FRIDAY, JULY 14th, 1876.
NEWS ARTICLE: A HISTORICAL SKETCH
The Early Days of Pottawatomie County.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:
By reference to the published programme to be observed in this celebration of the centennial Fourth of July, it will be seen that by No. 10 of the orders it is announced that L. R. Palmer will deliver a historical address relating to Pottawatomie County.
In order to arrive at a tolerably correct history of this county, the whys and wherefores of events that have transpired here and hereabouts, it may not be amiss to call attention to a few of the many happenings that arrested the attention of the people a few years anterior to its organization.
Your very humble servant came into what is now Pottawatomie County, on the 20th day of September 1850, now nearly 27 years ago. There were then a few log buildings at St. Marys, occupied by Missionaries.
In the immediate neighborhood of the Mission and in close proximity to each other, were many Indians, residing in cabins and tents, in great fear of raids from the wild tribes on the western plains. Two log buildings had been erected on the Vermillion Creek, so name it is said, on account of a great battle fought there many years ago by hostile bands, when the water was red with the blood of the slain; hence the Indians were much in the habit of calling it Witahsa Sebeck, or Brave Creek. In fact it was thought by our Indians to require a brave man to live there, 27 years ago. These two buildings were erected at the old California crossing, and were soon thereafter abandoned, the locality being unsafe and were never occupied until whites came in after the organization of the territory. The Pawnees were much dreaded by the border tribes on account of their frequent incursions into this part of the county in quest of scalps and ponies.
At that time there was not in this region a person who could be properly termed a white settler. There were a few whites - employees of the government - mechanics, residing among and working for the Indians, liable to be removed at any time, and a few traders licensed to sell them goods. Not long after this, the question of asking Congress to organize for this country a territorial government, and to open up for settlement the vast region from the Missouri River to this summit of the Rocky Mountains - a region known, and held by government as the Indian country - began to be freely discussed along our Eastern borders, but over the line, among our neighbors the Missourians, several considerations weighted somewhat upon the minds of this people. It would be an easy matter for large numbers of persons to cross the line and possess themselves of the choicest lands and the finest locations to hold as settlements for themselves and their friends, or to make a raise as do great numbers who are always found filling up a new country by selling out and moving on from one locality to another before the advanceing tide of permanent settlement and civilization.
One difficulty was in the path, greater than all others, and it must be removed. The ideas and doctrines promulgated in the provisions of the ordinance of 1787 in the cession of a large territory in the North West of the United States by the State of Virginia and the prohibition against the existance of slavery therein, or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crimes and the same ideas acted upon in the admission of Missouri into the Union as a State, and they having been approved by the government and people of the United States and being still held sacred in the minds and hearts of the North, a barrier seemed to exist, and one not very easy to be removed, against the taking possession of the new territory by the people of the slave states and the removing thereto with their property in slaves. The principles of the Missouri compromise had been once violated in the annexation of the Platt purchase to that state devoting a large area of free territory to perpetuate slavery and why not remove altogether all restrictions against the occupation of any new territory by the people of all the states upon an equal footing and the removal thereto with their property of whatever kind should of right be removed. Senator Atchison of Missouri, then Vice-President of the United States, had sworn upon the stump in his state, it should be so and therefore the compromise measures upon which Missouri was admitted as a state into the Union and without which she could not have been admitted at the time, must upon the demand of his own statement be stricken from the statue book. Measures held sacred next to the constitution for over thirty years must give way to the demand for slavery extension. All this talk about slavery may come in about twenty years too late but in chronicling current events of the times, perhaps it may not be altogether out of place.
As early as 1862, you may have noticed in the Missouri Republican an account of an immense mass meeting in the territory at a place called Uniontown. This meeting was immense, both in numbers and enthusiasm. In fact it was no trouble to enthuse quite largely at such a time and at such a meeting. Your humble servant was reported as Secretary of that meeting. The statement given was that the people of what is now Pottawatomie County demanded civil government for the protection of persons and property. The hardy pioneer who had torn himself from the country of his birth, the scenes of his childhood and companionship of earlier years, and with his wife and children had braved the scalping knife of the more than savage Indians, and the period of suffering, want and discomfort incident to a settlement in the far west, must be protected.
