The Kansas African American History Trail Written by Angela Bates-Tomkins

September 1, 2008

Kansas African Americans

While there are only a handful of existing sites to remind us of their important role in Kansas history, African Americans are now being recognized in Kansas through memorials, historic designations, and commemorations. Though few, all remaining physical reminders are of significance for they exemplify the existence of the African American and his participation in settling the western frontier. Still fewer sites remind us of the African-American heroes and events of the 20th century. All over the state, Kansans are
working hard through legislative and grass roots efforts to ensure that African-American history in
Kansas is not forgotten but is researched, preserved, and celebrated. African Americans began coming to the promised land of Kansas as early as the 1850s. They came— both freestaters and former slaves—to break virgin prairie sod and to build new homes. In doing so, they changed the color of the face of the Kansas frontier forever, joining white settlers and Native Americans in integrating the prairie. Their legacy of courage carried into the 20th century as Kansans spearheaded the effort to end segregation in America’s public schools. African Americans are now being recognized through memorials, historic designations, and commemorations for their important role in Kansas history.

Fort Blair – Baxter Springs Historical Society

The site of old Fort Blair, which was built with the assistance of the black soldiers, is now owned by the Baxter Springs Historical Society and plans are underway to rebuild it when funds are available. Fort Blair was located just north of the
museum and the battle site is located north and west of Baxter Springs High School. With the western migration of white settlers as well as African Americans, the Native Americans began to see a slow invasion of their land. The Cheyenne,
Arapahoe, Osage, Pawnee, and other Plains tribes began to fight to hold on to their native homelands. As their battles ignited into full-blown war, the U.S. Army increased its regiments insisting that the military need was now in the western frontier where the country was rapidly growing. Many felt enough military assistance already had been given
to reconstruct the war- torn South.

10th Calvary, Fort Leavenworth

In 1866, the African American was given full military status by Congress, and the Army designated the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalries as all Colored regiments. The 10th U.S. Cavalry was organized and headquartered at Fort Leavenworth
where these first official African-American soldiers were given a blue uniform, equipment, and a horse and immediately sent to posts scattered around the state. Dubbed “buffalo soldiers” by the Cheyenne Indians because their hair looked similar to that of the buffalo, these African-American soldiers patrolled throughout Kansas and helped to build forts, lay telegraph lines, guard railroad workers, as well as fight the Native American. Members of the 10th U.S. Cavalry wore the name “buffalo soldier”
with pride, using the buffalo as a symbol in their military insignia.

Although Fort Leavenworth served as headquarters for the 10th U.S. Cavalry, the soldiers were forced, because of prejudice, to camp in a swampy area outside the fort. In this same area today, visitors can peer up at the 14’ Buffalo
Soldier Monument, dedicated by General Colin Powell on July 25, 1992. The monument commemorates the outstanding contributions and military records of the men of the 10th U.S. Cavalry.

The 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalries became the most decorated regiments in U.S. Army history. Twenty- three members received Congressional Medals of Honor for their gallant efforts and exceptional service under such harsh and rigid conditions.
The regiment was disbanded in 1952 when the armed services were integrated. At the U.S. Cavalry Museum at Fort Riley, an exhibit depicting the history and expeditions of the 9th and 10th Cavalries is on display.

After the Civil War, thousands of African Americans left the South looking for new land and a fresh start. Many of these individuals
became know as “exodusters” and moved to Kansas in hopes of finding homes and a new life. The town of Nicodemus,
Kansas founded in 1877 in the rugged, wind-swept plains of the prairie, was one of the many settlements of the exodusters.
At first, the town of Nicodemus grew rapidly during the 1870s and 1880s. Many businesses were established and the population
continued to grow. By 1910, there were over 600 residents of Nicodemus, Kansas. After World War I, Nicodemus began to
decline with the onset of the depression and hard times for local farmers. Although the town never became deserted, the population continued to fall until only a few pioneers remain. On January 7, 1976, Nicodemus became a National Historic
Landmark. In 1993, the National Park Service completed a special resource study to assess a range of options relating to the future management, protection, interpretation, and use of Nicodemus as a site suitable and feasible for addition to the national park system. At the present time legislation concerning the final decision on Nicodemus is still pending in the Congress.
The Nicodemus story reminds us of the African-American pioneers who struggled to carve out an existence on the harsh plains of Kansas after the Civil War and of the bravery and courage of the men and women who struggled to become part of the American fabric in a violent and harsh environment.
—Harry A. Butowsky

