The USS Naiad as it was photographed during the Civil War.
By Wendi Bevitt
In the Lyndon cemetery stands a simple monument to Alfred Capper. This modest stone belies the unique individual lying under the sod. Frederick Alfred Capper was born in Staffordshire, England, in 1837. He and his brother Herbert immigrated to the United States in 1856, settling first in Iowa and then in Franklin County, Kansas. Herbert would become the father of 20th Kansas governor, Arthur Capper.
When the Civil War divided the country, Alfred joined the Eighth Kansas Infantry. After being wounded he transferred to the Navy, participating in the Anaconda Plan, a strategy proposed by General Winfield Scott to blockade southern ports. The plan sought to secure the Mississippi River, effectively cutting the South in two and depriving the Confederacy of incoming supplies.
Frederick Alfred Capper
Alfred was stationed as a 1st Class foreman and fireman on the USS Naiad, a tin-clad steamer that was formerly a commercial vessel known as Princess. His pension records note that he also served on the gunboat USS Clara Dolsen, and the USS Great Western and USS Grampus. Because of his service in the Navy, Alfred earned a medal of honor for bravery.
The Naiad, named for a mythical water nymph, was part of the Mississippi Squadron along with two other steamers. Naiad entered service in 1864, patrolling the Mississippi River and its tributaries, several times battling Southern riverbank artillery batteries.
The crew aboard these boats had precarious jobs, for anyone outside the confines of its metal walls were targets of snipers lurking on the banks of the river. The captains of these vessels in particular were not long lived for this reason.
In addition to metal armor, these vessels also came equipped with a “mine rake”. It was during this war that mine warfare took its first significant role. These rakes would catch the ignition cords for the mines and either explode them or cause them to be defective and therefore harmless to other vessels.
The Naiad reverted back to civilian service after the war, sold at auction in August 1865. In summer of 1868, it was on its way to the transportation center of Ft. Benton, Montana Territory, via the Missouri River. The steamer did not make it, though, striking a snag in June 1868, near Napoleon, Missouri, where it sank. The wreck of the Naiad-Princess was relocated in the late 1980s by the same investigators that found the Steamboat Arabia, now on display in Kansas City.
What marked an ending for the steamer was a beginning for our soldier. The same year the Naiad sank, Alfred married Fannie Goodell in Kansas. Fannie was a member of the Sac and Fox tribe. The Sac and Fox had primarily resided in Osage and Franklin counties since their removal from Iowa in the 1840s.
When the tribe moved to Oklahoma in 1869, Alfred went with his wife and her family, though retaining his farm near Lyndon. For several years he was active in Native American relations through his position within the Sac and Fox Agency, and made trips back into Kansas. Finally in the mid-1880s he returned to Osage County with their son John, but Fannie did not accompany him and remained with her tribe.
Upon his return, Alfred established himself as a prominent merchant on Lyndon’s main street. Capper’s Farmer’s Store sold produce, groceries and dry goods from local suppliers. The store sought to bring in customers from as far as Osage City by declaring that it would pay the train fare for any customer who bought $10 or more worth of goods.
Alfred ran his business for 30 years until his retirement in 1915. When he died in 1916, his funeral was attended by his son and his nephew the governor, as well as many friends and family from the community.
The USS Naiad as it was photographed on the Western Rivers during the Civil War, later reproduced as a stereograph. A mine-clearing rake projects from her bow.
Gen. Winfield Scott’s plan to crush the Confederacy is represented as Scott’s Great Snake in this 1861 cartoon map; thanks to The Library of Congress/American Memory.
USS Naiad photo thanks to U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command. Alfred Capper photo thanks to the Osage County Historical Society, Lyndon.
Wendi Bevitt is owner of Buried Past Consulting LLC. She has lived in Osage County for 18 years and her research interests include Osage County Civil War veterans and Osage County history.