History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

18 January 2008

Look, Toto! We're Back in Kansas!

What do the Dalton Gang and Osage Chief Black Dog have in common?
They’re part of Kansas history. Specifically, the southwest corner of Kansas. And why in the world am I interested?

Because my granddaughter is getting married this July, and she lives in Baxter Springs, Kansas. Never heard of it? Me, neither. So I thought I’d do a little research...

BAXTER SPRINGS, just west of Joplin, Missouri, was once a rest stop for the Osage Indians traveling to their summer hunting grounds; they believed a mineral springs situated there had miraculous healing powers.

First Kansas Cowtown. John Baxter established a trading post/tavern beside the Indian trail and near the springs, and was thence known as “Baxter’s Place.” Following the Civil War, Baxter’s Place was known as one of the wildest cowtowns of the West, offering a respite to drovers bringing herds north from Texas to Missouri and earning the moniker “First Cowtown in Kansas.”

Quantrill Massacre at Fort Scott. Following the Civil War, Quantrill’s Confederate guerrillas struck north of the springs along the Military Road between Fort Scott and Fort Gibson. A contingent of troops massacred there are, for the most part, buried in the Baxter’s Place Cemetery.

The Spa. When incorporated in 1868, the city was christened Baxter Springs. When the railroad moved to Texas, so did the cattle drives, which left the city deeply depressed. But, taking a cue from the Osage, the city fathers capitalized on the mineral springs and the town became a famous health spa.

The Dalton Gang. The business boom also brought bank robbers Jessie James, Cole Younger and the Dalton Gang. Later, with the discovery of lead and zinc in the area [see Galena, below], Baxter Springs became prosperous. Now it is the largest community in Cherokee County. The Old Soldiers and Sailors Reunions after the Civil War (continuing until 1914) brought fame and hordes of veterans and their families to the city.

GALENA. Situated even closer to Joplin, in the rocky hills, Galena was sparsely settled by hunters and farmers until lead was discovered in 1877. Indians knew of the metal long before white settlers, but in 1877 a German farmer, Egidius Moll, found heavy stones containing lead on his property. By June, the Galena Mining Company was a mining rival of the Joplin Mining Company, across the state line in Missouri.

Mining Boomtown. A boomtown was the result: tents, wagons, log, frame and box buildings hastily thrown together sprang up; almost overnight 10,000 people were counted. Empire City, to the north, quickly grew to be a rival mining town, and in July 1877 a stockade was started to block easy access between Empire City and Galena. At 4 a.m. one morning in August, a Galena posse of 50 angry men tore down and torched the wall. The war between the towns’ residents got so bad that the main road connecting the towns became known as “Red Hot Street.” Doctors and undertakers began working nights and sleeping days.

Galena had many saloons, dance halls and gambling halls that became hotbeds for violence as outlaws, gamblers, and miners flocked to them. In the late 1800s the area had 30,000 miners working 250 mines.

The Steffleback Treasure. A scandal ensued. A Miss Steffleback opened a bordello in the 1890s, and she grew wealthy over the years by getting customers drunk, luring them into a back room, stealing their gold and having her son kill the hapless victims with an ax. He dumped the corpses in abandoned mine shafts. She got away with it until one of her “girls” tattled; Steffleback was arrested, tried, and sent to prison in Lansing, Kansas. She died in 1909 without revealing where she had hidden her stolen treasure.

The Railroad. In 1879 the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad extended its line to Galena and the town saw passengers, freight, and lead shipped through the area. The town build a school and before long three churches. By the late 1890's Galena had 265 producing mines, two banks, 36 grocers and more than 4dozen retail stores.

Sources: Baxter Springs Chamber of Commerce; www.legendsofamerica.com


Blogger doglady said...

I LOVE THIS!!! I love reading history like this - the lesser known, the odd, the just incredibly inspiring. There are a couple of novels in these little snippets alone!!

7:00 PM  
Blogger Gillian Layne said...

OMG! (Jumping up and down) Hey, I live there--here! Actually, Pittsburg, but I grew up in Fort Scott. The special education interlocal I work for serves a bunch of small towns in SE KS, including Baxter Springs and Galena.

When you visit your granddaughter, please take the time to visit Fort Scott. We are so proud of it. A massive five consumed a huge number of our historic buildings downtown a few years ago--CNN covered the story live--but our incredible Fort was spared. There are several buildings all restored and reenactments happen on the site all the time.

I hope she has recovered from the December ice storm. Baxter Springs was hit terribly hard.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Your granddaughter is getting married???? No, you're not old enough (stopping all pretense at caring about history, I'm suffused with grandchild-envy). Even enviously tho, mazel tov to you and your family, Lynna.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

How interesting! I love learning the history of different places. When I was growing up, whenever my family traveled we'd try to visit museums and historical sites and learn about the past history of wherever we were visiting. That definitely helped cement my love of history (restored buildings were always my favorite--I'd look at the rooms and imagine scenes taking place in them).

10:01 PM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

Gillian--Pittsburg is where my granddaughter attends college (graduating in June). I definitely won't miss Fort Scott, and thanks for the heads-up.
The ice storm in Baxter Springs wiped out most power, so my daughter-in-law and family played host to half the community because they had a big fireplace!

11:22 AM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

Pam--Yes, my granddaughter! (flattered that you're surprised). Though I have to confess she is not mine by blood, but part of my late husband's family. I also (blush)
have great-grandchildren by marriage in Wenatchee, Washington.
My husband was 19 years older than I; I "inherited" his full-grown family when we married in 1975.
I lost him in 1999.

11:26 AM  
Blogger Gillian Layne said...

You will love graduation; it's chaotic, crowded and joyous here.

Yes, here in SE KS if you have a fireplace or a basement you are really popular. We have "clean-the-house-neighbors-will-be-coming-over" parties in April and May all the time.

4:02 PM  

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