In the United States, the Land Ordinance of 1785 created the Public Lands Survey System, which formed the basis for dividing the Western territories into sections to allow for the sale of land. Through surveys, states were divided into township grids which were further divided into sections and fractions of sections. And yes, surveyors went into completely uncharted areas of the country and endured perils mostly unheard of by the general public.
One of the most famous survey expeditions was the Hayden Geological Survey of 1871 which explored the region of northwestern Wyoming that later became Yellowstone National Park in 1872.It was led by geologist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden. The 1871 survey was not Hayden's first, but it was the first federally funded, geological survey to explore and further document features in the region soon to become Yellowstone National Park and played a prominent role in convincing the U.S. Congress to pass the legislation creating the park. While Hayden's expedition was a success without incident, not all surveyors were as fortunate.
Meade County, Kansas, was created in 1873 and named in honor of General George G. Meade. At the time, Meade County was inhabited by buffalo and other critters that roamed the Great Plains. Meade County is divided into nine townships, those survey parties of the 1870s commissioned by the government are responsible for how those townships were drawn up. And yes, it came at a steep price.
On August 24, 1874, in Meade County, Kansas, the Southern Cheyenne massacred a Surveying Party consisting of Captain Oliver Francis Short, his 14-year-old son Truman, and four other members of the party. Four of them were scalped, all were mutilated -- including the boy.
The Southern Cheyenne
The Southern Cheyenne known in Cheyenne as Heévâhetaneo'o meaning "Roped People", also commonly known as Sowonia - "the Southern People". While some Native Americans only point to White-Europeans as those who pushed them off "their" lands, fact is that tribes pushed each other off lands and killed each other in acts of ethnic cleansing centuries before Whites ever came to America.
As for the Cheyenne, after being pushed south and westward by the Lakota Sioux in the 1700s, the unified Cheyenne people began to create and expand a new territory of their own in the early 1800s. Later the Cheyenne splintered into two groups, the Northern and Southern Cheyenne. The later consisting of a Cheyenne and Arapaho alliance later on.
In the southern portion of their territory the Cheyenne and Arapaho waged war with the allied Comanche, Kiowa, and Plains Apache. In fact, numerous battles were fought including a notable fight along the Washita River in 1836 with the Kiowa which resulted in the death of Cheyenne warriors of the Bowstring society.
In the summer of 1838, many Cheyenne and Arapaho attacked a camp of Kiowa and Comanche along Wolf Creek in Oklahoma resulting in heavy losses on both sides. Conflicts with the Comanche, Kiowa, and Plains Apache ended in 1840 when the tribes made an alliance with each other. The new alliance allowed the Cheyenne to enter the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and northeastern New Mexico to hunt bison and trade.
The Southern Cheyenne expansion in the south and alliance with the Kiowa led to their first raid into Mexico in 1853. The raid ended in disaster with heavy resistance from Mexican lancers, resulting in all but 3 of the Indian war party being killed.
To the north, the Cheyenne made a strong alliance with the Lakota Sioux who was their enemy for centuries. That alliance allowed the Northern Cheyenne to expand their territory into part of their former lands around the Black Hills. Fortunately, the Northern Cheyenne escaped the smallpox epidemics which swept across the plains from white settlements in 1837-39 by heading into the Rocky Mountains. They weren't so lucky in 1849, when they were affected greatly by a Cholera epidemic that year. Throughout that time, believe it or not, it is said that contact with "Euro-Americans," whites, was limited to contact with mountain men, traders, explorers, treaty makers, and a few painters. Yes, painters!
The enemies of the Cheyenne included the Crow, Shoshone, Blackfeet, Flathead, Arikara, Gros Ventre, Assiniboine, and Plains Cree to the north and west of Cheyenne territory. To the east of Cheyenne Territory they fought with the Sioux, Pawnee, Ponca, Kaw, Iowa, Ho-Chunk and Omaha. South of Cheyenne territory they fought with the Kiowa, Comanche, Ute, Plains Apache, Osage and Wichita people.
While their wars with other tribes were very bloody affairs, many of the enemies the Cheyenne fought were only encountered occasionally such as on a long distance raid or hunt. Some of their enemies, particularly the Indian peoples of the eastern great plains such as the Pawnee and Osage, would act as Indian Scouts for the U.S. Army. These Scouts provided the U.S. Army with valuable tactical information and "tracking skills" regarding Cheyenne habits and traditional fighting strategies.
