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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Lots of laughter in Old West

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
No matter how serious the history of the Old West gets, there is always a little humor included if you keep reading.

Recently, while reading about the Rath Trail, starting at Rath City at the Double Mountains of Texas, meandering by Matador, Clarendon, Mobeetie and ending in Dodge City, Kan., several enjoyable incidents were included.

It seems that Charles Rath, well-known Indian trader, store owner and contractor, blazed the Rath Trail by leading about 50 heavily loaded wagons from Dodge City to Rath City. One wagon held 12 men with shovels and picks while Charles Rath led the way with a compass in hand. When a terrain problem occurred, the men unloaded and went to work making the trail passable. The trail was straight as a string if at all possible.

In time, other wagon trains followed as well as Texas trail herds imprinting the route further. The tracks can still be seen today along the old original route.
The book, The Rath Trail by Ida Ellen Rath, tells many tales related by pioneers interviewed during the late 1950s and early 1960s. One story tells of a letter of recommendation that backfired.

It seems Satank, an Indian chieftain of the time, asked a white trader to write a letter in his behalf that he could hand to wagon trains and trail herds, stating he was a good Indian and deserved being given cattle, horses, supplies or money to let them pass through his tribal territory.
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The letter was hand-written; he could not read it, and he handed it to various trespassers without any favorable results. Becoming suspicious, he had another person read the letter. It said:

"This is Satank, the biggest liar, beggar and thief on the plains. What he can't beg off you he will steal. Kick him out of your camp because he is lazy and good for nothing."

Needless to say, Satank found the original letter writer and settled the score by riddling his body with bullets and arrows.

The second interesting story tells of a man named Chalky Beeson of Dodge City who formed a famous Cowboy Band. It was directed by Roy Drake and was first called a Stockman's Band as their expenses were paid by the big cattlemen of the area. Musicians came from Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago playing for celebrations, dances and marching in parades.

Their uniforms were boots and spurs, blue flannel shirts, silk scarfs and leather belts, including a brace of pistols. They wore huge white Stetsons with hat bands of silk embossed with the brands of the sponsoring cattlemen. No doubt they were the favorites of all who attended.

The director used a loaded six-shooter as a baton to direct the band and fired a shot in the air each time to start the music. He enjoyed explaining the loaded baton was also for any musician who played a sour note. This must have been true as the music appeared to be without fault.

Charles Rath died July 30, 1902, at the age of 66, leaving behind a legacy of early trade and marketing history second to none. The Rath Trail also took its prominent place in the history of the Old West.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" May 8, 2008 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.
 
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