Henry Rogler

man with violin

Henry Rogler with grandchildren, courtesy Pioneer Bluffs.

Maybe you’re familiar with the place — perhaps you’ve driven by on K-177 Flint Hills Scenic Byway between Strong City and Cassoday.  Just north of Matfield Green, where the highway winds around the foot of a high bluff, alongside Crocker Creek stands a picturesque farmstead. A proud Sears & Roebuck house foremost, and large white barn with Pioneer Bluffs painted on the side.

It was Henry and Maud Rogler who, through hard work and humble beginnings, made this familiar farmstead we recognize today. Long before the barn or the house, or even the stone fence, back in a modest if not crowded farmhouse in 1877 William Henry Rogler was born.

When fifteen years old Henry sold The Youth’s Companion, a children’s magazine, accumulating points for each subscription. He used those points, along with an additional four dollars, to purchase a fiddle from the company. This type of sales/reward system was not uncommon at that time, and a great way for kids to learn an instrument they may not have otherwise been able to afford.

Banjo ad Jan.1934 Good Stories

Advertisement clipped from a magazine or newspaper circa 1930, presumably from a Chase county source. Author’s collection.

Henry practiced his fiddle every night, learning by ear. According to family history, in a few weeks he was playing at barn dances around the county. It was also said that he could play over 100 ‘hoedown tunes’ from memory.  Tunes his daughter Irene remembered were “After the Ball” and “Irish Washerwoman” among “an endless number of square dance tunes.” Irene also recalled her brother George playing the banjo and singing “It Ain’t Gonna Rain.”

Henry enrolled at Kansas State College in 1894, having passed his entrance exam with nothing more than a grade school education. When not taking classes on entomology, livestock or grasses he hunted rabbits in a wooded area off campus now known as Aggieville. Henry played violin in the school orchestra, which leads us to presume he learned to read music as well as play by ear.

Henry and Maud were steady together through college. They got married in July 1901 shortly after Maud’s graduation so she could wear her graduation dress for her wedding. A testament to Mauds practical, if not fiscally responsible nature. The Roglers started their lifelong devotion to their farm and ranch and began raising their family of four children.

Henry quit traveling to play for dances about 1912; their growing family making it difficult to manage the travel and late nights. However, music continued an important institution in the Rogler home. A 1918 sales ledger from the furniture store in Cottonwood Falls show a piano was purchased by “Mrs. Rogler.”

Henry Rogler with fiddle

No doubt that piano helped daughter Helen become an accomplished pianist. The Chapman Center for Rural Studies has conserved some records of her playing. Helen, a longtime schoolteacher, also went into acting. She appeared in a number of commercials as well as the 1978 horror film Slipping Into Darkness.

Henry's fiddle, from Susan Troop

Henry’s fiddle, courtesy Susan Troop.

In 1912 Joseph King moved to Matfield Green from Lead Hill, Arkansas. He worked for the Roglers for many years, until retiring in 1962. Like Henry, Joe also played fiddle. It is known the two played music together, leaving little doubt that they learned some tunes from each other. One particular tune played by Joe King, and passed down from fiddler to fiddler, was known locally as Joe King’s Schottische. At least that’s what June Talkington always called it. June, also from Matfield Green, taught it to those who gathered to play music on Friday evenings at the Emma Chase Cafe in Cottonwood Falls. After June’s passing in 2007 the tune became known as June’s Schottische. It wasn’t until recently it was identified as an old Civil War era song The Captain With His Whiskers.

There are many more interesting anecdotes and history that could be shared about Henry Rogler and his family. However, the focus of this article is to examine the part he played in the fiddling traditions of Chase County and the Flint Hills of Kansas.

Homestead Cyclone

The following story was submitted in the Olive Ann Beech “Factual Kansas Story” Essay contest and placed second. 

Today we are fortunate to have ample warning when a severe Kansas storm is heading our way, sometimes even days in advance of a system. Nearly anyone can pull up the weather radar on their computer or receive an alert by phone. In 1892, however, there was little to no warning, and it was often too late to seek shelter. Such was the case on the evening of March 31st that year.

Way out on the high, undulating prairie of the Kansas Flint Hills in a remote part of Chase County was a place known as Homestead. If you take the long, dusty drive out that way today where the view goes on for miles and the houses few and neighbors far between, it certainly feels like the middle of nowhere. But a hundred years ago it was somewhere, to someone. It was home. Established in 1876, Homestead Post Office was the center for a small, scattered, rural community. The little village of Wonsevu was nearby to the west, and the town of Cedar Point was roughly two hours by wagon to the northwest. About all that remains today, a mute testimony to Homestead, is the Cemetery.

A little west of Homestead Post Office, my wife’s great-great-granduncle John Holdeman owned 240 acres. The Holdeman family had moved there from McPherson County in the 1880s. John’s oldest daughter, Saloma, had married. She and her husband, Theodore Blosser, built their house not far from her father’s on the same land. The Blossers’ young marriage was blessed with little Conrad in October of 1890. I can’t help but wonder if they pronounced his name ‘Conard’ as the family was known to with another by that name.

