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My Trip to the Indian Territory by Henry Hocker Seltzer – 1879

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I will endeavor to give an interesting and graphic description of a trip to the Indian Nation on which my memory often dwells with the sweetest reflections.  The object of the journey was simply sight seeing and enjoyment and of both we had our fill to the heart’s content.


The party consisted of two men, whom, by the way, we will call Tom Brown and Sam Jones, and myself.  The locality: the counties of Neosho, Labette, Montgomery, Wilson and the Indian Territory.  The counties before mentioned being in the S. E. part of the state of Kansas.


Our outfit consisted of a “ship of the Prairie”, a covered wagon, and two horses.  Provisions consisting of bread, biscuits, rolls, pies, cakes, ham, and our stock being constantly replenished, by purchases and our own productions.  We also had cooking utensils, teapots, etc., tableware.  Bedding, lights, and last but not least a six shot revolver and double barreled shotgun to defend us against attacks of the roaming bands of Indians, and wild beasts.


Many times Had I been longing to enjoy a journey on the prairies of our western frontier, to breathe the pure air and inhale the scent of the beautiful flowers.  As an opportunity now seemed open I was completely enraptured in the momentous event.


On Friday morning May 16th, 1879, we stated equipped as above, from the town of Thayer, Neosho Co.  It was a beautiful morning, clear and cool, exhilarating us to the highest degree.  We had agreed that Tom should be driver and look to the care of the horses.  Sam and myself were to prepare and obtain the “Grub”.


We were now fairly out of town, proceeding in a Southeasterly direction, the horses moving on a slow trot and walk by turns.  We had a clear view of everything---the horizon, being one smooth green circle as there were no mountains or hills to give a break.  Noon came and we drew up about one mile East of the Little Labette

 Creek.  Here we spread our board on the top of the grub box, and partook  of a nearby dinner,, we took a cold bite and it did taste delicious.  After closing and clearing up our provisions, I espied what I took to be a large hawk.  Taking our gun, which we always kept ready charged, I aimed slowly over the newly broken prairie till I came within reach, as I thought, taking a careful bead I let drive---up flew a vicious looking turkey buzzard---well I never heard the last of my hawk shouting, “mistakes will happen in the best of societies.  Resting our steeds a short time, we resumed our journey.  The country here was somewhat stony, called limestone by the Kansans, but having no more resemblance to limestone than the cinders of our furnaces have,,---in fact they represent that exactly to the view.  We occasionally meet with a settler’s home here.  Let me try and portray one.  A small patch of prairie, say forty acres, broken up.  A hedge planted on two sides.  Some of this cultivated land is in wheat, but by far the greater part in corn.  In one corner of the quarter section, in the west all land is laid out in sections of six hundred and forty acres each.  One hundred and sixty acres constitutes a quarter section, which is the size of nearly all the farms, homesteads, pre-emption and timber claims.  This quarter is always square and the squatter’s first work is planting a hedge around it, this accounts for the hedge on two sides only of the forty-acre batch, mentioned above.  A wooden weather boarded building ten by twelve feat large one story high, containing the kitchen, sitting room, parlor, bed chambers, gamet and cellar, all in one room.  This they call their big house.  It takes a common carpenter from two to four days to make one.  After the mansion house is built the carpenter’s work is dispensed with and he is discharged, the settler erecting his barns, stables, wagon shed, pigsty, granaries by himself.  This is the barn, four posts having forks on top, are dug in the ground.  Two grass pieces are put on, a few lathes then covered with straw and fenced in on three sides with sails and this stately and colossal structure is completed.  The pigsty is a four cornered and rectangular patch fenced in, with clear blue sky for a roof.  The granary and corncribs consist of a square of a sail’s length on each side blocked shed is about as large, well as the wagon, corn reaper, and corn planter covers having the sky for a roof the solid earth for a floor and the pure air for sides.  This is the handiest building on the farm, you are not eternally bothered in opening or shutting down gates .  If the building should happen to be in your way, it can be moved with the greatest ease and satisfaction.  I presume you now have a faint idea of the settler’s home and plantation.  Past such homes we passed, but they were not crowded either, People in this country preferring elbow room to city luxury.  How contented and unconcerned they appeared and also very hospitable.  Do you imagine these people are not refined or cultured?  Let me assure you, you are sadly mistaken.  Men of more liberal views and polite manners I never came across.  They have a pure and big heart if it is encased in a rough exterior.


