History of The Community Called Lyona
Latitude: 38.5143N Longitude: 096.5532W East side of Dickinson county, Kansas, USA About 10 miles south of Junction City, Kansas About 5 miles north of Woodbine, Kansas Western edge of the Kansas Flint Hills
The Lyona community is based around the Lyona United Methodist Church which takes its name from the Lyons Creek Valley. The church was organized in 1859 in the Kansas Territory. At the time of the Church's organization, Kansas was still two years away from statehood.
Old wagon tracks, cut deeply into the prairie sod, still mark trails used by army supply wagons and those of the early settlers. The tracks can still be seen winding their way through pastures belonging to Jack Staatz, Marjorie Kohler Rech, and Andy Schuler.
The imprint those early settlers left on the world is even more indelible than their wagon tracks. As we examine the history of the church they built, in the community called Lyona, we come to realize how far-reaching was the influence of their faith.
The history of the Lyona United Methodist Church is so interwoven with the history of the valley of Lyons Creek that it is impossible to separate the two. To tell the story one must begin with the settlement of the valley itself.
The settlement of Lyons Creek began in the middle 1800's as a direct result of the establishment of Fort Riley. In the winter or spring of 1853, Major E.A.Ogden, U.S.Army was ordered to locate a military post at the distance of two hundred miles westward of the junction of the Kaw River and Missouri River. Major Ogden was on the border of Mexico when he received the order, and with his command, set out for Santa Fe, New Mexico. Then he continued northward and eastward on the Santa Fe Trail toward Fort Leavenworth until he judged he was near where the new post was desired. He soon decided that he was further west than necessary, and that hostile Indians would have great advantage over the troops and freighters on the way between the new post and Leavenworth or Westport. He accordingly followed the course of the Smoky Hill River to its junction with the Republican. He considered the rising ground to the north of the confluence of the two streams a suitable location for a fort, and he wrote the War Department giving an account of his discoveries. In reply, he was directed to establish a post on the site he had chosen. The belief that the Kaw River was navigable to that point was one of the reasons for selecting this site for the fort. indeed, for a few years, on account of the unusually heavy rains, the river ran so full that small steamboats came all the way from St. Louis to Ft. Riley.
Among the officers at Ft.Riley was Capt. Nathanial Lyon, who, in company with other officers and men, went out on hunting and fishing trips along the streams about the fort. Lyon, on one of these trips, discovered a stream which, according to Frank Smith, author of Tomah-Shinga, was known by the Kaw Indians as "Tomah-Shinga"; meaning running water. Clara Shields, in The Lyon Creek Settlement, however, says that the creek was called Wa-tun-ga, meaning clear water.
During the fall of 1854, a report was circulated that Andrew J. Reeder, Territorial Governor of Kansas, intended to establish the capital at Pawnee about a mile east of Ft. Riley. This brought a party, mostly free-state men and friends of the Governor, to the fort early in December. Among these men was James R. McClure. While at Ft. Riley, he stayed in the quarters of Captain Lyon who gave a "glowing description" of Tomah-Shinga. McClure made short excursions in the country about the fort, one on which he selected as a claim the farm later owned by Milton E. Clark, east of Junction City.
In January of 1855, McClure again came to Ft. Riley, two men from Missouri coming with him. McClure decided to locate on a claim including the mouth of the creek. In honor of Capt. Nathanial Lyon, McClure gave to Tomah-Shinga the name of Lyon Creek. He engaged these two men to build a rough cabin, directing them to have it done as soon as possible, as he wished to bring his family to the claim in the spring. This was the beginning of the permanent settlement on Lyons Creek.
In the later part of March 1855, McClure returned to his claim in order to prepare his cabin to receive his family. He found it as nearly completed as was practicable being built of rough logs, with a clapboard roof, without floor or chimney. It had one room, fourteen by sixteen feet in size, not a very desirable place to bring a family.
