Hometown Heritage

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Heart of the Home
July/August 2010
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History of the Pony Express Lies in St. Joseph, Missouri
Brian Orr
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History of the Pony Express Lies in St. Joseph, Missouri

Although its existence was brief, spanning only 19 months, the Pony Express made a huge impact on the history of St. Joseph, Missouri.  

On April 3, 1860, a young man mounted a horse and rode off from St. Joseph, among a cheering crowd, on his way to Sacramento, California. That was the start of the Pony Express, America’s first “fast” mail line.  

In preparation for the job, the Pony Express collected 400 fast horses and hired 120 young, wiry, unmarried men as riders. There were 156 stations between St. Joseph and Sacramento, and each rider rode from one station to the next, an average of 10 to 15 miles, where he mounted a fresh horse before continuing on. Each trip was nearly 2,000 miles.  

The challenges and hurdles of the Pony Express riders were many. It is said that the brave, faithful riders carried two pistols and a knife for protection, and rode night and day to reach their destination, constantly watchful of attacks when reaching Indian country.  

The purpose of the Pony Express was to deliver letters to and from St. Joseph and Sacramento in 10 days, something unheard of at that time. The cost for sending a letter by Pony Express was a pricey $5 per half-ounce.  

Some sources say the first rider of the Pony Express was Johnny Fry, and others say it was Billie Richardson.  

Either way, the Pony Express is highly responsible for keeping St. Joseph, Missouri, on the map.  

Susan - St. Joseph, Missouri    

Valentine’s Day Celebrated Annually in Loveland, Colorado

With a name like Loveland, it’s probably no surprise that my hometown is known the world over as America’s “Sweetheart City.”  

Named in the late 1870s in honor of William A.H. Loveland, the president of the Colorado Central Railroad, the city became linked to Valentine’s Day in the 1940s when postmaster Elmer Ivers, Chamber of Commerce President Ted W. Thompson and Thompson’s wife, Mable, had a vision of sharing the romantic name of the town with the whole world. So, in February 1946, they launched the city’s international Valentine re-mailing program.  

The city and its re-mailing program entered the national spotlight in 1950, when Guy Lombardo – whose orchestra, The Royal Canadians, had recorded the song “There’s a Lovely Lake in Loveland” – was designated honorary mayor of Loveland, and the song was featured during the program.  

Since its beginning, millions of Valentines have been packaged inside larger envelopes and sent to Loveland, where more than 60 senior volunteers hand-stamp them with a special cachet – a four-line verse – and a postal cancellation, then re-mail them to their intended recipients. Now, the program re-mails more than 200,000 Valentines each year to all 50 states and more than 110 countries.  

Ted and Mabel Thompson, who eventually became known as “Loveland’s Sweethearts,” continued promoting the program until their deaths. In 1962, the couple began the Miss Loveland Valentine program, selecting through an interview process a local high school senior to serve as the city’s ambassador during the Valentine season, and to promote the re-mailing program, as well as the community.  

In 1964, the city began producing a specially designed Loveland Valentine card to offset some of the expenses of the costly re-mailing program. Each year, local artists and residents vie for the honor of
designing the new card and writing its verse. The Loveland Chamber of Commerce also holds a contest to gather designs and verses for the new cachet.  

For more than 40 years now, the city’s residents have shared the love by hanging wooden hearts on lamp posts around town during the month of February. People pay a fee to post their love messages, painted in white, on the large red hearts for all to see as they drive or walk through the main streets of town.  

Nearly 65 years after the Valentine re-mailing program’s inception, Lovelanders are still proud of our romantic heritage that sends a message of love and friendship around the world each year.  

Vonda - Loveland, Colorado    

Dalton Gang’s Robbery Fails at Coffeyville, Kansas, Bank

Every year, on the first weekend in October, an event that took place more than 100 years ago in Coffeyville, Kansas, is re-enacted.  