Some time between ten and eleven o’clock that Thursday evening the storm rolled across the county. No doubt many had gone to bed and were asleep when the cyclone struck. It is supposed that was the case with the Blosser family. Whether Saloma’s father slept through the storm is unknown, but he certainly had not comprehended the severity of it until the next morning. Looking in the direction of his daughter’s home beyond the hill, John failed to see their chimney peaking above the rise as usual. Hurrying over to see what the matter may be, a most astonishing and heartrending scene met him. His daughter’s home was gone. Only the stones of the foundation remained, the wreckage of splintered lumber and broken furniture littered the countryside, and the bodies of his family were found amid the rubble.

According to the Chase County Leader of April 7th, this storm was part of an enormous system that “extended from Texas to the Canadian border and the list of casualties includes hundreds of lives, while the damages will run into the millions.” This very storm is mentioned in the following year’s Report of the Chief of the Weather Bureau. It noted the discrepancy in numbers of dead that often occurred following a fatal storm. Those numbers tended to be greatly inflated by newspaper reports. To remedy this, the Bureau sent out a circular to the postmaster in the area where a fatal storm had occurred and through them obtain an accurate list of the names of the deceased. As it turns out, the Great Storm of 1892 had claimed 37 lives across the state of Kansas — nearly four times as many as the previous two years combined.

One may get a better idea yet of the extent and terrific power of that terrible storm by the fact that the mattress from the Blossers’ bed was afterward found at Elk School along Middle Creek in the northern part of the county some 15 miles away. This remarkable detail of the story was passed along by John’s granddaughter Opal who, four decades after this tragic event, married into the Koegeboehn family that lived near Elk where she learned of it.

The final morsel of oral history tells how John Holdeman went into town the day after the storm and purchased a barometer so he would not be caught unaware again. That very barometer still hangs on the wall in the home of John’s great-grandson Loren Ratzloff. The story, along with this relic, has been passed down over the years. And now I pass it on to you.

Follow this link to The Herald of Truth for more on the Blossers.


Music Records

In a previous article I touched on the difficulty of finding documentation of music traditions, particularly in the areas I have lived. Early last year I got to thinking more about it. What sources had I not yet looked into? Then it dawned on me that if I could find old sales ledgers or inventories from early music stores, I might get titles of sheet music or phonograph records sold, thereby getting an idea of popular music that was listened to in an area. But where would I find old store ledgers? Fortunately, I knew someone who could help.

Rich and Denise Uhlrich, owners of Tallgrass Antiques in Cottonwood Falls, occupy the old building that had been Croy’s since 1946, but a furniture store since the early part of the 20th century. I asked if they happened to have any sales ledgers from the old store, and it turned out they did. They allowed me to borrow one of the earliest ledgers to peruse and see what information it might surrender. I did not find what I had hoped for, but what I found was both informative and interesting, nonetheless. In addition to selling a lot of curtain rods, lamp shades, furniture, rugs, as well as funeral services, the store did its part to provide the community with music.

For the year 1918, beginning March 7th, we find three pianos and two organs were sold. Some of those pianos may possibly have been players. If not, the number of “piano rolls” sold throughout the year certainly indicate the presence of player pianos in the community. In addition to selling pianos and stools, the store sold piano wire too. They also boxed, moved, tuned, and rented pianos. It appears that a piano was frequently rented, presumably for community functions.

Although I did not find any titles of phonograph records sold, I found that many records were sold all year long. Some of the entries were ambiguous such as ‘music’, which could have meant a phonograph record, paper piano roll, or possibly sheet music. It’s interesting to note that record sales increased shortly before and continued awhile after Christmas. We also learn that the store carried Pathé phonograph players as well as serviced them. At least nine Pathé machines were sold through the year, one entry being listed only as ‘talking machine’.

It’s also interesting to note that needles for these talking machines were often purchased; a number of them being Pathé needles in particular. Other than name, the only thing that sets this brand of needle apart from others is the price. Pathé discs differed from other makers in that the recording was done vertically in the groove rather than in the side of the groove. The groove itself was wider to allow for the special sapphire ball stylus peculiar to Pathé players. These sapphire ball ‘needles’ had a much longer life than typical steel point needles, which were really only good for one playing. The sapphire ball also helped extend the life of the record. If you happen to have a Pathé phonograph, a sapphire ball stylus can still be purchased today for about $60.

Scan 7


Albert White Simcock

Albert W Simcock 1884

Albert White Simcock in 1884 Courtesy Morris County Historical Society.

Have you ever driven around Council Grove and noticed Simcock Street? Or passed the large two-story limestone Simcock House just north of the Cottage House? Ever wonder who the Simcocks were or what they did? I’m going to tell you about one of them in particular; an early Flint Hills musician who not only helped cultivate the performing arts in Morris County, but left us a mystery as well.

