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.)



John Derrick Wilsey, town founder. (Courtesy of Morris County Historical Society.)

I must apologize for not getting articles in as regular lately.  It seems that age old conundrum of making a living along with other distractions have prevented me from doing as much research as I would like.  I think some of you will be pleased to know that one of the things that have been occupying my time is putting all of my past articles on a blog.  If you go to fromthebarberschair.wordpress.com you will be able to look up past articles and (where I am able to procure some) I have added photos!  Photos always help.  Now for some more Morris County history.

The Hill Spring post office was established August 21st 1868, Lorenzo M. Hill serving as first post master.  The office was moved to Mildred on December 12th 1878.  The name was changed to Wilsey on May 23rd 1884 and remained in operation until September 27th 1997.  James S. Watkins served as first appointee of both Mildred and Wilsey.

Something interesting concerning the name Mildred is that the name came from the first school which was located at the northwest corner of 1800 Rd. and V Ave.  We don’t know for certain when the structure was built but we do know it was in existence and in use by 1873.  Sometime in the 1880s the old schoolhouse was moved downtown where it served for a number of years as a doctor’s office.  Then after 1950 it was move to the corner of Vorse and Gilmore streets where it served for someone’s home.  Finally it was moved to the lot west of the Christian Church in 1961 where it remains today as a residence.

Mildred school house. (Courtesy of Morris County Historical Society.)

In 1925 A.J. Coffin wrote a brief history of Wilsey for the Centennial.  I hesitate to use him as a reliable source because he states that G.W. Coffin was the first postmaster of Wilsey.  However, as you can see from above, State records do not agree with this claim.  Coffin was the second postmaster of Wilsey, he was appointed less than two months after James Watkins.  J. D. Wilsey owned the land on which the first buildings in Wilsey were erected in 1884.  J.D. was originally from Bloomville, Ohio.  According to A. J. Coffin’s history the first store was built by C. R. Francis.  A Quaker by the name of A.W. Hampton built the second and the third was built by G.W. Coffin, of Coffin Insurance.

Businesses in 1925 were A.J. Coffin, barber; Otis & Mowery Lumber Co.; Wilsey Café; Campbell Theatre &Café; Brown’s Variety Store; Baum & Son Garage; A.R. Sisson Garage; Wilsey Oil Co.; R.W. Powers Drugs; F.S. Riegel; Hudson Blacksmith Shop and Bert Fay Hardware.  H. Scott Wilson was president of the Wilsey State Bank and Alex Randle the vice-president.

Floyd Whiteman, currently of Mission Kansas, remembers working at Riegel’s store from 1946 to 1956.  Whiteman recalls that Bert Fay had an envelope prominently displayed near the cash register in his store.  It was postmarked New York, New York and simply addressed ‘B Fay Wilsey.’  Bert would always comment that there must be only one Wilsey in the United States for that letter to have arrived in his mail, and it appears to be so.

The Kansas Cyclopedia of 1912 says Wilsey “has a bank, a weekly newspaper (the Warbler), a flour mill, a grain elevator, a hotel, telegraph and express offices, and a money order postoffice with two rural routes. The population in 1910 was 350. It is the shipping and receiving point for a large agricultural area, and large quantities of grain, live stock and produce are handled every year.”  The population of Wilsey reached its peak in 1907 with 374 inhabitants.  The population in 2011 was 153.

Although Wilsey is one of the younger towns in the county, its history precedes its founding and incorporation.  There were a number of settlers in the area in the 1860s including Jacob Welcher, the ex-slave and Civil War veteran who we have learned about elsewhere.  The Santa Fe Trail also passes just south of the town, in fact a powder flask and a couple of other artifacts found near Wilsey are on display at the Kaw Mission.

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.  http://specialcollections.wichita.edu/collections/maps/detailsframes.asp?var=1870-0006

KDOT map of historic trails.  http://www.legendsofkansas.com/trails.html

1863 Kansas & Nebraska map.  http://www.kansasmemory.org/item/211766

1856 map of Eastern Kansas.  http://blogs.spencerart.ku.edu/map-of-eastern-kansas-1856/


History of Barber Shops in Morris County



Barber shop in Council Grove probably not much later than 1930 (chairs appear to be about 1923 models). Charles Taylor is the barber in the middle. The location of this shop is unknown, but may have been the shop located in the 400 block of East Main. See foot for more info.