On the sunny morning of October 5, 1892, the Dalton gang rode into Coffeyville around 8, intending to rob not just one, but two banks at the same time.  

Brothers Bob, Grat and Emmett Dalton, as well as Bill Power and Dick Broadwell, made up the gang. The Dalton boys grew up in and around Coffeyville and were not always outlaws. At one time, they actually worked as lawmen in the Indian Territory of Oklahoma. It is believed that part of the reason they turned to robbing trains and banks was because they were often not paid for their duties as lawmen, and therefore had no money.  

The gang members met their match when they came to their old hometown to raid the banks. Although they killed the marshal and three others, Bob and Grat Dalton, as well as Power and Broadwell, were also killed, and Emmett Dalton was severely wounded.  

 The annual Dalton Defenders Days re-enactment is staged for the entertainment and education of the public, as well as to prove to people that crime doesn’t pay. Another reason for the celebration is to pay tribute to and honor the lives of the four townspeople who gave their lives to defend Coffeyville and its citizens.  

Today, a large museum, filled with artifacts and photographs of the raid, allows visitors from all over the world to envision what took place on the day of the Dalton Raid so many years ago.  

Ursula - Coffeyville, Kansas    

Town Tied to Indian Chief

My hometown, White Pigeon, Michigan, is a small village located halfway between Detroit and Chicago.  

Its history dates back to the 1830s, when Pottawatomie Indian Chief Wahbememe, whose name means white pigeon in English, gave his life to save the settlement. He became friends with the village people and warned them of an impending attack to do them harm and take over their settlement.  

The villagers were so grateful for the warning that they decided to honor the Indian chief by naming their village after him. White Pigeon was incorporated in 1837, and today it’s the oldest incorporated village in the state of Michigan.  

Phyllis - Three Rivers, Michigan    

World-Famous Waterfall

Niagara Falls, New York, is home to the mesmerizing, cascading waters of the American Falls. It attracts as many as 2 million visitors a year.  

Power from the American Falls, in conjunction with the Canadian Falls, provides the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world. The Power Vista, a visitors’ center, demonstrates how the power plant works and is also a popular attraction.  

A couple of celebrities from Niagara Falls include Franchot Tone, an actor of the 1940s who was once married to actress Joan Crawford, and Sal Maglie, a well-known Major League baseball player of the last century. My house is two doors down from the house he built years ago.  

Niagara Falls is also known for the Hyde Park Rose Garden and the Aquarium of Niagara, and visitors enjoy the Maid of the Mist Boat Tour and the Cave of the Winds. It’s also common for many tourists to dine at our famous Como Restaurant, which has served many celebrities through the years.  

When someone asks me where I’m from, I’m proud to say Niagara Falls, New York. Like Dorothy from “Wizard of Oz,” I am of the opinion that “There’s no place like home.”  

Elinor - Niagara Falls, New York    

Belleville, Kansas, is Home to Dirt Car Racing Track

Located in North Central Kansas, the town of Belleville is home to High Banks, the longest continuously operating dirt car racing track in the United States.  

Auto racing began in Belleville in 1910, and with the exception of the war years, 1942 through 1945, has operated continuously. This summer marks its centennial.  

Virtually every kind of dirt racing car has graced High Banks at some time. Early in the history of the track, it was all big cars – the forerunner of today’s sprint cars. Along the way, High Banks has hosted 200-lap stockcar races, hot rods (or track roadsters), demolition derbies, cruisers, motorcycles, jalopies, late models, modifieds, midgets, sprint cars and even tractors.  

Originally, the track was flat, but between 1934 and 1936, the bank was added, making the track 80 feet wide with a 23-degree bank. The racing surface has only one short straightaway and is made of Kansas clay.  

High Banks has become the fastest half-mile dirt track in the world, and it is also known for its stone grandstand, which was erected in the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project.  

