Eastern Kansas in 1869-1870
by Paul H. Giddens
November 1940 (Vol. 9, No. 4), pages 371 to 383.
Transcribed by lhn;
digitized with permission of the Kansas Historical Society.
LOCATED about twenty miles from the place where Col. E. L. Drake drilled the first oil well in 1859, The Venango Spectator at Franklin, Pa., gave its readers full and complete information about the drilling of this first oil well and the subsequent excitement along Oil creek, which ushered in the petroleum industry. Despite their sensational character these events did not monopolize the columns of the Spectator, for it frequently printed for its readers letters from persons who were either visiting or settling in the region beyond the Mississippi, where equally significant events were occurring. Personal letters to the editor concerning life on the Great Plains-in Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and other places-always provided interesting reading material for those in northwestern Pennsylvania. It was the most convenient means of learning about the growth of the New West.
The following letters were copied from The Venango Spectator. They were written from different places in Kansas and by an unknown person, except for No. 3. Some insight, into the character of eastern Kansas in 1869-1870 may be gleaned from reading them.
II. THE LETTERS
Kansas City, Mo.
September 4, 1869.
Dear Spectator: 
I might indulge here in a poetical and romantic leave-taking from the "home of my childhood and the friends of my youth," and I can call to mind many quotations upon that subject which would both serve to fill up space and weary your patience; but I will not. I will let you off.
I arrived here about two weeks since, having experienced on my journey nothing beyond the usual incidents of travel. Thinking I might possibly interest you, I will give you a brief outline of my impressions of the place.
Kansas City is situated on the south bank of the Missouri river, about one mile from the mouth of the Kansas (or Kaw as they call it here). It is a city in fact, as well as in name, and in this it differs.
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from many of the Western villages (and some in Venango county that I call to mind) which seek to add to their importance by the addition of the extra word to their names. It probably has about 30,000 inhabitants, though the natives will tell you "from 35,000 to 40,000." Indeed, there is every prospect of their boast being realized, for the population has been several times doubled in the past few years, and there are more signs of prosperity now than ever before. It is built upon a succession of high bluffs, and the cost of grading has been immense. In many places the excavations for streets and buildings are fifty feet in depth; in other places large ravines have been filled up. It is said that the grading of the city has cost as much as the buildings. Buildings are mostly of brick, and many of them faced with what is called Junction City marble, a peculiar kind of limestone, which, when first quarried, is so soft that it is sawed with a common handsaw, but by exposure becomes hard and durable.
A great rivalry exists between the cities on the Missouri river, but this place has fairly outstripped them all. The first bridge across the Missouri has been built at this point, at a cost of over $1,000,000. Seven railroads centre here, and this is the point of shipment for nearly all of Kansas and the great southwest. There is a visible source of supply for the existence of the city, which is much more than can be said of many of the "future railroad centres of the great West." There is scarcely a town in the West but what claims that distinction, and boasts a dozen or more intended lines of roads; but while the claims of these places exist only in imagination or on paper, those of Kansas City are already accomplished facts. Property here is rapidly increasing in value and rents are high. I note one case of a building just completed at a cost of $16,000, and which rents for $10,000 per annum.
Franklin has several representatives in the population, and, I am happy to say, they are all doing well. Indeed, everybody who comes here with a definite idea of what he intends to do, and has any qualifications for the business, is sure to do well.
But the person who comes here without money and without prospects, had much better have staid at home. The West is infested with that class of people. Those who have been either too lazy or unqualified to make a living in the East come here expecting to find it easy. They are disappointed, and many of them, overcome by despair, end their existence in the Missouri river. We read of such cases every day.
I would say to all these adventurers, do not come here expecting
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something to turn up; it must be turned up, and unless they can come with the requisites to do it, they had better stay away.
