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The History of our Public Schools
Wyandotte County, Kansas

1844
2012

 

 

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The Story of Kansas City, Kansas

"New Town"

Most of the Wyandots took no part in the fight over slavery.  They were hoping for the white settlers.  They did not have long to wait.  One December day in 1856, Dr. J. R. Root and Thomas B. Eldridge arrived from Lawrence to look at the village.  They said they had friends who wanted to buy land for a town.  Silas Armstrong showed them around and entertained them in his home.  [Annotation:  Silas Armstrong of the Wyandot Nation and became a member of the Wyandotte Town Company.]

The two men liked the landing place at the junction of the two rivers, where the ground sloped up gently from the levee to the bluffs.  They went to Missouri where their friends were staying and advised them to consider buying.

A committee of four rode to Wyandot to inspect the town.  Without returning to Missouri to make a report, they formed a land company with some Wyandot men as partners.  When the rest of the party heard of this they were angry and demanded to be taken into partnership also.  They were then promised a share of the profits and admitted as members into the Wyandotte Town Company.

Such a bustle and stir as then began in the little Indian town.  By February, 1857, the Indians received titles and could sell their property.  A surveyor divided the farms into town lots.  Four avenues one hundred feet wide were laid out, running east and west across the city.  They were named Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska and Washington in honor of four territories west of the Mississippi River.  [Annotation:  Kansas Avenue later became State Avenue.]

On March 7, 1857, the lots were placed for sale.  You would have thought the people were celebrating the Fourth of July!  Led by the American flag and a small band, a procession of fifty men marched from Fifth and Minnesota to the store at Third and Nebraska.  The stairway almost collapsed from the weight of the people trying to get in.

Plots of ten lots each first sold for $400; then the price went to $1000.  Many buyers had no idea where the lots they bought were located.  One man some time afterward got tired of waiting to find his place.  The matter was settled when he threatened to shoot a member of the land company if he did not receive his deed.

The Indians were anxious to sell, and in their haste often accepted less money than their property was worth.  Mathias Splitlog, so named because his mother said he was born near a split log, knew the value of his land.  He owned the ground where St. Mary's Church stands at Fifth and Ann.  His house had a fine view of the rivers.

The men from the town company wanted to buy that site.  They met with Splitlog one day and talked for a long time about the advantages of selling.  When they paused, thinking him about ready to sign the paper for the sale, he merely said, "Good for you, good me me!" and ended the discussion.

Years later Splitlog did decide to sell a part of his holding for $140,000, and contracted with some men to meet him at Mr. Northrup's bank at ten o'clock on a certain day.  When the clock pointed exactly to the hours, the men had not arrived.  Matthias put on his hat and walked out.  He met the men hurrying up the street to the appointment, but refused to return with them.  However, he agreed to meet them on the following day.  He did not have to wait a second time, but announced that the price had gone up to $160,000 since the day before. 

There was nothing to do but pay it.  The men counted out the money, part in gold pieces, the rest in paper money.  The Indian could not read or write and did not know what was printed on the paper.  "Gold!" he demanded.  Mr. Northrup, the banker, did not have such a large amount of gold in his bank.  He hitched up his horses and took the ferry across the river to Missouri.  There he had to visit several banks to obtain the gold, which he loaded into his buggy and brought it back to the bank.  The Indian's eyes lit up at the sight as the shining gold was spread on the table.  "Give 'em deed!" he commanded.  He sat looking at the gold for a long time, and then ordered the banker to deposit it safely for him.  The team was again hitched up, and the money returned to Missouri to be deposited again in the banks from which it had been obtained with so much effort just a few hours before.  [Annotation:  $160,000 in 1857 is approximately the same as $3,079,133.90 in 2002.]

THE TOWN BUILDS AND GROWS

As soon as the lots were sold, the owners began to build.  Workmen flocked into the town, but could not keep up with the demands for their services.  Carpenters earned Five dollars a day in gold, which was a great deal of money then.  Sawmills were established on Jersey Creek and other streams, for the grist and sawmill that had operated Splitlog's Run since 1852 could do very little toward meeting the sudden demand.  Most of the people had to live in tents while their homes were being built.

A hotel called the Garno House was erected for settlers who had money.  It was two stories high and stood on a hill.  Later when Minnesota Avenue was graded, one side of the hotel had to be propped up with timbers.

A real houseboat was moored at the levee.  Captain F. A. Hunt, who owned a steamboat, took out the engines and turned it into a hotel and warehouse.  His guests slept in the cabins.  This boat stayed at the levee for about two years.  Then the town decided the captain was blocking boat traffic and made him move. [Annotation:  At this time Wyandotte had several big stores along the levee, besides a hotel or two. Its population had increased to four hundred. People were coming in from all directions, one company coming from Pennsylvania and another from Ohio. Mark W. Delahay, a relative of Lincoln and for years judge of our United States district court, had started a paper, and F. A. Hunt had picked up an old steamboat, the "St. Paul," and had converted it into a wharf-boat and hotel. Mrs. Garno had moved from Leavenworth and built the Garno House, on the corner of Third and Minnesota. There were four physicians, Dr. J. P. Root, Dr. J. C. Bennett, Dr. Fred Speck and Dr. John Speck. There were lawyers there too - Bartlett & Glick, Davis & Post, J. W. Johnson, B. Gray and D. B. Hadley. Byron Judd was in the real estate business, and Thomas J. Barker was postmaster.]

If you have stayed in a new motel trip, you would not want to go back to the hotels of early Wyandotte days.  Once a speaker by the name of Susan B. Anthony came to talk in McAlpine Hall about women's right to vote.  People with her thought there were few comforts in Kansas hotels.  One man complained because he had been forced to take his daily bath in a pint tin cup of water.  "There wasn't a bathtub anywhere on the Kansas prairies!" he said. 