Since 1978, the Midget Nationals have taken place at High Banks during the fair each summer. Racing notables who have come through Belleville over the years include Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Ken Schrader, Clint Bowyer, Bobby East, Kasey Kahne, Dave Darland, Josh Wise, John Andretti, J.J. Yeley, Tracy Hines, Sleepy Tripp and Stan Fox.  

Karol - Munden, Kansas    

Three Historical Buildings Live in Camden, Arkansas

Camden, Arkansas, has a population in excess of 13,000 and is considered the “Queen City” of the Ouachita River. More than 65 churches’ doors stand ajar daily, and the city’s education system is second to none.  

Many famous people have graced the town of Camden, whether performing, visiting or living here. Among them are poet Edgar Allen Poe, who was employed by the Camden Herald Newspaper for three months in 1847; Elvis Presley, who played at the auditorium three times in 1957; Sam Walton, who lived here before he founded Wal-Mart; prohibitionist Carrie Nation, who held a rally here in 1906; and Will Rogers, who performed here in 1928.  

Camden is also home to many auxiliaries and activities, but its reputation lies in the three historical buildings in town.  

The McCollum-Chidester House was constructed in 1847 by Peter McCollum and features furnishings from the Civil War. There are even some bullet holes in a wall on the second story of the house. Gen. Sterling Price of the Confederate Army and Gen. Frederick Steel of the Union Army headquartered at the house at different times during the Civil War. After 12 years of living in the house, McCollum sold the house to John and Leah Chidester. A portrait of Leah Chidester hangs over the fireplace in the living room.  

The Leake-Ingham Library was built in 1850 as a law office for attorney Col. William W. Leake. The building was originally located downtown, but has been moved several times and is presently located on the lawn of the McCollum-Chidester House. The building was occupied by various businesses over the years, until 1906, when it became Camden’s first library.  

The third of Camden’s historical buildings is the Missouri Pacific Railroad Depot, which houses the offices of the Camden Area Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Camden, as well as a small museum of railroad and Civil War memorabilia.  

All three buildings are listed on the National Register of Historical Places.  

Another piece of Camden’s history is our annual Daffodil Festival, which brings thousands of visitors to the town.  

Mildred - Camden, Arkansas    

Edison’s Birthplace in Milan, Ohio, is Historical Landmark

Driving by Thomas Edison’s small birthplace home recently, the lights were on, and we thought about how when he was born, candles would have been flickering because he hadn’t yet invented the light bulb.  

The brick home, fronted by a white picket fence, was built by Edison’s father in 1841. It is tucked away on a quiet side street in the historic district, two blocks from the Town Square, in Milan, Ohio.  

In the 1840s, Milan was a busy grain port, and the year Edison was born, it had become the second largest wheat shipping port in the world. It was also a ship building center, producing 75 lake schooners that same year. This place was a flourishing little metropolis back then.  

The Edison home is three stories (visible from the back), having been built into the side of a sloping hill. Born here on a rope bed in a tiny bedroom off the sitting room on February 11, 1847, Thomas was the youngest of seven children. The home has been restored and furnished as it was originally, but with the addition of indoor plumbing, electricity and air conditioning.  

Visitors find a collection of said-to-be rare Edisonia, including examples of many of self-taught genius Thomas Alva Edison’s early inventions, documents and family mementos. The brilliant inventor, although slightly eccentric some say, went on to garner 1,093 patents to his credit.  

The family moved to Port Huron, Michigan, in 1854, and following that, young Edison made a series of moves and jobs that took him to many cities and states – all the time being fascinated with inventions that would shape his future, as well as that of the country, and eventually the world.  

He was back in Port Huron at the age of 20, but soon moved on to Boston, then to New York City. He earned a tidy nest egg from one of his inventions, and in 1870, he built a complex in a New Jersey community, where he became known as the Wizard of Menlo Park. He remained in New Jersey for more than 40 years, creating and developing many ingenious inventions.  

