Settlers arrived in 1850s

Editor’s note: The following pioneer story, as told by the late A.E. Case some years ago, was published in the Marion Review of Sept. 13, 1932.

So far as is known, the first settler in what is now Marion County, was a man by the name of Smith. He settled and put up a little building at the point of the crossing of the Old Santa Fe Trail with the Cottonwood river. The town of Durham is now situated about 1.5 miles southeast of the location of this little log building which was used as a ranch for the parties using the old trail as freighters and travelers.

When this man settled there, it is not known whether he was the original settler there, but in 1857 A.A. Moore (generally known as Lank Moore) and his brother, Ira A. Moore, bought him out and took possession of his interests, on their return from Fort Union, N.M., where they had taken a government supply train from Fort Leavenworth.

The little ranch building was built on government land, that part of Kansas having not been surveyed at that time. Afterward Ira Moore entered the land on which the building stood, the southeast quarter of Section 7 Township 18-2.

A post office was established there, named Cottonwood Crossing. This was the first post office in the county.

Sometime in the 50s some Frenchmen came to Kansas and settled in the western part of Chase County. They wrote to some of their acquaintances in France telling them about Kansas and finally some more families concluded to come among them was a family by the name of Bichet.

It was the year 1858, crossing the ocean they landed at Baltimore, Md., thence they traveled by rail and canal boat to Pittsburgh, Pa. Thence down the Ohio by boat to the Mississippi, up to St. Louis, Mo., thence up the Missouri to Leavenworth. There they bought an ox team and wagon. They could not speak English. All they could say was the word “Cottonwood.”

They were put on a trail leading from Leavenworth to Cottonwood Crossing.

Finally, they reached the point, but found no French settlers there. They did not know what to do, or where to go next. Finally they concluded they would go down the river and search for the ranch settlers.

Alphonse Bichet, a mere boy, and another party, started on foot down the river and came to the high point of bluff just west of where the City of Marion is now located and from this high point they could see many miles in all directions. It was just at the edge of evening, and they were 18 miles from the ranch they left. They concluded they would lie there on the prairie all night and the next morning watch to see if they could see smoke from some settlers chimney. They failed to see smoke or any other signs of habitation.

They returned to the ranch and reported, and they concluded to return on the road they had traveled in getting to the ranch, the Santa Fe Trail.

They got back to Council Grove and luckily found a man there who could speak French. He told them the way to go to reach the French settlement in Chase County. They found the people they were hunting and Bichet took a claim in the eastern edge of Marion County.

This family was perhaps the first actual settlers, aside from Smith, above named, in the county.

In 1859, Thomas J. Wise and his two sons went to Colorado at the time of the Pikes Peak gold excitement. They were from St. Louis.

After months of prospecting and being unsuccessful, finding no gold to pay for working, they concluded to return to St. Louis. On the way back, they were so favorable impressed with the Cottonwood Valley country and the tributary valleys, they concluded to take claims.

They made their selections and went to the U.S. Land Office and made their entries of land in the vicinity of Antelope, about seven miles northeast of where Marion is now, then went back to St. Louis to get their families.

Wise built himself a log house. This was the second house built in the county excepting the ranch houses along the Santa Fe Trail.

In 1860, William H. Billings, George Griffith, William P. Shrieve, J.S. Griffith, and Evan Hoops with their families concluded to come to Kansas.

They came from northwestern Ohio and from Indiana, driving thence with teams. They got to Burlington, Coffey County, and went into camp and the men of the party started out in search of a good place to locate.

They started toward Emporia and chanced to meet a party of government surveyors who had been surveying this part of Kansas into sections and quarter sections.

These surveyors told them to follow the wagon track of their party and this they did. They all took claims. The City of Marion is now located on part of three of the claims taken by these parties.

They lived in their wagon until they could build houses. The first house was built by them for George Griffith.

On the east there was not a human habitation nearer than 18 miles. On the south, none until the settlements in Texas. On the west, nothing until the Spanish-speaking people in the vicinity of Pueblo. And to the north very little if any this side of the Smokey Hill river.

Then others came, and in the fall of 1866, A.A. Moore, who had moved from the ranch down to the settlement, and W.H. Billings, and Nelson Miller had about nine acres surveyed into town lots and streets and named in Marion Center.

From this time on the settlers came thicker and faster, and by 1870 the county had a population of 768 according to the U.S. Census.

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