A Roving Disposition: Black Beaver

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Part 1 of 2 blog posts. Part 2

In 1861, Col. William H. Emory was in a vulnerable position.  Tensions were high between southerners or secessionists and the Union north. Stationed at Fort Washita in Indian Territory, Emory, a Federal officer, was surrounded by secessionist states. In April 1861, he was forced to evacuate his troops after receiving reports of the advance of Confederate troops from Arkansas and Texas.  At Fort Cobb, Emory was able to move against a Confederate advance guard  under the leadership of William W. Averell. Emory was successful in part due to an advance warning from a Delaware scout, trader and rancher, Black Beaver. With the information provided by Black Beaver,  Emory was able to capture the first prisoners of the Civil War.

Following the battle, Col. Emory was responsible for “the largest concentration of federal troops in Indian Territory” which included:

“eleven companies, 750 fighting men, 150 women, children, teamsters and other non-combatants. . . about eighty wagons with about six hundred horses and mules.”

The next challenge? To get to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas safely with his troops and the captured prisoners.  He needed to navigate through miles of open, uncharted prairie and  territory occupied by Confederates and Indians.


Emory needed a knowledgeable guide. He turned to his friend, Black Beaver.

Black Beaver

In 1861, Black Beaver was in his 50s with a successful ranch near Fort Arbuckle,  but he was no stranger to exploring new country.

Born in Belleville, Ill in 1806, the son of a Delaware chief, Capt Patterson, Black Beaver served as a guide for several expeditions including one in 1840 with famed naturalist John Audubon. Throughout the 1830s,  40s and 50s, he worked for the American Fur Company  as a scout and guide. Described as an unassuming man with a “roving disposition” Black Beaver was frequently used as an interpreter. He spoke eight Indian languages, English, French, Spanish and was adept at Indian sign language.

Both Black Beaver and Jesse Chisholm were hired as interpreter and guide for an expedition under the command of Col. Henry Dodge to the main village of the Wichita on North Fork of the Red River in the summer of 1834. During the Mexican/American war, he led a group of Indian scouts and American expeditionary forces and became known as “Captain Black Beaver.”

He was known for his truthfulness and honest dealings with everyone he met from military officers to the “wild Indians of the plains.”

“Without Map or Chart”

At the opening of the Civil War, Black Beaver was focused on ranching. However, Col Emory “appealed to Black Beaver as a guide in an effort to extricate . . . the garrisons.”  Black Beaver was reluctant to leave his farm with “considerable stock” a few miles from Ft Cobb. He feared without his presence, the farm would “fall into the hands of the enemy and be lost to him.” Emory promised “the government would fully recompense him for any losses.” So, he agreed.

Years later  Black Beaver would note that

one of his most notable achievements was that of piloting the garrisons of abandoned federal military posts in the Indian Territory out of the country to Fort Leavenworth, Ks at the outbreak of the Civil War.” 

They traveled over “300 miles, more than two thrids (sic) of which was a trackless wilderness, but Black Beaver was not at a loss.  . . .Without map or chart, straight as the crow flies, he laid his course and men still travel the route.” to Ft Leavenworth, Kansas.

Upon arriving at Leavenworth, Col. Emory noted everyone was in “good condition, not a man, an animal, an arm, or wagon . . .lost except two deserters.”

Black Beaver’s trail goes directly through present day Newton and Harvey County.

Indian Trails

Ancient Native American Trails have been discovered all over the city of Newton. One runs just west of Main from 1st street to 10th street where it joins another trail  leading to a spot near Sand Creek where several trails come together.  Other trails meet at a spot where the Ash Street Bridge is located today. Most of these trails remain unnamed or indicated on maps a “Indian Trail.”

The Black Beaver/Col. Emory Trail  was a significant  north/south route through Sedgwick, Harvey and Marion Counties and pre-dates the Chisholm Trail. In fact, Black Beaver would later suggest this route to his friend Jesse Chisholm.

