Uncle Dick

In the summer of 1836, 18 year old Richens Lacy Wootton arrived in Independence, Missouri. He had spent a couple years in Mississippi on his uncle’s cotton plantation and decided to head to the West to see new sights and meet with what adventures he may.

It was at Independence that he found a wagon train consisting of seven wagons belonging to Bent and St. Vrain loaded and ready to head out for Ft. Bent. At that time, each wagon required 10 to 12 mules to pull the load. Wootton had no difficulty in getting on as a wagon man for his first trip out west. This train was to catch up with a larger train of 57 wagons and about 150 men that had started a couple days earlier. This would be Wootton’s first trip to the Council Grove, and certainly not his last.

The reader may not recognize the name of Richens Wootton, but it’s likely the nick name of ‘Uncle Dick’ Wootton would ring a bell. It appears that he was christened Uncle Dick upon his first freighting trip to Ft. Bent, and the moniker stuck ever after.

Uncle Dick spent the rest of his life, over 50 years, in the West and is well known as a mountain man, trapper, freighter, Indian trader or fighter (as the occasion called for), farmer, rancher, toll road builder/operator, shop keeper and whatever else he needed to be. His accuracy with a gun, particularly the old flintlocks, is nigh fantastic. Uncle Dick has admitted to missing shots, but those were seldom. Once he was chased by two Indians on foot when all he had was a flintlock rifle to defend himself. He stopped, took aim and dropped the leading Indian at 100 yards, then continued to load his gun for the second Indian while running.

Uncle Dick was known by practically everyone west of the Mississippi River and he knew anyone who was worth knowing. Dick hobnobbed with such notables as Kit Carson, August Claymore, Chief Conniach, James Denver, Chief Ouray, Chief Uncotash, Col. Ceran St. Vrain, Lucien Maxwell, brothers Charles and William Bent, John Fremont and even Seth Hays.

In a book about Uncle Dick Wootton written by Howard Conard in 1890, Wootton shares a short story about Seth Hays that can only tickle our fancy. It was the 1st of March 1856 that Uncle Dick started out on his first freighting trip from Fort Union to Kansas City. I’ll give you Wootton’s account in its entirety;

“When we reached Council Grove, we found the Kaw Indians about to go on the war-path. Seth Hayes (sic), who was there as a government sutler, had gotten into some trouble with one of the Indians, and killed him. The Indians swore vengeance, and things looked very warlike. I stopped there two days, waiting for matters to quiet down, and helped Hayes patch up a truce. I was better acquainted with the Indians than he was, and knew better how to settle a quarrel of that kind. He asked me what should be done, and I told him that the way to make peace with the Indians, was to pay them for the one that had been killed. I knew that this was what they expected, and that they would not be satisfied until the affair was fixed up that way. He requested me to go ahead with the negotiations, and I invited the chief to hold a conference with me. We sat down together, and after we had had a long talk, it was agreed that if the sutler would give the Indians a pony and a hundred dollars worth of goods out of his store, they would be entirely satisfied, and peace would be established. My friend the sutler was satisfied with this arrangement, the Indians got the pony and their goods, and I left them smoking the pipe of peace with Hayes, when I went on my way, congratulating myself on my success as a peace commissioner.”

Upon first reading this story I thought it may be another account of the incident Hays had with the Kaw in June of 1859; resulting in two Kaw being hanged. However, if Uncle Dick is not mistaken about the date (1856), the incident he relates above is most certainly a different episode. Given this morsel of information, it appears Seth Hays may have had more problems with the Kaw than our local history has been willing to admit to us.

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Unidentified Person

I inherited this photograph from a family member awhile back, and they have no idea who this lady is.  It was in the Scott family items so I presume it may be a member of the Scott family or a family friend.  The photograph was taken in Council Grove by George McMillan photographer.  I would estimate it to have been taken in the 1870s maybe early 80s.  The prop next to the woman is also seen in another photograph I have of Benjamin and Rachel Scott.  If anyone can identify this individual please contact me.

Far West

It has been a couple of years since we first discussed the subject of Far West and Latimer.  Having done my research, I am ready to give you the final and authoritative explanation on the two, so pay attention.

