It was bad year to come to Kansas. The summer of 1860 turned off hot and dry; the winter was bitterly cold. In many parts of Kansas, the corn and potatoes dried up and settlers were sending delegations to Atchinson to get emergency food and seed from the Emigrant Aid Society. America herself was in turmoil. Feelings ran high on both sides of the slavery issue, and there was a race to enlist undeclared states and territories as either for or against slavery. War was imminent; in another year Kansas would be closed to emigration for the duration.
One of the earliest settlers in the Hope community, Hans Heinrick Nottorf and his family were caught in the middle. Having started from Watertown, Wisconsin, with three wagons in 1858, they were bound for Kansas when forces from Missouri, a slave state, kidnapped Mrs. Nottorf's brother, Chris Hemming, to help fight the coming rebellion. Having no desire to fight for the pro-slavery cause, Hemming escaped. The family moved on, spending about a year near Ft. Scott, Kansas, but because of continuing border trouble, pulled up stakes and traveled further west.
As they moved deeper into Kansas, they found the valleys of the creeks and rivers "settled up." Believing the upland farms useless for all but grazing, the early settlers looked first to the creeks not only for the black, fertile soil but also for the water and the timber they would need for houses and fuel. Settlers had begun settling on Lyons Creek in 1856, and by 1860 most suitable land had been taken from its mouth on the Kansas River to its source southwest of present-day Herington.
Eventually the Nottorfs found an unclaimed spot on Turkey Creek, in Banner Township, about one mile west of where the town of Dillon would be located, and a short distance from the Martin Rubin family with whom they had started the trip from Watertown. After felling trees and building a log cabin the family settled in. A talented man, Mr. Nottorf was a butcher, something of a dentist, and raised grapes and apples. But he is best known as one of the pioneer ministers in Dickinson County. He began his ministry here by conducting worship services in his home and seven miles away on Lyons Creek. Eventually he was responsible for the establishment of the First Baptist Church of Dickinson County in 1866.
Only 368 people lived in Dickinson County in 1860, most of them on the Smoky Hill River and the little hamlet of Newport was the county seat. Kaw Indians, from the reservation at Council Grove, frequently camped on Turkey Creek on their way to hunting grounds further west; ten miles south of the Nottorf's place ran the Santa Fe Trail where hundreds of other pioneers were still making their way west. The country was a vast, rolling prairie with grass "tall as a man's head," and treeless except for the cottonwoods, ash, elm and hackberries in the creek bottoms.
The nearest trading post was in Junction City and the closest thing to law and order was the U. S. Army at Fort Riley. Dickinson County had been surveyed in 1857, but what few roads existed were really just trails. Deer, antelope, turkeys and buffalo could be hunted, and in the fall millions of migratory birds stopped in the southern part of what is now Hope Township on their way south.
Because of the state's reputation as "Bloody Kansas" before the war, the violent confrontations between Missouri and Kansas during the war, and the fact that thousands of settlers left the state following the drought of 1860, few people emigrated to the "Sunflower State" until after the Civil War. The post civil war period brought the expansion of the railroads, thanks to a generous government land grant policy. More trails became roads; and while living conditions on the plains were still primitive, travel, at least, was easier.
The year 1867 witnessed the coming of the Kansas Pacific Railroad to Abilene, about twenty miles northwest of Hope, and the first of thousands of cattle which would be driven up the Chisholm Trail from Texas, for shipment to Kansas City. The tall grasses of southern Dickinson county were ideal for fattening cattle and the herds were largely responsible for Abilene's growth. But there were drawbacks. While the main trail ran through what is now Carlton, many herds drifted from the track and through field crops. Mrs. Adolph Bertschinger, who, in 1866 homesteaded two miles south of what is now Dillon, thought the cowboys driving the cattle "cared for little else. . .than themselves," and the settlers could expect almost any kind of treatment. After Christian Rohrer, two miles west of Dillon, ran off a herd with a shotgun, drovers came looking from him, apparently unsuccessfully. The railhead was pushed to Ellsworth and the cattle drives ended around 1872 as increasing numbers of easterners, after four years of war, moved west looking for fresh opportunities.
Before the Civil War, settlers could acquire western lands by staking up to 160 acres, and establishing squatters' rights by clearing and living on the claim until it was surveyed; after the land was surveyed the "squatter" was guaranteed first chance at buying it. In the post-war period, settlers obtained land through the purchase of railroad and school lands, by buying other settlers' lands, or, as in the case of many of the early Hope and Dillon community settlers, through the preference shown to Civil War veterans under the Homestead Act of 1862 . Homesteaded lands required the settler to live on them for five years but a veteran's length of service was deducted from this residence period. Similarly, under the old Territorial law, a company that platted and laid out into town lots 40 acres was entitled to 160 acres.
