Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Goldie Gorman Webster: 1901 Memories

The Geary County Historical Society is lucky to be the place people can go and say “oh, maybe history isn’t as boring as my high school class made me believe.” We tell the stories that are left out of the history books. We give voice to those who are gone. And more than that, we allow people to share their stories. We are a depository for the stories of childhood, of parents that are gone, of a time that few remember. The community is able to come in and have a place to share those stories. We write down and save memories that might otherwise be forgotten. We create a community safe place, a common place for people to come and say “that’s my history.”  Today, we are going to share the memories of Goldie Gorman Webster.
Goldie Gorman's 1911 High School Graduation Photograph

“We came to Junction City in 1901. The first few weeks we lived at the Farmer’s Home Hotel at the corner of 8th and Washington Streets. This hotel, owned and operated by George and Annie Henry, drew its business from farmers who came to the Rockwell Store, across the street, and from trainmen who were on "lay over" from the railroad. There were two children in the Henry family about our age, and my sister and I played with them. There was a large shade tree behind the building. The Henry yard adjoined the yard of the Geary County Courthouse. The jail was in the basement of the courthouse. One day my sister and I decided to explore the courthouse yard. We ventured near the courthouse basement windows in the jail area. A man came to a window and called out to us. When we approached he asked us if we would go over to the Rockwell store and buy him a plug of tobacco. Never having been a customer at the store, we hesitated, but at last being willing to oblige the man, we agreed to go. He pushed a dime out to us. We went to the store and were waited upon by a nice young man who sold us a square of brown tobacco with a shiny little star pressed into it on one side. It was of metal. When we gave the plug to the prisoner, he gave us the star to pay for our trouble. The star was the trademark for the tobacco company. We learned later that some folks collected the little stars and horseshoes which were also trademarks for another brand.
            When mother learned of this incident, she announced to father, that we must move at once, this place being in the wrong environment for little girls.
Goldie's father, John, worked at the train yard.
 Here he is, second from left, with co-workers
            Father found an apartment for us in the home of Eugene and Rose Pickering on North Washington St. We lived there for awhile until he found a house for us across the street from the Keeshan greenhouse. Here we had a barn so we were able to keep a cow. We sold our extra milk to the neighbors for five cents a quart. The milk was delivered in a tin pail. When the city herd was not running, our cow was tethered along the street, where she fed on grass and weeds. When the cow went with the herd, we children watched for her return in the evening. (By the way, Junction City was given the right to feed these cows on the Fort Riley military reservation. In return for this right "the fort" was given the right to send their children to Junction City schools.) The herd spent the day on the reservation across the Republican river. We always marveled that "Bossy" knew exactly when to leave the herd, travel one-half block west and one-half block north at which point she went into her own barn. The herd was attended by several horsemen and followed by a few boys.
            Later on we bought a pig. Father bought material and built a pen, complete with floor and canopy. We and our friends spent many hours, pulling weeds along the street and alley for the pig to eat between the usual feed which father measured out. We at this place had a hydrant and city water in the yard, and after we tired of pulling weeds, we washed the pig and the pen with a hose.  We must have had the smartest cow and the cleanest pig in Geary County. We loved that pig and when it was butchered we shed tears and declared we would never eat that meat. Finally the fragrance of cooking meat broke down our resistance and we ate meat.”
            Look for more of Goldie Webster’s memories in future articles, or stop by the Geary County Historical Society to experience other histories. Do you have experiences growing up in Geary County you want to share? We want to hear your stories!  Give us a call at 785-238-1666 or email us at gearyhistory@gmail.com. Museum open Tuesday-Sunday 1-4pm.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Junction City and the Cattle Drives

Anyone who is interested in the cattle drives knows that Abilene, just a short drive down the road, is the place to go for cowboys and western history as they were the end of the Chisholm Trail. What many may not know is that Junction City also had a brief stint as a cow town.

 Carl Olson and John O’Neil work cattle on the Dewey Ranch.

 In 1865, at the end of the Civil war, Texas men were arriving home to find huge herds of longhorn cattle.  With so many men gone to war there was a shortage of cowboys to cull the cattle and the herds just kept multiplying. This abundance of cattle gorged the market in Texas where the average price was $2 a head. However, back east there was a vast market for cattle as that part of the country was still rebuilding from the Civil War. Chicago prices were as much as $40 a head.

Early cattle drives headed to Sedalia, Missouri. From there they would ship the cattle east by train. Sedalia would have gone on to become the largest shipping point in the United States for Texas cattle if it were not for a tiny parasite, the tick.

The hardy Texas cattle brought with them ticks that carried the Spanish Fever, also called Texas fever. The Texas cattle were not affected by the ticks but everywhere the cattle lingered, local herds were decimated. Missouri passed laws prohibiting Texas cattle entering the state to preserve their local livestock.        

