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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In writing the history of a county, where one is limited to a short time, as in the present instance, it is nearly impossible to get the subject matter arranged consecutively, either in respect to the time of the occurrence of events or as to the order of their importance. On this account I have, at the close of the work of preparing the copy for this history, found it necessary to write a chapter on miscellaneous matters, which have come to me after matters of a similar character, with some not of a similar character, have been prepared and sent away to the printer. This chapter is designed to take the place of the one announced in the prospectus to cover the incidents of the lives of the early settlers, related by themselves; and there are some things not covered in the original design.

The first matter of which a narrative is given is that covered by the experiences and observations of Joseph Wallace, who was among the first settlers of Cherokee County, and who had much to do in its public affairs. I believe it the more interesting to follow Mr. Wallace's own language in this narrative, which can not be other than of interest to those who can recall the early days. It is here given:

"It was in the fall of 1858 that news came to the East that gold had been discovered along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, near where Denver now stands. This caused a great excitement in the States east of the Mississippi River, as was usually the case concerning gold discoveries in those days; and it caused a large emigration from tthe[sic] States, for many persons eagerly sought the Eldorado of the West, upon hearing of the discovery of gold.

"With thousands of others, we left Ohio, for Leavenworth, Kansas Territory, in the spring of 1859, there to begin the journey across what was known as the Plains of Kansas and the Great American Desert, to make our fortunes in the new gold fields which had so recently been discovered.

"Conveyance in those days was by the slow process made with ox teams, or in wagons drawn my mules. This gave an excellent opportunity for observation and for one to form conclusions as to the agricultural and future commercial possibilities of the plains and deserts of Kansas and Colorado. One could take his time in these matters, as the wagon trains made their way slowly over these vast stretches of dreary, desolate wastes of country.

"We left Leavenworth at the last of March, in the year 1859, taking our way along Fremont's southern route, for the most part, until we reached the mountains. On our return the next fall we took the route of the Platte River trail. The conclusion arrived at, from crossing this vast reach of country, was that Kansas would be one of the greatest granaries of the nation, and that the so-called American Desert in connection with the plains, would be the meat producer of the world. These observations and conclusions induced me to seek a home in the West.

"The Civil War began soon after our return from the gold fields of the mountains; and when the call for volunteers was made by President Lincoln. I enlisted and served out my term. When the smoke of battle had passed away; when the carnage had ceased, and when the ensign of peace waved over the land and quiet was restored, I followed the tide of homeseekers, in 1866, as they took their way westward along the course of the general trend of population. I came to Kansas, and stopped a while at Quindaro, in Wyandotte County. There I taught the white school in the summer and in the winter I taught in the Freedmen's University, all the while seeking, by inquiry and observation, for some suitable location where I might make a home. Learning of the Cherokee Neutral Strip, and being favorably impressed by what I heard of it; its location in the southeastern part of the State, where were beautifully undulating prairies and streams of pure, clear water, and hearing that it was to come in for settlement, under the homestead pre-emption laws, I concluded to visit it, and I determined that, if its climate and its agricultural possibilities suited me, I would settle there and roam no more.

"It was in the early part of August, 1867, that I saddled up 'old Gray' and started on my journey for the promised land. Be it remembered that, at the time of which I write, there were no railroads in Kansas, south of the Kaw River. All travel had to be by vehicle, on horseback or by going on foot. I made my way to Fort Scott, which required several days. After resting there one night. I had an early breakfast and started south, hoping, if possible, to reach Baxter Springs that night. As I passed along over the beautiful prairies I was careful to make close observations as to the natural resources of the country, in order to determine what inducements there might be for attracting immigrants here to pitch their tents and afterwards to build homes. On the south side of Drywood Creek, some distance south of Fort Scott, I saw some campers, off at the roadside, and not knowing why they had stopped so early in the day, and being on the alert for information, I stopped and engaged them in conversation. Among them I found David Harlan, a Cherokee Indian, who lived on Shoal Creek and owned the land where the Galena water-works now stand. From his looks and his conversation I would not have considered him other than an immigrant seeking his home in the West; but I soon found that he had a vast fund of knowledge of the country; that he was a walking encyclopedia of history. I obtained much useful information. He was familiar with the Cherokee Neutral Lands, from north to south, and he could point out all the good and all the bad locations. After I had conversed with him a good while, and was about to mount and ride away, he asked me if I knew the danger of attempting to cross the big prairie which lay before me, during the heat of the day. I was surprised to learn that danger lurked in the prairies in the daytime. He informed me that the enemy was not of human form, but that it was more numerous, more bloodthirsty and more aggressive. He described them and told how they waged their deadly work: that horses and cattle had fallen by the wayside robbed of their life blood. The enemy consisted of innumerable green-head flies. All the early settlers now living well remember what a pest these small, voracious insects were during the time the pioneers were developing the agricultural resources of Cherokee County.