The U.S. government brought the tribes to council again in 1867, to achieve peace under the Medicine Lodge Treaty. That treaty promised the Arapaho a reservation in Kansas, but they disliked the location. Instead they accepted a reservation with the Cheyenne in Indian Territory, so both tribes were forced to move south near Fort Reno in present-day Oklahoma
By 1874, most of the Southern Cheyenne Indians there had been driven from their land and placed on reservations in the Oklahoma Territory. Warriors who left the reservation were called renegades. They used a combination of traditional weapons such as various types of war clubs, tomahawks, bows and arrows, and lances as well as non-traditional weapons such as revolvers, rifles, and shotguns acquired through raid and trade.
Since the Indian Wars were still going on in 1874, the United States government encouraged buffalo hunters the plains. The government's goal was to deprive the Indians of their major food source. They assumed this would force the Indians to stay on the reservation and under their control.
During this time period until the early 1880's what was left of the great buffalo herds were killed, their hides shipped back east where they could provide sturdy belts for the giant machines that fueled America's industrial revolution. Later, the bones of the buffalo that littered the American landscape were gathered and sold to make fertilizers.
During the summer of 1874, there was a great deal of bloodshed on the Great Plains. Indian war parties made up by those who were tired of the confinement of the reservations attacked American buffalo hunters, settlers, freighters, and soldiers at every opportunity. Conditions on the prairie became so bad that buffalo hunting was suspended for the season of 1874. Of course while that was the case for buffalo hunters who listened to what the government said and who in fact did not work for the government, the government's job of surveying the land was another issue.
Surveying the land was continued. And yes, surveying contracts that were awarded to civilian firms had due dates. Like today, to get paid, contractors have to make their due date. In the Old West, to get paid, many surveyors braved the elements and Indians to fulfill their contract obligations.
On July 8, 1874, C.W. Babcock of Lawrence, Kansas, Surveyor General of Kansas, awarded contract No. 381 to Captain Luther A. Thrasher, Mr. Steel, W.C. Jones, and Harmon Scott, all of Iola, Kansas. They were being paid $9117.35 to survey 920 miles of land. Under Captain Thrasher were S.W. Howe of Florence, Kansas, Mr. Crist, Charles Brooker, and Mr. Woolens. Others in the party unknown.
U.S. Contract No. 382 was signed by Captain Oliver Francis Short and Abram Cutler for the sum of $9677.92 and called for 1055 miles to be surveyed. 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 Harold, age 16, and Truman Short age 14, Captain Cutler, James Shaw and son J. Allen Shaw age 15, J. H. Keuchler, age 18, Fleming (Clem) Duncan, William and Richard Douglas, Frank Blacklidge, and Harry C. Jones, age 22, who was a nephew of Captain Cutler. All, except for the contractors and James Shaw, a farmer, were students at Kansas University. One of the four men assigned for camp duty was Prather, one Mulatto, and names of others are unknown.
Captain Short, who had fought in the Union Army during the American Civil War, was one of the first professional surveyors in Kansas. He was not new to the job, in fact one of his early contracts was No. 303, dating back to 1864 during the Civil War. He was no stranger to the frontier or the threat of hostiles -- both Indian and White. In fact, he is said to have worked and served from the Dakotas and into the Indian Territory and all the way into Kansas.
By 1874, Captain Short knew full well the hardships of dealing with the harsh landscape -- especially that of the Kansas prairie. Captain Short was well aware of the dangers the Indians imposed. In fact, on a visit with his sister, Mary, the year before his last survey trip he told her, “The Indians are angry and not unjustly so, but I am sure I shall have no trouble with them if I take the surveying contract, for I have worked among them for eighteen years and have treated them kindly, they know me as a friend and will not harm me.”
While this attitude seems to be a little naive coming from a man who understood the dangers he faced, I can't help but wonder if he told his sister that in the same way as many troops would just to downplay the upcoming danger they may face -- just so those at home would not worry so much.
Some say Captain Short believed the Army would provide his survey team an escort in the event of danger with Indians, that did not take place.
On August 10, Captain Short commenced work with three crews, including his sons, Harold and Truman. Captain Short usually left their main camp for several days, at a time, while running the township lines while Captain Thresher and Mr. Cutler who would run the section lines and spend the night in the main camp.
With August on the Great Plains being windswept, hot, and dry, water was a precious commodity, the crews had a drive pump that they could drive several feet into the bottom of a creek or pond and pump good clean water. Their pump may have been used at their main camp on Crooked Creek while laying out Township 33, Range 28, in Meade County. They picked a spot by a lone cottonwood tree in the northeast quarter of section 4.
Yes, that lone cottonwood tree would become the symbol of their demise.
