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.


Trails in Morris County

There are a number of old trails that cross Morris County.  Some we are familiar with and others we know very little about.  I would like to take some time for us to learn a little more about these various trails and what they were used for.

The first trail I’ll mention is the Santa Fe as it appears to be the first major trail.  It is very accurately mapped and we know a good deal about it, so I won’t go into much detail on it.  In the early 19th century a number of adventuresome individuals were trying to find a good route to Santa Fe in order to establish trade with the south and west.  William Alexander Becknell was fortunate enough to be the first to arrive in Santa Fe with his men in November of 1821.  He has ever since been known as the father of the Santa Fe Trail.

Becknell had not had very good luck up till this point.  Around 1818 he had bought the Boone family’s salt works near Arrow Rock Missouri.  In 1820 he ran for the Missouri legislature and borrowed money to do so.  He was unsuccessful and the panic from the previous year had already taken a huge toll on his pocket book.  Owing his creditors more than $1,200 he was thrown in jail until a friend bailed him out.  So, you can imagine the troubles that weighed on Becknell’s mind as he headed out across the godforsaken prairie.  Failure was not an option, he had to come home with something.  And he did!  The people in Santa Fe paid handsomely for his merchandise, and he returned to the States with his saddle bags loaded with silver.

One thing I would like for us to consider is the fact that not everyone who traveled the Santa Fe Trail was necessarily going to Santa Fe.  Like many of our highways today, such as 56 and 77 south of Herington, many of the old trails intersected and even converged.  Some travelers on the Santa Fe Trail were going down to Chihuahua in Mexico to trade.  Some were going on to southern California by way of the Gila Trail.  Others might find their way to California by taking the Old Spanish Trail which led up through Colorado and Utah by various routes.   Although the Mormon Trail ran through Nebraska and followed the Oregon and Old California Trails, in the 1840s Mormon immigrants would be using the Santa Fe Trail.   We know that in August of 1846 the Mormon Battalion passed through Council Grove taking the Santa Fe Trail on their way south during the Mexican-American War.  John Maloy states that during the year of 1860 an average of 50 wagons per day were passing through Council Grove on their way to Pike’s Peak.  Also, we cannot claim the only Santa Fe Trail.  There was a lower route, known as the Fort Smith route, which passed from Fort Smith Arkansas through Oklahoma to Santa Fe.

The Kaw Trail is the next oldest trail in the County.  It was put into use about the time the Kaw were moved to the reservation in Morris County in 1847.  The treaty signed with the Osage in 1825 in Council Grove, made the Santa Fe a right-of-way for the white man and the Indians were not suppose to utilize it.  Because of this, the Kaw Trail ran about a mile south of the Santa Fe Trail but nearly paralleling it.  It started at Big John Creek south of Council Grove on the Kaw reserve.  It passes through the counties of Morris, Chase and Marion where Florence now stands and continued on west to Turkey Creek where it intersected the Santa Fe Trail.  Some remnants of this trail can be seen near Diamond Springs, and Florence.  The trail was used by the Kaw going and returning on their annual buffalo hunts out west.  John Maloy, in his History of Morris County, gives a description of the Kaw returning from one of these hunts.  In April of 1869 “the Kaw Indians returned from their winter’s hunt on the plains, looking gaudy and feeling gay.  They had plenty of robes, and their accustomed business of pony stealing had proved both successful and lucrative.  They were met by those who staid (sic) at home with an ovation and the biggest thief, according to custom was permitted to wear a pair of polished horns.”

The next trail we have of significance goes by a few different names; the Ft. Scott & Ft. Riley Road*, the National Historic Military Trail or the Government Trail.  We may with reason date the beginning of this trail with the birth of Ft. Riley in 1852-53.  This trail leads from Ft. Riley and passes near Skiddy, White City, Kelso through Council Grove and on southeast to Ft. Scott.  There were two branches of this trail.  The previous mentioned which followed the Santa Fe Trail for a short distance west of town and the second which takes a more northerly route out of of Council Grove.  It is possible that goods were hauled from Ft. Riley to Council Grove by this road.  We know that in April of 1854 the 79 ton stern-wheeler Excel made her first run on the Kansas River from Weston Missouri to Ft. Riley.  She was carrying 1,100 barrels of flour.  More steamboats were employed until trade on the Kansas River finally came to an end along with trade on the Santa Fe Trail in 1866.

