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Hidden History: Burlingame firemen fight to keep town from extinguishing

Burlingame was the earliest, lasting community within Osage County, Kansas, and was also the site of the first county seat. As the county figured out how to manage growth that nearly doubled the area in the early 1870s, the county seat was shifted to Lyndon, much to the dismay of Burlingame. How could they wrest the title back? What improvements or services could they do that would bring it back? Every community faced the demon of fire, and in 1876, the year after the county seat was taken from them, Burlingame established an organized fire department – something that Lyndon did not have.

Earliest citizens had to rely on their own townspeople to form bucket brigades in case of fire, but that was a slow and intensive process that wasn’t successful against the fiercest of fires. As time passed, some businesses and residences had access to extinguishers, but whether or not they could be afforded, or even easily located in case of a disaster, was another thing entirely.

Organization of two fire companies in 1876 was seemingly progress, but posed its own challenges. Volunteers for the companies were primarily from the Burlingame Guards, the town’s militia, and while the numbers were seemingly impressive, getting those who had promised their service to show up to actually fight fires was problematic. The numbers for the two companies fluctuated wildly. Burlingame would have a at least one company, and then it didn’t have either. People joked that when the volunteers did follow through, the city council would have to offer bribes of payment to the first company to perform their promised duty. And when they did show up, response times were terribly poor, and the losses were great.

Reading School alumni plan 2023 banquet

The annual Reading Alumni Banquet will be held Saturday, June 3, 2023, in the gymnasium.  Registration and time to mingle with friends and classmates will begin at 6 p.m., followed by the dinner at 6:30. Back by popular demand, The Miracle Cafe will be providing a delicious meal.

Special honored classes are: 1973 (50th), 1963 (60th) and 1948 (75th). Bright orange postcards were mailed to those alumni with addresses on file. Attendees are asked to bring their registration card or contact Reta (Kinslow) Jackson at PO Box 103, Reading, KS 66868, or call Reta at 620-340-5347. Anyone who attended school at Reading or served as staff are encouraged to attend.

The cost of the meal and registration for the night is $18. People are also welcome to pay at the door.

Memorial Day: Melvern Jr. Highline 4-H Club honors those who have served

Photo: MJH 4-H club members hang flags on servicemembers’ graves at the Melvern Cemetery.

By Bella Reeser

On Thursday, May 25, 2023, at the Quenemo Cemetery, and on Friday, May 26, 2023, at the Melvern Cemetery, members of the Melvern Jr. Highline 4-H Club helped organizers hang flags on the graves of fallen servicemen and servicewoman. Members felt privileged to honor those who have served.


Overbrook Rural High School plans annual reunion; former students, teachers, staff invited

An Overbrook Rural High School All-School Reunion will be 2-4 p.m. Saturday, May 20, 2023, at the Overbrook Public Library. All former students, teachers, and staff members are invited.

The informal gathering is casual and will be a time to visit and reminisce. Attendees are encouraged to bring their ORHS Annuals and other memorabilia of high school days. Light refreshments will be served.

Registrations are due by May 16; registration is $5 per person, payable at the event. To register, call or text Mary Ann (Vanderslice) Leslie at 214-773-5246 (include name and the number attending), or register by email at mavleslie48@yahoo.com.

Get into a rut with Lyon County history

Update: The Lyon County Santa Fe Trail Bus Tour scheduled for April 22 is sold out so another one has been scheduled for Saturday, April 29. Tickets for the April 29 tour are $30 and are available only online at explorelyoncounty.org. The ticket includes lunch. The tour time is 5-6 hours. Seating is limited.

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A free history program at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 20, 2023, will feature Jan Huston and her video of Lyon County history, and images from the 1972 archaeological dig of the Rock Creek trading post, where Bloody Bill Anderson murdered Judge A. I. Baker and burned Agnes City in 1862. The program will be at the Trail Days Arts & History Center, 803 W. Main St., Council Grove, Kan.

The following Saturday, April 22, a 5-6 hour bus tour of the Santa Fe Trail in Lyon County, guided by Jan Huston and LeRoy Boline, will include local stage stations, trading posts and people who made history on the trail. For more information, or to reserve a bus tour seat, call 620-340-6310, or see  explorelyoncounty.org. Reservation deadline for the bus tour is April 18.

