THE SANTA FE TRAIL
Cimarron, settled in 1878, got its name as the starting point at one time of the shorter Cimarron or dry route to Santa Fe. Here the Santa Fe Trail divided, one branch heading directly southwest, the other (present U. S. 50) following the Arkansas River to
Bent’s Fort (near LaJunta, Colorado), then south over Raton Pass.
William Becknell first traveled the dry route with a packtrain via the Cimarron River in 1822, carrying trade goods for Mexico, newly freed from Spain. By 1824, wagons creaked along with loads of calico, guns, tools, and shoes to exchange for silver, furs, wool and mules. Trade became of such importance that in 1825, the government surveyed the route in U. S. territory north of the river, and the Upper Crossing, near Chouteau’s Island in Kearny County, was recommended because of the shorter distance between the rivers. But despite the danger, the Middle Crossing – various points in the Cimarron – Ingalls area – was used the most.
Usually waterless and subject to Indian attacks, the 60 miles of trackless prairie between the Arkansas and Cimarron Rivers was called by the Mexicans, Jornada del Muerte, or Journey of Death. Here in 183 1, the large, well-equipped train of Jedediah Smith, famous Rocky Mountain explorer and fur trader, became lost in the maze of buffalo trails. Seeking water for the dying animals and suffering men, Smith finally found the Cimarron but was killed by the Comanches near Wagon Bed Springs.
The Santa Fe Trail, nearly 800 miles long with 500 of it in Kansas, began successively at the Missouri towns of Franklin, Independence, and Westport. In 1829, because of trouble with Indians, traders began going in big caravans for protection. The gathering place was Council Grove, where they organized and started in mid-May when grass was sufficient to pasture the animals. Food supplies per man were 50 lbs. each of flour, and bacon, 20 lbs. each of sugar, rice and beans, and a little salt. Buffalo furnished fresh meat.
Trains traveled in two parallel lines usually, in four where they could. Emigrant wagons were drawn by eight mules or oxen, but the big Santa Fe trade wagons required ten or twelve. A day’s journey was about 15 miles. Camp was made early in the afternoon, and teams put out to graze. At dusk the animals were driven into a corral made by parking the wagons in a circle. A heavy chain joined the tongue of each wagon with the rear axle of the wagon ahead. Thus the wagons served both as corral and fortress. About 50 monotonous, sometimes dangerous, days would pass before the travelers were welcomed at Santa Fe.
By 1843, trade over the Trail amounted to $450,000 a year. Outbreak of war with Mexico in 1846 brought even heavier traffic as soldiers and their supplies followed the Arkansas River, the boundary of U. S. territory. In 1847, since supply wagons were staffed by tenderfeet, Comanches became more daring than ever. That summer, according to William Gilpin who commanded an expedition to restrain them, they killed 47 men and burned 200 wagons.
Discovery of gold in California in 1848 drew many forty-niners the next year, and the Colorado gold strike in 1858 caused a similar rush of travelers. In response to clamor for faster mail service from settlers in western Kansas, Colorado and the Far West, Congress voted money for the first mail coach to Santa Fe. The coach, drawn by six mules, carried the mail, eight guards to protect it from Indian attacks, and eight passengers. At first the trip required a month, but after relay stations were set up for a change of drivers and animals, the time was reduced to 15 days.
Several years later, Barlow, Sanderson & Co. ran a triweekly stage from Kansas City to Santa Fe with a running time of 7 days. Relays were provided from 30 to 50 miles apart. The stage was accompanied by a light wagon which carried food and bedding. This line branched at Ft. Lyon, Colorado, near old Bent’s Fort, with the main line going to Santa Fe and the branch to Pueblo and Denver.
The plains tribes were disturbed by the number of travelers in the Pike’s Peak gold rush, and by the pressure of settlers after passage of the Homestead Act in 1862. Slaughter of Black Kettle’s band of Cheyennes by Col. Chivington’s Colorado militia in 1864 angered them, and raiders roomed the Trail from Council Grove west. They fell upon scattered homesteads, killed the people, and drove away their livestock. For protection, Forts Zarah (near Great Bend); Dodge (east of Dodge City); and Aubrey (near the state line) were set up in 1864. Ft. Larned, seven miles from present Larned, had been established in 1859.
Hay ranches which supplied the trains and stagecoaches with livestock, hay and grain were attacked. In 1864 Col. Bob Wright, later of Dodge City, was forced to abandon his well-fortified ranch near the site of Ft. Aubrey. In 1866, he and A. J. Anthony operated the Cimarron hay station, and the government had ten men and a sergeant stationed there on escort duty with the U. S. mail.