There is a trail shown on an 1856 map in my possession that enters Council Grove from the northeast.  I have not been able to determine the name of this trail.  It passed from Uniontown through or near present Alma to Council Grove.  To the best of my ability, I have determined that Uniontown was south of the Kansas River on Vassar Creek approximately 2 miles west of present Valencia.  Also on this map, is a road that at one time passed through the northeast corner of Morris County.  It begins at 110 mile station, simply marked ‘110’ on the map, also on the Santa Fe Road.  From there it heads west and slightly north a few miles from Council City, now Burlingame.  The trail passes a little south of present Eskridge then runs west until approximately the present Morris/Wabaunsee County border just a little south of Alta Vista.  From there it starts veering north and eventually converges with the Ft. Riley Road.  Since the county boundaries have changed in the northeast corner, we have lost most of this old road.  The Kansas Cyclopedia of 1912 identifies this road as one of the many lesser branches of the Mormon Trail.

One of the trails we know least about, and I know so little about it I’m almost embarrassed to mention it, is the Shawnee Cattle Trail.  This trail was brought to our attention a couple of years ago when a man who was very knowledgeable on the subject came to the Historical Society to research it.  He seemed certain that the trail passed through Morris County, and I have found two generic maps of Kansas that show a lesser branch of the Shawnee Trail passing through the area that Morris County would occupy on the map.  This was a north-south trail that went down through Texas to Dallas and Waco.  We do know that some time in the 1870s Council Grove passed an ordinance to prevent cattle drives from coming through the city.  We can safely assume from this that the trail did not come through Council Grove.  A map of historic trails provided by the Kansas Department of Transportation, shows Cottonwood Falls as a trail head for the Texas Cattle Trail.  Again, I don’t pretend to know much about the Shawnee Trail, but with the Texas Trail so close to us, it makes sense that the Shawnee Trail passed through here and may well have joined with this Texas Trail.

*Actually appears as Council Grove Ft. Riley Road on the 1856 map, I have also seen another map of the same year by the same maker but the road appears as C Grove Ft. Riley Road.  I question how accurate the map is as many of the towns and stream names are no longer the same, and in fact it shows Big John and Little John near Council Grove reversed.

I have a little more information to include about our local trails thanks to Larry Timm who has loaned me some maps he’s acquired during his research on the Military Trail.  There are a number of different maps that show trails and roads criss-crossing our County.  Depending on which map you look at you might find the same road running in what seem two different routes.  I have found some mistakes on some maps such as stream names and locations, or as in the case of an 1861 survey map the Kaw Mission appears on the east bank of the Neosho rather than the west.  For the most part I believe these maps are pretty accurate in showing where the road runs.  One explanation for alternate routes is, as Larry Timm put it, “fair weather route.”  When the bottom fell out of the road an alternate route was taken.

We know that the Santa Fe Trail has a ‘high route’ and a ‘low route’ west of Council Grove.  The low route follows along Elm Creek to Helmick.  The high route lies about halfway between town and the City Lake then gradually heads southwest until it joins the Elm Creek route about a mile west of Helmick.  There are also two different routes to the town site of Diamond Springs.  One leads from the intersection of the two Santa Fe routes just mentioned, down to Diamond Springs and on to Marion Center form there.  The second called the Diamond Creek Road shown on an 1870 map, branches off the Cottonwood Falls Road at 4 Mile Creek south of the Grove and follows that creek south and west.

The road I mentioned last week that comes into Council Grove from the northeast and looks like it passed near or through Alma, I have confirmed to be the Council Grove Alma Road and actually shares the course of the Topeka and Duffield roads for a number of miles.

