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


[TOC] [part 3] [part 1] [Cutler's History]


The facts which go to make up the early history of Wyandotte County form the singular spectacle of a nation of Indians, brought to a high state of intelligence through the faithful labors of missionaries, joined to their own innate brightness of perception; leading the van of civilization in a community, and first giving to the whites, who succeeded them, the blessings of religious instruction and the privileges of a free education. Descendants of the great Iroquois family, they were driven from their old home in the wars with the Six Nations, more than two centuries ago. After various migrations, the principal one of which was to the shores of Lake Huron after the war of 1812, the majority of those who had remained faithful citizens of the United States occupied the reservations which was granted to them, on the waters of the Upper Sandusky, Ohio Then commenced the labors of the missionaries of the Methodist Episcopal Church. First came Rev. John Stewart, a colored minister from Marietta, in 1817. He claims to have had a vision, or a divine call, to teach and preach among the Wyandots. Among the Indians at that time, were some sincere Catholics, who would not accept the Protestant version until William Walker had compared the two and pronounced them the same in effect. In 1819. Dr. Charles Elliott was appointed by the Ohio conference as the first regular missionary of the Wyandots. He commenced reducing their language to writing. From 1820 to the fall of 1828, James B. Finley was Presiding Elder, and John C. Brooks, James Gilruth and Russell Bigelow, the father of Mrs. Lucy B. Armstrong, missionaries. From 1828 to1832 Mr. Bigelow was Presiding Elder, and Rev. Thomas Thompson missionary and teacher. Mr. Thompson remained three years, Mr. Simms one year, Rev. S. P. Shaw, from 1836 to the fall of 1837 and Rev. S. M. Allen from that time until Rev. James Wheeler assumed the charge, shortly before the Wyandots emigrated to Kansas. Rev. Henry O. Sheldon was Presiding Elder from 1833 to the fall of 1834; J. H. Power, until 1838; Adam Poe, a descendant of the poet, from 1838 to the fall of 1840, and L. B. Gurley, from 1840-42.

The wives of the missionaries were generally women who had a reputation as housekeepers and motherly, refined women the country over, and their influence had much weight in smoothing to a civilized plane the wild habits of the Indians. At first, and within the memory of those now living. the women of the nation rode their steeds in manly fashion, and the nation decked itself in all the flaming colors and fashions of the semicivilized savage. But within a dozen years, feminine influence and that great civilizing weapon called the needle changed all this, and the Wyandot women were transformed into neat, generally intelligent and often well educated members of society; the men, with the exceptions of course found even in white communities, into industrious workmen, most of them farmers, and some of them noted for their refinement and eloquence, especially in their chosen field of religion; particularly was this true of Manoncue, a hereditary chief. Henry Clay was one in attendance upon the general conference, which met at Baltimore in 1824. After listening to Manoncue, and observing his gestures and general bearing upon the platform, he pronounced him the greatest orator in the United States. His personal appearance was magnificent, and those who were able to understand him, pronounce his eloquence of language equal to his eloquence of bearing.

The reservation of the Wyandots, which was 10x12 miles, was highly improved, an estimate having been made, that previous to their departure for their lands at the junction of the Missouri and Kaw Rivers, in 1843 over $120,000 had been expended upon the Upper Sandusky Reservation. Col. Kirby was appointed a Commissioner to appraise the value of the improvements on the part of the United States, and John Walker on the part of the Wyandot nation. Previous to their departure for the West. the Wyandots had received but $20,000. The treaty by which they sold their lands in the Upper Sandusky district for lands which they understood were awaiting them on the Kansas River was made in 1842. It was found, however, that there was no land in the vicinity in which they desired to locate, which did not belong to some of the tribes which had previously been removed and the land ceded to them forever. There was a tract in the bottom at the junction of the rivers, but that was reserved for a fort.

