Treasures, Free for the Taking

The Kansas Historical Society website, kshs.org, maintains a portal which, for anyone possessing a current Kansas driver’s license, opens up a precious storehouse of family and Kansas history at newspapers.com and ancestry.com, with no subscription required.  After an hour spent rummaging through the archives, I discovered that I might as well prepare a retraction on a few points, and reminded myself to keep an open mind about a few others.

I have an 1870 map showing a blockhouse west of the Republican River near the mouth of White Rock Creek.  It was not, as I once suspected, a moldering remnant of Camp Hoffman, headquarters for elements of the 10th Cavalry and 3rd Infantry for whom Thomas Lovewell scouted in 1867.  Neither was it the refuge sought by a haying party composed of the Lovewells, Davises, and other settlers from White Rock in August of 1868.  It transpires that the blockhouse was not erected until a month after their battle with Cheyenne raiders on the hay meadows astride the Republican River.  The haying party must have barricaded themselves in a shelter that had been built a few years earlier by Republic County's Salt Creek Militia on the east side of the river, near the present-day community of Republic.  The path leading to that sanctuary is the spot where just-arrived White Rock settler Gordon Winbigler bled out on August 15th, after his jugular vein was severed by a Cheyenne spear.

Among the valuables now available on newspapers.com are the digitized archives of over a hundred titles from Kansas, among them, issues of the Daily Kansas Tribune from Lawrence, dating back to 1855.  A note from Lake Sibley penned on September 5th 1868, and printed in the Tribune on the 13th, reports on the building of the new fortification on the west side of the Republican along the White Rock, while taking a snide potshot at the motives behind its construction.

We arrived here from Salt creek last evening, where we found Company F, 5th U.S. Infantry, Capt. Snyder in command, just going into camp.  They have marched from the Solomon river, where they had been for two or three past, and are now on their way to White Rock creek to put up a block house.  The inhabitants in this vicinity regard the sending of infantry up here to fight the Indians simply a farce, done either for the purpose of making a show of protection without giving any, or at the instance of some officer who refuses to believe there are any Indians in the country.  Cavalry is the only branch of the service that can be of use in protecting the settlements and driving the Indians from the country.  A garrisoned fort or block house on White Rock creek, which is now fifteen miles from any settlement - the settlers who were there having left - can be of no effect unless it is occupied by troops who can and will scout over the country, and ascertain if Indians are lurking about, or not.

I have long supposed that an old story about the accidental shooting of a squaw and her papoose, the supposed pretext for either a Cheyenne attack or the flaying alive of a hapless hunter (See “Dark and Bloody Tales”), was the creation of later storytellers who spun the rich oral tradition of the region.  It may indeed have been an invented tale, but if so, it was invented early.  The June 1, 1869 edition of the Tribune reprinted the following report from the Junction City Union:

On Friday of last week four Scandinavians were killed on White Rock.  One of them had his head almost severed from his body.  We understand that five or six weeks previous a squaw and an Indian child, while quietly passing through the country, were shot by settlers at a distance, in mistake for Indian men.  Frontiersmen say that that Swedish colony on the Republican should have protection, for the reason that they are nearly all direct from Sweden and Norway, and have the slightest possible conception of frontier life.  This catastrophe occurred thirty miles beyond their settlement.

An item from an adjacent column, a letter from Lake Sibley, contains the story of four hunters killed on May 23 “fifteen miles above the big bend of Republican river.”  While the two are made to seem like separate massacres, both reports were probably descriptions of the same incident.  “Friday of last week,” would have been May 21st, which is very likely when the four hunters were killed.  Their three surviving companions may not have reached the White Rock settlement until the 23rd, when they were at last able to recruit a burial party, led by Thomas Lovewell and his White Rock Rangers.  The letter from Lake Sibley about the latest “Indian Outrages” also states that, “On the 24th about the same number came on to White Rock creek, near the mouth, and killed one man, ran off the stock and robbed the houses.  Also, one woman and two boys are missing.”  The letter seems to provide a generic version of the death of young  Thomas Voarness, a.k.a. “Johnny Dahl,” while word of a missing woman may be the first mention of the phantom victim who came to be known as “Mrs. Rice,” a White Rock settler supposedly carried off into captivity.  Her story may be only a muddled retelling of the 1867 kidnapping of Mary Ward.

The April 5, 1870 edition of the Tribune summarizes a letter from Thomas Lovewell himself: 

Mr. Thomas Lovewell writes us from White Rock, Kansas, that the report that troops had been stationed at that place is without foundation.  The troops are at Sibley, forty miles below, on the other side of the Republican.  He says they are unable to get arms with which to protect themselves, and that this drives away settlers, and that the Indians are expected there daily. 

There is a family tale about Thomas Lovewell shaming nervous recruits into emerging from their dugouts to investigate an attack north of White Rock in the spring of 1870 (See “Ongoing Mysteries”).  If the story turns out to be true, Lovewell’s letter to the Tribune indicates that the Army itself had to be shamed into sending them there in the first place.

I fear that this entry is about as confusing as one of those Acts of Congress that run into innumerable pages because every page is an amendment to some previous Act.  But if there’s one overriding lesson here, it’s that subscription sites such as newspapers.com become a better value all the time (Especially when they're free) because new titles are constantly being added, thanks to partners such as the Kansas Historical Society, and the optical character recognition search engines are improving. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I know of a book that needs updating. 

© Dale Switzer 2016  dale@lovewellhistory.com