William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 5] [part 3] [Cutler's History]


Central Branch, Union Pacific. - This road, proposed and surveyed as early as 1863, received as substantial aid from the Government as any railway corporation in the West. It was granted $16,000 a mile for the distance of 100 miles, from Atchison to Waterville in Marshall County, and in addition to this, alternate sections of land on both sides of the track, and the territories back of these sections to the distance of ten miles. It needed and received no aid from the county. It was completed to Wetmore in 1866, and to the present site of Centralia a year later, the company virtually establishing both towns; though a postoffice of the latter name was in existence before the arrival of the road. The Central Branch enters Nemaha County at Wetmore, about five miles north of the south line, traverses it in a northwesterly direction, touching at Sother, Corning and Centralia, and leaving the county about ten miles from the southern boundary. In Marshall County in connects with the B. & M. in Nebraska, which renders close connection with east and west roads, at Lincoln, possible, while at Atchison the road connects with lines traversing the south and southwest, the north, east and northeast.

St. Joseph and Denver City Railroad Company. - Early in 1860 an effort was made to build a railroad from St. Joseph west through the northern tier of counties in Kansas, and four miles of track were laid connecting Elwood and Wathena; but the war stopped all work on it and nothing further was done for several years.

In September, 1862, a railroad convention in which the various counties interested were represented, was held at Troy in Doniphan County, but little appears to have been done then, or in 1864, when the question was again agitated, a meeting being held at Seneca, March 24 of that year. In 1866 the State Legislature passed an act granting the 500,000 acres of land that had been donated by the general government to Kansas, under the act of September 4, 1841, to four railroad companies, among which was the Northern Kansas, from Elwood west.

In April, 1866, a petition was presented to the Board of County Commissioners of Nemaha county, for an election on bonds to the amount of $125,000, to aid the building of said road, the election being held on May 8, 569 votes being polled, 322 of which were for, and 247 against the issue of such bonds.

On May 12, 1866, a meeting was held at Hiawatha for the purpose of final organization of a company, prepared to receive and make available the donation from the State, and various county grants, of which Nemaha's has been mentioned. This organization was perfected by the election of Samuel Lappin, President; F. H. Drenning, Secretary; W. B. Barnett, Treasurer, and of a Board of eleven directors, of whom three were from Nemaha County.

On October 9 of the same year, a joint meeting was held at Elwood of the stockholders of the St. Joseph & Denver City and the Northern Kansas roads, the conference resulting in the consolidation of the two roads, the union to be called the St. Joseph & Denver Railroad. Various delays occurring, the road did not reach Nemaha County until 1870, and the county objecting to the payment of bonds to a corporation other than that to which they were voted, sustained suit for such payment, the Supreme Court deciding for the defendant. Prior to its entry, however, an agreement was entered into by C. G. Scrafford, Samuel Lappin, J. H. Peckham, J. P. Taylor, W. G. Sargent, D. B. McKay, and forty-nine others, guaranteeing the road the right of way, 100 feet in width, through the county, and donating to it depot grounds to the extent of ten acres, at Seneca. This agreement was strictly kept. The road was afterwards leased to the Union Pacific Railroad Company, being now known by that company as the Union Pacific (Kansas Division). It enters the county at Sabetha, about eight miles from the northern line; touches at Oneida, Seneca and Baileysville, and leaves the county eleven miles from the Nebraska line. At Marysville it makes connection with the B. & M. in Nebraska, at Hiawatha, Brown County, with the Missouri Pacific, and at St. Joseph with various lines running north, south and east.


Nemaha County Agricultural Society. - As early as July 28, 1864, an effort appears to have been made looking towards the organization of an agricultural society, the Courier of that date containing a leader on the subject, and urging the importance of holding a fair at some time during the fall for the exhibition of farm products. No energetic efforts appear to have been made, however, and, at all events, no fair was held.

The organization of the Nemaha County Agricultural and Horticultural Society was effected June 27, 1868, with C. G. Scrafford, President; J. P. Taylor, Secretary, and Samuel Lappin, Treasurer. Land suitable for fair purposes was donated to the association, comprising blocks 32, 33, 34 and 35 of the town site of Seneca, the grounds being enclosed early in the fall of the same year, and the first annual fair of the society held October 22, 1868.

