Black Diamonds

The coal mine that never was. From the 1873 Bird’s Eye View of Council Grove drawn by E. S. Glover.

In 1903 coal was discovered near Council Grove while men were drilling a well.  They kept things quiet until there was some certainty that it might be a profitable mine.  The vein was six feet thick and supposed excellent quality coal.

This was not the first time coal had been discovered in the county and certainly not the first attempt to develop a coal mine.  In 1871 W. B. Wilson, P. S. Roberts and several others had been boring for coal west of Council Grove.  The site of this ‘mine’ is located south of highway 56 approximately opposite the highway department.  Folks were made to believe it was a sure thing and so the new city council was persuaded to donate $500 to the project.  John Maloy said, “The five hundred dollars went like a comet glimmering into the dream of things that were.”

In the December 7th 1871 Council Grove Democrat there was a report on the development of the coal mine.  The shaft was down to about two hundred feet and a vein of white marble eight feet thick had been struck.  By January 1872 work had ceased at the mine due to lack of funds and or equipment breaking down, but sometime later drilling started up again.  E. S. Glover, who drew the 1873 Bird’s Eye View of Council Grove, included an inset depiction of what he (as well as others in town) believed the coal mine would become.  He shows a large factory with several buildings situated next to Elm Creek while a steam locomotive pulls a presumptuous string of coal cars off into the west.  This of course was never realized.

Maloy tells us how the coal mine came to its end along with abundant utterances of anathema for the swindlers.  “On the 28th day of January (1874) a proposition to loan or donate to the coal company the proceeds of $65,000 of County bonds which had been received in lieu of $165,000 of our County’s stock in the M. K. & T. R. R. Co. was by the people voted down, after a most exciting and vigorous canvass. This put a settler on the enterprise, and sealed the fate of some of our business men who had conscientiously put every available dollar into the project.”

Maloy goes on to say that W. B. Wilson was a “sanctimonious old fraud” who, through “his knavishness,” soon attracted a professed coal miner by the name of A. B. Stitts who also proved to be a “self-convicted fraud and thief.”  After these two men had got a good amount of investors in their coal mine, they kept their dupes encouraged by salting the mine with coal they had stolen from Strieby and Columbia’s blacksmith shop, and gained a few more investors!  Wilson and Stitts absconded taking about $35,000 of the townsfolk’s money.  The heaviest loss in the town was suffered by Shamleffer, Armstrong and Company.

Maloy ends his narrative on this “nefarious business” thus; “Out of all this was left a shaft several hundred feet deep-too wide for a well and too deep for a cellar.  The only things that could be found to any way relieve the dismal dreariness of the outcome was a vein of excellent salt water, enough of which was manufactured to ascertain that it was of the best, and an eight foot vein of the purest gypsum.  So perished our dream of becoming a mining and manufacturing city.”

One would think after having this magnificent lesson in hoodwinkery and humility that no one would ever entertain the thought of mining coal again.  But alas, coal was a big deal and many individuals continued to find coal and dream of the possibilities for industry in the area.  In December 1880 Frank Parker discovered a good outcropping of coal on Shaffer Creek in Chase County.  Then in January 1882 a Mr. Stump found coal on Humboldt Creek in Davis (Geary) County.  Osage City was leading the way in mining in the area and no doubt Morris County had an itching to get in the running and produce its own cheap fuel.  In 1889 there were 118 coal mines in Osage County employing over 2,200 people.

Parkerville had their own Coal and Manufacturing Company, however there is no evidence that they ever produced or manufactured anything.  In November of 1887 Charlie Parker decided to begin mining on his land.  He had been certain for years that there was coal beneath and so hired an experienced miner and a couple assistants to dig for it.  The Parkerville Times reported that indications were good for a vein of coal, and in fact they eventually hit a small vein.  But, it does not appear that the men had great expectations of their find for we hear no more about coal at Parkerville.  What a boon coal would have been for Parkerville.  It may have changed everything as we know it today.

Wilsey Bank Robbery

Wilsey State Bank built in 1890. (Courtesy of Morris County Historical Society.)

