Geary County Historical Society’s current project is digitizing photos from our Pioneer Wall, one of the oldest exhibits in the museum, and one of the first things visitors see. Large wooden frames filled with photos line the walls, with names like Koepke, McFarland, Muenzenmayer, Trott, and others still familiar to longtime Junction City residents today. The original photos have been removed from the frames and individually scanned, and in the next couple of weeks, duplicate photos will go back up on the wall — this time, in alphabetical order.
We had several goals in mind when we started this project. First, the photos will be better preserved if removed from the frames and properly stored. Second, it will be easier for visitors to find their ancestors on the wall if the photos are arranged in alphabetical order. Third, we hoped to discover the first names and maiden names of the women pioneers, many of whom are identified simply by their married names.
Mrs. S. B. White was one such woman. Pictured on our pioneer wall next to her husband Stephen B. White, both her first name and maiden name — the key to unlocking the details of her life before marriage — were a mystery. Discovering the first names of women like Mrs. White was sometimes as easy as finding her obituary in our card files, neatly arranged by last name, but too often, even the women’s obituaries only identified them as Mrs. Surname. Many women pioneers’ given names were a challenge to find. We consulted not only our own genealogical files but also census records, marriage licenses, yearbooks, church records, group photos, the Dorothy Bramlage Public Library’s newspaper database, private websites like Ancestry, Newspapers.com, and FindAGrave. We even, in some cases, simply Googled it.
In Mrs. S. B. White’s case, one of the documents that helped pin down her heritage was an autobiographical article she wrote about her life, published by the Kansas State Historical Society in 1909. Few of the men and women in our Pioneer Photo Collection left behind personal memoirs of their time here, but in her eighties, Mrs. White — born Anna Elizabeth Green — shared a short account of her memories at the Junction City Home Coming on August 25, 1909.
The following is a short excerpt from Mrs. White’s memoir, titled “My First Days in Kansas.”
“My husband and myself, with two little children and an adopted daughter aged eight years, lift Cincinnati, Ohio, for Kansas, November 1, 1854, by steamboat.
“After an uneventful voyage of two weeks we landed at Kansas City, Mo., or rather at a bluff called by that name. Our goods arriving soon, we went to housekeeping in Westport, a small town four miles from the river. We had a comfortable home and some good neighbors. There we met Mr. and Mrs. J. R. McClure, and a friendship developed which lasted a lifetime; we shared our troubles, our joys and our sorrows, and through their death I was deprived of loving and devoted friends.
“The Albrights, too, most estimable people, lived there. One day while visiting at Mrs. A.’s I witnessed a terrible fight between two Indian women which will never be effaced from my memory. Two squaws rode into an open lot behind Mrs. A.’s house and, dismounting, went for each other hot and heavy. Both were drunk and were soon down on the ground wallowing in the mud. One struggled on top, got hold of the silk handkerchief the other wore around her neck, twisted it until the woman gasped for breath, then catching with each hand her large hoop earrings, she tore them from the woman’s ears without the trouble of unfastening them, making the blood stream down her neck. She still held her down and was about to choke her to death when a little old Indian rode up, presumably lame as he carried a crutch, and the way he belabored them with that crutch made it evident that that was his usual weapon. He finally got them up and on their ponies. Bloody, muddy, with their clothes torn in rags, they both rode away, and a little further on both fell headforemost into the mud, which was knee deep on their ponies. There we left them, too disgusted to watch further proceedings. I could never have looked on such a sight if enacted by white people. But Lo! the poor Indian!
“Mr. White, with several other men, started to prospect for Kansas claims. Governor Reeder advised them to go to Fort Riley and secure them as near the reservation as possible, as the capital was to be at Pawnee, one mile from the fort, a city was to be built there, etc. But that is history now and I need not repeat. Of course their faith was strong in the coming city and all staked their claims according to the governor’s advice, Mr. White taking one three miles from the future city, on land that Capt. Nathaniel Lyon had chosen for himself, but, as he told Mr. White, ‘a soldier has no use for land, except enough to bury one.’ Dear man, he found his in Connecticut. He pointed out to Mr. White the beauties and advantages of his claim, and indeed it was one of earth’s beauty spots. Although farther from the city than Mr. White desired, he took it, and fortunate he was in doing so, for as is well known the reservation was enlarged and many of the nearer claims swallowed up by Uncle Sam, ours having eleven acres shaved off.
“Mr. Albright took a claim adjoining ours on the north, which on the next survey was thrown into ours. Mr. A. was so disgusted he packed bag and baggage and went back to Pennsylvania, whence he came. My brother, who took a claim adjoining ours on the south, lost his also. Our mother kept house for him, and one day she saw a large snake upon the log just behind the clock, which stood on a rude shelf. She couldn’t strike it without injuring the clock, and she said that clocks were too scarce to be broken for a snake, so she caught it by the tail, and with a quick and strong jerk dashed its head on the carpetless floor; it didn’t hurt the floor but it killed the snake. But that’s another story.”
Interestingly, Mrs. White’s mother, Mrs. Greene (or Green), is also pictured on our pioneer wall. Born in 1798, she was a widow in her fifties when she moved to this area. Her daughter’s memoir helped us verify not only Mrs. Green’s name — Mary Fox Green, born to Bonham and Temperance Fox in Pennsylvania — but also sheds light on the women’s lives and personalities. It is a rare opportunity and a delight to get to know the pioneers whose faces I see on the walls every day.
Geary County Historical Society is open to visitors Tuesday through Saturday from 1-4 p.m. If you have any questions or comments about today’s article, please email us at GearyHistory@gmail.com.
KATIE GOERL is the Executive Director of the Geary County Historical Society in Junction City.