Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

American History
Tails of the Trails of the Smoky Hill River
contributed by Lu Hickey

Chapter 1

The old western frontier of the 1800's was a wild and woolly beginning of the western migration of settlers, those coming from the Eastern states to look for fortune and fame in the untamed territories.  The emigrants brought everything they could from their homelands to start a new life in the colonies. Those that could brought livestock, and chickens or grains of different variety of grain.  Items were stored however possible, by whatever means, even if it meant putting the grains in the hems of their clothing for "seed".

The only means of transportation ahead of the railroads were wagons and oxen or mules pulling them and the other animals walking along side. After leaving St. Louis and crossing the only big river, the western movement gave birth to new modes of transportation and blazing trails to the unknown.

History is written of the famous trail blazers such as the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Kit Carson, and the famous gentleman, Horace Greeley who stated: "Go West, young man, Go West". Little is made known of the thousands of other families that settled the frontier.

The frontier trails, geographically, are East to West from St. Louis and North and South from Texas and Mexico.  It seems the point of crossing of the trails were mostly in Kansas.. The Pacific Railroad had began the Western movement at St. Louis and seemed to follow the trails of the wagon trains.  In essence, the railroad and the frontier trails were parallel.

The Smoky Hill River is not the longest or the biggest river in the west but, mile for mile, it can hold its own.  Dramatic history has taken place along the banks of the Smoky Hill from the appearance of Coronado in 1540 to the final war whoop of the raiding Indians in 1879.

After Coronado came Villasur, Bourgmont, Pike and Fremont.  They found the valleys and meadows around the Smoky Hills abundant in herds of buffalo and deer.

Discovery of gold on Cherry Creek brought the first wave of white men up the Smoky Hill, the short cut to the mountains of Colorado.  Lack of water and food left many graves along the trail.  One section of the trail became known as the Starvation Trail.. The Blue brothers caught in this desolate area, made a pact that the survivors would eat any who died.  Only Daniel survived by eating his brothers.

The Leavenworth and Pikes Peak Express in 1859 made the first effort to put wheels over the short cut between the Missouri River and Denver but lack of funds and Indian raids caused its abandonment.

The Butterfield Overland Dispatch took up the challenge in 1865 and triggered some of the fiercest fighting anywhere on the plains but it survived until the railroad transformed the dusty trail to a trail of steel in 1870.  Fors Harker, Hays and Wallace were established to protect the travelers and each wrote its bloody page in the history book.  The railroad spawned the roaring cowtowns of Abilene and Ellsworth whose violence challenged that of the Indians.

The Smoky Hills saw most of the colorful characters of its day--General Custer, General Sheridan, General Forsythe, Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, John Wesley Hardin, Billy and Ben Thompson, Buffalo Bill Cody, Bill Comstock.  It recorded the wild, sometimes strange stories of the end of the track towns, the massacres such as the Jordon massacre, the the German family massacre, the raids that led to the battle of Beecher Island and Summit Springs,.  Finally there was the last raid, Dull Knife's, dash to freedom from Fort Reno in Oklahoma Territory., leaving a swath of death along the Smoky Hill River and its tributaries.  It was the last war whoop.

The Smoky Hills saw its vast prairies change from a buffalo pasture guarded by Indians to farmland tilled by white men but the transition was a long bloody one and the mourners at the grave sites were both red and white.

There were blood, sweat and tears on the new frontier but out of it a new age is born. Of such is the Heritage of America.

Chapter 2

Tales of the trails across the high desert are both mysterious and romantic. All of the trails are going some where in time and in the 1800's there were a lot of new virgin trails leading in all directions of fortune and fame. Some to death and destruction. The miners, merchants and settlers traveled at great risk. The Kansa and Pawnee Indians lands were around the Smoky Hills and when the white man came in killing their animals, the Indians went on rampage. Luckily for a some, the Cavalry out of Fort Leavenworth offered some protection. 

The white man with his vast reserve of weapons and warriors eventually won the right to live on the great buffalo pastures along the Smoky Hill and turned them into wheat fields and the trails were gradually forgotten. But their were some who did not forget.. Howard Raynesford was one. Few men spent forty years digging into the history of one event when a dedicated historian does, it means that generations to come will benefit from his gleanings. Howard Raynesford (1876--1967) spent the last forty years of his ninety one digging into the history of the Butterfield Overland Despatch.

The Big Timbers was a large grove of cottonwood trees on the the Smoky Hill River in the treeless sea of grass close to what is now the Kansas Colorado state lines. This trail was the northern route to the gold fields in Colorado Mountains. It was a favorite camp site of the Indians. Over a thousand of them under Black Kettle camped her early in 1864 and it was the refuge for the same Black Kettle and other survivors of the Chivington Massacre on Sand Creek in November of that year.

The trees were very tall and dense with no underbrush and could be seen for a great distance, looking much like a cloud of smoke. Capt. John Fremont took particular note of this outstanding landmark in 1844 when he searched out the river's source and followed its flow to its junction with the Republican river. To Lt. Fitch's party surveying the route for the Butterfield Overland Despatch in 1865, this grove appeared on the horizon like a smoky hill or large blue mound. The station built there was officially called Blue Mound by that company even though it was generally spoken of as Big Timbers.

Atchinson. the eastern end of the Smoky Hill Trail, farther north than Kansas City was about twelve miles farther west and added little to the travel time of the westward-bound emigrant. Atchinson had a natural wharf for boats which not only came up the Missouri but from the north with freight that had been brought from the east by the only northern railroad to reach the river at council Bluffs Iowa. The Smoky Hill route to Denver laid out by David Butterfield as 116 miles shorter than any other and traversed a country whose terrain offered an excellent roadbed with almost no sand and with watering places every few miles.

When settlement of the country began, it naturally appeared along the trail. Travelers for one reason or another, stopped and settled down often forming a town. Before the settlements, however, the entire plains country was a battleground with an implacable enemy who gave no quarter and fought by none recognized rules of civilized warfare.

