The History of Johnson County, by Ed Blair



Location and Business Firms -- Organization of Town Company and First Building -- Church DeSoto During the Civil War -- A Pioneer's Experience -- Introduction to the Shawnee Indians.

     De Soto, Kan., is situated in the northern part of Lexington township, on the Santa Fe railroad, sixteen miles east of Lawrence. It is a thriving little city, and is surrounded by a good farming territory. It has a city light plant, a grain elevator, and Hodge Brothers have a large lumber yard there of which J. E. Dewees is manager. The Kaw Valley Mercantile Company and the Taylor Mercantile Company have large establishments carrying full lines of general merchandise. All lines of business are well represented. The city has a population of about 500.

     The De Soto "Eagle Eye" is published by Wiard & Wiard, and is a newsy paper of genuine merit, and covers the surrounding territory thoroughly.

     The De Soto State Bank has a capital and surplus of $18,000. B. S. Taylor is president and Andrew Smith, cashier. It is one of the solid financial institutions of the county.

     Other business firms are: Ralph Jinks (successor to Coker Brothers), general merchandise; Davis & Ore, implement store; J. M. Stuchberry, hardware; Nicholson & Chambers, hardware, furniture and undertaking; Baker & Company, furniture and undertaking; John Boen, livery; B. C. Culp, Rexall drug store; L. C. Blaylock, garage; Charles Kaegie, blacksmith; James Hidleston, second-hand store; George Wyland, barber; Dr. Marks, physician; Dr. Fortney, physician; J. F. Mason, stockman; M. Rakestraw, postmaster.


     De Soto was organized in the spring of 1857 by a town company, composed of B. W. Woodward, James F. Ligate, James Findley and G. W. Hutchinson. It was named after the great Spanish explorer, De Soto.

     Zera Nichols occupied the first frame building in the town as a general store in 1857, and Stratton & Williams built a saw-mill on the river bank. D. Rolfe was employed as engineer for a year and he liked the country so well that he sent for his family and they arrived here in April, 1858. Two or three buildings were erected in 1857. Percy



Teters built a double dwelling in 1858, and his family and that of John Van Rankin occupied it. The first hotel was built in 1858 and Mr. Rolfe moved into it that year. John Van Rankin started a general store in 1859. The postoffice was established in 1860 and James Smith was the first postmaster.


     The Methodist church was organized in 1858 with Elder Buch as minister. Meetings were held in private houses and in the hotel until 1866 when a stone church, costing $2,500, was erected. The Presbyterian church also was organized in 1858. In 1879 they built a stone building costing $2,000. Rev. William H. Smith became pastor in 1860 and remained pastor for about thirty years.

     The first birth in De Soto was a child of Mr. and Mrs. Gentry. It died soon after birth and this was the first death in the town.

     The first marriage was a double one, that of Trusdale Barclay to Mellisa Gentry and Robert Todd to Mary Gentry, the ceremony occurring in 1859.

     A two-story flouring mill was erected in 1879, near the depot, by Skinner & Barrett.


     The excitement of the border war was as great at De Soto as in other border towns, and the people of that vicinity organized the home guards and picketed the roads. Robert Todd, of this place owned a horse named "Buckskin" that used to stroll across the Kill creek bridge, near his home, where pasture was greener than on his side of the creek. Sometimes he would go over in the evening and along about daylight the next morning return home. A Mr. Lewellyn, who did not know "Buckskin," nor his way, was placed near the bridge one night after "Buckskin" had crossed, with orders to halt everyone that attempted to cross the creek. Early next morning he heard the horse coming across the bridge. Mr. Lewellyn called "Halt" and "Buckskin" stopped. "Advance and give the countersign," yelled Mr. Lewellyn, and "Buckslcin" started on and kept advancing. Mr. Lewellyn, thinking it was a bushwhacker, blazed away, putting a bullet in "Buckskin's" jaw. "Old Buckskin" was a tough animal though and a few days' doctoring by Mr. Todd brought him back to his usual good health.


     The following is given by J. L. Morgan, who is one of the prominent pioneers of De Soto:

     "I landed at Kansas City about the twelfth day of April, 1858, and walked out to Westport where I stayed all night, and there I met a man



who said his name was Turpin, and he lived near Olathe, which was a very wealthy neighborhood, where claims were worth about $5,000.00 each. I was intending to go to Tecumseh the next morning, but took the wrong road at the mission, and asking no questions, I later found myself in Olathe. I saw some men at a house on the north side of the road from the Avenue Hotel, and asked one of them the way to Tecumseh. He said that I was on the wrong road, and would have to go to Monticello, or Lexington, which latter was the nearer, but that there was no road further than Cedar creek. The house where these men were proved to be the justice court, and my informant was Wilkerson, a kind of attorney between the two cedars. I had business with him afterwards.