Captain Short sent the following letter to his family describing his last few days there:
"Crooked Creek, August 16, 1874. This very pleasant Sunday morning, you are all wondering where Pa and Harold and Truman are and what are our surroundings.
"We have commenced work and made a few very hard days on account of water which is very scarce. The creek's all dry and the pool's nearly all dry. Last night we found a marsh and have excellent spring water for our Sunday camp.
"To make matters worse the prairie has all been burned off and last night when we came into camp, the cook, Mr. Shaw, and his son and all the teamsters had all been fighting fire to save grass for the cattle and no supper was got that night and this morning, Harold, Captain Thrasher, and I went out and finished it.
"We have started three compasses to work. The ground is so hard we can scarcely dig, so we will be at great disadvantage to haul stone. If we could get a soaking rain it would be a great saving to us.
"A great many soldiers have gone below so we have no apprehensions of Indians, still we shall keep a careful watching.
"We may have a chance to send this up (to Ft. Dodge) with hunters, if not will continue next Sunday.
"Harry Keuchler flags and yesterday suffered greatly for water, wished himself any other place, but after it was in the past was satisfied.
"No opportunity was found to mail this letter and it continues. Saturday Evening, August 22. You are all doubtless thinking and talking of us as the sun is just setting behind the prairie horizon.
"Our boys, Harry and two others and myself have been about all week, excepting Tuesday night, on exterior work and have found plenty of water and grass, many fine springs and abundance of stone. So if Thrasher's work proves as well as mine we shall have a good time.
"No sign of Indians. Have seen no buffalo but heard them this morning. Hunters are camped near us a will proceed to Ft. Dodge tomorrow and will carry up this letter. I have no idea when we shall get mail but as soon as we get exterior work done will send or go up which will be three or four weeks. The men sent up mail this week while we were out.
"Our boys work well and get along very well. Harold's shoes have run over and are nearly worn out. I have been quite unwell for a few days but feel well tonight. Our pump is great help, since we came in, have driven it down and got good cool water.
"You need not think my nights lying out in an Indian country with ears alert are as if with you but it will not last long I hope. Now it is getting dark, so good night.
"Morning Sunday 23rd. A very good rain last night - All well. Hunters starting so good-by. O.F.S.
P.S. Truman has written but it is mislaid."
Captain Short gave the above letter to buffalo hunters to deliver. Following the departure of the hunters with his letter, Captain Short and his men took their Sunday rest in the camp at the lone tree. It is interesting to note that while I have read some revisionist history lately that tries to say that the Americans who came West were not as Christian as we are led to believe, they should look to Captain Short and his survey team for proof of the Christian devotion.
Being a good Christian, Captain Short insisted that the camp observe the Sabbath. Harold Short later recalled Sunday's activities saying, "Father, I remember well, took his washing down to the creek as well as his boys clothes and gave them a good cleaning, then after dinner, read his Bible and sang a few songs."
Those who wish to re-write the history of the Old West to make it look as if it was not, either for the benefit of Hollywood or some anti-Christian agenda, can try as they may but the truth will be known no matter how hard they try to hide it.
That Sunday, it seems that some of the boys could not get along with the cook, and in an effort to resolve the dispute, Captain Short agreed to leave his son, Harold, to work at the camp when he and his crew set out the next day. It would be the first time the two Short brothers were separated since the start of the contract. It would be the last time Harold would see his father and brother alive.
Monday, August 24, 1874
Early Monday morning, August 24, the crews set out to work. Captain Short's crew consisted of himself, son Truman, James Shaw and his son, James Allen, Harry Keuchler and Harry C. Jones. It was agreed that this crew would take a horse, a wagon and two oxen and do some township work and would be gone for a week, while the other two compassmen would do the subdividing work.
The main camp was to remain as located until Captain Short returned. It was a clear bright day with a strong wind from the north. The Short crew worked its way three miles East then six miles South before they stopped for dinner. At the same time Captain Thrasher's crew worked two miles East and six miles South and stopped for dinner as well. The two parties worked West together on the South line until they reached the next section line which took Captain Thrasher's crew back North.
They parted at about 2:00 p.m., Captain Short continuing West on the township line for what was expected to be a good week's work. Of that week's work, it is said that only about two hours worth were completed. Yes, something very bad took place to stop them.
Speculation being what it is, the forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence, the rest of what happened to Captain Short and his crew on that Monday afternoon can only be recreated through a few field notes and the evidence on the ground found by the other surveyors two days later. Evidence shows that the six men proceeded unharmed to the Southwest corner of this township to the head of a little stream, later known as Short's Creek, where their last stone was set.
