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Frank Bursinger

by Ulysses S Grant Sanders


Ulysses S Grant Sanders is my grandfather. He was born Dec. 31 1864 while his father, George Washington Sanders, was away fighting for the Union army in the Civil War. Grant was born in or near Middletown, Indiana. George W. had decided to move to Kansas sometime in the 1870's (I don't have the exact year with me). They farmed out there for 12 years, but weren't able to make it financially, and finally returned to Indiana. George was elected County Commissioner of Hodgeman County, and Grant was able to get a job as deputy sheriff. Eventually Grant moved to western Colorado and worked on the famous narrow guage train between Telluride and Durango, working his way up to conductor, and retiring after nearly 50 years on the railroad. He also became a state Senator, despite having little formal education beyond grammar school.
                  --Glenn Sanders

     I had some exciting adventures while I was a deputy sheriff in Hodgeman County, Kansas. One of the most dangerous ones was the time the sheriff sent me after an insane man named Frank Bursinger. One day late in the fall great clouds of smoke could be seen rising to the skies away in the east from Jetmore, the county seat. It was a great prairie fire and apparently at least 25 miles away and of great extent. Immense columns of black smoke filled the air and we all knew that a big prairie fire was sweeping the country. About the middle of the afternoon a couple of men rode in from the east and immediately went to the County Judges' office. In an hour or so I was called in to the Sheriffs office and was told that an insane man named Frank Bursinger - a Frenchman by birth - was on a rampage and had set fire to the prairie, and burned hay stacks and shot at people and killed some stock and the country was thoroughly terrorized. I had noticed a couple of other deputies enter the court house and leave hastily. The Sheriff said he was very ill and could not go and that I was the only available deputy to send. I sensed the whole situation. It was an ugly job. The men who had come in and made the complaint had gone as they said to hurry back home and protect their families and property.

     I did not know this man Bursinger. I learned from the County Judge, A.B. Gilbert that he was an excellent stone mason by trade; took pride in his work. He was above the average in size and a powerful man, large deep chested with a neck like a bull. I was warned to be cautious and alert. Well, the job was not a pleasant one. The Sheriff, Mr. Gillourd had not offered me any suggestions or instructed me in any way how to proceed. He was a man of few words. He was a small man in size. I was to have a good driving team and a good surrey from the livery stable. I was to go alone. I thought then and have always felt that the Sheriff was negligent of his duty and the obligation he owed to the community where this insane man was terrorizing the neighbors in sending just one man there to bring him to court. I am sure those other deputies had ducked the job. Undoubtedly they all including the Sheriff had figured that I would fail and then he would have an excuse to organize a posse and go after the man. Judge Gilbert realized the critical situation and very strongly advised me to be cautious and take no unnecessary chances. The man was insane and destructive in his madness. He had been sick a long time from the effects of typhoid fever and his mind had failed but his physical strength was powerful. I prepared myself thoroughly. I had two good guns which I hoped I would not have to use. I was not in the least afraid. I did not at that time know fear. I would have been ashamed to feel afraid. I asked for and was given a fine team of driving horses and a two seated buggy - a surrey. I knew the neighborhood well where I was going. I decided to try strategy. So I planned very carefully just what to do. I did not intend to fail if I could possibly succeed. I knew the fellows had given me a job which they figured was too much for me. I would just fool them. Of course I was anxious to get into action and have it over with. It was getting dark when I arrived on the scene. The whole country was black and desolate. In the distance many fires were still burning, and the air was smooty and filled with the odor of burnt grass and straw. There were no lights in the farm house. I drove past the place where Bursinger was supposed to be staying. I saw no signs of anyone. I had decided not to do anything until daylight in the morning. I drove to a farm house about 2 miles from Bursingers, and put up for the night. I was acquainted with them and the man said "My God, Grant, I would not like your job and don't ask me to go along and help you. That old boy would like a chance to pick me off. He would fly off the handle at once. He hates me". Well I had laid my plan and it was to go to Bursingers place in the morning and drive up very unconcernedly and pretend to hire him to come to Jetmore to take charge of putting up a large stone building there. So I put up my team, ate supper, and listened to the tales they told me of the terrorism they had been having in their community the last few days. They were not very cheering. I told them I would leave very early, before breakfast in the morning. I wanted to drive around Bursingers place and approach it from the direction of Jetmore. I did not sleep much that night. I figured out the problem from every possible angle. I would avoid a tragedy if possible. But would not take any of the worst of it.

