Today, we are sharing a story that spans Geary County, Riley County and Fort Riley because while we like to clearly define county boundaries as “our story” and “their story,” the reality is that early settlers weren’t thinking too much about which county their history might be attributed to.
The story of the Estes-Moody family begins in North Carolina, where the Reverend Robert Henry Moody Sr. was born in Morgantown on May 12, 1822. To their marriage was born 16 children: John, Mary, Nancy, Jane, Cynthia, William, Robert Jr, Thomas, Marcus, James, Caleb, Rachel, Joseph, Sarah, Josephine, and Horace. Mary and her husband, Caleb Estes, were among the first of their family to depart from North Carolina. Caleb’s life was well summarized in his obituary, printed in the Junction City Sentinel in 1912:
“Caleb Estes was born Feb. 26, 1840 in Caldwell County, North Carolina, where he spent the early part of his life, At the age of 18 years he went to the state of Wisconsin and spent two years, returning to his native state about six months before the Civil War. In June, 1861, he enlisted in the Confederate army as a member of Company F, 26th North Carolina infantry, and took part in many of the important battles of the war, namely, The Seven Days Fight around Richmond, Falling Water, Cold Harbor, Gettysburg and others of less importance. He was twice taken prisoner and was wounded at the battle of Cold Harbor. At the close of the war he returned to the farm. On Aug.29, 1865, he was married to Mary Elizabeth Moody. To this union was born one child, a daughter, Zada Ariel Huston.” Another obituary declared, “Mr. Estes was one of the pioneer men of this part of the state and is well known in this city.”
And Caleb and Mary were among the earlier settlers of the Ogden area. Caleb’s second cousin Joseph P. Estes, also from North Carolina, had relocated to McDowell Township in Geary County in 1856, and perhaps it was his presence that prompted Mary and Caleb to settle in the area. Following their 1865 marriage, Mary and Caleb left North Carolina and traveled west, to the Flint Hills of Kansas, where their daughter Ariel was born. Once in Kansas, the Estes family settled in the Vinton area. Eventually taken over by Fort Riley when the military reservation was expanded, Vinton was a small community with little more than a schoolhouse and a church, though from 1870-1888, a post office served the area. Caleb Estes served as the final postmaster from 1882-1888. Following that time, Vinton mail was rerouted to Junction City, the trade center for the Vinton community. Letters from between the Estes and Moody families reflected this change. Earlier letters written by R.H. Moody to his daughter were regularly addressed to Vinton, KS and letters sent toward the end of the 19th century were addressed to Junction City, KS.
In 1868, R.H. Moody began to write to his daughter of his desire to join her and her family in the state of Kansas. On December 9th, 1868 R.H. Moody wrote: “Mary this might afford me the opportunity of writing to you again to let you know something about home in the Old State of North Carolina. We are all tolerably well at present and hope this letter will reach you and find you both in good health. We are always glad to hear from you and ask you to write often and let us know how you are and how you are getting along. Your mother is anxious to see you and the children all want to see you. And I want to see you myself very badly. Unless you come to see us I don’t know when I shall see you.” And in the next ten years, the Moody family began their move west.
By 1900, the area was filled with Moodys and Estes. The Estes Ranch lay on the western border of Riley/Geary County; to their east, on the Northern border of Fort Riley, both Ariel Estes and her husband, Ed Huston, owned land. Mary Estes’ brothers, Caleb and Horace Moody, owned large segments of land to the north and Robert H. Moody owned a segment of land to the west, where his property was bisected by the Geary/Riley county lines. That property was eventually broken into smaller segments; Joseph Moody, son of R.H. Moody, owned and paid taxes on the Geary County segment in 1908, while Walter Rubart, a relation through marriage, owned the Riley County land.
The Vinton Cemetery reflects this close knit family community. The cemetery, which is on private land in Geary County, is the final resting place for a plethora of Moodys, Estes, Neubers, and Chambers.
In the early years of the 20th century, county lines began to shift. With the growth of Fort Riley Military Reservation, ownership shifted and the majority of Vinton land became part of the military base. The western edge of the Vinton community, which houses the small Vinton cemetery, was shifted into Geary County. So, this story is neither one of Riley County or Geary County, but the tale of two counties and, even, one military reservation. Documents appear in two historical societies instead of one, and hunting down the story of the Estes-Moody family became a little harder, but no less worth the effort.
Come by Spring Valley Historic Site May 28th 11am-1pm to learn what life might have been like for early pioneers like the Estes-Moody family. A wildflower talk will be presented by Chuck Otte from the Geary County Extension Office at 11am.