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

EARLIER installments in this fascinating narrative written by an Adair Countian :


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. A brief biographical sketch of Mr. Carter as well as additional information about the letters themselves follows this final installment.

Part 5 of 5, published in the June 14, 1911 Adair County News.

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

We spent a day and a night in this little city. I do not know the number of inhabitants at that time. The buildings were made of sun dried brick, with the roofs flat, or nearly so, and the work inside was very nice. The government had two buildings, each two stories in height with shingled roofs. There was a fine spring in the city which afforded water for all the people and our cattle got all they wanted. We camped near this spring and our boss bought a four acre field of wheat and we let our five hundred cattle in to feed. It took them only two hours to clean up. For this wheat our boss paid the sum of fifty dollars.

I was very anxious to see how these Mexicans lived and how they made a living, so I visited one of their gambling halls that night. The hall was 70 or 80 feet long, furnished with two rows of fine tables extending the full length of the building. Both men and women were playing cards at most all the tables. They had their gold and silver in stacks a foot high on the tables. I did not understand their game, but was interested in watching them take the money in, two or three stacks of gold at a time, perhaps a thousand dollars, in all my life, I never saw so much money. The women were finely dressed and enjoyed the game as well as the men.

There were gold and silver mines near, and at this time they yielded well. West of this place the valley was extensive and level as far as the eye could see, but there was no sign of improvement.

I suppose some of my readers would like to know what became of the whiskey I had saved. Well, there was so much excitement unloading, that it was nearly forgotten, but when I remembered about it, I asked the boss and was told to divide it among the boys, but to let no one have too much. I did as directed and in a short time all the boys were singing, "Home Sweet Home."

The day after unloading our wagons, we reloaded with military stores, clothing and provisions, about 3,000 pounds to the wagon and started back, practically over the same route. The first place of interest was a new fort that was being built not far from that great mound I have written about. They had two barracks, each about 50 feet long, built of rough pine logs and called "Fort Union."

Two or three companies of soldiers were stationed here. They had a fine supply of water. It was brought through pipes from the mountains, and there was a large reservoir full all the time and the water was clear and cold. At this place our boss sold one-half the number of our cattle to the government, so we had only three yoke to work each wagon.

One very dark night while in the mountains, I got lost. The timber was very heavy and tall and I stumbled on to a big white ox which was lying down, and I lay down beside him, and as we were both tired, we were soon fast asleep. Just before daylight my companion left me, but I still slept and when the sun was up and I could hear the boys calling, a fourth of a mile away driving the cattle to camp. My companion of the night, or rather bunk-mate, was near so I headed him into camp, and never hinted to the boys that I had been lost during the night.

As we traveled homeward it was very hot, so we laid by mostly during the day and journeyed by night. We passed a place where the Indians had attacked a train of about forty wagons and having killed all the men. The irons were laying on the ground just where wagons had been stationed. This cost the Indians pretty dear, for about 50 of their number were killed, and the fight lasted several days.

The breastworks of stone, about waist high, constructed by the whites for their protection, were standing and we learned that they fought here until all were killed but five or six, who broke through the lines and made their escape to Texas.

When we got to the great bend of the Arkansas River, we were half way home, and here we laid by to kill buffalo. We started out in six to a squad, my party crossed the river and into the sand-hills. We saw one buffalo, and when within fifty yards of him, we all fired at once, and although six balls entered his body, he did not fall until he had run a short distance, but we did not care for his meat, as he proved to be old and poor, so we returned to camp and when the other boys came in, they had three fine buffalo, a large elk and several antelope, so we dressed this meat and had enough to last us till we reached home.

We were all happy to know that we were now on the last half of our journey home, although we had the most dangerous country to pass over.

One day we met a large train of wagons. In passing, an Indian, with them, whom I have spoken of before as a smooth card player that I met at Kansas City, recognized me and spoke. I started towards him, we shook hands and had some conversation. When I looked at his wagon I began to laugh and so did he, for he had written these words in as nice letters as you would ordinarily see, "Show pity, Lord. Oh Lord, forgive."

