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.

Early Leavenworth


Enacting City's First Laws Was Tough Job for Pioneers

by Harry H. Seckler

There are few residents of Leavenworth, living today under a well planned city government who realize what handicaps faced the early city fathers in their efforts to bring order out of the chaos that existed in the new town and make laws that would be acceptable to a peace-loving community.

In its early days Leavenworth was and infant town in the "wild and woolly." It was the mecca for easterners who took Horace Greeley's advice: "Go west, young man, and grow up with the country."

Also came the riffraff or border ruffians who sought to make a livelihood by preying upon the peaceable citizens, by violating the few laws that had been hastily enacted by a body of well-meaning men whose sole aim was to establish a community of homes for themselves and families.

It took some time and drastic steps by law enforcement officers, however, before that object was accomplished.

When circumstances demanded, because of violent crimes against the citizenry, "Judge Lynch" took the law's enforcement unto himself and on two occasions decorated trees with some of those bad men.

At other times when the city officials felt the rough element was getting the upper hand they imported two of the most famous gunmen and law enforcers of the middle west to clear the city of its human vermin.

These fellows were "Wild Bill" Hickok and Tom Allen, masters of the art of handling six-shooters.

Their very presence here caused the toughs to leave for other parts between sunset and sunrise, and not a shot had to be fired.

The first official act when Leavenworth's population reached 7,000 persons, was to obtain from the legislative assembly of the Territory of Kansas an act to incorporate and establish the "city of Leavenworth, Kansas Territory.

Article No. 1 established its boundaries, previously mentioned in these articles in The Times.

Then was adopted the act by the state legislature to incorporate Leavenworth and the charter under which it was to be governed.

The act specifically mentioned that it covered cities of not less than 7,000 persons, included powers of the mayor and council; common schools; board of health and rules and order of business of the city's governing administration.

The first ordinance, approved May 21, 1862, related to prohibiting or permitting animals running at large, specifically mentioning horses, asses, mules, ponies, sheep, swine and cattle of every description, but excepting "milch" cows.

That doubtless gave the cows free rein to pasture anywhere on the townsite with impunity.

In March, 1862, was enacted an ordinance totaling 23 sections covering disturbing the peace, throwing stones, discharging firearms, false alarms of fire, drunkeness, fast riding, obstructing the streets, removing stakes or landmarks on city lots or claims; desecration of the Sabbath, obscenity, malicious mischief, abuse of animals, assembling in the streets, bathing in the Missouri River, dressing like the opposite sex, damage to bridges, riding animals on sidewalks and carrying concealed weapons.

Some of the old ordinances seem rather puerile in this day and age, but they served their purpose. The old city jail, in the alley west of Fifth, between Shawnee and Seneca had a high stockade yard, plentifully supplied with huge rocks and there many a drunk put in some good licks making little ones out of big ones.

There were used in covering the main streets, which at that time had not been paved.

Those sent to the hoosegow either broke rock or worked on the streets under the direction of the city marshal, or helped in paving the levee and other steamboat wharves.

They worked ten hours a day, Sundays, excepted, and for every 24 hours were allowed $1 toward the payment of the fine and costs in their case.

In March, 1864, the council passed an ordinance against wooden sidewalks in the fire limits. A ban on gambling mentions that every person "who appears or acts as master or mistress" in the management of any gambling game was to be fined from $25 to $100, and imprisoned in the city jail from one to as many as four months.

In 1864 the council passed an ordinance prohibiting wooden hitching posts being erected in the fire limits, but prescribing an iron post that had to be fashioned to a plan of the city engineer.

It could not be over three feet, six inches in height.

The "gas-light" company was permitted by ordinance passed in 1866 to lay mains for supplying the city's inhabitants with "gas-light" only, because in those days there were no gas cook stoves.

Hacks, the forerunners of the taxis, in which one could ride if he wished to impress the populace with his total disregard for the coin of the realm, were early legislated against. The ordinance prohibited the driver of a hack to park in front of any business house.

Hack drivers, in the "good old days," always were sure of a fare if they waited long enough in front of a saloon, and that was the "why" of this edict.

Every dog has his days. Tho 'this said, but the pioneer canine put his owner to much trouble getting a license.

In 1863 the owner of a pooch was required to register his name, and the dog's also, and a description of the dog with the city clerk and to pay a tax of $2 for each male and $5 for each female. He had to have a collar on the animal bearing a small metal strip on which the city clerk would stamp "TP" (tax paid).

For this trouble the city clerk received a fee of two-bits which was pay for registering the dog and affixing the "TP". The clerk kept the money for his work.

Country dogs which followed their masters to town, however, were privileged to wander about the streets after the ruralite's wagon, for the ordinance said "this provision (covering shooting of unlicensed animals) shall not apply to dogs not owned in the city except they be found at large without any owner or master.

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