Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 15, No. 4
SOME EXPERIENCES OF C. H. RIENHARDT1
IN EARLY OKLAHOMA
By Mildred Milam Viles
Charles Henry Rienhardt was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, on April 20th, 1860. In 1872 the Rienhardt family moved to Missouri
on the south side of the Quapaw line and in 1879 Charles, then called Henry, and his brother, Joe, went to Texas to start
driving cattle. They took their saddles to Turkey Run to get their horses and on the way came across the remains of Pat Hennessey's
wagons. The charcoal was still fresh. Hennessey, a freighter, had met some hostile Indians. He had fired once and then the
shot had stuck in his gun. The Indians had tied him to the wagon and burned him. Hennessey, with the remains of his shovel,
was buried at the side of the trail.
The Rienhardt boys, with Billy Parks, took forty-five saddle horses to meet the herd at Albany, Texas. They were to drive
them to the Cherokee strip and to Trail City, west of Dodge City. This herd, the first held in old Oklahoma, was a beef contract
from the Government to feed the Indians. This was their reason for being allowed to stay in the state. Their route took them
by Anadarko, then the site of the Kiowa and Comanche Agency, on the Washita river. They spent the night at a stage stand and
were advised by a man there to put their horses in the corral. This corral had heavy bars through which chains could be drawn
and locked. This precaution was advised because the Kiowas and Comanches, who had been corralled, had escaped the day before
and were all through the hills on foot. However, the horses had been driven fifty-five miles that day and they needed grass.
It was decided to leave all of them outside and to hobble and bell some of them. The men slept out and staked their saddle
horses near by, but, for the first and last time, removed the saddles from them. All at once the ringing of the bells awakened
The Indians were driving the horses down Honey Creek canyon. The boys caught their horses, gave chase and managed to recover
their stock. They put them in the corral for the rest of the night and the following day went on to Ft. Sill. Here the Indians
wanted to buy some of their horses but none was sold. The Agency had killed six hundred head and sold the rest. These horses
had been taken from the Indians. There were twenty-eight bands of Comanches each headed by a chief. To each of these bands
the government gave one horse, one pony, and a herd of sheep. The Indians would pack the one horse, go to Texas and come back
with several. In six years they had more horses than when the government took them.
From Ft. Sill the Parks outfit went to Red River where they camped on the creek. The river was up and the next morning fifteen
horses were gone. In the sandy country they trailed them until noon. Bill rode in circles from the trail and finally saw an
Indian on a hill. He rode around both sides of the hill and found fourteen of the horses but the Indian and his horse were
gone. The outfit was without water all day but got back to camp by evening. Everything there was just as they had left it.
The next day they rode into Texas and on to Albany. The entire trip had required five days.
They had to wait in Albany a week for the cattle to arrive. There were 2500 head and two days were spent in putting the road
brand on them. This was done in a stone corral four or five miles from town. The cattle had to be roped to be branded and
twenty-five were crippled. They finally started north with eight drivers and a cook in the outfit. On the way they ran into
a band of thirty-five Comanches who demanded two beeves for a grass fee. When this was refused the Indians threatened to kill
them but finally left. This was the only outfit on the trail that summer and it didn't pay.
The next spring, the spring of 1880, Joe went on west gathering cattle and Henry was sent south. On the way he met Harry Halsell
who was going to the same outfit. The negroes were
coming in wanting to work the cattle. Captain Charlie Murray, the round-up captain, gave the order to let the men from the
north work first. One negro announced that he would work his cattle when he found them and Murray promptly killed him. The
next night the cowboys camped on a rise above the Washita river with the negroes camped below. They lay around the wagons
and made no fires. Murray decided to take one man and go down to talk to Dick Glass, a Creek negro and an Oklahoma outlaw.
The cowboys tried, without luck, to dissuade him. He went to the negro camp and told Glass that they were 250 strong but that
if the Creeks wanted a fight to let them know. There was no trouble. The next day Halsell rode up on a hill and Henry joined
him. Halsell said, "Henry, if one of those negroes tries to work his cattle, he'll be dead." However, none tried.
The following day the cowboys ran across an A H E cow and cut it out. A negro rode up and said, "What are you cutting that
on?" Charles (Henry) replied, "On a dun horse." Then the negro protested, "But that cow's been in my herd for over two years."
Said Henry, "Negro, I want a yearling and I'm going to have one." He got one with the negro's brand.
About this time, the Hardman outfit, consisting of Hardman, his son and some hands, came through from Texas with horses to
sell farther north. An Indian met them and demanded so many horses for a grass fee. When Hardman refused, the Indian started
riding through the stock shooting. Hardman's son shot once. The bullet went through the Indian's head and his horse's head.
