Snapshot in time: George Kirk Family

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

When researching history, sometimes the only clues are a photograph. This is the case of a photograph of the George Kirk farm.

George Kirk Farm, ca. 1885, near Halstead, Ks. Photo courtesy Jim Brower.

George Kirk Farm, ca. 1885, near Halstead, Ks. Lt-Rt ground: William, George Sr, Albert, Jane Kirk. Balcony Lt-Rt: Agnes, Maggie, James, Thomas, Jane, George Jr. Photo courtesy Jim Brower.

George & Jane Cooper Kirk: Harvey County Pioneers

The obituary for George Kirk of Halstead, Kansas noted:

“He at once distinguished himself as a pioneer of the kind that has made Kansas the leading commonwealth of the world.”  (The Wichita Beacon, 12 December 1916, p. 3.)

So, who was this early Harvey County settler?

George Kirk born in Torrence of Campsie a suburb of Glasgow, Scotland 18 January 1840. He married Jane Cooper 21 October 1861. Their first child, William, was born in 1863 in Scotland.

George saw opportunities in the United States and in 1863 even “though the Civil War was raging, he set his face westward to bring his little family to the land where he thought there awaited them larger opportunities than were present in his native land.”

At first he worked as a coal miner and later, as a shaft foreman in the mines of northern Illinois.  In the spring of 1871, the Kirk family moved to Kansas and took a homestead a mile and half north of the growing town of Halstead.

Halstead Township, Harvey County, Historical Atlas of Harvey County, Philadelphia: J.P. Edwards, 1882.

Halstead Township, Harvey County, Historical Atlas of Harvey County, Philadelphia: J.P. Edwards, 1882.

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George Kirk Farm, Section 26, Halstead Township, Harvey County, Edward’s 1882.

The Kirk family experienced tragedy in 1892. Nineteen year old, George, Jr, was living in Dighton, Ks, with his sister, Agnes and husband, William Curtis, when in a state of despair he “severed the Gordian know that bound him to this mundane state” and shot himself. In the letter he left to his parents he apologized for being “a very disobedient boy.”  He noted that they had “suffered more on my account than any of the rest of the family”  and urged his brothers “to obey their father and mother and they never will regret it all their days.” George had been living with his sister’s family for two months working with his brother in law on the railroad.  Agnes, his sister, had not seen any signs “which would lead him to the rash act.” She had brought the gun back with her from Halstead a few days earlier.

George Sr died at home in Halstead, Kansas 7 December 1916. He was  described as “hard working man of splendid integrity, faithful in every relation of life.” His wife, Jane Cooper Kirk, died 11 September 1917. They were survived by seven of their eight children.

L.A. Furlong, Halstead Photographer

Who was the photographer?

The photo was taken by L.A. Furlong, Halstead, Kansas. A census search revealed that John and Martha Furlong did live in Halstead at this time, but no connection could be found to L.A. Furlong.

A Google search revealed that there is at least one other photo attributed to “L.A. Furlong, Photographer, Halstead, Kansas.”

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bullthunderfront

Other clues do not help much.

The 1867 St. Joseph, Missouri resident business directory lists L.A. Furlong.  In addition, L.A. Furlong is mentioned as a “Gen’l Western Agent of the New Nork [sic]Central railroad . . . at Olis” in the Atchinson Daily Champion, 28 January 1876.

The photo of the Kirk family was taken around 1885 based on the possible ages of the Kirk children.  The photo of “Chief Bull Thunder” is dated October 1885.

One other clue might be a brief news item in the Ottawa Daily Republic, 14 January 1888.  A “well-dressed man, supposed from the papers on his person to be L.A. Furlong, of Illinois” was left by the train conductor in San Antonio, Tx. Reportedly, the man was “insane or bewildered from the effects of some drug” and he could not “talk coherently, and nothing can be learned from him.”

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No other information could be found related to the man left at the train station or about L.A. Furlong, Halstead Photographer.

Sources: George Kirk Family

  • The Wichita Beacon, 12 December 1916, 14 September 1917.
  • Evening Kansan Republican 14 December 1916, 11 September 1917.
  • Leavenworth Times 8 June 1892.
  • Dighton Herald, 9 June 1892.
  • Historical Atlas of Harvey County, Philadelphia: J.P. Edwards, 1882. HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks.  See also the Kansas State Historical Society at  http://www.kshs.org/p/county-atlases-or-plat-books/13859.
  • Old Settler Official Program, 1917. HCHM Archives.
  • U.S. Census 1880, 1900, 1910.
  • Voter Registration, 1898, 1897. HCHM Archives.
  • Harvey County Marriage Licenses, HCHM Archives.

