United States Surveying Corps

This article is compiled for the Arkansas City Historical Society by Richard Kay Wortman.

The United States Surveying Corps, in the days when Cowley County was being surveyed, consisted of men of intellect, accuracy and courage as well as being physicallv fit.

While performing their work, they were usually on foot and followed the cardinal points of the compass regardless of mountain, hill or stream. Their living quarters consisted of canvass tents with a carpet of buffalo robes in the winter. The men preferred the bare ground in the warm summer months as the robes furnished a harbor for rattlesnakes. The food was cooked over campfires and the mail was delivered at irregular intervals by men on horseback. Their line of work was hard and they were definitely "roughing it" in every sense of the word. The dangers that confronted them were in the forms of rattle snakes, coyotes and wolves, storms and worst of all, Indians.

"It will be best to go in large parties this fall and keep together when hunting, or some one will come back bald-headed" (scalped). This quote from an early Traveler indicates that Indian scalping parties were a stern reality.


Harry Wallace (of Arkansas City) told of the summer in 1872 when he joined a party of surveyors. They had gone south into the Indian Territory about six miles and camped on Deer Creek, a short distance west of the Arkansas River and north of the big spring. They cut and stacked hay for feed for the work animals and made all necessary preparations for a winter camp.

Illness compelled him to return home. It was during his absence that Frank Martin woke during the night and left the tent while the others were asleep. As he returned to the tent, the foreman awoke and saw a form quietly entering. The foreman fired and Frank Martin fell mortally wounded and died on August 10, 1872.

Surveyors’ headquarters in Washington D.C. had pleaded with the military for many months for troop escort to accompany the surveyors into Indian Territory. The troop escort was not forthcoming, but still these hardy members of the surveying crews worked deeper and deeper into the unsettled Indian Territory.

The Cheyenne Indians were peaceful at that time, with the exception of a few roving bands that deeply resented the white man’s encroachment into their hunting grounds. Among these was a band led by "White Horse Charlie" and another led by "Big Jake". Surveying parties were warned by them not to cross the Cimarron river. It was a common practice for Indians to uproot stakes driven by the surveying crews in an attempt to obliterate the markings.


M. F. Short stated that he and his brother, Daniel Short, came from Illinois to join the surveying corps in the survey of the Indian Territory. They chose to survey two townships at the same time, one north, the other south. For mutual protection, both parties camped on the adjacent line. While at work, they were armed only with revolvers. As they advanced west, the Cheyennes became more bothersome and they warned the surveyors not to cross the Cimarron river. At times, the Indians followed them and pulled the stakes, throwing them down and saying, "stake no good."

M .F. Short went with the group to the north and his brother, Daniel Short, went to the south. The south group did not arrive in camp at their usual time and failed to return during the night of March 19th. A search was made and the tracks and stakes they had set were found in the wet sand of the river bottom. Further on, their trail was lost in a maze of horse tracks. A piece of Daniel Short’s shirt was found trampled in the sand. It was not advisable to go further so they all returned to camp and then started for Arkansas City with their two-wheeled ox carts. In late March of 1873 the party of surveyors, under Captain Turner, arrived in Arkansas City from the Indian territory. They reported that a party of surveyors was missing. They had last been seen near the Cimarron river southwest of the Salt Plains of the Salt Fork river. Circumstances indicated that they had been either captured or killed by the Indians. Thomas Baird, who at the time had a carpentry shop next door to Surveyors Headquarters in Arkansas City, was a farmer and mechanic and delivered mail to the surveyors, joined the posse of thirty men. (The posse included M. F. Short, and Allen Mowry.) They loaded two wagons, drawn by mules, with food and arms and ammunition and started on the search. All except the mule drivers and Baird walked. No ammunition was used except what was needed to kill game for food.

While having breakfast one morning, they were startled by shots being fired. Guns in hand, they rushed up a small embankment from which they, apparently unnoticed, witnessed a herd of buffalo pursued by Indians riding, loading and shooting as they swept by, leaving dead and wounded buffalo in their wake.

Guided by a surviving surveyor, they reached the Cimarron on April 2, 1873. (Mrs. Lois Hinsey researched and found that the four surveyors were killed in Perkins, Oklahoma. This is ten miles south of Stillwater on Highway 177.) The bodies of the missing men were found stripped of all their clothing and possessions and lying within a small space of ground. Three were untouched by wild animals, and were unscalped, but the bodies were decomposing to the point that they were identified and buried where they lay. The fourth body, of Edgar N. Deming, had been scalped and then ravaged by wild animals so only the bones remained. One theory was that the other men drank and smoked and the animals would not touch them. Edgar Deming was the son of A.N.Deming of Arkansas City. (A. M. Deming became the manager of The Lagonda Hotel in Winfield in 1875.) His remains were returned and buried in Riverview cemetery on April 7th. He was 19 years and four months old at the time of his death. He was the Captain of the party and it is suspected that is the reason that he alone was scalped. Forty years after the massacre,a compass carried by Deming and the transit used by the surveyors was found half buried in a sand hill not far form the scene of the slaying.These are now on display at an Oklahoma City museum.