In 1869, a building 28x60 feet in size was erected for the reception of the display of farm products and manufactured articles of various kinds, and the second fair held September 22, 23 and 24 of the same year. In 1870 and 1871, exhibitions were made, and in 1872, on September 18, 19 and 20, the fifth and, as it proved, the last annual fair of the series was held. The officers at this time were: Wm. B. Slosson, President; N. Coleman, Vice-President; William Histed, Secretary, and H. H. Lanham, Treasurer. The cause of the discontinuation of displays and the practical disintegration of the society was due to financial troubles, it having gone in debt in the improvement of its grounds, and incurred other liabilities, the total amount of the indebtedness being $1,140.50. I August, 1873, this burden was assumed by George Graham, Jacob Van Loon, D. R. Magill, J. P. Cone and Mrs. C. G. Scrafford, as consideration for a warranty deed of the property of the association.

On October 4, 1877, a charter was issued by the Secretary of State, incorporating A. H. Burnett, Willis Brown, West E. Wilkinson, Richard Johnson and Edward Butt as the Nemaha County Agricultural Society. No other record of the new organization is found.

As has been seen, there has been no county fair since 1872. The recently- organized Board of Trade of Seneca, deploring this state of things, in July, 1882, appointed a fair committee, consisting of William Histed, Abijah Wells, George A. Marvin, C. G. Scrafford and M. Matthews, to devise ways and means for the holding of a fair, if possible, during the fall of 1882. Learning that the only piece of ground near Seneca in every way fitted for fair grounds was about to [be] sold, and if secured for fair purposes must be bought at once, the sum of $2,300 was raised by subscription, and the property purchased, William Histed, Willis Brown and George W. Williams being appointed trustees in behalf of the new owners. The object of the proprietors is to hold the land subject to the acceptance of the people upon repayment of their investment, the law providing that the county may purchase and improve fair grounds, appropriating not to exceed one and three-quarter mills on the dollar of the taxable valuation of the county for that purpose. The question of the purchase of these grounds was voted on at the November election of 1882. The proposal was voted down by the county, but the existence of the society and the purchase of the ground is an assured fact.

Old Settlers' Society. - A meeting of the old settlers, preliminary to the organization of a society, was held at the court house in Seneca on August 14, 1880. Committees on permanent organization were at this time appointed from each township, and on September 2 the organization was perfected by the election of the following officers: D. B. McKay, President; J. S. Hidden, Vice-President; Abijah Wells, Secretary; George F. Roots, Treasurer. The first annual re-union was held October 7, 1880, 127 genuine old settlers being present. Speeches were made, toasts given, and a bountiful dinner in the court-house yard enjoyed.

The second annual re-union occurred October 6, 1881. The day was raw and cold, preventing very many from being present, there being in consequence only seventy-five in attendance. Great interest in the history and traditions of early Kansas was manifested. The officers elected were: A. W. Slater, President; E. F. Bouton, Vice-President; Abijah Wells, Secretary; Peter McQuaid, Treasurer. In addition to these, and executive committee was appointed, as follows: Rock Creek - William Graham; Washington - Jacob Spring, Jr.; Nemaha - James Gregg; Clear Creek - M. Keegan; Marion - Robert Bronaughs; Richmond - D. B. McKay; Gilman - David Adamson; Capioma - Samuel Magill; Grenada - A. M. Hough; Valley - D. R. Magill; Home - S. Barnard; Illinois - G. F. Roots; Harrison - J. H. Dennis; Wetmore - S. C. Shumacher; Reilly - G. W. Hannum; Red Vermillion - N. B. McKay; Neuchatel - Alfred Bonjour.


