Gove County Kansas
Originally published in the Gove County Republican Gazette on 10 June 1909. Transcribed by Sheri Stittsworth Huerta, July 2004
Only a few years since buffalo, antelope and Indians roamed unmolested over the plains of Gove county. When the first cattle men and settlers came numerous herds of wild horses and antelope could be seen, but at that time there were very few buffalo remaining in this part of the country. The Indians had all disappeared and except a raiding band which passed through, they were never seen in Gove county again.
The country was controlled by cattle men and divided into great cattle ranges until as late as 1886. After that time the large ranges or "pools" were broken up or removed farther west and the country fell into the hands of the farmer and individual cattle man. The old Butterfield trail crossed the county east and west along the north side of the Smoky Hill and the Texas cattle trail from north to south along the west side of range 27. Not much is known of the old Butterfield trail. It passes Castle Rock, then west and a little south until it strikes the Smoky which it follows until it leaves the county. It has not been used since the U. P. Railroad was built in 1869 but before that time the mail was carried across the country over this trail. Several Indian fights occurred along the trail some in this county, but no definite account can be obtained. The remains of an old fort, Fort Monument, are still visible at the Pyramid Rocks. Soldiers were stationed here to protect the mail and mail carriers from the Indians.
In 1878 the Indians passed through this part of the country in a raid. The main body crossed the railroad west of Oakley and went across the country to the southeast. Another band driving a bunch of horses, crossed the track east of Buffalo Park. Several persons were killed by them north of that place. Soldiers had been stationed at Park for the purpose of keeping the Indians back, but it is claimed by some they sat in the saloons at Park and played cards while the Indians stole horses and committed their murders. Two soldiers were also killed at Fort Monument by the Indians and were buried near there, but the exact place is not known.
The old Texas cattle trail passed through this county from 1878 to 1883. This trail was the famous old Chislom cattle trail, which ran first from Texas to Kansas City, but was gradually moved west. At the time of the cattle trail through Gove county it extended north from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, tending all the while a little to the west, and entering Wyoming near the northwest corner of Nebraska. It passed through Dodge City, Buffalo Park, and Ogallah, Nebraska. The cattle were driven from Texas north only. None were ever taken south. The cattle began to come thru about the first of May and continued until fall. The size of the herds ranged from 4000 to 6000 head and the entire number during the season was from 400,000 to 600,000, besides from 40,000 to 60,000 ponies. The herds were crowded from one stream to another in order not to be away from water too long, but when they reached a stream they were allowed to graze until considerable distance from the stream, then hurried to the next, etc. There were but a few towns along the trail and the cowboys had certain supply stores from which they bought all supplies. After they left Dodge City their next station was Buffalo Park. After Park the next was Ogallah, Neb. Park at that time was a larger town than it is at present and had stock yards sufficient to hold 5000 head of cattle. Buffalo Park was a "cow town" but had none of the lawlessness so common in Dodge City. Before these cattle left Texas the owners were compelled by the state to put a brand known as the "trail brand" on all the stock in order to distinguish them from strays, which might come into the herd having the same brand as some individual's cattle and in this way they could be known. Their tails were also clipped off thus making it east to distinguish strays. These cattle were very wild.
In January 1878 two highwaymen, Joel Collins and Dutch Henry (he always went by this name and his real name was never known) were killed a few miles south of Buffalo Park. Collins was the leader of the gang of six which held up the U. P. train at Big Springs, Neb. They secured $60,000 in $20 gold pieces which was being sent east from the government mint at San Francisco besides jewelry that was of much value which was taken from the passengers. They started south along the Texas trail, but they soon divided, fearing they might arouse suspicion if they all went together, two going east into Missouri, two west into Colorado, and the other two, Collins and Dutch Henry south on the old Texas trail. However it was known that they were coming south on the trail and soldiers were stationed at Park in order to capture them as they came thru. Steinberg, the station agent at Buffalo, was on the lookout for them. He had seen Collins and thought he knew him when he came into town. They watered their horses and went into Morgan's store. Steinberg passed their pack horses and touching the sack found it contained coins. He entered the store. Collins had dropped an envelope, and the agent picked it up and handed it to him, asking if he was not Mr. Collins. Collins looked at him rather suspiciously but answered that he was. Steinberg replied that he had seen him pass thru two years before with a fine bunch of cattle. Collins said he had sold his cattle well, gone into the mining business and struck it rich and was now going home to spend the rest of his days in peace. The agent answered "Yes, a fellow does get homesick sometimes," and remarked that he did and thought he would go home the next spring. Collins left the store, mounted his horse and rode south out of town. The soldiers had seen the two cowboys ride into town but had suspicioned nothing. Steinberg notified the soldiers that these were the men they were looking for and they immediately saddled their horses and commenced pursuit. In a few hours the soldiers returned with two dead men. They said the men offered resistance and were shot. Their saddle bags contained $200,000 in $20 gold pieces besides a great deal of valuable jewelry which had been taken from the passengers on the train.
