52 Ancestors: #10 of 52 – Alonzo Hayden Hayes Baxter, 1845-1930

The prompt for Week #10 of the 52 Ancestors/52 Weeks Challenge is STORMY WEATHER: What ancestor endured a particularly severe storm?52ancestors_2015_10

Alonzo Hayden Hayes Baxter, my maternal 2x great grandfather, is the ancestor who immediately came to mind when I saw this week’s prompt for the 52 Ancestors Challenge, created by Amy Johnson Crow. One of the participants in the challenge has been using guest bloggers to write the posts for some of the weeks. I’m going to do that this week as well, but with a twist. My guest blogger is my great grand uncle, Alonzo’s son, George A. H. Baxter of Prowers County, Colorado (1872-1949). Along with being a rancher in southwestern Colorado, George was a Prowers County amateur historian, an amateur in the best sense of the word, in that, as one of the longest-living residents of the area, he was passionate about the history of his family and the other pioneer families of Prowers County and loved passing on what he knew. Sometime in the 1940s, George Baxter wrote an “as told to” column for the local Lamar, Colorado newspaper that included some 80 entries, telling stories about the lives of the pioneers of the area. If George were alive today, I have no doubt he would be writing a fascinating genealogy blog.

A word about how I came to know about George and his stories. I was contacted by someone who read my family tree at Ancestry.com. Being a family historian herself, someone in her husband’s family had given her a huge box of family papers, including hundred of photographs, old postcards, letters, original deeds–an absolute treasure–originally belonging to George Baxter. This woman’s husband was only marginally connected to George, to she set out to find someone connected to his family. I was the lucky person she found, and she turned over the entire box to me. She has my undying gratitude.

Alonzo_Baxter_shoebox

Alonzo Hayden Hayes Baxter – what an interesting life, and such a handsome man!

Here’s a short biography of Alonzo Hayden Hayes Baxter, just to give some context to George’s story. I will definitely return to Alonzo another week to write about him more fully. I’ve already written here about Alonzo’s wife, my 2x great grandmother, Elizabeth O. Robinson Baxter. Alonzo was born in 1845 in Jefferson County, Indiana to William Baxter and Jane Kerr. Like just about everyone else in Jefferson County at that time, they were farmers. After surviving four years on the Union side in the Civil War, Alonzo evidently decided the safe path of farming his father’s land wasn’t for him. I found this in an introduction to the book The Life and Adventures of “Billy” Dixon of Adobe Walls, Texas Panhandle, published 1914. Billy and Alonzo were contemporaries, born about five years apart, and I’m imagining that Alonzo Baxter might have seen the world very much the same as Billy Dixon:

I fear, said Billy Dixon, half humorously, that the conquest of savagery in the Southwest was due more often to love of adventure than to any wish that cities should arise in the desert, or that the highways of civilization should take the place of the trails of the Indian and the buffalo. In fact, many of us believed and hoped that the wilderness would remain forever. Life there was to our liking. Its freedom, its dangers, its tax upon strength and courage, gave a zest to living especially to young men, unapproached by anything to be found in civilized communities (Dixon, no page no.).

At the age of 24, Alonzo set out to stake his homestead in southeastern Colorado Territory. It didn’t take him long to find what he was looking for, and he returned to Indiana to pack up his young family and take them by ox cart to their new home. That was 1870, making Alonzo Baxter and his family, including George, one of the early pioneering families of the area.

oxen_wagon_shoebox

This photo comes from George Baxter’s collection. I don’t have a year for it, but I imagine it is c.1890. Alonzo and Elizabeth Baxter would have driven a wagon and ox team from Indiana to Colorado similar to this one.

The following is a story written in about 1940 by Alonzo’s son George about his father and one of the last buffalo hunts in southeastern Colorado and the Coldest Winter of 1878-79.

Note: George’s story was published in the Lamar newspaper, “as told to,” and the newspaper version has been moderately edited. I’ve chosen to use his original typed version that I found in his personal papers, thus avoiding any copyright issues that might still exist with the newspaper article. I think George’s typed version also has more personality than the published version. I’ve edited this only slightly–mainly punctuation–for easier reading. The blue text is my annotation of George’s narrative.

WINTER OF THE LAST BUFFALO HUNT TAKEN BY MY FATHER,
A.H.H. BAXTER, 1878-1879

Nov. 20th, 1878. Dad and old Rube Irwin [throughout the text, George alternately spells his name Irwin/Irvin] went South on a Buffalo Hunting trip to the Canadian River, North and South forks, for a load of Buffalo Meat, taking two wagons and two trail wagons. They couldn’t have picked a worse winter to venture forth, but it’s impossible to predict the future. Baxter and Irwin chose to go to the Adobe Walls along the Canadian River, in the breaks, as buffalo were practically extinct in their home area of Old Las Animas, Colorado.

