Archive for Wednesday, June 27, 2007

John Lenahan’s memories

June 27, 2007

History is my hobby and my interest.

Recently, I received a call from a woman who had written a book about incidents from the Civil War. The author of this book was inquiring about Col. J. Castelli Rathbone.

Linda C. Fluharty of Baton Rouge, La., contacted the Tonganoxie Community Historical Society and was then referred to me. Much of her book concerned my great-grandfather. My memories are treasures given to me by my grandfather, J. Cass Rathbone Jr. and my uncle, Ed Rathbone.

J. Castelli Rathbone was a colonel in the federal Army and a progressive thinker for those times. While living in Parkersburg, Va., he established sawmills on various streams. He bought 2,000 acres at Burning Springs, W.Va.

In those days, salt had to be imported to the colonies. He and his brother started to drill for salt. It was like the Beverly Hillbillies, all they got was crude oil. At first, it appeared a failure -- the crude had to be transported by wagon or boat up north to be processed mostly into axle grease.

His luck returned when someone invented a process for making kerosene. Prior to that process, lamp oil was derived from coal (coal oil). Well, with the advent of kerosene, a demand was put on J. Castelli to drill and pump the crude. It had to be shipped to a refinery, but in a short time, old J.C. was a millionaire. The fact was he was making $10,000 a day.

Bad luck visited again, the Civil War began. Great grandfather recruited a company of volunteers (his own army) and the governor of Virginia appointed him in a command of these recruits. Their duty was to stop the Confederates from filtering through to Washington. J. Castelli had other purposes -- to guard his oil wells. He could easily support "his" army and did with pay, food, guns, ammo and clothing.

During those days, the accepted practice was to bathe once a month or so -- sometimes never through the winter. As the story was told, Col. Rathbone ordered his men to go to a stream in summer or winter, strip off all clothing and wash good. When this requirement was completed, the colonel furnished each with new clothing and shoes.

All of the uniforms (shoes included) were burned. His goal was to try to control bedbugs and other pests common in those times. He once said when he and his wife attended the many dances during the winter, he could smell the human stench before entering the ballroom.

There is an end to everything, and so it was with J. Castelli. Finally the Confederate Army overwhelmed his troops and destroyed his oil wells, buildings, drilling rigs and all.

I am not the O'Henry type with a surprise ending but as it turned out, when J. Castelli's wife died, he came to Tonganoxie to live with his son, J. Cass Rathbone, on south Pleasant Street and died there in 1908.

-- John Cass Lenahan Sr.

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