The smoky Hill Trail which ran the full length of Smoky Hill Valley and beyond was considered the most dangerous crossing of the plains. Not a mile of that two hundred mile section of the trail that crossed Western Kansas escaped repeated conflicts with the hostiles. It took a type of  determination and perseverance that we seldom see today to change thatcountry into "the breadbasket of the world." Truly the trails west to the Rocky Mountains proved hazardous and relentless but the "intestinal fortitude" of the settlers can be heard in the wind, if but only listens.

Chapter 3

America was settled by pioneers who marched resolutely toward the virgin lands to the west, seeking a free life and a fortune. Pike and Fremont followed. Then gold was discovered in California, and from that moment nothing could stem the westward tide.

In the early 1850's, Cherokee Indians had brought stories back to Georgia of the gold in the Rocky Mountains. They were not taken seriously but in the spring of 1858, one man acted upon the tales of the Indians and was able to get others interested thus setting out with an expedition to the mountains.

Green Russell had prospected for gold in California, following the rush there in 1849. The group of prospectors were not finding a mother lode and soon lost interest, leaving the mountains and returning to the east. A trader named Cantrell took a sample of the soil back to Wesport and had it checked by an experienced miner, he had found gold and the news spread like wildfire.

The discovery of gold in the rocky Mountains of Western Kansas Territory presented a problem for the gold seeker from eastern Kansas who wanted to get to the fields as quickly as possible. There were already two established routes to the mountains but both took the traveler far out of his way to Cherry Creek.

A verse published by a Topeka newspaper spurred on the men who were impatient to get rich quick.

A call to the mines:

Hurra for Pike's Peak, Hurra for Pike's Peak
A rich El Dorado has lately been found
Far, far to the west and near Cherry Creek
where gold in abundance has been scattered around.
Ah !! Hurra for Pike's Peak !

Hurra for Pike's Peak !! hurray for Pike's Peak !!
there is gold in the mountains, gold in the vale.
There is plenty for all who are willing to seek
believe me, believe me. tis no idle tale
Come, hurra for Pike's Peak !!

The fact that the gold was not exactly in the shadow of Pike's Peak had little significance to the man in eastern Kansas with his face set eagerly to the west. As people in the midsection of the country later thought of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland as neighboring cities on the West Coast, so people in the mid nineteenth century thought that Pike's Peak was all the mountains of Colorado. The goldfields of Cherry Creek and directly to the west became known as the gold fields of Cherry Creek and directly to the west became known as the gold fields of Pike's Peak although the peak was seventy miles to the south.

Chapter 4


Cattle have played a significant if not a worshipful role in the being of mankind. This writer intends for this story to hold your thoughts in reading as it did mine in writing.

Out of the prairie dust, as far as the eye could see, a thunderous blur on the horizon, hundreds of golden cattle, small and long horned, almost lost in the dust of the riders. Somewhere west of the Pecos River on a quest eastward, the Indian runners had forewarned the settlers at the missions of the coming entourage. The pale faced, black-bearded men riding big horses and protected from enemy harm by the silver-like armor on their bodies and heads. The pale-faced men were wearing garments that shone as the gold in streams and rocks. The pale-faced men carried sharp and dangerous weapons the Indians had never seen The pale-faced men with black beards were the Spaniards and their leader was known only as Coronado.

The runners were advising all the native Indians to flee for safety as these strange looking men and their cattle were coming through the arroyos on their quest for the lost city of gold or the Quivara. But the important aspect of Coronado was not his quest for gold but his tame and manageable cows that followed behind.

The season on the trail Coronado herd was of 500 head, those in the front were the stronger young cows but their leader was beautiful indeed. She was a well horned, long bodied four year old, coat as gold as the sun, she was spotted on her face and her rump. The cattle she led were like Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors, white through yellow, red, brown, black, some spotted, some mottled and brindled.

The cattle Coronado brought from Mexico were not for breeding purposes. They were for eating, their skins to furnish material for shoes, and riatas, saddle bags and hundreds of items made from leather.

The drovers were far east of the Pecos River and the Spaniards rode harder, hoping for a swift and short journey to market east but this proved not to be the case. For days the herd was pushed east across land where there were no trees, grass or water. The cattle became leaner. Once water was detected and the cattle ran to the scent only to find the deadly alkali waters. Many died in the stampede and many more died from the poisoned water hole and what survived, wandered away to roam the wild country.

Coronado’s drovers rounded up as many cattle as they could find and continued their trek eastward. Eight days after leaving the Pecos terrain, the expedition was once again confronted and surrounded by a dark and monstrous herd of giant buffalo. The drovers struggled to push past the herd but in vain as the cattle herd became curious as to these strange looking cousins. The roaring and fighting of the buffalo bulls excited the male yearlings to the point of trying to join in.

Coronado continued on his quest for gold, through the cap rocks and canyons. Deep in the gashes between the canyon walls, he came upon a clear glistening stream and green flowery meadows and spacious enough for all the stock to graze for weeks. The drovers settled in to rest and allow the cattle to gain back weight and strength.

One afternoon a dark cloud came roaring out of the west, terrifying wind, thunder and lightening. Hail stones as big as nuts pounding into the overhanging ledges of their safe haven. The lighting was a constant flashing and the thunder was shaking the canyon walls. The terrified animals plunged and lunged and bolted out of the canyon to escape the fury of a prairie storm. A few of the soldier’s horses were saved but the camp tents and provisions were blown away, and the heavy metal armor and helmets were dented from the hailstones. This was the essence; Coronado turned southward and home leaving his cattle to the wind and his gold to the ghosts.

It is assumed that Coronado’s cattle survived and multiplied. Hundreds of years after Coronado, De Vaca, Juan de Onate, Cortez and hundreds of missionaries, settlements of the white pioneers began to crop up. Land in what later, became Texas, was nearly free, thousands of wild cattle roamed the lush prairies and drank from the crystal clear streams. This prompted what came to be known as King Country.

