Among the nearly one hundred thousand of our population there linger a few men and women who, through the long years, have witnessed every stage of development: First, from an Indian village, of a few log cabins, to a frontier river town; then, to an incorporated city of small proportions but of great aspirations; then, to a bustling emporium, that, in after years with its neighboring small cities and towns, was merged into Kansas City, Kansas, grown now to a metropolis of magnificent proportions.
Some of these pioneers were here before Minnesota avenue was marked out, when the slope from Fifth street down to the river was occupied with meadows and cornfields, and beyond Fifth street were the woodlands. And the tales these pioneers tell of the early days possess a charm that makes them delightful to hear.
From 1845 to the beginning of the year 1857 Wyandotte was simply a rallying point. Here the individual members of the Wyandot nation, whose farms were scattered over the reservation of thirty-nine square miles, gathered for consultation. Their council house stood on Fourth street near State avenue for many years, a small, one-story frame building devoid of architectural pretensions. A road starting or ending near the only store - a two-story frame that is still standing on the north side of Nebraska avenue between Third and Fourth streets - wound its way around the council-house, on past the Silas Armstrong homestead near the corner of Fifth and Minnesota, along the ridge to near the southern boundary of Huron Place; thence bending northward and passing to the north of the little frame church and parsonage of the South Methodist, located at the corner of Seventh and Minnesota, it passed out through the reserve to the government road leading to Fort Leavenworth. The line of Minnesota avenue from Fifth to Seventh street was across a deep hollow, and was not opened for some years after the town was settled. The fill for these two blocks was a heavy one, as can be seen by examining the extensive basements on the north side of the street.
There were many fairly extensive farms scattered through the reserve. The Mudeater place, now within the city limits, was in an advanced state of cultivation, probably, as are the best-managed farms in the county today, and there were a number of others nearly as good.
Moses Grinter was the first permanent white settler in Wyandotte county. He was sent from his home in Beardstown, Kentucky, by the United States government to locate a ferry across the Kansas river for a military road between Fort Leavenworth and Fort Scott. He arrived at Secondine on the Kansas river, about nine miles west of the Missouri line, in January, 1831. He established the ferry, married Anna Marshall, a Delaware Indian, builded a home, reared a family of ten children, and when he died, in 1878, his grandchildren numbered twenty-one and his great-grandchildren thirty-six. French traders, explorers and missionaries came and went, but for many years Moses Grinter was the only white man to dwell in the wilderness. Hiram M. Northrup and Charles B. Garrett, white men, came out from Ohio with the Wyandottes in 1843, and by marrying Wyandot women they were adopted into the tribe and were associated with the Indians in the early years of Kansas and of Wyandotte county. Mr. Northrup was a resident of Kansas City at the time the 1855 treaty was made, and was required to select his wife's allotment and to live on it. Naturally anxious to get as close to the ferry as possible, he made his selection for a building site not far from where the court house now stands, and brought men from Kansas City to clear away the brush. While thus engaged, Ike Brown rode up and told him that it was his aunt's claim, taking him to where four saplings had been cut and placed on the ground forming a square; and this way of appropriating claims was the rule in the early days in Kansas. Mr. Northrup said he did not know of the prior claim, and would look elsewhere, but this was just what Ike did not want and he agreed to make it all right with his "aunt" for twenty dollars. Mr. Northrup said he knew it was a clear case of "hold-up" but he gave Ike the twenty dollars as the quickest way out of it, and this was what his part of the future metropolis cost him.
It was not until the Wyandots' reservation became subject to settlement, through the treaty of 1855, that the tide of emigration of white men set in. And then began the rush.
Thomas J. Barker, a native of Virginia, came up the Missouri river on a steamboat in April, 1855, joined Colonel Charles Manners' engineering corps as a cook and helped survey the line between Kansas and Nebraska sixty miles west from the Missouri river. When the work was finished he returned to Wyandotte, on December 27th of that year, and since that eventful day more than fifty-five years ago he has resided there.
Mr. Barker began his long career as a citizen of Wyandotte as a cook for the Indian, Ike Brown, whose log house had been converted into a boarding house. He was assisted by two Indian women, Mary Spybuck and Susan Nofat. The regular boarders at that time - January, 1856 - were Henry McMullen, Emmet McMullen, Edwin T. Vedder, George Horworth, L. A. McLane, Elisha Diefendorf and several others, who worked in the surveyor general's office. Numerous transients, most of whom were Indians who had received annuities and had plenty of money, stopped at the hotel. It was a four room log cabin, located where A. R. James and Son now have a coal and feed establishment at the southwest corner of State avenue and Fourth street. The ice in the Kansas river broke up early that spring (1856) and shoved out on the shore numerous catfish which were cooked for the boarders. From that the boarding house took the name of the "Catfish Hotel. "
The surveyor general's office was a log house in Fourth street just north of where it is crossed by State avenue, and was owned by J. D. Brown.