"It was a dreary looking place," says McClure's own narrative, "to take a young wife and three small children. A rough cabin with only one room, without floor, fireplace, furniture, or conveniences of any kind, in a wilderness, with no settlement nearer than Ft.Riley. I began to feel the mistake I had made in bringing my wife and children to this desolate home, and to regret the mistake when it was too late to recall it. I had no other home, was destitute of money, and all my worldly possessions were brought to this place. Whatever may have been the thoughts of my young wife, she did not reproach me, nor make any complaints. She had been accustomed to all the comforts, and many of the luxuries of life . . . was only a girl attending college when married . . . and on her arrival at our new home, only twenty years old. I was young, full of energy, and ambitions and had no regrets on my own account. I felt able to conquer all the obstacles and difficulties I would have to encounter in my new life, and did not, as I have since, fully realize the terrible ordeal this young wife would have to pass through. The longer I live the more deeply I feel the great wrong inflicted upon her and honor the noble conduct of this brave little woman in quietly performing the hard duties imposed upon her faithfully and without reproaches submitting to her fate. I wish to confess my great fault, and let her children know that I have, many times, and for now, repent of the wrong I inflicted upon their loving mother. There are few women who have endured the hardships she passed through during the time she lived in Kansas."
A year was to pass before Mrs. McClure would see the face of another white woman after she moved into the cabin.
McClure also practiced law in Ogden and his wife and three children were often alone for days at a time. During his absences she was repeatedly annoyed by Indians, who seemed to take savage delight in her defenseless condition.
"It was told of Mrs. McClure," Frank Smith writes, "that at one time, on hearing an alarm of hostile Indians, she, with her baby in her arms and her other two children clinging to her dress, fled across the Smoky Hill river on the ice, barefoot, for she had no time to put her shoes on (if she had any to put on), and lay in concealment for a time. Seeing and hearing no Indians, she finally returned to the house."
Many settlers followed the McClures. They came for various reasons. Some had heard the reports of a beautiful farming valley. Many others came to the area from Watertown, Wisconsin to escape the long hard winters and excessive snowfall, to live in an area that had a milder climate. Few, if any, had experience in farming under the type of conditions the Kansas prairie presented.
The first families to settle along Lyons Creek, according to the Kansas Historical Collections, Vol. 14, 1915-1918, were James R. McClure and wife; three bachelors named Bean, Cobb, and McElroy;
1856 - Herman Oesterreich came on the railroad to Jefferson City, Mo., by steamboat to Ft. Leavenworth and walked to Ft.Riley. He staked out his claim on Lyons Creek and went back to Watertown, Wisconsin, and returned in 1859 with his wife and others.
1856 - John G. Rekken came from Watertown, Wisconsin, and settled first on the Delker farm (where Robert Janke now lives.) He later bought the Big Spring farm.
1857 - Alex and John Smith came and operated the ferry across the river at Whiskey point (south of the present hospital and golf course at Ft.Riley). They also took a claim on Lyons Creek ( a mile north of the Lyona Church).
1857 - Wm. Brussow came with the John Rekken party.
1857 - J.F. Staatz came.
1857 - Charles and Friedricka Oesterreich Staatz; William Staatz; Anton Friedrich, wife and two children; John Rekken, wife and daughter; Mr. Hooker; Mrs. Friedrich's parents; John Schoessow.
1857 - Adam Biegert came from Ohio and staked his claim.
1858 - David Biegert, Adam's brother, came from Ohio. That fall, David met his mother, stepfather, sister, and four half-sisters at Leavenworth where they had come by boat. David bought a team of oxen and a wagon for the trip to Lyons Creek.
1858 - Ferdinand Latzke came from Watertown, Wisconsin.
1859 - Herman Oesterreich and his wife, Albertina Timm Oesterreich; Peter Timm, wife and seven children; Charles F. Brehmer and wife; Ed Brunstock; Mr. Mermann.
1859 - Martin Rubin, wife and seven children.