One-half mile to the north, where they were to set another stone, blood was found and traces in the ashes of the prairie fire showed that the Indians had made the attack from ambush in the ravine. Truman, who was flagging to the north, had left the flag and ridden back to help his father. It is believed that if he had ridden to the lone tree camp, he might have saved his life.
Harold Short later wrote: "It seems that the Indians about 25 were expecting the party to continue in their western course and were lain in the deep ravine just beyond the west of the corner but when my father and brother turned to run the line north, they followed along the ravine to where the north line crossed then waited until my brother had crossed over and set his flag and continued north. When my father and men came north to the ravine they were surprised and attacked. It is the impression that my father was shot dead through the body the first man, leaving the others in an excited state."
With Captain Short being the first man shot dead, the battle was fought by leaderless surveyors from the shelter of their wagon while at the same time trying to run for help. In their dash, driving the oxen, loading their guns, laying their dead and wounded in the wagon, they headed as fast as they could toward camp for help.
At the end of four miles, as dusk fell, the Indians surrounded them.
Evidence shows that the oxen were killed. That immediately disabled their wagon and stranded them at the mercy of the Southern Cheyenne. Evidence also shows that tracks of only one white man were found. It was those of James Shaw, they were confirmed by the marks of iron from his boot heels.
While it is said that the men were all well armed with rifles, the trail was strewn with spent shells, mysteriously, the trail was also strewn with dishes and utensils from the wagon as if someone was going through the wagon searching for something. Some speculate that it was the team searching for more ammunition.
We know this because before returning, 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 or wounded. For about three and one-half miles the trail toward the camp was strewn with cartridge shells, showing a desperate fight.
It is believed that the Cheyenne had been angered by an order which called out 300 soldiers from Fort Dodge to drive the Cheyenne back to their Reservation. These soldiers had passed by Captain Short's camp on their way south. At that time, Captain Short had asked the Commanding Officer to give him a small detail of soldiers to act as scouts or guards for the survey party. That officer, who I was unable to identify, said he had no authority to grant his request. That officer also must have had a faulty crystal ball, because it was reported that he stated that "there were no Indians in the vicinity."
Before leaving, as with what had been arranged among the surveyors, the officer of that detail was told that should they be attacked -- that the danger signal would be to set the prairie grass on fire.
It was a system that allowed everyone and anyone within miles know that the smoke would be seen for miles. Some say it might have been a good signal if the grass had not been burned off just a few days before. As for the sounds of the attack, the shots and screaming, some believe that a strong North wind carried the sound of the gunfire away to the South and the men back at the lone tree camp. Subsequently those back at the camp had no idea of what had happened to their comrades now dead a mere three miles South of the main camp.
At around dusk on Monday, the men at the main camp saw a party that they couldn't make out to the Southwest appear from over a hill and then disappear. Is is speculated that the men didn't think much of it because they thought it was a party of buffalo hunters who were there like the others in spite of the suspension on buffalo hunting. Little did they know it was Captain Short's dead comrades.
In the cover of darkness the Indians recovered their dead and left the survey crew by their wagon on the banks of what is Crooked Creek. The next day as Captain Thrasher worked the section lines, he went six miles South from the camp to the township line, then back to the North six miles. He passed very near to the bodies as he worked the section line east of Crooked Creek but they and the wagon were hidden from view by the bluffs.
About noon on Wednesday, as he worked south, setting the northwest cornerstone on section 20, they looked east and caught view of the scene where the last man had fallen. When they went to investigate, they found the dead laid out side by side. Their small dog was also dead and laying beside them. While the oxen had been killed and were found still yoked to the wagons, the Indians had slaughtered them and taken their hind quarters. The wagon and water barrel were shot full of holes. Captain Thrasher and his men loaded the bodies of their dead comrades into the wagon and headed back to the main camp.
Harold Short later described the scene: "The bodies were found by Capt. Thrasher's party about 2 o'clock Wednesday the 26th and late in the afternoon I noticed the men coming in from the southwest with a wagon railing behind their cart. The compassmen generally had a cart with them, it being more easily gotten over a new and broken country, hauled by a team of oxen. The men in camp wondered what had happened, I said my father and party I am sure have been murdered, they laughed saying no such thing could have happened, but as they came nearer, Capt. Thrasher a little ways ahead came up to me and said, 'Little man you must be a brave boy for the Indians have killed your father and brother and all his party, we found them dead lying side by side near their wagon, put them all in the wagon and hitched to our cart and have trailed it into camp.' They were all taken out and buried in graves just a little south and east of the lone cottonwood tree."
