Buried Secrets: Charles Schaefer

Originally posted Wednesday, February 20, 2013 A Front Row Seat to History
by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

This post continues the story of Charles Schaefer of Sedgwick, Ks. For more stories see Part 1 & Part 2.

 Most of us will  never have the chance to meet the President of the United States, but one Kansan did.  In later years, Schaefer  recalled his experiences as a  soldier in the capitol during which time he met President Lincoln.

Front Row Seat to History: Meeting Lincoln

In his handwritten notebook of remembrances, Schaefer related his impressions of President Abraham Lincoln.

A very queer man. . . Personally there was much good about him which was alright in civil life, but in war was not good.*  I met him face to face between the White House and Treasury Building, stood at attentions and saluted as was proper.  He certainly was the homeliest man I ever saw; stove pipe hat, big clothing that did not fit.  But I gave him a square good look in the eyes and I do not believe I ever saw a kinder and sympathetic [person].  I rather pity him, he looked so lonesome and sorrowful. . . Of course, I saw him several times at Grand Reviews.”

Buried Secrets

Schaefer also had stories to tell about his time in the army. In this faded clipping from an undated Wichita Eagle, Schaefer recalled an incident from the close of the Civil War related to the assassination of President Lincoln.

Newspaper clipping in the Schaefer Scrapbook
Sedgwick Historical Society
Sedgwick, Ks
Schaefer was regimental quartermaster sergeant of the Third United States Infantry and he had been ordered   to Washington D.C. at the close of the war.  He was given rooms in the federal penitentiary while he worked to return supplies.  It was during this time that he made the acquaintance of several sailors and they had a tale to tell him.  He was pledged to the utmost secrecy and was told of the mysterious activities that the sailors had completed under orders.
“Eight sailors of the U.S. navy detailed to have charge of a boat kept in readiness for the governments use. . . . One night they had been called upon to take their boat and row upstream til they found a ship on the other side of the Potomac. . . . When the drew alongside the ship, they were stopped and a box, casket-shaped, was lowered into their boat and they were ordered to return to shore.”
Schaefer continued to describe how the sailors were blindfolded and “marched around until they did not have the least idea where they were.” The blindfolds were removed and they found themselves in a “large barren room with flagstone floor.”  The sailors were then ordered to remove the flagstone and dig a specific sized hole. The specifications they “noticed were the size of a grave. . . . they were ordered to place the box” from their boat in the hole.  Next, they were to “replace the stone and remove all traces of the night’s work.”  Once returned to their boat they were “dismissed with the order to keep their mouths shut.”

The men were sure that they recognized the room as one in the Old Penitentiary and they were convinced that the body was that of John Wilkes Booth.

Schaefer concluded his story by noting:

“I promised I would not repeat the information since they were under orders to keep still. I kept my word until this long distant date when telling can do no harm.”

Tall Tale?

When I first read this story in the Schaefer Scrapbook, I thought it was a ‘tall tale’, but a bit of research supported much of what Schaefer described.  Booth was shot through the neck by Sergeant Boston Corbett on the porch of Richard Garrett’s house near Port Royal, Virginia, where he died.  The body was sewn up in a horse blanket and taken to Belle Plain where it was hoisted upon the deck of steamer John S Ide.
The body was delivered to the Montauk where an autopsy was performed April 27, 1865.  Booth was identified by several people who had known him well, including Dr. John Frederick May.  Dr. May had recently removed a large fibroid tumor from Booth’s neck and the scar was still visible on the body. Booth’s dentist also positively identified the body.
The Secretary of War Edwin Stanton ordered the body to be buried in the Old Penitentiary on the Washington Arsenal grounds – exactly where Shaefer was staying in 1865. This was accomplished.
John Wilkes Booth’s Autopsy http://rogerjnorton.com/Lincoln83.html
In 1869, the body was exhumed and positively identified and returned to the Booth family.  Booth was buried in an unmarked grave in the family plot in Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore on June 26, 1869.


For information on the mystery and legend that surrounds Booth’s body visit: http://www.historybuff.com/library/refbooth.html
*Schaefer had some very strong opinions about the dismissal of Union General McClellan, which may have colored his view of Lincoln.  He noted that the General, known as ” ‘Little Mac’ . .  was too much the loyal soldier.”

From Gettysburg to Sedgwick: The Adventures of Charles Schaefer Part 2

Originally posted on Thursday, January 17, 2013 at From Gettysburg to Sedgwick: The Adventures of Charles Schaefer.

by Kristine Schmucker,Curator

Before settling in south central Kansas in the future town of Sedgwick, Charles Schaefer led an interesting life.  At the age of ten he left home and became a part of the frontier army at Fort Leavenworth and traveled throughout the territory as a scout.  For part 1 Successful Plainsman and Scout. For more adventures of Schaefer see Buried Secrets.

