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  • Texas | Columns | They Shoe Horses, Don't They?

    Johnson County Immigrants:
    Past & Present

    by Bruce Martin

    Upon arrival into Johnson County in early 1990, our first residence was a rented duplex in Overland Park. After a short period of becoming acclimated to neighborhoods and amenities, we began a search of homes for purchase within a fifteen mile radius of my new employment. After several months of touring market listings, and none jumping out and saying “buy me, buy me”, we changed our focus onto vacant land upon which to build a house. After many prior residences, this would be our first experience in taking on this venture. During our search of resale homes, we had seen one model home floor plan that strikingly resembled that of our previous home in Sandy, UT. We contacted the builder, negotiated some custom design changes to his plans, and contracted to build.

    The search for a lot had also taken several months. Available land was either too far to commute, or the terrain was not conducive for our landscape preference, or it lacked the utility services to which we were accustomed, or the price was simply not within our budget.

    Fortunately, a realtor directed us to a subdivision of fifty home sites that had been envisioned ten years prior, but the developer had gone “belly up”. Each of the lots was at least one-half acre in size. What was appealing, too, was that the homes present, and those subsequent, were constructed by a variety of builders, so each was architecturally different. At the time, the location on the southern edge of Leawood was semi-rural. Hot air balloons being launched from an open field on 151st between Nall and Mission Roads was a common sight. Deer migrated along the creek on the southern boundary of the subdivision. Some neighbors harvested wild mushrooms along that creek, as well.

    Two years after our becoming homeowners, the Iron Horse Golf Course was constructed. That enterprise changed the dynamics of the community dramatically. Development of higher priced subdivisions began; traffic became more profuse.

    During the first years of our occupancy, I converted the barren prairie plot into a private forest; planting three dozen trees of numerous variety and about as many shrubs.

    I was always curious of the name affixed to original deeds, “Oxford Township”. What was its origin, its history, its residents and their livelihoods, and what happened for it to loose its identity?

    Doing an internet search, I found a publication by William G. Cutler, History of the State of Kansas, that sheds some light on the subject. I never found a description of the territorial limits of the township; but, Cutler, in his biographical sketches of twelve families, makes reference to communities named: Oxford, Morse, Morris, Meadow Brook, Stanley, PO Olathe, and PO Lenexa. The areas of Kenneth and Stilwell are not mentioned. It may be that they were part of the Aubry Township. Another author makes reference to this region of Johnson County being previously inhabited by the Black Bob Indians.

    According to Cutler’s account, Oxford Township was laid out in 1857. Christopher Columbus Catron, one of the earliest settlers, was prominent in the town’s development. Within a three or four year period, it contained a number of stores, doing a large trade with surrounding country citizens.

    In Cutler’s reporting of events, the demise of the population resulted, in the most part, from citizens being sympathetic to the Southern cause and joining the Confederate Army or moving their personal property, including slaves, to Texas and others states. The dwellings and other buildings, abandoned, were used by the Union soldiers as barracks and, in most instances, destroyed in various ways. By the end of the Civil War, there was little or nothing left of the once famous town.

    Following that era of history, migration back into the landscape began to occur. One of the first such settlements made was that of Morse, named after a superintendent of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. The Morse Grain Company operated an elevator. A post office was established in 1879 with R. P. Edgington being named its first Postmaster. A store was opened in 1880 by J. W. Hunter. A Rev. M. B. Griffin preached his first sermon in McCaughey’s Grove.

    When we moved into the vicinity, the building now occupied by an eatery on 151st east of Metcalf was an antique store. Originally, it was a church built in the late 1800’s and shared by two different congregations, Methodist and Presbyterian. The historic Stanley Bank, on the southeast corner of 151st and Metcalf was later moved, intact, to the northeast corner of 151st and Newton and now serves as an office for an accounting firm. Several farms for growing crops and raising livestock were prevalent. One nearby farm had, what appeared to be, a track for racing horses.

    Not being native to the area, and not having relations to pass down tales and trivia, much of my limited knowledge is based on hearsay and periodic events being promoted. The relocation of the old historic one-room Oxford schoolhouse, that was on the northwest corner of 135th and Mission Road, to its present site in Leawood’s Ironwoods Park, was one such occurrence. The establishment of monuments at the Ironhorse Golf Course to commemorate the Clinton Branch Railroad, that once transported freight westward into Missouri, was another. I’ve been told that an air landing strip once occupied space on the northwest acreage at 135th and State Line. Is the Mahaffie Farmstead and the Strang Line commute for passenger transportation included in this geography of Oxford Township?

    As a footnote, I had not heard of the Black Bob Indians, previously. In my curiosity, I found a website with a rather extensive history of events relating to this band of Shawnee. www.the-goldenrule.name In the 1830’s the government removed the Shawnee from their settlements in Ohio and Missouri. The Black Bob group was allocated 33,000 acres embracing the townships Aubry and Oxford and a portion of Olathe. An 1854 Treaty provided for individual 200-acre parcels to be farmed. The Black Bob did not adopt the imposed farming lifestyle and, instead, would leave their land uncultivated and move from place to place as foragers of wildlife and vegetation. They also resisted the attempts of schooling by Methodist, Baptist, and Quaker missionaries.

    After the disruption of the Civil War, some of the Black Bob returned to their land; but, speculators and settlers were illegally claiming ownership. The Black Bob leaders protested:

    “We, the members of the Black Bob tribe of the Shawnee, protest Agents Taylor and Abbott who are trying to break up our reservation… We seek protection for our families and our lands.”

    After a decade of struggle, the federal government broke the 1854 Treaty and removed the Black Bob to Oklahoma in 1879. The settlers were forced to pay for their land, but the Black bob received little of the money.

    © Bruce Martin
    They Shoe Horses, Don't They? August 18, 2012 Guest column

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