Hidden History: Legislating the dogs of Dogtown

Founded in 1869, Osage City built its foundation on the industry of mining veins of coal that ran under the earth. As the town grew, small communities of people of many nationalities sprang off of the main townsite, such as Craig on the southwest side and Dogtown on the northeast. The name Dogtown has been thought by some to be a derogatory reference to citizens who inhabited that area of town, but instead it referred to the large population of dogs that originated in that neighborhood.

Early in Osage City’s history, Dogtown earned its moniker due to a man named John “Jack” Kidd, who had many dogs. When Jack heard of the gold being found in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1874, he left coal mining for the potential of more profitable mining. When he left, though, his dogs stayed behind.

As the town increased in size, Jack’s dogs, joined by more brought in by other citizens, also grew in numbers. After many years of a rapidly growing dog population, in 1889 the city hired a “dog policeman” by the name of George Russ. George was a well-liked man of color, who had worked in the local mines.

When George assumed his position, there were an estimated 1,000 dogs within the city limits of Osage City. Dog owners were expected to pay a tax of $1.50 for male dogs or $3 per females. George was given the authority to shoot any dog without taxes paid, no excuses.

By July of his first year, George had killed approximately 120 dogs, and only $62 had been paid from city pet owners. By the middle of his second year, George had dispatched 140 dogs, and only collected $66 in tax. George’s progress on curbing the growing population of rogue dogs was halted, however, when he was found to be violation of prohibition laws against selling “fire water,” which led to his prompt resignation.

Without George’s attention to the unattended dogs, the population grew once again, though another dog control officer was not hired. Instead local citizens banded together, forming vigilante hunting parties of their own to thin the dog population – much to the city’s dismay. One desperate individual started threatening to poison dogs, causing an uproar among dog owners.

At this time in 1893, Dogtown had its own government headed by Samuel Martin, who complained there were two dogs to every cow in that area, and made it his goal to exterminate them. Two years later, still fighting the dog population, Osage City Mayor H. B. Miller ordered that owners keep their dogs closely confined or muzzled.

It wasn’t until 1913 that Kansas Senator J.H. Stavely, of Lyndon, created a bill, nicknamed the “Stavely Dog Bill”, that standardized the tax on dogs at $1 per male and $2 for females. The proceeds from the taxes gained were originally intended to provide relief for sheep and other domestic animals killed by wandering dogs.

Senator Stavely’s original plan was derailed by his unexpected absence in the legislature, which allowed others to change the bill to shift the dog tax funds to instead benefit local school systems. Stavely and local farmers were dismayed by the change and sought to repeal the law and change it to its original intent. Stavely’s bill, even though disputed, was pivotal in standardizing the dog tax not only in Osage County, but the entire state of Kansas.


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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