Monday, December 31, 2012


Towanda, Butler County, Kansas

Most people, driving the I-35 Kansas Turnpike from Wichita to Emporia, think that Towanda is just a rest stop 16 miles north of Wichita.

The real town and township sit tucked aside highway 254, just 5 miles west of El Dorado. Geographically, the town is located at a big flowing spring in a valley at the headwaters of the Whitewater River. "Towanda" is an Osage Indian word meaning "many waters".

At the beginning of the Civil War, Towanda was the last settlement along the Santa Fe Trail on the way west to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Territory west of the Whitewater River was Indian Territory. The countryside was full of blue-stem grass; watered by a clear, flowing stream full of fish; shaded by Cottonwood trees along the banks; with an abundance of elk, deer, and antelope. Several times a year the buffalo passed by on their migration and the Osage Indians would trek to the area to hunt.

The first settler in the Towanda area was C. L. Chandler, a returning gold prospector from California, who heard tales from the Osage of the beauty and abundance of the area. In 1858 he built a cabin. Within five years he sold his land and cabin to James R. Mead for $3 an acre. The Osage sold off their land by treaty over many years. Osage Indians.

For seven years Mead operated his ranch as a trading post with the Indians. In 1864, an Indian agency was established and operated until 1867 when the Indians were moved to Oklahoma.
The Indians came to exchange furs for food, staples, blankets, and trinkets. They also came to the trading post to receive their scant rations of provisions and clothing issued by the government. It was here that Colonel Leavenworth made his headquarters and negotiated with Satana, Chief of Kiowas, and "Heap of Bears", the great Medicine Chief of the Arapahos. This resulted in the Treaty of Medicine Lodge.
Skyways, History of Towanda
In 1870, Mead would move on, helping to found the city of Wichita, to the south and west along the Arkansas River. Isaac Mooney purchased the trading post and land for $2000. He then filed Homestead papers on additional land and platted the original townsite.

The Museum in Towanda is located at Third and Main, Towanda, Kansas 316-536-2500

Sunday, September 9, 2012

ATSF in Kansas

ATSF Handbook

Go to Kansas Memories to read online a Useful Handbook for Immigrants and Settlers who wish to settle on lands belonging to the Atchinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad.

Cyrus K. Holliday was the organizer of the ATSF. He began the project of building a railroad through Kansas as early as 1859; but because of the Civil War, Indian land titles, and the difficulty of financing the project, construction didn't begin until October or November of 1868.

Work progressed quickly and by July of 1869 track reached Osage County. In May of 1870, the track reached Osage City and in July 6, Emporia.Two years later in 1872, the western and southern ends of the ATSF  arrived in Dodge City and Wichita.

Kansas Historical Quarterly, The Birth of The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, part 1 by Joseph W. Snell and Don W. Wilson.

Kansas Historical Quarterly, The Birth of The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, part 2 by Joseph W. Snell and Don W. Wilson.

There were other railroads selling land in Kansas.

See, for example, Emigrants' guide to the Kansas Pacific Railway lands : best and cheapest farming and grazing lands in America.

Visit the Great Plains Transportation Museum at 700 E. Douglas Ave., Wichita.
Mennonites in Kansas

The ATSF helped to support its railroad building in Kansas through the sale of land to immigrants.

One of the first groups to take advantage of the land opportunities offered by the ATSF were the German Mennonites from Russia. The first group of around 800 arrived in 1874. A few families settled in Hillsboro, Marion, while another group traveled directly to Peabody. The main party, led by Jacob Wiebe, went on to found the town of Gnadenau.

The contract to purchase lands in Kansas by the Mennonites provided the following: rights of first selection and first purchase of 18,000 acres with a 56 per cent discount off the set price; buyers had five years to pay for their bargain lands. Later, another 25,000 acres brought the total to 43,000 acres available to the Mennonites through this contract.

The Mennonites Arrive in Kansas.

Read also, From Russia with Wheat: The Kansas Mennonites by Kenneth Peters.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

1825 Kaw Indian Peace Treaty

The 1825 Kaw Indian Peace Treaty

You have to get off modern I-135 between Wichita and Salina and take Old Highway 81, a two lane rock and concrete composite roadway just to the west of the interstate. Don't be confused. There is the newer US Highway 81 that is just a bit to the east.