In 1871, a group of about forty Michigan veterans and craftsmen settled in the immediate area of what would become Hope and began to plan a town site. Chief among these newcomers was Newell Thurstin, a pre-eminent merchant and founder of Hope, which is said to be named after one of his sons. Aware of the growing population of the area, he recognized the need for a source of supplies closer than Abilene, Junction City, or Council Grove. Thurstin brought in a stock of merchandise and erected the first business building of the new town, the "Roundhouse."
At the same time, Auguste Henquenet, another Michigan colonist, of French descent, was one of the town's most enthusiastic promoters. Elected the town's first mayor, he envisioned a city stretching all the way to Herington, six miles east. Hope grew in the opposite direction, however, and after some years of minor coal and gypsum ventures, he moved to Oklahoma to try his hand at salt mining.
Martin Pease, a Michigan cavalry veteran also arrived in 1871. Settling about a mile southwest of the town site, he was elected the first trustee of Ridge township, which at the time included Hope township. A civic-minded entrepreneur, he held several township and city offices, operated a boarding house in Abilene, taught school, was postmaster, worked his farm and owned a paper goods store in Hope.
Other multi-talented farmer-businessmen arriving during this period were C.R. Crimble, a Michigan carpenter who contracted several town buildings as well as both the Michigan and Tennessee schools, named for the home states of the settlers there; James Tupper, the first township blacksmith; William and Phillip Koch, soon to own the largest hardware store in the county; and Wesley Swayze, who sold his farm to run a successful livery business and drive the town hack, and was the grandfather of John Cameron Swayze, a prominent radio and television newsman of the 1950's and 60's. Dwight Eisenhower's father, David, and his partner Milton Good owned a general store in Hope in 1885.
With these businesses, a few scattered houses, and the establishment of a post office, also in 1871, the site was considered a town, although it would not be platted until 1880. The founding fathers located the town site on a kind of divide between two watersheds, Lyons Creek on the east and Turkey Creek on the west and must have had an eye for the beauty of the way the land lies. One the most pleasant sights, even today, can be seen just before sundown by standing in the Mt. Cavalry cemetery three miles south of Elmo, and looking northeast across the valley toward Hope on the high ground, almost nine miles away. The long slopes, once unbroken, are now marked by the maze of hedge rows, cedar windbreaks, and the sunlit farmhouses and silos. It could be a scene on a picture postcard and is one reason the Hope community is special.
That same year, 1871, Nathan Dillon, an Illinois land owner and contractor, purchased 1360 acres in the four corners area where Banner, Jefferson, Hope, and Ridge townships would later be joined. While he would not live in the area until 1879, the town of Dillon which later developed on the spot and its post office were named after him.
Alonzo Evers also arrived in 1871, establishing his "Dillon-Dale Hereford Stock Farm" a mile south the four corners. Evers, a Michigan Civil War veteran and a prosperous businessman, was also one of only a few who successfully raised sheep in Dickinson county, specializing at first with Merinos and later with Cotswolds. The owner of a gypsum bed near Dillon, Evers would, in 1890, build one of the finest country homes in the county.
In the fall of 1871, William E. A. Meek, a large Tennessee man, came to the Dillon area seeking a place to which other Tennesseeans could relocate. He was met by W. D. Shugart, formerly of Illinois, who had homesteaded a mile south of Dillon in March, and who would later be appointed the first Dillon ostmaster. Shugart showed Meek "the best land the sun ever shone upon." Meek secured two eighties, one a homestead and the other a tree-planting claim. His home would become known as the "Wayside Inn," where it is said no person in need was ever turned away. Meek, an eloquent and persuasive speaker, was instrumental in organizing the Presbyterian Church of Dillon and the first Sunday School in the township.
It was the spring of the following year that Meek's Tennessee colony of 37 (some say 60), along with his family, arrived in Hope township. Dressed "in southern fashion, the men wore the army blue capes," and carried tin cups, long barreled squirrel rifles and carpetbags, according to J.S. Meek. Settling primarily west and south of the Hope town site, this Tennessee colony brought a southern influence to the area. It has been noted that most of the men emigrating from the eastern and northern states were young and single, while the Tennessee colony was composed primarily of families. More than one Yankee bachelor succumbed to the wiles of these southern belles.
After the homesteaders staked their claims, most sent for hedge seed, or Osage Orange, and after soaking and sprouting, set out seedlings to mark their property lines and field boundaries. A century later their descendants would curse these hardy trees, but in the 1800's they provided cheap fencing, windbreaks, fireguards, and eventually, firewood.
