No matter how insignificant a place may be, it has a history which is often interesting; and when once placed before the people, in the shape of reminiscence, people wonder if it is possible that they ever passed through so many strange and various scenes. Nature is grand but when art groups up so many familiar scenes, they assume a paradisiacal appearance. So with every life. While it remains strewn along a length of fifteen or twenty years, it seems but commonplace; but when huddled up into one or two articles, it changes and brings before us scenes we have almost or quite forgotten.
Doniphan is situated on the west bank of the Missouri river, in the extreme southeastern corner of Doniphan county. The site is a beautiful valley, opening on the river, and extending north over one and a half miles on the high, rolling prairie, and east and west a half a mile, covering beautifully sloping ridges on either side. A clear and beautiful stream, formed by numerous streams, gushing from the hills at the north end of the valley, flows through its centre, and pours, its waters into the river. Here, let me say, that in 1867, my first arrival in this County, this small stream spread over the bottom of the land, forming quite a marsh, but it now has a deep bed in which it flows - having washed the light alluvial soil to the depth of some twenty feet, and runs back from the river several hundred yards. Near the old "Lane Mill" site, now occupied by Brenner's corn house and sheller, the stream forms a miniature Niagara Falls.
The bluffs east of town enfringe on the river; that on the west side overlook a beautiful alluvial bottom, containing several hundred acres of land of vast richness. The town site was originally prairie, but part is now covered with a young growth of timber. The first house was built and occupied as an Indian trading post by J. F. Foreman. It was situated at the south east corner of the present townsite, near the river. This house, which was built of cottonwood logs, became the nucleus of the "city" of Doniphan. In this old house the first territorial election ever held in this part of the territory, took place in the fall of 1855, to elect representatives to the territorial legislature. At the election the "sovereigns" came flocking to the polls, armed with every kind of death-dealing implement. Some carried their arms all day, while others concealed them under the old house, so that they could be caught up at any moment's warning. Some came over front the state of Missouri to vote, which caused those on this side to arm, to prevent such a breach of right and to protect themselves in the act of voting. The day passed very quietly.
In 1854-5 the "Kansas fever" ran high and emigrants, spectators and adventurers came rushing in - some to settle and make homes, some to speculate on lands and "city property," and others to procure office, and to save the territory from the grasp of the "peculiar institution" and still others to fix her hold on her. Take it all in all, the population of early days was a rather mixed concern.
City property was in great demand; although there were many "cities" yet there was not enough to supply the demand for corner lots, and the idea of starting a new city entered the minds of the settlers of this part of the territory; and consequently a company was organized sometime in 1855, and a charter granted in the same year - soon after which a city election was held, and Mayor, Councilmen, etc., were duly installed. I believe three elections were held under this charter - the last one being in 1857, the charter being forfeited by failure to elect under its provisions.
In 1867, the council passed an ordinance to grade several streets and advertised for proposals to do the work, issuing "city script" to pay the same. The work was done, and now traces can be seen of the work performed, and, I presume, some of the purchasers of the script could show you other traces of the order. But at that time we all thought them equal to gold. But, alas, for human foresight!
Sometime in 1857, the Land Office was located in this place and this brought to our town scores of speculators, lawyers, sharpers, etc. In the meantime, Doniphan had grown to quite a town, and everyone that could, put up a house for rent or sale, and sales were made at enormous figures. Money was plenty and gambling was carried on on a heavy scale. Those houses were situated in the bottoms, in the south part of town, and so notorous became the place that it was dubbed "Doniphan under the hill," after "Natchez on the hill." Most of those old houses have been locked up, and it presents but sorry remains of its former greatness. As I said before the former town had grown to some importance; the lawyers' offices were thick; agencies were in every corner; stores, groceries and saloons appeared; almost every other house was a boarding house, and yet not enough to supply the wants of the population.
