History of Port William, Kansas
From: History of Atchison County, Kansas
BY: Sheffield Ingalls
Standard Publishing Company
Lawrence, Kansas 1916


In the Squatter Sovereign of March 11, 1856, published at Atchison, appeared the following advertisement of Port William:

"This new and beautiful town site is situated on the Missouri river, in Kansas Territory, three or four miles above the town of latan, in the heart of the most densely populated part of Kansas; surrounded by the finest soil and timber in that Territory, with a permanent landing, commanding a view of the river for several miles above and below. The principal part of said town is located on a bed of stone coal of the best quality. Arrangements are being made to have said stone coal bed opened and wrought by a joint stock company early in the spring, at which time there will be a sale of lots. There is now in course of erection a good steam saw mill, which will be in successful operation in a few weeks; also, a large and commodious tavern is in process of erection, which will be opened for the accommodation of the public in a short time. Persons wishing to procure lots immediately will have opportunity of so doing by calling on Henry Bradley or Jonathan Hartman, both of whom are authorized agents to sell and dispose of lots, and one or both may at all times be found on the premises ready to accommodate purchasers upon the most liberal terms. H. B. Wallace, Amos Rees, Henry Debard, H. C. Bradley, H. B. Herndon, James G. Spratt, W. C. Remington, James W. Bradley. P. J. Collins, trustees."

Of the above named trustees Judge James G. Spratt, W. C. Remington and Henry Dehard were prominent citizens of Platte county. Missouri, and members of the town company that incorporated Port William in 185J. James M. and Henry Bradley and H. B. Herndon were also members of this company. Henry Debard was a Kentuckian, born in Clark county, November 24, 1801, and came to Platte county at an early day, later removing to Kansas. He was a prominent Mason, and took an active part in Masonic work in Missouri for many years. He was a cabinet maker, but did not work much at his trade. He died in Platte City, October 5, 1875.

Amos Rees was born at Winchester, Va., December 2, 1800, and came to Missouri at an early age, locating in Platte county, March 1, 1845. For many years he was a prominent attorney of that county. He moved to Kansas in 1855, and died, December 29, 1885. Dr. H. B. Wallace, who was interested in Port William, was a physician at Platte City, and a member of the town board in 1858. He invested largely in St. Jose, and the war reduced him almost to poverty. He died, February 24, 1863. Judge Paxton, in his "Annals of Platte County," simply mentions him as having married the "beautiful and accomplished Ann E. Owen."

J. Butler Chapman arrived in Kansas in the spring of 1854, made a trip over the territory, and then published a small volume, entitled "History of Kansas and Emigrant's Guide." He refers to Port William as "Williamsport, a prospective town a short distance above Kickapoo." "The bluffs," he continues, "are high and precipitous, and the land broken until you reach the high rolling prairie back some three miles. The whole country is settled on with a view of preemption."

A company known as the Port William Sharp's Rifles, numbering eighty one, rank and file, was formed at Port William, in October, 1856. The commissioned officers elected were James Adkins, captain; Henry C. Bradley, first lieutenant; James M. Bradley, second lieutenant; S. Bowman, third lieutenant. The company was enrolled, or was intended to be enrolled, in the first regiment, first brigade, northern division of the Kansas militia, and applied for arms and commissions. The Port William Town Company was incorporated by an act of the Territorial legislature in 1855 and the town company was composed of William C. Remington, James G. Spratt, Henry Debard, James M. Bradley, Henry Bradley, Horace B. Herndon and William B. Almond.

General William B. Almond, one of the incorporators of Pt. William, was a noted man in the West in the early days. He was a Virginian, who came to Platte county, Missouri. when the Platte Purchase was opened, and settled near the Buchanan county line. At a very early period he had been connected with the American Fur Company, and as a mountaineer had many adventures. During the thirties he was a brigadier genera' of the State militia in Missouri. He was one of the foremost "Forty-niners" to California, leading a company to the land of gold, among whom was Ben Holladay, afterwards famous as the originator of the "pony express" and other Western enterprises. While in California General Almond distinguished himself as a Territorial judge in San Francisco. Returning to Platte county in 1851 he was elected circuit judge, was a candidate for lieutenant governor, and filled other offices and places of distinction and prominence. He was also connected with mercantile, milling and other enterprises. He lived for some time in Topeka and Leavenworth, and died at the latter place in 1860.

