“Buried with Their Boots On” Newton’s Boot Hill

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

“The truth never stands in the way of a good story.” – Jan Hoarold Brunvand

Tracing the Story of Newton’s Boot Hill

Perhaps the earliest mention of a a Boot Hill Cemetery in Newton was discovered by Newton researcher, Darren McMannus.  The two 1872 clippings below are from Pennsylvania and South Carolina, perhaps reflecting the on-going interest by easterners in tales of the ‘wild west.’

Research Clippings from Darren McMannus.

Reviving Old Stories

He can hardly agree”

In 1904, several articles appeared in the Kansas City Journal and The Atchison Globe that noted that Newton “was never much of a town for shooting in early days.”  A man identified only as  Captain Seaton felt the need to set the record straight. He asserted in an interview with the  Evening Kansan Republican that “he can hardly agree . . . in view of his personal recollections.”

Seaton claimed to be a first hand observer although he did not arrive in Newton until 1873.  He reported “although not a man had died a natural death in the town, he counted 63 graves in the town cemetery.” He noted that he “scrutinized the markers” which consisted of “boards . . . with names of the deceased printed in rude fashion.” The names included interesting descriptors like “Red Eye Pete,” “Brimstone Bill,” “Wild Ike.” Seaton further recalled an experience he had years ago sitting in a store, he “noticed a skull lying near the road. . . . the proprietor said it was nothing.”

Evening Kansan Republican, 25 May 1904.

Captain Seaton’s story seems a bit fantastic when compared to other accounts.

Stories abounded in the early part of the 20th century.  Many of the old settlers were inspired to tell their stories of the early days of Newton.  Like the story told by Captain Seaton in 1904,  all referenced the violence in Newton in the summer of 1871.

“Frontier Justice” 1908

In 1908, Henry Mayer recorded his memories of early Newton.  Mayer arrived in the summer of 1871 to homestead. He served as Newton city marshal 1873  -1894.  In 1882, he was credited with “arresting four saloon breakers, single handed at one time.” As a reward for his bravery, Mayer received a “gold Marshal’s badge valued at $100.” During his time as Marshal, he saw “what so many of you did not and never will see” of “frontier justice.”  He noted that during this time “Newton had a nation-wide reputation as a bad town.” 

“Boot Hill Used for Filling” 1915

In 1915, something of a controversy was stirred up surrounding Newton’s Boot Hill.

The Newton Weekly Republican reported  “Boot Hill Being Used for Filling.” The location was described as “just south of the bridge on East street that spans the ravine which has received the name of Slate Creek, is a knoll of ground that was named many years ago and still bears the name of ‘Boot Hill’.” The knoll in question was being leveled and the dirt taken to a property owned by Dr. J.T. Axtell.

Dr. Axtell had his own story to tell.  As a young medical student, he was working with Dr. Hartley in 1879 and he heard a rumor that “Boot Hill was to be placed under cultivation . . . he asked permission to open up some of the graves in the hill, that he might have some skeletons for his study of anatomy.”  He removed three skeletons, one of which he still had at the hospital.   He noted that “Boot Hill” was “one of the oldest landmarks of Newton.” He recalled that the bodies had been buried in “wooden boxes and buried in everyday suits, no boots were found to substantiate the early day story.”

“There were twelve or thirteen bodies interred there. . .  one of the skeletons taken from the know was that of Marten.  The clothes identified him.”  Jim Martin was one of the men killed in the General Massacre on August 20, 1871.

“Buried on the Knoll” 1907-1915

The reporter interviewed several other men, including Judge C.S. Bowman,  on the topic of Newton’s Boot Hill for the 1915 article.  Judge C.S. Bowman shared  his eye-witness account of the August 1871   General Massacre  Early on Sunday morning August 20, Bowman woke to the sound of gun fire.  He estimated “about a hundred shots must have been fired in fifteen minutes.” An inquest was held the next day, however. .” all the men who had been  wounded were hidden by their friends and could not be found to give evidence.” 