Albert White Simcock was born at Council Grove September 23rd 1857, in a log cabin built by brothers Fredrick and Cyprian Choteau at 131 West Main.[1] Albert’s father, Goodson McDaniel Simcock, a Virginian by birth, was one of the original stockholders of the Council Grove Town Company which organized in the spring of 1857. The aforementioned large stone house was built by him in 1860, and if the size and quality of that structure speaks of Simcock’s ability as a businessman, then he must’ve done alright. Goodson was also the “Co.” in Seth Hays’ S. M. Hays & Co., but in 1861 he purchased Hays’ interest and went into business on his own, while Hays moved to Colorado to try his hand as a stockman.[2]

We could say more of G. M. Simcock, but Albert is the one of interest for now. Albert appears to have been a pretty sharp and talented boy. In Lalla Brigham’s The Story of Council Grove on the Santa Fe Trail published 1921, she more than once mentions Albert, at the age of 16, composing Grasshopper Waltz  after said Orthoptera devastation of 1873. A tune for which he was famous, locally at least. In addition to Albert’s early musical ability, he was also quite business minded. In 1877 he became postmaster at Council Grove, sort of. He was officially appointed in September 1879, but had pretty much run the office under Seth Soule who acted as regent since Albert was not of legal age.[3]

In addition to serving as postmaster, Albert had worked as clerk in an attorney’s office and a dry goods store. He also had a stationary shop for a short time[4], and served as register of deeds for Morris County. One wonders how he found time for music and performance with so many responsibilities, but Lalla Brigham ensures us that “During his fifty years residence in Council Grove he was the leader in all musical affairs.” [5]

Beginning in 1877 a number of annual conventions were held at Council Grove directed by Professor Henry S. Perkins of Chicago. Perkins, an 1861 graduate of Boston Music School, traveled the nation from California to Maine conducting music festivals and conventions. He served as principal of Kansas Normal Music School five consecutive summers. An attendance of about 75 people was reported at an early Council Grove convention, some individuals travelling over 100 miles to attend!

In a letter to the editor of an 1878 Folio, a music periodical published in Boston, a writer from Council Grove identifying themselves only as ‘C Natural’ wrote, “we are indebted to Mr. A. W. Simcock of this place for this convention…” They went on to say that Albert had “attended Prof. Perkins’ Kansas Normal Academy of Music, &c. He is a pianist of considerable ability and evident culture.” [6]

Oh! Didn’t I mention Albert played piano? Well, neither did Lalla Brigham. It wasn’t until I came across the following ad, in an 1880 Folio, that I finally knew what instrument he played. “Mr. H. S. Perkins will conduct the fourth annual Convention at Council Grove, Kas., May 11th-14th, assisted by Prof. Otto Schmidt, the brilliant violinist and pianist; Albert W. Simcock, pianist, and other talent…” [7]

The locals, no doubt stimulated by these conventions, exercised their recent study. In the winter of 1881 Albert directed a production of the somewhat recent and internationally popular opera Fatinitza. His future wife Mary (or Sarah) was the accompanist. A performance was held in the Morris County courthouse, and another in Emporia which was said to have been well received.[8]

May 21st 1887 the Council Grove Opera House Company was organized. President-Frank Lower. Treasurer- Geo. E. Irwin. Secretary and Manager-Angus McDonald. Directors-Frank Lower, E.E. Gibbs, Geo. E. Irvin, Chas. Sage, A. McDonald, A.W. Simcock, C.W. Talmadge, Ed. Dill, E. Sharp, W.F. Waller. The company has rented H.W. Gildemeister’s hall.” [9] Henry Gildemeister’s two story building was being constructed at that time at 102 & 104 West Main. It stood east of the Masonic building where the former Duckwalls, now Rerun Consignments, stands. The building would be christened Etta Opera House, which opened its doors in December 1887.[10]

Council Grove post card 1

This circa 1909 postcard shows the view west from the Main Street bridge. Seen at right is Henry Gildemeister’s Etta Opera House, named after his daughter. The building was razed in 1959.  Author’s collection

As if Albert lacked activity, in July of 1887 he entered into partnership with Ed Gibbs and Angus McDonald who owned a book, stationary and music store.[11] Later, in 1898, another music club, The Philharmonic, was organized. Albert directed four other operas performed by that company.[12]

In 1907 Albert moved his family to Kansas City[13], where it appears he continued a prominent businessman until his death, April 8th1928. He returned to Council Grove late June early July of 1921 for the Homecoming celebration which was a reunion of old settlers and a centennial observance of William Becknell’s passing through on his way to New Mexico. Albert was instrumental in procuring some 150 slides of old settlers and historic places projected for a public viewing. He led the crowd in singing old time songs,[14] and one more time played his Grasshopper Waltz.

Now the great mystery Albert has left us is, no one has ever found music for his Grasshopper Waltz. It has tantalized me for years. Having inquired at any archive that could possibly have such a piece in their collection, it looks doubtful that it was ever published. The Library of Congress has no copyright registration for Simcock. There is a Grasshopper Waltz in their collection, but not Albert’s. You’ve heard of a ‘haunting melody’? Well, this lost melody continues to haunt me.

[1] Historian Kenneth McClintock

[2] History of Morris County by John Maloy pg. 41

[3] History of Morris County by John Maloy pg. 74

[4] History of Kansas A. T. Andreas 1883

[5] The Story of Council Grove on the Santa Re Trail by Lalla Maloy Brigham pg. 98

[6] FOLIO Vol. XVII July 1878 No. 7

[7] FOLIO Vol. 18, 1880

[8] The Story of Council Grove on the Santa Fe Trail by Lalla Maloy Brigham pg.62

[9] Council Grove Republican Friday May 27th 1887

[10] Information from historian Kenneth McClintock

[11] Council Grove Republican, 01 July 1887

[12] The Story of Council Grove on the Santa Fe Trail by Lalla Maloy Brigham pg.85

[13] Historian Kenneth McClintock

[14] Kansas City Kansan 07 July, 1921

Aaron Ball Watson

Aaron Ball Watson

Aaron Ball Watson, Feb. 28th 1835-Feb. 4th 1909  Courtesy Chase County Historical Museum

Aaron Watson, born in Indiana[1] of Scottish ancestry, came to Cottonwood Falls with his family in summer of 1859. In a history written by Carrie Breese Chandler, it is related how the Watsons came from Atchison by oxen, as that was the nearest rail station.  They built and lived in a modest dirt floor cabin, in which they hosted Charles Robinson and John Mack overnight, the former being Kansas’ first governor, the latter Sam Wood’s brother-in-law. Watson was a carpenter and plasterer by trade, and soon built a more comfortable home for his family.