The April 20 program and the bus tour are sponsored by the Lyon County History Center, the North-Lyon County Museum, and the Heart of the Flint Hills Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association.

Willing Workers tour Osage City meat processing plant

Willing Workers 4-H Club visits Custom Meats, Osage City, front from left, Clara Thielen and Ruby Stucky, middle, Leila Wilcoxson, Jaiton Bosse, Mason Newman, Reese Newman, Hadley Bosse, Kassie Thielen, and Paige Thielen, back, Bo, Emilee Burkett, Avery Thielen, Claire Newman, Lena Stucky, Kaiden Bosse, Kevin Whitmer, and Gene Roberts. Courtesy photo.

By Avery Thielen, Club Reporter

On March 1, 2023, the Willing Workers 4-H Club went to Custom Meats, in Osage City, to learn how livestock are processed. The 4-Hers were given a tour of the Custom Meats facility by Gene Roberts, Emilee Burkett and employee Bo. Gene did a great job of entertaining the group while educating them on the steps of processing animals. Many of the 4-H members show livestock at the county fair. This tour helped them understand what happens to their animals after they sell them. Even members who do not show livestock found the tour to be informative. It is important that people understand where their meat comes from. Thank you Custom Meats for the tour.

Historical society plans workshop to gather Melvern Lake stories

Melvern Lake control tower. File photo.

The Osage County Historical Society will host a story gatherers workshop 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Saturday,  March 4, 2023, at Melvern Community Center, 102 NE Main St., Melvern, Kan. The workshop is free to the public.

The workshop is being offered as a part of the “Melvern Lake: Citizens’ Stories” project. The goal of the project is to document and share the Melvern Lake experience from the perspective of Osage County residents.

Osage County Historical Society’s programing director, Lynsay Flory, will lead the workshop, and county archivist Ann Rogers will be available to scan and return any Melvern Lake related images or documents that participants would like to have digitized.

Participants will learn techniques on gathering historical stories from friends and family, receive instruction on using the Storycorp App, and leave equipped with sample questions and knowledge on how to conduct at-home interviews.

This workshop is sponsored in part by OCHS and Humanities Kansas. For more information, contact the historical society at 785-828-3477 or email osagecohistory@gmail.com.

Hidden History: Santa Fe Trail charts course for railroads, highways across Kansas

An American family travels using a common mode of transportation during Santa Fe Trail times and later, a covered wagon. Photo source unknown.

The Santa Fe Trail cuts across Osage County, entering the northeast corner and exiting northwest of Osage City. Road markers are visible for travelers on local highways, but what was the Santa Fe Trail, and why was it significant for Osage County?

The route of the Santa Fe Trail, as is commonly the case with historic period trails, was comprised of a series of more ancient routes of travel established and widely used by the original inhabitants of the region far back into prehistory. This trail closely followed a series of indigenous roads.

When Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, the trading center of Santa Fe could finally become a target of trade with the American frontier. That same year, William Becknell led an expedition from Franklin, Missouri, to Santa Fe to gather furs and find a viable route to that center of commerce. By 1822, Becknell had secured a route to Santa Fe that was accessible to wagon traffic, making travel easier. In 1824, the road to Santa Fe was declared an official route by an act of Congress. The following year, representatives of the U.S. government and the Kansa and Osage met at Council Grove, Kansas, where the tribes agreed to relinquish claims to large tracts of the Plains to the United States. The tribes also agreed to provide open access and assistance along the Santa Fe Trail to all travelers. Starting in 1825, Becknell mapped the route, and Colonel George Sibley was put in charge of an expedition to survey and secure safe passage for the travelers through treaties with the Native American tribes.

Part of Sibley’s responsibilities required him to make the route easier to travel, and in 1826 he paid John Switzler $200 to build the bridge over Bridge Creek, later known as Switzler Creek, at modern-day Burlingame.

