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JIM: Overland to Santa Fe, 1851 (part 2 of 5)

This is the second installment. To read the first, click to Overland to Santa Fe 1851, (part 1 of 5)


In 1850, Adair County native Ben Carter, then a stripling lad of eighteen, took leave of the familial hearth and home in Breeding, Ky. and went west, briefly settling in Missouri until the spring of 1851, when he embarked on an adventure of a lifetime. Sixty years later, the Adair County News published a series of five letters from Mr. Carter which detailed his journey - an overland trip from Kansas City to Santa Fe.

Your humble transcriber took the liberty of correcting minor typographical errors; correcting and adding minor punctuation for clarification; and in a few instances, adding information in parentheses for clarification. The final installment will include a brief biographical sketch of Mr. Carter.

Part 2 of 5, published in the May 24, 1911 Adair County News.

A Pioneer Journey: Uncle Ben Carter Writes of Wagon Journey to the Southwest, Made in 1851

We began the process of yoking the oxen early one morning, being all day in getting them under yoke. About one-fourth of the cattle had been worked before. For the yoking of this herd of five hundred, there were forty-seven very orderly quiet men in attendance, only a few of whom were not hurt in some way by the oxen, but I was fortunate enough in not getting a scratch. Six oxen were used to each loaded wagon, with one driver. The men who superintended, four in number, rode on horses.

When the order was given to start, each team moved in lively manner, some of them almost beyond control, which caused no end of confusion among the drivers. One driver was thrown by the force in front of his wagon, the front wheel of which passed over him, but I succeeded in getting him out before the hind wheel struck him. It took several days' time for him to be able to walk again.

The next point of interest was our stop at Council Grove, (Kansas) one hundred twenty-five miles from Kansas City. This village is on the Moseo (Neosho) River, and consisted of five or six shack houses in which white people lived, and one stone house, built in 1389 in which the Indian agent lived.

From here we traveled west and crossed the big Cottonwood River about 20 miles from Council Grove. When about ready for camp, there came a regular cloudburst. I, in company with six others, was on guard at this time. The wind and fall of water was terrific. The cattle stampeded, running over two of our men and hurting them badly. The air became so oppressive that we thought we could not possibly have lived, had it lasted for five minutes longer. The water, on a level, was over our shoe-tops.

We reported to headquarters what had happened, but were told to rest till morning before trying to find the cattle. The next day we were up early, and the boss of our gang with 25 men, started in search of the oxen. This left 22 men in camp and for nine days we had a lonely time waiting for them. We began to think they were killed, as we were in constant danger of attack by Indians, and to secure ourselves we had a guard by day and another by night.

At the close of the ninth day, four or five of the boys returned with about two-thirds of the cattle, and the twelfth day all came in safely, but it was found we had lost about forty-five head. I was very angry. The two leading oxen which I used in my team, had been killed, supposedly by the Indians. It was estimated that the stampede had covered a distance of least twenty miles, up and down the Cottonwood River.

While we were waiting at this place I did something which sounds horrifying now, but was considered a very ordinary thing at that time. This was the robbing of an Indian grave. Out a little distance from camp we saw a pile of stones, near which was a mound and we were told this was the grave of an Indian and that in the grave we would find his gun and all he ever owned. They bury their dead somewhat after this fashion. They dig the grave about two feet deep and place the corpse there and cover it with poles and grass to keep the dirt from falling on the body. They bury the belongings of the Indian with him, (he may need them when he reaches the happy hunting ground).

I was very anxious to secure the gun which I supposed would be in the grave. At the east end was an opening so I began to work at this side and another man began at the opposite part. I managed to reach a strap and in pulling it out, there came with it, the shot pouch, containing a few bullets, a deck of cards and a powder horn. With my next move, I secured his wash pan and after a third attempt, reached his big iron spoon.

The other man at this time called out that he had secured the gun, but it proved to be one of the bones from the leg of the body. We examined it closely. As we could see no bullet holes, we concluded he had died a natural death. I restored the shot pouch to the grave, but took the wash pan and spoon to camp, scoured till disposed of some of the rust, and we used them all the time during the remainder of our journey. We had now lain by twelve days and again resumed our journey.

The next place was Owl Creek, two hundred and forty miles from Kansas city. Up to this time we had seen no buffalo, but here the whole country was alive with buffalo, deer, antelope, and elk. I bought about 15 pounds of buffalo meat from an Indian, giving him five cents worth of tobacco in exchange. While in camp we were visited by several hundred Indians. The old chief was dressed in an immense skin of panther, the hind legs of which he had tied around his neck and the claws lay on his breast. The forefeet of the skin almost reached the ground at his heals (heels). I almost envied him, that panther skin. For ornaments, he wore a ring in his nose and on his knees were fastened, with straps, bunches of bells which jingled.

A few days after this visit, two regiments of United States soldiers overtook us. Many of the soldiers were sick with that dread disease, cholera. We passed each other for about a week. Each morning they buried form eight to ten of their number who had died from cholera.

(End of part two.)

Copyright 2011.

Compiled by JIM.

This story was posted on 2012-01-15 03:27:18
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