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JIM: Ben Carter, Overland to Santa Fe - Part 3 of 5

By JIM

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 3 of 5, published in the May 31, 1911 Adair County News.

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

The regiment finally got ahead of us. In a short time one of our boys was taken down with cholera and died in a few days. For his burial we placed the body on an undressed but dry buffalo skin and lowered it into the grave by holding the legs of the skin. We folded the skin over the body and I placed his hat on his face. We filled the grave half full of dirt, then put in a large log to keep wolves from disturbing the body. Several of us had light attacks of cholera, I among them.


Near here we saw the bodies of 16 buffaloes scattered over four acres of ground. We found that they had been killed by arrows and lances and the Indians had cut the tongues from all that I examined. We also saw a great pile of mules which had been frozen to death in a blizzard. I counted the heads and found there were about seventy-five. On the return trip, we observed that the bodies lay in straight rows.

I will now relate an incident that occurred, but in connection with it, I can not describe my feelings. We were camped near the Pawnee River, and about sundown, we saw about a quarter a mile from us, some 75 or 100 Indians on their ponies. We had just begun unyoking our teams and the order was given to do so quickly, but I became so weak I could scarcely unyoke and it seemed impossible to get my gun, and was ready if they came nearer. They started for us but stopped and when about half way from camp and had another parley and then began moving squads until they surrounded our camp. They were angry and looked savage. They rode without saddle or bridle and guided their ponies perfectly by the motion of their bodies. They were armed with bows, arrows and lances.

About dark they left us but we made preparations for trouble the next morning and placed a double guard on horseback, around our cattle that night. I was placed to guard a part of the cattle, but in some way got lost during the night and did not know where camp was as we never had lights in camp at night, so I had no means of determining. I certainly thought of home and "Old Kentuck."

I stayed with my part of the herd and just before day some of the boys found me and it was just sunrise when we reached camp, but we were not bothered by Indians as we had expected.

When we got to the great bend on the Arkansas River we were about half way to Santa Fe. Our road ran along the valley of the river and we had good water and plenty of grass for the cattle and game for ourselves. About 125 miles from this bend was a fort, then called Fort Man (Mann). Here I saw the greatest sight of my life. The two regiments of soldiers referred to were at this fort. All among them now seemed well. Here also, were Indians to the number of 30,000. Their tents covered about 80 acres of ground. They claim 7,000 warriors, the others being women and children.

We corralled our wagons near the fort in order to get dinner. We found the Indians very angry. They had stolen a mule from the soldiers, and Col. Summer, the commander of the regiment, had sent orders to their chief that unless the mule was given up by a certain hour, he would turn the batteries on them, so they surrendered him. One Indian told us by signs and by words that they intended to scalp all the pale faces as soon as the sun went down. This Indian while imparting this information, sat on the ground and leaned against the greased hub of my wagon and as his blanket slipped down to his waist, he soon found his back was covered with axle grease. He became very angry and made good use of our language when it came to swearing.

Just at this time, two Indian boys came galloping up to my wagon. They stopped and took aim at me with their bows and arrows. I sprang from the ground where I had been sitting and was ready for them in an instant. At this, they turned their ponies and rode off, shouting and laughing.

These Indians had met here intending to go to Fort Kearney to make a treaty with the whites and to receive presents from them, and they now made preparations to start. It was interesting to see the manner in which they traveled and carried their camping outfit. They took their longest tent poles and fastened them to the shoulders of the ponies, two or three poles on each side. The other end of the pole was on the ground. Then behind the pony, they tied a large basket to the poles.

These baskets were made of bark, in size about five feet long, two and a half feet deep and three wide. These were packed with children, packed in so tight that not one could fall out, generally 8 or 10 in a basket. They were from three to eight years old and were as happy as any children I ever saw. They wore no clothes of any description. Hundreds of ponies were fixed up this way. They had no drivers but the mothers of the children who rode on other ponies saw to it that they traveled alright.

The short tent poles were fastened in the same way to the dogs. Each little child was carried on the mother's back. It took several hours for them to pass us. The soldiers followed the Indians and our band followed the soldiers. The first night all camped near each other. We did not unyoke our teams. I heard our boss say, "Every man, sick or well, has to stand guard tonight."

I was feeling well, but went to my wagon and loaded my gun full. I felt I could only fire one shot so I wanted it to count, but everything was quiet through the night and as soon as it was light enough to see the teams, we hitched them to the wagons and passed through camp. We never saw any of them after that.

We moved up the river about ten miles from Ft. Man and crossed. To do so, we used doubled teams, 12 yoke to a wagon. The river was about waist deep and a fourth of a mile wide. The snow and ice had just come down from the mountains so the water was very cold. We had to make two trips each to get them all over. The sun was hot but we got chilled through. When we were all over, the boss gave us a chance to drink some of his brandy and none refused.

Here we rested until night and then moved across a country, dry and barren, without water or grass for our cattle. We traveled 60 miles in this way and never unlocked our teams for two days and nights and when we reached the Cinnamon (Cimarron) River, the cattle were just fagged out, but here we had plenty of water for them and ourselves. (There are three Cimarron Rivers in the US. The Cimarron to which Mr. Carter referred most likely was the one which is a tributary of the Arkansas River.)

Some of our men on this long journey would go to sleep while walking. One man went to sleep and we could not awake him until we shook him. A few of the cattle drank so much water, they died in a short time.

Copyright 2011.(End of part three.)


This story was posted on 2012-01-22 08:54:51
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