Alonzo and Rube Irwin started out from their homestead near Granada, Colorado. The Adobe Walls mentioned by George was a place on a small tributary of the Canadian River in the Texas Panhandle. This is a description of the original Adobe Walls from the book, The West Texas Frontier, by Joseph Carroll McConnell, published 1933. Alonzo Baxter had been hunting buffalo for the ten years that he had lived in the area, so this Adobe Walls must have been familiar to him.

During May of 1874, several buffalo hunters from Kansas and elsewhere, reached the Panhandle of Texas to pursue their chosen profession. The weather was delightful and the buffaloes were moving northward. To accommodate the hunters, two stores, a blacksmith shop, and a saloon were established not a great distance from the original Adobe Walls, built by the Bents [of Bent Fort fame] many years before. This new location, also known as Adobe Walls, was about one mile from the mouth of Bent Creek, and in a northerly direction from the present town of Miami.

1878_buffaloTrip

Alonzo Baxter and Rube Irwin started out from their home in Granada, Colorado. As buffalo hunters in the area for the past decade, Baxter and Irwin must have been familiar with the Adobe Walls settlement.

Unfortunately for Alonzo Baxter and Rube Irwin, the weather that November of 1878 for their trip to Adobe Walls was far from “delightful.”

Accompanied by Rube Irvin of Old Las Animas, Colo., they loaded up with supplies and in about two weeks they reached their destination. The weather was very bad.

Let Billy Dixon add to the description of a prairie winter. This is from Life and Adventures of “Billy” Dixon of Adobe Walls, Texas Panhandle, by Olivia Dixon, published 1914:

There are few sights more chilling and somber than the Plains in winter, stretching brown and dead under a leaden sky, with the wind moaning and roaring from the north (Dixon, no page no.)

A Blizzard came up, such as they have in the Dakotas, sending the thermometer below the zero mark and drifted the snow in the hills and draws to a point where progress was exceedingly slow. But the storm drove the Buffalo into the breaks along the river and bunched them up more. The two men were lucky to find a fairly large herd, and they quickly made a good kill. They were doing what had to be done–skinning and dressing out the meat, stretching out the hides on the ground to dry out some, and getting the meat into shape to load into the wagons–no little job. When they finally had what meat they had ready to load into the wagon, and had loaded about two-thirds of the total, another snow came up and with it bitter cold, forcing the men to hole up in camp for several days.

After some delay on account of the bad, snowy weather, they were ready to start back with their load of Buffalo, Meat and Hides. The snow continued very bad, forcing them to lay around camp for the next month.

It’s about here in George’s story when I start thinking of Alonzo’s wife Elizabeth and Rube Irwin’s wife, if he had one, waiting for them back at home. Knowing that Alonzo had started out with provisions for a two-week trip, what did she think when he still hadn’t shown up more than six weeks later–in the middle of winter? How did she survive what undoubtedly was also a bad winter for her and the children in their two-room frame house? Did she have help caring for their livestock? How did she do it? George never mentions Elizabeth waiting back at home, but that’s typical of the way most history is written–the men go out and “do”; the women stay home and “wait.”

Finally they started out for home, but later they were caught in another Blizzard on the Cimarron River, on Palladora Trail, going South to Doba Walls North to Old Fort Aubery Kansas, two or three miles east of where Coolidge Kansas is now. They were on their way back to the Arkansas River, where we lived near the Holly Ranch.

Unpacking that paragraph a little bit, I believe George is referring to the Palo Duro Trail. There is a Palo Duro State Park near Amarillo, Texas, but that’s in the opposite direction from Alonzo’s home going from the Adobe Walls, so the trail he mentions was probably farther north. But if we follow the present-day route from Miami, Texas to Cimarron National Grassland (through which flows the Cimarron River) to the Fort Aubrey Ranch to Coolidge, Kansas to Holly, Colorado, then I think what we find is the approximate route that George describes in the above paragraph (although of course the men would go in a more directly northwest direction). The 2015 Google map at least gives a sense of the area that George described.

Cimarron_Map

The distance from the present-day Cimarron National Grassland to Holy, Colorado is about 90 miles.

When they left the breaks of the Cimarron River and got out on the flats, the snow got so deep their Teams could hardly pull the loads of Buffalo Meat and Hides, as the snow was wheel-hub deep. Consequently, they had to go into Camp on Bear Creek and wait for the storm to break and the snow to settle some.

The Cimarron Breaks is an old term which refers to the broken ground that transitions from the High Plains to the north down towards the Cimarron River on the south. “Cimarron” is the Spanish word for wild or unruly.

It was a cold, long wait; the bitter cold and deep snow were Fearful. After a long, hard pull, they finally got to the Arkansas River, south of Lakin, Kansas, or where it is now [present-day Syracuse, Kansas is near the Arkansas River, south of Lakin] and went in Camp, near the old Heart M Ranch in the Big Timber, or where the Big Timber was then.

