KanColl: The Kansas  Historical Quarterlies

Neodesha in 1873
From a Letter of William Hill, Pioneer Banker

November, 1944(Vol. 13 No. 4), pages 243 to 249.
Transcribed by lhn;
digitized with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society.


     ON March 28, 1873, William Hill [1] of Baraboo,Wis., arrived in Neodesha [2] with the intention of making a home there. The townwas three years old, and after a mushroom growth of two years was at astandstill. Its frontier appearance greatly disappointed Hill and raised doubtsabout the advisability of bringing his wife and small children to suchsurroundings. However he saw possibilities of development, and in the letter tohis wife here printed he seems to be making a conscientious effort to balance thegood points with bad ones. Of this letter his son, Irving, wrote:

     To me, my father seems to be describingcarefully the setting into which he proposes to bring his young family, keepingin his mind that mother was well along in music, literature, and culture. Helater supplied music and instruments for a family orchestra of seven and both dida first-class job of raising a family in Kansas. [3]


Neodesha, March 31, 1873

Dear Nellie,
     We (Pierce [4] and I) arrived here on Fridayevening after a tedious drive across from the Mission, [5] 32 miles, in the faceof a wind that to use Pierce's expression, would have taken the hair off mydogskin gloves had I not kept them under the buffalo robe,-hedriving.


     According to promise I give you my firstimpressions of Neodesha. I was disappointed in it, and still feel thatdisappointment, though feeling also that if I can provide here a pleasant homefor you, and establish myself in a moderately successful business, all else willbe of minor consequence. The natural situation of Neodesha is beautiful, but thebuildings are poor and the town is dirty. The schoolhouse is a model of tastefularchitecture, a really creditable and handsome building. [6] The new City Hall[7] in some respects surpasses the brick block in Baraboo comprising the bank;the corners are of cut stone, as are also the arched window caps, but the brickwork is coarsely done, the brick inferior in quality and appearance, and thecornice is not in harmony with the proportions of the building, giving a squatlook to its "sky line." There is one other brick building, a store near the CityHall, and corresponding to it in its style of front. There are two other brickbuildings in course of erection-a Methodist Church and a Gothic cottage; there isa very neat (but small) frame church (Congregational) and a few frame cottagesthat will compare with (say) Howard's, and another number of houses as roomy, butless attractive. The balance of the town is largely made of one story buildings,some little more than shanties, all measurably destitute of the relief of treesor even grass, the houses here and there huddled very thickly together, the townhaving been laid off in 25 feet lots (frontage). The business portion of the townis concentrated on that portion of Fourth and Main streets extending for oneblock south (on Fourth) and west (on Main), . .

     The business portion thus described is verypoorly built, many of the stores being of but one story, poorly finished, poorlypainted, and looking old and dirty already, although but a few years built. Theeast side of the Square in Baraboo looks well and even the blacksmith's row fromthe new post office to Mills' has a respectably dirty look beside thesebuildings. You will scarcely have as favorable a prepossession of Neodesha afterthis account of it as from Mr. Scott's sketch and passages in my previousletters, but this is true. Nor is there much to boast of here, so far as I canjudge, in the way of cultivated society, but there is a very genuine good willand hospitality towards newcomers.


     The site of the town is not as I supposedimmediately at the junction of the two rivers. It is a mile distant from thejunction (possibly more) a mile from Fall River, and half-a-mile from theVerdigris. The valley broadens as it recedes, and presents an extended view. Nearto the river banks is a wide belt of bottom lands, and beyond this, on the firstswelling ground Neodesha is situated. In the rear of the town the land againslopes slightly until the intervale meets the up-sloping bases of ahalf-encircling rim of hills in the back ground. Through these hills the Fallriver valley affords an easy outlet to the country beyond in that direction,though in no place is there any formidable obstacle to communication with thecountry back. On the brow of the northern segment of this rim of bluffs, cut intwo by the Fall River, is the grave of Little Bear, [8] overlooking the twovalleys. I attempted this (Sunday) morning to induce Pierce to walk out with meto it; it was too windy to ride comfortably; but he put it off until now heasserts we shall not have time before dinner, (We are invited to dinner at Mrs.Sutherland's, [9] the lady concerning whom I wrote you), and I avail myself ofthe interval to commence my letter to you. I yesterday looked at the two houseswhich Howard thought I might rent or buy, for they are still for sale. Either ofthem would do well enough, but I wish to rent rather than buy, and I shall makefurther inquiries before deciding-the more that the best of these two houses willbe rented only subject to sale. The other one cannot be rented; the man for whomit was built has left the country, and the property is to be sold to pay theliens on it. The liens can be bought at 50 cents on the dollar, but the buyerwill then need to expend $350 in finishing the house, (the inside beingunfinished, the floors yet to be lay [sic], lathing and plastering to be done,etc.) so that it would cost from $650 to $700 for the house completed; and I amoffered the other building for $800 ($200 less than was asked for it when Howardwas here) and am inclined to think the last property the cheapest of the two.Still a third property has been offered if I wish to buy for the same price($800) which I like best of all so far as the exterior is concerned, and which ifI have to buy I will buy; but I want to rent.-All property here


