flag pole at Fort Leavenworth.[13] Less than two miles further. the volunteers veered southeast eight miles to a campgrounds called Gum Spring. This site should not be confused with the campgrounds of the same name where the men later camped on July 10.

     Along the way, Wiley observed huts and gardens cultivated by the Delawares. Long familiar with the European/American lifestyle, the Delawares by this time were beginning to emulate the subsistence farmers they had observed in the East. Such should have lessened the fear of the Indians.

     On the 9th, the volunteers were forced to lay over because some wagons needed repairs. On the 10th, the volunteers resumed the march of six miles to the Kansas River. There at Grinter's (Delaware) Ferry,[14] they were ferried across the river and marched another four miles to the second Gum Spring which Wiley described as "one of the finest springs I ever saw." Actually, at the campgrounds, there were several springs and a meeting house, the site of present Shawnee, Kansas, formerly known as Gum Springs. Wiley reported that the morning was devoted to washing clothes. It would appear that Sundays were set aside for laundry and rest. No such luxury would have been possible for men engaged in the Santa Fe trade. They were typically on the road seven days a week wearing the same clothes through the duration of the trip. In the afternoon, Wiley attended a church service with some officers and other man of his company. He wrote, "This congregation was composed (of) the Wyandottes who reside here." Lester had a different take, "listened to a sermon from a Shawnee Indian, in his native tongue, he belonged to the Methodist." Lester was correct, the Wyandotte reserve was north of the Kansas River, the Shawnee reserve to the south.

     Lester also observed, "The Indians here seem very devotional and many of them speak English very well and seem fully civilized. The young females dress in American style and apparently are proud of it." Lester's appraisal of the Shawnees appears to echo the acculturation of the Delawares. Such should have allayed any fear of attack.

     On the following day, the volunteers proceeded south to a point near 92nd and Barton in present Lenexa, Kansas. There, the Lone Elm road merged with the Westport branch of the Santa Fe Trail. Marching west from this point four miles, the men went into camp on what Wiley called Clear Creek. Lester and Gaston called the stream Wolf Creek. Today, the stream is recognized as a tributary of Indian Creek.[15] Wiley put the day's march at 12 miles.

     That night the men were alarmed by a stampede of their oxen which was mistaken for an Indian attack. Wiley wrote that the men were considerably amused by the incident. He reported that some of the men "sprang out in their shirts." Such was a reference to the long-tailed shirts worn in everyday dress which doubled for night shirts.

     From the July 12 campgrounds,[16] the volunteers continued west for two and a half miles to a point near 117 Street and Orchard in present Olathe, Kansas. There, they turned south-southwest for about seven miles to strike the Independence branch of the Santa Fe Trail. From there, they veered southwest one mile to the Lone Elm campgrounds at the south edge of present Olathe.[17]

     Lester wrote that the men hauled wood to Lone Elm from the previous campgrounds, a distance of eight miles. Lone Elm was earlier called Round Grove, a reference to its fine stand of timber. By the time of the volunteers' visit, the grove was reduced to a single elm tree. Six years later, W. H. H. Davis wrote, when the stage on which he was traveling stopped for breakfast at the site, "the stump of the Lone Elm furnished the necessary firewood."[18]

     On a more somber note, Gaston wrote, "There buried John W. Collins who died on the 14th at 1 o'clock A. M." Lester, who had practiced medicine in Salem before his enlistment wrote, here we buried John W. Collins of Co. C. died of mucoentritis, the sequel to measles." Thomas B. Hall, M. D., a descendent of Lester and editor of his journal, opined that the condition was, "a recognized but rare complication of measles." Wiley's account was more lengthy.

     "This morning we buried John N. Collins, a private in Captain Turner's company. His grave is situated on the right hand of the road about 150 yards east of the 'Lone Elm' the only tree to be seen on the prairie for miles around. And I could not but reflect that his lonely grave would in the course of a few years be traversed by the ploughshoar of civilization and the last resting place of the poor soldier who went out to fight for the rights of his country and to secure to those very desecrators the rights which they value so highly, should be forgotten and the rank corn should rustle above and around this spot where a few moments ago were heard the muffled drum and discharge of firearms as his comrades fired their salute over his lone grave."

