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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Everything Ablaze on the Western Missouri Border: Ewing's General Order No. 11

“For miles and miles, we saw nothing but lone chimneys to mark the spot where a happy home
 stood only five years before. .. It seemed like a vast cemetery- not a living thing to break the silence.” 

- Rev. George Miller

A stroll through the rolling hills of Jackson, Cass, and Bates Counties in the mid 19th century would have been quite the sight to see; cabins hewn from trees near the rivers, brick homes and barns dotting the cultivated landscape- stone fences caging in acreage belonging mostly to Tennessee, Virginia and Kentuckians newly transplanted from their southern loyalties.

But that stunning scenery was far from what appeared in the summer of 1863 on the western border counties in Missouri.

Brig. General Thomas Ewing (1829-1896)
154 years ago on August 25th, civilians living on the border were banished from their homes, barred from returning by the government. Within a short amount of time, the order that ostracized these elderly men, women and children from their lands turned these counties into a vast wilderness- not a home, barn or valuable left upon their return. The only thing to mark that a civilization had once been present were the skeletons of brick and stone chimneys left standing, the smoke and flames engulfing these once happy homes.

General Order Number 11 issued by Brigadier General Thomas Ewing, Jr. is listed in history as one of the harshest orders ever penned by the government, displacing approximately 25,000 civilians at the height of the Civil War. Author Arthur E. Castel wrote, “In considering the harsh treatment of civilians in American history, [Order 11] ranks second only to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.”  

Before we examine this horrific event on American citizens, we need to examine what led up to it.

Ewing (1829-1896), an Ohioan-turned-Kansan, was appointed in charge of the District of the Border in June 1863. The district included Kansas and western Jackson, Cass, Bates and the northern part of Vernon County.  With little to no experience as a soldier, Ewing knew this assignment was going to be certainly challenging.

This area had been at war well before the cannons were fired at Fort Sumter. And the citizens living in the western border counties of Missouri had been ransacked by outraged Kansans, oftentimes known as Jayhawkers or “Red Legs” due to the red stockings they wore.

To be fair, neither side was completely innocent here.

Map showing the Kansas-Nebraska Act and Missouri's unique position
on the map. Courtesy of American Experience
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 determined whether Kansas was admitted as a free state. This ignited the Southern-born residents along the border. Some owned small holdings of slaves- most didn’t. The notion that just across the horizon was being overtaken by Northern-born families, many hell-bent "free-staters," was too much to take.
Radical abolitionists, including men led by Jim Lane and John Brown, crossed into Missouri and created mass chaos. Pro-slavery “border ruffians” formed in small communities, and guerilla bands of bushwhackers stormed into Kansas and evoked the same pain on them.

1861 Harper's Weekly drawing of federal soldiers searching
the home of rebellious Southern women for incriminating.
Since Missouri was “neutral” during the Civil War and it never formally ceded from the Union, there was an ironic divide within the state. And as we know, especially from recent history, great disagreements lead to even greater violence. As Confederate General Sterling Price recruited soldiers in Missouri, men reluctant to join the cause- and those with more radical tendencies- stayed away from organized service.

Charles R. Jennison’s raids on western Missouri in 1861 had enraged even neutral men. Missouri artist and Unionist George Caleb Bingham commented, “If Jennison were hung, General Sterling Price would lose the best recruiting agent he ever had.”

As the violence escalated on the border and these local groups of guerillas increased in size, infamous William Clarke Quantrill linked them together. Men and boys as young as 14 joined the guerilla bands to protect their countryside and their wives, mothers and children. 

. . .And to raid Kansas. 
Recruitment poster for Jennison's Jayhawkers, 1861
 In order to be successful, these guerillas needed aid and shelter in western Missouri.

The Southern women and older men living in these counties were really left no choice; disagreeing with Quantrill or one of his men meant a quick burning of your home or possibly worse. Thus, the farms left in charge of women were refuge for these men living in hiding from Union forces- and it really didn't matter if they sided with the South or not.

Brig. Gen. Thomas Ewing felt this was the case; he knew quite well that women were aiding the enemy, oftentimes denying that they were at any fault. Most swore loyalty to the Union. Many had kin - including husbands, brothers and fathers – that were deeply involved in the Southern cause.

Women were second-class citizens. They had no choice but to follow along with sealed lips and heads down.

