Reading Cards
2. A Home on the Shunganunga


  1. Coming to Kansas
  2. Shunganunga
  3. Lime for Kiln and Quarry
  4. Gardens and Orchards
  5. Letters from Home
  6. Traveling on the River
  7. Native Americans in the Kansas Territory
  8. John Brown and the Ritchies
  9. Becoming a State
  10. Building a Community

In April of 1855, the Ritchie family moved to Topeka. John, Mary Jane, their son, Hale, and baby, Mary, came to a land filled with opportunity, but also many troubles.

Spring was slow in coming to the Kansas Territory in 1855, but when it did, the Ritchies must have thought themselves in paradise. Wild flowers bloomed among the prairie grasses and the Kaw River was filled with catfish.

Not many houses had been built in the few months since the Territory opened. The Ritchies lived in a crude cabin near the river until they could build their own home. John bought some land along the Shunganunga Creek where he dug a cave into the hillside. Then he took scraps of wood and built a lean-to in front of the opening. His small family spent their first winter in this dugout. Snow blew through the cracks in the wall. Sometimes Hale woke up with his bed covered in snow.

southwest wall of ritchie house, current

It was so cold that Mary Jane had to warm their bread over the fire before cutting it. Water froze before it could be drunk.

Baby Mary got sick and died in their dugout home. Before the next winter, the Ritchies had a comfortable stone house, strong enough to keep out the wind, rain, and snow. They moved just in time to welcome a new baby, a boy named John.

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