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."