I have been compiling a history of barbers and shops in Morris County for some time now.  I by no means have a complete and authoritative history, but I am sure I have enough to exhaust the most enthusiastic historian.  I shall lay it out here for you for several weeks to come.

I thought the Kansas State Barber Board might be of assistance in researching barbers of Morris County.  Unfortunately they don’t care to let people rummage through their file cabinets and don’t seem interested in giving any information unless given names.  Other sources for my information include telephone directories, business directories, newspaper ads, census records, Sanborn maps, and information collected from various individuals.  Mind you, not every newspaper has been scoured; I may have more to add to this history later.

When did the first barber pass through this land?  That is difficult if not impossible to determine as our records and accounts of early day Morris County are very few and not particularly detailed.   I would like to imagine that someone, even if not an apprenticed barber passed through here on the way to Santa Fe and acted the part of shaver for those heading west.

The first barber I have found record of in Council Grove is Brad Sharp.  He was listed on the 1870 census as a barber living in Council Grove age 27.  I have not been able to determine where his shop was located.  At some point he left the Grove and apparently went to a town that was offering more opportunity for him.  We next find Mr. Sharp in the Parkerville Tribune of January 30th, 1896.  The editor had listed all the businesses in Parkerville in the previous paper but left out the barber.  It reads, “…we unintentionally omitted the name of J.B. Sharp, the tonsorial artist.  “Brad,” as he is familiarly known to everybody, came to this country thirty five years ago and has been engaged in every manner of enterprise.  He is a finished scholar at his trade, keeps a neat and tasty shop and his work is always satisfactory to his patrons.”

The next barber shop that I have found is Thomas Cleek’s.  An advertisement for this shop first appears in the Morris County Republican Saturday May 13th, 1876.  The ad reads, “shaving, shampooing, haircutting, and hair dyeing promptly attended to.  Ladies and children’s hair dressing done.  Shop on Main Street, one door east of bank building.  Open till 12m Sundays.”

The bank mentioned above is most likely the Morris County State Bank which was located at 116 W Main, present day Bosch Furniture in the building closest the Hays House.  The barber shop was located where the extreme west part of the Hays House is now.  In 1886 a fire swept the entire block west of the Hays House, the barber shop was destroyed in this blaze.  Sometime after this fire an addition was made to the Hays House that included the site of Cleek’s barber shop.

Thomas Cleek was born in Kentucky about 1851.  How he came to Council Grove we do not know.  He was about 25 years old when he started his shop here.  The 1880 census shows his brother-in-law, T. McKinney, lived with Thomas and wife Ida.  McKinney was also a barber and I believe they worked in the same shop together.  McKinney may be the youngest barber ever in Morris County.    He was 17 years old and working when listed on the 1880 census.  All of these people are absent from the 1900 census.  It is likely that after the 1886 fire took the shop the family moved elsewhere to make a new start.

An ad from the Council Grove Republican of Saturday June 7th, 1879 reads, “New shaving saloon.  Henry Weigand proprietor; Council Grove Kansas; one door west of Commercial House; Hairdressing, shampooing, shaving, etc. done in the latest Chicago style; hair tonic prepared and for sale.  Call and see me.”  The Commercial House was built by Charles Gilkey in 1859, and originally known as the Gilkey House.  It was known by other names over the years such as Hotel Somnus as we will learn more of later.  The Commercial House was torn down in 1939 to make way for our present day Post Office at 103 W Main.

Between the Commercial House and the Miller Kerr building (now Alderman Dentistry) there were two or three wood frame buildings.  Weigand’s shaving saloon was located in one of these.   By September 20th of 1879 Weigand’s ad had changed and encourages the reader to check out the new White and Barth store.  This leads us to believe that  Weigand had moved his shop to the White and Barth building which was located between the present Farmers and Drovers Bank Plaza at 123 W Main and the McCardell building now Red Bud Design at 129 W Main.

