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Sunday, July 31, 2016

From the Potawatomi to Portland: The Journey of a Pioneer and His Connection to Washington Township

Stories are a-plenty when it comes to the lives and legacies of the men and women that chose, even for a small amount of time, to call the New Santa Fe area home.

Painting of the Santa Fe Trail by William Becknell
(c. 1790-c.1832)
I am particularly fond of those families that didn’t blink an eye when it came to moving into unchartered territory- areas never settled by the whites…

The Wild West.

I suppose these men and women had nothing to lose and everything to gain. They saddled up their horses, packed their minimum belongings, planned their route and followed their dream.

I have thought about this from all angles, and I still am awestruck by all these people that didn’t hesitate to bail.

Girl Scouts taught me to tie a sweet knot and even build a fire, but my “roughing it” skills certainly wouldn’t suffice to survive back in the 1800s.

Like, seriously. Forget it. Dead woman walking.

What would possess these people to leave everything behind? It couldn’t have been that bad in in the eastern United States, right?! Why leave?

Why risk everything?


Can you imagine today if houses in small towns were given away for free or for a small pittance of what they were truly worth? If you were struggling would you take the risk? Would that be enough for you to uproot your family?

The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 is said to have opened up
the West 
In the mid 1850s, a myriad amount of men were motivated by miles and miles of acreage. By 1860, the United States held 1.6 billion acres of land- mostly available for purchase. Treaties, such as the Louisiana Purchase, had added land faster than the government could get rid of it.

This may seem boring, but this information is essential to understanding how the government surveyed land and created the grids we have to this day.

And to be clear, acreage was currency. It was the moolah, the big showboat, the gift of the new frontier. No one was willing to risk it all without the distinct probability that land was up for the taking.

According to the Land Ordinance of 1785, all territory west of the Appalachian Mountains was to be settled in an “orderly” way. How do you make it orderly? Well, the government hired surveyors to comb the land and divide it as territory was acquired. The land was divided into townships that are mainly six miles square with 36 sections per township. Land had to be surveyed before it could be sold. Have you ever thought about how our current streets were platted? They usually run through the split between one section and another- both north and south, west and east.
This image shows the way in which the Land Ordinance of 1785
was surveyed and divided into townships within counties.

As mentioned in a previous post, Washington Township, where New Santa Fe, Martin City, Grandview and Hickman’s Mills are currently located, was known as one of the “Lost Townships.” The story in the history books state that the surveyor of the land may have had a wee bit too much interaction with the Native Americans near the Blue River, and this resulted in a bit of drunkenness. Thus, the surveyor lost his notes. In order to cover his tracks, he reported to the government that the land was not inhabitable, so it didn't need to be surveyed.

Not inhabitable = no legal settlement of the land.

You couldn't purchased land that wasn't surveyed.

This would have scared off most of white settlement for a bit… and it did.

Regardless of whether you believe the story or not, the result was fatal to the early records for settlement of the area. Accounts are scarce and settlement was slow. Chronicles of the squatters that most likely first turned the soil are limited.

I’m asking you to use your imagination.

When I research the area, I check things from all angles. When a new name comes up, I search their history and their family to see what happened in their own personal story. Therefore, land becomes more than just land- or an old house becomes more than an old house – or a piece of broken pottery found while gardening becomes more than trash.

It becomes a story.

My own imagination soars when I find new names and then spend time scouring the archives or reading the unique treasury of land grants. The pieces of the puzzle transform into so much more.

Because land is divided into convenient sections, I can look on a map and navigate land deals throughout history. For the record, New Santa Fe falls in the southernmost part of Section 7. Just to the south of Section 7 (this section has borders just to the south of current Santa Fe Trail and follows  State Line to the west and Wornall to the east) is Section 18. 

The earliest atlas of Washington Township, Jackson County, Missouri from 1877.
No earlier plat exists due to the Lost Townships being undocumented.
New Santa Fe can be located in Section 7.
Reading these land records is like trying to read the Bible in Latin. You get the concept but the language is complete gibberish. Today, we have addresses and land plots and subdivision names.

If you were identifying land with few trees, sporadic fences, a creek and no houses, how would you describe it?

Land records become comical. When describing the precious land someone has laid out good money for, they refer to rocks, stones, lone oak trees and other landmarks that we cannot even begin to find today- because they don’t exist anymore. So, once again, we have to use the powers of assumption.

I’ve always been especially curious about Section 18 because of what it currently contains. Today, it comprises Timber Trace subdivision, Blue Hills Country Club, Blue Hills subdivision, and an old, historic home that served as a tavern on the Trail.

Old land maps dotted with farms, groves, cemeteries and schools confirm what was where before Google Maps and Google Earth were available.

Some of those reading this post live on the land I’m describing. And that’s really cool. Currently, hundreds and hundreds of homes dot the landscape of what was once the sole property of one man.

