Testimony of Benjamin S. Miller


Washington, D. C., January 9, 1885

Benjamin S. Miller sworn and examined.
  By the Chairman:
  Question. What is your full name?--A. Benjamin S. Miller.
  Q. Where do you reside?--A. At Caldwell Kansas.
  Q. How long have you resided there?--A. Well, I have made Caldwell my headquarters for probably five years.
  Q. What is your business?--A. I am a cattleman.
  Q. How long have you been in that business?--A. Seven years next October, I believe; six years and a little over.
  Q. You are the president of the association that took the Cherokee Outlet?--  A. Yes, sir.
  Q. What is the name of the association?--A. It is the Cherokee Strip Live-Stock Association.
  Q. How many persons does it consist of? You may begin, and in your own language, give us the history of the transaction from begin ing to end.--A. Well, we were located in the territory; a large number of us held ranges according to what is known among us as cow custom. and we had discovered that it was necessary to have some sort of organization in order to carry on the business; I mean we had to have an organization to indicate the time and set the place where we should begin ourspring round-ups, as we called them; so we held a meeting early in the spring.
  Q. What was the date of that meeting?--A. I can't tell exactly the date of the first meeting, but I happened to be in the town of Caldwell by accident, and found a meeting in progress, and I discovered that a gentleman named Burch was the Chaiman, one or two men I knew were there, and it was being said that they were running the meeting. I, of course being interested, went in and commenced shortly to take part in the meeting; well, we made arrangements for the spring round-up, and had a general talk in regard to the strip business, and at the close of the meeting I was made chairman of the association or convention. We called a meeting for the ensuing year, and a day was named. Well, as we saw that it panned out well, and the arrangement was satisfactory, the following year we had another meeting.
  Q. What year was that?--A. If I remember right the first meeting was either in 1880 or 1881; I think it was the spring of 1880, but I am not quite positive. Complications began to arise, as they would necessarily where there was a great many men who are not acquainted with each other. There were men along the state line who turned their cattle loose and allowed them to roam over the country, and if the cattle were branded there was no difficulty in gathering them. Late in teh spring or in the summer of 1880 rumors reached us that free cattle grazing was to be no more, and about that time mr. Bell, and perhaps an assistant he took around with him, came up with orders to collect a tax from the stockmen on the strip.
  Q. Who was Mr. Bell?--A. He was a Cherokee. Mr. Bell made, inmy judgement, only a partial collection.
  Q. What was this tax?--A. It was so much for an animal--so much per capita.
  Q. Why was it so small?--A. My impressionis that all paid, with the exception of two or three who could not be found; they went up into the State of Kansas; it was an unsatisfactory collection, I remember. The next year I think their treasurer, Major Lythe-----
  Q. You mean the treasurer of the Cherokee Nation?--A. yes, sir; he came and located himself at Caldwell, and the collection was considerably larger, but still it was not satisfactory to the Cherokee Nation. There were a great many gentlemen on the strip who were perfectly willing to pay the assesed tax, but the collection that year was not satisfactory. The next year Major Lythe and his assistant were there again, and while they made a larger collection, but it was still not satisfactory either to them or to us. I think, but I am not certain, if I remember aright, that Major Lythe said the collection netted the Cherokee nation over and above expense of collection about $22,000. If I remember correctly, that was what he told me. That did not seem to be the amount they ought to get. We knew, in our own minds, that there were certain parties who were getting out of the taxes. Major Lythe talked with us, and named the parties, and asked if they were there, and we said yes they were. He said he could not get hold of them, and they did not pay the tax. Well, as necessity is the first law, we were afraid it might reflect on us who were willing to pay the tax, and that if it kept on it might end in being brought to the notice of the General Government, and all would be driven out, or, at any rate, trouble would arise, and so it was deemed best to form a regular association; and not only that, but we thought it would be better for our interests as against an interest which seemed to be coming over from the State of Kansas.
  There were many men on the line who had farms, and had some stock, and were getting more stock as fast as they could, and allowing them to drift on to us, and they would come there in the spring and gather them up. They evaded the State tax and the Territory tax also. When the Cherokees came to them and said, "Gentlemen, we understand that your cattle are here, and we want you to pay the tax for them," they replied,"Oh, no; we live in the State; possibly there may be some strays in the Territory, but our cattle are in the State," and when the State people got after them to pay the tax they said their cattle were in the Territory. [Laughter.] In order to protect ourselves we thought it would be a good idea to form a regular association. We had an association which was very peculiar, and would be considered in any country among business men as an unformed association, with no head or tail to it. We had no authority or power. We could do nothing. We were many men of many minds. Then, after having talked to Major Lythe and half a dozen Cherokees, very nice men, whom we had met, we asked these Indians whether it would not be more satisfactory to the Cherokees to regularly lease that land for a suitable rental, by which arrangement they would get their money without any trouble whatever,and they said they thought it would. Under the circumstances we completed and incorporated our association. A board of directors was elected, consisting of nine members, and the idea was for the Indians, in case they decided to lease the land, to lease it directly to these nine directors who had been elected, and for them to sublease the land to the men who were occupants, according to cow custom. Then, in this association, it was mutualy agreed that we should settle our own differences among ourselves. We did not know of of any court that would have jurisdiction. Then in order to settle these questionsas to lines to which Major Drumm referred we had a board of arbitration appointed. Then we appointed a board of appeal, and the parties could appeal from the board of arbitration appointed. With very little difficulty, considering the large interests and the large amount of land, and the different notions in regard to lines, we arranged nearly all the matters that came before us, and nearly satisfied all.
  Q. What surveyers were these?--A. Our own surveyers.

