In the good old days - Lyon County, Kansas
From: History of Emporia and Lyon County Kansas
By: Laura M. French
Emporia Gazette Print
Emporia, Kansas 1929



In the early days every traveler over the prairie, with team and wagon or buggy or on horseback, was certain he could secure "entertainment for man and beast" - as the old time tavern signs used to read - at the homes of the settlers. There was little room in their houses, no extra beds or guest rooms, but seldom was anyone turned away. Most housewives kept two strawticks on one or more beds, and when extra beds were needed it was an easy matter to transfer the extra strawticks to the floor, and build the beds on them. Sometimes there would be two or three beds on the floor, in the one big room which held the family sleeping places. Immodest? Not at all. When bedtime came the men went outdoors until the women got to bed, and when they came in they were told where to sleep, blew out the light and undressed in the dark. Usually the men were up and outdoors in the morning before the women. But if a man happened to be in the house and a woman wanted to get up, it was easy to conceal her dressing operations. She sat up in bed, pulled the top sheet over her head, and dressed in the strictest privacy. Women who never traveled in a sleeping car until late in life, found dressing in a Pullman berth not so different from, and no less difficult than dressing under a sheet in a roomful of people.

Entire families piled into the lumber wagon and drove eight or ten miles to "stay all day" with a neighboring family, without special invitation or sending word they were coming - no telephones. They were welcomed as warmly as if extensive preparations had been made. It wasn't expected they would send word of their proposed visit.

Children playing in the prairie grass always were on the lookout for travelers, and ran races to the house to see which would be first to tell Mother that a covered wagon was coming over the hill. If near the end of the day, the travelers were almost certain to stay all night, if nearing noon, to stop for dinner. Often travelers were prepared for camping, and frequently, if the weather were cold or rainy, the man would ask if the women and children might sleep in the house, and he would sleep in the wagon, or under it. Sometimes the men of the house would sleep outside, giving up their beds to the women and children. Always the travelers were welcomed, as they brought news from other places - and the settlers got as hungry for news as for fruit and other food they missed on the claims.

Often warm friendships were formed between travelers and the people whose hospitality they enjoyed. In October, 1887, a family named Snyder, moving from Elmdale to Golden City, Mo., with two teams, a wagon and buggy and several extra horses and twelve head of cattle, besides Mr. and Mrs. Snyder and their four small sons, stopped one rainy Saturday night at the home of Mr. and Mrs. W. B. Willis, who lived south of the Cottonwood near the Columbia Bridge. The Snyders were rained in until Tuesday, but everyone enjoyed the visit. Both Mr. Willis and Mr. Snyder were Civil War veterans, and had much in common.

Not long after the Snyders left, Mrs. Willis received a letter from Mrs. Snyder, again thanking the Willises for their hospitality. Mrs. Willis answered the letter, and ever since the two women have kept up an interesting correspondence. Christmas and birthdays are remembered, and there are frequent letters in between. The Snyders have lived for years in New Plymouth, Idaho. These women never met but the one time, yet they cherish for each other a real and affectionate friendship. The Willis home is at 910 Neosho.

Agents selling all sorts of merchandise - fruit trees, patent rights for churns and washing machines and the machines themselves, lightning rods, books, tinware and crockery and glass, dress goods and men's suiting, blankets and curtains and coverlids, and almost every tool and implement used on a farm, "made" every neighborhood several times a year. They depended entirely upon the farmhouses for food and lodging, as the distance to town was too great to go back and forth, before the days of motor cars. Besides, what was the use? The farmer family with whom the "peddler" stayed would take out the board and lodging bill in trade, and each was satisfied with the exchange.


Elmendaro, county seat of old Madison County, was located in 1855, ten miles south and seven miles east of Emporia, south of Little Eagle Creek. George H. Lillie was president of the Town Company. There were several stores and dwellings, a post office, a big log schoolhouse in which church services and Sunday School and court sessions were held. The town was ambitious, but it had no incentive to live after the elimination of Madison County by the State Legislature, and in a few years was known no more as a town. Its name is perpetuated by a township, a church and a school.

Orleans post office, on the Neosho west of Americus, was moved to that town soon after it was started. E. Yeakley was postmaster at Orleans.

Waterloo was laid out in 1858 by W. H. Mickel. Mr. Mickel built a hotel which he kept going several years after the town was disbanded. Waterloo was fifteen miles northeast of Emporia. It was a popular stopping place for travelers on the Lawrence and Emporia road. It consisted of not more than half a dozen houses, at its best.

Fremont, which was laid out in April, 1858 by Dr. Thomas Armor, S. G. Elliott and W. B. Swisher, was a thriving village of twenty five or thirty houses, with post office, stores and blacksmith shop. It had county seat aspirations, and when these failed, the town dwindled and soon was gone, leaving its name to a township and a school district. It was three miles north of Emporia on the west Allen road, on the farm now owned by L. A. Trumbull.

