September 4, 1909


Recall Incidents of Overland Travel
When Indians Roamed Plains.
Man's Arm Amputated With
an Old Saw.

Wagon masters of fifty years ago, to whom the Santa Fe and Great Salt Lake trails were as familiar as their own country roads, gathered yesterday at the "old settlers' " reunion at the Independence fair.

Some of them came from Texas, but the greater number came from Kansas. When they left for the long overland trip it was as wagon masters, but yesterday they came back to a world moved by machinery and electricity. In '49 they left by the slow going wagon train, fording rivers and traveling through a country unblazed by an ax.

The entire forenoon was devoted to reminiscent stories by old men. They held aloof from the track, but their hands tightened on one another as they met.

"There is Wood McMillain," said one. "I would know him as quick as I would know my mother."

The next minute two gray-haired men were deep in the recollection of friends, many of them gone, and as they listened to one another the meeting warmed into life misty memories of the past. Mr. McMillain was one of the old wagon masters of '49. Many an expedition he conducted across the great American desert, now known as Kansas, and yesterday he met many men in the prime of life who knew him. He is now a resident of Denison, Tex.


The introduction of wagons for the overland trade came as early as 1824. Colonel Marmaduke was one of a party of eighty which formed a company for the Western trade, 800 miles distant.

When they returned they had silver ore in rawhide sacks and piled the sacks in an adjacent lot close to what is now known as the public square of the county seat.

Jackson Tarquo was on the grounds yesterday.

"I have been over the route several times," he said. "I have never had trouble with the Indians but once or twice. Indians would never sacrifice their men except for revenge or in warfare. Many redskins were killed without cause and in consequence there was bad feeling between them and the wagon men.

"Of course, once in a while a man or a boy would be shot on route and we would bury him after the fashion of the plains. On one occasion the Indians ran off about 400 ponies we were bringing through. They asked for one horse, then for two, and finally, with a whoop, they took all of the ponies. Oxen were used in the early days, but in '49 most of the hauling was done by mules.

"I'll bet I can yet load a wagon and store away more goods than any moving van in Kansas City, and that when the wagon arrives at the end of the long journey not a box or object will be moved one inch out of place. We loaded wagons in those days, and wagon masters understood the art. We would carry through thousands of dollars' worth of goods.


"Every wolf yell meant Indians to novices in the old days. I went on one trip I can't forget. There was a man who accidentally shot himself in the arm. It was hot and mortification set in. The man would not give up, so we found a saw, whetted a knife, heated wagon bolts red hot and performed a crude job of amputation. After the arm was opened to the bone, we found the saw's teeth were too big, so we filed smaller teeth and sawed through the bone. That man lived for thirty years afterward."

W. Z. Hickman was another old wagonmaster. He is now employed in the county surveyor's office. Yesterday he again became a wagon master for the time being and participated in the talk about the trackless and treeless plains.

Yesterday was the banner day for attendance. The country people turned out. Never was there such a gathering of wagons in the fair grounds. Stations east of Independence sold all of the excursion tickets and before noon the grounds were filled.

Hundreds of awards were made yesterday and special premiums given. F. M. Corn was awarded the third prize for the best yellow corn. J. E. Jones secured first prize and P. H. Curran second. The products of the soil had their inning, and blue ribbons floated from pumpkin to apple piles.