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.

Was Leavenworth at First Called New Town?

By George J. Remsburg

Was Leavenworth originally called New Town? The writer recently came across the first reference to it by that name that he remembers having ever seen or heard, and he believes he is quite conversant with early Leavenworth, through long years of residence in its vicinity, and study of its local history. There are many interesting facts of local history, however, that have never been recorded at all, and many more that have been mentioned or recorded only in obscure chronicles. The writer can show that in a research of some forty years in local history in Northeastern Kansas, he has unearthed much information that had never before appeared in any published history or public print.

Without assuming that Leavenworth was or was not named New Town, we will cite the reader to the reference mentioned for what it is worth and dismiss the question until further evidence is adduced. In the meantime, if any old settler has any first hand knowledge of Leavenworth having been christened New Town, or any one has observed the appellation in any printed or written record, he or she will add an interesting mite to the earliest history of Leavenworth.

Robert Morris Peck, of Whittier, Calif., was a trooper in the Second United States Cavalry, and enlisted at Fort Leavenworth in 1857. After the Civil war, he lived in Leavenworth for a time and later served as a wagon-master in the army of the frontier. For many years he was a popular writer for the National Tribune. He was married in Leavenworth, in 1862, to Sarah Jane Collins, a member of the congregation of the well known Rev. H. D. Fisher. Mr. Peck was a Kentuckian by birth. About thirty years ago Mr. Peck prepared a very interesting paper entitled: "Recollections of Early Times in Kansas Territory, from the Standpoint of a Regular Cavalryman." In that part of his paper covering the period of his enlistment at Fort Leavenworth, in 1857, he says:

"As we approached Fort Leavenworth we stopped at another little village that had previously been called New Town, but was now trying to assume city airs under the more dignified title of Leavenworth City. A few business houses fronting on the steamboat landing and along Second street, was about all there was of Leavenworth City then, except the scattering residences back of these, many of which were almost hidden among the scrub-oak and hazel brush."

Fort Leavenworth

Before disposing of the Peck narrative, and deviating from the intended purpose of this article, we cannot refrain from giving Mr. Peck's description of Fort Leavenworth, as it appeared to him at hat time. He says; "As the steamer drew slowly in towards the Fort Leavenworth landing, we all gathered on the hurricane deck, scanning the Kansas shore with anxiety, to see what our new station looked like; but seeing nothing resembling a fort --no buildings, in fact, but a large warehouse, near the water's edge, in front of which was an infantry sentry in full uniform, with bright musket and fixed bayonet, paced stiffly back and forth. I asked an old soldier near me, who had been there before, "Where's the fort?" Directing my gaze up over the hill back of the warehouse, he pointed to Old Glory floating from the top of the garrison flagpole, and below it, the roofs of some of the buildings. "That's the fort, about three quarters of a mile back," he said.

Primitive Water Works.

"He next called my attention to the garrison water works, which was something altogether new and novel to me, and interested me very much. The aforesaid water works consisted of a six-mule team and wagon, driven into the edge of the water about hub-deep, and in the wagon eight or ten barrels, with the upper head out, set on end. The 'power' was a couple of prisoners from the guardhouse, guarded by a sentry with musket and bayonet. One of the prisoners stood on the hub of a wheel, clinging to the top of the wagon-box with one hand, while dipping water in a large camp kettle with the other, passing it to the other prisoner, who stood in the wagon and emptied the water into the open barrels, which were not covered to keep the water in, and the water-wagon was doing well if it reached the fort with each barrel two-thirds full. The team was then driven around in rear of the officers' and soldiers' quarters, the prisoners dipping the water out and filling the barrels kept near the back doors for that purpose. I subsequently found that this primitive style of water works was the only kind of use at Uncle Sam's frontier posts that I visited. The same system was also in vogue in many of the town of Kansas some years after the Civil war.

"Fort Leavenworth at that time was anything but an attractive looking place --nothing to compare with the beautiful post it has since been made --but was even then a post of considerable importance, being the depot for the distribution of supplies for many of the western forts."

Return to index