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Kansas Historical Quarterly - The Ranch at the Great Bend

by Louise Barry

Spring 1973 (Vol. XXXIX, No. 1), pages 96 to 100
Transcription & HTML composition by Larry E. & Carolyn L. Mix;
digitized with permission of The Kansas Historical Society.
NOTE: The numbers in brackets refer to footnotes for this text.

TRAFFIC westbound on the Santa Fe trail first struck the Arkansas river at the Great Bend, five and a half miles east of Walnut creek. Near the mouth of Walnut creek a trading post had been established in 1855. Successively it was known as Allison's, Peacock's, and after 1860, Rath's ranch. [1] In 1862 a trader set up shop at the Great Bend. He was plainsman (and former mountain man) William Mathewson. The 1879 biographical sketch of his life says the year was 1862; and his own statement, in 1864, confirms that he "built the ranch and corral, dug and walled the well, and owned the trading post himself before it was owned by Curtis & Cole. . . ." [2]

William Mathewson had left the Rocky mountains in 1858 with some eight years of experience as hunter, trapper, and trader. He was then 28. Three of those years (1853-1856) had been spent in the employ of Bent & St. Vrain, trading with the Sioux, Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kiowas, Comanches, and Apaches. From the latter part of 1858, till late in 1861, he had worked for, or been associated with, the owners of Beach Valley (Cow Creek) ranch, some 17 miles east of the Great Bend, as hunter and trader. In the winter of 1860, during the great drought in Kansas territory, he gained the nickname "Buffalo Bill," for his prowess, and tireless efforts, in killing buffalo to supply meat for settlers facing starvation. [3]

In 1863, after operating it only one year, Mathewson sold his ranch at the Great Bend to Theodore R. (Dick) Curtis and Frank Cole. These partners had obtained a license from Indian agent Samuel G. Colley to trade with the Cheyennes, Kiowas, Comanches, Arapahoes, and Plains Apaches. Curtis, however, was employed as Indian interpreter at Fort Larned (some 35 miles west) and it was Frank (H. F.) Cole who stayed at the ranch. They had two hired hands -- Frederick B. Jones and H. O. Corbin. [4]

The Plains tribes were restive in the early 1860's, but their depredations were sporadic, and, east of Fort Larned, rarely of a serious nature. This state of affairs changed on May 16, 1864, when Lt. George S. Eayre's Colorado troops killed Cheyenne chief Lean Bear, without provocation; and then had to battle a large force of Cheyennes in a seven-and-a-half-hour running fight. The engagement began near Big creek and the Smoky Hill (in present Ellis? county), and Eayre's command, outnumbered, headed towards Fort Larned. (Cheyenne losses were perhaps 17? warriors; three of Eayre's men were killed, and four wounded -- one of whom died.) The following day, small bands of Cheyennes made stock raids at ranches and mail stations along the two stage routes in central Kansas. [5]

On May 17, 1864, a few Cheyenne raiders arrived at the Great Bend ranch between 10 and 11 A. M. Frank Cole was there, and so was John Sechler (an employee of trader Orson G. Stanley). Surprised, and outnumbered, the two white men watched helplessly while the Indians took away four mules, nine horses, and one jackass. Before leaving, the Cheyennes made it known they intended to return in force, and kill all the ranchmen or white men they could find on the Santa Fe trail, as soon as the stolen animals had been taken to a place where the owners could not recover them.

Unable to hire anyone to stay at the ranch with him, and afraid to remain alone, Frank Cole packed his small wagon with as much goods is it could carry, and headed for Cow Creek ranch (17 1/2, miles eastward). The Cheyennes came back later, plundered the vacated trading post, and caused damage to the house and corral. As listed by Curtis & Cole, in their claim against the Cheyennes, the goods taken or destroyed were these:

Curtis & Cole's total claim against the Cheyennes for the May, 1864, depredations was $3,555 (of which $1,435 was for stock, $620 for goods, and $1,500 for damage to ranch and corral).

In mid-July, 1864, Kiowas, with Comanche and Arapahoe allies, made attacks on wagon trains and ranches along the Santa Fe trail. On the 21st (or 22d?) Kiowas set fire to and destroyed what was left of the Curtis & Cole ranch. The owners had not yet reoccupied it since the Cheyenne troubles in May. Their claim against the Kiowas for losses sustained at the ranch was $1,500. But this was not all. On July 21, in T. O. Corbin's charge, two wagon loads of merchandise for Curtis & Cole were en route to them from Leavenworth. Corbin stopped at Waterman's ranch, at Running Turkey creek, where the mules and horses were unhitched and turned out to graze. A short time later a band of Kiowas rode up and made off with the eight mules and two horses belonging to Curtis & Cole (which they valued at $650), plus 11 head of stock owned by the Kansas City and Santa Fe Mail Company, and by Waterman. [6]

Col. Edward Wynkoop, Indian agent at Fort Larned, and his interpreter Theodore R. "Dick" Curtis, as sketched by T. R. Davis in Harper's Weekly, New York, May 11, 1867.

The ranch at Great Bend of the Arkansas existed less than two and a half years. Dick Curtis and Frank Cole received payment of their claims against the Cheyennes, but information available does not make clear the outcome of their $2,150 claim against the Kiowas.

NOTES

Louise Barry is a member of the staff of the Kansas Historical Society. She is author of many articles on Kansas and Western history and of the recently published The Beginning of the West (Topeka, Kansas Historical Society, 1972).

1. See Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 37 (Summer, 1971), pp. 121-147, for "The Ranch at Walnut Creek Crossing," by Louise Barry.
2. United States Biographical Dictionary. Kansas Volume (Chicago and Kansas City, 1879), p. 192; 42d Cong., 2d Sess., H. Ex. Doc. No. 95 (Serial 1511), p. 12.
3. USBD, Kansas Volume, pp 192-195 (for account of Mathewson's life up to 1879).
4. 42d Cong., 2d Sess., H. Ex. Doc. No. 95 (Serial 1511). Cosigners for Curtis & Cole's $4,000 bond were Horace L. Enos, Lawrence, and Frederick Ledrick, Council Grove. In the Chronicles of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, v. 1, p. 277, is the statement that Dick Curtis, whose wife was a Sioux woman, but who was an adopted member of the Cheyenne tribe, died about 1872. The Kansas City (Mo.) Journal of October 24, 1909, in an article on William Mathewson, noted that William C. "Left-Handed Bill" Peacock (brother of George H. who was killed by Satanta at Walnut Creek Ranch in 1860) had visited him "some time ago"; and that Peacock (formerly of Fort Sill; now -- 1909 -- of Kansas City, Mo.) and Mathewson had not seen each other for 30 years. The article also noted that Dick Curtis's son Albert Curtis (half-Sioux) was a resident of E. Reno, I. T.; and that William Peacock and Dick Curtis both had lived at Fort Larned in 1868.
5. War of the Rebellion, Series I, v. 34, pt. 1, pp. 934, 935, pt. 4, pp. 38, 39, 101, 207, 403.
6. For all above information on the Curtis & Cole ranch, see 42d Cong., 2d Sess., H. Ex. Doc No. 95 (Serial 1511).