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Legendary frontier merchant dies

July
30
1902

On this day in 1902, Charles Rath died in Los Angeles, California. Rath, born near Stuttgart, Württemberg, in 1836, came to the United States in 1848. About 1853 Charles joined William Bent's Colorado trading empire, working as an independent freighter hauling supplies and trade goods across Kansas. In the early 1870s Rath brought Andrew Johnson into his employ. Rath was among the first to take advantage of the growing buffalo-hide trade, hunting, freighting, and marketing the hides for a high profit. Often the hideyard of the Rath Mercantile Company was filled with 70,000 to 80,000 hides at one time. In 1874, as the buffalo slaughter moved south into the Texas Panhandle, Rath and a business partner opened a combination store and restaurant at Adobe Walls, near the site of William Bent's old outpost; Rath himself was back in Kansas on June 27 and thus missed the second battle of Adobe Walls. In the 1870s, Rath and partners such as Frank E. Conrad and William McDole Lee opened commercial establishments at Fort Griffin, Mobeetie, and Rath City. By 1879, however, the buffalo supply was exhausted. Although Rath and his associates profited briefly from the bones their crews hauled away and sold for fertilizer, his fortune soon decreased as his debts from unsuccessful land speculations mounted. He lived in Mobeetie for a while before moving to Los Angeles, where he died of "mitral insufficiency."

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