On December 4th 1861, Watson put aside his saw and square for the saddle, and enlisted in Company H of the 8th Kansas Volunteer Regiment at Lawrence, Ks. Most of the men of that company were from the Emporia area. As was typical when seeing off a new company, the ladies of Emporia presented company H with a flag. In his book about the 8th Kansas, Keep the Flag to the Front, Bill McFarland recounts the speech given by Miss Mary Jane Watson (unknown if related) to the men of company H.

“A little over three months ago, the ladies of Emporia presented to Company H of the Kansas Second, a flag, as a testimonial of the sympathy in behalf of the cause of Constitutional Liberty, now imperiled by traitors.

That flag has since waved over one of the most bloody conflicts ever known in this country.  That flag, all bullet torn as it is, will, we hope, be returned to its donors, and be carefully preserved as a mute and eloquent memorial of the patriotism of those who fought beneath its folds…It is a consolation to know that the flag has not been disgraced.

You citizen soldiers, are about to take the place of your slaughtered neighbors, and the ladies of Emporia have with their own hands made this beautiful emblem of our national power, and have deputed me to present it to you-and in their behalf, I charge you to guard it well! Rather would we receive our brothers enshrouded within the folds, than that they should desert it in the hour of danger.

Go then, and take with you this flag and with it our blessing and our prayers. Strike for your country! Let Liberty and Union be your inspiring watchword, God and Humanity, your battle-cry!” [2]

The following February found Watson stationed at Osawatomie with his company, no doubt relishing a sublime Kansas winter at fifteen bellow.  The regiment was reorganized on the 28th of the month, transferring the regiment’s two cavalry companies D and H to the 9th Kansas Cavalry, becoming A and B respectively, where it appears Watson served in company B until he mustered out.

Back in civilian life, Watson remained active in events such as Decoration Day, where he served as grand marshal, ceremoniously wearing the army hat of Billy Lyon while leading the parade. Lyon was Sam Wood’s brother-in-law, who enlisted in Watson’s company with the 9th Kansas, but died two weeks after of pneumonia.

Watson was also a caller for dances in the community. It was said that “No merry-making was complete without his calling to the accompaniment of the fiddle of John Scribner or John Doolittle.” [3]

Watson and his wife Sarah celebrated over 50 years together and had six children[4], all except the first being born at Cottonwood Falls. It appears Watson’s health was not the best late in life, his Army Invalid form noting heart disease and rheumatism. He departed life February 4th 1909, and rests in Prairie Grove Cemetery.

[1] Family Search shows Pennsylvania as birthplace.

[2] Keep the Flag to the Front, Bill McFarland pgs 9-10

[3] Chase County Historical Sketches Vol. I

[4] Family Search shows there may have been 11 children, entries may be duplicate.

Change in Scope


Derrick Doty and June Talkington playing in June’s home near Matfield Green, circa 2005.

Since its creation, From the Barber’s Chair has focused on history in Morris County, Kansas. Moving to Ithaca, NY in 2016 prevented extensive research and writing for the Council Grove Republican. Therefore, my blog entries have been few since then. Now that my family is settled back in the Flint Hills of Kansas, this time in Cottonwood Falls, I’m seeing potential for more research and writing. However, I also see a change in scope coming too. 

My current focus is researching, collecting, preserving, and sharing traditional music here in the Flint Hills. I’ve always had an eye out for any mention of music and dance while researching, but I think now I have a more defined goal. I’m trying to do what I wish someone had done for me 50 to 100 years ago; document repertoires or tunes to be passed on. My great grandfather played fiddle for dances at and around our family farm in Osage County, located on the old Sac and Fox reservation. I never had the opportunity to learn from him, and traditional fiddlers were almost nonexistent in my area. So, I was faced with a break in continuity with the fiddling tradition, and had to learn on my own.

What do you do when there’s a break in continuity? Doesn’t that mean the tradition has ended, it’s lost? Well, in some respects yes. That particular fiddler’s repertoire is lost, if no one was there to learn from them and continue it. But, tradition is not so cut and dry, black and white. Tradition is complex, and fluid, it’s not static. Sometimes traditions are short lived. Even if a musician learns from and continues another musician’s tunes, some of those tunes can fall out of use, they are no longer a part of that tradition; either because the current musician isn’t particularly fond of it or maybe it’s too difficult to play. Likewise, new tunes will become a part of that musician’s repertoire, as suits their taste and ability.