I have been curious as to what ‘done in the latest Chicago style’ means.  A. B. Moler established the first barber school in the nation in Chicago, but that was in 1893.  So it is not possible that Weigand learned from Moler’s school.  One of his children is listed as being born in Illinois, so I presume that Weigand did live in Chicago at one time and most likely learned the trade there.  So I conclude that the latest Chicago style simply refers to where he apprenticed and the fact that Chicago would be comparable to New York City in fashion and latest developments in the trade at that period.  Weigand was born in Missouri May of 1852 and so he was in his late twenties when he first went to work in the Grove.  Take note of the ages, I have a point to make later.  Like the Cleeks, the Weigand family left Council Grove before 1900.  However, if my notes are correct, Henry is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

Springer’s Barber Shop is advertised in the Council Grove Republican of September 20th, 1879.  I’m afraid I cannot give a clear picture concerning Springer as I am certain there were more than one, possibly father, son and maybe even a third generation.  John J. Springer was born in Tennessee in 1872.  This however could not be the same that operated in 1879.  It is possible it could be the same Springer who opened their Tonsorial Palace with a Mr. Withrow in 1890.  He would have been 18 years old.  I have found no further information on Mr. Withrow.

An ad from an unidentified/undated paper reads, “M.W.A. (Modern Woodmen of America) Barber Shop J.J. Springer Proprietor-at the old stand-near the bridge.”  The ‘old stand’ means the same old place I’ve been and everyone knows where to find me.  Since this was near the bridge I am sure the shop was located where Adams 66 now stands at 15 W Main.  There was a shop shown on the 1900 and 1914 Sanborn maps at that location.   R.E. Ashburn was the successor to Springer’s M.W.A shop.  By 1901 J. Springer had his shop in the Hotel Somnus.  This shop boasted a billiard table.

As we skip ahead a bit to 1923, we find an ad in the Council Grove telephone directory for Springer Barber Shop.  This Springer was E.B., possibly a son or grandson of J. Springer.  This is the largest shop I have found in Council Grove or the County for that matter.  It boasted six chairs!  Shines and baths; no waiting.  It was located at 128 W Main where Catlin Lakeside Properties is now.  One item of interest to this particular shop is it advertises a “full line of Boncilla toilet articles.”  The Boncilla Clasmic Pack or Boncilla Facial claimed to remedy all sorts of skin ailments.  One ad from 1931 says, “After thirty minutes see the results-your face amazingly refreshed, fatigue lines utterly removed, color in the cheeks no rouge can bring; crows feet, black heads, pimples gone; enlarged pores closed; a smoother softer more lovely skin.”

I would like to think that I have found the first Black barber in Morris County.  Discovered on the 1880 census is John Matthews, barber in Dunlap, age 23.  And that’s all there is to say of John.  I have some other barbers for Dunlap but I’m afraid I cannot tell you their skin preference.  Frank Ryman advertises his City Barber Shop in the Dunlap Reflector of February 7th, 1896.  In a later ad, Ryman also repairs clocks and watches.  Melvin Whitaker told me of a barber he remembers in Dunlap by the name of Ikey Ryman.  I don’t know for sure if Frank and Ikey are one and the same, but think it very likely.

From the Dunlap Reflector 1896.

A little talk with Melvin Whitaker in July of 2011 revealed some more barbers in Dunlap.  Besides Ikey Ryman, Melvin remembered a Charlie Wiley and a man named Henderson that worked as barbers.  Wiley was what they called a ‘tramp barber’ according to Whitaker.  He would fill in for a barber while they were on vacation, but never had a shop of his own and usually worked out of his home.  He most likely was not a licensed barber.  Wiley charged 25 cents for a haircut while all the other barbers were getting 40 cents.  Wiley was also known to be a bootlegger, maybe that’s why his haircuts were so cheap.  As Whitaker recalls, it was around 1945 that Wiley worked in Dunlap.

Let’s go back to Council Grove for a bit.  I have a long list of barber and beauty shops in the Grove during the early to mid part of the 20th century.  I don’t have details as to who all operated in them.

The Sanborn maps show barber shops located at 216 or 18 and 123 W Main in 1885.  In 1887 there was a shop in the middle of the 400 block E Main, approximately where Tom’s bar is; also, a shop in the basement of the National Bank  at the corner of Neosho and W Main.  By 1908 there was a barber shop at 214 W Main.  In 1914 there was a barber shop located at the southwest corner of the block where the Neosho Plaza high-rise stands.  This was a little brick building that once served as the Express Office.  By 1922 there was a shop located at 105 W Main, next to the Commercial Hotel.  This may have been the same building Henry Weigand was in back in 1879.

