March 24, 2015

A Well-Dressed Horse Thief

"When we send a man to hell from Ozawkie, let's send him well dressed." — 'Doc' Ballard.

Compiled by Betty Jane Wilson, society president

The Valley Falls Vindicator's Thursday, Nov. 28, 1963, issue was devoted primarily to the Ozawkie area at which time the Corps of Engineers was purchasing land areas preparatory to the building of the Perry Dam and Reservoir.

Many sites of historical interest were soon to be absorbed by the dam site and lost to the town's history except for stories reminisced and preserved in writing. One such story follows from The Ozawkie Coyote, Feb. 1, 1940:

"We want to play fair with you. If you want to go, you can run for it," said a group of Ozawkie citizens to a horse thief about 70 or 80 years ago.

"Would he run or would he stay? With six shooters pointed straight at him, this Ozawkie horse thief chose to stay. The name of the man being given a chance is unknown. He had stolen a horse from Jim Nesbit. He claimed to be a deserter from the southern Army and hung around town imbibing freely at the saloons.

"The horse thief was put in the storehouse and a group of citizens met to discuss what to do with him. They said 'any man 'at would steal a good man's horse needs hanging, but first we'll show him some real hospitality.'

"That evening a big dinner was held at Jim Nesbits's, a dinner to which the whole country came and the horse thief was the guest of honor.

"After the dinner the men walked to Ozawkie and had a drinking bout. The horse thief drank more than anybody and the speeches he made were masterpieces of wit.

"Finally, 'Doc' Ballard, the master of ceremonies, said to him, 'Now we've all had a good time. We're going to send you to your friends.' They led him to a grove and hanged him to a tree.

" 'Doc' Ballard picked up his hat and stuck in on his head. 'When we send a man to hell from Ozawkie, let's send him well dressed,' he said.

"That is the end of number one. It is reported his skull was used for 20 years by various teachers in the Ozawkie town school to demonstrate lessons in physiology."

The Valley Falls Historical Society Museum will be open at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 28.

March 18, 2015

Frenchman thought to be first European in NE Kansas

Compiled by Betty Jane Wilson, society president

A discussion of pioneer trails, focused on Kansas and specifically Jefferson County, prompts the inquiry "When did Europeans first come to Kansas?"

The Jefferson County Historical Society Newsletter Editor, John Bowser, Issue 1, Volume 14, reveals the following information in a news article devoted to old trails in Jefferson County.

Apparently when the first European appeared is unknown. Although Francisco De Coronado reached Central Kansas in 1541, it is doubtful that he reached Eastern Kansas, including the area now known as Jefferson County. According to records, probably the first white man to set foot in that area was Etienne Veniard de Bourgmont, a young French army officer who spent several years with the Missouri Indians from 1712 to 1717. He explored the Missouri River near the site of Yankton, S.D., and in an account of the people along it, wrote "Upstream is a smaller river, which flows into the Missouri, called 'Riviere d' Encanze' (Kansas) and a nation (Indians) of the same name, ally and friend of the French. Their trade is in fur."

He was enthusiastic about the land's beauty and marveled at the variety and abundance of animals. At that time, the Kansa Indians had a village on the west bank of the Missouri River near the present town of Doniphan in southeast Doniphan County. In 1724, more than 50 years before the American Revolution, Bourgmont led a party to the Kansa and Padouca tribes. His purpose was to make peace between the Indians and promote the fur trade.

Bourgmont's party came first to the Kansa village on the Missouri. From there, accompanied by a large throng of Indians headed west to hunt buffalo, they went southwest to the Kansas River (near present Rossville). This route would cross the northwest corner of Jefferson County, probably upstream from Valley Falls. Severe illness forced Bourgmont to return to Missouri to recuperate. He came back in the year to complete the mission.

Peace was made with the Padoucas, probably somewhere in present Saline or Ellis counties.

The late Milton Reichart, Valley Falls Historical Society member, contributed an article on Bourgmont's route to Central Kansas in the Summer Issue (1979) of "Kansas History," quarterly journal of the Kansas State Historical Society.