The Wyandot nation was originally divided into ten tribes, but soon after their emigration to Wyandotte, two of them became extinct. Those who emigrated from Upper Sandusky in 1843, were 700 strong. They were governed by a council consisting of one head chief and six councilmen. At the time of their coming West, Francis A. Hicks was head chief. Besides the council and the families of the missionaries, there were members of the nation not of full Indian blood, who had much influence and were respected perhaps even more than if they had been lineal descendants of the Wyandots. Of these may be mentioned such men as William Walker, afterward Provisional Governor of Kansas; the Armstrongs - Silas and J. M; George I. Clark, H. M. Northrup and Mrs. L. B. Armstrong, wife of J. M. When a small boy, Robert A., the father of J. M. Armstrong was taken temporarily into the family of a man who had no children of his own. and he was stolen by the Indians. He is said to have been a very beautiful boy, and although he was made to run the gantlet, his captors made it a point to put on their lashes very lightly, and he was admitted into full fellowship with the tribe (being adopted) and marrying into a royal family when he had reached the age of eighteen. His wife proved a vixen; the young husband went away in search of his civilized family, and never returned to his "first love." He afterward married Sallie Zane, whose father was English and mother French and Wyandot and from this union, solemnized in the Christian form, have descended the Armstrongs. George I. Clark and the Walkers were also enough tinctured with Indian blood to he acceptable to the nation, but had so much of the white blood as to be looked up to by the Wyandots more than if they had been lineal descendants.

Mrs. Armstrong, the daughter of Russell Bigelow, the venerable missionary, married J. M. Armstrong. in Mansfield, Ohio, in 1838, and was adopted into the nation. H. M. Northrup, the hardy and enterprising New Yorker who has done so much for Kansas City, married Margaret Clark, the daughter of Thomas Clark, a chief. in 1845, and was also adopted. This, of course, was after the Wyandots had left the Upper Sanduaky Reservation. So much for preface.

In May, 1843, Silas Armstrong and George Clark, with their families, and Miss Jane Tilles (now Mrs. William Cook) who had been reared by Mrs. Sarah Armstrong, came to this section to select a reservation for the Wyandots, but more particularly to establish a trading store for the nation. This Mr. Armstrong did, renting a building in Westport. All being in readiness there, two boats having been chartered at Cincinnati, the members of the nation journeyed by team and on horseback to their starting point. Here Matthew Walker selected a reliable band of young men, who, with himself, started for the great West by land, having all the horses in their charge. It had been agreed between the captain and his crew that the first payments of fare should be made at Louisville Falls, the second at St. Louis, and the third at Lexington, Mo. The most of the Wyandots came on the large steamer Nodaway, and all went smoothly until the boat passed Louisville, and the first payment had been made. The boat was nicely furnished, and the voyageurs were well treated up to that point. The Captain seemed then to become possessed with the apprehension that the Wyandots would ruin his furnishings. He, therefore, ripped up the carpets and packed them away, put his patrons on short allowance, and otherwise imposed upon them, and made them uncomfortable. The worst of it, however, is yet to come. On July 31, the second, or large boat, arrived at the intersection of the west line of the State of Missouri with the Missouri. River. The small boat arrived on the 28th. The sun was down. and a heavy dew was on the grass. There was only one small house which could be occupied, and the captain was requested to allow his passengers to remain on the boat over night. He replied that be must get to St. Joe that night, and the Wyandots were turned out like sheep by a heartless shepherd. There was only a small spot, which was treeless, and here the men, women and children huddled together over night. Mr. Garrett and his family, Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Armstrong, and a few others occupying the house. The horse cavalcade had not yet arrived, nor did it for several weeks. Early in the morning, the boat was still at the landing, the "hands" having spent much of the night in putting down the carpets again, and "putting things to rights." It is little wonder that when the tired and faint and sick band of travelers perceived this additional harsh treatment, the Captain and his boat were privately and publicly anathematized. It so happened, as fate would have it, that the Nodaway was wrecked during the very next year, and it may be that a little gleam of this feeling shot up in the breasts of some of the nation—"outraged justice satisfied." Their camping ground, from the last of July until October, 1843, consisted of the land then owned by the United States and reserved for a fort, between the west line of the State of Missouri and the Kansas River, the Missouri River being on the north, and the Shawnee Reserve on the south. For their religious meetings, which they faithfully upheld, they selected the first elevation south of the Missouri River. A few of the Wyandots who could afford them, and were fortunate enough to obtain them, such as the Walkers, the Clarks and the Armstrongs, rented houses in the town or neighborhood of Westport. On December 14,1843, a purchase of 23,040 acres of land was made from the Delawares. This tract included the present site of Wyandotte* City . It consisted of thirty-six sections. lying between the Kansas and Missouri, and the Delawares presented the new-comers with three sections, next to the confluence of these rivers.

