KanColl Books


by Adolph Roenigk


Early Days of Abilene and Dickinson County; Reminiscense
of the Long Horn Days of Abilene.

     Dickinson County, Kansas, was organized in 1857--was named far Daniel S. Dickinson of New York. In 1860 it had 378 (in 1870 3,037 population). It is rated as one of the very best counties of the state.
     Abilene was laid out in 1867. It was named by Mrs. Timothy F. Hersey. Mrs. Hersey was an educated, refined and cultured lady. She took the name from the Bible--Abilene--which signifies “The City of the Plains.” The Herseys lived on the west bank of Mud Creek, where is now the corner of Vine and 1st Streets.
     Here “Tim” Hersey kept the “Overland Stage Station” of olden times, and here it was that the great Horace Greeley writes his New York Tribune that he took his last square meals, when crossing the plains on his way to the Pacific Coast in 1859. This letter to the Tribune did not please Mr. Hersey. The accommodations and appointments were of a primitive nature and Greeley thus described them and Mr. and Mrs. Hersey were possessed of a very strong self-respecting pride. The house was built of hewed logs, one and a half story, rather large, the stable a long low structure built of stone, with dirt roof. The ground is now occupied by a large and elegant stone house and commodious brick barn, built by the late Hon. C. H. Lebold. The stone in this house was shipped from Russell County, 100 miles away. And here I incidently introduced Greeley’s epigrammatic description of his gradual farewell to civilization on his trip across the Plains to the Pacific Coast in 1859. “May 12th--Chicago--Chocolate and morning newspapers last seen on the breakfast table. 23d--Leavenworth --Room bells and baths make their last appearance.” Lawrence, Kansas, gave him a royal reception. It was a misty, cloudy day, a closed carriage was secured from which to show him the town. The glass doors and windows closed, sealed instructions given the driver as to the route and to drive fast when passing the one brick block then being erected. Greeley was delighted with the town and wrote the Tribune a glowing account of the numerous


brick blocks that were being erected in Lawrence, but, said that the “architecture was very monotonous, too much sameness.”
     There was but one brick block being erected in the town at that time, and he had been driven around and around probably fifty times and approached from all directions of the compass. “24th--Topeka--Beefsteak and wash bowls (other than tin) last visible. Barber ditto.” “26th--Manhattan--Potatoes and eggs last recognized among the blessings that brighten as they flight.” “27th--Junction City--Last visitation of a boot-black, with dissolving view of a broad bedroom. Chairs bid us good-bye.” “28th--Pipe Creek--Benches for seats at meals have disappeared, giving places to bags and boxes.”
     We (two passengers of a scribbling turn) write our letters in the express wagon that has borne us by day, and must supply us for lodgings for the night. There was no Abilene in that day, but it was from “Tim” Hersey’s Overland Stage Station, on the banks of the Classic Mud Creek that Hon. Horace Greeley wrote of “The last square meal taken on crossing the plains,” which letter was published in the New York Tribune in 1859--which I read in the Tribune 53 years ago.
     In April, 1867, the Kansas Pacific Railroad was completed to Abilene. Also in this year McCoy Brothers built the great Texas Cattle Yards at Abilene and after long and discouraging negotiation with the K. P. and other railroads leading into St. Louis, they succeeded in highly advantageous contract for shipping Texas cattle from Abilene to St. Louis and other eastern markets. This contract secured, these gentlemen mounted their horses and rode out to meet the tens of thousands of “Long Horns” then on their way to northern markets.
     With their contract in hand they met these Texas cattle barons and with persuasive speech and sound logic convinced the owners of these hoards of cattle of the incomparable advantage of driving direct to Abilene and shipping direct to St. Louis, Chicago, etc., without change of cars or road. They also presented to them for their consideration the illimitable expanse of rich and nutritious grasses of the plains of Western Kansas. These countless herds must all be fattened on these boundless prairies before shipping for beef. Heretofore these herds had been driven to Southeastern Kansas and Southern Missouri where they found but poor shipping facilities and scant grazing


