From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
The Border War period in Kansas produced many quaint characters. One of he most interesting of these was Thomas Donnelly Killough, who rode about the country blowing blasts on a tin horn to apprise the Free State men when the enemy was approaching, and on other occasions, to intimidate the pro-slavery border ruffians and lead them to believe the Free State army was advancing. He drifted over from the Missouri bottoms in the early days and settled in Doniphan county, but ranged throughout this section of Kansas, wherever he thought his services were needed. Later he joined one of his sons who had settled on Stranger creek, west of Leavenworth. It is said that when the Leavenworth Free State men designed to capture the Kickapoo cannon, he was "Johnny on the spot," and rode through the streets of Leavenworth blowing his tin horn to assemble them. He was frequently in Leavenworth and other border towns.
An item that recently appeared in the Kansas Chief, of Troy, recalled this odd character and prompted the writer to contribute to The Times this bit of almost forgotten Kansas border history. The item in the Chief was copied from the early files of the paper under date of May 24, 1874, and is as follows:
"Monday about noon a singular apparition made its appearance in our office. Upon closer inspection, it proved to be Killough--the veritable T. D. Killough who formerly haunted the region round about White Cloud and Iowa Point and the hill country of Cedar. We had lost track of him for years and [thought] he was either dead or emigrated to regions unknown. He has been residing for several years past in Brown county but contemplates soon emigrating to the western part of Nebraska where he will take a claim, plant a grove of timber and grow up with the country. As he is not over ninety years of age, he has a good many years of fun yet ahead of him. He says he has that long tin horn laid away, ready for services whenever occasion requires that tooting be done. Killough was the chap who blew his horn and loped his horse over a bridge, then turned around and loped back. Repeating this operation eight or ten times, the neighbors would think he had a force of 16 or 20 men."
Data regarding Killough seems to be vague and conflicting, but perhaps the best account of him is that given by Sol Miller in his special historical edition of the Troy Chief published 38 years ago. It is as follows:
Among the early settlers in Iowa Township, was one of those odd, singular geniuses that are common in new countries, who seem to have a horror of civilization, and always drift to the outskirts. This name was Killough--Thomas Donnelly Killough, as he wrote it in full. He was, as a matter of course, of Irish descent, but was born in South Carolina; and of this class was Killough. His wanderings from his native State we never knew; but he had lived in Iowa in the early days of the State, thence to the Missouri Bottom. When Kansas was opened for settlement, he came over, and finding a good location in a bluff for a dugout he squatted down on Cedar Creek, near the Indian trail leading from White Cloud to Iowa Point. This spot happened to be on another man's claim, but he cared nothing for that. He remained in the dug-out, in spite of all efforts of the owner of the land to get him away, until after the close of the war. He did not attempt to acquire a title, and scorned to pay rent; but when civilization had got far to the westward, he followed in search of the edge of it. He was a sort of an Ishmaelite, and his boys were like him. They were afraid of nothing, and cared for nothing. But they were loyal. During the early Kansas troubles, the old man acted as a Free State scout, and was an object of dread to the opposite party. During the war he bought him a long tin horn, and would ride over the country, at all times of the day and night, blowing blasts upon his horn. He was on intimate terms with the Jayhawkers, and when his horn would be heard in the dead of night, those who were "tinctured" trembled with dread of losing their horses. He was a delegate, in 1864, to the Republican Convention of the Lane wing of the party. While in Topeka he blew his tin horn through the streets. He had been a great reader in his time, and had got a smattering of ancient history. From his reading he had gathered up a lot of ponderous names for his children, which in some cases were changed from the original spelling by his peculiar pronunciation. He was a poor man, but was able to bestow upon his children a wealth of names. The following were the names of his four sons--whether they can be called "Christian" names, will admit of doubt:
Carvalho Ogilvie Gilbert.
Erydus Mythander Alexis.
Melpsis Arseno Menelsis.
Felix Alexander McCall.
When the war broke out, the three older boys went into the army. Melpsis was killed at the battle of Perryville, Kentucky. After the close of the war, when the "dispersion" took place, we do not know where the others went, but one of them lived for some years "down on the Stranger," which means in Atchison or Leavenworth County. Perhaps a dozen years ago, a rumor floated in from the western frontier, regarding the death of the old man, which was characteristic, if not true. It was to the effect that he had stopped at the house of a settler to get his dinner. After eating, a feeling came over him that admonished him he was about to die. Deliberately lying down on a lounge in the room, placing himself upon his back, straightening out his legs, crossing his hands on his breast, he closed his eyes, and died without a struggle."