COWBOYS EMPLOYED BY THE COMANCHE POOL: This rare picture shows a few of the many cowboys employed by the Comanche Pool to ride the hundreds of miles of barbed wire fence which enclosed some 40,000 acres of government grass in Barber and Comanche Counties. Left to right: Unidentified, Barney Armstrong (thought to be), Mike Cavanaugh, Frank King (the Pool's last range boss), Bud Snow, Joe Bowers (later a Coldwater saloon keeper - the only man killed). The wooden building shown in the rear at the right was Barber County's first jail.
HISTORY OF THE COMANCHE POOLby Mary Einsel
Each western state has its early history a famous cattle spread that overshadowed all others. Kansas had the Comanche Pool, which was located near Medicine Lodge, the largest cattle ranch in the state's history.
The ranch was started by four men: Jess Evans, Wylie Payne, Richard Phillips, and Major Andrew Drumm, after an Army order, issued from the Indian Territory, stated that no more Texas cattle drives were to cross the Oklahoma Strip.
The best source for facts about the Comanche Pool is an old newspaper published in Medicine Lodge, the town closest to ranch headquarters and the only town of any size in south-central Kansas at the time of the pools organization.
Evans, Payne, Phillips, and Drumm talked to the handful of ranchers who were already in south-central Kansas, then they moved in large herds of their own, starting the ranch with some 26,000 head. The idea was for "members" (the four mentioned above were by far the largest holders) to range their cattle as one great common herd. A Board of Directors was formed, with Wylie Payne as treasurer. All expenses incurred and profits received were in direct proportion to the number of cattle a particular rancher owned compared to the total number of the whole herd.
The ranch house and main headquarters, called Evansville were built among the rolling hills 28 miles southwest of Medicine Lodge. Warehouses were maintained in different parts of the ranch territory, to hold supplies sent out from Kansas City by Major Drumm to outfit the three principal horse camps.
Mrs. Frank King, coldwater, whose husband worked for the pool and had been in Evansville many times, remembered how Major Drumm usually arrived at Evansville in a fine black surrey driven by his personal valet. She also recalled that a barrel of currants was included in the freight one day. "A little cub bear came out of the trees and got into the currants. He came back tot he barrel so many times that he got real friendly and had the run of the place."
To cover the territory, the pool kept a sizable herd of horses. According to the paper, "of their 400 saddle horses, they came through the winter (1882) with a loss of only eight head. Most of the horses were wintered on the Cimmaron in Oklahoma. It was described this way: "They fenced in a strip one- half mile wide up and down the river all winter, and when spring came those horses were generally fat. Other wild animals wintered in the trees too. There were antelope, deer, bears and lots of wild turkeys."
At roundup time, as one early-day resident recalled, it looked like an army camped out on the prairie. The pool always put notices in the paper so other outfits could come along too. The territory was divided into sections with each having a boss. A man took seven good horses. One for every day in the week.
A calf was branded according to its mother, and tally sheets were kept by the range boss. During branding, the range boss hired extra hands at $40 a month.
After the cattle were gathered (according to Jeff Long, Medicine Lodge) "there'd be so many they'd have to string 'em out before they could work 'em. The different outfits brought their own chuckwagons - they'd feed about 12 men each. Some outfits had several wagons. Night was the worst time. You didn't want any cattle running."
Mr. Sampson, the bookkeeper from St. Louis, drew up balance sheets and presented them to members every six months. He found it cost 9 cents a month to keep each head of stock. Other expenses noted were for 5,000 bushels of corn and two carloads of horses arriving on the train from Harper, Kansas.
Stories about the pool cowboys were related by people who had had some relatives work for the pool or who had lived in the vicinity of their range. Ben Harbaugh, a rancher living in the area who did not belong to the pool, said "They always treated me right. They told me to let my few cows drift; that they would look after them and see that I got them back after roundup. They did, too."
After pay day, pool cowboys preferred to do their celebrating in Kiowa, because it was considered a more wide-open town. "But if they didn't drink too much," Mrs. Frank Gordon reminisced, "they were not a bad lot. They just liked to cut up and dance a lot. There was the time they bought all the paper flowers the store had and gave one to every lady that passed by on the street."
