Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Polecat Creek Stone Bridge, Butler County, Kansas

“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” - Henry David Thoreau

Polecat Creek Bridge 

People come to Polecat Bridge for many reasons. I come with my dog to walk the banks of Polecat creek, and occasionally to sit and read.

Catalpa trees with its elephantine leaves grow along the bank. In the early spring it produces beautiful white flowers that later become long seed pods. Walnut and Elm trees also loom overhead. Minnows swim in the creek and across the water skitter water striders, zig-zagging back and forth as the dog plays prances joyfully. It is quiet except for the occasional truck or car that comes roaring down the dirt road, slowing down to cross the bridge and kicking up a cloud of dust. This is a small price to pay to sit and read a book at Polecat Creek Bridge, a single span stone arch bridge, located five miles south of Rose Hill, Kansas then one and a half miles east on 230th street. C.C. Jamison

C.C Jamison

The bridge was built by C.C. Jamison, who at the age of 15 arrived in Kansas with his parents in 1875,  first settling Hutchinson, then in Pratt County, and finally in Augusta. Jamison became a contractor building several of the stone arch bridges of Butler County, Kansas. He built his first stone at the age of twenty-four, a 40 foot stone arch bridge, across Dry Creek, between Bruno and Augusta. History of Butler County, Kansas by Vol. P. Mooney.

Providence, Kansas

A few hundred feet to the east, lies the ghost town of Providence, Kansas, a spa once famous for its mineral water. In 1873, a farmer dug a well and found the water strange to the taste and mineral water was discovered.

A. A. Hyde

A.A. Hyde the inventor of Mentholatum promoted the mineral water and built a hotel with ten rooms, a bath house and dining room. A general store was added across the street. Perhaps for this reason, the stone bridge was built.

The town and  hotel are documented in both the 1887 and 1905 Kansas Atlases of Butler County and Richland Township.

Kansas Atlas of 1887, Richland Township, Butler County, Providence, detail

Chisholm Trail 

I used to think of the Chishom trail as a well-worn path followed by herd after herd. Instead, the trail was like a reed blowing in the wind, following the grass where it was green and avoiding farmsteads that popped up throughout southern Kansas. Once upon a time the trail ran through Richland Township between Eight Mile and Polecat Creeks.

Old time settlers told tales that included Indians, prairie fires, and grasshopper. Read their stories in Mooney's book.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Sometimes a pretty bush is so widespread, it gets overlooked.

Anyone who is touring Kansas in winter spots these bright red berries on deciduous bushes. The Latin name is Symphoricarpos orbiculatus.The common name is Coralberry, one word. The shrub is found from New York to Alabama, and north to Minnesota.

I spotted this plant at Lake El Dorado in December of 2013. I was walking along a woodland path.

Coralberry bush Kansas

This plant grows as a  small, mound-shaped, deciduous shrub with shredding bark on older wood with brown to purplish branchlets, usually growing to 4 ft. but can reach 6 ft.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Stone Bridges of Butler County, Kansas in winter

This is a return visit in December 2013 to the stone bridges of Butler County, Kansas.

Stone Bridges of Butler County, Kansas 

This group of four bridges is located east of Wichita, just past Augusta and south of El Dorado, on the north side of Highway 54/ Highway 400. If you get out and wander around, it takes about 1-2 hours.You can also get here by traveling south of El Dorado on Haverhill Road.

None are on the List of bridges on the National Register of Historic Places in Kansas. This is a shame.

1. East on Highway 54/Highway 400 to Haverhill Rd. (4 miles past Augusta) to 60th St., turn east and go 1 mile. Two spans of 20 and 30 feet, built 1912, by C.C. Jamison.

Double arch bridge of Butler County, Kansas at 60th Street off Haverhill Road.

2. Continue east to Walnut Valley Rd., turn south and go ½ mile. A single span of 25 feet. Side views are nearly impossible.

Single arch stone bridge Walnut Valley Rd., Butler County, Kansas

3. Continue south on Walnut Valley Rd to 70th St., turn west and go ½ mile. A single span of 25 feet, built 1897 by A. Methany. This is one of my favorites.

Single arch at 70th St. off of Haverhill Rd., Butler County, Kansas

4. Continue west on 70th St. across Haverhill Rd., then continue west on 70th St. to Ohio St. (paved roadway). Cross Ohio St. and continue west 7 miles on 70th St. to Diamond St., turn south on Diamond and go 1 and ½ miles to a 37 foot arch bridge.

Diamond Road Stone Bridge, Butler County, Kansas

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Patsy Cline at the Drum Room in the President Hotel, Kansas City

When she died in 1963, Patsy Cline was at the top of the charts, then the only female to headline her own shows and get top billing over males. She had just come off two top singles - I Fall to Pieces and Crazy, both recorded in 1961.
Patsy Cline, 1957
Patsy had by this time reinvented her personal style, shedding Western cowgirl outfits for elegant gowns, cocktail dresses, bright red lip stick, dangly earrings, and spiked heels. A fan favorite, she loved to hob-nob with fans after a concert, signing autographs and talking long afterwards.

On March 3, 1963, Patsy Cline performed a benefit concert at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, in Kansas City, Kansas for DJ "Cactus" Jack Call, who had died in a car crash a month earlier. She then spent the night at the Town House Motor Hotel and was unable to fly out the next day because the airport was fogged in. With a night to wait for better weather, Patsy then appeared for her last time at the Drum Room in the The President Hotel. [unverified].