Heading north, the old highway takes you through the  towns of Newton, Hesston, Moundridge, Elyria, McPherson, New Gottland, Lindsborg, Bridgeport, Assaria and finally Salina.

Today, the trip is comfortable in an air conditioned car. But, in 1825, it was marked by the annoyance of traveling through prairie grass as tall as a horse, the danger of prairie fires, Indians, and the hazards of weather, animals, and insects. George C. Sibley, who would survey the Santa Fe Trail, described in his journal that the travel was accompanied,

"... with difficulty and embarrassment, arising chiefly from the annoyance of the green flies of the Prairies, which obliged the Party to travel much in the Night, frequently leaving the direct route in order to find Shelter from the flies during the day, in the Small groves that are Seen here and there Scattered like little green Islands."
Not mentioned, but still very real, were the chiggers, mosquitoes, and tics, along with the stinging nettle and abundance of poison ivy. In addition to surveying the Santa Fe Route, Sibley and others met with the various Indian tribes along the route to insure safe passage for travelers.

On Old Highway 81 about a quarter mile south of Elyria, Kansas is a marker erected by the Quivera Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail. The marker honors the 1825 Kaw Indian Peace Treaty allowing peaceful travel for traders along the Santa Fe Trail. The actual location of the treaty itself is a mile and a half west on Comanche Road at Dry Turkey Creek. A marker is mistakenly placed north of Comanche Road. The actual treaty site is south of the road and on the west side of the creek.

The location was chosen because then it was the only stand of trees for miles around. The treaty was signed under an old oak tree, a rare site for the few trees that survived the prairie fires and droughts were the cottonwoods.

Google Maps virtual trip to the Kansas Historical Marker.

Mexican independence from Spain opened up trade between Santa Fe and Missouri, and William Becknell is credited with the first trip. On September 1, 1821, Becknell with a small group departed Arrow Rock, Missouri, on horse back.  They arrived in Santa Fe in November to the news of Mexican Independence from Spain. Becknell and his small band disposed of their trade goods for bags of Spanish silver dollars. In early December, they began their return trip to Arrow Rock and arrived home on January 22nd.

The financial success of this trip convinced Becknell to return to Santa Fe. The locals called Becknell's venture foolhardy because of the danger of Indians and nicknamed it the "Caravan of Death". On May 22nd, Becknell and 20 men loaded three wagons pulled by 24 oxen with merchandise. If you are a history buff like me, then you will want to read more about the trip, and learn about the hardships of weather and the dangers of the Indians on the way.

See the complete route of the Santa Fe Trail.

On August 15th and 16th of 1825, representatives of the United States and the Kaw Nation met in a small grove of trees a bit to the south of the Santa Fe Trail, near present day Elyria to sign a treaty of peace. The Kaw Indians traveled 45 miles to the site of the treaty from their village at what is now Manhattan, Kansas. The treaty between the Kaw Indians and the United States provided for the safe passage of traders along the Santa Fe Trail.

The marker notes that another treaty with the Osage Indians was made earlier at Council Groves. Other treaties were signed with the Sioux, Cheyenne, Crow, Otoe and Missouri, Pawnee, and Maha. Becknell's Santa Fe route also crossed Comanche territory. While there was no official treaty, Americans often traded with the Comanche.

Chief Monchousia (White Plume), image from Wikipedia,
original painting on display in the White House.

The Kaw Indians (also known as Kanza, Kansa, Konze, or Kansas) are member of the Dhegiha branch of Mississippi Valley Sioux. The name is translate as "People of the South Wind", something understandable to anyone who in spring and summer felt the hot, dry air blow steadily from the south across the Kansas landscape. For much of Kansas history, the tribe lived along the Kansas River at a location near present day Manhattan. Today, the Kaw Nation's headquarters is in Kaw City, Oklahoma.

Charles Curtis, Oklahoma Congressman and Vice-President under President Herbert Hoover was a descendent of the Kaw Indians. His great, great grandfather was Chief Monchousia, (ca. 1765—1838), whose image hangs in the White House. The name of Topeka, Kansas, is the Kaw word Tó Ppí Kˀé meaning "a good place to grow potatoes."