One of the pool cowboys was described by Frank Lockert, Coats, as "the best horse-breaker I ever knew. His name was Bill Hill, a Negro, who came up with some long-horned Mexican cattle from the San Antonio country. He could do anything with a horse. He always wore high-topped boots, a ring on each little finger and a horsehair watch guard on a fancy vest. One day he got drunk in Medicine Lodge and someone doped his liquor and he went crazy. They had to take him away to an institution. But I heard later that he got over it and went back to breaking horses."
Once, when a five-year-old girl wandered away from her home on the prairie, word was sent to the pool and the men fanned out across the plains. Jeff Mills, one of their hands, found her at daybreak.
Two years after the pool began operating the newspaper in Medicine Lodge began to show evidence of the size of the pool's holdings. In April 1882, "it is estimated that 20,000 beeves will be shipped from the Comanche Pool this year." And, "Evans and Hunter during the past week gathered from the Comanche Pool beef pastures two herd of beeves, of 2,000 each, and started them north to fill beef contracts in Wyoming and Dakota. They will be issued to the Indians at the Pine Ridge, Standing Rock and Cheyenne agencies. The contract price is $4.10 per hundred. It will require 60 days at 10 miles per day to complete the trip."
Then, in the summer of 1883: "The pool has about 10,000 beeves in their pasture and they are reported to be doing first class. These beeves will be shipped from Dodge City as will all the beeves in the section. Shipments will probably commence around the first of August.
One of the biggest undertakings of the pool was the fencing of their range. Fence did not mean one continuous unbroken line. The southern and western ranges were marked by the natural barrier of the sandy bars along the Cimarron, and to the north and west drift fences were built along the high ridges. Their fence building project had a slight interruption, according to the paper: "P.J. Larkins, boss of the Comanche Pool and J.C. Boston, who is holding cattle in the same county, had a big discussion - with fists.
"Larkins and his men were cutting cedar posts when Boston ordered them to quit. They continued to chop and Larkins and Boston came to blows. The former is a small man and the latter a big six-footer, and those who witnessed the affair said it appeared very much like a scrappy bantam and a big rooster fighting. After several rounds, Boston got the drop on Larkins and he went down. They boys admire their boss' stand but not his discretion."
Part of the pool's barbed wire is still in use today (1970). It can be found on ranches located in the vicinity and is easily identified by its course thickness and many-sided prongs.
Within four years after the pool's beginning, the steady influx of homesteaders began to tell. Pool cowboys were ordered to "prove up" along many of the good streams, but the changing times were making free open range in Kansas a thing of the past. News items such as this appeared in the paper: "The Comanche Pool still objects to giving in their property for taxation. The commissioners, on the other hand, have ordered that the levy be made. The matter, of course, can only be settled in court."
One night in 1884, irate farmers who came to the home of Ben Harbaugh, the same man who had had the pool look after his small bunch of cattle. The farmers said they were fed up with the cattlemen and were going to burn off the prairie. "I told them I wanted no part of it." Mr. Harbaugh recalled, "to leave me alone, that I had a Winchester that could reach all over my section and that I'd have nothing to do with them. They only suceeded in burning off about 100 acres. But before that, I took the oxen and plowed five or six furrows completely around my place."
Taxes, homesteaders, enactment of the herd law (cattle had to be fenced), the harsh winter of 1885 and the even harder one of 1886 brought the end of the Comanche Pool. Frank King, the last foreman for the Pool, took the remaining cattle to leased Indian lands in the Cherokee Strip.
-- From Kansas: The Priceless Prairie . Copyright Mary Einsel 1976. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
The Diamond Jubilee Historical Souvenir Program, Coldwater, Kansas, Aug. 30 - Sept. 2, 1959.In 1880 the largest cattle ranch ever to be established in Kansas was organized and named the Comanche Pool. Previously, millions of head of cattle were driven from Texas to markets in Kansas until the Indian Authorities at a new post in Oklahoma, known as Sheridan's Roost, forbid the cattle to pass through on the old trails. Within two months after the closing of these trails Jess Evans, R.W. Phillips, Wylie Payne, Major Andrew Drumm organized the Comanche Pool.
History of the Comanche Pool
The idea was to gather all the local cattle into one great herd and divide the expenses and profits in direct ratio of each owner to the whole herd. When the expenses were totaled it averaged out $1.00 per year or 9 cents a month to keep each head of stock. They started business with 26,000 head and about 11,000 annually. The peak was reached some 5 years later when 84,000 were in the Pool.