I will give you a short description of the meeting and this description will answer as a picture of all the large and enthuslastic meetings held in those times to demand of the government protection for the citiizens, albeit there were no citizens here, but a few wards of the government, protected so far as protecting was needed, by the military. This Uniontown was a trading post, a place where the Indians came together annually to receive their annuities and to hold a council with the government agent, who resided at Westport, Missouri. This tremendous gathering , immense and enthusiastic as it seemed to be, was composed of Pottawatomie Indians with a small sprinkling of Kickapoos and Shawnees, numbering in all, perhaps, about 2,500 souls. I have often heard it said inrelation to certain transactions that there was a wheel within a wheel. In political matters I suppose that is the case where a committee of three or five are appointed to transact all the business of a convention composed of several hundred and that must must (sic) be a very small wheel within quite a large one. That must have been the case here, for about half a dozen persons, residents of the state of Missouri assembled together in a shed, belonging to the American Fur Company's trading house, one of them took from his hat a paper on which had been written a set of resolution brought all the way from Weston, Mo., and asked the assembled multitude to vote on them. Passing at the time and being slightly curious, I halted just in time to hear, "As many as are in favor of the passage of the resolution will say aye." One individual, thin in flesh, and slightly cadaverous, he had probably been suffering for want of civil government said "aya." Noes were not called for. Two or three of these persons were sporting gentlemen, who are always seen about where there is money, and the others were merchants who had furnished goods for the Indians and always came at such times to collect up their credits. It may be proper to remark that there was not nearly as much enthusiasm in the committee in this case as in the throng that blocked up the streets outside and that the enthusiasm manifested was in direct ratio to the amount of "can de cic accessible to the enthusers. Previous to the period of our organization as a territory we were represented, or misrepresented in Washington by one Abelard Guthrie, who was elected by a few whites and half-breed of the Wyandotte tribe of Indians of which he and they were members. He was a great free state man. He came up here for assistance, and it was pretended that elections were held in his interest but it was not true. He was never recognized by congress as a delegate and received no compensation for time employed, expenses incurred or for services in our behalf. It is not necessary to stop here to discuss the measures of that session of the 33rd Congress; suffice it to say the Kansas-Nebraska act was passed and we were given a territorial government, the act having been approved May 20th, 1854. I guess most of us remember how it was done, who did it, and what resulted, as a necessary consequence of the passage of the act. The repeal of the compromise and the enunciation of the doctrines in regard to slavery extension were contained in the act itself.
The machinery of a territorial government having been put in operation by officers appointed in pursuance of the provisions of the act must mentioned, the Governor, Andrew H. Reeder, in his "own" good time - pretty slow time - proceeded to district the county into election districts, and called an election for March, 1855, for the election of the first legislature, to consist of a council of 13 members and a house of representatives. Under said call, was held the first election ever held in what is now Pottawatomie county. It was at St. Marys Mission that the election was ordered to be held. This election of March, 1855, memorable in the history of Kansas as well as of Pottawatomie county, showed the strength of our precinct to be about eleven votes.
The free state candidate, Mr. E. P. P. McCartney, of St. Mary's received 7 votes and his opponent received 3, and one other vote could not be counted as there was proved to be in his veins and perhaps in his arteries, I don't know, a tinge of the blood of a darker race than the Anglo-Saxon. You see our governor construed the law requiring that the votes at the first election should be of free white male citizens, very strickly. The election of the free state candidate however, was assured unless, perchance, at some other polling place within the district a larger number of votes had been given to some other candidate, which we of course did not believe possible, for we were the great centre of populaton for this region. While the successful party here were rejoicing in their success, what must have been their disconfiture on being credibly informed that the election had been held at Frank Marshall's ferry, on the Blue River, within our election district, and that 250 to 300 votes had been case for M. Marshall. The fact was undeniable. Hundreds of earnest men determined and bent on saving the country as anyone might readily unstand (sic), by noticing the, huge knives and revolvers strapped to their persons, had closed the Missouri River at Iatan,. Kickapoo, Weston, and Rialto, and had proceeded by the Fort Leavenworth and Fort Kearney Military road to the Big Blue crossing and there express that inestimable privilege of freemen and freebooters, by casting their ballots for the persons of their choice and doing everybody's voting but their own. We saw them returning. They came this way to see how we were getting along but hardly in time to do our voting which no doubt they would have offered in great charity, to do, and perhaps even insisted upon doing, had it been necessary to their purposes. Thus was inaugurated in Kansas that sort of rule, to which some persons here resident could not readily assent. Then comes the sequel in several acts, Freedom screeching and border raids. Kansas was aflicted with bushwhackinng on one side and jayhawking on the other and finally by the great civil war or the war of secession.
