Saturday, January 11, 2020

Nicodemus Archive Files at KU Library

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a very special affinity for Nicodemus, Kansas, now a part of the National Park Service.

For those who don’t know anything about Nicodemus,  Nicodemus represents the involvement of African Americans in America’s westward expansion. It is the oldest and only remaining Black settlement west of the Mississippi River.

The Kansas University Spencer Research Library has a large archive collection of files about Nicodemus. You can go online to see what is indexed, but to actually see the collection, one would have to go to the Spence Library.

Here is the official citation to the collection with link to the index: 
Nicodemus Historical Society Collection, Kansas Collection, RH MS 545, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Here is the collection summary:
Title: Nicodemus Historical Society collections
Dates: 1880-2015
Quantity: 38 boxes + 5 oversize boxes, 6 oversize folders, 1 audio cassette

Here is the archive file’s description of Nicodemus:
History of Nicodemus, Kansas
    The town of Nicodemus in Graham County, western Kansas, was founded in 1877 by African Americans migrating primarily from Kentucky and Tennessee, before the time period of the Exodusters. The town reached its most prosperous years by 1886, with the maturation of area agricultural production. However, the community began a long decline when a rail line, built in 1888, bypassed Nicodemus, instead linking through the neighboring town of Bogue.

    The population is thought to have peaked in 1910, when the federal census reported 595 inhabitants in Graham County. By 1950, only 16 residents were counted, and the Post Office station closed in 1953.

    Nicodemus was designated a National Historic Landmark by the federal government in 1976, and became a National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service in 1996 in large part thanks to Angela Bates, a prominent citizen. The town is known for its long history, noteworthy citizens, and the Homecoming Emancipation celebration that takes place each July
I often thought about the statement by former US senator Bob Dole, who led the effort to make Nicodemus a National Historic Site in 1996. He stated in an interview about Nicodemus that there was a lot of racism aimed towards the residents of Nicodemus. I found this sad but there were at least two obvious transportation racist choices. One, the railroad was supposed to come across the Solomon into Nicodemus. The railroad workers set up a tent city that became Bogue. The railroad went through Bogue. The other obvious choice was putting in the original Highway 24.  It ran three miles to the north of Nicodemus and then veered straight south to meet the highway from Bogue, three miles west of Nicodemus. I mean they couldn’t have veered the highway straight south three (or even two) miles to the east? Of course they could have.

I’ll probably never get a chance to see this archived collection but I am glad it is available for future researchers to see and document the beginnings of Nicodemus.

Mapping Thornburg to Westmar

Me at Westmar College, 1984

When I decided to go to Westmar College in Iowa, I could tell my dad wasn’t exactly thrilled I was moving that far from home. Most of my classmates were going to much closer institutions in like Hays, Colby, Concordia, Manhattan, even Lawrence and Wichita. I think in hindsight he might have been worried too about the cost of private college versus public in-state tuition.

But Thornburg was only four miles from the state line with Nebraska, so it wasn’t like I really going a great distance in leaving Kansas. But it was still much further than going to Winfield, south of Wichita, and the home of my second choice, Southwestern College.

Well - to the gist of the blog post - there wasn’t Google Maps back then to give you options of different routes to compare time and mileage. I loved looking at maps, something I picked up from my Dad. The summer before going to Westmar, I had already tried a different couple routes: all interstate (except Thornburg to Hastings) and Highway 81 to Highway 20. Both were about six hours drive and I wasn’t a fan of going through Omaha. [Back then Interstate speed limits were double-nickel unlike today]

But I thought to myself, there’s got to be something better than Highway 81 and getting blown off the road by semis. So, I found a diagonal route - diagonal routes usually are the best way to get from point A to C by bypassing point B.  So out of curiosity I plugged my old route into Google Maps and was pleasantly surprised.

The third route choice was my route. It was 331 miles long and took 5 hours and 50 minutes to travel. That was right. Almost always about 6 hours to get back home or to get back to campus. I was pretty pleased with myself.

The number one route choice picked by Google Maps had the most miles to drive but the shortest time - that was the aforementioned interstate route. Again, Google Maps is figuring in today’s speed limit and not back then because back then - it was still about 6 hours to drive. Have to remember back then in big cities, the speed limit dipped below 55.

