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The Rath Trail
by Ida Ellen Rath


[drawing: Adobe Walls
Battle, based on eye-witnesses.]
Transcribed by lhn;
digitized with permission
of the
Ford County Historical Society.
All rights reserved

     Like a rare flower in bloom for a day, new Adobe Walls better than a mile from old Adobe Walls ruins, sprang to life through a short time in April, all of May, and through the days of June until early morning of June 27th. The one-street settlement grew with the hustle and bustle of living on borrowed time. Its merchants and dependent buffalo hunters moved with the sureness and dispatch of men who gambled greatly and lost grandly. But, before the town's life span was ended, a soul-stirring drama was enacted on its stage, the gentle rise of the Adobe Walls grounds.

     Early in March, 1874, although the great Sioux Chief Spotted Tail had all but lost his life back in December, 1872, trying to dissuade them, Charles Rath and Fred Leonard again resumed talk of establishing the new outpost, with the concurrence of every buffalo hunter in Dodge City. By the latter part of April Myers and Leonard, for Fred Leonard was now a partner, were piling their merchandise on the ground where their building would soon be going up at the new site and by the middle of April Rath's "six and eight mule team freighters" had supplies rolling from his store in Dodge City. It meant a two hundred mile trek southward into the Panhandle of Texas, crossing the "dead-line," hell bent for the Indians' own territory. Leading the freighters, Rath and James Langton, who was to manage the store, rode to the location where they would have their store, arriving May 1, 1874.

     Both merchants and hunters had given the matter much thought, the merchants especially, since they were out great sums for buildings and merchandise. However when all the talk was over, the decision was all for the Adobe Walls settlement. It was a risk intrepid hunters and merchant alike brushed fears aside to assume. Holed up in the Cowboy Capital, awaiting the spring migration of buffalo from the lower plains of Texas to their summer grazing in the north, the hunters were overly anxious, regardless of possible skirmishes with the Indians, to get nearer the great buffalo herds; set up camps around a permanent base. As they well knew, black-headed, Charlie Rath, himself a famed buffalo hunter, could be depended on to have his freighters bring in supplies and ammunition, pick up their buffalo hides. So with one accord, the seasoned buffalo hunters headed southward, along



with the freight trains to the Adobe Walls, a settlement built for the sole convenience of the buffalo hunter.

     It lay on a knoll in a low place, hemmed in by gradually rising higher ground. The adobe and picket-pole buildings lay in a row, their big double doors facing east. Before them the one street approximately 700 feet long, ran north and south.

     Beginning at the north, Myer and Leonard's store was surrounded by a pole fence stockade, each pole thirteen feet long with ten feet above ground; in its southwest corner a mess hall; between its buildings, a well. Next was Hanrahan's saloon, with thick sod walls and dirt roof; beside it, O'Keefe's picket and pole dirt roof blacksmith shop. Last in the row was Rath's lay-out, a building with an extra door in the west which opened into the restaurant in the back part of the store, built of thick sod walls, as well as the two extra small block houses, and there was the hide yard and a well. Mrs. William Olds, the one lone woman at "Dobe Walls" or "Walls," as the hunters familiarly called the settlement, managed the restaurant for Rath.

     After the first mad rush of buildings, fortification was forgotten as the owners, one and all, were kept busy outfitting hunters, getting wagons and harness in shape for the seasonal buffalo slaughter, and cooling the men's parched throats. It was their mission. Hunters were establishing camps in readiness for the spring kill. But spring was unusually late, so hunters loafed in the new settlement, gambling, shooting at targets, telling tall tales, waiting for the vast herds of buffalo to start their northward trek.

     Overnight, news set the hunters on the move, "The buffalo were coming!" Small groups were sighted, forerunners of that vast herd that would eventually darken the plains. Shortly, only merchant and helper remained in Adobe Walls.

     The hunters' kill was brief. Disconcerting news spread -- two skinners on Chicken Creek had been killed by the Indians. Deserting their camps, the hunters made a dash for Adobe Walls, hastily built, never completed, its defense plans almost nil.

     Talk buzzed about Indian uprisings for two other skinners had been reported killed, according to Moore, a buffalo hunter. But now was the time to kill the buffalo. Argument, pro and con, went on, to pull up stakes or not. As was to be expected, the hunters refused to leave, each of them probably had had brushes with Indians before. But all agreed they should double up and take extra precautions about the Indian menace.

