Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Eventually Getting Around To Paying Tribute To The Namesake of Osborne County, Kansas - July 10, 2010

     So as you drive southwest through Ellsworth, Kansas on Kansas State Highway 14 you pass on through the downtown and cross the bridge over the Smoky Hill River and as the highway curves to the left (true south) you look on your right for the first gravel road heading west. 
     Got that?  Good.  'Cause it's a whole lot harder than it sounds.
     There used to be a sign at this intersection denoting a cemetery down that particular gravel road with an arrow indicating the direction to take to it.  For some reason it is no longer there.
     There used to be a sign in the southeast corner of the cemetery denoting its name and giving its hours of operation and the speed limit for driving it.  For some reason it is no longer there.
     There used to be a nice fence all along the southern edge of the cemetery separating it from the gravel road.  For some reason it is no longer there.
     I tried Google Earth and then several Ellsworth County, Kansas websites to determine the name of this cemetery.  Okay, so ten years ago I knew its name, but in the interim it is no longer coming to mind.  No luck with the Internet; not one of these sites named this particular cemetery.  They name every other cemetery in Ellsworth County, Kansas, but for some reason not this particular one.
     So I sent out an email to "The Cowboy," Jim Gray, who knows more of the cowboy history of Kansas and especially Ellsworth County in his little finger than any number of historical societies put together.  Sure enough, in about an hour he emails back that this is the Ellsworth Cemetery, or, as some locals now call it, the Old Ellsworth Cemetery.
     Boy, I feel better.

                                 The (Old) Ellsworth Cemetery

So on this particular sunny Kansas Saturday afternoon while walking around the Ellsworth Cemetery I discovered several handcarved tombstones that were amazing in their condition, considering their age.

Okay, so I got off the point a bit as to why I was there.  Just next to the westernmost turn-in to the cemetery one can find the following grave:
The tombsone of Vincent B. Osborne.  Note the error in spelling his name.
   Although nearly a third of Kansas' counties bear the names of men who were Civil War officers, only two privates have been thus honored. One of them was Vincent B. Osborne, who served as a Kansas volunteer soldier for three and a half years, was twice wounded, and had a leg amputated in 1865.  Osborne County, Kansas is named after him.  The other county named for a private is Rooks for Private John C. Rooks. Two counties have been named for noncommissioned officers: Ness, for Corporal Noah V. Ness, and Harper, for Sergeant Marion Harper.
     Nothing is known of Osborne's early life, except that he was born March 4, 1839, in Hampden County, Massachusetts. He was 22 years old when he enlisted in the Civil War in July 1861 in the Second Kansas Infantry, at Clinton, Missouri. He must then have lived in Missouri, for he suggests that his life would have been in jeopardy had he been captured by Missouri rebels.
     One month after joining the army, Private Osborne was wounded in the thigh during the battle of Wilson's Creek (August 10, 1861), and was hospitalized for almost six months in St. Louis. Before he recovered, the Second Kansas infantry had been mustered out of service. Osborne re-enlisted, along with other veterans of this short-lived regiment, in the Second Kansas cavalry which was being organized in the early part of 1862. He was mustered in at Leavenworth on February 19, and assigned to Company A, commanded by his former captain, Samuel J. Crawford.
     Between March and September, 1862, Osborne's, company rode more than 1,500 miles on escort duty, traveling from Fort Riley over military roads and the Santa Fe Trail to Fort Union, New Mexico, and back.
     Returning to the regiment in the fall, Company A fought in a number of skirmishes and several important engagements, as the Second Kansas took part in a campaign against the rebel forces of Generals Marmaduke and Hindman, in Missouri and Arkansas.  Osborne describes, at some length, the battles of Old Fort Wayne (October 22), Cane Hill (November 28) and Prairie Grove (December 7).
     In the early part of 1863 Osborne was a hospital attendant at Fayetteville, Arkansas, and at Fort Scott. During the rest of the year, and in 1864, he was on detached duty much of the time, serving as messenger at district headquarters, Fort Smith, Arkansas, in the latter year.
     On January 16, 1865, he left Fort Smith, on board the Annie Jacobs, to rejoin his regiment.  Next day, at Joy's Ford, rebels shelled the steamboat and forced it aground. During the firing Osborne was severely wounded in the leg while helping to tie up the boat. Two days later, at Clarksville, Arkansas, his leg was amputated.  When he left the hospital six months later, the war was over.
     In 1866 he came to Kansas, having been appointed sutler at Fort Harker [today's city of Kanopolis, Kansas] by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, upon the recommendation of Governor Samuel J. Crawford, who had been Osborne's company commander.  In 1867 he settled in the near-by frontier town of Ellsworth. On June 22 of that year Governor Crawford appointed him a special commissioner (along wth Ira S. Clark and John H. Edwards ) to organize Ellsworth County.
     That same year another county to the north and west was organized and named for Vincent B. Osborne. It was also in 1871 that Osborne was elected to the state legislature from Ellsworth County, serving during the session of 1872.
     He married Nellie V. (Henry) Whitney, widow of Sheriff C. B. Whitney who was killed in 1873. Their daughter Katie, born in 1877, died the same year.
     Osborne was highly regarded by the people of his county. When he was admitted to the bar (by the district court) in October, 1875, the Ellsworth Reporter recalled his fine war record, noted that a county and city had been named for him, and stated that he ". . . is today probably one of the most popular men in the county."
     During the 1870s he held several local offices, being a justice of the peace in 1872-1873, probate judge from 1873-1879, and township trustee for several years. At the time of his death he was city clerk, probate judge, and president of the newly-organized Ellsworth County Agricultural and Mechanical Association.  He died on December 1, 1879, at the age of 40. 
     "According to the [family] tale, one dark night he tripped on a hole in the wooden sidewalk near his home. Somewhat enraged, he got himself a hammer to repair the sidewalk but in the dark he managed to pound his thumb instead of the board.   Result: blood poisoning." - Great-granddaughter Linda Blain.
     Perhaps the oddest thing about the life of Vincent B. Osborne was that he never set foot in his namesake county, despite living only sixty miles from it at the time of his death.   Despite that fact, Osborne County has always been proud to be named for such an illustrious individual.  Take well care of his eternal sleep, Ellsworth County.