All these years the pueblo Indians of the New Mexico had suffered inhuman treatment from the Spaniards, the soldiers, colonists and the secular. Although the first little missions in Texas seem to have been established down on the Rio Grande by refugees from those farther up in the territory. The first herd of importance was introduced by Alonso de Leon in 1689. The cattle increased so fast it was almost an explosion. In 1716, thousands of black satin cattle, Castilian bulls grown larger, bodies rangier, both the horns and the legs had changed in size.

By 1770, the Mission of Espiritu Santo at Goliad had claimed 40,000 cattle. At Espiritu, Santo and Rosario bulls were prized mostly for the fiestas. There were no matadors but there "Day of the Bulls" with bull tailing, bull roping and riding. By 1800, Texas was characterized by her wild cattle herds.

A stimulating element in this is like a shot of redeye to the johnnies of the frontier towns, the race of the new railroads. In the North, the Union Pacific had already crossed into Nebraska and up the Platte. Other railroads were creeping across Missouri and to the Shawnee Trail across southeast Kansas . Once more the farmers hurried out to guard the border against the disease their cattle had not suffered once during the Civil War years with no Texas cattle on the trail. Most of them had been guerillas in the war and to a Union man, any Texan was a "bloody Johnny-Reb". At the first death of a mik cow near the trail, the farmers were out with guns and any other weaponry they could get hold of.

The southerners tried to argue their cattle was clean and healthy but the farmers said, no they carry poison wherever they go. After several shootings and stampedes, the cattle and the fever stopped at the end of the trail, Baxter Springs Kansas.

In 1866, an estimated 250,000 cattle crossed the Red River into Indian Territory headed for Kansas. The Indians, who also raised cattle, charged the drovers a toll charge. Some drovers paid, some did not and went around the Indian lands. The Indian Act of 1834 penalized drovers $1 a head for cattle drive across Indian lands with the owner’s consent. Others swung around the east into Arkansas risking attack from the farmers. One of these trailers was Captain E.B. Millet, who made it to the Mississippi River but by then his herd was too gaunted to sell. He crossed into Illinois, bought winter feed for his cattle and lost money. Many other herds started north and most ended disastrously, the cattle scattered over Southeast Kansas. But the owners went home to gather up more herds for the next spring—even Millett. It was like a call, a sacred call that could not be denied.

In 1873, the Kansas legislature pushed the tick quarantine line westward making it illegal to drive Texas cattle to Kansas, Abilene, Newton and Ellsworth. Angrily, McCoy pointed out that these towns had really bee illegal for through stock, meaning straight through from the tick regions since 1867.

With 40,00 cattle wintered in Ellsworth, even though the drive with Newton on the Santa Fe became the leading shipping point on the Kansas Pacific Railroad in 1872. By midsummer, more than 100,000 Longhorns were grazing around town and fires of the cow camps dotted the night like fireflies.

During the unhappy summer of 1873, 177,000 cattle were reported on the trail by July with thousand more to come. Even without the money of a good cattle market many gamblers were in Ellsworth including the Thompson brothers. Once more, Ben came first with Billy up the trail within a few days. Ben hoped to go into the saloon business but finding it overcrowded, he pawned his diamond stickpin and ring and borrowed on the side to set up poker tables at Joe Brennan’s saloon, Gambler’s Roost.

Cad Pierce and Neil Cain drove herds up from Austin about the same time of the Thompson’s arrival. Cain was the card dealer and Pierce bucked the board. Sheriff Whitney, a northerner veteran and Indian fighter and Brocky Jack Norton was the city marshal. The trail-driving season was about ended so the city decided to lay off a few of the peacekeepers, but this proved to be a mistake. Three days later, there was the gunfight of all times in Ellsworth. Some gamblers at Brennan’s were playing for unusually high stakes. The Thompsons were there but not playing, Ben trying to look after Billy who was drinking too much. Cain was dealing Monte and Cad Pierce wanted to raise the stakes. Ben Thompson got John Sterling to cover the extra money; John volunteered to cut Ben in on half the winings. He picked up $1000; put it in his pocket and left.

The next day, Ben Thompson ran into Sterling and reminded him of the promise, Unarmed he got struck in the face so he went for Sterling with his fists but a policeman held him off with a six-shooter, Later at Brennans, Ben was talking this over, a policeman and Sterling passed by the swinging doors. One of them called in, "Get your guns, Texans and fight "…No one would loan Be a gun, running for his own pistol and rifle he accepted the challenge of Sterling and the policeman, "Meet me at the railroad grade and we will have it out. "But in the meantime, Billy Thompson who was quite inebriated, got to Ben’s shotgun and let it go off, striking the sidewalk at the feet of Capt. Millet and little Seth Mabry, so Ben had to take the gun away from Billy. Sheriff Whitney heard the disturbance and went out to the Thompsons. "Put up your guns now boys." Together the three went back to Brennan’s saloon walking abreast. At the door a Texas cowman yelled, "Look out Ben, here they come."

Ben whirled, was the policeman running up with his gun drawn. In the shooting that followed Sheriff Whitney was hit by a load of buckshot from the gun in Billy Thompson’s hand. "My God, Billy, you have shot our best friend," three days later Whitney was dead.

The town organized a vigilante group to rid Ellsworth of the undesirable Texans and issued a warning to Lone Star men---the very ones that brought prosperity to Ellsworth. The governor of Kansas offered a $500 reward for Billy who was long gone to Texas. He was apprehended by a Texas Ranger and brought back to Ellsworth and released.

In 1853, a new organization was established. The northwest Texas Stock Raisers Association was to work for the interest of the stock growers of the region. The territory was divided into six regions from the Arkansas—Texas border to El Paso. The Association would supervise the roundups so there would be no question to ownership of the cattle or the brand. Association members were to check the drover’s herds for ownership. Kit Carter was elected president and Jim Loving the secretary. Board members were little Seth Mabry, the Harrolds, the Ikard brothers and the old fighters.

