Taking Off the Gloves

As time widens the distance between the past and present, so in proportion does the past become of interest to those now living.  We look upon scenes of today with cold indifferece that a generation hence will ransack the records to find the smallest information concerning…

In the excitement of battle the expiring words of a comrade “tell my mother I died a soldier’s death,” is scarcely more than heard by his brother soldier, but as time rolls on, - an age has past - and the whispered words of the dying youth have echoed among hills and valleys around the earth.


And very much like this is there in the experience of the frontiersman.  He will hear of a massacre where whole families have been murdered by the savages, and so little thought does he take of those to come after him that he does not even jot down the date where it occurred!

James Hagaman was in some ways a man ahead of his time, apparently foreseeing both the Ken Burns epic documentary “The Civil War,” and Ancestry.com.  Aware that future generations would one day scramble after every scrap of evidence about the past, he would save them the trouble by offering his recollections and opinions about the earliest days of settlement in his 1884 historical pamphlet, “The Blade Annual and History of Cloud County.”  One simple contribution we can be grateful for is his summary of rainfall totals and weather conditions through the seasons, which often add context to familiar events.

For instance, 1860 is remembered as a famine year in Kansas, a time at the tail end of several years of drought when farmers sometimes resorted to trapping rats for food.  No one thought to record the scant rainfall below the Big Bend of the Republican River that year, but Hagaman informs us that the offical reading at Manhattan was 13 and 3/4 inches.  The average annual rainfall then and now for the region seems to hover close to 28 or 29 inches.  But in 1868, when farmers were forced to venture along the banks of the Republican River to cut hay for forage, fighting off Indians in the process, the same year that Thomas Lovewell, Adam Rosenberger, and a few of their friends from Lake Sibley scurried along wooden draws and gullies to avoid Indian hunting parties, while trying to scare up game to feed starving families in eastern settlements - only 18 inches fell in Cloud County.

1867, the year of the Jewell County Massacre, had seen a wet spring and summer, with "daily showers falling through the months of June and July.  The crop yield was large and the prairies were covered with a very heavy growth of grass.”  Unfortunately for White Rock pioneers, they took refuge at Clifton after the massacre, and were unable to tend their farms.  Harvest was late and furtive.  Those brave enough to return to their claims in 1868 were rewarded by watching their crops shrivel and die.

Hagaman may have been thinking of his own example when he noted that pioneers did not jot down the date when massacres happened.  In his history Hagaman mentions the Jewell County Massacre, which he assures readers, took place “about the first of the month" of April.  Thomas Lovewell, in his own Indian depredation testimony on behalf of his old neighbor John Marling, could not be certain when it happened other than recalling that it must have been March or April.  For some reason Winsor and Scarbrough picked April 9th for their “History of Jewell County," a date which sounds precise enough to pass for definitive, if we didn’t know better.  Judging from the date when news of the attack reached Fort Riley, the massacre must have happened on the last day of April, just as another White Rock pioneer, Daniel Nelson Davis, accurately remembered.

Having taken part in the search for Mary Ward, Hagaman probably remains the best source on that aspect of the massacre story.  However, besides being off on the date by about a month, he also miscounted the bodies, coming up with a total of three dead, having forgotten all about poor Erastus S. Bartlett,  Mrs. Setzer’s “boarder” or whatever their relationship may have been.

While not always a stickler for accuracy, Hagaman always forthrightly spoke his mind, unlike some of his fellow writers of regional history.  In his 1883 “History of Republic County," Isaac O. Savage seemed to take a subtle jab at a local militia captain named Isaac Schooley, calling him “an exceedingly prudent and careful commander.”  An earlier writer had been slightly less circumspect, describing Schooley as “looking brave as a sheep” after emerging from “Fort Skedaddle” in Clay County in 1864 and leading his unit on a nervous reconnaissance of the White Rock valley, issuing some of his commands “in trembling accents.”  Such pussyfooting was not for James Manney Hagaman, who came right to the point: 

For Mr. Schooley we will say that he was a consummate coward and absolutely unfit for the position of captain to which he had been chosen of a camping in the 17th Kansas State Militia.  When he was about to leave on this expedition some of the wives of the men who went were much excited lest their husbands would get killed, but the captain’s wife very confidently advised them that “they need not fear as the captain would not take them where there was any danger.”  She seemed to know him.

In my last post I characterized Hagaman’s founding of Concordia as an act of pure spite directed at his former neighbors, to prevent their settlement from becoming the county seat.  This was no exaggeration.  If Hagaman felt nothing but contempt for Captain Isaac Schooley, his attitude toward the citizens around Elk Creek and Clyde was even more venomous, and he was not ashamed to let them know it.

Elk Creek early became inbued with the idea that it was the center of the United States and that in time the brain and wealth of the nation would be located there, and around it, as the focal point, would revolve the whole universe.  Its population was made up of sharpers, tricksters, scalawags, small fry politicians, with an occasional sprinkling of modesty and morality, - just enough of these elements to save it from brimstone and fire.

I wonder if “The Blade Annual and History of Cloud County” sold well around Elk Creek.  Perhaps it’s perfectly understandable that by 1886 James M. Hagaman was the subject of a whispering campaign concocted out of misshapen fragments of county history that had him shooting a peddler, stealing a peddler’s pack, and paying off his own father’s murderer.  Even on the frontier, there was such a thing as karma.

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com