  By Mr. Harrison:
  Q. It has been set at 6,000,000 by the report of the Commissioner.--A. I don't consider the surveys accurate and neither do the surveyers. They all admit that they are not positive as to the number of acres. They agree that it is over 5,000,000, but they don't know how much over, neither do we.
  Q. That has transpired since the lease was made?--A. Yes, sir. Then there is another piece of land there which has caused some little complication, and it has possibly been brought to the attention of you gentlemen; it is called No Man's Land, and joins the strip and the Pan Handle. It is claimed both by the Pan Handle and the Cherokees.
  Q. How much is there of it?--A. I must confess I can't say, but I think it contains more than 1,000,000 acres. I was going to say that while they have urged us to take possession of it we have never done so.. Well, now, in regard to this lease, as I said before, the nine directors leased it directly from the Cherokees, with the idea that they should sublease it to every man on the strip, holding what we considered, according to cow custom, a range, which was done, and it is very satisfactory to the parties now.
  Q. What rental do the sublessees pay?--A. They pay the same rental, 2 cents an acre, with additional expensea that are necessary. Major Drumm did not remember being allowed any excess. We were all allowed on one occassion an excess that we had overpaid.
  Q. Who are the people that occupy these subleases?--A. You will see by the map [ indicating a map of the "Cherokee Strip"] that the strip is occupied by a large number of men, and you can see by the colors that the ranges are of all sizes and shapes. Some of these ranges are occupied by large companies. we don't know the names of the members, but we know the manager. He is the person we deal with. Some of teh ranges are very small, and have only from 150 to 500 head of cattle on the. Even in these small ranges there will be a company, and they are allowed one vote in our association, the same as the largest ranges. That was done with the idea which seemed uppermost in every mans mind, to have the matter arranged as honorably as possible, not only as a matter of self interest, because the country was aroused to the fact of monopolies everywhere, but because we deemed it best, and we wanted the identical men to have the same ranges they had always had.
  Q. How many pople are interested in that land?--A.I could not state the number of people interested, but it must be four or five-hundred.
  Q. The occupants of different rracts are changing all the time are they not?--A. No, sir; there are hardly any changes at all. I only know of four at the outside; but of course, I have not paid any particular attention to it.
  Q. With these exceptions, they are the original occupants?--A. Yes, sir; they have changed by selling out their interest to some one who came into the interest. There were a great many things that we improved after our association was organized. One was the fact that attention was being called to our fences, we made our lines, and our neighbors admitted that these lines were right, and there was no particular trouble, although there was evidently some brewing at the time. About the fence business we ran some little risk, but we were willing to on account of the immense advantage to us.
  Q. Are these different ranges substantialy fenced?--A. Yes, sir; they are fenced with three or four wires, and ahve posts running from 25 to 60 feet apart. When the posts are some distance apart there are two or three staves put in.
  Q. Were you in attendance upon the council when the act was passed?--A. No, sir.
  Q. Who represented the association at the council?--A. Major Drumm and Mr. Eldred.
  Q. No one else?--A. No, sir; I don't know of any one else, but I heard a young gentleman by the name of Marston was there at the time.
  Q. Whom did he represent?--A. I dont think he represented anyone. His father had been an agent there, and he had an idea that he would get into the strip in some way, and he wanted to be there. I also understood that there were two or three parties there applying for the same lease in competition with us. I am told now that Mr. Marston was representing the Cragin Cattle Company. I did not know that.
  Q. How long wre these men, Drumm and Eldred, down there?--A. I think they were there five or six days.
  Q. Was the matter matured substantialy before the council was called together to authorize it?--A. I think so; to this extent: The Cherokees, who were not full-bloods, that is a majority of them, understood it, and I presune a good many of the full bloods did also. Of course we understood it, and had authorized Major Drumm and Mr. Eldred to pay to a certain amount.
  Q.How much did you authorize them to pay?--A. We told them to pay $100,000, but to get it for less if they could.