There have been a number of sources that have said the town site of Far West was northwest of Latimer; directly south of Latimer on the opposite side of the tracks; or as the writer of Clarks Creek Township assumed that Far West and Latimer were one and the same, platted on the same ground. My initial theory was that Far West was southwest of Latimer.  However, all of these assumptions are incorrect.  Careful examination of the plats and their descriptions will plainly show where the two town sites are/were located.

Both towns were platted in Section 23 of Township 15 Range 5 East, which accounts for much of the confusion on the subject.  It is evident from the start that the two towns are not one and the same as they were not platted on the same individual’s land.

Monroe D. Herington owned the northwest quarter of section 23.  And it was Herington who drew up a plat of Latimer on March 25th 1887.  That plat was then filed for record April 2nd the same.  Herington was largely responsible for the Chicago, Kansas & Nebraska railroad coming through the northern part of Morris County.  He owned land in both Dickenson and Morris counties and by making an offer to the railroad of some of his land, he was able to get them to lay track to his newly founded town of Herington.  Latimer was one of the incentives for the railroad as Herington provided it as a watering station.  And, as many accounts say, Latimer received its name from a railroad official who chose the location.

Apparently Herington was not the only one who had hopes of benefiting from the railroad and so David and Mary Korn, who owned the northeast quarter of section 23 just east of Herington’s, platted their own town.  However, they were just a few steps behind Herington.  They drew up their plat of Far West on July 11th 1887 and it was filed for record August 3rd the same.  According to the two plats there was just 350 feet between the two town sites.

Far West was the name of a post office located in Section 15, approximately a half mile northwest of Latimer.  It was established April 26th, 1864 and located in the home of William M. Walter who was the postmaster.  On March 23rd, 1869, the post office was moved to Aroma, Dickenson County where it was operated by Alexis Blanchett out of a corner cupboard in her 16 by 20 foot log cabin.  On October 3rd, 1872 the post office was reopened at Far West and remained in operation there until it moved to the town of Latimer on September 20, 1887.  For unknown reasons the post office closed June 20th 1888 then reopened February 5th 1889, and closed again April 15th 1895 reopening November 2nd 1895.  It closed permanently on January 6th 1961.

In the Clarks Creek Township history there is mention of a plat of Far West in which Railroad Street is labeled.  Also, the writer of that history (under the assumption that the two towns were one and the same) stated that a school (presumably Dist. 36) was marked on the Far West plat and stood in the same location as Dist. 36 in Latimer.  If such a plat of Far West ever existed, it is no more.  There is only one plat of Far West at the Register of Deeds office, and it has no streets or buildings labeled.  It is interesting to note that the alleys in Far West are shown to run north to south while the alleys in Latimer run east to west.

I have not come across any evidence as of yet that the town of Far West was ever developed.  The fact that a number of old timers in that area believed Latimer was first named Far West, leads me to believe that Far West never got further than being surveyed.  And so the absence of any remains of Far West led the locals to conclude that Far West and Latimer were synonymous.   So, to recap; Far West and Latimer are not one and the same.  The post office Far West preceded both the town sites of Far West and Latimer.  Latimer was platted before the town site of Far West, and Far West was later platted 350 feet east of Latimer.

James Joseph McCann

Eleanor and James Joseph McCann.

James Joseph McCann was born in Dublin, Ireland June 24th 1826.  He was predestined to be closely associated with calamity.  Three weeks before he was born, his father fell into an open well and drowned while riding a horse through the country side.  His mother died about a week after he was born, leaving James and his older brothers John and Owen orphans in the world.  They were reared by their aunt Sarah, and according to the family history, John and Owen went and joined the British Army.  At the age of 13 James ran away to follow after his brothers and at some later time all three met in Calcutta, India while serving in the Army.

Also according to family history, on the 25th of October 1854 during the Battle of Balaclava these three brothers stood side by side.  With Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them they bore their arms and fought like men.  While the Light Brigade made their famous bloody charge into the maws of death, James saw his two brothers cut down at his side by saber, while he himself was seriously wounded.  But with the tender care of a young woman named Florence Nightingale, James was nursed back to health.