grounds. The McCoy Brothers prevailed and piloted the “Long Horns” into the cattle haven of Abilene and it became the greatest cattle shipping mart of the world--except it be some of the largest cities.
     After the first year of the Abilene drive, it seemed as if the Texas steer snuffed the very Abilene air and that all the Long Horns of Texas were making a mad rush for the Abilene plains, and the cattle kings and the wild eyed cowboys were just following those big wild steers into the Abilene Stock Yards.
     In 1870 150,000 Texas cattle were driven from Texas to Abilene for shipment. Arriving at Abilene they found hundreds of eastern buyers, hundreds, yes, thousands of gamblers, thieves, thugs, cutthroats, murderers, scores of poor fallen women--if not hundreds. The streets were lined and crowded with saloons, gambling houses and dives and vile holes of hell.
     In 1867 the “Drovers Cottage” was built (on the ground now occupied by the Belle Springs Creamery) by the McCoy Brothers. It was a large and commodious hotel. An experienced hotel man was imported from St. Louis. The house was opened up on a large scale. The table supplies were shipped daily from St. Louis and the culinary necessities and luxuries of St. Louis were found on the dining tables of the Drovers Cottage and it was patronized by thousands. Texas cattle men, eastern cattle buyers. Adventurers, gamblers--all classes and types of men, who had the money with which to pay the big hotel bills, were found there.
     At this time, all that there was of Abilene was on the south side of the Kansas Pacific Railroad track--now called the Union Pacific, and it was a Texas town.
     One day Mr. Jacob Augustine landed in the town. He was from Mendota, Illinois, formerly an Ohio man. He had been a man of large means, but in an evil hour went security on notes for friends for large amounts. He had these notes to pay and it left him without means.
     He heard of the far away Abilene and wondered if there he might not regain his fallen fortunes. Like many others he arrived at Abilene with very little money. In looking around he found that the town was for sale and he boughet it. He bought it for $3,000.00 on 30 days’ time, then returned east to find the money. He found C. H. Lebold, an old Ohio neighbor,


who paid Mr. Augustine $3,000.00 cash for an undivided one-half interest in the town and Mr. Augustine turned the $3,000.00 over to Thompson & McCoy, of whom he had bought the town. When Mr. Lebold arrived at Abilene he stopped at the Drovers Cottage and the first night there, his room was entered while he slept and he was robbed of a New York draft for $4,000.00 and a fine watch. Of course he stopped payment on the draft, but he never recovered the watch. Mr. Lebold and Mr. Augustine settled at Abilene in 1870 and established a bank in the town.
     In January, 1871, while living at Olathe, Kansas, Rev. Christopher and Mr. Penfield and another party whose name I cannot recall of Mendota, Illinois, were sent to Kansas by the Illinois Prohibition Colony as their agents to locate lands for this colony. The gentlemen stopped at Olathe where I met them. Several Kansas railroads owned each alternate section for ten miles on each side of their roadbed--the balance being government land. I was made a member of this locating committee. We put ourselves in communication with these roads stating our object and plans and these roads at once lent aid to our project, furnished us free transportation to wherever we wished to go and all other needed facilities. We went down the Neosho Valley inspecting the lands of the valley and the country tributary thereto, also other sections of the state, and finally went out on the Kansas Pacific to Abilene and on to Russel County, also.
     At Abilene we found T. C. Henry, Jacob Augustine, C. H. Lebold, D. R. Gorden, W. B. Giles and others. We looked Dickinson County over and found the bottom lands superior to any that we had seen and the uplands altogether more desirable. The Kansas Pacific road had a grant of each alternate section of land extending ten miles from the road each side of which land was on sale at very low figures, easy payments and low rates of interest. The other alternate section was government land, as was most of the land in the county and subject to homestead entry. After careful investigation of the county, traversing it from east to west and from north to south, we located the lands for the colony in the north part of the county, principally in Cheever township. The section lines had not then--there--been defined as public highways. Mr. Lebold and Augustine and myself, took bundles of lath and defined the section line running north and south, which bounds the Abilene Cemetery on the