Olathe, Kansas November 13, 1869. Dear Spectator: 
I have just been reading in the Eastern papers of the large falls of snow and the cold weather you have been having. As yet, the entire fall of snow at this place has not exceeded two inches, and has remained on the ground but a short time. As I write, the sun is shining bright and warm, and dust is flying in the streets. This place is on the Missouri River, Ft. Scott & Gulf Railroad, about twenty miles south of Kansas City. It has about two thousand inhabitants, and is steadily and rapidly growing. The place was sacked by Quantrill when on the raid made memorable by the burning of Lawrence.  The name-Olathe-is from the language of the Shawnee tribe of Indians and means beautiful. It is destined, so the natives tell me, to be a Great Railroad Centre. There is another Great Railroad Centre twenty miles to the south. It is at present known as Paola. Not far from Paola a new town has been started; it is now eight weeks old and has five hundred inhabitants; its projectors intend it for a G. R. C. There are other G. R. C's in abundance. At present they rejoice in but one railroad which charges seven cents per mile for passenger travel and correspondingly high for freight. Each glorifies itself with half a dozen or more projected roads, few of which will ever be projected beyond a position on paper.
Railroads leaving Santa Fe, N. Mex., for an objective point, are numerous. Santa Fe railroads (on paper) run through nearly every county seat in the state, but at this time not one has been commenced. To be a G. R. C. is the ambition of every Kansas town, and all their energies are bent to the attainment of this end. The papers of each place give a list, accompanied by explanatory and eulogistic remarks, of the railroads centering, or about to centre there, about once a month.
Johnson county embraces some of the best farming land in the state, and crops of all kinds are of the best quality and most abundant. Every kind of crop is said to be sure excepting wheat, which
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occasionally fails by being frozen out, or by the rust. A good crop averages 20 bushels per acre. Corn, such as is seldom seen in the East, is raised here, and averages about forty bushels to the acre. The yield of other grain is great; while the yield of all root crops is really marvelous. Sweet potatoes I have seen two, three, and even four feet long. Fruit of all kinds is raised with no difficulty. The growth of the trees is very rapid, the quality of the fruit is delicious and the size and yield wonderful. Grapes do well, the climate being well adapted to the growth of almost any variety. One drawback, however, to immigration to some parts of the state, is the high rate of taxation. This is occasioned by the recklessness with which appropriations are made to different purposes, principally railroads, by the county and city officials. In Wyandotte county many farmers were compelled to sell out and remove to other places, because the taxes amounted to more than they could make on their property. In this county the taxes are high and many complaints are made, especially by the farmers, upon whom they fall most heavily.
The raising of beef cattle for the market has been and is a profitable business. Cattle are grazed upon the open prairie for from eight to ten months in the year, the only expense being to corral them at night and salt them occasionally. No part of the farm need be reserved for making hay to feed them during the balance of the time, as the unoccupied prairie will furnish any amount and of good quality. Money can be doubled in a year, if the buyer be judicious in his purchases. The people have a great horror to Texas cattle which are sent to the East in immense quantities through Kansas and Missouri. Cattle from Texas, driven through here in the warm months, bring with them some epidemical disease which destroys all the native cattle grazing near the trail. A law of the state prohibits their entrance within its limits, excepting during the winter months. Nevertheless the law is frequently disregarded. The farmers who suffer thereby become furious and often attack the herds, shoot down many of the cattle and drive the balance away so that many are never recovered. In some localities they threaten to hang any herder who drives Texas cattle within certain limits. "Lo," the poor Indian, is plenty here, and every day many of them come to town in all the glory of painted faces and dirty breeches. He dresses much like his pale-face brother, but has a preference for fancy colors and an utter disregard for suspenders and buttons
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to his nether garments. The occupation of the noble red man of the Shawnee tribe is farming, and they own some of the best land in the county. Sometimes he is "well-to-do," and occasionally even wealthy, maintaining a carriage and other adjuncts of civilized prosperity. Although they are quite prosperous here they are becoming discontented, owing to the rapidly accumulating numbers of the paleface. They are selling their lands and are removing to the Indian territory, where the government has given them a reservation. Poor Lo! he is driven from one place to another by the tide of civilization. The Indians' territory has long been kept free from the encroachments of white men, but it will be but a short time after the completion of the M. R., Ft. S., & G. R. R. until that, too, will be seized for the all-grasping white man.