     Leaving death behind, the volunteers marched ten miles to Bull Creek located between present Edgerton and Gardner, Kansas. There Lester observed an Indian family with a log cabin, a small garden, and stock of various kinds. Nevertheless, he concluded that they lived by the chase. This deduction seems to contradict the family's obvious adaptation to subsistence farming.

     On the following day, Lester put the miles marched to Hickory Grove at 15, "where we camped . . . found poor water, but little of it, very warm, a pint of good water would command $2.00, hard times!!" Wiley identified the stop as Hickory Point, the same location noted by F. X. Aubry as being east of Willow Springs, a few miles east of present Baldwin City, Kansas. This location is not to be confused with the town of Hickory Point established west of present Baldwin City during the territorial days of Kansas. It was there on November 21, 1855, that Charles Dow, a free-stater was killed by pro-slavery Franklin Coleman. The incident ignited the so called Wakarusa War during the Bleeding Kansas period prior to the Civil War.[19]

     On the 16th, the volunteers marched eight miles to Willow Spring which Lester described as an "inexhaustible supply of fine water." After a two-hour rest, the men marched on for another eight miles to the dry bed of Rock Creek. There, Lester wrote, "spades were put to active service and in 4 feet we found the best of water." Wood was in short supply. Wiley complained, "barely got wood enough to make our coffee and fry a little meat." Rock Creek crossing is situated six miles west of present Baldwin City.

     The following day's march was across a waterless course which Lester wrote was made in "double quick time." By 2:00 p. m. the men completed the 15 miles to 110 Mile Creek, just west of present Overbrook, Kansas. Wiley wrote, "found plenty of clear water and fine fish." Lester wrote that the stream was named for its distance "from Independence, MO. according to the survey of Lieut. Long." Lester was in error. The stream was named for its distance from Fort Osage as measured by the U. S. survey team dispatched to chart the Santa Fe Trail in 1825.

     On the following day, being Sunday, the men did their laundry, even shaved and dressed up. Such would have been unprecedented for the men engaged in the Santa Fe trade. The single exception was on the caravan's arrival at Santa Fe. Josiah Gregg described that preparation, "they had spent the previous morning in rubbing up, and now they were prepared with clean faces, sleeked combed hair, and their choicest Sunday suit to meet the fair eyes of glistening black that was sure to stare at them as they passed."[20] Wiley added another interesting detail, "through the dexterity of Lieutenant Hundley we had a fine mess of fresh fish." Such a luxury would not have been available for men engaged in the Santa Fe trade. Time was not available for angling or other such pastimes.

     Getting an early start on the 19th, the men arrived about 10:00 a. m. at Switzler Creek near present Burlingame, Kansas. From there, they marched on to Fishing Creek, total distance for the day 15 miles. The stream was actually Soldier Creek, about eight miles west of present Burlingame. That evening, the volunteers were drilled in the firing of their muskets. As Lester wrote, "to meet the probable emergency of a fight with the savages before us, let them come." It seems that Lester was preoccupied with such a possibility.

     The march on the 20th brought the men to Pool Creek, 18 miles west of the Fishing Creek camp. Pool Creek was actually 142 Mile Creek, 20 miles east of Council Grove. There, the detachment lost its second man. As usual, Gaston was brief, "Aaron A. Campbell of Captain Hook's Company died." Wiley was more verbose, "This evening we buried a. J. Campbell, a private of Capt. Hook's company. He came from Williamson with us and was well liked by all for his Gentlemanly and civil deportment. He was buried with military honors, and every respect which our circumstances would permit was paid to the deceased. Peace to his repose." Oddly, the good Doctor Lester made no mention of the death.

     Shaking off death again, the detachment pushed on to Big John's Spring, a 16-mile march. Named for John Walker with the 1825-1827 U. S. Santa Fe Trail survey team, the water source was sometimes called a spring, sometimes a creek. By any name, it was only two miles east of Council Grove. Wiley made mention of "a good many caws who live in and about Council Grove." Wiley's reference was to the Kansa Indians who were deeded a 25 square mile reserve in 1846. However they did not occupy the reserve until 1848.[21]

     Arriving at Council Grove at 10:00 a. m. on the 22nd, the men remained in camp through the 24th. There, a blacksmith shop was noted by Lester, where repairs were made on their wagons. The blacksmith shop was established in 1846 by the army to repair vehicles en route to the Mexican War theater. Another such facility was Mann's Fort established near present Dodge City in 1847. Lester also remarked on "a store kept by Americans." The store belonged to Albert G. Boone and James Hamilton, licensed to trade with the Kansas (Kaws). The business was operated by Seth Hays, Boone's nephew and first cousin of Kit Carson.[22] Lester also made mention of "Caws and Sacs." The Sauks and Foxes came to present Kansas in 1846, occupying lands in present Osage and Franklin counties.[23] It is doubtful that any Sacs (as they were generally known) would have been in the Council Grove area.