The Kaw Indians, whose enrollment just exceeds 3,000 members, operates the Southwind Casino at Newkirk, Oklahoma. The proceeds of the casino help to fund the Kanza Health Clinic, Kanza Wellness Center, Kaw Nation School Age Enrichment Center, Kanza Museum, Kaw Nation Enrivormental Department, Kaw Nation Police Department, Kaw Nation Social Service and Educational Department, Kaw Nation Emergency Management Department, Kaw Language Department and the Kaw Nation Judicial Branch.

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.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Joe Lebo

The town of Lebo lies alongside Interstate 35, east of Emporia. The town was named after Lebo Creek where Joe Lebo lived. He had been a Captain in the 10th Kansas Cavalry. I have tried to find information on Captain Lebo but information is sparse. Lebo Creek forms south of present day Lebo and flows south into the John Redmond Resevoir.

From William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas, published 1883, A. T. Andreas, Chicago, IL. Coffey County, Early History:
Morgan Dix came to Coffey County in the spring of 1855, from Indiana, striking the Neosho River at Le Roy, and passing up the river by the way of Stubblefield's, he settled near Ottumwa early in the spring of 1855, and lived there until he died in 1874. Hiram Hoover, Judge Strawn and Joe Lebo also settled at or near Ottumwa the same spring ...
From The Leabo Line, Descendants of Francois Isaac (LeBas) Leabo
Josiah Leabo (Josiah2, Francois Isaac (LeBas)) was born 12 May 1831 in Indiana, and died 08 Jan 1895 in Hartford, Kansas. He married Mary Jane Crail 12 Feb 1860. She was born 30 Nov 1839 in Vermont (Fulton) Illinois, and died 19 Feb 1913 in Hartford, Kansas. ...[T]he town of Lebo, Kansas was named after Lebo Creek where Joe Lebo lived. He was a freighter and had been a Captain in the 10th Kansas Cavalry. It is believed that Josiah and Joe Lebo are the same person

That's it for now.

Note to myself. Burlington, the county seat will have a record of Joe Lebo's land title. There is a nice library in Lebo.

The best resource for information on the Tenth Kansas Calvary is The Kansas Historical Society.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Old Highway 50

Skelly gas station at Lebo on old highway 50

The fastest way from Emporia to Overland Park is along Interstate 35, that winds through Lyon, Coffey, Osage, Franklin, Miami, and finally, Johnson County. The trip lasts an hour and a half, if you are in a hurry.

Then again, the Kansas traveler is not always in a hurry.

Old Highway 50 is the route your grandparents would have taken. Coming from the west 50 starts in Garden City and runs through Dodge City, Strong City, and on to Emporia. It runs north at this point up to Kansas City and on into Missouri at Warrensburg.

Where the highway has not been incorporated into other highways, much of the old highway is gone. North of Emporia, next to I-35, the road is a 2 lane blacktop that goes through the farming communities of Lebo, Waverly, and Williamsburg, before arriving in Ottawa where it again connectswith the interstate.

At Lebo in Coffey County, there is an old Skelley gas station at the junction of Old Highway 50 and the town of Lebo.


Visit Lebo's downtown business district, a collection of Casey's General Store, a lumber store, a pharmacy, a grain elevator and a barber shop. I suspect that life has not passed by the citizens of Lebo, I think that, rather, they have just decided to enjoy a slower pace.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Silkville, Kansas

In 1869, a middle-aged Frenchman from Bordeaux by the name of Ernest Valeton de Boissière (1811-1894) purchased 3500 acres of prairie in Franklin County, Kansas - his dream to create a silk producing community. De Boissière imported silk worms, planted Mulberry trees and built a three story home with 60 rooms for 40 French families. These were les miserables Victor Hugo wrote about, workers oppressed by low wages and high prices in France.

Silkville home, circa 1870's, photo H.W. Barker

De Boissière's silk would gain national attention and win prizes at several expositions, but the community disappeared, the victim of cheap silk from China.

Silk Culture in Kansas

The house burned down and today, all that remains is a one room schoolhouse off of old highway 50. If you look closely at the image above, you can see a white haired de Boissière standing in the doorway of the schoolhouse.

old Silkville schoolhouse

Silkville school, winter 2014

Silkville schoolhouse, November 2013

Silkville schoolhouse, spring 2012

By 1892 the dream was gone and de Boissière gave donated the home and land to an orphanage. He returned to France where he died in 1894.