Lobby, Hotel President

Drum Room

Patsy: The Life and Times of Patsy Cline,  Margaret Jones.

On March 5, she left Kansas City aboard a Piper Comanche, a four-seat, single-engined, low-wing plane. The plane took off, stopping to refuel in Missouri, then again at Dyersburg, Tennessee. There, the pilot was advised to remain because of bad weather and high winds, but he took off anyway. The plane was within 90 miles of Nashville when it crashed. Everyone aboard died instantly.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

In the Wizard of Oz, Dorthy Gale [Judy Garland] says to her dog, "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." It's #4 on the American Film Institute's list of top 100 movie quotations.

On a windy day in November, on my way to the QuiviraNational Wildlife Refuge, the wind roars like the lion in the Wizard of Oz. Too windy for birds, or a rainbow for that matter, but I did get this shot of Cottonwood trees lining a quiet road north of the main highway.

Road to the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge

Friday, November 15, 2013

Matfield Green Cemetery

Clasped hands on a headstone often represent an enduring marriage, especially if two graves are near the monument.

John and Mary Lansbury, Matfield cemetery, Matfield Green, Kansas

Flint Hills Scenic Byway (K-177) courses through the Flint Hills between Council Grove and Cassoday.

To make this trip from Wichita, the Kansas traveler leaves I-35 at Cassoday and heads north on Highway 177. Then the road takes you along a scenic highway through Chase County. For a while, the road parallels the South Fork of the Cottonwood River. Guarding the road are bluffs and rounded sloping hills with occasional limestone outcrops.

Stop at Matfield Green, population 119. South of town is the Matfield cemetery. These two headstones and the irises between them, caught my eye.

John and Mary Lansbury (Lansbeurg) are husband and wife. John died November 28, 1873, at the age of 77 years, 11 months, and 8 days. The Union veteran flag holder star can be seen to the left in the photo. John was born in 1796. In 1861, the first year of the Civil War, he would have been 65 years old.

[Chase County was solidly Union during the Civil War. Seventy volunteers, more than a quarter of its voting age population enlisted during the Civil War. Kansas Skyways' list of Kansas Veterans for Chase County does not include John Lansburg, but does include John Bansbury in the Matfield Green cemetery. (possibly a misspelling?) Skyways later lists a John Landsbury of Matfield Green. The USgovarchives list of Kansas pensioners for 1883 lists Mary K Lansbury, widow war 1812. (John was 16 in 1812. Mary received $8 a month as her pension.) Another reference to the War of 1812 is Private John Lansbury at]

John Lansbeurg
Mary Lansbury is buried next to John. She was born May 13, 1808. She died February 11, 1885. Mary was twelve years younger. After searching the United States for the surname "Lansbeurg", I came up with only a single match. "Lansbury" is popular as a surname.

Mary Lansbury
The 1870 US Census lists John (age 72) and Mary (age 62) Lansbury residing in Bazaar Township, Chase County, Kansas, along with their son Dennis (age 20).  Chase County Probate Department includes a will filed by John Lansbury in 1873, naming a wife Mary K. Lansbury and five children.

The answer to John Lansbury's Civil War service and to his name change may exist in the Chase County Historical Sketches, Landsbury John, pages 150,151,354. vol. II.

Matfield Cemetery, Matfield Green

Thursday, August 22, 2013

David Hicks Overmyer - Bourbon County District Courthous Mural

Lady Justice (Justice Enthroned) by David Hicks Overmyer (1889-1973) decorates a courtroom in Bourbon County, Fort Scott, Kansas.

Lady Justice or Justice Enthroned, by David Hicks Overmyer

Born in Topeka, Kansas in 1890, Overmeyer studied art at Reid-Stone Art School in Topeka, (now Washburn University), then studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and, finally, at the Art Students' League of New York.

He painted Lady Justice in 1929. In her right hand, Lady Justice holds Corpis Juris (the body of law), along with a sword to enforce the law; in her left arm, a scale to balance competing claims.  In the right background  is the Washington Capitol.

In 1934, the Works Progress Administration commissioned four murals in the Hale Library at Kansas State University. The murals — titled Agriculture, Mechanics, Arts and Home. In 1937, Overmyer painted for Topeka High School, his alma mater, The Pageant of England. In 1951 he received a commission from the Kansas Legislature to paint eight scenes on Kansas history for the capital rotunda: The Coming of the Spaniards, Battle of Arickaree, Battle of Mine Creek, Building a Sod House, Lewis and Clark in Kansas, Westward Ho, Arrival of the Railroad, and Chisholm Trail. The murals were completed in 1953.

Other works by Overmyer are on permanent display at the Mulvane Art Museum in Topeka Kansas.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

History of Wichita - 1888

In 1887, a bill was passed by the Kansas Legislature giving Kansas women the right to vote at school, bond, and municipal elections. Empowered, Wichita women would help to elect George W. Clement mayor of Wichita to replace then serving Joseph Allen. John A. Martin still served as governor of the state, advocating state-wide Prohibition.

In the US presidential election,  the incumbent Democrat Grover Cleveland wins the popular vote in November, but loses the Electoral College vote to Republican Benjamin Harrison, thereby losing the election.

Wichita is booming.

Some of the descriptions of the city included "Winning Wonder of the West," "Peerless Princess of the Plains,” “Windy Wonder," and the “Magic Mascotte (sic) of the Meridian."  This and other facts were noted by Dr. Edward Tihen (Tihen notes) in his review of the Wichita Eagle and other papers. Wichita Eagle 1888.