     Wiley reported that the evening was given over to a battalion drill and target shooting. Such was quite out of the ordinary for the regular army which did not initiate target practice until 1876 following the Battle of Little Big Horn.[24]

     On the 23rd, Wiley wrote, "This day we lay in camp and washed our clothes while the teamsters and mechanics were busily engaged in repairing their wagons." The teamsters and mechanics were civilian employees of Captain Finley who contracted with the army to transport provisions and supplies for the regiment. Captain was not Finley's military rank; rather, it was a title of respect for the leader of a wagon train. That night Wiley reported another battalion drill being conducted. He also reported an activity not so well ordered, the robbing of a bee tree by "Capt. C...M, myself, and five others."

     On the 24th, Wiley wrote, "This day we passed in camp and little else was done but write letters home." He added, "Battalion drill again this evening." That night, the whole camp was alarmed when one of the men fired his gun. A prowling wolf was mistaken for some enemy. The ingrained fear of Indians was made manifest again.

     Sometime during the layover, Lester remarked on the arrival of 30 additional supply wagons commanded by William Elliot. He also concluded, "Council Grove derives its name from the fact that Chiefs of surrounding tribes of Indians meet here to Council and it is said they bury their Chiefs here." He was mistaken. The name was taken from the grove of trees on the east side of the Neosho River where commissioners of the 1825-1827 Santa Fe Trail Survey treated with the Osages for right-of-way through their lands.[25]

     The 25th was Sunday, usually reserved for laundry and rest. However, the three-day layover preceded such. Rather, the volunteers marched, according to Wiley, 16 miles to Diamond Spring, named by George C. Sibley during the 1825-1827 Santa Fe Trail Survey.[26] While both Wiley and Lester were almost euphoric in praise of the spring, Gaston was his usual terse self, "Fine water." That night while Wiley was standing guard in a thunderstorm, he heard a bugle, and shortly thereafter, a contingency of mounted men approached the camp. The visitors were 50 men of Co. D, Third Missouri volunteers, in escort of Kit Carson. Carson was on courier duty carrying dispatches from Washington to California.[27] Taciturn Gaston failed to mention Carson's presence. Lester only wrote that Carson and his escort, "overtook us here." Diamond Spring is not to be confused with Diamond Springs, a little town four miles south of the historic location.

     On the following morning with no further comment on Carson, Wiley complained about the difficulty of preparing breakfast, "our wood was all wet." The detachment marched that day 14 miles to Lost Spring. The water source derived its name from the phenomenon of the spring being dry at times, quite productive at other times. There, Lester, continually concerned with Indian attack, wrote, "Here the first picket guards were placed, out from the encampment 1/4 to 1/2 mile to protect the cattle while grazing, as we are, now in the midst of danger from Indians, it is thought best to be on the lookout. The manner in which they succeed in robbing trains of oxen is to rush upon the herd while grazing, and hideous noises frightened them, when they follow in pursuit and before preparations can be made to pursue them they are out of reach the cattle becoming more and more frightened therefore running faster." That sounds as though Lester had been reading some dime novels. Lost Spring is not to be confused with the town of Lost Springs, two and a half miles east of the historic site.

     On the 27th, Lester continued his expressions of fear. Marching 14 miles to Cottonwood Creek near present Durham, Kansas, he wrote, "This is the first point of any considerable danger several depridations have been made upon plains at this place, one person scalped, this season we perceived no Indians." Wiley also commented, "It was at this place that the Indians killed and scalped a boy and also scalped but did not quite kill a Mexican who was lying in the hospital when we left." While Indian depredations this far east were more imaginary than real during 1847, attacks were common on the Santa Fe Trail much further to the west, from Pawnee Fork crossing onward. Lieutenant Colonel William Gilpin estimated that during the year, "forty-seven men were killed, 330 wagons destroyed, and sixty-five hundred head of livestock taken."[28]

     Beyond Cottonwood Creek, the volunteers marched 18 miles to what they called Turkey Creek. The stream was Running Turkey Creek south of present Canton, Kansas. The men were resourceful in that they hauled wood from Cottonwood Creek. Good fortune, Wiley wrote, "Turkey Creek entirely destitute of timber."