My quest led me to an interesting story of the first land record for Section 18 – a story intriguing enough to devote a blog entry to it.

Location of Fort Wayne, Indiana
Let me introduce you to Anthony.

Anthony Davis, born in Washington County, Kentucky in 1794, was a man with multiple interests and ambitions. The biggest of his ambitions in the Midwest- still the WILD West-  was serving as an Indian agent in in both Indiana and Kansas.

Unlike most pioneer settlers, Anthony Davis decided to move for a pretty important job. He didn’t uproot his family in hopes of finding the land of milk and honey- he already had a lot of the hard part completed.

You see, he was employed. Most of these guys that left the east were farmers. This was their sole employment. He, like most everyone else in the west, wanted to farm- but that wasn’t his main gig.

Let’s back up a second to Anthony’s endeavors pre-Jackson County, Missouri.

As a young man, Anthony moved to Indiana with his family. By 1834, he was married to wife Jane and had three children. He moved to the area that is now known as Fort Wayne, Indiana where he helped build the community.

According to the Indiana Magazine of History, Mr. Davis was the first clerk of the court, held offices in Harrison and Allen County (Fort Wayne) and served as a state representative in 1829 and 1830. Davis Street in Fort Wayne is named after him. He began his career as a merchant in Fort Wayne and began to sell supplies to the Indian agency.
Painting of the Kee-Waw-Nay Potawatomi Village in Indiana 

In 1834, Davis was appointed as an Indian agent to reside with and to take care of a group of “emigrating” Potawatomi, or we locals seem to spell it- Pottawatomie. When the Potawatomi of the 1838 emigration settled in the Osage River country, Davis was appointed as sub-agent.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the government’s early efforts to “emigrate” Native Americans. Let’s call it what it was- pushing Native Americans off their lands and forcing them to move to areas that at the time weren’t settled by whites.

Anthony was front and center in the massive resettlement of the Potawatomi’s to the areas near the current Kansas City metropolitan area.

In a way, this guy was in charge. Well, he was at least in charge of the new reservation near the Maris des Cygnes River in present-day Miami County, Ks.

With the looming relocation of the Potawatomi tribe from Indiana to Kansas Territory, Anthony moved his family. The first record in Kansas Territory that I am able to find for him shows him living in 1835 in Kickapoo town near Lawrence.

But, he was also involved in the “Platte Purchase” in Missouri, which the Native Americans were paid $7,500 for 3,100 square miles of land. To put this in perspective, it included what now makes up six full counties in Missouri: Platte, Atchison, Buchanon, Holt, Andrew and Nodaway.

Map showing the location of the counties included
in the Platte Purchase of 1836
Anthony helped move these Native Americans off the land and settle them into the a combined reservation space of 29 square miles in Kansas and Nebraska Territory.

Yeah, 3,100 square miles to 29.

Remember, Anthony Davis came from Indiana. And, the Potawatomi had ceded their native lands in Michigan and Wisconsin in a treaty in 1829. They were placed on reservations in Indiana.

But, as the history books tell us, the peaceful removal of the Native Americans didn’t end there.

In return for land cessions, the US promised new lands, annuities and supplies to enable the peoples to develop new homes. By 1833, a new treaty was enacted due to more European settlement in the area.

The land had become valuable- and the government wanted to promote settlement. So, it was time for the Potawatomi to be moved yet again. The Illinois Potawatomi were removed to Nebraska and the Indiana Potawatomi to Kansas, both west of the Mississippi River.

A map showing the location of the Potawatomi reservation in current
Miami County, Kansas.
Image courtesy of Dolores J. Rush
It was time to give them a new place to call home. And Anthony Davis was the Indian subagent in charge, thus moving his family even further south in Kansas to an area near the Osage River, just west of Missouri. The subagent would have helped give supplies to the Potawatomi, help them build permanent residences, and set up a blacksmith shop, an interpretor and even a teacher.

In 1837, the Kansas reservation near the Osage River, just west of Missouri in current Miami County, Kansas was surveyed for the Indiana Potawatomi’s. It was about 36 to 42 miles in size  Some, but not all, of the Potawatomi at this time had peacefully removed to Kansas Territory.

One Potawatomi village near Twin Lakes in Indiana refused to follow the directions of the treaty. Needless to state, this didn’t bode well.

859 names were recorded of these Potawatomi that stood strong in Indiana. Along with militia, these men, women and children were involuntary pushed off the land in 1838. A 650-mile journey from Twin Lakes to Osawatomie, Kansas began.
The Potawatomi Trail of Death 

One hundred armed soldiers made sure the tribe got to their final destination. Sixty-one days of hell, walking under dusty, dry and trechorous conditions…

Out of the 859 names recorded prior to departure from Indiana, 42 Potawatomi perished on the journey, 28 of them children. This removal came to be known as the “Potawatomi Trail of Death,” a name credited to Historian Jacob Platt Dunn in his book, True Indian Stories (1909).