west, by driving lath into the ground along this section line from Abilene to the south line of Clay County and then driving one mile east to the next section line and repeating the lath process to Abilene, and this was the beginning of the travel on these roads.
     Having located the lands, the committee secured special rates, both passenger and freight for all members of the colony and soon the colonists began to arrive and to select their respective homesteads. Those lands were then had for the taking--1871. Now, 1912, these lands are selling from $75 to $100 per acre--some of them cannot be bought at these figures. In 1870 the best bottom lands in the county were selling at $2.50 and $3.00 per acre and very slow sale.
     The Buckeye Colony had already located and settled in Buckeye township in 1870, and February 24, of this year the Abilene Chronicle was started. In 1871 the Tennessee Colony located in the southern part of the county, Dillon being their headquarters. Many Michigan people settled around Hope, or rather, Hope grew up among them.
     A colony of sturdy Scotch had already located in southwestern Dickinson. In the late seventies the “River Brethren” invaded Dickinson County.
     A religious sect, very similar in dress, manners and morals to the old style Quakers. These people had sold their farms back in old Pennsylvania at $100 and $150 per acre, many of them wealthy, all had money, all were thrifty, industrious and enterprising. If there be some needing pecuniary aid, the “Brethren” came to their assistance. It was a part of their religion. These people bought farms, many farms, built big farm houses, big $2,000 Pennsylvania--bank--barns, and churches, raised big crops of wheat, oats, corn and potatoes.
     Probably no county in Kansas was settled by a better class of people than was Dickinson County. Sturdy, intelligent and enterprising. They come to carve out homes for the wife and babies. They fought and vanquished the grasshopper, the drought, the hot winds, they built homes, school houses and churches, turned and tamed the wild prairie soil and overcame all manner of difficulties and discouragements.
     But the very first settlers here was he who came years before this rapid settlement, some in the fifties, and secured the


rich bottom lands. He who with ox team from Leavenworth his flour, his bacon, his lumber, mowing machine and all other supplies that he could not coax from the soil. He who with shot gun or trusty rifle stood guard at the cabin door while the wife and children slept that they might not be scalped; for here roamed and ruled the renowned Indian Chief, Satanta, and his bloody braves. Satanta was then one of the Indian scourges of the plains and distinguished alike for his bravery in battle and his eloquence, was called the orator of the Plains. He was one of the signers of the Medicine Lodge treaty in 1867, by which his people agreed to settle on a reservation.
     On a raiding trip into Texas in 1871 a band of Kiowas under Satanta killed seven white men, for which he and two other chiefs were arrested for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Texas penitentiary. A few years after Satanta committed suicide by jumping from the window of the prison hospital.
     In 1868 D. R. Gorden was made Station Agent at Abilene, of Kansas Pacific Railroad. In 1875 he and W. B. Giles built the Abilene Grain Elevator.
     In March, 1871, the writer established a lumber and coal yard at Abilene, one already being there. The county was being settled up very fast and a large business was done in lumber. At this date, April 1st, 1871, the population of Abilene did not exceed 500; on the first of June there was said to be 7,000 people there, eating where ever they could and sleeping everywhere, some in houses, some in tents, but the greater number under blankets spread upon the prairie. As to drink, there was probably more whiskey drank than water, and of quality that would make rabbits fight a bull dog. On the first of June, 1871, the fiery furnace of the Abilene Texas cattle trade was in full blast; it was red hot, everything sizzled. On the southwest corner of First and Cedar Streets was Jake Karatofsky’s General Merchandise Store. Whiskey included in the “General” department. From this corner to the southeast corner of Mulberry and First was a solid wall of saloons, gambling houses and other dents of perdition. From the northeast corner of First and Cedar around to the Gulf house (now National Hotel) was also a solid row of gambling dens and saloons. These dens were run 24 hours of the day and 30 and 31 days of the month and fresh relays of victims always ready to take the places of