The prairie grass this year was of unusual height and rankness, and since it has become dry, numerous fires have been the consequence. Almost every evening the sky may be seen lit up with one or more fires, being very destructive, burning the hay and fences of many farmers, and in some cases all the buildings. Where the precaution is taken of burning the grass for some distance around the farm while the air is still, there is no danger from it. The beauty of a prairie fire has often been described; poets have written of it; but my pen is unequal to the task, so I shall not attempt to.
Allen Co., Kansas
January 31, 1870.
Messrs. Editors: 
Allow me to say a few words through your columns to my old friends in Venango county. We arrived at Lawrence, Kan., May 27, 1869, and I have spent a portion of my time since in traveling through the state, having my headquarters at Lawrence, a city of ten thousand inhabitants, noted for enterprise and intelligence. After having traveled over the principal part of the state, I conclude that southern Kansas presents the greatest advantages to the newcomer. We located at the thriving young city of Humboldt about one month ago, of which I shall speak again.
Many of you are aware that my object in coming to Kansas was to recuperate health. We think we have made a wise choice. After several month's experience we find our health as a family decidedly benefited by the change. We are convinced that this is among the
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best climates for invalids, and would particularly advise persons suffering with pulmonary complaints to visit this state and enjoy the dry, bracing atmosphere of its climate.
The people of Missouri told us that, what the drought might chance to spare, the grasshoppers would surely devour in Kansas. But, instead of a drought we have a superabundance of rain, and the grasshoppers failed to put in an appearance.
This state is destined to stand among the brightest stars in our federal constellation. She possesses many natural advantages in richness of soil, and mildness of climate, which cause a growth of fruit and vegetables beyond all expectation and all experience elsewhere. Stock raising is comparatively easy and exceedingly profitable. The people form excellent society in a literary point of view, having emigrated from the East, and having been the most enterprizing and intelligent in the land they left. They work together in harmony in building churches, schools, and railroads, and accept the advantages of the age in the broadest and most liberal sense.
But to return to our young city: Humboldt is located on the east bank of the Neosho river, ninety miles south of Topeka, the capital of Kansas. The inhabitants number about twelve hundred and are rapidly increasing. There is an abundance of timber for all practical purposes, in the immediate vicinity of the town. Coal in large quantities and of good quality is found in the surrounding country. Rock for building purposes is found on about every quarter-section, the soil for many miles around is of a very superior quality and produced the past year an abundance of corn, wheat, oats, and all kinds of vegetables.
The Osage Orange hedge is principally used for fencing. Four years' growth from the seed produces a lawful fence. It is very durable and is ornamental.
This is the most promising town in southern Kansas owing to the fact that it is the prospective point of junction or crossing of the Leavenworth, Lawrence, and the Galveston R. R., and the Union Pacific R. R., Southern Branch. These form two of the principal roads of the state. The L. L. and the Galveston connects the Great Lakes with the Gulf of Mexico, and is completed to a point forty miles north of Humboldt. The U. P. S. B. road has its western terminus at Junction City, and will be completed to this place, a distance of 110 miles, in a few months.
The U. S. Land Office for southern Kansas is located here. The
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immigration has been large in quantity and good in quality, and will doubtless be largely increased during the coming season. "Welcome!" we say. In this beautiful land there is room for all.
GEO. W. OGLESBY.
Girard, Crawford Co. Kansas May 2d, 1870.
Dear Spectator: 
Since I last wrote to you we have ceased to be a Railroad terminus, and are now engaged in talking about when we will be a Railroad Centre. The end of the railroad is now at Baxter Springs, which is at the State line, forty miles south of this. With the terminus of the road we have also lost the gamblers and Nymphs du Pave, which latter fact does not make us feel a bit sorry, for we did for a while enjoy the unenviable reputation of being the worst town in the "Border Tier." The floating population and mushroom business houses have left us and we are able to judge of how we stand as a town. The population of our place is now about nine hundred, and there is not, that I know of, a single drone in the lot. In point of activity and enterprise our Western towns furnish examples which it would be hard to find elsewhere. A town of from five hundred to one thousand inhabitants here will do as much business as one of four to eight thousand in the East.