About here I was wondering how these two were able to navigate through the snow and bad weather without getting lost. Or did they get lost? Probably not, for a couple of reasons, one of which is that they were familiar with this area south of the Arkansas River. The other is explained by Charles Goodnight, one of the most prosperous cattlemen in the American West:

Above all things, the plainsman had to have a sense–an instinct–for direction. . . . Few men have this instinct. Yet in the few it is to be trusted as absolutely as the homing instinct of a wild goose. . . . I never had a compass in my life. I was never lost (Ward, 240).

Baxter and Irwin stayed [at the camp at Big Timbers] until the spring thaw, in March, some 40 or 50 miles down river from our Ranch, Mouth of Two Butte Creek. They had been gone about three months before reaching the river. More snow fell, and the wagons were again up to their hubs. When the horses couldn’t pull the loads any longer, they camped in the Timber along the River until their flour and coffee began to give out.

Granada_Lakin

Present-day Granada, Colorado to Lakin, Kansas is approximately 60 miles. The route follows the Arkansas River.

A detailed map of the Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail (known as the Raton or Bent’s Fort Route during Trail days) shows that, according to George’s description, Baxter and Irwin were essentially following the Mountain Route of the Trail to get home.

Santa_Fe_MountainTrail

On this map, along the Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail, can be seen the landmarks mentioned by George Baxter: Larkin, Kansas, Fort Aubrey, and the site of Old Granada which was near Alonzo Baxter’s ranch. Click to enlarge.

From Billy Dixon:

Travel was not made certain and continuous until countless feet and hoofs and wheels had worn trails. The making of trails is one of the most primitive acts of man, and it seems incredible that this should have been done within such recent times in this country. The most noted of all these trails was the Santa Fe Road or Trail that led to Santa Fe, New Mexico,  from Westport, Mo., where it was joined by smaller highways from points in the surrounding country. The heart swells with emotion at remembrance of the wild, free life along those old trails, and knowledge that they have vanished forever brings a feeling of deep regret. . . . something worthwhile has been lost, at least to those who found joy in braving dangers and in overcoming the obstacles of primitive conditions. What a living, moving panorama stretched along the old trails! How vast the wealth that rolled past! The end came when the Santa Fe railroad reached Raton in 1880.

Finally they abandoned the camp, leaving behind the wagons and Buffalo Meat, but NOT before they had made arrangements with the Boss on the Heart M Ranch to look after their Buffalo Meat and wagons which was easily done by giving the ranch all the Fresh Buffalo Meat they could use until Baxter and Irwin could get back for their Out-Fits. Then packing some of the Horses with a hind quarter or so on each of them, the two men set out towards home on horseback.

“Home” for Alonzo Baxter in 1878-79 was a ranch located five miles east of Old Granada, Colorado (called simply Granada until “New” Granada was created in 1886) where he had two claims of 160 acres each. He built his first frame house in 1874 in the vicinity of Ella, Colo., a community 15 miles upstream from Old Granada (Ella is not on any current map). This map is from the Las Animas Leader, 30 Oct. 1874. Originally the land was part of Bent County; in 1883 Alonzo’s part of Bent County became Prowers County. He had built his frame house, size 16′ x 18′ by 1874 which cost him $150 to build. The materials to build the house would have come by rail.

Map_early2

Alonzo’s land was just west of the tiny town of Ella; his companion, Rube Irwin, lived in West Las Animas. Neither place would be found on today’s map.

The period that I call the “old west” or the early days came between 1873 and 1885. I guess that was because that was the time when I was growing up. The population was transient. The Civil War had been over for just a few years, the railroad was moving west into the free lands, and naturally there were a lot of young men going west to seek their fortune. My father was one of them.

Back in those early days, when my father first came to Bent County, the first settlers found not barren plains, dry washes, and an almost empty river. The country was green, not gray, and the Arkansas River ran bank full the year round. On both sides of the river was timber–not the half-dead stunted cottonwoods that are seen here today, but giant cottonwoods with full crowns extending over a mile from each bank. Under the sheltered canopy were miles and miles of wild plum patches, grape vines, and choke cherry thickets. Here and there were trails made by the red deer that inhabited the region. There were also raccoons, wild cats, wolves, coyotes, skunks, and rabbits. The river fairly teemed with fish, muskrat, and beaver. There were no irrigation ditches then to draw water from the river, so the water was deep enough to require a horse to swim across. The banks were much higher than they are today, and a body had to look long to find a spot for his horse to cross. After December, the river was usually frozen solid enough to cross on the ice.

The town of Old Granada was built in 1872, when a man by the name of T.B. Nolan opened a general store and commissary on the site. New Granada’s reputation as a “wild” town has stuck with it through the years, though it is tame today [1940] compared with the old town in the 1870s. Within two weeks from the time the first railroad car reached Granada, the town had three restaurants, a hotel, and about a dozen other places. A post office was established in August 1873.

