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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 14, No. 3
September, 1936
WHEN THE TERRITORY WAS YOUNG

T. E. BECK

Page 360

In fulfillment of a promise I made to members of the State Historical Society at the meeting held in Enid on April 30th I submit for publication in the Chronicles a brief summary of some of the early day stories as I remember them after fifty years when I first came to the western part of the Indian territory, now Western Oklahoma. We older members and pioneers made history, while the younger generation is now in the making of history, it will require years to determine whether good or bad. To illustrate what I mean—take the great dust storms we have been having in this western country, or man's effort to change the climate of the plains by planting rows of trees, these and other happenings are merely news items, and fifty or more years will appear in history the same as "New England's Dark Day," May 20, 1780, and other events of which we read in our common school histories.

I am expected to write something about the early history of this country in which I took part. At the age of 20 I came from Illinois, my birthplace, with the idea of becoming a cowboy out on the wide open range. About June 1, 1882 I arrived at Harper, Kansas, the end of the railroad, and at once got a job of piloting a yoke of oven to a freight wagon taking supplies to the headquarter ranch of the Comanche Pool Cattle Co., known as Evansville—just a ranch house and horse corrals near a fine spring. I was told that I could go to work and the freighter with his two ox teams and mule team left for the Salt Plains on the Cimarron River to take back salt to the settlements up in Kansas. The next morning I hunted up the foreman and imparted the information to him that I did not know much about riding horses and that I had never ridden a bucking bronco and he would have to give me a pony that was broke to ride. His reply was emphatic and convincing, prefixed with an oath he said, "Young fellow, you will go with the fence gang and learn to ride in a wagon first." With the fence gang I went and that took me down into the Indian country.

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A number of years prior to this time the cattlemen who grazed the lands in the Cherokee Outlet formed an association with headquarters at Caldwell, leased these lands from the Cherokees with the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, at a very nominal rental per acre. At first the herds were, as far as possible, kept on the ranged allotted to each cattleman in the association. Barbed wire was coming into general use, and posts could be cut in the cedar canyons and men were employed to build fence around the pasture lands. The Comanche Pool Cattle Co. was one of the large concerns holding cattle in the Indian country, besides about half of what is now Comanche county, Kansas. In the Indian country the company had a lease on a scope of country from a little west of Kiowa, Kansas, south to the Cimarron River and west about 56 miles to the Cimarron River on the Kansas line. It was in this portion of the range where I helped put up fence the summer of 1882. Late that fall I was promoted to fence rider, to see that the fence was in good condition and if any stock had gotten out, if so get them back in the pasture or report to the foreman. I had mastered the art of riding a bronco by this time. Right here I wish to state why cowboys carried guns, not because they were bad men looking for trouble, but as a matter of necessity in stopping a stampeding herd of range cattle. Besides the cattle company paid a bounty for each coyote, loper wolf, panther, bobcat or bear. We had to buy our own six-shooter but the company furnished ammunition free. So it can be seen why most cowboys were pretty good shots. We did considerable practice with the free ammunition.

The Comanche Pool ranch occupied the western part of now Woods county, and the Drumm ranch was to the east, northern part of Alfalfa county. The former ranch was intersected by the Salt Fork river and many small creeks; a number drained into Salt Fork and the others into the Cimarron. At the head of these Creeks were deep canyons; so deep in fact that tall trees growing in the gulches only the tops would appear as a small bush from the surrounding country. Some places it required miles of travel to get around the head of one of these canyons. In this section of the country are to be found many queer formations caused by erosion. Along the Cimarron River the high lands are underlaid with gypsum rock of several feet in thickness. The lower

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parts of the bluffs have been washed away leaving an overhanging shelf until it breaks down by its own weight. Then again there are cone shaped formations with the cap of gypsum rock extending out from all sides, making it almost impossible for one to reach the top of these cones. Just south of the Cimarron is a creek known as Chimney creek, so named from a tall Gypsum formation, resembling the chimney of a house which has been destroyed by fire. The greatest curiosity of all is the salt beds on the Cimarron River, at the mouth of Buffalo Creek. Here, from salt springs, the brine is evaporated during dry weather forming cakes of salt from which a wagon load may be scooped up in a few mintes. Thousands of tons have been hauled from these plains and used for stock salt and in many instances farmers have used in for curing meat, and for other domestic uses.