This great amazing area covered about 4,000 square miles and needed a regular army of cowhands to patrol it. The borders were roughly from Waynoka, Oklahoma, on the south, the west and north sides of Comanche County and east within a few miles of Medicine Lodge. Headquarters for this great spread was at Evansville in the eastern part of Comanche County, where a warehouse was built to store the wholesale food and clothing sent out from Kansas City.
According to Mrs. Frank King, whose husband was the last range boss for the Pool, line camp riders lived in dugouts or sod houses built about a day's ride apart. In addition, three principal horse camps were maintained and at roundup time each cowboy had at least seven good horses available, one for each day of the week.
In the fall of 1885 the Pool's count of cattle numbered close to 84,000 head, then came the terrible blizzard. When spring opened in 1886 the count was 13,000. The small ranchers were completely wiped out and the remaining owners moved their stock to Montana or the Indian Territory. Settlers took over most of the grazing land and broke up the sod for grains and so started the pattern of our county of today.
The above history (author unknown) from the Diamond Jubilee booklet & photograph of Comanche Pool Cowboys are from The Diamond Jubilee Historical Souvenir Program, Coldwater, Kansas, Aug. 30 - Sept. 2, 1959., The copy of the booklet from which this material is taken belonged to Jean Hackney and is from the collection of Robert Hackney. Thanks to Bobbi Huck for having furnished the information & images on this webpage.
"Will you loan me your toothbrush till payday, Pard?"
"I just ran across an interesting anecdote when reading The Trail Drivers of Texas by J. Marvin Hunter, 1924.
Colcord was one of the original organizers of the Pool. I have referred to his autobiography before.
Charley Colcord, who is now a millionaire oil man, and whom the writer recently met at a reception attired in a full dress suit, which brought to mind the fact that it was he who brought the first toothbrush to Medicine Lodge, Kans., and how the punchers all wanted to borrow it till pay day, and after that day came, for a short time, each rider had a white-handled brush sticking out of his top vest or shirt pocket, and thus style was introduced on the Kansas plains by Charley Colcord, the cowboy. "
The Cressett, August 1, 1879.
Published in Medicine Lodge, Barber County, Kansas.
We are indebted to Jas. A. Lockard, for the following list of men owning fifty head and over of cattle, and living in Elwood Township:
Hunter & Evans - 10,000
J.B. Doyle - 500
Mr. Jones - 400
Coe, Miller & Westover - 300
Mr. McKinney - 200
Wm. Lockard - 171
McCole - 150
J.C. Boston - 150
John Jones - 120
Wm. Hudson - 100
McGrath Bro’s. - 90
Manuel Kurtzner - 90
J. Cushion - 85
J.A. Lockard - 85
Wm. Mosher - 75
C.B. Hudson - 75
(Contributed by Kim Fowles)
News Items about the Comanche Pool
30 August 1883
This week Col. Colcord purchased of W. B. Daigh 90 head of stock cattle, paying $35.00 for cows and calves, $25.00 for dry cows, and $20.00 for yearlings. These are about the regular price for stock cattle now. -- The Caldwell Journal, August 30, 1883.
4 May 1884
Mr. E. W. Payne was born in Missouri in 1847. His early life was spent upon the farm, and from early boyhood he was reared to rugged toil. Without any particular advantage, in the way of schools, he still managed to obtain a fair business education, and what he lacked in the knowledge of books he made up by natural clearness of intellect, and almost unlimited energy. That he enjoyed a good share of the confidence of his fellow citizens, was shown by his election of the legislature of Missouri in 1879. In 1880 Mr. Payne associated himself with Messrs. Hunter, Evans & Co., of St. Louis, for the purpose of ranging cattle, in Comanche Co. in his ranging operations Mr. Payne has been remarkably successful, and with the exception of one year, has held the important position of director of the Comanche County Pool since its formation. Something over two years ago he engaged in the banking business, being elected president of the Medicine Valley Bank, the continued success of which institution has been largely due to his energy and business ability. He has also for more than a years past occupied the position of director in the Cherokee Strip Livestock association. -- (excerpt from) "ATTEMPTED BANK ROBBERY: Geo. Geppert, Cashier, Shot Down in Cold Blood, and E. W. Payne, President, Dangerously Wounded." -- The Hazelton Press, May 4, 1884.
