“An Honest Trader Whose Handshake Connected Three Cultures.” Meeting Maxwell

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Archivist/Curator
Before settling in south central Kansas in the future town of Sedgwick, Charles Schaefer led an interesting life.  At the age of ten he left home and became a part of the frontier army at Fort Leavenworth and traveled throughout the territory as a scout.   Later in life, Schaefer recorded his memories of his experiences and the people he met during this time of his life. His account of spending time at Maxwell’s Ranch in New Mexico closely matches other first hand accounts encounters with Lucien Maxwell right down to where he kept his money. Lucien B. Maxwell was a colorful man and today is one of three men who have been the largest private landowners in U.S. history.
For more of Charles Schaefer’s story see part one features Schaefer’s early life, and part 2 his Civil War experiences and later life.

“An Honest trader whose handshake connected three cultures.”

Col. Fauntleroy, along with Kit Carson, led several expeditions against the Apaches in 1859-1861.  Young Charles Schaefer was along on some of these missions. It was during this time that he became acquainted with rancher and entrepreneur Lucien B. Maxwell.  Before his death in 1875, Maxwell was one of the largest private landowners in United States history, at one point owning over 1,700,000 acres.

In the early days, Maxwell’s Ranch served as the headquarters for the Ute Agency with the government stationing a company of cavalry there to control the Plains Indians.  The Ute regarding Maxwell as a friend.

In the summer of 1867, Schaefer spent a “delightful two weeks with Maxwell” and years later he described the man and his experience visiting the Ranch giving us a glimpse of the west before settlement.

Lucien B Maxwell 1818-1874

A Great Ranch, A Place of Beauty

According to Schaefer, Maxwell’s Ranch was to his surprise a “great ranch, a place of beauty.” Schaefer described Maxwell’s Ranch as a “Manor-House.”

“The kitchen and dining room of his princely establishment were detached from the main residence.  There was one of the latter for the male portion of his retinue and guests of that sex, and another for the female, as in accordance with the severe and strange Mexican etiquette, men rarely saw a woman about the premises. Only a quick rustle of a skirt or a hurried view or a hurried view . . . before some window or half open door, told of their presence.”

Maxwell House, Cimarron, New Mexico
Restored photo courtesy Legends of America.

Maxwell entertained often and Schaefer observed; “the greater portion of his table service was solid silver, and at his hospitable board there were rarely any vacant chairs . . . “ The ranch was located along the “Old Trail” and a frequent stop for overland travelers.  Schaefer also recalled that “at all times and in all seasons, the group of buildings, houses, stables, mill , store and their surrounding grounds, were a constant resort and loafing place of Indians.”  A large “retinue of servants [was] made up of heterogeneous mixture of Indians, Mexicans and half-breeds.”

Aztec Grist Mill

Established by Lucien Maxwell


Schaefer noted that Maxwell “possessed a large and perfectly appointed grist mill which was a great source of revenue.” Maxwell was a wealthy man and Schaefer noted that he was “never without a large amount of money in his possession.  He had no safe . . . only the bottom drawer of the old bureau in the large room” that was never locked.   Guests were free to roam the grounds with no extra precautions taken to safe guard  the gold, silver and government checks Maxwell kept in the drawer. He was said to  keep as much as $30,000 in cash in an unlocked dresser drawer.

Schaefer recalled that he once suggested that Maxwell should purchase a safe of some sort, “but he only smiled, while a strange resolute look flashed from his dark eyes, as he said: ‘God help the man who attempted to rob me, and I knew him!'” * While Maxwell had a reputation for hospitality, he could also be  brutal. Stories of imprisoning thieves without food or water and flogging servants he was not pleased with were not uncommon. Perhaps this reputation kept would be thieves honest.

Of the man himself, Schaefer recalled the following story;

“Frequently Maxwell and Carson would play the game of Seven-up for hours at a time . . . Kit usually the victor . . Maxwell was an inveterate gambler . . . His special penchant, however, was betting on a horse race, and his own stud comprised some of the fleetest animals in the territory.”