By the summer of 1863, the situation was clearly out of control. Ewing, stationed at Pacific House (still standing as a landmark in Kansas City) at 4th and Delaware, wrote to his commander, John M. Schofield, that the bushwhacker allies on the border were “actively and heartily engaging in feeding, clothing and sustaining them.” He believed that up to 2/3 of the people that lived within his military control were actively aiding the bushwhackers.

Honestly, he was probably right.
Pacific House Hotel, where Ewing's Union headquarters were
during the summer and fall 1863

The result was General Order No. 10 on August 18th, 1863. In part, the order states:

The wives and the children of known guerrillas, and also women who are heads of families and are willfully engaged in aiding guerrillas, will be notified by such officers to move out of this district and out of the State of Missouri forthwith. They will be permitted to take unmolested, their stock, provisions and household goods. If they fail to remove promptly they will be sent by such officers under escort to Kansas City for shipment South, with their cloths and such necessary household furniture as may be worth removing.

This was a mistake…

William "Bloody Bill" Anderson
Young women with bushwhacker ties were found with gunpowder up their skirts and suspicious amounts of cash. They were arrested and held with no bail with the intention of removing them to St. Louis, Mo. where they were to be put on trial. Makeshift prisons around Kansas City had to be erected to hold them. The three-story building at 1409 Grand was chosen to hold about twenty women prisoners.

The prisoners were held on upper floors, including the third floor that once was George Caleb Bingham’s art studio and was added by the artist himself. Guards were stationed on the main floor and in the cellar. To make extra space available, it was said that the Union removed some support beams of the brick structure.

Around dinnertime on August 13th, the building cracked and crumbled to the ground with 17 women, one boy and one guard inside. Four women were killed from being crushed by the collapse and another died days later from her injuries.

One prisoner, the 10-year-old youngest sister of William “Bloody Bill” Anderson, had been chained to a bed for being disobedient. She suffered a crippling back injury, a cut-up face and two broken legs. Another sister, Mary Ellen, was crippled for the rest of her life. Charity Kerr, sister of John McCorkle (one of Quantrill’s men), was killed. Susan Vandever and Armenia Whitsett Selvey, cousins of Cole Younger (another member of Quantrill’s men and later a member of the James-Younger gang), were also among the victims. To add insult to injury, another of Bloody Bill Anderson’s sister’s, 15-year-old Josephine, was crushed to death on this fateful day.

John McCorkle, who lost his sister in the collapse, wrote, “We could stand no more. . . innocent and beautiful girls had been murdered in a most foul, brutal, savage and damnable manner. We were determined to have our revenge.”

Quantrill and his men were enraged when they heard the news of the death of their allies and family. Taking refuge at farmhouses nearby, Quantrill and his men plotted their revenge. Lawrence, Ks., a Union town with strong ties to the Jayhawkers who had consistently attacked farms in western Missouri, was a perfect target.

The raid on Lawrence is depicted here in a painting by Lauretta Fisk
Quantrill and his men considered any crime against women- especially Southern, “God-fearing” women- to be a severe, punishable act. Women, frankly, were off-limits. Quantrill and the guerillas meticulously mapped their route and headed into Kansas just eight days after the prison collapse. Arriving at dawn with about 400 Confederate guerillas (including McCorkle, Cole Younger, “Bloody Bill” Anderson and George M. Todd, whose father had built the original Red Bridge), they rode into Lawrence with payback on their minds.

As the men stormed into Lawrence on August 21st, 1863, Quantrill yelled his last order to his men. “Kill every man big enough to carry a gun,” he shouted as he secured four revolvers on his belt.

The first victim, Rev. Snyder was ambushed near his home as he harmlessly milked his cow. The attack was well-organized; every man had an assignment to carry out. They screamed and shouted as the 400 men swooped through the streets, setting fire to over a quarter of the buildings, homes and barns.
Harper's Weekly's depiction "The Ruins of Lawrence"

Rev. Hugh D. Fisher, a Methodist minister who escaped the Lawrence Massacre by concealing himself under a rug, transcribed his eyewitness account in “Gun and the Gospel.” He wrote of numerous events he saw that day, including the murder of John Carpenter. Carpenter, in ill health, had tried to run from his home to escape the guerillas. He was chased by the armed men, and his wife knew he was certainly going to be caught. She fell on top of Carpenter and sheltered him in her skirt.

