[Logo of the Kansas Heritage Group - a sunflower,

The Country, Time, and Conditions that Brought About Dodge City

DODGE CITY is situated on or near the hundredth meridian. It is just three hundred miles in a direct western line from the Missouri river, one hundred and fifty miles south from the Nebraska line, fifty miles north of the Oklahoma line, and one hundred miles from Colorado on the west. As the state is just four hundred miles long and two hundred wide, it follows that Dodge City is located in the direct center of the southwestern quarter, or upon the exact corner of the southwestern sixteenth portion of Kansas. By rail it is three hundred and sixty-three miles from Kansas City, Missouri, toward the west. Dodge City was laid out in July, 1872, under the supervision of Mr. A. A. Robinson, chief engineer of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, and, for many years afterwards, general manager of that road, and a more pleasant gentleman I never met. The town company consisted of Colonel Richard I. Dodge, commander of the post at Fort Dodge, and several of the officers under him. R. M. Wright was elected president of the town company, and Major E. B. Kirk, quartermaster at Fort Dodge, was made secretary and treasurer. Dodge City was located five miles west of Fort Dodge, on the north bank of the Arkansas River. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad reached Dodge City in the early part of September the same year, and the town was practically the terminus of the road for the next few months, when it reached out to Sargent, on the state line. Meanwhile, what a tremendous business was done in Dodge City! For months and months there was no time when one could get through the place on account of the blocking of the streets by hundreds of wagons-freighters, hunters


and government teams. Almost any time during the day, there were about a hundred wagons on the streets, and dozens and dozens of camps all around the town, in every direction: Hay was worth from fifty to one hundred dollars per ton, and hard to get at any price. We were entirely without law or order, and our nearest point of justice was Hays City, ninety-five miles northeast of Dodge City. Here we had to go to settle our differences, but, take it from me, most of those differences were settled by rifle or six-shooter on the spot. Hays City was also the point from which the west and southwest obtained all supplies until the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad reached Dodge. All the freighters, buffalo hunters and wild and woolly men for hundreds of miles gathered there. It was a second Dodge City, on a smaller scale. Getting drunk and riding up and down the sidewalks as fast as a horse could go, firing a six-shooter and whooping like a wild Indian, were favorite pastimes, exciting, innocent and amusing. At this place lived a witty Irishman, a justice of the peace, by the name of Joyce. One day, near Hays City, two section-hands (both Irish) got into an altercation. One came at the other with a spike hammer. The other struck him over the head with a shovel, fracturing his skull and instantly killing him. There was no one present. The man who did the deed came in, gave himself up, told a reasonable story, and was very penitent. Citizens went out and investigated and concluded it was in self-defense. When the Irishman was put on trial, Justice Joyce asked the prisoner the usual question, "Are you guilty or not guilty?" "Guilty, your honor," replied the prisoner. "Shut up your darned mouth," said Joyce; "I discharge you for want of evidence." Many couples did Justice Joyce make man and wife, and several did he divorce. He went on the principle that one who had the power to make had also the power to unmake. Many acts did he perform that, although not legal, were witty, and so many snarls


were made in consequence that, after the country be came civilized, the legislature was asked for relief, and a bill was passed legalizing Justice Joyce's acts. Such is a sample of early day justice, and a glance at other phases of life on the plains, in early days, will make clear the conditions that made possible a town like Dodge City. During the '50'S overland travel had become established, and communication between the Missouri River and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Denver, Colorado, was regularly kept up, in the face of many dangers and difficulties. I made my first overland trip with oxen in the year 1859, reaching the town of Denver in May. Three times after that I crossed the plains by wagon and twice by coach. My second trip was made in war times, in the spring of 1863, when guerrilla warfare was rife in Kansas. I witnessed some evidences of the guerrillas in the work of Jim and Bill Anderson, hard characters from Missouri who, at the commencement of the war, had taken to the brush.