1859 - Poereich party arrived from Watertown. The party consisted of John Poereich and wife; John F. Kandt, wife and three children; William and Charles Ziebell; William, Charles, Fred, and Henry Krause; Peter Ollhoff, wife and four children; Henry Gatch and wife.
1859 - Henry Asling and four brothers from Batesville, Indiana. Their father had come earlier.
1859 - The Gugeler brothers - Gottlieb, Jacob, and Christian - came from Kosciusko County, Indiana. Their brother, William came some years later as did sister, Rosina Fielder.
1859 - Rev. Charles Heidel and wife came from Iowa.
1859 - Conrad Kohler.
Early settlers of Lyons Creek came in covered wagons bringing with them only the barest of necessities to start their new life on the frontier. One of the Poereich party described life in a covered wagon: ". . . We made great preparations for this long journey. It was no small work to decide upon what was most necessary to take, and what we could possibly do without. We expected to take all our housekeeping things with us, for we were to keep house along the road, so to speak. The preparation of our wagons, with their white covers, came first, and then the packing of provisions - not just for a meal or two, but for several weeks, and perhaps months. When we were preparing and packing our provisions Mrs. Poereich suggested that we bake a large quantity of bread and dry it out so that it would not mold; it would be lighter and in case of shortage would come in handy, and so we did as she suggested, and were often glad, too; for we brought our cows along with us, and when we stopped in the evenings and did our milking we would hang our kettles over the camp fires and heat the milk and put our dried-out bread into it. This frequently make our evening meal; we ate it and thought it good. We not only brought our kettles along, but we brought our cook stoves, our churns, and things so we could do our washing whenever necessary. We baked our bread, we churned our butter and it was as if we were keeping house, and should we ever get to a place we could call home we would be all ready for our housekeeping there . . ."
Upon arriving at Lyons Creek, settlers still used their covered wagons as shelter until a log home could be built. The Charles Staatzs were one of the earliest families arriving in the valley. (This is Wes Staatz's grandfather.) Wes's grandmother, Friederika Oesterreich Staatz, writes this comment about her early days in the valley.
"We reached the place (where Carry Creek flows into Lyons Creek) in May (1857) and were obliged to live in our wagon until October, and it was while living in the wagon that our first baby was born, June 24, a little girl, Julia. She died in October, and was the first person buried in the Lyon Creek graveyard. Fred, our first boy, was born in October, 1858 . . . because of his sister's early death, Fred has always been considered the first white child born in Dickinson County."
The first log homes were small and though they gave shelter, lacked many comforts. Most of them had a dirt floor, and with glass being scarce, if they had a window at all it was covered with a shutter or with oiled paper that would let in a little light. The Staatz home sounded more "elaborate" than the average log cabin. Friederika Staatz described her log home: ". . . Our house was a log house daubed with mud; the roof was of small logs, and it was covered with mud, too. The floor was made like the roof and we had a cellar underneath. We got everything settled before winter came, moving into our house in October. Our furniture was very plain and poor. Our chairs were stools made from logs sawed into blocks. We had no clock or any looking glass. When I wanted to see if my hair was parted straight, I ran to a pail of water and looked in. We all had to do that. Our stone house was built about 1867 . . ."
Herman Oesterreich, Frederika Staatz's brother, came to the valley in 1856 to choose a claim and build a cabin. Then he returned to Watertown, Wisconsin to find a wife. A man's choice of a wife was important to the success of a new settlement such as this. She would have to have a deep faith in God and possess both the physical and mental strength to deal with the hardships and unknown situations she would be confronted with. Albertina Timm Oesterreich, his wife, told granddaughters, Esther Oesterreich and Viola Oesterreich Musselman, of her arrival here as a new bride in 1859. Herman had assured Albertina that he had a farm and a house waiting for them. When they arrived she was dismayed with what she found. Wind had blown in the door of the tiny cabin and damaged its roof. Furniture was made of rough logs and she couldn't figure out what they would do for a bed until Herman explained that she was to put bedding over the pile of branches stacked in one corner of the room. Albertina could still remember, years later, her fright when a snake crawled out from under their "bed" one morning. She commented to the granddaughters that had she known what she was getting into, she wouldn't have come to Kansas. Her opinion of Kansas no doubt improved along with the living conditions. Her granddaughters still remember a comment she made once concerning the subject of being in love. It was a disparaging "Ach, love! then, "He grumbled a lot but he was a good man!"