     Early the next morning I hitched up the spirited team and drove away around Bursingers place on the Browns Grove road and then came driving up to his place on the road from Jetmore. My horses were well warmed up by then and were quieted down, when within half a mile of his place I saw him bounce out of his house and go around it and back in it again. He apparently had a red scarf around his waist. I drove up to his house whistling. Gee, but I didn't feel like it. I stopped and he peeped out and shut the door quietly. I never took my eyes away from that door and my had held my gun for quick action. I called out "Hello Frank". Out he came again. What a sight! His hair was long and bushy. Stood out in all directions like a wild man. He had a short growth of beard and was black from the prairie fires he had lit during the last few days. He began humming a sort of tune as he at first went towards the horses. Then he looked at me. I again spoke to him. "How are you this morning, Frank? Say Frank I am told you are the best stone mason in this country." He grinned a little and I continued. "I want to hire you to come up to Jetmore and take charge of a large bank building we are putting up there. I know you are the best stone mason we can get and I want you go up with me and take charge of the work". All he would say was "Jetmore, Jetmore". "Yes", I said, "get in and ride up there with me". "Yes, yes ride up with you". And back in the house he went. I didn't know what for. But I was ready for instant action. Soon out he came again with his hat and a big duck(?) coat on. He had discarded his red sash. He ran to the back end of the surrey and then went down into the cellar. He came out with hammers and tools and threw them into the back of the surrey. He made several trips. Then got in himself. He made me understand he had some more down a ravine which he pointed out. Then he jumped out and ran ahead motioning for me to follow. I did, wondering where we were going. Soon we were following in some wagon tracks, and we came to an old well, beside which I saw some more tools piled up. He loaded them in and got in himself. I drove over to the main road and was soon going at a fast gait towards Jetmore. Pretty soon as I sat there sideways to observe him, he took out a large hawkshaped bladed knife and a piece of wood and commenced to whittle. That was the wickedest looking knife I ever saw. Looking over a half mile off our road I saw the house of a man I knew by the name of Tom Walsh. I decided I needed company to ride with Frank and me to Jetmore. So I drove up Mr. Walsh's place. As I did so Bursinger closed his knife, folded his arms, and sat very quietly. Tom met us out at his gate and I could see he was quite surprised. I said "Good morning Tom. Frank is going up to Jetmore with me to take charge of that big stone bank building we are building up there. You know Frank is the best stone mason in the country. So we thought you would like to ride up there with us". And I gave him a hard look. He said, "O yes I would like a ride up to Jetmore. I will get my coat". So he slipped in the house for his coat and we were again on our way. Frank knew Walsh, so once in a while he would talk. I kept my eyes on him because of that terrible knife which Tom knew nothing about. They were both in the back seat. Things were going nicely. Of course Tom understood the situation. Soon we came to the Saw Log Creek, a small stream but very steep and deep banks. I slowed up and down the steep banks we went and right up the opposite bank. The horses jumped a couple of times and Frank jumped out. He was scared. He began to sing: "O yes O yes O yes". We had a hard time to quiet him and get him back in the surrey again, but I told him we must hurry on as we must get there before noon. In a few moments we coaxed him back and away we went again. We had no further trouble with him and in another hour we came in to Jetmore. I drove straight to the leading hotel and told Tom that was the place Frank would board and they both got out and went into the hotel. I drove to the Sheriffs residence and he came out. When I told him Bursinger was up at the hotel he seemed to be dumbfounded. I told him of the ruse I had used and that Tom Walsh was with him. That I had not had much sleep and was going to bed as soon as I could put up the team and get something to eat. He said O.K. and the whole bunch of them were surprised. I told the Sheriff he had a big hook bladed knife in his coat and to look out for him. We found out later that his coat was full of all kinds of small tools. Screwdrivers, hammers, knives and screws and nails. I went over to the hotel the next morning and he had removed the locks from the doors, taken down doors and replaced them a number of times. But did not molest anyone although he would not go to bed. The guards had to sit up all night. For some reason he took a liking to Mr. Roughlin the proprietor of the hotel and insisted that he was the President of the United States. About ten o'clock it was decided to take him over to county court to pass on his sanity. He came along with Mr. Roughlin very readily and as soon as that formality was over he was placed in the cell for insane people. The following day was Thanksgiving and the Sheriff wanted to spend it at home with his family and would take the man to Topeka to the asylum the day after Thanksgiving. I took Thanksgiving dinner at Judge Gilberts. Soon after dinner I came back to the jail and as I came around the corner of the jail I was astounded to see a large stone in the wall of the jail come bulging out of the wall. I quickly unlocked the jail door and ran to Bursingers cell. He got up off his knees, placed a chair and bed blanket over the hole in the wall and sat down as though all was well. I >sent for the Sheriff and he soon got a bunch of men there including the President of the United States (Mr. Roughlin) and without any trouble we moved Mr. Bursinger in to the steel cage where he could not possibly get out. But about that big knife: on Thanksgiving morning I started to make a fire in the office stove of the jail. Bursingers cell door opened out into the office. I had a piece of pine in my hands and I said I wish I had a knife to whittle some shavings. Quickly Frank handed me that knife. I slipped back quickly and he reached quickly to get it back. But he was not quick enough. I made the fire and took the knife up to the Sheriffs office. He gave a surprised laugh, took the knife but never even thanked me for it. Bursinger was landed in the Kansas State Insane Asylum with the assistance of Mr. Roughlin whom Bursinger followed like a lamb. I never heard what finally became of that poor man. I think I was justified in regarding this as a dangerous adventure.

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