     The next day's long march of 25 miles brought the volunteers to the Little Arkansas River. The Indian scare was ubiquitous. Gaston wrote, "Indians in the distance." Lester penned, "Batt. was divided, so as to move more effectively protect the trains, one company in the front, one in the centre, and one in the rear, on this part of the road, there is two & 3 well beaten tracks, running parallel, so that the teams can travel 2 & 3 abreast, which adds greatly to the safety of the trains by keeping them closed together." The detachment was approaching the short grass plains where buffalo were to be seen in abundance; and with the buffalo, the Plains Indians. Such was the reason for the wagons to travel several abreast. The Santa Fe Trail crossed the Little Arkansas near the present town of Windom.

     On the 30th, Lester estimated the miles marched to Little Owl Creek at ten. This stream is best known for the 1843 slaying of Don Antonio Chavez by a group of Missourians who were serving as mercenaries for the Republic of Texas.[29] For a time, the stream was known as Chavez Creek following the murder, later corrupted to Jarvis Creek. The Owl Creek Crossing is located about eight miles southeast of present Lyons, Kansas.

     Beyond Owl Creek, the men marched 10 miles to what Lester called Camp Dragoon, Little Cow Creek near the south edge of present Lyons, Kansas. Lester, never far from fear, wrote, "We saw no Indians or signs of them, yet this is never seen until they make their attack such is their caution & cunning, there is nothing to be seen here except extended plains." From Little Cow Creek, the detachment continued five miles to Big Cow Creek, four miles west of present Lyons, Kansas.

     On August 1, the men remained in camp. Being Sunday, they did their laundry. Wiley wrote, "The day passed off pleasantly and agreeably." Not so with Lester, "at 11 o'clock P. M. a sentinel fired at an object which he said was approaching the camp, and which refused to halt and give the countersign. The Battn was paraded in quick time to meet an enemy if any there might be. The object at which he fired left, we did not ascertain what it was, perhaps an Indian spy, perhaps a wolf, we went to bed again, and slept till morning."

     The next stop was the big bend of the Arkansas River near present Ellinwood, Kansas, 20 miles from Cow Creek. On the 3rd, the men made a short march of six miles to Walnut Creek, two miles east of present Great Bend, Kansas. En route, one of the teamsters mounted a horse and rode in pursuit of a buffalo sighted about a mile in the distance. Shortly after he disappeared from sight, five Indians were thought to have been seen on a ridge. It was concluded that the teamster had fallen into an "ambuscade." Immediately a rescue party of 25 men was formed; but before they could march, what was perceived as a large body of mounted Indians approached. The volunteers prepared for the attack which never came. The mounted Indians were, in reality, a herd of buffalo following the teamster in fast pursuit. He reported that the "Indians" seen on the ridge were antelope.

     Crossing Walnut Creek, the men came upon the grave of William Thorpe (Tharp) who had been killed by Indians only two months previously.[30] Ironically, he was killed while he was buffalo hunting. The detachment continued past Walnut Creek six or seven miles and went into camp. According to Wiley, they turned off the road and camped on the river bank. Note that Wiley mentioned the road, a common designation for what is now called the Santa Fe Trail. During the historic period, the trade route was generally known as the Santa Fe Road or the Road to Santa Fe. To wit, the Congress in 1825 allocated funds to conduct a survey of the road to Santa Fe.[31] Later, in 1863, the papers of incorporation for a company organized to build a toll bridge across Walnut Creek referred to the Great Santa Fe Road.[32] Only rarely was the road called a trail.

     That night Lester wrote, "a fire appeared in the direction of Walnut Creek, supposed to be there. Objects entered between us and the fire occasionally and then disappeared. This was undoubtedly a war dance of the savages. 2 sentinel guns fired tonight. Nothing killed, more spies." Lester is the only one of three diarists to record this scene.