Wichita Street Railway, 1884, North Main Street
Image Wichita Public Library,

Wichita began in 1870 with a population of 270, now has an estimated population of 40,000. Eight years earlier, the population of Wichita was only 5,482.

A detailed map of Wichita dated 1887, compiled by the publishers L.H. Everets & Co. of Philadelphia reveals the extent of Wichita. David Rumsey Map Collection. On the map, College Hill begins at Hillside and Douglas Avenues. Today's College Hill was then described as Merriman Park, named after original landowner George Merriman. Read Jeff Roth's article on College Hill.

Citizens get around by horse and buggy. Public transportation is mule drawn railway cars. The several railway companies in the city were considering using something other than mules, one idea being electric railways which were being used in other cities. One such railway was the Strang Car Line, then in use between Kansas City and Olathe. The largest of the railway companies - the Wichita Street Railway company,  has 40 miles of lines and 46 cars, providing five minute service on major streets. The railway line on Douglas Avenue ends at Hillside.

January 12th, 1888 - a blizzard suddenly and without warning strikes Kansas, and all of the Midwest from Texas to Minnesota. The violent storm leaves 235 dead, mostly children on their way home from school. In March another blizzard would hit the east coast causing power outages and killing more than 400.

The winter blizzard was fresh in the minds of the several  railway companies, a push was under way to get cars heated by stoves, making them comfortable no matter how fierce the weather.

Wichita Interurban Railway

 Image Wichita Public Library, 

As Tihen notes in an article from the Eagle dated January 13, 1888, travel was not without mishap:
A few days ago a street car driver on the Emporia line lighted one of the lamps of the car and then dropped the still burning match into the straw bottom of the car. It ignited and caught the dress of a lady passenger, but fortunately was extinguished with a nearly bucket of water.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Border Gateways by Oscar Berninghaus

Fort Scott Federal Courthouse Mural by Oscar E. Berninghaus

Tucked away in courtroom now used for storage on the second floor of the Federal Courthouse in Fort Scott Kansas is a mural by Oscar E Berninghaus titled “Border Gateways.”

Born in 1874 in St. Louis, Berninghaus was largely self-taught, but also attended night classes at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. In 1899, he took a train west and, on a lark, stopped in Taos, New Mexico. During his 8 day stay, he met and befriended Bert Phillips, another artist who had taken up residency in Taos the year before. Berninghaus would return to St. Louis to resume his commercial work, but he continued to return to Taos in the summer to pursue his interest in fine art. In 1915, he became a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, along with his friend Bert Phillips and four others.

Border Gateways, Oscar Berninghaus, 1937

In 1937, Berninghaus won the commission for the Fort Scott Kansas federal court mural. Incorrectly identified as Works Progress Administration art, the courtroom mural was commissioned as a project of the U.S. Treasury Department. The painting includes familiar themes of the westward passage of American settlers - Indians, wagontrains pulled by oxen, and a stagecoach.

The Enabling Act of 1854 that Berninghaus refers to accompanied the Kansas-Nebraska bill was approved by then President Benjamin Pierce, May 30, 1854. The idea of admitting two states at the same time - one a free state, Nebraska, and the other a slave state, Kansas - in order that the political balance should be maintained in the United States Senate. The bill provided for Popular Sovereignty, that is, a vote by the territory's inhabitants to determine the status of free or slave. This bill set the stage for "Bloody Kansas", the presidential election of 1860, and eventually the Civil War.

detail Border Gateways, wagon with oxen and stagecoach

Berninghaus' painting of the Kansas landscape depicts the flood of immigrants from all over the United States, both north and south, to determine the issue of free or slave state.

Fort Scott was one such "border gateway". In 1853, the US military abandoned Fort Scott. The public buildings were sold at auction. One building, a former officer's quarters, was opened as the Fort Scott or Free State Hotel. And located directly across the parade ground was the Western or Pro-Slavery Hotel, a former infantry barracks.

detail, Border Gateways, Indians and wagontrain

The Fort Scott Kansas Courthouse is decommissioned, meaning that it is no longer used for public business. One gains access by going to the still active post office and asking for permission to view the painting.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Mullinville, Kansas is home to American folk-artist, M.T. Liggett, a Kansas treasure - a man who loves living and saying what is on his mind.

M.T. Liggett and KWCH reporter Hannah Davis
M.T. often parodies local figures in his sculptures, especially the town council, making him an object of controversy among the powers that be and a subject for conversation at the coffee shop. His detractors might mumble under their breath that he should raise more corn and less Cain, but this would be unfair, M.T. is a gentle soul who quietly makes his point with his art.

This story is not about M.T.; he deserves a book. Instead, it is about his collection of ancient farm tractors amassed over the years. Once they plowed the fields, now, they stand like the monolithic stones at Stonehenge, silently waiting for some visitor from a thousand years hence to decipher their meaning.

the tractors of M.T. Liggett
The tractor in the foreground calls out to me. Had I the sense, I would have inspected the hood for the maker. Instead, I was overcome by the immensity of M.T.'s work, there are sculptures everywhere - in his barn, on his lawn, and most conspicuously, along the highway where the cars and semis pass by.

old tractor, no tires

Back to the tractor, whose most salient feature is its lack of tires. Tires are now a common feature of every mode of transportation. But it wasn't always so. It was Harvey S. Firestone, a fourth-generation farmer from Columbiana, Ohio, who founded the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in July 1900, in Akron, Ohio – a city later known as “Rubber City", that from necessity created the invention. The invention did not happen until 1932 when he produced the world’s first pneumatic tractor tire.
So, I am left staring at a pre-1932 tractor by an unknown maker. Maybe, someday I will go back to M.T. Liggett's and learn the rest of the story.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Runnymede, Kansas

Runnymede is a Kansas ghost town. It is named after the spot in the English county of Surrey where King John and his English barons met and signed the Magna Carta in 1215.