In 1867-68, 210 persons were killed by Indians in Kansas, about the total in the previous 20 years. In 1868, because of frequent severe attacks, the stage run had to be discontinued, and travel on the Trail almost ceased. The Indians fought fiercely because they realized they were being driven out of their lands, and believed the white men had not fulfilled the terms of several treaties. One of the items agreed upon at the Indians would have the right to hunt buffalo as far north as the Arkansas in Kansas. It was their understanding and that of most white men as well, that white hunters would not cross the Arkansas. However, the white men did so, pushing south into Indian country, and even to the Texas Panhandle. That year at the Cimarron Crossing, a wagon train was captured; seventeen men tortured to death by fire.
In 1869, the Indians were defeated decisively, and travel resumed on the Trail. The rails of the Santa Fe were laid to the state line by December 1872, but workers improving the roadbed the next year had to be protected by soldiers from attacks of hostile Indians. That same year, Indians burned the Tom O’Loughlin store at Pierceville, 20 miles west of here.
In 1878, warned of possible Indian attack, settlers fled to Cimarron and prepared to defend themselves. However, in the last Indian raid in Kansas, Dull Knife and his band of Northern Cheyennes heading for their homeland on the Rosebud, crossed the Arkansas 5 miles west, and followed the Ogallalah cattle trail northward, after burning a shack on the Frank Hull claim.
Travel on the Colorado-New Mexico part of the Trail continued until the railroad was built south of Santa Fe in 1 880.
On the hills north of US 50 about nine miles east of Cimarron, the ruts of the Santa Fe are still plain.
The arrival of the Santa Fe railroad which would provide shipping facilities, and free range by slaughter of the buffalo attracted the cattlemen. In 1 872, Doc Barton, his partners, and Mexican cowboys drove the first herd of 6000 Texas cattle to Gray County. They had made a wide arc around the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle, at that time a haven for rustlers and outlaws, and crossed the Arkansas River near Garden City. Moving eastward to present Ingalls, they set up headquarters on a ranch whose herds of O.S. brand cattle grazed a range extending fifty miles north and south, and twenty miles east and west. The longhorns did well on the nutritious buffalo grass, other ranches soon followed, and in 1876 the big cattle boom began.
Soon, everyone who could get into the cattle business was in it. Foreign investors poured into the plains country to get rich, and many of them did. From 1877 to 1882, the price of beef cattle climbed from $2.25 per hundred to $10 Far-sighted men saw the need of improving herds, and brought fine blooded stock in England and Scotland to upgrade the long-legged Texas cattle.
But the surge of homesteaders in the early eighties took over much of the free range, forcing the ranchers steadily westward, and the weather was to deal a crushing blow. After a mild fall in 1885, many cattle were fat and ready for market, when the savage blizzard of 1886 – January 6, here – struck the plains from North Dakota to Texas. In a few hours temperatures dropped from the fifties to 15 degrees below zero. Settlers living in temporary shelters, and cowboys and travelers unable to find familiar trails and landmarks in the blinding snow were frozen to death. Driven by strong winds, thousands of cattle piled up against fences, in streams and draws, and died there. When the storm was over, cattlemen in the plains area had lost sixty to ninety per cent of their cattle, and many left without attempting to round up the weakened survivors. The colorful era of the big cattlemen was over.
THE COUNTY SEAT FIGHT
January 12, 1889, was the date of the Cimarron-Ingalls county seat fight, in which a Cimarron man was killed and several from both towns were wounded.
When Gray County was organized in 1 887, Cimarron, then a town of 1500, won the election for temporary county seat from its nearest rival, Montezuma, in the south part of the county. However, in the early eighties, Asa T. Soule, a patent medicine millionaire from Rochester, N. Y., set out to create an empire in the west, and built a town on the Santa Fe Railroad six miles west of Cimarron, which he named Ingalls in honor of the Kansas author-senator, John J. Ingalls.
To bring water to the thirsty countryside, he organized a company in 1883 to construct the Eureka Irrigating Canal, known as the “Soule ditch,” which was intended to take water from the Arkansas River west of Ingalls 96 miles across Gray and Ford counties, emptying into Coon Creek in Edwards County. (The small regular mounds mostly north of U. S. 50 through Gray County mark the course of his canal.) As an irrigation project, it was not a success because many similar projects upstream took much of the water from the river, but some water continued to flow in the upper reaches of the ditch, including that in Cimarron, until a flood filled the intake pool with sand. In the thirties, the ditch, a block north of the highway in Cimarron, was filled in, and called Canal Street.
Soule wanted the county seat for Ingalls, and spent money freely to get it. To gain support from the south part of the county, he built a railroad from Dodge City through Ensign to Montezuma, and, in addition, promised Ensign a sugar mill to process cane, and other projects, and to Montezuma, a large city hall, two roundhouses, and jobs for leading citizens. In Dodge City, he set up a bank, and built Soule College.
