PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS
by Adolph Roenigk
TRIALS OF THE THOMPSON CREEK PIONEERS
By Luther R. Johnson
In the spring of 1866, Perry Campbell, Robert Hudson, Elisha Scates and Ira Clark went from Ashland, Kansas, on a buffalo hunt and to look for land, and in their rambles came to Thompson Creek which runs into the Smoky Hill river from the south and was about ten miles southeast of Fort Ellsworth, which was situated on the Smoky at the old Santa Fe crossing, but was rebuilt that fall and winter at a point two miles northeast, fitted up with good barracks and rechristened Fort Harker; the location being the present site of Kanopolis.
There had been some buffalo hunters there before and camped on the creek. They had built a dugout and were credited with making ropes from buffalo hair. One of them was named Thompson, for whom the creek was named.
Mr. Hudson took the claim with the Thompson dugout, which became a very noted place later on.
The rest of the men took claims along the creek, then returned to Ashland. On the 19th day of April, 1866, Mr. Perry Campbell, wife and two children, and Mr. Ira Clark, with his wife and three children, moved to Thompson Creek and took possession of the old Thompson Creek dugout, as Mr. Hudson did not intend to come to his claim until fall, and so the struggles of those pioneers homes began.
No one will ever know the long and lonesome hours that these two women with their little children were forced to endure the trying summer on Thompson Creek. Beside the monotony and privations, they were in continual fear of death at the hands of hostile Indians.
Only those who have passed through the ordeal can fully realize what it was to live such a life.
The Clarks left their claim that fall but Perry Campbell and wife lived to see Thompson Creek one of the most prosperous settlements in the county and have two sons and one daughter still residing there.
Note: Some legendary tales concerning this Thompson still circulate, but do not seem to be available in concrete form. One was to the effect that he plowed with buffaloes, harnessing them with rope made of their own hair. By some he was known as Smoky Hill Thompson. The hair on the head and mane is long and easily twisted into a rope. They had pulled up and left the creek to the skunk and wolves, which were very plentiful at that time.
Mrs. Serenia A. Campbell died at Kanapolis, Kansas, Aug. 5th, 1905; Perry Campbell died on Thompson Creek at his son, Grant Campbells home, Jan. 9, 1906.
On Aug. 10th, 1866, my father, Elijah Johnson, and I landed on Thompson Creek. We left my mother and five brothers and a sister, Mrs. Mary Spencer, and her two children, at Manhattan, Kansas, as some of them were sick. We had moved in an ox wagon from Irondale, Missouri; left Irondale June 31st. We had only one wagon and two yoke of oxen and traveled about fifteen miles a day. It was a long, hot trip. R. D. Campbell and daughter settled on the creek a few weeks before I did.
Thomas White and family, D. W. White and family and B. W. Wood and wife and nephew, Enos White, settled on the creek Nov. 10, 1866. R. Hudson, E. Scates and C. R. Davis, with their families, moved on the creek Dec. 1st, 1866. William Ewing and son moved on the creek some time that fall and took a claim.
The total number of settlers the first year was fifty-six and represented the following states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, Missouri and Scotland, and the church was represented by Baptist, Methodists, Christian, Friends, Presbyterian and Universalists.
The first white child born on the creek was born to Mrs. S. A. Campbell and was buried in Scates cemetery that fall. Dr. Geo. M. Sternberg, post surgeon at Fort Harker, who afterwards was Surgeon General, U. S. Army, was called to see Mrs. Campbell during her sickness.
Campbell and Clark raised some corn that year and very fine watermelons.