     "Following his direction to Lexington, I started out, passing the Bronaugh claim, now the A. G. Carpenter farm, and the claim of Bill McGill.

     "I saw rails hauled out on the prairie, but no wealth that my friend, Turpin, had spoken of. Outside of Olathe all was prairie grass, about two inches high, partially covered by the snow which had been falling all morning. The road stopped at Cedar creek. I forded the stream and climbed the bluff, just above where the red bridge now is, and found myself on a high prairie, and saw a high mound ahead, and made for that, until I saw, off to the northwest, some signs of life. The sun was getting low, so I made for that bunch of houses. After wading Kill creek, I came to a path which proved a be one made by stage horses, when driven to the creek for water. Following this path, the first house I reached was one standing where Lexington Grange Hall is now located. I went up to this house, and the man sitting in the door was Colonel Quarles, the father of William Quarles, of Stanley. He pointed out a place where I could stay all night, for the sun was down and I was very hungry, not having had anything to eat since I left Westport. Several men came in during the night, and some of them were from Kentucky. Colonel Quarles also was a Kentuckian, and I was just from there myself (not from the bluegrass district, but from the pennyroyal).

     "After looking around the next morning, I concluded to go no further. I found that this was the Shawnee Reservation, and that there was a township organization, and that the settlers had come in 1857, mostly. Samuel McKinney had built a large hotel which had burned down, and Ralph Potter was undertaking to rebuild it at this time. There was a grocery store, which sold whiskey, on the side. There was a daily four-horse stage, west and east, with an express messenger who carried the money chest. They changed horses and took dinner here, each way. This was a regularly organized stage company. I remember that L. G. Terr went over the line often, also Phil Elkins, the father of Stephen B. Elkins, United States senator from West Virginia. Some of the



drivers' names I recall. Among them was our jolly, whole-souled "Bill" Julien. No matter how cold or hot, wet or how dry, he was always on time with jolly good humor.

     "Among the town officers, I will name Mr. Slaughter, county surveyor, who lived here. Each township had three commissioners, and the chairman was a county commissioner. Ralph Potter was our chairman Jesse Roberts was justice of the peace. There was no constable serving when I came, so Justice Williams appointed me constable, and I was commissioned by Governor Denver.

     "A few words in regard to the town of De Soto. It seemed to be a flourishing little town, with a steam saw mill, owned by Stratton & Williams. Cottonwood lumber seemed to be legal tender at that time, to the mill owners. A good dry goods and grocery store, by R. and M. L. Todd, and a ferry, put in and operated across the Kaw, by Warren Kimball, and John L. Taylor's blacksmith shop, together with H. A. Burgess' boarding house, used until the hotel was built, made up most of the business concerns. Daniel Rolf was proprietor of the new hotel.

     There was another place which, made an effort to be a village, and that was the town of Potosi, or better known as "Little Shab," just east of Pioneer Hall. It was preempted by O. F. Williams and a man by the name of Winthrow, for a town site, but, like Lexington, it is now a fine farm.

     "To refer to an item mentioned in the beginning of this paper, of going to Tecumseh; the name of my friend there was James Alverson. He came out here from Kentucky, in 1854, and his relatives, at Tecumseh, were named Jordan. In March, 1863, I went up to see him, and we had a very fine visit, talking over old times. I never saw him any more, until the Price raid, in 1864. I was with our company, at Shawnee, when the Topeka regiment came through, and he was in the ranks. I had a good long talk with him, and the first news I heard after the battle of Brush Creek, or Westport, was that he had been killed in that battle."


     J. L. Morgan, of De Soto, was born in Hardin county, Ky., in 1833, and located on the Kar river, three miles west of DeSoto, in 1858. The town of De Soto is located on land then owned by John Possum, a Shawnee Indian. Mr. Possum's cabin is still standing in the barnyard of Mr. Anderson, who owns the farm now. Once, after the Shawnees had drawn their Government money, some of them decided to celebrate with a little firewater, and these met at Possum's cabin, and the usual drunk followed. When Mr. Morgan stopped at the place, the little cabin was full of drunken Indians, lying on the floor, much like hogs in their pen. One of them, Aaron Blackfish, was not so full, however, and he darted out at another door. There were three doors in the cabin. After Mr. Morgan left, Blackfish came back and in the drunken row that followed, killed Tom Big Knife, crippled another Indian by striking him with a gun, and then shot himself with the same gun.

Go to Chapter 10  Go to Chapter 12  Return to Table of Contents