The election for permanent county seat was set for October 31, 1887. Cimarron adherents charged flagrant vote buying by Soule’s lieutenants over the County, and themselves dealt with the Foote Township Equalization Society, also called the Dark Lantern Society. In darkest secrecy, seventy-two farmers in that township had met and figured their combined vote was worth $10,000. On receipt of a bond for that amount signed by fifteen prominent Cimarron men, seventy-one votes were delivered. But the bond was a forgery, each man having signed the name of another of the group, and the Foote Township farmers received nothing.
Soule’s gunmen, including the Gilbert Brothers, Bat Masterson, Bill Tilghman, Eat- em-up Jake and Ben Daniels of Dodge City, held forth at the Merchant’s Hotel in Cimarron on election day. At the same time Drew and Will Evans went over to Logan Township precinct, in the enemy’s territory, to look after Cimarron interests. There they kept guns handy, and as they drove away in the evening, Drew sat facing the polling place with a gun in each hand. in the enemy’s territory, to look after Cimarron interests.
Thus, the election was held, with accompanying gun play and ballotbox stuffing. When the votes were counted, Cimarron had won, but Ingalls charged fraud. For months, attempts were made to settle the argument through the courts and the location of the county seat seemed to depend mostly on the sympathies of the county officers. In the summer of 1888, however, the county commissioners appointed A. T. Riley of Cimarron, clerk pro tem, and with a writ from the Supreme Court, he secured the records and brought them to Cimarron. The courthouse offices were upstairs in the buildings now occupied by the Western Auto Store and Dr. V. C. Penner.
In the election of Nov. 8, 1888, both towns claimed victory for their candidates. The Supreme Court, in spite of a dissenting opinion by Chief Justice Horton, then ruled that N. F. Watson, county clerk, and J. H. Reynolds, sheriff, both from Ingalls, were elected. The county commissioners claimed Watson’s election to be a fraud, and, it is believed, planned to bring proceedings against him to prevent his taking office. Ingalls partisans thought that Cimarron intended to keep the records regardless of the election of Watson, and made plans to take them by force.
On the morning of January 12, 1889, Fred Singer, one of the most famous of the Dodge City gunmen, lounged into Cimarron. He called at the courthouse but the safe was closed. Later he called again. About eleven o’clock, the clerk opened the safe. Singer went downstairs and signaled with a handkerchief. A friend on the edge of town hung a saddle blanket on the clothesline. Out on the prairie a watcher relayed the signal. About eleven-thirty a lumber wagon drove in on the Ingalls road, which at that time was just north of the Cimarron Hotel. Concealed behind the wagon’s high box were a number of men, including several Dodge City gunmen deputized by Sheriff-elect Reynolds, not present because he had been wounded while chasing rustlers. They unloaded quickly in front of the courthouse, and four went upstairs to get the records. The rest stayed on the street below with weapons ready.
The Old Gray County Courthouse at 117 North Main Street, still houses Cimarron businesses.
Upstairs, Watson and the others drew guns and demanded the records. Riley asked for time to let his two children reach safety. They had come to the office that day as they sometimes did, to stay till their father went home to dinner. The children left, then Riley asked for a receipt before giving up the books. This refused, Riley delayed further by saying he had some private papers to sort out. The Ingalls men started carrying the records downstairs. In the meantime, news of the raid swept through town. As the last of the books were being loaded, Cimarron men had arrived and taken cover inside and behind buildings, and bullets began to fly from both sides of the street. Who fired the first shot was a matter of dispute. J. W. English of Cimarron, was killed instantly, and Jack Bliss and Ed Fairhurst were wounded. After the fray was over, F. M. Luther discovered that a bullet had gone through his derby hat and clipped off a lock of hair.
Of the Ingalls crowd, Ed Brooks of Dodge City, and George Bolds, and Charley Reicheideffer, owner and driver of the wagon were wounded. The Ingalls men withdrew to the bridge over the ditch, picked up their wounded, and left with Cimarron riders in pursuit. The pursuers were forced to stop by fire from rifles and a buffalo gun.
Three Ingalls men, unable to reach the wagon, retreated upstairs to the clerk’s office. Shots were fired at them through the floor from the grocery store below. Late in the afternoon, after waving a white flag from the window, the marooned men were found perched on the large iron safe to escape the bullets. Escorted under guard to the train, the prisoners were returned to Ingalls, where Sheriff Reynolds promptly turned them loose.
On request from the Sheriff, who reported that 200 armed men threatened to invade Ingalls, two companies of state militia entrained that night from Larned for Cimarron where they stayed till January 25.
The county seat remained at Ingalls until, in a special election in February 1893, Cimarron received a majority of votes, and it was returned to Cimarron.
Cimarron is the county seat of Gray County, named for Alfred Gray, the first secretary of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture. Main farm products are wheat, grain sorghums, corn and beef cattle.