Despite conflicts between those from the east and Native Americans, there were moments of cooperation between the early Dodge City citizens and Indians.
During the 1870s, these conflicts between area buffalo hunters and Plains Indian tribes were frequent. In 1872, the Sioux had heard talk of hunters not honoring the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty by hunting buffalo south of the Arkansas River. In December of 1872, the Sioux sent Chief Spotted Tail to warn shopkeeper Charles Rath of what would happen to the buffalo hunters if the Treaty was neglected. Rath, a well-known buffalo hunter who got along with both Indians and hunters, was believed to be capable of getting this Sioux message to the hunters.
Unfortunately, due to prior Indian attacks there was a great deal of animosity on the part of hunters. One hunter in particular, Kirk Jordan, swore he’d kill the first Indian he saw, no matter who he was or what were the circumstances. This was because Jordan’s sister’s family had been wiped out by Indians. Knowing Jordan was in town, Rath tried to warn Spotted Tail, but the Chief came to Dodge City anyway.
The Chief showed up in full traditional Native attire, expecting to take in the wonders of this frontier town. But Charles Rath knew Spotted Tail was in grave danger. Rath rushed out to meet the Chief and pulled him into the safety of the City Drug Store to protect him from the angry mob of Dodge City citizens.
Charles Rath was living behind the City Drug Store in a divided lean-to with his wife, Carrie. The other half of the lean-to had been rented to Dodge City’s first physician, Dr. Thomas L. McCarty, and his new bride, Sallie. Both women were new to the Plains and had little contact with Indians before their arrival.
From the Drug Store Rath pushed Spotted Tail into the McCartys’ part of the lean-to, much to the surprise of Sallie McCarty. Sallie was composed enough to get the Chief to take shelter under the McCarty’s bed. Sallie then called for her neighbor, Carrie Rath, to come over and aid with the predicament.
Charles then listened to the message from Chief Spotted Tail and attempted to find a way to get the Chief out of Dodge City unnoticed. This would be tricky with armed men standing watch over the lean-to. Rath made several pleas for assistance to neighboring Fort Dodge with no avail. Sallie peeked out the front door to see if the coast was clear, but she found armed men laying in wait across the street.
After one failed attempt at sneaking Spotted Tail out, Rath risked his own life in one last daring effort to get the Sioux chief safely out of town. He brought a team of horses pulling a wagon to the lean-to. Rath made Spotted Tail change out of his regalia and into Rath’s best suit. He then ordered him to climb into the wagon and take shelter beneath a buffalo robe. As Rath spurred the horses on, the mob was so surprised it took them a moment to mount and give chase.
Fortunately, the chase did not last long; when the mob heard hoof beats coming from the direction of the Fort they knew they were those of the 6th U.S. Calvary of Fort Dodge coming to rescue Spotted Tail.
Chief Spotted Tail’s message to Charles Rath went unheeded — buffalo hunting continued south the Arkansas River until the buffalo became nearly extinct.
Kathie Bell is the curator of collections and education for Boot Hill Museum.