The first regular store opened at that place was by A. R. Forman, now dead. He did a very heavy business. The second was by Mr. A. Brenner, who is still a citizen of the town. These two stores were situated near the hotel, and on main street. They have both been taken down and removed. There were also several other store buildings but they have also been removed.
The first newspaper started in this place was the Constitutionalist, published by T. J. Key. The office was in a two story brick building on the bank of the river, above where the warehouse now stands. Owing to the washing of the river the foundation was destroyed, and the house fell. At one of our elections the paper was suspended, R. S. Kelly, then a candidate for senator from Atchison and Doniphan counties, being a printer, wished to issue an address to the "sovereigns," representing his claims, etc. We were asked to assist him on this work, and did so, but on going into the office found him with a large revolver strapped to his side. He explained that it was necessary to be armed, as threats had been made to tear down the office and throw it into the river. These threats were never put into execution but the institution ceased to exist, in Doniphan, in a very short time. The press and material were removed to Iowa Point, and subsequently to Troy and were finally taken to Hiawatha, where they were destroyed by fire in the beginning of the year, 1862.
The second paper was established here by James Redpath, called "The Crusader of Freedom," and under the patronage of J. H. Lane. It was to have been a pictorial, but it never delighted the eyes of its readers a single cut, except when it quarreled with Mr. Lane, and then he cut on it; and after a few articles exposing Lane, as it is said, it, too, followed its predecessor. It was published in a room now occupied as a drug store. The material was taken to Atchison during the early years of the war, to print a Democratic paper called the Atchison Union. I do not know what afterwards became of it. It was a spicy little sheet and deserved better success.
The third paper was brought here by Mr. Reese in 1858 and was called the Doniphan Post. Mr. Reese was quite aged and soon after its establishment he died. The paper still continued to be published by his son, George Reese for some time. But with all the energy he had he could not keep it above water, and it, too, sank under the waves of adversity in 1860.
George Reese is in St. Joseph as local, I believe, on some paper. Singular enough, the material of this office followed very nearly in the footsteps of the old Constitutionalist. It was taken to Troy by Dr. E. H. Grant in 1862, and used in the publication of the Patriot; in 1864 was taken to Hiawatha where the Brown County Sentinel is now printed on the press and type of the Doniphan Post, and the remnants that were saved of the old Constitutionalist material. Doniphan is young, but has erected three monuments to departed papers. She has no paper now and depends on the Chief for her County news - a good dependence, too. The post office was in a two-story frame nearly opposite the hotel owned by Hon. Robert Graham who now lives in Atchison. It has been torn down and moved. Thus, one by one the old landmarks pass from our midst.
In 1858, the Land Office was removed to Kicapoo. That was "the most unkindest cut of all." With its departure went the glory of Doniphan - it was the "beginning of the end" of Doniphan as a city. Lawyers' offices were empty, but few lawyers remaining to remind us of the many who once favored us with their counsel and eloquence. The boarding house keepers groaned and closed; the livery horses became fat and lazy, and buggies wore not out; gamblers packed their wallets in their pockets, and packed their fixtures to follow the Land Office; the old house once occupied by it, and so often the scene of mirth and rivalry, was occupied as a church, and the upper part as a lodge of Good Templars. What a change - from whiskey and swearing to water and prayer! In 1858, Doniphan was the favorite town of Northern Kansas, and attracted the attention of St. Joseph.