Members of the 9th and 10th Cavalries spent much of their time in other Kansas forts and out in the field. From 1867–1869, Fort Larned, now a National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service, was the first duty station for the 10th Cavalry. The men were sent to assist in guarding the Santa Fe Trail. Fort Hays also became the temporary station for the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalries during the years of 1867 to 1869 and 1881 to 1885. While the soldiers were stationed at Fort Hays, there were tense racial conditions and many town battles erupted between the soldiers and the white settlers. Several soldiers were lynched as a result. Across from Fort Hays College, near a train truss, a roadside sign marks the place where these soldiers were hung.

Gradually, African Americans moved into the western frontier, first as soldiers and then with a slow and steady migration into and through Kansas as drivers and assistants on wagon trains and stagecoaches and as homesteaders on free
government land. For three seasons in the early 1870s, Wichita was a booming Kansas “cowtown” as thousands of Texas longhorn cattle were driven by cowboys up the Chisholm Trail for shipment east by railroad. More than one-third of the cowboys were African American, Native American, or Mexican.

“Cattle raising dominated the South as a means of livelihood from the end of the 18th century until King Cotton achieved primacy just before the Civil War,” wrote author David Dary in Cowboy Culture. “It was not unusual for a plantation
owner in the South to have slaves on horseback herding and hunting down lost cattle. Descendants of these southern cow-hunters were probably among the first black Texas cowboys.”

According to a Kansas State Historical Society publication titled Cattle Towns, “Black cowboys
rode the ranges of Texas before the Civil War. After the war and abolishment of slavery, many chose to remain cowboys. The black cowboy was very much a part of the long drives north.” Their stories are told at the Old Cowtown Museum in
Wichita, Kansas. During these pioneer years, many African- American towns were organized, platted, and settled. Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, a former slave from Tennessee, is noted for fueling the great “exodust” of 1879–1880, when an estimated 20,000
African Americans from the south sought the free lands of Kansas. An African-American town organized by Singleton and named after him was located five miles north of Baxter Springs. Singleton was also responsible for assisting and
organizing the Dunlap settlement near Council Grove and Morton City in Hodgeman County. Although there were over a half dozen all African- American settlements in Kansas, little is known about their short-lived histories. Many of these
small towns were organized and promoted by ministers, freed slaves, and former runaway slaves. Nicodemus is the only remaining African- American town that stands as witness to this time in frontier history. Located on the southeastern border of Graham County on the high plains of northwestern Kansas, Nicodemus with fewer than 60 residents, struggles to hold on to its rich past.
The town is the site of the oldest recorded African- American-operated post office in the U.S. It is also the oldest and only remaining African-American town west of the Mississippi River. It survived the lack of a railroad, the Great Depression, and its
residents leaving because of hardship and misfortune. Since 1878, the town has pulled together for its annual Emancipation Celebration in July. Plans are underway for the town to be declared a National Historic Site and incorporated into the
National Park Service.
Angela Bates, President Nicodemus Historical SocietyAngela Bates is President of the Nicodemus Historical
Society. She is a member of the founding family of
Nicodemus, the oldest existing African-American settlement.
Reprinted courtesy of the Kansas
Department of Commerce, KANSAS Magazine,
3rd Issue/1994.

Independence, Missouri Black History

February 4, 2008

Modern Sites and Attractions of InterestHere we’ve compiled a list of a few of Independence‘s most notable historic attractions and sites. When you visit Missouri, make sure to search out and stop at the following places which offer ties to African-American legacy and celebrate in black heritage.

