Kansas Historical Quarterly - United States Surveyors Massacred by Indians
Lone Tree, Meade County, 1874
by F. C. Montgomery
May 1932 (Vol. 1, No. 3), pages 266 to 272
Transcribed by lhn; HTML editing by Tod Roberts;
digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society.
THE completion of the task of surveying the public lands in Kansas was provided for under eight contracts entered into July 8, 1874, by Carmi W. Babcock, of Lawrence, the surveyor general of Kansas. Contract No. 382 was signed by Capt. Oliver Francis Short and Capt. Abram Cutler, both of Lawrence. The final cost of their contract was $9,677.92 for 1,055 miles of section lines. Contract No. 381 was taken by Capt. Luther A. Thrasher, a Mr. Steele, W. C. Jones and Hannon Scott, all of Iola. Their compensation was $9,117.35 for 920 miles of section lines. All these men had contracts in former years and their plats and field notes are in the auditor's office in Topeka. 
The surveying expedition for the performance of these two contracts was formed at Lawrence for the most part. Captain Short, the ranking officer, left there July 29, 1874, for Wichita, where he bought oxen and some equipment. He was joined at Dodge City on August 4 by his sons Harry C. and Daniel Truman Short, Captain Cutler, James Shaw and son J. Allen Shaw, J. H. Keuchler, Fleming (Clem) Duncan, Wm. and Richard Douglas, Frank Blacklidge, and Harry C. Jones, who was a nephew of Captain Cutler. All of these were of Douglas county, and with the exception of the contractors and James Shaw, farmer, were young students of Kansas University. 
They were soon joined at Dodge by Captain Thrasher, of Iola, second in command of the expedition, and S. W. Howe, of Florence, Marion county; also a Mr. Crist, a Mr. Woolens, and others of his party, as yet unknown. Crist, no doubt, was S. B. Crist, the Allen county man who had been a chainman in the survey of the Cherokee Neutral lands in 1867, by the government. The whole Meade county expedition comprised twenty-two men, eighteen for field work, and four for camp duties, including Prather, a mulatto of Lawrence. The location of their general camp was on the northeast corner of section 4, township 33, range 28 west, just a short
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distance east of the old "Lone Tree." This is a well-known landmark on the east side of Crooked creek, six miles southwest of Meade, and about forty miles south and twenty miles west of Dodge. Captain Short's party was to survey the exterior lines of township 33, and be away from camp for the entire week. The parties of Captain Thrasher and Captain Cutler returned to camp each night, after surveying the township into sections. 
From this camp Captain Short wrote to his wife on August 16 and 22 that water had been found for the oxen, and that a pump driven down at the camp had furnished cool water for the men. Stone was plentiful for cornerstone markers. It had been agreed that in case of Indian attacks they would set fire to the grass as a signal to other surveyors, but they had been forced to fight prairie fires to save the grass for their oxen. On the last Sunday afternoon in camp, August 23, Captain Short had read passages from his New Testament and joined in the singing of hymns. The morning had been spent in washing clothes. His letters were sent to Dodge by hunters passing by the camp on Monday morning, August 24, 1874.
On that fatal day Captain Short chose his party for a week's survey. It included his son, Daniel Truman Short, aged fourteen; James Shaw, aged fifty-one; and his son J. Allen Shaw, who was about eighteen; Harry C. Jones, about twenty-two, and John H. Keuchler, who was seventeen or eighteen. Harry C. Short, who had been chainman for his father, was assigned to stay in camp that week under his protest, to harmonize camp troubles. The other two field parties took different directions to mark the virgin prairie into sections for future occupants.
About noon of Wednesday, August 26, Mr. Crist, of Thrasher's party, saw Captain Short's wagon standing on the east side of Crooked creek, about eight and one-half miles south, and two and one-half miles west of Meade. Captain Thrasher was notified, and he reconnoitered with his force, including Mr. Woolens, S. W. Howe and Richard Douglas. They armed themselves, then unhitched their oxen from their cart and drove them ahead to the empty wagon. There they found the bodies of Captain Short and his five men lying on the ground in a row, as they had been left by the Indians. The oxen were dead in their yokes, with the hind quarters cut off, and the camp dog lay dead beside its master. Captain Short, his
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son, and Harry Jones had been scalped, and others had their heads crushed. The pockets of all had been turned inside out. There were twenty-eight bullet holes in the wagon, and eight bullets were found in the water barrel.