those who had lost their last penny at the wheel of fortune, or rather misfortune, and they who were lying dead drunk on the floor or sidewalk. Brass bands, string bands, piano, vocal music were installed inside and at the doors of these places to attract the passer-by and retain the sucker already in the toils, and too, the “Soiled Dove” was there; bedizzened in her gaudy dress, cheap jewelry and high colored cosmetics, and then the Devil himself was there night and day. Talk about “Hell down below.” Why, Abilene was a setthing, roaring, flaming Hell.
     Thousands and tens of thousands were staked and lost and won at these gaming tables. One Texas cattle man lost $30,000 at one sitting. I have seen a hatful of gold lying loose in a pile on these tables. Somebody steal it? you ask. He would have been bored full of bullets in the twinkling of an eye.
     One of our citizens had the curiosity to count the people on First Street between Cedar and Mulberry and (one side of a block) there were 2,500 on the south side and 1,500 on the north side. This street was then known only as Texas Street. In locating the saloons I have not included much more than one-half that were in the town.
     My lumber yard and office were located on Texas Street, northwest corner of Mulberry and Texas, now called First. The grazing grounds of these immense herds of cattle were west of town and Mud Creek and every cowboy from Texas had to pass my office as he came in to town to get a drink of whiskey or to lose his money at poker or roulette. They came in by twenties, fifties and hundreds. Their ponies having been strung along the sidewalks, the bridle reins having been slung over the pony’s head on the ground and that pony hitched and stood there till his rider came. The signal for leaving town at about 3 P. M. was a few pistol shots into the air, their ponies mounted, a general fusilade all along the line, every pony on the dead run and as they passed my office, it was crack, bang, boom, of fifty or a hundred six shooters into the air. The air, blue with smoke as it curled upward in spiral wreaths. The boys whooping and yelling like Comanches and then they would swoop down into the Mud Creek and up the west bank and then scatter to their different herds. Oh! it was a soul-inspiring or rather, soul perspiring. At first I would rush to the door to see the show, but I soon learned to dodge behind a pile of lumber as soon as I heard the signal crack for their leaving town.


     In the spring of 1871 Wild Bill was appointed City Marshall of Abilene. He was made Marshall because of his known ability to handle “bad men.” Bad men feared him, good citizens looked to him for protection.
     “Phil” Coe was from Texas and run a low down gambling den, on Texas Street. He was a red mouthed, bawling “thug”--”plug” Ugly--a very dangerous beast. For some reason Wild Bill had incurred his violent hatred and Coe planned to kill him or rather to have him killed, being too cowardly to do it himself. One afternoon Coe got about 200 of the cowboys crazy drunk, his plan being to have them commit some overt act. The Marshall would arrest some of them-being so drunk they were to resist, start the shooting and kill the Marshall. Some friend informed the Marshall of the plot.
     I remember the evening so well. About dusk I left my office to go to the Gulf House on my way home. I saw this band of crazy men. They went up and down the street with a wild swish and rush and roar, totally oblivious to anything in their path. It was a drunken mob. I hurried home and got my family into the house, locked the doors and told my folks not to step outside, that the town was liable to be burned down and the people killed before morning. There were two men killed before 9 o’clock that night. As I have said the Marshall had been apprised of the plot and was on the ground fully prepared. The howling mob gathered around but Wild Bill had singled out Phil Coe, who had his gun out, but the Marshall had his two deadly guns leveled on Coe and pulled a trigger of each gun and just at that instant a policeman rushed around the corner of the building right between the guns and Coe and he received both bullets and fell dead. The Marshall instantly pulled two triggers again and two lead balls entered Coe’s abdomen. Whirling on the mob his two 44 six shooters drawn on them, he calmly said , “If any of you want the balance of these pills, come and get them.” Not a word was uttered, they were sobered and paralyzed. “Now every one of you mount his pony and ride for his camp and do it damn quick.” In less than five minutes every man of them was on the west side of Mud Creek. Coe did not die that night, and this son of a Presbyterian Elder, Wild Bill, got a preacher out of bed and had him go to the dying gambler, Phil Coe, and pray with and for him. He died the next day.
     The police man whom the Marshall killed was the son of a