14 May 1885
R.W. Phillips, of Chicago, member of the Comanche pool, is in the city. Several of our young men will go to Montana in the employe of the Comanche pool. A.G. Evans, of Kansas City, member of the Comanche cattle pool, is in the city, making preparations for their drive to Montana. We understand they will drive in three lots of 2,500 head each, and will ship from Dodge to Nebraska, where they will drive through from there. -- The Kansas Prairie Dog, Lake City, May 14, 1885. (Contributed by Kim Fowles.)
28 May 1885
Wm. Maher, of Great Bend, member of the Comanche Pool, was in the city Monday. He reports the number of cattle at the round up in the pool, up to date, 30,000, and thinks it will reach 35,000. This passes their expectations about 15,000. -- Kansas Prairie Dog , published in Lake City, May 28, 1885. (Contributed by Kim Fowles)
4 June 1885
Capt. A.G. Evans and R.W. Phillips, members of the Comanche pool, came in from the range today, where they have been rounding up 6,000 heard of cattle for their northern range. They reported their cattle in fine condition and they they will round up about 10,000 heard mor ethan was expected. -- The Kansas Prairie Dog, Lake City, June 4, 1885. (Contributed by Kim Fowles.)
11 June 1885
Col. Colcord and son Charley, passed through the city Monday on their return from the Comanche pool, where they have large interests in cattle and land in the pool, enroute to their ranch in Kingman county. -- The Kansas Prairie Dog, Lake City, June 11, 1885. (Contributed by Kim Fowles.)
2 July 1885
Col. Colcord was in the city Tuesday night reciting his experience in stock raising in Kansas. About mid-way in his narrative we paragraphed where the Colonel stated he had seen the cold weather so severe that the hides on cattle split open on the back and tails drop off. Whether or not the invigorating air of Lake City has any effect on Kingman county citizens, we took this for a fact. -- The Kansas Prairie Dog, Lake City, July 2, 1885. (Contributed by Kim Fowles.)
30 June 1886
The Comanche County Pool, which for so many years practically controlled the county after which it was named, is now however a thing of the past. The members of this pool have for the past few years been buying up ranch property in Montana, near the Missouri river, until now they possess many thousands of acres of choice grazing lands. A week ago Monday the pool members shipped two train loads of their young cattle to Montana and more will follow at once. The animals will be taken by rail to Chadron Nebraska where they will be unloaded from the cars and driven across the country to the grazing lands, a distance of three hundred miles. -- Sharon News, June 30, 1886. (Contributed by Kim Fowles)
13 October 1886
The Comanche Pool, one of the oldest and wealthiest cattle organizations in this or any other state, met in business sessions at the Grand Hotel, yesterday, with A. G. Evans, R.W. Phillips, Billie Blair, Major Wilson, Major Kirk, T. D. Campbell, Wm. Carter, Major Rawlins, H. L. Newman and F. Thorton, stockholders, and Maurice Royster, book keeper, present. The first business considered by the Pool was the division of some 10,000 acres of land owned by that organization in Comanche and other counties. Each member will have his pro rata deeded to him. This will take a day or two. They will also consider the re-leasing of several thousand acres of leased land in the Cherokee Strip before adjourning. Capt. Evans, R. W. Phillips and Billie Blair will continue to hold cattle on the Pool range. They have already purchased and thrown in 9,000 head and will probably throw in as many more yet this fall. It is not known what the other members will do. (reprinted from Medicine Lodge Cresset) -- "Meeting of the Comanche Pool", The Republican, October 13, 1886. (Article contributed by Shirley Brier)
21 October 1887
R.W. Phillips and family, who have been spending seven weeks on their Comanche county farm, were here yesterday on their way to Chicago, where they will winter. -- The Union, October 21, 1887. (Contributed by Kim Fowles.)
4 May 1888
The following items remain uncalled for in the post office at Sun City, Kansas, May 1, 1888. Parties calling for same, please say advertised. R.W. Phillips, Mr. H.S. Burdick 2, Tho’s Callison. P.M. -- Medicine Lodge Index, May 4, 1888. (Contributed by Kim Fowles.)
11 May 1888
Mr. John Bullock was unfortunate enough to fall through the ladder-hole in the barn at the Evans ranch, and cripple himself last Saturday night, while moving so as to be out of the way of high water. -- Medicine Lodge Index, May 11, 1888. (Contributed by Kim Fowles.)