Monday September 14th 1903 two tramps wandered into Council Grove.  W. H. Call and ‘James Butler’ (aka Sam Dunn) walked into Black Hardware Company at 131 West Main Street and purchased three sticks of dynamite from Mr. Puryear the clerk.  After the men left the store they continued down the dusty alley where they picked up a discarded tin can and carried the dynamite in it.  They continued west out of town walking the Missouri Pacific tracks until they disappeared in the shadows of evening.

The next day, Tuesday September 15th, the two vagabonds strolled into Wilsey.  Butler and Call stopped in at Harvey Myers grocery store where they bought five cents worth of bacon, five cents worth of coffee and five cents worth of Lenox soap.  They also purchased bread from Mrs. Moler and then loafed around for the remainder of the day where they were seen as late as 10:00 p.m.

About 2:00 a.m. Wednesday the 16th citizens in Wilsey were startled by three successive explosions as the Wilsey State Bank vault was blown open.  Although several parties were awakened by the concussion, it was not until 5:00 a.m. that cashier Henderson was made aware of the robbery.  Henderson then phoned Mr. Prater and Ed Williams who were stockholders and directors of the bank to inform them of the robbery.  Upon investigating the scene, a partially used bar of Lenox soap (used to stop up the cracks in the safe) and a tin can were found.  Butler and Call had managed to get away with $2,500 in bills and silver.  The manhunt was on.

Folks in the Diamond Creek area reported seeing the two men late Wednesday afternoon; “The negro took the Santa Fe south.  The white man walked over the fields and disappeared south.”  After a week having passed with no clue as to their whereabouts, it was considered to bring in bloodhounds to track them down.  Of course, so much time had lapsed the scent was cold.  One scoffer brought attention to the fact that a couple years prior, blood hounds were brought to Council Grove at great expense as well as disappointment to track down the elusive ‘Jack the Peeper.’

When Sheriff Pitsenberger caught up with Butler and Call, some two weeks later, they were found camping in a corn field north of Herington with about a dozen other loafing characters.  Safe cracking tools were found upon them and so they were arrested.  Butler was arrested along with Call as he claimed to be his partner.  The nature of their partnership seems questionable as Butler claimed to be a miner and Call a bricklayer.

A preliminary hearing was held at Council Grove for Butler and Call resulting in Butler being released due to lack of evidence and Call being put under $1,000 bond to appear in court in December.  Regardless of the lack in evidence connecting him to the Wilsey robbery, it was made clear in a few weeks that Butler was an old hand at the safe cracking business as well as being associated with an organized gang of bank robbers.  In the latter part of October Butler participated in a bank robbery at Burrton, Kansas, where he was shot in the arm and captured.  Sheriff Pitsenberger again had the satisfaction to see Butler behind bars when he went to Newton to identify Butler as the same suspected in the Wilsey robbery.  While there, Pitsenberger found a man by the name of White who was also caught in the Burrton robbery.  White was seen a few weeks prior in Council Grove giving $20 to a Thompson who was charged in robbing the Wilsey bank.  I have found no further mention of this Thompson.

The Emporia Gazette reported for the December term of court W. H. Call and George Roberts would be tried for their alleged involvement in the Wilsey bank robbery.  We don’t know anything else about this Roberts, but he must have been picked up later as a suspect.  We do know that Call was released as there was not enough evidence to connect him to the crime.  The Emporia Gazette stated, “There is a big loop between seeing the men camping and looking suspicious, and proving that they robbed the bank.”

The Wilsey State Bank had a new safe put in and increased their burglary insurance to a $5,000 policy.  A few years later the bank would build a new brick building which stands today and serves as City Hall.

There are many details I have not been able to apprehend in this case, but one big question remains.  What became of the $2,500 that was taken from the vault?

New brick bank built about 1905 or 1906. (Courtesy of Morris County Historical Society.)

Thomas and Eliza Huffaker

If you stand at the Huffaker family plot in Greenwood Cemetery you may hear the marble stones whisper a story of heartache.  But they cannot fully express the sorrows that encompassed Thomas and Eliza Huffaker.