Larry Kellogg sent me some information concerning his mother, Neva Jane Rees.  She opened a beauty shop in 1924 in the balcony of the Leader department store, which was located to the east of Red Bud Design.  It was called the Jane Beauty Shop, it was only open for a very brief time as the following year she was married.  Larry was told it was the first beauty shop in town.  I will grant that it may be, for it is the first that I have run across.

Bruce Scott of Delevan said when he got out of the Navy he went into a shop in California for a haircut.  As he was talking with the barber they discovered they were from the same County.  This barber, by the name of Nethercutt, once worked in the basement of the Farmers and Drovers Bank back in the 30s.  E.R. Nethercutt is listed in the 1936 phonebook.

A couple years ago a picture was brought to me that otherwise would have been thrown in the trash.  The person was cleaning out their garage and didn’t know who was in the picture, but since it was an interior picture of a barber shop, thought I might be interested in having it.  And so I was.  The picture is of three barbers with three customers in the chair; you may come in the shop and see it for yourself.  Careful examination of the photo revealed that the names of the barbers were hanging above them on the back bar.  Only one was legible, but that was all we needed.  ‘C.W.Taylor’ was what the one read.  I went to Ken McClintock and asked if he could fill in the blanks.  He thought some time and said he knew a Charlie Taylor but he worked on the railroad.  It was worth a shot to ask Charlie’s daughter, Charlene McRae, who lived here in town.  She came in and confirmed that the man in the picture was her father.  Charles W. Taylor was born September 5th, 1906.  He learned the barber trade in St. Louis and at some point bummed a train to Kansas.  He was employed with the railroad for most of his life, but it appears early on, and when not working on the railroad, he worked as a barber.  He was in his mid 20s in the early 1930s when he barbered here.  Taylor died in 1968 at the age of 62.  The location of the shop has not been confirmed yet.  Jack Foster said that Charlie Taylor gave him his first haircut in the basement of the Nation Bank; that would have been in the late 30s.  Another old-timer of Council Grove told me that Taylor worked on the east side in the 400 block location.  That may be the shop the picture was taken in.

In 1936 we find the Mae Howard Beauty Shop at 219 W Main, Mays Beauty Shop at 126 W Main and Springer Beauty & Barber Shop at 1 S Neosho; this was in the basement of the Farmers and Drovers Bank (it would appear that Nethercutt must have worked with Springer).  By 1942 Springer’s had moved to 119 W Main.  Then in 1944 it became Harrison Beauty Shop and about 1946 moved to 119 ½ above Scholes Jewelry Co.

From 1940-41 we find Davis Beauty Shop at 406 E Main.  Mrs. Ella Kreth’s Beauty Shop was at 28 N Mission in 1940 and moved to 412 W Main in 1941 where it closed up not long after.  From 1940-43 the Mallory Beauty Bar was located at 126 ½ W Main, above Mallory Drug.  At the same time Mi-Lady Beauty Shop operated at 20 E Main.  From 1940-44 West Shoe and Beauty Shop was at 215 W Main, sometime in 1944 it changed to Goodman Beauty Shop.  By 1946 Goodman moved to 22 S Mission and then in 1947 became House of Beauty.   Evelyn’s Beauty Shop took its place by 1948 and then moved to N Neosho Street by 1949.  In the nearly 9 years I have been in Council Grove I have always found it remarkable how often businesses change hands or locations here.  It appears that it is by no means a new practice when you look at how often these shops changed.

In 1943 we find Alice Gillespie Beauty Bar at 18 Wood St.  From 1945-47 White Barber and Beauty Shop was at 206 W Main, in 1947 it became McAtee Barber and Beauty Shop and remained so until 1952. By 1956 McAtee was at the old Express Office at the southwest corner of the lot where the Neosho Plaza high-rise is.  Johnny Baker had his barber shop at 123 W Main from 1946-48.  He moved it to his home at 27 N Washington and operated from 1963-68.  The 1965 phone book shows it at 25 N Washington; I don’t know if that was a misprint or if he moved it briefly for some reason.  Lawrence Strouts told me a little story about Baker.  Strouts used to get his hair cut by Baker and one day Baker told him that if he had someone in the chair that he didn’t particularly care for, he’d leave a few hairs around the corners of the mouth during a shave.  This of course is irritating and the person would not likely come back.