The Valley Falls Historical Society Museum will be open at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 21.

March 11, 2015

Lion or Lamb?

by Betty Jane Wilson, society president

March, the month when harbingers of spring are sought by those weary of winter snow, sleet, and ice and there are those who retort "There's always March."

To challenge weather predictions, research of the Valley Falls Historical Society archives produced a sundry of predictions, shortage of necessities for those eager for spring planting and daily existence, leading to the end of winter doldrums.

An 1861 Ayers American Almanac containing the usual moon's phases, horoscopes, home remedies, etc. listed weather predictions for two geographical areas only, including Kansas with Washington, Maryland, Kentucky, Virginia, Missouri, and California. Simple predictions interspersed with historic dates, current political events, all of which enjoyed priority over weather.

March 1861 predictions:
"1, quite pleasant, followed by cloudy, rain, or snow."

In a few days, "Blustery and high winds, bad roads, bad colds" and finally for the remaining three days "warmer and very pleasant."

A brief glance at the Old Farmer's 2015 Almanac, which includes Kansas in the Heartland Region including Des Moines, Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Topeka with the following predictions for March 1-8, "Rain to snow, then sunny and cold; 9-16, snow, then sunny, cold; 17-23, rain and snow showers, chilly, 24-31, snow, then sunny, turning warm."

Nineteenth and 21st century predictions provide evidence of little change in the "dreaded" March weather activity. Nineteenth century publicatons of a compilation of "a century past" items from the Valley Falls New Era newspapers reveal daily living conditions, anticipations, shortage of food necessities for 1874 Grasshopper Falls citizens.

March 5, 1874 —
"The Grasshopper River has been on a rampage the past two or three days. Because of the scarcity of vegetables, the people have spades and hoes in readiness for early gardening if Jack Frost gets out of the way pretty soon.

"It is claimed the ground hog saw his shadow on the 2nd of February, hence has been hold up since, but we are glad his six weeks is almost over.

"Covered wagons have already passed through our town on their way westward. Potatoes are beginning to be whispered among some our farmers that have been holding back expecting to sell from two to three dollars per bushel. We think they will take less this spring."

March 26, 1874 —
"Sawyer and Mitchell are drying a large amount of buffalo meat for summer use. It would be impossible for us to describe just how a potato tastes, still we have some faint recollection of how they tasted some months ago."

A sneak-peek into April 2, 1874 —
"Last Friday morning at five o'clock, not a cloud was to be seen. The stars shone with their usual brilliancy, but, by half past five, the sky was overspread with heavy clouds and snow was coming down at a fearful rate. At half past seven, it ceased snowing and we measured the depth to be four inches. Perhaps a holdover from the errant month of March's reputation, 'There's always March . . . . . . .' "

The Valley Falls Historical Society Museum will be open at 10 a.m. Saturday.

February 27, 2015

Oskaloosa's "Petticoat Government"

by Betty Jane Wilson, society president, Valley Falls Historial Society

From the files of the Valley Falls Historical Society Museum, a souvenir booklet in honor of the Jefferson County Centennial, 1855 to 1955, held at our neighbor town and county seat, Oskaloosa, Aug. 14, 17, 18, 19, and 20, 1955.

Among the treasure of photos and stories of the towns and cities of Jefferson County is a story, the "Petticoat Government in Oskaloosa," a frequently repeated fact, familiar to some generations and new to younger groups.

The following is quoted from the booklet —
The election of a woman mayor and five councilwomen by the city of Oskaloosa in April of 1888 was news both in the United States and in foreign countries. Eastern newspapers made considerable note of it. It was also written up in British and continental newspapers. Congratulatory messages came from far away New Zealand.

"Local citizens who were more or less ashamed of the shortcomings of previous administrations thought up the idea of a woman-governing body. Election result: 3 to 1 for the ladies. They were Mrs. Mary D. Lowman, Mayor, 49; Councilwomen: Mrs. Hannah Morse, 45; Mrs. Emma Hamilton, 39; Mrs. Sadie Balsley, 36; Mrs. Mittie Golden, 31; and Mrs. Carrie Johnson, 23.

