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.
Firm of Catlin & Knox, Established Here in 1859, is Being Dissolved and Will Cease to Exist, E. S. Catlin Announces.
The first wholesale boot and shoe house to be established west of the Missouri river is passing out of existence. This fact was made known by E. S. Catlin, who announced that the firm of Catlin & Knox will retire from business this month.
The passing of this historic firm marks the closing of another chapter in the early day history of Leavenworth. Forty years ago the firm was the most widely known in the Missouri valley and its fame as a solid business institution reached to the Rocky Mountains country, part of the territory which it served.
Many a Kansan now grown gray and stooped with the years took his first steps in Catlin & Knox leather. They trod the wooded trails and over the vast untouched prairies in the sturdy cowhide boots that bore the brand of Catlin & Knox.
You remember your first pair of "Kansas" boots? You will if you were a youngster some forty years ago and lived in the rural settlements of Kansas. They were the boot that made Kansas famous. Go now to any quarter of the globe and you probably will find some person who can tell you about the "Kansas" boot, the leading brand handled by Catlin & Knox.
Those "Kansas" boots were made in Worcester, Mass., as was most of footwear sold here in those days. The "Kansas" boot was made from genuine cowhide and pegged with wood. Six months usually was the life of a pair. The boy who got a pair in the fall and put them on with the first freeze always was admonished to care for them, because there would be no other pair that season. Carefully the boy greased his boots with beeswax and tallow each Sunday morning.
Always in the late winter the boots began showing signs of the rough wear to which they were put. There would be holes coming in the toes and the walker who was not careful always found the heels run over. Getting them on was a task that called for patience and a great deal of effect. The favorite method was to take the boots by the straps and then kick on the baseboard until the foot finally was forced in.
Boots were about the only class of footwear for the men. There were the cowhides for the farmer and small town man and the high-heeled boots for the cowboys. Women's shoes were laced and quite heavy. For summer plow shoes with buckles on the side were sold for men's wear.
The Catlin & Knox firm was established by George S. Catlin, uncle of E. S. Catlin who is closing out the business. Mr. Catlin came to Leavenworth from Keokuk, Ia., in 1859 and opened the business a few doors north of the present location, 117 Main street.
In those days all the boots and shoes were received from the New England state and were brought to Leavenworth by steamboat. From here they were sent out across the prairie in wagons drawn by ox teams. The only trouble in those days was in procuring stock. Shipments from the east were snapped up a fast as they reached the frontier wholesale town.
S. G. Catlin, father of E. S. Catlin, went into the firm in 1863 and the brothers conducted the business until 1880 when it was purchased by E. S. Catlin and L. A. Knox who opened the firm of Catlin & Knox on January 1 of that year. At that time they bought the building in which the business since has been conducted. Mr. Knox died in 1899, since which time the business has been conducted by E. S. Catlin as sole owner, retaining the firm name of Catlin & Knox.
Mr. Catlin recalls much of the early history of Leavenworth as the leading wholesale center of the west.
In the block on Main street between Shawnee and Delaware streets were located some of the best known wholesale firms of this section of the county in those days. On the corner of Main and Shawnee street was located the firm of L. A. Church & Co., engaged in the wholesale dry goods business. They furnished stock for most of the early day dry goods stores of Kansas. Next came E. Hensley wholesale grocers and commission merchants. Adjoining was William C. Berry & Co., also engaged in the wholesale boot and shoe business. Next was Alexander Gordon, wholesale hats and caps. Lewis & Co., came next with a wholesale clothing store. Peake & Marsh were wholesale dry goods merchants. Next door south The Leavenworth Times was published and then came C. R. Morehead & Co., wholesale grocers. Carney, Fenlon & Co., had a wholesale grocery next door. The Carney connected with the firm was ex-Governor Carney of Kansas. Dufree & Peck were Indian traders and maintained a fleet of boats plying as far north as Fort Benton. The boats carried blankets, beads and other baubles to the Indians and brought back buffalo hides, wild game in winter, and other products of the northwest. Where the mattress factory now is located Fairchild & Pierce conducted a wholesale dry goods store. Stetauer & Einstein had a dry goods store nearby and Eddy & Arnold conducted a whole sale drug store. Brace & Baker were in the wholesale hardware business at the corner of Second and Delaware.
The Planters House, just north, was the big hotel of the west in those days. Across the street where in now vacant lots were two other hotels. One of those was the Shawnee house. E. S. Catlin spent his first night in Leavenworth in the Shawnee house. He came from Weston, then the end of the railroad, and from there to Leavenworth by boat. When Mr. Catlin left the train at Weston he had only a few feet to walk to the gang plank leading to the steamboat. Now the river is more than a mile from Weston.
When the Catlin firm was at its height between the years of 1865 and 1890 from four to five salesmen were on the road at all times selling boots and shoes. E. S. Catlin was one of the salesmen before entering the firm. He traveled the north half of Kansas. Concordia then was the end of the railroad and from there on the territory was covered with a team hitched to a springwagon in which the sample cases were hauled. D. M. Granger, now living in Lawrence was another of the early salesmen. The Robinson brothers were others. Jack Edmonds, once mayor of Leavenworth and who gained the name of "Sidewalk Jack" when he made many property owners tear out old board walks and install brick, also sold the Catlin & Knox boots and shoes.
The first step away from the cowhide boot was the old felt boot and rubber overshoe. Many who started to wear these in the fall often regretted it, because once the feet became accustomed to them Cowhide boots were out of the question. soon the overshoe made its appearance and the doom of the cowhide boot was sealed. There are now only a few old fashioned farmers who will ask for a pair of boots. Rarely can a pair be found.
Catlin & Knox also for many years operated a retail store up town. The store first was located at the southwest corner of Fifth and Cherokee streets. Later it was moved to the building which stood on the site of the present Woolf building. Fifth and Delaware streets. The store was closed when the old building was torn down.