Along the Santa Fe Trail

      KANSAS AND FORD COUNTY ARE REPLETE WITH HISTORIC appeal and romantic glamour for they lay in the geographical center of the United States and were crossed by nearly every trail that led to the great undeveloped West of the nineteenth century. Few states and countries can match it in either respect. Inextricably, woven into this background, are the early trails, especially, the Santa Fe Trail and the Pony Express. Just so, the story of the Santa Fe Trail is tied up with Dodge City and old Fort Dodge.

      In the early 1840's, an almost endless trail of prairie schooners crossed the territory to California and Oregon. Even in the year 1853, there was no railroad running west of St. Louis, and all freight transported by the government was carried over this country by large freighting trains made up of heavily loaded wagons. The whole country was only traversed at intervals by tribes of Indians and bands of Mexicans and there were no permanent settlements nor people to live in them.

      Regular freighting trips across the plains began in the 1820's. The trail led from Independence and St. Louis, Missouri, across the plains westward to Bent's Fort and on to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Later Westport Landing was the eastern starting point, which soon stretched out to the settlement on the hill called Kansas City, as we know it today.

      Captain William Becknell goes down in history as the real founder of the Santa Fe Trail, the "Father of the Santa Fe Trail." He and his party, with merchandise packed on mules, left Arrow Rock, Missouri, in September 1821 and on September 16th, the traders reached Santa Fe, unloaded their heavy packs from the mules' backs, and sold the goods at fancy prices. In seven weeks, they were in Missouri again, setting the townspeople's minds and hearts afire with news of the fabulous profits to be made by freighting merchandise to Santa Fe.

      The following year, 1822, Captain Becknell substituted wagons for pack mules and started them rolling along the colorful Santa Fe Trail, bound again for Santa Fe. They moved in

12 Early Ford County

the early morning and late afternoon, advancing fifteen to twenty miles a day, with six and eight mules hitched to a wagon. The men lived on the wild game and the mules ate the native grass along the trail. These wagon trains moved in two to four columns, each about a block apart.

      The original Santa Fe Trail did not have a single bridge and was perhaps the best natural road of its length in the world, 775 miles long, 60 to 100 feet wide, and 550 miles of its length were in Kansas. Travel was not in a straight line in those days. The old wagon road started at the Missouri River, through Council Grove to Old Santa Fe, by way of the Arkansas and Cimarron rivers, crossing west to Dodge City, hugging the streams all the way.

      Nearly every mile of the Santa Fe Trail was at some time the scene of bloody battles, wrecked and burned wagons, kidnapping, pillage, murder, and every kind of outrage. Many were those who traversed its length who fought for its control, Indians, Spaniards, French, early Texans, American trappers, gold seekers, traders, soldiers, and settlers. Indian attacks were numerous and men were killed in the most horrible manner, stock was killed, and women were taken into captivity, and whole trains of wagons were burned as the Indians had no use for them.

      For greater protection against Indian ambush, freighters organized into wagon trains and moved across the prairies in compact groups. A wagon train or caravan, from thirty to one hundred wagons, averaged about two tons of merchandise per wagon, carrying silk and cotton fabrics and other commodities of the east to Santa Fe and returning eastward with horses and mules. There was always a captain elected to direct the wagon trains, many of them romantic characters, Kit Carson, or William Bent who more than likely had a number of freight wagons in the group. They originated the plan of forming their wagon in large squares at night, or circles, in which the mules or oxen were kept. At the cry of "Indians" the wagons moved quickly into the large square, wheels locked together, mules herded inside, and bullwhackers lying flat on the ground behind their wagons with rifles loaded. The traders took turns guarding the camp at night, although Indians seldom attacked at night. In the early days, there were few massacres

Along the Santa Fe Trail 13

for caravans were too well organized and the Indians too poorly armed. Early, oxen came into use and were used as late as the eighties to pull heavily loaded wagon trains, which was wagon after wagon, hooked to each other, as many as six to eight and eight to ten. These wagon trains were drawn by six to ten yoke of oxen, the whole outfit in charge of a wagon boss. Wagon trains were held up in Council Grove until there were enough men to defend trains against Indian attack on the hazardous western trek. A driver walked beside the oxen, one usually quite proficient in cracking the large bull whip he often carried coiled around his neck and shouting the special brand of oaths he thought necessary to urge the oxen onward. A tenderfoot could see how other drivers handled their whips, making them pop like the explosion of a pistol. His best efforts in that direction usually resulted in the winding of the lash around his neck.

