Early Settlers on Dragoon Creek Kansas

During my stay at Mr. Blair’s my health improved, and on the 21st of September I started for Dragoon creek. After walking about four miles I passed through Brownsville, following the Leavenworth branch of the Santa Fe trail, which passed through this place and united with the old Santa Fe trail from Westport at a point where the town of Wilmington was later located. I followed the trail until it was crossed by the road from the Dragoon creek settlement to Council City (later called Burlingame). Into this road I turned, and following up Dragoon creek for about two and one-half miles I reached the home of Samuel Woods somewhere near sunset.

No rain had fallen in this locality since the first of July, and the prairie grass in consequence had not made much of a growth after that date. As there had been no frost, the haying that fall was late. When I reached Mr. Woods’ he did not have his hay stacked. He possessed but one pitchfork, and as his neighbors were also engaged in haying and using theirs, and he thought it was too far to go to Kansas City to buy another, he improvised one for me from a hickory sapling. Such hay as he had cut and cured we got stacked by the 22d of October.

When Kansas territory was opened for settlement the settlers had the privilege of taking the land, after the survey had been made, under the pre-emption act. This act gave each head of a family or person over twenty-one years of age the right to settle on and improve a tract of land not greater than one hundred and sixty acres, which land was to be paid for at the rate of one dollar and twenty-five cents an acre on or before such time as the President by proclamation should bring the land into market. The land was first surveyed into tracts six miles square – called townships – the survey beginning at a point where the sixth principal meridian crossed the fortieth parallel, the northern boundary of Kansas.

In 1855 the townships had not yet been surveyed into tracts of a section each, and that work was not completed until after the first settlers had already located in the territory.

Previous to the date of my reaching the Dragoon creek settlement – September 21, 1857 – there were twelve families living there. This number included J. Q. Cowee, whose claim was on Wakarusa creek but near enough for him to be called a neighbor.

George M. Harvey, a son of Henry Harvey, 1 was the first settler in the Dragoon creek neighborhood. He made his claim in June, 1854, 2 but a short time after the signing of the Kansas-Nebraska bill. At that time he was a widower, with three children – two sons and a daughter. These children lived with friends in Arkansas after the death of their mother. About the first of September, 1857, Harvey married as his second wife Miss Abigail Hadley, who lived near Emporia.

Samuel B. Harvey, George Harvey’s brother, made his claim in August, 1854. I have a letter from him, written February 10, 1903, in which he describes early events on Dragoon creek.

As the timber and best farming land was near the creek the first settlers chose it. This land was surveyed into sections in the winter of 1855-’56. There were deep snows that winter, and severely cold weather, and George Harvey told me that the surveyors camped in the timber near the present Harveyville picnic ground. During this time they ran short of rations, owing to the inclement weather, and were forced to eat pumpkin, roasted in the ashes of their camp fires, to help out their bill of fare until the weather moderated sufficiently to enable supplies to be forwarded to them. After the survey was made, George Harvey’s claim was in the southeast quarter of section twenty-eight, and Samuel B. Harvey’s claim in the northwest quarter of section thirty-four, both in township 14 south, range 13 east.

The following twelve families already located on Dragoon creek by the fall of 1857 made a total of sixty-three persons living there:

James L. Thompson and family, from Tennessee; five persons. Isaiah Harris and family, from Clarksville, Ohio; nine persons. James K. Johnson and family, from Ohio; four persons. Allen Hodgson and family, from Illinois; six persons. Jehu Hodgson and family, from Illinois; four persons. George M. Harvey and family, from Ohio; five persons. Henry Harvey and family, from Ohio; six persons (including his son Samuel B. Harvey and three grandchildren.) Samuel Woods and family, from Galesburg, Ill., and Buchanan county, Iowa; six persons. John McCoy and family, from Kentucky and Omaha, Neb.; five persons. Andrew Johnson and family, from Philadelphia, Pa., and Peoria, Ill.; four persons. George Brain and family, from England and Peoria, Ill.; three persons. J. Q. Cowee and wife, from Courtland county, New York; two persons. Edward B. Murrell and Moses B. Crea, unmarried men from Ohio, members of Isaiah Harris’s family, two persons. William Probasco, unmarried, from Illinois, was living in Allen Hodgson’s family. William Madden, unmarried, from Ohio, was living in George M. Harvey’s family.