At the present time the best efforts of practical gardeners cannot improve upon or hardly duplicate the luscious melons to be found in the patch near the old sod shanty on the claim. Mr. Campbell sold a load of melons to Hon. A. T. Anderson, who was running a stage station on Elm Creek at that time. The load contained sixty-five melons and he received sixty-five cents each, or $42.25 for all, a nice little sum for the delicious but per-
Note: It is a fact worthy of passing notice that watermelons were indigenous to the newly broken sod of Kansas at that time. They grew without cultivation and scant rainfall to enormous size and of delicious flavor. One is given a record weight of 108 pounds.
ishable fruit. I was with Mr. Campbell at the time, but did not stay to see how much Mr. Anderson made out of the sale of the melons.
We had some snowstorms during the winter but no blizzards or Indians to disturb us. March, 1867, opened up for an early spring but did not hold out as it promised. On the 16th day of March, 1867, Frank Martin, S. T. Johnson, L. P. Johnson, Perry Campbell and the writer, started on a buffalo hunt.
We left Thompson Creek in the afternoon and headed west toward the setting sun. I had a wagon and two yoke of oxen, Mr. Campbell a wagon and span of horses. We expected to get meat enough to last us all summer, Mr. Martin claiming to be an expert in killing buffalo--the rest of us were from Missouri. Our arms were common rifles and a few revolvers. We carried rations for five days. The afternoon was somewhat cloudy with a raw wind from the north and it did not look very favorable for good weather. We made our first camp at Oxhide Creek. During the night about an inch of snow fell. The next morning our beds were covered with snow as we had no tents, but we slept warm under our extra blanket of white. March 17th was clear and the snow disappeared. Our next camp was on Turkey Creek, or that is the name Mr. Martin gave it. March 18th came with no Indians or buffalo yet, but one of our party, L. P. Johnson, stepped in a prairie dog hole and remained fastened until we dug him out, as the ground was frozen.
This happening was about all the excitement for that day. We camped on Cedar Creek that night. The 19th was cloudy with some fog. We turned our course southwest up the creek. We saw eight grey wolves but did not try to kill any as we were looking for larger game. We camped on the head of Cedar Creek that night and the next day crossed the divide over on the Cow Creek and camped for the night.
Now we were in a strange land with very little provisions, no buffalo in sight, and we did not know what moment the Indians would be on us. In addition there was every prospect for bad weather. Next morning it was snowing. Some of our party went out hunting along the creek and killed a coon and a wild cat and we cooked them; not only that but we ate the animals; the meat tasted very good to me. I thought I had been hungry sometimes in the army but nothing to what I was on that buffalo hunt.
The next morning the weather was better and we concluded to pull for home, but when we got up on the hills we could see over Cow Creek, on the west side, what we suposed to be about eight hundred buffalo. I did not attempt to count them. They seemed to be going north but not fast. Nothing would do Mr. Martin but to go back to the camp we had left. He was sure he could kill some of them, so back we went. Three of the men went after the buffalo afoot and one stayed with me in the camp. Late in the afternoon the hunters returned but no buffalo. They could not get close enough to the game to get any. They were hungry and tired. I think their dinner was coon, parched corn and wild cat.
The weather turned cold in the night; next morning it was snowing and the snow drifting. The wind was in the north and hard to tell whether we would freeze or starve or both. My oxen knew the direction home better than we did and they steadily faced the storm as we had to go nearly north. We expected to strike timber on some creek that ran to the Smoky River from the south. We followed the ox wagon and when we crossed the divide and got on a creek that had timber, camped for the night, but I dont think the men slept much, I know I did not, as I was both hungry and cold. The next morning it was not so cold but the snow drifts were very bad to get through, as we had no roads and often had to hunt up and down the creek for a place to cross. About noon on the 26th day of March we pulled in on Thompson Creek, having been out ten days, suffered severely from cold and part of the time had only a little parched corn to eat.
About the 19th of June we had an Indian scare so we piled our household goods into a wagon and lit out for Fort Harker. We camped around the fort for some time. Cholera was very bad at the fort and all along the Union Pacific Railroad, which they were then building. A great many died at Fort Harker and I think we were in more danger from cholera than Indians. About the last of July we went back to the creek again. On the 10th of August Geo. Campbell lost his youngest boy with cholera. He was about nine years old.
