To Meade County

The Tragedy on Crooked Creek
Meade County Indian Massacre

By Mrs. Addie Petefish Haver

        Monday, Aug. 24, 1874 marked a dreadful day in Meade County's history. The full account is given in the 1950 Pioneer Stories of Meade County, Book No. 1.
 
        On Aug. 24, 1924, 50 years to date, after the tragedy, Harold Short, cousins of Mrs. John Haver, now living in Meade, 1963, made his first visit to the scene of the battle. He and a number of Meade Countians followed the line of battle as outlined by the plat made by the surveyors and in the afternoon met at Lone Tree. They found the last stone Capt. Short set and it had worn down to a few inches. Here Mr. Harold Short retold the story.
 
        The citizens of Meade County and Harold Short marked the tree with a large bronze tablet bearing the following inscription: "Lone Tree. Near this tree was located the United States Surveying Camp of Capt. O.F. Short and party massacred by Indians, August 24, 1874."
 
        In 1938 the tree was blown down. The marker was attached to a slab of Lone Tree and placed in the Meade County Court House. In May 1942, the Kansas Historical Society and State Highway Commission erected a marker commemorating Lone Tree Massacre. This marker stands one mile west of Meade, KS. on Highway 54 and 160.
 
        Capt. Oliver Francis Short was the son of the Rev. Daniel and Diana (Petefish) Short. He was born in Ohio July 9, 1833. He served as a captain in the Civil War. He was one of the first professional surveyors in Kansas. He and his son Truman were buried at Lawrence, KS.
 
        There were four others in the surveying party that lost their lives; James Shaw and son, J. Allen and Harry C. Jones were also buried at Lawrence, KS. Harry Keuchler, son of a doctor, was buried at Springfield, Illinois.
 
        The following condensed version of the story is taken from the Plains Journal of Saturday, August 21, 1907, written by Mrs. Mary Short Browne of Plains and read by Mrs. Browne at the Old Settlers' Picnic at Odee on August 28, 1907. The slain Captain Oliver Short was a brother of Mrs. Browne and a nephew of Thos. Petefish. The picnic was held in a farm grove of Marion Petefish, cousin of Captain Short.
 
        "It is written all through American history that a pathway of blood has been marked from the Atlantic to the Pacific as the Redman resisted the encroachment of the palefaces on their homes and hunting grounds. That Meade County saw one of the latest of these baptisms of blood, by which a vanquished race asserted its protest against white settlement is known perhaps to few who have found homes within our borders, etc."
 
        Early in 1874 a contract for surveying was let by the U.S. Government to Oliver F. Short, L.A. Thrasher and Abraham Cutler–for the sum of $9,677.92. Contract called for 1,055 miles. Each had assistants making 18 men to run the three surveying crews, plus four more to do camp work and care for the oxen.
 
        They left home in July and prepared to stay several months. At that time Meade County was "on the border" of civilization. The Indians had been removed to a reservation farther to the southwest. Some of the tribes, among them the Cheyenne, resisted this removal and repeatedly had left their reservations for depredations upon the prairie they had formerly held as their own.
 
        Capt. O.F. Short was heard to have made this remark at his childhood home in Illinois, about a year before the massacre, "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 18 years and have treated them kindly. They know me as a friend and will not harm me." He also mentioned that he thought the government would grant an escort of soldiers, though this was not done.
 
        They left their homes in July and came to Fort Dodge and proceeded southwest to what was later Meade County. They began work Aug. 10, 1874, starting three crews, leaving the general camp several days at a time. They finished surveying three fourths of the line around Section 4, Township 33 and Range 28, in Meade County.
 
        Some 300 soldiers were sent from Fort Dodge to Indian Territory to drive back the Indians to their reservations. A the troops passed the surveyors, Capt. Short fearing trouble with the Indians, asked for a detail of soldiers to act as scouts. The surveyors were too limited in numbers to have a scout on duty. The commanding officer informed him that there were no hostile Indians near and that it was his business to keep them back. The troops marched on and the Indians watched from ambush.
 
        Capt. Short was a Christian. Sunday, Aug. 23, he and his men took their Sunday rest in camp. Capt. Short read from his testament, some time was spent in singing hymns and in writing letters home.
 
        Early Monday morning Aug. 24, surveying work began. Owing to difficulties at camp, Capt. Short left his son Harold for camp duties. At about 2 p.m. after dinner Capt. Thrasher and Capt. Short's parties separated.
 
        On that dreadful Monday afternoon, the surveyors battled for their lives with the red men. Four miles up Crooked Creek Valley empty cartridge shells were strewn and later found.
 
        There is only the record of a few field notes preserved in the county clerk's office. Two days later, the other surveyors found traces of blood on the prairie and in the ashes.
 
        Mrs. Haver, of Meade, 1963, cousin of Capt. Short said Mr. Harold Short had told her this: an agreement had been made that if any of the surveyors needed help, they would set a grass fire. However, this was impossible since the grass had already been burned off, at this particular place.
 
        The Indians made the attack from ambush in the ravine. The surveyors fought from the shelter of the wagons, driving the oxen, loading their guns, laying their dead and wounded in the wagon and going with all speed to their comrades to Lone Tree camp.
 
        As dusk fell, the fees surrounded them and only one man remained, Mr. Shaw, as told by the marks of iron from his boot heels. The oxen were killed and hind quarters cut off. Near the wagon, side by side the Indians had laid six bodies; Capt. Short, Truman Short, Mr. Shaw and his son J. Allen, Harry Keuchler and Harry C. Jones. The camp dog lay dead beside its master. Their suffering was ended–doing their work for humanity. Capt. Short and son and Mr. Shaw were scalped and other others had their heads crushed.
 
        In the darkness the red men gathered together and carried away their fallen warriors. Crooked Creek murmured as it passed six silent forms whose death brought sorrow to four homes.
 
        No one expected Capt. Short and his men until the end of the week.
 
        About noon on Wednesday, Capt. Thrasher and crew were working. They looked east and a Mr. Crist saw something white. On investigating, the dead were found. They found 28 bullet holes in the wagon and eight in the water barrel. They placed the dead in the wagon and went to camp. Here a grave was dug and each corpse was wrapped in canvas as they were laid to rest a short distance, about 100 yards, southeast of Lone Tree. Work was abandoned. The surveyors returned to Fort Dodge with the awful story. That winter, through the Commandant at Leavenworth, metallic coffins were brought here to the grave, accompanied by soldiers. The remains were taken up and returned to their homes.
 
        Some 20 miles to the west, a short time after the massacre, hunters saw a party of 25 Indians leaving camp. At the camp they found parts of a chain, compass and papers belonging to Capt. Short. Later through the Germaine girls, taken captive by the Cheyenne Indians and later rescued by our soldiers, information was obtained. A Cheyenne, Chief Medicine Water, and his band returned with a horse belonging to Truman Short. A number of Indians were missing too. Some were convicted and sent to prison in Florida but later were released.
 
        Later, the Indians were real sorry of the deed they had done.
 
From
Pioneer Stories of Meade County
Fourth Edition _ 1985
Pages 135-136
Republished with the permission and cooperation of
The Meade County Historical Society
 
Meade County small diamond Kansas History

May 27, 2002 / John & Susan Howell / Wichita, Kansas / howell@kotn.org

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