Between 1873 and 1875, the western terminal of the Santa Fe Railroad was located in Old Granada. By then town had approximately 1,500 residents, mostly gamblers, buffalo hunters, employees of the commission firms, and railroad construction gangs. By 1874, the town had a public school and three grocery stores. The streets had coal oil lamps to light the way by night. The town’s two mercantile firms received their freight by rail. That’s how my father and others in the town came by the lumber to build their houses.

The town was “wide open,” and of course there was no such thing as prohibition. The saloons in those days were for men only. Everyone held the view that if women were to drink, they should do it at home, and women seeking employment never applied for a job in a saloon unless they didn’t care about their reputations.

Old Granada, Prowers County’s only town of the seventies [which was actually still Bent County until 1889], offered a good example of life then. Everyone, literally, displayed a shingle. Everyone then knew who was who. The saloon keepers, bar tenders, and gunmen didn’t try to pose as model citizens. In the town’s most prosperous era, 1873-1875, there were four saloons, three dance halls, and one gambling joint. But I do believe there was less drinking there than there is today [c.1940], and even less than in Prohibition days. The saloons enjoyed their best business on Saturdays when the cowboys, badmen, and settlers came to town, since many of the workers were given the afternoon off. Some of the notorious outlaws who were in Old Granada in those days included “Mysterious Dave” Mather, “Doc” Holliday, Charles White, “Chalk” Beason, Frank Boggs, George Curry, Clay Allison, Jack Allen, Charles Bassett, Ben Thompson, and Ed & Bat Masterson. As there was no jail in town, those who violated the law were told to get out. If they refused, they were generally shot, but very few refused the order. Practically all of the townspeople treated the badmen with the consideration they gave rattlesnakes. As long as they didn’t provoke them, there was little trouble.

Other business establishments in Old Granada during its boom period included a few restaurants and hotels, general merchandise stores, and Wright and Rouths Hide Buyers. The town had no newspapers, mayor, or legislative body, and law enforcement was left to the marshals. Lest I give the wrong impression, Old Granada was not altogether “bad.” Sunday school classes were held every week by the Methodists, and they attracted a goodly number of the women and children. School was held in an old frame building with Mrs. W.W. Jones as teacher, the only school between Granada and Pueblo at the time.

Presumably our author, George Baxter, was a product of the teaching of Mrs. Jones. Good job, Mrs. Jones!

When the Santa Fe railroad pushed on west in 1875, Old Granada was suddenly de-populated. Many of the cowboys and badmen who hung around the area went to South Dakota–to the Deadwood area–where there was a gold rush and things were “new.”

George says nothing about the happy reunion that happened sometime in March 1878 between Alonzo and his family, waiting at home, a family that included his wife Elizabeth, daughter Emma, age 11, son George, age 7, daughter Olive, age 5, daughter Daisy, age 4, and daughter Minnie, age 1.

Alonzo_Baxter_family_shoebox

The Alonzo Baxter family, about ten years after the “Coldest Winter” buffalo hunt. Alonzo is seated, at center; his wife Elizabeth is seated at the left. The couple is surrounded by some of their children. Our “guest blogger,” George Baxter, is the tall one in the back, age about 18.

Later, after the snow thawed, and my father and Rube Irwin went back after the meat and wagons. The snow had covered the range for so long that Thousands of Cattle & Horses died. The Wild Horses, Antelope, and Deer came to the corrals, driven by hunger past the point of being frightened at the sight of a man. Even the Wild Horses crowded in near the settlements along the River.

Those Wild Horses got as tame as your Old Saddle Horse. They came into the corral if you left the gate open. My uncles George and Frank Robinson [brothers of his mother, Elizabeth Robinson] who were staying at our Ranch that winter on account of Dad being gone Buffalo Hunting.

Oh thank God! Elizabeth had her brothers to stay with her and help her at the ranch while Alonzo was gone. I wondered how she coped.

My uncles quickly saw their opportunity and made use of it. They lured at least 90 to 100 Wild Horses into the corral by scattering hay on the snow, where we were feeding our stock. Then they turned loose some of their gentle saddle horses which the wild horses followed into the corral. They sold those wild horses the next spring in St. Louis at $25 per head.

This all happened during the coldest Winter ever recorded in Southeastern Colorado and Western Kansas–known forever by all the Old Pioneers as the Deep Snow and Coldest Winter of 1878-79.

~end of George Baxter’s article about his father, Alonzo Baxter~

OK, So Let’s Deal With the “Buffalo Hunter” Issue

Probably everyone, if they do genealogy long enough, will run into an ancestor who is, shall we say, less than politically correct by today’s standards. To that I say, thank God for interesting ancestors! But just as we can’t choose our relatives, we also can’t choose the issue that makes our ancestors “colorful.” buffaloBuffalo Hunter would definitely not have been high on my list for occupations I would have wanted my ancestor to be involved with–it’s about as anti-PC an issue as you can find, but that’s not why it bothers me. Just google “Buffalo or bison slaughter.”  Reading about the near-destruction of the species gives me such a heavy heart. What were they thinking?