As the new men scattered back across the Dillingham Prairie, some were content, others hopeful but looming on the horizon was a horror as seemingly great as the fever—Barbed Wire.

The new association plunged headlong into its work. But the association was not a cure-all. By the second meeting, one charter member was accused of violating the rules. Captain Millett offered a resolution for additional power to stop herds. There was some who recalled the highhanded outfit of Millets cowboys in shooting scrapes at the Bee Hive. Yes if would be Millet advocating arrests right and left but then, how else could the Association be effective?

Capt. Eugene Bartlett Millet and little Seth Mabry spend many years together, being drovers, ranchers, and members of the community. Capt. Millett died a pauper after the late 1800’s blizzard and disease epidemic. He is buried in the old Ellsworth KS cemetery.

Chapter 5

The Scottish Connection

None of this could be hidden or ignored with the booming gold rush of the Black Hills.Brisbins "How to get rich on the Plains, the Beef Bonanza." Published in 1881 and was read everywhere as the most certainly outpost of adventure. Men and money poured out upon the Great Plains. Many of the earlier ranchers dedicated ones hunted more grass. To men like Goodnight and Print Olive crowding the others in the cattle pool in Kansas. Ikard and Harrold, charter members of the Northwest Texas Association added 70.000 cattle and drove them to range west of the Indian Territory. C.C. Slaughter bought state lands almost by the county in West Texas until he had a pasture fifty miles wide and eighty miles long.

But the real boom capital for the cow country came from the East and the British Isles. The East, which kept pouring money into the range country, needed no justification nor did London and Edinburgh throwing pounds of sterling into the pot to exceed the Yankee dollar. In Edinburgh drawing rooms buzzed stories of the bonanza. Young aristocrats hungry for adventure had no trouble tapping the family exchequer for investment. The western cattlemen were only too happy to unload their holdings fancy prices to such investors. A Scotsman, J S Tait issued a small brochure, The Cattlefields of the far west. He estimated the possible profits as from 33 to 66 percent and added some fine success stories.

Many wealthy men in Texas particularly Colonel Slaughter, president of the First National Bank at Dallas mad a tidy sum from cattle. One famous Pioneer of the Panhandle, Charles Goodnight, made $600,000.00 in ten years. His partner Adair of Ireland put about 360,000.00 the last few years. He took out $70,000.00 for expenses and the rest of his investment was now worth $3000.000.00. Tait added that Searight, Slaughter, Goodnight and Adair could be surpassed in wealth by many cattle kings and there were a couple dozen such men—King, Snyders, Lux, Lytle, Brush, Lawrence, Stuart, Kohrs, Carey and so on, all the pioneers in ranching.

The Bay State Land and Cattle company was one of the cross-financed with capital in Scottish and English money. The ranch was started in Nebraska in late 1870; this was the first Castle of the Plains. A palace complete with indoor facilities set up on Lodge pole Creek. Soon a second house was set at Pumpkin Creek. By 1883, the Bay State had bought out several ranches and in addition the Bay State leased Union Pacific railroad lands and established another ranch in the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming. The Bay State was by no means the flashiest ranch. Many of the Wyoming Territories were purchased by the English Lords as was Morton Frewens, Powder River, who was owned by Sir Shane Leslie of England.

John J Adair, The Scot-Irish financier who went in with the Goodnight outfit in the Palo Duro Canyons of West Texas.

ADAIR, CORNELIA WADSWORTH ADAIR, CORNELIA WADSWORTH (1837-1921). Cornelia Wadsworth Adair, diarist and rancher, the second of the six children of Gen. James Samuel and Mary Craig (Wharton) Wadsworth, was born on April 6, 1837, in Philadelphia. She spent her early years at Hartford House, her father's country estate near Geneseo, New York. In 1855 the family left for a two-year sojourn in France and England. Soon after their return in 1857 Cornelia married Montgomery Ritchie, a grandson of Harrison Otis of Boston. Two sons were born to them. Her father and her husband died in 1864. The widowed Cornelia took her two small sons to Paris, where the older son died a few years later.

In 1867, while attending a ball in New York City given in honor of Congressman J. C. Hughes, Cornelia Ritchie met broker John G. Adair of Ireland. They were married in 1869 and afterward divided their time between America and their estates in England and Ireland. In the fall of 1874 they left Ireland to see the American West and to experience a buffalo hunt along the South Platte River in Nebraska and northeastern Colorado. Her brother had served as an aide to Philip H. Sheridan,qv and Cornelia Adair probably used the general's influence to obtain a military escort under Col. Richard Irving Dodge to accompany the party, which departed from Sydney Barracks in Nebraska Territory. She kept a detailed diary of the two-month journey, which included attending a council of cavalry officers and Ogallala Sioux, near the South Platte. In 1918 she had it published.

In the summer of 1877, when her husband and Charles Goodnightqv formed a partnership to found the JA Ranch,qv Cornelia accompanied the party from Pueblo, Colorado, to the new ranch headquarters Goodnight had established in Armstrong County, Texas. Because the Adairs lived at the ranch only sporadically, Goodnight became its manager and, under orders from Cornelia Adair, paid high salaries for experienced, law-abiding ranch hands. After Adair died in 1885, Cornelia became Goodnight's partner. In 1887 she traded a second ranch for his one-third interest in the JA, a share that comprised 336,000 acres, 48,000 cattle, assorted mules, horses, and equipment, and rights to the JA brand. Although she was a naturalized British subject and spent most of her time in Ireland, Cornelia Adair also maintained a home in Clarendon and contributed generously to various civic projects in the vicinity of the JA Ranch, which by 1917 covered half a million acres. She provided funds to build the Adair Hospital and the first YMCA building in Clarendon and strongly supported that community's Episcopal church. She also vigorously promoted the Boy Scout movement since she knew Lord Baden-Powell and many others of its British organizers. She died on September 22, 1921, and was buried next to her husband in Ireland. In 1984 the Adair’s' Glenveagh Castle, which sheltered Belgian refugees during World War I,qv became an Irish national park

In 1881, The Texas Land and Cattle Company Limited of Dundee bought 236,000 acres in Nueces County from Mifflin Kennedy. In addition they got control of more land in the Panhandle and the Cherokee Strip. The next year the Scottish Matador was registered to buy $1, 250,000 work of property and in six months the had 60,000 cattle, and 300,000 acres of land.