Express Office 1977

Old Express Office where Buck McAtee once barbered. Later, Joann Stiver had a beauty shop there. Photo taken in 1977.

Melba’s Curli-Q Salon was at 130 W Main in 1947 and Pullins Beauty Salon at 214 Hockaday in 1948.  Mel’s Barber Shop was at 610 Conn Street from 1973-76.  Mel Keyser had a shop at the Leader location and following a fire that took out those buildings he operated out of his home.  The shop by the Leader seems to have been a barber shop from the time it was built until it burned down.  In 1955 the Mary Ruth Beauty Shop was at 8 N 4th street, *(I assume this was on the east side of town).  More next week.


Claude Steck, or as everyone remembers him, ‘Smokey’ Steck went to the Moler Barber College in Chicago in 1947.  That’s where he started barbering in 1948 then moved back to Council Grove in 1949 where he barbered with Buck McAtee.  Information from Steck’s daughter Claudia sates that in November of 1951 Steck purchased the Hays Tavern Barber Shop and in 1958 moved to the Farm Bureau Building where he remained.  The telephone directory shows he operated at 222 W Main from 1955-67 and 1978-83.  He sold his shop in January of 1986.  Steck was a character and all who remember him have a story or two to tell.  I was told that he had a sign on the ceiling of his shop so that when people were getting a shave they could see it.  It read “what the hell you looking at?”  I have been told by more than one person that Smokey had one haircut to give, and if you protested he would point to the barber pole out front and say “that means I know how to cut hair.”

Steck’s certificate from the Moler College of December 1, 1948.

Russell Shubert started out cutting hair in the south portion of what was known as the Home Café.  The building was located where the Saddle Rock Café now stands.  From 1978-82 he worked at 412 E Main.  I had the pleasure of knowing Russell and I’m sure all will agree that you could not find a more kindhearted and genial person.  Russell use to come into my shop after hours and we would trade haircuts.  For as long as Russell had been out of the barbering business he could still give a very satisfactory cut.  Russell told me of the time when he would help Apache Joe braid leather strips for watch chains.  Apparently Russell didn’t do as well at that and Apache Joe would take his braids that he had worked so diligently at and cut them into little pieces with his knife.

Russell told me there was a time when he once barbered in Wilsey.  He soon gave that up because what was happening was all the guys would come sit in the shop and drink coffee and chat all day and wouldn’t get their haircut.  But when he was at his shop in Council Grove they would be lined up for hours waiting to get their hair cut.

C.B. Smith told me of Erville Winfield, he was apparently not a licensed barber but I must include this in the annals of haircuttery.  Erville Winfield worked for the railroad along with C.B. Smith.  One day Smith mentioned he needed to get his hair cut.  Winfield offered to do it for him.  Smith didn’t know Winfield cut hair but gave him a shot anyway.  So Smith went to Winfield’s house and got a pretty decent haircut and continued to go to him for the service.  As it turned out, Winfield was also a drunk.  So it was best to get your hair cut earlier in the day rather than later.  One day as Winfield was cutting Smith’s hair he asked, “Did you have ketchup for lunch?”  Smith said ‘no’ and Winfield replied, “Never mind then.”  After having his hair cut one day Smith went home and found that only one half of his head had been cut and the other completely untouched.  So he went back to Winfield to have it finished and found Winfield passed out drunk.  It was at this point Smith decided to find a new barber.  Oh yes, Erville also played the guitar and banjo.

As we get closer to modern times, we find that Council Grove went without a barber shop for nearly ten years.  Smokey Steck was the last until John’s Barber Shop opened up at 12 N Neosho in 1992.  The following year the shop appears as John’s Barber & Styling Shop.  Then in 1994-5 it appears as Council Grove Barber Shop.  Folks don’t seem to know too many details about the barbers that operated here, but from the accounts I have heard it does appear that there were two different barbers in this location.  It also sounds like the individuals who ran the shops were both a bit different.  One got in trouble with the law, had problems with his girlfriend.  The other locked himself in his apartment and shot holes in the ceiling with a pistol.  Of course, that’s what I have heard from the locals.