Kansas also prohibited Texas cattle, but by 1867 portions of the laws had been repealed allowing cattle to be driven as far north as present day McPherson and west to Colorado. With the railroad reaching Junction City in 1866, it made the town a prime location for shipping cattle. A June 8, 1867 article from the Junction City Union documents, “A gentleman by the name of McCoy proposes erecting all the sheds and buildings for a stock yard on the railroad track at Kansas Falls. Messrs. Streeter & Stickler gave him five acres for that purpose and the railroad company [lent] him a side track a half mile long. He proposes making a large business of shipping all kinds of stock. His yard will be about five miles from town.” This offer was later withdrawn and McCoy moved on to Abilene.       

June 22, 1867 Weekly Union

Though we are close to the famous Chisholm Trail it is more likely that the cattle coming to Junction City traveled the lesser known Shawnee Trail.  Starting at the Red River in Texas, it ran nearly parallel to the Chisholm Trail until it veered northeasterly on the north side of Shawnee Hills, crossing the Canadian River, traveled through the Creek Reservation and onward to Baxter Springs. It was the West Shawnee branch of this trail that brought cattle to Geary County.  At the Canadian river crossing the trail branched north and followed the river valleys to Clarks Creek.

It is believed that 1871, the last major year for the cattle drives, saw almost a million head of cattle driven north on the trails. Junction City received around 300,000 of these. 

Junction City saw a relatively short cattle boom. Even with the prosperity that the cattle drives would have brought to this town, it is not surprising that local land owners fought vehemently to keep the cattle out of then named Davis County. “Texas Cattle” printed in the Junction City Union by George W. Martin in 1867 documents the political leanings of the time. “We understand that people of Davis County, south of the Smokey Hill River, will meet at the place of Samuel Orr, on the 15th of January to petition the legislature, concerning the introduction into the state of these infected Texas Cattle… During the past season, the people of Humboldt, McDowell, and Clarks Creek in this county have lost over six thousand dollars’ worth of cattle due to this tick-borne Spanish fever. It is rumored that when the grass starts again in the spring that large herds from Texas will again be driven this way. It is proposed that if legal steps are of no avail in stopping such cattle beyond the state line, that the farmers turn out and drive them back. The people of these neighborhoods have suffered greatly. Enough is enough!”  

If you are interested in Cowboys and the Trails stay tuned because we are working on several projects and exhibits for next year. In the meantime join us at our Spring Valley site located at the corner of K-18 and Spring Valley Road on July 25th from 10am-1pm for a Wild West show with the Old Abilene Town Gunfighters. Admission is free thanks to our sponsor Jack & Dicks Pawn Shop. We hope to see you there!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Heritage Park: The heart of Junction City

Heritage Park: The heart of Junction City 

As this past weekend wrapped up and another successful Sundown Salute in Junction City, many of you were fortunate enough to spend some time in Heritage Park. The town center that is now known as Heritage Park has its beginnings tied with the founding of the city.  Heritage Park has had some tremendous transformations over the years but it has always been a gathering place for the community and a place of tremendous prestige. 

In 1858, when the city was laid out, it was decided that the corner of 6th and Washington would be a likely site for a city park. When the original town site was surveyed in early 1858, the empty block was not given a block number and instead was only described as “City Park.” There wasn’t much to the park at first as it was just and empty grass lot as many looked at the city park as an “overlooked homestead plot.” This soon changed as an early settler known as “General” Knox planted and tended the first trees and cleared the first paths in the park. Knox would water the trees and had tremendous pride in created a park in the total sense of the word. There was a movement to name the City Park after Knox, which fell flat before the city commission.

Although the park had been planted and organized, many still saw the park as a place where one could homestead and call their own. In June of 1864, a Mr. S.M. Stickler was brought before the court for having appropriated the city park to use as his own cattle yard, and was duly fined $10.  Because of the trouble Mr. Stickler had brought the city, a white fence was built around the park. The fence seemed to have little effect as the problem of appropriating the park continued throughout the 1800’s. In the late 1860s, a Mr. H.P. Hynes, decided that the park was land that belonged to anyone who wished to claim it. The citizens of the early pioneer town were much amazed one morning when they found a shanty and some sheds erected on the park and Mr. Hynes was in possession of the homestead. His “home” included a shanty house, a pig pen, and a chicken coop. The excitement was intense but short lived, as Mr. Hynes, and his hastily erected dwelling were promptly removed into the street by irate citizens. As a result of this incident, it was long believed that city statutes had been put in place prohibiting the constriction of any edifice with a roof in the city park. However, this long-held misconception was laid to rest in the 1950s when the current city attorney carefully searched the local law book to find that no such ordinance ever existed.

            The first “legitimate” building built in the park was a bandstand that was erected in 1878. This was a simple bandstand as it was made entirely of wood. Besides some reports of concerts on the bandstand between 1880 and 1890, there are no pictures or documentation of the original bandstand. A second bandstand was built in 1911 and stood for 62 years until it was razed in 1973. The bandstand that currently sits at Heritage Park was built in 1996 after the re-establishment of a “municipal band” in the early 1990s. Along with a new bandstand, the city park received a new name in the 1980. Before 1988, the city park was known as Upton Park. The name change to Heritage Park was made official in 1988, when the city Commission voted to change the park’s name from Upton Park to Heritage Park, due in part from a city wider essay contest which was won by local Geri Hoffman.