   By the Chairman:
  Q. Who assumed to act for the Cherokees up to the time the council took hold of the subject?--A. I don't think anybody assumed to act. It was talked over by the chief, the treasurer, and one or two other Cherokees whom we had met; I don't seem to be able to recall their names. Major John F. Lythe as one of them, I think.
  Q. They are Cherokees?--A. Yes, sir.
  Q. And you understood pretty well before the council was called upon what terms these men would obtain the authority for that act?--A. yes, sir.
  Q. Do you know how much the expense of that transaction was, getting it through the council, and other expenses?--A. I do not; I heard that we paid the expenses of Major Lythe and Mr. Eldred, and that is all I know about it.
  Q. Do you know what their expenses amounted to?--A. No, sir; I do not know what the bill was.
  Q. Did you hear of anything being paid except their expenses?--A. No, sir; I did not.
  Q. Did Bushyhead fall into this arrangement early?--A. I think he had considered it an excellent plan for some time before but I did not meet him until after the lease was effected; but I understood that he thought it an excellent thing.
  Q. Was the purpose of calling the council publicly known among the Cherokees?--A. I understood so. They have a newspaper called the Chieftain.
  Q.Do you know whether it got into the papers?--A. I saw it in the Chieftain.
  Q. What did you see?--A That it wa the principle matter to be brought before the council.
  Q. Did the chieftain advocate it?--A Yes, sir.
  Q. Was there any party in the council that opposed it?--A. I think it had some opposition.
  Q. From what class of indians?--A. I think it came from the full bloods.
  Q. Which predominates?--A. There are, I understand, about 22,000 full bloods and 5,000 of the half and quarter bloods.
  Q. Have the full bloods any particular plan to antagonize to this?--A. No, sir; there is only the same sentiment, which is common to the uncivilized, that there might be some way by which they might lease their land to greater advantage, that was all.
  Q. What individual pays the rent?--A. First one party pays it tthen another. We change it a little. That money has to be carried over to Tahlequah in currency, and we don't propose to allow people to know when or how it is paid. We ran some risk in the matter once, so we are very careful.
  Q. What evidence can we have that the money has been paid?--A.The receipts from the Cherokee Nation. We have those receipts, I presume. These matters aresubmitted to their treasurer and a receipt is given.
  Q. Do you know whether their treasurer makes a report of these matters?--A. I understand so.
  Q. Does he make a report of receipts and expendatures?--A. I understand that their govenment is is carried on quite similar to ours.
  Q. Is that a matter that comes as often as yearly to the knowledge of the whole people?--A. Yes, sir; it comes semi-annually before the people.
  Q. Do you know what use they make of the money?--A. According to the bill, it is to be kept in their treasury until it reaches the sum of $300,000, and after that, I am sorry to say, I don't know whether it goes to the school fund or whether it is paid per capita, but it has to reach the sum of $300,000 first.
  Q.Does the bill dispose of it after that?--A. I think so.
  Q. Do you understand that the United States can, at any time, take this land out from under you?--A. I understand that according to the treaties made with the Cherokees the United States, in order to handle that land, must buy it from the Cherokees direct, and pay a fair price for it. I don't know whether a price has been fixed or not.
  The Chairman. They are under treaty stipulation to sell it as fast as we want it.
  The Witness. The idea was, I believe, to locate friendly Indians upon it.
  The Chairman. Yes; you understand that it is subject to that condition.
  The Witness. Yes, sir; I do.
  Q. So if the United States should come in they might take it out from under you?--A. Yes, sir.