The Archives department of the Kansas State Historical Society has a fine map of the location, (about three miles south of the Comanche county line, in Woods County,Oklahoma) drawn by other surveyors who found the bodies and who also described the event. (footnote l)

There is also a letter from C. M. Scott, special scout for Gov. St-John in 1879, in which he reported finding a marked tree over the graves of these men.

In 1923 Thomas and Will Baird tried to find this tree but it was gone.

Another surveyor, Robert Martin, (no relation to Frank Martin) was killed near Cottonwood Grove,Indian territory about March 10, 1873. A monument in memory of the six massacred surveyors was erected November, 1873, over the grave of Edgar Deming by the United States Surveying Corps. It is inscribed"Erected to the memory of deceased com-rades of the United States Surveying Corps. Beloved in life, lamented in death." This monument is east of the Civil War monument in Riverview cemetery in Arkansas City.

The United States Surveying Corps passed on to lands unsurveyed, but no other organization ever left a more complete, permanently marked and recorded attestation of its work.


The report of the Adjutant General to the Governor of Kansas for 1873-4 reported the following:

"On the 26th of August a party of six persons engaged in surveying the government land,was killed in Clark county,accompanied by the usual Indian barbarities. This party consisted of Capt. 0. F. Short and his son T. D. Short,James Shaw and his son J. Allen Shaw, Harry C. Jones and J. H. Keuchier. (footnote 2) They were all residents of Lawrence in Douglas county. "The following editorial from the Lawrence Journal, describing the butchery, is of sufficient interest to justify its re-publication in full here.


A fearful tragedy on the border
Six residents of Lawrence killed by the Cheyennes.

"Captain Abram Cutler, Frank Blacklidge, Harold Short and Felem. Duncan arrived in this city yesterday,bringing the shocking intelligence that six of their comrades with whom one month ago they and left this city on a survey, had been killed by the Indians. From them we learn the following particulars of the affair:

"The general camp of the surveying party consisted of twenty-two persons- eighteen workmen and four camp hands. The eighteen workmen were divided into three gangs,one under Captain Oliver Francis Short, one under Captain Abram Cutler,and one in command of Captain Thrasher. This camp, called"lone Tree,"was located on Crooked creek, forty miles south and twenty miles west of Dodge City.

"On Monday, the 24th, the three gangs separated to perform their allotted tasks. Cutler’s party was to work southeast, Thrasher’s party north and east,and Short’s party south and east. Thrasher’s and Cutler’s work permitted them to come into the general camp every night, but Short’s squad was not to come into the general camp for a week. "Wednesday noon the Thrasher party were working towards their camp, when they discovered a wagon, but a short distance off, and a fellow named Christ was dispatched to ascertain what it meant, they supposing that the Short boys were several miles further away. He returned with the startling information that it was Short’s party, and they were all killed. They hurried to the spot and found his statement correct. Stretched out on the ground around their wagon lay the bodies of their comrades, cold in death. The names of the dead were Capt. 0. F. Short and his son T. D. Short, James Shaw and his son J. Allen Shaw, Harry C. Jones and J. H. Keuchler. Leaving two of their party with the slain,the balance hurried to the general camp, only five miles distant, and notified the others. Then all proceeded to the dread scene together,to bring in the bodies and counsel as to wwhat next they should do.

"All of the dead had been shot some two or three times. Jones, Keuchler, young Shaw and young Short were lying on their faces with their skulls mashed in, Jones and Captain Short and his son being scalped. The oxen attached to the wagon had been shot; also the camp dog. From the amount of work performed,it was judged the men were killed about five o’clock Monday afternoon. The deed was the work of the Cheyenne Indians, as was settled by two of their arrows found near by. The men had stopped work about four miles south of where the bodies were found, and on the ground at that point,and along the route to their final stopping-place, were evidences of a hard struggle for life,showing that a running fore had been kept up for four miles. From the marks on the wagon-which were literally riddled with bullets-it was judged that as fast as one had fallen he had been taken up and placed in the wagon, until two, perhaps only one, had stood alone, fighting for his life against a horde of savages, and then fallen dead with the others.