Forest Hill, eight miles east of Emporia on Sixth Avenue, was located in 1858, on a sightly hill without a forest but, as one of its promoters, Timothy McIntire, said, they had the hill and it was a fine location for a forest. A stone building on the farm belonging to Mrs. Charles Galt remains of what was the town, and the school district retains the name. A post office was established at Forest Hill.

Chicago Mound, from which the church, the neighborhood and the school, ten miles southeast of Emporia get their name, was, according to an article printed in the Gazette September 16, 1909, and agreeing with the version of several old settlers, founded the autumn of 1857 by Vinegrave, an Englishman, and Webber, a Maine man. Stakes were driven and town lots divided off. Hundreds of these lots, according to the story, were sold to unsuspecting Easterners. A more recent story printed in the Gazette gives credit for the founding of the town to Henry Pratt and J. J. Campbell, for many years Lyon County citizens. No houses ever were erected on this town site - it was purely a paper town.

Columbia, three miles southeast of Emporia on the Cottonwood, was laid out early in the summer of 1855 by promoters from Council Grove - T. S. Huffaker, Seth Hays, G. M. Simcock and Christopher Columbia. There were several houses, a store and postoffice and blacksmith shop. Columbia ceased to exist soon after Emporia was founded.

Hortonburg, the first station on the Santa Fe northeast of Emporia, was established in 1882, but soon the name was changed to Lang.

Attica, adjoining Hartford on the west, was the site of the first M. K. & T. station, which afterward was moved to its present location and Attica abandoned.

Many star route postoffices were discontinued when rural mail delivery was established. Among these were Ivy, Waushara, Agnes City, Foster Springs, Plumb, Elco, Eads, Badger Creek, Verdigris, Wyckoff, Trail, Waterloo, Fourmile, Menda.

The post office at Agnes City was moved to Bushong after that town was started. Agnes City was three and one half miles north of Bushong, on the Santa Fe Trail, and became a post office in 1857, or possibly 1858, says John McMillan, of Bushong. Agnes City earlier had a store, and did business with the trekkers over the Santa Fe Trail, and the settlers on the claims. Trail was another post office, further east, which was discontinued when Bushong was established. Agnes City was named in honor of a young woman named Agnes Baker, probably a daughter of Judge A. I. Baker, who was murdered by the Anderson outlaw gang.


Outlaws, calling themselves Free State men, in 1856 visited this section of Kanzas Territory. The night of September 14, after looting the Gregg general store, near the present site of Neosho Rapids, they went to the home of Christian Carver, in the same neighborhood, and demanded admittance. The Carvers had retired, and refused to allow the outlaws to enter their home. The outlaws fired into the cabin, through an opening which had been left for a window, and shot Mrs. Carver, from the effects of which she died the next day. Mrs. Carver was a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. David VanGundy, who had settled near the junction of the Cottonwood and the Neosho in 1855. Next day, the outlaws went north to the old Santa Fe Trail, where they robbed the store belonging to Charles Withington. They carried off and destroyed property to the value of $3,000.00. The settlers had no recourse from the depredations of these outlaws. It was the belief of the settlers that this gang was led by Capt. John E. Cook, who was hanged at Harper's Ferry.

Many of the settlers brought with them considerable sums of money and other valuables, and when news of raiders in the vicinity reached them, they concealed this property. The story is told of Jonathan Pierce having buried $1,000.00 in gold at the foot of a tree in the heavy timber on the north bank of the Cottonwood near the old Humphrey grist mill, seven miles southeast of town, which he never thereafter could locate. Many persons spent valuable time digging up the earth searching for this gold, though some of Pierce's acquaintances declared their belief that he recovered the gold and told the story of losing it to avoid further attention from robbers, and others believed he never had owned the gold, but told the story of losing it to gain sympathy. Still another theory was that Pierce was watched while hiding the gold, and when he had completed the job and gone home, the watcher dug up the gold and disappeared. Pierce was considered a miserly man, and most people believed he had owned the gold.

Charles H. Withington was Lyon County's first settler, having located on the Santa Fe Trail in June, 1854, where he established a store, the first in this county and the first in Southern Kansas not connected with an Indian post. Withington's, during 1855 and 1856, was headquarters for most of the immigrants who came to this section of the Territory. Mr. Withington helped the new people to find claims, acted as guide, and often neglected his own business to assist a newcomer. He came to Kansas in 1853, settled at Council Grove, where he was a gunsmith for the Sac and Fox Indians, and ran a store for the Santa Fe Trail and Indian trade.

An interesting story is told of how Mrs. Withington saved the family's money from the notorious Anderson gang of robbers. Mr. Withington, before leaving home one morning on business, told Mrs. Withington he disliked to leave her alone, as he had heard the Andersons were headed in their direction, and no telling what day they would swoop down upon them. Mrs. Withington said she could manage them, and that she wasn't afraid. She was washing that day, her washtub in the narrow strip of shade made by the cabin, when she saw the little band of men on horseback coming over a hill. She knew them, personally, and when the leader ordered her to prepare dinner for them, she replied: "Mr. Anderson, you have eaten many a good meal in my house, to which you have been welcome, but I take no orders from you or any other man. When you ask me, respectfully and decently, to get dinner for you, I'll do it, and not before." The leader apologized, and politely asked Mrs. Withington if she would prepare dinner for him and his men. She got up the best dinner she could, and after the meal the leader said:

"Now, Mrs. Withington, we'll have no more fooling. I want that bag of gold that is hidden somewhere about this place, and I am going to have it, and the quicker you get it for me the better it will be for you."