Thomas Sears Huffaker was born in 1825 in Clay County Missouri.  In 1849 he moved to Westport, Missouri, to take over a government school for Indians.  A short time after he was transferred to Shawnee Mission and by 1850 had found his way to Council Grove where he and H.W. Webster were contracted to manage the new mission built by the Methodist Episcopal Church.  Huffaker was to manage the school and Webster the farm that was attached to the school.  The Kaw Indians were to get educated in white man’s bookwork as well as husbandry.  The Kaw didn’t take to white man’s ways with as much gusto as the whites would have liked.  Most of the Kaw that attended the school were young orphaned boys.  Due to the lack of attendance and the cost of operation the mission was closed in 1854.  The Huffaker family continued to live in the stone mission while Thomas dabbled in sundry occupations over the years.

Thomas Sears Huffaker 30 March 1825-10 July 1910.

A bit of history concerning Thomas has often gone overlooked in our local history, but if you look closely you can find it.  I have no intention to vilify Huffaker, but I do wish to humanize him.  We often have a romanticized and almost heroic vision of Huffaker, but he was ambitious like many other townsmen and he did what he could to better his own situation as well as that of the town at the expense of the Kaw.

William E. Unrau in his book The Kaw People gives Huffaker most of the credit for the Treaty of 1859-60 which diminished Kaw land.  He, as well as other merchants in Council Grove, extended so much credit to the Kaw that they could never repay it.  Consequently, the Kaw had no choice but to accept the terms of the treaty which diminished their reservation from 256,000 acres to 176,000 acres.  This moved the Kaw reservation line south of Council Grove which prior to the treaty had been unlawfully established on Kaw land.  Then in 1862 Huffaker treated with the Kaw again and personally obtained title to 320 acres of some of the best land adjoining Council Grove.

A delegation of Kaw that went to Washington D.C. gave a less than favorable report on Huffaker.  They essentially said he was a bad missionary that ‘didn’t teach anything’ and that he made 50 Kaw children work in fields ‘the size of Washington.’   These accusations were supported by agent Montgomery who wrote to his superiors in St. Louis that Huffaker “does all in his power consistent with personal interest to get the Indians to leave their country, for he expects to reap a benefit when the Indians are treated with, as he later told me.” This led to an investigation on March 12th 1862 when Huffaker admitted to Morris County Justice of the Peace John Dodd that he had extended nearly $1,500 in credit to the Kaw while serving as Methodist teacher at the mission.

In spite of all this less than desirable report, Thomas was evidently a very well respected man in Council Grove.  This is evident in John Maloy’s History of Morris County because Maloy never alludes to Huffaker’s involvement in the great Kaw swindle.  Maloy points the finger at Alfred B. Greenwood (for whom Greenwood County is named), Milton Dickey and Robert Stevens.  In 1858 the Town Company of Council Grove was made with Thomas Huffaker, Christopher Columbia, Seth Hays and Hiram Northrup being the incorporators.  So, Huffaker was also in a position to manipulate the Kaw in favor of the town company.

Elizabeth Baker Huffaker 1837-5 July 1920.

Eliza Baker, born in 1836, came to Council Grove about 1850, along with her mother Agnes and two brothers (one being Arthur Baker) and her sister and her husband Emanuel Mosier.  After Eliza’s father Joshua Baker had died, the family moved from the Sac and Fox Reservation (present Osage and Franklin Counties)* where both her father and brother were employed as blacksmiths, to what would eventually become Morris County.  In fact, Cutler’s History of the State of Kansas states that the first house in Council Grove, beside Hays’ cabin, was built by the Bakers.

Eliza married Thomas Huffaker May 6th 1852.  This is recorded as the first marriage performed in Council Grove.  Then, on March 31st of 1853 Thomas purchased a 30 year old Negro woman named Cynthia for $600.  We have no further information on Cynthia; whether Thomas freed her, or whether she remained here and is buried in some unmarked grave. She may have served as a housekeeper at the Kaw mission.  Sometime after 1855 Eliza’s mother Agnes was employed at the Kaw Mission as a housekeeper.

Thomas and Eliza’s first child was Susan Huffaker, born on the 4th of July, 1853.  Susie is credited for being the first white child born in Council Grove; not to be confused with the first white child born in Morris County, which was Lucy Columbia in 1852.  It has been related elsewhere how 19 year old Susie Huffaker drowned in the swollen Neosho River on the night of May 14th 1872.  The draped column that marks her grave gives nothing more than her name and age and the verse ‘Let God do His work.’  There was no need for the birth and death dates to be etched in the marble because both events were deeply engraved upon the memory of Thomas and Eliza.