Moses B. Crea and William Madden had claims with cabins on them, having purchased their land from earlier settlers who had sold out and gone west.

Mrs. James L. Thompson died August 6, 1857, and was buried on Mr. Thompson’s claim.

Charles R. Hodgson, son of Jehu and Mary A. Hodgson, was the first child born in the settlement, July 26, 1857.

There was a financial panic in the eastern states during 1857 that was felt keenly by the settlers in this territory during the fall. Most of the newcomers had paid out nearly all their money at the Missouri river towns for provisions, stock, tools, clothing and other necessaries, and when their lands were brought into market they didn’t have the specie to pay for them. However, there were kind-hearted men, brokers, at the land-office town of Lecompton, who would loan the settlers money to preempt land, charging them only from forty-eight to sixty per cent interest a year and taking a mortgage on the land for security.

On September 23, 1857, the second day after my arrival on Dragoon creek, Mr. Woods showed me some unclaimed land, from which I selected the southwest quarter of section twenty-one. That fall and winter I made some improvements on my claim, including the building of a cabin. Upon my inquiry Mr. Woods had told me that he was not aware of the existence of coal in the settlement.

The cabins of the first settlers were built of round logs, and the roofs were covered with rough shingles called “shakes,” which were split from walnut logs. Some of the cabins had floors made of puncheons; these were rough boards split from logs. Later the cabins and houses of the settlers were made of hewed logs, and the shingles, after being split into suitable sizes, were shaved so that they could be laid close enough to keep out most of the snow in winter.

In 1857 a small sawmill was located at Council City, and considerable timber cut by the Dragoon creek settlers was hauled there and sawed into lumber, thus providing for more comfortable homes. John McCoy had the distinction of erecting the first house built from native lumber, sawn shingles and siding being used in its construction. The early houses were built with outside stone chimneys, and the cooking was done at the fireplaces, cook-stoves being a later luxury.

When not working for myself that fall I worked for Mr. McCoy. There being no well on his place, all the water used on the farm had to be carried from George Harvey’s spring, so he decided to start digging for water. The man who did the work for McCoy encountered stone very near the surface and had to blast nearly the entire eighty feet the well was sunk. No water being found when this depth was reached, the well was walled up and left. Later water came in and filled it to within forty feet of the top.

There were plenty of evidences that the buffalo had roamed this section before the settlers had arrived. Patches of ground were found here and there, trodden so solid that no vegetation would grow, save the prickly pear, until the ground was fertilized. These spots were called “buffalo wallows.”

In October, 1857, Jehu and Allen Hodgson and Samuel Woods took a team of horses and two yoke of oxen and went about eighty miles to the southwest in search of buffaloes to procure meat for the winter’s use. Buffalo meat and jerked venison were staples in every home. They were gone about three weeks, but came back well supplied. For several succeeding years parties of hunters left this community each fall to go out for buffaloes, but each time they had to go farther to find them.

On Thanksgiving day, 1857, Andrew Harris killed two wild turkeys at one shot while hunting in the timber along the creek. There were many prairie chickens and some deer, the Indians killing more of them than the whites.

In 1857 the nearest post office to the Dragoon creek settlement was Council City, distant eight to twelve miles. We had a semi-monthly service, the mail being carried over the Santa Fe trail from Westport, Mo., to Santa Fe, N. M., in two large coaches, each drawn by six spans of mules. In the spring of 1858 a post office was established at Wilmington, which was at the junction of the Leavenworth road with the Santa Fe trail. O. H. Sheldon was the first postmaster. Simon Dow was appointed in 1859, and H. D. Shepard in 1860. Mr. Shepard kept a store in which the post office was located, and he continued as postmaster until 1867. He also represented Wabaunsee county in the legislature for several years. 3 Our nearest post office on the line of the trail to the westward was at Council Grove, about twenty-eight miles.

