Chapter 43 — The Ides of March

March 15, 2012

Last week’s Town Council meeting was attended by almost everyone in town, it seems. Mayor Combs and Lois Thompson announced that the Post Office has been given a reprieve and will remain open indefinitely. In addition, in early April the cleaning and repair of Birger Sandzen’s mural will begin. An art conservator from Chicago, with whom the USPS has contracted to do that task, will be in town for up to six months. This is the great news we’ve been hoping for! The Post Office is, in many ways, the heart of the town.

Sally Oswald wants to thank everyone for the response so far to the “Ides of Merch” promotion. Downtown businesses are having terrific pre-season sales and that impromptu toga party that circulated between Book Ends and Jody Tyler’s shop was great fun. We are, however, glad that Billy Thornton is still in New York with Dorothy. Billy in a toga is not something anyone wants to see again.

Teresa Duffy reminds folks that samples of their new ice cream flavors will be available through the weekend. So far, “Walnut, Walnut, Walnut” has been the big hit.

Bison burgers have been on the menu at Shirley’s this week and she says that they’ve been selling better than her hotcakes.

Dr. Cramer has several new dogs in his kennels, brought in as strays. Two have expired microchips. Please stop in and see if you recognize any of them. Dr. Cramer says he will waive any adoption fees for the next couple of weeks.

The Singleton clan was in full-throated support in Kansas City on Thursday to cheer on the Wildcats against Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament. Unfortunately, the Cats fades down the stretch and lost 82 to 74. One treat for everyone, Wildcat or Bear, was seeing Eric Stonestreet in the stands. At the half, he played a couple of songs with the pep band. Hannah was thrilled to get Eric’s autograph.

The Singleton’s weren’t the only fans from Walnut Shade to make the trip to Kansas City. The Barnetts were there for Friday night’s match between KU and Baylor, and the Saturday championship game between Mizzou and Baylor. Eddy celebrated her Tiger’s win in their final basketball game in the Big 12.

Lucille and Sheila Miller drove to Topeka to have lunch and go to Marling’s Furniture. Lucille is looking for a new dining room set and Sheila wants to replace her refrigerator. The ice maker finally quit working and Sheila says that Tom just can’t get along without ice cubes. He’s been walking to the Stop and Go to get a bag of ice every couple of days, but Sheila thinks it’s more about spending time with some of the other retired guys who sit and drink coffee there when Shirley’s is closed in the afternoon.

Jerry Hall took a break from cooking at the Convent on Monday and he and Susan drove to St. Joe to visit his parents.

Barb and Bruce Wilson had lunch with Frank and Sarah Brown on Sunday.

Sue Brady went to Chillicothe, Missouri, last Friday to visit her mother, Doris Mays. Sue is helping her and her aunt, Allene Richards, plan the Mays family reunion. Sue says that her mother has located nearly a hundred relatives through emails and Facebook. “I had no idea my mom was on Facebook. She hasn’t friended me, for some reason. I guess she thinks our weekly phone calls are enough.”

Mike and Elaine Brown met Marshall and Marie Green at the AMC theater in Leawood on Saturday to see Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D. Mike and Marshall saw the movie while Elaine and Marie shopped at Town Center Plaza. It was the best of both worlds, according to Marie.

The Dixieland Stompers have been invited to play at the Roots Festival in August in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield in September. You can also hear them at most of the county fairs in this area, this summer.

Stuart Goddard’s company, Prairie Solutions, has begun marketing “Game of Sims,” an MMORPG, whatever that is. We are sure that he will explain it to us one of these days.

Alvin Begley reminds folks that the VFW will have a ham and bean supper on Friday night, March 23. Proceeds go to pay off the cost of the repairs of the electrical problems that happened back in January.

Harold Reece and a couple of his students were in town on Monday and Tuesday searching through some of the documents at the library. Dr. Reece teaches anthropology and archeology at Wichita State and he is going to be starting an excavation at the site of what was once the town of Scoville in southeast Miller County.

Daphne Wolfe says that all of the spots for new piano students have been taken. She’s very proud of her returning students who she can tell have been practicing over the winter break.

Lori Mendenhall spent a couple of days getting her garden shed ready for spring. Her sister, Lois, came on Tuesday and she filled in for Anna Brady for Mahjong. Anna had to take Frank to see Dr. Oswald that day. It seems Frank reached for a jar of olives on the top shelf of one of the kitchen cabinets and pulled a muscle in his back. Frank, we know exactly how that goes. We’ve pulled our back just tying our shoes.