Back in the family

While the home was out of family ownership for some 40 years after Edison’s father moved the family in 1854, one of Edison’s sisters acquired it again in 1894. She added a bathroom and other modern conveniences.  

In 1906, Edison bought back his birthplace home in Milan, but he was an absentee owner. When he made his last visit there in 1923, he was shocked to find his old home still lit by candles and oil lamps. He saw to it then that changes were made, and the house was wired for electricity.  

After Edison’s death in October 1931, the opening of his birthplace to the public as a memorial and house museum was originally the private project of his wife and their daughter, who owned the property by then.  

The house was restored as closely as possible to its original appearance, and today, it is a National Historic Landmark. However, in order to ensure its permanent preservation, the Edison Birthplace Association was formed some years later, and the nonprofit organization continues to own and maintain the museum.  

In a small building next to the house is the ticket office, which includes a display of photographs and several early model phonographs, and is the starting place for the daily tours.  

Visitors enter the Edison Birthplace through the side door into the sitting room. To the rear is the bedroom where Edison was born. Narrow, steep stairs opposite the front door lead to two bedrooms on either side of the upper landing – one was Edison’s parents’ room and the other belonged to his two sisters.  

A back stairway on the main floor leads down to the large basement kitchen, which opens to the garden on the lower slope of the hill. The kitchen is furnished with articles and utensils of that time period, including a wall clock. It’s said that Edison’s mother kept a disciplinary switch behind the clock.  

On and around the property are bronze Ohio Historical Markers, offering added details of the birthplace home, Edison’s recollections of Milan, and details of the Milan Canal Basin, which helped the town become a leading Great Lakes port.  

While there were no accomplishments by young Edison in his seven years at the Milan home, it is nonetheless a significant historic site. The town is proud to be known as the birthplace of one of America’s most famous and prodigious inventors.  

Tom & Joanne - Willoughby, Ohio    

Town of St. Patrick, Missouri, is Proud of Its Irish Heritage

St. Patrick, Missouri, is a uniquely Irish town, with a population of only 17.  

Richard and Rose Simpson Riney, descendants of Irish immigrants and my great-great-grandparents, were the first settlers in 1833. The following year, they built a log church, which they named St. Patrick’s Church.  

Father Bernard Patrick McMenomy, of Donegal, Ireland, was pastor at the time, and named the settlement St. Patrick. He also obtained a post office in 1858.  

Much later, Father Thomas Dempsey, of Offaly, Ireland, worked for several years to obtain a gravel road to replace the dirt road that became muddy when it rained. His efforts were successful, and when the road was graveled in 1933, it became Dempsey Highway. Unfortunately, Father Dempsey passed away in 1931 and didn’t get to enjoy the fruits of his labor.  

In 1935, Father Francis O’Duignan of Longford, Ireland, came to St. Patrick as the pastor. He dreamed of building a shrine to honor St. Patrick, the patron saint of his native Ireland, and to thank America for being a refuge for Irish immigrants.  

In 1936, Father O’Duignan designed a cachet, which is still used today, and placed it on 500 letters to be mailed on March 17, the first St. Patrick’s Day mailing, asking for donations to help build the Shrine of St. Patrick.  

The mailing grew, as folks from all over the world sent letters to be postmarked in
St. Patrick, making their ordinary envelopes collector’s items. Tiny St. Patrick, Missouri, is the only town in the world named St. Patrick that has a post office.  

Realizing a dream

Twenty-one years later, on March 17, 1957, the Shrine of St. Patrick was dedicated, and Father O’Duignan’s “impossible dream” was fulfilled.  

The impressive Shrine of St. Patrick is fashioned after the Church of Four Masters in Donegal, Ireland. It has 37 stained glass windows from Dublin, Ireland, interior marble from Italy and Spain, Celtic crosses and an Irish round tower. In addition, a flagstone from Ireland’s Croagh Patrick is embedded in the floor. That was done so Father O’Duignan could stand on a piece of Ireland during Mass.  