Rev. Fisher wrote, “She fell with him and again they tore her partially from him and finished their crime by repeatedly turning their revolvers upon him while still she clung to him and begged for mercy and his life.”

This repulsive, unrelenting raid became known as one of the most significant and bloody events against civilians during the Civil War. Called “Quantrill’s Raid” or the “Lawrence Massacre,” around 160 to 190 men and boys were murdered. Corpses littered the dusty streets of Lawrence, then a town of about 3,000. Their mission was complete in less than four hours.
Tensions and vengeance had finally spilled over into unforgivable violence. Ewing was in Leavenworth when Quantrill took to Lawrence. He met with Kansas Senator and Jayhawker Jim Lane (1814-1866) in Morristown, Mo. later that evening, possibly looking to relieve some of the tensions this tumultuous, radical abolitionist would have after the Lawrence Massacre.
A monument in Oak Hill Cemetery in Lawrence, Ks.
honors the victims of the Lawrence Massacre 
Leander M. Dehoney stood outside of his home looking toward Blue Springs on the night of August 24, 1863 and could count 24 houses burning in the distance. The retaliation of Lawrence had already begun.

Ewing returned to the Pacific Hotel in Kansas City on August 25th and took pen to paper four days after the Lawrence Massacre to issue General Order No. 11. Little did he know the lasting influence this would have on families. . . and on his own career.

In part, the order read: 

All persons living in Jackson, Cass, and Bates counties, Missouri, and in that part of Vernon included in this district, except those living within one mile of the limits of Independence, Hickman's Mills, Pleasant Hill, and Harrisonville, and except those in that part of Kaw Township, Jackson County, north of Brush Creek and west of Big Blue, are hereby ordered to remove from their present places of residence within fifteen days from the date hereof.

Just fifteen days to vacate.

We know how the weather can be in August in Missouri. The temperature during this fifteen day period hovered between 90 and 100 degrees. . . and it hadn't rained in weeks.

This original Oath of Allegiance dated Sept, 7, 1863 for George W. Kemper shows that he was able to answer questions to the Union's liking and could stay within the Hickman's Mill military post.
Document courtesy of Harvey Kemper
Depriving the bushwhackers of the comforts offered in many western border counties was essential, in Ewing’s mind, to controlling the havoc. Gen. Order No. 11 went on to allow people to report to one of the military posts, which included Hickman’s Mill, Pleasant Hill, Harrisonville, and Kansas City and swear their oath of allegiance to the Union. They would be put under intense questioning, and if their answers were deemed true by soldiers at the post, they would be allowed to stay at the military station.

This map demonstrates the "Burnt District"
outlined in red. The stars represent military posts.
The northwest corner of the map carved out
was the exception of Order No. 11 evacuation.
These people were not allowed, under any circumstances, to return home. They couldn’t jump over the state line to Kansas and settle on the eastern border counties. All of their possessions were left behind-  they were left to carry what they could. Many families buried priceless treasures in hopes they could one day return and reclaim them. All their crops were automatically forfeited to the government.

It’s essential to keep in mind that these families that remained on their farms were absent of young men to help with moving; most of the men over the age of 15 were serving on the two sides of the war. Elderly men, women and children were the only ones remaining. Wagons to haul valuables away had been pillaged and stolen in previous raids from both sides- horses had been taken from their stables.

Ewing instructed his soldiers to not pillage the deserted homes left behind, but he was in no position to control what happened. Many of the Union soldiers in charge of these displaced Missourians in the camps were enraged Kansans looking for an opportunity to punish them. And pillaging and burning of homes started the minute word of the Lawrence Massacre traveled like the wind.

The civilians of these counties, estimated to be over 25,000 people, were given 15 days to clear out – most traveling on foot- of an area of just shy of 3,000 square miles. The families that had rummaged up their possessions were oftentimes attacked on the road and robbed of what they did have left. Each person, loyal or disloyal to the Union, was forever affected by Gen. Order No. 11.

News of the order traveled quickly, but those in more rural areas, far away from military stations and the bustling towns of Kansas City and Westport, had no idea such an order had been enacted. Carol Bohl, executive director of the Cass County Historical Society, stated, “Many in reality didn’t receive that message until 15 minutes before they were told to gather their things and leave. So the culmination, of course, was that most of the population of the border area left, not by their own choice. They were forced out by the federal troops.”

