First Cattle Drive Through Iowa & the 1st Santa Fe Trail! 1815

Midwest Frontier Stories

Intro to 1815 Cattle Drive

First Cattle Drive through Iowa.  Consider this:  Just 9 years after Lewis and Clark returned home, Lord Selkirk, who resided in Scotland, ordered cattle from someone in New York, who sub-contracted with residents of St. Louis, MO to drive cattle to the Red River settlement of the Hudson Bay Company. There were no roads, no bridges, no maps, nor anyone who could know the way. It was almost totally through Indian Territory.  The only thing they had was an accurate latitude and longitude, similar to what sailors used, and that the settlement was on the Red River way up north. The shortest route today is 1000 miles by road.  They were on foot or horseback, no wagon would make it, and all but one made it home safely! In the spring of 1816, the Northwest Fur Company orchestrated the massacre of settlement, killing the governor and 30 others and imprisoning the rest, which explains why Pembina has no record of the drive. As it turns out, in 1820, Pembina was declared USA territory instead of British Canadian by virtue of the 1818 treaty of Ghent with Canada. Due to the violent competition of Hudson Bay and Northwest Fur Companies, the British government forced them to merge  in 1821 and a second drive was made.  In comparison, The famous Texas cattle drives to Abilene, KS were after 1860 and covered about 700 miles over the established Chisholm Trail.