* This town was incorporated with the spelling Wyandott, though the name of the tribe has never had more than one t. Later, the French form of the name, Wyandotte, was adopted for the city and county, and is now the general use by the inhabitants, the press, and other authorities in the State of Kansas and elsewhere.

J. M. Armstrong, the United States interpreter, of whom mention has previously been made, had, with his family, become the happy occupant of a little log hut sixteen feet square, near the corner of Wawas and Fifth streets, a short distance southeast of the present residence of his widow. The Armstrongs moved into their house December 10, 1843, and then and there occupied the first house ever erected on the present site of the city. One week from that time, Mrs. Catharine Long and her family moved into their cabin on the north side of Jersey Creek. John W. Gray-Eyes was at this time building a hewed log house on the west side of what is now Third street, which afterward became part of the residence of Joel Walker. Dr. Gray-Eyes built a cabin on the opposite side of the road. Robert Robitaille built and resided on the same side, near the corner of Nebraska avenue and Third street. The United States blacksmith to the Wyandots, Charles Graham, came during that winter and selected a place for the shop and his residence near the northwest corner of the same streets. A company store, in which most of the leading Wyandots had shares, was located between Kansas and Minnesota avenues, west of Third street. It was a long, log building, divided into two departments - the store room and a back room, used in part for a council house. Joel Walker, who had the management of the store, was clerk to the council. On the hill, on Kansas avenue, opposite Dunning's present hall, Henry Jaques, a chief, built his residence, which he afterward sold to the nation for a jail house, and by which a jail was put up. Jaques built his second house where Dunning's hall now stands. From May, 1845, to the spring at 1849, this was occupied as a United States agency. Silas Armstrong built two cabins near the location of McGrew's slaughter house, and resided there until 1846, when he removed them to a location west of Fifth street, near Kansas avenue, and in 1848, built his brick residence, afterward known as the Eldridge House. which burned in the summer of 1864. Francis Driver built oh the Kansas River bluffs, near the ferry and Sanahas, father of John Sanahas, and Charles Splitlogs settled in the same neighborhood. Matthias Splitlogs was with Jaques, and in 1845, married his great niece, Eliza Barnett. William Walker built a double hewed log house on the north side of Jersey Creek, entering one end of it May, 1844. He and a young man from New York who helped him do the work camped there during the winter of 1843-44, Mr. Walker naming the creek. Just west of Walker's house was the Methodist Episcopal parsonage completed in July, 1844. The same month the first school was opened in the new building on the east side of Fourth street, between Kansas and Nebraska avenues.

Returning, however, strictly to the winter of 1843-44. As perceived, it was only those of the wealthier Wyandots who built houses. The winter, fortunately, was mild, as many of them, from lack of means, were obliged to live in camps. It was the expectation of the Wyandots. based upon governmental promises, that an appropriation of $100,000 would be granted them during this session of Congress. The chiefs divided the town called Wyandotte into acre lots, upon which they intended to build, their farming lands being out of town. But the remainder of the improvement fund was not paid over then, nor until October, 1846, and they did not even then obtain this sum until after three delegations had gone to Washington to plead their cause. But from the time the Wyandots purchased the Delaware lands, they paid $4,000 annually out of their annuity fund. Thus it came about, because of this scarcity of funds, and doubt as to the future, that the town of Wyandotte did not improve rapidly. Disease was also busy in the midst of the nation. The cause of it - the great flood of 1844 - is thus described by V. J. Lane, of the Herald, in an article on the early history of Wyandotte City: "The spring of 1844 was warm and very dry until in May, when it began to rain, and continued for six weeks, rain falling every day. The result was the Kaw River rose so high that what is now Kansas City, Kan., and West Kansas City, Mo. were covered with fourteen feet of water; the Missouri backed up to the mouth of Line Creek; Jersey Creek was backed up to the crossing on the Parallel road. The long, continued rains were succeeded by dry and hot weather, and the overflowed vegetable matter decomposing, caused much sickness among the Wyandots, and by the 1st of November, 100 of them were dead - being-one seventh of the whole number who had come to the county only fifteen months before." The species of sickness which prevailed them most, and made the most havoc in the nation, were chills and fever, and bloody flux. It is stated that there was not a single well person in the nation by the latter part of the fall of 1844. The town of Wyandotte, having these discouragements of poverty and sickness to contend with, could not be expected to grow - neither did it. But while the bulk of the Wyandots were still living in tents, Rev. Esquire Gray-Eyes, "wishing first to have a house for his soul," prevailed upon his people to build a church. This was done, and occupied in April, 1844.

