In the summer of 1827, 33 year old Benjamin Majors and 24 other men left their homes in Jackson and Lafayette Counties in Missouri, heading for the Rockies in search of silver that James Cockrell had discovered four years before. Since Cockrell was the reason for this expedition he was elected captain. Each man was equipped with one horse, a good gun with enough powder and ball for the duration of the trip, a little bedding, and enough food for about a week. At that time men had no way of carrying enough food to last more than a week or ten days, they depended upon the fat of the land once their stores ran out.
I do not have great details of this trip, and considering the early period the Santa Fe Trail was not as well defined as it would become in later years with heavy traffic, but it appears that these men followed a path very close to the Santa Fe if not altogether on it. The party reached the Big Bend or Great Bend of the Arkansas River on their southwesterly route and there found plenty of buffalo for meat. Before long they had reached the Raton Mountains not far from present day Trinidad.
When Cockrell had reached the area where he had been four years prior he had a bit of trouble locating the silver. After roaming around in the wilderness for several days the rest of the party were getting anxious, doubting if there really was a silver mine. Finally the men found some rock flecked with metallic looking bits and that was enough to ease their minds and possibly saved Cockrell’s life. Of course none of the party knew anything about silver; how to extract it, or even what it looked like. They had imagined they would be able to cut out chunks of the precious metal with their tomahawks and load their saddle bags then hie for home.
After collecting what they thought good ore, they turned back for Missouri. The journey went tolerably well until they reached a point near present Dodge City, camping on the banks of the Arkansas River. After eating their supper of buffalo meat the party prepared for bed. Two men were placed to guard the horses and changed every three hours through the night. The Indians were known to do mischief and seeing how each man only had one horse it was crucial they kept an eye out. On this night the Indians managed to sneak up on their bellies until they were between the guards and the horses. Then they jumped up firing their guns and shaking their buffalo robes with whoops and hollers, running off the horses, which the owners were never to see again.
Some of the Indians began firing on the men once the horses were run off. The men sprang from their beds on the bank and into the river up to their knees. Mark Foster did not cease running once he hit the river and managed to make it to the other side. He fell several times in his course, the bottom being sandy, and each time the Indians whooped all the greater thinking they had hit him. The Indians eventually gave up their gyrations and went on their way leaving poor Foster on the opposite bank not knowing if the others in his party were murdered or not. There he spent the night cold, wet and alone.
When the sun arose in the morning, Foster peered through the fog trying to determine if the figures he saw moving were his men or Indians. He was convinced it was Indians and so went back to the far side of the river. The others could plainly hear Foster plashing around in the river but they were pretty well disgusted with his performance of the night before and made no effort to communicate with him. When the fog had lifted and revealed to Foster that his men were all still alive and the Indians gone, he came within 60 yards and called out to Benjamin Majors, asking if they would allow him to come back into camp. After a brief consultation they said they would.
Foster walked boldly up to the men and said, “I have something to say to you gentlemen. It is this: I know you think I have acted the d—d coward, and I do not blame you under the circumstances. When you all jumped over the bank I thought you were going to run to the other side, and I did not know any better until I had got so far out I was in greater danger to return than to go ahead. For, as you know, the Indians were sending volleys of bullets and arrows after me, and really thought they had killed me every time I fell. Now, to end this question, there is one of two things you must do. The first is that you take your guns and kill me now, or if you do not comply with this, that every one of you agree upon your sacred honor that you will never allude, in any way, or throw up to me the unfortunate occurrences of last night. Now, gentlemen, mark what I say. If you do not kill me, but allow me to travel with you to our homes, should one of you ever be so thoughtless or forgetful of the promise you must now make as to throw it up to me, I pledge myself before you all that I will take the life of the man who does it.” The men of course considered Foster a very brave man and complied with his wishes.
Now that they were left nearly four hundred miles from home with no horses, the hard part came. Clark Davis was the heaviest man of the bunch, weighing in at 300 pounds. The men all agreed that he could not walk the distance and carry his gun and ammo like all the men had to. So, they were just about compelled to leave Davis on the prairie for the wolves to eat. All the men loved Davis and that, along with the idea of having to tell his family they were obliged to leave him, prevented them from abandoning him.
Davis’ limbs and feet became very sore and raw after a couple days journey and the men were required to detail five or six men with him for protection as he lagged behind. The main body would travel on and Davis and the others would catch up with camp about three or four hours later. This kept on until the men were out of the buffalo belt and quickly consumed what meat they had. Davis’ extra person he carried upon him then proved to be a blessing as he ended up out-walking the rest of the men who were growing increasingly weaker.
Late in that year of 1827 these worn and weary men arrived at the spot where Council Grove now stands. All the men, save Davis, were upon the point of starvation and it was Davis who, in their opinion, saved all their lives. He said, “Boys, I will go kill a deer.” After a while the men heard the report of the gun and as quickly as Davis could reload, another shot was heard. “Come here, boys! There is meat in plenty”, Davis shouted, and it didn’t take long for the famished to join him. They drank up all the blood and ate the livers raw and even scraped the marrow out of the bones, then carried what remained with them. This tided them over for the next 130 miles to their homes and not one man was lost on this perilous trip.
This story comes to us from Alexander Majors, son of Benjamin and celebrated Santa Fe Trail freighter. Alexander was continuously engaged in the freighting business from 1848 to 1866, much of that time being contracted with the Government supplying forts in the west.