The bodies were buried near sundown, about 100 yards southeast of Lone Tree, and the same distance southwest of the camp. The victims were wrapped in tent cloth and then placed in one lone grave three feet deep. The initials of each was carved onto rough stones which were placed at the head of each body. After that, the survey work was then abandoned and the surveyors returned to Fort Dodge with the awful story.
The German Family Massacre
What seemed to be but a few days later, the same band of renegades massacred a family nearby. It took place on the morning of September 10 when Chief Medicine Water and his renegade band attacked John German and his family as they were breaking camp. German and his family had camped along the stagecoach route which followed the Smoky Hill River. They were en route to Fort Wallace.
John German, his wife Lydia, their son Stephen and daughters Rebecca, Jane, and Joanna were killed and scalped. Besides being scalped, John was also mutilated. Lydia is known to have died by a tomahawk blow to the skull. After plundering the camp and setting fire to their wagon, the band took German's four youngest daughters captive. The German daughters not killed but taken as slaves were Catherine age 17, Sophia age 12, Julia age 7, and Addie age 5.
Reports stated that after being raped and beaten, 7 year old Julia and 5 year old Addie were then sold to Grey Beard's band. But thankfully, both children were later recovered after an attack on his camp on November 8 by a column led by U.S. Army Lt. Frank D. Baldwin.
The two oldest daughters, 17 year old Catherine and 12 year old Sophia, were also raped and beaten, but their lives were made a living Hell as they were kept as slaves. They were recovered in February when Chief Stone Calf and most of the Southern Cheyenne surrendered at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
On February 27, 1875, The New York Times front page had a small one column article "Surrender Of Indian Tribe" and "Stone Calf And 1,600 Cheyennes With Their German Women Captives Surrender".
Because the girls were recovered by the Army, through their eye witness testimony of what was taken from the Lone Tree Massacre, we know that it was mainly Cheyenne warriors led by Chief Medicine Water who were those responsible for the death of Captain Short, his son, and the others. As captives, the girls saw one warrior riding the black shod horse, that horse belonged Truman Short. While slaves, they also saw many brass pieces that were from the surveying equipment taken after the Short Massacre.
Later it was found out that some twenty miles to the West, a short time after the massacre, hunters saw a party of twenty-five or more Indians leaving camp. Supposedly those same hunters examined the camp and found parts of a chain, a compass, and some papers belonging to Captain Short. While some say that the report by those hunters was true, I don't put much weight into it simply because it means that those hunters had to enter a Cheyenne camp, spend time there to look around, and then leave without losing their hair -- that seems highly unlikely.
Believe it or not, it was reported that among the things abandoned at this camp was a post card on which an Indian had crudely drawn six figures that were supposedly bodies in various positions with dots marking the wounds of the men in Short's party. But again, who really knows if that was true or not. Remember, rumors back in those days were such that the Lone Tree Massacre could have started out by saying 6 men were killed -- and in a week the number killed could have climbed to 50 or more with every telling. It is just a fact that unreliable reports of such killings were notoriously tossed about -- as they are today until the truth is ferreted out..
As for those responsible for the massacres at Lone Tree and of the German family, it is believed that Chief Medicine Water and his followers of 35 Cheyenne, 27 Kiowa, 11 Comanche, and 1 Caddo were those who massacred Captain Short's survey party and the German family. After they were captured, two of the Cheyenne died en route to prison. One was Grey Beard, who was supposedly stopped when he tried to commit suicide only to die later when he was shot dead while trying to escape. Those who lived were incarcerated at Fort Sill in Indian Territory. After that, using eight prison wagons, they were taken to Fort Leavenworth. And yes, after that, supposedly they were loaded onto a special train and transported to St. Augustine, Florida, for further confinement.
It should be noted that through aid of the Surveyor General of Kansas, and General John Pope who was the Commandant at Fort Leavenworth at the time, a party left Lawrence with six metallic coffins. A party of surveyors headed by Richard Douglas left Lawrence on January 20, 1875, with six caskets, and arrived at Fort Dodge on the 26th. Here they were given a military escort from Fort Dodge to Lone Tree Camp. The remains of those killed in the Lone Tree Massacre were dug up and returned to their homes.
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. It was reported that H. C. Jones, nephew of Captain Cutler, was also buried at Lawrence. The body of John H. Keuchler was sent to his father, who was a doctor of Springfield, Illinois.
Retrieving their bodies was a very honorable thing to do.