So how did I begin? Since my great grandfather didn’t read music, or so I understand, there were no physical books of music handed down, certainly no recordings. I asked some older family members that remembered ‘grandpa Orville’ and the tunes they recalled were what I would classify as general tunes known to every musician (or what many would consider ‘traditional’ tunes); e.g. Turkey in the Straw, Golden Slippers, Ain’t Gonna Rain, etc. That wasn’t much, but it was a start. The next place to look is at the formal culture; music publications and popular tunes from that time, that were generally known throughout the country, but not necessarily specific to our region.  For instance, one of the first books I learned to play banjo from was a 1922 publication I bought at Butler’s Music in Ottawa, Ks. It not only taught popular tunes like Swanee River, Old Folks at Home, Turkey in the Straw, Dixie, etc., it also taught me how to play in the style of that period, which was quite different from the bluegrass style that everyone else I knew was playing.

Fast-forwarding a decade finds me in Council Grove searching for mention of traditional music in that area. In going through old newspapers we get enough information to tell us there has long been a tradition of music and dance in the region. But what we often don’t get are the details; the names, of either musicians, tunes or dances. One example I recall seeing in an early 20th century Dwight, Ks. newspaper, was about a dance to be held at a skating rink. It didn’t say much else than that, and that the music would be provided by banjo and fiddle. Again, with dance, I have turned to the formal sources such as dance manuals or sheet music with dance figures, to get an idea of what type of dances our ancestors may have been doing here. And again, there are some dances that seem to have been widely known throughout the country, and continue to be so today; e.g. The Virginia Reel.

Very rarely do we find the details we’d like, as in a story related by John Maloy concerning Sampson (Sam) Pearson and the grasshopper invasion of 1867 at Council Grove. Maloy states that “Sampson was sitting in Bernstien’s saloon playing his favorite tune, ”Rock Island” on the public fiddle.” Not only do we get the name of the musician, instrument, time, and location, we get the name of a tune! But, this often leads to another dilemma. Which Rock Island? I’ve found two versions, one in 3/4 time and one in 4/4 time. Even Johnny Cash recorded a version of Rock Island Line. Sometimes we find completely different tunes with the same name. So, in the end we can’t know if Sam Pearson’s “Rock Island” was similar to any of the three we know today, or if it was an entirely different tune altogether. But we do have the story and we’ve provided context.

In closing, after many years of gathering material, I’ll be sharing what I’ve found with you, in an attempt to preserve what we can and provide context for traditional music and dance in the Flint Hills. I’ll be focussed on music in the Flint Hills, but more specifically Chase County for now.

Death of a Namesake

I published this story some time ago under the tab Anecdota, but am going to publish it here, on my main page, because I’m afraid it is easily overlooked on the other and this is an important story to me. I’m not a tree hugger, per se, but I do have a great appreciation of nature and respect for historic landmarks. Council Grove, the people, long ago grasped the sense they were a significant place. An important place, not only to Kansas but nationally. In many instances Council Grove has made a fair, even laudable, effort at preserving and sharing their heritage. Unfortunately, they have also lost a great deal through carelessness or even thoughtlessness. The former is forgivable, for one may, while intending to do good, act without appropriate care; but the latter is simply shameful, for it requires not only the lack of care but also implies the deliberate and callous rejection of consideration; being ill-considerate, ill-advised. Not just inadequately so, but wrongly so.

Five years ago, when I was working on the book for Morris County, my wife and I were looking through the many photos scanned, and too often when she asked about this building or that building I would comment ‘oh, it was torn down a long time ago.’ Finally, she said I could write a book about buildings that use to be in Council Grove. And she’s right, I easily could. And it would not be a short book either. I understand that not every structure can be saved, but it seems far too many were torn down, not because they were dilapidated or dangerous, but because we wanted something bigger, newer, and tragically more modern.  I wish that everyone in Council Grove knew the following story.  It is an important lesson. A lesson that I hope could prevent our allowing such a thing to happen again. It is up to Council Grove to protect what they have, it always has been. No one else can be counted on to take care of it for them.

Death of a Namesake

            Sometime in October of 2012, I attended a city council meeting for one thing and learned another instead.  The city had decided to take bids to have two of the ancient oak trees at the park by the swimming pool cut down. To my recollection, this item was not on the agenda which appeared in the paper, hence my surprise when it was brought up.

Councilman Mark Brooks had someone come inspect the trees, and the conclusion was that both trees showed signs of decay and would have to be removed.  At that meeting, the decision was made to seek bids on having the removal done, and tentatively plan for having them removed by October 30th as I recall.

When this was made known to me I called Councilwoman Debi Schwerdtfegger and made a request on behalf of the Morris County Historical Society that if the tree (which stood at the northwest corner of the old pool) must be cut down, that the persons doing so save a section of the main trunk for us to study and preserve.  The city did so; to their own incrimination.  That section of trunk is in possession of the Morris County Historical Society, and I assure you it shows no sign of decay.  The tree was not hollow, it was not discolored, and most likely would have stood for another 200 years.

The tree which stood in the little circle drive by the old pool, I will admit showed signs of decay, so I never had any complaint about it being removed.  But the other tree was purely a victim of progress.  The only reason it was removed is because it stood where the new water slides were going to be.

Several individuals that I spoke with on the matter were aware that the city was going to remove trees, but had no idea it was the 200-year-old oaks for which our town got its name.  They assumed it was probably some locust or other smaller, insignificant trees that were to be removed.  If I had, at the time, made this information known to the public, we may have saved that tree.  I assure you I considered it carefully.  As it was, the city already had an attorney on retainer (or so I was informed) because I had caused them quite a bit of heat during the swimming pool bond issue; that story I might share later.

