I need to check dates to see when the Brantner/Smith party arrived. This may have been all the same party, although Brantner accounts do not indicate they lost oxen. There is also another account by Van Buren "Van" Kelsey who was in the Brantner party. He later became a long time Sheriff of Weld County. I seem to recall that both family accounts and Van's account indicate the party did have a herd of cattle that was purchased in Kansas and stolen on the plains by the Indians.
"William R. Murphy was born in Calloway County Missouri 4 June 1838, son of David and Sarah (Lekins) Murphy. The family lived in various counties in Missouri: Linn, Platte, and Leavenworth. They arrived in the county last named in 1854 and were among the first setttlers there. Five years later the father sold out his property and started for Colorado in company with his family and a few friends and neighbors. They set out on the long journey May 10 and did not reach Denver until July 19, 1859. Proceeding as far as the head of the Smoky Head (sic Hill) River on the Smoky Hill Trail, they soon found that they were not provided with sufficient water for their cattle in the desert. After anxious deliberation it was decided to turn back but when they began looking for the oxen which had been allowed to wonder away in search of pasturage, the animals could not be found. The only resource the little party had was their three horses which had been picketed. With a few things they started back for water, being obliged to leave their wagons and loads. David Murphy (the father) returning again went in search of the missing cattle and while gone passed another trail, which if they had taken would have led them within 15 miles of water. Being unsuccessful in finding the oxen, Mr. Murphy conveyed his party to a point known as station 22 and also took some supplies from their wagons which had to be abandoned by the way. The very day they reached the station mentioned a train passed and Mr. Murphy prevailed on the head to take his own party through to Denver. As soon as he arrived in that city he hired a man to take 5 yoke of oxen to go after the wagon and goods his payment to be $80 for the trip. Mr. Murphy accompanied him and the night that they found the wagons they camped there and to their dismay the next morning their oxen had disappeared and were never again recovered. The only resort then was to wait for another company going across the plains and to get them to trail their wagons after their own. It was finally done and Mr. Murphy's wagons were gone in payment for this service. He was left in a bad end financially and being an old man settled down in Denver." Source: McGrath, Maria Davies. "The Real Pioneers of Colorado." Vol. II, p. 453. Typescript from the Documents Division of the Denver Museum, Colorado Public Works Administration Project #551.
The account goes on to tell about William Renfro Murphy leaving home to mine, but not liking the business and eventually settling down to farm.
It appears to me that David Murphy accidentally got on the Starvation Route where there was no water by taking a wrong turn and that he stumbled back onto the main route where station 22 was. As I get time, I'll look for the other accounts I mentioned earlier. As another aside - I don't know if the Leavenworth county mentioned is in Missouri or Kansas. 1854 seems more like a Kansas settlement date to me - but I don't have any way to look it up right now.