James Shaw was the last man killed at this place, as shown by tracks made there by the irons on his boot heels. It was learned later that the Indians had carried off their own dead and wounded. The bodies, after a careful search, were put in Short's wagon and drawn back to camp. They were buried near sundown, about 100 yards southeast of Lone Tree, and the same distance southwest of the camp. One lone grave three feet deep was made for all the victims, who were wrapped in tent cloth. Initials were carved on rough stones which were placed at the head of each body.
Captain Thrasher, Richard Douglas and others had traced the route of the surveyors back to the first point of attack. This was one-half mile north of the extreme southwest corner of section 31, township 33, range 28 west. It is about eleven miles southwest of Meade "as the crow flies" and was near Stumpy arroya and a creek later called Short's creek. The location was about two miles west of old Odee post office. From the first point of attack, to section 20 northeast, the surveyors attempted to make a running fight from the wagon. They tossed out their water barrel, mess kit and other equipment to make room for the bodies of those killed. For about three and one-half miles the trail toward the camp was strewn with cartridge shells, showing a desperate fight.
Next morning, Thursday, August 27, hunters passing by the camp reported they had seen a party of twenty-five Cheyennes about fifteen to twenty miles west of the camp. Waiting until the Indians passed well out of sight they examined the camp of the Indians. Here they found Short's compass, papers and chains; also Cheyenne arrowheads. It was learned later from Mochin, a squaw of this party, and from the Indian agent, that it was the band of Chief Medicine Water. Truman Short's horse was found in Medicine Water's camp about a hundred miles west of Camp Supply. Years afterwards Chief Yellow Horse began to tell H. C. Perkins, of the auditor's office, Topeka, about his prowess in the Short massacre, but shut up like a clam when he feared that Mr. Perkins might inform the government about his deeds.
The Cheyennes had been angered by an order which called out 300 soldiers from Fort Dodge to drive the Cheyennes back to their reservation. These soldiers had passed by Captain Short's camp
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on their way south. At that time he had asked the commanding officer to give him a small detail of soldiers to act as scouts or guards for the surveyors. The officer said he had no authority to grant his request, and stated that there were no Indians in the vicinity. These Cheyennes who killed Short's party, and the German family of five near Fort Wallace soon afterward, were convicted and sent to a government prison in Florida later, but were soon liberated. 
Mrs. Short, mother of six children, was informed of the catastrophe by Captain Thrasher at Dodge. He had assumed charge of the camp affairs, as second in command. He requested Captain Cutler to remain in camp with the remaining surveyors, while he went to Dodge for more men, arms and equipment. Captain Cutler declined to remain, or to continue the survey unless he be given full control. The whole force broke camp on August 27 and went to Dodge to await reorganization. Here Captain Thrasher communicated with Mrs. Short as to the continuance of Captain Short's contract, in which Captain Cutler was partner.  Mrs. Short empowered Captain Thrasher to finish this contract, which he then undertook in addition to his own.
Mrs. Short, at all times acquainted with affairs of the survey and its personnel, determined that all bodies of the murdered surveyors should be removed at the same time from near Lone Tree to their permanent burial places. She was aided in this by the surveyor general of Kansas, and by Gen. John Pope, of Fort Leavenworth. Richard Douglas and other surveyors left Lawrence on January 20,
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1875, with six caskets, arriving at Dodge on the 26th. Here they were given a military escort from Fort Dodge to Lone Tree Camp and return. Captain Short and son Truman were buried on February 6, at Mount Muncie cemetery, Leavenworth, their former home. James Shaw,  who had come to Lawrence in 1866, was buried in that city in Oak Hill cemetery, with his son, J. Allen Shaw. H. C. Jones, nephew of Captain Cutler, was also buried at Lawrence, but the body of John H. Keuchler was sent to his father, a doctor of Springfield, Ill.
Mrs. Short filed a $10,000 claim against the government for loss of life. It was reported adversely in 1875 and 1878, although indorsed by the Cheyenne Indian agent, the U. S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, by Enoch Hoag, of Lawrence, who was the central superintendent of Indian affairs, and by Gov. T. A. Osborn, of Kansas. Finally, by special act put through by Congressman D. C. Haskell, of Kansas, $5,000 each was allowed to Mrs. Short and Mrs. James Shaw. Among those who assisted Mrs. Short was Mrs. Fanny Kelley, of Allen county, once a prisoner of Indians. She secured signatures of Cheyenne chiefs, indorsing Mrs. Short's claim.  Thrasher also joined Mrs. Short in a claim for $678 for loss of property taken from the surveyors by the Indians.