Perhaps what Heritage Park is most known for is the majestic monuments that lay within the park. These monuments honor and remember soldiers who have fought and lost their lives in some of the most important American wars in history. Here is a brief description of some of the more recognizable monuments at Heritage Park.  The Civil War Arch at the northeast entrance of the park came to be in 1898. Standing on the top of the monument is a Union soldier with two cannons, one on each side. On the southeast corner, a monument erected by the American war Mothers was erected to dedicated the “Geary County War Veterans. This monument dates back to 1928. The maple tree, on the southwest corner of the park, is a living memorial to those who fought in the Vietnam and Korean War, which was erected on July 4, 1985.

            The interesting history of Heritage Park gives Junction City some character and it reflects the history of the town, as it has evolved from a pioneer town to an emerging town in the 21st century.  The ever-changing park has earned the reputation of being the “heart” of the city in a physical and metaphorical sense.

This picture was taken in 1912 with the second incarnation of the bandstand that was built in 1911. This was originally a postcard.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Rathert Stadium: One of a kind
Abel Loza 

 Baseball has always been a staple in this community and nothing exemplifies that like Rathert Stadium. Built in the 1930's as a part of the New Deal WPA project that saw Rather go up as a way to keep the people of Junction City employed during the Great Depression. Generations of local Junction City citizens have played at Rathert, which is why it makes the stadium so special. Not very many stadiums in the state are as old as Rathert which brings in a very special dimension to the story of this community. Rathert will celebrate its 78th birthday this summer, so now would be a good time to look back at the history of Rather. 

Rathert’s story begins in 1936 when the local citizens of Junction City, wanted to participate in the Ban Johnson league, which was at the time the premier Midwestern baseball semi-pro league. The push for a baseball field was perhaps a way for the town’s people to spend a few hours not thinking about the devastation of the Great Depression. Whatever the main motivation for the building of a new field, the town received its wish and the official plans for the stadium were unveiled to the WPA office on September 21, 1936 and construction started later that same year. The main funding for the stadium came from the WPA, Work Projects Administration, which was a federal program started in the Great Depression to get unemployed people to work on public works, such as parks, buildings or roads. The total cost of the project, before inflation, came out to be $53,073.74.

There was a local fundraising complain for local citizens to buy bags of cement
“Accordingly, a campaign will be started within the next few days with a definite goal of 3,000 sacks of cement, which will put the sponsor’s contribution over the top. Store employees, railroad boys, highway workers, baseball, softball and football fans... will be asked to buy from one to fifty sacks of cement to help build the project along.” Originally constructed to hold all sports, Rathert stadium has always been primarily used for baseball. Made out of native limestone and wood, Rathert stadium was a true wonder and one of the major beauties that came out of the WPA in the state during the Great Depression. The field took its name from Arthur Rathert, the city engineer who was believed to have put the most effort into bringing this project to life and had been there since day one, talking to the WPA officers in Topeka for the passing of the project.

The first game at Rathert took place on July 18, 1937 with a full stadium (1,400) cheering on the local team, who took the filed with the nickname of the Jay Cees, an obvious reference to the initials of the town. Unfortunately for the local team, the atmosphere did not help their cause as the Jay Cees lost their very first game to the Concordia team, 8-6. The futility of the team did not last as the Junction City Ban Johnson team actually won the league in 1939. Although the Ban Johnson league was well respected, it was not the MLB. This meant that the Ban Johnson league did not pay much; many of the players on local teams had to have day jobs to be able to afford to play baseball, basically for fun, at night.

The Jay Cees continued to play in the Ban league team continuously until 1941, when the league was suspended until 1945 due to the outbreak of the war. Although the Ban Johnson league was suspended, but this did not mean that Rathert was empty. During the war, soldiers who were stationed in Fort Riley would organize Army sponsored teams and play in Rathert. These Army teams would usually play local citizens and just play to break the monotony of everyday army life and played for fun. There were some famous baseball players who stepped foot at Rathert, like Buck O’Neil, who was a great player in the Negro Leagues and later went on to become the first African –American baseball manager when he was hired by the Chicago Cubs in 1962.

After the war, Ban Johnson league play resumed on June 2nd, 1946 against the Abilene team. The Junction City Union wrote about the event on June 1st of that year, “A crowd of 1,200 or more fans is expected for the opening game, with the even the drug stores closed for the festivities. Admission will be 45 cents for adults because increased federal taxes and high expenses that before the war.”

Rathert has basically been untouched since its original building besides some renovations which occurred between 2002 and 2005, updated all of its facilities to accommodate newer generations of fans. So if you need something to do this summer, go and enjoy the beauty of Rathert and appreciate its history. Not many towns in Kansas can boast about their historic baseball diamond.

This picture is from the first game played at Rathert after league play was suspended due to WWII. The first game back took place on June 2nd, 1946.