Susie Huffaker 4 July 1853-14 May 1872.

Along with Susie was Eliza’s sister-in-law, Annis Baker Somers, who had ten years prior lost her husband Arthur at the hands of Bill Anderson and his men, of which we have also previously read.  After the murder of Arthur, the burning of the home and store, Annis came to live with her in-laws, the Huffakers, in Council Grove.  Eliza’s brother Arthur had also lost his first wife Susan, so Eliza was no stranger to tragedy and sorrow.

The Huffakers had twelve children born to them, to the best of my research.  From first to last are Susie, Mary, Aggie, George, Fannie, Clara, Anna, Annie, Claudine, Homer, Charles and Carl J.  The Huffakers lost at least three more children beside Susie.  The fifth born, Fanny Marvin, died at the age of 23 in 1885.  They lost their sixth born, Clara, in 1865 at only a year and a half old.  Then they lost Claudine in 1876 before she reached her 4th birthday.


Addenda:  Who was first-born in the County will always be open to debate.  I have come across a number of different people who were always said to be the first white child born in Morris County.  Ken McClintock brought to my attention Kate Mosier who was Susie Huffaker’s cousin.  Kate was born February 29th 1852, obviously preceding Susie and possibly Lucy Columbia as the ‘first white child.’  Depending on how technical you want to get, These three ladies mentioned here were not actually born in Morris County.  Nor were they born in Wise County or even in the organized Territory of Kansas.    It would take considerable research to determine who was actually the first born in the region, Wise County and finally Morris County, and even then we are only depending upon very sparse and incomplete documentation.

*To be more accurate, Joshua Baker died at the Sauk and Fox Reservation in Iowa around 1845, around the time the Sauk and Fox were moved to Kansas.  Presumably, the Baker family moved to the new reservation in Kansas about this time.


(Courtesy of Marvin Peterson.)

We’ve covered history on every town in the county save one.  I’ve put it off for some time because information on that town is scarce as hen’s teeth.  I had the pleasure to visit with Marvin Peterson who grew up in Burdick and has been collecting photos and history on the town since he was a young boy.  He’s had the privilege to know and learn from the ‘old timers’ of Burdick.  Marvin allowed me to borrow a book written by an early settler of Burdick.  A Quarter-Inch of Rain by E. T. Anderson gives a look at the development of the small town and the cattle industry.

S. F. Nelson and W.B. Stevens wrote a brief history of Burdick in 1925 for the centennial of the signing of the treaty with the Osage at Council Grove giving right of way on the Santa Fe Trail.  In this history it is said that in the late 1870s a few families of Russian Mennonites settled in the area and tried to scratch out a living.  They got discouraged and moved west to Marion and McPherson Counties, where some who I know personally remain, just as discouraged.   In 1880 the Swedes began moving into southwestern Morris County.  Nelson and Stevens go on to say, “an excursion was run from Clay Center to McPherson, whence the party was transferred to Marion and then loaded in wagons for a trip to this garden spot.”

The story is slightly different in the case of the Anderson family.  They settled on a quarter section five miles north and three east of McPherson in 1879.  Victor Anderson and his father pooled their monies and jointly owned the 160 acre farm.  In 1884 Victor sold his interest to his father and bought a quarter section from the railroad in southwestern Morris County.  That fall and winter he built a modest house for his family and sent for them the following February.

When the Swedish settlers first came to southwestern Morris County they congregated in the area around Six Mile Station on the Santa Fe Trail.  This little station, on Six Mile Creek, was at or near the junction of the Santa Fe Road and an early branch of the Ft. Riley Road.  The sign placed at the site by the Santa Fe Trail Association states that a three room stone building was there with a cornerstone dated 1849.  It also states there was a stone coral, stable and a log store.  I have found no documentation as of yet to confirm this, but if true, then it would lead one to believe it was first established by David Waldo, Jacob Hall and William McCoy. Waldo, Hall & Company also had a station at Council Grove and Diamond Springs.  Because of their station at Diamond Springs I am doubtful they would have built another just six miles away. But, like I said verification is still pending on that.

