This Week in Wichita History (Part One)

This Week in Wichita History (Part One)

This 1879 photograph captures an encampment of Native Americans on the Arkansas River just south of Wichita. At the time, the city's population was estimated at 5,235. Source: Wichita/Sedgwick County Historical Museum

Human nature never changes, but the details of our daily lives do on a constant basis. Wichita, born by candlelight on horseback at the end of a cattle trail, blossomed in the span of a few decades into a modern, machine-age metropolis fueled by aerospace and lubricated with fresh crude. Another 100 years hence finds us making the difficult transition from an economy (not to mention social structure) built on manufacturing to one in which information has become the world's primary widget.

A look back on these selected headlines from mid-July editions of the Wichita Eagle (1872-1900) provides ample evidence of the drastic changes of day-to-day life for of local citizens over even short spans of years. All text is directly from the Tihen Notes on the Eagle, except that in italics, which is the author's commentary.

Friday, July 12, 1872: On Saturday last while a company of 300 or 400 Kaw Indians were encamped in the vicinity of Newton on their return from a buffalo hunt, some of their number became intoxicated, and as usual they commenced hostilities among themselves in regular Indian fashion. One of them was killed and scalped, and another was so badly wounded that he has since died.

Enoch Hoag (1812-1884) was a Quaker appointed by President Grant as superintendent of Native Americans living in Kansas and Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) as part of a program run by Orthodox Friends. He was a popular object of scorn in newspaper editorials written in a time of widespread anti-Native sentiment, as demonstrated here:

We heard yesterday that something like 1,000 Osage Indians were in camp some 10 miles below Oxford. It is suspicioned that these Osages have been committing depredations and stealing cattle in the name of the Kiowas. Within the past 10 days, some 500 head of cattle have been stolen from herds being driven through the territory.

We would like to inquire what that old friend, Enoch Hoag, is doing about these times. If he can't take better care of his wards, he had better resign. Already the proposition to raise 300 or 400 men and go down and clean out these red robbers has been discussed, and if tender-hearted Hoag don't want his pets hurt, he had better come down and look after them immediately. The settlers of this country cannot afford to have much trouble with the Indians.

Thursday, July 17, 1873: The Eagle office employs the labor of six men. Thirty-one dollars worth of white paper was used for this week's issue of the Eagle.

Another flat boat came down the Ark river from Colorado this week, which had five passengers aboard.

The total number of buildings erected during the past year in Wichita is 166, at a cost of $205,520.

Thursday, July 9, 1874: Two mules stolen west of the river a week or two ago were recovered near the Indian line last week. They were found in possession of two Mexicans, one of whom was shot in his tracks, but the other made his escape. So all horse thieves should be served.

An article detailed an incident on Wichita streets which culminated in armed citizens coming to the rescue of a policeman being intimidated by armed toughs.

Thursday, July 17, 1879: An editorial appeared, urging building of improved sidewalks, preferably permanent ones. Wichita has ten miles of board sidewalks now at cost of about 25 cents per foot, or $13,200. They are of two inch by four inch pine stringers and one inch pine boards which do not last on the average over five years, thus at least 20 percent need repairs annually. If the city must stick to lumber walks, they should be built as in other towns of four inch by four inch oak stringers and two inch thick pine planks.

Thursday, July 19, 1883: In population, Wichita is the sixth largest city in the state and Sedgwick is the seventh largest county.

The following segments of a long article titled "The Railroad Situation" indicates the importance of rail service in the city's early days:

There is nothing certain so far as is known outside of railroad men about the railway situation. Whether either road will go west from Wichita is exceedingly problematical, and if so, the time is equally uncertain.

The St. Louis, Ft. Scott, and Wichita Railroad Company say that they are going west immediately if properly encouraged, but that the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe will not. Upon the other hand, the Santa Fe people say they don't know and don't care what the Ft. Scott people are going to do, but that the Santa Fe is going west, either from Sedgwick City or from Wichita or from both, and that immediately. The Santa Fe has taken all the legal and other necessary preliminary stops for the immediate construction of a line from here and from Sedgwick, but no one probably knows this side of the directors' office in Boston, what will really be done. We had hoped to be able by this week to give the outcome of all the rumors and work — to be able to say that it was not a big game of bluff played by two corporations but a bona fide intention, yet we cannot. In the end, neither may go west, and again both may.

Wednesday, July 15, 1885: Everybody is desirous that the streets of Wichita should be named. The name of every street should be put up at least every other corner. It was our understanding that the parties who were given the privilege of numbering the city agreed to put up the names of the streets. It bothers a stranger not a little to get around.

Sunday, July 17, 1887: The assessor's census shows Wichita is the largest city in the state with population of 31,760 compared with 29,800 in Topeka.

Saturday, July 14, 1888: A man is in the city representing the Sprague electric motor of New York City. He has submitted a proposition to the Fairmount Street Railroad company to put in two miles of apparatus and equipment a number of their cars with the electric motor. If it operates successfully in the two miles, they will then extend it to their Fairmount, Burton, and proposed lines.… Each car is to be equipped with a six and a half horsepower motor, will be noiseless and make a speed of 15 miles per hour. The operating expense is said to be only 40 percent of operating with horses.

Mr. Russling, of Boston, representing the Thompson Houston Electric Light Company, has arrived in the city. He will at once proceed to put in the wires and machinery for the Riverside motor line, two miles of which will be put in immediately.

Wednesday, July 17, 1895: The paper ran an interview with Chief Justice Frank Dale of Indian Territory (Oklahoma), notable for its physical description of the judge: Judge Dale while growing more portly is growing more handsome also, and he now looks like a fine, fat, jolly priest.

Tuesday, July 25, 1899: City council yesterday adopted Ordinance Number 1616 changing a number of street names including: 4th Avenue to St. Francis Street north of Douglas and Tremont south of Douglas; 5th Avenue to Santa Fe Street; Oak Street, which is duplicated on the West Side, to Murdock Avenue; Frisco Street to 9th Street; Park Street to 9th Street.

Friday, July 13, 1900: "Where is Griswold Park?" asked Mayor Ross of a reporter yesterday. "It's funny," he continued, "that the people of the city can't learn the name of our park. I don't know of any Griswold Park around here. There is a Riverside Park; that is a very nice place, but the people don't seem to understand that there is no Griswold Park or Griffenstein Park any more. Even the newspaper men sometimes refer to Griswold Park and I also notice that the city regulator, whoever he is, says 'Griswold Park.' Everybody should bear in mind that there is but one park and that is Riverside Park. It doesn't make any difference how many entrances the park has, there is but one park proper."

Next week: More "This Week in Wichita History."