      Later mules were used, especially for transporting government supplies of grain and food to the various forts. A horse could not hold up as well as a mule in the face of privation and change of climate. Hence, the old saying, came into familiar usage-as stubborn as a government mule; it was a brand of character that helped the early pioneer to outstay the adversities of early day Ford County privations and problems.

      Freighters found a temperate climate in Ford County, mild without tropic heat or arctic cold, and everywhere healthful. The atmosphere was clear and dry and throughout the year there was a predominance of sunny days. The winters were short and mild for but little snow fell. In fact, the mean annual temperature was 55 degrees; the mean annual rainfall, ten to fifteen inches. There was water in the Arkansas River then and the June rise when the snows melted in the Rocky Mountains.

      Wagon trains traveled mostly in summer, because weather was too severe in winter. Those who left the Santa Fe Trail just west of Dodge City site and followed the Cimarron cutoff were in danger of becoming lost, perishing for lack of water along the route. The mountain route extended westward along the north bank of the Arkansas River. There were fewer Indians on that side but more rattlesnakes, cactus, and coyotes. There were plenty of antelope, jack rabbits, and

14 Early Ford County

buffalo. The wild game knew no fear and approached the trains through curiosity, so that hunting in the early Santa Fe days was easy.

     The Santa Fe Trail was a natural path between the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains because much of the way it followed the Arkansas River and there were no hazardous rivers to ford. Obviously the trail was used long before it acquired its name, which came when Europeans started using it as a route of trade between the Missouri River and Santa Fe. Originally the trail ended in the Colorado mountains, but traders, hunters, and explorers bent it southward with alternate routes. One went up the Arkansas through the site of Pueblo and southwestward over the Sangre De Christo Mountains into the San Luis valley and down the Rio Grande to Santa Fe. Another left the Arkansas River just west of Las Animas and crossed the Raton mountains. Others, when rains had filled the water holes swung to the southwest through Ford County and camped on Boot Hill where Dodge City later was built.

      It was not until 1846 or 1847 that the passenger stages were operating between Independence and Santa Fe. Each month a stage started, about the same time at each end. At length, as passenger traffic increased, trips were made semi-monthly; then weekly; finally three times a week. Each trip required two weeks on the trail.

      Each coach carried eleven passengers, nine inside the coach and two outside. The fare was $250 and each passenger carried 40 pounds of baggage free, any extra a passenger paid for at the rate of 50¢ a pound. A passenger received his meals enroute. Stage stop-overs often were at trading posts where the stage company kept a man to look after the exchange horses, taking entire charge of them when the stage rolled in, having the fresh team hooked to the coach when the driver was ready to push on. When civilization was left behind, the driver kept going day and night, the passengers sleeping as best they could enroute. Regular coach service carried mail by 1849 and by 1862, the service was daily.

      For quite some time, the sack of mail was dumped on the floor of the trading post. Then ensued a free for all as any person present sorted out his mail and any other that he might be able to deliver. The out going mail was then stuffed into

Along the Santa Fe Trail 15

the mail pouch and the man who managed the post gathered the remaining mail from the floor. During the sixties, when Indians often surprised the stage coaches with disastrous results, drivers, no matter what time they arrived at the Walnut Creek trading post and stage stop-over, stayed over night, waiting for dawn before setting out westward into the Indian country.

      For many years, Barlow, Sanderson, and Company ran a tri-weekly stage line through Fort Dodge, over the old Santa Fe Trail. They used a Concord coach containing three inside seats capable of holding nine persons comfortably. Then there was a driver's box where three more could be comfortably seated, besides an upper deck where more passengers and baggage could be stowed away and also what was called a front and hind boot where still more trunks and baggage could be carried, with a large leather apron strapped down over them, to hold things in place and keep out the weather. There were five mules attached to the coach, two mules on the wheel and three on the lead, and relays were provided from thirty to fifty miles apart, except from Fort Larned to Fort Lyon which were two hundred forty miles apart. In addition to the stage, a light wagon was taken along to carry grub and bedding. It was seven hundred miles from Kansas City to Santa Fe and the coach made it in seven days. Soldiers from Fort Larned guarded the coach against Indian attack.

      Before there was a Ford County, even a Kansas Territory, the government began establishing forts in an effort to have soldiers on hand to protect freighting outfits and stage-coach travel, as well as the few hardy souls who brayed a trip across the prairie on their own. Therefore, early day forts in Ford County offer absorbing points of interest to Kansas visitors and students of history, the lure of pioneer adventure and early day history still clinging to them.