The tiny post office offers the pictorial cancellation during the entire month of March, and the cancellation changes each year. This year, more than 8,000 letters were cancelled.  

Each year, on St. Patrick’s Day, the town has a huge celebration in which hundreds of people attend. The holiday is celebrated much like it was celebrated in old-time Ireland. Festivities include concerts, a Leprechaun giveaway of 200 gift bags filled with goodies (some even contain crystal and china from Ireland), Irish storytellers, Mass, food, souvenirs, tours of the Shrine and museum, and much more.  

I’m very proud of my little hometown of St. Patrick, Missouri, and the fact that
it has retained its Irish heritage for so many years.  

Ellen - Canton, Missouri    

Chicken Restaurant Got Its Start in Corbin, Kentucky

My hometown of Corbin, Kentucky, is where Harland Sanders opened his first restaurant, Sanders Court, in the front room of a gas station, in 1930. A few years later, in 1936, in recognition of Sanders’ contribution to the state’s cuisine, Kentucky Governor Ruby Laffoon made Sanders an honorary Kentucky Colonel. Through the years, the business expanded and became a chain as Colonel Sanders’ Kentucky Fried Chicken.  

Beulah - Hamilton, Ohio    

Devastating Tornado Rips Through Topeka, Kansas

On the evening of June 8, 1966, I was scheduled for a civil service examination at the Jackson state office building on the corner of Seventh and Harrison Streets, across the street from the northwest corner of the State Capitol grounds.  

My husband, George, and I heard the sirens wailing, warning us of a possible tornado coming, but we had heard the sirens on other occasions, and nothing had happened, so we went ahead and left for my appointment. When we got there, we parked on the west side of the Capitol grounds, in front of the rear entrance of the church on Harrison Street. It began to pour, so my husband suggested I wait in the car until the siege was over.  

The eye of the storm

Soon, we heard the sound of breaking glass and wood frames, and we saw debris flying in the air. We knew at that moment that we were in the direct path of the tornado, which was coming up Harrison Street heading toward 10th Street. As we looked directly into the eye of the tornado, it was like watching a huge basketball bouncing up Harrison Street toward us, very white inside a whirling cylinder-shaped cone.  

George decided to move the car across the street in an effort to get us out of the danger of falling trees. Moving the car was like crossing a stream. The car actually bucked as we moved across the street.  

We watched as the tornado came up on Harrison Street and turned a perfect right onto 10th Street going toward Kansas Avenue. As we watched, the copper sheeting was ripped off the State Capitol building.  

When the danger had passed, and we deemed it safe, we ventured out onto 10th Avenue to see the ruins. The windows had all been blown out of the tall National Life Insurance building. The pool hall next to it was demolished, its roof collapsed, and a man was trapped under the debris of a pool table. In no time, people began to appear from nowhere, and everyone started doing whatever they could to help.  

All in all, the F5 tornado that day took 16 lives and injured more than 500 people. It was a half-mile wide at times and affected some 22 miles throughout the city. It was reported that more than 800 homes were destroyed and 3,000 more damaged as entire blocks were leveled. The Capitol Dome and many other downtown buildings were damaged, and every building on the Washburn University campus was damaged to some degree. Many were completely destroyed.  

Fear for son and family

We had been concerned about our oldest son and his family, who lived not far away, in Oakland, so when we left the aftermath of the devastating tornado, we headed toward our son’s house. Along the way, we met our daughter-in-law with our two grandchildren, but not our son. Our daughter-in-law said that as they were leaving their home to go to a neighbor’s basement, their phone rang, so our son went to answer it, and he never made it to the neighbor’s basement to connect with his family.  

We took our daughter-in-law and the children to her mother’s house, then we headed for the hospitals. We finally found our son, and the firemen who rescued him said they found him in a daze. He was incoherent when he was taken to the hospital, and he was very lucky to be alive.  