Today, the Kansas Runnymede lies buried beneath wheat fields. It is located in northeast Harper county, between Harper and Norwich, a 30 minute trip from Wichita, southwest on Highway 42, past Viola and Suppeville, then switch to Highway 2. The route takes you though four counties: Sedgwick Sumner, Kingman, and finally, Harper.

Detail of Kansas map 1900 showing Runnymede

Three miles into Harper County on Highway  (the intersection of 140th Road and 60th Ave.), is a Kansas Historical Marker for Old Runnymede. The marker tells the brief story of Runnymede and indicates that the location of the ghost town is about two miles northeast of the site of the marker.

Runnymede, Kansas

Runnymede was the brain-child of an Irishman by the name of F. J. S. Turnley. In the late 1880's, he bought 1500 acres in Township 33 of Harper County and Canton Township, Kingman County. The land was located on the west side of the Chicaskia River. Turnley's goal was to recreate an English village in the Kansas countryside and teach modern farming to English gentlemen. For $500, the lords and ladies of England could send their sons to Kansas to learn farming and live in a Dry Kansas (In 1880 Kansans amended the constitution to ban the sale of liquor). The sons came, but their activities were confined to the steeplechase, football, and riding the stage between Norwich and Harper.

The Wichita Eagle chronicled the short life of Runnymede. In June of 1889, Turnley arrived in Runnymede with 18-20 English investors. By November of 1889, the city was up and running and the cornerstone of the Episcopal church was laid. In addition to a hotel and livery, Turnley planned other businesses including a milling company, creamery, soda water manufactory, and sugar plant.

The year 1891 was pivotal for Runnymede as the Wichita and El Paso railroad planned a route from Wichita to the newly opened Cherokee Strip in Oklahoma. Despite the fact that the Eagle was reporting on New Year's Day 1891 the coming of the railroad, it never came.

Detail Wichita Eagle New Years 1891

The train bypassed Runnymede, the English gents soon tired of horse races, and by 1893, the Eagle was reporting the demise of Runnymede. The St. James Episcopal church was taken to Harper, where it still stands. The hotel was hauled off to the Cherokee Strip to serve settlers pouring into new boom-towns. By July of 1903, the now Wichita Daily Eagle was writing a reminisce of old Runnymede.

Detail Wichita Daily Eagle July 1903
A less flattering reminisce was reported in western Kansas by the Kinsley Graphic on December 26, 1902.

"Runnymede was created by a north of Ireland agitator who lost money in the cotton business in the United States. His son Edward bought 1,700 acres of land in Harper County and began advertising that he was lord of a western paradise where golden birds sang in the trees and silver rivulets ran tinkling to the sea.

For $500 a year he engaged to teach the sons of English gentlemen, the mysteries of farming and stock raising, and provide for their physical needs and administer such educational tonics as would enable them to hold the winning hand wherever they might be."
Lest you believe every word you read, remember the adage that "success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan." 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An Overland Journey by Horace Greeley

"Go West young man." Advice given by Horace Greeley to young men seeking a future in America.

In the summer of 1859, Horace Greeley founder and editor of the New York Tribune made a trip west.

The first leg of his overland journey was to Kansas to attend the first Republican Party political convention in the newly created Territory of Kansas. The convention was to be held in Osawatamie.

Osawatamie was a symbolic choice. Settled in 1854 by those favoring abolition of slavery, including the Reverend Samuel Adair, his wife Florella, Osawatamie was a center of conflict in "Bleeding Kansas." The Adair cabin a few miles northwest of the town was a station on the Underground Railroad and Florella's half brother, John Brown, used this cabin as his headquarters during his bloody stay in Kansas. In 1856, during the Battle of Osawatamie, John Brown and 30 free-state defenders held off 250 pro-slavery militia from Missouri. However, the town of Osawatamie was burned to the ground.

Detail map of eastern Kansas 1856
Red circles indicate stops by Horace Greeley
E. B. Whitman, Lawrence, Kansas

The distance from Atchison to Osawatamie is 80 miles as the crow flew and, in reality more like 100 because of the terrain. The party journeyed south and east. There were no railroads. Stagecoaches ran between major cities. Roads then were more like trails. Streams were forded, rivers crossed by ferry.

After Osawatamie, Greeley intended to continue his trip to San Francisco to highlight the need for a transcontinental railroad.

Monday morning, 6 a.m., May 16th, 1859, Horace Greeley, in a party of four, left Atchison, Kansas  intending to reach Osawatamie, Kansas the next evening. The party rode in a wagon drawn by two horses. On the prairie they were greeted by hills covered in green grass with dots of color here and there from the fresh spring flowers. "From the high level of the prairies, little but a broad sweep of grass on every side was visible but soon we were descending into a new ravine, and now belts and spurs of timber were seen, generally widening as they tend toward the Missouri." The annual prairie fires kept the timber confined to the areas near the rivers and streams.

