William Mathewson.The use of the sobriquet, "Buffalo Bill," in Kansas, has reference to that daring explorer, hunter, Indian scout and fighter, than whom none did more to prepare the pathway for western immigration and settlementWilliam Mathewson, a resident of Wichita and the last of the old-time pioneers. Heir in a direct line to the prowess of Daniel Boone, David Crockett, and Kit Karson, his family lineage is through American ancestors back to the beginning of the Eighteenth Century, when three brothers emigrated from Scotland. One of them, William Mathewson, great-grandfather of the original "Buffalo Bill," settled in Connecticut, where he engaged in farming until his death, and also served as a soldier in the French war. His son, William Mathewson, was born in Connecticut, in 1743; was a farmer by occupation, and during the Revolution participated in the campaigns in New England until the close of the war. In 1806, when the country was wild and very thinly settled, he removed to Broome county, New York, purchased land, cleared it of timber, and engaged in farming until his death, in 1835, at the age of ninety-two years. His son, Joseph Mathewson, was born in Connecticut, in 1790, and removed with his parents to New York, where he engaged in hunting and trapping until the incoming settlers drove the game from the country, and then engaged in farming and stock raising until his death, in 1835, aged forty-five years. The maiden name of his wife was Eliza Stickney, who moved with her parents from New Hampshire to a farm on Page Brook, in the town of Triangle, Broome county, New York, the family locating on a farm adjoining that owned by Joseph Mathewson.
William Mathewson, son of Joseph and Eliza (Stickney) Mathewson and the original of the sobriquet, "Buffalo Bill," was born in the town of Triangle, Broome county, New York, Jan. 1, 1830, the seventh in a family of eight children. When a child his inclinations were for the wild; roving life of a hunter, seemingly inheriting the intrepid daring of his Highland Scotch ancestry, and he longed for the adventurous life of a frontiersman. After his father's death he remained with his mother until he was ten years old, attending the country schools, and then resided with an older brother three years. At the age of thirteen he went into the lumber regions of Steuben county, New York, and there and in western Pennsylvania was employed in the lumber and mill business a part of each year until eighteen years old. During this time, in the fall of each year, he would set out with other hunters on long hunting expeditions, going to Pennsylvania, Michigan and Canada, and returning home in the spring. A part of the time he was engaged in looking up pine lands in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and at one time acted as a guide to a party of land buyers through the unknown West. In 1849 he embraced an opportunity offered him by the Northwestern Fur Company, with headquarters at Fort Benton, Mont., and with a company of men traveled through the Dakotas, Nebraska and Wyoming, trading with the Indians when the latter were found to be friendly and fighting them when the tomahawk superseded the pipe of peace. It was in this expedition that Mr. Mathewson acquired his first knowledge of Indian warfare. At one time the party was surrounded by a band of Blackfeet Indians and did not dare to leave the stockade to give battle, but after severe fighting the Indians were driven off.
After remaining nearly two years in the employ of the Fur Company Mr. Mathewson joined that famous party, consisting of the two Maxwells, James and John Baker, and Charles and John Atterby, under the leadership of the renowned Kit Karson. This party traveled south to the head of the Arkansas river in Colorado, traversing the foothills of the Rocky mountains, crossing the headwaters of the Big Hornwhere General Custer was afterward killedand the north and south forks of the Platte, and passed down through the country where Denver is now located, when there was no sign of habitation, elk, deer, antelope and other game being abundant. With Kit Karson Mr. Mathewson went to get the Indians together and prevent them from raiding into Mexico. In 1852 he entered the employ of the Bent-St. Vrain trading post, at the foot of the Rockies, and a year at that place gave him a new insight into the affairs of the West. He had traveled over the entire unsettled region between the Missouri river and the Rocky mountains and his keen brain saw readily that when immigration burst through the Missouri river boundary the settlement of eastern and central Kansas would be rapid. Reasoning thus, he determined to establish a trading post somewhere near the center of the state, on the old Santa Fe trail, although no man had as yet dared to attempt such a thing, so far away from military protection. In 1853 he opened his trading post at a place known throughout the West as the "Great Bend of the Arkansas River." This post he maintained for ten years, and it was while living there that the most remarkable deeds of his career were accomplished. In 1861 he had a personal encounter with Satanta (White Bear), at that time the boldest and most powerful of the Kiowa Indian chieftains. With a small band of warriors Satanta entered the post and announced his intention of taking the life of Mr. Mathewson, in revenge for the death of one of his braves, killed while attempting to steal a horse from the post. It took but an instant for Mr. Mathewson to floor the Kiowa chieftain and give him a severe beating, and the followers of Satanta, driven from the house at the point of a revolver, were forced to carry their defeated leader back to camp. Satanta swore revenge for this humiliating defeat, and Mr. Mathewson, hearing of this, and deeming it best to settle the matter once for all, rode out alone on the prairie, in search of his enemy. Learning of the pursuit Satanta fled and did not return for more than a year, and when he did return acknowledged Mr. Mathewson as his master and entered into a treaty with him, giving a number of his best Indian horses as a token of his subservience. Mr. Mathewson was henceforth known in every Indian camp of the plains as "Sinpah Zilbah" (long-bearded dangerous white man).