The number two route surprised me. In fact, if I had known that this route was both shorter and faster than my route, I would have used it. But back then, I didn’t think anything could beat a diagonal route - not true in this scenario.

So the second route option from Google Maps was to take Highway 77 straight north out Lincoln, through Fremont, and across Highway 20 to Highway 20 Business through Sioux City to Highway 75. That route never even occurred to me to being the better route. It was only six miles shorter than my route at 325 miles but it was 30 minutes faster! Wow - I would have loved that.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Notes of Interest from the book 25 Years Among the Indians and the Bufflalo

I originally got this book on library loan from another library just to see what was said about parts of Kansas that I am really familiar with. And there was - Jewell, Smith, Phillips, Rooks, Osborne, Republic, Graham counties and much more.

It was interesting that I got the library loan from a private university in Alabama which made me research what other libraries had it -- Ive League college libraries, and whole bunch of libraries -- I'll leave the rest of that discovery to my work blog for my library.

This is basically a diary printed into a book. Well written, crisp details, first-hand account about the frontier West.

So here are some interesting things I found from reading this book:

  • Sugar Loaf Mound
    Sugar Loaf Mound near the Rooks - Phillips county line was often used as a landmark for buffalo hunters. This leads me to believe that buffalo once roamed around that area then. In fact in his memoir, Mr. Street goes from Hill City towards Sugar Loaf Mound trying to find a buffalo herd.

    To those who don't know, Sugar Loaf Mound was within 8 miles, or less, from where I grew up.
  • Bow Creek
    Back in those days, Bow Creek was not called Bow Creek. It was called Middle Solomon. So there was a North Solomon, a South Solomon, and a Middle Solomon. I found that interesting as Bow Creek was within a mile of Sugar Loaf Mound, and I grew up calling the stream as Bow Creek.
  • Hays
    Hays was a bad, bad village. Mr. Street had served in the army, scouted among the plains, fought in battles, but his day of survival in Hays was an unforgettable experience. By the time he made his only visit to Hays, the railroad was already 125 miles west of Hays in Sheridan. But Hays was inhabited by people tired of following railroad west and decided to stay put, or as Mr. Street described, the worst of society. His morning started with two men shot in his presence and others shot or carved up with a knife. Outside on a sidewalk, he was caught in a crossfire of bullets. In the afternoon, it was quiet as no one was killed, but as the evening came, two soldiers were killed, one with his throat carved and thrown into an empty rail car, and of course other shootings and quarreling were going on. As Mr. Street aptly wrote, "for the one day's experience in Hays, I have never known equal."
  • Smith Center
    Mr. Street and a wealthy friend pushed for Gaylord to be the county seat of Smith Center. The temporary seat was in Cedar. As the votes were being counted between Gaylord or Smith Center, the next to last box was opened and counted which placed Smith Center in a slight lead. Mr. Street felt very confident as the last box was from Gaylord until he started seeing smirking going on. The box from Gaylord was opened up revealing absolutely no ballots in the box to be counted. Mr. Street and friend angrily left knowing that the election had been thwarted.
  • May-October 1869
    The Cheyennes and the Sioux had raided the White Rock Creek and Republican River area of Republic County killing 7 and capturing two; and then killed a few more down along the Solomon River, and on May 30, killed 13 on the Saline River. [To add context, there was a prominent Indian trail connecting the three rivers in that area in almost a straight line.] Mr. Street answered the call of the militia. Interesting stories including getting trapped in a flash flood at the confluence of White Rock Creek and the Republican; the discovery of the ruins of a Fort Kirwin near the confluence of the Middle and North forks of the Solomon with the stockade burnt to the ground by the Indians; and despite their efforts, the militia never found any marauding groups of Indians. Mr. Street commented, supposed Cheyennes and Sioux, indicating his doubts to the officials reports that there were any.
  • Great Spirit Spring (Waconda)
    From the book: "the battalion camped in a large horseshoe bend of the Solomon about one mile west of Waconda. Inside the spring, the water of which was rather brackish, carrying in it considerable salt, the water rises and slowly runs over an oval stone formation, the stone being gradually formed from the salt in the water." Mr. Street observed that the stone formation was about 20 feet high with the spring pool about 30 feet in diameter. The Indians brought gifts to Waconda believing the waters were of medical value.  Mr. Street wisely wrote that the Indians were not going to give up their Waconda without a fight.