Vera - Topeka, Kansas    

Iowa Town’s Claim to Fame

I grew up near a little northwest Iowa town called Ocheyedan. A short distance from town is the Ocheyedan Mound, a popular place for sledding in the winter and hiking and picnicking in the summer. The name is a Native American word meaning a place of mourning. It was once thought to have been a burial ground, but geologists have disproved that theory.  

With a population of about 600, Ocheyedan isn’t noted for a lot, but until the early 1970s, the Mound put our little town on the map and into reference books. It was listed as the highest point in Iowa, at 1,675 feet above sea level.  

About 50 years ago, a group of Cub Scouts painted some of the glacially deposited boulders white and arranged them near the top to spell “MOUND.” The rocks stayed that way for some time, but eventually some revelers decided to rearrange them to spell out names or slogans. That activity is now a tradition. I seldom see anyone on the hillside, and I rarely see the same word twice as I drive by the Mound.  

One year after a family reunion, some of my relatives climbed the Mound and spelled out our name. Another time, I took two grandsons there to spell out their last name. Another year, just before Easter, a local church erected three wooden crosses near the top. Just below the crosses, they spelled out “I LOVE JESUS” in stone.  

Around 1971, a new survey showed that the Mound was 1,655 feet, lower than the elevation of the Sterler farm several miles away. Now, Ocheyedan’s highest point is Hawkeye Point at 1,670 feet.  

To most people, it’s just a grassy hill, but to those of us with ties to Ocheyedan, it’s our grassy hill, and we’re proud of it.  

Betty - Hartley, Iowa    

Delta, Colorado, Well-Known for McCarty Gang Take-Down

Robbing banks was the McCarty Gang’s specialty. Brothers Tom and Bill McCarty, along with Bill’s son, Fred, targeted the bank in Delta, Colorado, in 1893. Butch Cassidy and Matt Warner were also members, but weren’t part of the Delta robbery.  

On the morning of September 7, 1893, the outlaws rode into town and stopped in the alley behind Farmers and Merchants Bank. Tom held the horses and guarded the back door, while Bill and Fred entered the bank’s front door.  

As the men approached Trew Blachly, cashier and co-founder of the bank, Bill pulled out a six-shooter. Assistant cashier H.H. Wolbert then pulled out a gun, too, but dropped it when Bill told him to. Suddenly, Blachly reached for his own pistol, and Fred shot him.  

Citizens heard the shots, realized the bank was being robbed and rushed to help. Fred grabbed a bag of gold from the open safe, then filled his pockets with a few dollars’ worth of paper currency and coins. The two hurried out the rear exit, and in no time were riding away with Tom.  

Ray Simpson, owner of the hardware store, was cleaning his rifle when he heard the gunshots. He loaded his rifle and ran toward the bank. Glimpsing the outlaws a half-block away, he fired, and father and son toppled to the ground.  

Tom McCarty escaped, despite a posse’s best efforts to apprehend him. His capture, dead or alive, carried a $500 reward, but no one ever caught him.  

A local business now boasts a mural of Ray Simpson and his hardware store – a tribute to the man who wrote the conclusion to an ugly chapter in Delta’s history.  

Vicki - Hotchkiss, Colorado    

Red Cloud, Nebraska, Was Author’s Window to the World

Anyone familiar with American literature knows that Red Cloud, Nebraska, has been the subject of more books than any other town. The community and beautiful countryside will forever live on through the vivid descriptions in many of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Willa Cather’s writings. Having lived in Red Cloud from 1884 to 1890, the small prairie town was the prototype of six fictional villages in Cather’s novels, and as the town in several of her short stories.  

Many of the sites described in Cather’s fiction have been restored and are maintained by the Willa Cather Foundation in cooperation with the Nebraska State Historical Society. Red Cloud is home to eight historic buildings, a pristine tract of native prairie and 21 historic country tour sites, all of which are directly related to the life and writings of Willa Cather.  