And finally, I’m sure that no one will forget, but Saturday night is the big Erin Go Bragh dinner at the elementary school. Dorothy Westover will unveil the 100th Anniversary Cookbook. The food will be plentiful and the music will make us think we are back in Ireland once again. It will be a wonderfully memorable evening.

So, until next week, when I hope to have recovered from stuffing myself with all the great food at the dinner, I remain…

Your Faithful Correspondent


March 15 is known as the Ides of March, the date in the Roman calendar upon which one is supposed to settle his or her debts. The date has become notable for us because that is purported to be the day that Caesar was assassinated, perhaps the harshest example of debt-settling in history.

Besides what happened to Caesar in 44 BC, March, 1927, was a particularly unlucky month for the town of Scoville, which was once located in southeastern Miller County. The month started with largest snowfall ever recorded in northeast Kansas: twenty-eight inches in six hours, and when it ended fifteen hours later, it had dumped more than four feet of heavy, wet snow on the town; it took five days for anyone to get into or out of town, partly because a wild swing in the weather sent the temperature soaring to 82 degrees, causing the snow to melt and turn the roads in the town into muddy, impassible  tracks. The few cars and trucks in town were stranded and even horse-drawn wagons were not able to negotiate the streets. Food supplies ran low and people had to rely for a few days on the what they had canned or cured in the fall. Then on 15th, the Ides, the town was literally wiped from the face of the earth by an F-4 tornado. At the time, there were only seventy-three people living in Scoville and miraculously, no one was killed.

I mentioned earlier that the John Steuart Curry painted a lot of his most famous scenes based on his experiences here. The tornado that struck outside Walnut Shade, depicted in his painting, Tornado Over Kansas, was the one that moved on to strike Scoville. When people returned to the town, they found almost nothing there except a few stone foundations. It was as if a massive bulldozer had come through the town, pushed it into some gigantic hole and covered it with soil. People from as far away as Cameron, Missouri, found items that were identified as belonging to Scoville residents. A woman in St. Joseph found a letter that a man had written to his wife from France during World War I. A picture of a Scoville couple taken on their wedding day was found in a farmer’s field near Atchison. The license plate from a Scoville man’s truck was found embedded in a tree in Valley Falls, but there was no sign of the rest of the truck anywhere.

People took what had happened to Scoville in the space of just a few days as a sign that the town should be abandoned. The few residents of the town went to live with family and friends in other parts of Kansas; some left the state and made new lives for themselves in California or Oklahoma or back east. The land upon which Scoville had stood was sold to surrounding farmers and after a few years, you would not have known there had ever been a community there. Stones from the foundations were hauled off to be used in other buildings or fences, and whatever scrap metal that could be salvaged was used in ways that frugal rural folks have always used salvaged items.

Over the years, Scoville has nearly faded from memory. It shows up on maps of Kansas before 1927, but not afterwards. It is only mentioned as having been in the WPA Guide to 1930s Kansas. Some new histories of the state discuss the tornado that leveled the town, but don’t name Scoville as the place it happened.

But recently, two things have taken place that have brought Scoville back into the news: the descendants of some of the residents of Scoville have petitioned the Kansas Historical Society to erect a plaque to memorialize where the town once stood; and, a new translation of accounts of Coronado’s travels into what is now Kansas provides some evidence that the area around what was once Scoville might have been a settlement connected with the lost city of Etzanoa.

Scoville was named after Malcolm Scoville, who founded the town in 1845, a year after Walnut Shade. Malcolm had emigrated from Scotland in 1838 at the age of nineteen and settled in Philadelphia. As a Quaker, he was deeply religious and deeply committed to peace. He was troubled by what he read about the way the U.S. government was treating the indigenous populations as settlers moved west and he founded a newspaper in Philadelphia in order to bring news from the frontier to the east. He sent out reporters to discover what was taking place, but eventually he decided that he should see the events firsthand. Four five years, he traveled through the upper Midwest and what was then called Unorganized Territory, which included the current states of Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana.