After James had served seven years in India, he was called back to England where Queen Victoria decorated him with three medals for his service to the crown.  Upon his return to England he met young Eleanor (Ellen) Collin.  After a ridiculously long courtship of three weeks the two were wed in the Church of England August 29th 1857.  Nine months later their first child Katherine was born in London.  Then later in the year of 1858 James was placed in the Guard of Honor to Prince Albert and sent to Quebec, Canada.

The one month voyage across the Atlantic discouraged Ellen from ever wanting to return to England, and James liked Canada well enough they were both persuaded to stay.  They had four more children born to them while at Quebec; namely Mary, Elizabeth, James Jr. and Eleanor.

Sometime around 1868 the McCanns left Canada and moved to Bloomington, Illinois.  There were more children born into the family; Anna and Theresa (Tressa) whose twin died in infancy.  There was also another set of twins which James named after his fallen brothers, Jonny and Patrick Owen. The two boys seemed quite healthy, but at nine months old both were teething and feverish.  It was suggested to the McCanns to take the boys to a doctor to have their gums lanced.  They did so, and both babies slept on the way home.  However, one little boy aroused from his sleep, smiled and then fell into an eternal slumber.  The other baby followed within a week.

The family left Illinois and settled in Missouri where the oldest daughter Katherine met and married Hudson Benson.  They had a little boy named Willie.  When Willie was about a year and a half old the family was once again preparing to migrate, this time to Kansas.  While at a friend’s house for a farewell dinner, Willie was missed at the table.  A black worker of the friend’s discovered that Willie had fallen in an open well, just as his great-grandfather, excepting the horse.

The McCanns moved to Concordia, Kansas where their last child was born in 1878.  From there they ended up moving to Denver, Colorado where James had a job with the railroad.  After living in Denver for a few years the family moved back to Kansas and bought a farm four miles southwest of White City.  It was always said that the McCanns moved there so that their daughters could marry Clarks Creek men, which they did.  But what is James Joseph McCann’s significance to Morris County you ask.  Well, James and Eleanor McCann were the first to live in the town of Latimer.  They did not remain at Latimer for long.  By 1892 all but two of the girls were married off and so the McCanns decided to sell the farm and move to Herington.

James McCann passed away December 14th 1909 at 83 years old.  His wife of 52 years followed him December 9th 1929 being 90 years old.  Although Eleanor was 13 years her husband’s junior, she outlived him by seven years.  Both died at the home of their daughter Anna four miles southwest of White City, where it appears they were being cared for during their advanced years.  The McCanns were both laid to rest at Sunset Hill Cemetery in Herington.

Milton a.k.a Helmick

Town plat for Milton as it appears in the 1886 Kansas Atlas. (Courtesy Morris County Historical Society.)

Quite some time back we learned a little bit about Helmick.  One thing we did not learn at that time was the beginning of Helmick and why it was first named Milton.  I have learned a lot more since working on the book Morris County, which by the way is scheduled for publication the last week of January 2014.  As I had mentioned in the previous article on Helmick, Janet Adam was working on a paper about it for Kansas State University.  Janet has since completed her paper and it is available in hard copy at the Morris County Historical Society or can be read online by searching Wilsey vs. Helmick A Twin Town Rivalry.

In 1878 circuit riding preacher John W. Helmick of Illinois purchased 320 acres from the Missouri, Kansas and Texas railroad about six miles west and a little south of Council Grove. He continued to live in the Land of Lincoln until 1886 when it appears he moved to Morris County and built a house on his 320 acres.  That year, 1886, he platted a town site and named it after his son Milton P. Helmick; hence the origin of the town Milton that preceded Helmick.  Although I do not know for certain, I presume that the Topeka, Salina and Western railroad was Helmick’s incentive for platting a town site at that time.

The reverse of this photo reads, “House built by Mr. Helmick. Mr. and Mrs. Quince Dains lived in the house from 1913 until 1964.” (Courtesy of Morris County Historical Society.)

