Archive for Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wheat state has wild history

January 29, 2009

Recently, I heard carping from several younger people in my family about how boring the history of Kansas is. I reeled back in shock (not really) and immediately began my spiel.

I asked them about the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed in 1854 that took the place of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and opened the concept of popular sovereignty that allowed the people of the state to vote on whether to allow slavery. When this act was passed, many thought Kansas would vote to remain a slave state and Nebraska would become a free state. They did not count on the ferocious determination of those who (rightly) believed that slavery was evil and should be abolished.

Kansas finally became a state, but not before it earned the nickname of “Bleeding Kansas,” a name it earned through the bitter conflict between those who opposed slavery (Freestaters) and proslavery advocates who wished to see it continued in the new state. Between the angry depredations of antislavery John Brown and his sons and those who made the famous raids on Lawrence and elsewhere with William Quantrill, blood truly flowed in the streets and on the prairies.

On Jan. 29, 1861, Kansas entered the Union as a free state. On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter and the bloodiest conflict to ever take place on our soil began. I have several great-grandfathers who took part in this conflict. There may be some others, but I know that these two did take up arms. My great-grandfather Charles Henry Simmons enlisted from the state of New York. He was not a combatant for too long since he was wounded badly enough to be discharged.

The other great-grandfather who took part in the battle was Thomas Milburn. He had moved to Kansas with his wife and children in 1859. They first settled in Lyon County, where he practiced his trade as a stonemason. He is said to have constructed the first stone house, an icehouse, in Emporia. Neither Thomas nor his wife could read or write, but they knew how to work hard. He enlisted in the cavalry in 1864. He was given a bounty of $300. One of my aunts located his enlistment papers with his X placed on them. He was six feet tall with black hair and blue eyes. He was transferred to Company C, 6th Regiment and sent to Arkansas, where his outfit saw constant battle. On June 29, 1865, he was listed as a deserter. He returned home, but was never well again. In 1888, the charge of desertion was removed and he was granted a proper discharge. He didn’t live to see this. He died in 1872, a mere seven years after being listed as a deserter. It was said he was never really was well after his battle experience. He moved with his family to Wilson County and then to Howard County. This later became Chautauqua County.

It was Thomas’ son, Hosea, who came to southwestern Kansas in a wagon drawn by oxen. When I was a child, I saw the oxbow many times in my grandparents’ home, where they had it displayed on the wall. It is now in the Hugoton Gas Museum. When I think about what my ancestors endured, the extreme poverty, the hard work, I can have nothing but respect for their contributions to this state.

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