U.S. Army Scout

Schaefer wrote;

“In 1858 he went to San Antonia and there identified himself with the U.S. army as a scout, serving at Fort Clark, Ringold Barracks, and Brownsville; being at the latter place when the civil war broke out.  Knowing the officers on both sides so well he hesitated for sometime whether to cast his lot with the North or the South.  the question as to the right of a state to secede from the Union was the deciding factor and he enlisted October 16, 1860 in Company E 3rd U.S. Infantry, drawing his first uniform from the Alamo.” (“Autobiography” by Charles Schaefer)
Charles Schaefer
Seventeen year old Schaefer spent the first year of the Civil War at Fort Pickens, Florida.  From there he went to the Army of the Potomac where he served the rest of the war, participating in most of the important battles of that region” under the command of General Fitz John Porter.  Schaefer was wounded in the knee at Gettysburg.
General Fitz John Porter seated

“Dramatic Highlight of the Civil War”

The orders were not to fire, unless fired upon.  According to Schaefer, that order saved the life of General Robert E. Lee and prolonged the war.  Schaefer recounted the story for a newspaper reporter years later.

Standing behind a shock of newly cut wheat in a field near Gettysburg, Pa., a blue-coated man, age 20, leveled his rifle across the shock and took careful aim at the heart of a grey-coated man with stars on his shoulder and gold braid on his black slouch hat.  

Don’t shot!” exclaimed the officer commanding the squad.

“But I must,” answered the lad with a ‘bead’ on the grey-coated man.  “That is General Lee.  He used to be in San Antonio when I enlisted there and so I know him.  Let me kill him.  It will end the war.”

But  the officer in charge of the blue-coated reconnoitering party was obdurate  . . So rather than disobey the order of his superior, Charles Schaefer . . . put up his weapon and Lee passed on without knowing how near he came to death.”  (Undated Clipping “Sedgwick Vet Once Had ‘bead’ on Rob’t E. Lee” in the Charles Schaefer File, Sedgwick Historical Museum, Sedgwick, Ks)

This was one of several stories that Schaefer would later tell about his experiences during the Civil War.  Schaefer mustered out in 1865, but reenlisted to serve as Post Quartermaster at Forts Harper and Zarah until 1869.  He was recognized for his service at Gettysburg in 1913, when each veteran was presented with a bronze metal cast from metal of cannons used during the war.

Home to Sedgwick, Kansas

He married Maria Theresa Rivallissa from New Mexico, in approximately 1868 and they decided to establish a more permanent home.

Maria M. Rivalissa Schafer, ca. 1868
In 1869, Charles Shaefer brought his bride to a place he had explored before while traveling with Col. Fauntleroy in the 1850s and again in 1860.  A place he remembered as a place of great beauty – the region near the convergence of the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers in south central Kansas.
Schaefer wrote:

“and as he again came into the valleys of the Little & Big Arkansas rivers, his keen vision and clear memory spotted again the characteristic view that had as first so impressed him.  I have already spoken of the fact that the only break in the broad monotony of prairie grass was the green made by the river trees.  South of the present site of Wichita a few miles was a  very thickly wooded place in the long line of green that marked the river.  This looked perfectly round from a  distance, and could be seen for miles.  El bosque Redondo, the Mexicans called it, and according to their tradition it had been known for years.     (“Autobiography” by Charles Schaefer)

Schaefer settled with his family on a ranch approximately four miles west what would become the City of Sedgwick in 1869.  He operated a supply store and engaged in raising cattle for a few years.  By the early 1870s, the Schaefer family had moved to the town of Sedgwick to open a grain and mercantile business with another early pioneer, William Finn.

Charles Schaefer (lt), William Finn (rt)
Charles and Maria’s second child, a daughter named Rosa, was born August 12, 1870 and  was the first white child born in what would become Harvey County.  The Schaefer’s had five children; Charles G., Rosa A., Esia J., John F. and Earl.  Maria died April 28, 1885 at the age of 43.  It was noted that “she was an early community worker and was loved by all — she helped many people.”
Five years later, Schaefer married Mary Francis Wilkin of Sedgwick.  According to Schaefer she “proved a most gentle and efficient mother to the bereaved children.” She died in 1924 at age 75.

Harvey County State Militia & Public Life

In 1874, Schaefer was again called on to serve his state.  Deputized by Kansas Governor Thomas A Osborne on July 15, 1874, Schaefer was charged with the responsibility to “raise a company of men to stop the Indian depredations that threatened the countryside.”