Rev. George Miller (1835-1900)
Historian and expert on Gen. Order No. 11, Tom Rafiner, stated in Topeka’s KTWU’s “Sunflower Journeys” series, “In many instances, as soon as families had packed their belongings that they had to carry out of the county, their homes and barns were set fire to. There are numerous instances of families standing in their front yards watching as troops set fire to their homes and their property. Those three counties that were vacated later became known as the Burnt District.”

Union militiamen, many from Kansas, traveled through the counties and set fire to most all of the abandoned homes. They carried the remaining possessions of these displaced citizens into Kansas to use for their own purposes. Stories from the survivors of the order wrote of hardships and terror as many of them watched men shot down as they were trying to obey the order.

Rev. George Miller, who lived in Kansas City at the time, wrote, “The enforcement of such an order. . . right at the beginning of winter, would avail nothing, and would inflict untold suffering on thousands of helpless women and children, already bearing crushing burdens, and would bury its author in eternal ignominy.”

The home of George Caleb Bingham when he painted "Order
No. 11," located in Independence, Mo.
George Caleb Bingham, a Unionist, completely disagreed with Ewing’s order. He famously warned in a letter to Ewing, “If you execute this order, I will make you infamous with pen and brush.”

James Lane
And boy, did he ever! In 1868, Bingham sat in his art studio in Independence, Mo. and painted one of the most famous of his works. Civil War: as realized in the Desolation of Border Counties of Missouri during the operation of “General Order No. 11,” issued by Brigadier General Ewing, from his Head Quarters, Kansas City, August 25, 1863 was the name given to his famous painting. Commonly referred to as Order No. 11, this work of art demonstrates how many on both sides of the cause felt about Ewing’s decision to inflict pain on civilians living on the border.

Kansas senator Jim Lane, known for his powerful political speeches, threatened in the Daily Missouri Democrat on September 1, 1863, “I will tell you what I want to see. I want to see every foot of ground in Jackson, Cass, and Bates counties burned over everything laid waste. Then we shall have no further trouble. The bushwhackers cannot remain in the country, for they will have nobody to feed them nobody to harbor them nobody to provide them with transportation no place to sleep in.”

Lane got his wish.

The Columbia Statesman reported of the refugees traveling through the community that same month. “For several day’s past families with all their movables have been passing through, en route for a new home, having left the border in consequence of the late order of Gen. Ewing. Many of them looked ragged and forlorn, bearing evident signs of poverty.”

It was said that anyone left behind after September 9th still residing in these counties was shot on the spot by Union troops.

The Union commander at Lexington, Mo., Bazel F. Lazear, wrote to his wife, “There is hundreds of people leaving their homes from this country, and God knows what is to become of them. . . . It is heart sickening to see what I have seen. . .A desolate country and women & children some of them almost naked. Some on foot and some in old wagons. Oh God what a sight to see in this once happy and peaceable country.”

George Caleb Bingham's "Order No. 11" painting, completed at his
studio in Independence, Mo. in 1865-1870
25 year-old Laura Harris Flanery Bridges wrote of her experiences during Order No. 11. Her account was published in Tears and Turmoil: Order No. 11. Her husband had served in the Missouri State Guard as she stayed home at their farm near present-day Lees Summit with her young son. Her house had been burned in 1861 by the Jayhawkers along with 26 other houses- and her church.

When Order 11 was issued, she remembered, “All of the women were panic stricken. We had lived sheltered lives, busy in our own households, directing our Negro servants and, naturally, all important decisions were made by the men of the family.”

With no place to go, Laura gathered the small possessions she had left and traveled with 23 families, whose husbands, fathers, brothers and sons were away in the rebel army. Two men were with their group- an 84 year-old man and his 56 year-old blind son. The rest of the party contained 61 women and children.

As they headed south, they were robbed in Clinton, Mo. of everything but one team of horses and oxen. They couldn’t drive the oxen, so their feet were they only thing left to guide them all the way to Sherman, Tx.

Yes, they walked all the way from Missouri to Texas.

Laura recalled, “That was a long walk. We were only able to walk four or five miles a day.”

President Abraham Lincoln could envision the problems that could amass due to Order No. 11. He informed General Schofield in a letter Oct 1st, 1863:

"With the matter of removing the inhabitants of certain counties en masse, and of removing certain individuals from time to time, who are supposed to be mischievous, I am not now interfering, but am leaving to your own discretion.. . So far as practicable, you will, by means of your military force expel guerrillas, marauders and murderers, and all who are known to harbor, aid or abet them. But in like manner you will repress assumptions of unauthorized individuals to perform the same service, because under pretense of doing this they become marauders and murderers themselves."

