Friday, May 15, 2015

Buffalo Bill

Buffalo Bill Cody

William F. Cody was born in Iowa in 1846 and grew up right here in Kansas.  A true child of the prairie, he started working at the age of eleven as a courier between wagon trains crossing the plains and then he rode briefly for the Pony Express.  During the Civil War he severed with the 7th Kansas Cavalry and after the war worked as a scout for the U.S. Army.  In 1867 and 1868 he was “loaned” to the Kansas Pacific Railroad to hunt buffalo to feed the work crews laying the tracks across the southern plains and from then on was known as “Buffalo Bill.”

There was a real air of excitement in Junction City during the last week of September in 1900 for the greatest exhibition of its kind was coming to our town.  This was the famed “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.”  For weeks the local newspapers had been filled with ads touting this popular entertainment and colorful broad-sides or posters depicting the “Great Scout” atop his white steed decorated nearly every fence, barn, or light post in town.

Among the collections at the GCHS Museum are several items which recall those shows including a set of souvenir photographs of the famed showman and an elegantly styled and elaborately trimmed “greatcoat.”  The garment was obtained by an ancestor of Bob Waters from the auction of equipment and gear that took place after the merger of the Buffalo Bill & Pawnee Bill show went bankrupt in 1913.  The coat was reportedly purchased during one of the show’s European tours and, as it appears to be a lady’s garment, perhaps was worn by one of the sharp-shooting cowgirls in the cast. The city was also playing host that on September 28th to a brief visit from Teddy Roosevelt, who was then governor of New York and was running for the U.S. Presidency.  He had been touring the West by train and stopped at Junction City’s depot to give a short speech from the platform of his train.

            Though rain and resultant mud diminished the crowds for both events by half and those who attended the 2 p.m. Wild West show saw the ring horses sink to their knees in muck, the Union of September 29th, reported that Col. Cody was part of the reception committee of 5,000 which met the Roosevelt train at 5 p.m.

            “Col. Cody’s entire mounted show was drawn up in three lines on the north of the platform facing east.  As the train pulled in, his command of horsemen, gattling gun, and battery of light artillery gave a salute that carried people off their feet.  Gov. Roosevelt was introduced and spoke for about 8 minutes, but few could hear him.  Col. Cody, who is a great admirer off Roosevelt, and who has in his congress of Rough Riders many men who served under Roosevelt in Cuba, made a stirring speech of two or three minutes.  He is a strong speaker.  The presence of Col. Cody was in itself no small treat.  He is himself a national figure.

            It was nine years later, again in September that the “Great Scout” once more brought his entourage to Junction City.  By this time he had merged his show with that of his rival, Col. Gordon “Pawnee Bill” Lillie, and the combined extravaganza boasted an “oriental spectacle, historic dramas, ethnological exhibits with typical casts, the Battle of Summit Springs and the Rough Riders of the World led in person by the last of the great scouts, Col. Wm. F. Cody, the original and only Buffalo Bill, who positively appears at every performance.”

            It was interesting to note that during its one-day stop in Junction City, this troupe required 10,000 pounds of bran, 7 tons of hay, 9 tons of straw, and 250 bushels of oats, all procured locally.  The show, which was mounted at the grounds near the Union Pacific Roundhouse, required 30 acres of land and every bit of that space was filled and several adjoining fields were also occupied.  According to the newspaper account, not only the farmers and merchants were pleased when this troupe came to town, but others as well.  “The people in this country and Fort Riley are a little partial; perhaps, to the Cody attractions on account of the soldiers at the Post and the acquaintance formed years ago when Cody was on the plains with the famous 7th Cavalry.”

            As with many great showmen, Cody was not a wise manager, and when he died in 1917 at the age of 71 he was penniless, his touring companies having been sold to others.  However, he was a true trouper, performing right up to the end.  And even at the last, when he was broke and ill, “Buffalo Bill” Cody never ran out of dreams and ideas for a bigger and better show that would share the West he loved with the rest of the world.

Photo Caption:
This souvenir photo, a memento of one of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Shows in Junction City early in the century, shows the famed showman as he most liked to be painted—dressed in buckskins, his long hair flowing free, and atop a white horse.