Seneca, the county seat of Nemaha County, is favorably situated on high rolling prairie land, surrounded on all sides by well cultivated farms and pleasant groves, those on its east being divided from it by the current of the Nemaha, whose banks are fringed with a goodly growth of natural timber, and whose waters serve to render yet more picturesque its beauty and that of its surroundings. It is on the St. Joseph & Denver Railroad, seventy-seven miles west of St. Joseph, and one hundred and fifty miles southeast of Hastings, Neb., while it is easily accessible from all points by connecting lines. The city is well built. There are, in Seneca. very many handsome residences, the grounds surrounding, which are highly ornamented with shade trees and shrubbery, giving a home like and finished appearance to the town, that is rare in new states, while the business portion of the place is rapidly approaching the appearance of that which belongs to a city.

The town site of Seneca was regarded as a favorable point for a town, by J. B. Ingersoll, who staked off a claim to which he gave the name of Rock Castle. This was early in 1857. A town company was soon afterward organized comprising Samuel Lappin, Charles G. Scrafford, Royal U. Torrey and Finley Lappin, the name of the town, which was immediately surveyed and platted, being changed to Seneca.

The first house built in Seneca was erected in the fall of 1857; it was a double log house, with a wide hall through the centre, or rather, two houses connected with a wall of logs at the rear. It was built by John S. Doyle for Finley Lappin, who immediately occupied one end of it for a hotel, while Downing & Stewart opened a grocery store in the other end. The hotel portion of the building also served as the office of register of deeds, Samuel Lappin holding that position. One end of the structure was afterward used as a dwelling; the other end as a shoe shop and carpenter shop successively. It passed from Samuel Lappin to Albert Clark, finally returning to its former owner, who demolished it to make room for what is now known as the city drug store.

During the same year a blacksmiths shop was put up, consisting merely of four poles covered with brush, with a few boards over the forge. Its owner was Levi Hensel, who was able to utilize his powers either as a son of Vulcan, or as correspondent of the New York Tribune, for which paper he made one of the most valuable contributions descriptive of this immediate section of the county.

The next house properly belonging to Seneca, was Smith's Hotel, John E. Smith came from Derry, N. H., in March, 1858, accompanied by his wife, two sons, W. H. and F. E. Smith, his bother Stephen, and his sister, Addie Smith, and by Charles, George W. and Eliza Williams. He brought with him the machinery of a mill, purchased in Massachusetts, brought to St. Louis by rail, to Atchison by river, and to Seneca by means of ox-power. The mill was erected about half a mile west of the town site, and a log cabin, 10x12 erected, in the immediate propinquity. The hotel referred to was built in the summer of 1858, being the kitchen, and rooms above it, of the present Wilson House. In this building the first school was taught, by Miss Addie Smith, in the fall of 1858.

The next house erected in Seneca was a concrete stone building, put up by Downing & Stewart; the latter soon after selling to A. M. Smith. Downing & Smith sold to L. J. McGowan, who finally pulled down the building and erected the substantial stone structure in which Hazard & Sons now do business.

The building next erected, with the exception of unpretentious dwellings, was the one on Main Street now occupied by Stein's furniture store. It was built by the Town Company, and first occupied by James P. Brace, formerly of Elwood. His stock of goods was afterward bought by C. G. Scrafford, who, subsequently taking Samuel Lappin as a partner, in connection with him built the Central Store on Main Street in 1861.

Prior to this change, however, a second blacksmith shop had been built by John Sufficool, one end of it being used as a grocery store. This was subsequently sold to John W. Furrow, was added to and used as a boarding house by H. H. Lanham and others, and was finally demolished by Finley Lappin.

Succeeding this, in order of time, and omitting residences, came the Court House, built in 1860, and burned during the same year.

The first birth in Seneca was Esther Hensel, daughter of Levi Hensel, born in 1859. She only lived about three years; upon her birth a town lot was conveyed to her by the town company in honor of the event.

The first school in the new city was one taught by Miss Addie Smith, sister of John E. Smith, in the fall of 1858. It occupied what is now the pantry of the Wilson House, and what was then the 'living room' of Smith's Hotel. In the fall of 1859, the overland stages commenced stopping here, continuing to do so for eight years. The immigration to the far West was at that time very great, their frequently being as many as twenty-five passengers at the hotel table, all of whom were charged one dollar a piece. In connection with this becoming a station on the overland road, in place of Richmond, it is related that certain prominent citizens of Seneca, in order to divert travel from the old road, sowed oats, under the most favorable conditions for a long distance along that road, which grew so rapidly and well, as to practically block the comparatively little used thoroughfare.