Sources: L.A. Furlong, Halstead Photographer

  •  Ottawa Daily Republic, 14 January 1888, p. 1.
  •  Atchinson Daily Champion, 28 January 1876.
  • St. Joseph, Missouri Residential and Business Directory, 1867. Jim Brower e-mail conversation with Susan K. Forbes, Historical Research Division, Kansas Historical Society, regarding the identity of L.A. Furlong.
  • http://historical.ha.com/itm/photography/la-furlong-cabinet-photograph-of-chief-bull-thunder-medicine-man-bull-thunder-is-pictured-in-this-4-x-6-sepia-cabinet-c/a/679-72191.s
  • Re: John & Martha Furlong Family. Evening Kansan,  25 February 1893, 18 May 1898, 26 May 1898, 31 December 1898, 9 January 1899,

“Vehemence Unprecedented” The 1886 Blizzard

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

January 5, 1886 “was beautifully warm, sunny and very quiet. . .” but changes were coming.

Later, Christian Krehbiel, Halstead,  recalled watching “flies flitting about the barn as if in midsummer” causing him to remark to another in German “Morgen gliegen sie nicht so.” (rough translation: ‘They won’t fly like that by tomorrow morning.”) Krehbiel’s words proved to be prophetic.  By the next morning, “the temperature had dropped to 20 below zero and the wind was blowing fine snow around so that it was impossible to see.” (Halstead Independent, 1961)

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Blizzard 1886, Homestead, central Kansas.

In Caldwell, Ks, another farmer was also suspicious of the spring-like weather in early January. His daughter later told of how her father observed  the weather “was so warm that the cattle stood and drank water because of the heat.” As a result, he “feared a storm and drove two cow ponies and a light wagon to the new village 18 miles away to lay in a supply of food stuff and fuel.” He barely made it home before the storm hit on January 6. (Carrie Omeara, Caldwell, Ks)  Many other Kansans were not prepared for what was to come.

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Blizzard 1886 near Dodge City, Ks.

The Saturday, January 9, 1886 edition of the Topeka Daily Capital, noted that a blizzard, which had been raging with “a vehemence unprecedented” since Thursday, continued interrupting the railway and all communications.  The thermometer registered 40 degrees below zero and many locations had drifts well over 6 feet.

Topeka Daily Capital, 9 January 1886, p. 1.

Topeka Daily Capital, 9 January 1886, p. 1.

The blizzard began in northwest Kansas on January 6 and moved rapidly to the southeast and east. At 2:00 am on January 7, the storm roared through Ness City and by 5:00 am Wichita. In Harvey County, snow began to fall around 10:30 pm on the 6th and continued for the next four days. At times, the blinding snow made objects over 20 feet away invisible.

The number of Kansans that froze to death during the blizzard was estimated at 100. Many simply were not prepared. The primitive homes could not provide the needed protection against the chilling temperatures and high winds.  Also devastating, was the loss of livestock.  Cattle left on the open range drifted for miles until they dropped from hunger and exhaustion. In some areas of western Kansas, up to 75% of the cattle died during the storm.

Sketch by Henry Worrall of 1886 Blizzard in Harper's Weekly, 7 February 1886.

Sketch by Henry Worrall of 1886 Blizzard in Harper’s Weekly, 7 February 1886.

Only three passenger trains made it to Denver the entire month of January in 1886.

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Train stopped during Blizzard 1886. Ford County, Ks. Image courtesy Kansas Historical Society.

 

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“Rotary” Bucking the Snow on Santa Fe West of Newton, Kas, ca. 1900. HCHM Photo Collection

The winter of 1911-1912 was another year for the record books. The most devastating storm hit on February 25 and 26, 1912. Drifts of eight to ten feet blocked roads and disrupted trains service. Throughout January and February regular temperatures of 20 below and weekly snowfall, left the ground covered with snow through March.