NEW HOUSES

Some of you may live in what are called pre-fabricated houses.  They come in parts already made and just need to be put together.  We think of them as a new invention, but our city had "pre-fabs" back in 1857.  Albert Wolcott brought six frame houses with him from St. Louis.  As a carpenter was needed only to put the parts together, the people staying in hotels were quick to buy these houses.

The Indians came to see what they called the wonderful wigwams of the white brother.  They marveled how a few strokes of a hammer could make a tepee of such splendor.

Dr. Joseph R. Rott bought one of these houses and placed it in a large cornfield near Fourth and Nebraska.  Most houses went unpainted, but Dr. Root painted his a flaming red.  This was the first house in our city erected by a white man who was not married to an Indian.  Because it was small and squareshaped and belonged to a doctor, it was nicknamed the "Pill Box."

Dr. Root entertained with fine parties in his "Pill Box."  He served oysters at Christmas one year, which was a rare treat.  During the Civil War, Dr. Root hid runaway slaves in his house in the cornfield.

[Annotation:  DR. JOSEPH P. ROOT, who was one of the early physicians of Wyandotte, then a part of Leavenworth County, was born at Greenwich, Massachusetts, April 23, 1826, and died at Kansas City, Kansas, July 20, 1885. He was a member of the Connecticut Kansas Colony, better known as the Beecher Bible and Rifle Company, which settled at Wabaunsee. He organized free-state forces and in every way identified himself with the early history of the territory. As chairman of the Free-State Executive Committee, he located the road from Topeka to Nebraska City, thereby securing a safe route of travel for free-state immigrants. Doctor Root was sent East as agent to obtain arms and other assistance for the free-soilers of Kansas and was very successful in his mission. On his return he located at Wyandotte and was there elected a member of the Council. In 1861 he was elected the first lieutenant-governor of the state; served in the Second Kansas as surgeon and was medical director of the Army of the Frontier. At the close of the war he returned to Wyandotte and resumed the practice of his profession, but was appointed minister to Chile in 1870. At the close of his term of office he again located in Wyandotte, of which he was a resident until his death, July 20, 1885. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, copyright 1918]

THE BLUE GOOSE

The Blue Goose Saloon was a famous building.  Mrs. Armstrong called it a grog shop started by whites and said the churches would not have been burned if the roughnecks among the Indians had not been able to get whisky there.  The Blue Goose stood on a hill with its front on the ground and its back on stilts where the ground sloped away.

A certain Buckskin Joe and his band were making trouble for the sheriff's posse.  When the posse rode into town one night, having chased Buckskin Joe all day without success, somebody called out, "Let's race to the Blue Goose and ride up to the bar on our horses!  Last man pays for the drinks!"

Just as the men had galloped in and the horses' heads were lined above the bar, they heard a loud creaking and groaning.  The whole building collapsed, tumbling men and horses down among the floors and rafters.  No one was hurt, and the Blue Goose was soon rebuilt, this time on the level.

THE CITY OF WYANDOTTE

Although the Wyandots liked to read, they had never had a newspaper of their own.  In May, 1857, a Mr. Abbott published our first paper, the Wyandott City Register.  The print shop was a Tent at Third and Nebraska.  The Register was followed by the Western Argus in May, 1858.  At the Constitutional Convention in 1859, another paper, the Wyandotte Gazette was printed and distributed every day.  [Annotation:  Microfilm of these newspapers is on file at the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library, 625 Minnesota Avenue, Kansas City, KS.  The Wyandotte Gazette was later bought out by the Kansas City, Kansas - a newspaper which is still in operation today.  Not mentioned here is the Wyandotte Citizen, published between September 25, 1857 and December 5, 1857.]

[Annotation:  Territorial Kansas Newspaper List (with links to editions).  The Press of the County.   Newspapers archived at the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka, KS.]

The Wyandots who had welcomed the white settlers became a part of the new city.  Others, however, had relied too long on the chiefs and the government to look after their affairs.  By 1867, many had lost their money and property.  On February 23 of that year, the government deeded the Indians a reservation of 20,000 acres on the Neosho River in Oklahoma.  Several hundred returned to tribal customs and their descendants live there today.

As a nation, the Wyandots disappeared from here and influenced no more the city which bore their name.  The new town received its charter on June 8, 1858, and was incorporated under the title "The Inhabitants of the Town of Wyandotte," on January 29, 1859.  The first election was held in February of that year and James R. Parr was elected the first mayor.

A MATTER OF SPELLING

There are a few lucky people who never have much trouble with spelling.  Most of us have to ask someone how to spell the hard words or look them up in a dictionary.  Concerning some of the old names, no one was quite sure how they should be spelled.

Kansas had many different spellings, and so did Wyandotte.  The earliest name for the Indians was Quendot, which later grew into Wyandot.  The village was called Wyandot after the tribe.  At first the town company decided to use the English form Wyandott, but finally incorporated the new city under the title, "The Inhabitants of the Town of Wyandotte."  Wyandotte is the French spelling for the word.

The people in Quindaro teased the citizens here by writing the name "Y &."  Wyandotte people answered them by calling Quindaro the "Hole in the Hill."

If you think three spellings for a word are confusing, consider how doubly hard it would be to spell "Kyooh-deh-zhah-rih."  This is an Indian word meaning a junction of two streams, or the land enclosed by the streams.  It was the name used when the Wyandots were buying this land from the Delawares.  We can be glad that we write Wyandotte, not Kyooh-deh-zhah-rih County!

The Lost City - Quindaro

Return to Index for "The Story of Kansas City, Kansas" by Nellie McGuinn

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History Site created on December 02, 2002
Page last updated: 02-Jan-2012

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