Actually, “What were they thinking?” is the wrong question to ask, a question prompted by an anachronistic environmentalist agenda. Some scholars suggest that the buffalo weren’t wiped out because someone “wasn’t thinking”; the buffalo were a primary source of food, clothing, and shelter for the Plains Indian. Get rid of the buffalo–and control the Indian (Wooster, 171). Like Billy Dixon’s memoir, I like the accounts of people who lived during those times. If Alonzo had written a book, he might have written one like the one by Homer W. Wheeler: Buffalo Days: The Personal Narrative of a Cattleman, Indian Fighter and Army Officer or one like the journal written by John Gibbon, Adventures on the Western Frontier.

Alonzo Baxter’s son, George Baxter (I almost wrote, “Even Alonzo Baxter’s son,” which would have been totally condescending) touched on the issue of the wholesale slaughter of the buffalo in another one of his 1940 newspaper columns about the history of Prowers County, Colorado:

The question is often asked if the settlers here in the ’70s ever thought of conservation of wild life. They thought the buffalo and antelope herds were inexhaustible, and before they quite realized it, they were all gone.

I can’t say his explanation makes me feel any better, but like I said, we don’t get to choose. My 2x great grandfather, Alonzo Baxter, hunted buffalo not just in that winter of 1878, but also in the decade preceding that bad winter, from about 1870. If what’s on Wikipedia is true {{rolls eyes}}, then Alonzo would have been well aware of the Adobe Walls settlement, since to find “good buffalo country” after about 1874, the hunters would have had to go south to the Canadian River, “in hostile Indian country” (Dixon, no page no.).

From Billy Dixon, writing about his work supplying the U.S. Army forts in Kansas in 1869:

Between the Arkansas River and Medicine Lodge we were met by a number of noted Indian chiefs, mounted upon their finest horses. . . .They carried themselves with dignity and in every feature revealed their racial pride and their haughty contempt of the white man. Among them I recall [Kiowa Chief] Satanta. . . . It was because of his complaint that the order had been issued against the killing of buffaloes–a complaint that lay at the very heart of the grievances of the Indian against the white man in frontier days. He declared . . . to destroy the buffalo meant the destruction of the Indian. Leading a nomadic life, which prevented his tilling the soil, even if he had wished to engage in agriculture, which he did not, the Indian saw that he would be deprived of his principal and most necessary food–buffalo meat–if the buffaloes were killed (Dixon, no page no.).

Just why Alonzo Baxter and Rube Irwin had to travel so far from their home to hunt buffalo in 1878 is explained in an earlier article by George Baxter. I imagine they were hunting buffalo to provide food for their families, although it seems like, from George’s description of lands surrounding the family acres, there would have been plenty of other game they could have lived off of. Maybe Alonzo just liked getting away from everything during the winter–who knows? Also, missing from George’s narrative is any other description about his father’s normal hunting habits outside of this one winter when he went on his “last” buffalo hunt. George also never mentions any interactions his father might have had during those years of killing buffalo with the Plains Indians. They simply do not exist in George’s narrative, but it’s impossible to believe that they had no impact on Alonzo and his family during the years from 1868 to 1878 and beyond.

In 1871 when Colonel R. I. Dodge of Ford Dodge rode up from the Kansas line to a point 25 miles west, about midway between the present towns of Granada and Lamar, he reported that he saw a total of 500,000 buffalo. That may sound hard to believe, but the figure has since been corroborated by several authors as authentic. What is still more amazing is that in the space of nine short years, the buffalo were extinct in the same area that Colonel Dodge traveled over.

From the time my father moved to the country in 1869 to the time the railroad was extended to his home near Old Granada in 1873, there were practically no buffalo hunters in the area. But the railroad brought with it hundreds of nimrods eager to cash in on the easy money. Skilled hunters killed dozens of the animals daily and sold the hides at an average price of one dollar each. The most profitable years were 1873 and 1874; that’s why by 1876 there were practically no buffalo left south of the Arkansas River. What remained north of the river was the remnant of the south herd that had been divided in 1870 by the Union Pacific Railroad.

From Billy Dixon:

In 1866, at Fort Harker [Kansas] Black Kettle [of the Cheyenne] had made a speech of great eloquence, asking the government not to permit the building of railroads through the Indian country, as it would drive away the buffaloes and leave the Indians to starve. This fear of the change that would follow the building of railroads across the Plains was night and day in the heart of the Indian. No chief made a speech in which he did not refer to it (Dixon, no page no.).