In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania they have what are known as ‘witness trees’.  What a fitting name. These are massive old trees, sycamore, that stood 155 years ago to witness the clashing of two great armies.  When people pass by these trees, they stop and put their hand upon the trunk.  It’s kind of like shaking the hand that shook the hand of some great man.  Council Grove has 15 or 16 of their own witness trees.  Gigantic burr oaks that have stood through 250 years of Kansas storms.  In the 1840s they witnessed the freighters of the Santa Fe trade encamped beneath their bows.  By the 1930s, tourists parked their model Ts in their shade and picnicked. Today, I enjoy walking among them in the quiet of the evening, contemplating these things.

Final thoughts; We lived across the street from the park where these great oaks stood. I remember clearly, that after the tree trimmers had cut away all the branches, we could plainly see the towering trunks of those trees from our home. It was something of a surreal sight. It was like seeing something you shouldn’t. Like when the wall of the building on Neosho Street fell out into the alley and all the rooms upstairs could be seen as though it were a little child’s dollhouse; it was still there, didn’t look like it always had, couldn’t undo what had happened.  It were as if someone should take the remains from the Unknown Indian Monument and lay them out for all the world to gawk at.  Just unnecessary and sickening.

James Rawlinson


Rawlinson House

Located at 803 W. Main St. is the home of James Rawlinson, built by his parents, Abraham and Mary, in 1860-61.  In this 1880 photo can be seen William and Mary Terwilliger with children. The Terwilligers purchased the home in 1870, and by 1873 had made the rear addition. The Trail Days Cafe & Museum now occupies the house, providing good food and history.

Perhaps a more appropriate title would be The Times of James Rawlinson, for there is indeed very little information about the man himself.  He left no writings, no account of his life, and no one chronicled his story for posterity.  Although he may not have made any great history for himself, he was a part of that epic American history that shaped our nation and touched our community from 1861-65. If the memory of James Rawlinson can be honored in no better way than to recognize the Company and Regiment he served with during the American Civil War, then we must try.

Born James David Taylor in Aycliff, England, March 20th 1841, he took the name of his stepfather, Abraham Rawlinson, upon arriving with his family in America sometime around 1852-54[1].  Family history says one of James’ sisters died on the voyage and was buried at sea.  It is believed the family lived in Iowa before coming to Kansas Territory around 1860.  Soon we find the Rawlinson family in Council Grove, where in 1860-61, Abraham and Mary build a stone house at the edge of town on the Santa Fe Trail, where it stands today.  Someone better versed in architecture may have an appropriate name for the style of this house, but I would describe it as resembling many of the Pennsylvania stone homes of that period, possibly even German in style. It is also interesting to note that Rawlinson’s house was identical to the Kaw interpreter’s home, built at the same time, south of Council Grove on what is now the Allegawaho Memorial Heritage Park.

There is much history to relate concerning this property, but we want to focus on James Rawlinson’s experience.  On September 18th 1861, James, along with ten other men in Council Grove, enlisted in Company E of the 8th Kansas Volunteer Infantry.  Right on the front lawn of his home.  By May of 1862 James would be found with Co. E, stationed at Aubrey, Ks.  It is not likely you’ll find Aubrey on the map; the little hamlet of some dozen homes was located somewhere near Olathe. Most of the original residents of Aubrey had been driven out the previous fall while Unionist refugees from Missouri had settled there.  The duty of Co. E at that time was to keep an eye on the border and check any jayhawking and guerilla activity. Occasional drills and reconnaissance were made into Missouri, sometimes bringing back a prisoner from Sterling Price’s army, but mostly things were quiet.  Farms and homes had been abandoned all along the Kansas Missouri border.

On the 28th of May, James left Kansas on the steamer Emma heading for St. Louis and ultimately Kentucky.  On two separate occasions during this river trip, before reaching St. Louis, two men of the 8th Kansas were lost overboard, both inebriated and falling from the hurricane deck.  A man from the 7th Cavalry also went down to be seen no more.

Arriving at Columbus, Kentucky, on the 2nd of June, 1862, James and Co. E were eager to see action.  They had missed a number of the ‘big fights’ already and wanted a chance to prove themselves.  They’d have to wait a little longer, for now their duty was to ensure the safety of the property and slaves of rebels off fighting in the war.

By August of 1862, James and his company could be found at Eastport, Mississippi, manning the breastworks of the town.  The soldiers were allowed to go into town at times to visit the sutlers and merchants and purchase things they might need. Two men from Co. K got drunk and stole from a sutler.  Captain Greelish of Co. E was officer of the day and so it was his duty to arrest the two soldiers. They were not difficult to find for they were singing and making a general racket in their tent. The two churlish devils attacked Captain Greelish and took his sword, Greelish in return drew his revolver and shot one scoundrel in the jaw. So, one was sent to the hospital while the other the calaboose.  Wash, who had been shot, had just recently gotten out of confinement when this incident happened. He had stolen some personal things from the Quartermaster Sargent and was ordered to one month confinement, during which time he also had to stand on a barrel in front of the guard house four hours each day.

