Ferdinand Erhardt's
Reminiscences
of the Early Days


Lincoln Sentinel, Nov. 8, 1906

Paper Read At Old Settlers’ Reunion, Lincoln, Kan., by A. Roenigk
(Told by Ferdinand Erhardt, Lincoln, Kansas, written by Adolph Roenigk)

In 1867 I was working for the government at Fort Harker, here I knew personally some of the prominent military men and noted scouts of those times, like General Custer, Wild Bill, Buffalo Bill and others.

Here I made the acquaintance of Lon Schermerhorn, chief clerk of the Suttler by name. Schermerhorn the same year came over to Elkhorn, took a homestead, what is now the Suelter farm, and opened a small store. A saw mill was located on the south side of the Saline river, east of Rocky Hill, directly south of what was called the Sam Berry farm, it was owned by a man with the name of Hyatt and the lumber was hauled to Fort Harker for building purposes. About 18 men were employed, and I was hired to cook for them.

About that time I also took my claim on Bullfoot; for several years I had the whole creek to myself. Settlers came in, took claims and as soon as Indians appeared they would pull up stakes and go, others came in and repeat the same thing.

After the work was finished at the saw mill, I bought two yoke of cattle through the Suttler at Fort Harker, paying $125 per yoke, and went in partnership with a man named Phil Lantz, who also had a yoke of cattle. Homesteaders were coming in, and in order to hold their claims had to make certain improvements, we got all the prairie breaking to do that we wanted at $4 per acre.

Schermerhorn was a sort of headquarters, a small stock etc. was there, and the soldiers and government teams generally camped near when in our valley.

The Indians those years became very troublesome, so much so that the government had decided to build several stockades for the protection of the settlers on what was then the frontier.

A general came over here from Fort Harker making arrangements for the building of the stockades, his name has slipped my memory, he gave the work in charge of a lieutenant named Hale. One day I went over to Schermerhorn’s, soldiers were camped there, both cavalry and infantry, also a number of government teams; I was well acquainted with the wagon boss who told me I could get a job with my cattle, and that the general had been to my house looking for me. I reported to him and was hired with our three yoke of cattle at $8 per day to drag logs up the banks of the creeks that were to be used in building the stockades.

The next day we started north, the soldiers and teams crossed the Saline river about the Theiman farm on a bridge of drift wood; the river here was blockaded for perhaps a quarter of a mile which the high water took out later. We went up the Saline and Spillman, and the first stockade was built near the mouth of Bacon Creek.

Logs were set in the ground two or three feet deep, with about 10 feet above ground close together, notches cut in the logs for post holes. The enclosure was quite roomy with a log house inside. The work occupied about two weeks, when finished we started for the Solomon to build another in the vicinity where Cawker City now stands.

The lieutenant had overloaded my cattle with a heavy load of two inch plank when we came up on the divide, in the blue hills, my cattle gave out, and could not keep up with the command. I notified the lieutenant who gave me an escort of three men, some rope to tie the cattle at night, we slept and went into camp. After supper and letting the cattle graze we tied them to the wagon. In the morning we turned them loose to graze, while getting out breakfast we heard a thundering noise behind us, and here came a stampeded herd of buffalo directly toward us, my cattle tails up away they went and here we were.

As luck would happen some government teams came along during the day, on their way to the camp on the Solomon, and we sent word of our loss to Lt. Hale. He sent back three six-mule teams to bring my load and wagon, a sergeant, seven men cavalry and a mule for myself to ride out help hunt the cattle. We went about three miles, seeing nothing, it got tiresome. The men began to grumble, finally the sergeant said he had not enlisted to hunt cattle, we turned and started for the camp on the Solomon. Now I had nothing to do but draw my ration, cook, eat and sit on the bank with the government mules, drag the logs up the creek banks that my cattle had formerly done. After about two weeks more the work was completed, and we all went back to Fort Harker.

