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.


“So Suddenly Did the Twister Come”: The Sedgwick Tornado of May 25, 1917

“So Suddenly Did the Twister Come”: The Sedgwick Tornado of May 25, 1917

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator
Previously posted May 23, 2013.

Earlier this week, on Monday, May 20, we again witnessed the tremendous power of wind and how, in a instant, the landscape of a community can be changed forever by a tornado as it did in Moore, OK and surrounding areas.  Harvey County residents well know the challenges ahead for the people affected by this most recent storm.  If you would like to help the people of Oklahoma during this time, please contact the Red CrossMennonite Disaster Service or relief organization of your choice.

May 25, 1917

In the late afternoon of May 25, 1917 one of the deadliest tornadoes in US history tore through Harvey County.  At 4:20 in the afternoon, the Kansan received an Associated Press bulletin “stating that a tornado had struck Andale, 19 miles northwest of Wichita where six people were reported dead. . . . The wires were all down but a special train was made up at Wichita and started to the scene.” Power was out in Newton, and the editor pointed out that “the Kansan is handicapped on that account as the linotype machines were helpless.” The tornado “ground its way across this county” traveling in a northeasterly direction destroying homes and farms. Initial reports indicated damage and at least two fatalities. Obtaining accurate information was difficult.  The Kansan noted; “there are rumors that it had continued on up as far as Peabody, but definite news of damage done could not be learned.”

The May 25, 1917 Newton Evening Kansan Republican:
Newton Evening Kansan Republican, 25 May 1917, p.1
The tornado  was followed by a “terrific downpour of rain, even here in Newton. . . trash  and debris fell in large quantities in the streets.”  The Kansan also reported that several automobile loads of men left Newton almost immediately for Sedgwick to help with rescue efforts.
Devastation at Sedgwick, Ks

The Aftermath

 The next day, the full tragedy was reported in the Newton Evening Kansan Republican.  At about 3:00 in the afternoon “a terrific tornado struck the southeast part of the town of Sedgwick . . . sweeping away more than a mile of telephone and telegraph lines and the A.V.I. power lines and the Kansas Gas & Electric high line.”
Official tornado warnings were non-existent before 1948 and the residents of Andale and Sedgwick had no warning. “The twister rose in the southwest, roared down upon Andale with a suddenness that prevented any organized escape. . . it swept through what is known as one of the richest farming districts in the state, leveling standing grain and powdering farm houses and outbuildings.”

The Tragedies

The Norris Farm
Many rural families were caught in the open. The Norris family saw the storm coming and Mrs. Norris, along with the children were able to make it to a hedge row for shelter. William Norris, the husband and father, was “caught and thrown to the north where he was found with his body crushed” killed instantly.
The Coble Farm
Several members of the Coble family were able to make it into a cellar.  A nephew, Dewey Faw, however, did not make it and was killed. Even those that made it to safety suffered broken bones and bruising.
Coble Farm
HCHM Photo Archives
The Fife Farm
The L. E. Fife Farm was “one of the finest country homes in the county” and was “equipped in the most modern and up-to-date manner” with heat and a “water plant.”  Mr. Fife and a hired hand took shelter in a small shed, which was not touched.  Mr. Fife described his experience for the Kansan.

“So suddenly did the twister come that he first saw debris flying and heard the roar and crash of the buildings as the mighty whirl wrenched them from their foundations and crushed them into kindling wood, hurling them with spiteful viciousness in every direction . . . he saw his beautiful home lifted, first the roof, then the entire structure hurled from it foundation and crushed like a house of cards. Imagine his impotent grief  when he saw Mrs Fife lifted and hurled  through the air then picked up again and thrown against the fence.” 

Mrs. Fife was caught in the house.  When she heard the roar of the storm, she went to the door, but could not open it.  She turned back to the room;

 “and the next she knew was when she found herself hung across the front fence.  One of her shoes had been torn off and her ankle severely wrenched and a bad gash had been cut across her right temple.  the house and all buildings . . . a complete wreck. Seven of Mr. Fife’s purebred horses . . . killed.”

Fife Farm
HCHM Photo Archives

Mrs. Fife, although badly injured, survived the tornado.

The Danner Farm
The Danner farm was hit especially hard. S.T. Danner had purchased his Harvey County homestead from the Santa Fe Railroad in the 1870s. Married to Anna Harryman, the Danners had three sons, William S., Albert E.S. and Samuel E. (who died at age nine).
Danner Farm, ca 1910
HCHM Photo Archives

His wife, Anna Harryman Danner, worked along side him to create a beautiful home.    Active in public life as well, Danner served in the Kansas Senate in 1893 and 1895.

Danner Farm, ca. 1916
HCHM Photo Archives
That fateful day, the Danner  family was at home.  Son, Albert (A.E.S.) and his wife took shelter in the cellar, but for some reason his parents did not.  Anna Danner was “killed outright, her head being crushed and her arm twisted and broken in a frightful manner.”  Mr. Danner was injured so badly many doubted that he would survive.
Samuel T. Danner Farm
HCHM Photo Archives
He did survive, but friends noted that “he never fully recovered [from the death of Anna], and put his worldly affairs in order.” Danner died two years later on March 20, 1919.
The Tornado
Although the Fuji scale had not yet been developed, it is estimated that the tornado that went through Sedgwick and rural Harvey County on May 25 was at an F5 strength.  There were 23 deaths and 118 buildings completely destroyed in the communities of Andale, Sedgwick, and Florence.  The tornado was over one mile wide at one point and traveled 65 miles
The same storm continued to wreak havoc across the United States.
Newton Kansan Evening Republican, May 28, 1917, p. 1

Included in the top ten Weather Events.

The May 25, 1917 tornado is listed as one of the top ten Weather Events of the 20th Century for South Central Kansas by the National Weather Service Forecast Office. The tornado that roared through Harvey County was part of a larger outbreak of storms across twelve Midwestern states.  Between May 25 and June 1, 1917 at least 382 people were killed in the eight day tornado outbreak sequence that made it the third deadliest tornado season since records were kept; a total of 551 people lost their lives to tornadoes.  For fatalities related to tornadoes 1925 season was the highest with 794 fatalities; followed by 1936 with 552 fatalities.
May 25 was also the date of the 1955 tornado that devastated Udall, Kansas where over half of the population with either killed or severely injured.

Newton Evening Kansan Republican, 25 May 1917, p.1
Newton Evening Kansan Republican,  26 May 1917, p. 1
Newton Kansan Evening Republican, 28 May 1917, p. 1

Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives Photograph Archives
Online Sources:

Additional information from the original post’s comment section.

  1. Dewey Faw was the 18 year old boy who was killed. He and his brother Floyd Faw were raised by their Aunt Caroline Coble after their mother died in 1902. Dewey was in the house and he opened the door when he heard the noise. He couldn’t escape. Floyd was one of the lucky ones who made it to the cellar. Four years after the tornado Floyd married his nurse Ivalee Harvey who cared for him while he was recovering from his injuries in the hospital. They were my grandparents.


  2. Link to the original post, May 23, 2013.