"The bodies were carried to the general camp, a large hole was dug, and they were laid one by one in the hastily-made grave. They were deposited in the following order and over their heads were placed rude stones with the initials of their names cut in; First to the north was placed Capt. Short, last, Harry Jones.

"The morning Wednesday, a party discovered a party fifteen miles west. compass, some chain, then his son,Young Keuchler, Mr. Shaw, his son, and after the burial, which took place at sundown on of hunters came to their camp, and said they had of twenty-five CheyenneIndians leaving camp about. They had examined their deserted camp and found a and several scraps of paper amd momoranda. These were no doubt the red devils who had done the deed.

"The survey camp was abandoned Thursday noon, and the party proceeded northward for Dodge City to await orders, men and equipment. "Captain Short was about 40, and his son 15 yeas old. He had been a surveyor for many years and this was to be his last survey. He leaves a wife and four children.

"Mr. Shaw was fifty-one yearsof age and the son was scarcely seventeen years old. He was married and had two grown children. "Young Kenchler was a nephew of Capt. Short, and his parents lived in Springfield, Illinois. He was about eighteen years of age. "Harry Jones was twenty-two,and was a nephew of Capt. Cutler, with whom he had lived for several years. His folks lived in Rochester, New York."

Mrs.Bennett Rinehart, of Arkansas City,wrote the following which was published in the Arkansas City Traveler.

"Cowley County is one of several Kansas south-border counties lying from north to south across former Osage Indian Diminished Reservation land. "The treaty opening the Osage Diminished Reserve to white settlement was passed by Congress July 15,1870, and ratified by the Osages, meeting in council,on Drum Creek on October 29, 1870.

"There were four phases of this law which affected us locally:

3-The homesteader was to live on his claim for six months, making substantial improvements thereon.

4-The land was then to be sold to the settler in lots not to exceed 160 acres in "square form" at $1.25 per acre. "The land office where the homesteader must file his claim, pay the purchase price,and obtain title was at Augusta, Kansas. The application could not be made until after the survey had been made, claim lines verified,and legal descriptions appended.

"The survey began early in 1871. The work was exacting and collection of data was time consuming. Thus the land office was not opened to Cowley settlers until July 10, 1871- about 18 months after Winfield and Arkansas City were first begun.

"D. A. Millington, Cowley County’s earliest historian, in 1882 described the survey as follows: In January of 1871, the survey of this county was made by deputy surveyors Oliver F. Short’ and Col. Angell. This furnished a new excitement for the settlers because the lines of the survey, necessarily,in the nature of things,could not conform with the claim lines, which the settlers had previously staked with the aid of pocket compasses and estimates based upon the position of the north star. "There was a crowd of settlers with teams and lumber following each surveying party and whenever a good bottom claim was shown by the survey to have no shanty or other improvements on it, the first one who got to it with the lumber (for building) took the claim.

"Some persons found their improvements surveyed onto the claims of older settlers and thereby lost their claims. All this resulted in many contests at the land office at Augusta but it was remarkable that very little violence was resorted to."

"David Jones,father of Hosea Jones of Route 1, had staked a claim near Hackney. When the survey began,it was evident a road would divide his claim into two parts, each part of which would be needed by the neighbor on either side to complete his claim. Jones pulled up stakes and crossed the river west of present Arkansas City onto land not yet settled in West Bolton. When the surveying party reached his new claim, Jones was told that he was the first white settler to stake a claim west of the Arkansas River in Bolton Township. Charles Baird then staked an adjoining claim,now occupied by Walter Baird.

"In 1857, before the Civil War, before Kansas had become a state, or about 12 years before the first Cowley Settlers arrived, Lt. Col. Joseph E. Johnston, later a well-known Confederate general in the Civil War, passed along the state line south of here with a small army. He was military escort to a group of surveyors as they"ran the southern boundary of Kansas along the 37th parallel." It was probably discovered at this time that, through an earlier surveying error, the Oklahoma Cherokee outlet overlapped more than two milesinto Kansas creating the narrow KansasCherokee Strip.

"As this was considered hostile territory,Johnston had six companies of soldiers to guard the surveyors. It required 75 wagons of provisions to sustain the group - in addition to fresh kills of game made daily by scouts and out-riders who may possibly have hunted through the western banks of the Arkansas River adjoining our present city. "After the State Line was surveyed and established, it was still like hunting a needle in a straw stack to locate it. The surveyors marked spots where the state line intersected creeks or rivers. A blaze mark was set upon "bearing trees" on the river banks. Some say that occasionally crude limestone tablets marked on the south side with I. T. for Indian Territory and K. T. for Kansas Territory,on the reverse side were set up also. When the settlers arrived in ‘69, new growth had obscured the blaze on the trees;prairies fires had darkened the markers. Few settlers had seen the State Line or know its existence.