We passed on gradually nearing the northern boundary of Labette County at four o’clock in the afternoon we arrived at the beautiful and enterprising city of Persons.  This town is finely built of brick and stone houses, the streets crossing at right angles.  The car and machine shops of M. K. and L. R. R. are located here.  There are also large and excellent dry goods houses, packing houses etc.  It is the metropolis of S. E. Kansas.  We took a good look about the city, then we went about half a mile east of the town crossing the Big Labette creek and camped on the east bank for the night.  The Labette is a fine stream and abounds in many kinds of fins.  We tried our luck at angling and succeeded in catching a mess of catfish, which we intended to have for breakfast, etc.  An unfortunate accident happened to our fish.  We had them in a string and suspended in the water, when I having caught one was on the point of stringing him, as twirling and agitation of the water convinced me that all was not right.  Taking out our string, I was shocked and chagrinned to see that only the heads of the finest of our fish were left, the bodies being eaten clean away by muskrats.  This cut our breakfast rather short of fried catties, as it was getting dusk and we had to prepare for the night.


It happened to fall to my lot to prepare supper, and without being egotistical, I’m happy to say I got out an excellent supper, having started a fire and boiled coffee, by suspending a kettle from a rack made of wood. 


As a rule we always selected a site near water for camping, on account of wood and water.  Our supper being over, we “lariated” our horses to pasture for the night. After which we prepared our sleeping apartments.  This was the wagon box and a narrow one at that too.  We then lit our lantern, hung it at one of the wagon bows, and had a social chat on our first day’s journey.  Sam and myself took our note books and recounted the principal events of the day.  This, our first day, we traveled about 20 miles.  Now it was time to retire and sleep.  …but nature’s sweet restorer seemed banished from my thoughts, while the others were snoring like engines my mind was occupied with meditations, and I must own it a slight taint of fear.  Here we were all alone on the wooden banks of a wild steam.  Could not some desperate train robber despoil us?  Well I was awake a long time, at last I fell asleep and such a sound sweet sleep with no unpleasant dreams was indeed a rich treat, suffice it to say the sun was up before I awoke!  In the morning after our ablutions were over we partook of the breakfast of fish that remained after the muskrat adventure of the previous evening. Ah!  But they were delicious!!  At l7 o’clock we resumed our journey, starting in the cool of the day.  After some time we came to the M. and C. Narrow Gauge R.R. and a train happening to be in sight we waited until it passed.  It was a wee bit of a thing and shook fearful from speed.  I judge I’d not enjoy a ride in a narrow gauge car very much.  At 10 am we arrived at Labette City, a mere hamlet but having an excellent well in the middle of the public square.  Here we allayed our as well as the horses thirst.  Our next point of destination was Oswego, which we struck at 12:15 pm.  This is a fine and prosperous town, the county seat of Labette County, we camped for dinner in the public square under the shade of a large oak tree.  Our repast over, we took a short stroll around town.  All the towns through which we passed we had the finest opportunities for seeing, and nothing of interest escaped our notice.  After leaving Oswego we moved due south.  Before coming to Oswego we had the company of a native Jayhawker, whom we kept busy with our questioning.  He patiently and very fully gave us all the information we wanted and was a gentleman in every respect.  He thanked us very much for the ride and we earnestly assured him that he was thrice welcome and that we were under the greatest obligation to him for his genial company.  


At 4 pm we forded the Big Labette and pulled up for the night in the south side of the creek in a wild timber region.  This was by far the roughest place for camping we had,…and our drinking water we had to get across the creek. Sam fetched a bucket full on a horse while I started the fire.  Our good grub was beginning to diminish rather too rapidly and we had to lessen the number of cookies and increase the demand for snitz pie.  But we had appetites keen enough to relish anything.  This was Saturday evening the second day of our trip.  After receiving our horses for the night and closing up our wagon we were ready for our evening chat and note takings.  It was somewhat later when we settled down permanently for the night and we heard the wolves and wild cats howling in the distance but  for tonight all fear of the previous evening had vanished and I could lay down to sleep as peacefully as in the safest and most luxurious be to be found.  Strange it seems how soon the feelings become accustomed to anything, when not worked up by fancy.  We made 29 miles today. 


On awakening next morning we beheld a beautiful Sabbath day and felt duty bound to do little on the Lord’s Day.  However, we were obliged to move a little and we soon passed to the town of Chetopa, whose school house we could see when a great way off yet.  It reminded me of an Opera house, so grand and stately it was.  The town is on decline though.  It owed its rapid growth to being the terminus for a time of the M. K. and L.R.R.  But that county received permission to extend their line through the Nation down to Texas, and the glory of Chetopa fell as rapidly as it rose…..however it contained about a thousand inhabitants yet, as it has some splendid buildings. Two miles south of here we crossed the Nation line and I was then for the first time out of the jurisdiction of the U.S.  The Territory is indeed a beautiful country, not flat but gently rolling.  Every now and then we came across an Indian’s farm, which could easily be recognized by the stake fence around it.  A good many white men live in the Nation, but they all have squaws for wives, for no white man alone dares live in the country.  We might almost have had an adventure here with the Indians.  At one place we asked an intelligent looking young squaw for water.  She pointed the way to the well.  I seized the rope to draw when there was a tin kettle at the one end, thinking it might contain a valve below.  I gave it several dups but it would not fill, so Sam suggested it might be something else.   I therefore hoisted it up when it turned out to be just a common kettle nearly full of excellent looking golden yellow butter.  Of course, I tied our bucket to the rope and soon had it filled, and replacing the kettle suspended the butter again in the well.  What would have happened had I dumped that butter in the well I don’t know, but have an idea, they’ll have wanted my scalp as pay.  We had luck here.


