A “start towards fame:” Isaac N. Lewis’ Harvey County Connections

The Archives is full of fun tidbits of information including this clipping discovered by Archivist Jane Jones highlighting a little known fact.

Clipping, n.d. Found in"Early Settlers" file, HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks

Clipping, ca. November 1931,  found in”Early Settlers” file, HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks

The 1931 newspaper clipping explains that the death of Col. Isaac Lewis

is of interest to Harvey county people as he is a former resident and received his start towards fame from here and thru a local man.”

Isaac N. Lewis was born in New Salem, PA, 12 October 1858.  Although most of his life was spent in the eastern part of the U.S., for a time Lewis lived in Kansas.  The 1880 census lists Lewis, age 21, living in the household of his sister and brother-in-law, Hiram and Sarah Hackney, in Highland Township, Harvey County, Kansas.  His occupation is school teacher, probably at  one room school No. 64, known as Highland School.  The Highland School was located in Section 12, Highland Township on ground owned by H.H. Hackney, Lewis’ brother-in-law.

A second Harvey County connection was noted in the article.  Lewis received his appointment to the U.S. Military Academy from Samuel R. Peters Kansas congressman and Newton lawyer.

Lewis entered the U.S. Military Academy in June 1880 as a cadet from Kansas. He graduated from the Academy in 1884. Shortly after graduation, he married Mary Wheatley and they had four children.

While at the Academy, his skill with inventing was noted. Following his graduation he was able to put these skills to work. Lewis, a Second Lieutenant of Artillery,  was at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas from 1888-1890. During this time, he developed “the first successful artillery range and position finder” used by the War Department. Over the years, he continued to create improved models of the range and position finder.  He also was the inventor of numerous other instruments related to artillery.

Lewis Machine Gun

He is most famous for his “automatic air-cooled machine gun”  developed in 1911-1912. The first machine gun to be successfully fired with accuracy from an airplane.  A demonstration of the gun was given in June 1912 at College Park, in Maryland.  Although the United States failed, at first, to realize the potential, the British government was “quick to utilize Colonel Lewis’ s machine gun.”  More than 100,000 of the guns were used by the Allied armies during the Great War.  As result, Lewis received millions of dollars in royalties from the British government. The Lewis Machine Gun was used from 1914 until 1953.

He retired due to a physical disability with the rank of Colonel in 1913. He made his home in Montclair, New Jersey.

Isaac N. Lewis

Isaac N. Lewis

Lewis died suddenly from a massive heart attack on November 9, 1931 while waiting in the Hoboken, New Jersey train terminal. He was 73 years old.

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator



  • “Inventor of Lewis Machine Gun Dead: Former Harvey County Man Passed Away Very Suddenly,” Newspaper Clipping, ca. November 1931, found in “Early Settlers” File HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks
  • U.S. Census, 1880
  • Historical Map of Harvey County, Philadelphia, J.P. Edwards, 1882.
  • http://www.firstworldwar.com/atoz/mgun_lewis.htm
  • http://www.oldmagazinearticles.com/pdf/LEWIS-GUN,-P.-A.PDF
  • http://www.allworldwars.com/Lewis-Automatic-Machine-Gun-1916.html
  • http://replicaplans.com/LewisGun.html

The Strange Tale of Frances Anderson: Champion Pool Player

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

This post is in connection with our current exhibit, Games People Play.

The Noble Game of Billiards

Billiards or pool has a long, rich history.  Played by people of all social levels, billiards evolved from the outdoor lawn game, croquet.  Shakespeare mentioned the game in his play Anthony and Cleopatra. Standardized rules of play were first printed in the mid-1600s.

In 19th century America, the word ”Pool” referred to a collective bet or ante in betting parlors for horse racing.  Billiard tables were installed in the parlors so patrons could pass the time between races.  The more unsavory connotations of the“poolroom” came from the betting that took place, not the game itself.  By the 1920s, the poolroom had become a place where men gathered to loiter, smoke, fight and play, adding to the game’s reputation.

Land Loan & Insurance Office. C.F. Claassen - Billiard Hall, 503 Main, Newton, Ks, 1890 Lt-Rt: C.F. Claassen, Josiah Foltz. "Billiard Hall" lower right of photo. Building owned by Henry Brunner

Land Loan & Insurance Office. C.F. Claassen – Billiard Hall, 503 Main, Newton, Ks, 1890
Lt-Rt: C.F. Claassen, Josiah Foltz. “Billiard Hall” lower right of photo. Building owned by Henry Brunner

The Champion Woman Billiard Player

In the mid-1890s, a challenge was issued to the status  quo by Frances Anderson.  She declared herself  “the champion woman billiard player” and offered $5,000 to any woman that  could beat her.  Anderson was undefeated for the next 25 years, also beating many of the men that played against her.  During the early 1920s, she toured North America and Europe, giving exhibitions and beating challengers.  Shortly before her death, Anderson gave a exhibition  at the Smoke House Billiard Hall, in Newton, Ks.