Rufus Kirk, stock-raiser, came to Larned, Kansas, in the spring of 1876, and engaged in the cattle business on a small scale. He is one of the members of the Comanche County, Kansas, Cattle Pool. This cattle pool was formed in the spring of 1879, and is composed of twelve members. They control 1,250,000 acres of land in southeast Comanche County and the Indian Territory. They own 50,080 head of cattle. In 1882 they fenced the whole tract of land at a cost of $33,000, making 160 miles of barbed wire fence, four wires high. They employ forty-eight men, one superintendent and three directors. Each member of the pool has his own brand and pays expenses according to the number of cattle owned by him. Mr. Kirk has 1,832 head. He was born in Stark County, Ohio, May 7, 1824; his father was a farmer and moved to Freeport, Illinois, in 1857. The subject of this sketch farmed there eight years and followed the livery business some length of time with the sale of farm implements, etc., until the spring of 1876, when he came to Kansas. He was married in 1852 to Miss May S. Davis, a native of Pennsylvania. They have four children - Ada C., now Mrs. A. J. Runner; Mina V. married Mr. W. H. Ziegler, of Larned; Truman H., a clerk in Lowrey Bros.' store, of Larned; Burton D., at home. Mr. Kirk is a member of the I. O. O. F. of Larned. -- William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas, Pawnee County, Part III.
Jessie Evans of Evansville, Comanche County, Kansas Notes from the research of Phyllis Scherich.
The History of Evansville, Comanche County, Kansas Headquarters of the Comanche Pool.
Perils of the Plains An account of pioneer life as experienced by Will and Hattie Wimmer, how they met, married, and lived within the boundaries of the vast Comanche Cattle Pool of South Central Kansas in the late nineteenth century. Written by Hattie Pierce Wimmer in 1929.
John and Lizzie Platt John Platt and his Uncle came to Comanche County in 1884, buying shares in the old Comanche Pool.
John W. Platt and the Platt Ranch A history by Mike Platt and Joyce Reed, Chosen Land: Barber County, Kansas, p. 368..
Mary Josephine (Sunderland) Smith "Another Pioneer Taken in Death"
John Bell He worked for the Comanche Pool.
Obituary of John W. Platt Published in The Western Star, 6 August 1920. Transcribed by Shirley Brier.
Obituary of Colonel Dick Phillips, an organizer of The Comanche Pool From The Western Star, 30 June 1916.
Frank & Almada (Parker) King Frank King was the last foreman of the Comanche Pool.
Almada (Parker) King "Mrs. Frank King Is Another Pioneer"
Christopher Carson "Cap" Pepperd Born in Ireland. Confederate Civil War veteran, cowboy, bronc buster, cattle trail driver & early (1874) Comanche County rancher. His ranch foreman, Tommy Wilmore, was a Union veteran of the Civil War.
Charles H. Darrow: "A Few Early-Day Events in and Near Avilla", The Western Star, July 3, 1925: "We were there when they drove the cattle out of Comanche-co. into the old Indian Territory. My eldest brother, Ed, helped to drive the cattle out, and was working for the Comanche Pool outfit."
Charles F. Colcord One of the organizers of the Comanche Pool.
L.S. Records, cowboy for the Comanche Pool.
C.F. Spicer: An account of pioneer days in Comanche County, Kansas -- The Western Star, June 10, 1921.
From "Longhorns" to Pure-bred Cattle, The Western Star, October 8, 1926.
Cowboy Cemetery near Salt Plains, Woods County, Oklahoma. The burial place of two Comanche Pool cowboys who were killed by Indians while the cowboys were hauling salt for cattle.
Joe Gant "In their early days here, Joe accompanied his father in government freighting from Wellington, Newton, and Hutchinson to Camp Supply; they also hauled corn to Hutchinson and traded for posts and wire used to fence the area which had been the Comanche Pool." -- The Chosen Land - Barber County, Kansas, p. 185.
Story of a Blizzard by a Comanche Pool Cowboy From PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS, by Adolph Roenigk, CHAPTER VIII - A TALE ILLUSTRATING THE VAGARIES OF KANSAS WEATHER, By Guy W. Von Shriltz, Coldwater, Kansas.
W. V. Jackson, "The 'Last Roundup' of the Once Famous Comanche Pool," Kiowa News Review, Kiowa, Kansas, 8 April 1935.
The 8th and Final Historic Evansville-Comanche Pool Benefit Trailride was on May 31st and June 1st, 2003. Proceeds from the event benefited The Comanche County Medical Foundation.
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