ROCKING CHAIR RANCHROCKING CHAIR RANCH. The Rocking Chair Ranch Company, Limited, as its British owners designated it, encompassed northeastern Collingsworth County and extended into Wheeler County. The brand that gave it its name, however, was probably first used by Noah Ellis in South Texas during the early 1860s. It came to Collingsworth County in the fall of 1879, when John and Wiley Dickerson drove 2,000 cattle from the Llano River country to Dogwood Springs, on the South Fork of Elm Creek. By 1880 the Dickersons had established their headquarters at a site located south of a range of mesas subsequently named the Rocking Chair Mountains. In 1881 A. Conkle of Kansas City and John T. LytleROCKING CHAIR RANCH. The Rocking Chair Ranch Company, Limited, as its British owners designated it, encompassed northeastern Collingsworth County and extended into Wheeler County. The brand that gave it its name, however, was probably first used by Noah Ellis in South Texas during the early 1860s. It came to Collingsworth County in the fall of 1879, when John and Wiley Dickerson drove 2,000 cattle from the Llano River country to Dogwood Springs, on the South Fork of Elm Creek. By 1880 the Dickersons had established their headquarters at a site located south of a range of mesas subsequently named the Rocking Chair Mountains. In 1881 A. Conkle of Kansas City and John T. Lytleqv of Medina County acquired the brand; they registered it at Mobeetie on September 30. By November 1882 Conkle and Lytle had a herd of 14,745 head. The Rocking Chair Ranch was, however, without a legal home until February 17, 1883, when the partners bought 235 sections of former Houston and Great Northern Railroad land from the New York and Texas Land Company.qv On April 3 Conkle and Lytle sold their land, brand, cattle, and horses for $365,000 to Early W. Spencer and J. John Drew, who were seeking a suitable American cattle scheme for British investors. Drew, an Englishman, returned to England to promote the new syndicate. Within five months he resold the property to the Rocking Chair Ranch Company for $26,857. The principal owner was Sir Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, first baron of Tweedmouth; after his death in 1884 his oldest son, Edward Marjoribanks, inherited both the title and company ownership. Another major stockholder was John Campbell Hamilton Gordon, earl of Aberdeen and later governor general of Canada, who in 1887 became joint owner of the Rocking Chair Ranch with Sir Edward, his brother-in-law.

The new owners sought to develop their vast holdings along the lines of a British estate. In December 1883 they purchased the HAY cattle from James R. Haynie and the OM herd from Sam and Joe White. Each of these small outfits owned a section of school land in Collingsworth County, which the "Rockers" also purchased; these later became known as the Hay Camp and OM Creek. In December 1885 a third section near the Wheeler county line was added to the Rocking Chair. This was the J Buckle range, owned by Dan Cole, whose cattle the syndicate also purchased. Cole had built a small, unpainted house on North Elm Creek in 1882, and it was here that the syndicate established its first "ranch headquarters," in deference to Texas terminology. By that time the investors had acquired a total of 1,600 additional acres and were leasing another 100,000 from the state. In 1889 the company laid out the town of Aberdeen as the nucleus of the ranch. John Drew, who resided with his family in Aberdeen, was appointed general manager of the enterprise, and Henry J. Nesper, who later became the first storeowner and postmaster in Aberdeen, was hired as range foreman. Buck Julian trailed the first herd of Rocking Chair cattle to Dodge City in the fall of 1883. For an assistant manager and bookkeeper, the company appointed the second Baron Tweedmouth's youngest brother, Archibald John Marjoribanks, known among the cowboys as "Archie" or "Old Marshie." Uninterested in learning the fine points of ranching,qv Marshie drank and gambled in the Mobeetie saloons and hunted with purebred hounds. Nevertheless, he hired hands to build a corral, sought out high-grade horses, and spent much time at the North Elm Creek headquarters reading periodicals and writing detailed letters on ever everyday ranch affairs-all at a $1,500 annual salary. From 1884 to 1893 Drew and Marjoribanks managed the ranch. The high-handed extravagance and arrogance of the British investors caused considerable resentment among the cowhands and other area residents. Throughout his ten-year stay at the ranch, the "Honourable Archie" never mingled or rode with the cowboys.

Such social divisions resulted in the failure of usually honest people to condemn illegal actions against "Nobility's Ranch," as facetious Texans called it. Nearly everyone in the eastern Panhandle,qv with the exception of Marjoribanks, knew that the owners were being taken by rustlers and resentful cowboys who mavericked calves. Even Drew, who retained the loyalty of other ranch employees, was said to have obtained 100 cows for every one a nester stole. Often he reportedly shipped many more cattle than the records indicated. Troubles on the ranch were usually attributed to the attitudes of the resident foreigners. Though the Rockers profited for a time, the results of such chicanery eventually appeared in the financial reports. Deciding that a personal investigation was needed, Lord Aberdeen, Baron Tweedmouth, and other titled stockholders appeared one day unannounced at the ranch headquarters. To stave off potential embarrassment, Drew bluffed his way through the requested cattle census by hurriedly driving cattle around a hill and back again so that they were counted repeatedly. At each count, several hundred were added to the actual number. In the end, the "Lords of the Prairie" fell for Drew's bluff and left satisfied.

