The History of Johnson County, by Ed Blair

Johnson County Courthouse, at Olathe, Kansas

Johnson County Court House, Olathe, Kan.

History of Johnson County



Indian Tribes -- Early Explorers -- Indian Treaties -- Black Bob Reservation -- Shawnee Tradition -- Bread Dance -- Corn Dance -- Journey of The Soul -- Chief Bluejacket -- Early Trappers and Traders.


     The earliest known inhabitants of that section comprising Johnson county were the Kansa Indians. When the first white men visited the region now comprising the State of Kansas they found it inhabited by four tribes of Indians. The Kansa or Kaw, from which Kansas derives its name, occupied the northeast and central parts of the State; the Osage, located south of the Kansa; the Pawnee, whose country lay west and north of the Kansa; and the Padouca or Comanche, whose hunting grounds were in the western part of the State.

     It seems that the Kansa Indians occupied the greater portion of the State. Probably the first white man to acquire a knowledge of the Kansas Indians was Juan de Onate, who met them on his expedition in 1601. Although Marquette's map of 1673 showed the location of the Kansa Indians, the French did not actually come in contact with the tribe until I750, when, according to Stoddard, the French explorers and traders ascended the Missouri "to the mouth of the Kansas river, where they met with a welcome reception from the Indians." These early Frenchmen gave the tribe the name of Kah or Kaw, which, according to the story of an old Osage warrior was a term of derision, meaning coward, and was given to the Kansa by the Osages because they refused to join in a war against the Cherokees. Another Frenchman, Bourgmont, who visited the tribe in 1724, called them "Canzes," and reported that they had two villages on the Missouri, one about forty miles above the Kansas, and the other farther up the river. These villages were also mentioned by Lewis and Clark nearly a century later. Referring to the Kansas river, the journal kept by the Lewis and Clark expedition under date of June 28, 1804, says: "This river receives its name from a nation which dwells at this time on its banks and has two villages, one about twenty leagues and the other about forty




leagues up; those Indians are not very numerous at this time, reduced by war with their neighbors. They formerly lived on the south bank of the Missouri, 24 leagues above this river in an open and beautiful plain, and were very numerous at the time the French first settled in Illinois." Between the years 1825-30 the Kansa and Osage tribes withdrew from a large part of their lands, which were turned over to the United States.


     The year of 1825 was a year of treaties with the Indians. On June 3rd of that year the chiefs and head men of the Kansa tribe entered into a treaty with William Clark, superintendent of Indian affairs, at St. Louis, Mo., by which the tribe ceded to the United States all claim to lands in the west of the State of Missouri, the boundaries of the cession being described as follows: "Beginning at the entrance of the Kansa river into the Missouri; thence north to the northwest corner of the State of Missouri; thence westwardly to the Nodewa river, 30 miles from its entrance into the Missouri; thence to the entrance of the Big Nemahaw river into the Missouri, and with that river to its source; thence to the source of the Kansas river, leaving the old village of the Pania Republic to the west; thence on the ridge dividing the waters of the Kansas river from those of the Arkansas to the west boundary line of the State of Missouri and with that line to the place of beginning."

     Almost immediately upon the acquisition of this land from the Kansa Indians and other acquisitions from other treaties, the Government began negotiations for the removal of eastern tribes to the new territory. On November 7, 1825, at St. Louis, Mo., a treaty was concluded with the Shawnee tribe living near Cape Giradeau upon a tract of land acquired by Spanish grant, signed by Baron de Carondelot, governor of Louisiana, and dated January 4, 1793. By the St. Louis treaty this tract was ceded to the United States by the Shawnees, and they were assigned another reservation, "Beginning at a point in the western boundary of the State of Missouri, 3 miles south of where said boundary crosses the mouth of the Kansas river; thence continuing south on said boundary 25 miles; thence due west 120 miles; thence due north until said line shall intersect the southern boundary of said reservation to the termination thereof; thence due north, coinciding with the eastern boundary of said reservation to the southern shore of the Kansas river; thence along said southern shore of said river to where a line from the place of beginning drawn due west shall intersect the same." As thus established, the Shawnee reservation included the present counties of Johnson and Douglas, a little of the northern portion of Miami, Franklin and Lyon, the northern part of Osage, the southern part of Shawnee. the greater part of Wabunsee and portions of Morris