We have a community of industrious and intelligent people, who are actively engaged in building up the town and improving the surrounding country. Immigrants are coming into the country in great numbers. Long strings of canvas-covered wagons are continually streaming in upon us, and I some times wonder whether the East will not be entirely depopulated. vast sections of country are being filled up as if by magic. Towns are being raised upon the prairie almost with the rapidity mentioned in the reliable history of Aladdin's lamp.
The price of land is continually rising and I feel sure will be from fifty to one hundred percent higher in a year than now. The portion of the Neutral Lands which has heretofore been kept out of the market, it is said, will be opened for sale with[in] two weeks. We hear that the price will range from $5 to $11 per acre, according to the distance from the railroad and the quality of the land. Over
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one half of the land is now claimed, and the cost of these claims will make the price of the land range from $10 to $25 per acre, according to the improvements.
In the building up of a new country there is quite a speculation in the building of county towns. The county seat is fixed by the vote of the citizens of the county, and, as the interest of each town is all for itself, there is no limit to the stretching of the returns. In one instance where the contest was between Baxter Springs and Columbus, the Baxter chaps explained their defeat by charging the Columbus folks with keeping the polls open until after hearing the returns from Baxter. In the county west of this there was a lively contest between Erie and Osage Mission. The Mission folks sent a commission to Erie to watch the polls for the purpose of preventing fraud. The Erie people saw the mission of the Mission committee and went them one better, as they state it here. A sham voting place was opened, and the Mission detectives watched it nearly a whole day before discovering that they were sitting on the wrong nest. Did these swindled Mission people cuss? A judge of Western human nature may bet his pile they did. These gentlemen had no farther interest in that election. They didn't even wait to get the returns, but left Erie in disgust. During all this time the strategic voters of Erie were engaged in rolling up a majority somewhat larger than the population of the whole district. Election returns here are not a safe criterion upon which to judge population.
I have been asked what are the principal advantages of this country, and in reply I can scarcely think of any which it does not possess. The climate is magnificent. During the past winter the mercury fell below zero but once and then only three degrees; and I have been told by those who have lived here for three years (the "oldest inhabitants") that it seldom rises above one hundred during the summer, and the heat is always tempered by constant breezes from the south or south-west.
The soil is very productive, being considered the best in Kansas, and anybody who will take the trouble to look for it in the statistics sent from the Patent Office, may see that Kansas ranks the first state in the union. Then, too, the farmers here have the two advantages of large yields and good prices. I know that it is common in the East to say, "If they do raise large crops in the West, they cannot sell them for half what we get for ours." Such remarks do not hold good with reference to this section of the country. I have watched the market reports printed in the Spectator and have noticed that the
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prices of all the products of the farm are higher here than in Franklin. For fruit raising and grape culture the climate and soil are both especially adapted. Severe frosts do not come at just exactly the right time to destroy the peaches and kill the vines.
Stock-raising, however, seems to be the most profitable business. The short, mild winters render but little feeding necessary. Judicious investments in stock will yield from one to two hundred per cent advance in one year's time. Many men who come to southern Kansas with a small capital are getting wealthy in that business; and some few who come with ample means are amassing fortunes.
Now comes what are usually denominated our disadvantages. Of timber we have but little, and lumber is consequently higher here than in the East. Yet it costs not nearly so much to fence a farm here as it does to clear in a timbered country. As a fuel we do not miss it, for we have an abundance of coal, of good quality, all over the Neutral Lands. Water is not so plenty, nor as good as in the temperate, cold water region of Pennsylvania. This is a disadvantage which there is no denying, and it is one which the newcomer from better watered regions thinks he cannot endure, yet it is not nearly so bad as is generally believed, or as the stranger at first supposes. There is a sufficiency of lasting water in the streams for stock, and good drinking water can be found most anywhere by digging from five to twenty feet.
Though our natural advantages are great, yet it is not to these alone that the unparalleled advancement of this section is due. The railroads which are stretching like net-work all over the country are the cause. There was a time when railroads were caused by and followed wealth and civilization. At this time and in this country the order is reversed. Railroads are pushed out into the unoccupied prairie and wealth and civilization follow as if by magic.