George Duffield came through Morris County in 1866 driving a herd of cattle to Iowa.  He came up through Indian Territory and on the 17th of August struck the Santa Fe Trail 5 miles west of Lost Springs.  The 18th found him camped at the Six Mile Creek Ranch.  He traveled 6 miles to Diamond Springs then 8 more to Elm Creek on the 19th and by the 20th had reached Council Grove and camped east of the Neosho.  His trail north begins approximately one mile east of town.  This is the cattle trail I mentioned last week as the Shawnee Trail (some maps show it as such).  On a U.S. Geological map it is labeled as the Topeka and Council Grove Road as it leaves the Santa Fe, taking a sharp turn east about six miles north of town, basically following the route of Old Highway 4.  The cattle trail branches off from this road and continues north and is labeled the Duffield Texas/Iowa Cattle Drive 1866.  This was supposed to be the longest cattle drive in history and was the inspiration for the TV series Rawhide.  Head ‘em up, move ‘em out!

Duffield kept a diary of his drive.  I have not had a chance to read this diary but I suppose we might be able to connect his drive with the following incident that John Maloy relates.  “In August (1866) a Mexican herder was shot dead by a Texan.  The latter ordered the former to go to camp, the Mexican refused to go, when the Texan drew a revolver and shot him dead in front of the old Hays building.”  A question that comes to my mind is where did they bury the departed?  Did they carry him back to camp and bury him east of town somewhere?  Or did he end up in one of the many unmarked graves in Greenwood Cemetery? What about the Texan who shot him?  Was he contained in Council Grove and tried, convicted, hung?  Or did he go scot free? We may never know.

The Council Grove Cottonwood Falls Road and the Americus Road were both in use by the time the 1861 survey map was drafted.  The former very closely followed the route of highway 177; the latter followed the route of the old Katy Railway.

A road of great interest to me is one shown on the 1870 map of Kansas Indian Lands; the Rock Creek Road.  Only about two and a half miles of it are in our County’s border, but the thing that interests me is where it joins the Santa Fe Trail at the first Agnes City site.  If you don’t remember, that is about a mile north of highway 56 east of Council Grove just before the Lyon County line.  Knowing that two roads met at Agnes City gives us a better idea of the importance of the place and the amount of activity that must have occurred there.  The road continues north following the creek and joins the Alma Road about where Chalk Mound is in Wabaunsee County.

Upon comparing these old trails and roads with a modern map, you will find, as I have already stated, that they nearly follow our present streams, highways and railroads.  The reason for this is it’s hard to improve upon perfection.  The old roads were established where they were because it was easy traveling.  Few hills to go up and down, few streams to cross and good solid ground that you weren’t likely to sink in when it got muddy.  When the railroads came along they went ahead and followed these routes as they were ideal for the rail’s needs.  There is one old road however, other than the Santa Fe, that did not follow the rules and it just cuts out across the country with no rhyme or reason, other than its final destination.  That is the Salina Road, which we know was in use by 1869.  It headed northwest out of Council Grove and cut through the southwest extremity of the City Lake.  It passed about a mile north of the Delevan Airbase and within a mile south of Latimer.  From Latimer it climbs slightly north then heads southwest until it leaves the County approximately a mile north of highway 4.

Benny King told me that he knew an old man who, when a young man, drove a couple of old ladies to Junction City.  This would have been in the nineteen-teens and there was no paved highway at that time.  They just headed out across the country in the general direction to get there.  It is possible that this man may have driven on or crossed some of these old trails on his way to Junction.

Another trail shown on the U.S. Geological Survey map shows an old trail from Ft. Riley forking off from the one we are familiar with at Skiddy and heading west a bit.  It passes west of present Latimer and eventually joins the Santa Fe Trail in the extreme southwestern corner of the County. It is identified as having been in use in 1854.  It also shows a branch forking off of this old road south of Latimer, passing about two miles west of Delevan and then joining the Santa Fe at Six Mile Creek.

Well, I think it’s fair to say that you now know about as much as I do on the subject of trails in Morris County!

I can’t post maps because the ones I have are too big to scan and would be too small to see on this site, or some that I have are poor copies.  You may follow the links below to check out some of the old maps of Morris County.

1870 map of Kansas Indian Lands.

KDOT map of historic trails.

1863 Kansas & Nebraska map.

1856 map of Eastern Kansas.


The Old Jail

The old jail as it was originally constructed in 1870, minus the stairway leading to the city judge’s office on the second floor.

