Overland Mail on the Santa Fe Trail

Buffalo Herd in Montana

“We gathered buffalo-chips to boil our coffee and cook our buffalo and antelope steak, smoked for a while around the smoldering fire until the animals were through grazing, and then started on our lonely way again.

“Sometimes the coach would travel for a hundred miles through the buffalo herds, never for a moment getting out of sight of them; often we saw fifty thousand to a hundred thousand on a single journey out or in. The Indians used to call them their cattle and claimed to own them. They did not, like the white man, take out only the tongue, or hump, and leave all the rest to dry upon the prairie, but ate every last morsel, even to the intestines. They said the whites were welcome to all they could eat or haul away, but, they did not like to see so much meat wasted as was our custom.

“The Indians on the plains were not at all hostile in 1861-62; we could drive into their villages, where there were tens of thousands of them, and they would always treat us to music or a war-dance, and set before us the choicest of their venison and buffalo. In July 1862, Colonel Jesse Henry Leavenworth was crossing the Trail in my coach. He desired to see Satanta, the great Kiowa chief. The colonel’s father was among the Indians a great deal while on duty as an army officer, while the young colonel was a small boy. The colonel said he didn’t believe that old Satanta would know him.

“Just before the arrival of the coach in the region of the Indian village, the Comanche and the Pawnee had been having a battle. The Comanche had taken some scalps, and they were camping on the bank of the Arkansas River, where Dodge City, Kansas is now located. The Pawnee had killed five of their warriors, and the Comanche were engaged in an exciting war-dance; I think there were from twenty to thirty thousand Indians gathered there, men, women, and children of the several tribes — Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and others.

“When we came in sight of their camp, the colonel knew, by the terrible noise they were making, that a war-dance was going on; but we did not know then whether it was on account of troubles among themselves, or because of a fight with the whites, but we were determined to find out. If he could get to the old chief, all would be right. So, he and I started for the place whence the noise came. We met an Indian and the colonel asked him whether Satanta was there, and what was going on. When he told us that they had had a fight and it was a scalp-dance, our hair lowered; for we knew that if it was in consequence of trouble with the whites, we stood in some danger of losing our own scalps.

Chief Satanta of the Kiowa tribe.

Chief Satanta of the Kiowa tribe.

“The Indian took us in, and the situation, too; and conducted us into the presence of Satanta, who stood in the middle of the great circle, facing the dancers. It was out on an island in the stream; the chief stood very erect and eyed us closely for a few seconds, then the colonel told his own name that the Indians had known him by when he was a boy. Satanta gave one bound — he was at least ten feet from where we were waiting — grasped the colonel’s hand and excitedly kissed him, then stood back for another instant, gave him a second squeeze, offered his hand to me, which I, of course, shook heartily, then he gazed at the man he had known as a boy so many years ago, with a countenance beaming with delight. I never saw anyone, even among the white race, manifest so much joy as the old chief did over the visit of the colonel to his camp.

“He immediately ordered some of his young men to go out and herd our mules through the night, which they brought back to us at daylight. He then had the coach hauled to the front of his lodge, where we could see all that was going on to the best advantage. We had six travelers with us on this journey, and it was a great sight for the tenderfeet.

“It was about ten o’clock at night when we arrived at Satanta’s lodge, and we saw thousands of men and women dancing and mourning for their dead warriors. At midnight the old chief said we must eat something at once. So he ordered a fire built, cooked buffalo and venison, setting before us the very best that he had, we furnishing canned fruit, coffee, and sugar from our coach mess. There we sat, and talked and ate until morning; then when we were ready to start off, Satanta and the other chiefs of the various tribes escorted us about eight miles on the Trail, where we halted for breakfast, they remaining and eating with us.”

Colonel HenryLeavenworth was on his way to assume command of one of the military posts in New Mexico; the Indians begged him to come back and take his quarters at either Fort Larned or Fort Dodge in Kansas. They told him they were afraid their agent was stealing their goods and selling them back to them; while if the Indians took anything from the whites, a war was started.