  By Mr. Harrison:
  Q. Do you know of anyone connected with the public service who is interested in any of these leases or in the association?--A. I know that there has not been a single Government official interested in any lease there until right now. I believe there is a man who has lately been elected to Congress who has been interested there for two or three years.
  Q. Where does he reside?--A. He is from Missouri.
  Q. He is the only one?--A. Yes, sir; and his connection with leases in the Territory antedated his election. He is the only one I have heard of who is connected with the Government.
  Q. Who has your books showing the amount of money paid for the lease expenses of the association at the time of procuring the lease?--A. Whatever books there are are in our office at Caldwell, but I have never seen them.
  Q. Who has charge of them?--A. Our secretary and treasurer.

  By the Chairman:
  Q. What is his name?--A. Mr. Bennett is the treasurer and Mr. Blair is the secretary.

  By Mr. Harrison:
  Q. Have you a book containing the expenses incurred by the association which preceded this incorporated one?--A. No, sir; we never kept any books. We have never been in the habit of keeping much books. I don't believe cowmen ever do. If there was any account kept I did not know it.
  Q. Did not your treasurer make reports?--A. Our accounts were never audited and no reports were submitted.
  Q. How much money did you pay into his hands?--A. I could not tell you that.
  Q. Could you not say $50,000, or something of that kind?--A. I could readily say it was not near that amount.
(Here someone remarked that it cost $10 to become a member of the association.)
  Q. Was there no fund except the initiation fee?--A. I don't remember that there was. It is possible that we passed around the hat for something.
  Q. I suppose you got the hat back?--A. Yes, sir. (Laughter)
  Q. Did you not have a common fund from which the expenses for round-up were paid?--A. We quietly made a collection for that purpose. Some one would take it upon himself to collect the necessary money.
  Q. You think and investigation into the affairs of the previous corporation would be futile?--A. Yes, sir; I think it would.
  Q.Since then you have kept an account, have you not?--A. I presume that an account has been kept; but I have never looked it over, and I don't know anything about it.
  Q. It is a half a cent an acre which you get above the the price you pay to the Indians, is it not?--A. yes, sir.
  Q. You pay 2 cents on 5,000,000 acres, and collect 2½ cents on 6,000,000? Have you not an excess on hand now?--A. Yes, sir; but we have been expending it for various perposes. It seems with the whole western world that cowmen are rich, and they think if they look at us pleasantly we muct pay for it.
  Q. What have you done with this money?--A. We have paid some it out for the capture and conviction of thieves.
  Q. Among those who smiled at you you don't mean to include persons connected with the Cherokee Nation, do you?--A. No, sir; i mean persons who expected to get a living off us.
  Q. How much money have you in your treasury now?--A. I don't know how much, but we have a good deal in the treasury. There is another thing that will cut the amount down a little. Some of the land the association pays for is quarantine ground, and we get no pay for it.
  Q. But you get paid for more than 5,000,000 acres, at the rate of 2½ cents, and your books ought to show it?--A. I don't think we are very accurate in our money matters.