Atchison county, Kansas Atlas,1903
Published Geo. A. Ogle, Chicago

"Twelve or fifteen miles south of Atchison, we struck the great California trail from Leavenworth, and thence followed it east by south into that city, some fifteen to eighteen miles." Greeley described the many settlers with their Conestoga wagons pulled by oxen, as so many ships with billowing sails "giving the trail the appearance like a river though the great meadows." Because of the pouring rain the night before, the westward bound emigrants were encamped trying to dry out their clothes and give the oxen a rest. Greeley observed that the traffic west was one way, and that both wagons and cattle were sold at their point of destination for whatever they would fetch, and continue on eventually to California.

The party arrived in Leavenworth about 11 am, meaning that the trip from Atchison to Leavenworth, a distance of about 30 miles, was accomplished at the speed of 6 miles and hour, or three times as fast as the speed of an oxen team pulling a wagon, that is when the oxen could avoid the mud and mire and travel at all.

The route Greeley and his party took was altered by the weather. Instead of continuing on to Lawrence, the party shipped horses and wagon on a steamer 50 miles down the Missouri River to Wyandot, near the junction with the Kaw River. From there they debarked.

Detail of Wyandotte County Kansas 1878
Published G. M. Hopkins of Philadelphia

Tuesday, May 17th, the following day they continued on. "We crossed the Kaw on a fair wooden toll-bridge, one thousand two hundred feet long, just erected—or, rather, not quite completed." They passed Shawnee, a village of less than 30 houses and a large hotel.

Johnson County, Kansas Atlas 1874
Published by E. F. Heisler

The road then turned in a more southerly somewhere near a spot marking the crossing of the Santa Fe Trail. Today there is a marker in Downtown Overland Park  at 80th street and Santa Fe Drive. The Santa Fe Trail,  unlike the other trails west, was a trade route with with its white canvas covered wagons pulled by six pair of mules, attempting to make Santa Fe, New Mexico to trade manufactured goods for silver.

Greeley and his party continued to Olathe, then the county seat of Johnson County, then back a mile or so west and south on what is today Highway 169 to Spring Hill, "a hamlet of five or six dwellings, including a store, but no tavern," Marysville, and Paoli. At sunset, they reached the village of Stanton, with 20 to 30 houses, a schoolhouse, two stores and a tavern. There they were halted by the rain and the Marais des Cynges River.

Miami County, Kansas Atlas 1878
Created by Edwards Brothers of Philadelphia

They had traveled perhaps 50 miles in a day. The day's journey from sunrise to sunset, about 12 hours, again means that they averaged about 4 miles an hour.

Wednesday, May 18th, they crossed to Osawatamie.


Today's trip by highway takes less than two hours. MapQuest follows a similar route taken by Greeley.

Greeley and his party originally intended to stop in Lawrence Kansas but the heavy rains forced them to Wyandot. In 1856, the city of Lawrence was raided by pro-slavery force headed by William Quantrill. Greeley visited Lawrence after his stop in Osawatamie. Whitman's map of 1856 highlights the fact that in 1856 the territory of Kansas was home to many Indian tribes.

John Brown carried out his raid on Harper's Ferry in the fall of 1859.

The county maps can be found online at various sources including

An Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859 by Horace Greeley (1860) can be read in its entirety online at

Monday, May 27, 2013

Western Yarrow

Stop and smell the flowers.

I am not sure where the quote originated. Surely, this advice has been around for a long time. And the sentiment that one needs to slow down and enjoy life is good advice.

One source is a misquote of advice from the golfer Walter Hagen. Walter who? He is third on the list of all-time winners in golf, behind Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. In his 1956 autobiography "The Walter Hagen Story: by the Haig Himself," Walter's advice was a little more lengthy, "You're only here for a short visit. Don't hurry, don't worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way."

Western Yarrow, Greenwood County, Kansas, May 2013
In Kansas, the Western Yarrow Achillea millefolium usually blooms in June and July. This photograph taken in Greenwood County, the week before the Memorial Day weekend, is jumping the gun a bit. If you stop and smell the Western yarrow, you will find a spicy aroma. Search for it along the highway and in the fields where cattle graze. It is a perennial 1 to 2 feet tall with erect wooly-villous (that's fuzzy to you and I) stems. Leaves alternate and are pinnated (paired off side by side on a central axis like a fern).  The flower heads are numerous. Each head is about 1/4 inch across with 5 white ray florets about 1/8 inch long. The stamen where the pollen is collected, is white and yellow. The flower florets range from 10 to 50 on a stem.

The Latin name of the Western Yarrow comes from Achilles, who used the plant to heal his warriors' wounds. American Indians used the leaves of this plant as a poultice for spider bites and small wounds. They also used the plant for common ailments such as influenza, gout, urinary disorders, and indigestion.  

Western yarrow contains an alkaloid, which can be poisonous; care should be taken in its use.

If you click on the image to see a close-up, you will see insects busily gathering nectar and fertilizing the flower.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Kansas Ghost Towns - Butler County

Description Kansas Atlas 1885
I thought it might be interesting to list all the ghost towns of Butler County, Kansas. Butler County was founded in 1855, part of the Kansas Territory, which was created the year before. The name honors Andrew Pickens Butler (1796–1857), senator from South Carolina, and one of the authors of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The settlement of Butler County was slowed by the Civil War and the Indian title to large areas of eastern Kansas.

