Getting on Track in Marshall County

      During late summer of 1888, interest developed very quickly among area residents when the "Wyandotte Line," officially the Kansas City, Wyandotte & Northwestern Railroad Company, announced a plan to extend operations from Seneca, Kan., to the Nebraska border, with a train station to be located at the northern terminus. Around the middle of September, John P. Taylor, a Seneca businessman speaking for the company, relayed news of the venture to associates and friends.  The new depot conceived for the north end would handle freight, passengers, and mail traffic.  The setting on the very north edge of the Sunflower State could become a significant trading center with goods marketed to the surrounding community and the area's farm produce shipped to all points along the line southeast to Kansas City, Mo. 

An 1888 look at area surrounding proposed extension from Seneca, Kansas, to Nebraska.

      Very soon afterward, the marketing center indeed became a reality, growing with a rapidity apparently unparalleled by any nearby town in its initial year.  By the time of incorporation in October, 1889, the platted village reportedly had a population of about 500 with close to 100 buildings erected.

      For centuries this plains region was exclusively the domain of Indians, but the 19th century had brought increasing numbers of pioneers and many significant changes into the area.  While some folks had been misrepresenting the Nebraska and Kansas region as "The Great American Desert," additional rumors circulated during the 1840's, speaking of goldfields and a mild year-round climate on the plains.  Such an allurement was designed to generate interest amongst those with some money and desire for adventure.  Land companies solicited Easterners and European emigrants to move west, sometimes enticing them with faulty promises that their purchases were near existing or proposed railroad lines.

      After Kansas opened for settlement in 1854, and until the railroads were built, pioneers made wagon trips for supplies and mail to the Missouri River towns of Leavenworth, St. Joseph, or Nebraska City, excursions lasting a week or more.  Railroads companies were encouraged to build westward by the government presenting them substantial tracts of land.  The contentious slavery issue, which spilled over from Missouri, ended when Kansas became a state in 1861 during the American Civil War.  And soon afterward, the Homestead Act was established, a provision allowing qualified citizens to select 160 acres of farmland and claim ownership.  With these issues settled, immigrants were more willing to move into the region.

      The geographic area selected for the extension of the Wyandotte Line had a good share of 19th-century American history.  In 1806, Zebulon Pike passed through what was later named Marshall County to hoist the Stars and Stripes and pull down the Spanish colors at a Pawnee Indian village somewhere near the Republican River, demonstrating for the natives that allegiance should go to their new American government.

      Lieutenant Colonel John C. Fremont, geographer, surveyor and son-in-law of Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, navigated over Marshall county prairie in 1842, leading an exploring party on the route of the Oregon Trail to demonstrate the feasibility of expansion into the Northwest.  And later as a general of the army, Fremont helped wrest California away from Mexico and into the United States.

      In 1846, George Donner of Illinois led a band of almost 100 adventurers, following the same path from the south used by Fremont, also known as the Independence Road, and encamped at Alcove Springs just north of present-day Blue Rapids.  One of the Northwest-bound emigrants, elderly Mrs. Sarah Keyes, expired and was buried there Tuesday, May 26.  The somewhat inexperienced travelers transported 46 wagons over the Big Blue River near where Marysville now stands, continuing onward to a dreadful fate in the wintry Sierra Nevada mountains. 

      Only a few days ahead of Donner on the Oregon Trail, Francis Parkman, a 22-year-old Bostonian, having started out from Westport, Mo., accompanied a wagon train assembled at Leavenworth.  The travelers approached Marshall county from the east on the St. Joe Road, or "Military Road," and went across the Big Blue River on Saturday, May 23, 1846, at the same place the Donner group would cross shortly afterward.  Three years later, Parkman published a classic account of his journey and in 1915 would be named to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.

      Leavenworth's Will Cody followed the St. Joe Trail west through Marshall county as a 15-year-old Pony Express rider going to his Nebraska station in 1861.  The same route was used by Russell, Majors & Waddell's freight company.  Ben Holladay's mule-powered Central Overland California & Pike's Peak stagecoach line also traveled this primary pioneer highway, which passed just north of the future sites of Axtell and Beattie, through Guittard Station, and over to Marysville on its way west.

