Wabaunsee is a town which we can with a clear conscience call a back number. It is not exactly a town either, just a community. It has one store in which the postoffice is kept, a Woodman's Hall, three churches, two schoolhouses, and twenty-five dwellings. Yet from a historic viewpoint Wabaunsee is probably the most important town in the county. It figured in Kansas history in the days of "bleeding Kansas" with a John Brown in the West and Henry Ward Beecher in the East. The first three towns of the State where in the order of their settlement, Leavenworth, Lawrence, and Wabaunsee. For many years Wabaunsee was the only town west of Topeka.
The first settlers were Joshua Smith and Robert Banks from Massachusetts, who were here when J. M. Bisby and his companions came from New York in 1854.
In the spring of 1855 Rev. Harvey Jones was sent to Wabaunsee by the American Missionary Association of New York. In the fall his wife followed him. In her diary Mrs. Jones mentions that it took a week to travel from St. Louis to Kansas City. At that time a small hotel, two stores and a few houses were all that comprised Kansas City. It was two days' journey with the ox team from that point to Lawrence. In those days some people who indulged in prophesies were of the opinion that the country would never be settled up much west of Tecumseh, and that Topeka would never be a town.
The settlers in those early days lived in small houses enclosed with "shakes." They also had chills most of the time, but one kind of "shakes" had no connection with the other. Chairs, bedsteads, and other furniture were made from cottonwood and elm poles. Although the weather was no colder in those days than it is now the suffering from the cold was terrible, as the houses were not sufficient to keep out the cold and the comforts of life were few. Food was often scarce and people used to live solely on "hulled corn" for weeks at a time. In the spring of 1856 the famous Beecher Bible and Rifle Company of New Haven arrived on the scene. They had sent five men - A. A. Cottrell, J. J. Walters, Benjamin Street, T. P. C. Hyde, and a Mr. Webb - to look up a location where there was no townsite company to interfere with them in making what rules and regulations they wished. These instructions were responsible for them not settling at Topeka, where C. K. Holliday, president of the Topeka Town Company held out every inducement, except to give up all rights to the townsite. This is what the setters at Wabaunsee did. The parties to the agreement were J. M. Bisby, Harvey Jones, and Peter Sharris, acting for the town and the five men above mentioned acting for the New Haven colony.
The story of their organization in New Haven to help make Kansas a free State is given in the historical sketch of the county and will not be dealt with here, except to say that the real name of the company was the Connecticut Kansas Colony. There were some women in this colony. Before their coming there were only three women in the Wabaunsee settlement. In the same year the colony was joined by others among whom was S. H. Fairfield, who came to Kansas with the Northern immigrants led by James Redpath. The members of the colony organized a rifle company with others of the neighborhood, under Capt. Wm. G. Mitchell.
The history of this Beecher Bible and Rifle Company includes about the whole history of Wabaunsee, a large part of the history of the county, and is an important item in the history of the State.
At this time the feeling between the Pro- and Anti-slavery parties ran very high and each side were carrying guns and ropes for the other. The President of the United States, the Secretary of War, and all the Territorial officers were doing all they could legitimately and otherwise to make Kansas a slave State. Bogus sheriffs with bogus warrants were sent, out after free-State men. Three men who were being thus hunted down came to Wabaunsee in June, 1856, from Topeka, where they had been at work on a free-State constitution. They were Dr. J. P. Root, J. J. Walters, and W. Griswold.
Being shut off from the main line of travel, Wabaunsee itself was not the scene of much of the conflict, but the Rifle Company was engaged in the struggle all the way through. They took part in the early struggles about Lawrence and Franklin and repulsed the attack of the Missouri bushwhackers. Nearly every member of the Wabaunsee settlement went to the seat of war. They were joined by several free-State men from upper Deer Creek, a settlement west of Wabaunsee. They were gone some six weeks on this trip, and were engaged in every skirmish that took place in or near Lawrence, the last one being just at sunset on Sunday night. The whole body of border ruffians were in camp at Franklin. They came down the main line to Lawrence and were repulsed by the Beecher Rifle Company from a ravine about half a mile from town. This victory has been credited to "the Lawrence Stubbs," but it really belonged to the Wabaunsee boys, as the "Stubbs" were not on the ground, according to the statement of Wabaunsee men.
On their return the men found everything gone to the bad at home. The cattle had eaten up the crops. Many of the boys were sick and there was no money to buy medicine. Flour cost $6 to $9 per sack.
The winter of 1856-57 was a very hard one. People were out of food and clothing and the suffering was very great. In the spring things brightened up. Some new settlers were added to the colony.
The famous Beecher Bible and Rifle Church was founded in 1857, with seven members. The first Fourth of July celebration was held in this year. A glorious time was planned. There was a brass band there and thirty-six ox teams decked out in bunting. The Governor of the Territory was the principal speaker.
The people were just beginning to live in comfort when the drouth of 1860 and the Civil War the following year brought hardship and trouble. All the able-bodied men went to the front and most of them saw hard service. During the Price raid eveery[sic] able-bodied man in Kansas was ordered to the front. Captain Palmer gives an excellent description of the Price raid in Volume 9 of the State Historical Society.
The Wabaunsee boys saw the hard part of the Battle of the Blue, otherwise known as the Battle of Westport, where the Missourians and Kansans were pitted against each other, each side on their own soil.
After the close of the war the county-seat trouble came up and Wabaunsee lost the county official effects, which were hauled to Alma in a light wagon with the county officers for ballast in 1867. For three years the struggle was kept up, but at last Wabaunsee dropped behind in the fight and Alma won out. From this time on there is not much to tell of the plucky pioneer town, which was once designated by its enemies as "that d - abolition nest."
Judge Hall, of Wabaunsee, was being interviewed by a Capital reporter in 1888. In reply to a question he said, "Yes, Wabaunsee is growing like a cow's tail-growing down."
We have neglected to say that a stone building was erected in 1862 as a home for the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church. This is one of the old landmarks in Kansas and brings early settlers together every year to celebrate the founding of the church. Some of the old rifles are displayed on these occasions, fulfilling the prophetic words of Beecher who said, "Let these arms hang above your doors as the old Revolutionary muskets do in many New England homes. May your children in another generation look upon them with pride and say, 'Our fathers' courage saved this fair land from slavery and blood.'"
Much has been said of the warlike spirit in this article, but that really was not the predominate spirit of the colony. The Bible and Hymn book went along with the rifle, and in many cases the Yale sheepskin also. All four were important factors in pioneer life, and the rifle was not used except in cases where the other three were not practicable.
The New York Daily Tribune of April 4, 1856, describes the colony in the following words: "A nobler looking body of men was never seen than the New Haven Colony. They are mostly athletic men with strong hands and strong hearts." For this occasion demanded it, and without strong hearts, strong hands were powerless, while with them, weak hands can move mountains.
Transcribed from Business directory and history of Wabaunsee County pub. by The Kansas directory company of Topeka, Kansas, 1907. 104 p. illus. (incl. ports.) 21 cm. Advertising matter interspersed.
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