One of the most notable as well as outstanding feats James performed with the 8th Kansas, which earned them the nickname ‘Kansas Greyhounds’ by General Alexander McCook, was their 250 mile march to Nashville in 18 days. The first 206 miles were covered in 9 days with 2 days rest.  Most every other regiment arrived at Nashville with mere squads of men remaining, while the 8th only reported 30 men absent.

October 7th 1862, a little over a year after enlisting, James and the 8th get their first taste of battle at Perryville, Kentucky.  They were held in reserve the first day, then on the 8th heavy fighting commenced as they supported the 5th Minnesota battery.  That evening the 8th Kansas advanced and camped on the battlefield among the dead and dying. It was cold and wet, and they had no overcoats or blankets, nor were they to get any until late November. They continued pursuit of Bragg’s army until they caught up with it at Lancaster, Kentucky on the 14th where they were ordered to halt and not bring on an engagement.  Next morning, James’ company were sent out as skirmishers through the town, where they advanced about a mile, killing or wounding 20 rebels while their own company received no casualties.

George Alexander, who had lived with the Rawlinsons and enlisted with James, died of disease at Danville, Ky. following the battle of Perryville.  Whether family or friend, George’s relation to the Rawlinsons has never been clear.

The morning of September 19th 1863, 2 years and a day after enlistment, we find James marching with his regiment to the battle of Chickamauga.  While yet several miles from the field of battle, the boom of artillery could be heard.  Along the road on either side were burning or smoldering fence rails, set on fire the night before to guide the army to battle. The 8th Kansas reached the field around noon and took their position in the center of the 3rd brigade.  Old Soldier, the Regiment’s dog, advanced on the enemy and received a wound in the first volley fired. He did not fall back but maintained his position at the front until ultimately receiving a fatal wound. The fighting continued hot and close in the dense thicket and timber, until step by step the Confederates drove the Federal line back.  The 8th retreated very stubbornly, carrying their wounded back as they went.

The details of Chickamauga are lengthy to relate here, but in short, over the course of the two day battle the 8th was driven back and pushed forward a number of times until the Federal army finally retreated to Chattanooga.  “The 8th suffered over 65% casualties in the two-day battle.  Of the 406 men of the regiment who entered the battle 243 were listed as killed, wounded, or missing.” Keep the Flag to the Front, Bill McFarland.

For the next couple months James was holed up in Chattanooga with the rest of the 8th as they waited for assistance from Generals Sherman and Grant, to lift the siege the Rebels had them under. The Confederates held all the high ground around the town and could see everything the Federals were doing.  There wasn’t any way the enemy could be surprised.  The Federal army began falling in, and at first it was thought they were to parade for General Grant.  Turned out, they intended to march out of Chattanooga. As the 8th’s color guard stepped forward to lead the companies through a timber of beech, the eagle head of the flagstaff became caught in overhanging branches.  The two corporals on either side grabbed hold of the color bearer to help pull the staff free.  When it became clear they could not pull the staff loose without breaking it, they let go the color bearer catapulting him and the flag backward through the air.

There seems to have been some confusion as to what the men were to do.  Orders were, to take the rifle pits at the foot of the hill, which the Federal troops did with alacrity. The 8th taking the confederate works at the base of Missionary Ridge. It soon became clear that they could not remain in the rifle pits, for the rebels were shooting down at them.  Fortunately, the cannons could not be lowered to such an extreme to be used on them. As with one mind, and without orders from commanding officers, the men started forward up the hill. General Grant was surprised and possibly disturbed when, what he had intended as a diversion turned into an advance on the summit. It was even reported that he had said, “They can never make it.”  Each regiment was in competition to reach the ridge first and plant its flag aloft.  There may be room for debate, but the 8th Kansas declared they were the first to reach the top and overrun the enemy works.  It was an unexpected victory, but then again, the 8th Kansans were uncommon men.

James and another comrade both got furloughed and visited Council Grove on the 14th of March 1864.  James’ time at home was short.  He was soon back in the ranks soldiering.  Eight months after the fatal battle of Chickamauga, a burial detail from the 8th returned to the field to bury the remains of their comrades. Nothing more than skeletons clothed in blue, laying where they fell in battle. It was noted that the confederate dead had been neatly interred.

James and his company would see and do much more before being mustered out.  Even after Lee surrendered, and the war considered over, the 8th would be sent down the Mississippi, to Louisiana, across the Gulf to Texas where they served provost duty in San Antonio. Alligators, mosquitoes, alkali water, heat, ankle deep mud and more were to be experienced. Until, November of ’65, the 8th was discharged and headed for home.  Christmas was spent in New Orleans. The regiment was treated to a banquet by the citizens of St. Louis, and again at Atchison, ultimately reaching Ft. Leavenworth.

January 9th 1866,  James and the remaining men of his regiment were honorably discharged from service at Fort Leavenworth.  He returned to Council Grove where, on the 20th of September, he married Lucy Jane Faris. Lucy was from Kentucky, never learned to read, and smoked a pipe. There they lived until 1869-70, later living in Neosho and Wilson Counties.  Over the course of their marriage they had 8 children. There are some other pieces of Rawlinson’s life that are hard to make sense of.  Oral history tells of one of his sisters abusing their mother presumably to death, after which James took care of two of his little sisters.  Around 1884 the Rawlinson family moved to Newton County Missouri where, in June of 1890, James had both bones in his left leg broken by a stallion he was working.  He then applied for his veteran’s pension and remained crippled and in poor health the remainder of his life. James Rawlinson died February 3rd 1892 and was buried in Spring Valley Cemetery at Tipton Ford, Newton, Mo.