I just love how one story generates another, it’s a great way to gather more information.  If I had a recorder running in my shop I would have tomes of stories to write.  Last week Lawrence Strouts and F.J. Revere were in the shop and they got to telling me some more stories about Helmick.  One in particular that I forgot to mention was the purported pioneer jail that now sits in Durland Park.  At some time this jail was moved from Council Grove down to the rock quarry near Helmick.  It served for a number of years as a dynamite shack, which, considering the construction, the building was fit for the purpose.

At the risk of ruffling some feathers I will tell you the true story of the old jail and not the imagined story by Bill Coffin.  Mr. Coffin (rest his soul) may have been a generous and noble man and well liked by all fellow citizens, however his ‘ Story of the Santa Fe Trail’ is closer to fabulous than fact.  You will notice the sign in front of the jail that says it has served the city since 1849.  Where Coffin ever got this date is beyond the best historians.  Reason alone would prove this to be wrong.  In 1849 the only inhabitants of Council Grove (outside of the Kaw Indians) were Seth Hays, the Choteau brothers and another trader named Kennedy.  In 1851-2 a few more families trickled into the Grove.  Point is there was no ‘city’ here in 1849.  Furthermore, until Kansas became a territory in 1854, no one had any legal authority to hold anyone in jail.  But to put a hatchet in the head of this false story is a town council report that Ken McClintock has found in years past.  The report shows that the building we know as the pioneer jail was built in 1870.  Lalla Brigham was reasonably close when she states in her ‘History of Council Grove’ that the jail was constructed in 1871.

When the jail was built in 1870 it was a two story structure; the jail on the ground floor and the sheriff’s office above.  As to the original location of the jail there is some question.  Ken McCintock believes the jail was built at the south end of Washington Street near Elm Creek where there had previously been a log guard house.  We do know that by 1873 the jail was located on the west end of the 300 block of West Main on the north side of the street facing the Congregational church.   The Stony Hill apartments are now on the site where the jail stood.  The stairway to the sheriff’s office faced the church and the door to the jail was in the rear.  So what we see as the front of the jail today was actually the back of the jail.

The old jail during the 1954 territorial centennial.

At some point the upper floor was removed and  the jail taken to Helmick and used as a dynamite shack until the 1954 Territorial Centennial when the jail was brought back to Council Grove and placed on Neosho street next to the National Bank.  During the celebration citizens were convicted on mock charges and required to spend some time in jail.  Men who didn’t grow a beard or people who didn’t dress in pioneer garb were required to have their picture taken in the calaboose.   A mock hanging (which I think I have covered elsewhere) was also staged at this event.

Several folks in the city thought it would be a good idea to preserve the old jail and have a place for it to remain for posterity to enjoy.  G. Bill Coffin was a major force in this endeavor.   After the 1954 celebration a location was determined at Durland Park.  A cement foundation poured and the jail placed upon it.  The jail was in poor shape when it was brought up from Helmick, and has in the recent past been restored.  I’m afraid I cannot give you the date on the restoration but I am fairly certain that Mr. McClintock knows, and I am sure there are readers who remember the project.  The entire exterior has been replaced, and to my knowledge the only original part is the interior wall and the iron door and window grates

The claim that the notorious Jack McDowell was held there is wrong.  He was hung in 1867, before the jail was built. And the claim that Jack the Peeper was shot while trying to escape, I cannot say for sure, but it is my opinion that ‘Jack the Peeper’ was used then in the same sense that we use the term ‘Peeping Tom’ now.  During the 1906 earthquake Edith Maskell said, “When the shock came and the house rattled so, the first thought I had was that someone was prowling around and that possibly Jack the Peeper was on hand.”  If Jack the Peeper was a real person who was shot in the 1880s then why would anyone in 1906 be concerned about him?  About the only thing that is likely true is the bootleggers and stillers being held there.  Many locals have stories of Morris County bootleggers, but I’ll save that for another time.

A very deteriorated structure before it was rebuilt in 1998.

Addenda: An article from the C.G. Rep in 1954 reads “The old city jail—or calaboose—which served the cause so well when the bad men and women of the Brothers of the Beard and Sisters of the Swish ran wild on city streets during the pre-centennial celebration days, probably will find itself in a place of honor for the rest of its years.  The structure, the city’s first jail, is known to be at least 75 years old, and many feel that it should be preserved to provide another point of interest in the city.  Consequently, G. S. Peterson, celebration chairman, has named a committee to confer tomorrow with county commissioners as to the possibility of its being moved to the court house grounds.  It is planned that it will be improved as a ‘museum piece.”