     The decision made, loaded and ready to go, the hunters gave way to a happy abandon. Many were late getting to their blanket beds, mostly spread on the ground beside their wagons. Others had tarried in Hanrahan's saloon until quite late for he had done a thriving business, some of them had spread their blankets on


the floor to bed for the night. But one hunter, O. A. (Brick) Bond had taken advantage of the dark hours of night, feeling safer from Indian attack than in the daytime, was well on his way with a heavily loaded wagon of buffalo hides on that hot sultry night of June 26, 1874. Others slept on store floors.

     There were the usual night noises, the movement of horses and mules as they roamed around in search of grass, an occasional pull on a picket rope; the calls of owls and other night birds. But men were used to these noises and paid little attention to them. There was no sentinel or guard on duty to pay strict attention to any unusual noise, for their decision made to stay for the buffalo kill had seemed to give each man a sense of security, but not for long.

     Around two o'clock in the morning, a loud report awakened the men in Hanrahan's saloon. They thought the cottonwood ridge-pole supporting the roof had snapped. Cottonwood ridge poles and branches made a framework for the roof which in turn was covered with sod. Soon most of the men were helping to repair the damage, getting the weight of earth from the weakened roof. Other men rushed to the creek to cut a prop for a ridgepole. Most of the camp had been partly aroused. When the task was finished, the east was streaked with the light of early dawn.

     While a number of the hunters crawled back into their blanket beds for another nap, Billy Dixon pulled his blanket from under his wagon, rolled it and pitched it into his wagon, preparatory to taking the trail. Dixon and Hanrahan, who was leaving his bartender Shepherd in charge of his saloon, decided to get started to camp, at the earliest possible moment instead of having another doze.

     Dixon had brought his riding horse in the night before. Jim Hanrahan sent Billy Ogg to get the horses which were picketed near Adobe Walls Creek. It was the dusk before the dawn, when Billy Ogg saw the Indians emerge from the fringe of trees and bush that lined the creek bank and made probably the fastest run of his life for the safety of the saloon.

     Dixon, who had seen the Indians at almost the same time, had fired a shot into the air and cried out, "Indians," then had raced for the saloon. The arrows were flying then, even as Billy Dixon pounded on the closed door for admittance. When it opened for him, Billy Ogg fell in after him, exhausted and panting for breath. He was quickly dragged inside and the door slammed shut even as the Indians swarmed up to it. The siege was on, a fight for dear life.

     Billy Ogg said afterwards that no sooner was he well on his way, than he heard from beyond the fringe of trees lining Adobe Wall Creek, the paralyzing yell of Indians on the warpath. In an instant, hundreds of mounted Indians emerged from the trees,


spread like a fan, and swooped like an eagle toward him and Adobe Walls, lashing their ponies at every jump. He took the scene in at a glance, turning even then to flee.

     The warriors rode their finest horses and ponies, with scalps dangling from the bridles. Guns and lances flashed above shields of thick buffalo hide. Brilliant-hued war paint shone on bronzed naked bodies; on the sides of running mounts, their manes and tails decorated with bright colored feathers. The Indians in their plumed war bonnets, their jangling ornaments of silver and brass illuminated by the rising sun, lashed their mounts headlong toward "Dobe Walls." But Billy Ogg had not tarried to look; he had made the fastest home-run of his life.

     According to Andy Johnson, Ogg came running with bullets whizzing past him, yelling like hell, "Indians! Indians!" before he fell into Hanrahan's saloon where willing hands dragged him in and barred the door.

     That early morning, June 27, 1874, twenty-eight men and one lone woman, in the ill-protected settlement of Adobe Walls, Texas, faced the stark reality of a possible fate worse than death itself. Each thudding hoof from the creek a quarter-mile east, each hideous yell from the throats of from 700 to 1,000 swiftly advancing Indians, struck new terror into the hearts of the unfortunate group, housed in three different buildings.

     Only fourteen of the men knew how to shoot and fight, the others were teamsters, bartenders, and cooks. But, with the strength those early day men exerted in desperate emergencies, they quickly made ready to fight. Those who couldn't use guns barricaded doors and the small port hole windows, practically defying the savages to push their way in.

     The besieged were not only unprepared for an attack but divided into three groups with only about fifteen guns that could be used. Of the three, Hanrahan's saloon was fortified more quickly because the men were fully awake when the attack came. At Rath's there were the fewest defenders, while the danger would have been greatest had the Indians known there was a woman in the building. At once every building was surrounded, every pane of glass was shattered, while bullets plunked into the sod of the walls and arrows whizzed against the planking of the doors.