     The next day's march of 15 miles brought the detachment to Ash Creek. En route the men passed Pawnee Rock, "a singular sight" according to Gaston. Just east of Ash Creek, the volunteers came upon what Wiley described as "a small body of water in a sink, both warm and filthy." So thirsty were the man that they drank great amounts of water and became so ill that they were hauled into camp by wagons. That night, the men did not pitch their tents, planning to get and early start in the morning. Bad judgement, a rain storm pounded the tentless men, and Lester reported that the volunteers "slept around the corral with our guns in our arms, with our accoutrements buckled on ready for a fight." He also wrote, "One of our sentinels stationed on the bank of the crk. fired at what he declared to be an Indian and so it was supposed by many as tracks were discovered next morning, if he was killed his companions bore him off as they always do, the sentinel declares he saw him fall." Neither of the other diarists mentioned the incident.

     On the 5th, the men broke camp at daylight and marched six miles to Pawnee Fork. The stream, officially known as the Pawnee River, was most often called Pawnee Fork in the historic period. The designation was in reference to its being a tributary of the Arkansas River. The Santa Fe Trail crossing was at the confluence of the Pawnee and Arkansas rivers, a few hundred yards southeast of the US Hwy 56 bridge at the south edge of present Larned, Kansas. While neither Gaston nor Wiley wrote of any graves at the crossing, Lester described the burial spots of two men killed by the Indians located close by.

     Wiley wrote that the men had the good fortune to kill a buffalo that morning. at the noon meal, the entire carcass was all but consumed. This was the first fresh meat, not counting the fish at 110 Mile Creek, the volunteers had eaten since leaving Fort Leavenworth.

     The afternoon did not prove so fortunate. Gaston, in his usual abbreviated prose, wrote, "Robert Easley died." Lester wrote, "At 3 o'clock today Robert Easley of Co. C died of Remittent Fever complicated with Bronchitis, the extreme heat of yesterday, together with the rain that fell at night proved most deleterious to all our sick." Expanding on Lester's diagnoses. Dr. Thomas B, Hall wrote, "Remittent Fever complicated with Bronchitis. Remittent Fever, which Lester groups with other types of fevers of malarial origin, usually responds readily to quinine. This death could be due to typhoid. Without laboratory aids the differential diagnosis would be difficult." Whatever the diagnosis, Easley's condition could not have been helped by the "warm and filthy water" consumed on the 4th. From Wiley's writing, it appears that Easley was buried on the 6th, "1 o'clock. Since writing the above I learned that one of the privates in Capt. Turner's Co. had died during the afternoon. His name was (not stated). He had been sick for some time. A few moments ago, he was buried by his companions with all military honors, on the point of land in the bend of the creek immediately on your left as you cross the ford going west. This is the third burial since our division left the fort, but happily our company has escaped and the few who are sick are fast recovering. For my own part I feel to thank a kind Providence for the excellent health I have enjoyed."

     Shaking off death for the third time. the diarists marched on to Santa Fe leaving Private Easley in the bosom of the Pawnee valley. The volunteers reached Santa Fe on September 10. Wiley recorded the following, "Making 803 miles from Ft. L. to Santa Fe. we were 68 days on the Route, during which we lay by 15 days, making traveling time 53 days and we average each day of 15 1/2 miles with a heavy train of 85 wagons." All three diarists recorded distances between stops. However, no attempt has been made to reconcile the disparities among the accounts. Also, no attempt has been made to reconcile the differences between the mileages of the diarists and that of the tables and distances compiled at a later date.

     Men from the First Illinois saw limited action in New Mexico. In October 1847, Companies B, D, F, I, and K were ordered to El Paso to secure the area; and in February 1848, Lieutenant Colonel Boyakin with Companies A, C, and I were dispatched to Albuquerque to relieve dragoons who also had been ordered to El Paso.[33] Elsewhere, their service was largely related to the control of Indian raids in the Las Vegas and Rio Grande Valley areas. While data on these actions are limited, one such engagement was referenced. Eighty men led by Lieutenant Colonel Boyakin marched against the Zuni Pueblo as reported by the July 24, 1848, Santa Fe Republican. However, no information was printed as to the results of the expedition.[34]

     Shortly thereafter, Brigadier General Sterling Price issued orders for the Illinois regiment to convene at Las Vegas to prepare for their return march home. On August 9, the Santa Fe Republican published War Department orders for the First Illinois to march to Alton. By October 18, all companies of the regiment were mustered out.[35]

     Lester, who had been appointed assistant surgeon to the regiment on October 8, 1847, returned to Salem where he reestablished his medical practice. In the following year, he again enrolled in the Missouri Medical College where he had attended for a year before initiating his practice in Salem. He was awarded the M. D. degree in 1850. Lester continued his practice in Salem until 1854, when he moved to Kansas City, Missouri. Being one of the first physicians in Kansas City, he was held in high esteem. He was elected President of the Missouri Medical Association in 1870.