In an earlier document written by Bowman’s wife, Clare Bates Bowman, she noted that “thirteen persons were reported killed and buried on Boot Hill.” In 1871, the Bowman family lived “in a frame built shack between Main street and the cattle trail.”

In a 1912 Bowman was again asked about the early cemetery.  In an interview with the Evening Kansan Republican,  C. S Bowman described the origin of the name “Boot Hill” located “in the southeast part of town. “

“There was a feud between railroad men and the cow boys which occurred in a dance hall resulting in several deaths and thirteen injured .  The men were buried on the knoll since known as Boot Hill from the expression ‘dying with their boots on.'”

Cyrus S Bowman

 

“An Every Saturday Night Occurrence” 1921

As part of the celebration of Newton’s 50th birthday in 1921 stories were collected from early settlers.

Henry Brunner operated a restaurant “where the first marshal named Bailey died from being shot . . shooting and killing was an every Saturday night occurrence.”  Brunner claimed that seven men were killed and fourteen wounded in one night, with “twenty-four buried in ‘Boot Hill’.” 

As a “mere lad,” F. A. Bacon assisted his father in 1871 with his freight business, going between Newton and Emporia.  Bacon claimed that “he was here when the first killing took place, and was in the dance hall, and saw the first shot fired at . . . the ‘massacre’.” He recalled seeing “eleven men laid out in a row on the floor and remembers the burial in ‘Boot Hill’.”

John C. Johnston related:

 “a fight would be started and they would go to shooting and frequently some cow boy would be shot, killed or wounded. ‘Boot Hill’ cemetery was on east First street, on the south side of the street, and west of the slough.  At one time it was said that out of thirty-two interments only two had died a natural death.  The others died with their ‘boots on.’ I have always thought that this was an exaggeration, that there were not that many killed.”

“Buried Out on East 1st Street” 1931

C. H. Stewart wrote in 1931:

“they had a ‘Shooting scrape’ in one of the Saloons and some 14 men died that night ‘with their boots on’ and were buried out on east 1st street (just east of the small creek) and it was called ‘Boot Hill’ . . Afterwards dug up and buried in the southwest corner of the present cemetery.”

“South Side of East First Street” 1947

In the History of the First Presbyterian Church of Newton, Ks: 1872-1947, author George Nelson noted that “Newton had its Boot Hill . . . south side of East First Street. . . Thirty-seven murders are recorded. Of the first thirty-two only two were from natural causes.” Unfortunately he does not give any documentation to back up the numbers.

“I Know for Sure” 1961

Mrs. John Reese told this story in 1961:

“Newton’s Boot Hill is out on East 1st Street where you come to that little bridge before you get to the cemetery.  It is south of the bridge and halfway between the creek and Ruby Perkin’s house (809 E. 1st) The fence that runs through there is right over boot hill.  I know this is true because Grandpa Reese often told us about that and Dr. Axtell went out there and dug up the bones.  He studied them in Axtell Hospital . . .This is the reason I know for sure where Boot Hill is or was.”

“Buried in Boot Hill” 1970

In a 1970 document, Irene Schroeder, long time Newton Free Library Librarian,  again told the story.

“Mike McCluskie and the others were buried in Boot Hill, which was near First Street and the present Missouri tracks. Later relatives moved McCluskie’s body back to Kansas City or St Louis.  Boot Hill was later moved to the northwest corner of Greenwood Cemetery.”

Fact & Fiction

Today, the location of the Boot Hill cemetery described above is private property and not open to the general public.

The stories over the years are consistent with the location of East 1st and Slate Creek. An early cemetery in this area seems likely. Recently, two researchers attempted to map the area and they found evidence that suggested  there had been at least 13 graves in the area. As suggested in the earliest stories, the graves were likely moved to Greenwood in 1872-73.

A review of the Newton Kansan and the Harvey County Coroner Reports for the years 1872-1873, reveal violence in the Newton community, but not to the degree suggested by stories over the years.