     The besieged barricaded even as they fought, firing, flanking the doors and windows with sacks of flour and grain. At Myers and Leonard's store, were Fred Leonard, (Myers had probably gone back to Dodge for he had a store there to manage.) James Campbell, Edward Trevor, Frank Brown, Harry Armitage, "Dutch Henry," Billy Tyler, Old Man Keeler, Mike McCabe, Henry Lease, and "Frenchy." In Hanrahan's Saloon, James Hanrahan, Bat Masterson, Mike Welch, Shepherd, Hiram Watson, Billie Ogg, James McKinley, "Bermuda" Carlisle, and the famed Billy Dixon.


     In Rath's store, James Langton manager, George Eddy, Thomas O'Keefe, William Olds and his wife, Sam Smith, and Andy Johnson.1 Adobe buildings with sod roofs can't be burned, otherwise the Indians would have burned the men and buildings.

     All that livelong day, short of water, without time to eat, men fought for their own lives and those of their comrades. They fought with the desperation of men who know the fate of the Indians' captives, many in their bare feet, clad only in their drawers and undershirts. They fought while the Indians dashed boldly up to port holes and fired, while they charged three abreast and backed their horses against the heavy doors in an effort to break them down.

     Minimic, Indian Medicine man, had learned the habits of the hunters, how they slept with open doors and beside their wagons on the ground, and he had promised the Indians an easy victory.

     This is the same Minimic who had been a friend of the white man and a very dear friend of Charles Rath, having been in his employ for several years. When his wife and daughters were killed during Major Chivington's raid, he had vowed vengeance on all white men.

     Chief Quanah Parker led the Comanches; Lone Wolf, the Kiowas; Stone Calf and White Shield, the Cheyennes. The Indians had planned to attack the Tonkawa Indians but Quanah Parker suggested they attack the white hunters at Adobe Walls.2 This pleased the Indians' fancy and Minimic had made good medicine.

     Now the warrior horde was testing it out, and men who were fighters were striving to gather courage to do their part in the fight. Andy Johnson was one of them who told about it later. He grabbed a six-shooter from a table and stuck it out a port hole and shot every shell, later saying he was so scared he didn't know what he shot at. His tension eased, he helped in a grand way, barricading doors and providing water for fighting men.

     The day grew hotter and hotter and mouths were parched for want of water. Yet no one dared go to the well outside the store for it. Always used to doing things, Andy came up with the idea of a well inside the store and he started digging in a sandy spot. He dug on a slope to a depth of six feet and struck water. Allowing a very short time for it to settle, he ladled drinks to the thirsty men, then set a table above his well so no one would tumble into it. He had dug the well on a slope and could walk down to the water. The ground was loose and sandy, making the task an easy one but the water he struck was a Godsend to weary, thirsty, fighting men.

     At noon, Hanrahan and Billy Dixon made a run from the saloon to Rath's store for ammunition. Every gun was needed and Billie Dixon had one he could not use, a new "44" Sharp's but the case


of ammunition he had bought for it was still in Rath's store, which made the gun valueless until he could get the ammunition. Because of the woman in their midst and the few defenders, Bill Dixon remained while Hanrahan went back to his saloon.

     At two o'clock in the afternoon, the Indians showed more caution and got beyond the range of the Sharp's, the first break the men had for a minute's rest. However they kept firing from a distance. Closer, they were an excellent target for an expert marksman as the hunters all were. No more did the mysterious bugler sound the rally nor the charge, which ex-soldier hunters understood very well. At four o'clock, men began to venture out to see how others fared.

     Three men lay dead, scalped and mutilated. The Shadler brothers as they had slept in their wagons. Billy Tyler as he was almost within Myers & Leonard's store. All twenty-eight of the Shadler Brothers' oxen were dead. A count numbered fifty-six horses dead, and all the others were run off. The Indians had tried to slash the ropes that tied the horses to Rath's wagon, but a gray mare that was notorious for her vicious kicking would not let the Indians approach her, so all were shot. Thirteen dead Indians remained on the ground, more must have been carried away for the Indians strive valiantly to carry away their dead and wounded.

     The hunters would have their revenge for the scalped men. Grabbing axes, they sharpened thirteen stakes in the Myer's stockade wall and jammed an Indian head on each, facing east, eyes staring and mouths gaping. They made a joke of it -any live Indian who cared to look could see that, although the Indians took scalps, hunters took heads. Then the weary fighters sought rest, knowing Indians seldom attack at night, preferring early dawn.