Here was the point where all railroads must leave the river, and here was the bone of contention. The St. Joseph and Topeka railroad was about to be located, and it was proposed by directors in the interest of St. Joseph to cut Doniphan off. The meeting of the directors to locate the road, was hold in this town, in the room now occupied by the drug store. Everyone was interested in the result of the vote - it was life or death for the city. The preliminary business was transacted, and then the proposition to locate the road by way of Doniphan. There were five directors. John Stairwalt was president, I believe. There had been two votes cast for Doniphan and one against, when Jeff Thompson's (now ex-rebel general) turn came to vote. He prefaced his vote as follows:
"Mr. President - I, personally, am in favor (?) of the route via Doniphan but am instructed by constituents to vote 'no' on this question; therefore I cast my vote against the route." This made a tie and as but few knew how the president stood, all were in breathless suspense. He studied a moment and then repeated the words of Jeff, but varied the latter clause, constituting 'yes' for 'no' and we got the location. There was wild excitement then. Stairwalt could have been elected president, if the people of Doniphan could have had the say in the matter. Shout after shout went up for him. Some men, soon after the voting got tight, and in calling for something to drink would say, "Mr. Low, pass Stairwalt this way." Stairwalt was on the brain. As time progressed, the prospects for the railroad grew bright and some contracts were made. A very nice grade was thrown up; also a grade built on Independence Creek. But this is all that was ever done to the railroad. Had it been completed Doniphan would now be a city in truth, and not by quotation. Several attempts have been made to recover the lost ground, but none were successful; and the war coming on and the rival town of Atchison attracting attention front us, we sank into a mere nothing. Every store was removed and for a long time none were here; a great many houses were taken away or burned. A large Catholic church, which stood on the east side of the hill was destroyed; the hotel was closed; the floating mill did little business; and take it all in all we looked very much like Goldsmith's "Deserted Village."
In the early days the Catholic church here was considered quite an institution. It was proposed at one time, and indeed some money had been subscribed, to build a cathedral and school house on the church block: but owing to some cause - most likely the failure of the city - the priest, Father Ausustine, who founded the mission here, removed to Atchison and by his untiring energy has built one of the grandest churches and one of the best churches in the West. But the old site now presents a sad and doleful appearance. Nothing but the foundation is left of the building where once Holy Mass was wont to be said on each succeeding Sabbath, and a hedge of osage orange to mark the industry of the holy father. Near by and further up the hill, toward the river, stood an old log house, formerly the property of T. J. Key, proprietor of the first newspaper; the last tenant it had was Mr. Murdock, the first Presbyterian minister that ever located here. His church was not well attended, and, of course, he did not receive the support necessary to "keep the wolf from the door," therefore he removed to Missouri.
On the point of this hill, and nearly opposite the Mix House, stands a very old building, now the property of John Earheart. It was built of the upper works of the old steamboat "Pontiac," by James F. Forman. It was occupied when I arrived in Doniphan, by General Whitfield, register of the land office and once our delegate to congress. The "Pontiac" was sunk about two miles above the town, in what is called Smith's Bend, some ten or twelve years ago. I understand that someone found her hull and is now engaged in digging it out. She, it is said, had, when sunk, a considerable amount of liquor on board. If they have found her and this be true, it will be quite a prize.
Doniphan, while yet working under a charter, concluded that a lock-up was neoessary, in view of many bad characters infesting the city. One was built near the old drug store in the rear of the store now occupied by Phillips & Smallwood. It was built of cottonwood and made very strong with only two small windows - not large enough to supply sufficient air in warm weather. The first one sentenced to this lockup was a man by the name of Wright, better known as "Saturday" Wright. It was a very hot day, and after being in a few hours, someone concluded to speak to him through the window; but receiving no answer be informed the keeper to open the door. Wright was found to be almost suffocated, but after considerable effort was restored, he did not trouble the authorities any more while the house stood. It, too, soon passed as a land mark of the "city."
In 1858 a lodge of Good Templars was organized at this place, under very favorable circumstances, and continued to flourish and do good for a long time. But when the railroad was located here it was effectually crushed, by most of the male members celebrating the event in an intemperate manner. The Masonic Lodge was organized and has continued to flourish ever since. Both these orders occupied at the time of organizing, the building once used as the Land Office. The Masons, now, as they have for some years, occupy a fine hall over Phillips & Smallwood's store. I believe there was a lodge of Sons of Temperance organized here not many months ago, but it has ceased to meet.