The 1827 Log Courthouse107 W. Kansas Avenue, for many years the only Courthouse between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean. This building was constructed by slave Samuel Shepherd and its sturdy walnut timbers served for a time as the courtroom by Administrative Judge Harry Truman before he became President of the United States. The courthouse is closed November-March for the winter.There is no phone at the courthouse, but information is available by calling Tourism at 816-325-7111 or toll free at 800-748-7323.

The 1859 Jail – 217 N. Main, which operated as the county jail from pre-Civil War time through 1910. The jail was also built by noted slaves who were master stonemasons. The 2 foot thick limestone walls housed famous guerillas such as William Clark Quantrill of Quantrill’s Raiders, Southern sympathizers during the Civil War and famous outlaws like Frank James, brother of Jesse James, and a leader of the James Gang. For more information, phone 816-252-1892.
Woodlawn Cemetery701 W. Noland Road, which is the final resting place of many prominent black citizens of Independence.

The National Frontier Trails Museum – 318 W. Pacific, which, in addition to major displays about the westward trails, mountain men and trappers, houses an exhibit of interest. Entitled: “I Remain Your Affectionate Wife,” the exhibit spotlights seven original letters to a free black man who followed the California trail. The Gold Rush captured the imagination of the entire nation. Thousand of enterprising people filled with hopes and dreams of wealth migrated to California to “strike it rich.” Among these emigrants was David Brown, an African-American who settled in California. Left behind in Ohio was his wife, Rachel Brown. In these extraordinary letters, she describes her life without her man, her loneliness, and her hopes for a future life with David. Sadly, David and Rachel were never re-united. Admission is $6.00 per person. For more information phone 816-325-7575.

The Truman Presidential Museum and Library – 500 U.S. 24 Highway, offers a glimpse into modern black history in a permanent exhibit where the desegregation of the armed forces is explored. One of the interactive “decision theaters” also includes a segment which explains Truman’s actions in pursuing desegregation, an act which was highly controversial at the time. Museum admission is $7 adults, $5 seniors, $3 youth, under 6 free. For more information phone 816-268-8200.

Excerpt from “The Gentle Genius” by Peggy Robbins

February 4, 2008

About George Washington Carver: A Tour of His Life
taken from “The Gentle Genius,” an article by Peggy Robbins

Born out of slavery and reared in Reconstruction, this humble man emerged to become a great benefactor to his people and his section.
George Washington Carver was born into slavery during the Civil War, in the midst of bloody guerrilla warfare in
Missouri . A tiny, sickly baby, he was soon orphaned, and his very survival beyond infancy was against the laws of nature.
That he, a Negro, became the first and greatest chemurgist, almost single-handedly revolutionized Southern agriculture, and received world acclaim for his contributions to agricultural chemistry was against all accepted patterns. But, seen from today’s distance, possibly the most amazing facet of the life of this gentle genius is the manner in which he overcame enormous prejudices and poverty in his struggle from nameless black boy to George Washington Carver, B.S., M.S., D.Sc., Ph.D., Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London, and Director of Research and Experiment at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama — all without a trace of bitterness, with total indifference to personal fortune, and thought only to make the world, and America in particular, a better place for all mankind.
George Washington Carver did not know the exact date of his birth, but he thought it was in January, 1864 (some evidence indicates July, 1861, but not conclusively). He knew it was sometime before slavery was abolished in
Missouri , which occurred in January, 1865. (The Emancipation Proclamation freed only those slaves whose masters were “in rebellion against the United States ,” which was not the case in Missouri , where slaves were finally freed by state action.)
George grew up on the farmlands of
Missouri , reared by his mother until her seizure by a band of raiders; and then by Moses and Susan Carver , his mother’s former owners, who had a homestead near Diamond Grove. Because the frail little boy was not required to help with the heavy farm chores, he had many free daylight hours in which to do exactly as he chose, and he chose to explore the wonders of nature. He talked to the wildflowers, asking why some of them required sunlight and some didn’t, and how roots that looked exactly alike produced different-colored blossoms, and, he said many years later, the flowers answered him as best they could. He investigated insects, tree bark, leaves, ferns, seeds, and the like and made all of them his precious playthings. He tended the roses, sweet peas, and geraniums around the Carver house, and they flourished so strikingly a visitor asked him what she might do to make her flowers prettier. “Love them” the boy answered.
Word spread around Diamond Grove that “Carver’s George ” had a magic way with growing things, and people began calling him the Plant Doctor. He made house calls, either prescribing remedies for ailing plants or taking them to his secret garden in the woods where he tenderly nursed them. His “magic” with growing things was largely the result of his patient testing of different combinations of sand, loam and clay as potting soil for various plants, his experimentation with different amounts of sunlight and water, and his tracking down of damaging insects and the like. When the Carver’s finest apple tree began withering, George crawled along its limbs until he found some on which colonies of codling moths had taken up residence. “Saw off those branches,” he told Moses Carver , “and the tree will get well.” And it did.
Continue reading about George Washington Carver’s live by visiting the George Washington Carver National Monument Website.