Once again Council Grove was without a barber for nearly ten more years until I came to open my shop in October of 2003.  Remember I said I had a point I wanted to make concerning the age of the barbers?  Most of the time when someone comes in my shop for the first time they say something like, “I expected someone older.”  Or they mention how all the other barbers they know are old men.  Well, they were young once too you know.  I was 19 years old when I started my business here.  And most all the other barbers listed in this history were in their early 20s when they started working.

The Council Grove Barber Shop has made its mark as not only an old fashioned shop but a center for music.  For nearly as long as the shop has been in business it has hosted a music jam on the last Tuesday of every month.   Musicians gather from miles around including White City, Alta Vista, Manhattan, Cottonwood Falls, Canton, Galva, McPherson, Topeka, Emporia, Herington, and even farther.   There have been amazing musicians pass through the doors over the years.  A young man named Daschle, who was just out of high school and walking from Washington State to Florida for Soles4Souls, came through Council Grove.  This was back when I had a piano in the shop and Daschle played and sang a piece he wrote and it was very good.  I have had flamenco, jazz, and rock style guitarists pick up the community guitar and make sounds come out of it that will never be reproduced.  And of course Alex comes over from La Hacienda and he spends time teaching me to play requinto music on the mandolin.  Which I admit is not my strongest point, but it is beautiful music none the less.

And who doesn’t know about the homemade ice cream and root beer that we have on the street in the summertime?  People stop to listen to the music and have a refreshing dollop of blackberry or some other favorite ice cream.  Maybe even a root beer float.  And Elvie Aikens more often than not brings some delicious cookies or something to munch on.  My favorite to date is what I call her birdseed cookies.  They have sunflower and maybe flax seed in them.  Like history, this too shall pass so make it a part of your memory while you have an opportunity to enjoy it.

To complete my list of barbers I give you the ones I know little about.  They are Bill Stoddard who worked in the upstairs of the Leader building in the early 60s; Leo Davis 400 block E Main; and Frank Means a ‘colored’ barber in 1928 all of Council Grove.  The Council Grove Guard of August 8th, 1913 advertises the “Union Barber Shop, The only shop in town; good barbers-courteous treatment; sanitary shop; E.A. Brunts proprietor.  Bath in connection; opposite the Missouri Pacific Depot.”  A business directory of 1889 shows Henry Davis barber in White City, and in 1901 H.V. Scholes also White City.  Max Walton barber in Dwight; Bill Ohm Barber Shop in Latimer, period unknown to me.  Palace Barber Shop J.T. Houseman proprietor, advertises cigars, tobacco and summer drinks; I think this was in Dunlap but am not sure.  Also a barber named Bradshaw and Eckleberry; I believe Ernest Braun told me of these.  A.J. Coffin was the proprietor of the Wilsey Barber Shop; I believe this was the early part of the 20th century.   And finally, Art Johnson the barber of Burdick, who played the banjo, harmonica and bass drum for cake walks.

And now a parting anecdote about barbers from the Council Grove Republican March 15th, 1906.  “John Drew, as he lunched, talked about barbers.  ‘They are so uncomplimentary,’ he said.  ‘They tell you such unflattering things.  A friend of mine went to be shaved at the Dark Harbor hotel one day last summer and the barber said to him, “Your hair is getting thin sir.”  “Yes,” my friend answered, “I have been treating it with anti-fat.  I never did like stout hair.”

Addenda: *The Mary Ruth Beauty Shop opened February 9th 1954.  Mary Ruth Carr Lakey Walker first worked in Freda Goodman’s shop and then later in Buck McAtee’s.  When McAtee closed his business Mary purchase the beauty equipment from him and began her own business which was located at the rear of what is presently Santa Fe Liquor in Council Grove.  She continued to work at her own shop until December of 1969 when she slipped on the ice and broke her ankle.  She continued to help in Goodman’s shop until 1983.

About the photo at the top of the page: Someone brought it to me and said their brother-in-law found it in their garage and was going to throw it away because they didn’t know anything about it and it meant nothing to them. There was little to no hope of learning anything more about it when I received it, we didn’t even know if it was a shop in Kansas let alone Morris County. But, upon close inspection with a magnifying glass, I noticed the names of each barber was posted above their station. I could just make out C.W. Taylor on one plaque. I then asked local historian Ken McClintock if he knew of a C.W. Taylor who was a barber. Again, I had little hope of a positive answer. Ken said he knew a man by the name of Charlie Taylor but didn’t know if he was ever a barber. He directed me to the daughter of Charlie Taylor, Charlene McRae. Turned out he did do some barbering in his early days. Charlene affirmed the man in the photograph was her father.