  By Mr. Gorman:
  Q. I would like to know if you could furnish a list of the members of the association?--A. I think we have a book containing the names of the memebrs of the association. I don't mean every member, but one member of each company. I think, also, that the map before you will furnish the names.
  Q. Won't you furnish the names of the companies, and the name of the president and other officers?--A. I think I shall have to call on Mr. Blair.
  Q. Are you connected with any company?--A. No, sir; except in this way: I have two partners in my pasture, or rather in theirs and mine. We have our cattle with our own brands.
  Q. Who are your partners?--A. They are gentlemen from Saint Joe.
  Q. What are their names?--A. J. C. Pryor & Co. and T. F. Pryor & Co.

  By the Chairman:
  Q. You are the president of the association?--A. Yes, sir.   Q. What is your annual salary?--A. I receive $1,500 salary.
  Q. Do these nine directors pay the same as all others pay, or is there any advantage given them?--A. There is notheing they get that all the others do not get benefit of. It is the same with all.
  Q. Is there any member that obtains his lease at a less amount than any other?--A. No, sir.
  Q. I would like to have you make an explanation in respect to the trail that runs through the strip. it is supposed by some that the fences shut out parties who desire to cross the strip; what have you to say to that?--A. There are two trails through the strip, There is a western trail, which goes through the western portion of the strip, and the main trail, which goes directly to Caldwell, and runs by Ft. Reno. These trails are all the way from 3 miles wide to 1 mile wide; that depends on the country.
  Q. Are there fences on both side?--A. Yes, sir.
  Q. The trail is like a new England highway?--A. Yes, sir. The trail widens out where cattle would stop to rest and drink at noon and at night. It is not closed at all. That is one trail. The other trail strikes off down below, in the neighborhood of the Wichita, and goes northwest to the state line.
  Q. Is it the same as the other?--A. yes, sir; it is just the same, but perhaps wider.

  By Mr. Ingalls:
  Q. Are any tolls collected?--A. None, except by the Indians on the western trail.

  By Mr. Harrison:
  Q. You don't mean to say that it offers sufficient pasturage for the herds that go over it?--A. Yes, sir; where it widens out to 3, 5, and 8 miles, it does.
  Q. What is the size of the herds that are driven over the trails?--A. They vary from 2,500 to 3,000. It is not considered advisable to drive cattle in too large bunches.
  Q. How long a time do they take to cross the strip?--A. Well, I could not tell; it depends on whether they are ina hurry or not. They drive about 12 to 16 miles a day; I suppose 12 miles is a good drive, and the strip is 57 miles wide.
  Q. Is the trail from Caldwell straight?--A. Yes, sir; it bears a little southwest.

  By the Chairman:
  Q. Has any changes been made in the trails since your association was formed?--A. None at all, except that they were not fenced bdefore, but the cattle never grazed further than they do now.

  By Mr. Walker:
  Q. Has not the Cherokee Strip been laid off into sections?--A. I understand there was a Government survey, but I'm not positive. It seems to me that I have seen stones and other marks, but I am not certain. I know that we surveyed it ourselves.
  Q. Do you know the number of acres in the strip?--A. Not exactly; I can aproximate it. There are about 5,500,000 or 5,600,000 acres in it. I found that all the squads of surveyors were mixed, some claiming one thing and some another.
  Q.What do you pay for this land?--A. we pay 2 cents an acre to the Indians and 2½ cents to our association.
  Q. Were you present when the lease was made?--A. No, sir.
  Q. Who obtained the lease for you?--A. Major drumm and Mr. Eldred were present at the time.
  Q. Do you know whether any money or other valuable thing was paid to anyone in order to obtain this lease?--A. I do not.
  Q. Have you heard anything of the kind?--A. I have heard any amount of rumors. The Kansas City Times and other papers published a good deal about the matter, but principally the Times. I have never heard anything from anybody who knew what he was talking about.
  Q. Were there not some lands lying next or adjacent to the Rawnees that were included in the lease?--A. I think I could show you on the map a little point of land east of the Pawnee Reservation which is claimed by the Cherokees. I think I could show it to you.
  The Chairman. Well, do so.
  The Witness. It is right here, east of the Pawnees [indicating on map].
  Mr. Cameron. It is not so small.