THE RESIDENTS IN 1855-6.
Mr. Barker gives the following as those who were here in 1855 and 1856.
Surveyor General Calhoun was away much of the time - when officially at Wyandotte he stopped at the Gillis House in Kansas City, Missouri.
Robert L. Ream, chief clerk, with his family, lived with Silas Armstrong.
George C. Van Zandt and family lived in Isaac Zane's ("Blind Isaac") one story brick house, near the intersection of Seventeenth street and Haskell avenue.
Oliver Diefendorf and wife stopped with D. V. Clement in a two story frame house located about four hundred feet north of Virginia avenue and Sixth street.
Colonel William Wear lived in a tent near Jersey creek between Fourth and Fifth streets.
Samuel Parsons boarded with Joel Walker on the northwest corner of Third street and Washington avenue.
Governor William Walker lived in a one story frame and log house on the west side of Hallock avenue about four hundred feet north of Virginia avenue.
Joel Walker lived on the northwest corner of Third street and Washington avenue and there was a cabin about two hundred feet southeast of his residence where his negro man and wife stayed.
Matthew R. Walker lived in a one story brick house where the Baptist Theological Seminary now stands.
Isaiah Walker lived between Ninth and Tenth streets near Freeman avenue.
Silas Armstrong lived in an eight room, two story brick house on the northwest corner of Fifth street and Minnesota avenue.
Lucy B. Armstrong lived near Sixth street, extended, between Walker and New Jersey avenue.
Hannah Armstrong lived near Eighth street about where St. Margaret's hospital now stands.
Mathias Splitlog lived near Barnett avenue and Dugarro avenue,
Clay Long lived between Thirteenth and Fourteenth on the south side of Tauromee avenue.
Isaac Brown's home was on the southeast corner of Fourth street and State avenue.
Matilda Hick's was on the north side of the Quindaro Boulevard between Eighth and Ninth street.
George I. Clark's home was three hundred feet north of the Quindaro boulevard between Seventeenth and Eighteenth streets.
Isaac Zane ("Blind Isaac") lived near where Seventeenth street and Haskell avenue cross.
Jared S. Dawson on the southeast corner of Cleveland and Tenth streets.
Charles B. Garrett on the east side of Seventh street, one hundred and twenty feet north of Chelsea Park "L" road.
D. V. Clement on the west side of Sixth street four hundred feet north of Virginia avenue.
"Irish" Mary near Third street and State avenue.
H. M. Northrup lived in Minnesota avenue, near the south side, between Seventh and Eighth streets.
Lucy Charloe lived about Fifteenth street and Parallel avenue.
John Barnett lived near Seventeenth street and Reynolds avenue.
There was a blacksmith shop near Third and Nebraska avenue. The Wyandot Indian council house was on the east side of Fourth street, between State and Nebraska avenues. There was a small cabin on bank of the river at the foot of Ann avenue where ferrymen stopped. These houses with the surveyor general's office and "Catfish Hotel" were all the houses and the families of those mentioned as occupying them, were all the inhabitants, that were at Wyandotte in the winter of 1855-6. The surveyor general's office was moved to Wyandotte in August, 1855, and from there to Lecompton, in 1857.
Isaac Zane, whom the people of that day knew as "Blind Isaac," was a character of Wyandotte. He was a brother of Mrs. Brown, wife of the proprietor of a hotel. He was an inventive genius and before he became blind had accumulated a fortune in lands and other property. He had been working a perpetual motion machine for seven years when Thomas J. Barker was employed at one dollar a day to cut patterns for the mechanism. Mr. Barker's principal duty was to direct Mr. Zane's hands in making the patterns. He worked with patience for several days, and Mr. Zane was so well pleased that he wanted Mr. Barker to go to Washington with him to assist in getting a patent. He promised Mr. Barker a present of a quarter of a million dollars. Mr. Barker, however, induced the inventor to wait until the next fall, and he suggested that if the inventor took care of the property he then had he would have a fortune without the perpetual motion machine. Mr. Zane took the advice. Then he had Mr. Barker at work assisting him to find a vein of coal in Wyandotte which he said he discovered before he lost his eyesight. After that Mr. Barker went to work chopping wood for Isaac Brown on the present site of the Kansas City, Kansas, High School.
Good, old father Barnett lived in the South Methodist parsonage, near Seventh street and Minnesota avenue, and for some time had served the Wyandots as the representative of his branch of the church. After the town started, as it was the only place of worship, the new comers and the Wyandots united, and on Sundays the little church was thronged. To most of the congregation English was the native tongue, but not to all. Silas Armstrong would usually ascend the pulpit and act as interpreter for the few Wyandots present who were unable to understand.
