This week’s article is a partial reprinting of an article by Gaylynn Childs from July 2001.
“Americans have paused in their normal activities to observe the anniversary of the adoption and signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776, by the delegates to the first Continental Congress. This action gave birth to our nation.
“A principal player in the heroic struggle to achieve this end, John Adams, perhaps more than any other, understood the real significance of the occasion, and in writing home to his wife in Massachusetts he recorded his vision of what the day would mean to future Americans:
“I am apt to believe that this day will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.
“In researching accounts of the ways “Independence Day” has been celebrated in Geary County over the past century and a half, it appears that local citizens have literally taken to heart Mr. Adams’ admonition. Therefore as we look forward to another enjoyable Sundown Salute, today’s column will review some local celebrations of the past with the purpose of illustrating the prophetic nature of Adams’ words.
“A letter printed in the Junction City Union in January of 1890 from one John Mulligan, identified as the city engineer of Lexington, Missouri, gives us an account of the very first Fourth of July celebrated in our area in 1854. Mr. Mulligan explains that he “arrived with the first batch of mechanics and laborers at Fort Riley, and helped put up the first tent, in the citizens’ quarters, north of the frost about 600 yards and close to a spring. I was hired by Major Ogden to take charge of the quarrying of rock for building, and held the same position for two years.
“He recounts that in the summer of 1854, the soldiers and citizen laborers determined to celebrate the Fourth of July and in order to do so they made a private agreement with some parties outside the post to deliver, secretly, one hundred and fifty gallons of whiskey and ten gallons of whiskey and ten gallons of wine to a location on Three Mile Creek.
“Private Drum was to receive the goods and was on hand on the night of July 1st as agreed. He sampled the goods and found everything all right, but as the last keg was rolled into the brush, a sergeant and two soldiers appeared on the scene and arrested the whole party. They threatened to confiscate the citizen teamster’s team and wagon, have Pvt. Drum court-martialed, and have them all sent to the penitentiary for not less than ten years. Drum threw himself on the ground, crying bitterly and begging for Sergeant to let them go and they would never be caught in such an affair again.
“The teamster made a proposition to the Sergeant to give him all the liquor and ten dollars in gold, if he would let him off, stating that he did not know what his poor family would do if he was sent to the penitentiary. The sergeant at last relented and let them off, with the understanding that the heads of the kegs were to be knocked in and liquor poured out on the ground. The Sergeant, who had refused to take the ten dollars, then commenced, apparently, to knock in the heads of the kegs as the party started off, glad to escape so easily. But, the whole affair was a put-up job, for the Sergeant saved the liquor and sold it for a dollar a quart and the Fourth of July was celebrated in a lively manner.
“According to Mr. Mulligan’s account there was a formal observance of sorts too. “A platform was erected and Major Keady was called on to preside. Doctor Hammond read the Declaration of Independence and made a few remarks. Then Captain Lyon spoke from notes for about an hour and Captain Scovell and Captain Hendricks each spoke about ten minutes. In their speeches, the officers showed very plainly that their sympathies in the settlement of Kansas were with the South.
“An opportunity was then given for anyone to speak. A recruit, who had recently arrived at the Fort, went up on the platform and made the best speech of the day. After he had finished, Major Keady shook him by both hands and said he was proud of him.” Thus was this first Fourth of July celebration in Geary County was concluded.”
Sundown Salute is held in Heritage Park and surrounding area. The Geary County Historical Society would like to wish everyone a safe and happy Independence Day.