February is Black History month and as I was looking through our files for ideas for articles I ran across an interesting article that Marilyn Heldstab, former director of the Geary County Historical Society, published years ago. It is the story of a former slave and Junction City pioneer, Jack Turner. It is such an interesting account that I thought we should tell it again. Mr. Turner’s story first appeared in the Junction City Union on Feb. 27, 1934.
Mr. Jack Turner tells the story of his life and how he came to Junction City.
“I was born in the Ozark Mountain is 1844. This area was slave territory and I was to be under Fleetwood’s care until I was 21, when I was to be freed and receive an inheritance.
“I was kidnapped when I was 12 years old, I remember exactly what happened. I had covered corn all day long, and in the evening they told me if I would cross the creek I could ride home.
“It was nearly a mile from home, so I waded across and a Mr. Adams took me up behind him on his horse. He started out in the wrong direction, but when I told him he was going the wrong way, he said he was going home by way of Bald Knob.
“We rode all night and he kept whoopin’ like an owl. Finally a man came up in answer to his signal, and I was put up behind him on his horse. Next morning we got to Springfield, Mo. His wife asked me why the Fleetwoods wanted to get rid of me, but I told her I didn’t know."Turner was then taken to St. Louis where he stayed about a day and a night. From there he and his captor went by steamboat to Memphis, Tenn. From Memphis he was taken to Okolona, Chickasaw County, Miss.
“At Okolona I landed in Mr. Whittaker’s hands.
“We went to the Mississippi bottoms. We put up a crop and in the fall we went up to the hills again. There we went to Mobile Ala. and Mrs. Hodges (Mr. Whittaker’s daughter) put me in a hotel to cook. I stayed there about six months and then she put me in a livery stable for about six months.”
After returning to Okolona Turner was the coachman and house boy. He drove the barouche for the next four years.
“The whole crowd of us was taken to the salt works in Alabama for about a year. The war was pressin’ so they made the salt workers build breastworks. After about three weeks we went back to the salt works. Then the whole bunch (about twenty of us) returned to Okolona. We put in two crops. Then Mrs. Hodge’s father died, and her husband took charge of us.
“In the spring of ’66 he came out on the porch one day and told us we were free.
“After the war was over Mrs. Hodges and I were in Memphis for two years, then she went back to Okolona. Like a gump, I went over to Arkansas. She told me not to, but I went anyway. I went over with a man named Williamson to kill hogs.
“I came back but went again to help in the apple orchard. I was plowing around the trees in the orchard when I struck one twice with a single-tree of the plow.
“He warned me to be more careful, but I told him I couldn’t help doing it unless someone held the single-tree for me. It happened again, and slamming the plow down, I hurried to the ferryboat landing just as the boat was leaving. Williamson rode up and motioned for the boat to come back, but it kept going.”
In Memphis again, Turner worked for a lumber company until he wrote to Mrs. Hodges now left a widow with her two children, Sallie and John. Mrs. Hodges immediately sent him $5.00 and his fare to Okolona.
"She’d sent for me everywhere I went," Turner said. "She’d send for me to come home even if I was just a runaway."
In 1868, Colonel Streeter of Junction City married the young widow. She brought her family and servants with her when she moved to Junction City. Jack came with them.
In 1871 Jack married his wife Martha, who had come to Kansas with her parents as part of the “Exodusters” immigration following the Civil War.
He states “I raised ten children to manhood and womanhood. They’re all married now and I was married 58 years and eight months.” Martha Turner’s obituary shows that she passed in January of 1929.
Turner worked as a freight driver for Streeter for many years. He would transport government supplies across the plains. He made his last trip in 1870.
He also worked as the foreman of the Streeter farm between Junction City and Fort Riley.
Turner remembers many interesting tales from his life in early Junction City.
Straw rides were popular at that time and groups of people would ride in straw wagons to country dances. Turner would often ride a mule and drive the other three mules hitched to the wagon. One day someone else who was driving the barouche went under a black jack limb growing over the road, and the top of the cab was knocked off.
Turner remembers, “That man never drove again.”
In the times before paved highways, cord way rails were used as bridges over the swamps between Junction City and Fort Riley. Jack would drive over these rails day or night, and Mrs. Streeter always said she was never nervous when he was driving.
Turner recounts about his life as a slave but states, “he had never lived in the heart of the plantation section, so never had to endure the hardships of some slaves.”
“Mrs. Hodges treated us nice. Her servants were treated just as nice as other people. They always had Sunday clothes for church and her father never allowed anyone to look bad at slaves.”
Mrs. Streeter often told Turner that she could depend upon him to do what was right. He drove the family to Fort Riley to attend the wedding of Colonel Forsythe’s daughter. Then the footman got drunk. Jack stayed sober, because he knew he had to drive home.
Turner remembers a riding horse owned by Mr. Streeter. “That horse could step over the steps of the stile just like a person.”
Turner recounts, “drove the buggy and carriage teams from the time I needed a box to stand on to harness the horses." He also acted as a butler in the Streeter house.
Turner looks upon his life in Junction City with the Streeter family as, “the happiest days of his life, and often recalls to chance listeners the hospitality of this bit of old south transplanted to the western plains."Jack Turner passed away September 12, 1937 at the age of 93.
(the story and quotations are written originally by Marilyn Heldstab, former Director of the Geary County Historical Society. Her story, copied from the 1934 newspaper, appeared in Museum Musings in the Daily Union in 1991.)