Hidden History: Kansas county named in honor of Civil War private, Osage County native

Rev. Josiah McAfee, inset, as a Kansas legislator, honored the sacrifice of one of his recruits by naming Rooks County after him.

By Wendi Bevitt

Fifty-six Kansas counties honor the names of soldiers from the Civil War. Only two, however, bear the name of men who held the rank of private – Rooks and Osborne. Rooks County, while located in the western half of the state, is forever connected to Osage County as the recipient of the name of Osage County native, John Calvin Rooks.

John Calvin Rooks, familiarly called “Calvin”, was born in Pennsylvania and came with his family to Kansas in 1858. His parents, John and Delilah, set up their farm two miles south of Burlingame when the county was still known as Weller. The family became members of the Burlingame Baptist church and faithfully attended.

In mid-September of 1862, Calvin enlisted in Company I of the 11th Kansas Volunteer Infantry. Many men from both Burlingame and Grasshopper Falls (modern Valley Falls in Jefferson County) were recruited into this company by the Rev. Josiah B. McAfee.

The new recruits were taken to Fort Leavenworth where they received brief military training and then were deployed to the battle fronts in Indian Territory and Arkansas. Company I saw action at Old Fort Wayne, Indian Territory (Oklahoma), on October 22 and then at Cane Hill in Arkansas on November 28.

Each time the company established a camp, a Thursday night prayer meeting would be held in a large Sibley tent, led by the Rev. Josiah McAfee, who served both as 1st Lieutenant of Company I as well as chaplain. Being a Christian man, Calvin attended each meeting. At the prayer meeting on December 4, Rev. McAfee was shaking hands with each of the attendees and asking them to relate his religious experience. Private Rooks told Rev. McAfee that from the age of nine, he had chosen to be a soldier for Christ.

Just two days later on December 7, the company was involved in the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas. This battle was the bloodiest of all the battles in Arkansas, with 2,700 soldiers from both sides killed.

At about dusk, when the most severe fighting was coming to an end, Private Rooks was severely wounded. He was taken to the hospital at Fayetteville, Arkansas, with wounds that were sure to claim his life.

Rev. McAfee visited him after he arrived and, Private Rooks told the reverend, “I cannot live.”

McAfee asked Rooks, “Do you fear to die?”

Rooks replied, “I have served my Redeemer in life and I know He will save me in death.”

Private Rooks died on December 11, which was to be the next meeting day of the weekly prayer gathering. He was buried in Fayetteville and later reburied in the Little Rock National Cemetery.

Years later in 1867, many Kansas counties were established, in part to enforce the laws in the western parts of the state that had no government, but they were also increasingly being settled as the native tribes were being removed to Indian Territory. Rev. McAfee, now serving in the state legislature, proposed the name for the 24th county in the state to be named Rooks after the private in Company I, who was loved and respected by all that knew him.

Private Rooks’ family mourned both his death as well as that of this brother Daniel, who served with the 15th Kansas Cavalry and died in 1865. The family continued to reside in Osage County.

The father, John, became a judge and managed a mine on their land after a vein of coal was discovered. Rooks family members were originally buried on their farm, but were later moved and now lay at rest in Burlingame Cemetery.

Photo of Rev. Josiah McAfee from the History of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod in Kansas by H.A. Ott (1907).


wendibevitt2016bWendi Bevitt is owner of Buried Past Consulting LLC. She lived in Osage County for 20 years and her research interests include Osage County Civil War veterans and Osage County history.


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