Captain Thrasher's work in completing the survey contracts was hampered by danger of further Indian depredations and by unusually unfavorable weather. He had reached Dodge with the surviving surveyors on August 31, 1874. The next day he notified Governor Osborn of the massacre and requested arms and ammunition be sent him. This was done, and he was also given an escort of soldiers from Fort Dodge for a short time. After reorganizing the parties he resumed work in the field October 1, about twelve miles north and fifteen miles west of Lone Tree on the Cimarron. On November 27, upon his return from a business trip to Lawrence, he found four men suffering from frozen feet. He had to go into camp December 20 on account of an eight-inch snow heavily crusted. Feed for the oxen gave out in early January, 1875. He started for Dodge, taking three men and the oxen, leaving twelve men in camp.
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On the way another blizzard swept over them. The men made a dugout and got the stock into some thick brush. Finally they reached Dodge and sent hay, food and clothing back to the camp. Work was resumed about January 20.
Captain Thrasher kept Mrs. Short fully informed, and she in turn reported progress of the work in a Lawrence paper, for the benefit of the surveyors' families. From one issue we quote as follows: "The energy and bravery with which this contractor has maintained the field since the massacre of his copartner, O. F. Short, is worthy of respect." On February 22, 1875, Captain Thrasher notified Governor Osborn that he was ready to return all unused ammunition and all guns, except two stolen by the Indians. He was back in Iola before March 6, 1875, with no loss of life to men or oxen. 
Several futile efforts have been made to erect a memorial to the surveyors of 1874. At an old settlers' picnic held in Odee grove on August 28, 1907, Mrs. M. A. Brown, a sister of Captain Short, told the story of the massacre, and read Captain Short's last letters. Rev. J. M. McNair was president, and Mrs. M. P. Petefish, a relative of Captain Short, was secretary of a committee to consider plans for a monument. In 1908 a Rev. Martindale, of Plains, sponsored a plan to erect a community meeting house on Crooked creek, but the plan failed. Fifty years after the massacre a second attempt was made. On August 24, 1924, Harold C. Short, of Leavenworth, was the guest of Mr. and Mrs. John Haver, a relative of Captain Short, and with other settlers, in motors, visited the scene of Captain Short's last survey. The last stone he set, which originally was two feet square, was found to be worn to but a few inches. In the afternoon at a meeting under the shade of Lone Tree, Mr. Short retold the story of the survey. His address was followed by the
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organization of a memorial association. This effort also failed in its purpose. 
Mrs. John Haver, Mrs. R. F. Todd, former editor of the Meade County News, Meade, and Frank Fuhr, former editor of the Meade Globe, formed the latest committee to arrange for a memorial. Mr. Fuhr took the lead in this organization in June, 1931. It is planned to raise sufficient funds to erect a monument in the courthouse square at Meade, and to place markers on the camp site, and the site of the massacre.
1. Report Secretary of Interior, Commissioner, General Land Office) pp. 93-98; 1874, pp. 106-112; 1875, pp. 30, 39, 40, 210-214; Serial Nos. 1601, 1639, 1680.
2. Lawrence Tribune, Aug. 20, 27 ; Oct. 29, 1874 ; Lawrence Western Home Journal, July 28, Sept. 3, 1874.
3. Crist, [S.B. 7, Adjutant General. Kansas, 1873-'74, p. 20; U. S. Survey Cherokee Neutral Lands, plat book 1867, S. B. Crist, chainman. Howe, S. W., biog. Andreas, History of Kansas, p. 1266; Lawrence Tribune, Nov. 29, 1874. Smith, E. D., letters on locations, to Historical Society, Jan. 11, 16, 1911, Mss. white, Thomas K., statements in interview with author.