Stalled west of Newton, Ks Janaury1912

Stalled west of Newton, Ks, January 1912.  HCHM Photo Archives

More recently, on February 21, 1971, the “worst snowstorm of the 20th century hit Kansas.  For thirty-six hours most of the state was paralyzed as the storm, compared to the Blizzard of 1886, roared through leaving up to 14 inches of snow in Newton, Ks. The most impressive aspect of this storm was not the snowfall totals, but the driving winds that caused huge drifts.  With winds howling at 25-40 miles mph, the blowing snow reduced visibility to near zero at times.

Lucile Mitchell Miller photo of porch on February 22, 1971.

Lucile Mitchell Miller photo of porch on February 22, 1971.

Do you remember the Blizzard of 1971? What about later ice and snow storms? Feel free to share below or on our Facebook page.

Sources:

  • Newton Kansan 7 January 1886, p. 2.
  • Topeka Daily Capital, 9 January 1886, p. 1.
  • Halstead Independent 1961.
  • www.kshs.org/kansapedia/blizzard-of-1886/11982, June 2003/modified June 2011.
  • www.cappersfarmer.com/humor-and-nostalgia/anticipates-great-blizzard-omeara
  • Lawrence Daily Journal-World 23 February 1971, p. 2.  “Storm Nearly Equals Famous Kansas Blizzard”
  • http://mikhaeltheteacher.com/?p=1950
  • http://www.mikesmithenterprisesblog.com/2009/12/blizzard-of-71.html – “Blizzard of ’71” posted on 23 December 2009.
  • Smurr, Linda C. Editor. Harvey County History, Harvey County Historical Society, Dallas, TX: Curtis Media Corp, 1990.

“An Outstanding Early Settler:” Wiley Sweptson

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

The front page of the Halstead Independent on October 17, 1912 announced the sad news:

"Uncle Wiley Passed Away" Halstead Independent, 17 October 1912, p.1.

“Uncle Wiley Passed Away” Halstead Independent, 17 October 1912, p.1.

A former slave from North Carolina, ‘Uncle Wiley’, “was loved for his character, the only black man the town ever accepted.”  Lydia Mayfield described Sweptson as an “outstanding early settler” in her book, Halstead: the Early Years.

Wiley Sweptson arrived in Halstead in the early 1880s For the next twenty-five years, Sweptson did odd jobs around Halstead, but he was remembered for his remarkable cooking skills. Mayfield recalled that

he cooked all the big dinners in town. He knew how to make a delicious roast out of an opossum . . . And his turtle soups were a real delicacy.”

Main St., Halstead, Ks. ca. 1890

Main St., Halstead, Ks. ca. 1890

Apparently, Sweptson had an ornery sense of humor. Mayfield described one prank:

“Several men reported that they had shot a bear in Colorado and invited a large crowd to a big dinner. It was Uncle Wiley who roasted the bear that was really a big dog. 

Sweptson lived alone on the east side of Black Kettle Creek in a house owned by Mayor Eymann rent free.****

The Halstead Independent noted that  Sweptson was:

 “as highly respected by every citizen as any white man in town. . . . His kindly nature, strict honesty and keen regard for what was right and wrong gave him a place in the hearts and affections of all our people.”

On the morning of October 11, 1912,  George Wise, a neighbor, found him dead.  The coroner ruled it a heart attack.

A funeral was held the next day. So many people attended the funeral  at the Methodist Church that some had to stand outside  during the service. The procession to the cemetery was one of the largest the ever witnessed according to the Halstead Independent.

First Methodist Church, Halstead, W 3rd & Chestnut, ca. 1900

First Methodist Church, Halstead, W 3rd & Chestnut, ca. 1900

Mayfield recalled a conversation with Sweptson a few years before his death when he noted that “nobody would ever put flowers on his grave” on Memorial Day.

Seventy-five years later, Mayfield  observed  that even though “there are very few who remember him personally, there has never been a Memorial Day that his grave has not been decorated with flowers.”

 

Halstead Cemetery Plot: Blk 15, Lot 11, Space 1

Halstead Cemetery
Plot: Blk 15, Lot 11, Space 1 Photo courtesy Jerry Wall

Sources

  • Halstead Independent, 17 October 1912.  “Uncle Wiley Passed Away” p. 1.
  • United States Census, 1870, 1900, 1910.
  • Mayfield, Lydia.  Halstead:  The Early Years. Halstead, Ks: 1987. HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks.

***Update: According to a December 27, 1918 clipping from the Evening Kansan Republican, Sweptson may have owned the property.