The History of Our Cradle Land
by Thomas H. Kinsella

Transcribed by Sean Furniss

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PART III
FOUNDATIONS LAID

FOUNDATIONS LAID
The Dawn of a New Day.


The Jesuit Fathers, having now retired from Miami and Linn Counties after the Indians were removed to the Oklahoma Indian Territory, the Right Reverend Bishop, John Baptist Miege, S.J., appointed other priests to minister to the scattered people along these border counties. Up to the year 1854, no white men were allowed to take up land-claims or homesteads in Kansas; it was exclusively an Indian country. Only government agents, traders, and Missionaries ever penetrated the vast and almost unknown region.

Henceforth a new order ensues and a transformation takes place in the short space of seven years such as the records of history furnish no parallel. it affected the whole nation and, indirectly, the entire civilized world by reason of the great war which followed. No less important were the social and economic changes which were wrought by the signing of the famous Kansas-Nebraska bill. About this time many able men came from the North and the South to reside in the new Territory. Political feuds were rife.

"During the territorial days immediately preceding the war, Kansas was a storm center," says the Kansas City Star. "It was full of noise and bluster and turmoil. It was torn with strife--it was at war with the country. Every day was a day for black headlines over the news from that state. It was the day of the radical in politics as well as in state affairs--and, perhaps, necessarily so. The times called for radical action. The fight for a free state was not won by namby-pamby methods. The mollycoddle was of no particular value to Kansas in the fight she was making.

"Then followed the war and its attendant bitterness and the overturning of natural order and normal conditions.

"But Kansas had been settled by a class of men and women who were not content simply with the tearing down of slavery. They were not satisfied merely with the admission of the state with slavery forbidden. They had brought to the West high ideals of government. They came from New England, from the Atlantic Coast, and from Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and other states, and they had an ambition to place the new state of Kansas upon a foundation as firm and as stable as that of Massachusetts. To do that the radical and the wild and the woolly, who had their place in the stormy days, must be supplanted by the leaders with constructive ideas and purposes. Kansas was no longer at war with the rest of the country. It was called upon to settle down to the business of making a place for herself in the nation."

Beneath the disturbed condition of affairs, however, other beneficent influences were at work laying the foundations of religion and education; the humble "squatter" or homesteader was patiently watching his growing crops, his roaming herds, or, what was more likely, scanning the horizon for the ever threatening cyclone or tornado; a constant observer of nature, he sought at all times to accommodate his plans to circumstances. The whole country now became an experimental station, so to speak, and thus, in a few years, Kansas became one of the finest agricultural sections of the United States. Education kept apace with the swiftly growing population and the various Christian denominations were animated with friendly rivalry--yet, with a fine spirit of neighborliness. Kindness and helpfulness dominated the people.

Catholics came in ever increasing numbers after the territory was opened to settlers. They were a patient, industrious, God-fearing class of men and women. These were chiefly Irish at first, but, soon, the Germans also came and established colonies and both have grown in wealth and numbers. The two races have harmonized to a great extent and their children are, today, what might be called the "back bone" of Catholicity in Kansas. Other races in after years came and are proving a valuable addition to the Catholic body.

It was in 1822 that the first Catholic priest entered Kansas. Father De la Croix came from St. Louis; he was a secular priest and passed through this section on his way to the Osages on the Neosho River. Father Lutz of the diocese of St. Louis came as a missionary to the Indians a few years later.

Father Theordore Heimann seems to have been the first secular priest to enter the field as a subject of Bishop Miege. He was a teacher at Osage Mission in 1853, and in 1854, on the 28th of September his name appears on our old Record book as baptizing solemnly, Louis, son of Joseph Tebeaux and Matilda Reoume. Father Heimann was ordained in Kentucky was ordained in Kentucky by Bishop Flaget and came to Kansas in 1846. He joined the Carmelites in 1864 and was the first to receive the Holy habit of that Order in the United States. He gave the original farm at Scipio to the Carmelite Order. He became the first Carmelite pastor of St. Joseph's Church, Leavenworth, where he was greatly beloved by the people. He died at the Novitate, New Baltimore, Pa., on September 3, 1893.

The Benedictine Fathers came in 1857 under the leadership of Father Augustine Wirth, O.S.B. They established a Priory in the town of Atchison in 1858 and from this humble beginning has sprung the present magnificent church and college.