4. Captain Short was born in Ohio, July 9, 1833, son of Rev. Daniel and Diana (Petefish) Short. He came to Kansas from Illinois, where he married Frances Celia Ann Catlin, of Springfield. He was one of the first professional surveyors in Kansas, having served on all frontiers of Kansas, and from the Dakota line into the Indian Territory, as contractor, compassman or chainman. He had some narrow escapes from rabid proslavery men during his early surveys. For a short period in 1857 and 1858 he was owner and editor of the Atchison Squatter Sovereign, a free-state paper. One of his early contracts was No. 803, dated 1864 when he was loaned a tent and six rifles for his party of six, by the surveyor general of Kansas. He surveyed in Cowley and Sumner counties in 1871, and later from Wallace county southward. His wife had surveyed with him in 1863, being paid as a flagman, riding over 1,800 miles, swimming rivers, hunting buffalo, meeting Indians, with whom their relations were always friendly. Adj. Gen., Rept. 1873-'74, pp. 20, 21, 34; Andreas, pp. 278 875; Biog Scrap Book, S., Bol. 9, pp. 183, 191; Atchison Freedom's Champion, Feb. 20, 1858, and Squatter Sovereign, Dec. 5, 1857 ; Lawrence Tribune, Oct. 29, Nov. 19, 874 Lawrence Western Home Journal, Sept. 3, Nov. 19, 1874; Meade Co. Clippings, pp. 28, 48, His. Soc. Lib.; Meade Globe, Aug. 23, 30 Sept. 26, 1907 ; Meade Globe-News, July 2, 10 Aug. 14, 21, 28, 1924 ; Surv. Gen. Kan., Journal of Office Work, p. 82 in Archives; U. S. Biog. Dic. Kan., pp. 107-110.
5. Captain Cutler abandoned the survey and returned to Lawrence, Sept. 3, 1874, in company with Frank Blacklidge and Fleming Duncan, of his own party, and Harold C. Short, who was now the only support of his mother. Captain Cutler had been taken into partnership with Captain Short for some business reason. In 1879 he wrote to a friend some unsubstantiated assertions about Captain Thrasher, which only serve to prove that as a government officer, Thrasher would not tolerate any insubordination in that time of peril. Captain Cutler had been a member of the Topeka free-state legislature, an officer in the Lawrence Stubbs and other militia and a private in Co. 1, 10th Kan. Vol. Inf., in 1861. Little else is known of him except that he was buried in Ohio.
6. James Shaw was a graduated civil engineer of a Maryland college, and brought his instruments with him to Kansas. Both Short and Shaw located on farms near the present stadium of Kansas University. Mrs. James Shaw lived later at the residence of Joel S. White at Lawrence.
7. Archives Gov. Letter Bk., 1875-'77, No. 6, pp. 24 40 281; Biog. Dic. o/ Leav., Doug. & Franklin Co's., pp. 363-364 ; Lawrence Tribune, Oct. 29, 1874 ; Lawrence Western Home Journal, Jan. 28, 1876; H. C. Short, statements, 1931.
8. Captain Thrasher was born at Lynchburg, Va., June 26, 1833, and died there on Nov. 15, 1903, after twenty-two years service as an internal revenue agent for the United States. He was appointed in 1881 from Douglas county, served from San Francisco to Washington, and was known as the most daring agent in the service. He came from Illinois to Kansas in 1859 settling in Allen county. He served in the 3d and the 10th Kan. Vols., from 1861 to 1865, ending as quartermaster of the 79th U. S. Col'd Vols. He engaged in surveying of state roach, with Dr. J. W. Scott, at one time on a road from Iola to Wichita, thence to Abilene, during which time they were attacked by Indians. In December of 1867 he organized a cattle drive from Texas to Abilene, and kept a diary which is of much interest. At Abilene he received his appointment as quartermaster of the 19th Kan. Vol. Cav. After a hard service he was mustered out in April of 1869 and became principal of Iola schools. Next he engaged in surveying for the Santa Fe railroad, and is said to have laid out the towns of Florence and Larned. From Dec., 1877 to May 14, 1878, he was one of three state commissioners to select indemnity school lands, in lieu of lands taken by the railroads in the Indian reservations. His burial at Arlington was witnessed by the Kansas congressional delegation.
9. Harold C. Short, of Leavenworth, is now the only survivor of the government survey in Meade county, being then under sixteen years old. He was born at Atchison, Sept. 17, 1858. Since 1885 he has maintained the oldest abstract office in Leavenworth county, and since 1904 has been chairman or member of the board of county commissioners, his present term ending in 1933. He has given such details of the survey as he remembers to the Historical Society, and a picture of himself taken under Lone Tree in August, 1924. He gave, also, a copy of a map of township 33, range 28, which Captain Thrasher had made for Mrs. Short. This map shows the camp, routes of the three surveying parties, point of first attack, route of flight northeast toward the camp, place of massacre and the common grave near Lone Tree.