Allison, Nathaniel Thompson. History of Cherokee County, Kansas, and Representative Citizens. Chicago, IL: Biographical Publishing Co., 1904. Online index created by Carolyn Ward, instructor at USD 508, Baxter Springs Middle School, Baxter Springs, Kansas, and State Coordinator for The KSGenWeb Project.

1904 History of Cherokee County Kansas


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Empire City is situate in the southeastern part of Cherokee County, six miles north of the Indian Territory and Kansas line, and one and a half miles west of the Missouri and Kansas district is in the midst of a very hilly, stony district, on the north side of Short Creek. The selection of such a site for the building of a town or city could never be accounted for only for the reason that beneath the surface of the rough and almost impenetrable hills there lay the richest deposits of lead and zinc. There is so little soil on the surface of the ground that the people, except in a few places, do not attempt the growing of any kind of vegetation. In its native condition, before any "instrument of torture" was applied to disturb its restful repose, it was shabbily mantled with an adventurous grass, except where frequent stony points persisted in remaining bare; and here and there were the hardy black-jack and postoak, whose perseverance in the struggle ever for an unpretentious life was worthy of better things. The tenure of such a region could scarcely he sought by one of human kind other than one in search for an ideal spot where he might live apart from the rest of the race. Here were the cool spring, the rippling brook, the high, rugged hills and the narrow, shut-in, valleys, all making the fittest environment for a hermit's home. But it was not thus to remain. The restless, wandering forerunners of civilization were on their way; and near by there was already a dim, tortuous path that told of an occasional traveler who passed through the quiet stillness of the place, in search for better things beyond. An awakening was soon to come.

The land on which the original plat of Empire City was laid out was a part of the farm of a man by the name of Nichols, who owned 120 acres. The whole tract was bought by the West Joplin Zinc Company, for the sum of $7,000. This price, which was fabulous in those days, was indicative of the high value placed upon it on account of the riches which lay beneath the surface of the ungainly landscape, for a discovery had been made and excitement was running high. There was a feverish desire to come into the ownership of land in that particular place.

Since beginning the writing of this volume, I have received a letter from Charles E. Topping, of Empire City, setting out an interesting account of the discovery of lead and zinc in the bed of Short Creek, just south of the site on which the town was afterwards built. The letter bears so much upon the early, interesting events which took place there, following the discovery, that I give it in full:

EMPIRE CITY, Kansas, June 26, 1904.
Mr. N. T. Allison:

Seeing your request, in the Modern Light, for citizens to aid you in making a history of Cherokee County, and having been a settler here in the first years of the discovery of lead, I thought perhaps I might aid you some.

I came here in June, 1877. The discovery of lead was made in April, of that year. As I was afterwards a partner with John McAllen, one of the men who discovered the lead, I had it from his own lips just how the discovery was made .

There was a dim, old road which used to run down what is now Cooper hollow, and it went on west past where the Frisco depot now stands, in Galena; and from that point it went in a northwesterly direction to the Ryan ford on Spring River, where the Ryan bridge now stands. The part of this road running west from where the Frisco depot now stands, to a junction with what was afterwards called Columbus street in Empire City, later became known, in the exciting times of the two cities as "Redhot street;" and it was redhot, sure enough. Columbus street, in Empire City, was the northern continuation of it. It was in April, 1877, that John Shoe and John McAllen were traveling westward on that road, on their way out of Joplin, whence they had been driven as vagrants. They were on their way to the home of John Shoe's mother, who lived on Spring River, near the Ryan ford. Where this road crossed Short Creek, just below where the "Katy" railroad bridge now stands, there was a deep hole washed out in the creek, caused by the creek's butting up against a square bluff, and then turning to the west. Shoe and McAllen arrived at this point in their journey, tired and dusty, from their eight-mile walk from Joplin; and they stopped and went in bathing. They were expert divers, as well as swimmers. They bantered each other as to which could bring up the heaviest stone from the bottom of the stream. Finally, one of them brought up a "rock" which seemed unusually heavy; and when they examined it they found it to be a chunk of lead. This set them to thinking, and they concluded that Short Creek once ran in a straight line across the promontory above this point of rocks, and that this lead had been brought by the water from somewhere to the eastward. They went to the house of one of the Nichols brothers, who then owned the land and lived in a log cabin near where the "Katy" depot now stands, and told them they thought they could find lead on his land, and that if he would furnish them a pick and shovel to dig with they would sink a shaft and give him half they could get out of it. To this, Mr. Nichols agreed, and he also agreed to board them while sinking it. They went to work and sank a shaft about the middle of the promontory, and this shaft was afterwards known as the "Discovery Shaft." It was but a short time before they had lead ore in abundance.

The news of the discovery soon reached Joplin, and many men came over to look at it. Money was offered the discoverers, and they sold out. How much they got I do not know; but McAllen had only about $75 of his part left when I last saw him. A company was formed, called The West Joplin Mining Company." The company bought out both the Nichols brothers, the owners of the land, and laid it out in mining lots; and they laid off the town of Empire, on the north of it. Galena was laid off, south of the Nichols land.