A TimeLine (1720-1862) of African American History in Missouri

January 21, 2008

1720 Phillippe Francois Renault brought the first enslaved Africans to the lead mining districts of colonial Missouri.
1724 French King Louis XV issued an “Edict Concerning the Negro Slaves in Louisiana,” known as the “Black Code.” This code continued under the Spanish regime.
1769 Spanish Governor General Alejandro O’Reilly prohibited Indian slavery in Upper Louisiana; Africans continued to be enslaved. Legal issues arose as to the status of persons of mixed Indian and African ancestry.
1787 The Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery in territory north of the Ohio River. Many slaveowners in that area moved west of the Mississippi River into Spanish-controlled territory to avoid losing slaves
1789 Born a slave in Virginia (May 3), John Berry Meachum later became known for his work in St. Louis as an educator and abolitionist
1798 James P. Beckwourth, famous black fur trapper and mountain man, was born in Virginia. His family moved to the Louisiana Territory in 1809
1803 The purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France (April 30), doubled the size of the United States. President Jefferson established a territorial government to govern the new lands
1804 The new territorial government enacted a series of laws known as the “Black Code” or “Slave Code.” These were largely based on Virginia’s slave code. The Missouri code made no distinction between slaves and other personal property
1807 The Louisiana Territory enacted legislation allowing persons wrongfully enslaved to sue for freedom (June 27)
1817 Free blacks living in the Missouri Territory were legislatively prohibited from traveling freely and from gathering in meetings due to white fear of rebellion.
1818 Missouri applied for admission to the union as a slave state.
1820 Missouri statehood became a national controversy as Congress debated the future status of slavery in the land acquired through the Louisiana Purchase. The “Missouri Compromise” allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state, thus keeping the balance of slave and free states equal in Congress. Although Missouri was allowed to enter as a slave state, the remaining portion of the Louisiana Purchase area north of the 36° 30¢ line, Missouri’s southern border, was to be forever free of slavery.
1821 Missouri became the 24th state of the United States of America (August 10).
1821 The American Colonization Society founded the colony of Liberia in western Africa for freed slaves.
1823 The Missouri General Assembly authorized each county to establish slave patrols to guard against slave plots and insurrections.
1824 The Missouri General Assembly retained territorial legislation enabling persons held in slavery illegally to sue for their freedom (December 30).
1824 In the slave freedom suit Winny v. Whitesides, the Missouri Supreme Court established the judicial precedent of “once free, always free” to determine the outcome of such freedom suits.
1827 In Merry v. Tiffin & Menard, the Missouri Supreme Court held that a slave was emancipated by residence in any territory where slavery was prohibited by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.
1829 In Trammel v. Adams, the Missouri Supreme Court determined that residence in Illinois entitled a slave to freedom even if s/he came to Missouri afterward.
1834 William Wells Brown escaped slavery in St. Louis, later becoming an abolitionist and America’s first African American novelist.
1835 All free blacks and mulattoes, aged seven to twenty-one, were legislatively ordered by Missouri’s General Assembly to be bound as apprentices or servants.
1835 To remain in Missouri, all free blacks were required to obtain a “free-license” from the county court.
1834 In the Missouri Supreme Court, the case of Margurite v. Pierre Chouteau, Sr., officially ended Indian slavery in Missouri.