Detail Kansas Atlas 1885
The above detail is from Edwards 1885 map of Kansas revealing the towns, counties, and railroads. A quick glance reveals familiar and unfamiliar names. So, I begin by examining familiar routes from Wichita east. The road due east of Wichita to Beaumont on the eastern edge of Butler County lists the following places: can't read, Andover, Haverhill, Leon, Keighly, and Beaumont. To the north of Leon are the place names Cave Springs and Quito. To the south of Lorena is another unreadable name. To the south of Haverhill appears to be the place name Sunnyside.

This route generally follows Kellogg Avenue leaving Wichita and then becomes Highway 400 through Butler County. Since Highway 400 is a newer road, the old route may shift north and south from the newer Highway 400. As one drives east, remnants of the older highway (as well as the abandoned Frisco rail line) still exist. One spot in particular is the crossing of the Frisco Railroad just east of Leon. Another remnant of the old highway exists on the left side of the turn off to Beaumont. Then, leaving Beaumont, one sees on the south side of the road a long stretch of the old highway descending down the eastern slope of the Flint Hills in Greenwood County.

Lorena is placed halfway between Andover and Augusta. It pops up on a Kansas locator search as being at Central and Indianola roads. It was probably a stop on the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad (Frisco).

All that remains of Quito as a place name is the cemetery bearing that name. The cemetery is at same location on the map.

Rand McNally map from Mooney's History of Butler County, 1916

Detail of Mooney's Rand McNally map
Several of the place names have disappeared, including Quito, but Lorena is still there. Notice the place name Indianola 3 miles north of Lorena. Indianola gets a mention as a discontinued post office in the Kansas Cyclopedia, 1912.

More to follow.

Friday, May 17, 2013

James R. Mead, Wichita, and the Chisholm Trail

When I was in college, my friends and I would sit around and have imaginary conversations with historical figures. And the question would come up, "Who in the history of mankind would you most like to have a conversation with?" The idea was always intriguing, a chance to talk to someone who shaped the course of history, to get the inside view of what happened, before the historians reshaped history to their way of thinking.

There were, of course, many men and women with whom I would have loved to share dinner and a conversation with. But if the subject was the coming of the Chisholm Trail to Wichita, then surely I would invite James R. Mead to dinner. Mead came to Kansas Territory from Iowa in the spring of 1859. For almost ten years he traveled the plains hunting and trading with the Indians. In 1868 he took out a claim on the site of present day Wichita. His claim encompassed what would become Broadway to Washington and Central to Douglas avenues.

This claim might have remained an empty prairie had not Mead and others had the grit to bring the Texas cattle herds coming up the Chisholm Trail to Wichita. In Hunting and Trading on the Great Plains, 1859-1875, Mead tells the story of how this came to be.

And if I could invite some friends to join us at the dinner table, then I would invite the Texans themselves who drove the cattle up the trail.

 Here is a chance to converse with the Texas cattlemen who drove their herds north to Kansas during the heyday of the Chisholm Trail. It was a period of Texas and Kansas history from 1867 to 1885. A time when more than 5,000,000 head of cattle were driven north over the Chisholm Trail to the cattle towns of Abilene, Wichita, Ellsworth, Caldwell, and Dodge.

These "yarns" are told by the cattlemen themselves. They were collected by J. Marvin and published in 2004. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The railroad comes to Wichita

The Wichita City Eagle, May 17, 1872

"It was a dark and stormy night."

This is the way writers often start a drama. And it would have made a good opening for the story of the arrival of the railroad in Wichita, Kansas. For it was on the dark and stormy night of May 16, 1872, that the Wichita & Southwestern Railroad first came to Wichita.

Wichita & Southwestern train arriving in Wichita from Newton 1872,
Photo from Wichita Public Library, online source

The local paper did not photograph the event, and a later photograph shows the Wichita & Southwestern (later acquired by the ATSF) arriving in Wichita from Newton. "All is joy," wrote Marshall Murdock, editor of The Wichita City Eagle, in Friday's edition.

 The brief editorial mention came on page two at the bottom.
The Cars at Wichita
This is a fact. Regular through trains reached our depot yesterday. The bosom of our valley "heaved and sot" with ecstatic emotion. All is joy, many too many are "too full for utterance." We are exhausted, bewildered and can say no more. That is enough.
Another brief article, also on page 2, titled, Correspondence of the Journal, Wichita, Kansas explains the event from the week prior.

"Twas the spring of 1871"

It was the spring of 1871, and the success of the city of Wichita was in doubt. James R. Mead colorfully relates this story in Hunting and Trading on the Great Plains 1859-1875.

In the spring of 1871, the rival Kansas Pacific Railroad built a line to Ellsworth, Kansas. Today Ellsworth is a city of not much more than 3,000. It started out as a boom town with the coming of the railroad, it had a population of over 2,000. Ellsworth's location to the west of Salina and Abilene gave it an advantage over Abilene, which began as the first cattle town in Kansas.

 Hoping to capture the Texas longhorns coming up the Chisholm Trail, the Kansas Pacific Railroad hired Maj. Henry Shanklin to mark out a new trail from the Ninnescah, where Clearwater is now located, bypassing Wichita.

Wichita was not incorporated as a city until 1870 and it had rival claims to the cattle coming up the Chisholm Trail.