For all of her notoriety as a pool player, Anderson’s personal life remained a mystery.

Frances Anderson, Billiards Champion

Frances Anderson, Billiards Champion

As she got older, it became more difficult to compete.  Her eyesight began to fail.  Years spent in dark, smoky rooms had taken a toll on her health.   By the time she was in her late 50s, Anderson was no longer “pretty” and no longer in demand. “Swede” Wilson, proprietor of Swede’s Pool Hall, one of the last people to talk with Frances, later noted that “she wore a wig and spoke with some effort with a gruff voice.” Despondent, Anderson brutally took her own life in  a hotel room in Sapulpa, OK on March 29, 1928.

Crumpled in one of the women’s stockings in the room was a note which said, “Do what you will with my body, but don’t let the world know my secret.”

At the mortuary,  the secret that Frances wanted hidden from the world was discovered  – Frances was a man.

The story made headlines in Oklahoma and Kansas.  Surprised by the discovery, Swede Wilson commented to the Higbee News that Anderson “did not handle the pool cue like a man . . . No one suspected the masquerade.” The Higbee News concluded with the questions: “Who the man really was, where he came from or the cause of his masquerading as a woman, is a complete mystery.” 

Frances Anderson

Frances Anderson Image courtesy Jerry Wall

The sensational story might have ended there except for one woman.  In Newton, Kansas, Amy Belle May, (Mrs.Will D. May), read the shocking newspaper reports describing the life and death of Frances Anderson.  Something about the story made her pay attention.  Her brother, Orin “Orie” Franklin Anderson, had been estranged from the family for nearly 30 years. After a disagreement regarding his “gaming”, Orie, age 15,  told his family that “he would go away , that they would not hear of him again and would not even know when or where he died.” Over the years, Amy May had received one or two letters. The last correspondence from her brother was a postcard dated fifteen years before.

She determined to travel to Sapulpa, OK, to see if she could identify the body.  Based on the handwriting on postcard and letters in her possession, and her positive identification of the body, it was determined that “Frances Anderson” was indeed her brother Orie.  The body was turned over to her and shipped to Sprinkler Mortuary in Newton, Ks.

Once in Newton,

“several who saw him at the mortuary declared without hesitance that they are convinced that the person who has posed as Frances Anderson is none other than Orie.  His peculiarly shaped nose is unmistakable, his high cheek bones, high forehead, the effeminate size and shape of his hands, his size, apparent age, his hand-writing, the name he adopted, the calling he was in- every detail is absolutely convincing and positive in the identification.” 

The Newton Evening Kansan-Republican also noted that many now recalled that during the exhibition six weeks ago

“his conduct . . . was exactly like that of Orie Anderson. He was nervous quick , silent, but he still showed his old time skill. [Anderson] stated that he had been traveling about the country giving exhibitions for many years, and no one who saw him disguised as a woman here had the least thought but what he was what he posed to be.”

The writer of Orie Anderson’s obituary expressed sympathy to the remaining Anderson family and a hope that comfort could be had “in the knowledge  that the wayward boy has at last been found.”

Orie  “Frances” Anderson, champion pool player, was 57 years old and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Newton, Kansas.


  • Newton Evening Kansan Republican, 6 April 1928; 9 April 1928, 11 April 1928.
  • Lawrence World Journal, 30 March 1928, http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=09JFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=-L0MAAAAIBAJ&pg=2825%2C2236893
  • Higbee News, 5 Apr 1928, http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/MORANDOL/2005-01/1106959628
  • Newton Evening Kansan Republican, 4 February 1882.
  • Newton Evening Kansan Republican, 22 February 1896.
  • Newton City Directories, 1885, 1887, 1902, 1905, 1911, 1913.
  • United States Census 1880 indicates that Orie, age 9, was living with his parents, J.D. and Mary E  Bissell Anderson,  two sisters – Amy Belle and Jennie, and a brother Leroy, in Harvey County, Ks.  His birthplace is listed as Iowa in 1871.
  • http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=anderson&GSfn=orie&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSst=18&GScnty=923&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=24752081&df=all&

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