The Indians I saw were finely, cleanly dressed in fact, more so than many of the whites.


We moved on about 8 miles into the Territory and then set up for noon.  It was terribly hot here night at noon the sun seemed to the entirely vertical and the rays had an almost scorching power…and no wonder for we were in the latitude of North Carolina.


We had rather poor water and the partly wanted tea.  It fell to my part to prepare dinner.  No wood.  I was a a loss to start a fire.  On looking around I espied something k dry stalks of weeds perhaps 6 feet high.  These I gathered and soon had a roaring blaze.  We had our table fully prepared in due time. This meal we took as a memento of the Nation.  All being cleared away and packed up….we lay down in our covered wagon and took a nap of perhaps an hour’s length.  All being refreshed again, we retraced our route back to Chetopa.  For we had now reached the furthest  jaunt of our journey.  We arrived at Chetopa at 2:30pm.  Here we encamped on the banks of the Neosho River near a large stream grist mill.  It being an unusually warm day we took a bath in the clear water of the Neosho.  Having satisfied our selves in the water Sam and I took a stroll around town.  What struck me most was that nearly all the business places were open and buying and selling going on all the time.  In the evening the colored people assembled in a small frame building for public worship and to say the least they were very outspoken, for our camp was about 200 yds. Away and we heard their voices distinctly, especially when the meeting had been closed and they returned to their homes.  Such a jabbering, chattering, Guffawing and yelling I never heard before near a House of God.  But negroes are negroes, and Chetopa would be rather to full of them for our appreciation. 


The Sunday eve I had my first experience of a Kansas shower, they called it, but it was a storm and nothing else.  The S.W. sky became black; the sun was obscured; a flash and then the roll of thunder heralded the coming rain.  I proceeded leisurely to close up our wagon to shelter us from the rain, when to my dismay it commenced to drop and soon to pour down such torrents, that it was with difficulty we kept dry.  We got a Little wet for the wind was so strong as to almost upset our wagon,  in fact weighted it soaked and it shook it right smart still.  Some of my old timidity appeared again much to the amusement of Tom and Sam, who called this a gentle breeze.  I had, however, later on in the  northern part of the state some chance of seeing a Kansas storm which at the least was terrific indeed.


The shower abated almost as suddenly as it cam, having rained not more that 15 minutes and the sun shone again.  It was however late in the eve and light fell over the town of Chetopa.  Our lantern lighted we went on with our usual evening ????(words omitted from original).


The shower of rain having cooled the air so we all sleep soundly.  On awakening next morning????? thing appeared  and enlivened?????


This Monday morning we change from a southerly to a westerly direction.  We took the direct road to Coffeyville, Montgomery County.  Towards noon we came to a small village called Kingston where we made a short stay and mailed letters home.  About 2 miles N. of Kingston we pulled up for noon.  Having procured some lemons and sugar at Chetopa we made excellent lemonade, but we had rather poor shade as not a tree was in view for miles around, however it was rather cool this day it being windy.  Believing ourselves secure from Indian attacks Sam and I indulged in some waste of powder and shot in target shooting.  I will not relate the scores we made.  Our little shooting affair I had in the Nation.  I will relate though.  While jogging leisurely on, one of us discovered some prairie chickens, or we rather came upon them, for one was not more than ten feet away, sitting in a tuff of grass.  In my excitement I seized my revolver being sure of my mark at so short a distance.  Sam, begged and entreated me to desist with the revolver and take the shotgun, I finally yielded and had hardly leveled the piece when I let fly, no movement in the grass.  I gave her the other barrel, and awaited the effect, and what do you think it was?  Well I never was so beat in my life, why not less that six feet from the place I intended to hit, at prairie hen flew up.  I confess the jeiss (guys)  were rather hard on me some time but eventually I regained my spirits resolving never to shoot at a prairie chicken anymore.


