Hidden History: Melvern doctor breaks restraints of public service

By Wendi Bevitt

In 1885, Osage County elected its first candidate of African descent to a county office. Quintus M. Hutcherson was born into slavery in Tennessee in 1850. He was a newcomer to the county, having escaped the deteriorating conditions in the south after the end of post-Civil War Reconstruction, the time during which political and social transformation of the southern states was being overseen the newly rejoined federal government.

Reconstruction concluded with the Compromise of 1877, which removed federal troops from the south and allowed any gains made during Reconstruction to be undone, particularly leading to deteriorating conditions for those of African descent.

The outspoken, and Republican, Dr. Hutcherson eventually made many enemies in his hometown of Clarksville, Tennessee, and finding that residence there was neither safe nor pleasant, moved his family west.

Quintus and his wife settled in Melvern, Kansas, the only family of color at that time in town. While he settled in the area and took up farming, Quintus had been trained as a doctor. Formal training for African Americans at this time could only be obtained at certain medical universities. Eclectic physicians, a persuasion similar to modern day chiropractors, however, did not necessarily require formal schooling. It is uncertain which category Quintus’s medical experience was in, but it was not requirement for the public office. It would assist him, though, in besting his opposition.

The Republicans of Osage County were eager to back a candidate that would gather the African-American vote. Quintus was agreeable but hesitant, “I am not in any hurry for an office, although if I could get it, I would take it and do the best I could.”

The Republicans knew the potential for a winning African-American candidate was there. In 1871, shortly after people of color were given the right to vote with the 15th Amendment, a much-esteemed man of African descent from Burlingame, Kansas, Moses Turner, had run for the office of county clerk and narrowly missing being elected. So when nominations for county offices were made, the party discarded their previous candidate and heartily threw their backing behind Dr. Hutcherson.

While the Republicans of the county were enthusiastic about an African-American candidate for office, not everyone in the county shared their sentiment. One man was overheard saying that he “would spend $100 rather than an Ethiopian should hold office of coroner in the county.”

The Osage City Free Press retorted, “Dr. Hutcherson may yet have the pleasure of holding an inquisition on that man’s stiff, and make all things even.”

While he probably didn’t have the pleasure of holding an inquisition on “that man’s stiff”, Dr. Hutcherson did win the election that year by a significant margin of more than 1,000 votes. He prevailed over Professor Whitman, a doctor, principal at Lyndon schools, and former natural sciences professor at Baker University, and Dr. Beasley, the top physician in Carbondale.

In Kansas, the original duties of a county coroner were to issue subpoenas within the county for witnesses to a death of unlawful or unknown cause; to summon other experts to examine the body; to cause the arrest of anyone held responsible for the death; to act as sheriff when the sheriff is unable to act; and in Osage County also included cleaning out the cells at the county jail. The office was served as a two-year term. Most counties paid the coroner position an average of $3 per day for holding an inquest, plus a small amount for mileage travelled.

Dr. Hutcherson campaigned for the office of county coroner again in 1891. The formerly staunch Republican, who had commented that it would be “as easy to change the color of his skin as to convince him that the Democrat party was the best for him to support,” had switched his political party to the People’s Party.

The People’s Party sprung out of the Populist movement, a party with a goal to distance itself from corporate and financial interests. The People’s Party appealed to farmers, citizens formerly underrepresented, and minorities. These platforms of reform in no doubt were what caused this former staunch Republican to change his political leaning. It was this shift to a third-party status that probably cost this well liked and respected candidate the election. Quintus lost the election for coroner by less than 100 votes to the Republican candidate that year.

Not long after the failed election, Quintus and his family moved to Lyon County, continued to pursue farming, and even struck oil on his land. Quintus’ son followed in his father’s footsteps and became a doctor.

Quintus Hutcherson’s contributions to the county – at a time when it first and fully recognized the equality of men without regard to race, color, or previous condition – should not be forgotten.

Quintus M. Hutcherson’s photo, bottom row center, appeared on a photo page of 1885 Osage County Officers; from the Stories of Osage County and Its’ Families, published by the Osage County Historical Society. Photo illustration by Wayne White.


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.


Contact us: Osage County News | P.O. Box 62, Lyndon, KS 66451 | [email protected] | 785-828-4994 | Powered by Osage County, Kansas