Billy Dixon was a witness to history on the morning of October 28, 1867 at their camp at Medicine Lodge Creek. This was the day of the signing of the Medicine Lodge Treaty, which was supposed to be a treaty to end all treaties. I’ve read various estimates of the number of Native Americans who gathered at Medicine Lodge that day, between 5,000 and 10,000. Here is Billy Dixon’s description:

I shall never forget the morning of October 28, 1867. At a distance of about two miles from our camp was the crest of a low swell in the Plains. For a moment I was dumbfounded at sight of what was rising over that crest and flowing with vivid commotion toward us. It was a glittering, fluttering, gaily colored mass of barbarism, the flower and perfection of the war strength of the Plains Indian tribes. The resplendent warriors, armed with all their equipment and adorned with all the regalia of battle, seemed to be rising out of the earth. Their number was estimated at 15,000, but I cannot vouch for its accuracy (Dixon, no page no.).

It’s hard to know in 2015 all of the issues surrounding the Medicine Lodge Treaty that were agreed to that day. Frankly, today’s books and textbooks are infected with the childish simplicity of the politically correct: the evil United States government represented by the Army on the one hand, and the noble tribes of Native Americans on the other. What seems to me to be true about this meeting and this treaty is that it’s hard to imagine that the members of the different tribes who were there that day–the Kiowa, Comanche, Kiowa-Apache, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe–all understood what was put forward in the treaty. It’s said that there was one interpreter, and he spoke only Comanche. Is that account true? I can’t imagine that it is. However, even if there had been perfect communication between the two sides, it would still be ridiculous to think that the Indians agreed to all the nuance and complexities of the treaty–which sounds like it was written with what today we would call a “gotcha” agenda. Whoever wrote this thing–whatever government group cobbled it together–had to know that it would be impossible for the Indians not to violate the terms of the agreement. Just read the thing–it’s found at the link. The details are simply irrational. On the other hand, there’s no rational reason to believe that the Indians who were there that October day in 1867 planned to keep to the terms of the treaty, even if signed. It was a sort of Kabuki Theatre between both sides, full of performance and posturing. Here’s an example from Kiowa Chief Satanta’s speech that day [I don’t know how it was documented or translated that day, if indeed no one could translate anything but Comanche, but for what it’s worth this is an excerpt of what he supposedly said]:

All the land south of the Arkansas belongs to the Kiowa and Comanche, and I don’t want to give away any of it. I love the land and the buffalo and I will not part with it. I want the children raised as I was. I have heard that you want to settle us on a reservation near the mountains. I don’t want to settle. I love to roam over the prairies. This building of homes for us is all nonsense.

In 2015, most school children are taught that the U.S. government broke the treaties agreed to by the Native Americans. Period. What Chief Satanta said that day hardly sounds like “agreement.” It would be good to find one–just one–excellent text that explains the complexities of the issues without a political agenda. Is that too much to ask? Many may have heard of the Sand Creek Massacre, a battle that took place near the Sand Creek River where Alonzo Baxter had his land, although it took place in 1864, several years before Alonzo came to the area. The issues surrounding the Sand Creek Massacre (now a National Historic Site, helping to “restore the public memory” and often compared to My Lai in Vietnam), are beyond the scope of this essay; however, regardless of how monolithic or one-sided that episode is now taught in the schools (it seems to be a favorite one for teaching students at every level a one-sided lesson), there were two sides to that story, and a fine book has been written that tells both sides by Gregory F. Michno, titled Battle at Sand Creek: The Military Perspective. From Michno’s Introduction:

‘The American demagogue is a loathsome creature at best, but when he plays the role of using massacres. . . for his personal aggrandizement, it becomes satanic.’ So wrote Joseph P. Allyn in September 1863. Allyn was then heading west on the Santa Fe Trail through Kansas to Colorado on his way to Arizona Territory as a newly appointed associate justice. An astute observer, Allyn was speaking specifically of how politicians used the recent massacre at Lawrence, Kansas, to fan the flames of hatred to further their own ends. . . . The episode [of the 1864 Sand Creek incident] has been passed down through history as an epic battle between good and evil. This study, however, finds that the white hats and black hats were more often toned in shades of gray, and the hat colors of some characters have been completely reversed (Michno, 1).

Given the choice, what I would really like is to be able to sit down with Alonzo Baxter and have him tell me all about those years. I have a book on my shelf that’s full of fascinating photographs–The West: An Illustrated History, by Geoffrey C. Ward, published 1996 (I highly recommend this book, if for nothing more than the photographs, although I think the text is good). I looked up the Medicine Lodge Treaty, and this is what I found in Ward’s book from the chapter about the railroads, “The Grandest Enterprise Under God, 1865-1874”:

One by one the chiefs agreed to sign the treaty. . . . All were eager for a halt to years of sporadic violence and pleased by the gifts the commissioners distributed among them. But few fully understood what was being asked of them, and fewer still could imagine abandoning their old ways. “I remember in particular one Indian who looked disdainfully on the white man’s gifts,” one officer recalled. “There was apparently nothing among the paraphernalia of the white man that Kick-a-Bird wanted. Nothing until his eye chanced upon a high silk hat that seemingly delighted him. Setting his symbol of a conquering civilization firmly on his oiled hair he strutted for hours up and down for the amusement of his grinning companions. But presently he grew tired of his selection, and the last we saw of the glossy, high silk hat, Kick-a-Bird and his companions were contemptuously using it for a football” (selection quoted in Ward, 235, 236).