It happened like this: Traveling along I noticed that the country was dotted with bare chimneys and blackened ruins of houses along the old Santa Fe trail, from a few miles west of Westport to Council Grove. The day we reached Council Grove, two men rode in on fine horses and, dismounting, one of them said: "I expect you know who we are, but I am suffering the torments of hell from the toothache, and if you will allow me to get relief we will not disturb your town; but if we are molested, I have a body of men near here who will burn your town." These men, I learned afterwards, were Bill Anderson and Up. Hays. A friend by the name of Chatfield with his family, and I with my family, were traveling together. We drove about ten miles from Council Grove that day, and camped with an ox train going to Santa Fe. Chatfield and I had a very large tent between us. That night, about midnight, during a heavy rainstorm, these two men with about fifty others rode up and dismounted, and as many of them


as could enter our tent crowded in and asked for water. We happened to have a large keg full. After they drank, they saw that our wives as well as ourselves were much frightened, and they said: "Ladies, you need not be frightened; we are not making war on women and children, but on 'blue coats.'" When we reached Diamond Springs we saw what their purpose was. They had murdered the people and burned their houses. The place, indeed, presented a look of desolation and destruction. Not a living thing could be seen about the premises and we were too scared to make an investigation. We learned afterward it was an old grudge they had against these people. Various government posts were established along the trails for the protection of travelers and settlers, and the quelling of numerous Indian outbreaks. Fort Aubrey, Bent's Fort, and Fort Atkinson, were among the earlier posts, and Fort Larned, Fort Supply, Fort Lyon, and Fort Dodge were familiar points to the inhabitants of the plains before the establishment of Dodge City. Fort Lyon was in eastern Colorado, and was first established in 1860, near Bent's Fort on the Arkansas, but was newly located, in 1867, at a point twenty miles distant, on the north bank of the Arkansas, two and one-half miles below the Purgatory River. Fort Larned was established October 22, 1859, for the protection of the Santa Fe trade, on the right bank of the Pawnee Fork, about seven miles above its mouth. Fort Dodge was located in 1864, and the site for its location was selected because it was where the wet route and the dry route intersected. The dry route came across the divide from Fort Larned, on the Pawnee, while the wet route came around by the river, supposed to be about fifteen miles further. The dry route was often without water the whole distance, and trains would lay up to recruit after making the passage, which caused this point on the Arkansas River to become a great camping ground. Of course the Indians found this out, to their delight, and made it one of their haunts, to pounce down


upon the unwary emigrant and freighter. Numerous were their attacks in this vicinity, and many were their victims. Men were butchered in the most horrible manner, stock was killed, and women taken into captivity more terrible than death, and even trains of wagons were burned. Some of the diabolical work I have witnessed with my own eyes, and will speak of some of it later.

One day a Mexican Indian, or at least a Mexican who had been brought up by the Indians, came in and said his train had been attacked at the mouth of Mulberry creek, the stock run off, and everyone killed but him. This was the first outbreak that spring. We afterward learned that this Mexican had been taken in his youth and adopted by the Indians, and had participated in killing his brothers. In fact, he had been sent to the train to tell them that the Indians were friendly. They captured the train and murdered everyone in it, without giving them the ghost of a show. The Mexican was then sent to Fort Dodge to spy and find out what was going on there, because he could speak Spanish. Major Douglas sent a detachment down, and true enough there lay the train and dead Mexicans, with the mules and harness gone. The wagons were afterward burned. The train had passed over the old Fort Bascom trail from New Mexico, a favorite route, as it was much shorter than the Santa Fe trail and avoided the mountains, but scarce of water and very dangerous. At last it became so dangerous that it had to be abandoned. The trail which came into the Arkansas four miles west of the town of Cimarron had to be abandoned for the same reason.

Many attacks were made along the route, and three trains that I know of were burned, and several had to be abandoned and stock driven into the Arkansas River on account of the scarcity of water. The route was called the "Hornado de Muerti" (the journey of death; very significant was its name). At one time you could have followed the route, even if the wagon trail had been obliter-


ated, by the bleaching bones. There are two places now in Grant or Stevens county, on the Dry Cimarron, known as Wagon Bed Springs and Barrel Springs. One was named because the thirsty freighters had sunk a wagon bed in the quick-sand to get water; and in the other place because they had sunk a barrel. Sixty miles above where this route came into the Arkansas there was another called the Aubrey route, which was less dangerous because less subject to Indian attacks, and water was more plentiful. Colonel F. X. Aubrey, a famous freighter, established this route, and it became more famous on account of a large wager that he could make the distance on horseback, from Santa Fe to Independence, Missouri, in eight days. He won the wager, and had several hours to spare. Colonel Aubrey had fresh horses stationed with his trains at different places along the whole route. He afterwards made his famous trip down through the wilds of Arizona and California, accompanied by a single Indian, and came back to Santa Fe, after a six months' journey, with marvelous stories of the rich finds he had made. He had the proof with him in the shape of quartz and nuggets. When some gentleman questioned his veracity, immediately a duel was fought, in which the Colonel was killed. No money, bribe, threats or coaxing could induce that Indian to go back and show where these riches lay. He said: "No, I have had enough. Nothing can tempt me again to undergo the hardships I have endured from want of food and water and the dangers I have escaped. Death at once would be preferable."