From the Council Grove Republican Friday October 30th 1903 we read, “Dedication at Helmick-The new Methodist church at Helmick will be dedicated next Sunday forenoon, November 1st, with services beginning at 10:30, President Murlin, of the Baker University, will preach the sermon.  Evening service at 7:30. Everybody invited.”  Information from Janet Adam’s paper leads me to believe there was another church prior to the one mentioned in the above article.   Although there is no documentation at present, oral traditions seem to support that Reverend Helmick had built a Methodist church and preached there until he moved to Baldwin City around 1895.  After that, neighboring pastors tended to services at Helmick.  The Methodist church at Helmick was closed in 1925 and the building moved to Wilsey where it was added to the parsonage of the Wilsey Methodist Episcopal Church.

Milton P. continued at Helmick for awhile after the turn of the century and was active in business and real estate in the town.  Another figure that shaped the fortunes of Helmick was James H. Smart.  He was born in Wisconsin but we find him living in Council Grove on the 1910 census.  The 1901 plat shows Smart owning 90 acres south of Helmick and by 1923 his property had grown to 220 acres.  Smart started out trading mules and horses and then opened a quarry on his land later installing a rock crusher.  Old-timers from the area tell of Black and Hispanic gangs that worked at the rock quarry or on the railroad.

Some may recall Helmick lake.  James Smart is responsible for the construction of a dam which created this lake.  According to Adam it was built for the refreshment and recreation of Smart’s employees at the quarry.  However, others seem to think that it had a practical purpose as well.  If one walks the prairie around Helmick they might just stumble upon some of the old cables which I was told cut the stone at the quarry.  These cables purportedly ran out to the lake where they were cooled in the water.  Since I don’t know much of the stone cutting business at the turn of the century I cannot verify nor discredit this claim.

One last puzzling bit about Helmick is the post office.  The plat map shows that Stener post office was established there.  I have found no other record of this post and the State certainly doesn’t recognize it existed.  It is very possible the State does not have complete records, for there is one other post office mentioned in Morris County and it is also absent from State records.  I came across Beond Bend post office in a 1954 Council Grove Republican.  It reads, “A collector’s item, which is almost a philatelist’s dream, appears among heirlooms on display in Main street windows this week.  It is a postal cancelation by the now abolished “Beond Bend” post office in Morris county.  The envelope bears a 2-cent brown stamp and the cancellation date of Jan. 4, 1888.  It is the property of O. L. Burnett.”  We know nothing else of Beond Bend, and since it was only typed once in the article we are not sure if it was actually spelled ‘Beond’ or if the y was simply left out.  If any of my readers have any clue as to where the Beond Bend post office may have been I would love to know!  What we do know is the post office named Helmick was opened May 14th of 1887 and closed November 30th 1907.

And there you have a few more pieces of the great puzzle known as Helmick.

Council Grove Barber Shop

Circa 1880 back bar and circa 1923 Paidar chairs.

June 14th of 2003 I completed my 1500 hour course at the Old Town Barber and Beauty College in Wichita, Kansas.  After having passed the State Board examination I set out to seek employment around my home near Lyndon in Osage County.  After much searching and disappointment I recalled one of the instructors at barber school mention that Council Grove had no barber shop.  At the drop of a hat, with no further thought, I jumped in the car on a hot summer afternoon and drove to Council Grove to investigate.  Arriving in the Grove shortly before the town closed up, I pulled up in front of Bluestem Brokerage and there met Bill Wilkerson who would afterward prove a faithful and entertaining customer.

Tools of the trade.

Well, to skip ahead, I purchased the old Council Grove Telephone office at 210 W Main, which also had living accommodations above, making it a very convenient opportunity.  The deal was closed on September 22nd of 2003 and by the last week of October the Council Grove Barber Shop was open for business.  It hasn’t changed all that much since then, but the first thing patrons saw when they entered was a five mirrored oak back bar with marble top dating to the 1880s. There were two antique chairs, one an Archer from 1894 and a Climax from 1887.  The Climax chair was used for a number of years to cut hair in.  Since it had no hydraulics a box was used to stand on while cutting hair much as was the custom 150 years before.