The Brothers of the Beard was the beard contest held for the men and the Sisters of the Swish was the dress contest for the ladies.



J.O. Rochat’s flour mill at Helmick.

A few weeks ago while I was at the Historical Society I found the Coroner’s Record.  Not as exciting as it sounds but there were a few interesting things in it.  It started about 1911 or so and went on up into the 60s, however there were not many entries in the book.  From the records I read it appears that the leading cause of death in Morris County in the early 20th century was being hit by a train.  Ever since the first tracks were laid people have walked the rails between towns as it was the shortest distance.  And it seems a lot of deaf people walked the tracks.

Well, the very next week while I was at the MCHS a Mrs. Adam came in who is researching Helmick.  She is taking classes at K-State and is studying the population decrease and demise of towns.  Helmick of course is a prime example as nothing remains to hint that there was a town there.  Anyway, this lady started to tell me of one of her ancestors that was a deaf mute and I think he lived in Wilsey.  He had walked into Council Grove to get his little girl a new pair of shoes.  I don’t know if it was on his way there or on the way home he was hit by the train.  I remembered reading of a deaf mute being hit on the road between Helmick and Wilsey and I went to get the coroner’s report and produced the page for this lady.

The coroner’s report reads,” Now, to-wit, on this 31st day of July, A.D. 1917, I was notified of the dead body of one O.J. Ashwell lying on the tracks of the Missouri, Pacific Railroad Company between Helmick and Wilsey in said county and whereupon I did immediately go to said place and upon investigation I found that the said person was both deaf and dumb and was walking upon the railroad track when hit; I found that the train crew had done everything possible to avoid the accident by blowing the whistle and attempting to stop the train; the evidence was such that I deemed an inquest unnecessary and made my orders for the disposal of the body.”  Signed by coroner B.E. Miller.

Mrs. Adam told me the rest of the story.  O.J. Ashwell’s wife was also a deaf mute.  The little girl, who never got her new shoes, was eventually taken from her mother and put in a home.  A few years after, the son or nephew of Ashwell was hit by a car and died of the same injuries, namely a broken leg and internal damage.

Stockyard at Helmick.

Since I brought up Helmick let’s talk a bit about that.  What we know now as Helmick started out as Milton.  I do not know when Milton was established but it was in existence in 1886 and is shown on the 1887 Kansas Map.  We do not have a whole lot of information on Helmick, but we do have a few pictures in the archives.  The pictures are not of a busy little town with crowded streets, although from the plat it appears there were buildings and activity.  The three pictures that I am aware of show J. O. Rochat’s flour mill situated beside the tracks.  J.O. Rochat was one of Morris County’s early day fiddlers.  His fiddle is on display in the Post Office Oak museum.

As Milton was laid out the streets that ran north and south were, from east to west Main, Grant, Logan, Lincoln, and Blaine.  The streets running east and west were first and second street.  The streets remained the same after the name was changed to Helmick.  When this name change happened I am not certain but it is noted on the 1901 plat as Helmick ‘formerly Milton’.  The Stener Post Office was and had been located there at least as long as Milton had been established.  There was a Methodist Episcopal Church, stock yards, flour mill, hay barn and numerous other businesses and houses in the town.  By 1923 the plat shows a line branching off to the south of town to the ‘rock crusher’.

I’ve not been around here long enough to know, but I have been told by those who have been here for a while that there was nothing to be seen of Helmick in the 1950s that would make you think it was once a town.  Perhaps Mrs. Adam will be able to add to our history of Helmick and give us a better understanding of what gave birth to the town and why now the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.

J.O. Rochat in the middle, unloading the generator for the mill.

Addenda October 26th 2012:  Stener post office was shown on the town plat, but I have found no evidence of an office by that name in State records.  It does show that the Helmick post office was established May 14th of 1887.  It closed on November 30th 1907.

I suppose the list of post offices could be incomplete as we have evidence of ‘Beond Bend’ post office in Morris County.  From the CG Rep 1954: “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.”  Other than this little snip in the paper, we know nothing of Beond Bend post office.