But it is time I was looking at the bright side of the picture, for it has a brighter side. The present business men of the town have seen the necessity for a change of programme, in order to get their money back, and therefore a new company was formed, brought out of the old one and commenced a more liberal way of disposing of lots, the consequence of which has been to bring tradesmen to town. Doniphan now boasts of three good drygoods stores, one drug store, a tin shop, two blacksmith shops, a good hotel, a fine flouring mill, a saw mill, one agricultural implement store, one pork packing establishment, and three heavy grain buyers and shippers. Mr. Adam Brenner was a regular grain dealer. His first shelling was done by hand shellers, then he progressed to horsepower and now he has applied steam. He does a very heavy business in this line. The next permanent buyer is Mr. McCrum, who does about an equal business with the first named. Mr. McCrum, will shell by steam, this season, having an engine on the way to his place. The third is Mr. Symns, at present one of the County commissioners. He put up a large corn house last fall and has it now almost filled. Mr. Symns also packed this winter some thirteen hundred head of hogs. There is now nearly seven thousand bushels of corn in store here; and when we consider the ravages made by the grasshoppers last spring it is astonishing that so much was raised in this part of the country. Give the farmers a clear field in this part of the country and they will rival the "Egypt" of Illinois. Doniphan has one of the finest schools in the County. Take it all together Doniphan is now in a very healthy state of improvement."
One of the first great church festivals in the County was held at St. Benedict's near Syracuse, in January, 1867. We offer some extracts from a correspondent's letter published in the Troy Reporter, January 31, 1867, giving a full account of the affair.
"The Catholic Festival at St. Benedict's church, Syracuse, commenced on Tuesday, the 15th, and ended on the 16th. The first day was fine and pleasant and those who came from a distabce of whom there were many, had a pleasant drive, dinner was served on two large tables the length of the church, which is seventy-flve feet long. It was sumptuous and of turkeys, chickens, hams, geese, pastries, cakes of different kinds, pickles, coffee, tea, etc. The tables had to be set three times to give all a chance to refresh the inner man. The church was crowded to overflowing and all appeared to enjoy themselves. Those who came from a distance were taken care of by the citizens of the vicinity, though some staid in the church all night. Some of the younger folks enjoyed themselves at a dance in the neighborhood and kept it up until morning.
Considering the disadvantages under which the ladies labored, the country being thinly settled, compared with some of the older states, I consider it one of the most successful undertakings of the kind that has ever been gotten up in the County. The Catholics of that vicinity have built a church 75 feet long, 15 feet wide, and 19 feet high --- one of the largest and most expensive churches at present in this part of the state - without any assistance from any party outside of their own neighborhood; and this is the only effort they have ever made outside of their own community toward collecting anything for the completion of the church.
The second day was rather cold, but there was fully as large a crowd as on Tuesday. Dinner was served about 12 o'clock, and everybody partook heartily of it. I noticed after dinner, several baskets of chicken, turkey, ham, etc., showing a surplus of eatables that should have supplied the same number for two days more.
I most not omit noticing the Troy Brass Band, which discoursed sweet music at intervals during the day. Nor must I forget the young ladies in their zeal for the church, for I can promise you, and prove by any gentlemen who were present, that they will stick to a man as long as he has a cent of money in his pooket, or as long as he has a friend to draw from. But I must not be too severe on them, as they were working in a good cause.
From what I can learn of the amount of money received in the two days, it amounts to $445, clear of all expenses---which is doing pretty well for a country church, considering the time of year."
In different years grasshoppers have shortened the crops of the county, but on two occasions only have they done great damage. In 1866 the fields of grain were few and small and the area of distruction[sic] was limited; nevertheless the damage done by the "hoppers" caused more suffering than it was the lot of farmers of later years to endure. There are comparatively few persons now living in the county who remember anything of the devastation of crops in 1866, but many a present citizen will easily call to mind the grasshopper experience of 1874-5. One Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1874, people glancing skyward obtained their first glimpse of the pests as they came drifting in clouds front the west. About two o'clock they began to descend upon the fields, and at a late hour they were still falling like Lucifer's angels. The ground was literally covered with them. Within a few days large fields of corn, whose fine stalks had been standing in proud rows became a desert presenting a scene to sicken the strongest heart. The progress of the insects was slow but continuous, and the tall stalks, first stripped of their leaves, fell in even swaths, as if swept by the flames of an invisible fire. After the destruction of the crops, the egg laying began, and the helpless farmer looked with sad eyes on the work of propagation.