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Community Comes Together: St. Joseph's Catholic Church

St. Joseph's Historic Church
While working on a cemetery talk at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, I discovered a deeply rooted community of Irish immigrants that settled in the McDowell Creek area in the very early years of Kansas History. Their lives intersected in a number of ways before they came together to build what is now St. Joseph Historic Church.
                Many of the early settlers of McDowell Creek emigrated from various counties in Ireland in the mid-1840s, which might be attributed to the Irish Potato Famine, the political unrest between Ireland and England, or just wanderlust.
                One of these pioneers was Michael Brannick. Born in Kilkenny Ireland, Michael followed in his father’s trade as a stone mason, something that would serve him well in Kansas. Michael came as a young man with his brother and sister to America, first to New York and then to St. Louis. While his siblings settled in those cities, Michael came to Kansas in 1856. 
                Michael was first married to Bridget Lennon in January of 1862, but in November of 1862, five days after the birth of their first son, John, Bridget died. John was fostered out to nearby neighbors, the Ryan family, who could care for him better than his widowed father.
                James Ryan was born in Ireland between 1810 and 1820 and came to the United States in the 1840s where he met his wife Martha Jane Shannon. Among the earliest settlers of the area, the Ryans arrived in Geary County (then Davis County) in 1855.
When they first arrived, those living in the area were living in tents or dugouts. The first settlement built in the area of Ashland was built along the McDowell Creek due to the availability of timber. The family- James, Martha Jane and a daughter, Mary Ellen, moved into a log house 16x18 feet on July 25 1855.
In 1862, Mary Ellen, the daughter of James and Martha Ryan and the adopted sister of John Brannick, married Michael Brannick. Because there was no local Catholic church, Michael and Mary Ellen had to wait to marry until a traveling priest came through the area. The marriage took place in the Ryan log cabin and witnessed by fellow Irish Catholic settlers, James and Catherine Tully. 
Tully farm in 1950. After James and Catherine moved to Junction City, their
son Elisha "Lash" Tully kept it running. 
In a story similar to the Brannicks, James Tully emigrated from Ireland in the late 1840s before coming to McDowell Creek in 1852, where he married his first wife who died following the birth of their second child. Following his wife’s death, just like Michael Brannick, James Tully fostered his children out to neighbors—including the Burr family. And, like Michael Brannick, a few years later James married a member of that family, Catherine Burr. And, also like the Brannicks, James and Catherine had to wait until a traveling priest arrived before they could be married.
St. Joseph's Catholic Church 1891
Eventually this Catholic community on McDowell Creek decided they needed their own church, so they would no longer have to practice their faith in their homes, and wait for traveling priests to arrive before taking part in Catholic sacraments. In 1870, the Ryans donated land for the St. Joseph Catholic Church. Michael Brannick, the stonemason, took a role building the church and two years later in 1872, the church was completed on McDowell Creek.
The church was later rebuilt in 1910 though the original stonework was used in the foundation of the new church. The church was active until the 1980s when it was closed. The windows were removed and it fell into disrepair. Now, the Friends of St. Joseph's Church and the Geary County Historical Society are actively trying to restore this beautiful historic building. If you are interested in contributing to the St. Joseph’s restoration project, please contact the museum at 785-238-1666, or