The Hardman outfit ran for cover in an old stone bakery in Cantonment, Indian Agency, and then sent a courier for a regiment
of soldiers and on to get the round-up outfit. There were about 200 men in the outfit; so they left the herd and the saddle
horses to follow with the wagons, and rode out. On the way they met the courier who told them that the regiment had released
the men and given them water. The round-up boss said, "Now, we'll ride on in and you boys get off and mingle with the Indians.
If a shot is fired you kill every one of them." The cowboys went among the Indians, stepped on their toes and brushed
against them but only a "Hello, John" met them. No shots were fired.
The round-up boss sent twelve men with Hardman to Ft. Reno. Hardman told Joe, who was with the party, "I'm going to lose everything
I have before I get out of here. I want you to have this little mare. She's not blooded but she's fast." At Ft. Reno the government
paid Hardman more for his horses than he would have got if he had gone on.
Joe took the mare home and one night along with seven other horses, she was stolen. Joe was now working for Bridgeman and
Broadwell and one of Harry Bridgeman's boys came down from the Cheyenne reservation and told Joe that his mare was there with
seventeen brands on it. He could recognize her because she had a small turkey track on one flank. On hearing the news, Joe
said, "Saddle a fresh horse, Harry." But Harry protested, "For God's sake, Joe, wait till some of the punchers get back. I'm
not going with you. It's too late, anyway." But Joe's answer was, "I can get there before dark." He saddled his horse and
went on up to the reservation. All of the Indians knew him and the Cheyennes had given him the name "Nomos," which was their
word for left hand. Joe was left handed. When he reached the reservation he rode past the teepees to where he saw some horses
and his mare. He drove them out and back down to the teepees where another of the horses stood, saddled. He sat with his Winchester
on his knee and made signs for an Indian to come out and remove the saddle. The Indian refused, put a rope around the horse's
neck and went back into the teepee. Joe cut the rope and started driving off the horse. The Indian came running out crying,
"Hold on, John, hold on." He removed the saddle and Joe drove the horses on into the camp, where the punchers were more than
relieved to see him.
In 1881 Henry started working for W. B. Grimes. At this time the average cowboy's salary was $45.00 a month and $50.00 when
they were on the trail. One time when they were going west they came to some Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians who
had a horse beonging to the Flying V. Tom Ingram of the Flying V was with the outfit and recognized the animal. The Indians
wanted pay for finding him but Tom refused, took him and started home. All at once about fifty Indians rode over a hill, surrounding
and covering the seven cowboys. They demanded the horse. Albert St. Johns, the wagon boss, drew his gun and stuck it in an
Indian's face. At the same moment one of the Indians pulled his gun in Ingram's face. Ingram said, "Move that gun, John. It
might go off." Afterwards that remark could always get a fight out of him. The Indians took the horse and left.
The outfit was sent to Wichita Falls to unload 2500 head of stock cattle. As the river was dry they moved on to Henryetta.
There were holes in the river with water in them. That night it rained and the stockyards were running with water. The next
day they took the cattle across the river and spent one day and a night with a man who had good grass. He charged them $300.00
for grazing privileges. From here they moved on up to the South Canadian River and camped. The river was up and it was still
raining. In driving the cattle across the river the next morning many of them bogged down and two men had to work together
to dig them out. They went on to the creek and laid up for several days to rest and fatten the cattle. Then they went on to
the ranch which was south of the Cimarron in old Oklahoma. That year Henry and his associates drove 9000 head of cattle and
spent most of their time on the range.
About this time two eastern boys came out to learn the cattle business so that they could go into it. The outfit took them
along as cooks on a trip west to keep the cattle out of Indian territory. On this trip St. Johns came across another American
horse. The Indians, as usual, demanded pay for finding him but St. Johns refused, roped him, put a hackamore on him and took
him back to camp. He told the eastern boys that the whole Cheyenne nation was after them and rode off. The boys tried frantically
but unsuccessfully to catch some horses. One had a steak knife and the other was whetting his knife on a wagon wheel.
The outfit kept up the pretense for a while and then told them the truth.
Shortly after this when the boss had to leave to be a witness in a murder case he turned the outfit over to Henry and Gilfoil.
Shortly after this it was turned over to the C Bar, which was located on the North Canadian River close to Ft. Reno. The new
boss came, counted out the cattle and took them down the trail. Late that winter Henry and Gilfail were let off and Henry
started over to see his brother Joe. On the way he stayed all night with the Gilroys. The Gilroy and Howard outfits were the
U T K and the A H E. That night a prairie fire broke out and they fought it until 2 o'clock in the morning. Their method of
fighting fire was to kill a cow, chop its head off, split it down the middle and then drag it over the buffalo grass, holding
it by one front and one back foot. When one cow burned up they would get another one. The next morning the boss came up to
Henry and said, "Young fellow, would you like a job?" "Yes," answered Henry. "All right," said the boss, "you can go to work
right now." Henry explained that he wanted to see his brother and asked if he could start work a week later. The boss said,
"Make it two weeks but your pay starts right now."