And so it happened.

George Caleb Bingham
Courtesy of the State Historical Society of MO
A displaced loyal Southern woman recalled that the road from Independence to Lexington was crowded with women and children. Women walked with babies in their arms while children followed. They cried for bread and others cried to be taken back home.

In November 1863, Gen. Ewing eased up on his order and allowed people to return to their homes as long as they swore loyalty the Union. But the damage was already done. 

These shells of homes- these brick and stone chimney structures- charred from the fires and torches lit by Union men and Jayhawkers along the border, became known as “Jennison’s tombstones," and the area was accurately called "The Burnt District." In Cass County, Mo. alone, 5,000 citizens were displaced due to Order No. 11, and only 35% returned after the war to their farms. In truth, there was nothing to return to. Bates Co. didn’t have a military post nearby, thus the county was completely abandoned and all of their records in the courthouse were burned. Nothing remained.

This Order, considered to be one of the largest atrocities of the Civil War, haunted Ewing for the rest of his career. George Caleb Bingham, who had promised to show the country the atrocities of Order 11, traveled throughout to market his painting. He tried to keep Ewing out of public office, yet Ewing was able to serve two terms in the House of Representatives. As Bingham publicly denounced Ewing, Ewing stayed perfectly quiet and said not one bad word about Bingham. Bingham died in 1879, cast away due to his pubic rants and outspoken hatred toward Ewing.

Brig. Gen. Ewing was interviewed in the Kansas City Daily Times in 1879. When asked about Order No. 11, he said, “It hardly needs explanation. It was a necessity of war, and necessary to save the lives of the family and friends of the guerillas, who were almost the only persons affected by it.”


Nice try, Ewing.

Everyone, no matter the loyalty, was affected by Order No. 11.

Around 40,000 people lived in the three counties prior to Order No. 11. By the end of the Order, only about 5,000 remained. According to historian Tom Rafiner, one out of five people returned after the war.

When Ewing ran for governor of Ohio in 1880, he lost by a small margin. The events on the Missouri-Kansas border, specifically Gen. Order No. 11, is said by some historians to be the reason for his defeat. In the end, possibly George Caleb Bingham did get his way.

In 2009, a memorial, called the “Burnt District Monument” was erected 2501 W. Wall St. in Harrisonville, Mo. to pay homage to the thousands of people displaced after Gen. Order No. 11 and to remember all of their homes that were burned to the ground. A stone chimney stands at the site, a simple yet powerful reminder of the atrocities of Gen. Order No. 11.
The Civil War on the border was a unique and prolific time in this area’s history. People on both sides lost everything and were left behind in the smoke and flames. The anniversary on August 25th is a staunch reminder of the suffering of civilians in the hands of chaos of the region and how elderly men, women and children were victims- and survivors – of a horrific event against civilians in wartime.

By Martin Rice (1804-1903)

Alone I've returned to the home whence expelled
By "Order Eleven" from Kansas,
And here in this home, by my feelings impelled,
I sigh as I'm penning these stanzas.

In the home which I builded I sit alone quite,
Or walk through its rooms in sad silence,
And I think of the time when my skies were all bright,
Ere the land had been covered with violence.
I look on my hearthstone, so cheerless and cold,
And my eyes as I look become tearful,
As I think of the past, and the happy household
Who once met around it so cheerful.

In vain I may look for that household to-day,
In vain search the orchard or wildwood ;
My motherless children are now far away
From the scenes of their earliest childhood.

I look on the landscape so changed and defaced,
And the farms all to ruin fast hasting ;
The fruits of my labors, abandoned in haste,
I find are now wasted or wasting.

I look through my windows on farms lying waste,
The homes of my once happy neighbors,
Whose houses and orchards are torn and defaced,
And spoiled are the fruits of their labors.

But some of those neighbors I'll see here no more,
I laid them in beds dark and gory,
But when I have quitted this blood-crimsoned shore,
I hope I shall meet them in glory.

Hard, hard is the fate of an exile from home,
And hard is our lot among strangers ;
Wherever we wander, wherever we roam,
We're looked on as Quantrell's bush-rangers.