Friday, May 1, 2015

Antelope School

District 30 School or Antelope School is located in southern Geary County on Cut Off Road in a stand of evergreen trees that act as a wind break for the little limestone schoolhouse.  District 30 was organized in 1877, and classes were held in a frame building about a half mile north of the present day schoolhouse until 1890. According to Roy Swenson the remnants of the stone foundation are still in that location(Project Heritage, 255).
According to the school records, the board for District 30 decided the construction of the stone schoolhouse could not exceed more than $800. The contract to build the school was awarded to Emery Lowery for $765. He had to secure the bond to build it or forfeit the bid to the next lowest bidder, John Rolf. Originally, the stone building had a cupola, which was later removed because it caused a downdraft of smoke into the building. For accessory buildings, Jas. T. Freeman was awarded a contract to build two privies “complete in a workman-like manner for $20.”(Project Heritage, 256). One privy, not sure if it’s the original, is still on the property looking a little worse for wear.
In the early years, with limited funding, country schools often had very little in the way of provided learning materials. Schools typically had wall maps, a globe, and sometimes a library. In 1892 a library was purchased for Antelope at a cost of $44.  “Mrs. Swenson remembered the library well and said that it consisted of a set of books called ‘Rolla’s Tour In Europe’”(Project Heritage, 256). Despite the limited materials the students learned a lot. Teachers could provide their own books to teach from, and people in the district could add their own books to the school’s library as well.
“Children then had few of the advantages enjoyed by the children of today, but at the same time they had fewer distractions and thus had more time to concentrate, so they did learn, they learned well. They also respected and obeyed the teacher, which is a plus factor in any school,” Flossie Buckley Swenson, the teacher at Antelope in 1921, said of the school.
Like today, once that last school bell of the day rings, students flooded out the doors to freedom. Sometimes it was just the feeling of freedom walking home from school or talking with friends, before they had to work on the farm, but it was a taste of freedom nonetheless. Students also enjoyed their freedom by lingering on the grounds to play with friends. This, in the days of horse drawn buggies, could be disastrous, as some Amthaur girls found out.
Viola and Ada Amthaur drove to and from school in a horse drawn buggy driven by Ada. The horse, like those at many other country schools, was kept in the barn or a shelter until it was time to go home at the end of the day. Ada would hitch the horse and buggy and pick up the rest of the children. “One evening [while] they decided to play a bit, the horse, buggy, lunch pails and books started for home.”(History of the Andrew Amthauer Family, 71). The children all had to walk home, the horse, I’m sure, was eager to get home to his feed and was not going to wait around all hitched up and loaded down while the children got to play.
It’s important to note, that while children from yesteryear are often described as better behaved than children of today there were still discipline problems. The teach was often the one that handled the discipline of the students whether it be with a reprimand, an order to stand in the corner, assigning the student to beating erasers, or the dreaded paddle discipline was typically handled in-house.
However, as we discovered in the school records for Antelope, sometimes the Board of Education was called in to handle discipline problems. “At one special meeting the director [of the school board] was ordered to go to the school and suspend for 20 days one pupil, ‘or two if necessary’ disobeying the rules and regulations. Apparently this did not completely solve the problem for again the next year, upon complaint of the teacher, the board met to investigate disobedience of the rules and agreed that the pupil must come before the school, ‘acknowledge that he had done wrong and was sorry for it and ask the teacher is he could come back—or stay out of school for ten days and then ask the teacher and the school board if he could come back”(Project heritage 257).
Antelope School was open for 79 years. In June of 1956 a vote led to the annexation of Antelope School to Joint District #73, Dwight Grade School in Morris County. The land, school, piano, and out buildings were given to Liberty Township and it was used as a polling place and meeting hall.
Reunions for all the past students and teachers were held at the School until 1971. Families who’d attended the school gathered for socializing, picnicking, and generally a good time. Often teachers were recognized, and the family with the most members present received a prize. According to Flossie Buckley Swenson, the Soderberg and Erickson families won that prize the most often. 
If you or a family attended Antelope School, or any other Geary County country school and have memories, papers, or photos to share please contact the museum. or
785-2385-1666, or you can just stop be. We’d love to hear from you.

Antelope School Students 1922

Front Row: Claud Larson, Don Reid, Don Knutson, Arthur Larson, Alvin Amthaur, Jim Quinn; 2nd Row: Mary Quinn, Doris Knutson, Catherine Freeman, Harvey Nelson, Jerry Quinn, Bernard Quinn; 3rd Row: Margaret Freeman, Vida Amthaur, Selma Vinberg, Helen Knutson, Rosa Amthaur, Gladys Larson; Back Row: Helen Vinberg, Ada Amthaur, Mildred Quinn, Flossie Buckley (teacher), Mary Hiveley, Clayton Shepherd, Carl Vinberg