A few miles east of where the Aubrey trail comes into the Arkansas is what is known as the "Gold Banks." Old wagon bosses have told me that along in the early fifties a party of miners, returning from California richly laden, was attacked by Indians. The white men took to the bluffs and stood them off for several days and made a great fight; but after a number were killed and the others starved out for water, they buried their treasure,


abandoned their pack animals, and got away in the night, and some of the party came back afterwards and recovered their buried riches. Another version of the story says that they were all killed before they reached the states. At any rate, long years ago there were many searches made, and great excitement was always going on over these bluffs. In 1859 I saw a lot of California miners prospecting in the bluffs and along the dry branches that put into the Arkansas; and I was told they got rich color in several places, but not enough to pay. In this vicinity, and east of the bluffs, is what is named Chateau's Island, named after the great Indian trader of St. Louis, the father of all the Chateaus. Here he made one of his largest camps and took in the rich furs, not only of the plains, but of the mountains also.

At this side of the point of Rocks, eight miles west of Dodge City, used to be the remains of an old adobe fort. Some called it Fort Mann, others Fort Atkinson. Which is correct I do not know. 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 had occupied it, I do not know. There were many legends connected with old Fort Mann. Some say that a large Mexican train, heavily loaded with Mexican dollars, took shelter there from the Indians, and finally lost all their cattle, and buried their money to keep it out of the hands of the Indians, and got back to Mexico as best they could. When they returned, the river had washed all their cache away, and it was never recovered; but the following is the best information I could gather, and I think it is the most plausible story: In the '50's, and a long while before, the government did its own freighting with ox teams. Many a horn have I seen branded "U. S." One of these trains was on its way back to the states, loaded with ox chains,


for the simple reason that the government usually sold its wagons after they had delivered their loads of supplies, at their respective destinations, to the miners, hunters, and trappers, and turned the cattle over to the commissary for beef. This would naturally leave a large accumulation of ox chains. Now, this train loaded with chains met the heavy snowstorm in or near Fort Mann, and they cached their chains at the fort, and went in with a few light wagons, and the river washed the chains away; for the banks have washed in several hundred feet since I have known the place.

There was some inquiry made from Washington about Fort Mann, about thirty years ago, and I remember going with an escort, and, on the sloping hillside north of the fort, finding three or four graves. Of these, one was that of an officer, and the others of enlisted men; also two lime-kilns in excellent condition and a well-defined road leading to Sawlog. In fact, the road was as large as the Santa Fe trail, showing that they must have hauled considerable wood over it. This leads me to believe that the fort had been occupied by a large garrison.

Another story, and a strange one, of very early times deals with the ever interesting subject of buried treasure, hinting of the possibility of companies being organized to dig for such treasure, supposed to have been concealed near Dodge City. About four miles west of Dodge, perhaps many of our readers have noticed a place where the earth seems to have been, a long time ago, thrown up into piles, holes dug, etc., indicating that some body of soldiers, hunters, or freighters had made breastworks to defend themselves against an enemy. We have often noticed this place and wondered if a tale of carnage could not be told, if those mounds only had mouths and voices to speak. But we leave this to be explained, as it will be, in the after part of this article, and will proceed to tell all we have learned of the story, just as it was told in the early days of Dodge.