The clock that hung in the first Frisco depot at Augusta, Kansas in 1880.

On the wall was an oak clock that originally hung in the Frisco Depot in Augusta Kansas when it was first built in 1880.  When the depot was torn down my great uncle Melvin ‘Hap’ Bailey, rescued the clock from the trash heap and it has run faithfully ever since.  Many have often pointed out to me that the second hand on my clock is broken.  Much to their surprise I tell them it doesn’t have a second hand.  The red hand with a crescent moon points to the day of the month.

Eventually newer chairs were purchased for the shop.  Two matching Emil Paidar chairs dating to about 1923.  I got a good deal on these chairs and drove to Oklahoma to get them.  Some other additions since opening were a National cash register from the turn of the century, glass display cases for the tonic and talcum powder, and an ongoing collection of shaving mugs and other paraphernalia.  The Council Grove Barber Shop has always made an effort to fit the historic atmosphere of the town and to give patrons the feeling that they are walking into a turn of the century barber shop.

It was about a month after opening that the barber shop started hosting a weekly jam session for musicians.  Every Tuesday at 7 people from all over would gather in or in front of the shop depending on the weather.  This went on for maybe a year when the jams were held on the last Tuesday of each month only.  Sometimes the last musicians didn’t leave until 2 in the morning.  That made it very difficult to get up and go to work the next day.  The final jam was held this past Tuesday with food and drink to mark the 10th anniversary of the barber shop.  I will not be hosting any more jams at the shop.

Personalized shaving mug collection.

I have many special memories in the Council Grove Barber Shop.  One is of my regular customer from England; at least he was more regular than some in this town.  About once a year John and his mother would fly to the states to visit a friend in Emporia and they always made an effort to come see me.  My wife and I also received a card from them when we got married.  It’s the only wedding card we have that came from England.

Ten years have passed and young boys that I remember sitting on the booster seat are now about to graduate high school.  I’ve witnessed some, whose hair has turned grey over the years and others whose hair has turned loose.  But I have noticed some grey in my hair as well.  I’ve also had many patrons go to their long home in this time.  And so, thinking back on the past decade I have mixed emotions; joy, sorrow, excitement, disappointment, frustration, anticipation, a sense of achievement but at the same time a feeling of inadequacy.  I think, however, that the good has outweighed the bad.

One of the original cigar advertisements on the old back bar.

I have been very fortunate to make the friendships I have, which in turn have lead me to discover my family’s deep roots in this area.  So much of my family history here was unknown to me until I started meeting folks who turned out to be relation.  They were generous enough to share what they knew.  Now, instead of feeling like I have made Morris County my home, I feel that I only just returned home.

Addendum:  The Council Grove Barber Shop closed its doors on July 17th, 2015, just three months short of 12 years in business.  Although my customers have been very good to me over the years and very supportive, the increasing cost of keeping a business operating, along with the poor economy and continual decline of the town, have left me no choice but to throw in the towel.  I will very much miss visiting with customers and hearing their stories.

Cemetery Tour (continued)

Continuing with our Cemetery Tour from last week, we will look at some of the living history presentations that have been given, symbolisms of the stones and forgotten practices of funerals.

Christy Alexander played the role of Susie Huffaker at our first Cemetery Tour.  She told her tale of how she drowned in the swollen Neosho River on the night of May 14th 1872.  Susie’s funeral announcement is preserved in the archives at the Morris County Historical Society.  It is a plain half page piece of paper with a black border that gives details for the service.  This was very typical of 19th century announcements.

Another grim artifact in possession of the Morris County Historical Society is a wicker coffin.  In the last half of the 19th century these wicker ‘body baskets’ were primarily used by funeral parlors to transport the body from the home to the parlor, but they were also used for burial.    These decomposing coffins were very popular in the crowded graveyards of England, and supposed to allow the corpse to decompose quicker and more efficiently.  One Englishman was purported to say, “Bury me, when I am dead, bury me in an earth-to-earth wicker coffin, so that I may get out again into God’s pure air just as soon as possible.”   From the Dallas Weekly Herald of July 10th 1875: “Willow coffins are now the rage in England. They are more comfortable in hot weather, it is claimed.”  Going ‘green’ is not a new idea at all.   In fact, wicker and decomposable coffins are still made and used by those who are concerned about their carbon footprint.