Maj. Shanklin might have succeeded in his plans but for the grit and determination of the founders of the city of Wichita. On the arrival of the Texas herds at McLain's Ranch on the Ninnescah, friends rode to Wichita to inform the city of the dastardly plan of the Kansas Pacific to bypass Wichita for Ellsworth.

Wichita's Main Street 1870, Looking North from Douglas Avenue Wichita State University Libraries' Department of Special Collections, online source
 "It was evening and the sun had gone down behind the tall cottonwoods..."

In the spring of 1871, Wichita's survival as a city was in doubt. Other entrepreneurs had dreams too. There was El Dorado and Augusta to the east and north, Newton to the north, but especially worrisome was the rival plan to make Park City the golden city in the Arkansas Valley. Hurriedly, Wichita sheriff Mike Meagher, Nathaniel English, James M.. Steele, and James R. Mead saddled up and rode to the challenge. "It was evening," as Mead related, "The sun had gone done behind the tall cottonwoods which fringed the classic banks of the 'Nile of America,' the lengthened shadows extended over the luxuriant grass on Main Street and Douglas. No time was to be lost,..."

The party rode west across the sandy Arkansas River, across the green valley to Cowskin Creek, where Pawnee Prairie Park now sits, and 20 miles on to McLain's Ranch, near present day Clearwater. There they learned from friends at the ranch that Maj. Shanklin had guided four herds of Texas cattle north of the Ninnescah River only the afternoon before. Night was now descending and the clouds cloaked the landscape in darkness, so the group bedded down on the dirt floor of the ranch with a saddle for a pillow and a saddle blanket for cover. It was a fitful sleep, if any of them truly slept.

Before the sun rose the next day, the four horsemen were off, and within two hours, they came upon the lead herd, just as it was starting to move for the day. As the four horsemen rode up to the lead herd, they were greeted by Major Shanklin and the herd's owner. An intense conversation took place. Major Shanklin, on the one hand, argued that the old Chisholm Trail was closed, and that farmers would shoot at and stampede the cattle, that Chishom Creek could not be crossed because of spring floods, and that the fields west of Wichita were burned and the stubs would hurt the feet of the cattle.

The four horsemen of Wichita argued their case, but words alone did not win the day. Only when the leader of the cattle drive was taken aside was the deal sealed. This by the use of "handsome consideration". The cattlemen swung their herds around and headed for Wichita. They crossed the Chisholm Creek below the Hoover Bridge, near where Sedgwick County Zoo now sits, then along Douglas Avenue to the block where the Wichita Eagle now stands.

Just before the herds arrived in the city, Major Shanklin made one last futile effort to convince the drovers of the pleasures of his route, but by this time the Texas cattlemen and the four upright citizens of Wichita were fast friends, attesting to this fact by signing a document proclaiming Wichita as the shortest, best, safest, and most practical route for cattle.

Sedgwick County 1887

In 1871, Ellsworth got its share of cattle for it shipped 35,000 head of cattle back east to hungry easterners. Cattle shipments from Ellsworth reached their peak in 1873 when over 220,000 head of cattle were shipped out on Kansas Pacific cars. But, Wichita too was assured of its success.

Eventually, the railroads continued to lay tracks to the south and the cattle drovers did not need to make the long drive to Abilene, or Ellsworth, or Wichita. And the increasing political pressure of farmers and ranchers made Texas cattle less popular. In 1885, the Kansas State Legislature banned all Texas cattle from the entire state of Kansas.

"One can now take the cars at Wichita one morning and be in St. Louis the next morning and in Chicago the evening following. We are now within the bounds of civilization."

Monday, February 18, 2013

C.N. James Trading Post

C.N. James Trading Post
C.N. James Trading Post, built 1868
C.N. James Trading Post, built in 1868, was the first house in Augusta, Kansas. Over the years, it was used as a general store and trading post, boarding house, residence, church, schoolhouse, and polling place on election day. It further served as the meeting place for the Mystic Tie Masonic Lodge, No. 74, of Augusta. The timbers are from Cottonwood trees.

C.N. James was one of the original incorporators of the town of Augusta in 1871. He was then appointed as one of the trustees of the newly formed Township of Augusta. He also served as first mayor of Augusta. His other duties included serving as clerk of the District Court of Butler County 1875-1882, and a year as superintendent of public education for Butler County in 1876. Skyways.

The city of Augusta took its name from the wife of C.N. James.

Today the trading post still stands at 3rd and State Street, next to the Augusta Historical Museum.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Blue Moon Club, 3401 S. Oliver, Wichita

 Blue Moon
You saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own ...

The Blue Moon Club was located at 3401 S. Oliver. The club, which seated 1200, was built in 1937 and burned down in 1960.

Today, that location is a parking lot for Spirit Aero Systems. But, in its heyday, before World War II, the Blue Moon Club was the place to go to see big bands like Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller. Kansas was dry, but at the Blue Moon, you could get a drink even if you were under-age. The club was self described as the "Southwest’s Swankiest Nite Spot". In addition to white bands, it was also open to black entertainers.  

The Black Experience and the Blues in 1950s Wichitaby Patrick Joseph O'Connor.

Blue Moon Club, 1945, image Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum

This obscure trivia might have escaped my attention had I not been looking into the history of Madelyn Lee Payne, President Barack Obama's maternal grandmother.

Madelyn Payne lived in Augusta, Kansas with her strict Methodist parents. Obama describes them in his memoir as "stern Methodist parents who did not believe in drinking, playing cards or dancing."So, it was on weekends that Madelyn would make her way to Wichita to listen to music and dance.And the Blue Moon Club was the place to be.