"On the big prairie over which I had to pass there was not a house to be seen on either side of the road or trail, for more than twenty miles, and there was not a shrub of any kind anywhere to be found; but this vast stretch of virgin soil, over which the home seeker hurhiedly[sic] passed in the summer season, in order to escape the fly pest, and which he dreaded in winter, on account of the unobstructed, cutting winds, is now thickly studded with beautiful homes and checked off in fertile farms, and the greater part of it is underlaid with a vein of coal from 36 to 42 inches thick. This is one instance in which the pioneer of 37 and 38 years ago failed to grasp the future possibilities of the Neutral Lands.

"About dusk the campers wer e ready for the movement for crossing the prairie at night. Being the only one on horseback, I started in advance. The route lay along the General Scott military road, which the government had established between Fort Scott and Fort Gibson. The ride was a long, dreary, lonesome one, with nothing to disturb the solitude of the night. About three o'clock in the morning we saw evidences of human habitation; here and there a log cabin and a little inclosure. Seeing a hay stack a short distance from the road, we used a portion of it for beds, and lying down we slept tranquilly until the meadow lark and the finch bade us arise and resume our journey to the south. About ten miles farther on we came to Pleasant View, and then the county seat of Cherokee County. It was a village of about 25 inhabitants. While here I was urged to go west to where Weir City now stands, because there was in that locality a beautiful scope of country well suited for agricultural purposes. Here is where my foresight failed me. I pushed ahead to Baxter Springs, at that time the largest town in the county, or even in the Neutral Strip.

"On arriving at Baxter Springs, I found quite a stirring, frontier town, full of homeseekers and adventurers; but there were many substantial citizens engaged in various commercial pursuits. A big excitement arose on the streets the first evening after my arrival, it being reported that a father and son had been murdered on Rock Creek, a short distance south of town, in the Indian Territory. As we learned afterward, the criminals were never found; but some years afterward a man who was about to be executed under a judgment rendered by 'Judge Lynch' confessed that he was one of the murderers, and told that it was committed in order to secure a lot of fat cattle which the father and son were driving north to market. I gave my six-shooter to a man who was going, with others, in pursuit of the suspects. They were overtaken in Bates County, Missouri, and were brought back to Baxter Springs; but they proved their innocence, and the curious were disappointed in not having a hanging-bee. Criminals were summarily dealt with in those days, in the vicinity of Baxter Springs. It seemed a necessary evil, resorted to in order to protect the immigrants and to deter evil men.

"After a good night's rest at the best hotel in the town (which, by the way, was a half-finished, box house), I started north in the morning, in quest of a small portion of the Neutral Lands. An hour's ride brought me four miles north of Baxter Springs. Here I found a man mowing in the prairie, and I engaged him in conversation, and was informed that he had a claim on a quarter section, which he would sell. I looked it over, got his price, and learned that it was what was then know as a treaty-right claim. The bargain was closed by my paying him the price asked. Erecting a log cabin, a frontiersman's castle. I moved in and commenced to learn the first lessons of a pioneer's life. Here we encountered the hardships and passed through the vicissitudes of the early-settler period in subduing wild nature and making Cherokee County one of the foremost counties in the State. From the North, East and South came ex-soldiers and civilians, all expecting to obtain homes under the homestead and pre-emption laws; but here was one of the many cases where the government authorities thought more of one man than of the thousands of brave defenders of the nation's honor. Here began a two-fold struggle; one to subdue the soil and make it produce food for ourselves and little ones and for shelter to protect us from the storms of winter; the other against a soulless monopoly which was seeking either to drive us from the homes we had builded or to extort from us an unjust price for them. The struggle was long and bitter, causing much anxiety and doubt; but it bound most of the settlers, all over the Strip, into a firm brotherhood. We early identified ourselves in the fight with those who were struggling against the common oppressor; and we stayed with it until a partial victory was won.