The Bridgeman outfit sold out about 1883 and moved on. Joe went with the Grimes outfit, the W B G. He stayed up and tried
to watch the cattle to keep the Indians from getting them. Henry was in headquarters now but he got reports from every one
who came down. Once Joe discovered some dogs who had a beef down and were eating it up. Some Indian squaws were trying to
drive them off. Joe shot into the bunch and killed six dogs. The squaws ran, yelling to him to stop shooting. One day he rode
up on six Indians who, he knew, had just killed a beef. He wanted to catch them in the act; so he sat down and smoked a peace
pipe with them. When they finished the Indians stood up and said "Good-bye, John." Joe made no answer so they sat down again,
smoked another pipe and said "Goodbye" again. Still he made no answer, so they repeated the procedure for the third time.
This time Joe said "Good-bye" and
rode off. However, he stayed close enough to watch them load the beef on horses and then he followed, wanting them to unload
in Kingfisher. At the river he came up with them. They jumped their horses down a steep bank and crossed but Joe went around.
When the Indians reached their teepees, they jumped off of their horses, gave them a slap and took the meat inside. As Joe
rode up an Indian, with blood on his trousers, came out of the teepee and said, "Why, hello, John. When you come?" For two
days they parleyed. Three times Joe asked them about the beef and three times they told him "No." This is the only time Henry
ever heard of the Indian lying on the third question. Finally Joe told them that if they would show him the hide he would
say nothing. They promptly brought it from the creek where it had been weighted down with stones. The brand was on it. The
Indians looked guilty but reminded Joe of his promise.
One day Joe met two of the Indian police on the road. They called to him to stop, approached and dropped to their knees with
their Winchesters leveled on him. They told him to give them his six-shooter but he refused. Again they made their request
and again he refused. Then one of them said, "Paper from agent, John." Joe pulled out an old letter. They looked at it, said
"All right" and rode away.
Not long after this a boy was killed while riding the fence. It was about 200 miles around the fence and it had to be ridden
every day. The boy's wife cooked for the outfit. He was shot in the middle of the forehead and the wound had been slashed
with tomahawks. He had surprised some Indians killing beef. Tom Love, Henry, St. Johns and another man were sent out one day.
When Tom came in, he said, "Well, an Indian's dead. The bad one. He was shot in the forehead the same as the white boy." When
asked for particulars all he would say was, "He was killed with this six-shooter. I loaned it out." Of course, the cowboys
knew that he had killed him himself.
In 1883 or '84 the government put the cowmen out of old Oklahoma. It made them cross the Cimarron into the strip coun-
try but as soon as the soldiers disappeared the cowmen would cross back. One night the cowboys discovered some soldiers setting
fire to the grass. The companies were about equal so the cowboys started abusing the soldiers but couldn't stir them to a
fight; so they gave up and set to work killing the cattle and putting out the fire.
Henry and another boy had been left in a tent under a bluff containing shucks and feed for the horses. They thought they had
a warm place but a norther came up and froze the Cimarron solid. For forty-eight days the cattle had no water and died by
the thousands. They started the winter with 9000 head and by spring had only 4000.
Plum and Lydle, another outfit, had 14,000 head but they were causing trouble in the Indian country and had to move north
of Henry's party. The cattle drifted down by the river and the next spring they gathered but 2600.
Henry and St. Johns were sent west to gather the strays. One day they found a steer and cut him out of the herd but the Indians
drove him back. St. Johns rode off to one side, dismounted, pulled his six-shooter and said, "Now, Henry's going in there
and get that steer and bring him out here. The first one of you who tries to turn him back will get a bullet." Henry rode
into the herd expecting a bullet any minute but he cut out the steer and no one made a move.
Henry and Joe went on up to the quarantine grounds, which were on the edge of the strip, with one herd of Grimes' cattle.
They shipped the cattle and then Grimes wanted them to go on west with him but they decided to quit. In June they began buying
horses from the Indians. The tribes with which they traded were the Kiowa, Comanches, Wichitas, Caddos, Keechees and Apaches.