Document addressed to
Capt. Charles Schaefer, Harvey County State Militia
ordering the return of 30 Sharps Carbines.


Gov. Osborne organized the Kansas State Guards in response to Indian raids in western and southern Kansas mostly concentrated near Medicine Lodge, Ks. By the close of 1874, the Harvey County Militia was disbanded.

Schaefer continued in public life when he served as Deputy Register of Deeds for Sedgwick County from 1888-1892.  During this time the Schaefers lived in Wichita, Ks.
In 1892, President Cleveland appointed Schaefer Consul to Vera Cruz, Mexico.  He spoke fluent Spanish “and made a good record in diplomatic corps.”  He held this position for five years.
In 1897, he returned to Sedgwick where he took an active part in civic improvements until his death January 7, 1934 at the age of 92.


Shoulder a Musket and Go to Battle!

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

This blog post is part of a Heritage Grant from Humanities Kansas to digitize the John C. Johnston Civil War Pension Collection. As part of the project HCHM, seeks to tell the stories of these men and their families.

“Shoulder a Musket and Go to Battle”

Most of the pensions in the John C. Johnston Civil War Pension Collection are from men active in the Civil War. However, some men participated in an earlier war which was also related to the same issues.  One of these men was Ichabod Chase.

In 1846-1848 the Mexican American War was the focus of the slave/anti slave state debate.  During that time the debate centered around Texas and whether slavery should be extended to the state. This cause further trouble with establishing the border between Mexico and the United States. Ichabod Chase’s Pension Papers  reveal that he   enlisted on December 1, 1847 “the serve during the war with the Mexicans.” From a brief newspaper announcement and a note in his pension file, also indicate that Ichabod participated in this war.  He was discharged in July 1848 and returned to Michigan to start his family.

Newton Daily Republican, 31 May 1886

In the case of Ichabod Chase, more is learned about him and his life through his wife and her obituary. Born in 1834, Ichabod married eighteen year old Margaret Gillam shortly after he returned from the Mexican American War in 1848.   The young couple was adventurous and went further west in Michigan and secured government land open for settlement.

“They braved the wilds and hardships of pioneer life and three little ones had been added to their home” when the “unsettled question of slavery rose hydra-headed, and a call . . . to leave his young family, shoulder a musket and go to battle.”

Ichabod  enlisted again as a private for the Union army on August 25, 1861 and was gone from his family until August 1864.

These were difficult years for the young family. Margaret’s obituary described this time during the Civil War.

“Only those who lived thru the eventful time can realize the valor and heroism of the man on the field of battle and the fortitude and endurance of the woman in the home. Mrs. Chase with her little children lived on the Michigan farm, while her husband was gone to war, doing the work perhaps of two with the dominant buoyant spirit that then and thereafter lifted her above adverse circumstances.”

The Call of the West!

Following the war, the Ichabod and Margaret owned a mercantile business in central Michigan, but soon they felt another call . . .”the Call of the West!” With the opportunity to acquire cheap land in Kansas, the Chase family came to Harvey County in 1874 and settled north of Burrton, just missing the “grasshopper scourge.” Ichabod took a position as the Superintendent of the bridge and building department for the Santa Fe Railroad in 1878.

Ichabod continued to feel the need to ‘go west’ and in 1889 the family moved to Puyallup, Washington where Ichabod died August 20, 1894 at the age of 60. (The Kansas Workman, 1 Oct 1894)

In April 1895, as a widow, Margaret applied for a “Veteran’s Bounty” and was notified at that time that “claims had been paid at time of service.”

In 1916, shortly before her death Margaret again applied for a widows pension.

It is not clear if Ichabod or Margaret Chase ever received a pension for his time serving in either war.

After Ichabod passed away in 1893, Margaret moved back to Newton to live with her daughter, Lucene Chase Axtell.

Margaret Gillam Chase died on June 20, 1917.

“Having experienced the bitterness of war, she was keenly sensitive to the cause and consequences of the World War and express a hope that she might live to see Peace restored to the nations of the earth, hoping that peace would come before our boys were called into actual battle. “


  • Chase, Ichabod. John C. Johnston Civil War Pension Collection, Box 1, Past Perfect # 1900.2.017, HCHM Archives, Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives, 203 N. Main, Newton, Ks 67114.
  • Voter Registration Index. HCHM Archives, Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives, Newton, Ks
  • Newton Daily Republican, 31 May 1886
  • The Kansas Workman, 1 Oct 1894
  • Newton Journal: 29 June 1917
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