History of Topeka, Kansas
From: History of Shawnee County, Kansas
and Representative Citizens.
Edited by James L. King, Topeka, Kansas
Richmond & Arnold Publishers
The Beginning of the City of Topeka
Enoch Chase, Jacob B. Chase, George Davis and Milton C. Dickey preceded the others to the townsite of Topeka,
in the latter part of November, 1854 (about November 29th), although it is probable that Holliday and Robinson
had visited the locality prior to that date. Mr. Holiday claims to have been on the site November 22nd, with a
party of seven men, and that the idea of establishing a town originated at that time. The record shows that Fry
W. Giles, Daniel H. Horne and Loring G. Cleveland left St. Louis in the fall of 1854 on the steamer "Lenora",
bound for Kansas City. Accompanying the trio were Thomas G. Thornton, Timothy McIntire, Jonas E. Greenwood, George
F. Crowe, William C. Linaker and Samuel A. Clark. This party walked from Kansas City to Lawrence, arriving there
on Saturday evening, December 2, 1854. A meeting was held in that city on Sunday evening, December 3rd, participated
in by the Giles party and Robinson and Holliday, at which the organization and location of the town of Topeka were
definitely determined upon. The town was accordingly established on the 5th day of December, 1854.
ABOUT ENOCH CHASE.
In the year 1854 Enoch Chase was living in Boston, and engaged at his trade, that of an upholsterer. A circular issued by the New England Emigrant Aid Company fell into his hands, relating to affairs in Kansas, and he determined to make a personal investigation of the conditions in the new Territory. He reached the Kansas border in November, 1854. With eight companions and a wagon load of provisions drawn by a team of oxen, he set out for Lawrence, arriving there November 24th. The party built a sod house for their own accommodation, and lived in it about five days, at the end of which time Enoch Chase, Jacob B. Chase, Milton C. Dickey and George Davis bought the interest of their associates in the load of provisions, and decided to try their fortunes at a point further west on the Kansas River, where it was thought a new town might be located. Upon their arrival at the point in view, according to Mr. Chase's statement, they selected the section of land (section 31), upon which the town was afterwards located. Each man took a quarter of the section, and a log house was built near the river, at a point now known as the northwest corner of Kansas and First avenues. While the house was being built, Mr. Dickey went back to Lawrence for supplies, and returned a few days later, bringing with him the other parties who had become interested in the new town. Mr. Chase and his three associates surrendered their section of land for town purposes, and took a quarter section each of the adjoining lands. Mr. Chase's quarter was near the present site of Washburn College. The section these four men surrendered became the property of the Topeka Town Association. Mr. Chase built a house on his quarter section, which he occupied with his family in March, 1855. In October, 1857, he moved into town, and later conducted a boarding house. He built a large frame house on Sixth avenue, which was used as a hotel, and in 1857 he opened the Chase House, afterwards converted into the Capitol Hotel, and later into a part of the Stormont office building. He also built and resided in the stone house at the northwest corner of Sixth avenue, now used as a store building.
COLONEL HORNE'S STATEMENT.
Daniel H. Horne, a tanner and furrier by trade, left Massachusetts in November, 1854, and reached Kansas December 2nd, of that year, stopping at Lawrence. He attended the meeting of 13 men in Lawrence on the evening of December 3rd, at which the Topeka enterprise was suggested. Mr. Home says that these men were acting for themselves, and that Cyrus K. Holliday, Charles Robinson and Milton C. Dickey were not included in the thirteen. The three last named gentlemen came into the meeting after it had been organized. Robinson and Holliday, whose business it was to direct the Kansas immigrants to places of settlement, spoke of the possibilities of a new town 25 miles west of Lawrence, and Mr. Dickey stated that the proposed town was ready for settlement, and that the necessary land had been obtained by himself, George Davis and Enoch and Jacob B. Chase, the last three being then on the ground. A committee consisting of Daniel H. Home, Fry W. Giles, Loring G. Cleveland and Samuel A. Clark was appointed to inspect the proposed site. These four men proceeded at once to the point designated, arriving there Monday evening, December 4th, accompanied by Holliday, Robinson and Dickey. They found Enoch Chase, Jacob B. Chase and George Davis on the ground, and working on the log cabin above referred to by Enoch Chase. The party of to men slept in the cabin that night, or a part of the night, for it was partially destroyed by fire before morning. Robinson returned to Lawrence on Tuesday, after articles of agreement had been executed for laying out the town. Horne maintains that Charles Robinson was acting only as a guide for the party, and that he did not sign the articles of agreement for the organization of the town, but Robinson's name appears on the instrument, and Mr. Horne is evidently in error. In the negotiations over the site, Enoch and J. B. Chase, Milton C. Dickey and George Davis were given their choice of 160 acre tracts outside the town limits, for relinquishing the section upon which the town was to be erected, and they were likewise to have equal shares in the town company. The committee adopted a resolution that no other distribution of lots or claims should be made until the men who had been left at Lawrence should arrive. After their arrival a distribution was made by lottery, Jonas E. Greenwood securing the first choice and selecting a claim east of town, where the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe shops are now located. Greenwood immediately sold his claim to Thomas G. Thornton for $15. Daniel H. Horne obtained second choice, selecting a claim west of town, where he resided for many years, and which afterwards was sold for town lot purposes. Of the party that came up from Lawrence to join the Home committee, the following names are given: Thomas G. Thornton, George F. Crowe and his son, Zenas, aged 15 years; W. C. Linaker, Jonas E. Greenwood, Timothy McIntire, and a man named Williams - the last named disappeared after remaining a short time. After the destruction of the Chase cabin by fire, Daniel H. Horne and Loring G. Cleveland proceeded to erect a sod hut, which was occupied as a residence during the winter. The Chase cabin was also rebuilt and retained its prestige as the first building on the townsite.