The Caddos and the Keechees were having a big dance and it looked to the boys like a good chance to trade but the Caddos sent
them on after telling them that no whites were allowed to
mix with the Indians at a dance. It was late and their horses were tired but the Indians sent them on anyway. A Keechee boy
came up to them and made signs that he would take them home with him and they could sleep there. They accepted his offer and
the three of them rode off. When they came to a trail through the timber, the boy stopped and made signs that he would go
on and have the squaws prepare food. He told them how to go, how many hills they must pass and how many times they must cross
water. Then he rode off. It was about 10 or 11 o'clock at night and the boys' horses were tired and slow. Finally Joe said,
"By gollies, I'll bet we missed that trail" and just then they saw the camp. The Indian boy came out to meet them, dressed
only in a breech clout, and said, "Hello, John." His house was made of grass, woven so tightly that it could keep out the
wind and the weather. A bench, five or six feet wide, ran around the outside of the house. In the summer time they all slept
They took their horses to pasture and the next Issue day Henry rode to the Agency. There he saw a Comanche whose wife had
run away with an Apache. The Comanche had caught them and had just returned with his wife. He jerked her off of her horse
by her hair and beat her with a quirt. The old Indians, who were sitting alongside, never looked up. Finally, Henry saw Corpio,
a friend of his, and he said, "Corpio, look there, look there." Corpio told him the story in signs but he did not look up.
Finally the boy took his wife on over to the Washita and killed her. Nothing was ever done about it.
A good friend of the Rienhardt boys was Bill Deterick, whose wife was one-half Comanche. On Issue day the Indians would camp
near his house. One day when the boys were there they heard some mournful wails and went down to investigate. They found four
old squaws who had met for the first time in a year. Two were from the Little Washita and two were from the Big Washita. They
had just heard that a chief was dead and they were walking around the teepee, with their skirts thrown over their heads, wailing
and moaning. One of them was on crutches. They had whetted their knives so that they would cut deeply into
the skin and they had cut their arms and legs until they were bleeding all over. Their belief was that since the chief had
lost blood they must, also.
Several issues later, at the same place, four Comanches were driving in four beeves to the teepees so that the squaws could
kill and dress them. Bill Deterick said, "Let's go kill them, boys, because I don't want them killed on my land so close to
the house." They met the Indians at a corner of the fence and shot the cattle. One of the Indians came up and said, "Who fired
the second shot?" Deterick told him that Henry did, so the Indian showed them a hole through his shirt under his arm. He thought
it had been done purposely. Deterick got his wife and she explained for one and a half hours. The boys had their horses ready
and could have killed the Indians but it was twelve miles to Ft. Reno and escape was doubtful. Finally the Indians were satisfied
and came up and shook hands.
Chief Quanah Parker was the big chief of the Comanches. One night while Henry and Joe were in his camp, the medicine man was
lying on the floor shaking a gourd so that it wouldn't rain in Texas. Joe said, "Do you believe in medicine, Quanah?" Quanah
answered, "Only when I'm with the Indians." His mother was a white woman who had been taken captive by the Indians. He told
the boys about when he was a young warrior. The medicine man had told him that an outfit was coming up from Texas. He said
they would meet on the banks of the river. The river would be up and the Indians would follow. The outfit would leave their
saddle horses and cross the river. The Indians would get the cattle, kick in the dugout door and no shots would be fired.
When it happened, Quanah kicked in the door and was shot in the stomach. The cowboys escaped. Since Quanah was the chief's
son he was brought home and he recovered. He repeated, "Believe in medicine when I'm with the Indians."
One day while the boys were riding on the south bank of the Little Washita a brave saw them and ran to Chief Little Crow to
tell him of their arrival. They had to go to his teepee first
as a special honor. On their way they saw a woman with a little boy and girl ride up to the camp. Immediately the squaws started
wailing and Joe decided that an Indian must have died. If so, the people wouldn't talk. They went on to the chief's house.
He didn't say a word and then motioned for them to come in. He got a box of cedar leaves, knelt down and sprinkled the leaves
on the floor. Then he got up and began to talk. When the boys went out they found the squaws, with the pony down, digging
in his hoof to see what made him lame. Everything seemed to be normal again but they discovered the reason for the wailing.
The woman's baby had died some time before and she hadn't seen the squaws since. Naturally, they must mourn.
Indians would always steal horses but never money. At night when the boys would go into the chief's teepee, he would ask to
see their money. They would throw the pocketbook to him and he would spread out the money all over the tent, asking denominations
of each piece. The traders could carry as much silver as they could load on a horse. At night they would put the sacks by
the head of their beds. The chief would want to know how much they had but none was ever taken.
After the boys had traded for horses they would drive them north and sell them through Kansas and Nebraska.
Henry and Joe traded horses for many years and then Henry settled on a farm in northeastern Oklahoma, which he still owns.
He is living near Magdalena, New Mexico, where he has a cattle ranch of approximately 65,000 acres. He is still in excellent
health. The preceding experiences are just a few of the multitude of interesting things which happened to him and to his brother,
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