"State and national press had to have their fun: 'First business was to show under a motion to limit debate to five minutes on any motion . . .' 'An Oskaloosa man is offering a premium for six live mice.'

"Here are some of the reforms accomplished by the women governing body: A Sunday closing act. A curfew law. Anti-expectorating on sidewalk. New sidewalks ordered to be installed. (Town's richest citizen demurred, so the council ordered his walk laid and charged his taxes. The women withstood two lawsuits successfully.) The council purchased a street grader. Streets were widened, straightened, cleaned. Gasoline street lights replaced old coal oil lamps. A pound was built to keep up stray livestock. Moral suasion and shame was used to accomplish better keeping up of cows, pigs, and chickens. Prohibition law was enforced for the first time since its passage in 1880.

"All but two of the group stood for re-election and easily won out. A local Farmers Alliance worked up this tune in compliment of the Oskaloosa council:
"We have a lady council and a lady mayor, too—
We are pleased with our officials and we trust 'tis so with you.
We think they all are handsome and know they are true blue,
As they go marching on!"

February 11, 2015

'Suicidal mania' in the 1880s and 1890s

Compiled by Betty Jane Wilson, society president

The Valley Falls New Era, dated May 27, 1893, quoted the following headlines and excerpts from a printed sermon by the Rev. James Lawrence the previous Sunday.

"The Suicidal Mania in Valley Falls, Kan."

"What is the cause of the suicidal mania in Valley Falls and vicinity? Fifteen or 20 victims in as many years. Is this simply an incident, a disgression, or is there a cause for this mania?

"The old axiom 'Every effect must have a cause' is true here as elsewhere. The mania for self-destruction is a mania that is unpleasant to contemplate, horrible in its mode, and awful in its frequency. Can we find the cause? Let us look, we may find some of them, perhaps the principle ones."

Suicides reported from 1890 to 1895 included the following:

Oct. 25, 1890 — "I.W. McCulley takes the Morphine Route."
"About noon he told his son he did not feel well and would lie down and try to sleep. Later in the day he was found. He had ended his own life. Mr. McCulley had been unfortunate in business and otherwise. He was 49 years old, leaving a wife and three children."

The New Era, Oct. 15, 1892 — "Just as we were going to press, we learn the dead (sic) body of Paul Krumery, a barber, was found in the river under the bridge, near Piazzek's Mill."

Valley Falls New Era, March 11, 1893, headlines — "George Lewis Dead," with the following story:
"He cut his throat with the blade of a pen knife. Wednesday morning, George Lewis, an old citizen of this place, and who has run the barbershop formerly owned by Paul Krumery, who committed suicide last fall, told his son Ed to take charge of the shop as he intended to take a rest from business. When he did not return home that day or night, a searching party consisting of Messrs. Dodd, Daniels, and Marsh, searched along the Northwestern Railroad Track and the river.

"Early Thursday morning, they discovered Mr. Lewis' body at a place near the river called 'Paw Paw Bend,' about one mile west of town. Mr. Lewis was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery."

This was the sixth time within a period of about three years that the Rev. A.M. Geiger was called upon to conduct services for persons who had died by their own hands.

Valley Falls New Era, May 20, 1892 — "Suicide Again."
"Our community has been startled by news of another suicide. Dr. J.S. Blackwood, our veterinary surgeon, was found by Geo. W. Williams lying in a manger in W.T. Kemper's barn. The weapon of death was a pocket knife with a blade about three inches long, which he used in his surgical work. He was apparently in the best of health and in the prime of life. No cause can be assigned for the rash act. Funeral services were held at the Christian Church, conducted by the Rev. James Lawrence. Burial was in Rose Hill Cemetery."

The Valley Falls Historical Society Museum will be open at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 14.