THE GILES HISTORY.
In his book, "Thirty Years in Topeka," published in 1886, Fry W. Giles corroborates all that has been said of the transaction on the 5th of December. He notes the presence of the nine men whose names are above given, and states that on the morning of that day these men walked over the proposed townsite to a point midway between the Kansas River and Shunganunga Creek, and then returned to the Chase cabin to conclude the details of organization. Milton C. Dickey called the assemblage to order and moved that "the fellow with the white hat" (pointing to Colonel Holliday) be invited to preside. This was agreed to, and Mr. Giles was made secretary. Mr. Giles further states that Charles Robinson did not remain with the party that day or take any active interest in the proceedings. The Chase cabin is thus described in the Giles book:
"Its dimensions were about 12 by 14 feet, and five feet in height at the sides. The gables were extended
up some three feet above the sides. Poles upon these, supported, first a layer of brush, and then a thatch of prairie
THE FIRST FIRE.
"A few days after the little party had settled down to the necessities of the case, and got in a few supplies,
it became apparent that the flames that roared up the chimney occasionally came in dangerous proximity to the thatch
of the roof. As they straightened themselves one night upon the litter of hay that matted their cabin floor, and
sought repose, it was remarked that the cabin would be on fire before morning, but with jesting and indifference
the subject was dismissed, and in weariness all eyes were soon closed. They had not slept long, however, before
a flash of light brought all eyes open again, and they gazed upon a mass of fire enveloping the brush and thatch,
and burning straws falling upon the hay on which they lay. There was work to be done, and that right quickly. In
one corner was stored flour, meal, beans, coffee, tea, clothing, arms, a keg of molasses and a keg of powder. To
remove these was the important work in hand, and it was fortunate that the men had gone to rest without removing
their hats and boots. One caught the keg of powder and hurled it down the declivity toward the river, while others
seized what they could, and in a twinkling all except a few garments and a gun or two was safely strewn upon the
prairie. The 'city' was in ruins, and the people thereof in anxiety queried how best to guard themselves against
the cold during the night. They had a small tent, which they erected, and in vain attempts to sleep on the naked
ground with their canvas alone over them, a part suffered through the night, while others secured such shelter
from the piercing winds as they could in the thicket of brush near by."
COLONEL HOLLIDAY'S ACCOUNT.
Col. Cyrus K. Holliday's story of the founding of Topeka is best told in his own words:
POSSESSING THE LAND.
"The next day, November 29, 1854 - the day of our first election for delegate to Congress - these four
gentlemen went exactly as they were advised and instructed to do and took possession of the land we had indicated;
and on the next day, November 30, 1854, they commenced the erection of the first house in Topeka, at the southwest
corner of Kansas and First avenues, locally known as the Mill Block. A few days after, December 1 or 2, the remnant
of the sixth party under the auspices of the New England Emigrant Aid Company arrived at Lawrence. The project
of a new town near Papan's Ferry was also presented to them, and favorably received, and on Monday, the 4th day
of December, 1854, the following members of that party, to-wit: Fry W. Giles, Daniel H. Horne; Loring G. Cleveland,
and Samuel A. Clark, in company with M. C. Dickey, who had returned to Lawrence, and Charles Robinson and myself,
camel up from Lawrence to the new townsite, and took quarters at the new, unfinished cabin, with the party which
had come up the preceding Wednesday.
THE COUNTRY 50 YEARS AGO.
"On our trip of November 21, we took the California or ridge road from Lawrence, and passed west over the high prairies, with the valleys of the Kansas and Wakarusa to the right and left, skirted in the distance by dark fringes of timber. For a distance of six or eight miles there were numerous log cabins scattered along the road, but from this on to the few cabins at Tecumseh, the country was almost a wilderness. At Tecumseh there were probably a dozen log cabins. Leaving there we followed the river for a distance of five miles and came to the beautiful rise of ground where Topeka was to be located, although the name had not then been determined upon. We had other locations in view, as I have stated, at Manhattan and Junction City, but for the purposes of a little colony of New Englanders who were to be first provided for, Topeka was by far the better location. It was 25 miles west of Lawrence, the Kansas River was north with its rich bottoms and the Pottawatomie Indian reservation extended for 30 miles westward. The site itself was a beautiful one, and it possessed many of the requisites for the building of a city, stone, sand and lumber in abundance. In addition Papan's Ferry was already a well known institution, where the two great trails of the continent crossed the Kansas River - the one from Fort Leavenworth and St. Joseph to Santa Fe and interior military posts, and the other from Independence and Westport, Missouri, to California and the Pacific Coast."
THE FIRST HOUSE.
In another part of his account Colonel Holliday speaks of the Chase cabin as being constructed of unhewn logs
and covered with prairie sod, its dimensions being 12 by 13 feet, with a door so low that. persons entering or
going out were obliged to stoop. Speaking of the occupancy of the cabin by to men on the night of December 4th,
Colonel Holliday says: "In this rude but the entire party slept for the night, but unfortunately the dry grass
between the logs caught fire, and a good portion of the first house was destroyed. The next two or three huts were
built entirely of sod, in which the first settlers of Topeka spent their first winter, which fortunately for them
was of an extremely mild and pleasant character, perhaps uniformly more so than any winter that has succeeded it.
After the sod houses, the most popular style of tenement was called the 'shake'. These 'shakes' were oak logs sawed
in lengths of about four feet, riven in a manner similar to shingles, and made to look like clapboards."