From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of three articles by Harry H. Seckler, retired business manager of The Times, on early Leavenworth. In compilation of the stories, the writer has struck to facts and figures and has eliminated fiction. It is believed the series will be useful to school children and others who want to get the true picture of early Leavenworth. The second article will be published in the Sunday edition on October 27.
Many citizens of early Leavenworth, men who knew the history of this city from the time it was laid out, have passed to that bourne from whence no traveler returns, so what they knew, what stirring tales they could have unfolded have been lost to this and all coming generations.
H. Miles Moore wrote a book on Leavenworth, but many facts were overlooked by him that would bring a thrill of pride to the younger generation had they been published; Vinton Stillings, who came to Leavenworth shortly after the town was incorporated and whose wonderful memory recounted to this writer tales of the early days elicited the promise from the well known attorney that he would give the writer an hour of two each day to make copious notes of those times, the same to be printed in pamphlet form, when completed, but "Vint" passed on before the work could be started.
But some information relative to our city recently came to the attention of this chronicler, and there has been chosen therefrom excerpts that deeply interest our training as a writer of real news; the kind that makes the headlines in the newspapers and that bear such valuable information that they should be put into print for the residents of Leavenworth not only for today but tomorrow and for coming generations.
Facts From Kansas Register
Much of what shall be written is from an early day publication, the Kansas Annual Register, and is doubtless the most authentic compilation of facts and figures . . .that ever will be published of Leavenworth's early history.
The original town, or Leavenworth City Proper, as it is now termed in the records in the register of deeds' office in the courthouse, contained only 320 acres, but the corporation limits now extend a distance of more than two miles up and down the Missouri river and as much west.
Even back in the middle sixties of this city it was said that no place in the United States furnished so many beautiful sites for residences. Back from the river, along what is now known at Twentieth street, the semi-circular ridge of hills that surround the northwest and southwest part of the townsite, were promoted by the real estate men as wonderful sites for grapes and many vineyards were started, it being the plan to make Leavenworth famous for wines.
Was a Important Place
In recent years the last of these vineyards near Twentieth street was vacated to make room for homes and market gardeners.
This city, in the early sixties was looked upon as the most populous, wealthy, and important place, not only in Kansas, but west of St. Louis. Its site, on the Missouri river, adjacent to Fort Leavenworth, which was for years, or from its establishment by General Henry Leavenworth of a cantonment there, the outfitting point of the government for the entire west. In the early eighteen twenties General Leavenworth and some troops, known then as dragoons, were directed to select a site for such and outfitting post as Fort Leavenworth later became.
In this, the general and his staff had in view the selection of a point that would be most easy of access from all western posts. Subsequent events confirmed the wisdom of their choice. It was said for the city of Leavenworth later that no place on the Missouri river furnished such good natural roads for the "passing of wagon trains" to and from all points in the territories beyond the river than here.
The "Annual Register" from which many of these excerpts are taken said: "The immense transportation of freight from Leavenworth westward, is conclusive evidence of the natural advantages of her position. Nothing is more novel to the dweller in the east when he first visits the far west than the sight of one of these government trains or fleets of prairie schooners, as the plainsmen termed them, drawing its lazy length along the prairies. One of these trains is composed of from 15 to 50 wagons, each carrying from two and a half to three tons of freight and drawn by four to six yoke of cattle (oxen) or spans of mules.
Busy Place in 1864
"In those days it was estimated that the amount of freight annually transported across the plains from Leavenworth to New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Montana and Idaho was in excess of 20,000 tons, about one-half of which belonged to the government. It was estimated that government and private freight, to transport that much freight, employed 8,000 drivers, 8,000 wagons, 2,000 trainmasters and other employees and no less than 100,000 cattle (oxen), mules and horses. The amount of capital invested in the freighting business was estimated at $5,000,000."
Some idea of the business done by the leading wholesalers of Leavenworth locally and throughout the western trade territory is given in the following table taken from the assesor's books for the year 1864, when Leavenworth, as a city, was but then years old:
Twenty-seven wholesalers whose business exceeded $25,000 per
year, seven who did $50,000; seven who did $100,000, five who
did $250,000, two who did $500,000 and one that did a business
(To be continued)