February 05, 2015

Cries are heeded, town has museum (part 2)

310 Broadway Street, Valley Falls, present site of the Valley Falls Historical Society Museum, was originally the McCammon Building and housed a variety of merchants over the years, including Coy and Hutchins Clothiers, Doolittle, Gillespie, and List Hardware stores, Sam Strawn's law office, and in later years was used to film the movie, "Kansas," starring Matt Dillon and Andrew McCarthy. In 1988, the society purchased this building and created a museum.

by Betty Jane Wilson, society president

The Town Crier's cries were heeded. In bold black print, the Jan. 21, 1988, Valley Falls Vindicator reported "Historical Society Buys Building for Museum" with the follow-up story.

"The Valley Falls Historical Society now has a place to call home. The deed has been recorded and the society is now the owner of the List Building at 310 Broadway.

"The finance committee has collected $27,000 and the former owner, Mary List, has received her asking price of $18,750. 'We still have some pledges and a few people to call on,' Greever Allan, chairman of the finance committee, said Monday night. 'I'm confident we will meet our goal.'

"Serving with him on the committee are Kay Lassiter and Art Strawn. The committee's goal is $30,000 with the money  above the purchase price to be used to renovate the building and prepare it to house a museum and library.

"Frank Shrimplin, president of the society, said members are now beginning to devise plans for opening the building to the public and building its membership. 

"Allan asked members to use the new building as a springboard to motivate growth in membership. He said churches, schools, clubs, and lodges are all sources of history and the town's past and should be represented. Upkeep and monthly expenses will be ongoing costs needing broader support.

"Lassiter placed emphasis on the education of children, stating the local school was putting Valley Falls history in the curriculum. She said the museum will be a great benefit for that and urged the society to open the Historical Shrine Church more often for tourists and community visitors.

"Strawn, the society's historian, said he believed the community would respond in greater numbers and that the building would provide sustance and identity."

"Anxious to open the doors, members will plan an open house in conjunction with Grasshopper Falls Day late in April, 1988."

The Valley Falls Historical Society Museum will be open at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 7.

January 27, 2015

Who we are: the beginnings of the Valley Falls Historical Museum

compiled by Betty Jane Wilson, society president

The "Town Crier" cries for a museum for the Valley Falls Historical Society. Crier Clarke Davis reasoned as follows in the Oct. 22, 1987, edition of the Valley Falls Vindicator:

"Valley Falls needs to divert its attention to its historical society. It's their turn.

"A new ball diamond has been built, the school has a track, the swimming pool has been refurbished, and the city park is enhanced with a shelter house. Now it's time for a museum.

"The historical society got its start 20 years ago asking a mere $2 or $3 annual membership fee. Only a few have taken an active role over the years, but they have gathered, collected, stored, and preserved for us a number of treasures whose sum total add up to who we are.

"The time has come to empty some attics and basements and fulfill a long-time dream. The society's directors voted this week to take an option on the List building in the northeast block of Broadway. If the money can be raised in the next three months, Valley Falls will have a museum.

"The building is priced under $20,000, but a goal of $30,000 will probably be set in order to prepare the building and meet operating expenses.

"It is a bold step for a small, conservative group whose love of the past and search through the record is done quietly and outside of the public limelight. But as a community project the task should be easily accomplished when compared to the many other great strides taken in recent years.

"The society is a stable organization with nearly $10,000 in footings from lifetime memberships and grants. This provides interest income. The membership list has been eratic but once numbered 184 for a one-year period. One visible contribution has been the preservation of the Historical Shrine Church on Highway 16. Its less visible contribution is the preservation of who we are through research, writing, and compilation of the records.

"Early plans call for using the building for a museum, library, repository, meeting area, and lounge. The first thing that comes to mind is the economic factor. It will be a positive attraction to downtown and give visitors a place to go. The lounge will afford regular shoppers a haven, a clean restroom, and a place they can feel free to loiter.

"There is, however, a more meaningful purpose. We are defined by our past and if the goal is to do a credible job of displaying the truth then it will serve us culturally as well as the library and the ball park."

Next: Determined members, a generous community, available historical building, great location — how could anyone ask for more?

The Valley Falls Historical Society Museum will be open at 10 a.m. Jan. 31.