During the time that Schaefer spent at Maxwell’s Ranch, gold was discovered “and adventurers were beginning to congregate in the hills and gulches from everywhere.”  According to Schaefer, this discovery led to the ruin of “many prominent men in New Mexico, who expended their entire fortune in the construction of an immense ditch, 40 miles in length from the Little Canadian or Red River, to supply the placer diggings in the Moreno Valley with water. . . The scheme was a stupendous failure.”  Maxwell was one of the men who lost a great deal on this venture.

Charles Schaefer truly met many interesting people throughout his long life.



Buried Secrets: Charles Schaefer

Originally posted Wednesday, February 20, 2013 A Front Row Seat to History
by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

This post continues the story of Charles Schaefer of Sedgwick, Ks. For more stories see Part 1 & Part 2.

 Most of us will  never have the chance to meet the President of the United States, but one Kansan did.  In later years, Schaefer  recalled his experiences as a  soldier in the capitol during which time he met President Lincoln.

Front Row Seat to History: Meeting Lincoln

In his handwritten notebook of remembrances, Schaefer related his impressions of President Abraham Lincoln.

A very queer man. . . Personally there was much good about him which was alright in civil life, but in war was not good.*  I met him face to face between the White House and Treasury Building, stood at attentions and saluted as was proper.  He certainly was the homeliest man I ever saw; stove pipe hat, big clothing that did not fit.  But I gave him a square good look in the eyes and I do not believe I ever saw a kinder and sympathetic [person].  I rather pity him, he looked so lonesome and sorrowful. . . Of course, I saw him several times at Grand Reviews.”

Buried Secrets

Schaefer also had stories to tell about his time in the army. In this faded clipping from an undated Wichita Eagle, Schaefer recalled an incident from the close of the Civil War related to the assassination of President Lincoln.

Newspaper clipping in the Schaefer Scrapbook
Sedgwick Historical Society
Sedgwick, Ks
Schaefer was regimental quartermaster sergeant of the Third United States Infantry and he had been ordered   to Washington D.C. at the close of the war.  He was given rooms in the federal penitentiary while he worked to return supplies.  It was during this time that he made the acquaintance of several sailors and they had a tale to tell him.  He was pledged to the utmost secrecy and was told of the mysterious activities that the sailors had completed under orders.
“Eight sailors of the U.S. navy detailed to have charge of a boat kept in readiness for the governments use. . . . One night they had been called upon to take their boat and row upstream til they found a ship on the other side of the Potomac. . . . When the drew alongside the ship, they were stopped and a box, casket-shaped, was lowered into their boat and they were ordered to return to shore.”
Schaefer continued to describe how the sailors were blindfolded and “marched around until they did not have the least idea where they were.” The blindfolds were removed and they found themselves in a “large barren room with flagstone floor.”  The sailors were then ordered to remove the flagstone and dig a specific sized hole. The specifications they “noticed were the size of a grave. . . . they were ordered to place the box” from their boat in the hole.  Next, they were to “replace the stone and remove all traces of the night’s work.”  Once returned to their boat they were “dismissed with the order to keep their mouths shut.”

The men were sure that they recognized the room as one in the Old Penitentiary and they were convinced that the body was that of John Wilkes Booth.

Schaefer concluded his story by noting:

“I promised I would not repeat the information since they were under orders to keep still. I kept my word until this long distant date when telling can do no harm.”

Tall Tale?

When I first read this story in the Schaefer Scrapbook, I thought it was a ‘tall tale’, but a bit of research supported much of what Schaefer described.  Booth was shot through the neck by Sergeant Boston Corbett on the porch of Richard Garrett’s house near Port Royal, Virginia, where he died.  The body was sewn up in a horse blanket and taken to Belle Plain where it was hoisted upon the deck of steamer John S Ide.
The body was delivered to the Montauk where an autopsy was performed April 27, 1865.  Booth was identified by several people who had known him well, including Dr. John Frederick May.  Dr. May had recently removed a large fibroid tumor from Booth’s neck and the scar was still visible on the body. Booth’s dentist also positively identified the body.
The Secretary of War Edwin Stanton ordered the body to be buried in the Old Penitentiary on the Washington Arsenal grounds – exactly where Shaefer was staying in 1865. This was accomplished.
John Wilkes Booth’s Autopsy http://rogerjnorton.com/Lincoln83.html
In 1869, the body was exhumed and positively identified and returned to the Booth family.  Booth was buried in an unmarked grave in the family plot in Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore on June 26, 1869.