"The Norton brothers and other members of Creswell Town Co. are said to have stopped at E.C. Manning’s claim on the site of present Winfield on Christmas of 1869, on one of their trips down here from Emporia. "Manning,at that time,was also a member of the Creswell Town Co. He had come to Cowley the previous June and had gone south to the State Line and the junction of the Walnut and Arkansas Rivers. He convinced himself that his chosen claim, present Winfield, was preferable for a county seat rather than the proposed site chosen by Creswell Town Co. "Norton’s group presented Manning with a letter signed by Plumb, Eskridge, and Stotler, prominent Emporia members of the company, which urged Manning to cooperate with the Nortons in founding a country seat at the junction of the Arkansas and Walnut rivers- present Arkansas City. "Manning in turn, earnestly endeavored to persuade the men to join him in building the county seat on the present Winfield site, contending that the proposed Arkansas-Walnut junction site was too near the state line and hence not centrally located as a county seat should be. Manning was later proved correct,the state line being about three miles from the junction instead of the 16 miles which their faulty maps showed. "Manning’s eloquence prevailed to the extent that the men spent one day staking five claims adjoining Manning’s asa town site in case they found the junction disappointing. Manning then accompanied the men south to the Arkansas-Walnut junction and camped with them overnight. "Next morning, Manning accompanied by Judge Brown undertook to prove his words by again locating the state line,by climbing bluffs and leading their horses through miles of briar and brush,they finally discovered the surveyors marks upon the bearing trees where State Line crossed the Arkansas River not far from the mouth of Grouse Creek. This intersection is on land now owned by Ward Warren of Silverdale, and Manning and Brown had followed the winding river a distance of perhaps seven to nine miles although the distance to the state line "as the crow flies" is only about three miles from the junction.

"Manning and Brown returned, tired and worn, back to the Norton camp at the junction after twilight. The Arkansas City founders, who measured distance in terms of hours of travel since mile lines were non-existent, were still not convinced. They preferred to put their faith in their faulty maps so they repudiated their staked claims near Winfield. Manning returned alone to his claim near present Winfield and the contest for the county seat was on."


"0. F. Short, Esq., who was killed by the Indians a few days ago,was formerly a resident of Atchison, and was well known by our old citizens. He was a member of the first city council of Atchison, and at one time owned considerable property here. He purchased the Squatter Sovereign in 1857,and was its editor and publisher until February, 1858, when the present proprietor of the Champion purchased the establishment from him."

"Mr. Short was an honorable gentleman, respected by all who knew him. He was a surveyor by profession, and has been engaged on the frontiers of this state, in the business of his profession, for many years past. The news of his murder will be received with sincere sorrow, by his numerous friends and acquaintances."

Atchison Champion.

(NOTE: This story is also told in the book "The Rath Trail" by Ida Ellen Rath.Published in 1961 by McCormick-Armstrong Co., Inc. RKW) Arkansas City Republican, October 2, 1886. M. F. Short, book agent, who has been in the city for several days past, informs us that he was on the townsite of Arkansas City some 13 years ago. There were only about a half dozen houses. He was with a corps of U. S. Surveyors. Out west a short distance,the Cheyenne Indians killed two of the gang. The remains were brought here and interred in Riverview Cemetery. Perhaps a number of the old settlers will remember the event.

1 - This paragraph is from "Kansas Historical Collec-tions, Volume 17,page 252-253. The source given is Archives of Kansas State Historical Society, Adjutant General’s Correspondence, Accession No.19; Governor’s Correspondence, Accession No. 894; and Impression Book No. 2, pp. 27,57,59.

I believe this is in reference to another surveyor massacre. Mrs. Lois Hinsey’s correspondence with Mr. H. F. Donnelley of Stillwater, Okla., (and attached documentation) establishes the location at Perkins, Okla. (back)

2 - John Miles, Indian agent reported on Oct. 24, 1874 that Oliver F. Short, D. F. Short, Jno. F. Keuchler, James Shaw, Allen Shaw and H. C. Jones were massacred by a band of Cheyennes headed by Medicine Water, on August 26, 1874, near Lone Tree, forty miles south and west of Fort Dodge.

The Courier of March 13, 1879, reported the following.

"A late act of Congress has appropriated $5,000 for the relief of Mrs.0. F. Short,widow of the U.S. deputy surveyor Short, who surveyed the lands in Cowley and Sumner counties, and was after-wards killed by the Indians while surveying in Harper county. She is now living at Lawrence in this state." (back)