Original image of old Silkville school from Kansas Memories. Read more about Ernest de Boissiere.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Welsh Settlers of Osage and Coffey County

Carolyn B. Berneking has written an excellent article on The Welsh Settlers of Emporia:A Cultural History. The article, which is about Emporia and Lyon county, could equally apply to Osage and Coffey Counties to the east of Emporia, and the towns of Arvonia and Lebo.

As Carolyn notes in her article, "the Welsh towns of Llanfynydd, Corwen, Cyfarthfa, Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil, Anglesey, and Aberystwyth figuratively became Carbondale, Reading, Burlingame, Arvonia, Lebo, and Emporia in Kansas as natives of Wales settled in this country." From 1850 to 1870, estimates are that about 60,000 people emigrated from Wales to America. While most settled in communities in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio, a significant number began new lives in Kansas. The National Library of Wales.

From R. D. Thomas' Hanes Cymry America -- The Kansas Chapter, published in 1872 in Welsh and translated by Phillips G. Davies. Republished by the Kansas Historical Society, 1977.

Several religious and adventuresome Welsh settled in this town [Emporia] 8 to 10 years ago. The town had been started before the recent civil war, but its growth was retarded during the disturbances. But after that the city began to grow and succeed until it now is a populous, industrious, and successful city. It is the county seat of Lyon county, and is located in a pleasant place between the Neosho and Cottonwood rivers. It has wide streets, several large stores, many good houses, some excellent churches, and growing businesses; two railroads run through it already, from Junction City and from Topeka, and one to Burlingame, Reading, and near Arvonia. Emporia contains several Welsh who are craftsmen and rich business men, and some of them are in high positions, such as Dr. Morris, Jones, Thomas, etc. There also is the office of Wm. B. Jones, Esq.. This growing city will quickly be second in size to the city of Lawrence. Many Welsh farmers live near it.

The Welsh settlers who came to Kansas in the late 1800's became farmers, doctors, businessmen, and even coal miners for Kansas had coal deposits in and around Emporia, Kansas. In 1889, Osage County had 118 coal mines, employing over 2,200 people and producing 400,000 tons of coal. In 1969, coal mining ended, but the pits filled with water still linger. GeoKansas.

Coal pit west of Arvonia, Kansas

Arvonia, Kansas

Off Interstate 35 on the way north and east from Emporia to Overland Park is all that remains of Arvonia, Kansas. The marker is at the turn off to Lebo, Kansas. Turn onto Hoch Road opposite to Lebo, go north 3 miles, turn left on 325th Street (it is just before the bridge that crosses Melvern Lake), and drive up a gravel road a quarter of a mile. You find yourself on the south end of a little known rural community called Arvonia.

In 1869, J. Mather Jones of Utica, New York and James A. Whitaker of Chicago, bought the land and founded the town of Arvonia, Kansas. In 1871, nearly 450 residents lived and worked in Arvonia. Today, there are perhaps less than 10. All that remains is a beautiful one room schoolhouse, a church, a few beautifully kept homes, and the town well where the residents used to gather water.

Arvonia schoolhouse

Shortly after its founding, Arvonia businesses included two cheese factories, a sawmill, coal mines, a general store, a chicken hatchery and a hotel. Arvonia was on its way to becoming a bustling community in one of the newest states in the United States. But town survival was a question of access to railroads, and unfortunately for Arvonia the railroads went north to Reading and south to Lebo.

Read more from the Lebo Light.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A letter back home to Wales, 1859

The following letter, written in 1859 by an unidentified Welshman in Emporia, Lyon County, to his brother and sister in Carmarthenshire, Wales. The letter is taken from the Kansas Historical Quarterly - The Welsh Settlers of Emporia: A Cultural History, by Carolyn B. Berneking. The original source is Alan Conway, ed., The Welsh in America (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1961), pp.131-133.

[My note. Kansas was first opened to settlement by whites of European origin with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Prior to that time, the area was reserved for Native Americans who had lived on the land since time immemorial or for Indian tribes who were relocated from the east to Kansas territory.

The letter does not discuss "Bleeding Kansas", with its history of border disputes that involved John Brown and Free-Staters versus the Missouri Border Ruffians, who favored slavery in the territory. Nor does it mention the many land disputes - the lack of clear title, which resulted from Indian claims and claim jumping. The letter precedes by a year, the terrible drought of 1860.