We do know Six Mile Creek post office was established there February 9th 1863 with Samuel H. Shaft as the first appointee.  In 1865 brothers Frank and William Hartwell purchased Six Mile Station for $2,000.  They found it not very lucrative and sold it to Charley Owens the following year for $500.  The post office was defunct October 3rd 1866 but Owens continued to live there awhile afterward.  Supposedly when the Cheyenne had their little spat with the Kaw in June 1868, they burned Six Mile Station on their retreat from the county.  Owens and his wife were away at the time.

During my research on Six Mile Station I have come across several sources that claim the post office was moved there because Dick Yeager’s men burned the store at Diamond Springs.  That is simply not true.  The post office was closed at Diamond Springs February 9th 1863 and moved to Six Mile Creek.  The incident at Diamond Springs did not happen until May 4th of that year; nearly three months after the post office was moved.  The real reason for the move is still a mystery to me.

November 17th 1884, settlers at Six Mile organized the Hebron Lutheran Church with 29 charter members.  Initially the congregation met in homes and then at a large home at Six Mile Station.  Later, the worshipers gathered at the Lone Star School house until a proper church was erected in 1887.  The first building was torn down in 1934 and a new one built which stands at present.  In 1885 the Mission Friends church was organized with 25 members, and then the Methodist came along in 1892 with 14 charter members.

The original settlement at Six Mile was called Linsdale by the locals.  However, in 1886 the Burdick Townsite Company was organized and purchase 320 acres 2 ½ miles south of Six Mile where the railroad was to come through. Burdick post office was opened August 29th 1887 and remains so today.  Dr. Calvin L. Reed was the first postmaster at Burdick.  Reed was a West Virginian who was said to be very ‘neighborly’ in his ways.  When he first started in the post and the amount of letters few, he would carry the mail in his hat.  Upon meeting anyone for whom he had a letter, he would take off his hat and deliver their mail.

In 1905 E. T. Anderson scared up some investors and by September of that year opened the Burdick State Bank.  William Atkinson was elected president and Anderson served as cashier until 1919 when he became president after Atkinson sold his stock in the bank.  The sudden pull out surprised Anderson but he gladly purchased Atkinson’s shares.  If Anderson was surprised at Atkinson’s leaving the bank you can imagine his astonishment when he learned that Atkinson was going to open a competitive bank directly across the street.  It was believed that a charter wouldn’t be granted to a second bank in such a small town, but money talks and Atkinson was able to buy a charter.  In two weeks the Farmers State Bank went up.  In 1922 the banks consolidated as it proved to be that such a small town could not support two banks.  The Burdick State Bank building stands today and presently houses the post office.

(Courtesy of Martha Senne.)

Two things Burdick will always be remembered for are its parades and rodeos.  The first Field Day at Burdick was held in September 1912.  Schools, churches, organizations and bands marched or rode in decorated wagons and cars to show off their town spirit.  These Field Days would draw large crowds, people coming from as far away as Lindsborg.  Burdick keeps up this tradition today with the annual Labor Day parade which has been held annually since 1973.

William ‘Bill’ Pickett, the renowned bull-dogger, will forever be associated with Burdick’s rodeos.  Bill was born in Texas December 5th 1870.  In 1905 he signed up to work for the Miller brothers on the 101 Ranch in Oklahoma.  He also performed in the 101 Ranch Wild West Show, which was keeping up the tradition started by William Cody.  It was during this time that Pickett began his trademark bull-dogging.  He would take a steer by the horns and twist its head around, then bite the steers lip like cattle dog would do.  Then with his hands raised skyward he would hold the steer at bay with nothing more than his teeth.  This later developed into steer wrestling which remains popular today.  Picket later found his way into the motion pictures and was featured in Crimson Skull and The Bull-Dogger.  He is purported to be the first black cowboy star on the silver screen.  Bill Picket died April 2nd 1932 after being kicked in the head by a horse he was working with on the 101. In 1971 he was inducted into the National Cowboy Rodeo Hall of Fame.  His legacy lives on at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo in Hayward, California held each year in July.

William ‘Bill’ Pickett, famed bull-dogger from the 101 Ranch Wild West Show. (Courtesy of Martha Senne.)