Hidden History: No memorial for Civil War medic, Burlingame schoolchildren’s caretaker

An undated postcard view of Lincoln School, Burlingame, Kan. From the collection of Gary Lowman.

Christopher Columbus Ragin, or “Crit” as his friends called him, was born into slavery around 1855, near Atlanta, Georgia. His mother died when he was about four years old, his father was not even a memory to him.

In the summer of 1864, Union forces were converging on Atlanta to seize the city. After the battle of Atlanta in July of that year, Crit and nearly 18,000 other slaves left the local plantations and were conscripted into the armed services as contrabands (former slaves freed by Union troops).

A nine-year-old Crit was picked up by the 27th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI), a part of the 17th Army Corps, and given duties around headquarters. He was given a uniform, and quickly proved himself to be a valuable asset. Crit stated that he was eventually earning as much as the regular Army.

His duties to the company included being an assistant to Dr. John L. Chapel, assistant surgeon for the 27th OVI. Dr. Chapel had started studying medicine at the age of 15, and had gained a degree in medicine prior to the war. Dr. Chapel and Crit’s retrieval of the wounded at the front lines of the war was at times a dangerous occupation, and Crit would exclaim, “I won’t get killed if you don’t!”

After the war, the bond of friendship caused Dr. Chapel and Crit to remain close, and the doctor took Crit into his home in Ohio. When Dr. Chapel married and moved to another state, Crit stayed behind, and found a home with Wellington “W.D.” Canfield.

In 1873, Canfield chose to move with his family to Burlingame, Kansas, and convinced Crit to come with him.

“Crit, we’re going to a new country. Let’s stick together,” Canfield said. And they did, remaining the best of friends until Canfield’s death in 1904.

When the pair arrived in Burlingame, W. D. Canfield began the first cheese factory in the city, and Crit became a laborer. In May of 1882, Crit found employment as the janitor of Lincoln School, in Burlingame.

Crit’s starting salary at the school was $25 per month, which was later raised to $35 per month, about average at the time for a labor occupation. His duties included seeing to it that the buildings were clean with general maintenance, like sweeping floors, dusting desks, keeping the fires in the old furnace in cellar going, and filling a bucket with drinking water from the corner well for the school day.

Crit was the one that signaled the start of the school day, ringing the school bell exactly at 8 o’clock every morning, using the Waterbury clock that hung in the school hall ticking off “the seconds, minutes and hours with a regularity instructive and inspiring.” Crit’s ringing of the school bell, or “Old Faithful” as the ring was called, was so precise that families could set their own clocks by it. Tardy youths would implore him to slow the ringing of the bell to allow time to get to class. Crit would clang the bell one more time to give that student a chance to make it inside.

C.A. Deardorff, headmaster of Lincoln School, Burlingame, Kan. Photo from the Burlingame High School Oracle, May 1, 1906.

Crit loved his job and the children that filled the school halls. It was said that “Every child knows Crit and his authority among them is never questioned. He is a friend to every one of them, watching them from first entrance into the school to their graduation day.”

Knowing the children also extended to keeping track of the troublemakers. One morning before daylight, Crit went to the basement of the school and began to stir the furnace. Every time the furnace grate rattled something bawled. Crit, frightened at the noise, retreated to the home of Professor Charles Deardorff, head of Lincoln School. The pair went to investigate, and when daylight lit the halls, they discovered a tethered cow in the hallway.

Another prank, at the end of Crit’s time at the school, involved the removal of the clapper from the school bell. The clapper was still missing when the school bell was placed in the basement of Schuyler School in 1929. Crit’s “investigations” of these and other school child pranks would continue for months, Crit keeping an eye out for the perpetrators and querying the students.

Crit also worked as a janitor for the Presbyterian church, which had long been a friendly place to people of color in the town. In 1878, Judge Marmaduke Rambo had established a school for African American children that met at the church when school attendance was separated. Membership in the church was open to people of color from nearly the time of its establishment.

Even when he was stooped with age, Crit continued to serve the community he loved through his work at the school. His impact to decades of students was one of firmness and love.

One student remembered Crit as “destined by a kindly God to be our school caretaker for more than half his life, loving and loved by all the youngsters of the town.”

His impact nearly a hundred years after his death in 1937 though is little remembered, and his service to his country went without recognition because he was not a soldier. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Burlingame Cemetery.

An undated postcard view of Lincoln School, Burlingame, Kan. From the collection of Gary Lowman. Click for a larger view.


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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