and Geary, the northwest corner of the reserve being about three miles southeast of Junction City. The Shawnee treaty of 1825 remained in effect until May 10 1854, when the Shawnee chiefs concluded a treaty at Washington in which all of the above described reservation was ceded to the United States, except 200,000 acres, which also included about 25,000 acres to be allotted to the "absentee Shawnees" upon their return to the tribe. Many of these never returned and the land was ordered to be sold to actual settlers, by an act of Congress, approved by President Johnson April 7, 1869. Another act approved by President Hayes, March 3, 1879, provided for the disposition of the entire reserve and the removal of the Shawnees to a new reservation outside of the State, and thus, officially ended Indian occupation of Johnson county as a reservation.


     The boundaries of the original Shawnee Reservation in Kansas, as fixed November 7, 1825, and conveyed to them by deed May 11, 1844, contained 1,600,000 acres. Almost precisely ten years afterwards, on May 10, 1854, they ceded to the United States all of this magnificent reservation but 200,000 acres which they reserved for homes for themselves.

     Under this treaty the Black Rob Band of the Shawnees, a distinct organization within the tribe, received, as was their choice, and had assigned and set apart in a compact body, to be held in common by them, such a portion of this 200,000 acres as was equivalent to two hundred acres for each member of the band. Black Bob was the recognized chief. His band being of limited intelligence they preferred to retain their tribal oaganizations and customs and to hold their lands in common.

     An article, however, was incorporated into the treaty under which they might at any time make separate selections from the tract assigned to them in common. This privilege they did not avail themselves of until 1866, but continued to live as had been their custom, making but little progress and spending most of their time in visiting other tribes and hunting, until the breaking out of the war. Then, on account of the losses and sufferings to which they were subjected from bushwhackers on one hand, and Kansas thieves on the other, they left their homes and went to the Indian Territory in a body. There they remained until peace was proclaimed, when about one hundred returned to dispose of their lands.

     The Black Bob reservation is situated in the southeastern part of the county, at the sources of the Blue and Tomahawk creeks, lying in Oxford, Spring Hill, Aubry and Olathe townships.



     When the Indians abandoned it at the beginning of the war they expected to return and resume their old habits of living. In 1865 and 1866, at the close of the war, white settlers rushed in and soon every quarter section of it was occupied by a claimant. About the same time certain other parties, not actual settlers on the land, among whom was Gen. Blunt, J. C. Irvin and Judge Pendery, conceived the design of buying up a portion of this land for speculation. This was in October, 1867. An examination was made of the treaty of 1825, by which the Shawnees were granted the reservation, including Johnson and a portion of Douglas and Miami counties, which was deeded to them May 11, 1844: and also the treaty of 1854, by which the whole tract was re-ceded to the Government, and then 200,00 (sic) acres retroceded to the Shawnees. At this time the Shawnees had divided into two bands, the severalty or head right community, who selected their land in severalty, and the Black Bob band, which chose to hold theirs in common, under the treaty which also gave them the right to select 200 acres each as a head right at any future time. Messrs. Blunt, Irvin and company became satisfied that the title to the land vested in the Indians and that having selected his head right under the treaty any Indian could sell it and convey a valid title to any person by complying with the rules and regulations of the Interior Department of the Government for the sale of Indian lands.

     These rules were: That the consideration mentioned in the deed was a fair one, and the amount so mentioned had been paid to the grantor by the grantee, and that the transaction was free from fraud. The Indian agent was under obligation to attach his certificate that these rules had been complied with in the execution of the deed.

     Certain Indians having applied in the year 1867 received patents for their land and sold them to different parties for various prices. J. C. Irvin, one of the speculators, purchased three thousand, six hundred acres on October 28, 1867. On November 7, 1867, two settlers, W. H. Nichols and John Wordens, purchased their claims. And subsequently, but prior to the other date, January 11, 1869, a number of sales were made to settlers among whom were W. Thomas, J. Nichols, Edward P. Robinson, W. S. Duffield and W. T. Quarel. Sales were made also to other speculators until in the aggregate the land covered by sixty-nine patents had been sold. The price the Indians received was about $1.80 per acre. Two protests against the further issue of patents to the Indians setting forth that gross frauds were being perpetrated and that the Indians were being swindled out of their lands by the speculators having been received by the Government, acting Commissioner Mix, on the 13th of December, 1867, telegraphed Agent Taylor to suspend delivery of patents to the Indians.

