Where the streets have historically relevant names (Part 4)

Where the streets have historically relevant names (Part 4)

William "Dutch Bill" Greiffenstein is known as the "Father of Wichita" for his early work organizing the city and promoting commercial development. He started out as an Indian trader before losing a fortune in the real estate bust of the 1880s. Source: Wichita/Sedgwick County Historical Museum

In this week's Wichitarchaeology, we wrap up our ongoing series on the origin of Wichita place names. In the last installment, we examined the history behind Getto, Harry, Hydraulic and Nims streets; this week, we take a look at Orme, Osie, Rutan and William.

ORME STREET

In the earliest days of Wichita's incorporation as a city, there were four quadrants of property recognized as existing within legal city limits, centered on the intersection of Douglas and Main. Each of these zones was owned by one of the four major town founders: Nathaniel English, James R. Mead, William Waterman and "Father of Wichita" William Greiffenstein (more on him later).

In April 1876, a pair of real estate speculators living in Indianapolis, Indiana bought up land to the south of English's and platted it as the first official addition to the city of Wichita not instigated by one of the Big Four. The men behind this move were Charles Orme, a 56-year-old farmer, and Thomas E. Phillips, a 66-year-old tailor; how these unlikely bedfellows were talked into investing their savings in a potentially dicey land speculation gamble in a remote city is lost to history, but it appears to have worked out in their favor.

Their subsection of Wichita is known to this day as the Orme and Phillips Addition. It is a long rectangle extending from Kellogg and the train tracks by what is now Santa Fe Street on the northeast to the corner of Lincoln and Broadway on the southwest.

Though neither Orme nor Phillips are known to have ever set foot in Wichita, their story is still told in the names of several streets: Orme, Indianapolis and Morris, the last being the name of the farmer who sold his 80-acre spread to the gentleman speculators.

OSIE STREET

There were women named Osie in the families of two of the city's primary founders, William Greiffenstein (daughter) and Nathaniel A. English (wife). But it was Osie English after whom the street was christened.

N.A. English was born in Newark, Ohio in 1830. As an adult, he migrated first to Missouri, then to Leavenworth, Kansas, where he married Osie McEwen, a judge's daughter, in 1864. Eventually, he and Osie settled in Wichita, where they bought — from a Mexican immigrant named N.R. Cordaro — a large parcel of land stretching south and east from the corner of Main and Douglas.

In 1869, English established a trading post and built a residential cabin on William Street between Lawrence and Topeka; soon after, he was appointed one of Sedgwick County's first three commissioners. Over the successive years, he platted several additions to the city, involved himself in numerous local businesses and weathered well the boom and bust cycles of Wichita's real estate market. Upon his death from "congestion of the stomach" on Aug. 3, 1892, the Wichita Eagle reported: "He was generous, charitable, liberal and honest."

English's wife Osie lived another 18 years, dying in 1910, leaving behind five daughters, three sons and a street in South Wichita.

RUTAN STREET

In explaining the provenance of Rutan Street, it is hard to improve on the following notice run in the Wichita Eagle on Friday, Dec. 30, 1904, quoted here at length:

"Captain J. C. Rutan, a pioneer business man of this city, died Wednesday evening at North Yakima, Washington, where he had moved a few months ago for the benefit of his health.

"Captain Rutan located in Wichita in 1873, coming here from Iowa City, Iowa. He was engaged with his brother-in-law, W. W. Kirkwood, in the lumber business for several years and later became interested in the Kansas Trust company. He gave up active business six or seven years ago and lived in retirement at the family home, corner of Douglas and Rutan avenues, until he moved to Washington. Rutan Avenue was named in his honor.

"Captain Rutan was 64 years of age. He was prominent in business circles in this city while he resided here and no man took more interest in Wichita's welfare. He was honest and honorable in all his dealings and extremely popular with all classes. He was a member of the board of education from the third ward for one term. Captain Rutan served in an Iowa cavalry regiment during the Civil War. He rose from a private to captain and was ever loyal to the Union. He was a devout Christian, being a member of the Methodist church. His works of charity were numerous. He contributed liberally to the Y.M.C.A., and it was largely through his efforts that the fine building on Topeka Avenue [now the Scottish Rite Temple] was erected by that organization. Other worthy organizations also benefitted from his generosity.

"The news of his death has spread sadness over Wichita. He was a kind hearted, highly intelligent and courageous man and was greatly esteemed by numberless friends here."

WILLIAM STREET

Wichita's founding fathers were a colorful bunch, perhaps none more so than William "Dutch Bill" Greiffenstein, a German immigrant who had made his fortune trading with the natives in Kansas and Indian Territory (Oklahoma) in the 1860s. He operated one of his early trading posts on the present-day site of Eberly Farms. Greiffenstein married twice, both times to women from native tribes, and was widely respected for his fair dealings with the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche and Apache people.

He got on the wrong side of General Philip Sheridan, who accused him of selling weapons to hostile tribes; Greiffenstien was expelled from Indian Territory and had to appeal to Washington, D.C. to plead his case. In the end, he was exonerated and paid restitution by the federal government. He settled in Wichita, buying the land along the east bank of the river, south of Douglas.

A major early business booster, Greiffenstein famously gave away alternating lots along Main Street to entrepreneurs and speculators who promised to build commercial developments on them. His first house in Wichita, which was the city's largest for many years, was on the site now occupied by Century II; there is a historical marker on the civic center's lawn indicating the spot where the house used to be.

Dutch Bill was mayor of Wichita in 1878, then again from 1880 to 1884. Sadly, most of his money was tied up in real estate, and the crash of the mid-1880s proved devastating to his assets. Greiffenstein and his second wife, Catherine — daughter of Potawatomi Chief Abram Burnett — moved back to Indian Territory and grazed cattle there, waging sporadic battles with the federal government until his death in 1899.

The town of Burnett, Oklahoma was organized by Greiffenstein and named after his wife's family. The Wichita street name William is Dutch Bill's namesake. He was honored to have a street named for him but fretted that "Greiffenstein" was too hard to spell, so he offered his given name instead.

The man is well-remembered in Orsemus Hills Bentley's book History of Wichita and Sedgwick County, Kansas: Past and Present, which states: "William Greiffenstein was a warm-hearted, generous man, and in Sedgwick County, his friends are legion. Time will do his memory justice, and posterity will perpetuate his many virtues."