After regaling ourselves, we again proceeded on toward the setting sun.  At 3 P.M. we crossed Pumpkins Creek and at 4 we forded the Vesdigrit River.  This river has high banks and these are sometimes full. We had lost ourselves after crossing Pumpkin Creek, when driving in to an old settler he set us night again.  The country between these two streams is well wooded and fertile.  Coffeyville was now in sight and this was hailed by us all with delight.  Our trip from Chetopa to the place had been so straight and seemed so long that we were weary for the first time.  The distance was 30 miles, and we came to Coffeyville at the 4.15 P.M.  This is a large town and has an active trade with the Indian farmers, as it is the terminus of L.L. and G.R.R.  Where we saw many Indians, some trading others loafing about town.


We struck our camp a little south of town and had the pleasure of a camp of Indians about a hundred yards away, to the north and to the south a company of U>S> Troops were stationed to prevent settlers from entering the Nation, for locating on the fertile plains of Oklahoma.  No wonder  if the poor re man seeks the hatchet sometimes for redress.  It’s about the only redress he even gets.  Tract after tract and acre after acre are absorbed by the greedy whites, who claim to be civilized.  These poor Indians will even remain as a black page on the History of Free America.


Here we tried our hand at the culinary art in the shape of frying some tender beefsteak for supper and it was a grand success, only we got the dressing rather too thick, but we devoured it with more of a relish than was consistent with etiquette.  Our utensils and tableware commenced to show the rather too hasty cleaning by getting somewhat encumbered with too much detrimus.  A happy thought struck me for scouring the knives and forks.  The ground here is a sandy loam, and by forcing them down in the sod they became as bright as any Bridget could make them.  I had some thought of getting this process patented, but concluded it would be better to give it free to the world.


Our sleep was rather shortened by another rain coming on about 3 in the morning.  We were all awakened by the thunder and lighting and after the rain was over, it was daylight.  We took an early breakfast and started at 6.15 due north for Independence.  On our way we crossed Clear and Rock Creeks.  The last named having a bed of one solid rock at the fording.  The country is very sparsely settled along here.  We arrived at Independence, at 11.30 A.M.  Stopped for dinner about one half mile north of town.  Independence is the rival of Parsons and can almost come up to it.  It is the County Seat of Montgomery Co. and has an active and lively trade.


Our noon repast being over we started on our journey.  Crossed the Vesdigrit on a rickety old bridge not safe for passing over at 1.15 P.M.  The country was well timbered along here.  We again had the company of a fine young Kansan who engrossed our attention with relating the resources of the country in general.  At 4.30 P.M. we forded the Fall River being now in Wilson Co. and in half an hour more arrived at Neodesha, a fine little town.  This was our camping place for the night and we pulled up on the banks of the Vesdigrit River, in heavy timber.  Just before coming to Neodesha we came past one of the finest wheat field, 200 acres in extent, that I ever saw.  It was just as smooth and even as could be.  Those people who denounce droutay Kansas should see it once in its fruitful state.


Here at our camp we had another shooting affair, but I wasn’t the actor, “You bet”, as they say here, I kept my hands clear of that gun.  Sam was the lucky man this time.  Well he shot a large gray squirrel and we cut him up for bait and tried fishing again, but it was no go.  Not the sign of a fish could we catch since our adventure with the muskrat.


We treated ourselves to some eggs here.  I went to town and bought a dozen for five cents.  One of the party putting a soft boiled egg into this hip pocket unluckily sat down and smashed it all up.  He had a mess in his pocket anyhow if his stomach had not.  This day we had traveled 34 miles.


This was the last night we were to pass in the wagon, for tomorrow will end our journey.


In the morning I was awakened by the singing of the birds.  Oh, I thought they’d burst their little throats by their loud sweet notes.  So beautifully I had never before nor since heard the music of the birds.  We were in no hurry to start this morning as we could easily reach home by noon.  We lingered about our camp longingly casting a glance at the place of our last lodging.  At 7.30 we resumed our trip, crossing the Vesdigrit and going directly East.  We jogged along slowly, wondering what the folks at home would say on seeing us back again.  We gradually reached Thayer and came through the coal fields now, 2 and a half miles S.W. of town.  Our house was now in sight, and we pulled up in the yard, meeting all the anxious looking ones in the best of spirits and our trip was over.


We had passed six days and five nights in the wagon and traveled 143 miles in a nearly circuitous route. 


Many incidents of minor importance I have not described, but they are indelibly fixed in my memory.


In conclusion I would say, shoulde any of you my friends, ever undertake a wagon trip, on the western plains you’ll never be sorry for the time and trouble spent therein.


H. H. Seltzer,

Belleview, Pa.

(Born Aug. 28, 1856))

(Died Aug. 7, 1925)



Tom Brown ---J.H. Blouch – Thayer, Kansas

Sam Jones ---A.H.  Kreider – Thayer, Kansas  privacy statement