     This was done and the sale arrested in consequence. Notwithstanding a few of the settlers had purchased their selections from Indians 



who had received their patents, the great majority refused to do so, believing their title should come from the government and not from the Indians. Both settlers and speculator kept an agent in Washington for some years looking after their respective interests. The one party attempting to obtain from Congress confirmation of the validity of the Indian patents, the other attempting to have them set aside, and the title declared to vest in the Government.

     In 1879 Congress passed a resolution instructing the Attorney General of the United States to cause a suit in equity to be brought in the name of the United States in the circuit court for the district of Kansas, to settle the titles to lands claimed by the Black Bob band of the Shawnee Indians in Kansas or adversely thereto, which resulted in the deeds given by Indians to white settlers being declared valid and approved by the Government. The other Indians holding lands sold out their lands to white settlers and many of them bought in with the Cherokees nation in the Indian Territory.


      I record here the Shawnee Indian's tradition of their origin, as told by the Rev. Charles Bluejacket, at the Shawnee mission in 1858.

    "Our tradition of the antediluvian period agrees in all essential points with the Mosaic record. The first real divergence is in connection with the flood. The tradition gives an account of the white man's great canoe and of the savings of a white family, just about at (sic) the bible has it, but in addition it states that an old Indian woman was also saved. After the flood she lived in a valley, with a hill intervening between her and her white brother and his family, over which she could see the smoke rise from the white man's wigwam. When the sense of her lonliness and destitution came over her she began to weep very bitterly. There then appeared a heavenly messenger and asked her why she was so sorrowful. She told him that the Great Spirit had left her white brother his family, but she was just a poor old woman alone, and that there was to be an end of her people. Then said the visitor,'Remember how the first man was made,' and then left her. From this she knew that a new creation was meant, so she made small images or children from the earth as directed, as the Great Spirit had made the first man. But when she saw they had not the life, she again wept. Again her messenger appeared and inquired the cause of her grief. She said she had made children from clay, but that they were only dirt. Then the visitor said, Remember how the Great Spirit did when the first man was made At once she understood, and breathed into their nostrils and they all became alive. This was the beginning of the red men. The Shawnees to this day venerate the memory of the one they call thir (sic) Grand Mother os (sic) the origin of their race."




      "In the fall of each year a certain number of men, five, I believe, were sent out on a hunt. They stayed three days. On the third day, when they were returning, and were near enough to be heard, they fired their guns, and the men and women in camp go out to meet them. The hunters were taken off their horses and sent to their wigwams to rest. The game is cooked and put in a pile on the ground, leaves having been spread on the ground first. They are also given bread, which has been made of white corn, pounded in a mortar for the occasion. The Indians then dance around the prepared provisions and sing, and then sat down. The meat and bread were then passed around during this part of the ceremony. After this they can frolic all they please. The women had their petticoats decorated with silver brooches and wear all the handkerchiefs they can. Highly colored handkerchiefs were very highly prized by all Indians. The men were dressed in buckskin leggins and moccasins. They also ware (sic) a loin-cloth and blanket.


     No one was allowed to use any corn, even from his own field, until the proper authority was given. When the corn was sufficiently advanced for use the one who had the authority fixed the date for the corn feast and dance. On this occasion great quantities of roasting- ears were prepared, and all ate as freely as they desired. After this feast all could have what they wished from the fields. This was probably the most highly esteemed peace festival. Very properly it might be called the feast of the first fruits. Another feast was held, but probably not so universally, in the fall, a feast of in-gathering, and one in the spring.


      Bluejacket is authority for the statement that the ancient custom was to keep a fire burning for three nights at the head of one who had just died. A small opening was made from the mouth of the deceased to the surface of the ground by inserting a long rod through the newly filled grave, then withdrawing it. Provisions were also kept at the head of the grave for three nights. They explained this custom by saying it took three days and nights for the spirit to reach the Spirit Land.