     About nine o'clock, they heard a rider approaching and called, "Who are you?" And the reply, "What do you want?" Recognizing the voice, the hunters called, unbelievably, "That you, Brick?" To his answer, "Yes," they hallooed back, "Well, get in here quick. The Indians are thicker than hell."

     Brick Bond had left with a heavy load of hides the night before the fight and the wagon had mired down in the sand which Brick went on to explain, "I couldn't get them out, so I got on my saddle horse and came back to the Walls."

     How he had ever come through, Brick Bond could not figure out until at a much later date, he had talked with Little Robe, a Cheyenne chief who was rather well liked by the hunters. "Why didn't you kill me?" he asked. "Didn't you see me?"

     The chief's answer made Brick Bond glad he had been a friend to white man and Indian alike, "Indian no want to kill you."

     The following day, Brick Bond stood beside Billy Dixon who aimed his Sharp's 50 at an Indian almost a mile away and fired. Minimic, Indian medicine man, was the target for the longest shot


on record, fell from his horse and was later dragged away by other warriors.

     By afternoon, George Bellfield and his men came in on the dead run. Other hunters rode in just as hurriedly. And in the meantime, the Indians would form in the shelter of the trees along the creek and then charge again, circling the settlement but keeping low behind the necks and shoulders of their horses, all the while pouring lead and shooting arrows into the buildings.

     During the first day Mrs. Olds' coolness and helpfulness had surprised the men. They felt she had every right to be hysterical for she well knew her awful fate if she should fall into the Indians'hands. Instead Mrs. Olds was as brave as the bravest, cool and composed, lending a hand in every emergency throughout that first day that tried men's souls.

     When darkness of night set in, the men prepared to bury their dead. They dug a grave to the north of Myers & Leonard's store. They wrapped the Shadler brothers, Ike and "Shorty" in blankets and laid them side by side in the grave. Then Billy Tyler, blanket-wrapped, was carried from the store and laid beside the two brothers. While rough men offered silent prayers, the earth was smoothed above their common grave.

     Besides the burial of the dead, because of the terrible heat, it was necessary to remove the Indians who were killed and still lay in the sun, the horses, mules, and oxen, that had met death at the Indians' hands. There were as yet, no horses to haul them away. Pioneer ingenuity found a way-the hunters shifted dead horses and oxen onto buffalo hides, then tied ropes at the corners and dragged them far enough from the buildings so the stench was not so noticeable. It was slow and disagreeable work, so when they counted twelve horses between Rath's and Hanrahan's, the hunters dug a big hole in the ground, heaved the animals into it, and shoveled the loose sand above them. The slain Indians, left behind to rot on the ground, were dragged away on the improvised buffalo hide conveyance.

     There was much talk, one with another. What to do was on everyone's mind. James Langton was not only worried about keeping his help alive but about the stock of goods as well, the thousands of buffalo hides ricked outside the store. He wanted badly to get word to his partners who would send help at once. The upshot was he offered $200 to any man who would carry a message through to Dodge City.3

     Henry Lease, a seasoned buffalo hunter stepped forward. "The Indians are all around us," he said. "I will ride to Dodge City for help."

     George Bellfield, hunter and ex-soldier, came to stand beside Henry Lease. "You take my horse, Henry, he ride good."


     All the horses that belonged to James Langton and other business men, as well as those of the hunters, had either been killed or driven away during the first day's fighting. George Bellfield's offer was to be expected for any man in those early days would come forward with whatever was needed, especially in the face of danger. Lease nodded acceptance and set about examining his pistols and his 50 Sharp's, satisfied, he then filled his belt with ammunition. After that he walked around shaking hands, first with Langton, then the hunters and other men. As he mounted Bellfield's horse and rode away in the dark of the second night, few men in the group thought he had a chance of getting through alive, for all of that second day the Indians had carried the battle on, shooting from ambush.

     On the third day a party of Indians appeared on a shelf on the side of a bluff about three-fourths of a mile away, about fifteen in number. At the suggestion of several men, Billy Dixon took his big 50 Sharp's, aimed carefully, and pulled the trigger. The watchful hunters saw an Indian fall from his horse, then the others dash out of sight. Shortly two Indians ran quickly out on foot and upon reaching the place where the dead Indian lay, seized the body and scurried to cover. The distance carefully measured afterwards, was 1,200 yards, small wonder the shot is still spoken of with awe among good marksmen and Billy Dixon had considered it one from scratch.