From West Point Sales:
“The principal event of our story occurred in 1815, just at the close of the last British war; but even previous to that date, Lord Selkirk, a Scottish nobleman, had planted his colony on the Red River of the North. The latitude and longitude had been taken intolerably accurate.  Now, if the reader wishes to thoroughly understand the situation, he can take a map and look along the northern border of Minnesota, look up Pembina, ND (a locality just now somewhat interesting.) take a careful survey of the locality, note the rivers and lakes intervening between and that point and the mouth of the Missouri River, and he may begin to comprehend the situation. Lord Selkirk’s colonists, as yet, had not cattle; he made a contract with some citizens of New York (as well as I can remember, for several circumstances and names have been by me forgotten) to deliver to his agent at his colony, five hundred head of cattle.  A check or bill of exchanges, drawn by Lord Selkirk himself made payable to the original contractor, was to be delivered by the agent on the delivery of the cattle.  Around St. Charles, Missouri, was the nearest point at which cattle could be procured.  The original contractor came to Missouri and himself contracted with old Doc Carr and big Lewis Musick to deliver to Selkirk’s agent so many hundred head of milch cows and a certain number of bulls.  So far all was correct.  Carr and Musick were energetic men; had some money of their own, paid a part down for cattle – the sellers trusting them for the balance until they should receive their pay for the cattle.  The winter had been mild, spring opened early, and they had made a start up the Mississippi bottoms in February.  Giles Sullivan hired to assist them as far as the Des Moines – he was then a young man.  The whole drove crossed the Des Moines just about where the ferry is now kept, the first day of March 1815, and the feed was tolerably plenty – a fact unknown since that time.  Those cattle were grazed on that beautiful scope of prairie where Vincennes – a station on the D. V. Railroad – is now situated.  Sullivan here left them.  He and one other man then wended their way about one hundred and twenty miles, to the settlements near St. Charles.  After resting some few days, they took up their line of march up the divide thro’ String Prairie, towards Big Mound.  The first time I ever crossed that prairie, when near where Absalom Anderson now lives, Sullivan said that Carr and Musick must have passed about the same place with a large drove of cattle more than nineteen years before, but no trace was left, nor was there any sign of human beings, save ourselves.  The drove kept on the prairie, between the dividing waters of the Skunk and the Des Moines rivers, and I may as well here observe that at that time the Iowa Indians held possession of this section of country.  It was not until 1818 that the Sac and Fox Indians fought, whipped and drove them from their village, where Iowaville now stands.  The drove moved on, keeping on the divide without any serious difficulty, until they reached the country of the Chippewa’s.  Here straggling members of that tribe began to hang around, and follow them from day to day.  The Indians were mounted on small ponies.  Lewis Musick told his men to ride over on every convent opportunity, himself setting the example.  The Chippewa’s kept on increasing in numbers daily, until one day more than a hundred painted warriors were seen approaching.  The Indians evidently expected a small fight.  Musick told his men to keep driving the cattle ahead; to pay no attention to the Indians; to ride right over them if they got in their way.  Big Lewis Musick was almost a giant, of herculean force, and rode a remarkably large horse; and made it his business to ride over the most conspicuous braves, occasionally taking one of them by the shoulder and hauling him from his pony.  This tribe was at that time at peace with the United States, and did not wish to shed the first blood.  They however managed to stampede a few cattle and slaughter them.  This delayed the Indians that afternoon.  The drovers kept on all that night, and by the next day were in the country of the Sioux, where the Chippewa’s did not dare to follow.  In this latitude the large white wolves began to appear in considerable numbers.  They were something new to the Missourian drovers.  They seemed to follow on from day to day, just out of idle curiosity, and did not seem disposed to attack either men or cattle, and when the drove would halt at night or noon, the wolves would get on some conspicuous place, form in line, set on their haunches, and view the strange cavalcade.  At last, to the great joy of both drovers and colonists, the settlement was reached.  The drovers had finished their arduous task.  The agent was well pleased with the cattle.  Then the colonists had milk for the first time in several years.  The cattle were counted and the check delivered.  So far all right.  The next thing for the drovers was to go home.  They started and followed the trail of the cattle into what is now the southern portion of Minnesota; and here in a vast expanse of prairie some of the men differed about the course to be pursued.  Most of the men followed Carr and Musick, who had a compass to direct them, and all of them reached the Mississippi at some point below St. Paul, and most of them came home in Indian canoes.  The two men that left the main party and took a course more to the right, struck the head waters of the Des Moines and followed down that stream, thus being compelled to cross all the tributaries.  The weather becoming wet, the streams were all swollen.  The men had to swim, and in swimming one stream, probably above Des Moines, one of those men got his rifle tangled in some vines, and in trying to save his gun, got tangled himself and was drowned or at least the survivor so reported to the settlement.  I have frequently heard their names, but have forgotten both of them long ago. The next thing for Carr and Musick was to get their check or exchange cashed.  Sullivan could not give all the names of the men connected in this transaction; consequently this portion of the narrative must be incomplete.  But, as Carr and Musick were only sub-contractors, the check had to pass through the hands of the original contractor, and by some “Hocus Pocus” Old Dick Carr and Big Lewis Musick were cheated out of every dollar of their hard earned money.  The result was that they could not pay all the balance on the cattle that they had bought of those early settlers about St. Charles, Missouri.  But the grievous loss must be borne, and was, borne by some cheerfully, by others despondently.  All survived the loss, except Lewis Musick.  Big Lewis Musick was an enterprising, proud spirited man.  He paid as far as he could, and that was all he could do.  He could not bear to look a man in the face to whom he honestly owed money.  He became despondent, seemed to sink under his misfortunes and soon died.  Thus ended the career of one of nature’s noblemen.  He died bankrupt, not for the want of energy or honesty, but because one villainous Yankee cheated him, for all reports that I ever heard concurred in saying that Lord Selkirk and his agent both acted honorably throughout the whole transactions.  As for Old Dick Carr, he did not despair.  He had some friends in St. Louis that offered to furnish the goods and teams for the first expedition that ever went from Missouri to Santa Fe.  This was several years before Thomas H. Benton got an appropriation from Congress to make a road to that place.  That expedition made their own road across the plains and over mountains, and were eminently successful.  The profits were amicably divided, and Old Dick Carr was enabled to pay all his debts and have a competence left.  He spent a few years of his old age quietly, and then he, too, took the journey to that bourne from whence no traveler returns.
“Daily Gate City –  Oct. 19, 1870
A.W. Harlan

Other Books on Selkirk Settlement of the Red River Valley:

Red River Trails Settlement: Oxcart Routes

Statement respecting the Earl of Selkirk’s settlement of Kildonan, upon the Red River in North America: its destruction in the years 1815 and 1816; and the massacre of Governor Semple and his party.

Read more in Red River Trails : Oxcart Routes

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