A parsonage, situated about half a mile from the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers, was completed soon afterward at a cost of $1,500. It was a two-story frame structure, the first in the county, and was paid for from the proceeds of the Upper Sandusky improvement fund. In July a school building was completed free to all - the first free school in the Territory of Kansas.

Mrs. Armstrong gives the following account of the building of the first church ever erected by the people of Kansas: At the close of a meeting in January, 1844, Rev. Esq. Gray-Eyes proposed that the brethren should come together soon and cut down trees, hew logs, make puncheons and clapboards and build a church. 'Why,' answered one of them, 'you have no house for yourself.' 'True,' said Gray-Eyes, 'but I want a house for my soul first.' So while they were all busy building their own houses, clearing ground and making rails to enclose their fields preparatory to spring planting, they set apart a day now and then to build the church So faithfully did they labor that they worshiped in it the next April, the preacher standing on one tier of the puncheon floor which was laid, and the congregation sitting on the uncovered sleepers. That was a very pleasant and happy day, never to be forgotten." This first church built by the people themselves in Kansas, was a good hewed-log house, about 80x40 feet, located about three miles from the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers. It was completed before the return of the missionary Wheeler in May, 1844, and their first quarterly meeting for the year was held in it the first Saturday and Sunday in June, at which time he baptized all infants born to the Wyandots during his absence. A parsonage built about half a mile from the confluence of the said rivers, was nearly completed. This was a two-story frame house costing about $1,500, a part of the proceeds of the mission farm improvements, at Upper Sandusky, Ohio - one result of the labors of the old missionaries, Finley, Gilruth, Bigelow and their successors. The United States Government paid $5,000 for the mission farm improvements, and all but about the $1,500 which this parsonage cost, went into the treasury of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. This parsonage was unjustly alienated from the Methodist Episcopal Church by the Wyandot treaty of 1855, George W. Manypenny Commissioner on the part of the United States.

J. M. Armstrong taught the first free school in the Territory, which was opened July 1, 1844. The building was a frame one, with double doors, which but a few years since stood on the east side of Fourth street, between Kansas and Nebraska avenues, Wyandotte City. It was sometimes, but erroneously, called the Council House. J. M. Armstrong contracted to build it, and commenced teaching on the date named. The Council of the nation met in it during vacations, or at night. The expenses of building the school were met out of the fund secured by the Wyandot treaty of March, 1842. The school was managed by directors appointed by the Council, the members of which were elected annually by the people. White children were admitted free. Mr. Armstrong taught until 1845, when he went to Washington as the legal representative of the nation, to prosecute their claims. Rev. Mr. Cramer, of Indiana, succeeded him; then Robert Robitaille, chief of the nation; next Rev. R. Parrott, Indiana; Mrs. Armstrong, December, 1847, to March, 1848; Miss Anna H. Ladd, who came with the Wyandots in 1848, and Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong. She was teaching the school at the time of her husband's death, which occurred at Mansfield, Ohio, while on his way to Washington to prosecute Indian claims, April, 1852. The school was closed in the old building April 16, 1852; resumed in Mrs. Armstrong's dining-room; removed the next winter to the Methodist Episcopal Church, three-quarters of a mile west of her house, and left without a home when that structure was burned by Incendiaries, April 8, 1856. That is the correct history of the first free school ever taught in Kansas.

Soon after the first school opened, a schoolhouse was built near M Mudeater's farm, and Mr. Armstrong, Mrs. S. P. Ladd and others taught it.

[TOC] [part 3] [part 1] [Cutler's History]