Civil War veterans in front of the Eisenhower store
The settlers of the 1870's were limited to the upland prairiesthe creek and valley sites had all been claimed. They were concerned about finding water so far from the creeks. Not wanting to haul water, most dug wells and found that, while too hard for laundry, it was good drinking water. At first these prairie homesteads were "nothing but heaven, earth and prairie grass." While almost anything would grow, the prairie sod had first to be broken up. Early farmers used axes; later they used breaking plows. By 1870 winter wheat had become a major crop in the county . Corn was still a staple, but as Edward Lohman, whose parents settled south of Hope in 1879, reported, ". . .[T]he fate of the plainsman did not depend so much on rainfall as on the wind. . . . Whether a crop made or not depended on when the hot winds blewbefore, during or after silking time."
These hot, southerly winds were called "simoons". They came (and still do) in the latter part of July or early August and lasted several days. Because most wheat is generally already harvested, the winds affect mostly corn. William Cutler, in his History of Kansas noted these simoons were all that kept Kansas from being one of the greatest corn growing states in the country.
The experiences of Alvin and Hannah Smith were typical of the early farmers of the area. Originally from Illinois, the Smiths homesteaded an upland farm two miles north and four west of Hope in 1871. Using their wagon boxes for temporary housing, Smith and his friend C. M. Teats helped each other build their homes.
They traveled in a lumber wagon pulled by oxen and dressed in homemade cotton and woolen clothing. In the years before Dillon was established they traded at the Rubins' grocery store and the Schlagel mill a mile and a half east on Turkey Creek.
Working with their neighbors, the Smiths dug wells, broke sod, and planted small plots of corn and wheat. At first wheat was cut and threshed by hand but as yields grew a few farmers pooled their money and bought a threshing machine together. Having no fences they picketed their animals for grazing. Alvin Smith spent winters on Turkey Creek cutting wood on shares. In later years, when no one wanted more timber cut, corn was more plentiful and cheaper than wood so they burned that.
In the early seventies the Mt. Ayr schoolhouse was built across the road north from the Smiths' home. The little building served also as a Sunday school and a social center where spelling bees, community sings, and neighborhood parties were held.
The early settlers recognized these upland claims as fine grazing lands and they stocked them with Shorthorn and Hereford cattle, Merino sheep, Poland China hogs, and Percheron and Norman horses. From 1880 to 1882 cattle numbers doubled and sheep numbers tripled in Dickinson county.
Most easterners could tolerate dry years because they generally had enough rain to produce something. They could put up with the cold winters because the snows usually were not too deep. They learned to accept the tornadoes and prairie fires while never quite losing their fear of them, and a wind-driven fire through horse-high bluestem grass was terrifying.
But in 1874, grasshoppers invaded Kansas and for many it was the last straw. They came in swarms ". . . like a black storm . . . a roaring wind . . . four inches thick on the ground." They devoured the young wheat and stripped the corn stalks; ". . . ate the peaches and left the stone hanging on the tree." They filled uncovered wells, stripped trees and infested houses and outbuildings. Wagon trains of people left their homesteads and returned east. Many of those remaining received aid from other states. But it was a temporary setback. New people settled on the abandoned claims and 1875 saw more field crop acreage in the county than ever before. By 1880 the country was "pretty well settled up."
At the time Hope was incorporated in 1886, this bustling community encompassed a population of over 700. The arrival of the Topeka, Salina & Western Railroad in 1885, followed by the Santa Fe in 1887, gave Hope access to the grain and livestock markets in Chicago. People, merchandise and lumber poured into town. Railcar loads of corn, wheat and livestock poured out.
These were boom times. Two newspapers, the Hope Herald and the Hope Dispatch were published weekly. The business district could claim seven dry goods stores, two hardware and implement stores, two lumber yards, three drug stores, three grain buyers, two livery barns, two restaurants, two blacksmiths, two wagon repair shops, two land loan and insurance offices, two doctors, a dentist and various clothiers, milliners, grocers, butchers, bankers, harness makers, attorneys and an undertaker.
New homes and buildings were keeping carpenters busy around the clock. The town spread so fast it was necessary to expand the original town limits to the Grovier and to the Thurstin & Swayze additions in the west and northeast parts of town. A new opera house was started in January 1886 and on September 29 the Cyclone Minstrels entertained 700 people at the grand opening. The first South Dickinson County Fair was held in August a half mile north of Hope and a thousand people attended.
At the same time the countryside was experiencing its own boom, approaching the point where there were almost four families per section. There were rural post offices at Aroma, Redwood, Rosebank, Rhodes, Midway, Dillon, Newbern, and Plympton, all within seven miles of Hope.
There were twenty-two country schools within this same area, not counting the Hope town schools. They were called Michigan, Tennessee, Fairfield, Mt. Ayr, Prairie Union, Superior, Union Valley, Reich, to name a few. Their very number speaks of many children.