Early traders along the Santa Fe Trail in Osage County were members of the Shawnee tribe. After a treaty designated a reservation in Kansas for the Shawnee, they were moved to lands south of the Kansas River, which included modern-day Osage County. The Shawnee had long had close associations with Euro-American traders in their recent history, which led them to build a way of life located in close proximity to those they traded with. In Kansas, the Santa Fe road corridor became an ideal location for this because it cut through the Shawnee reservation. Tribe members typically settled in family groups spread out along waterways. Prime locations in what would become Osage County were the Switzler Crossing (at Burlingame) and 110 Mile Creek crossing (near Four Corners).

Hidden History: Working for freedom in Osage County coal mines

Drawing of Kansas Exodusters by Solomon Eytinge, 1833-1905, Harper’s weekly, v. XXIII, No. 1181, August 16, 1879. Source Library of Congress.

After the conclusion of the Civil War there was a period of Reconstruction that attempted to graft the South back into the Union. The transition was disastrous, and at the forefront of other troubles with Reconstruction, individuals of African descent faced racial violence and the creation of the Black Codes (which mirrored previous laws governing slaves). Many chose to leave the south for a chance at a better life in Kansas in what was called the “Black Exodus.”

These migrants were dubbed Exodusters and started to arrive in Kansas as early as 1873. The most widely known Kansas Exoduster settlement at Nicodemus began in 1877, but black migration to Kansas didn’t begin in earnest until 1879.

Multiple Exoduster settlements were made in the state, and while Osage County received many Exodusters, it was not home to an “official” settlement. It was, however, the location of the only business enterprise of its kind in the state, solely owned and operated by Exodusters.

When the Exodusters arrived in Osage County in 1879-1880, many came to Osage City (the town of Burlingame, while welcoming to blacks during the Civil War, did not want the new arrivals).

Most Exoduster men in Kansas found labor positions, predominantly in agriculture. In Osage County, however, the coal resources were just beginning to be tapped in earnest and mining opportunities seemingly abounded. Osage City was an infant town that was booming with the coal industry. Within less than a decade, it boasted 77 new buildings, a great influx of new citizens, and ample opportunities for employment from local stone quarries to five coal shafts. And the coal jobs in the area paid well – double what was offered in the surrounding areas.

Osage City became a very appealing place to settle. But there was a problem. The established coal mines didn’t really want black miners. And so, a group of the earliest members of the Exodus created a mining colony that they called Liberia (named in honor of the colony in Africa established for freed slaves).

This community and mine were the only one of its kind in the state – fully owned and operated by men of African descent. There were two attempts at a Liberia settlement in Osage County. The first Liberia was located just south of the community of Dragoon (south of Burlingame), situated on lands purchased for one of the large coal companies.

The Liberia miners faced multiple hazards. The men were inexperienced and forged their own way with mining. In the over 60-foot-deep shaft, an accidental fall could be disastrous. Also, the community, while relatively close to Burlingame, had no easy access to the town to retrieve supplies. At the time Liberia was established in 1880, there was no safe bridge for regular foot or horse traffic, and crossing Dragoon Creek was accomplished by using the railroad bridge, which could prove deadly.

The first Liberia ended within a few short years and some of its members decided to return to the South, discouraged by lack of opportunities for people of color. When the settlement was disbanded, the buildings were sold and taken to the nearby community of Peterton and repurposed.

For those who remained, working at the Osage City mines was not an option for everyone, as there were only two mines at this time that allowed black men. Determination to make a Liberia mining settlement work led to another attempt in 1885, outside of Barclay, south of Osage City.

Hidden History: Superior townsite fades away with founder’s Kansas dreams

Superior School, Osage County, Kan. Photo by Wendi Bevitt.

The very first attempt at a settlement in what is now Osage County was called Council City. But Council City had a problem. The settlement company that funded and planned it was disorganized, and no one could quite decide where the best location should be – or even if it should be called Council City! After multiple attempts at establishing a location, in an area that covered nearly half a township between Switzler and Dragoon creeks, principal settlement seemed to find a resting place at approximately where Burlingame is today. At the head of the Council City enterprise in the earliest days was James Winchell.