Like any one thing, the letter is a snapshot in a moving picture of Kansas history.]

Kansas is a splendid place for a man who has got £200 [two hundred pounds], to come out and buy a farm. He can get land at $1.50 per acre and as good as there is in the Vale of Towey, after being cultivated. It doesn't require any manure at all. I have seen land from which the twentieth crop in succession is taken out of it this year and it seems as good as ever. Some men I know here keep three or four hundred head of cattle, and they have not a yard of land of their own, and don't pay a cent for grass. . . . The grass in many parts is as high as my head. All the cattle are fat and they are kept out the whole winter. . . .
[My note. The vale of Towey (spelled Towy) is in Carmarthenshire, Wales, through which flows the River Towy. It is adjacent to the westernmost point of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The tall grass referred to is probably the famous Kansas Bluestem, which reaches a height of seven feet.]
There is an Odd Fellow's lodge at Emporia. I am not disappointed with America at all. It is far better than I expected. You can guess what sort of a place Emporia is. She is a new town, only two years of age, with about four thousand inhabitants. There is only one policeman in the place. I believe that America is a home for a workingman. The people here are not rich -- they are all new beginners, but none are poor, and beggars are not known. I have not seen a drunken man since I landed in the United States.
[My Note. Emporia was established on February 20, 1857.]
I have been working all the fall until now with Evan L. Jones, son of Llwynfedwen, Llanfynydd, but today I am going to team lumber from Emporia to Arkansas City, down south about two hundred miles. All teamsters here camp out at night. 'Tis not unusual to see two or three hundred wagons starting out together from Emporia to all parts of the South, and they are called a train. The reason why they go together is that the Indians are dangerous. The southern part of Kansas is not inhabited at all, the country is quite open from Emporia down to the Gulf of Mexico -- about 1,000 miles of land. . . .
[My Note. Evan L. Jones came to Emporia in the spring of 1858, settling on 160 acres at Dry Creek. William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas, Lyon County. The location of Dry Creek is south of Emporia near the airport.]
I am sparking a nice young woman here and I intend to get married before long. She is a Welsh girl and a newcomer.
[My note. Sparking was a 19th Century term for courting or wooing a girl.]

Lebo Kansas

In Kansas, I-35 runs 234 miles from Oklahoma through Wichita, past Emporia and Overland Park then on to Missouri.

North of Emporia, I-35 passes Lebo, the principal town of Coffey County.

Lebo founded 1883

Lebo's history dates to April 17, 1883, when David L. Jones purchased 80 acres. The land was just east of land owned by the Santa Fe Railroad where a train depot was going to be built. This was good news for Mr. Jones and bad news for the small community of Arvonia, Kansas to the north, which was also hoping for the railroad.

View from Old Highway 50

On February 11, 1884, the first train arrived, and the town of Lebo was off and running, its economy based on the farming, livestock, coal mining, and the railroad. Lebo has never been a large town and today its citizens number less than 1000 souls. Nevertheless, it is a happy place where everyone knows your name, and the big event in the fall is the sporting event under the Friday night lights at the high school football field. Lebo is also proud of its winning basketball program.

The Old Bank

What is left of Lebo are a beautiful two story limestone, a drug store, Sleezer's barbershop, a lumber store, the grain elevators, and enough businesses to keep the community going for another 100 years. It may not be Manhattan, but it might be Kansas' own version of Mayberry.

Dog on a truck

Sleezer's Barber Shop

Walter and Evan (Evie) Jones, descendants of the founders of Lebo, were reared on a farm north of Lebo, Kansas, in Coffey County. At the turn of the century, the brothers inherited 200 acres of land, and they began farming forming a partnership, Jones and Jones. Walter Jones died in early 1953, and Evan followed a few months later. Along with Walter's wife Olive, the Jones Estate was left in a trust that serves the interests of needy children and funds the Jones Policy Center, the W.S. and E.C. Jones Conference Center, and the Jones Distinguished Professorship at Emporia State University. Jones Institute at Emporia State University.

old image Skelly gas station, Lebo, Kansas, November 2013, evening

Skelley Gas Station, Old Highway 50

Toby watches for the train

The official web site of Lebo, Kansas