Major Inman was quartermaster. I went to him and presented my claim for the lost cattle. He said I have no right to pay you for them. I was on good terms with Lt. Hale who helped me in presenting my claim. He told the major the circumstances, that I was not to blame, that I was doing work according to his orders and that I was not hired to do etc., finally the major said to me, how much was your cattle worth? I told him $125 per yoke or $375 for the three yoke. He turned to his clerk and said, figure the amount into days at $8 per day. I was given a voucher for the amount, and in that way received pay for the lost cattle and went home. Some time later a secret service man called at my place and said Major Inman wanted to see me, the lost cattle had been found, and were held by a party at Manhattan and he wanted me to go down and identify them. I proceeded to Fort Harker on horseback, there my horse being tired was furnished a mule which I rode to Manhattan, where I identified two yoke of the cattle, found in possession of a man who had traded a span of horses for them. I took charge of the cattle and drove them to Fort Harker and turned them over to Major Inman. The other yoke we never heard of.

Referring to the Indian raid of 1869 I will say I was well acquainted with several of the victims who made their home with me for several weeks prior to the massacre. A Mr. Wichel and his wife, by others their name has been spelled Wetzel, but they having lived at my house I believe the name is correct the way I remember it. [Transcriber’s note: The name is also sometimes spelled Weichell in various county histories.]

They were Germans from Hanover and had been in this country but a short time and could not speak English. Wichel was a brewer about 30 years of age, his wife about 20. They were educated people, by their clothing and other goods they brought with them [it] could be seen that they had been well to do, it was on account of some financial trouble that they came over to this country. With them was a single man with the name of Mayerhoff, a gardener by trade. Wichel was looking for a claim. I showed him one above me on Bull Foot creek, what is now the Bockelman farm, and I advised him to take it. [Transcriber’s note: The gardener’s name is also spelled sometimes as Meigherhoff.]

Wichel while at the Schermerhorn store met several of the Spillman settlers who were Danes and could talk German, they told him of the fine land to be had in their neighborhood, that it was better than down here. I warned them and told them of Indians having been there, and would likely be there again. They did not take my advice, but took claims on the Spillman, not more than a week later the Indians came on them on Sunday [May] 30th [1869] while they were out together looking at their garden which they had made in a bend of the creek, the two men happened to have their guns with them and made a desperate defense but were finally killed and Mrs. Wichel taken prisoner. Another man by the name of Houser, a native of Switzerland, had made his home with me for awhile, he had taken a claim on Bacon Creek, he had a span of mules and some cattle. He came down here on a visit, riding one of the mules, leaving the other at home, on that Sunday. While returning riding his mule when within a mile of his claim he met an Indian in the road on a pony leading his other mule which he had left at home. Where are you going with my mule? Houser said to him, the Indian answered your mule? Yes that is my mule. The Indian was friendly and could talk some English, he meant well with Houser and turned him over the mule, made gestures, pointed towards the west and told him, many Indians over there, they will kill you and not to go there, but Houser not taking things serious, or not believing him, started to go ahead, when the Indian took the mules by the bridle, turned them around and started them on the road by hitting them with his fist, this scared Houser, and he came back to my place in the afternoon. Shortly after we heard all about the massacre. He intended to abandon his claim and everything he possessed rather than go back there. I offered to go with him to get his wagon and other property, and drive his cattle down to my place, which he thankfully accepted. A few days later we each took a revolver along and together we road to his claim, we found everything undisturbed, as the main body of Indians had not been there, we harnessed the mules, loaded his goods on the wagon, Houser driving, while I was on foot with the cattle. He was very nervous and the farther we went the more nervous he got, finally he drove on as fast as he could, leaving me behind by myself, driving his cattle. When I got within a short distance of what is now the town site of Lincoln I heard firing, when I came in sight I saw Indians ahead of me, they were attacking the blacksmith, John Hendrickson, who had a site, he had a horse they were after and exchanged shots with them until they left. Seeing the Indians I changed my course, drove the cattle south toward the timber, crossed the Saline river and got safely home. In those days many things happened that seem curious now, hardships were endured that deserve mention, some had a criminal side, one of these was a funeral that turned into a buffalo chase. An armed funeral procession would be something unheard of now-a-days, but we did have one of those at that time, it was the funeral of Harrison Strange, one of the victims of the massacre. The funeral procession had gone to the cemetery located on the Schermerhorn place south of the river. The body was lowered in to the grave, the ceremony over, when a buffalo was seen coming from the south on account of Indians, people had been staying close to their homes, and many were short of provisions. A number of mourners carried guns with them, when the buffalo came up we gave chase, ran him north in the Saline river where he was killed and the meat divided among the people. It was also about that time that we found our neighborhood short of arms and ammunition.