In the fall of that year a voting precinct was established at R. Hudsons and called Thompson precinct, the first election being held in November. R. Hudson, C. R. Davis and William Ewing, judges, and Elisha Scates and L. R. Johnson, clerks.
School District No. 2 was also organized that fall. E. Scates, director; L. R. Johnson, clerk, and R. Hudson, treasurer.
Three families settled on Dry Creek, which runs into Thompson Creek, that fall. They were all from Washington County, Missouri. Sod corn did very well that year, also garden stuff, considering the wild condition of the ground. Miss Rachel White taught a few months of subscription school, but there were no funds available for public school.
On the 14th of May, 1868, Mr. S. T. Johnson and Miss Irene Hoover were married at Ellsworth City. They both lived on Thompson Creek; it was the first marriage in the settlement. Mr. William Ewing drove them to Ellsworth, fifteen miles, in a two-horse wagon and got back by four P. M. I accompanied the happy couple on this most important journey. The year 1868 was a most trying year to the little band of settlers on Thompson Creek; hot winds destroyed the crops, the Indians were on the warpath and a great many of the settlers left the county. All the settlers left Dry Creek and some left Thompson Creek forever.
On the 9th of October of that year, Hamilton Harvey, a colored man, came down the creek hollering, The Indians are coming. It was nearly sundown. The settlers at that time lived all along the creek and this darkey was sent to warn them of their danger. Perry Campbell and his wife and two children were living with me at that time. I was a bachelor. I yoked up my oxen, put a few things in the wagon and went after Mr. Davis and family and then started for Fort Harker, about ten miles away. Davis and Campbell rode the horses while I had the women and children in the ox wagon. When we had gone about three miles we learned that most all the settlers on Thompson Creek and a family from Bluff Creek were going to Mr. R. Hudsons. As it was now dark and getting chilly, we concluded to go there also, being only a mile distant.
The next few days we organized ourselves and made up details to heard our stock and stand guard at night. We were pretty well armed with muskets, carbines, rifles and revolvers.
Note: Verily those were the times when the office sought the man, for of offices there were enough to go around. The present day office-seekers may pause a moment in his mad scramble and fierce contention with scores of able opponents and with misty eyes view the glorious millennium of forty years ago.
We had some scouting parties out every day looking for Indians and as we were in the old Thompson dugout in the side of the hill, Mr. Indian would have had some trouble in getting us out of it. We named the dugouts Fort Hudson.
Some of the time we drew rations at Fort Harker. While the Indians killed some settlers west of us and some north of Fort Harker, they did not attack us at Fort Hudson, and by the middle of December we were all back home again. Miss Maggie Hudson had been employed to teach the district school for three months, but the Indian war closed the school. The presidential election was that fall. We polled 17 votes--16 for Grant and 1 for Seymour. I suppose that would be 16 to 1. The Seymour vote came from Ash Creek. All voted, as we were stopping with Mr. Hudson at that time.
Mr. B. A. Wood was the most useful man we had on the creek at that time. He was our blacksmith, and was a good neighbor as well as a good blacksmith. He stuck to us for many a long year and is now pegging away at the same old trade in Geneseo, Kansas. In 1869 we built the log school house on Thompson Creek, the second school house in the county. A union Sunday school was organized the same fall, Mr. R. Hudson, superintendent; L. R. Johnson, secretary, and Miss Sarah Hudson, treasurer. Dr. Levi Sturnburg, who lived on the Smoky Hill River south of Fort Harker, preached for us sometimes. The first church organized on Thompson Creek was the Christian Church, by C. G. Allen, November 28th, 1870, with twenty-eight members.