Seneca was also, and for many years, a station of the Pony express from St. Joseph to San Francisco.

For the first seven years of its existence, notwithstanding the civil war which occupied the most of that period, the city grew rapidly. In 1858, she had one house and a blacksmith shop, as unsubstantial as an Indian wigwam. The actual population upon the town site was about six. In 1865, she had three general stores, one hardware store, one jewelry store, a grist and saw mill, two hotels, a newspaper, and various other establishments, the entire number of building, business houses, dwellings, schoolhouse and public buildings, being fifty-six. At that time she had a population of three hundred and one. In 1870 came the railroad, and with it the telegraph, connecting it with the great East and the no less great West. From that time to the present immigration has flowed in, unrestricted by the inconveniences and privations of stage coaching, and the other primitive methods of travel, which retarded to an extent the growth of the great West.

The city in 1879 had a population of 1,000; in 1880, of 1,203; in 1881, of 1274, and in 1882 the number of its inhabitants had increased to 1,519.


The Nichols' Case - The first murder in the immediate vicinity of Seneca, occurred October 10, 1864, the victim being Joseph H. Nichols, his assailant, John Craig. The cause of the trouble was a dispute in which Nichols so far lost his temper as to apply insulting epithets to Craig, who immediately used his revolver, the result being the immediate death of Nichols. Craig was taken before a Justice and discharged, the plea of self-defense being held good.

The Murder of John H. Blevins. - On February 23, 1865, John H. Blevins, of Holt County, Missouri, accompanied by Edgar Nuzum, of Doniphan County, Kansas, arrived at Seneca, representing himself in search of two horses, stolen in Missouri, and believed to be in the possession of one A. M. Smith. Calling on C. G. Scrafford for information and assistance, and accompanied by him, Blevins and Nuzum proceeded to Smith's stable, reaching it just as Miles N. Carter and Milton R. Winters had mounted the horses preparatory to decamping. As the pursuers approached the premises, Nuzum asked Blevins if the horses were his, and receiving an affirmative reply, ordered the thieves to stop, taking out his revolver to enforce his demand. A. M. Smith also drew a revolver, firing first at Nuzum and then at Blevins, shooting the latter in the left side, the ball passing through his lungs. He survived only a few hours. While this was going on, Carter and Winters rode away, only to be thrown from their horses, the latter returning to the stable, followed by the thieves; Winters fired several shots at Nuzum as he approached, none of which took effect.

At the time of the tragedy, William Boulton, the Sheriff of the county was absent from town, and no measures were taken for the arrest of the guilty parties until his return on the following morning; Smith and Winters taking the opportunity to abscond.

Miles N. Carter was arrested on February 27, and being brought before John W. Furrow, J. P., the case was continued to the next day at one o'clock. Carter was taken to jail, and that night about eleven o'clock, a mob of about twenty men overpowered the guard, George Monroe, took the prisoner from jail, and the next morning his body was found hanging to the limb of a tree, at Baker's Ford, about eight miles from Seneca. An inquest was held, and a verdict found that the deceased came to his death in the manner stated, at the hands of person or persons unknown to the jury.

On March 6, 1865, Milton R. Winters was returned to Seneca, having been arrested by the City Marshal of Atchison. A preliminary examination was held, and the prisoner remanded to jail, held to appear at the April term of the District Court.

At the trial the State was represented by Attorney General Brumbaugh, and J. P. Taylor, County Attorney; the defense, by Byron Sherry, of Seneca, and H. C. Hawkins, of Troy. Two indictments were found, one for aiding and abetting Augustus M. Smith in killing John H. Blevins, the other for assault with intent to kill Edgar Nuzum. On the first charge the jury returned a verdict of murder in the second degree, the prisoner being sentenced to hard labor in the penitentiary for fifteen years. On the second charge he pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to hard labor for ten years, making his term of imprisonment twenty-five years in all. The principal criminal, Augustus M. Smith, avoided discovery and escaped retribution.