1836 The descendants of Marie Jean Scypion, an Afro-Indian slave in colonial Missouri, were awarded freedom by the Jefferson County Circuit Court based on their Native American ancestry following legal battles that lasted over three decades. The Missouri Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court upheld the decision in 1838.
1836 In Rachel v. Walker, the Missouri Supreme Court held that if an officer of the United States Army takes a slave to a territory where slavery is prohibited, he forfeits his property.
1836 After he fatally stabbed a deputy sheriff, Francis McIntosh was brutally lynched in St. Louis, earning the city a reputation for lawlessness and barbaric behavior (April 28).
1837 Elijah Lovejoy, abolitionist clergyman and St. Louis newspaper editor, died defending his press from a mob siege in Alton, Illinois (November 7).
1837 The Missouri Supreme Court, in Jennings v. Kavanaugh, ruled that an owner was not liable for the criminal acts of his slave property.
1839 Tom Bass was born a slave in Boone County; later became nationally-known equestrian (January 5).
1839 James Milton Turner was born a slave in St. Louis County (August 22). He became Missouri’s most prominent African American leader after the Civil War, promoting black education. He also served as U.S. Minister to Liberia.
1846 The constitutionality of the “free-license” law was upheld.
1846 Dred and Harriet Scott initiated a suit for freedom in the St. Louis Circuit Court. Under Missouri statutes, the suit was allowed based on previous residence in a free territory (Wisconsin) before return to the slave state of Missouri (April 6).
1847 The Missouri legislature passed a law prohibiting the education of blacks, free or slave.
1847 Hiram Young purchased his freedom and settled in western Missouri. His Independence-based business, making yokes and wagons for westward expansion, was one of the largest in Jackson County by 1860.
1854 Augustus Tolton, born a slave in Ralls County, Missouri, became the first recognized African American Catholic priest in the United States (April 1).
1854 President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, allowing “popular sovereignty” to determine whether a territory would be a slave or free state. This act set the stage for the violent Kansas-Missouri border wars where Missouri “Border Ruffians” and Kansas “Jayhawkers” transformed a frontier quarrel over slavery’s borders into a national issue (May 30)
1855 Elizabeth Keckley purchased her freedom in St. Louis; she was later employed by First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln (November 15).
1855 Celia, a Callaway County slave, was executed for the murder of her sexually abusive owner, Robert Newsom (December 23).
1857 U.S. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney handed down the Dred Scott decision (March 6). The case, which originated in St. Louis, intensified the sectional controversy regarding the expansion of slavery. Taney concluded that Scott lacked standing in court because he lacked U.S. citizenship. In Taney’s opinion, slaves as well as free blacks, would never be able to become U.S. citizens; hence, Scott had no standing to sue in a court of law. Taney also took the opportunity to argue that each state had the right to determine the status of slaves, and that Congress had exceeded its powers in forbidding slavery in certain areas of the Louisiana Purchase; therefore, the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional.
1858 The Colored Aristocracy of St. Louis, published by Cyprian Clamorgan, profiled St. Louis free African American society.
1861 John C. Fremont issued a proclamation immediately emancipating the slaves of pro-Southern Missourians (August 30). The order was revoked by President Abraham Lincoln (September 11).


The First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment, including Missouri black soldiers, defeated a guerrilla force at Mound Island in Bates County, Missouri (October 29).