Tuesday, June 12, 2012

An Old Bridge near Leon Kansas

Tobie on a dirt road east of Leon Kansas

Sometimes the Kansas explorer has to take pleasure in simple things. For example, I came across this rarely used bridge traveling with Tobie down a dusty dirt road. It is located in Butler County, just to the east of Leon Kansas on a road few people drive anymore. A mile to the south is Highway 400, a major route out of Wichita that goes though Leon and eventually on to southeast Kansas, hitting many small Kansas towns on the way.

The bridge's simple concrete and steel construction means that it was built after 1900, but is that all we know?

Old Bridge over the Little Walnut River

The only clue as to its date is the plaque that is placed at the west end of the bridge. R. E. Templeton is Chairman of the Butler County Commission.

Butler County Commission, R. E. Templeton, Commissioner

From pages 731-732, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, History of Butler County, Kansas by Vol. P. Mooney. Standard Publishing Company, Lawrence, Kan.: 1916, is the following biographical sketch of R. E. Templeton:

Robert E. Templeton, a large land owner of Sycamore township, and one of the most extensive cattlemen in Butler county, is a native of Ohio. He was born in Greenfield, March 17, 1874, and is a son of John B. and Catherine Templeton, natives of Ohio. The father was quite an extensive cattleman in Ohio, before coming to Kansas. In 1884, the family came to this State, first settling in Coffey county, near Burlington. They remained there but a short time, however, when they came to Butler county, where the father purchased the Blaker ranch in Sycamore township. This is one of the famous cattle ranches of the early days, in Butler county, and was formerly known as the Skinner ranch. ... Mr. Templeton was married September 7, 1904, to Miss Grace H. Young. ... Mr. Templeton takes a prominent part in the local political affairs.
The full text of Mooney's History of Butler County is available online.

Mooney's History of Butler County was written in 1916. Since Mooney does not record that R. E. Templeton was ever Chairman of the Butler County Commission, the traveler can conclude that the bridge was built after the date of publication, when R. E. Templeton was 42 years old.

Alex Baker is the only other name on the plaque for which I can find any information. He came to Butler county in 1888 at the age of 17. His family settling on a 360 acre farm in the Brownlow community - halfway between Leon and Latham. Kansas Trails. He was appointed county commissioner in 1922 to fill an unexpired term and was re-elected at the next election. This puts the date of our bridge to the Roaring Twenties or later.

Does all this matter? Not much, but it is something to think about. Someone said the other day that most interstate highways date back no more than 60 years to the Eisenhower presidency. Before that if a bridge was built it was by the county. In Kansas, bridge construction began in earnest at the turn of the century. Before that the few simple bridges that existed were of wood or stone, and a few of the stone bridges that predate the turn of the century still exist.

The Homestead Act of 1860 opened the west to large scale settlement by easterners such as R. E. Templeton. Butler County was opened up in the 1870's, making Mr. Templeton's father one of the first to come and enjoy the new land. Before that, Kansas was Indian territory. Kansas was home to the Kansas, the Wichita, the Pawnee, and the many other tribes that were displaced and removed to what was called Indian Territory. Kansas was the land where the deer and the antelope ranged, where vast herds of millions of buffalo roamed eating the tall prairie grass that then grew abundantly. The grass was so tall, that at times, an Indian would have to stand on his pony's back to see over the grass.

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