      Jim Bridger, trapper, scout, and discoverer of the Yellowstone geysers; Samuel Clemens, prospector, and newspaperman who gained international notice after becoming Mark Twain; Sir Richard Francis Burton, the famed English explorer, writer, and linguist of the 19th century; and several thousand ancestors of today's west coast residents touched down on Marshall county soil, stopping at Guittard Station.  This now-extinct major trafficway was one of the scant few overland channels leading large numbers of travelers to the West in the years before the railroads were built across the plains.

      After exchanging gunfire with a Jefferson county farmer named McCanless, Wild Bill Hickok rode his horse across the state line from Nebraska to Marshall county, seeking legal assistance from Marysville attorney Jerome D. Brumbaugh regarding the fatal shooting which became known as the "Rock Creek affair."

      Seven years before the KC W & NW company decided to build the link to the Nebraska line, Charley Ford traveled horseback through the northeast corner of Kansas all the way from Missouri to nearby Pawnee City, Neb., with his employer, J. Woodson James, a freelance entrepreneur interested in railroads and the banking world.  Not long after they returned home, newspapers across the country published stories of James being ambushed in a memorable shooting episode at his Lafayette street house in St. Joseph by Charley's "dirty little coward" brother, Bob.

      By 1888, nearly a dozen years had passed since George A. Custer, who had performed military service in Kansas, died in battle at the Little Bighorn River in southeastern Montana.  His defeat precipitated the final military skirmishes with the Indians.

      In 1888, several schoolhouses, churches, and other landmarks were already established in the vicinity of the proposed station at the state line.  The Manley post office operated by William Harvey, which may once have included a country store, was in proximity of the planned depot site, about two miles southeast in St. Bridget township.  St. Bridget post office, called Fairland until 1869, existed to the east of Manley.  Not far from Axtell was the old location of a former Pony Express station named Ash Point, in Nemaha county, and Horace Bemus had run the post office there.  James Carroll, born July 20,1820, in Ferbane Parish, Kings County, Ireland, had settled there at Ash Point more than a quarter century back; at the same time his brother John Carroll had settled at Guittard Station, the trail's next stop to the west.  (James died Sept. 6, 1901, and is buried in St. Bridget Cemetery.)

      Nearly seven miles directly east of the new townsite, a house located in Nebraska contained a general store operated by Alexander Shaffer and his wife, Amanda, natives of Pennsylvania.  Shaffer routinely traveled about with a delivery wagon, trading goods with farmers in the community.  The place known as Shafferville later included a post office.

      In Richland township, Westella post office, whose first postmaster was Samuel Stedman, was situated due southwest of the new town, around five miles by crow and seven and a half by mule.  The famed 30-year-old Guittard Station, home of the George Guittard family, natives of France, was close to Westella.  Xavier Guittard was the first postmaster there.  One more post office, operated by Ludwig Merklinghaus, stood some six miles west of where Summerfield would spring up, at Stolzenbach, near where brooms were once manufactured.

      A huge expanse of acreage belonging to John W. Bookwalter of Springfield, Ohio, spread adjacent to Mission Creek in Nebraska, northwest of the depot site, and on the Bookwalter estate a settlement was started and named for the landowner.  John Bookwalter, who counted William Jennings Bryan as a political supporter, was narrowly defeated in a bid for the Ohio governorship seven years earlier and was later urged by party members to run for national office.  Spurning a political career, he turned attention to his many other activities which included the field of agriculture.

      The Otoe Indian Reservation, near Stolzenbach and Mission Creek, was situated in both Nebraska and Kansas due to a surveyor's error.  Oketo, a more distant village named for Chief Arkaketah, reposed in Kansas just south of the reservation.

Copyright 1996 Dick Taylor   All Rights Reserved
Table of Contents
part two
Doing Great in 1888