What though we have suffered at bushwhackers' hands,
Or bled in the cause of the Union,
Because from the haunt of bushwhacking bands
We're counted as if in communion.

But I must away now and leave here with pain,
This wreck of my earthly Elysian,
And when I have left it perhaps ne'er again
Will this home greet my organs of vision.

*Martin Rice was born in 1804 in Tennessee and published two volumes of poetry in his lifetime. He was the only person to vote for Abraham Lincoln in all of Cass County, Mo.
This poem was written in the latter part of 1863 and published in The Lexington Union

The Rice Homestead

Suggested readings: 

* Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri: The Long Civil War on the Border by Jonathan Earle and Diane Mutti Burke 
*Caught Between Three Fires: Cass County, Mo., Chaos & Order No. 11 by Tom Rafiner
*George Caleb Bingham: Missouri's Famed Painter and Forgotten Politician by Paul C. Nagel
* Kansas City Public Library's "Civil War on the Western Border" website-

*Scattered to the Four Winds: General Order No. 11 and Martial Law in Jackson County, Missouri, 1863 by Ralph A. Monaco II

*Tears and Turmoil: Order No. 11 by Joan Chiles Eakin

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Fitzhugh-Watts Mill Forges Pioneer Spirits For Over a Century

Earliest known photograph of Fitzhugh-Watts Mill from 1898

Tucked away on the banks of Indian Creek are the remnants of what once was a center of considerable activity. Pioneers from all over the southern Jackson Co. area would hitch up their wagons and take the journey to the mill at current-day 103rd and State Line to grind their flour and corn. Other pioneers on their journey out West got wind of the goings-on at Indian Creek and made a special stop there to round up supplies before embarking on their several months’ journey into the abyss of the American frontier.

A drawing by Vernon Hampton in the Kansas City Star
of Watts Mill published in 1939.
What we refer to today as Watts Mill, thanks in part to the shopping center named in its honor, was of major importance in the early history of the area. To have a mill on the edge of “modern” civilization was paramount. Today, the stone remains at the very location of the mill leaves us imagining the incredible stories and lives of the pioneers that once coveted this location.

Well before it was coined “Watts Mill,” it was referred to as “Fitzhugh’s Mill.” In 1832, John Fitzhugh (1792-1878) and his brother, George (1790-1863), patented 40 acres on Indian Creek. The rushing waters, limestone edges and waterfall proved to be a perfect location for a sawmill. They dammed up Indian Creek and took a gamble on the edge of civilization, using hand-hewn native oak and walnut to erect Fitzhugh’s Mill- one year before Westport was platted and 20 years before Kansas City was founded.

This mill was the place to be.

In a short amount of time, Fitzhugh’s Mill became a gathering place. Its success as a sawmill led way to replace it to a gristmill, so they imported millstones from France and changed their operation. This became a central location for the Native Americans and early settlers to trade furs, ground meal and flour, and “catch up” on the endeavors of newly-settled pioneers. Word of mouth was the foundations of this mill, and it wasn’t long before travelers on the Santa Fe Trail started to stop at Fitzhugh’s Mill before their long journey into the Wild West.

In May 1843, Fitzhugh’s Mill is mentioned by name in the diary of James Nesmith as he and 800 pioneers gathered at this very location en route to Oregon and California. This was one of the very first wagon trains documented, with approximately 125 wagons heading West. Travelers camped along the banks of Indian Creek, utilized the power of the mill to ground supplies, and took off into the frontier.

The Fitzhugh’s sold their interest in the mill to James Hunter and Duke Simpson of Westport in 1842. In 1845, the Fitzhugh’s opted to travel south to Texas for new land and opportunity. They continued their success of mill operation in Collin Co., Tex., where they opened a new sawmill that was said to have built all of the county.

A marker at the location of Lone Elm
Campground at Lone Elm Park,
Olathe, Ks. Photo courtesy of
William Fischer, Jr.
Hunter and Simpson sold their interest in the mill in 1846 to Albert Boone (famed as the first owner of what is now Kelly’s in Westport) and James Hamilton.

Another pioneer diary of the time that has survived mentions Fitzhugh’s Mill as well. Susan Magaffin, in 1846 or 1847, traveled the Santa Fe Trail bound for New Mexico. She wrote, “Preparing to camp at Lone Elm. This is the first camp from [Fitzhugh’s], which is on the border of Missouri and the place at which our wagons stayed the night before.” Lone Elm, where she was approaching while writing in her diary, was a location about four miles south of Olathe, Ks.