The Baxter Springs celebration over the completion of the railroad to that place will come off the 12th of this month and I shall endeavor to be there. I like to go to Baxter. There is much about the place which reminds me of dear old Franklin. They have hills and forest and rocks at Baxter, and a river almost as pretty as the Allegheny. Among the features of the celebration is to be an Indian canoe race and a war dance, by the Paolas [Peorias?], Senecas, Quapaws, Delawares, and other tribes. This intelligence, however, can scarcely be of interest to you who have so often seen the "Noble Red" in his different gyrations of War, Green corn, Peace and Scalp
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dance, both single, double and high-pressure shuffles, in canvas pavilions on the public square.
Although there can scarcely be anything new in this dance to one who from his youth up has been a faithful attendant upon the "moral and instructive entertainments" hinted at above, yet [I] am going to see what is to be seen, and if "our" condition after the festivities will permit you shall again hear from
Crawford Co. Kansas.
May 14th, 1870.
Dear Spectator: 
Last Wednesday found me, with a railroad pass in my clothes, upon the train bound for Baxter Springs, to assist the Baxter people in celebrating the completion of the Missouri River, Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad to that place. 
The train was made up of eleven cars and a gaily trimmed locomotive. Some of the distinguished excursionists (besides myself) were the Governor of the State, the mayors of Kansas City, Fort Scott and Paola, and the editors and reporters of all the principal newspapers in the State. Everybody seemed inclined to enjoy themselves. Songs and speeches were made, a generous chap with a keg of whiskey swung on his shoulder freely gave the exhilarating liquid to all who would, and freely received their inquiries for more.
Time passed merry as a dinner bell (is that what they usually say?) till our arrival in Baxter at about half past eight o'clock. Those of us who bore little pieces of ribbon with the inscription "Invited Guest" were marshaled to a large tent where supper was provided for us, large in quantity and elegant in quality. In fact the table groaned beneath the delicacies (if I knew the author of this last sentence, I'd give him credit, for I don't wish to plagiarize). After supper I attended the Indian War Dance upon the public square. The dance was not one of the noble red man's noblest efforts, yet it was a sort of sample of his style. I'm not an experienced Jenkins, having never "reported" a stylish assembly, or I should attempt, for the benefit of your lady readers, a description of dresses worn by the principal ladies on that occasion. The gay and festive dancers
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were from the Quapaw, Shawnee, Paolas, Seneca and Delaware tribes. In the centre of a large circle a bonfire was built, and around this ye gentle savage and the dusky maidens of the plain did congregate. About twenty were squatted upon the ground and sang a monotonous continuation of howls, led by a band consisting of one small drum. To this music the others, to the number of about fifty, danced. The men and the boys were dressed principally in a narrow strip of cloth or ornamented buckskin, which hung from their waists to within six or eight inches of their knees. Some carried gay colored blankets, others had spears, swords, old guns, etc., and were all painted with vermillion, black, yellow and red paint, and had their waterfalls decorated with feathers and ribbons. At a certain point in the dance the women joined in and "balanced all" with considerable vigor. The women were dressed after the manner of her paleface sister, though the colors were gaudy and incongruously arranged, orange predominating. The step is monotonous and beyond description, consisting of various contortions, whirling, and energetic patting with the feet, the effect being occasionally made more striking by the peculiar Indian yell, made by hallooing sharply while patting the mouth with the hand. The yell has been extensively adopted by Eastern audiences as a method of expressing applause, perhaps on account of its elegance.
Lo, the poor Indian, whose untutored mind, etc., of this section of the country is something of a nondescript. He is neither red, white, yellow, black, blue or green, but a mixture of all, most likely, though his color is somewhat uncertain. He's a dressy chap, is Lo. The fashion-plates are nowhere in comparison with him. When he's fixed up for company his classic features are likely to represent the different hues of the rainbow. He may wear a "stovepipe," or it may only be a "slouch," but there is surely a feather in it and perhaps several of them. He may have a nice black dresscoat, or perhaps only a bright colored "Garibaldi." If he's stylish he possibly has a white shirt, but if he has, the tail thereof is nicely spread out over his breeches. Some of his clothes are ornamented with beads, and he may have boots, nicely blacked up to the top, with tassels on them, if he has the wherewithal to buy them. When Lo comes in to celebrate, and brings his family, the dusky maiden of this lodge rides astride of her pony, and rides well, too. I was soon tired of the war dance and adjourned to the halls where our Caucasian fellow men were tripping the light fantastic toe. The ball was a large and elegant assembly of the elite of Baxter and indeed the whole state.