But the thing for which Mr. Mathewson was most revered and most renowned in Kansas pioneer days was that which obtained for him the famous sobriquet of "Buffalo Bill." The winter of 1860-61 was a hard one for the early settlers of the Sunflower State. The crops had been burned up by the hot, scorching winds of the previous summer, and all over the eastern part of the state the people were literally starving. A man, returning from the West over the Santa Fe trail, brought with him a wagon load of buffalo meat. He was beseeched to tell where he secured his bountiful supply and replied, "Out at Bill's." "Bill who?" asked the hungry settlers. "Oh, just Bill, the buffalo killer out at Big Bend, that's all I know." And thus the fame of Bill, the buffalo killer, spread. The famishing settlers fairly swarmed to the Mathewson ranch with empty wagons that went away creaking with the weight of buffalo meat. Day after day Mr. Mathewson followed the herds on the prairie and the hungry settlers, with tears in their eyes, thanked him for the timely succor which he afforded them. Some offered to pay and others promised to remunerate him when they had anything to pay with, but all were grateful and ever retained memories of the man who saved them from starvation in that terrible winter of 1860-61. He remained on the buffalo range until February and, no matter what the condition of the weather, each day added to the supply of buffalo meat, which he freely gave to those in need of food. In this way he earned his title of "Buffalo Bill," a sobriquet that is remembered and cherished by many who enjoyed his beneficence in those trying days. It is this title of "Buffalo Bill," so nobly earned, that William Mathewson cherishes most among his earthly possessions.
As an Indian fighter of skill and daring Mr. Mathewson's fame was also widespread throughout the frontier of the early '60s, and the report of a deed of unusual intrepidity reached the war department in Washington and brought to him a fitting reward. It was in the summer of 1864, when the Indians took the warpath and were terrorizing the people in the most extreme settlements of Kansas. Satanta, having become the fast friend of Mr. Mathewson, warned the latter of the uprising three weeks in advance and entreated him to leave, saying that in revenge for having been fired on by a regiment of soldiers, the Indians were not going to leave a white man, woman, or child west of the Missouri. Instead of fleeing, however, Mr. Mathewson sent all of the settlers to places of safety and then settled down with a few brave men to hold his trading post. He and his men, five in number, were armed with the first breech-loading rifles that had had ever been used on the plains of Kansas. On the morning of July 20 a band of 1,500 Indians, gaudy in war paint and feathers, surrounded the Mathewson post, and for three days they skulked about, attacking, reconnoitering, and spying, but they were repeatedly forced to retreat, upon coming within range of the deadly fire of the breech-loading rifles. The Indians lost 160 horses and a score or more of their kinsmen upon the prairie.
When first warned of the Indian uprising, among the first things Mr. Mathewson did was to write to the Overland Transportation Company, and to Bryant, Banard & Company, telling them not to send any wagons out. In reply he received from the latter word that they had already started a train, loaded with modern rifles, and the letter ended with the appeal, "For God's sake save this train, as it is loaded with arms and ammunition." On the fourth day of the siege this overland train of 147 wagons, loaded with supplies from the government posts of New Mexico and in charge of 155 men, appeared upon the scene. Ignorant of the Indian uprising, the train had come within three miles of the post, and upon the morning of the fourth day of the battle Mr. Mathewson discovered that the Indians had departed during the night. He mounted the highest building of the post and to the eastward, three miles away, saw through his field glass the government train, drawn up in the usual camp half circle, and surrounded by Indians. For a few minutes he studied the situation, and quick thoughts passed through the brain of the grim watcher. Then returning to his most trusty companion, he inquired if the stockade could be held in his absence. Being assured that it could, he ordered his horse saddled, and when it was led out of the stable was ready with his Sharp's rifle and six Colt's revolvers. After a hearty handshake with each of the little band and a cheery good-bye, he touched the spurs to his horse and the two shot out of the stockade gate like a whirlwind. Reaching the little camp Mr. Mathewson burst into its midst like a cannon ball. Shot after shot whizzed past his ears as he dashed through the two lines of startled Indians. A second later he was off his horse and calling lustily for an ax. He then quickly mounted one of the wagons, split open the boxes, and handed out rifles and ammunition to the men. In a moment a well directed fire was turned on the now astonished and bewildered Indians, who, after continuing the fight for a short time, in which many of them were killed or wounded, beat a hasty retreat. To make the victory complete Mr. Mathewson organized and mounted the teamsters and gave chase, driving the Indians miles away. Then, after taking needed rest, burying the dead and repairing the ravages of the fight, the train moved on to its destination. In 1864 Mr. Mathewson joined Blunt's expedition as a scout and through his exertions comparative quiet was restored. After the close of the Civil war in the states the government commenced sending troops out to subdue the Indians, but later orders came to the commander of the Western Department to get some one to go to the Indians and try to get them to come into council with the commissioners that the president would send to meet them. Mr. Mathewson was finally decided upon and he was duly commissioned for the purpose. He started from Larned, Kan., going to the mouth of the Little Arkansas river, and the fourth day after leaving the Arkansas came in sight of the Indian camp. He was entirely successful in his mission and the desired council was held between the commissioners of the government and the Indians.