Sources

  • Bowman, Mrs. C.S. “Organization of Harvey County” typed manuscript, October 7, 1907, HCHM Archives, HCHM, Newton, Ks.
  • Mayer, Henry. “Early Days — Newton & Vicinity” typed manuscript, February 29, 1908, HCHM Archives, HCHM, Newton, Ks.
  • Reese, Mrs. John. “Boot Hill In Newton.” type written manuscript of the oral interview of Mrs. John Reese by Eldon Smurr, March 24, 1961, HCHM Archives, HCHM, Newton, Ks.
  • Schroeder, Irene.  Early Days in Newton.” typed manuscript, October 1970, HCHM Archives, HCHM, Newton, Ks.
  • Stewart, C.H. “Main Street Sixty Years Ago” typed manuscript, n.d. HCHM Archives, HCHM, Newton, Ks.
  • Newton Kansan; 21 January 1915
  • Evening Kansan Republican: 1 February 1912; 23 October 1914,  5 March 1921;  1 April 1921; 26 July 1921.
  • McMannis, Darren. e-mail correspondence, 18 December 2012.
    • Elk County Advocate, Ridgeway, PA, 9 May 1872, p. 1.
    • Daily Phoenix, Columbia, South Carolina, 11 December 1872.
  • Stucky, Brian. “Newton Boot Hill Exploration” 22 December 2012 research notes, HCHM Archives, HCHM, Newton, Ks.
  • Nelson, George W. A History of the First Presbyterian Church of Newton, Ks: 1872-1947. Archives, HCHM.
  • http://www.newtonkansas.com/departments-services/parks-and-cemeteries/greenwood-and-restlawn-cemeteries

The Salubrious Soil of Newton’s Boot Hill

Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Part 1 of 2

One of the prevailing stories in Harvey County relates to the existence and location of a “Boot Hill.” The time period between May 1871 – February 1872 was a time of violence in Newton, Ks. The number of fatalities for this time can vary wildly, often with no actual facts to back the numbers up.

What happened to the victims? Stories tell us these unfortunate men may have been “buried with their boots on” at a location at the southeast edge of town, Newton’s own “Boot Hill.”

Boot Hill: Newton’s First Cemetery

The location appears to have been common knowledge in 1880s.

The earliest local reference found so far is from the Newton Kansan 27 May 1886, which mentions the “first cemetery . . this city ever had was known as ‘boot hill’ and was located on the south side of east First street, just before reaching the dry creek bridge.”

Newton Kansan, 27 May 1886.

The brief notice concludes with the statement that “all the bodies that could be found were removed from there to the present cemetery or elsewhere in the fall of 1873.” This supports the idea that the bodies were moved to Greenwood quite early.

A month later the Newton Daily Republican made the following observation:

Newton Daily Republican, 28 June 1886.

The Salubrious Soil of Booth Hill

In 1887, the Newton Daily Republican noted an error in reporting related to the November 7, 1872 shooting of George Halliday. Halliday died of a gunshot wound inflicted by M.J. Fitzpatrick on November 7, 1872 on Newton’s Main Street.  In turn, Fitzpatrick was fatally shot by Marshall Johnson. The newspaper editor reported that Halliday’s “remains were removed from their first resting place in the city cemetery and interred in the Masonic grounds in the same cemetery.” This would have been the newly established Greenwood Cemetery on East 1st.

The editor clarified that “it was Fitzpatrick . . . who was given the extemporaneous burial in the salubrious soil of Booth Hill.” He explained Boot Hill was a place reserved for “the mortal remains of men who had been distinguished ‘holy terrors’ . . . that could be honored by an insertion in that classic clay.”  In contrast, Halliday was “a good man and was buried with great honor and respect in the city cemetery.”

Newton Daily Republican, 24 November 1887.

George Halliday (1837-1872) Greenwood Cemetery, Newton, Harvey County Ks. Photo courtesy K-JWall.