In breaking the prairie sod most of the team work was done by oxen, from two to six yoke being used, according to the size of the plow. The oxen during the summertime were not fed at night, but were unyoked, a bell strapped around the neck of the lead ox, and then turned loose to graze until the next morning. It not infrequently happened that the oxen would stray sometimes several miles from home. A riding pony was usually kept lariated near the house to be used in such times of emergency, and it was no uncommon thing to find the animals lying down in the tall grass or patches of brush, calmly chewing the cud of contentment, perfectly quiet, not moving enough to shake the hell about their necks. For general purposes oxen were indispensable to the pioneers; they were much easier kept than horses, and for doing errands, going to the post office or trading at the towns they were much in evidence.

The earliest transportation over the Santa Fe trail was by pack mule. Later, as trade increased, mules and oxen were used, usually six spans of mules or six yoke of oxen hitched to the heavy freight wagons, later called prairie schooners. About fourteen wagons constituted the average wagon train, the whole being under the care of a “train boss.”

In 1825 the trail was surveyed by the government, and creeks and streams that crossed the trail were noted by the number of miles they were distant from Independence, Mo. The stream at Fry McGee’s place was numbered “110 Creek”; the one at Charles Withington’s was called “142 Creek.” The troops and supplies for the United States army in the Mexican War, 1845- ’48, were transported over this trail.


Spear, Stephen Jackson. Reminiscences of the early settlement of Dragoon Creek, Wabaunsee County. Reprinted from Vol. XIII, Collections Kansas State Historical Society. 1915.

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  1. Henry Harvey, for whom Harveyville, Wabaunsee county, was named, was a missionary to the Shawnee Indians. He had been placed in charge of the Friends’ mission at Wapaughkonnetta, Ohio, in 1830, and after this band moved to Kansas, leaving their Ohio home about September 20, 1832, he visited them twice. In 1840 he and his wife were made superintendent of the Friends’ mission among the Shawnees in what is now Johnson county, remaining there until 1842, when they returned to Ohio and he began his “History of the Shawnee Indians, 1681-1854,” which was published in 1855. He returned to Kansas, making an early settlement on Dragoon creek, and was a delegate in 1855 to the free-state convention from his district, which embraced not only his own county, then called Richardson, but Shawnee, Davis, Wise and Breckenridge counties; the last three now known by their modern names of Geary, Morris and Lyon counties.

    In 1858 Mr. Harvey was appointed chairman of supervisors for Mission creek district, Richardson county, and when the name of the county was changed to Wabaunsee he was one of the first county commissioners, elected in March, 1859.

    His wife, Ann, sometimes called Anna, who had been an able assistant in his work with the Indians, died July 8, 1858. Mr. Harvey returned to his old home in Ohio in 1860, and died there sometime during the war.[]

  2. The story that the first house was built on Dragoon creek in 1844 and was a “Robbers’ Roost” should have a brief denial here. Mr. Spear has placed with the Historical Society a manuscript account of how that “yarn” got its start through a story told in 1861 or 1862 by an old plainsman, Tom Fulton; and how, after many years it was brought to the surface by a hoax perpetrated on some boys, victims of the time-honored “coon hunt joke.”[]
  3. Henry David Shepard was born in Portland, Conn., May 1, 1838, and died at Burlingame, Kan., April 20, 1904. He was one of the early settlers of Wilmington, Wabaunsee county, going there from Connecticut in 1858. His first wife, Miss Clara Miller, of Portland, Conn., died at Wilmington August 13, 1858. Mr. Shepard was a member of the legislatures of 1865 and 1866. He moved to Burlingame in 1868, having married, November 13, 1865, Miss Daphne Dutton, daughter of Abiel Dutton, of Burlingame. Mr. Shepard was a “town builder,” and a man of much public spirit. He served his town as mayor six different terms. In 1892 he established the Burlingame Bank and was its president until his death; he built the Shepard House, which was destroyed by fire in 1903; he also built the Shepard Opera House. In his later years he was a man of many and varied interests.[]

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