is sold far below cost. For instance one property was sold just before myarrival here, a two-story house with an L. The house cost $1,400, not being fullyfinished inside, though outside presenting a good appearance,-well built. Withthis house went an old barn, etc., and twelve 25 feet lots, and the whole soldfor $1,000. Any property that is for sale can be bought at about half what itcost the owner. From this you will very readily infer that the town has come to astand still, and such is the fact. But its advantages are such that it cannot goback any, and I think that as in the case of Baraboo there will be a gradualadvance in the character of the buildings and people, even though the populationmay remain at a standstill. There is a country around here to maintain a largetrade, and a large trade is done. Neodesha has to-day as many stores as Baraboo,and all appear to have a fair trade. There is also a little start inmanufacturing-of Studebacker wagons and black walnut furniture, [10] etc., andthe flouring mill here is one of the best in Southern Kansas-a large and wellfinished building, costing $22,000. [11] Brick is made within the corporatelimits, and magnificent building stone quarried, and aside from the water spokenof in my last letter there is a cheap and easily improved waterpower obtainableon Fall River a mile east of the village. There are three steam sawmills.

     Evening.-Well we have visited Mrs. Sutherland's,had an excellent dinner, and quite a chat after it. To my surprise I found her tobe quite a young lady-younger perhaps than yourself-the talk of her being aninvalid, having given up singing, &38;c., having led me to conclude that she hadpassed the flush of youth. The house, two rooms, is one of the cosiest I ventureto say in Neodesha, the front room, (actually papered,) hung with pictures, a fewchoice books in their little library, and quite a number of objects of interest.But its crowning recommendation to me was the family bed in one corner of theroom! Kitchen and dining room in one-a little too small for comfort, so that Mrs.Sutherland refused to sit at the small round table for fear of crowding us. Buteverything was very nice; the meal was well prepared, the knives weresilverplated, the coffee excellent, salt cellars and little butter plates extra,and the butter itself was from Illinois! To judge from a large photographof her father's house, Mrs. Sutherland was brought up


in a home of luxury and comfort, and can scarcely speak of it without regret.She will I think gladly welcome your coming, as an acquisition to society here!Mr. Sutherland [12] is a young lawyer, scarcely far enough ahead in practice yetto justify him in any other than an economical expenditure, but is making his wayin the world.

     After dinner, the wind having gone down, we(Pierce and I) got a carriage, and drove up to Little Bear's Grave. As weascended the hill, Pierce requested me to keep my eyes on the floor cloth on thebottom of the carriage until having reached the right point of observation, heshould bid me look around. You know how I have stood up for Baraboo scenery inevery letter. Well, the view from Little Bear's Grave surpasses that from thebluff at Dorward's Gorge, or that from the Ebenezer Hill, or that from the blufflooking down on Sauk Prairie, or any view that there is in Sauk County. Itsurpasses anything I ever saw! The belts of forest skirting Fall and VerdigrisRivers, Chetopa and Dry and Little Washington Creeks [13] and other streams, thelines of hills, the valleys, pockets, prairies, Neodesha and Thayer, [14] the oneat hand, the other visible at a distance of sixteen miles, all give suchdiversity to the scenery as makes the whole vast extent on every side seem suchas I might imagine the planner of Fairmount Park desiring to reproduce were youto give him a circuit of sixty miles. The monument itself is but a square builtpile of thin layers of limestone, as roughly laid up (without mortar) as a stonefence. The scene at his burial could be worked up into an interesting magazinesketch. I can only hit it off to-night hurriedly. Delegations of Indianscongregated from different tribes to do honor to his funeral ceremonies. The"howlers" were out in force. These fellows, next to the medicine men in thestanding accorded to them by the tribes, hold themselves in readiness to "howl"on the occasion of the death of any member of the tribe-for a consideration! Fora small pony they will "howl" for twenty-four hours; for a steer four days! Onthe death of Little Bear their services were volunteered, and the hills and woodsrang with their melancholy, piercing wailings for days during which no foodpassed their lips. The braves congregated in all the pomp of