For information on the mystery and legend that surrounds Booth’s body visit: http://www.historybuff.com/library/refbooth.html
*Schaefer had some very strong opinions about the dismissal of Union General McClellan, which may have colored his view of Lincoln.  He noted that the General, known as ” ‘Little Mac’ . .  was too much the loyal soldier.”

A Successful Plainsman and Scout: Charles Schaefer Part 1

Originally posted on Thursday, December 20, 2012 at A Successful Plainsman and Scout

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

The death of Charles Schaefer on January 8, 1934 marked the end of an era in Harvey County, Kansas.  Schaefer was the last of the early traders, soldiers and scouts that first saw the potential of Kansas. In his youth, he traveled the unbroken prairie as a scout and soldier.  He fought in the Civil War and the Indian Wars, and could recall a time when the prairie was home to vast buffalo herds.  In the late 1860s, he was among the first men, along with Wichita founders James R. Mead, William Greifenstein, and William Mathewson,  to settle around the Arkansas River in the area that would become Sedgwick and Harvey counties.

A Man of Force and Leadership

His obituary describes Schaefer as “self-educated and self-made, attaining more than ordinary success and prominence, a man of force and leadership.”  

Evening Kansan Republican, Jan. 8, 1934
Front page

Charles Schaefer was a man that seemed to have been involved in a little of everything.  He spent his youth “as a successful plainsman and scout,” followed by a career in the Army during the Civil War.    After the close of the war, he settled in Sedgwick to raise a family and was a successful businessman and townbuilder.  Some of his remembrances were preserved in a file at the Sedgwick Historical Museum, Sedgwick, Ks. I am grateful to the Board of the Sedgwick Historical Museum and especially to Marcia Nordstrom, board president, for allowing me access to the files on the Schaefer family.

Charles Schaefer

Unintentional Passenger

On the crowded St. Louis platform in 1852, few took notice of the young boy as they boarded the steamboat. None wondered why the boy was not in school or with his parents  For ten year old Charles Schaefer, sneaking away from class and boarding a steamboat that day was the beginning of a grand adventure that would include the president of the United States, famous generals,  rough soldiers and scouts fighting the Indian wars on the frontier.
The oldest of three boys, Schaefer was born in Hamm, Province of Westphalia, Prussia in December 1842 to Richard and Gertrude Eiseleben Schaefer.   His father, Richard, was a soldier and reportedly had suffered some injury at Waterloo. By the late 1840s, the elder Schaefer had fled “his native country on account of the part he took in politics,” for the United States leaving his wife and sons behind.

In 1848, Gertrude made the voyage to the United States with her sons to join her husband.  She died upon their arrival in New York.  Richard, perhaps feeling ill equipped to handle all three of the boys, sent 10 year old Charles to relatives in St. Louis, MO.  Young Charles already had a taste for adventure and was not content to sit quietly in school reading about great battles.  He was ready to go explore!  So, that day in St. Louis, he left school, and boarded a steamboat bound for Fort Leavenworth, KS.

Missouri Steamboat
Steamboat on the Missouri River

Later in life Schaefer recalled his experience.

“While playing on board a steamboat that plied between St. Louis and Leavenworth he found himself unintentionally a passenger as the boat had embarked without his knowledge.  Seeking to amuse himself . . . his eye was caught by a flag fluttering high on a hill.  He followed it to find it led to the drill grounds of the soldiers at the fort.  He became so absorbed watching them that he failed to take the boat when it returned.  As night came on, the little boy of 10 years began to feel lonely and afraid.  Colonel Fauntleroy who was at the fort in charge of an overland train to the U.S. troops in New Mexico noticed the lad and took him home with him.”  (Charles Schaefer Autobiography #1 Schaefer Scrapbook)

Fort Leavenworth, KS

Fort Leavenworth, established in 1827,  was the first permanent U. S. Army fort established in Kansas.  By 1852, the fort served as a headquarters for commanders and the chief unit in the army’s frontier defense system. Schaefer described Fort Leavenworth as he remembered it in 1852.

