April 14, 2015

The fate of Wolf Town

Compiled by Betty Jane Wilson, president, Valley Falls Historical Society

"A pioneer trading post located in a proposed dam area, doomed to a watery grave."

The Valley Falls Vindicator Nov. 28, 1963, reported the approaching fate of an early 1800s community of our neighbor Ozawkie, resulting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers soon to be constructed Perry Dam and Reservoir. A once small community, Wolf Town, was built on land owned by L.L. Wolf, hence known by "old timers" as "Wolf Town," and consisted of an old trading post store and provider of other necessities of those days, about a half a dozen homes, a school, and a cemetery.

The school building was no longer standing at the time the 1963 news item was written; however, the cemetery was still in existence with some gravestones dated 1868. The two sites were known as Olive Branch School and Olive Branch Cemetery.

Wolf Town was a wagon and stage stop on the Overland Trail from Topeka to Atchison and points between. The property at that time was owned by Mr. Aram Lindsay, Topeka, Kan., but to be "bought by the government and destroyed due to the new Perry Dam and Reservoir to be under construction within the next year. It was estimated that Wolf Town would be covered by 40 feet of water.

The same 1963 Valley Falls Vindicator issue reported, "The Olive Branch Cemetery, located west of Wolf Town in Jefferson County is the only cemetery in Jefferson County which will be relocated by the purchase of the Army Corps of Engineers in construction of Perry Reservoir."

The Valley Falls Historical Society Museum will be open at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 18.

Letter from Florida, 1916

Compiled by Betty Jane Wilson, society president

"I am very disappointed in this land. It's just a piece of white sand and little under construction,"  penned D. S. Cory in a letter from Florida Dec. 23, 1916. 

Cory, writing from Stuart, Fla., continued:
"It is very warm here for this time of year. Had three cool spells since we came. The coolest was about 39 above. There is not one acre out of 100,000 that is improved. It lays level, grows palmetto brush, sour mash, and scattering pines — mostly small like a telephone pole.

"Eames took us out to see his land. We were alike in our opinion of it. He asks $90 per acre for it where better land can be bought close in and on the river for $20. This land has got to be drained, limed, and fertilized before it will raise anything. They have but few stock here for they have nothing to keep it on. The native grass in worthless. This town has four cows and they haven't been here long. Very few chickens are seen. Everything to feed stock has to be shipped here from some place north. There are some fair farming spots in the central and western parts. This is rather new country on the eastern spot.

"The railroad was built 16 years ago. It runs from Jacksonville to Key West. There is not a grade in the 500 miles of road. It is the only direct road to Cuba. They run whole trains on a large boat that will hold 80 cars and ferry them over to Cuba. I see whole train loads of people pass here going to Cuba. They have from 30 to 40 cars each. There is more business on this road in one day than there is in Valley Falls in six.

"This town is building fast by rich men from the north. They make this town their winter home. In the spring they go back north. They are the ones who built this East Coast Country. 

"Fishing is the only industry here. I see new faces every day. They (fish) are caught by thousand pounds every day and shipped north. I went down to the fish house when they came in with 8,000 pounds. They go out in the ocean and catch mackeral. There are some large fish in the river, having been caught weighing 400 pounds. I saw two men this morning have three in their boat that weighed 200 pounds. 

"I have been fishing with some men from northern Ohio. The river is close to town, lined with palm trees, motor boats going and coming. This town is a beautiful place."

Source: Newspaper (name unknown) from Valley Falls High School scrapbook.

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.