Albert Gallatin "A.G." Boone

Albert Gallatin “A.G.” Boone

Colonel Albert G. Boone, the grandson of Daniel Boone, had made a treaty with these same Indians in 1860, and it was agreed that he should be their agent. It was done, and the entire Indian nations were restful and kindly disposed toward the whites during his administration; anyone could then cross the plains without fear of molestation. In 1861, however, Judge Wright, of Indiana, who was a member of Congress at the time, charged Colonel Boone with disloyalty and succeeded in having him removed.

Majors, Russell and Waddell, the great government freight contractors across the plains, gave Colonel Boone 1400 acres of land, well improved, with some fine buildings on it, about 25 miles east of present-day Pueblo, Colorado. It was christened Booneville, and the colonel moved there. In the fall of 1862, 50 influential Indians of the various tribes visited Colonel Boone at his new home and begged that he would come back to them and be their agent. He told the chiefs that the President of the United States would not let him. Then they offered to sell their horses to raise money for him to go to Washington to tell the Great Father what their agent was doing, and to have him removed, or there was going to be trouble. The Indians told Colonel Boone that many of their warriors would be on the plains that fall, and they were declaring they had as much right to take something to eat from the trains as their agent had to steal goods from them.

Early in the winter of the next year, a small caravan of eight or ten wagons traveling to the Missouri River was overhauled at Nine Mile Ridge, about 50 miles west of Fort Dodge, Kansas by a band of Indians, who asked for something to eat. The teamsters, thinking them to be hostile, believed it would be a good thing to kill one of them anyhow; so they shot an inoffensive warrior, after which the train moved on to its camp and the trouble began. Every man in the whole outfit, with the exception of one teamster, who luckily got to the Arkansas River and hid, was murdered, the animals all carried away, and the wagons and contents destroyed by fire.

This foolish act by the master of the caravan was the cause of a long war, causing hundreds of atrocious murders and the destruction of a great deal of property along the whole Western frontier.

In the fall of 1863, Mr. Ryus was the messenger or conductor in charge of the coach running from Kansas City to Santa Fe. He said:

“It then required a month to make the round trip, about 1800 miles. On account of the Indian war, we had to have an escort of soldiers to go through the most dangerous portions of the Trail; and the caravans all joined forces for mutual safety, besides having an escort.

“My coach was attacked several times during that season, and we had many close calls for our scalps. Sometimes the Indians would follow us for miles, and we had to halt and fight them; but as for myself, I had no desire to kill one of the outraged men, who had been swindled out of their just rights.

“I know of but one occasion when we were engaged in a fight with them when our escort killed any of the attacking Indians; it was about two miles from Little Coon Creek Station, where they surrounded the coach and commenced hostilities. In the fight, one officer and one enlisted man were wounded. The escort chased the band for several miles, killed nine of them, and got their horses.”

Stagecoach Rules

Stagecoach Rules Poster at Legends’ General Store

The old stagecoach days were times of Western romance and adventure. In many places on the line of the Trail, where the hard hills had not been subjected to the plow, the deep ruts cut by the lumbering Concord coaches could still be seen for years.

 

Colonel Henry Inman, 1897. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, May 2014.

About the Author: Excerpted from the book, The Old Santa Fe Trail, by Colonel Henry Inman, 1897. Note: The text is not verbatim, as minor edits have been made throughout the tale. Henry Inman was well known both as an officer in the U.S. Army and an author dealing with subjects of the Western plains. During the Civil War, Inman was a Lieutenant Colonel and afterward, he won distinction as a magazine writer. He wrote several books including his Old Santa Fe Trail, Great Salt Lake Trail, The Ranch on the Ox-hide and other similar books dealing with the subjects he knew so well. Colonel Inman left a number of unfinished manuscripts at his death in Topeka, Kansas on November 13, 1899.

Also See:

Early Traders on the Santa Fe Trail

Santa Fe Trail – Highway to the Southwest

Pathways To the West

Stagecoaches of the American West

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