Another question surrounding Boot Hill is the number of burials.   Not all accounts agree on the numbers of men killed in 1871-72.  Judge RWP Muse, who was in Newton during this time is probably the most reliable source.

“Twelve in All”

In his History of Harvey County: 1871-1881,  Muse related that  3 men were killed between June and August 1871.

 “June 16, 1871Snyder shot and killed Welsh, in front of Gregory’s saloon, both were ‘cow-boys.’ A few days later Johnson killed Irvin in the Parlor Saloon.  His pistol accidentally discharged . . . About the 1st of August, a young man, named Lee (some 20 years of age) was shot and killed in one of the dance-houses in Hyde Park, accidentally, it is claimed.”

In his account of  the General Massacre on August 20, Muse mentioned only 3 men as fatalities, noting that at least three others, “whose names we have forgotten,” were wounded.  His  retelling of the story leaves out the August 11, 1871 shooting death of Billy Bailey that served as a trigger for the shoot out in Tuttle’s saloon.  Muse recounts 6 more violent deaths from September 1871 to February 1873.

Muse concluded that “instead of forty or fifty having been murdered in Newton, during this terrible period of lawlessness, there were but twelve in all and two of these  were killed accidentally.” Muse does not  identify where the men were buried.

“Burying Ground  Known as “Boot Hill”

The cemetery is again mentioned in 1890 when a house near “boot hill” “burned to the ground,” cause unknown.

Newton Daily Republican, 23 April 1890.

Boot Hill  was identified as Newton’s first Cemetery in the Evening Kansan Republican, 27 October 1903.

Evening Kansan Republican, 27 October 1903.

“Newton City’s first burying ground was known as “Boot Hill” it was located on First Street just east of the Missouri Pacific railroad on the south side of First Street, the first interment was made along some time in June 1871.”

The 1903 article gives a much higher number of burials than Muse, stating that there were “thirty-two interments, only two had died a natural death, others had died with their boots on,” setting the stage for stories and legends to grow.

No records have been found that document who was buried in the earlier cemetery or even how many burials.

Greenwood Cemetery

Established in 1872/73,  the land for Greenwood Cemetery was purchased from H.L. Langan in July 1873 for five hundred dollars. The original  forty acre plot was located in the southwest quarter of the southeast quarter of section 16, Newton Township. At that time, the burials at the Boot Hill location were moved to the new cemetery.

In part 2, how the legend, and numbers, grew.

Sources

  • Muse, Judge RWP. History of Harvey County:1871-1881. 1881.
  • Bowman, Mrs. C.S. “Organization of Harvey County” typed manuscript, October 7, 1907, HCHM Archives, HCHM, Newton, Ks.
  • Mayer, Henry. “Early Days — Newton & Vicinity” typed manuscript, February 29, 1908, HCHM Archives, HCHM, Newton, Ks.
  • Reese, Mrs. John. “Boot Hill In Newton.” type written manuscript of the oral interview of Mrs. John Reese by Eldon Smurr, March 24, 1961, HCHM Archives, HCHM, Newton, Ks.
  • Schroeder, Irene.  Early Days in Newton.” typed manuscript, October 1970, HCHM Archives, HCHM, Newton, Ks.
  • Stewart, C.H. “Main Street Sixty Years Ago” typed manuscript, n.d. HCHM Archives, HCHM, Newton, Ks.
  • Newton Daily Republican, 24 November 1887, 23 April 1890.
  • Evening Kansan Republican:   27 October 1903, 1 February 1912.
  • McMannis, Darren. e-mail correspondence, 18 December 2012.
    • Elk County Advocate, Ridgeway, PA, 9 May 1872, p. 1.
    • Daily Phoenix, Columbia, South Carolina, 11 December 1872.
  • Stucky, Brian. “Newton Boot Hill Exploration” 22 December 2012 research notes, HCHM Archives, HCHM, Newton, Ks.
  • http://www.newtonkansas.com/departments-services/parks-and-cemeteries/greenwood-and-restlawn-cemeteries