News and Events

Long Awaited Wish Coming True

The Museum Annex is temporarily closed to the public as work is in progress on a much anticipated improvement. For years, museum staff and board have longed for air conditioning to be installed in the annex. In the summer months, being in the annex can be unbearable for our guests. Temperatures in the balcony reach well over 100 degrees. The extreme temperature is not only uncomfortable, but extremely hard on our artifacts. Museum professionals advise that fluctuating temperatures and humidity cause the most stress on artifacts, particularly textiles. In 2010, the American Institution of Conservation established that most cultural institutions should strive for a set point in the range of 45-55% relative humidity and a temperature range of 59-77 degrees Fahrenheit. Kelly Ramos and his crew began work this week removing the old tube heater (which we hope to utilize in the depot) and installing a new AC/heating system. Next week Danny Crist will be here to plumb for natural gas, and we also anticipate the electricians to be here updating our system to handle the heavier load. We ask that you be patient during this process. We are very excited that this dream has come to fruition for our visitors AND for the precious artifacts that we have been entrusted with.

Kearny County Patriots in World War I

When World War I erupted in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson and most Americans favored neutrality. That soon changed when several American ships traveling to Britain were damaged or sunk by Germans in an attempt to cut off trade to Britain (one of America’s closest trading parties).  In February 1915, the German government announced that they would strike against all ships, neutral or otherwise, that entered the war zone around Britain. Germany sunk a private American vessel just one month later.

On May 7, 1915, 128 Americans were killed when the British-owned LUSITANIA ocean liner was torpedoed without warning off the coast of Ireland. In all, 1,198 passengers were killed.  Then in November an Italian liner was sunk, killing 272 people. Twenty-seven were Americans.  President Wilson demanded that the German Government immediately abandon its methods of warfare against passenger and freight carrying vessels or the U.S. would sever diplomatic relations with Germany. On May 4, 1916, agreed to limit its submarine warfare.

In early 1917, President Wilson attempted to negotiate peace terms between Germany and the Allied Forces. The attempt failed, resulting in the United States breaking diplomatic relations with Germany in February.  Just hours later, the American liner HOUSATONI was sunk by a German U-boat. Congress passed a $250 million arms appropriations billed on Feb. 22 to ready the U.S. for war. In late March, Germany sunk four more American merchant ships.

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson went before a joint session of Congress to request a declaration of war against Germany. Wilson cited Germany’s violation of its pledge to suspend unrestricted submarine warfare in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, as well as its attempts to entice Mexico into an alliance against the United States. On April 4, 1917, the U.S. Senate voted in support of the measure to declare war on Germany. The House concurred two days later. On December 7, 1917, the United States declared war on German ally Austria-Hungary.

At the time of World War I, the U.S. Army was small compared with the mobilized armies of the European powers. While President Wilson at first wished to use only volunteers to supply the troops needed to fight, it soon became clear that this would be impossible. The Selective Service Act was enacted May 18, 1917, requiring all males ages 21 to 30 to register for military service. The law was amended in August 1918 to expand the age range to include all men 18 to 45.

The first 14,000 U.S. infantry troops landed in France to begin training for combat on June 26. Most of the servicemen from Kansas were sent through training at Camp Funston in Fort Riley. It wasn’t until February of 1918 that there was a report of the first Kearny county men to arrive on French soil.

A group of Lakin men pose in front of the old court house on Main Street prior to leaving to join Uncle Sam’s Army during World War I.

Patriotic meetings became popular in the states. With the declaration of war, every person in the nation was affected. Farmers were urged to increase their acreage of all grains and vegetables to meet war demands. It was patriotic to have meatless days, and white wheat flour disappeared from this part of the country. War bonds were offered to finance the war, and new and additional taxes were imposed to finance the war. Postage rates increased. Donations to the Red Cross for medical and surgical needs of men in battle were sought. It was estimated that it would take no fewer than 15 million members of the American Red Cross to take care of the sick and wounded soldiers, look after their families and relieve the sufferings of the women and children and men of war-trodden land. The children of the nation joined the Junior Red Cross to do their part to help in the war effort. In the cities and towns they were planting thrift gardens, knitting, investing the returns in thrift stamps, and turning old paper, rubber metals and bottles into cash.