Most of the men were farmers but many had additional talents such as blacksmith, wagonmaker and carpenter. The Staatz family made shingles, and later raised riding horses, both for use at Ft.Riley. During poor crop years, of which there were many, a great many of the men went to work at temporary jobs at Junction City and Ft.Riley.
Farming was hard work without the machines we take for granted today. To work three acres a day then was considered a good day's work. Settlers brought plows with them, but it wasn't until 1861 that the first threshing machine came to Lyons Creek.
In order to survive, each family member had to shoulder his share of the work. Women often helped in the field, besides cooking, making butter and cheese, gardening, and laundry (which included carrying countless buckets of water from the creek or spring and making the soap.) They sewed in their "spare" time without the aid of a sewing machine. Children were expected to share in the work. Mrs. Caroline Warnike Asling remembers the hard work she had to do when she was a little girl: "As I was the oldest child in our family, I had to do all kinds of hard work. Many days have I plowed, and we did not have riding plows of any kind in that time. As soon as I was large enough, I bound wheat as my father would cut it with a cradle, and I could bind just as fast as any man . . ."
Weddings were usually held at home, often out of doors. Friedricka Staatz tells of the first wedding on Lyons Creek: "The first wedding we had in our settlement was that of William Staatz and Mary Rekken in July, 1857. The bride wore a silk dress that she had brought with her from Wisconsin. To get a preacher they had to drive to the fort. So they took two yoke of oxen and drove all night and were married by the fort preacher. They got home the next day, and the Rekkens had a great dinner of roasted calf and rice, and we forgot we were in the wilderness. We left our home on Saturday to attend the wedding feast on Sunday. We took with us our Wisconsin cow, our chickens in a coop, our stove, and in fact everything we had, for fear the Indians would take them while we were gone. We had sideboards on our wagon, and when we arrived at the Rekken's we took them off and used them in making a table. We got back home on Monday. The wedding party was held in the grove, on what is now known as the old Delker farm, in Lyon Township, Gear County. This was the Rekken's first home."
(This is the farm now owned by Robert Janke.) The Rekkens later bought the farm now known as Rock Springs Ranch. During the early years of Lyona's settlement Johann Rekken was the closest thing to a doctor the settlers had. He had studied some medicine while in Germany and kept medicines on hand. No one knows if he was licensed or not. Deaths of infants were common, as were those of mothers during childbirth. Other causes of death listed in church records include typhoid fever, "diabetics," measles, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and nerve fever and pneumonia, often in combination. Also listed were being kicked by a horse, and surprisingly, old age. We did notice that one who died of "old age" did so at the age of 38 years.
Indians weren't as dangerous in this area as the tribes in western Kansas were. Wagon traffic further west had to be stopped a while because of fierce Indian raids. Various and contradicting stories are told about Indians in this area. They are depicted as kindly, prone to steal, honest, dangerous, beggars and shrewd traders. There were probably some of each as there are in any culture. Stone homes, built in 1867 to replace the log cabins, on farms belonging to Charles Staatz, Herman Oesterreich, and John F. Staatz provided safety to many settlers several times during rumored Indian raids. The raids never took place.
Indians often camped across the creek from what is now Wes Staatz's home. Indian children were Wes's father's only playmates during the Staatzs' early years there.
Albertina Oesterreich told of Indians coming to the door wanting to "see papooses." The Oesterreich papooses had to be called out from under the bed where they were hiding so the Indians could see them and leave.