their most impressive paint and costume. [15] The place of his burial was oreof their favorite resorts, and Neodesha, like Baraboo, boasts of having been ofthe haunts of the tribes, from which they were last and loathest to depart.From Little Bear's Grave we drove across Fall River, fording it twice. It isnearly as clear and rapid and beautiful a stream as I had anticipated. TheVerdigris is less so. We passed the Cramer place. [16] and a number ofmagnificent farms, all of them on the bank of the river having the advantage ofprairie, bottom land and timber. After driving through the bottoms and along theriver, and after the view from the mound, the statement that there are 13,000acres of timber within a radius of five miles from Neodesha seems within therange of credibility at least. We passed a number of peach orchards and littlevineyards, and I imagine that there is no scarcity of either grapes or peaches inseason. Droves of cattle were sheltered in the bottoms, but will soon be grazingupon a "thousand hills" or less. Sheep already are nibbling the short shoots ofthe young grass.

     I spoke of the absence of grass from thedooryards in the village. The native grasses are quickly tramped out, and whenthe ground is not re-seeded with tame grass it becomes as bare as a trodden pieceof plowed land. But with the yards seeded, and the grass kept well cut, a swardwill form as rich and velvety as in the north, and all trees and shrubs and vinesgrow luxuriantly. I saw yesterday some lemon trees turning green out of doors,and one of the prettiest young shade trees I have seen is a mulberry,transplanted from the river bottom. Yesterday at Mrs. Sutherland's there were afew wildflowers on the table and the handsomest verbena I have seen. Herhyacinths had already bloomed, and were set out for young bulbs.

     Monday Morning.-To-day the Bank is to be movedinto the new City Hall. There isno mail until evening, and I could add much to my letter, but in the bustle ofremoval I shall have little opportunity for writing. There was almost as muchconfusion in the office yesterday and last evening, and hence the horrid andhurried scratching off of this letter.


In the new Hall, the Bank will have as fine an office as could be wished for.Everything seems to move steadily forward in the line of the programme indicatedby Howard, and next week I shall enter the Bank to commence work, and on thefirst of May assume my position as Cashier. I am making the acquaintance of ourbusiness men under circumstances that seem to me to be as favorable as could bedesired, and have already a fair idea of the routine of the business. There-organization of the bank is also being adjusted in a way altogethersatisfactory. [17]

     As soon as the Directors have an understandingof the change in the management of the Bank, I shall notify you, so that you maythen commence preparations for removing. I looked in, by the way, yesterday atthe furniture store, and while I found very nice black walnut furniture, and someof it very cheap, I found no bureau like ours that could be bought for less than$32, and I am half inclined to think it might be well to bring that. But let Edtake the card table. However, it will be time enough for me to advise you onthese matters when the time comes, and I am now fairly crowded from the desk, somust close.

     I have not received a letter now due me, whichdoubtless awaits my return to theMission. But I pray that you and the children are well, and with much love Iremain

Your Affectionate Husband Wm. Hill.


