From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden

Leavenworth Showed Great Progress From 1857 to 1867

by George Remsburg


One of the best known and most fascinating books on the early west written when the west was young, is "Beyond the Mississippi," by Albert D. Richardson, noted correspondent of Horace Greeley's paper, the New York Tribune and the Boston Journal. This profusely illustrated volume of 572 pages, covers a period of ten years, from 1857 to 1867. It contains many chapters about this section of Kansas, including much about Leavenworth and vicinity. Richardson's journeyings took him over a large portion of the country between the Mississippi river and the Pacific Coast. His writings teem with thrilling and ludicrous incidents and glowing descriptions.

Richardsons first visit to Leavenworth was in 1857. Among other things, he says of the town as it then appeared: "My next trip was to Leavenworth, then (1857,) as now, (1867,) the largest town in Kansas. It was two years and a half old, with a population of four thousand Fort Leavenworth--two miles above, occupying one of the most beautiful sites on the Missouri--gave it life and stimulated its growth."

"Steamers were discharging freight at the levee, new buildings were spring up, all was activity...Building lots, 25x125 feet upon the river landing, were valued at $10,000. Three or four blocks back, they sold for $2,000, and ont the hills half a mile away, for $1,200. Prices were fast rising, money plentiful, and everybody speculating. One lot which cost eight dollars six months before, had just sold for $2,200. Eleven thousand dollars was now offered for eleven lots purchased for $55 a year and a half earlier. Suburban lands three miles from the river, bought during the previous winter for $100 per acre, were now divided into building lots which commanded from $100 to $200 each. Hotels were crowded with strangers, eager to invest. Almost anyone could borrow gold without security or even a written promise to pay; and the faith was universal that tomorrow should be as this day and yet more abundant."

"I left Leavenworth on foot," Richardson continues. "Back of the young, crude, life-full city, the prairie exhibited rapid settlements. Ten miles out, I supped with a family intelligent Missourians, who had lived here for eighteen months. Half of their quarter-section was fenced and in corn. The claim was not yet preempted; they must pay the government $1.25 per acre before receiving a perfect title, yet they had refused $4,000 for it."

Following this Richardson narrates incidents of his pedestrian pilgrimage to Atchison, with descriptions of the country along the way. He stopped at the old town of Sumner, below Atchison, where he afterwards lived for two years while writing up the "doings" in "bleeding Kansas" for the Boston Journal. His infant son died at Sumner and is buried in the old cemetery there.

Richardson visited Leavenworth on one or two other occasions. When he made his last visit here in 1867, the old town presented a marked contrast to the Leavenworth of 1857--ten years before. Of the last visit he says, in part: "We landed in Leavenworth, which looks more like a great city than any other point between St. Louis and San Francisco. It boasts three railway connections; three daily newspapers printed in English and two in German. It is lighted with gas; well built of brick; and has the air of a metropolis. As usual in this longitude, the citizens do not underrate its importance. There is enough of magnificent expectation to give point to the satire of a waggish resident, who insists that St. Louis and Chicago will be wood and water stations on the railways leading east; but admits that New York may exceed Leavenworth for several years to come!"

"St. Joseph, Leavenworth and Kansas City each started fair in the race. St. Joseph had age and a rich, well-settled surrounding country; Leavenworth had a military post and a fair prairie site; Kansas City, the lucrative New Mexican trade, and a firm rock landing on the river in front. But the two Missouri towns were pro slavery; and with the great war, the whirligig of time brought in his revenges. Their business went to Leavenworth, while Kansas troops swept Missouri with fire and sword. Now St. Joseph has 18,000 people, Leavenworth 22,000, Kansas City 11,000. Near by are Lawrence with 8,000, Atchison with 6,000 and Wyandotte with 3,000--all less than 70 miles apart, in a young thinly-settled region. How they live is a mystery; yet each is busy, with great blocks going up, and its chief street a Broadway in miniature."

A view of Delaware street, Leavenworth, as it appeared in 1867, is presented in connection with the above. Scattered through this charming book are other interesting references to Leavenworth and the country hereabouts, written in Richardson's inimitable style. It is a book that will hold the reader's attention from start to finish. Printed more than three-quarters of a century ago, the writer of this has read it several times and each time with renewed interest.

Albert Dean Richardson was born at Franklin, Mass., October 6, 1833, and was educated in the common schools of that village. His first newspaper experience was at Pittsburgh, Pa. In 1857 he came to Kansas and was identified among the anti-slavery men, taking part in the political movements of that period, acting with the Free State party, and giving the result of his observation through the columns of the Boston Journal. During 1859 he accompanied Horace Greeley to Pike's Peak, and in the winter preceding the Civil War, made a tour of the South as correspondent of the New York Tribune. On the night of May 3, 1863, he was captured while attempting to "run" the batteries of Vicksburg. At that time he was working for the Tribune. Junius Henry Browne of the Tribune staff, and Richard T. Colburn, of the New York York World, were captured with Richardson and all three were imprisoned at various points in the south for two years. They escaped from the Salisbury, North Carolina, prison and made their way to the federal lines. This experience resulted in the publication of another of Richardson's famous books, "The Field, the Dungeon and the Escape," in 1865. After the war he engaged in lecturing and also doing work on the Tribune. He was shot while leaving a theater in New York on Nov. 26, 1869, by Daniel McFarland, on account of the sympathy Richardson had manifested for Abbie Sage McFarland, wife of the assailant, from whom he obtained a divorce. She was a writer and actress. McFarland was a drunkard. Richardson died as a result of his wound on Dec. 2, 1869. While on his death bed he and Mrs. McFarland were married by the celebrated Henry Ward Beecher, Richardson was the author of "A Personal History of General Grant" and other works.

The American Weekly Magazine of November 25, 1945, contained an illustrated account of the McFarland-Richardson tragedy, written by Peter Levins..

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