- 16 -

"In the year of 1853, when this country was as wild as the plains of Africa, only traversed at intervals by tribes of Indians and bands of Mexicans, there were no railroads running west of St. Louis, and all the freight transmitted by government was carried over this country by large freighting trains, such as now run between [Here's a pleasant photo of Robert M. Wright and his son Connor taking a stroll along a tree-lined dirt path in Wright Park, Dodge City, KS. Robert Wright is dressed much as he was in the formal photograph presented a few pages back, but somehow manages to look much more casual and even a bit animated. The son is decked out in shoes, knee-length socks reaching up to beneath what are either knee-length pants or knickers, a white shirt, the tails of which are struggling to escape from the clutches of the pants and hang out in a more natural fashion. In addition, the son has been provided with a necktie. If the boy's trousers are indeed knickers, his outfit is not unlike the ensemble that I wore as a child. Shirtails seem not to have changed much.] here and Camp Supply. In the summer of that year, a freighting train consisting of eighty-two men with one hundred and twenty wagons started from Mexico, across these plains, for Independence, Missouri, to purchase goods. The whole outfit was in charge of an old Mexican freighter named Jesus M. Martinez, whom many of the old plainsmen of thirty years ago will remember. They traveled along what is now known as the old Santa Fe trail and every night corralled their wagons and kept guards posted to give the alarm if danger should approach in the way of Indians, bandits or prairie fires. One evening they halted about sundown, formed the usual corral, and prepared to rest for the night. Little did they think what that night had in store for them. They had observed Indians during the day, but the sight of these children of the plains was no source of annoyance to them, as they had never been troubled and had seen no hostile manifestations. Some time during the night the men who were on watch observed objects not far from camp, the dogs commenced making a fuss, and presently the watchmen became suspicious and aroused old man Martinez. Martinez, being an old plainsman and understanding the tactics of the Indians, after closely observing through the darkness, came to the opinion that Indians were lurking around, and that their intentions were not good. He awoke some of his men and they held a kind of consultation as to the best course to pursue, and finally decided to prepare for the worst. They immediately commenced digging trenches and preparing for defense. The objects around them during all this time seemed to grow more numerous every moment, and finally could


be seen on all sides. The Mexicans waited in suspense, having intrenched themselves as well as possible in ditches and behind piles of dirt. Finally, with yells and shouts, as is always their custom, the Indians made a dash upon the camp from all sides. The Mexicans received them like true martyrs, and being well fortified had every advantage. Their eighty-two guns poured fatal balls into the yelling enemy at every report. The Indians finally fell back and the Mexicans then hoped for deliverance, but it was like hoping against fate. The next day the attack was renewed at intervals, and at each attack the Mexicans fought like demons. For five days the siege continued, a few of the Mexicans being killed, in the meantime, and many Indians. During the time the Mexicans had scarcely slept, but what struck terror to their hearts was the consciousness that their ammunition was nearly gone. On the sixth night the Indians made a more desperate attack than before. They seemed crazed for blood and vengeance for the chiefs they had already lost. As long as their ammunition lasted the Mexicans continued their stern resistance, but powder and lead was not like the widow's oil. It steadily decreased until none was left. Then their guns were still, and they were swallowed up like Pharaoh's hosts in the Red Sea, by wild Cheyennes, Arapahoes and Kiowas, who made deathly havoc with the little handful of brave Mexicans. We need not dwell upon this scene of butchery, and it is only necessary to relate that but one man is known to have escaped in the darkness, and that man, somewhat strange to note, was old Jesus M. Martinez. How he managed to secrete himself we can hardly divine, others might have been carried away and held captive until death, but he alone never told the story to the pale-face. The Indians pillaged the train of all the flour, bacon, etc., took the stock, set fire to some of the wagons, and then, Indianlike, immediately left the field of carnage. Old Martinez remained in his hiding place until morning and until the Indians


were miles away, then creeping out he surveyed the remains of what a few days ago was his jolly, jovial companions. He was alone with the dead.

"As is nearly always the case with persons when no eye is near, he thought of the valuable, and knowing that quite an amount of silver was stored in one of the wagons, he searched and found a portion of it. As near as he remembered, when he related this occurrence to his son, he founds twenty-one small bags, each one containing one thousand silver Mexican dollars. These bags he carried some distance from the camp, we cannot learn exactly how far, or which way, and buried them. He then started out and made his way on foot back to his old home in Mexico, where, it seems, he died soon afterwards. But before he died he told his son what we have related above, and advised him to hunt this treasure. What goes to corroborate this story was the evidence of Dr. Wilber of Kansas City, who sold goods to these Mexicans and knew of their having a considerable quantity of silver in their possession.