Most likely just looking for business opportunity, the owners, Simpson and Hunter, first leased and then sold the mill in 1850 to Anthony Benaugh Watts (b. 1788), a miller from St. Charles, Mo.

Anthony Watts knew there was new competition. Five miles away, Ezra Hickman had completed building a gristmill in what would become known as Hickman’s Mill. According to folklore, the town of Hickman’s Mill, which popped up as a result of the location of the mill, was filed as a town under the incorrect name of “Hickman Mills,” thus its name today.

Anthony Benaugh Watts's headstone
at Pleasant Valley Cemetery.
Courtesy of
In order to compete with Hickman’s new mill, Anthony expanded the mill so he could be involved in commercial milling. It was said that the mill was so large that it stood once as a landmark along the frontier.

Anthony’s fifth born child, Stubbins (b. 1838), when he was just old enough to drive a yoke and oxen- only 15 years old- was hired by Majors, Russell and Waddell. He made the trip many times to New Mexico on the Santa Fe Trail.

Stubbins would always return after his lengthy trips and work side-by-side with his father, learning from him how to take over the family business of milling. Anthony Watts died in 1861, and the Civil War called Stubbins into service. He joined the Confederate Army for four years.

After the end of the Civil War, Stubbins returned to Watts Mill, his father buried in the ground and a mill that needed to be used to grind yet again. He continued the operation of the mill well before the town of Dallas emerged along 103rd St.

On May 21, 1871 Stubbins got himself a wife. He was married to Nancy Catherine “Kate” Grimsley (1851-1926) in front of the mill by a traveling preacher. . . in their bare feet. They went on to have three children, Edgar, Richard and Lizzie.

Kate and Stubbins Watts outside their home just west of Watts Mill.
One of the stone fireplaces can be seen in the background.
The mill continued to be a gathering place amongst local pioneer families, and dances that would last all night were held on the banks of Indian Creek. These dances sound like they were quite the big deal back in the day and would often, when weather didn’t permit, occur inside the Watts’s home. The house, built by Stubbins’ father, was just west of the mill. Lumber to build the two-story house came from the trees on Indian Creek. Two fireplaces commissioned with grey stone were on the north and south side of the home. It had a large sitting room with a beamed ceiling, and in the upstairs was a big hall used for dances.

The "Fiddling Miller of Dallas,"
Stubbins Watts
While parents danced the night away, kids would be laid out across the floor in borrowed pallets or on beds they would bring with them on their wagons. Neighborhood dances at Watts Mill would occur for years- there were dances for Christmas that lasted all night and 4th of July dances that would last all day. Seven fiddlers, including Stubbins Watts, would take turns playing- and when they weren’t playing, they were dancing.

Stubbins was a large part of the draw to Watts Mill’s dances with his long, flowing white beard, dark eyes and ability to tell a really great story. A 1955 article published in the Kansas City Star wrote of Stubbins, “He was an entertaining, garrulous man, remembered particularly for his ‘anecdotage’ when he liked to relate tales of Civil War battles in which he fought for the ‘Rebs.’”

He was quite good at fiddling, thus he became known far and wide as “the fiddling miller of Dallas.” He claimed, “You can’t play the fiddle without you tap your foot.” He taught his sons, Dick and Edgar, to play the fiddle. One of their favorite tunes was a trio featuring all of them called “Leather Britches,” which includes the lyrics, “My wife kicked me out of bed because I had my britches on.”

That just makes you want to get up a dance, doesn’t it?!

1877 plat map showing the location of
Watts Mill and Bridger's nearby farm
But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves as we imagine these epic parties. Stubbins and Kate Watts were violently opposed to liquor. According to Lola P. Garrison’s article published in Kansas City Genealogy Magazine in 1964, a lifelong resident said, “If Aunt Kate and Uncle Stubbins knew their pictures were hanging in the entrance to the Indian Creek Inn (a restaurant once located near the mill that served liquor), they would turn over in their graves.”

Mountain man Jim Bridger, who lived to the south of Watts Mill, was a frequent visitor of Stubbins. They were such good friends that Bridger asked to be buried at the Watts Burial Ground (now 101st and Jefferson). In 1881, Stubbins honored his old friend’s wish after Jim Bridger passed away inside the Watts’ home.