Charles W. Taylor, born September 5, 1906, learned the barber trade in St. Louis and sometime after bummed a train to Kansas. He worked on the railroad most of his life, but in his early years barbered in Council Grove. He was known to have worked at the shop in the basement of the Nation Bank building and at the shop in 400 block of East Main.

This photo was on the wall in my shop for many years, until I sold out and closed up. Sometime after, one of Charlene’s daughters contacted me about the photo and I gave it to her so it remains in the family.

Murder of Claude Buckley

The remains of Claude Buckley laid out at the Morris County courthouse.

The building at 300 W Main in Council Grove was built in 1895 by Alex Cunningham.  Originally built for a dry goods store, it has housed a number of businesses over the years.  The second floor was used for school rooms; a feed store by 1908, an ice cream parlor for a short time in the 30s, also having apartments upstairs, and from the 50s to present is occupied by the gas company.   It also hides a dark secret that may never be fully revealed.

April 4th 1941, termite inspectors from Abilene uncovered something everyone hopes never to find. A human skeleton in the basement of the Gas Company at 300 W Main.  The remains were taken to the courthouse and reconstructed on a tarp where they were identified as those of 36 year old Claude Buckley.  Friends of Buckley confirmed the identity by the shoes, teeth and clothing.  The skeleton was clothed in blue denim overalls and jacket.  Upon search of the pockets a rusty key, pocket knife, gas bill and letters addressed to Claude Buckley and a small hand book were discovered.  The hand book was very much deteriorated but the pages that could be clearly read all had the same entry of $1.50.  No money was found.

The Buckley murder has had many versions told.  I will attempt to present you with the facts, and where facts cannot be obtained local lore will have to suffice.  The common story that has come down through the years is that a regular poker game was held in the back room of 300 W Main.  Many of our present citizens will confirm this by telling of a near relative they know that once attended these card games. It has been said that one of our town’s lawmen was known to play poker in said building.   Buckley was thought to have played the game as well, and perhaps a gambling debt was the motive behind his murder.  All of this however, is hearsay and speculation.

Buckley went missing in mid April of 1937. After his car was seen on Main Street for several days people started looking for him. His family put an ad in the paper asking for information as to his whereabouts.  His house in Wilsey was searched. A few months before Buckley went missing his house burned down. He rebuilt a small one room house over the remaining basement.  All that was found in it was a bed frame, box spring and mattress. His geese and chickens had also vanished about the same time he did.  It was not known if he had sold them or if they were stolen.

300 West Main served as an ice cream parlor prior to Buckley’s disappearance.  The parlor was operated by Lucy Braun (pronounced Brown).  The building was vacant at the time Buckley was murdered.  The murderer was likely aware of this and found security in hiding the body there. Sheriff Jim Parker who was working on the case said the victim “knew his murderer.”  The fashion in which Buckley was killed seemed to prove this.  The police report said that the skull had two large holes in it, evidence that Buckley was struck in the head with something. The feet and hands were tied with wire and there was wire tightly twisted around his throat.

Lawrence Strouts was thirteen years old when his father took him in to Council Grove to see the skeletal remains of who he knew as ‘Arkie.’  Strouts assumed that Buckley must have been from Arkansas and that’s why he was called Arkie.  According to a newspaper clipping Buckley was also known as ‘Slim.’  Strouts does not know if his father went out of curiosity or if he was there to identify the remains, but the image was very vivid for young Strouts and he never forgot it.

Who killed Claude Buckley and why? Some of the locals of that time had their ideas as to who it was. Russell Gilmore, a nephew of Buckley’s, often said that if his uncle were found dead he was certain that he knew the identity of the murderer. He refused to discuss the matter, even with his wife. If he did know something which would help in bringing the criminal to justice, it would never be revealed. Gilmore died in January of 1938, before his uncle had been found.

Was he killed because of a gambling debt? Is that what the $1.50 entries in the hand book meant? Were the police involved, is that why the murderer was never found? Did Buckley burn his own house down to collect insurance to pay someone off? Did someone just have a vendetta against Buckley and take everything he had, even his chickens? All that remain are questions, and the ghost of Claude Buckley.