Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Chauncey Dewey

By Josephine Grammer Munson

Geary County Historical Society


EDITORIAL NOTE:  Today’s column is the fourth and final installment in a series of articles on the 

C. P. Dewey family, wealthy and flamboyant developers in the local area at the turn of the last century.  Author, Jo Munson, had personal acquaintance with and vivid recollections of some of the Dewey family from her youth, and the compiling of these articles has fulfilled a long standing ambition to put down on paper her memories of these colorful local citizens.

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Chauncey Dewey was born in Austin, Texas, in 1877, but he spent most of his early life in Chicago or in schools in Europe.  After his marriage in 1908 to Elvira Millspaugh, of Topeka, Chauncey and his wife lived mostly in Chicago.  During that time he became active in Republican politics.  When World War I broke out, Chauncey enlisted in the army at Fort Riley where he was assigned to the staff of General Leonard Wood.
            During Dewey’s World War I service in the Army, his wife and daughter lived in the elegant Victorian house on the northeast corner of 3rd and Jefferson streets in Junction City. (This large house later became the convent for the Sisters of the St. Joseph until it was torn down and a new building, now the Open Door, was built on the site.)  The Junction City directories show Chauncey Dewey’s residence there from 1917 until 1921 when Mrs. Elvira Dewey was granted a divorce.  In 1921 she and her daughter moved to Topeka. 
            After the divorce Chauncey returned to the Dewey Ranch in northwestern Kansas, but maintained homes in Junction City on North Washington Street and on East 17th Street until 1925.  While living in Junction City, Dewey was rather active in community affairs in Junction City and Manhattan.  By this time the Junction City Telephone Company had been purchased from the Dewey-Wareham Telephone system.  It was also Dewey’s suggestion that trees be planted along both sides of Grant Avenue going to Fort Riley and along the interurban streetcar line to make it more attractive.  At one time a petition was brought to the County Commissioners to rename the route “Dewey Avenue,” but the petition was denied.
            The Junction City Republic reported the marriage of Chauncey Dewey to Miss Lavon Presson of Junction City on October 25, 1927.  She was the daughter of Jessie and Otis Presson, who worked at the U.P. Railroad shops here.  A 1923 graduate of Junction City High School, Chauncey’s new wife was 25 years his junior.  The marriage took place at the home of the bride’s grandmother, Mrs. Laura Weikoff.  The account of the wedding said that the couple would make their home on the Dewey Ranch at Brewster.
            On July 10, 1926, the Union ran an article stating that Junction City contractor Ralph B. White had been hired to build a new ranch home for Chauncey Dewey.  It said:  “The house will be of hollow title, one-story, and of Spanish Mission-style architecture.  It is to be 70X80 feet, with a 40X40 patio in the center.  In the front will be a living room 25x40 with a long seat on one end, equipped with a spring-roller, so that the rug may be rolled up for dancing.  On one side will be the library, dining room, breakfast room, and kitchen, and the other two sides will be given over to seven bedrooms and several baths. The basement will contain a vapor heating system and a large garage.  A complete waterworks system has been installed, the well being some distance from the house.  Mr. Dewey expects to occupy it in late fall.”
            In subsequent years the house, which was known as the “headquarters” for the vast ranch, was furnished with oriental carpets, paintings and antiques until it became a literal “treasure house” of family heirlooms and art objects.
            Chauncey and Lavon Dewey became the parents of two sons, Chauncey Jr. and Otis.  Both are yet living on the ranch and are said to be well respected in the area round about.  There were also several grandchildren. 
                 In the years following the Dewey-Berry feud (covered last week) and the related trials, Chauncey was never known to have spoken of it until 1952 when he gave an interview to Ernest Dewey (no relation), a reporter for the Salina Journal, and agreed to tell what really happened on that day in 1903.  The following is Chauncey’s account as recorded by Ernest Dewey:
            “ ‘The Berrys had driven us away from the sale with drawn guns the day before.  Our ranch riders were frequently molested when caught alone, but no groups were ever bothered.  However, William McBride, a constable, accompanied us to represent the law.
            “ ‘Alpheus and old Daniel Berry came down as we drew the rack alongside the tank, and engaged in conversation, but not in any threatening manner.  Clyde Wilson, the ranch bookkeeper, and McBride and I passed the time of day with them as the men deployed around the tank to lift it onto the wagon.  I turned to watch what they were doing.
            “ ‘Roy, Beach, and Burch Berry came charging on the scene, jumped off their horses, drew guns and started shooting at us.  One bullet whizzed past me and killed my horse.  Guns were exploding and bullets were flying all around.  When the shooting started, the mules bolted and didn’t stop until they got all the way back to the ranch headquarters.
            “ ‘The battle actually lasted only a minute or so.  Constable McBride shot and killed Burch.  Clyde Wilson shot Alpheus and Daniel, who had guns and were using them.  Roy Berry seemed to have me as his special target, or so I thought.  I fired at him.  My bullet caught him on the jaw, coursed up a cheek and took a piece out of his ear.  He dropped, though, and for all I knew I had killed him.