The early settlers were victims of many natural disasters. This description of prairie fires was told by Clara Fengel Shields: "Prairie fire was perhaps the greatest fear of the pioneer settlement. To the southwest of the Lyons Creek community was a sweep of prairie, with no large streams and no settlements of any size. A light low down on the horizon in that direction might mean danger and always brought anxiety. Naturally, it was in the evening that it would be noticed first, and the light would seem but a few rods long. By the second evening the reflection had mounted higher in the sky and the light was brighter and longer; and as night closed in, what appeared to be a string of gold beads would lie flashing on the rim of the horizon. It was watched apprehensively, and no one slept soundly for if the wind shifted to the direction of the light it meant a swift drawing in of the string of beads until they became shooting tongues of flame.
The whole community turned out to fight the prairie fire. They drove in wagons taking with them barrels of water, buckets and sacks. A back fire was usually started, and the work of beating out the flames began -- a long and wearisome business; many a man has dropped exhausted from it. A fire pushed forward by a favorable wind advanced as fast as a horse could gallop, the flames leaping high in the air; so, men, women, and children worked with tremendous energy, driven by fear. They were fighting to save their homes and sometimes even life itself, for more than one person lost his life in those demonical fires."
Ethel Gugler Delker tells, in her Brief Life Sketch of S.H.Gugler, My Father, about Sam's own personal story concerning a prairie fire. "When he was a small boy, he was playing along Carry Creek on the north side of the stream and a prairie fire originating in the Hope area burned to the creek and the stream stopped the fire. He thought it would be fun to see the fire on the north side of the creek, so he made a tuft of grass to use as a torch and waded through the water, lighting the torch on the south side of the creek and carrying it (back) across, and lighting the grass on the north side. The fire gained momentum and burned clear to the Smoky Hill River. I don't think he ever told his folks what happened."
Carry Creek was not tree-lined as it is now. It flowed through the prairie. Grass as tall as a man's head lined its banks.
Davis County, later named Geary, was surveyed in 1855 and Dickinson County had been completely surveyed in 1857. Marking stones had been placed every mile and half mile to mark sections and quarter sections of farm ground. Settlers continued to arrive in the valley and the marked claims were rapidly taken. The land in the valley was claimed under the 1841 pre-emption law, whereby if a settler settled on surveyed land and improved it, it indicated his intent to buy. He had first chance to buy, from the government for $1.25 per acre, up to 160 acres.
Property lines and field boundaries were soon planted with osage orange hedge. The trees furnished the settlers with an inexpensive fence, firewood, wind break, and a fireguard. Seed was shipped in from Texas, sprouted, then slips taken from the sprouts and set in the ground where they were to grow. Albertina Oesterreich recalled crawling on hands and knees to plant hundreds of osage orange sprouts around their fields. A.D.Blanchett reported in the "Dickinson County Chronicle,"October 13, 1876 that in 1861 two settlers dreamed of building a town in the Lyons Creek Valley. "In the summer of (1861)... the town of Lyonsville was located at what is now Lyona, by D.R.Emery and J.F.Staatz. The town was laid out and platted but the town company did not sell any lots and there are no buildings on the town site except the residences of Messers, Emery, and Staatz. The town site has since been turned into a farm and is likely to remain so."
The rapid rate of settlement in the Lyons Creek valley is best described by Frank Smith: "In 1857, when my father and uncle came to Lyons Creek, there were no settlers in the country, except those at the mouth of the creek. By the end of 1860 a cabin could have been found every mile from the mouth of the creek to the present site of Herington, and besides there were many on the branches."
The above history was taken from "The Valley Called Lyona, Settlement of Lyons Creek Valley" a book written by the folks of the Lyona United Methodist Church's church historical committee, for the One Hundred Twenty-Five Years 1959 - 1984 anniversary book of the Lyona United Methodist Church The keying in was done by Bruce T. Gugler, the son of Donald P. Gugler. Don Gugler was a member of the church historical committee. This electronic version was created for used on the Internet and was approved by members of the church's historical committee as such, its use is controlled by the membership of the Lyona United Methodist Church, Rural Route One Junction City, Kansas 66441.
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