But mismanagement practices continued. Troubles on the ranch heightened with the heated battle between the Rocking Chair men and neighboring settlers over the location of the Collingsworth county seat in 1890. Resentment between factions increased after Rocking Chair cowboys unwittingly triggered the Great Panhandle Indian Scareqv in January 1891. At one time Drew and his family were involved in a shooting fray with irate neighbors over stolen cattle; fortunately, Texas Rangers were able to restore order before any killings occurred. Finally, on January 18, 1893, Archie Marjoribanks offered to sell the Rocking Chair. By then even he realized the extent of the cattle losses and the disastrous condition of the ranch's finances. When Lord Aberdeen and Baron Tweedmouth came again to investigate, they found the cattle count so low that they tried to sue John Drew, but no jury would rule in their favor. Drew was discharged, and George W. (Cap) Arrington was hired to replace him. Through careful management, Arrington shipped cattle and paid off overdue accounts. The losses of the past decade could not be entirely recouped, however, so Arrington started screening prospective buyers while the company went into the hands of a liquidator. On December 22, 1896, the 152,320-acre Rocking Chair Ranch was sold for $75,200 to William E. Hughes’s Continental Land and Cattle Company. Hughes added it to his Mill Iron Ranch and designated the old Hay Camp near Dodson as the headquarters of the Collingsworth County section. After the Mill Iron was broken up in 1913, the former Rocking Chair range was leased by the Crews brothers of Childress. Although the Rocking Chair brand was discontinued after its sale to Hughes, it was revived in 1914 by C. E. Deahl, a former Rocking Chair Company employee, for his cattle operation near Panhandle. John N. Janes also used a modified Rocking Chair brand from 1914 to 1930.

Chapter 6

The Prairie Cattle Company, Limited, is sometimes called the “mother of British cattle companies” since it was the first foreign syndicate to take advantage of the southwestern “Beef Bonanza” of the early 1880s. The Scottish American Mortgage Company, based in Edinburgh, established it in 1880 and by the following year it had purchased the JJ spread in southeastern Colorado and the Hall brothers’ Cross L Ranch in northeastern New Mexico. The company’s first big investment in the Texas Panhandle occurred in July 1881, when it purchased George W. Littlefield’s LIT Ranch for $253,000. Included in the transfer were 14,000 head of cattle, 250 saddle horses, and the LIT headquarters east of Tascosa. Subsequently the company added several smallholdings to these properties. By the end of 1882 the Prairie Cattle Company owned close to 100,000 cattle and range rights to an unbroken, 300-mile strip of land from the Canadian River to the Arkansas River.

In 1885 the Prairie Cattle Company appointed W. J. Todd general manager. The syndicate hired Murdock Mackenzie, who emigrated from his native Scotland, to handle its financial affairs from the office in Trinidad, Colorado. Both men sought to put the business on a sound footing and improve the quality of Prairie Company cattle. Mackenzie succeeded Todd as general manager in 1889 and remained in that position until 1890, when he resigned to take over the Matador Ranch. Two other Matador men, Henry H. Johnstone and Arthur G. Ligertwood, also started out with the Prairie Company. J. C. Johnson succeeded Mackenzie as manager and remained until the enterprise ceased operations in 1917.

The company prospered for a time. But in the January blizzard of 1886 many of its cattle froze to death at the great Panhandle drift fences, which ranchers below the Canadian River had built to control the spread of Texas fever. Mackenzie managed to save the syndicate by dropping the price of beef and by selling off land in small parcels. In 1902 the company purchased the old LE Ranch rangeland from the Reynolds Land and Cattle Company. Nevertheless, by 1912 the Prairie Company held only 200,000 acres in the northern Panhandle. The LIT properties were sold to Lee Bovine in 1913, and the LE range was sold to J. M. Shelton in May 1915. By 1916 the Prairie Cattle Company, at one time the world’s largest British investment company, had been liquidated

“Old Pap”, John Clay, the progenitor of the Scottish ranches, had made it possible for one Scot group to be successful along with the management of Murdock Mackenzie. 

The southern division of the Prairie Cattle Company became known as the Matador.  The Matador was the only British ranch to make a decent profit for its investors although the profits had all but vanished from 1903 to 1908.  With the upswing of word of the declaration of World War One, dividends began to increase, due largely to the British meat sales.  Mackenzie was the finest cowman the foreign ranches brought into management and was considered one of the west’s most influential supporters of the government’s policies for protecting the interests of small farmers and ranchers.

Many of the old free rangers spit in the dust at talk of Murdock Mackenzie and his good will shown toward settlers.  But they had to admit he was a powerful man in the fight for rights of the pioneer.  Most of the southern land was deeded and the northern ranges leased from the Indian Bureau.  Mackenzie along with Mr. Turney, the Big Bend rancher who followed the Scotsman as head of the Cattlemen’s Association, called on the whole of the ranchers to take a stand against the railroad’s high freight rates.

The Interstate Commerce Commission decided in favor of the cattlemen against the railroads and won.  In 1904, Mackenzie visited the President and got a vote for railroad control to be decided by the ICC, changing the entire conception the government right of price fixing and authority to regulate rail costs.

Murdock Mackenzie went on in life to become a successful rancher, politician and a family man.  He was but one of the high spirited, rough and tough Scots that settled the American West.

