Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Dixon Brothers Land War

            Among the area’s earliest settlers was a family of enterprising Irishmen named Dixon who were all born in County Mayo on the Emerald Isle.  Their father was an “above average farmer” and prominent in his borough.  The family, which consisted of parents and nine children, immigrated to America in 1847 and initially settled in Virginia.  There, sons James, Thomas, Patrick and John took up the stone-cutter’s trade and worked as bridge builders for the railroads.  This eventually led them Kansas Territory in August of 1854 in the employ of Col. Ashley, who had contracts to build bridges for the Army at Forts Leavenworth and Riley.
            Here the brothers located claims on land along Three-mile Creek just outside the boundary of Fort Riley.  Then the death of their father called the brothers back to Illinois. After settling affairs there, they returned to Kansas with their sisters, wives, and children.  Here they camped on their claim site and commenced to build a suitable dwelling for their clan. 
In the meantime the Pawnee Town Company had been organized and a site was selected in the same area for the new capital city of Kansas.  A few days after their return the Dixons were visited by a detail of soldiers from Fort Riley who ordered the party to move on, saying the land was already claimed.  The brothers however, being made of substantial material, maintained their ground and continued to put up their house.  A short time later, Capt. Lowe, Master of Forage at the fort, appeared at the site with government lumber and crew of carpenters and put up a house on the same claim. 
Col. Montgomery, the commanding officer at the post, then notified the Dixons that they were intruding upon the claim of Mr. Lowe, and must move off or they would be put off of United States troops.  James Dixon refused, but finally agreed to pay Mr. Lowe $300 to leave, which the latter did.
One day soon after the Dixon house was completed, the brothers were visited by Judge Ed Johnson.  Under the guise of friendship, he urged the family to leave their claim peaceably as the land was wanted for the military reserve.  In reality, it was wanted by private individuals.  When the Judge could not move the Dixons, he became threatening.
The next move was to send Capt. Nathaniel Lyon, one of the few abolitionist officers at the fort, to purchase the claim for $1,000, but still the Dixons refused to leave.  A few days later, while the Dixon men were away grading a steamboat landing at Pawnee, a company of troops commanded by Capt. Lyon came to the homestead and forcibly ejected the women and children and then, using oxen and grappling hooks, tore down the house.  Upon their return that night, the Dixon brothers moved back to the same spot and, acting upon the advice of counsel, put up another house.
A short time later, another officer with a company of troops came to the site, tore down the second house, and a second time ejected the women and children in the absence of the men.  James Dixon then dug a hole in the ground and he and his brothers moved into it to guard their claim.
James McClure, an early area settler and lawyer, later shed some light on what may have motivated Col. Montgomery’s actions where the Dixons’ claim was concerned .  He wrote in the Kansas Historical Collections that, “Governor Reeder had visited Fort Riley and indicated to the town company (of which both he and Montgomery were shareholders) his intention to make Pawnee the capital.  As one of the conditions for doing this Reeder insisted upon the company securing for him 160 acres of land adjoining the town site to the east side, which was where the preemption claim had been made by the Dixon brothers. Repeated efforts were made to purchase the land, but the Dixons persistently refused to sell or surrender their right to the claim. When it was found impossible to induce the Dixons to surrender the 160 acres desired by Governor Reeder it was determined to force them off by embracing their tract in the military reservation.”
In the meantime, Capt. Lyon, appalled by what appeared to be gross misconduct and graft on the part of Montgomery, prepared and preferred charges against the Major.  As a result, he was court-martialed and dismissed from the Army in December of 1855.
Major Ogden replaced Col. Montgomery and the Dixons found a friend in this commander.  Ogden told them their claim was legitimate and he encouraged James Dixon to maintain it.  With this support, Thomas and James Dixon walked to Platte City, Missouri, where they laid their case before General Atchison, then acting Vice President of the United States.  The General reported the problem to Washington, and at the request of President Franklin Pierce, Generals Churchill and Clark were sent to investigate the question of the fort’s boundaries. 
After this inquiry was completed, they recommended boundaries that excluded both the city of Pawnee and the Dixon land at Three-mile Creek.  However, Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of war, over-rode this recommendation and extended the lines to the post to incorporate both Pawnee and the Dixon claim.  The residents at both sites were ordered out and mounted troops tore done the buildings with grappling hooks.

The Dixons went on to make the most of their bad beginning in this frontier land.  After being booted off their claim, they removed to other homesteads in the vicinity, and for the most part, were prosperous and successful.

This picture is of James Dixon