"Help yourself," said Mrs. Withington, "but don't expect me to assist you in your search."

For a long time the robbers searched, ripping open featherbeds and pillows, emptying trunks and drawers, tearing up the carpet, while Mrs. Withington calmly went on with her washing. Finally the men threatened her, telling her she would have to tell them where the gold was hidden or they would not be responsible for the consequences. She looked the leader straight in the eye.

"You call yourself a brave man," she said, "yet you threaten a defenseless woman. Go ahead - shoot me if you will, but I will not tell you where to find that gold."

It was getting late and the robbers feared that Mr. Withington might come, accompanied by other men who would put up a fight, so they left after Mrs. Withington defied them. After Mr. Withington arrived, Mrs. Withington lifted the bag of gold from the bottom of the washtub, where it had reposed all this time under dirty suds and soiled clothing.

Following these raids the people organized for protection against further visits from the Border Ruffians and other outlaws. In almost every town, companies of militia were formed and every man of the required age was expected to enroll. Streets were patrolled at night for weeks at a stretch, but no further raids occurred.

Always the settlers in town and on the claims were on the lookout for Indian outbreaks, but they were spared this. The Kaws who lived on a reservation between Americus and Dunlap, were lazy, and most of them would steal anything they could get their hands on, but they were not fighters. The warring tribes, further west, never reached this section of the Territory after settlement was started.

In 1862 an invasion of half breed Indians and white men came into Kansas from the Indian Territory, and the people of the Neosho Valley were thrown into a state of wild excitement. The marauders reached Humboldt, where they robbed and burned many houses. P. B. Plumb headed a small company of men who went to the defense of Humboldt, but the invaders had turned back when the Emporia men reached the town. The Emporia company went on to Fort Scott, however, and joined the expedition which captured Matthews, the leader of the raiders, and much of the property he had stolen was recovered.

July 3, 1862, Arthur I. Baker, who ran a store on the Santa Fe Trail in the northwest part of Lyon County, was murdered by members of the Anderson gang, who were a part of Quantrill's organization. Baker was shot as he was descending the steps to the cellar under his store, and the store and its contents burned over his body which, when recovered, was charred beyond recognition. Baker had taken a prominent part in the affairs of the county from the first, and was a strong Free State man. He was elected probate judge in the territorial election of 1857, and was one of the members of the Americus Town Company.

In 1864, when the Confederate General Price and his army came north with the avowed intention of taking the State, the Lyon County Militia, which had become the Eleventh Kansas Cavalry was called out, and three hundred men went to the eastern border of the State, where they did valuable service, holding back the marauders until, discouraged and disheartened, Price withdrew his army.


Mrs. George Plumb carried the mail for one day, in 1863. She was 16 year old Ellen Cowles then, and took the place of the regular carrier, who was sick. She went on horseback, of course, and her route took her first to Elmendaro, southeast of Emporia, along a little traveled prairie road. From Elmendaro she went southwest to Madison, and the road grew fainter, and sometimes was almost hidden by the tall grass. From Madison she went down the Verdigris to Shell Rock post office, and home by way of Elmendaro. At the Elmendaro post office and general store, seven women sat waiting for the mail, in the hope of receiving letters from their husbands, who were in the army. One woman said not a word to anyone, but when her turn came and the postmistress said, "I am so sorry, Mrs. Quimby, but there is no letter for you today," she threw back her head and walked out of the office with her cruel disappointment showing in her face. "She has been here every mail day for seven weeks," said the postmistress, "and has had no letter. I do hope her husband hasn't been killed or wounded." And this hope was fulfilled, as the man returned safe and sound from the army.

When Mrs. Plumb left Madison it was late, and night was approaching as she neared Shell Rock. She stopped in front of a house on a hill - one of the Long families lived there - and asked the woman who came to the door the way to her destination. Mrs. Long said her husband had just started, on foot, to the post office, and that Mrs. Plumb probably would overtake him in the timber, and he would guide her to the post office. Mrs. Plumb overtook the man, and as he walked alongside her horse, on the side on which were her feet - no woman rode astride in those days - Mr. Long said to her, "I should think you'd be afraid of me, walking along here with you all alone." She replied, "Well, if I were afraid, I couldn't help myself." "And all the time," says Mrs. Plumb, "I was shaking with fear, and kept a tight hold on my rawhide whip, to be used as a weapon if I needed one. But I did not need it." Rendel Brown was postmaster at Shell Rock, and Mrs. Plumb stayed all night at the Van Horn home. After she had gone to bed, she heard someone come into the next room and inquire, "Did the mail come?" "No," was the reply, "but the female did." She was up early next morning and reached home without mishap.

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