The governing part in Kansas, continued in the ascendency until the election which gave us the gree state legislature in 1858. A previous legislature had divided the state into counties, but in the first division our county remained a part of Riley, but the boundaries were so described that some of us went to Calhoun county to vote, (the name has since been changed to Jackson.) We scarcely know to which county we belonged. After consultation with a few persons and it being thought best to have a county of our own, I drew up a petition to the legislature then in session, at Lecompton, for a new county, to be named Pottawatomie. There seems to be a difference of opinion as to the date of our organizaiton, whether it was in 1856 or 1857. I acknowledge there should be no such disagreement as the statues of 1856 and 1858 are extant, and could be consulted. But as my statements are from memory I could not testify as to the precise date. A work entitled the Fourth Agricultural Report and Census of 1875 gives the year as 1856. Acts incorporating the Louisville and St. George town companies were passed on the 20th day of February, or at least, approved on that day. The second section of each act declare, that the corporation thereby created should have power to purchase and hold any quantity of land in the territory of Kansas in Riley county, at or near where the town, was then situated. That would seem to settle the question of the organization of the county in 1856. The petition asked for boundaries as they now exist excepting on the east and west. The eastern boundary should have been a north and south line touching Cross creek at Rossville, and the western, the guide meridian, which is far enough west to take in St. George but would have left quite a scope of country between it and the Blue, to Riley County. Unfortunately for the success of our petiition there were representative men of the party in power in St. George in the persons of the elder Gillaspie and J. A. J. Chapman who were both proprietors and corporators of the own. They had purchased the site and laid out the town if not directly for that object at, least with the ulterior view of making of it a county seat. There was also another individual similarly circumstanced and occupying the same relation to the party by the name of C. R. Mobley of Ogden in Riley County. Each of these gentlemen entertained the same views in relation to their localities. They had to look forward but a few years in imagination to see themselves surrounded by a rich and prosperous community, and as a county seat, they would be not only a business, but a political centre as well. Therefore it would not do, on our side of the Blue, to leave St. George in a corner of the county; nor on the other to have Manhattan left in so central a position that it would compete with Ogden. The eastern and western boundaries were therefore fixed to meet the interest of Ogden and St. George. Alas! Man proposes but the disposal of events is not with him. County seats will not always come or go at the bidding.
It may be said, I believe, in truth, that the boundaries fixed at the first organization of the county, have proved highly satisfactory to many if not quite the whole population. The laws governing counties and towns have been so often changed that an examination of the records will not show a continuous policy without change for any considerable length of time. Upon our first organization commissioners were appointed with duties quite similiar to the duties imposed by law upon commissioners at the present day. I remember that our first officers had not so pleasant a task as though they had been elected the successors of others who had known their duties well and had left a record behind them. Justices of the peace were appointed who should hold their offices until their successors were elected and qualified. Many have been elected since, but unfortunately for the people and the department of justice, not all were qualified, even among those who had taken the oath of office and filed a bond. We cannot refer to the earliest records as evidence that the business was conduted with that tact and judgement and in that business like manner which so eminently distinguishes our present board of officers, but I believe the duties were performed in that older time of twenty years ago, if not with distinguished ability, at least with distinguished honesty and a desire to subserve and promote the best interest of the people. They prepared for the discharge of official duty and the sustaining of official dignity in a solemn manner, as became men about to assume grave responsibilities. Among our records if they have been properly guarded, may be found the oath of office of a county commissioner, administered to him by himself as justice of the peace, the commissioner swearing to support the constitution of the United States, the organic act and to perform the duties of his office and the justice that the oath had been administered in due form, in good faith and according to law. We had to have the beginning somewhere and somehow. I think we did well. With such, beginnings and a determination to be faithful to every known duty it is not strange that our affairs should prosper as they certainly did.
The next legislature changed the manner somewhat of transacting county business and provision was made for dividing the county into townships and electing a supervisor or trustee who should be ex-officio, a member of the county board, which board of course, when full, numbered as many members as there were organized townships in the county. The first board under the supervisor system was composed of John Blood of St. George, M. Cockerell of Blue, T. Pearce, of Shannon, A. K. Johnson, of Vienna _________ of Pottawatomie and L. R. Palmer, of Louisville. This plan of giving each township a member of the board was soon abandoned and a succeeding legislature again changed the law and provided for the election again of three commissioners from as many districts.