Winchell had been with the settlement company since its arrival in Kansas in the fall of 1854. Shortly after their arrival, the members of the company each selected their preferred tracts of land. Winchell chose a large, wooded parcel located near the confluence of the two creeks. It was not only beautiful but contained significant advantages for building. He was eager to start organizing the town and became its first postmaster.

But when Philip C. Schuyler arrived in Council City in the spring of 1855, he had his own ideas for Council City. Both Winchell and Schuyler were very driven individuals, and it soon became evident that their ambitions would not be able to be combined.

Winchell abandoned Council City at the Switzler location and instead decided to put the resources available on the southern end of the proposed Council City tract for his own town.

His first attempt would be in 1856 with a town named Fremont in honor of General John C. Fremont. In the spring of that year, Winchell served as a delegate to the first national Republican convention. It was at that convention that Fremont was declared the Republican nominee for the presidency. Winchell’s support for Gen. Fremont prompted him to use that name for his town. However, John C. Fremont did not win the presidency, and likewise his namesake town also lost momentum.

Rapp School rings bell once again as students learn about old-time schooling

Lynsay Flory, who acted as the teacher during a visit to Rapp School, leads students in singing lessons. Photo by Wendi Bevitt.

For the first time in several years, on Oct. 10, 2022, Rapp School opened its doors to host a field trip day. Rapp School is a historic one-room school located on U.S. Highway 56, about five miles west of Osage City.

The Rapp School Preservation Association worked with Lynsay Flory, of the Osage County Historical Society, to arrange the field trip for local homeschooled students.

Students shared sack lunches, played on the playground, enjoyed practice lessons, and generally explored a different kind of schooling. All had fun as they experienced what school was like more than 60 years ago.

For more information about Rapp School, see In Osage County: Rapp School, District No. 50, 1871-1962

Thankful and blessed with help from the Osage City community

ECAT would like to say thank you to the community for your continued support these last two years. 2021 and 2022 have been challenging for ECAT as it has for everyone.

With the shut down due to COVID and now with the economic impact ECAT has found it necessary to think outside the box and find new ways that we can continue to serve the community. During COVID we continued to provide food boxes by having designated pickup days, as well as a volunteer always available to give out food boxes. The holiday program was a great success.

Beginning in November we will begin our 2022 holiday signup program. Food is not as easily obtained as in past years, but we know that with all the community support we continue to receive, our holiday program will continue to be a success and no family will go without food and no children without Christmas gifts.

None of this would be possible without the continued support of the community, organizations, businesses, individuals, USD 420 students, Girl Scouts, and churches.

ECAT volunteers (who always go above and beyond) could not accomplish any of this without the Osage City community – you are awesome and we are blessed.

Thank you,
ECAT volunteers and board members

For more information, contact the Ecumenical Christian Action Team at 306 S. Martin St., Osage City, Kan, or 785-528-8164.

Relax on the river: Quenemo celebrates life along the Marais des Cygnes

Quenemo will be celebrating the town’s riverbank heritage with the Marais des Cygnes River Valley Festival, scheduled for 2-10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. The day full of fun and entertainment features historical reenactors, live music, vendors, parade, dancers, and touch-a-truck. Quenemo historical items will be on display at the community center, presented by curator Mike Ragan. A Quenemo alumni gathering and open house is scheduled 2-5 p.m.. Everyone is invited to come to Quenemo Saturday and enjoy the day. Here is the schedule:

Scranton celebrates 150 years with community birthday party

Scranton’s celebration of its 150th anniversary this Saturday will feature fireworks, a live band in the park, car show on Main Street, and the Scranton History Museum on display at the school. The city’s sesquicentennial celebration also includes free family activities at City Park and Scranton Attendance Center.

Scranton was founded in 1872 as a coal mining town. By the early 1880s, the population had grown to almost 2,000 people; it now numbers 653, as reported by the 2020 census.

Here’s the sesquicentennial celebration schedule:

Zion Lutherans celebrate church’s German heritage

Members of Zion Lutheran Church prepare for Germanfest in authentic German attire, from left, Donna Silver, Burlingame, and Toni and Larry Wendling, Lyndon.

VASSAR, Kan. – In the late 1880s, several Lutheran families in the area of present day village of Vassar, which was platted in 1886, requested that a Lutheran pastor from the Topeka area come to preach God’s Word and baptize their children.