            “ ‘That’s the actual story as it was, and as we testified in court.  The point at issue in the trial, of course, was who started shooting first.  Roy and Beach, the surviving Berrys, denied at the trial that they started it.  The jury didn’t believe them but a lot of people, prejudiced against the Dewey Ranch, did believe them—or pretended that they did.’
            “Interest in the case died down over the years.  Finally, after thirty years, Roy Berry was living near Genoa, Colorado, and was visiting in Atwood. He talked with a friend, who mentioned that Chauncey was closing up the big house because it was costing too much.  Roy remarked, ‘You know, I was talking with Beach the other day.  We’re both getting old, and we figure we done Chauncey dirt enough and ought to make it right.  Do you know we started the shootin’ that day?’
            “The friend told Chauncey about Roy’s remarks, so the two of them got into a car and drove to Colorado, hunted up Roy and shook hands after all those years.  Chauncey said, ‘Roy, are you willing to put it in writing?’ He said that he would, and he would get Beach to do the same.  Beach did.  The Clerk of Rawlins County came to witness their signing.  When it came to signing, Beach looked at Chauncey and said, ‘You know, Chauncey, I ought to get something out of this.’ Chauncey asked what he meant.  Beach grinned and said, ‘For 30 years I have been wanting to fish on Dewey Lake.  You give me that right, and I’ll sign this.’  Chauncey agreed, and said, ‘When you are ready, we’ll take the day off and I’ll go with you.’  A few weeks later, Beach called Chauncey, and they went fishing.  People came and stood on the hills watching a Dewey and a Berry go fishing together.  ‘They couldn’t believe it,’ Chauncey said.”
            A colorful political figure throughout his adult life, Chauncey Dewey had many holdings in Manhattan and Junction City, and in the rural areas.  He maintained a lively interest in politics and was considered one of the state’s strongest Republicans until his death.  He served as a County Commissioner in Riley County in the 1920s.
            Kansans should also remember Chauncey Dewey as head of the last cattle drive over the Chisholm Trail.  He brought 4,000 head of cattle overland from Dalhart, Texas, to the Oak Ranch shortly before the trail was closed.
            On January 2, 1957, a disastrous fire destroyed the famous Oak Ranch house and all its valuable heirlooms and pieces of Old World art.  With it went the treasured hand-painted portrait of Teddy Roosevelt.
            Now, nearly a century after he was catapulted to infamous fame, there are few people in Junction City who have any memory of Chauncey Dewey, but there has always been interest in his colorful life.  95-year-old Norman White, whose father was the contractor who built the famous house at Oak Ranch, recalls meeting Chauncey when he visited the ranch one time while the work was underway.
            There was, however, another Dewey who is remembered by some still living in Junction City.  Chauncey’s sister, Emma Scott Dewey Lockwood Roberts lived here from the 1920s until her death in 1952.  She can be remembered as she worked in her yard on East 17th Street, walked up Washington Street in her ever-present hat, or drove her car around town.  She often had “tea” for invited guests in her home, including a number of local young people.  Having been educated in France, she was a delightful hostess and told many stories about her family, especially her illustrious relative, Admiral Dewey of Spanish/American War  fame.  She was very proud of her son, Randolph Lockwood, who attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis and later served in the Marines. She lived an interesting life, traveling extensively, and made quite a unique impression on our community.
POSTSCRIPT:  Near the entrance gate of Highland Cemetery in Junction City is a large lot on the left side of the road with a beautiful granite memorial stone marked “Dewey-Scott.”  The lot was purchased in 1921 by Chauncey Dewey and Emma Dewey Lockwood at a cost of $1,000.  The monument was purchased by Emma not long after.  A number of large crosses naming various members of the Scott family are place on the ground to the right front of the monument.  On the left are only two crosses marking the graves of Chauncey Dewey and his wife, Lavon Presson Dewey.  The crosses on the right side cover three generations of the Scott family including the mother of Chauncey and Emma who died in Junction City in 1920.  All of these family members are buried in Kentucky, with the exception of Emma, whose final resting-place is marked by the cross that bears her name on the right side of the walkway.  Along side is also a cross for her son, Randolph Scott Dewey Lockwood, who now lives in Texas. Chauncey Dewey and his wife Lavon Presson, who was born in Junction City in 1903 and died in 1994, are the only ones who rest on the left side of the lot.
Every Memorial Day there are flowers on the Scott side of memorial in memory of Emma Scott Dewey Lockwood Roberts and her ancestors.  And for many years her son Randolph would come each May and spend several days in a memorial vigil at the site where he would meditate and visit with those who stopped and were familiar with the family.
            But the one who started it all—C.P. Dewey, who came to Kansas and bought up the Konza Prairie and the range land of Rawlins County and brought electric lights, telephones, porcelain bathtubs, and “the good life extrodinaire” to Geary and Riley Counties—now rests alone and forgotten at the place of his birth in Cadiz, Ohio.
The only vestige of the once powerful and fabulously wealthy Charles P. Dewey family that remains in the area today is the impressive granite memorial located just inside the main gate of Junction City’s Highland Cemetery.  The crosses on the ground memorialize several generations of the clan, but according to cemetery records, only Emma Scott Dewey Lockwood Roberts is interred there.