During early time the ranchmen united and ran their cattle together. The largest range in Gove county was known as the Smoky Hill pool. Twenty-one ranchmen formed the pool. They ran their cattle together, each paying an equal part of the expense of hired help, but each having his own individual hand. The pool usually had from 30 to 40 men during the summer and 8 to 10 men in the winter. They ran from 14,000 to 16,000 cattle and their territory extended about 30 miles east and 40 miles north and south. Each ranger had from 6 to 9 horses for his own use. One horse was used for night riding only, another for cutting out cattle while the others were for general riding. Of the other ranges around the country were some larger and some smaller, some having from eight to ten thousand while the larger ones had from 30,000 to 40,009 head of cattle. The Smoky Hill pool had their chief headquarters about six miles south of where Jerome now stands. Although most of the time they camped about a wagon carrying the grub and other necessities in whatever place they happen to be. They always had a large tent but it was very seldom put up. They took their blankets and "rolled in" with no shelter above their heads except the blue sky. They did not attempt to hold or feed the cattle at all in the winter, but let them go where they wanted to. All summer then was spent in rounding them up again. All the old cowboys knew by the brand what ranges the cattle belonged to. Cattle from here would probably drift south during the winter into other ranges while cattle from the north would drift down to stop here. About the first of April they started the roundup. In this roundup representatives are sent from this range to the other ranges and in like manner other ranges returned representatives. The wagon loaded with provisions was made ready for the roundup, the company consisting of about twenty cowboys, the cook and "horse rangler." The "horse rangler" goes with the wagon, driving and taking care of the horses which are not in use. They start, for example, at Gove. Half the men go on each side of the wagon, each side of the wagon, the farthest ones going about fifteen miles away and the others in between. The wagon moves up the creek probably eight or ten miles. The men drive all the cattle in this territory into camp at the wagon where they drive back what they do not want. The others are taken along. Those belonging to the range on which they are working are always turned back. The next day they proceed the same way. After the entire range has been covered in this way, each representative takes his own cattle to their respective ranges. (The cattle that are turned back always stay, for by this time green grass is plentiful.) By the time the cattle are returned to their own range it is time for branding and marking the calves. They are rounded up and each branded and ear marked. Then comes the shipping of dry cows, after which the shipping of fat steers and by this time it is near winter again and the rest are turned loose.
The ranchers never sold cattle unless they were shipped out of the country. This made it so that no cattle ever had the brand of more than one man, thus they were never confused and made it impossible for the cattle thief to become active. In the case of horses they used a method similar to that used on Texas cattle sent up the trail. Each man had his own individual brand on his horses but if he wished to sell one he was compelled to put his "sale brand" on the horse, thus showing that he had sold him and that the purchaser had not stolen him.
(Continued Next Week.)
Originally published in the Gove County Republican Gazette on 3 June 1909.
Transcribed by Sheri Stittsworth Huerta, July 2004
Source: Kansas State Historical Society Microfilm #G 744
Gove County Republican Gazette
Republican Volume 21, Number 10
Gazette Volume 24, number 10
Thursday, 3 June 1909
The winter of 1885 was a very severe one and about 85 per cent of all the cattle in the range died. This, along with the resistance offered by settlers, broke up the pool, some quitting the business and the rest moving to Colorado where they are at the present time. Thus '86 was the last of the "big ranges." This country was still practically a cattle country, however, until as late as 1900, but it was by individual cattle men, each man keeping his cattle separated from his neighbor's, and feeding and sheltering them in winter as well as summer.