Willa Cather’s Childhood Home contains many family artifacts, including the family Bible. Other historic sites include the Harling House, the St. Juliana Falconieri Catholic Church, the Grace Episcopal Church, the Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank, the 1885 Opera House (where Cather gave her graduation address), and the Red Cloud Burlington Depot.  

In addition, a tour of the countryside surrounding Red Cloud includes many historic sites. The highlight of the country sites is the Pavelka Farmstead, with the original fruit cave described in Cather’s novel My Antonia.  

The small, rural community is not so average for those who take the time to drive the back roads and explore the heart of what many refer to as “Cather Country.” Red Cloud continues to live on through the preservation of these special places and the promotion of Willa Cather’s life and work.  

Ashley - Red Cloud, Nebraska    

Arthur Capper’s Childhood Home is in Longton, Kansas

Longton, Kansas, takes pride that Arthur Capper lived there as a child. A dilapidated building in Longton’s downtown bears a faded sign that reads “The Capper House.” It is the only standing structure where Capper lived in childhood, and Longton hopes to restore it.  

Capper was the first native son of Kansas to be elected governor. Following two terms as governor, he served five terms as a Kansas senator. That’s hardly what you’d expect of a boy who grew up in a devout Quaker home and finished high school but never went to college.  

As a young schoolboy, Capper played in the printing room of Longton’s first newspaper, the Howard County Ledger, and he credited it as the place where his dream of becoming a newspaperman began.  

After graduation, Capper traveled from town to town seeking work as a typesetter. When he applied at the Topeka Daily Capital, he was hired on the spot because somebody hadn’t shown up for work that day. That job was his first step in building a publishing empire that included what today is Capper’s.  

History of Longton

Calling Longton a town would be an exaggeration. Longton is a village. Its population was barely 600 at its largest, and not quite 400 according to the 2000 census.  

Longton’s history began when three men left Ottawa, Kansas, on horseback, seeking homesteads in February 1870. They headed due south into the unsettled, unsurveyed corner of Kansas. The 110 miles took them eight days.  

They found all they wanted: an ample water supply, plenty of timber for building and good land for farming. So, they returned to Ottawa and began moving their families to what would soon be Longton. Along the way, a covered wagon containing the Capper family joined them.  

Upon their arrival, only one settler was living there. Ten years earlier, Robert Graves had attempted to settle, but had twice been chased away by Native Americans. However, now, within four months, two newcomers from Ottawa arrived to build a sawmill and profit by supplying lumber for building.  

How did they get a heavy, cumbersome steam engine and boiler into an area laced with creeks, when no roads or railways existed and trucks were unheard of? They were brought the way everything was brought in those days – in horse-drawn wagons. It’s obvious that the people who started Longton had grit. They were persistent, can-do people who kept trying and didn’t give up easily. With little more than ambition and a willingness to work, they were looking for opportunity.  

Five months later, six men formed the Elk Rapids Town Co. and applied for a post office, but were turned down. Elk City was a few miles east, and Elk Falls a little west, both on the Elk River. The postal system felt that a third location with Elk in its name invited confusion, so instead, they accepted the alternate name of Longton, as suggested by Herbert Capper, owner of Longton’s first hardware store and father of Arthur Capper. The name came from the village where Herbert Capper was raised in England and where his parents still lived.  

Less than a year later, 27 houses had been built in the new community, and the following year, a two-story hotel, a drug store and a print shop opened, as well as two blacksmithing and wagon businesses.  

After living in Longton for two years, Herbert Capper moved his family to Garnett, Kansas, where Arthur Capper graduated as valedictorian in his class of 10.  

Did those two years in Longton influence who and what Arthur Capper became? According to Kansas historian Homer Socolofsky, Capper thought they did.  

The founders of little places like Longton leave behind a heritage of gutsy honor that arouse feelings of admiration and gratitude for later generations.  

Jim - Lee’s Summit, Missouri  


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