My partner Phil Lantz rode to Salina and back, 72 miles in one day, bringing back with him six Spencer carbines and a large amount of ammunition.

A funny episode happened one time while we were on a buffalo hunt on Wolf Creek, we were five of us, one was a German named Rudolph Steim, he was simpleminded in some things and was nicknamed Crooked Powder, shortly after the Indian raid, but there are yet a few people in this county who remember him. While with us he did not pretend to hunt buffalo but was handy about camp and helped to take care of the teams. We had crippled a buffalo that with a broken shoulder stood a short distance from camp. Now came Steim’s chance to also get a shot, he got on a mule with a revolver, rode up to him and fired shot after shot at him without visible effect, when the buffalo got tired of it and made for him, but for some reason the mule would not budge an inch, to save himself. Steim jumped off and ran, the mule now also took a notion to run and being the faster came in ahead, while the buffalo was gaining on Steim at every jump and had we not ran in with our rifles and shot the buffalo down, he would certainly have overtaken and killed him.

In those years game was very plentiful, especially buffalo. Settlers would sometimes catch the young calves, which were easily domesticated and would run with the milk cows. Deer and elk were also found here, the latter were quite numerous one year on Bull Foot, large numbers had been seen by the neighbors about a mile above my claim where they were having their young. We had in our neighborhood a young man by the name of John Keller, he was somewhat of a foot racer who prided himself on his running qualities. He said if we would outrun some of the young calves and catch them, we could have them for pets, so four or five of us accompanied him up the creek where we found quite a large herd, 50 or more, with a number of young grazing in a bend of the creek on what is now the Obliger farm. We kept out of sight and young Keller made a run for one of the calves and actually caught it, but during the struggle mother elk came to its relief. Keller had to let go and run for dear life. We had a good laugh and returned home empty-handed.

While I was in the service during the war I lost my wife and two children of typhoid fever. It was a hard blow for me and shattered my hope for the future. I had a boy of four years left who was taken care of by friendly neighbors. I then lived a single life for seven years, by that time I had gotten over my bereavement. I had a good claim, was considered well fixed for those days. When I made the acquaintance of my present wife, and in 1870 I decided to marry again. It may be well here to describe the contrast between now and then in marking the preparation for such coming events. While we now prepare for a wedding dinner, getting the best of things, dainties, sweetmeats and perhaps kill the fatted calf. Those days making a start in life, we did not have many of these good things. Most settlers had only milk cows, and the young stock was wanted for the growing herd. We did not have a surplus of beef. Cattle to butcher for one’s own use nor did we need them, we relied on the buffalo for our meat. Settlers returning from a successful hunt would divide with the neighbors, then others would go and take turns about. I had planned to lay in the supply of meat, but when the time approached of our coming wedding, no buffalo were in this vicinity. We made up a party of four and with two teams via Ellsworth started for the southwest. We found no buffalo excepting a few straggling bulls about Fort Lara near where Great Bend now stands.

The fort was being abandoned by the government about that time, buildings were being torn down, piles of lumber were laying around, some of which we used for our campfires.

The fort was in charge of a former corel [sic] boss named Shafer. It was well we were in shelter as a storm came up and very cold, thick ice formed on Walnut creek during the night. It was in February.