And there were churches, many of which had been serving congregations for almost thirty years St. John's Lutheran on Lyons Creek was one of these. It was founded in 1861 in a one room log house, and by 1886 a new church and a stone parsonage had been built. In upper Turkey Creek, the First Baptist Church of Dickinson County, having worshipped in homes and school houses since its beginning in 1866, was happily occupying its first church building, completed in 1880.
Over on the west branch of Turkey Creek the New Basel United Church of Christ served Swiss families. There was Ebenezer Baptist Church on lower Turkey Creek and Rosebank Church, a relatively new congregation, was established south of Hope.
Hope itself accommodated the Hope Methodist, St. Phillip's Catholic, Hope Presbyterian and the First Christian churches.
The population explosion and the railroad expansion gave rise to the growth of hamlets and towns all around Hope. Most began as rural post offices and grew as some enterprising settler started a blacksmith shop or general store. Northeast were Aroma, Shadybrook, and Woodbine. To the east, Herington was experiencing a boom of its own. Southeast were Redwood, Jacob's Crossing, and Ramona, all products of the railroad industry. Southwest were Rhodes and College Hill. Further west Henry (Mt. Nebo) was seeing its last days, but Carlton and Elmo were just beginning. East of Elmo were Midway and, in 1895, Dayton. Northwest of Hope were Donegal and Navarre which was also just getting started. Four miles west of Hope the community of Dillon was platted and beginning to expand.
In 1892, John Linder discovered a gypsum bed close to the surface on the Louis Klingberg farm a mile south of Dillon, and the Aetna Cement Plaster Company began strip mining operations. In 1894, the Kansas Plaster Company (later acquired by the U.S. Gypsum Stucco Company) opened a mine shaft across the road south from what is now the Dan Cook home. The Salina Cement Plaster Co. operated a stucco mine a half mile west of Dillon and the St. Joseph Gypsum Company ran still another on the H. Kohman farm a mile west and two and a half miles south.
This was big business. The mines brought both jobs and money to the Dillon community and the town prospered. By the late 1890's, Dillon could boast two blacksmith shops, various grocery and dry goods stores, confectionery, hardware, and implement dealers., a cream station and a cheese factory. There was a lumberyard, two churches, a school and northwest of town was the Dillon Flour mill. The newspaper, the Dillon Republican, was operated by a schoolboy, Joseph Murray, later the editor of the Lawrence Journal World. By the turn of the century, the population of Dillon was almost 300 (some insist it was closer to 1000).
No history of the Hope area can ignore "The Cave." Located six miles south and a mile west of Hope, the cave was only three miles north of the Santa Fe Trail. It was large enough a horse could be led into it and long enough that when a fire was lit near the entrance, smoke could be seen three miles north. Reportedly one fellow went in one day and came out several days later near Gypsum, about twenty miles west.
Inevitably gold was hidden in the cave; some say by returning "forty-niners" who had survived an Indian attack on the Santa Fe trail. Others say the gold was hidden by outlaws who had raided a U. S. Army wagon train.
The story is told of an eccentric, long-haired, bearded old man who roamed the country about 1882, carrying a rusty old pistol and an axe. He generally showed up in mid summer and wandered around talking to himself. Speculation had it he was one of the survivors, looking for the lost gold. No one knows if he found it. But apparently no one else did, either. Several attempts have been made over the years to find the gold by enlarging the cave and, failing that, just to see how far the cave extends. Eventually, erosion filled the entrance. No recent attempts have made to find the treasure and the "axe-man" has not been seen for years.
By 1900, Hope and the surrounding area were prospering. Farmers could count on markets for their grain and livestock and had access to almost any goods they could want. The railroads, mines, mills and supporting businesses were providing almost full employment. No longer a "desert", as some of the early settlers had complained, the community had progressed from nothing to a hub of economic activity and comfortable homes in less than forty years.
The new century would bring many changes; the automobile, the "dirty thirties," world wars, etc., and each would take its toll on the community. But those stories are best left for another time. For now it's enough to say, as the masthead of the Dispatch reported for years, "There will always be Hope in Kansas."
The following list of early settlers was taken from A Century of Hope. In compiling it from family, church, and local records, Theresa Lorson acknowledged that many were incomplete and names may have been unintentionally omitted.
Arrivals by year:
I wish to thank Sherrill Daniels, my editor; Virginia Brunner, curator of the Tri-County Historical Society, Herington Ks; Arvis Steimel, Hope Librarian; Carroll Keating and Harriet Rufener of the Dickinson County Heritage Center, Abilene, Ks and Bonnie Bunce, Aurora, CO., for their help in obtaining the following reference sources:
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