  By Mr. Harrison:
  Q. It is the plat marked as Bennett and Dunham, and east of the Pawnee Reservation?--A. Yes, sir.
  Q. How many acres does it contain?--A. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,00 acres; a little more, perhaps. Perhaps 115,000 acres.
  Q. That, you say, is east of the Pawnee Reservation?--A. Yes, sir.
  The Chairman. I have heard, at some time, of a strip lying next to the Kansas line, about which there was a dispute as to whether it belonged to the Indian Territory or to the State of Kansas.
  The Witness. That is what is called the three-mile strip. It was bought from the Osages, and then sold to Kansas for $1 an acre.
  Q. It belongs to Kansas then?--A. Yes, sir.

  By Mr. Gorman:
  Q. When this lease was obtained there were some other parties at the council besides the parties you have named?--A. Yes, sir.
  Q. Who were they?--A. Well, I understand there were some men from Kansas City present, or from the immediate neighborhood of Kansas City, who were anxious to secure a lease, and some of them had formed a sort of company with a few of the Cherokees, and these together tried to lease the Cherokee Strip. But this, gentlemen, is hearsay.
  Q. Who were they?--A. I have heard the name of one man who lives in Kansas City, but it has escaped me.
  Q. Is that all you know about it?--A. Yes, sir; that is all.

  By Mr. Cameron:
  Q. Is there anything else you want to state to the committee?--A. I do not think that I can enlighten you, gentlemen, any more upon the subject. I am sorry I could not make the whole matter clearer.

  By Mr. Harrison:
  Q. You were pasturing cattle there before the lease was made?--A. Yes, sir; I started in Barbour County, Kansas, and our cattle drifted into the Territory.

  By the Chairman:
  Q. In spite of all you could do, I suppose?--A. Yes, sir.

  By Mr. Harrison:
  Q. Did you pay a tax in Barbour County?--A. Yes, sir.
  Q. And in the Territory?--A. Yes, sir; in Barbour County and the Territory, too.
  Q. What was the tax?--A. The tax was 40 cents per head on grown stock and 25 cents on young stock.
  Q. That averaged how much?--A. Well, sir; I should thin 33 or 35 cents.
  Q. What rate per head were the Indians getting for this privilege of grazing cattle?--A. I do not think that the first year they got one-fiftieth of what was due them, and what they ought to have had.
  Q. Very small pay then, was it?--A. Yes, sir; very, indeed.

  By Mr. Hairrison:
  Q. Why was that?-A. Because there were some cattlemen in the country who were out to the last against paying the tax, claiming that the Cherokees had no right to collect it.
  Q. Did these parties afterwards accept leases?--A. Some of them did sir; but others left.

  by the Chairman:
  Q. Why was that?--A. Yes, sir; in a measure. They were parties who would not pay any tax to either the State of Kansas or the Cherokee Nation. They were some herders and they did not propose to pay any tax at all; that is the real truth of the matter.
  Mr. Harrison. I would suggest that Mr. Blair's books should be here before we examine him.

  By the Chairman:
  Q. Where are those books?--A. In Caldwell, Kansas, in the office.

  By Mr. Harrison:
  Q. You can telegraph for them, can you not?--A. Well, sir, we have receipts here for our rent.
  Mr. Harrison. Well, yes; but we want the expense account of the association.
  The Chairman. Mr. Blair will take measures to have the books here.
  Mr. Blair assured the committee he would do so.
  Mr. Harrison. We want the accounts of the association.
  Mr. Gorman. We want not only the accounts, but the names of the members of the diffferent companies who are grazing cattle on this land.
  The Chairman. Mr. Gorman, would you also like the names of the parties who were before the council seeking leases in opposition to this association? If you desire to have them, we will try to see that they are found.
  Mr. Gorman. Then I should like to have these names, if they can be obtained.


Return toTestimony Home Page