Near the crest of the divide leading down to the Salt Plains from the north, was the location of the "Lone Grave" which contained the bodies of two young men killed by the Indians, fall of 1878. The story related to me nearly four years afterwards by the cowboys on the ranch, I give it as near as I remember it at this time. Two ranch hands, Ruben Bristow and Fred Clark, were sent with team and wagon to the plains for a load of salt. They would reach the salt springs that evening and cross the river to the south side at the mouth of Buffalo creek where water and fuel could be had for camping over night. Next morning at the headquarters ranch the mule team was found dragging the double-trees. Three cowboys were sent out to take the back-track and find out what had happened to the two boys. Following the main trail to a point a few miles from the salt springs the wagon was seen in a clump of bushes in a little gully leading into Jug Mott creek. On reaching the wagon the bodies of the victims were in the wagon bog. Tracing back to where the wagon left the trail it could plainly be seen that the wagon had been surrounded by a number of Indians, supposed to be Cheyennes, who shot their victims without warning. The shooting scared the team which ran off and wrecked the wagon in the gully. The only thing that could be done was to bury the bodies as they had lain in the hot sun from the day before. With the shovels to be used in getting salt, a grave was dug near the trail on the top of the divide and the two bodies in their own clothing, and wrapped in a wagon sheet

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were given as respectable burial as circumstances would permit. In late years I have heard the story that a number of arrows had been shot into the bodies after death. It would be an unusual thing for the Indians at that late date to have bow and arrows, but no doubt it was true. Those who related the incidents of the murder never said anything about the arrows in the victims. It was never known what band of Indians committed the dastardly crime. A check of the Indians held at Camp Supply, Fort Cantonment, or Fort Darlington did not reveal any considerable number absent at about that time. One of the cowboys who found the victims and assisted in their burial was the late Charley Colcord, president of the Historical Society.1

The Salft Fork river which flowed through the cattle ranch, had its origin up in Comanche county, Kansas, and made a number of small creeks fed by numerous springs of pure clear water, the outcropping of the water table under the high plains farther west. The Indian name as shown by an old atlas is Nescatunga River, the eastern edge of the Great American desert. An Indian legend handed down by the plains Indians who occupied the country adjoining the desert, describes what took place in the dim past. The Indians believed that the Great Spirit, Manitou, became angered and sent a big sand storm off the desert plains which filled the channel of the stream with sand making the water unfit for use. So much for the legend. Indians of later years stated that the stream was a deep gulch, forty to eighty feet deep and that within its banks enormous trees were growing, and the channel was a flowing stream of deep clear water on which the Indians traveled in their canoes. This gulch was a mile or more to the north of the present stream and borings made at many places confirm the story that at one time the stream was a deep gulch. A number of the present day towns along the river get their supply of water from the north side of the river at a depth of about fifty feet. Of my own personal knowledge I know that the stream has shifted to the south in many places for a consid-



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erable distance in the past fifty years. The present channel is filled with fine white sand which in high waters is a quick-sand and very treacherous. Where bridges have been built across the river it required a depth of forty to eighty feet for footings on rock bottom. Wells put down on the high plains to the west of the headwaters of the river, show that there is nothing but pure white sand until the water level is reached, and a well had to be curbed from top to bottom to hold the loose sand. The statement is not far fetched when one states that the plains country was once a desert of shifting sands, and these sands have been carried down the rivers, now only sandy stretches. The North Canadian river is an exception, and it virtually follows a high ridge, country on either side is much lower in altitude and the creeks tributary to it are only a few miles in length. In Salt Fork River the water is not salty until it reaches the waters from the Great Salt plains near Cherokee, Alfalfa county.

Much has been said about the Chisholm Trail and the controversy of the Western Trail from Texas to Dodge City. From John R. Mead of Wichita and other old timers whom I met when I worked on the Wichita Eagle in the early days, I received a valuable store of information about the West. Jesse Chisholm had been dead a number of years, having died in Blaine County on March 4, 1868, from ptomaine poisoning. In August 1872 the Santa Fe surveyors reached the present site of Dodge City and a plat of the town made. This was about four miles west of Fort Dodge. Ford County was organized April 5, 1873, but the laying of track through the county did not take place until the next year, so it was after this time that cattle were driven over the trail to Dodge City for shipment.

In conclusion will say that after I was cured of the cowboy fever I returned to my old trade of setting type and worked in many offices throughout the country. I have filled all positions in the publication of newspapers. I could give many details of early day history, but lack of a school education is a handicap, (McGuffey's Fourth reader when I had to quit school) and I can not express in proper language what I really know about some of the early day history of our country.

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