In Billy Dixon’s memoir, he says that the chiefs agreed on the terms of the 1867 treaty, the main point of which was this:

the Indians should keep south of the Arkansas River. I had reason to remember this particular provision in subsequent years, as did many another buffalo hunter. To venture south of the Arkansas for buffalo was to risk falling into the very jaws of the lion, as the Indians fought jealously for the preservation of the right which they declared had been given to them at Medicine Lodge (Dixon, no page no.).

If by the winter of 1878-79, Alonzo Baxter wanted to hunt buffalo, he would have had to travel a considerable distance from his home–to this same area south of the Arkansas River. The Red River War, a military campaign by the U.S. Army to remove the Native American tribes from the Texas Panhandle and other parts of the southern Plains, began in 1874 and lasted until mid-1875 when the last group of Plains Indians surrendered. The war marked the end of free roaming Indian populations on the southern Plains and opened the area to settlement by farmers and ranchers. Therefore, Baxter and his friend Rube Irwin were probably beset only by the weather, and not by Indians.

“Only the weather”–it’s amazing to think that the two men were able to survive that winter. In his memoir, Billy Dixon has many tales of experience with the “killing cold” of the Plains winters. He writes about one winter, in 1871, where he was caught up in one of the worst blizzards he had ever seen:

The storm struck them just as they went into camp for the night, after the stock had been turned loose to graze. When the storm broke, every man turned out to help hold the stock, and many of them were soon lost in the blinding swirl. One man, the cook, managed to find his way back to camp; he was found dead in his wagon, frozen stiff. where he had tried to make a fire in the bottom of the wagon could be plainly seen. He had burned the endgate in his vain efforts. The wind blew with such terrific force that the fire was blown away in all directions. Though surrounded with enormous quantities of wood, all within easy reach, the poor fellow perished for want of fire (Dixon, no page no.).

The Old Forts

It’s logical to assume that Baxter and Irwin would have been taking shelter in some of the old forts in the area as they made their way back home. From a website titled Genealogy Along the Rockies: Bent’s Forts & Trading Posts comes this information [actually, from the book 1873-1973 Granada Centennial: The First One Hundred Years] :

Colonel William Bent had a trading post on the site of Granada in 1844. [Other references state] that there was a log stockade at Big Timbers. Since Granada, Prowers County, is located in the Big Timbers area (at one time Big Timbers encompassed land of about 40 miles east to west along the Arkansas River), it is possible the reference was made to the trading post at Granada. . . . The trading post on the Canadian River was known as Adobe Walls (Binder, from the Introduction, no page no.).

George made reference to at least two forts or trading posts in his article: one on the Canadian River known as Adobe Walls, and the other a log stockade at Big Timbers. Adobe Walls was located on the Texas Panhandle.

Both of these were apparently established by one or the other of the Bent brothers, Charles and/or William, who also established the forts which bear their name: Bent’s Old Fort, an active trading post from 1833 to 1849, north of the Arkansas River, eight miles east of present-day La Junta on Colorado 194; and Bent’s New Fort, one mile west of the present-day Prowers-Bent county line on U.S. Highway 50, operated by William Bent from 1853 to 1860, when he leased the site to the U.S. Army.

George Baxter writes about William Bent and the building of the first fort, Bent’s Old Fort:

This fort was built on the north side of the river and was constructed of adobe bricks. It was 180 feet long and 135 feet wide; the walls were 15 feet high and four feet thick, with the principal gate facing the east. In the back of the fort was a corral, the walls of which were also built of adobe bricks with cactus planted over them to prevent anyone from climbing over. Over the main gate was a square watch tower and belfry.

William Bent himself exercised a very great influence over the Indians of this region, not only because he was married to a Cheyenne Indian woman, but also because he was fair and honest in his dealings with them. In the twenty years the fort was occupied, until 1849, no serious trouble with the Indians was ever experienced.

This old fort constituted a place of rendezvous for all of the traders, trappers, and hunters who came and went within the Plains and the Rocky Mountain regions. Had a Visitors’ Register been kept, it would have included the names of every well-known frontiersman of the early west. Among those associated with the fort or the Bents themselves were Kit Carson, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Bill Williams, Lucian Maxwell, “Uncle Dick” Wooten, and others. Every traveler in the west who left a record of his journeys mentions Bent’s Fort.

