In November 1876, two men met in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, and discussed their desires to cross the Indian Territory into Texas. Richard Wannamaker was preparing to drive a herd of 30 ponies into Texas, where he was possibly preparing to open a dental office. Frank Kilborn had a wagon, but was unable to secure any horses to pull his equipment into the country where he and his wife and three children were proposing to make their home. These two men decided to unite their efforts temporarily in order to attain their desired places of residence. Wannamaker then set about to secure the services of two men to assist in driving the animals and caring for the stock. After some time he located two men, Dick Simpson and Monroe Kiplnizer, who agreed to assist him in his trek across the territory.
On November 11, 1876, this group of strangers set out to be intimately associated for several weeks while en route to Texas. Concerning one another’s past, each knew nothing. Wannamaker was a man of about 50, had considerable property, and was in possession of quite a bit of knowledge of the West and had with him some money. The Kilborns were simple young people with a desire to get ahead in the new land. The two drivers were both products of the frontier. Simpson was about 26 and had been doing work with various outfits connected with stock for some time. Kiplnizer was only 18 years of age and unable to read or write, but was faithful to whom so ever employed him.
The party traveled somewhat slowly so that the horses had time to graze en route, and on November 24 they reached Turkey Creek, Indian Territory, in the Cheyenne and Arapaho Reservation, about 50 miles from the present location of El Reno, Oklahoma. This creek was at this time known for the great number of the wild fowl along its banks and three members of the group set out to secure fresh meat. Kiplnizer took with him a Winchester rifle, while Simpson and Wannamaker both took double-barreled shotguns. Soon after leaving camp, Kiplnizer left the others to hunt on the opposite side of the creek. Hearing the shots of the others, he thought that they were being more successful than he and crossed over again. This time he met Simpson, who informed him that he had just killed the “old man.” Kiplnizer rather thought that he was joking as this was the type of humor affected by the older herder and the two went into camp. Immediately, Simpson acted surprised and asked where the old man was and then advanced the idea that he was probably lost and would return after a while.
When the evening meal was over and the older member of the party had not yet returned, they discussed the advisability of going out to search for him, but decided to await daylight. In the night, Simpson arose and requested Kiplnizer to go out with him to search for Wannamaker, but the young herder feared foul play. Kilborn, knowing nothing of the afternoon and the confession of Simpson, agreed to go out with him. The two started on horseback, but Kilborn soon returned to camp and informed the others that he feared that Simpson meant harm to the entire party and that they should leave at once for the nearest fort in the territory. They broke camp at once, left the herd, and went as swiftly as possible to Darlington, where they came into the charge of the Indian Agent, John D. Miles.
The arrival and report of the Kilborns and Kiplnizer destroyed the comparative peace of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Agency, and Miles set out to conduct the various actions required of him under the Intercourse Laws of 1834. The first necessary action was to detain the party; second to locate the body of the man if he were really murdered. Therefore, he requested the parties to remain in the agency, and sent out Ben Clark, a government employee as his representative with a troop from the fort.
In the meantime, a Mr. Harris learned of the murder through some Indians and advised D. W. Jones, a rancher about 10 miles north of Turkey Creek, of the rather indefinite information and expressed his opinion that the body was probably somewhere along the creek. The two men set out immediately on horseback to investigate the matter and shortly discovered the tracks of a wagon which they followed until they came upon a herd of ponies grazing on the prairie. Harris expressed the opinion that these horses and ponies resembled very closely the animals of an old man by the name of Wannamaker who was setting out to cross the territory into Texas. After conferring for some minutes, the men saw some Indians in the distance and decided to take the unprotected animals to the ranch. Upon reading the signs about the campsite, these men decided that something was decidedly amiss and that the party had abandoned the stock.
About four miles from Turkey Creek, two Indians were seen riding swiftly after them. Concerning their meeting, Jones reported:
…After we had traveled about four miles, we saw two Indians coming behind us at full speed, and I rode back to meet them. When they came near I saw they were Sac and Fox Indians. To the inquiry as to what they wanted, they replied in broken English, “See white man dead—squaw find him,” etc. Leaving Harris to take the stock to the ranch, I turned back with the two Indians who said they would guide me to the dead white man. Just as we descended into the bottom, after a ride of four miles, the sun was setting. A cold wind from the north west blew in our faces and the tall waving grass made specters of the long shadows that fell across our path as we sped along the stream, we passed down a steep bank into the timber and I found myself in the midst of an Indian camp, where everything was confusion. At a word from my guides, they all uttered something which was unintelligible to me, but quiet was restored. My guide dismounting, signaled to me to do the same, saying, “Come.” Then on foot I followed the Indian who went stooping and dodging through the brush some 400 yards, when he halted and pointed ahead, said, “See,” and in the growing darkness, I beheld the body of the dead man. Upon approaching the body, I found it to be of a man about fifty years of age. He was lying on his back, his right arm across his breast, his left arm thrown out; he had been shot with a shotgun, the charge entering the left side of the face and many of them coming out on the right side of the ear. The left pocket in his pants was wrong side out showing that he had been searched.
