Hidden History: Kentuckians seek Kansas townsites to escape bigotry of their homeland – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Hidden History: Kentuckians seek Kansas townsites to escape bigotry of their homeland

At the time Kansas Territory was opened for settlement in 1854, there were two prime spots on the Santa Fe Trail in what would become Osage County – the crossings at Switzler Creek and 110 Mile Creek. Both locations had been actively used for trade by the Shawnee Tribe until their removal from the area that year. These crossings were quickly snapped up by the earliest settlers in the county to be used for their access to trade.

Switzler’s crossing became the location for Council City, a predecessor to Burlingame, and was established by Northerners intent on making Kansas a state free from slavery. The crossing at 110 Mile Creek would be settled by Southerner Fry McGee. Not long after, other settlements with similar hopes sprung up nearby along the same trail corridor. These towns were established by individuals also with Free State motivations, but seeking freedoms from other discriminations as well.

When the first counties in Kansas Territory received their boundaries in 1855, the northern most part of what would be Osage County was included in Shawnee County (although the county would not be officially organized until 1858), and Burlingame had aspirations to become the county seat or even the capital of the future state. Another developing city that desired to become the county seat for Shawnee County was Prairie City (not to be confused with the Prairie City that was located in Douglas County).

Prairie City was borne out of a desire to live without fear. In August 1855, the city of Louisville, Kentucky, an election day erupted in anti-Catholic violence that became known as Bloody Monday. The riot was led by local Democrats and followers of the Know Nothing Movement, who in their proclaimed patriotism shunned those that were not like them. The Know Nothings were originally known as the Native American Party, a group that sought to organize native-born Protestants and promote traditional values. In Louisville, this manifested itself in anger and discrimination against Catholics and anti-slavery advocates, causing a series of riots and deaths of many German and Irish Catholic immigrants.

As a result, by May of the following year, individuals formed an association to promote immigration to Kansas where they could live without fear of discrimination. The town company offered incentives of four free lots of ground to each of the different religious denominations to encourage churches to be built there. At least two church leaders accepted the offer, Catholic Bishop John Spalding and Baptist minister Dr. William W. Everts.

Spalding had been directly involved with the events of Bloody Monday in 1855, accused of harboring weapons in the various churches he served. He spoke out adamantly against violence, urging others “to believe no idle rumors, and to cultivate that peace and love which are characteristics of the religion of Christ.”

The Baptists of Louisville faced other obstacles because of the growing division regarding the issue of slavery. Those under the leadership of the Everts were staunchly opposed to the institution, and increasing bitterness grew between the two sides. The mounting dissention both men were facing would lead them to seek out the more neutral lands of Kansas as a precaution.

Settlement started to occur in Prairie City by October 1856. The town consisted of three quarter sections of land east of the McGee Crossing of 110 Mile Creek, with a frame house on each parcel of land. The first log house built became the temporary home to all of the original emigrant party. The cabin was so crowded that numerous bunks were crammed on one end of the structure, with a fireplace on the other end.

The residents of Prairie City, like those in neighboring Burlingame, had aspirations for the town to be the Shawnee County seat, with plans for a courthouse and two railroad depots. Sadly, the city on the prairie never reached its potential, and shortly faded away.

In 1858, two other towns also started by Kentucky natives were planned: Indiana City and Versailles. Versailles was established first, but Indiana City was most similar to Prairie City in its formation. The town company for Indiana City was also from Louisville, and chose a location which is on the southern end of modern-day Scranton.

The first settler to the Indiana City location was Frank Goebel, representative for the town company. Frank had been a night watchman, keeping an eye out for violence for the Anti-Know Nothing party in Louisville the spring before the Bloody Monday riots.

Goebel arranged for four small pre-fabricated houses to be built in Louisville with the frames shipped to Kansas and erected at the town site. Lots for the town were sold for $2 a piece, and future plans included both female and male colleges. Goebel was the first to discover coal in what would be the Scranton field, something that would not be utilized to its biggest extent until much later.

The town of Versailles was located to the west of the McGee Crossing at 110 Mile Creek. Plans for Versailles were being made as early as February 1858. Investors for this town were reported to have promised $10,000 for its construction. A hotel was the first building to be constructed and was offered along with 10 acres to any Free State man who would make a success of it. E. W. Garlock, who had long been in the hotel business on the East Coast, accepted the offer.

Garlock’s Hotel was 26 by 44 feet, two stories tall, had 13 rooms, and was painted white to beckon weary travelers. Hotel guests could expect a dinner that included delicacies like strawberries, while beans and eggs were offered for breakfast.

The agent for the Versailles Town Company was a man named Henry P. Throop. Throop actually lived at the Versailles townsite, and who, other than Frank Goebel, seems to be the only Kentuckian who stayed on site at any of the new towns.

Plans at Versailles were made for a steam mill in addition for enticing a railroad. Throop promoted the coal resources of the area, and also purchased numerous plots of the coal rich lands near Versailles and Indiana City.

Versailles’ population did not amount to more than 14 voters, but it did retain the name into the 1860s. After Throop later left Osage County and moved to Topeka, he donated property in Scranton for the use of the Catholic church – a reminder of the Kentuckians’ search for freedom from religious and social persecution in early Kansas.

Prairie City plat from www.Kansasmemory.org. Drawing of Throop from Topeka State Journal, 1900.

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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