"The home defenders were known as 'Leaguers.' By epithet, they were called 'Bloody Leaguers,' 'Idlers' and 'Cut Throats.' And yet not a grave ever marked the resting place of any person at the hands of the fearless defenders of our homes. Instances did occur where persons 'jumped' or attempted to take the claims of the Leaguers. In such case they were simply ordered to move off. This was business, and it had its moral effect. One instance, in our immediate neighborhood, serves to illustrate how the Leaguers did business: A Leaguer, before the fight was over, concluded to sell his claim and improvements. Finding a purchaser who offered to pay the price, he moved off and gave possession, before the payment was made. After being repeatedly asked to pay for the claim, the purchaser coolly informed the Leaguer that possession was nine points in law, and he told the Leaguer to help himself if he could. The matter was brought before the League, of which I was chairman, and a decision was soon reached. About two o'clock that night fifty mounted Leaguers surrounded the house, harnessed up the man's horses and hitched them to his wagon. They then ordered him to get ready, with his family, take what wraps they wanted and get into the wagon. He begged like a fine fellow, made many fine promises and promised to be good, if left alone. We politely told him that promises seemed easily broken, and that possession is often ten points, under our law. He and his family were bundled into the wagon, a driver took the lines, a guard went in front and another in the rear, and not a word was spoken until we came to Spring River. There a good fire was built, and then he was informed that he would not be harmed, in the least, provided he stayed there until the sun was an hour high the next morning; that if he or any of his family left before that time, Spring River was near, and he might have to swim. It worked like a charm, and the Leaguer had possession of his place by sun-up the next morning, and the man who had been put off never attempted to do anything, which was very wise.

"Before we had our land prepared to raise a crop, we took our oxen and drove down into Missouri, which we called Egypt, and bought corn, flour, meat and other things, which we brought back into the land of promise. Many people in Missouri believed that they would always have a good market for their surplus, claiming that we could not raise anything in Kansas; but we soon turned the tables and sold them corn.

"There is quite a difference between opening up a farm now and at the time of which I write. Lumber was scarce and very dear, farm implements were hard to obtain, all kinds of merchandise were high in price and fencing material was so scarce and high priced that it was next to the impossible for the settlers to get it. Fence wire was from 10 to 12 cents a pound. In fact, the dollar of those days was about the size of a quarter at this time. Notwithstanding all these adverse conditions, the early settler struggled on until the light came and the gloom was dispelled. As a rule, we were all, as neighbors, at peace with one another and always ready to land a helping hand when any one was in need. Our religion was social equality, none contending for supremacy or to be more holy than his neighbor. The cabin of the settler was the church, where the community met, sang their hymns, offered their prayers and parted in peace. In those days party politics did not much concern the settlers. It was home, and how to defend it against the growing monster of greed which was then getting possession of the public domain. After the organization of the League, the League ticket ruled for years. I identified myself with the settlers, believing that the public domain, of right, belonged to the men who cultivated it, and not believing that might makes right, nor believing that the public domain, God's gift to all mankind, can by the might of money be controlled by the few and parceled out to the many, nor by legislative enactments given to one, to the detriment of the many who were compelled to purchase at unjust prices what, by right, belonged to them.

"From what we have passed through, endured and overcome in our struggles for the possession of the soil, and to erect homes, plant and grow groves and orchards and to diversify the once monotonous landscape, build schoolhouses and churches for the education of the youth and to lead them along the paths of higher morals, can we, the early settlers, be condemned for the fight which we made? Often our bill of fare consisted of sorghum, corn bread, fat meat, milk and water, and sometimes coffee. Often, in my surveying trips over the county, I slept on a mattress of prairie hay, with pillows of the same material, the mattress resting upon a bedstead made of poles and in a room where the earth served as a floor. This was all the settler could afford, and I cheerfully accepted the accommodation. Pride has had no fall in Cherokee County, but it has raised its head triumphantly through poverty's veil, and by honest toil it has brought this section of country to be second to no other. The hand that tames wild nature and makes it yield its hidden treasures moves the world."