For about two hundred miles east of the great bend on the Arkansas River, the entire country was alive with wild game, wild horses, deer, elk, antelope, buffalo, jack rabbits, rattle snakes, horned frogs and mosquitoes.

My boss wanted me to cross the plains again next spring but I refused. I would like very much to hear what Mr. Beeler of Ohio township, would say about his trip across the plains.

I will now close this long letter.

Yours respectfully,
B.F. Carter.


About the author

Mr. Benjamin Franklin Carter was born on May 26, 1832, near Breeding, Adair County, Kentucky. In a letter published in the Adair County News in March, 1911, he stated that he and B.K. Turk left there in 1850 "and went to the Southwest, Missouri, and the next spring I went from there to Kansas City, Mo."

He returned to Adair County, Kentucky by early 1853, where he married Miss Melvina Jane Breeding on February 24th of that year. (One source states February, 1852.) They appeared in the 1860 Adair County census along with three children, George, Joseph, and Mary. According to the same letter as referenced above, the young Carter family removed to Madison County, Iowa later that year (1860).

Shortly thereafter, the Civil War commenced, and about 1862, Benjamin joined Company A of the 39th Iowa Volunteers, Union, and served for several months before receiving an honorable discharge because of ill health.

By 1870, two more children had joined the family, Hattie and William. (Another child, their daughter Anna, died quite young.) Melvina passed in the spring of 1875, and Benjamin remarried later that year to Mrs. Mary A. Blair (nee Eskew), the widow of James Blair; she was a native of Adair County, Ky., and by her, Ben fathered two more children, Amanda J. and Zelpha (or Zilpah) C.

Apparently, his last visit to Kentucky occurred in 1867. In the March 22, 1911 letter, Mr. Carter wrote:

"I was visiting at my old home in the year 1867, all the summer, and enjoyed that visit so much. I saw nearly all my old school mates, and some of them had worn the gray while I had worn the blue, but the love we had formed in our boyhood days still remained the same. They were all glad to see me, too, and I'll never forget them."

Three years later, in March 1914, he wrote, in another letter to the Adair County News, "I am still listening for the roll call. I soon will step on the old boat that lands on the other shore." Mr. Carter embarked on that final journey in the closing days of 1916, and it was duly noted in the January 10, 1917 News:

Mr. Benjamin F. Carter, who was a native of Adair county, great uncle of Mr. J.N. Coffey, this place (Columbia, Ky.), died in Patterson, Iowa, December 17, 1916, aged 84 years, 6 months and 21 days. He left Adair county when 18 years old and went to Missouri, and a year later he went across the plains with Alexander Majors, a Methodist minister. Of this journey he wrote a book entitled "Overland to Santa Fe," which his children prize very highly.

The deceased in the last few years wrote a number of letters which were published in The Adair County News. He was a devout member of the United Brethren Church. He was twice married, his first wife being Miss Melvina Jane Breeding, of this county.

Mr. Carter's remains were placed next those of Melvina in the Blair Chapel Cemetery, St. Charles, Madison County, Iowa. Photos of his grave marker my be viewed here Benjamin F. Carter.

About the "Pioneer Letter"

In Mr. Carter's letter printed in the March 22, 1911 News, he stated, in reference to the trip to Santa Fe and back, that "I wrote a history of this last year, and it was published in our county paper." Almost certainly, what appeared in the Madison County, Iowa, newspaper in 1910 and the Adair County News in 1911 is the same -- or at the least, very similar -- material as found in "Overland to the Santa Fe," the "book" mentioned in his obituary. The only online bibliographic entry found gives the full title as "Overland to Santa Fe; a description of a pioneer journey from Kansas City to Santa Fe by wagon trail in 1851" and implies that it was printed (as a booklet) in 1913 by the Winterset Madisonian, the county newspaper which had originally published the material in 1910. During this era, nearly all rural newspapers also did job printing such as business cards and stationary, school catalogs, and the like.

Copyright 2011.

Compiled by JIM.

This story was posted on 2012-02-05 05:58:33
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