Judge James G. Spratt, another of the promoters of old Port William, was also a man of some prominence. He came to the West from Smith county, Virginia, where he was born, 1826, and, like General Almond, settled in Platte county at a very early day. ln 1843 he was appointed a justice of the peace in Platte county, and was afterwards deputy county clerk, probate judge and held other positions. For some time he was engaged in the practice of law, and was in partnership with Hon. Joseph E. Merryman, in Platte City. ln 1864 he went to Montana where he became a mine speculator. He died November 13, 1881, and his remains were brought back to Platte for burial. W. H. Spratt, a brother of Judge Spratt, was at one time sheriff of Platte county.

William C. Remington was another pioneer of Platte. like General Almand and Judge Spratt, a Virginian by birth, who came west at a very early day. He was one of the early assessors of Platte county, and subsequently was elected circuit clerk. He was one of the trustees of the Platte City Town Company when it was incorporated in 1843. He was also a member of the company that laid off the town of St. Mary's at the mouth of Bee creek in 1857, but no lots were ever sold. Mr. Remington was one of the early merchants of Platte City, one of the proprietors of the Platte City Weekly Atlas, and was interested in various other enterprises. His handsome brick residence in Platte City was among those burned by federal orders in July, 1864. He died December 20, 1864, in Omaha, where he was operating a hotel.

Of Henry Debard, another member of the Port William Town Company, the writer has not yet found any record. The Bradleys lived in Platte county, opposite Port William for many years, moved over to the Kansas side early in 1854, and with Squire Horace B. Herndon started the old town. The Bradleys opened a general store and James M. Bradley was appointed postmaster when the postoffice was established in April, 1855, Squire Herndon was one of the earliest justices of the peace in Kansas, and had much business in his court in the early days, as Port William was one of the roughest of the border towns.

Port William was located eight miles below Atchison. lt is one of the most interesting localities from a historical standpoint in Atchison county and northeastern Kansas. It is one of the oldest settlements in Kansas, and for a time in the early days was one of the promising villages of the territory. ln fact, it was of enough importance, not in size, but as a prospective populace, to be mentioned by travelers of that time, as one of the principal towns of Kansas. Father Pierre Jean de Smet, the Jesuit missionary, in a letter written February 26, 1859, says: "A great number of towns and villages have sprung up as if by enchantment in the Territories of Kansas and Nebraska. The principal towns of Kansas are Wyandotte, Delaware, Douglas, Marysville, Iola, Atchison, Ft. Scott, Pawnee. Lecompton, Neosho, Richmond, Tecumseh, Lawrence, Port William, Doniphan, Paola, Alexandria, Indianola, Easton, Leavenworth and others." The history of old Doniphan, Sumner and Kickapoo has long been well established, but that of Port William has been neglected and has remained obscure. Port William never was much of a town, as were its rivals, Doniphan, Sumner and Kickapoo, but it was proposedly in the race for municipal supremacy in the pioneer days, and though its star may never have attained the ascendency, its story is at least worthy of preservation in the archives of Atchison county history.

Port William was started in 1856 by Henry and James M. Bradley, John T. and Albred Bailey, and Jonathan Hartman. The two Bradleys and John T. Bailey composed the town company. The Bradleys conducted a general store, and a postoffice was established in April, 1853, with Henry Bradley as first postmaster. This was the first postoffice in Walnut township. Jonathan Hartman owned and operated a sawmill, the first in Atchison county, in 1854, and made the first lumber ever sawed in the county. There were several saloons, and later a blacksmith shop, a carpenter shop and other small industries were started. It has been surmised by someone that Port Williams, as it is sometimes called, was named for a Missouri river steamboat captain named Williams. as steamboats often tied up at the place in the early days. There are others who believe it was so called for the late "Uncle Frank" Williams, one of the fathers of the colored settlement which was started in that vicinity at a later day. The correct name of the place, however, is Port William, instead of Port Williams, and it is known that it was so named more than fifty years ago, or nearly twenty years before "Uncle Frank" Williams settled there. The correct origin of the name is probably given by the late W. J. Bailey, of Atchison, who was one of the very first settlers of that vicinity. He said that in 1854 a man named William Johnson came across from the settlement about Iatan, Mo., and took up the claim on which Port William was afterwards built. It was a likely claim and Johnson soon had trouble on his hands in holding the property. Several men tried to chase him off with guns, but Johnson managed to make such a good defense as to repel them. He stayed in his cabin a week, not daring to come out for fear of being shot. He won out and held the claim. The other fellows then referred to his cabin as Fort William (that was his first name), Soon after Jake Yunt, from Missouri; established a hand ferryboat, and by and by steamboats began to land there. Then the name was changed to Port William, and this is the proper name of the place, although on the Missouri Pacific station board now standing there it is marked "Port Williams."