      Fort Atkinson, an early day fort on the Santa Fe Trail, was located on the Arkansas River, about six miles above the present site of Dodge City. Fort Atkinson, Mann, or Mackey, the three names being those of the commanders at the fort during its existence, had buildings with walls made of sod three feet thick, with a slight space between them. It was said to be bullet proof. The soldiers had a different name for it, probably because there was one great sod building--they called it first Fort Soddy, later Fort Sodom. (Note this quote: "A man

16 Early Ford County

named Butler from Fort Sodom). It was built in 1850 and abandoned in 1853, some records say; others 1854.

      Robert Wright in his book, The Cowboy Capital, writes of the fort:

At this side of the Point of rocks, eight miles west of Dodge City, used to be the remains of an old adobe fort. When I first saw it in May, 1859, the walls were very distinct and were in a good state of preservation, excepting the roofs gone. There had been a large corral, stables, barracks for troops, and a row of buildings which I supposed were officers' quarters. Who built it or what troops occupied it, I do not know. The banks have washed in several hundred feet since I have known the place. (Reference is to the banks of the Arkansas River)
Government freighters had stopped on their way west at this fort and on their way back for many a horn was found in the early days branded `U. S.' and now and then an oxchain. At that time, government freighters used oxen which were sold in the far west, along with the wagons, after their loads were delivered. But it is thought that the ox-chains were returned east, along with the men, in a few of the wagons.
On a sloping hillside north of the fort were three or four graves. Also there were two lime-kilns in very good condition and a well defined road leading to the Sawlog (creek), much used, indicating that a large garrison was there to he provided with wood. In fact, the road was as large as the Santa Fe Trail, showing they must have hauled considerable wood over it. This leads me to believe that Fort Atkinson had been occupied by a large garrison.
When the site of Fort Atkinson was levelled for irrigation, a large number of relics were unearthed and were on exhibition at Beeson Museum and the J. P. McCollom home in Dodge City. During its time, the fort with its various names was a favorite camping ground for travelers over the trail and it was here that General Chilton made an Indian treaty granting pioneers peaceful passage over the trail.
Fort Dodge was one of the most important forts on the western frontier. It was located to the east of the Caches and Dodge City site in 1864, being an old camping ground for wagon trains going to New Mexico. A Colorado regiment was camped there before the establishment of the fort, which lay on the north bank of the Arkansas River and was in the shape of a half circle. Close to the river was a clay bank

Along the Santa Fe Trail 17

about twelve feet high. There the soldiers were quartered in dugouts with port-holes all around. The officers were quartered in sod houses inside the enclosure. It was a four company post, and in later years the government had ten men and a sargeant stationed at Robert Wright's ranch on escort duty to protect the mail. On the east side of the Fort Dodge enclosure was a large gate.
The need for a fort at this location was great; an unusually large camp site for the fort was situated where the dry route and the wet route met or intersected. The dry route came across the divide from Larned on the Pawnee, while the wet route followed the river, supposed to be fifteen miles further. The dry route, often called Hornado de Muerti, the journey of death, was often without water the whole distance and trains would lay up to recruit after making the passage, which caused that point on the Arkansas River to become a great camping site. When the Indians found this out, they made it one of their haunts to pounce down on the unwary emigrant and freighter.

      Since Heinie Schmidt, local historian, had done much research on Fort Dodge and has given the author permission, his article, Fort Dodge State Soldiers' Home, High Plains Journal, January 15, 1948, is given

In its day, Fort Dodge was one of the most important military establishments on the western frontier. It was a favorite camping ground for the freighters and hunters from the time of the opening of the Santa Fe Trail. Some authorities state that the fort was located in 1853 by Colonel I. Dodge, after whom the fort was named. Col. Dodge did erect some sort of a fort in this immediate vicinity, but the reports of the United States war department say that Fort Dodge of the later days was established by Gen. Grenville M. Dodge, in 1864, and that the site was selected by Col. James Ford. The fort was named in honor of Gen. Grenville Dodge.
At one time Gen. George A. Custer was the commanding officer of the fort. A silver wine service set belonging to him is still at the fort. Other prominent soldiers that were at one time stationed here, were Gen. Nelson A. Miles, and Generals Sherman and Sheridan. President Hayes made an official inspection of the fort on his western tour shortly after his election.
Among the famous Indian scouts headquartering here were