After one of these trips, he determined that he could be of more use championing the cause of the native Indian population if he were closer to the source of the trouble and he moved to a small unnamed village just east of Henry Dane’s blacksmith shop. At the time, there were only nine inhabitants of the village, which was actually more of an encampment, since the people were planning to pull up stakes and head west in a few months. Scoville built a house and shop and had his printing press shipped west from Philadelphia. From 1848 to 1863, Scoville printed a newspaper called the Voice of the Plains, which not only recounted the interactions between the Indians and people moving west, but it also became a champion for emancipation causes in the territories. Scoville’s town grew, but his outspoken criticism of the pro-slavery factions in eastern Kansas and Missouri put it in the middle of one of the raids that Quantrill’s “bushwackers” made into Miller County. Quantrill and his Confederate guerrilla band had just sacked Lawrence, Kansas, killing 150 men and boys, when word reached Scoville that they were headed his way. He and and the other townspeople evacuated and hid in surrounding fields and woods until the raiders had left the area. When they returned to Scoville, they found most of the town destroyed and Malcolm’s newspaper office reduced to rubble. He was never able to successfully reestablish his newspaper, but stayed in the town he built for another twenty-seven years, writing articles, essays and books that his son James published in San Francisco.

Malcolm and his wife Sarah, had three sons: Peter, born in 1840; Thomas, in 1842; and, James, in 1845. Peter stayed in Miller County and became a successful farmer. He was elected to the state legislature three times and narrowly lost in an election for governor. He and his wife Anna had no children and when Peter died, Anna sold the farm and moved back to Illinois to be near her family.

James went west and settled in San Francisco. He married Elizabeth Nichols in 1863 and they had three daughter and two sons. Thomas moved to Philadelphia and became active in Quaker meetings there. He and his wife, Dorothy, had two sons. The extended families of Malcolm and Sarah were concentrated on the east and west coasts and it wasn’t until one of the great-great-great-granddaughters began compiling a family tree that the connection to Kansas and the lost town of Scoville became apparent. Sarah Scoville-Henserling contacted many of the far-flung cousins and they in turn contacted the Kansas Historical Society about the placement of a historical marker. Word has it that the marker will be erected sometime in 2013 and I’m sure there will be a big gathering of the Scoville clan as well as local folks who have heard the story of Malcolm Scoville and his town.


The second bit of news involving Scoville and much of this area is that new excavations are going to be starting in the fall at several sites in what has been called Quivira Norte, an area that extends from the confluence of the Vermillion River and Walnut Creek, just west of Walnut Shade, to just east of Scoville. It is a large area, but one that has yielded many artifacts over the years. The land known as the Scoville farm, once owned by James and Anna, has been the most productive. The current owner, Mark Wright, has a large collection of pottery, stone tools and arrowhead unearthed from his fields. Rusty Higgs, whose bison ranch is between Walnut Shade and the site of Scoville, has a room in his house devoted to artifacts that his grandfather and father collected over the years. People are always finding flints and arrowheads in their backyard gardens and occasionally, complete pots will be uncovered. A few people have donated their collections to museums in the area and the courthouse in Fremont has a couple of display cases filled with some of the most interesting items.

I had a fascinating talk with Dr. Harold Reece a few days ago about the possibility that Quivira Norte might be connected to the legendary city of Etzanoa that Coronado was searching for in the 1540s. He’s in town gathering information for his fall excavations.

“Just recently, scholars at Berkeley retranslated some documents that described the Spanish explorations in Kansas. What those accounts indicated was that there were several large settlements throughout the area, from what is now Wichita to perhaps as far north as Omaha,” Dr. Reece explained.

One of those settlements, called Etzanoa, was the home to as many as 20,000 people. The Spanish had come looking for gold and had instead found a complex society where the inhabitants grew corn, squash, and beans, and hunted the bison that were abundant on the plains. They were artisans that not only made pottery that was utilitarian, but also decorative, and they traded with surrounding tribes on what appears to be a routine basis. Three hundred years before the Europeans began to settle this area, these people had what might aptly be called an urban society.

“The data we are gathering from these digs is rewriting our history and giving us a greater understanding of what was happening on the continent before it was invaded by the white man. I know we don’t want to think of it that way, but that is exactly what took place. We didn’t settle this area; it was already settled.”

Dr. Reece is appropriately passionate about his work and about what he and his students are finding. Walnut Shade is connected to the past in so many ways, not the least of which is what was happening here before Henry Dane and Malcolm Scoville decided this would be a good place to be. These new discoveries make us even prouder to call this place our home.


News from the Past:

Blue Valley, March 20, 1937 – After one of the driest falls and winters anyone around here can remember, a rain started falling on Tuesday and didn’t let up until Friday morning. Mrs. Oliver West reports that she  had twenty-two chickens drown in the downpours. Her neighbor, Mrs. Norris lost twelve and Mrs. Edmonds lost fourteen, and she says she hasn’t seen one of her cats for several days.

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
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