Jones did not touch the body but rode swiftly back to his ranch where he found Ben Clark and the troops awaiting his return. The party went out early the following morning, November 30, to investigate the death of the old man. From their examination of the body, they were unable to learn anything as all of the papers and other marks of identity had been removed. While Harris was almost certain that the stock belonged to a man named Wannamaker, he could not identify the body. As some animal had devoured a portion of the face, it was essential that interment be performed at once, so the body of the murdered man was placed in an unmarked grave near the place he had been killed. The investigators then returned to the Indian Agency and the Fort, taking the stock with them.
The Commanding Officer of the Fort, J. K. Mizner, had sent out a detail to locate Simpson, who had not returned either to the camp or to the agency. Kiplnizer went with the officers in order to identify the man who was reputed to be responsible for the death of his employer.
The Kilborns were greatly upset over the entire affair. While they had known the man but a short time and knew nothing of his past life, they had liked Wannamaker and regretted his death. Then too, they were in the Indian Territory, several hundred miles from their destination and without horses to draw their wagon into Texas. They could not remain and yet they could not go on. Miles decided that the best possible thing to do was to allow the Kilborns, whom he considered innocent of any crime in the death of the man, to take the four horses necessary to pull the wagon and to require their return on January 2, 1877. The horses were returned prior to the date set.
Miles was required to settle the estate of any person who met his death on the Cheyenne and Arapaho Reservation and this murder of Wannamaker made it necessary that he take over the property of the dead man and dispose of it according to law. In this case he had nothing to inform him as to the proper heirs of the property belonging to the man. When Simpson was apprehended in Jacksborro, Texas, the billfold of Wannamaker was found in his possession and returned to Miles to aid him in settling the estate. This billfold contained a great number of objects bearing on his past life but no addresses of relatives with the exception of a letter in German script from Langenthal, Switzerland, but no one about the agency or the fort could read it and since the other material was of such little import or for some other reason it was not dispatched to the government for this purpose.
The property belonging to the Wannamaker estate, which came into the hands of Miles, consisted of 30 head of horses, only two of which were branded, a shotgun; ammunition, six pairs of “tooth forceps” and other dental tools, and various other sundry articles. Since there was no claimant to the estate the property was sold and the proceeds were transmitted to the Secretary of the Interior.
The letter, which should have been read in 1876, can only be partly read in 1934 due to its poor condition and to its contact with some kind of oil that was within the billfold.
The translation, made by the Modern Language Department of the University of Oklahoma, follows.
Langenthal, den 6, Juni 1875
Heartily loved Brother:
I have just received your draft for 10 francs, and I am answering it. We were all very much worried about you and your family, since we had had no answer from you for so long. Since we read at various times in the paper about violent negro rebellions . . . . . we thought you might have suffered from them, which now, thank God, is not the case. Mother and I thank you a thousand times for your filial love and sympathy, as I have already told you, . . . . . Mother, . . . . .
I have already from the beginning . . . Asked what to do . . . . .
have received . . . . .
away from bay . . . . . .
to understand . . . . .
Cant stand . . . .
I shall certainly not let mother want for anything as always she is looked after as she should be, better now than when Father was living when there was only quarreling and disagreement . . . . I shall certainly do my filial duty as well as I can that if you ask about it . . . . . it would satisfy you . . . . I assure you . . . . . . . . . Two, months ago cousin . . . . . died of a stroke . . . . and now last winter Cousin Rosine . . . . . and her share with all . . . . . sorts of tricks and flattery (meanness) only a gift . . . . as property it was better . . . . .
. . . . . What Long years . . . . .
. . . . . a child . . . . .
In spite of his considerable property which . . . . .
Gyser bequeathed him, it is now . . . . in . . . the worst
sort of person . . . . .
Myself, and wife and children are at present in good health . . . and well, I have five and the . . . . sixth on the way, but they all . . . . . and cheerful and happy . . . . . I will close and hope soon . . . . .
to be able to write soon, and send you and your young wife a thousand greetings,
Especially our Mother.
Your faithful Brother
(signed) Jb. Schmidt
Originally published in Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 12, No. 3, 1943. Reprinted in This Land, Vol. 6, Issue 1, January 1, 2015.