     Wiley served in the Civil War as lieutenant colonel of the 5th Illinois Cavalry. In 1876, he was a candidate for Congress on the Republican ticket, losing the election by 21 votes.

     Gaston also served in the Civil War as a corporal in Co. C, 22nd Illinois Infantry. He was given a disability after three years of service, resultant from a gunshot wound in his leg.

     As to Private Easley, he has not been forgotten. The Wet/Dry Routes Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail has placed a white marble head stone, suitably inscribed, in the Zebulon Pike Plaza not far from his place of burial at the Pawnee Fork crossing in Larned, Kansas. His legacy lives on in other ways. Among his descendents is a great-great-great-great-grandson, Scott Altman, astronaut and pilot of Space Shuttle Columbia which spent 16 days in space during 1998.


  1. Louise Barry, The Beginning of the West, 1840-1854 (Topeka: Kansas State Historical Society, 1972), 584-586, 592, 593.

  2. Lee Myers, "Illinois Volunteers in New Mexico, 1847-1848," New Mexico Historical Review, 47 (1986): 6-7.

  3. Thomas B. Hall, M. D., Medicine on the Santa Fe Trail (Arrow Rock: Friends of Arrow Rock, 1987). This volume contains Lester's "Notes by the Wayside: From Fort Leavenworth to Santa Fe, N. Mexico," edited by Hall.

  4. James M. B. Gaston, Journal of Travels During the Mexican War, Fort Larned National Historic Site Archives.

  5. Benjamin Todd Wiley, Mexican War Diary, Benjamin Wiley Papers, Southern Illlinois University, Carbondale.

  6. Myers, "Illinois Volunteers," 7.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Myers, "Illinois Volunteers," 9.

  9. Barry, Beginning of the West, 692.

  10. Myers, "Illinois Volunteers," 9.

  11. David K. Clapsaddle, "The Fort Leavenworth-Round Grove/Lone Elm Road: The Army's First Link to the Santa Fe Trail," Wagon Tracks, 8 (November 1993): 10. A substantial amount of the information in this article was provided by Lee Kroh of Merriam, Kansas, and expert on the various frontier roads in the Kansas City area.

  12. C. A. Weslager, The Delaware Indians, A History (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2000), 371.

  13. Clapsaddle, "Fort Leavenworth-Round Grove/Lone Elm Road," 10-11.

  14. Ibid., 11.

  15. Ibid.

  16. Ibid.

  17. Ibid.

  18. Barry, Beginning of the West, 1187.

  19. Captain James R. McClure, "Taking the Census and other Incidents in 1855," Kansas Historical Collections, 8 (1903-1904): 236.

  20. Josiah Gregg, The Commerce of the Prairies, ed. by Milo Milton Quaife (New York: The Citadel Press, 1968), 102.

  21. William E. Unrau, The Kanza Indians (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1921), 46.

  22. Barry, Beginning of the West, 671.

  23. Ida M. Ferris, "The Sauks and Foxes in Franklin and Osage Counties, Kansas," Kansas Historical Collections, 11 (1909-1910): 341.

  24. Douglas McChristian, An Army of Marksmen (Fort Collins: Old Army Press, 1981), 34-36.

  25. Kate L. Gregg, ed., The Road to Santa Fe (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995), 58.

  26. Ibid, 46.

  27. Barry, Beginning of the West, 704.

  28. William Y. Chalfant, Dangerous Passages: The Santa Fe Trail and The Mexican War (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994), 164.

  29. Barry, Beginning of the West, 468-469.

  30. Ibid, 972.

  31. Gregg, Road to Santa Fe, 4-5.

  32. Ida Ellen Rath, The Rath Trail (Wichita: McCormick-Armstrong Co. Inc., 1961), 3.

  33. Myers, "Illinois Volunteers," 15, 16.

  34. Hall, Medicine on the Santa Fe Trail, 54.

  35. Ibid., 55.
         Used With Permission of the Author
         David Clapsaddle

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