Henry Shellenbaum was one of the most prominent pioneers of Riley County. He and others of his relationship were among the first to occupy and develop that beautiful tract of Kansas known as the Fancy Creek Valley. His energy helped transform a portion of the virgin landscape into fertile fields, but even more important than his material success was the sterling character of his manhood, and he passed on many of his virtues to his children and other descendants who are now active in the present generation of Kansas.
Henry Shellenbaum was born at Zurich, Canton Winterthur, Switzerland, October 1, 1833. He came to the United States with his parents and brothers and sisters at the age of twenty-one. His father died and was buried at sea. The widowed mother and her children located at Seymour, Indiana.
In 1856 Henry Shellenbaum with two other natives of Switzerland, Edward and Solomon Secrist, journeyed from Jackson County, Indiana to Kansas. Kansas was a territory and a hotbed of the critical troubles growing out of the free state movement. In November of that year the trio in quest of land joined a band of Indians on a hunting expedition through East and Central Kansas. Their purpose in joining the Indians was the better to explore and discover a suitable and favorable location. Thus as it happened they came upon the beautiful valley of Fancy Creek. After viewing it they were not long in making up their minds to establish permanent homes.
Henry Shellenbaum acquired a homestead in the Fancy Creek Valley. In connection with this homestead there is an interesting story told. The first white settlement had been made in Riley County in 1853. Arriving about three years later Henry Shellenbaum and his companions were thus among the very early pioneers. In the preceding year Gardiner Randolph and his grown up family of sons, daughters and sons-in-law had located near the mouth of Fancy Creek and had preempted and claimed much or nearly all of the fertile valley. Henry Shellenbaum sought as his claim a homestead that had been entered in the name of a minor son of Randolph. Then arose one of those family land disputes of the early days. The contention was carried before the land agent at Junction City. That official proposed to settle the matter in favor of the claimant who first succeeded in laying upon the disputed tract a foundation for a residence. Young Randolph had a horse, but Shellenbaum had to depend only upon his sturdy legs. Randolph was therefore the hare of the familiar fable, while Shellenbaum was the tortoise. With a fleet steed at his command Randolph decided that he would await until the next morning. Shellenbaum, taking time by the forelock, set out from Junction City immediately after the decision had been rendered by the agent, and under the cover of night walked across hills and valleys, encountering numerous obstacles, put proceeding directly and indefatigably to his destination. At daybreak he was on the scene, and without pausing began the work of laying the foundation of a log cabin. Early the next day young Randolph arrived on the scene. With much chagrin he had to witness the excavation and the foundation laid by his rival, and he withdrew leaving Henry Shellenbaum in possession of his original homestead in Riley County.
With that homestead as the scene of his original enterprise, Henry Shellenbaum lived out his long and useful life in Fancy Creek Valley.
April 24, 1861, he married Elizabeth Siebecker. The Siebecker home was not far from the Shellenbaum place. Wedding journeys in that early day of Kansas were always more or less primitive affairs. This one was probably distinctive in the form of vehicle if in nothing else. The carriage which the young couple used consisted of the trunk and crotch of a fallen tree. Some boards were nailed on the timbers forming the crotch, while the trunk of the tree served as the tongue, on each side of which was a vigorous young ox. Seated on this rude fabrication the young bride rode rejoicing to her future home, while her young husband walked alongside and drove the oxen. Their wedding supper was also a meal which their descendants may well remember. It consisted of “specht,” a German word then current in that section of Kansas and meaning sidemeat bacon. With this meat was corn bread and coffee made of parched corn.
Henry Shellenbaum and wife became the parents of seven children. Five are still living: Anna M., Frank H. and Ida, all in the Riley community of Riley County; Edward, editor and owner of the Manhattan Nationalist; and Mrs. Sophia E. Vawter of Blue Rapids, Kansas. The deceased children were John J., who died in 1885, and Mrs. Louisa C. Vawter, who died in 1908. Mrs. Henry Shellenbaum was called to her reward in 1906, and her husband passed away September 24, 1914, when almost eighty-one years of age.
The first home of the family was a rude hut of unhewn logs. This primitive cabin later gave way to a more substantial one. Henry Shellenbaum combined a great deal of intelligence and thrift with the faculty of hard labor, and it is not strange that he prospered. In time the family home was built of the stone which entered into the fabric of so many early dwellings in the Fancy Creek Valley. There through years of hard work, in sunshine and storm, drought and plenty, Henry Shellenbaum continued his peaceful progress and was long accounted one of the most substantial citizens in the northern part of Riley County. He was equally a factor for good citizenship and for those things that count in the welfare and progress of a community.
One of his sons is Mr. Frank H. Shellenbaum, who has tried to live worthily of the standards set by his honored father, and is one of the leading farmers and stock raisers of Riley County. He was born on the old homestead near Randolph and was reared and educated there, being well trained for the vocation which he has followed. Besides his interests as a farmer and stock raiser he is president of the Citizens State Bank of Randolph.