The first divine service was held March 30, 1884, almost 140 years ago, in the home of Fred Matthias. Zion Lutheran Church was formally organized in 1893 as “Die deutsche evangelische lutherische Germeinde ungeaenderter Augsburgischer Konfession zu Vassar, Osage County, Kansas”.

Zion Lutheran Church will feature its German heritage and history with a celebration in the Vassar community 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, outdoors in the block just west of the church. The event will include German food, a polka band, beer garden, children’s activities, and local craftsmen featuring their handiwork for sale. The event is open to the public. For more information, see www.facebook.com/zionlutheranvassar.

Archeologist to speak on investigations along Santa Fe Trail in Osage County

Celebrating Scranton’s sesquicentennial

The Osage County Historical Society will present “An Evening with Dr. Shannon R. Ryan Ph.D” at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, at the Scranton Attendance Center, 104 S. Burlingame Ave., Scranton, KS. This event is taking place as part of Scranton’s 150th anniversary celebration.

Dr. Ryan is a noted registered professional archeologist with R. Christopher Goodwin and Associate, Lawrence, Kan. She will speak about her recent archaeological investigations into four Osage County sites along the Santa Fe Trail.

During the main speaker, a children’s program will be presented by Lynsay Flory, OCHS program director. Light refreshments will be served, and a silent auction will be held to benefit the historical society.

This event is free of charge, but freewill donations will be accepted. For more information, contact the Osage County Historical Society at 785-828-3477 or researchosagechs@embarqmail.com.

Lap the Lake ride features beauty of Melvern Lake and Osage Cuestas

Registration is open for the second annual Lap the Lake bicycle event that starts and ends at the Melvern Lake Marina and set for Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.

This year’s event includes a 51-mile and 6-mile ride, along with the original 27.5-mile course. The course options challenge all level riders, and allow riders to enjoy the beautiful Osage County backdrop and views of Melvern Lake along the way.

Prizes will be presented for overall male and female winners; there will also be a bib number raffle. Participants and volunteers receive a T-shirt. Sign up to ride or volunteer here https://register.chronotrack.com/r/66716.

Registration table opens at 7 a.m. Oct. 1, with the ride’s start and finish at Melvern Lake Marina; register by Sept. 7 to receive swag.

The courses include the Challenger Deep, 51 miles, $55, start 9 a.m.; Mariana Trench, 27.5 miles, $45, 9:30 a.m.; and Stayin’ Shallow, bike, run or walk, 6 miles, $25, 10 a.m. Participants must complete entire course to be eligible for a first-place prize.

Hidden History: Early inhabitants wove the fabric of Osage County’s past

Every property has a story, every house has a story, woven by the individuals that make their mark at that specific location. In the southern part of Osage County, Kan., the impact of written human history starts with the Sauk and Fox.

In the winter of 1845-46, the Sauk and Fox tribes were removed to a reservation in Franklin and Osage counties, consisting of 435,200 acres located at the upper reaches of the Osage River. This land contained 500 acres of rich farm ground used by the Sauk and Fox for farming until the Treaty of 1868, a deal which would lay the groundwork to remove the tribes to Oklahoma. Despite the signing of the treaty in 1868, the majority of the Sauk and Fox were not moved from the area until 1869. The land was then sold by the government to incoming settlers.

Julius Gandion, early Lyndon  farmer/stockman. Photo Los Angeles Times, Jan. 31, 1906.

One of the first settlers to be granted a land patent (purchase of land from the government) was Julius Gandion. Julius was a native of France who arrived in Osage County in 1871. His farm was located approximately three miles south of Lyndon, a property that now has a large two-story ranch house upon it. That house, while not Gandion’s, would become the center of a larger story.

After only 20 years, Julius Gandion moved on from his property due to personal struggles. Edward H. Perry, an agent for a real estate company in Topeka, heard about the newly available property and jumped at the chance to purchase it in 1892.

Edward constructed a new eight-room house on the property. The ranch became known as one of the most improved farms in the county. It boasted all kinds of fruit and shade trees and a lovely blue grass and tame grass lawn.

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