1. William Hill was born October 18, 1831, near Glasgow, Scotland, and at the ageof twelve came with his parents to this country. After living for a time inAshtabula county, Ohio, the family moved to Sauk county, Wisconsin, where Williamlearned the printer's trade. He did newspaper work in Wisconsin and other pointsuntil the outbreak of the Civil War when he joined the Union army, serving threeyears, first as a member and later as captain of Company B, Eighth MissouriVolunteer infantry. Returning to Baraboo, Wis., at the close of the war, hebecame publisher of the Baraboo Republic, and on January 7, 1865, he was marriedto Ellen Clark Maxwell, a teacher and an accomplished musician of Baraboo. WhenCaptain Hill located in Neodesha in 1873 he gave up journalism and entered theNeodesha Savings Bank as cashier, a position he held for forty years. On thedeath of Dugald Stewart, president of the bank, on February 4, 1913, Hillsucceeded him and continued as president until his death on August 6,1918.-Neodesha Daily Sun, February 6, 1913, August 6-8, 1918.
2. The townsite of Neodesha on the Osage diminished reserve was surveyed in July,1869, and late in December the frame of the first building was erected. Becauseof the liberal policy of the town company, lots being given freely to all whowould build on them, two hundred houses were built the first year, and thepopulation at the end of eighteen months had reached one thousand. In March,1871, the town was incorporated as a city of the third class.Andreas, A. T., andW. G. Cutler, History of the State of Kansas (Chicago, 1883), p. 904.
3. Irving Hill, of Lawrence, to Kirke Mechem, March 23, 1942, Kansas StateHistorical Society.
4. Probably J. V. Pierce, William Hill's brother-in-law, who was president of theNeosho County Savings Bank at Osage Mission, and the Neodesha Savings Bank ofwhich Hill became cashier.-Neodesha Daily Sun, August 7, 1918; NeodeshaCitizen, November 22, 1872; Andreas-Cutler, op. cit., p. 833.
6. Osage Mission, now St. Paul, in the eastern part of Neosho county.
6. The schoolhouse was a four-room brick structure built in 1872 at a cost of$15,000. Andreas-Cutler, op. cit., p. 905.
7. Bonds were voted for the city hall on August 5, 1872, and the building waserected within five or six months. It was originally meant to house the countyoffices had Neodesha become the county seat.-Neodesha Daily Sun, October 5, 1936;Neodesha Citizen, August 23, November 22, 1872.
8. Little Bear, head chief of the Little Osages, died in the early part of 1867or 1868, and was buried on the summit of a high mound bearing his name about amile north of Neodesha. Two or three years later the grave was mysteriouslyrobbed and the body removed.-L. Wallace Duncan, History of Neosho and WilsonCounties (Fort Scott, 1902), P. 842; Wilson County Citizen, Fredonia,September 23, 1941.
9. Before her marriage Mrs. Sutherland was Miss E. A. Raymond, "an accomplishedlady" and a native of Conneaut, Ashtabula county, Ohio. On December 80, 1871, shewas married at Atchison to J. V. Sutherland, a young lawyer who had recentlylocated at Neodesha.-Andreas-Cutler, op. cit., p. 906.
10. The Neodesha Citizen of November 18, 1870, listed a flouring mill,three sawmills and two wagon shops in the town.
11. "Futhey &38; Keys' flouring mill was completed the spring of 1871."-Duncan,op. cit., p. 907.
12. J. V. Sutherland came to Neodesha from McHenry county, Illinois, June 1,1870. In addition to his law practice he sold real estate inNeodesha.-Andreas-Cutler, op. cit., p. 908; Neodesha Citizen,November 18, 1870.
13. Chetopa, Dry and Washington creeks are eastern tributaries of the Verdigrisriver in Wilson county. Chetopa creek joins the Verdigris just north of Neodesha,and Dry and Little. Washington creeks unite before flowing into it a shortdistance below its junction with Fall river.
14. Thayer, a town in the southwestern part of Neosho county.
17. The Neodesha Savings Bank was organized in 1872 and reorganized and charteredon April 1, 1873. On August 17, 1903, it became the First National Bank ofNeodesha. Andreas-Cutler, op. cit., p. 905; Neodesha Register,August 14, 1903.
15. In contrast, A. R. Greene reports the burial of Little Bear thus: "He died inhis wigwam, a mile southwest of town, on Fall river, and was hauled in an oldlumber wagon to the mound, where the grave of a former chief was emptied out andhe was emptied in.
"Less than a score of people attended, no women, not even his wife, being amongthe number. Dissolute habits led to his death.
"A quack doctor stole his bones and took them to Colorado."-A. R. Greene, "TheTruth of History," in Wilson County Citizen, Fredonia, July 21, 1876; alsoin "Wilson County Clippings," v. 1, pp. 50, 51, in Library of the Kansas StateHistorical Society.
16. The Cramer family came to Kansas from Ohio in 1869 and settled on a farm justSouth of Neodesha on the south side of Fall river.-Neodesha Daily Sun, October13, 1936, and in "Wilson County Clippings," v. II, p. 49.

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