No one knows for sure why William Bent abandoned Bent’s Old Fort in 1849. A cholera epidemic was sweeping the plains that year, spreading from the emigrant wagons and decimating the Plains Indian tribes. This may have been just the final blow of many, that caused William Bent to burn the old fort and move 40 miles down the Arkansas River to the site of Bent’s New Fort. Cholera was a terrifying disease, spread by contaminated water, but in 1849 the thinking was that it was caused by “bad air.”

From Billy Dixon:

While in this camp, cholera began raging at Fort Harker, which struck terror to many who stood in no fear of other dangers to life. Many of our men deserted, and two died of the dread disease. I witnessed the death of one of our men, Finkum, and shall never forget his agony. Men who were apparently in the full vigor of health at sunrise lay dead by night. The authorities kept the number of dead secret as much as possible. The burials were usually at night (Dixon, no page no.).

William Bent died on his ranch near Las Animas in 1869 and is buried at the Las Animas Cemetery, Las Animas, Bent County, Colorado.

Bent’s Old Fort is now a National Historic site, “faithfully” reconstructed and open to the public; only foundation ruins outline the post of Bent’s New Fort. The original site of Bent’s Old Fort was under the stewardship of the La Junta (Colorado) Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution until they turned the care of the remains over to the National Parks Service in 1976. Without the work in the first half of the 20th century of the La Junta DAR, there would have been nothing for the Parks Service to conserve. Strangely, the “Colorado Legends” website leaves out the role played by the DAR: “Early in the 1950’s the Colorado State Historical Society acquired Bent’s Old Fort and soon arranged for archeological investigation to determine the fort’s general outlines. The site was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960.” The La Junta DAR website says that the chapter owned the site from 1926 to 1954, when the land was deeded to the State of Colorado for the use and benefit of the State Historical Society for the sum of $1.00. During the Depression, four and a half acres of land that contained the remains of the Fort were deeded to the La Junta DAR chapter by the owner of the site. In 1924, the chapter immediately began to preserve the site by fencing it in, covering the remaining adobe walls with burlap, restoring grave sites, building a road to it from County Road 174, bringing in electricity, and clearing debris from the site. They also began paying taxes on the land–all during the Depression. This small chapter of the DAR had little money, yet they did it anyway.

Another local chapter of the DAR is located about 60 miles from the La Junta chapter in Larmar, Colorado, named the Fort William Bent Chapter, commemorating Bent’s New Fort.

The Rest of the Story

A History of Bent County, published in 1881, tells of Alonzo Baxter and his family living on their ranch a few miles east of Granada.

He has 160 acres of land, mostly in grass, which he cuts and bales for market. He has been a School Director of District No. 8, and Secretary of the Board for three years before the district was divided in 1879. He is much pleased with Bent County, and expects to make it his permanent residence.

So it’s a bit surprising that by 1900, at the age of 55, Alonzo and his family are found in the town of Trinidad, Colorado where Alonzo was working as a laborer. How that came to be illustrates the trials and tribulations that were common to the life of the pioneer. Alonzo spent much of his time in later years organizing local units of the Grand Army of the Republic, or G.A.R., a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union side of the Civil War. He lived for many years in La Junta, Colorado with one of his daughters, and lived his out his last years with another daughter in Cañon City, Colorado where he died in 1930 at the age of 85. Alonzo and Elizabeth are buried together at Fairview Cemetery, La Junta, Colorado.

I plan to revisit Alonzo Hayden Hayes Baxter in future posts, and when I get around to telling the stories of collateral descendants, Alonzo’s son George Baxter will be one whose story I particularly look forward to telling. 

Sources

Binder, Sue. “Granada, the First One Hundred.” Granada Centennial, 1873-1973. Published by Robinson Printing, Lamar, Colorado. A pamphlet, published for the Granada Centennial celebration. No page numbering. This pamphlet is in the author’s possession.

Dixon, Olivia. Life and Adventures of “Billy” Dixon of Adobe Walls, Texas Panhandle, by Olivia Dixon, published 1914. Kindle edition, no page numbering.

Gibbon, John, Major General. Adventures on the Western Frontier. Ed. by Alan and Maureen Gaff. Indiana UP, Bloomington, 1994.

Michno, Gregory F. Battle at Sand Creek: The Military Perspective. Upton and Sons, El Segundo, California, 2004.

Wooster, Robert. The Military and the United States Indian Policy 1865-1903, Yale UP, 1988.

© 2015 Becky Roorda Mihelich

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4 Responses to 52 Ancestors: #10 of 52 – Alonzo Hayden Hayes Baxter, 1845-1930

  1. Pingback: 52 Ancestors: #3 of 52 – Colorado Pioneer, Elizabeth O Robinson Baxter (1850-1924) | The Shoebox Under the Bed

  2. Amazing write-up! What a dream to receive the box. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  3. labwriter says:

    Thank you both so much for leaving a comment. Elizabeth, I consider that box of George Baxter’s papers one of the miracles of genealogy–and miracles do happen!

    Like

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