     It seems to have dropped out of the memory of the present generation of men, if indeed it was ever generally known that Bluejacket is a white man. He was a Virginian by birth, one of a numerous family  



of brothers and sisters, many of whom settled in Ohio and Kentucky at an early day and many decendents of whom still reside in Ohio. His name was Marmaduke Van Swerangen. He had brothers, John, Vance, Thomas, Joseph, Steel and Charles, and one sister, Sarah, and perhaps more. Marmaduke was captured by the Shawnee Indians, when out with a younger brother on a hunting expedition, sometime during the revolutionary war. He was about seventeen years of age when taken, and was a stout healthy, well developed, active youth, and became a model of manly activity, strength and symetry when of full age. He and a younger brother were together when captured, and he agreed to go with his captors and become naturalized among them, provided they would allow his brother to come home in safety. This proposal was agreed to by his captors and carried out in good faith by both parties. When captured Marmaduke or "Duke," as he was familarily called, was dressed in a blue linsey blouse or hunting shirt from which garment he took his name of Bluejacket. During his boyhood he had formed a strong taste for the free savage life of the American Indian, and frequently expressed his determination that when he attained manhood he would take up his abode with some Indian tribe. It is traditionally understood that Marmaduke was taken by the Indians about three years before the marriage of his sister Sarah, who was a grandmother of Mrs. Sally Gore, daughter of the late Rev. Charles Bluejacket, of Bluejacket, Okla. Sarah was married in the year 1781. Although we have no positive information of the fact, it is believed that the band or tribe with which Bluejacket took up his residence, lived at that time on the Sciota river in Ohio somewhere between Chillocothe and Circleville. After arriving at his new adopted home Marmaduke, or Bluejacket, entered with much alacrity and cheerfulness into all the habits, sports and labors of his associates and he soon became popular among them. At the age of twenty-five years he was chosen chief of his tribe and as such took part in all the councils and campaigns of his time. He took a wife of the Shawnees, and reared several children, but only one son. This son was called Jim Bluejack and was rather disipated, a wild and reckless fellow who was quite well-known on the upper Miami river during and after the war of 1812. He left a family of seven sons and daughters, among them Charles Bluejacket, who was with the Shawnee Indians at the time of their removal from Ohio in 1832. He was well educated, intelligent and highly intellectual in all respects, feature, voice, contour and movement, and except as to his dark color, was the exact facsimile of the Van Swerangens. Charles Bluejacket moved from Kansas to the Indian Territory in 1871, and died there October 29, 1897, aged eighty-one years.


     The early history of Johnson county is linked with the Choteau's early trappers and traders of the Mississippi valley. Frederick Choteau



was born in 1810, at St. Louis, Mo. He could speak fluently in English, French, Shawnee, and Kaw, and occasionally acted as interpreter for the agents of the Government in dealing with the Indians. His brothers, Ciprian and Francis, had a license from the government to trade with the Shawnees, Delawares and Kaws, and afterwards the Weas, Peorias and Peynkeshaws. Frederick Choteau in 1828 located on the south side of the Kaw river, and established what was then known as the French Trading Post. Up to that date there was no wagon roads here, and all articles were transported on pack horses by the way of trails cut through the brush. The Indians raised small patches of corn, which they dried in September, put in sacks made of hides, buried. After this work was done they went west for their annual hunt, sometimes not returning until the next spring. The Choteaus bought all the hides and pelts the Indians brought them from these trips. They paid for beaver skins $5 each per pound; deer skins, twenty-five cents per pound, otters, $5; wolf skins, $1; badger and coons, fifty cents each. The trade of the Choteaus with these Indian tribes amounted to as much as $100,000 annually. In 1830 Frederick Choteau established the Kaw river trading post, about one hundred miles from the mouth of the Kansas river and goods were taken up the Kaw river in keel boats. In 1840 he returned to what is now Johnson county, locating on Mill creek, and made some fine improvements, but the flood of 1844 destroyed all his property, including house, hogs and some cattle. He saved his horses by swimming them to the shore. He had just finished the barn and house when this flood came. According to Mr. Miller, who ran the old mill established by the Government, it rained for sixty days and nights. This mill was carried away by the flood, also. Three days after Choteau lost his property he completed a double log house on the highlands, near, and moved his family into it. In 1854 he bought from Henry Bluejacket, for $1,200, a log house and out buildings, on his farm at Shawnee. He was married four times and was the father of eleven children. 

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