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The ball was kept up during the whole of the night, but the "God of day, advancing from the East," looked in upon a step rather more fantastic than light.
Among those present at the festivities were Dr. W. C. Evans and Will J. Connely from Kansas City, and Major Kennedy and wife from Franklin, Kan.
At one time during the night I fancied that a small portion of Nature's sweet restorer wouldn't go bad. Accordingly we repaired to the Brewster House, (dubbed by Connely, the Rooster House, saying we would roost there for the night) and were soon corralled in a nice bed. We had lain but a short time when other parties-ladies-claimed the room, and we had occasion to remember the hotel as the Booster House, for we all were "Boosted" out. We passed the rest of the night in various ways-quite various, in fact. Since we came to think of it, concluded not to go to bed-would rather set up than not. We didn't care a cent about sleeping anyhow, and besides that, the bed was too hard.
The festivities next day opened up with the procession to Van Epp's grove (the scene of the Quantrelle [Quantrill] massacre, of which I told you in a former letter) where we listened to a number of speeches, from some of the best orators of the state.
Very nicely sandwiched in with the speaking was a grand barbecue. Among the delicacies were a roast ox, several sheep, and other smaller fowl. The quantity of eatables, both substantial and ornamental, was quite large, but could no more satisfy the hunger of the immense crowd than could the ducats in my pocket pay off the national debt.
We had more Indian dances, riding, and other.exercises. The day was warm and the exercise was quite severe. One patriarch, with the expression, "Ugh! too much pantaloony," was about to divest himself of his nether garment, which made quite a consternation among the ladies. The old cove was persuaded to change his mind. In the afternoon there was a canoe race upon Spring river, though it offered but a few attractions.
Some few of us undertook to bathe in the river, but were kept in the water and painful suspense for a long time by a party of ladies who came down for a look at the scenery.
Present at the celebration were a large number of "Leaguers," with the rumored intention of disturbing or breaking it up. Leaguers, as I have told you, are a body of men organized to resist the title of the railroad company to the lands, and have even gone so
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far as to resist the construction of the road. They were told by one of the speakers that "the building of the railroad had no more to do with the Neutral Land question than had a New Zealand mayor with the New Jerusalem."
Baxter Springs is growing rapidly and undoubtedly has a very fair future. In their haste the people have forgotten to build churches but they have a nice brewery and something over fifty saloons. I was in one of these where I counted twenty tables, all occupied by men playing cards for the drinks, which were brought to them by "polite lady waiters." In one corner was a raised platform occupied by a piano and several musicians who kept up a continual din. In another was a healthy looking chap, with a plug hat and diamond studs, dealing faro to as many gamblers as could crowd around the table.
Take it all in all, Baxter is a real border town, something on the Cheyenne pattern, and not at all the Saints' Rest which would please Richard Baxter who long ago wrote,
I preached as though I'd never preach again,
And as a dying man to dying men."
The trade of Baxter is already large and is rapidly increasing. Considerable government freighting is done from this point and before long the Texas cattle trade, already large, will be immense. Valuable lead mines have been discovered near the place, which offers weighty reasons for its prosperity, and the time is not far distant when the magnificent water power of the Spring river will turn many a shaft and spindle. I think I do not exaggerate when I say that in two years Baxter Springs will be the metropolis of southern Kansas.R.
1. The Venango Spectator, Franklin, Pa., September 10, 1889.
2. The Venango Spectator, November 26, 1869.
3. Quantrill sacked Olathe in September, 1862. He raided Lawrence August 21, 1863.
4. The Venango Spectator, February 11, 1870.
5. The Venango Spectator, May 13, 1870.
6. The Venango Spectator, May 27, 1870.
7. For another account of the Baxter Springs railroad celebration of May 12, 1870, see PP. 401-405 of this Quarterly.