The first settlers of Thompson Creek had many things to contend with--high prices for everything they had to buy, long distance to trading point and most of them had only ox teams with which to get about. They raised very little to sell for some years. With the courage of the ancient Spartans, they faced hot winds and drouth, grasshoppers and blizzards, Indians and cholera, but more destructive than all these pests was the scourge of mortgages that later struck Thompson Creek and the entire country. It caused more people to lose their homes than all the rest combined, for like a cancer, the mortgage eats night and day until its object is accomplished.
Note: This historic habitation has also been referred to as Fort Thompson.
Smoky Hill Thompson
Note: This letter was written in answer to an inquiry published in a Russell County paper, and is hereby given to explain something more about--
Reading the article about the early days in the Reformer of September 22, the name of Smoky Hill Thompson attracted my attention as I had met a former partner of his by the name of William H. Ziegler, now living in Oregon, while I was on a visit out there a year ago. As the questions are asked: Who was he, what did he do, and what became of him? I will state what I have learned about him. Ziegler and Thompson were partners for several years hunting and trapping up and down the Smoky and Arkansas rivers in the early 60s. The principal business was poisoning wolves which were very numerous in those days. The poison (strychnine) was ordered in quantities direct from the manufacturer in Philadelphia, and the pelts had to be hauled by wagons to Leavenworth, the nearest market. The Indians were peaceable at that time.
Later these two men concluded to build a ranch and go into business on a creek near the Santa Fe trail, in what is now Rice County. The location selected was near, and on the opposite side of the creek, where a man named Martin had a ranch. A ranch in those days was not what we understand by that term nowadays, but simply a house built of logs, near a good watering place and camp ground along these trails, where a small stock of groceries, besides tobacco and whisky, was kept for sale, which was patronized by freighters, soldiers, hunters, etc. Ziegler and Thompson built their house of cottonwood logs, hauled from the Smoky River, quite a distance, as the timber along the creek was not large enough for that purpose. This was about 1864, when the Indians in that vicinity began to make trouble. The house was about finished, but had not yet been stocked with goods, when a wagon train came along. One of the drivers had a felon on his hand which was very sore, and made a bargain with Ziegler to take his place with the wagon train, he staying with Thompson nursing his hand until the train returned.
Ziegler said: Their train had not gone very far when they were attacked by Indians. The men were very poorly armed and were coralled for either seven or nine days (he did not recollect which) until relief came from the east. Towards the end of the siege it was discovered that one of the wagons
was loaded with government arms and ammunition, which was quickly taken out and distributed among the men. At the first attack one man was killed, another on horseback, who was cut off from the train, made his escape, arriving at the new ranch house with an arrow in his back. Among the several men the only able-bodied man to defend the place was Thompson.
It got too hot for the people and the business venture was abandoned. All left, making their way towards the east. Martin left his stock of merchandise, household good, and all, in the hands of the Indians. Among the latter was a feather bed which the Indians ripped open, scattering the feathers which caught in the weeds and grass, where they were seen by passersby for a long time after.
Thompson might have been called Buffalo Thompson instead of Smoky Hill, as he conceived the same idea about domesticating the buffalo that was later carried out by C. J. Jones (Buffalo Jones) of Garden City, Kansas. Thompson at one time built a corral in the south part of Ellsworth County, caught a number of buffalo calves and made a good start towards gathering a herd, when a large herd of buffalo stampeded near his place, taking along his calves, scattering the rails and posts in every direction. Thompson Creek in the southern part of Ellsworth County today bears his name.
After the Smoky Hill route was established no doubt Thompson was there where Mr. Beach heard of him or saw him. The last time he was seen by Mr. Ziegler was in 1873 when they met near Dodge City while both were following the same occupation--killing buffalo for the hides.
The story told by Mr. Ziegler would read like a novel, and would be of value as a history to that section, as it corrorborates and would supply names and detail to what others have written, but strange to say, like many other old people, he does not think it worth while, and could not be persuaded to allow it to be put in print.
Lincoln, Kansas, Sept. 24, 1911
Home Page for Kansas
Search all of Blue Skyways
The KSGenWeb Project