Knowing so little about the person of James Rawlinson, we can only presume it was because of men like him that the 8th Kansas Volunteer Infantry became the exceptional regiment that it was. No doubt the 8th Kansas played an integral part in making James the model citizen soldier he was.

[1] Abraham, Mary, Alice, James, and S. Ann Rawlinson all appear on the 1851 England and Wales census. This suggests James’ name was actually changed prior to coming to America.

The Hays House

Hays House 1868

This 1868 photograph captures the frame warehouse built by S. M. Hays & Company in the summer of 1859. Courtesy Morris County Historical Society.

Since the old Hays House has had a facelift, I thought it might be appropriate to give a briefly abridged history of the property.  To begin with, in 1847 Boone & Hamilton of Westport had a crude log structure built on the west bank of the Neosho River at the Santa Fe Trail crossing.  According to local historian Ken McClintock that structure stood immediately east of the present Hays House.  Seth M. Hays was employed by Boone & Hamilton to do business with freighters there.

In February of 1858, Hezekiah Brake came through Council Grove on his way to New Mexico.  Brake writes, “An old negress who worked for Mr. Hayes (sic) roasted coffee, made cakes, and gave us a keg of pickles and sauerkraut as relishes.”  Sarah Taylor, commonly called Aunt Sally, was Hays’ slave that accompanied him to Council Grove.  Sally continued with him until the end of her life and is buried in Hays’ lot in Greenwood Cemetery.

By 1852 Hays had bought out Boone & Hamilton, and around 1856 took on a partnership with Goodson M. Simcock.  It was Hays and Simcock who, under the title of S. M. Hays & Company, built a new frame warehouse to accommodate the growing trade on the Trail.  According to newspaper accounts of the day it appears this structure was completed in early summer of 1859.  At that time it had a gable roof; it wasn’t until about 1888 that the roof was raised in the fashion we see today to make a full two stories.

July 21st of 1859, Hays held a little party to celebrate the opening of the new store.  Hall’s Quadrille Band of Emporia came to provide music for the dancers, and a generous supper was provided for the attendees.  The Lawrence Republican of September 1859 also mentions the new warehouse opened by Hays & Co., and how it was suitable for a town such as Leavenworth or Lawrence.

Upon moving to Colorado in 1861 Hays sold his interest to Simcock, which took effect January 1st 1862, but retained ownership of the building.  Upon Hays’ return in 1866 Simcock relocated to what is currently the Trowbridge building which the two had built as a harness shop in 1860.  The final years of Hays involvement in the building is a bit sketchy, but it is safe to say he ultimately ended his interest in it February 5th 1873 when he passed from this life.  It wasn’t until 1878 that the administrator of Hays’ estate sold the property.

Prior to 1885, which is the earliest Sanborn Insurance Map in the Morris County Historical Society’s archives, the function of the Hays House is uncertain.  Using these maps we can draw a pretty good picture of the evolution of the building over the years.  We know that in February of 1885 it was divided into three separate businesses.  There was a store on the west end, restaurant in the middle and dwelling on the east side.  At that time (1882-1888) it was operated as Farmer’s Hotel by J. F. Atchison.  By July of 1887 the partitions are not noted and the whole building was designated as Farmers Hotel, except for a little insurance office in the southwest corner of the building.

Then from about 1890 to 1902 it was called Grove Hotel.  Another partition noted in the Sanborn Maps was made on the west side behind where the insurance office was located and extended to the rear of the building.  By this time the vacant lot west of the building had been developed and was listed as a restaurant.  It’s not clear if this restaurant was part of the structure or a separate entity, but it stood where the western most end of the Hays House is presently.  The building that once occupied that space was a barber shop in the 1870s but at the time of the September 19th 1886 fire was vacant.  It was ‘torn down’ with the intent to prevent the Hays House from catching fire.

Main St. Hotel circa 1908

Main Street Hotel circa 1902-1911.

In 1902 the front porch was built on by W. L. Stickel, who sold the building the following year. The building changed owners several times at this period, but by December of 1908 the name had been changed to Main Street Hotel and a restaurant and confectionary were listed as well as hotel rooms. From around 1914 to 1930 the building was called the Ar-Way Hotel which boasted a café and confectionery.

Hays House 1934

Although this photo is dated 1934, the cars are obviously from the 40s. Notice the striped porch post advertising a barber shop which occupied the eastern front portion of the building. It is believed that a barber shop occupied this space as late as 1958.  Courtesy of Morris County Historical Society.

Over the following decades the building housed a number of other businesses as well, such as a barbershop, appliance, restaurant, hardware and dry goods store to name a few.  It is also known that rooms were let in the upstairs through WWII, as late as 1947.  In 1954 V. A. Ward was proprietor of the Hays Tavern and it was then advertised as ‘the Oldest Place to eat between Council Grove and Santa Fe, N.M.’.

In 1974-75 Charlie and Helen Judd took over and renovated the Hays House Restaurant and Tavern and made it the destination eating establishment we all know and love today.  The recent renovation of the Hays House façade is intended to emulate the appearance of the building as it stood shortly after the turn of the 20th century.  And so it stands offering good food within, and historic charm without.