Beside wicker coffins were the common plain wood coffins the wagon maker often turned out upon demand.  One documented story we have is the drowning of the Poole children near Parkerville in November 1879.  The wagon maker at Parkerville made two coffins and two children were placed in each.  Also in use in the 1870s were coffins with a glass window so one could look upon the countenance of the departed.  Early Morris County pioneer Percy Ebbutt mentions the funeral of a young girl near Manhattan who was buried in such a coffin.

IMG_8376

Headstones tell us a story through the images carved on them.  Some symbols are easy to interpret such as a broken tree trunk or column signifies a life was cut short.  Others can be less evident.  An urn, wreath or ivy vine symbolizes immortality or eternity.  The willow and anything that is draped represent mourning.  A dove or lily indicates the resurrection.  Two hands clasped together are indicative of a farewell handshake as Earthly acquaintances are parted.  A hand pointing upward seams to say ‘do not look for me here, but look to Heaven,’ while a hand pointing downward represents God reaching down for the soul.   The Bible or books often stand for the Book of Life in which the departed’s name is written.  A lamb is often found on the stone of a small child and symbolizes Jesus Christ the Lamb of God.   A sea-shell signifies baptism or rebirth.

The variety of stones is endless.  You can make a family outing by going to your local cemetery and seeing who can find these different symbols and who can find the most.  Also see how many different fraternal organizations you can find, such as Grand Army of the Republic; Free Masons; Odd Fellows; Knights of Pythias; Modern Woodmen of America; Ancient Order of United Workmen, etc.

Besides marble, granite and other stone markers, there are white bronze markers.  White bronze markers, which are actually sand cast zinc, were manufactured by the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  The company produced these markers from 1874 to 1914.  They were about one third the cost of what a stone monument of similar size would be, and they held up better in the weather.  I am aware of two white bronze markers in the County, perhaps my readers know where there are some more.  There is one in Greenwood Cemetery and one at Kelso Cemetery.  The one at Kelso has Western White Bronze Co. cast in it.  The Western White Bronze Co. at Des Moines, Iowa was a subsidiary of the Monumental Bronze Company at Bridgeport.  Western White Bronze operated from 1886 until 1908.  Although it doesn’t make sense to me, information I have come across claims that Western White Bronze never cast these markers, they only assembled them.

White bronze (zinc) marker in Greenwood.

A notable historic figure that was portrayed at the first tour was Jack McDowell, who was hung by persons unknown.  D. J. Bremer dressed the part with army revolver and all, and made quite the impression on folks.  McDowell is one of the numbers in Greenwood whose final resting place is unknown.  Another obscure character who lies in an unmarked pauper’s grave is Indian Juan.  The early years of Indian Juan are unknown, but he is said to have been half Apache half Mexican.  Charles Parker adopted the orphaned boy in his Santa Fe freighting days.  It may be possible that Indian Juan was a victim of a Navajo raid on Mexicans, but this we surely can never know.

The Alliance Herald-Guard of Friday, June 19th 1891 announced the death of Indian Juan.  “Indian John, commonly known as ‘Juan’ died at the poor farm east of Council Grove Tuesday night.  He was brought from New Mexico by C. G. Parker, of Parkerville, twenty-four years ago, and has lived around in different portions of the county ever since.  He was a character well known in Council Grove, Kelso and Parkerville and was kindly regarded by everyone who knew him.  He has been under the weather for the last six months and suffered terrible agony, but he has now departed to the ‘happy hunting grounds’ of his forefathers where trials and tribulations will no more molest him.”

No one attended the burial of Juan, save the grave diggers and a curious Republican ‘imp’ who followed the wagon to the cemetery to discover who had died.

The final resting place of Indian Juan may not be known, but at least we have this only photo of him. (Courtesy Bob Strom collection.)

It occurs to me here that we could easily continue with this subject, but I’m a feared I must stop at this.