We came to large herds of buffalo on the other side of Fort Larned, and in a short time had all the meat our teams could haul, taking only the hindquarters of the younger ones. I had a load of about 2,500 pounds, the other parties about the same. Our return trip was uneventful, arriving at home the first week in March, and in due time my wife and I were married.

Going back to the time of the war I well recall an incident where I came very near being one of the victims of [the] Quantrill massacre at Lawrence. I was near there that fearful 21st day of August 1863. Belonging to Co. K of the 11th Kansas were stationed at Independence, Mo., at the time. On account of some urgent matters that needed my attention at home I asked my captain John M. Allen for a furlough, he would not grant it, however he got a furlough for himself and went home. The first lieutenant of our company, Haas by name, said he would recommend me to Gen. Hewing for a 30-day furlough, accordingly we went to the general who granted my request. Just about that time our regiment was changed from infantry to cavalry, the horses were ready for distribution. I got an order for a horse and the next morning I saddled up and started for St. George, Pottowatomie County, by way of Lawrence, arriving at that place in the early evening.

Here I met a comrade of my regiment from Company H. His first name was Charley, but his other name after these many years I have forgotten, his home was in Lecompton, he asked me to stay with him at Lawrence that night, and the next morning we would travel together. I would have been glad to accept his invitation, but I had about 70 miles to travel the next day, as I wished to get home that night, I told him so, I said to him I wanted to go out of town, if it was not more than a mile or two so as to get an early start in the morning. He urged me quite a bit to stay with him, but I stood by my resolution, and that is what probably saved my life. I went out of town and stopped at the first farmhouse I came to. The next morning the farmer was up ahead of me and told me Quantrill was in Lawrence and we could plainly see the smoke of the burning town. I got home that night. When my furlough expired I returned to my regiment and then learned that my friend Charley had been killed in the Lawrence massacre that morning; had I stayed with him no doubt I would have shared the same fate.

Going still further back to the time when Kansas was yet a territory I will mention an incident where I was once favored and substantially benefited by Gen. Lyon, the hero of Wilson Creek, while stationed at Fort Riley. In 1858 I was living with my wife in St. George, Pottowatomie County. A short distance north of us was the military road between Fort Leavenworth and Riley, the time of the Pike’s Peak excitement a constant stream of people traveled west on that road toward the new discovered gold fields, in every conceivable conveyance, horses, mules, ox teams even push carts, one man pulling, the other pushing, hauling their belongings; some of those people are now millionaires living in Denver. Those were hard years, we had little land in cultivation, the seasons were dry, we raised little and were very poor, especially the year of 1860 was a dry year as the old settlers of that period remember. I had planted potatoes in a favored spot and raised about 40 bushel. My wife and I agree that I haul them to Fort Riley, that was our market then, sell them and for the proceeds buy things needed for the winter. When I got to Fort Riley, Gen. Lyon, he was only a captain then, had just arrived from the west side with his soldiers, he came to my wagon and I offered him my potatoes, he looked at them and asked me if I had raised them, I told him I had, he said how much do you want for them per bushel? I answered $1.50, he said well take them around to the commissar, unload and bring me the number of bushels, and I will pay you. I did so, while counting me out the money he made the remark that it was quit a snug sum of money for a load of potatoes. I then told him my circumstances, that this was all I did raise, that I had entered government land, but had yet to pay for it and had no money, even this I could not use for that purpose, as I needed it to buy clothing and other necessaries for myself and family for the winter. Lyon was a very kind hearted man who sympathized with us northern people, while many other army officers sympathized with the south. He said to me, as for clothing, I may help you some, he went into another room and brought out several arms full of clothing and about a dozen pair of boots, he sorted them in to several lots then said, these I will keep, the others you can have. I thanked him very much and went on my way rejoicing. We made good use of them and got along very well. When the war broke out, he was made a general, and many of my acquaintances and friends served under him. My own brother-in-law Adam Reninoel served under him. He belonged to Captain Walker’s company, 1st Kansas Volunteers. His service to his country was short, but he gave all he had, his life. He fell the same day General Lyon did at the battle of Wilson Creek.


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