In the spring of 1857 a steamboat that ploughed its way up the Missouri river from St. Louis, deposited a lot of Yankees and eastern men on the levee at Kansas City. Easily they might have been taken for tenderfeet, but they were plucky. They had gold in their pockets, and then they were looking for a place to build a town. But choosing a site for a town was not an easy matter. Dr. J. P. Root and Thomas F. Eldridge were sent out as scouts for the Yankees. They traveled the north side of the Kaw river from its mouth to Lawrence searching for a site for the "future great" city. Finally they chose the rolling hills back from the Missouri river as the ideal place.
"The great cities on the American continent grow westward from the water courses," they reasoned. They crossed the Kansas river by ferry and hurried through the thick growth of timber in the bottoms to Kansas City to tell their friends. That night - it was late in March - a meeting was held in the Gillis hotel on the levee near the foot of Main street.
"It's just the thing," exclaimed the late Thomas H. Swope.
Besides Mr. Swope and two prospectors, Dr. Root and Mr. Eldridge. there were in the party S. W. Eldridge, W. Y. Roberts, Robert Morrow, Gains Jenkins, Daniel Killen, John McAlpine and John M. Winchell. They proceeded at once to arrange for the organization of a town company. It was to be called Wyandotte. But first the land for the site must be bought. A committee was appointed. It was composed of Roberts, Swope, McAlpine and Jenkins.
The next morning the committee went to dicker with the Wyandots for some of their lands. The committee visited the Wyandots and the rest of the company that was to be waited in Kansas City for several days. At last, having had no tidings of the expedition, they became uneasy and sent over a scouting party to find out what had happened. Something had really happened. The scouting party found that the committee had taken in three influential men of the Wyandots - Isaiah Walker, Joel Walker and Silas Armstrong - and a town company had already been formed. Armstrong was president, Roberts secretary, Isaiah Walker treasurer, and McAlpine trustee, to receive conveyances of lands purchased from the Indians. Of course the members of the company who were left out of the deal made a fuss about it, and the four members of the committee patched things up so they would receive a share of the profits. They hired John H. Miller, a surveyor, to lay out the town, and this is the way the description read:
"Commencing on the eastern boundary of the territory of Kansas, where the same is intersected by the second standard parallel; thence west along said parallel line to the northeast corner of section four, township eleven, range twenty-five; thence south to the southwest corner of section nine, township and range aforesaid; thence east to the middle of the Kansas river; thence by the middle of the Kansas and Missouri rivers to the place of beginning."
According to the plat there were four thousand lots in the town site. The company issued four hundred shares, each share calling for ten lots, and each share having a value of five hundred dollars. An irregular strip along the Missouri river was reserved for a public levee. From this four avenues, each one hundred feet wide, were laid out Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska and Washington. At the west end of the town, between Tenth and Eleventh streets and extending from Washington avenue south of Kansas avenue, was Oakland Park. The avenues were to be the great thoroughfares, as they are today, although Oakland Park is a dream of the past.
The allotments of Isaiah and Joel Walker and Silas Armstrong, of the town company, partially covered the prospective site, and they cast in their lot and incidentally their land. Ike Brown's farm was bought, probably with money furnished either by Swope or McAlpine. At any rate, rumor had it that he could show a pouch containing an even thousand of twenty dollar gold pieces. The map of Wyandotte also included the lands of Mrs. Lucy B. Armstrong, Matthias Splitlog and H. M. Northrup. These lands were all platted into streets and blocks along with the rest, and formed part of the city, on paper, but a close inspection of the original city map shows a series of dotted lines marking the boundaries of these tracts, although as a matter of fact the town had no control over them.
The members of the town company proved to be real boomers, and they had plenty of backing from the settlers who were coming in. The new town was duly advertised and subscription books were opened. Finally the 8th day of March, 1857, was fixed as the date of the first sale of shares.
The Armstrong residence had been converted into a hotel, kept by Robert L. Ream, and on the morning of the sale they organized a procession some fifty strong, and, headed by fife and drum and the Stars and Stripes, marched from the hotel around by the council house to the store, whose proprietor was Isaiah Walker, the treasurer of the company.
This building is still standing on the north side of Nebraska avenue just below Fourth street. The store was for years used as our only court room, and the late David J. Brewer before he was a justice of the United States supreme court, was one of the judges who held his court therein. There was an outside stairway leading to the second story, and this was utilized on more than one occasion as an impromptu gallows, There are many thrilling incidents connected with this old building - but this, in the words of Mr, Kipling, is another story.
The upper story of the building was one large room, and the gathering crowd became so great that there was fear of a collapse, but no accident happened, and each eager unit of the crowd pushed anxiously forward, impatient to exchange the twenty-five double eagles (for these were the principal "currency" during the first few months of 1857, but they all disappeared long before the first frost) for a paper calling for ten lots in the embryo city. These lots were supposed to be located somewhere out on the brush-covered site, but few of the eager buyers ever knew just where the lots they bought were located.
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