The Benedictines have labored successfully in Kansas; they have developed some fine parishes and built many splendid churches and have worked in harmony with the secular clergy throughout a large section of the northern part of the state. Their Venerable Abbot, Rt. Rev. Innocent Wolf, O.S.B., D.D., has been a light to the clergy and a pillar of strength to the Church in the west.

The Benedictine Sisters have a fine Academy at Atchison and also teach many parochial schools in the Diocese.

The Carmelite Fathers came to Kansas from Europe in 1862. They established themselves at Leavenworth and Scipio, Kansas, and did considerable missionary work, with Scipio as a center. The trend of the Order, however, was Eastward and now, their finest establishments are in Chicago, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Old Scipio is now flourishing after fifty years of struggle, and the fine church, school and monastery at Leavenworth are still doing efficient work.

The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky, came to Leavenworth by way of Nashville, Tennessee, in 1858. They have developed into a great body of active workers and have branch houses in many states west of the Mississippi, and far into the Rocky Mountain. They are able teachers, efficient nurses, and splendid charity workers in every field of human misery. These three Orders were pioneers in the west.

In the meantime the ranks of the Secular Clergy were being augmented. Father Theodore Heimann was the first to reside in Kansas.

The end of 1858 saw Father Schacht wending his way through Miami County, Father Sebastian Favre came from France in 1862 and Father Anthony Kuhls was ordained by Bishop Miege in 1863. Two years afterwards John F. Cunningham and Francis J. Wattron were raised to the holy priesthood at Leavenworth by the same bishop and were at once sent forth on horseback to comb the prairies and fish for the living when hunting failed. Fort Scott was the destination of the former and Paola of the latter. Father Cunningham afterwards became pastor of Lawrence, Topeka and Leavenworth successively. He became Vicar General of the diocese under Rt. Rev. L. M. Fink, O.S.B., and finally, died on the 23d of June, 1919, as the revered and respected Bishop of Concordia.

The only remaining figure of those early days is Right Reverend Mgr. Kuhls, now in retirement. Father Kuhls was ordained by Bishop Miege and appointed pastor of St. Joseph's Church, Leavenworth. Succeeding Father Fish, he became the pastor of Old Wyandotte which included the county as a whole. Monsignor Kuhls has lived to see his single parish dotted over with churches, schools, and religious institutions. He has beheld a great city grow up around him as by magic. A new people and a new name--Kansas City, Kansas--have taken the place of all that was dear to his heart fifty years ago.

Here might be related an abundance of missionary experiences that approached the heroic as well as the ludicrous, and commingled the sublime with the ridiculous in the most fantastic manner. Everything was topsy-turvy in Kansas in those early times. There were no roads, no fences, no railroads to speak of. Dugouts, sod houses, and miserable cabins were everywhere to be seen, but the people were of a superior class altogether, and this one fact changed the aspect of everything. The priests admired and loved the people and the people entertained the poor, tattered and tired clerical wanderers with great reverence and with an hospitality that was both primitive and warm. What a pity that we have not a few of the personal diaries of those days! As it is we retain in memory only the fireside tales of the older folk and the older priests who lived through the sod-house, cabin days of Kansas.

 

"The cabin homes of Kansas!
   How modestly they stood
Along the sunny hillsides
   Or nestled in the wood.
They sheltered men and women
   Brave-hearted pioneers;
Each one became a landmark
   Of freedom's trial years.

"The sod-house homes of Kansas!
   Though built of Mother Earth,
Within their walls so humble
   Are souls of sterling worth.
Though poverty and struggle
   May be the builder's lot,
The sod-house is a castle,
   Where failures enter not.

"The dug-out homes of Kansas!
   The lowliest of all,
They hold the homestead title
   As firm as marble hall.
Those dwellers in the caverns,
   Beneath the storms and snows
Shall make the desert places
   To blossom as the rose.

"The splendid homes of Kansas!
   How proudly now they stand,
Amid the fields and orchards,
   All o'er the smiling lands.
They rose up where the cabins
   Once marked the virgin soil.
And are the fitting emblems
   Of patient years of toil.

"God bless the homes of Kansas!
   From poorest to the best
The cabin of the border,
   The sod-houses of the West,
The dugout low and lonely
   The mansion grand and great;
The hands that laid the hearthstone
   Have built a might state."

SOL MILLER.

 

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