The Baughn Tragedy. - On November 12, 1866, four men came to Seneca with a team and wagon, and with three loose horses; the latter, as it was afterward proved, stolen by them at Elwood, in Doniphan County. On the 19th, three pursuers arrived at Seneca, procured writs, and proceeding west, on information obtained, found the thieves encamped on the Vermillion, about ten miles from town. Making no attack, the pursuers returned, obtained the Sheriff with a small force of citizens, and again started out to make the arrest, going out on the North road, the men they were seeking coming into Seneca on the same day by the South road, passing through and stopping a little east of the town. Here they divided; two of them, named Jackson and Strange; remaining where they were, and being arrested, while the other two, Baughn and Mooney, started out on foot, eastward. The Sheriff summoned a posse of men, who started in pursuit, and overtook the men they were after, on the Capioma road, at the crossing of the Muddy.

Three of the pursuers, Charles W. Ingram, Henry H. Hillix and Jesse S. Dennis, were in advance of the rest, and on seeing the men rode nearly up to them, Ingram remarking as they did so "We have come for you." At this, one of the men, having a double barrelled shot-gun, discharged both barrels at Ingram, neither of which took effect. The other one had two revolvers, and shot at both Hillix and Dennis, one shot passing through Hillix's clothing, another striking him just below the shoulder blade, making a severe but not dangerous wound. He returned the fire, but without effect.

Dennis received a bullet in the back, which passed diagonally through the body, through the lungs, and in close proximity to the heart. He was fatally wounded, living only a few moments. The one having the gun, after getting over into an adjoining corn field, again fired at Ingram, who jumped from his horse, thus avoiding the shot. Both men escaped.

A proclamation was at once issued by the prominent citizens of Nemaha County, offering a reward of $1,000 for the delivery of the bodies of Baughn and Mooney, to the legal authorities of said county within ninety days, a description of both desperadoes being given.

On January 6, 1867, Melvin Baughn, the chief offender in the tragedy, was arrested in Leavenworth, on a description or warrant sent from St. Joseph for a gang of burglars who had plundered a store in Wathena, a few days before. Upon being recognized as the murderer of Dennis, he was brought from Leavenworth, delivered to the county authorities, and lodged in jail, a preliminary examination having been held and the prisoner bound over to await trial at the next term of the District Court. On January 10 an unsuccessful attempt was made to lynch Baughn, going no further than demands for the prisoner and threats, but being only satisfactorily settled by the crowd appointing a Deputy Sheriff to have special charge of the prisoner until his trial. On February 6, Baughn with another prisoner confined in the jail, succeeded in forcing open the doors and escaping, helping themselves to arms and ammunition in the passage of the jail.

Efforts were made at recapture; unsuccessful until June, 1868, and then only due to the fugitive's committal of lesser crimes that the one for which he was wanted in Nemaha County. On May 25 a house was robbed at Sedalia, Missouri; the next day a suspicious looking carpet bag was expressed by some one, to Joseph King, Otterville. Officers there were posted, but in endeavoring to make the arrest of King, wounded him severely, but nevertheless allowed him to escape for the time being, capturing him, disabled by his wound, two days after he was shot. On its being discovered that the prisoner was none other than the notorious Baughn, and after the necessary legal formalities, he was returned to Seneca on June 27, and recommitted to jail.

On August 2 his trial commenced, concluding on the 6th, the jury returning a verdict of murder in the second degree. On the 7th, Judge R. St. Clair Graham pronounced sentence, that on the 18th of September, 1868, the prisoner should be legally executed.

This sentence was duly carried into effect, at three P. M. of the day mentioned, the condemned man showing extraordinary nerve at the approach of death, and freely forgiving the community who had "tyrannized" over him, attributing their "ill-feelings to ignorance and bad whiskey." It is unnecessary to state that he announced his reconciliation to God.

Thus ended the Dennis murder case, with the first and last judicial execution the county has seen.

[TOC] [part 5] [part 3] [Cutler's History]