Early the next spring the indestructible eggs began to hatch by the billion and very soon the ground was covered with tiny 'hoppers soon to develop into formidable pests. Hogs fattened on them, for they were very easily caught before their wings grew out. Chickens grew weary of their grasshopper diet, but they searched in vain for a green blade or a juicy stem. Every conceivable plan to annihilate the pests was tried, but with little or no success. Farmers dug long ditches in the field and with sheet spread out, drove the insects before them into the ditches where they were buried alive or burned. We have seen these pits hundreds of feet in length and two or three feet in depth filled with hopping, writhing masses, and have listened to many rude jests and unpalatable tales concerning "roasted redlegs" and "grasshopper pie." Oats, barley and spring wheat were attacked by the half-fledged insects, and after a few days' work, the same fields had changed from growing green to desolate brown, and one who had not known the cause of the change had said that the fields had been swept by fire. So great was the damage done and so wonderful were the stories told concerning the pests that "Kansas" and "grasshopper" became synonymous.
For the benefit of the younger folks who have grown up since the grasshopper year of '75, we give a short description of the insect and his methods of destruction. The real destroyers are seldom seen except in time of devestation, when they always appear in countless millions. The grasshopper that flies ahead of you on the road, frequently turning and striking you in the face, is not the crop destroyer but a distant relative of his. This big fellow in the yellow coat is comparatively harmless. He is quite satisfied to live on plain grass, weeds and sunlight. The real mischief maker is the small chap with the red legs and the enormous appetite. His friends join him on the edge of a wheat field and they begin their march of destruction pressing forward in line like soldiers. The marching column is from ten to fifteen feet deep, and as the insect soldiers advance into the field, they fly over one another continually, those in the rear over the ones in front, and there is seen a constant flashing of wings in the sun light. The ground over which they have passed is left quite bare, not a stem being left to indicate what kind of grain had been growing there. This merciless army is quite capable of destroying a ten acre field of wheat within the space of a few hours, and the next field is attacked with renewed vigor and so on until their work of destruction is completed. May our children, and our children's children be spared from the ravages of a grasshopper plague.
In 1858 the St. Joseph & Topeka Railroad company obtained a charter from the Kansas legislature. The St. Joseph city directory for 1860 shows that Willard P. Hall was president; John Corby, vice-president; M. Jeff Thompson, secretary; Joseph C. Hull, treasurer. The city of St. Joseph issued bonds to the amount of $50,000, to aid the enterprise. It was not until 1872, however that anything was done. In that year a line was built from Wathena to Doniphan via Palermo and Geary City, by George H. Hall, John L. Motter, O. B. Craig, Wm. Craig and Geo. W. Barr. The road was leased to the K. C., St. J. & C. B. company and operated until 1876. Trains were run from St. Joseph to Atchison, the St. Joseph and Western tracks being used to Wathena, and the Atchison & Nebraska tracks from Doniphan to Atchison. The road had been bonded and the bonds placed with a firm of New York brokers. Before the bonds were disposed of, the firm failed and the bonds were taken by its creditors as assets and foreclosed. The line was acquired by the St. Joseph & Western company. After a time the rails were taken up and used on that road.
Transcribed from Gray's Doniphan County history: A record of the happenings of half a hundred years. By P. L. (Patrick Leopoldo) Gray. Bendena, Kan.: The Roycroft Press, 1905. 3p. l. -84, 166,  p. front., plates, ports. 24 cm.
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