18 Early Ford County

Buffalo Bill, Ben Clark, Amos Chapman, Billie Dixon, the hero of the Adobe Walls Indian battle. Wild Bill Hickock freighted between here and Fort Hays.
Many famous Indian chiefs were guests at the fort among them being Satanta, Kicking Bird, Scar Head, Little Beaver, Dull Knife, Black Kettle, and Little Raven.
The reservation originally was about 30,000 acres and was purchased from the
Osage Indians by an act of congress, approved Dec. 15, 1880, all that portion of the reservation lying north of the Santa Fe railroad was ordered surveyed as other public lands and sold to actual settlers, not more than 160 acres to any one purchaser. The town of Wright is located on part of this reservation.
The Kansas legislature in 1886 adopted a resolution asking the Kansas delegation in congress-to secure at as early a day as possible a survey and sale as public lands the military reservation in Ford County, known as Fort Dodge ! Three years later in 1889, the legislature adopted another resolution requesting congress to donate the remainder of the reservation to the state, to be used as a site for a soldiers' home. The late G. M. Hoover, Ford County representative, introduced this resolution, and is therefore entitled to the honor of having the fort established as a soldiers' home. On March 2, 1889, President Cleveland approved the act of congress authorizing the secretary of the interior to sell and convey to the state of Kansas lots numbered 3, 5, 6, and 7 of section 3, township 27 south of range 24 west, on condition that the state would pay for the same at the rate of $1.25 per acre, and establish a soldiers' home thereon within three years. The entire reservation was opened to settlement except about 127 acres, now Fort Dodge, and presented to the state for the soldiers' home.
The late R. M. Wright was appointed post trader in 1870, opened a trader's store and put up ice cut from the Arkansas River. Part of the old icehouse is still visible, north of the highway, at that time known as the Santa Fe Trail.
Fort Dodge has particular historical significance in so far as Ford County and Dodge City are concerned. Ford County was named in honor of Col. James Ford. Dodge City bears the name of Col. Richard I. Dodge. And the Lewis Post of the Grand Army of the Republic was named after Col. William H. Lewis, commander at Fort Dodge. He was killed in a battle

Along the Santa Fe Trail 19

with the Cheyenne Indians in 1878 near the present site of the Scott City lake.
Several men who were active in business in Dodge City, were soldiers at the fort, among them Sam and Ed Stubbs, for 50 years in the grocery business; James (Dog) Kelly, Dodge City's second mayor and builder of the famous Kelly opera house; R. M. Wright, known as the `Merchant Prince' and founder of Wright's Park; and Michael Shane, pioneer farmer of Spearville.

      General Sheridan first came to Fort Dodge in the summer of 1868. He pitched his camp on the hill north of the fort and started fitting out his command against the Indians. The last visit General Sheridan made to the fort was in 1872 and he brought his whole staff with him. General Forsyth was his aide-de-camp.

      In the fall of 1868, General Alfred Sully took command at the fort and fitted out an expedition for a winter campaign against the plains Indians. When the preparations for the expedition were well under way and his army practically ready to march, General Alfred Sully was sent home and General Custer carried on the campaign.

      The abandonment of Fort Dodge in June, 1882, created surprise among the Dodge City people generally and they feared Indian raids. The troops stationed at Fort Dodge were sent, one company each to Fort Reno, Fort Supply, and to Fort Elliott, Texas, where they could be near the Indian reservation.

      After its abandonment, part of the buildings were demolished, some removed. Later when rebuilding and repairing began and the establishment of the Soldiers' Home became a reality, the character of the famous old post was sustained. Many of the old battle-scarred stone buildings are yet in use, situated in beautifully landscaped grounds. It was 1883 when a resolution was introduced in the Kansas legislature asking congress to cede the Fort Dodge military reservation for the Soldiers' Home and by 1887 it was established.

      Late in May, 1886, a sudden rush for settlement, on Fort Dodge reservation was made, early one Monday morning, and a hundred claims were staked off, between Sunday midnight and Monday morning before sunrise. No one seemed to know how the reservation was thrown upon the market all of a sudden and no one stopped to inquire but went right along with settling and improving some portion of the reservation, regardless of

20 Early Ford County

what the outcome might be. In fact, people were perfectly wild with excitement occasioned by this mysterious move. But the land was really opened to settlement, on terms prescribed by the government, by purchase and priority in settlement. Through the years efforts have been made to preserve landmarks along the Santa Fe Trail and the ruts of the old trail itself. To this day prominent traces of the old Santa Fe Trail still exist about six miles west of Dodge City where there is a projection of higher ground to the south in the direction of the Arkansas River.