There are but few men who came to Atchison county earlier than W. J. Bailey, of Atchison. He crossed the river from Platte county on June 12, 1854, and settled at Port William, and, with the exception of a few years' residence in Colorado, has lived in this county ever since. Luther Dickerson, who was generally known as the "oldest inhabitant," came here the same month that Mr. Bailey did. When Mr. Bailey first arrived at Port William he built a one room cabin on his claim near that place, and to do so was obliged to drag logs with one horse a distance of a mile and a half. ln 1855 he brought his cattle over. He said the grass all over this county was ankle deep and afforded fine pasturage. There was no town at Atchison then, but Challiss Bros. conducted a store on the river bank, and George Million operated a hand ferryboat. Mr. Bailey worked for Million three years.

"Those were happy times," said Mr. Bailey, "we met around among neighboring cabins and had parties. When we had a fiddle we danced." For several years Mr. Bailey was with afreighting crow between Ft. Leavenworth and Ft. Kearney, most of the time as a wagon master. They generally drove twenty six wagons with six yoke of oxen to each wagon and hauled Government supplies. Once they were surrounded by lndians and were in imminent danger of being annihilated, when General Harney with a company of troops came to their rescue and chased the red skins to Ash Hollow, near Ft. Kearney, where a bloody skirmish took place and the lndians were routed. Speaking of old Port William, Mr. Bailey said: "Although laid out as an investment, the town was a failure. The little creek flowed through the center of the town, dividing the stores and saloons from the sawmill, blacksmith shop and carpenter shop. No city government encased the stream with cement tiling, and the best bridge the town ever afforded was built by felling a cottonwood tree across the stream." Port William had its "town bullies" and fights were of frequent occurrence. Mr. Bailey said that the "town bullies" were Dan cloud, Bill Pates and Bob Gibson. "lt was common," he said, "for fanners to go to Port William every Saturday afternoon to witness the fights and drunks." On one occasion a man was badly shot up and another jumped into the river and swam across. Mr. Bailey said the first election there contained 250 ballots, although only sixty people voted. There were two ballot boxes, one controlled by the pro-slavery and the other by the Free State people. Eight or ten men stood around the balloting places with guns, and people voted five or six times, though under different names.

The "village blacksmith" of old Port Wiliam, and one of the early justices of the peace of Walnut township, was Thomas J. Payne, later living at Canyon City, Colo. Mr. Payne settled at Port William, March 18, 1855, and was one of the pioneer blacksmiths of Kansas. He operated blacksmith shops at three of the old towns of Atchison county, Port William, Sumner and Mt. Pleaant. He was appointed a justice of the peace by Governor Shannon, in 1856. The office of "county squire" was of more importance in those stirring times than it is now. Mr. Payne's son, Charles Sumner Payne, was the first child born at old Sumner. His birth occurred September 25, 1857. He was named by the town company, who made out and presented to him a deed for a lot in the once thriving city. Another son was born at Sumner on the day that John Brown was hanged, and was named for the great abolitionist. A third son was named for Jim Lane. Thomas J. Payne enlisted as a private in Company F, Thirteenth Kansas infantry, at Atchison, August 20, 1862, and was later promoted to orderly sergeant. He was discharged at Ft. Smith, Ark., October 29, 1864. Then he was immediately appointed by the secretary of war first lieutenant of Company B, First Regiment of Kansas infantry, colored. He took part in many engagements. and was mustered out in August, 1865. He was born in Georgetown, Ohio. the town in which General Grant was born. There are few men in Kansas who have served as a. justice of the peace longer than Mr. Payne. He held the office in Atchison county for a number of years, at Robinson, Kan., for eighteen years, and later at Horton, Kan., for several years.