Chapter 7

The Matador Ranch, with its headquarters in Motley County, just below the Caprock on the rolling plains of northwest Texas, was started in the fall of 1878 when banker Alfred M. Britton entered a partnership with Henry H. (Hank) Campbell. Campbell purchased a small herd and range rights from Joe Browning, who in early 1878 had made his headquarters at an abandoned dugout at Ballard Springs in Motley County. A buffalo hunter named Andrew Jackson Ballard had built the dugout. Campbell’s next purchase was 8,000 “jingle bob” cattle that had recently been brought into the region from the Pecos. Soon afterwards Spottswood W. Lomax and John W. Nichols of Fort Worth and a Mr. Cata of New York became associated with Britton and Campbell in financing the enterprise, which they reorganized as the Matador Cattle Company with capital stock of $50,000. The amount of stock suggested a brand, 50M, which was used one year and then replaced by the Matador V. Lomax, an enthusiast in Spanish literature, gave the ranch its name. On December 4, 1882, the Matador Cattle Company sold out to the Matador Land and Cattle Company of Dundee, Scotland. Approximately 100,000 acres of land and 40,000 cattle located in Motley, Dickens, Cottle, and Floyd counties were involved in the sale. However, before the property was formally transferred in early 1883, Britton and Campbell, the former retained as the company’s manager and the latter as ranch superintendent, convinced the company’s board of directors to purchase an additional 203,000 of acres lying within the range and to acquire 22,000 more cattle. After Campbell’s resignation in 1891, the board assigned a new manager, Murdo Mackenzie, who adopted a program of grading up the herd and of sending steers to northern pastures for maturing. A severe drought in 1892 on the Matador range caused the company to lease the White Deer pasture of 348,000 acres in Carson County from Francklyn Land and Cattle Company. The lease was retained until 1902. That year the Matador purchased 210,000 acres of the XIT Ranch from the Capitol Freehold Land and Investment Company and established the Alamositas division of the ranch along the Canadian River in Oldham County, Texas. Subsequent purchases adjacent to Alamositas increased the size of the division to 800,000 acres. From 1904 until 1914 it leased 500,000 acres from the United States government on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, a Sioux preserve in South Dakota, and another of 150,000 acres in Canada was leased from 1905 to 1921. The original ranch was enlarged by purchases, and by 1910 the company owned 861,000 acres in Texas and had 650,000 acres under lease in the two northern pastures. The company also leased 500,000 acres in northern Montana from 1913 to 1928 and 300,000 acres on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota from 1921 to 1926. Since 1910 the average number of cattle on hand has been 55,000.

Through the first quarter of the twentieth century the Matador used its ranch in Motley County as a breeding ground. Yearling steers were sent to Alamositas until they were two years old, then shipped to the northern leases for double wintering, and then to markets in Chicago or Kansas City. By the 1930s the company restricted the major portion of its activities to the Texas ranches. Headquarters of the ranch in 1946 was at Denver, Colorado. On July 31, 1951, the ranch was sold to an American syndicate, Lazard Brothers and Company of London. Their property included 400,000 acres at the Matador Division, 395,000 at Alamositas, 4,600 acres in Montana, a herd of 1,400 horses, and 46,000 cattle. The Lazard Brothers divided the land and cattle among fifteen corporations they had formed. The various cattle corporations took over operations at different divisions of the ranch, and the Matador division went to ten of them. During the 1950s different individuals and groups bought the corporations and either started their own ranching operations or sold the land off to other ranchers. Fred Koch of Wichita, Kansas, purchased three of the corporations in the name of his Rock Island Oil and Refining Company, acquiring 105,000 acres of the Matador Division including the ranch headquarters. On October 3, 1952, Koch incorporated the Matador Cattle Company, and the headquarters of the Matador Ranch was located just south of the town of Matador. Matador Cattle Company was a subsidiary of Koch Industries, headed by Fred Koch. After his death in 1967 his sons, Charles and David, took over. In 1968 Sterling Varner was president of Matador Cattle Company, followed by Tom Carey in 1969 and Wes Stanford in 1975. In the early 1980s John Lincoln was president. The ranch is noted for its quail, dove, small deer, and, of course, fat cattle and nutritious grass. In 1960 the ranch launched a mesquite eradication program that accelerated in the 1970s, since the trees’ extensive root systems continued to spread and absorb what little water was available to grow grass. Testifying to the wildness and toughness of the land, where cattle get lost in the Croton Breaks in adjoining Dickens County, ranch hands have found during several Matador roundups ten-year old animals that had never been branded.

So now we have the story of the Scottish cattle and the drovers.  Traditionally wealth had usually been measured in cattle and Highland black cattle served as the economic base for the Scottish laird and his tenants.  Drovers swam their herds over the lochs or drove them down the roads to the great fairs in London or Falkirk. Thousands of cattle and sheep were sold at Falkirk.  In the eyes of many Scotland had become a vast grazing area that supplied the world with their beef.   While on the road, the Scots excelled in their profession, armed drovers and their dogs lived on oatmeal, onions, ewe’s milk, cheese, bannock and a ram’s horn filled with whisky, when night fell the Scot simply wrapped his plaid around him and slept by his charges.

For fifty-five years, John Cameron of Corriechoille drove herds to Falkirk Tryst to become “the most famous drover of Lochabee” and one of the richest.  Drovers moved the herds across the Kyle of Rhea, by tying the tail of one animal to the horns of another. 

By the middle of the nineteenth century each region of Scotland had specialized in its type of cattle, the kyloes, the Galloway, the Ayrshire, the Fifeshire, Shetland and Orkney.  Only the Scottish shorthorn rivaled the Aberdeen Angus in popularity.  Thusly, the Scots felt nearly at home on the plains of  American Midwest.

A number of Scots made the Atlantic crossing to manage some of the operations.  Previously mentioned, the Marjoribanks brothers, Colin Cameron, John Clay and then we see Murdock Mackenzie, the overseer of the famous Matador Land and Cattle Company, which later became head of the American National Livestock Association.  One observer in the Denver stockyards remarked at Murdo’s “Caledonian eye and native shrewdness”.  As stated before, Murdo was a world wide Scot, very successful and lived a life not unlike that of a Scottish laird. The Matador was purchased in the 1950's by the Koch Family.  It is still in operation. 

This ends the Tails of Trails of the Scottish Drovers.