      From U. S. Highway 50, nearer the city, only a few hundred feet north is what is commonly called the "caches," jug-like, grass lined cavities, in which a wagon master buried his merchandise when adversity overtook him, then plugged the mouthlike opening with earth and evened it over with sod. At some time, a trench from one to the other was dug, deep enough to protect men from his Indian enemies. From this point also one can view the remains of the deep ruts of the Santa Fe Trail as it followed the route of the Arkansas River.

      The ruts of the old Santa Fe Trail are nine miles west of the Point of Rocks, near the Ford-Gray county line, just north of Highway 50-S, the most perfect part of the Santa Fe Trail in existence. The trail stretches north a mile, wagon rut after wagon rut. Interested people, J. P. McCollom and Joseph Hulpieu, now deceased, Heinie Schmidt, R. Roy Taylor, L. L. Taylor, C. R. Harner, George Henrichs, and James Williams, members of Ford County Historical Society, tried for years to get the government to declare it a national site. History News, American Association for State and Local History, July 1963, announced that a 2-mile arc of remaining trail west of Dodge City, Kansas, has been approved for Registered National Historic Landmark status, according to a report from the National Park Service.

      In May 1963, George Henrichs, manager of Boot Hill Museum and old Front Street, was notified by Representative Bob Dole that remains of the Santa Fe Trail, west of Dodge City, have been designated a registered National Historical Landmark by the advisory board for national parks. Such designated areas have exceptional value in national historical significance and it will probably be marked by a bronze plaque suitable for display of the site.

      Mulberry Crossing was known to early trappers and hunters

Along the Santa Fe Trail 21

who refer to it as one of the best on the river. It was at Camp Supply trail crossing of the Mulberry, twelve miles south of Dodge City, where Dugan's had a stage stand. This crossing is quite historical from the fact that Coronado, the first white man to enter Kansas, crossed the river at this point, June 29, 1541. Coronado Bridge spans the river near this location. Remains of the original crossing were washed out by the Pueblo flood.

      The Caches, first dug in 1822 by members of a pack train forced by snow and sleet to bury their goods, are four miles west of Dodge City, north of the highway and south of the trail on the north bank of the Arkansas River, is a site designated as Fort Atkinson, Fort Mann, and Fort Mackey. Both sites are marked by a single monument. Carved in its rock face, the marker proclaims that the Caches, northwest of the marker 1,100 feet, dated 1823, was a famous camp site and early army headquarters. The marker also calls attention to Fort Atkinson, 1850 to 1854, 2,500 feet southeast; post office, 1854-1857; Indian treaty, 1853; Fort Mackey, 1850.

      Caches is a Spanish word which means to hide or conceal. The United States government used the Caches during the Mexican war as a supply depot. In later years, it was designated one of the official camping sites along the trail. The ruins of the Caches may still be seen.

      Six miles farther on from the site of Fort Atkinson, a large draw stretches to the north and, along this draw, according to Joseph Martinez, $50,000 in bullion was buried to save it from the Indians. There have been many tries to locate it but as far as anyone knows the silver is still where it was buried. Just west of this is the Point of Rocks, a famous sandstone formation some twenty feet in height, which at one time was on the boundary line between the United States and Mexico. This was another favorite camp site along the old Santa Fe Trail.

      In 1906, the part of the old Santa Fe Trail crossing Kansas was marked by granite boulders bearing the inscription: "Santa Fe Trail 1822-1872. Marked by the Daughters of the American Revolution and the State of Kansas." Other landmarks are a monument to an Indian Treaty which pledged the Indians for good behavior. All of these mentioned are points of interest in Ford County, as well as Dodge City, an ever important site on the trail since its early day camp site on Boot Hill, and the site of Fort Dodge, which was where the drivers of wagon

22 Early Ford County

trains decided on which route to take on westward.

      Tragically, along the length of the Santa Fe Trail are markers similar to the one F. A. Hobble describes: "About two miles east of Howell on a small knoll north of the trail are one or two fence posts which mark the location of an infant's grave. The parents were going west in a wagon, pausing here while the child suffered its last illness. Then, not knowing what else to do and not being able to provide any more appropriate disposal of the remains, they made use of this small hill."

Reference: Santa Fe, Marshall; Cowboy Capital, Wright; Kansas State Historical Collections; The Kansas Centennial; Heinie Schmidt's "It's Worth Repeating."

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Dodge City History