In 1867 the Indians were again on the war path, the result of being fired upon by a regiment of soldiers. At that time Mr. Mathewson was in the South, trading with the Indians, and did not get back for three weeks. When he returned he went to Junction City and telegraphed to Washington, asking the recall of General Hancock and saying that he would take care of the Indians. His request was complied with and he got the Indians together for another treaty, known as Medicine Lodge treaty, after which they ceded all their rights and title to lands in Kansas and Colorado to the government and went back to their reservations. Mr. Mathewson lived and traded with them for seven years, preventing breaks of the 1865 and 1867 type, settling internal quarrels, and doing all in his power to make them satisfied. During the years between 1865 and 1873 he saved fifty-four women and children from death at the hands of the savages, or from a life of unspeakable slavery and drudgery. One of these was a young woman who had been captured in Texas by the Kiowas and brought into Kansas, where she escaped. Learning of her escape and of a reward for her recapture Mr. Mathewson determined to save the girl from being taken again by the Indians. Riding his favorite mare, "Bess," and leading another horse, he set out in the face of a driving storm. Striking the trail of the girl's Indian pony, on the evening of the second day he found her more dead than alive, and then took her to Council Grove, where she afterward married and still resides. Mr. Mathewson also arranged with the chief of the Kiowas for the release of two little girls held captive by them, and whose parents were killed by the Indians; In May, 1866, he was presented with a beautiful pair of six-shooterscarved ivory handles, silver mounted and inlaid with goldby the Overland Transportation Company, in recognition of his saving 155 men and 147 wagons of government supplies.
In 1868 Mr. Mathewson preëmpted a homestead at a spot near the Arkansas river, the spot being now in the heart of the city of Wichita. There he built a log house, which was torn down in the fortieth year after its erection. Since 1876 Mr. Mathewson has been a permanent resident of Wichita and has carried on agriculture on a large scale on his farms of several hundred acres. He has been a live stock and real estate dealer and, in 1887, organized a bank in Wichita, of which he was president. In 1878 he established a brick plant, south of the city, and for many years, until he sold his farms, devoted himself principally to agriculture and obtained a gold medal for the best exhibit of corn at the Omaha exposition.
Mr. Mathewson has been twice married. His first wife, to whom he was married Aug. 28, 1864, was Miss Elizabeth Inman, born in Yorkshire, England, in 1842, and immigrated with her parents to this country, in 1850. She became an expert in the use of the rifle and revolver, and was her husband's companion among the Indians, passing through many experiences of border life. She was possessed of undaunted courage and was the first white woman to cross the Arkansas river and go through the Indian Territory, and on more than one occasion stood by her husband's side and helped beat back the savage foe who attacked their home and camp. It was from her that Henry M. Stanley obtained much of the information he furnished Eastern papers concerning savage life on the plains. At Walnut Ranch she became a successful and favorite trader with the Indians, who called her "Marrwissa" (Golden Hair). She died Oct. 1, 1885, leaving two childrenLucy E. and William A. Mr. Mathewson's second marriage occurred May 13, 1886, to Mrs. Tarleton, a most estimable lady of Louisville, Ky., whose maiden name was Henshaw. Socially Mr. Mathewson is a Mason, an Odd Fellow, a Knight of Pythias, and has membership in the Improved Order of Red Men. For three years he was grand instructor of Odd Fellows in Kansas.Pages 1008-1013 from volume III, part 2 of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed December 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM195. It is a two-part volume 3.
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