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

From Gettysburg to Sedgwick: The Adventures of Charles Schaefer Part 2

Originally posted on Thursday, January 17, 2013 at From Gettysburg to Sedgwick: The Adventures of Charles Schaefer.

by Kristine Schmucker,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.  For part 1 Successful Plainsman and Scout. For more adventures of Schaefer see Buried Secrets.

U.S. Army Scout

Schaefer wrote;

“In 1858 he went to San Antonia and there identified himself with the U.S. army as a scout, serving at Fort Clark, Ringold Barracks, and Brownsville; being at the latter place when the civil war broke out.  Knowing the officers on both sides so well he hesitated for sometime whether to cast his lot with the North or the South.  the question as to the right of a state to secede from the Union was the deciding factor and he enlisted October 16, 1860 in Company E 3rd U.S. Infantry, drawing his first uniform from the Alamo.” (“Autobiography” by Charles Schaefer)
Charles Schaefer
Seventeen year old Schaefer spent the first year of the Civil War at Fort Pickens, Florida.  From there he went to the Army of the Potomac where he served the rest of the war, participating in most of the important battles of that region” under the command of General Fitz John Porter.  Schaefer was wounded in the knee at Gettysburg.
General Fitz John Porter seated

“Dramatic Highlight of the Civil War”

The orders were not to fire, unless fired upon.  According to Schaefer, that order saved the life of General Robert E. Lee and prolonged the war.  Schaefer recounted the story for a newspaper reporter years later.

Standing behind a shock of newly cut wheat in a field near Gettysburg, Pa., a blue-coated man, age 20, leveled his rifle across the shock and took careful aim at the heart of a grey-coated man with stars on his shoulder and gold braid on his black slouch hat.  

Don’t shot!” exclaimed the officer commanding the squad.

“But I must,” answered the lad with a ‘bead’ on the grey-coated man.  “That is General Lee.  He used to be in San Antonio when I enlisted there and so I know him.  Let me kill him.  It will end the war.”

But  the officer in charge of the blue-coated reconnoitering party was obdurate  . . So rather than disobey the order of his superior, Charles Schaefer . . . put up his weapon and Lee passed on without knowing how near he came to death.”  (Undated Clipping “Sedgwick Vet Once Had ‘bead’ on Rob’t E. Lee” in the Charles Schaefer File, Sedgwick Historical Museum, Sedgwick, Ks)

This was one of several stories that Schaefer would later tell about his experiences during the Civil War.  Schaefer mustered out in 1865, but reenlisted to serve as Post Quartermaster at Forts Harper and Zarah until 1869.  He was recognized for his service at Gettysburg in 1913, when each veteran was presented with a bronze metal cast from metal of cannons used during the war.

Home to Sedgwick, Kansas

He married Maria Theresa Rivallissa from New Mexico, in approximately 1868 and they decided to establish a more permanent home.

Maria M. Rivalissa Schafer, ca. 1868
In 1869, Charles Shaefer brought his bride to a place he had explored before while traveling with Col. Fauntleroy in the 1850s and again in 1860.  A place he remembered as a place of great beauty – the region near the convergence of the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers in south central Kansas.
Schaefer wrote:

“and as he again came into the valleys of the Little & Big Arkansas rivers, his keen vision and clear memory spotted again the characteristic view that had as first so impressed him.  I have already spoken of the fact that the only break in the broad monotony of prairie grass was the green made by the river trees.  South of the present site of Wichita a few miles was a  very thickly wooded place in the long line of green that marked the river.  This looked perfectly round from a  distance, and could be seen for miles.  El bosque Redondo, the Mexicans called it, and according to their tradition it had been known for years.     (“Autobiography” by Charles Schaefer)

Schaefer settled with his family on a ranch approximately four miles west what would become the City of Sedgwick in 1869.  He operated a supply store and engaged in raising cattle for a few years.  By the early 1870s, the Schaefer family had moved to the town of Sedgwick to open a grain and mercantile business with another early pioneer, William Finn.

Charles Schaefer (lt), William Finn (rt)
Charles and Maria’s second child, a daughter named Rosa, was born August 12, 1870 and  was the first white child born in what would become Harvey County.  The Schaefer’s had five children; Charles G., Rosa A., Esia J., John F. and Earl.  Maria died April 28, 1885 at the age of 43.  It was noted that “she was an early community worker and was loved by all — she helped many people.”
Five years later, Schaefer married Mary Francis Wilkin of Sedgwick.  According to Schaefer she “proved a most gentle and efficient mother to the bereaved children.” She died in 1924 at age 75.

Harvey County State Militia & Public Life

In 1874, Schaefer was again called on to serve his state.  Deputized by Kansas Governor Thomas A Osborne on July 15, 1874, Schaefer was charged with the responsibility to “raise a company of men to stop the Indian depredations that threatened the countryside.”

Document addressed to
Capt. Charles Schaefer, Harvey County State Militia
ordering the return of 30 Sharps Carbines.


Gov. Osborne organized the Kansas State Guards in response to Indian raids in western and southern Kansas mostly concentrated near Medicine Lodge, Ks. By the close of 1874, the Harvey County Militia was disbanded.

Schaefer continued in public life when he served as Deputy Register of Deeds for Sedgwick County from 1888-1892.  During this time the Schaefers lived in Wichita, Ks.
In 1892, President Cleveland appointed Schaefer Consul to Vera Cruz, Mexico.  He spoke fluent Spanish “and made a good record in diplomatic corps.”  He held this position for five years.
In 1897, he returned to Sedgwick where he took an active part in civic improvements until his death January 7, 1934 at the age of 92.