Hidden History: Young Kansas invites young Americans to settle as agrarians – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Hidden History: Young Kansas invites young Americans to settle as agrarians

As Kansas emerged, first as a territory and then a state, early pioneers sought to create towns to entice additional settlers to desirous locations. The town of Young America, in what was later to become Osage County, was one of these locations. Built on the premise that the everyday farmer could find success in selling the produce from his small estate, Young America attempted to draw in settlers to its remote location in the interior of the United States.

The first settlement of the claim later to be known as Young America was by a middle-aged man named Carter B. Griffin. Griffin came with the flood of Missourians in 1854 intent on settling Kansas to make it a slave state. Griffin chose a plot of land on the edge of the Sac and Fox reservation, on what is now the northwestern part of Pomona Lake, to establish his claim.

Settlement by Euro-Americans within Indian reservations was prohibited for individuals without direct ties to the tribes, but Griffin utilized a nearby trail that led from the Indian agency to the Pottawatomie reservation to the northwest to trade with the tribes. The nearest neighbors, Fry McGee and his family, also pro-slavery Missourians, were north of Griffin’s claim by 10 miles, also along 110 Mile Creek.

Griffin’s location, like McGee’s, was partially wooded and offered a good location for hunting and fishing. To improve his claim, Griffin built a log cabin and dug a well. After a little more than a year, Griffin left his claim and returned to property he still held in Missouri.

In the spring of 1856, the Griffin claim was assumed by a Mississippian by the name of Smith, who built an additional three log cabins at the site for himself and a number of enslaved individuals he had brought with him. Smith used his labor force to break out 45 acres of prairie land. When the tide within the territory began shifting as 1856 wore on, Smith left, selling his human property in Missouri and returning to Mississippi.

D.B. Burdick established the townsite of Young America, Kansas Territory.

With the claim vacated, the favorable location was ripe for settlement, and it wasn’t long until Daniel “D. B.” Burdick arrived and assumed the claim in 1857. D. B. Burdick had just emigrated from Elgin, Illinois, via boat to Lawrence, Kansas. He and his brother-in-law Luther Hayes and a man named Doc Anderson had established a settlement company, and started to search the countryside looking for a suitable townsite. They found Griffin’s original claim just north of Indian Reserve with its pleasing location next to a well-traveled trail. The land on which Smith had broken sod was good and tillable, great for an emerging agrarian community.

Burdick’s immigrant company named their settlement Young America. The name Young America came from a progressive movement that originated with the Democrats, and which promoted a strong agrarian society, capitalism, technology, and modern advances. As economic progressivism joined the social progressives (those believing slavery was wrong), the movement became one embraced by free-staters and Republicans such as Burdick.

Burdick’s settlement company grew to 56 men and a town was surveyed. The numbers looked promising, but there was not more than $500 in total among them to invest in the endeavor.

After a cold spring, most of the colonists abandoned the project, leaving only five men: Burdick, Hayes, Anderson, Alva Warner, and Samuel Little, an elderly man who died later that year.

Although the settlement was in a favorable location, it was miles from anyone – the closest free-state settlement was at Burlingame, Kansas. The community benefitted from trading with the Indians and maintained a connection with other free-state settlers.

Though Burdick had improved upon his claim, it was not fully safe from being contested. William Harris, son-in-law of Fry McGee, intent that “no d—ed abolitionist should ever settle on 110,” convinced Carter Griffin to come back from Missouri and reassume ownership of his original claim.

Despite his years-long absence, Griffin’s family still maintained a presence in the area. Carter Griffin’s nephew Lee Griffin rode the Osage County countryside with William “Bloody Bill” Anderson, posing a potential threat to the abolitionist settlers. Because of Harris’ prompts, Griffin returned to take back his property.

Griffin and a companion arrived one day when Burdick was working in his cornfield, plowing with his oxen. No one else was around, and Burdick’s sister was sick in the house. The pair of Missourians, armed with revolvers and a knife, rode into the homestead coming upon the 27-year-old farmer suddenly. Taking quick action, Burdick used his oxen as a shield and ran through the tall corn to the house, where he retrieved his double-barreled shotgun. By the time Griffin rode up to the house, Burdick was awaiting him on the doorstep, causing the older man to back down and concede to resolve the dispute in court. Former territorial governor Wilson Shannon, a practicing lawyer in Leavenworth, was prepared to represent Burdick in the case, but it was dismissed in February 1868.

Because of its remote location at the time, Young America did not prosper as anticipated, but it was not the only attempt at a town that Burdick had a hand in trying to establish or sustain. Just south of modern-day Burlingame, the former town of Superior was located. Superior boasted (what businesses). Superior town founder, James Winchell, turned the property over to Burdick. Burdick later sold out to O.H. Sheldon, who was one of the founders of Scranton, Kansas.

D.B. Burdick photo from Burlingame Enterprise, May 24, 1906. Young America poster adapted from sailing card for the clipper ship Young America, ca. 1855.

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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