widow of Kansas City, Missouri. He sent money to the mother to come to Abilene, procured a fine burial casket, had a large funeral and shipped the body to Kansas City for burial, paying all expenses.
     I felt a great sense of relief when I learned that Phil Coe was dead. He owned me $40 for a bill of lumber. I had asked him to pay and he was very abusive and I was always afraid that he would burn me out. He owes the bill yet, and I don’t want to go where he is to get it.
     But the greatest problem of all this iniquity, to solve and handle was that of the fallen women who flocked into the beleaguered town by scores, I do believe there were hundreds of them. The City Council ordered them out of the houses which they were occupying and then the banks of Mud Creek were lined with them. It seemed as if the woods were full of them. This was bad, made worse. The Council then leased forty acres of land adjoining town on the south, placed it under jurisdiction of the city and these women built houses on this ground and it was literally covered with them. Some of them were over 100 feet long.
     Beer gardens, dance halls and dancing platforms and saloons galore were there. It was called “The Devil’s Addition to Abilene,” rightly named, for Hell reigned there--Supreme Hacks were run day and night to this addition. Money and whiskey flowed like water down hill and youth and beauty and womanhood and manhood were wrecked and damned in that Valley of Perdition.
     As I have before stated, all this was confined absolutely to the south side of the Kansas Pacific Railroad track, in fact all business had been confined to the south side. But in 1870 some of the better class of business began to locate on the north side. Residences were being erected there. In 1871 the post office was removed from the south side to the north side. Then the cowboys and all others had to cross the dividing line--the railroad track--for their mail and the moment they crossed the line their whole deportment and character seemed to change. The atmosphere was strange to them. Not a whoop or yell or shot escaped them but once again on the south side they were in their native air and it was welcomed with a yelp and a shot.
     During the reign of the Texas Long-Horn a barn-like structure had been erected on the south side (where now stands


the Abilene Steam Laundry) for theatrical entertainments of the “whoop-te-de-ru” order, it being a south side enterprise.
     There were fine characters among the cowboys. Many were educated and graduates from the best eastern colleges. Lured by the tinsel of adventure, they had broken from their home moorings; they strayed away. And who shall say that there were not fine characters among the fallen ones of the gentler sex? Reared, perhaps, in luxury, culture and refinement in a happy home, every one a mother’s darling, her gentle heart is won by one of the stronger sex and in an evil hour she is betrayed and forsaken by him who should be her protector and society, with open arms, receives the betrayer and gives and scowls and sneers and consigns the betrayed one to eternal perdition. God pity the fallen woman. “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.”
     And now we come to the year of our Lord, 1872. The little town of Abilene has been extended to the north side of the track. A good class of residents, stores and shops have been built, big stocks of goods are on the shelves and these new residents are occupied by men of fine business ability, merchants, lawyers, doctors, the mechanic, the artisan and the educator, their wives and children are refined, cultured and accustomed to the best forms of society. They have come to this new “Eldorado” to make it their home, and they “don’t want the Texas cattle trade there any longer.”
     Early in the spring of 1872 a public meeting of the citizens of the town and county was called and resolutions were drafted and adopted, setting forth the fact that the county had become a farmers’ county, that it was impossible to raise corn and gardens in the same enclosure with Texas cattle, etc., and requesting the railroad officials to transfer the shipment of these cattle to other points. These resolutions were presented to the railroad officials. After a struggle with the railroad and a few of our citizens who desired to retain the trade, the request was granted and the trade was scattered, went to Ellsworth, Dodge City, Wichita and other points. In 1885 Western Kansas was settled up, farms carved out, homes, churches and school houses built, towns laid out and peopled. The country had been a vast grazing ground for countless hordes of Texas cattle. But the Texas steer dynasty was overthrown and the Kansas farmer ascended the throne. My youngest son, William T. Little, described the


surrender in the following lines, which I think are peculiarly adapted to the situation in Dickinson County in 1872 and I here inscribe them. They were written in 1888, while he was a student in Columbian Law College in Washington, D. C. (he is now deceased.)