2nd Day at Fort Harker Days - Kanopolis, Kansas

Saturday, July 10, 2010 dawned as a beautiful day for a celebration.  The first event of the day was the Historical Walk of the Fort Harker parade ground.  All to partake in the 8AM Walk were to meet at the Guardhouse, currently the Fort's museum.

After the demise of the fort the Guardhouse was used as a private home and then apartments before becoming the Kanopolis City Museum and eventually the Fort Harker Guardhouse Museum.  I was nine years old the last time I had been in the building, and it sure has changed!

The view from the second floor of the Guardhouse, looking east across the old parade ground.  The trees in back center right is the location of the Commanding Officer's Quarters, the eastern edge of the parade ground.

The Fort Harker Museum houses several unique artifacts.  One of these is an actual hardtack biscuit, brought back to Kansas at the conclusion of the Civil War by veteran Joseph Thayer.  Hardtack was infamous during the War for its toughness and total lack of flavor.  This particular biscuit picture here celebrates its 145th birthday next year, and doesn't look a day over three months!

This is a map of the layout of Fort Harker against the city plat of Kanopolis, Kansas.  It shows to good effect how much of the old fort building sites currently lie under the city. 

Historical Walk tour guide Jim "The Cowboy" Gray, Center, confers with others on last-minute questions before starting the tour.

The Historical Walk on the go.  Many stories were told of the earlier Fort Ellsworth and the changeover to the current site of Fort Harker.

The Historical Walk ground to a halt in front of the Commanding Officer's Quarters when Warren Robinson of Hutchinson, Kansas appeared.  Warren is a descendant of Trooper Rueben Waller, who was in the rescue column that relieved Forsythe's Scouts at the Battle of Beecher Island.  Warren in turn was introduced to Marilyn (Day) Child, descendant of Scout Barney Day, who was in the battle.  The descendant of a Scout got to thank the descendant of a Trooper for the rescue 141 years after the fact. 

After the Historical Walk it was time for the Fort Harker Days Parade.  The crowds started lining the streets in as much shade as they could find.

The Ellsworth County Historical Society entered a great float depiciting the history of the county as a whole.

Even the Elkhorn 4-H Club got into the Fort theme.

The Svaty Family walked in the parade in support of Don Svaty, up for reelection as the area's State Representative.  Walking in back of the family is Josh Svaty, former State Representative and current Kansas Secretary of Agriculture.

Parade watchers of all ages and types watched intently as the next chance for candy and other goodies came up the street!

The Smith Family Reunion was evidently a large affair this year!

Even Smokey the Bear showed up for the parade. 

Have You Hugged Your Vet Lately?
The Wild Women of the Frontier were not to be denied their chance to be in the parade!

After the parade's conclusion the crowds descended on the City Park, where vendors had their wares cooking and driving hungry people wild.  I would show you a photo of the succulent Beef BBQ Sandwich I had, but it was devoured way too fast for the camera shutter.

The United Methodist Church ladies outdid themselves on homemade pies.  This cherry pie was made with cherries picked locally right off the tree - pits and all!

Another dessert alternative was the Tiger's Blood Shaved Ice.  Yum.

It was with one last blast of the cannon that all agreed it was time to call it a day.  A great weekend overall at a great Kansas event!

2nd Annual Reunion of the Forsythe Scouts Descendants - Fort Harker, Kansas

On Friday evening, July 9, 2010, the 2nd Annual Reunion of the Forsythe Scouts Descendants was held at the former Fort Harker Junior Officers Quarters in Kanopolis, Kansas. 

Wait - that's not a very good beginning.  How about, "Who were the Forsythe Scouts?"