And who was awaiting to greet them? Anthony, of course.

As subagent, he was one of the men in charge of resettling these brave Potawatomi in the area. He continued his work with them, trading things such as blankets and rifles to them.

The sad saga of the Potawatomi unfortunately didn't end in Miami County, Ks. Soon after the Trail of Death Potawatomi entered Kansas Territory, other bands of the Potawatomi from the Council Bluffs area and from Iowa were "relocated" into the area and were settled north of Osawatomie.

Many of those Potawatomi that were on the Trail of Death were resettled at Uniontown west of Topeka. As white settlement moved further west, they, and other Native American tribes that were relocated to Kansas, were pushed yet again off the land and forced into Oklahoma. Others decided to stay on private lands and not on the reservations.

There were various bands of Potawatomis, and each of these groups had different challenges as it pertains to the relocation efforts men such as Anthony Davis managed over. These different groups have very different stories. For example, two tribes were formed in 1867 after the revision of a treaty - the Citizen Band of the Potawatomi's opted to sell their lands in Kansas and move to Shawnee, Oklahoma while the Prairie Band of Potawatomi's held onto land in Jackson County, Ks. They still have a reservation there to this day.

Abstracts of articles relating to the Potawatomi in Miami County with
Anthony L. Davis serving as Indian subagent, 1839-1840
... Back to our buddy, Anthony.

After several years working with the Potawatomi, it appears Anthony was ready to settle down and get some land. Familiar with the area of Kansas Territory, which was not open to white settlement (yet), Davis jumped over to the Missouri side and purchased land in Jackson County, Missouri.

In 1846, he was able to purchase the north half of Section 18, containing 154 acres. In 1848, he purchased the south half of Section 18, containing 144 acres. This is the land that currently is bordered by State Line to the west, Wornall to the east, approximately 122nd Terrace to the north and Blue Ridge Boulevard to the south.

That’s quite the farm.

In any case, identifying what was on the land in Anthony’s day is hard to decipher, because land records don’t talk in terms of housing. But, a lot can be told by the amount of money paid when the land was sold.

Anthony sold his land at a pretty big profit.

Why do I care about this? Because this includes the land that holds what was an inn or tavern on the Santa Fe Trail. When was it built? Who built it?

Some records state the original structure was constructed in the 1840s… about the time when the very first land record surfaces for this stretch. Anthony’s land record.

Did HE build it? Quite possibly.

But, as many pioneers of the era did, Anthony Davis didn’t stay too long. The west was calling him. In April of 1850, Mr. Davis and his wife, Jane sold their tracts of land to a man named William S. Gregory.

Does the name ring a bell?

William S. Gregory (1825-1877), first mayor of Kansas City
Missouri Valley Special Collections
Gregory Boulevard?

The first mayor of Kansas City, William S. Gregory bought Anthony Davis’ land for a total of $3,200. This may not seem like much, but it was for back then- and that tells me there was more than just land being sold. This was all before the official incorporation of New Santa Fe.

More on William S. Gregory’s time in New Santa Fe later!

Anthony Davis left for the west shortly after selling his property and, at the ripe old age of 56, ventured with his family to the Oregon Territory, settling in what is now known as Portland.

This guy sure knew how to pick his locations!

In December 1850, he’s already settled in and is running a boarding house in the Pacific Northwest.

He didn’t stop his ambitions even after moving. He helped organize the first public school in Portland, Oregon in 1852 and was elected Justice of the Peace in 1854. He then was appointed Circuit Judge in 1858.

Don’t be surprised that the historic district in Portland includes Davis Street- named after good ol’ Anthony Davis. That makes for two streets in two cities!

 Major Anthony Litsey Davis' final resting place.
Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery, Portland
Anthony died August 3, 1866 leaving a lifelong legacy of a true pioneer. His short time in the area of New Santa Fe in Jackson County, Missouri helps to paint a true picture of the spirit of these men and women that once lived and cultivated the land where thousands of houses now rest.

Anthony L. Davis settled just off the Santa Fe Trail yet remained unsettled for most of his life. Starting in Kentucky, pushing north to Indiana and then pushing out Native Americans to Kansas Territory, Anthony encompasses a true pioneer spirit. His contribution to pivitoal areas of the country, including Washington Township in Jackson County, should be acknowledged and, in some ways, admired.

We don’t have agree with everything these pioneers did, but we should embrace the history of this country. Anthony Davis helped bring white settlement to the West. These pioneers of Jackson County are fascinating and free-spirited. The swing of their hammers and the plunge of their shovels built the foundations of the community.

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