The old Horace B. Herndon farm at Port William, now owned and occupied by Frank Bluma, Sr., was known as the "Old Indian farm," in the early days. According to W. J. Bailey it was socalled because an lndian known as "Kickapoo John" located on it previous to the settlement of Kansas by the whites and was still living there with numerous other Indians when Mr. Bailey first came to that locality. Mr. Bailey said that the butts of tepee poles could be seen sticking in the ground on the site of Port William for some time afterwards. In 1854 Horace B. Herndon preempted the "Old lndian farm," built a cabin thereon at the southwest corner of the field near the creek, and put an old negro slave in it to hold the claim for him. The old darkey died and was buried in the family burying ground on the farm about 1855. He was probably the first colored man who ever lived and died in what afterwards became famous as the "Port William colored settlement." This was about twenty years before this community became generally settled by colored people. The old Herndon family residence, one of the landmarks of this region, is still standing and is occupied by Frank Bluma and family. There is evidence that the "old Indian farm" was occupied by Indians long before "Kickapoo John's" time for the old field is strewn with various fragments representing the stone age and prehistoric times. Mr. Herndon died a number of years ago. He was another of the early justices of the peace of Walnut township and was generally known as "Squire" Herndon. He was also a public administrator for Atchison county, and was one of the most prominent citizens of the southern part of the county for many years. He was the father of Mrs. Henry King and James Herndon, residents of Round Prairie. Mrs. King, then Miss Virginia Herndon, was the "belle" of the old town of Port William, and was a social favorite throughout this section of the county.

Another early settler of Port William was Henry Luth, the veteran carpenter, who moved from Atchison to Leavenworth. Mr. Luth lived in Port William for several years in the early fifties, removing to Atchison in 1857. He built many of the first houses in this section of the country. A large walnut cupboard and other furniture in Mr. Luth's home he made from walnut timber cut at Port William and sawed into lumber at the old Hartman sawmill at that place. Mr. Luth had a little shop at Port William in which he made furniture. Henry Hauler, Atchison's well known commission merchant, took a claim at Port William in 1855, but was cheated out of it. Andy Brown, for many years an Atchison flagman, was an early settler of Port William. With Thomas Taylor, now living at Perry, Kan., he crossed the river to Kansas on Jake Yunt's ferry just above Port William in 1854. Mr. Brown's father had taken a claim at Port William and Taylor one adjoining it. The latter helped Samuel Dickson build his cabin shanty on the site of Atchison in the fall of 1854.

Ex-Sheriff Fred Hartman, of this county, now deceased, lived at Port William in the early days. His father, Jonathan Hartman, in 1854, put into operation at that place one of the very first sawmills in the Territory. lt furnished lumber for many of the first houses in this section. The lumber was sawed from the fine timber which grew along Little Walnut creek. Fred Hartman said that in 1856 Bob Gibson brought his famous "Kickapoo Rangers" to Port William for the purpose of lynching his father, Jonathan Hartman, on account of his most avowed Free Soil principles. They stayed around a while, and as Mr. Hartman did not seem to be the least bit intimidated, they finally left and never molested him again. It was during this time that Pardee Butler was placed on a raft at Atchison and set adrift in the river. He landed just above Port William, and went at once to Mr. Hartman's for assistance. Not deeming it safe for Mr. Butler to remain in Port William, Mr. Hartman took him out to the home of Jasper Oliphant, about two miles west of the village, where he stayed at night and finally reached his home in safety. Jasper Oliphint was another of the earliest settlers of this locality. He was assassinated some years ago by Bob Scruggs, a desperate character, who at the same time shot and killed John Groff, another prominent Walnut township citizen, and Scruggs was captured and hanged to a tree near Oak Mills. The tragic deaths of two such substantial citizens as Mr. Oliphint and Mr. Groff produced a profound sensation throughout Walnut township. ln the spring of 1857 Jonathan Hartman sold his sawmill and moved to a farm near the present site of Parnell, where he died. Fred Hartman served during the war in the Thirteenth Kansas with Thomas J. Payne, mentioned elsewhere.

The wagon road leading from Port William westward to the "old military road," bears the unique distinction of crossing the same creek fourteen times in a distance of less than three miles. lt is not believed that there is another creek in Atchison county that A crossed an equal number of times by one road. Little Walnut creek, which empties into the Missouri river at Port William, has its source near the Leavenworth county line. lt flows northward through a heavily timbered country, and is one of the prettiest little streams in Atchison county. lt was formerly called Bragg's creek, after "Jimmy" Braggs, an early day Missouri Pacific section foreman, who lived on its banks. Braggs afterward moved to Holton, where he died and the name of the creek was changed to Little Walnut, after its neighbor, Walnut creek, which empties into the river at Dalby, about two miles above.

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