During Madelyn's senior year at Augusta High School, she met Stanley Dunham with his dark hair slicked down. He was unconventional. He liked jazz music and wrote poetry. Madelyn graduated high school and the couple married on May 5, 1940, the night of Madelyn's senior prom. War came to America on December 7, 1941, and Stanley enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army a little more than a month later.

Madelyn worked the night shift at the Boeing Plant. They had one daughter, Stanley Ann, born 1942, who in time would become mother to Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States.

Barack Obama would refer to his grandmother as "Toot", a Hawaiian term for grandmother. It was Toot and Barack's grandfather Stanley who would raise Barack in Hawaii for most of his life.

Blue Moon, original version from the 1934 movie Manhattan Melodrama starring Clark Gable, William Powell, and Myrna Loy, music by Rogers and Hart. Shirley Ross sings the Rogers and Hart song, which was rewritten by Hart after the movie as the more familiar Blue Moon.

You can also listen to the Glenn Miller arrangement of Blue Moon with Lorenz Hart's revised lyrics.

The song Blue Moon would go on to be recorded by many artists including: Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Dean Martin, Rod Stewart, and Frank Sinatra.

Lorenz Hart's revised lyrics are:

Blue Moon
 You saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own
          Blue Moon
You know just what I was there for
You heard me saying a prayer for
Someone I really could care for

And then there suddenly appeared before me
The only one my arms will hold
I heard somebody whisper please adore me
And when I looked to the Moon it turned to gold

Blue Moon
Now I'm no longer alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own

And then there suddenly appeared before me
The only one my arms will ever hold
I heard somebody whisper please adore me
And when I looked the Moon had turned to gold

Refrain twice

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Visit to a Land Office in Augusta 1871

Land Office Augusta, Kansas

The Kansas Public Survey map of 1866 identifies three land offices in Kansas. The southernmost land office was then located at Humboldt, Kansas.

Kansas Public Survey 1866

In 1863 and in 1870, treaties between the United States and the Osage Indians provided for the purchase of the Osage Indian Reserve that stretched across southern Kansas. Afterwards, settlers poured in to the area. In 1868, at the confluence of the Walnut and Whitewater rivers, C.N. James and Shamlefer built a log cabin of cottonwood timber. The cabin would serve as a trading post for the soon to be town of Augusta.

C.N. James Trading Post
In March of 1870, the Augusta Town Company was chartered and, in October of 1870, the Humboldt office was removed to Augusta. While I haven't come across an image of the land office in Augusta, it is not unreasonable to assume that it was at the C.N. Trading Post. Its tenure there was brief. In 1874, the land office moved to the next boom town, Wichita.

A visit to the land office

I have often wondered what it was like in the early days of settlement. So, it was interesting to come across a recollection by Civil War veteran, George C. Anderson of an early visit to the Augusta land office in 1871. Anderson and a company of Civil War veterans from Ohio were scouting land for settlement by veterans of the war from Ohio. The resident land agent in Augusta would politely suggest to Anderson and his party that land near there was already spoken for, and they should direct their attention further west.

Anderson was a delegate of the Ohio Soldiers Colony. The group met at Columbus, Ohio, in April, 1871, and selected five members to go west to find lands for settlement. Anderson was one of the five chosen. There is not much information on the Ohio Soldiers Colony, but presumably, they were Union soldiers looking to take advantage of the Homestead Act, which originally gave any man or woman 160 acres of land free, providing they settled, built a shelter, and improved the land. Later a price was placed on the land - the price ranging from $1.25 to $2,50 an acre.

George C. Anderson took notes, which were later published. What follows are his recollections of  going to the land office in Augusta, Kansas. The group began its tour of Kansas and Colorado in Cincinnati, traveling to St. Louis, Kansas City, and Topeka, before heading  south to Florence and then on to Towanda, and Augusta.

Anderson and his party would follow their visit to the land office with a buffalo hunt in Reno County before going on further west.

From the Journal of George C. Anderson, Touring Kansas and Colorado 1871. (from the Kansas Historical Quarterly, Autumn 1956, Transcribed by Barbara Hutchins and Lynn Nelson.)

Resuming our journey, we arrived at Augusta at 3 o'clock P. M.  Here we find a town of some three hundred inhabitants, nearly all of which are land agents or sharks. We find men from every direction, race and color, taking claims, buying and selling land or trying to take advantage of some impecunious Preemptor. We are immediately surrounded on our arrival, and interviewed, as only people in this country know how to interview. However we are not easily frightened, as our party are well armed. Messrs. Huffman and McKittrick are armed with breach loading Ballard rifles, Navy revolvers and knives, Maj Bostwick with a common hunting rifle, revolver and knife, Capt Ferrell with revolver and knife, Young with rifle and revolver and Anderson with Spencer rifle, revolver and knife and to guard against certain kinds of trouble, two or three of the party had an additional armament of bottles, our only remedy against snake bites.

There was a suit before the Land Agent at the time we were there, between a squatter and an actual settler, for a certain piece of land. At one time it looked as though there would be a general fight. Some of the parties placed their hands upon their revolvers, to draw them, but did not. After examining the maps, we were informed by the Ag't that the largest and best body of lands yet unoccupied, were in Sedgewick and Reno Counties, and that we had better examine them.

Read more.