In 1904, Jim Bridger’s remains were reinterred at Mount Washington Cemetery. In a Kansas City Star article from 1912, Stubbins was asked why he allowed Bridger to be moved. He replied, “Well, it will only be a few years now till the city will build out over that old graveyard. . . And it won’t be much longer till the city will come on out and take this mill, too.”

Famous mountain man Jim Bridger
Unfortunately, he was correct. First, his family’s bodies at the Watts burial ground were removed to Stanley, Ks to Pleasant Valley Cemetery. Stubbins cremated his father and took an old buhrstone imported from France by the Fitzhugh’s and used it as a headstone for his father. Even in his 80s, Stubbins still was working the old mill, holding onto the old-fashioned customs that had been replaced by modern conveniences.

When Stubbins Watts’ son, Edgar visited the original site of Bridger’s grave after it was removed, he found Bridger’s jaw bone as he was filling the hole with dirt. Enamored with the find and unsure how to proceed, Edgar took the jaw bone home and mentioned nothing of it to his aging father.

For 62 years, Stubbins labored away on the banks of the Indian Creek until his death in 1922. Before his casket was closed and his remains were buried next to his family at Pleasant Valley Cemetery Stanley, Ks., Edgar took the jaw bone of Bridger’s and dropped it into his father’s casket.

Edgar was reported to have said, “Well, they laughed and talked together so it seemed the fittin’ thing to do.”
Inside the old Watts Mill, Stubbins Watts shows a visitor
 how to grind corn.


Fittingly, Stubbins Watts’ headstone also features one of the millstones.

Stubbins’ son, Edgar took over the operations of Watts Mill even after Walnut Grove Park opened next to it. People proved to love the location, oftentimes swimming near the waterfall as the old mill still could be heard grinding in the background. This spot was so popular as a swimming destination that people came from far and wide. On July 9, 1921, tragedy struck the location.

1932 article in the Kansas City Star
announces the centennial of Watts Mill 
19 year-old Ballauf Ramsey, a student at Rockhurst College, went with two friends to swim near Watts Mill. He took off his clothes in the pool of water just to the north of the crashing waters of the mill in an area about 60 feet wide and 12 feet deep. Quickly, he found himself caught in the waves and screamed for help… but it was too late.

About four hours later, his father and others recovered his body from the banks of Indian Creek.

This type of thing didn’t discourage people from relief from the heat; people continued to swim in Indian Creek for years.

In 1932, a centennial celebration of the old Fitzhugh-Watts Mill occurred. People were encouraged to bring picnics and celebrate at the site. Over 6,000 people showed up, many armed with personal stories of the old days of the mill. Jim Bridger’s daughter, Jennie Hahn, was in attendance.

A 1922 advertisement in the Kansas City
Star shows that Watts Mill flour was used
The last mill operators were R.W. Cummins and his wife, Lizzie Watts. Edgar remained close by, and he could sense that the need of an old mill was slowly coming to an end. He stated, “Our meal is the most wholesome in the country. We can skin em’ to death on quality, but we can’t compete in price.”

Just as it is today, quality costs money. And the consumer usually goes for the deal.

In 1942, Edgar answered the call of the war effort and donated nine tons of cast iron and steel from the wheel, an old boiler and some machinery from his family’s mill. One year later, the mill ceased operation and in 1949, Stubbins’ prediction came to be true. The mill was torn down.

In 1972, a marker was placed at the site of Watts Mill by the Native Sons and Daughters. On June 10, 1974, Watts Mill was dedicated as a historic site. The marker from the 70s has seen better days, as it, similarly to the old mill, has weathered away in the elements. A new marker is currently in the works and sponsored by Native Sons and Daughters.

Stubbins once said, “It’s pretty here; they say there’s no prettier bit of scenery in Missouri. I like to hang out the window here and watch the bubbles and the shadows, and listen to the water and the wheels. I just couldn’t live without them.” Even in his day, lazy fisherman would mosey around the banks of Indian Creek in the shadow of Watts Mill. Today, the same can be witnessed as you sit on a park bench and listen to the waterfall crash into the limestone rock and into the fragments of the old mill.

*Part of this story was originally published by the author in the July 11, 2017 issue of the Martin City Telegraph.
Stubbins Watts' grave at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Stanley, Ks. Courtesy of