Turns out Fort Harker - which started as Fort Ellsworth, and then renamed Harker in 1866 - became in the spring of 1867 the permanent headquarters of the famed U.S. Seventh Cavalry.  Fort Harker also served as the base for all cavalry operations west of the Missouri River and was among other things the funnel through which the lumber and other materials came that built the city of Wichita. 

In the summer of 1868 General Phil Sheridan, in charge of the Army Department of the Missouri, ordered the creation of a special force of civilian scouts under the command of Major George A. Forsythe to be recruited from around Forts Harker and Hays.  These scouts were Civil War veterans trained in tracking that hopefully could do what the regular Army Cavalrymen could not - track and run down the various Indian bands that were causing havoc across central and western Kansas.

Forsythe's Scouts followed the Indians west across Kansas and into Colorado Territory, where on September 17, 1868, they were attacked by several hundred Cheyennes and Sioux.  The fifty Scouts killed their horses and took cover behind them on an island in the Arickaree Fork of the Republican River in northeast Colorado.  There they were besieged for nine days and several were killed until two Scouts, who had slipped out one night past the Indians, brought back a rescue column from Fort Wallace.  The surviving Scouts became nationally famous. 

Fort Harker was home for some of the biggest names in American Western history - General Philip Sheridan, General George Armstrong Custer, General Winfield Hancock, Colonel Henry Inman, General Nelson Miles, and even newspaperman Henry Stanley of Stanley and Livingstone fame.  By 1873 the Indian Wars had progressed far west of Fort Harker and, with the need for the fort long past, it was formally closed.  The post reservation was sold to private interests in 1884 and three years later the city of Kanopolis was layed out atop the old fort site.  Four sandstone structures - The Guardhouse, two Junior Officer Quarters, and the Commanding Officer's Quarters - all became private homes.  The importance of Fort Harker faded from memory as other forts such as Hays received more modern attention.

One of the two surviving Junior Officers Quarters.  This one is now owned by the Ellsworth County Historical Society and has been restored.

The desk used by Colonel Henry Inman - for whom Inman, Kansas was named - can be seen in the Junior Officers Quarters.

The bunks for the Junior Officers. 

The Commanding Officer's Quarters stands to the south across the street from the Junior Officer Quarters. It was recently acquired by the Ellsworth County Historical Society and is in the process of restoration. 

One of the restored sandstone fireplaces in the Commanding Officer's Quarters.

McLain's Light Artillery bivoacked the entire weekend on the Junior Officers Quarters grounds. 

Two members of McLain's Light Artillery, doing what their counterparts were probably doing 145 years ago - drinking coffee and having a smoke.

Members of the McLain's Light Artillery getting their 12lb Mountain Howitzer ready for firing.

They're ready to fire!

The cannon can fire cannonballs 1000 yards; even the concussion from a blank charge shook the ground and knocked plaster from walls.

When the cannon went off, people piled out of buildings all over town, wondering what that terrific explosion was! 

From 5 PM to 7PM there was a fundraising Hamburger Feed in front of the Commanding Officer's Quarters and was attended by several hundred hungry people.

The Wild Women of the Frontier were in attendance as well! 

A tent was set up in front of the Junior Officer's Quarters for the evening presentations.  Gathered were several descendants of the Forsythe Scouts in addition to those interested in the entire proceedings.

Jim "The Cowboy" Gray, left, and "Big Nose Kate" await the start of the festivities.  Jim organized the Reunion and is a noted historian and storyteller.  Emphasize that storytelling part!

Jim Gray kicks off the evening presentations.

As a special treat, Jamilee (Page) Shank, displayed Scout Jack Peate’s Henry rifle that he carried in the relief column for those trapped at Beecher Island.  For being a hundred and fifty years old, the rifle appears to be in remarkable condition.

The descendants of the Forsythe Scouts in attendence:  Back Row, Left to Right: Mary Lou (Eutsler) Percival, John Eutsler, Mickie Alderdice, Marilyn (Day) Child, Leigh Geyer, Jamilee (Page) Shank and her daughter, Susan. Front Row, Archie Eutsler and Kirk Healy.

U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Dennis Clark from Fort Leavenworth was the featured speaker.  He gave a fascinating Powerpoint program in which he presented his argument that the present agreed-upon location of the Battle of Beecher Island, now a Colorado State Park, is incorrect.  The battle, he feels, took place some seven miles farther upstream than the present park. 

In his presentation Lt. Colonel Clark noted that the present battle site was decided upon in 1898, thirty years after the battle.  His belief is that the stories of an "altercation" that the local populace had heard of when they homesteaded the area was actually about an 1857 incident between the Indians and the U.S. Cavalry in precisely the same region.  His belief that the current battle site is incorrect is backed up by the fact that ever since not one artifact from the 1868 battle has ever turned up - not even a single bullet or arrowhead, or even a horse bone.  Clark then let be wn that within two years there will be a major archeological dig at the site he believes to be the true battleground.   The Reunion then ended with much discussion and many interesting questions.