[It] never was really a fort. . . with two Block Houses one on corner of the Parade Ground the other diagonally across.  There were squares with holes for cannons in the tower and loopholes for the musket men.   There were 10 or 12 Calvary stables.  Each would hold a troop of Calvary.  The officers quarters were across the parade grounds, the barracks on one side and other buildings on the opposite side.” (Charles Schaefer Fort Leavenworth, Schaefer Scrapbook.)

Fort Leavenworth, Courtesy Wichita State University

“Sober at the Time of Enlisting”

Col. Thomas T. Fauntleroy, who took the young boy in, was a  commander of the First Regiment of Dragoons during the 1850s and led several campaigns throughout the region.

The Dragoon Regiment was authorized by Congress in March 1833 and was composed of soldiers who could ride to battle and fight either on horse or foot.  Recruits were to be native born, 20 to 35 years old, and over five five five inches tall and “sober at the time of enlisting.”  Over time, the Army had to reduce the restrictions to fill recruitment quotas. By the 1850s, recruits were not questioned too closely about their age or citizenship status, allowing young men like Schaefer to join.

Life in the fort was not easy.  Disease was a constant threat to soldiers on the frontier.  Cholera and malaria were more of a threat to the men than the Indians.  Far more soldiers died of disease than from hostile action.

Outbreaks of malaria were annual occurrences at Fort Leavenworth.  In 1843 and 1844, the Missouri River flooded due to heavy rains and the standing water became an ideal breeding ground for disease that the troops took with them to the field.  In 1850, cholera broke out on boats bound for Fort Leavenworth, but the doctors on board did not know what was causing it or how to treat it. Once they arrived at the Fort, the entire fort was infected and the epidemic spread across the prairies with the troop movements. In August 1855, a cholera epidemic at Fort Riley and the ensuing panic nearly annihilated the fort.  Doctors tried to treat the diseases with varying degrees of success.  One surgeon at Fort Gibson prescribed calonel for everything.  His patients died of mercury poisoning.  Sulfate quinine was discovered to treat malaria, but determining an effective dosage took awhile to discover.

Campaign Against the Utes

In the winter of 1854-55, Fauntleroy campaigned against the Utes living in the Rocky Mountain region and later against the Apache in New Mexico.

“Charles begged so hard to go with the train that Colonel Fauntleroy gave him the privilege of driving Dr. Leatherman’s buggy in the long procession over the plains.” (Charles Schaefer Autobiography #1 Schaefer Scrapbook, Sedgwick Historical Museum, Sedgwick,Ks)

Young Schaefer was responsible for driving the doctor’s buggy to to Fort Union, New Mexico with the regiment in 1854. Schaefer later recalled the prairie as a “veritable ocean of tall waving brown grass . . . the grass was so tall that its waves were even as the ocean billows.  This great prairie ocean was a sight that deeply impressed all who were here early enough to see it in its unbroken splendor.”

He also noted that the 1st U.S. Dragoons on the move stretched out over a mile long, carrying supplies to the U.S. troops in New Mexico, and included recruits for the infantry, and several hundred horses for the cavalry.  Upon the arrival of the troops at Fort Union, New Mexico, “Charles was put in school with the children of the officers and men of the army . . . his education continued here and in the schools of Santa Fe.” 

In 1858, Schaefer identified himself as a U.S. Army scout and served at Fort Clark, Ringold Barracks and at Brownsville. Fauntleroy, along with Kit Carson, led several expeditions against the Apaches in 1859-1861.  Schaefer was along on some of these missions.

See Part 2 for Schaefer’s Civil War adventures  . For more adventures of Schaefer see Buried Secrets.


  • Charles Schaefer Autobiography #1 Schaefer Scrapbook, Sedgwick Historical Museum, Sedgwick, Ks.
  • Charles Schaefer Fort Leavenworth, Schaefer Scrapbook, Sedgwick Historical Museum, Sedgwick Ks.
  • Evening Kansan Republican, Jan. 8, 1934
  • J. Patrick Hughes, Ph.D., “The Life of the Dragoon Enlisted Men” Kansas Collection Articles, http://www.kancoll.org/articles/dragoons.htm