By J. R. Mead, Wichita, Kansas.
My acquaintance with Butler county dates only from the spring of 1863 - a short time when I consider that people
of some intelligence resided along your rivers hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years ago, as I have evidence, but
who unfortunately left no history - no one told their history.
I found a few white people when I came - perhaps 150, but of those Early settlers how few remain ! The first I
met were typical of the frontier. They were encamped in the timber at Sycamore Springs; Dave Ballou, a Cherokee,
with his three wives and followers, also Dick Pratt and some companions, rigged out in all the splendors of an
Indian made buckskin suit, broad brimmed hat decorated with gay ribbons, a pair of revolvers in fringed and elaborate
scabbards, and the usual complement of spurs, quirt, etc. Dick was a merry free lance, handsome, picturesque, gay,
cheeks as rosy as a girl's, his glossy black hair hanging in ringlets on his shoulders, in appearance a modern
Dick Turpin and Lothario combined. Further down the Walnut we met another type and kind in the persons of Judge
J. C. Lambdin and George I. Donaldson and their refined and hospitable families, who had brought to the wilderness
the culture and refinement of the East. Near by two or three buildings were called Chelsea, which was the county
seat. Here I met Mart Vaught, Dr. Lewellen, Henry Martin, the Bemis family, the politics talker - Judge Wm. Harrison
- T. W. Satchell, Mr. Jones, "Whiskey" Stewart and D. L. McCabe, whose hospitality was only limited by
their means, which was true of all the people I met in the county. The African was much in evidence also - the
Gaskins family just above El Dorado.
Still following the trail south, I made camp at old El Dorado. The present city was then an unclaimed prairie.
Here on the Walnut river was the crossing of the great "California Trail;" also the Osage trail, to their
hunting grounds on the Arkansas. And here Stine & Dunlap, famous Indian traders, kept a small store. Some rented
buildings showed attempt at town building, but were deserted on account of the war of the rebellion to the South,
and savage tribes to the West! One or two families lived at the crossing near by. Jerry Connor had a house and
claim; also Harvey Young, and some others I have forgotten. Lieutenant Matthew Cowley and Mr. Johnson were living
on the West Branch.
As my object was to hunt big game and engage in the fur trade for sport and profit, I followed the Osage trail
west to the Whitewater, the last settlement this side of New Mexico. Finding a lovely spot by a big spring with
abundant timber near, I pitched my camp to stay. I bought out J. C. Chandler's buildings and improvements, put
up other buildings, brought my wife and baby boy, put in a stock of goods for my neighbors, my hunters, and the
Indians, who soon came about in hundreds. There were a few settlers on Whitewater at that time. William Vann, Martin
Huller, Dan Cupp, who helped build my house; Anthony Davis, "Old Man Gillian;"' and at Plum Grove, like
an oasis in the desert, lived Joseph Adams and his excellent family. Soon came Samuel C. Fulton, Mrs. Lawton and
her son, Jack, and others. As soon as I was settled I made a hunt on the Arkansas to show the rather discouraged
settlers what could be done in that line. I took two inexperienced men with two teams and in three weeks was back
with 330 buffalo hides, 3500 pounds of buffalo tallow, and some elk, antelope, etc., and fooled away several days
with an alleged hunter named Buckner, who went in the company to get a load of meat and show me how to kill buffalo.
I loaded him up and sent him home. Soon I had half the men in the county hunting or trading. These I outfitted
and supplied their families while they were gone. None of them failed to make returns; people were honest in those
days, including our Red Brother. Of the Indians, one winter I obtained 3,000 Buffalo robes.
The Government sent Agent Major Milo Gookins to look after the various Indian bands, and he established his agency
at my place. We had a school in a long building on the hill where Towanda is built, and Father Stansbury preached
once a month at my house, simon pure gospel without price or creed.
Life had its tragedies then, as now. Of those employed by me, George Adams died from exposure in the icy waters
of the Arkansas Jack Lawton was shot by an outlaw at the mouth of the Arkansas. Sam Carter died of cholera at my
At my home and trading post, widely known as "Mead's Ranch," were born to me two daughters and a son,
and there, passed to her long rest, my beloved wife, whose life was full of love and kindness.
The seven years I lived in Butler county, from 1863 to 1869, were full of activity and success with much of joy
and sorrow. Butler county in those years was as nature made it, beautiful to the eye, green prairies, gushing springs,
stately timber, clear flowing streams; birds and fish abounded and nearby were elk, deer, antelope and buffalo
innumerable, free to all for the taking.