In 1918, the Spanish influenza epidemic not only swept through the country but also through military training camps. Many young soldiers boys fell victim to the disease, among them Kearny Countians James Noell Tate, Carl W. Kurz, and George Earl McConaughey.

After four years of stalemating along the western front, the entry of American forces into the conflict marked a major turning point in the war. When the war ended on November 11, 1918, more than two million American soldiers had served on the battlefields of Western Europe.  There were 53,402 killed in action, 63,114 deaths from disease and other causes, and about 205,000 wounded.  Ralph E. Shepherd of Deerfield died September 28, 1918, and is buried in the Deerfield Cemetery. George F. Moore, son of Charley Moore and brother of Lewis Moore and Goldie Moore Brooks, was killed in action in France July 28, 1918. Kearny County American Legion Post No. 2808, Shepherd-Moore Post, was named for these two men.

An effigy of the kaiser was paraded down Main Street Lakin following World War I.

The Mystery of Bluff Station

From the Fall 2017 Kearny County Museum Newsletter

Indian Mound and Chouteau’s Island were significant points along the Santa Fe Trail in Kearny County. Travelers knew when they reached these points they could turn south and head through Bear Creek Pass to Wagon Bed Springs. Joseph C. Brown, a member of the Sibley party which surveyed the Trail from 1825 to 1827, made references to both landmarks. Both are also on the Carl Hunnius map of 1870. The military heavily relied on Hunnius’s maps which included details of physical features on the plains before the arrival of the railroads and large-scale settlement. Much has been written about events which took place near Indian Mound and Chouteau’s Island. Bluff Station, on the other hand, is somewhat of a mystery.

Hunnius’s map shows Bluff Station to be east and north of Indian Mound. In 1936, after consulting the map, Virginia Pierce Hicks deduced that it was near the old Sherlock crossing (Holcomb). Hicks contradicts herself years later in “History of Kearny County, Kansas Volume I,” showing the coordinates as less than a mile from Indian Mound. Writing for Volume II, Robert Coder and Ernest Craig, Jr. placed Bluff Station “somewhere east of Deerfield, probably not far over into Finney County.” To add even more controversy, names Pierceville as the site of Bluff Station.

Hicks’ father, F.L. Pierce, came to Kearny County in 1879. By that time the railroad had been built, and Bluff Station had not been in use by the overland mail stage for around 10 years. At the age of 95 and 60 years after the event took place, Pierce recalled Kearny County’s big 1880 Fourth of July celebration held at Chouteau Island. “About five miles west of Lakin, our procession rounded the corral, dugout pit, and crumpled walls of Bluff Station south and east of Indian Mound.”

Some historians believe that Bluff Station may have been established in a trading post set up at Chouteau Island by fur trader/trapper Auguste Pierre Chouteau in the early 1800s. But not all historians agree that Chouteau built a trading post at this site. Other writers suggest that Bluff Station was built by Major Bennett Riley and his troops who camped near Chouteau’s Island for three months in 1829 awaiting the return of a traders’ caravan from Santa Fe. The first military escort on the Trail, Bennett’s troops accompanied the traders to protect them from Indian attacks. This theory too has been disputed as the troops were too busy fighting off Indians to build a station, and they frequently moved their campsite because of the accumulating human and animal waste.