Charles Stephens, a well-known attorney living in Columbus, has reminded me of a set of facts which may be put into a narrative of interest to the readers of this history. It relates to the discovery and development of mineral directly east of Columbus, on Spring River. The narrative follows:

"What has been known as the John Roush farm and the J. K. Jones farm, over on Spring River, where the Frisco railroad crosses that stream, were settled in the 'sixties.' The former tract was at one time owned and occupied by S. J. Ellis, who still lives near the place. The tract of land was then covered with heavy timber, but this was finally cut off and the land was put into cultivation, by different individuals who never dreamed that they walked every day over millions of mineral wealth. S. J. Ellis, while living there, in a little log hut, gave a contract to an old man to dig a well, for water, near the house. Sufficient water was found at a depth of from fifteen to twenty feet. The man who dug it said he found pieces of lead and zinc, and he wanted to contract for the sinking of a shaft. Ellis, having no confidence in what the man said, and believing that he merely wanted further employment, refused the contract. For years he eked out a mere living on the farm, but soon after it fell into the hands of James Roush he found a small piece of lead ore at the edge of Spring River, which runs through the place; but he put off the matter through believing that some miners from Missouri had dropped the ore there. Roush made a living, for years, by tending the pumping plant of the railroad, on the bank of the river. In the meantime he mortgaged the farm and, being unable to pay the interest according to the contract, he lost it in foreclosure, in 1889.

"J. K. Jones early became the owner of the quarter section just south of the Roush farm. When he bought the place, he gave a mortgage for a part of the purchase price; and it was always a struggle for him to meet the obligation. It seems there were two mortgages. When the first fell due, Jones was much perplexed, and he made all kinds of offers to get some one to take a lease on forty acres and put down holes in search of mineral he felt sure was there. He never lost confidence in the matter: but, being financially unable to do anything himself toward developing the ground, he was almost frantic in his anxiety to induce some one else to undertake it. He always explained that he had found 'shines, down along the river,' and that there was no doubt as to there being mineral there. Finally, he made a lease to the Jonesboro Milling Company, in 1896 and this company sank a shaft and opened up one of the greatest lead and zinc mines in the West , which is still being worked on a large scale.

"Mr. Jones took great pleasure in watching the great tubs of ore, as they were hoisted out of the mine, and he daily talked of the trip which he would take to California, a pleasure which had been the dream of his life. Fate had decreed it otherwise; for soon after he began to receive his royalties, in gratifying amounts, physical disabilities which had long hindered him from being a very active man were intensified until death cut off his earthly hopes. The administrator of his estate sold the farm for $32,000, or at the rate of $100 an acre. There had been times, within the ten years next preceding, when it could have been bought for $10 an acre. Not long after the first big sale, it was sold again, for $82,000, or at the rate of $512.50 an acre.

"In 1899, L. G. Scranton, L. H. Winter, George W. Humphrey and Charles Stephens, who were then the owners of the Roush farm, leased a portion of the farm, east of Spring River, to P. C. Stephens and Charles Stephens, as the firm of Stephens Brothers. They sank a shaft near a natural cave in the land, passing through a very rich body of ore at a depth of 65 feet. This was the first shaft east of the river, in what is known as the Peacock Valley. Mining continued in this valley until 19O1, when 40 acres of the Roush farm were sold for $36,000, or at the rate of $900 an acre, the United Zinc Company being the purchaser. This company began deep mining, opening up vast bodies of ore at depths ranging from 100 to 150 feet. Stephens Brothers consolidated their mines with the "Last Chance" mines, in 1902, under the corporate name of The Peacock Valley Mining Company, and a very large mill is now in operation, clearing from $500 to $1,500 a week. Five other mills are in operation at this point, and it is generally conceded to be among the richest mining land in the Galena-Joplin district. Three miles north of these mines, at the north end of the same valley, a mine known as the Lawton Mine is being operated, and a mill has recently been built there."

From the foregoing narrative it may be seen how people may live for a long time in the midst of natural riches, without ever coming into their enjoyment. John Roush and J. K. Jones, for many years eked out a hard, scanty living on their farms, practicing the most rigid economy in order to meet their obligations and at the same time support their families. The former finally lost his home, through the foreclosure of a mortgage; the latter doing a little better by leasing his land and reaching a condition where life seemed to begin to be worth the living, when he was called away, as if to give others a chance to reap the rich harvests which might have come to him long years before. The good things of life seem not always to come to those apparently most in need, and who very often seem to be the most deserving. Fortune frequently frowning in cold disdain upon the earnest seekers after a mere modicum of the comforts of life, and as frequently dispensing her favors upon those who come by chance within the reach of her lavish hand.

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