     At the same time Henry Lease had left for Dodge City, two hunters had been sent to different camps to warn the hunters the Indians were on the warpath. Men feared the camps had all been raided, the hunters and skinners killed. By the third day, a number of them had been coming in, having got wind of the siege. By the end of the fifth day, more than a hundred men were in the Walls and some horses.

     And by the end of the fifth day, tragedy had struck again. Sod look-outs were on Myers & Leonard's building by now and at the Rath building, a hole had been punched through the wall and a sod look-out set up. In each someone was watching continually for no one relished another surprise attack. When the cry of "Indians!" rang out, it was the inadvertent cause of tragedy in Rath's store.

     William Olds was in the look-out when the call came and he yelled, "There the red devils come again?"

     He started to climb down the ladder and in his excitement, caught the trigger of his gun on a rung of the ladder. It exploded and the bullet tore the top of his head off and he crumpled in death at the foot of the ladder. Mrs. Olds had dashed from the restaurant, only in time to see her husband fall from the ladder and crumple at her feet. When the darkness of evening descended, the hunters


buried William Olds on a little knoll about sixty feet southeast of Rath's store.4 Men who would have fought for this man's wife to save her from the clutches of the Indians, knew not how to comfort her. It was their darkest hour.

     Men, taut with strain, asked one another, "Did Henry Lease get through?"

     Hunter and merchant alike made ready to leave. It was agreed that Mrs. Olds was to leave with the very first load of freight. Everything was planned while weary men waited and men in the look-outs watched the trail.

     On the sixth day, Billy Dixon led a party of twenty-five men out on the trail and started the long march to Dodge City. And shortly after that, a cry came from one of the look-outs. "The wagons are coming!"

     Men shouted and laughed and made last minute plans, while news was relayed from the look-out. Upon Henry Lease's reaching Dodge City, Charles Rath and Robert Wright, the other two owners of the Adobe Walls store, looked about them and hired what was available - A. J. Anthony's ox train and fifty-nine guards, mounted to ride along and safeguard the train, eight or ten wagons with six yoke of oxen each.5 All were under the command of Tom Nixon, well known frontiersman and freighter, as well as a hunter.

     Back in Dodge City, Carrie Rath counted the days when the first load could be expected at Dodge City. On that day, Carrie started out in her buggy, crossing the bridge, and waiting far out from Dodge City. She wanted to be the first to comfort her bereaved friend, Mrs. William Olds. When the first wagon load came into sight, Carrie drove to meet it. When her friend had climbed from the wagon, the two women embraced and cried. Afterwards, Mrs. Olds went in the buggy to Dodge City where she stayed with the Rath family.

     For days, the two women watched as the incoming freight wagons returning merchandise to the Charles Rath & Company store, hove into sight. When the last load was brought in of the more valuable merchandise, Adobe Walls was again abandoned, left to the ravages of time. And again, as they had many times, Mrs. Rath and Mrs. Olds embraced each other, laughing at first and in the end weeping.

     On one of the loads was another very dear friend, Andy Johnson, who was probably welcomed into the Rath home also until he found other quarters. In 1922, Andy and Brick Bond, another survivor who made his home in Dodge City, were taken to the


Adobe Wall site, at Thanksgiving time, by Tom Stauth, also of Dodge City.

     Overjoyed, the two men ran like a couple of kids to the spot where Charlie Rath's store had been, where they had helped to stave off an estimated 700 to 1,500 Indians in 1874. Ready at length to leave, Andy Johnson and Tom Stauth, the driver, had climbed into the car. But Brick Bond stood with one foot on the running board of the car, the other firmly planted on the ground. Gripping the narrow brimmed cloth hat he always wore and now held in his hand, the old buffalo hunter faced the setting sun, the ruins of old Adobe Walls, and the sure knowledge that he had fought a good fight, it was finished and he would probably never see the ruins again. Before Brick began slowly to climb into the car, the two men could see he was greatly moved.

     Standing there, with his hat in his hand, he murmured, reverently, more to himself and His Maker than to the other two men, "Goodbye, Adobe Walls, goodbye."


1. Names vary some with different accounts.
2. Warpath and Council Fire, Stanley Vestal.
3. Statement by R. M. Wright under oath, case No. 4598, Indian claim, verifies this.
4. Grave located later by Andy Johnson and Brick Bond.
5. Case No. 4593. Chas. Rath & Company against the United states and the Indians. R. M. Wright states 59 mounted men. Both Rath and Wright say two couriers. all other accounts say one. Wright says Langton paid the $200 at Adobe Walls.

This material was prepared by
Lynn H. Nelson
Lawrence KS
12 November 2001

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