But to go back to our elections: Many of us may, no doubt, remember the anxiety and labor we underwent in trying to sustain and keep alive, and in working order, our several township organizations, by holding elections and electing persons to fill the different offices in the township, and also to make a respectable showing in our returns to the canvassers of the vote for county and other offices. It would never do for us to lose our status as a body corporate while such possibilities were before us in the near future, but we had to be diligent and faithful to maintain our standing respectability as a municipal corporation. Accordingly you might have seen on any election day your humble servant then residing on Brush creek, in Louisville township, on a farm a little distance from town, leaving home after an early breakfast proceeding to town to commence the labor of organizing an election board and getting the polls open. Mr. Robert Wilson and his two sons, James and Louis, were always ready and willing and industrious workers in the political field, but we must have three judges and two clerks. If we all took position on the board perhaps we might sit there until doomsday and no one might come to vote; some one or two must be outside to watch for votes, and generally to supervise the business. We were apt to succeed in getting a board organized by 12 o'clock noon, to 2 P. M., when each one present voted and then took the lookout to watch for oters (sic). I am sure our good neighbors on Adams creek, the Wyckoff's the Clark's and a few others could never realize with what affection they were regarded and how their company was sought after by the town people, unless they could know with what earnestness we scanned the horizon to the northward and in the direction they were expected to come, if they came at all. I am sure if they could have realized all this they would have given us credit for thinking a great deal of our friends and they might sometimes have arrived on the ground a little earlier than they did, especially as we had occasionally to delay our organizaitons for their coming. Although Louisville township embraced within her limits a large area, there was included about 300 sections of the Pottawatomie reservation not open for settlement excepting to a very limited extent. Settlements could not be made upon the reserve lands until the making of the treaty of 1868 and the purchase of the surplus land of the Pottawatomies by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Company. In fact our county can scarcely be said to have been fully open for settlement before 1870. With all this disadvantage our townships have increased in number from 6 a few years ago to 15 now and we no longer hear of any difficulty in organizing election boards or polling a goodly number of votes in each precinct. At the time of our admission as a state this county had a population of a little over 1,500 in 1870, ten years thereafter, we had increased to 7,848, an increase of 6,319, and that with hardly more than two thirds of our territory open to settlement; in 1875, we came up to 10,331, and increase since 1860 of 8,815, and in the last five years 2,496. Lest we might not be entirely satisfied with our increase for the few years that we have had an existence as a county, let us institute a comparison between some of the agricultural counties of the older states and Pottawatomie county in the new state of Kansas. The county in which I had the honor to be born, Columbia county, N. Y., the home of the sage of Lindenwold and the birth-place of Prince John, had in 1860 a population of 47,172, in 1870, 47,044, and increase over this way (pointing to the left) of 128 while we were adding to our population, 6,319. The county from which comes the next vice-president of the United States, Franklin, N. Y., in 1860 had a population of 30,837, and in 1870 a population of 30,271, a falling off 566. If I mistake not, the county from which comes our orator of the day, Saratoga, the great summer resort of fashionables has fallen off within the same ten years on even 200. These are not exceptions, I could take up one old state after another and show the same state of things. In some of the older states more than half of the agricultural counties have fallen off within the last fifteen years. How long think you at our present ratio of increase in population and wealth, and in all the elements that go to make a great people before Kansas may take her place in the front ranks. While some of the older communites seem to have passed the period of their more rapid progress, Kansas is just now in its youth, and vigor, we have here the energy, the enterprise, brain, muscle and the will. We go it "while we're young." They are getting old and can't. While this county has been restricted as we have seen in the settlement of a large area of its lands until within the last six or seven years, the whole country almost from the Missouri to the Rocky Mountains has been made accessible in every part to the pioneer by the extension of our railrad (sic) lines and the multitude flocking west for homes have been taken as far west and southwest as the companies could induce them to go, in order to enable them to dispose of their immense subsidies in land grants. The tide, however, is now changing somewhat. It just now begins to eff a little. Several thousand acres of the unoccupied and uncultivated land in this county, have been sold within the last few weeks, and according to present prospects, as much more will be taken in the months to come. Were it not for the fear of being slightly egotistic, we might be permitted to say that our county has increased in population for the last five years, faster than any of the older counties of this state. Pottawatomie county, like other counties, has its many interests and industries and deserve that their histories should be written. Our schools have a history. Fifteen years ago, the school districts in the county numbered scarely more than a dozen. Now we have nearly one hundred, and own eighty school houses. The school district property aggregating in amount, $45,000. Then we had an Indian school at St. Mary's for the education of the boys and girls of the ttibe (sic). Now we have St. Mary's College, occupying one building worth over $100,000, and the Academy for young ladies, occupying a fine brick structure, costing nearly $100,000. These two institutions for the education of youth of both sexes are not surpassed by any in the state. We can very well say the means of education have not been neglected in this county. The history of our schools if written, would no doubt be read with great interest by the whole people. Our agricultural interest, grain raising, stock raising, manufactures, libraries, churches, newspapers, all have a history. Another interesting subject relates to assessments and taxation; the valuation of property taken each year, the per cent levied, and for what the amount of money raised by taxes each year, and how much, and for what expended. It would be impossible to do anything like justice to these subjects in an address of this kind. A book of a couple of hundred pages, might well be filled with a full history of all these subjects. I think I could make a suggestion which if carried out would help us more than any other plan for getting a correct history. Let each person who has charge of or has access to the necessary documents containing the information on any one subject, write a chapter. The several chapters furnished would make a complete history, written by persons more competent to do it. Hoping that my suggestion may be acted upon, I now take leave of the subject.
This page was last modified 23 Sep 1997.
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