There’s not a shot, nor scarce a yell,
Each wind but sounds the cowman’s knell;
“Line ridings” o’er, night herding too,
And mavericks are mighty few.

Branding day and game in camp,
Dream in blanket, cold and damp,
And riders with “round-up strings,”
Have come to be forgotten things.

Ford, whose current runs to deep,
Milling herd where bank is steep,
And night stampedes that shake the ground,
Are only, now, in novels found.

Dusty drives to shipping points,
Rows we raised at all the joints,
And ceaseless windings of the trails,
Are now confined to cowboy tales.

Open bar and gambling game
Every sport that is not “tame,”
The dive, the greaser’s dirk and gun,
Have all their fullest courses run.

That subtle art, the roper’s own,
Is now a thing but little known,
Upon the lasso hangs a shirt,
A youngster’s mother wields the quirt.

Pool pastures turn to corner lots,
The outer range to garden spots;
“Bedding grounds,” well fenced and ploughed
Make the corn crop speak aloud.

And that old house, the ranger’s home,
Is filled with memories alone;
A poorly sheltered cow, perchance,
May give the place a passing glance.

You deem my story rather stale?
To us, ‘tis like a fairy tale,
Where yesterday we roped our beeves,
Today you bind the harvest sheaves.

The “cutting horses” that we rode
Are now adapted to a load,
That long horned steer now pulls a plow,
While maidens milk the long horned cow.

Some people claim it’s come to pass
That falls no longer cure the grass,
“Look like” counter-brands have gone,
A bill of sale, instead is drawn.


Thus our customs, one by one,
Follow up the setting sun,
“We’ll pull our freight,” You have “the drop,”
“You have the cinch,” you have the crop.

I “cough up” all the cowmen claimed
About the country being framed
For benefit of buffalo
And branded herds that come and go.

Cowardly coyote, sneaking swift,
Wild horse bands, and herds that drift,
From blizzards blast to southern sun,
Have been their day, their course is run.

Lost to us, each camping place;
Departed, each familiar face,
This discontent suggests a change;
I’ll “hit the road” for “over the range.”

     The first church in Abilene was built by Rev. Downer, formerly a member of the faculty of Denison University of Granville, Ohio (my birth-place). It was a small square frame building and stood on Mulberry Street very near to where now stands the Santa Fe Depot. The little one story stone building just to the north of this church was the first school house built in Abilene. The church was built by the Baptist denomination in 1868. Rev. Downer also built a duplicate of this church in Solomon City and Salina.
     The late T. C. McInerney was the first shoe and boot merchant. He made all the boots for the festive cowboy; no shoes for them. These boots were all made of the finest calf skin leather. All high heeled and red tops which reached to their knees and cost these boys from $12.00 to $20.00 per pair. “Tom” McInerney was an Irishman, a thoroughbred. A zealous Catholic, a sincere Christian, a true gentleman, and a model husband, father and citizen. During my last years in Abilene I passed many peaceful hours with him in his boot and shoe store on 3rd Street.
     And now a new era has drawn upon the once benighted Abilene, called and known far and wide as the wickedest town in America. A different class of people were flocking in. Neat and commodious homes were being built, the cheery sound of the hammer and saw were abroad in the land, neighbor dropped in upon neighbor at eventide and were gladly welcomed, a genuine spirit of hospitality and friendship pervaded the atmosphere, streets were defined, board walks were built, shade trees, shrubbery and roses and flowers planted, schools, churches and Sunday schools established and all stood shoulder to shoulder in the effort to make Abilene a good and desirable home town, and the good prevailed.

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