For nearly a year after this lead discovery, all the lead that was found was found on the company's land; and this company got "foxy," and thought they had "the whole cheese." A part of Redhot street was in Empire and a part in Galena. On the east end of the street, or the part which lay in Galena, a number of men located and did a good business in buying "scrap" or "neutral" lead. They paid more than the company did; and some of the men working for the company would forget to turn in their output until after dark. Then their mineral boxes would be broken open and robbed. It was to stop this, that the idea occurred to the company to build a stockade fence between the two towns. This was built of timber about the size of fence posts, set in a deep ditch, and it was made high enough and strong enough to turn anything, from a man to a mule; and it was long enough almost to shut out Galena from the outside world, on the north and west sides. Nearly everybody in both towns, except the West Joplin Mining Company, was opposed to the building of this stockade. Early one morning in the fall of 1877 there was a great noise in the direction of Redhot street; and when the people looked that way they saw a big fire. The stockade had been chopped down, saturated with coal oil and was being burned; and there was plenty of another liquid, which was being carried in buckets and delivered to the men who were engaged in the work. The mining company had guards to protect the stockade; but they were conspicuous by their absence, about that time. Only one man was hurt; he was one of the workmen who persisted in setting in more posts. He got a shot in the leg. The mob was fired with whisky; and there probably would have been more burning that night, had not cooler heads advised them to desist. The stockade was rebuilt, or an attempt was made to rebuild it. An injunction was sued out in the court, and the stockade was declared unlawful. Although the mass of the citizens of Empire was opposed to the stock, and many of the miners in that town assisted in tearing it down, many people in Galena, to this day, have a prejudice against Empire on account of the trouble which arose over it.


Empire City was incorporated, as a city of the third class, in the summer of 1877, and S. L. Cheney was elected its first mayor. He served three years, when he was succeeded in office by G. W. Davis. Afterwards N. W. Barren was elected mayor, and he was succeeded by C. L. McClung. Dr. Fletcher McGinnis, Hugh McRay and J. P. Walters have been mayors of the city; but I have no information as to the order of their service.

J. H. Hadley was commissioned the first postmaster of Empire City. The office has been held by J. Shannon, C. I. McClung, then Hugh McKay held it for a long time. Since his term Mrs. Maude Cole and L. M. Dillman have held it in the order of their names and it is now held by J. P. Walters.

There are two churches in Empire City,--the Baptist Church, of which Elder S. Johnson is the pastor; and the Catholic Church, of which Father Austin Hull is the priest and pastor.

The city has one school building, a superintendent and five teachers. Mr. Shank has been elected superintendent for the school year 1904-5.

The city has a fire department and company, and it owns a fine water works system, having a well 1,000 feet deep. The water from this well is said to be the finest water in the State of Kansas. It is very clear, and an analysis shows it to be almost absolutely pure. The water system is owned by the city, and an excellent service is rendered the people.

In former times, when the mining interests had set Empire City well along, and had made it the most important town of the county, high hopes were held that it would always maintain first rank. The population increased wonderfully. Some say that it once had as many as 5,000 people, and that among its citizens were some of the wealthiest men of the county. Reverses have come, as they will to towns and cities, as well as to men. There is a kind of destiny which shapes the affairs of communities and of states; something which operates irrespective of the people however strong their united efforts may be to turn this course to suit themselves. Empire City is not what it formerly was. Much of its strength is gone; and its streets, once the scenes of a highly profitable, business activity, are now much deserted and almost oppressively quiet. But it is believed, by those who are well qualified to judge of such matters, that the town will regain much, and maybe all, of its former glory. The lead and zinc, from which it derived its strength, have not been mined out of one-tenth of the available ground in the immediate neighborhood. Only a beginning has been made. The time is not far hence when deep mining will be undertaken there and found as profitable as it has been shown to be at other places. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ores have been taken from the earth there; but a vastly greater quantity lies there yet undisturbed, only awaiting renewed activity, after surface mining in other parts has run its course.

Some of the older or first settlers deserve to be mentioned here. Among them Hugh McKay ought to have a prominent place. He was born in Scotland in 1830, and came to the United States when he was 17 years old. He settled in Empire City in 1877. He was postmaster, police judge and justice of the peace. He still lives in the town; but at the writing of this chapter he is in Old Mexico, on business relating to mining interests which he owns there. S. L. Cheney was one of the first settlers in Empire City, after the discovery of lead and zinc, and he was prominent in the affairs of the place. He was the first mayor of the town, and was for many years a leading citizen. He now lives on a large stock farm which he owns, in Lyon township; but he is still largely interested in mining operations in the eastern part of the county. William Cave was another prominent citizen of the town, settling there about the year 1880. N. B. Cahtelle, a native of Canada, came to Empire city in 1879, and he has been prominent in the affairs of the place ever since. Others are: William A. Collins, Dr. George W. Davis, Harrison McMillen, William Smith, E. Goede, Carlisle Faulkner, J. L. Heasely, Samuel Finkelstein, Carl L. Hinkel, R. W. Vaughan, James Murphy, C. L. McClung, J. H. Hadley and N. W. Barren.

Some of the prominent men of Empire City who have more recently been identified with its interests, and have built good, comfortable homes there, are: Thomas Kennedy, James Murphy, Angus McKay, Neill Murphy, Hugh McKay, Jesse Boone, J. H. Ellis, Edward Lane, John T. White and Ralph Standley.

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