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 Indian Mound Oil company, which is drilling for oil at the little village of Oak Mills, a station on the Missouri Pacific railroad, about 12 miles north of Leavenworth, derived its name from Indian mounds that formerly existed in that vicinity. These mounds have long since been obliterated, but there still remains unmistakable evidence that Oak Mills was the site of an Indian village long before old Jim Corn and his band of Kickapoos occupied that locality from 1832 to 1854. The aboriginal indicia found there points to a period several centuries remote, and, in all probability, belonged to the Kaw or Kansa nation, which is known to have had a series of villages along the Missouri river, between the mouth of the Kansas river and the northern boundary of the state of Kansas, 200 years and longer ago. Bourgmont, the French commander at Fort Orleans, visited the Kansa at one of these villages in 1724, and they are spoken of by other explorers, even earlier. Of late, considerable evidence has been adduced by Mark E. Zimmerman, an indefatigable student of Kansas Indian history, to show that the region alluded to above, was embraced in the ancient Indian province of Harahy, referred to by Coronado, in 1542, as lying beyond the province of Quivira. If this is true, the village at Oak Mills might have belonged to the followers of old King Tatarrax, who ruled over that domain nearly four centuries ago.
In one of its circulars the Indian Mound Oil company sets forth that "the very remarkable coincidence between Indian reservations and cemeteries and gusher oil wells in the fields of Texas and Oklahoma would cause any practical oil men to investigate any locality which had been such a favored gathering place and burying ground for the Indian as at Oak Mills and vicinity. A very casual investigation of this area by anyone familiar with geology, will be sufficient to prove that here again the Indian had selected the apex of a great dome at the junction of two great anticlines or folds. this done has been sufficient to cause a very abrupt bend in the Missouri river at this point." Whatever significance may be attached to these speculations, it remains that Oak Mills has yielded much of interest from an antiquarian standpoint. The writer spent many years investigating that locality and can speak from first hand information.
The credit for the discovery of the old Indian village site at Oak Mills, however, belongs to Richard E. King, more familiarly known as "Dick" King, and it was Mr. King who first called the attention of local antiquarians to the discovery. Mr. King resided in Leavenworth for a number of years and is well known in that city. He was born and reared at Oak Mills and has spent most of his life there. He has a cozy little home, on the bench of a high hill overlooking the village and the Missouri river, and has named it "Chemeokah," a Kansa Indian term meaning "Lodge of the Morning Sun" or "Sunrise Cottage." It commands a splendid prospect, equaled along that section of the river only by E. W. Howe's famous "Potato Hill," which is a few miles farther north. Here Mr. King can sit on his front porch and in fancy look down upon the activities of the red denizens who formerly occupied the little vale below, and gave a tinge of romance to the modern home above. Mr. King is the "country squire" at the little village, having been a justice of the peace there for several years. He is often referred to as the "King of Oak Mills," for he is generally looked upon as the leading citizen of the place.
As a boy, Mr. King picked up arrow heads and other Indian relics by the hat-full on the little farm at Oak Mills, and often in plowing in the field Indian skeletons were brought to light. As the years passed on he accumulated quite a collection of stone implements and weapons, which he gave to a local antiquarian, at the same time calling attention to the great prevalence of such objects there. As a result, a systematic exploration of the field was begun and many finds of more than ordinary interest were made. Near where the oil derrick now stands, on the premises of the late John Davitz, who, by the way, was postmaster of the little town for 44 years, a cache of large flint implements numbering about 60 specimens, was unearthed. It was one of the best caches of stone artifacts ever found in Kansas. The objects, including spades, hoes, tomahawks, knives, etc., were made of a grayish-blue chert, such as frequently occurs in strata and nodules in Kansas limestone deposits. On the opposite side of the little creek that runs through the village, on the King farm, another cache, numbering 15 specimens, of what are generally termed a leaf-shaped implements, was uncovered. These were smaller in size than those of the former cache and of a different material, being a yellowish or light brown flint. They have been classified as knives. both caches were found on a yellow clay bank or the first terrace of the creek. It is evident, from the position of most of the relics found, that the Indian huts were grouped about on this terrace on either side of the creek. A number of fine stone axes, celts, mauls, hammers, spikes, and other objects have been found in various parts of the village and in the immediate vicinity. A large grooved stone ax has been in use as a door prop at the old King homestead for 50 years or more. In a level field, on the King farm, numerous gunflints, bullets of an ancient pattern, and fragments of antique firearms, bullet-moulds and the like, that have picked up from to time, would seem to indicate that a battle had taken place there, or that it had been the site of an early arsenal or military encampment.
Aside from its aboriginal aspect, Oak Mills and vicinity has long been historic ground. On Isle-au-Vache or Cow Island, in the Missouri river, opposite is village, in 1818 the first United States military post on what is now Kansas soil, and the first west of Missouri territory, was established. It was called Cantonment Martin, after the ranking captain of the troops that located the post, and was established to protect the fur trade on the Missouri river from the ravages of the Indians. Several army officers who afterward became distinguished, were stationed there, among them, Gen. Bennett Riley, for whom Fort Riley was named. Maj. Stephen H. Long's Yellowstone expedition wintered at Cantonment Martin in 1818-19. The famous Lewis and Clark expedition had previously stopped at this island in 1804. Cow Island was discovered and named by the early French explorers, from the fact that a lone cow was found on the island. It is supposed that the animal was stolen by Indians from the white settlement at St. Charles, Mo. and placed on the island to prevent its escape.
In the early steamboat days what is not Oak Mills was known as Lewis Point. Capt. Lewis, a pioneer riverman, had settled there, built a small steamboat and established a ferry. This is said to have been the first, if not the only steamboat, ever built on Kansas soil, Nimrod Farley, a well known pioneer Missouri character, also had a ferry at that point and when Kansas was opened for settlement in 1854, hundreds of emigrants entered the new Territory over this ferry. One of the first colonies was formed at Oak Mills. The village that sprang up there derived its name from the pioneer saw mill which sawed considerable oak lumber. Oak Mills also had a flouring mill at one time. It was destroyed by fire and was never rebuilt. One of the landmarks at Oak Mills is the Missouri Pacific depot, which was built 41 years ago, and another landmark is Milton J.(Doc) Beckner, who has been an employee of that railroad ever since it was built 55 years ago and was section foreman at Oak Mills for 33 years. The oldest inhabitant of the village is "Aunt Mary" Kine, as she is affectionately called, the mother of Squire King mentioned above. Her husband, "Uncle Dick" King, died only recently. They have lived around Oak Mills for nearly 70 years. "Aunt Mary" has one of the most interesting collections of family heirlooms in that section and is a most interesting lady.
The Kickapoo Indians had a mission at Oak Mills in the early days, and there is much more of historical interest in connection with this pioneer community, all of which would make a volume of absorbing interest.