F.L. Pierce claimed that A.A.G. Stayton, a freighter who followed the Santa Fe Trail, had stopped at Bluff Station where he received news by stagecoach from his home in Missouri of the birth of his daughter Belle. Belle was born in 1860. Other sources, two of whom were stagecoach drivers, claim there were no relay stations along the “Long Route” in 1861 when the Santa Fe mail service was changed and continued west along the Arkansas River to supply Fort Lyon instead of taking the Cimarron Cut-off. In her book, “Early Ford County,” Ida Ellen Rath wrote that “relays were provided from thirty to fifty miles apart, except from Fort Larned to Fort Lyon which were two hundred forty miles apart,” hence the name ‘Long Route.’

Robert M. Wright (who later became the founder of Dodge City) was employed by Barlow, Sanderson & Co. “in the early ‘60’s, and I built all the little stations in between the forts.” In a letter written in 1867 to General Hancock at Fort Dodge, Sgt. William Barnett, an agent for the Sanderson Overland Mail Line, listed stations at Big Coon, Fort Dodge, Cimarron Crossing, Bluff Ranche, Choteau Isle, Fort Aubrey (four miles east of present-day Syracuse), Pretty Encampment and Sand Creek. While Barnett noted a distance of 12 miles between Bluff Ranche and Choteau Island, a Sanderson’s Overland Stage Company distance chart from 1866 placed the bluffs 20 miles east of Chouteau Island. That is the same distance calculated on an 1864 Locke & Wrightson chart as well as in “J. W. Goodwin’s Pacific Railway Business Guide & Gazetteer of Missouri and Kansas for 1867-8.” Using Hunnius’ map and a map from the 1887 Official Atlas of Kansas, visual comparisons of the curvature of the Arkansas River in regards to the placement of towns certainly seem to the naked eye to place Bluff Station closer to Deerfield than to Lakin.

So who was bluffing about Bluff Station? If Bluff Station was used by freighters from 1840 to 1860 as Volume I implies, why is there no mention of it in diaries or distance charts of Santa Fe Trail travelers? Could there have been more than one Bluff Station or could F.L. Pierce have mistakenly identified the remains of the Chouteau Island station as Bluff Station? Instead of Belle Stayton, could Pierce have actually been referring to her younger sister, Laura, who was born a few years later? Bare in mind that none of the old timers who had first-hand knowledge of Bluff Station would have been around to dispute Pierce’s story. What evidence did Virginia Pierce Hicks find to make her change her mind about the location? For now, Bluff Station remains a mystery.

Sources: “Reminiscences of Ten Years Experience on the Western Plains: How the United States Mails were carried before Railroads Reached the Santa Fe Trail” by James Brice; “Early Ford County” by Ida Ellen Rath; “The Old Santa Fe Trail” by Colonel Henry Inman; “Dodge City the Cowboy Capital” by Robert M. Wright; “Fort Aubrey” by Louise Barry, “Southwest History Corner” Sept. 12, 1936; 16th Biennial report of the Kansas State Historical Society; “History of Kearny County” Vol. I and II; “1887 Official Atlas of Kansas”; Hunnius Map of Kansas with parts of Neighboring States and Territories; Survey/field notes of U.S. Engineer Joseph C. Brown; Ft. Dodge microfilm,;,;; and museum archives.


Great White House gets gussied up


Oh what a difference a fresh coat of paint makes!! The Great White House on the museum grounds is finally white again! The painters just recently finished this project which is one of many that have been on the to-do list for the oldest house in Lakin. A new roof was added last year, and the year before that work was done on the foundation to prevent future settling and cracks. There are some minor repairs still to come on the historic structure, but the old gal is looking pretty sweet! The White House is over 140 years old and was the home of Alonzo Boylan and his family. Boylan was the first railroad agent for Lakin. In 1916, the house was acquired by the O’Loughlin family and moved from its original location on the railroad right-of-way to Buffalo Street. In 1974, the house and the 1/2 block property it sits on were donated by the O’Loughlins to the Kearny County Historical Society. The pictures here show the finished project as well as what the house looked like prior to her new paint job. Doesn’t she look pretty?