Archive for Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Tonganoxie’s heritage still strong

May 24, 2000

Sunday at a high school graduation in central Kansas, one of the valedictorians made a comment that can be applied to Tonganoxie as we prepare for the growth that is coming our way.

"It is difficult, or maybe impossible, to know where you're going if you don't know where you came from," the graduate said.

As I returned home that evening, I noted the chainsaw carving that represents Chief Tonganoxie, and I was struck by the realization of how much this city must have changed since its beginnings. Then I wondered where would more changes lead?

And, I wondered, do the new residents of our town, some of whom are working hard for the future of this community, know where we, or where the city has been?

Perhaps Walt Neibarger, editor of the Tonganoxie Mirror through much of the 1900s, kept track of the city as well as, if not better than, anyone else.

It is much thanks to Neibarger, who authored the book, Sunflower Petals, in 1938, and Footprints in Kansas, in 1977, that our early day history has been preserved.

And now, with due respect to the late Walt Neibarger, a man whom it would be fitting if the city would someday choose to honor, that following are some landmarks in the history of our town's beginnings.

On Oct. 19, 1829, a treaty created the Delaware Reservation in Kansas. This land, previously occupied by the Kanza Indians, encompassed more than 220,000 acres and included the area where today these towns are located: Tonganoxie, Bonner Springs, Basehor, Linwood, McLouth, Perry and Oskaloosa.

In 1860 and 1861, treaties signed between the Delaware Indians and the U.S. government returned most of this land to the government.

Now, to backtrack, shortly after the 1829 treaty was signed, Chief Tonganoxie, a Delaware Indian from Pennsylvania, set up camp in this area. He soon constructed a log cabin, which later was replaced by a two-story frame building built by the U.S. government.

This lodge where Chief Tonganoxie lived was in what is now the northeast area of Tonganoxie. It served as the area's post office and was a stopping place for the stagecoach line that ran from Leavenworth to Lawrence.

Chief Tonganoxie was described as being "a large man in stature attired in frontier garb, flannel shirt and jacket" and he wore a single feather on his head.

Even though he tried to stay out of politics, Chief Tonganoxie was known to have assisted those in need.

For instance, it is written that, in the summer of 1856, when Kansas was a hotbed of political turmoil, Chief Tonganoxie befriended a survivor of a ruffian massacre which occurred a short distance east of Tonganoxie's lodge.

He gave the man food and a blanket and helped him hide in the nearby woods until the assailants had left. It is said that, throughout the area and at all times, Chief Tonganoxie was a man of peace.

Chief Tonganoxie remained in this area until after the 1861 treaty was signed. Then he moved to Delaware territory south and east of here, and it is said that in 1864, while visiting relatives in what is now Coffey County, he died.

Written accounts indicate that Chief Tonganoxie's body was brought to a farm near what is now Bonner Springs for burial.

During the next year, as the Union Pacific railroad line between Leavenworth and Lawrence progressed, groups of new settlers began the establishment of a town. The first recorded plat of Tonganoxie was filed on July 21, 1866 in Leavenworth.

The early day settlers thought it fitting that, as the frontier as Chief Tonganoxie had known it came to a close, a new city, named in his honor, would begin.

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