Reference Materials:
Cattlemen—Mari  Sandoz
Lost Trails of the Cimarron—Harry Chrisman
Scots in the North American West—Ferenc Morton Szasz
The Handbook of Texas by the Texas State Historical Society
City of MacPherson, Kansas

Summer 1929....A personal contribution from an elderly school marm::: Old 40--Ellsworth County Kansas.

I was raised on a farm down by Geneseo Kansas in early 1920.  It was always known that I would go to Fort Hays State Teachers College to become a teacher. So in the summer of 1929, I began my college education.

At that time, the old 40 was a graveled road and I traveled this road each summer of 1929, 1930, and 1931.  It had become hard surface in 1931 but was not of concrete.  In 1932, the US Government gave the states managemnet of the highways as also they gave the financial responsibilty to each one and Kansas inherited the Smoky Hill Trail and Golden Belt Hiway and renamed it Hiway 40.

I was going to Hays to college each summer and teaching country school each winter those four years.  From year to year, I noticed changes taking place in the eighty mile trek across the prairie...after the road was named Highway 40, business began to spring up at Ellsworth. 

Lockharts built a motel on the north side,  Joe Toman opened a filling station and appliance store selling goods of gas and oil, stoves and refrigerators.  On the north side, Ott Ullman opened a building where he bought farmers eggs and trucked them to Colo.  The Soil Conservation opened an office there also.

As the road was changed from gravel to hard top, the highway workers stayed at the motel and other places.  This was a very busy time for the cattle town of Ellsworth..Not only was the Old 40 being built to the north but to the south of town, the Union Pacific or Kansas Pacific Railroad was being built.  The highway workers stayed in places on the north and the railroad workers built their little town on the south.  The Terra Cotta Railroad station was moved into Ellsworth from Carneiro and placed beside the Lockhart Motel so it could be made into a tavern.

Many years have come and gone since the Smoky Hill Trail was born, lots of vehicles have traveled far.  The contributor of my story has wonderful history to preserve of her 90 years of life and memories.  Why don't you see if you can talk to someone and share their memories, write it down and preserve is for posterity.  I hope you have enjoyed reading this Novella as much as I have enjoyed writing it...I have other pages I could contribute but I will wait for another time.  Sincerely...Rose.

When you travel from Ellsworth to Salina, approximately 35 miles, you will see vehicles of all sizes and shapes on old 40.  Mr. Bailey had a trucking business throught the mid 1930's.  He would drive a load of cattle to the Salina Livestock Sale Barn and return home with sacks of feed for the Co-op, he also brought back barrels of Oats and sold to Mr. Toman. Mr. Bailey would thrash the Hay from Wamego farmers and truck the hay back to the farmers in Ellsworth County.

Icing Glass Hill by Carneiro was very high and rocky.  They cut a road through that rock almost in line with the road that was in existance.  A number of negroes worked on this job also. Remember, the railroad was also being built along side the old Trail Road at the same time so there were many folks who would put up tent towns or shanty towns as living quarters.  The Ising Hill was a very dangerous crossing in the winter time.  There was always a lot of snow and ice that made driving dangerous so in order for the vehicles to use this road, tire chains had to be on the vehicles.  Sometimes the farmers would have to assist people over the hill.  So the blasting of Icing Glass Hill prompted the rebuilding of a good road that would be passable in the winter.

This is but a second segment of "eyes on" the making of the Smoky Hill Trail. Parts of the old road are  still used by many persons.  From Ellsworth east, it will go on to the Missouri state line and west from Ellsworth, you can drive it to Russell County and there it dead ends into the IH70.  But there are segments that are in usable condition on westward to Fort Hays and Fort Wallce then onto Colorado across the Rocky Mountains and all the way to California.

The Smoky Hill Trail or the Old 40 Highway or the Golden Belt Highway... made its beginning on the banks of the river at Leavenworth.  A distance from Leavenworth, the Trail split and part of it turned south and the main road continued westward along the Kansas Pacific Railroad and the rivers, ..

I hope you enjoy reading the old history of the Old 40 hiway or the Smoky Hill Trail...I will be writing a few more wee novellas and hopefully insert pictures of the military encampments and cattlemen and ranches while we are traversing Kansas.

Old 40 Hiway---Golden Belt Highway played a major role in the history of Ellsworth County.

Members of the Smoky Hill Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution are collecting memories of Old Hiway 40 from the time of its conception in 1925 to its demise in the 1960's as an interstate highway.

Members seek stories about construction, businesses, or incidents connected with this important piece of history in Ellsworth and Ellsworth County.. The Hiway 40 was created in 1925 when the US Bureau of Public Roads drew a line on a map connecting routes from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  The most famous of these routes was the National Road which was birthed in 1805 and fathered by Thomas Jefferson.  It stretched from Cumberland MD to the Ohio River as the first federal highway. 

In Kansas, the line of Hiway 40 followed the Victory Highway which was established in 1920 as a memorial to the veterans of WW I.  The Victory Highway included sections of the Golden Belt Road which was established in 1910.  For years, the Kansas portion of Hiway 40 consisted of roads constructed, supervised and maintained by the counties.  In 1931, Kansas was the last state in the union to approve funding of its roads and highways.  In 1933, the National Recovery Industrial Act allotted Kansas $10 million to spend on highway projects employing men from the County Relief Rolls, a WPA program, unskilled workmen were paid 30 cents an hour, semi-skilled, 40 cents and skilled labor, 60 cents.  Maintenance crews were used as field supervisors.

In 1941, the US  War Department designated parts of hiway 40 and 24 as indispensable to national security.  Construction crews worked long hours to build access and multi-lane roads to military and defense facilities.  By the war's end, other state and local roads were deteriorating.  Within a few months, contractors were at work on $17 million worth of state projects...

In 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act providing for a miltilane interstate  super highway. This was the largest public works project in history and was completed in 13 years.  Interstate 70 parallels Old Hiway 40 which is the

Smoky Hills Trail..


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus