As we have delved into family histories and accounts of the people who settled this area, we have noticed that a great deal has been written about our Junction City founding fathers, but very little has been recorded about the lives and adventures of the women who pioneered right along with them.
When we did encounter frontier life from a woman’s perspective, it was usually recorded by the lady’s own hand in a journal or diary, or a mother’s or grandmother’s experiences were recounted by other family members. It seems that very few of these pioneer women’s exploits were known outside the family circle. However, there was at least one feisty exception by the name of Anna Elizabeth McCauley Henderson.
Born in Ireland in 1828, this plucky little woman immigrated to Davis (Geary) County in 1855. At Fort Riley she married a cavalry soldier, Robert Henderson, whom she had known in the “old country.” Together they had the dubious distinction of being the first family to live on the Junction City town site.
We all know this because Mrs. Henderson’s spunky spirit made enough of an impression upon George W. Martin, the editor of Junction City’s first newspaper that he wrote and printed an interesting account of her life and experiences in Kansas. One of these experiences revolved around a much-traveled pump organ.
Robert Henderson left his wife and family including year-old twin daughters, to look after his land and homestead while her was off fighting with the Union in the Army in the Civil War. During his absence both the little girls took sick and died within 36 hours of each other. It was shortly after this tragedy that the battle of the organ took place.
As Martin tells it, “during the term of service of the Rev. David Clarkson as Chaplain at the Fort, an organ was presented to the parish at Fort Riley by Major J. P. Downer. Downer disappeared with the Second Kansas Infantry, a three months’ regiment, and a change occurred in the chaplaincy at the Fort.
“Before leaving, Chaplain Clarkson left the organ with Mrs. Henderson with the statement that it belonged to the Junction City parish. The new chaplain claimed the organ as property of the Fort parish, and there being evidence of some trouble, Mrs. Henderson carefully nailed down her windows and awaited the outcome.
“A sergeant and five men came over on May 5, 1863, with orders to seize all Fort property. Thereupon an exciting battle occurred in which Mrs. Henderson, with rifle in hand, stood in the door of her house defying the soldiers. She prevented the sergeant from entering, but while he complimented her on her soldierly qualities, a detachment on the opposite side of the house effected [sic] an entrance and made away with the organ she was so loyally protecting.”
Two days later Mrs. Henderson, accompanied by the constable, attempted to “replevy” it, but they were driven off by the guard. The following October, the case came before a justice of the peace, and the verdict was given by the jury to the town folks. It was then appealed to the district court, where the case was dismissed for informality.
A party of soldiers in waiting seized the instrument, put it in a wagon, and started to carry it off. It was retrieved before the team left town, and to provide against further seizures, P. Z. Taylor sewed it up in army blankets. The most rigid search failed to reveal its hiding place and on Sept. 18, 1865, the ownership was finally declared to be the town parish.
Martin finished the account, “the Fort people paid over $250 costs in the suit and the instrument was finally disposed of for $60. The fight made great excitement in our little town, and clearly showed that the good man who went to war could not lay claim to all the fighting qualities of the family.
Elizabeth Henderson died in 1917 at the Geary County home she helped build, secure, and defend. She was 89 years old.