Today's edition celebrates the 150th anniversary of Kansas becoming a state.
These stories are intended for entertainment, education and to stir an interest in our great state's history.
These cowboys gather for a picture in Seward County circa 1900. Prior to that, groups like these fought it out in intimidating battles as cities sought to become county seats. The Stevens County battle ended with the murder of the Seward County Sheriff. Courtesy photo
Stevens County war bleeds into Seward County
On Aug. 3, 1886, Governor Martin issued a proclamation for the organization of Stevens County. (Decribed by one writer in 1907: “… then a remote and apparently unattractive region.”)
The founders were citzens from McPherson, taking advantage of a time when the great land boom of 1886 and 1887 was at its height.
Meanwhile, at Meade Center, there resided an old-time Kansas man, Colonel Samuel Newitt Wood, who also wanted a town site in the new county. He sent out emissaries and formed what would be Woodsdale, 8 miles from Hugoton. Wood offered lots free to any who would come and build upon them. Settlers then streamed to Woodsdale, because corner lots in Hugoton were costing $1,000 each.
Ill will was fostering betwen the camps, and it came to a head when Woosdale’s marshall requested help from his sheriff, John Cross, to help capture Hugoton’s constable and town marshall, Sam Robinson, who had a warrant out for his arrest after an altercation between he and Cross.
Cross and his posse, four other Woodsdale men, headed down to the Voorhees area in the Neutral Strip in Oklahoma. In an area known as the Hay Meadows, they were ambushed and slaughtered by Robinson’s men. One of the men survived by feigning dead as his friends were being shot down – Cross was shot pointblank after surrendering his weapon.
Once the survivor was returned to Woodsdale, Wood organized a small army and they attacked Hugoton. A writer back then said, “The two towns literally fought each other to the death.”
The Kansas State Militia was brought in and trials began.
Here is the way it was recorded:
“The murder of Sheriff Cross occurred in 1888. The militia were withdrawn within about 30 days thereafter. Both towns continued to break the law – in short, agreed jointly to break the law. They drew up a stipulation, it is said, under which Colonel Wood was to have all the charges against the Hugoton men dismissed. In return, Wood was to have all the charges against him in Hugoton dismissed, and was to have safe conduct when he came up to court. Not even this compounding of felony was kept as a pact between these treacherous communities.
“The trial lagged. Wood was once more under bond to appear at Hugoton, before the court of his enemy, Judge Botkin, and among many other of his Hugoton enemies. On the day that Colonel Wood was to go for his trial, June 23, 1891, he drove up in a buggy. In the vehicle with him were his wife and a Mrs. Perry Carpenter. Court was held in the Methodist church.”
At the time of Wood’s arrival, the docket had been called and a number of cases set for trial, including one against Wood for arson – there was no crime in the calendar of which one town did not accuse the other, and, indeed, of which the citizens of either were not guilty.
“Wood left the two ladies sitting in the buggy, near the door, and stepped up to the clerk’s desk to look over some papers. As he went in, he passed, leaning against the door, one Jim Brennan, a deputy of Hugoton, who did not seem to notice him. Brennan was a friend of C. E. Cook, then under conviction for the Hay Meadows massacre.
Brennan stood talking to Mrs. Wood and Mrs. Carpenter, smiling and apparently pleasant. Colonel Wood turned and came down toward the door, again passing close to Brennan but not speaking to him. He was almost upon the point of climbing to his seat in the buggy, when Brennan, without a word and without any sort of warning, drew a revolver and shot him in the back.
Wood wheeled around, and Brennan shot him the second time, through the right side. Not a word had been spoken by any one. Wood now started to run around the corner of the house. His wife, realizing now what was happening, sprang from the buggy-seat and followed to protect him.
Brennan fired a third time, but missed. Mrs. Wood, reaching her husband’s side, threw her arms around his neck. Brennan coming close up, fired a fourth shot, this time through Wood’s head. The murdered man fell heavily, literally in his wife’s arms, and for the moment it was thought both were killed. Brennan drew a second revolver, and so stood over Wood’s corpse, refusing to surrender to any one but the sheriff of Morton County.
“The presiding judge at this trial was Theodosius Botkin, a figure of peculiar eminence in Kansas at that time. Botkin gave Brennan into the custody of the sheriff of Morton County. He was removed from the county, and it need hardly be stated that when he was at last brought back for trial it was found impossible to empanel a jury, and he was set free. No one was ever punished for this
“Colonel Samuel N. Wood was an Ohio man, but moved to Kansas in the early Free Soil days. He was a friend and champion of old John Brown and a colonel of volunteers in the civil war. He had served in the legislature of Kansas, and was a good type of the early and adventurous pioneer.
“Whether or not suspicion attached to Judge Botkin for his conduct in this matter, he himself seems to have feared revenge, for he held court with a Winchester at his hand and a brace of revolvers on the desk in front of him, his court-house always surrounded with an armed guard. He offended men in Seward county, and there was a plot made to kill him. A party lay in wait along the road to intercept Botkin on his journey from his homestead – every one in Kansas at that time had a ‘claim’ – but Botkin was warned by some friend. He sent out Sam Dunn, sheriff of Seward County, to discover the truth of the rumor.
“Dunn went on down the trail and, in a rough part of the country, was fired upon and killed – instead of Botkin. Arrests were made in this matter also, but the sham trials resulted much as had that of Brennan. The records of these trials may be seen in Seward County. It was murder for murder, anarchy for anarchy, evasion for evasion, in this portion of the frontier.
Judge Botkin soon after this resigned his seat upon the bench and went to lecturing upon the virtues of the Keeley cure. Afterwards he went to the legislature – the same legislature which had once tried him on charges of impeachment as a judge!
Kansans battle locusts in 1874
Following the Civil War, many settlers came to Kansas in hopes of finding inexpensive lands and a better life. In 1874, however, grasshoppers posed a threat to this life. Millions of the hoppers, or Rocky Mountain locusts, descended on the prairies from the Dakotas to Texas.
The invasion began in late July when without warning the hoppers arrived in swarms so large they blocked out the sun and sounded like a rainstorm.
Crops were eaten out of the ground, as well as the wool from live sheep and clothing off people’s backs. Paper, tree bark and even wooden tool handles were devoured.
Hoppers were reported to have been several inches deep on the ground and locomotives could not get traction because the insects made the rail too slippery.
As a whole, Kansans refused to be defeated. Settlers did their best to stop the hoppers by raking them into piles, like leaves, and burning them but these efforts were in vain because of the sheer numbers of the pests. Inventive citizens built hopper dozers or grasshopper harvesters to combat future visitations.
The hoppers usually stayed from two days to a week and then left as they had come, on the wind. The areas hit the worst were where most of the settlers were new arrivals, who had not had time to establish themselves in their new homes.
Governor Thomas Osborn called a special session of the legislature to issue bonds to relieve the destitution left by the grasshoppers. The rest of the nation responded to pleads for aid by sending money and supplies, which were often hauled free of charge by the railroads.
Even with the disaster brought by the grasshoppers, Kansans didn’t lose their humor. Many tall tales describing the damage done by the hoppers were told. One of these described the hoppers approaching a house: “They first attacked the green shades on the windows, and then a green painted dust pan. A green Irish servant girl, asleep in one of the rooms, was the next victim and not a vestige of her was left.”
The year 1874 will long be remembered in Kansas on account of the remarkable incursion of the Rocky Mountain locusts that year. The habitat of this variety of locusts in America is along the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains, from Texas, through Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.