Detail Black Beaver Trail through Harvey County. Courtesy Brian Stucky Entire map available for study at HCHM Archives.

The Route

The trail enters Harvey County on S. Anderson Rd. Brian Stucky discovered  a unique trail pattern to this ancient route.  He identified seven pairs of wagon tracks sandwiched between two sets of Indian trails suggesting military wagons and equipment.

The main branch enters Newton south of the Newton Medical Center and crosses Walmart parking lot and interstate going north. There is a slight turn east near the Newton Country Club and continues north  past St. Mary’s and Greenwood Cemetery and Chisholm Middle School, continues north along Duncan street over 12th street  to Centennial Park.

The trail exits Harvey County at Spencer Rd and the Marion County line.

Detail of Black Beaver Trail through Newton, Ks. Courtesy Brian Stucky.

The maps, created by Brian Stucky, of the trails in Harvey County  are available to study at the HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks.

Part 2 of this series on Black Beaver will focus on his return home.


  • Wichita Daily Eagle 17 September 1922. Written by Joseph B. Thoburn.
  • Pioneer & Indian Trails Map, Brian Stucky, HCHM Archives
  • Thoburn, Joseph Bradfield. A Standard History of Oklahoma: An Authentic Narrative of Its …, Volume 1.  The American Historical Society, 1916. Accessed via google books, p. 278-279.
  • Warde, Mary Jane. When the Wolf Came: The Civil War and the Indian Territory. University of Arkansas Press, 2013. Accessed via google books, p. 50-51.



One of the Most Iconic Movie Props

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Who remembers the leg lamp? Who still has one?


The 1983 movie, A Christmas Story, is about an Indiana family in 1940. The story is told through the eyes of a nine year old boy.  The film opened with mediocre box office sales, and it only ran for a few weeks. The movie was unique among Christmas movies heavy on nostalgia like Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street.  Since 1983, the movie has gained popularity and influenced later Christmas movies like Elf

A Christmas Story was

“a new kind of holiday movie, one that acknowledged- even relished- the ‘unbridled avarice,’ the commercialism, the disappointments, the hurt feelings and all around bad luck that in reality often define the merry season.”

“Indescribably Beautiful”

The character of the father, known as “The Old Man,” entered a trivia contest, and with his wife’s help wins. The prize? A  full sized, woman’s leg including high heels and fishnet stocking fashioned into a lamp  that is “indescribably beautiful.”  

The story continues as the wife, not liking the prize lamp, breaks it.

When “The Old Man” tries to fix it with glue, only to find that his wife had used it all – intentionally.

“Quintessential Christmas Tradition”

In 1997, Time Warner began to run the movie on a continuous loop from Christmas Eve through Christmas Day. For many families this movie,  “a bracing blast of satire and realism, wrapped up in a hilarious pitch-perfect tale of a middle-class family . . .through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy” is a cherished holiday tradition.

Years later, Bob Clark, the director, noted with some surprise that “this low budget fluke of a movie had become a quintessential Christmas tradition.” 

Watch the Movie at the Museum!

Join us on Sunday, December 15 at 2:00 pm for a special showing of The Christmas Story at HCHM. Explore our new exhibit, Back to the 80s.

Please note: If the event is cancelled due to bad weather, we will post on our Facebook page.

Back to the 80s – Jelly Shoes

Did you own a pair of these versatile shoes?

Jelly shoes made out of  PVC jelly  first appeared in the 1950s and 60s. They did not become popular until the 1980s.  After a debut at the 1982 World’s Fair, jelly shoes became a fashion must have! The popularity of the plastic shoe only grew from there.

Jelly shoes were cheap and came in a wide array of colors. At roughly a $1 a pair, it was possible to buy a pair that would match any outfit in the closet.

Join us at HCHM this Saturday, Dec. 7, 10-4 for 5 Places of Christmas. Our new exhibit, “Back to the 80s” is open and the museum is decorated 80s style!