During this time the country swarmed with antelope, but only three buffalo were seen in the county. In the winter time herds of antelope numbering as high as 400 could be seen along the streams where they could find water, feed, and protection from the storms. In the spring they would scatter over the prairies in small bunches, ranging from 2 to 10. As many as 200 antelope have been seen in one herd where Gove City now stands. Antelope are very fleet footed animals and when it comes to a fight a coyote has no business whatever with them. Coyotes have been seen to attack the lambs and have in turn been run away by the mother. They are very wild but if their lambs are taken they will follow you several miles, often coming as close as 40 to 50 yards.
There were also wild horses roving over the country in small squads, ranging from 5 to 18 in number. They were usually from about 800 to 1000 pounds in weight and it is claimed the wild horse of this country dates back to Cortez's Conquest of Mexico. Some of the early settlers engaged in capturing these horses. When once started, any wild animal, if followed, will run in a circle and finally come back to its starting place. These wild horses usually run about 600 miles in making their circle, covering the distance in about a day. When they get around to the place from which they were started they are pretty well run down. By taking fresh horses they can soon be captured. These wild horses could endure a great deal more than a native horse and live on buffalo grass.
The first settlers came to Gove county in 1878. Very few of the real old settlers are here now. Probably twenty would take in all the settlers now living here who came earlier than the latter part of 1880. Most of the settlers who came then located along the creeks where they could get water. They got a few cows and chickens and made a living as best they could. Some people today think they have "hard times" in Gove county, but if they will only stop and find out what the early settlers were compelled to endure they will come to the conclusion that they don't know what "hard times" are. Many made their living from a few chickens and two or three cows and what little work they could get around the country. If they could get $1 per day for man and team it was considered high wages but most of the time work could not be secured at all. Families lived five or six miles apart. Sometimes the husband was compelled to go away to work and leave his family. They probably would not see any sign of a human being for over a month at a time, except as some cowboy came to the top of a hill to look for cattle.
They tried to farm a little, but it was of no use, for if anything did grow the cattle of some big stockman ate it up. There was no herd law and if you asked any one to keep his cattle off he only laughed at you.
At this time blizzards were more frequent than at present. I have heard old-timers tell about being caught away from home in a storm. There were so few houses here then that if once caught in a storm it was impossible to find a dwelling. All you could do was to get behind a bank and wait till it was over. If you did not freeze to death you were fortunate. One man related an experience in which he was caught in a storm that lasted seven days, he going without food or drink except for a few graham biscuits which he had in his saddle bag and water from eating snow.
So many settlers came here in 1880 that the population of the county reached over 2000. Not a drop of moisture fell from the first of September, 1880, until the fifth of June, 1881. On the 4th of June there was not a sign of green grass in all this country, except in a few spots along the creeks. Many of the settlers who had come here gathered together what little property they had and left the country. June 4th was about as hot a day as Gove county has ever known. The wind seemed to come from a red hot furnace. On June 5th a little cloud appeared in the northwest just above the horizon and in a few hours a storm was sweeping over the country at about 50 miles per hour, alternating in rain, hail, and snow.
In '80 the population of the county was sufficient to organize. The county, if it had been organized at that time, would have included the present county and township 10 on the north and range 32 on the west with Buffalo Park as the county seat. Buffalo was the largest town in this part of the country at that time. Gove was not organized until five years later. The people at and around Grainfield wanted the county seat there and they fought the organization desperately. Grainfield had the support of the railroad and thus the proposition was killed. So many people left this country in 1881 that the population was not sufficient to organize until 1886. Before this time Gove City had been organized for the county seat.
In the early days schools had to be supported by individual contributions. Everybody gave as much as he was able. Many, even those who had no children to send, gave $50 per year. Now some people who are rich compared with the people in those days "beef" about paying $2 or $3 for the support of our schools today.
Although Gove county, like our state, has seen some pretty "tough days," she has "come out of the kinks" and is now one of the leading counties in western Kansas. In 1880 the best quarters of land in the county could be bought for from $25 to $50. Many of the best farms in the county at the present time were once bought for $15. In 1880 $100,000 would have bought all the real estate in the entire county. The valuation of Gove county real estate in 1908 was $5,684,148.50.
The products of Gove county in 1905 were a total acreage of field crops 225,210 with a yield valued at $807,199.86. The chief of these were wheat and corn, which amounted to $448,728.12.
The valuation of Gove county live stock was $898,596.50, the chief of which was horses and cattle.
The population in 1905 was 3353 while in 1906 it was 4081, showing an increase of 728.
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Last updated 08/04/2004
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