"Pursuant to his father's advice young Martinez came up to this country some years after the death of his father for the purpose of following his instructions. There are two men now living in this city to whom he revealed the secret, one of whom assisted him in searching for the buried treasure. From the directions marked out by old Martinez they found the spot where the massacre took place, about four miles west of Dodge City--the spot described above, where the pits and dirt piles are still plainly visible. For days and even weeks young Martinez searched the ground in that vicinity using a sharpened wire, which he drove into the ground wherever he supposed the treasure might lie concealed. But he was not successful, and not being of a persevering nature abandoned the search and remained around Fort Dodge for some time, when he fell into the habit and became a hard drinker. He finally returned to Mexico and has not


been back here since, that we are aware of. After he left, one of the men to whom he had revealed the secret (and this man now lives in this city) made a partial search for the treasure. He hired men and after swearing them to secrecy as to what they were searching for, set them to digging ditches. They found nothing and abandoned the work." This story, as told above, is an historical fact, and portions of it have been heretofore published. We can give names of men who know more about it than we do but by request we do not publish them. This treasure will probably be found some day, and probably will lie buried forever, and never see the light. No eye but the Omnipotent's can tell the exact spot where it lies. As we said above, it is rumored that parties are preparing to institute a search. They may find it and they may not. We hope they will as it is of no benefit to mankind where it is. It certainly exists. Such were some of the traces which the feet of the white man left behind in their first passing over the plains of the southwest. One almost lost sight of the natural features and attractions of the region, in viewing these intensely interesting evidences of the beginning of the conquest of the wilds by civilization. Yet the natural beauties and attractions were there in superlative degree. An old darkey, living in the Arkansas valley, thus explains how it happened that the territory of Kansas exists. On being asked by a land looker what he thought of the country, he said: "Well, sah, when the good Lord made dis whole world, He found out that He had made a mistake, dat He had not made any garden, so He jest went to work and made Hisself a garden, and we call it Kansas." And a natural garden, indeed, in many respects, was the Arkansas valley in southwestern Kansas. Pages could be filled with descriptions of its beauties without exhausting the subject. But no less than the charms and interest


of its physical features, were the charms and interest of other of its natural attributes, atmospheric peculiarities, for instance, which, as in the blizzard, arose at times to the height of the grand and terrible. Other phases of atmospheric conditions, however, peculiar to the great plains in pioneer days, were very beautiful, and perhaps the best example of such was the mirage. Mirage, Webster describes as an "optical illusion, arising from an unequal refraction in the lower strata of the atmosphere, and causing remote objects to be seen double, as if reflected in a mirror, or to appear as if suspended in the air. It is frequently seen in deserts, presenting the appearance of water." If I were gifted with descriptive powers, what wonderful scenes could I relate of the mirage on the plains of Kansas. What grand cities towering to the skies have I seen, with their palaces and cathedrals and domed churches, with tall towers and spires reaching almost up to the clouds, with the rising sun glistening upon them until they looked like cities of gold, their streets paved with sapphire and emeralds, and all surrounded by magnificent walls, soldiers marching, with burnished spears and armor! There would arise at times over all a faint ethereal golden mist, as if from a smooth sea, shining upon the towers and palaces with a brilliancy so great as to dazzle the eyes-a more gorgeous picture than could be painted by any artist of the present, or by any of the old masters. The picture as has presented itself to me I still retain in good recollection, in its indescribable magnificence. At other times the scenes would change entirely, and, instead of great cities there would be mountains, rivers, seas, lakes, and ships, or soldiers and armies, engaged in actual conflict. So real have such sights appeared to me on the plains that I could not help but believe they were scenes from real life, being enacted in some other part of the world, and caught up by the rays of the sun and reflected to my neighborhood, or perhaps


that some electrical power had reproduced the exact picture for me. How many poor creatures has the mirage deceived by its images of water. At times one unacquainted with its varied whims would be persuaded that it really was water, and would leave the well-beaten track to follow this optical illusion, only to wander farther from water and succor, until he dropped down from thirst and exhaustion, never to rise again, never again to be heard of by his friends, his bleaching bones to be picked by the coyote, unburied and forgotten. On other occasions you would see immense towering forests, with every variety of trees and shrubbery. In some places it would be so dark and lowering, even in the daylight, as to appear dangerous, though one could not help admiring its gloomy grandeur. Then there would be fair spots of picturesque beauty, with grottoes and moonlit avenues, inviting you to promenade, where one seemed to hear the stroke of the barge's oars on lake and river, and the play of the fountains, and the twitter of the birds. With the trail of the plow, followed by immigration and civilization, the wonderful mirage is a thing of the past. It is only now and then that one gets a glimpse of its beauties; its scenes of magnificence, far beyond any powers of description, I will never see again.


Preface Introduction 01 02 03 04 05 06 07
08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 Appendix Home Ford County History KS Heritage Kansas History Dodge City History Old West Kansas American West
Lawrence, Kansas,