Saturday, June 30, 2012

Miss Kitty of Blue Springs - Rebecca Woodward Tyler

Since her name first appeared in my research, I have been fond of this larger than life Lady Pioneer of early Gage County. Little did I know, tracing her back through her life in Kansas and Missouri would take me through the dark years leading up to the Civil War known as "Bleeding Kansas."

Rebecca Moore Woodward Tyler (1804-1878) arrived in the tiny village of Blue Springs, Nebraska in the late summer of 1859. 
Gage County history paints a kindly portrait of her as a wealthy business woman with a eye on the possibility of cashing in on the Noyes/Chambers plan to build a toll bridge across the Blue River.  They planned to shorten the Ash Point Trail by routing it from Richmond, Kansas though Blue Springs and westward about twelve miles to the Caldwell ranch where it eventually joined the main branch of the Oregon Trail along the Platte River.

Capt. John E. Smith of Seneca, Kansas foiled all of their plans by sowing oats on the California Trail at the fork to Richmond thereby diverting traffic two miles south to Seneca following the old military road west to Marysville.

Things being as they were, Rebecca loved this little prairie town and ended up spending the rest of her days in Blue Springs. Turns out this was quit a commitment for her since the 1840 Missouri Census shows her born about 1804 in the District of Columbia.  It is not known what trail took her to Missouri, only that she was referred to as a Southern woman and that placed her south of the Mason-Dixon line. Possibly first married to Joseph Moore, a discharged Dragoon soldier from Fort Leavenworth who first planned the town of Weston, MO, Rebecca A. Moore married Albert G. Woodward, a native of Virginia, in Missouri on June 3, 1839. For reasons unknown, she married him a second time in Platte, MO on October 19, 1852. 

A. G. Woodward lived his life literally on the trails edge of the western frontier. In May of 1840 he appeared as one of the petitioners forming Weston Township, Missouri. While exploring the American west by way of the Missouri River in the early 1800s, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark discovered natural limestone springs in the rolling hills of northwest Missouri. By 1830 these pure springs were supplying water to wagon trains preparing for the long westward trek across the prairies on the Santa Fe and Overland TrailsWeston, MO quickly became one of the gateways to the Old West.

In 1848, Woodward made a name for himself as the first white settler in the Blue River Valley establishing Woodward & Marshall's Store just south of Oketo, KS on the Otoe Reservation. In 1852, on a visit to Weston, Frank Marshall conspired with Woodward, John & James Doniphan, among others to organize the town of Marysville, KS. Marshall and Woodward were granted rights to the ferry crossing at Marysville across the Blue River on the Ft. Leavenworth/Fort Kearney military road together with another crossing on the California Trail at Oketo.

Woodward again signed his name as one of the incorporators of Richmond, Kansas (this town long vanished from the face of the earth). He operated Woodward's Store in 1854 at Richmond. Richmond was more of a trading post than a town, boasting a store, hotel and saloon aimed at accommodating a westwards transient population. The illusive location of Richmond is still visited now and then by treasure hunters .. hoping to find Colorado gold buried near the old town site along the banks of the Nemaha River.

Here is where the story takes a dark turn .... 

The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, opening new lands for settlement, and had the effect of repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 by allowing settlers in those territories to determine through Popular Sovereignty whether they would allow slavery within each territory. It became problematic when popular sovereignty was written into the proposal so that the voters of the moment would decide whether slavery would be allowed. The result was that pro- and anti-slavery elements flooded into Kansas with the goal of voting slavery up or down.

John Brown, hauling a wagon load of guns, joined his sons in Kansas. Proclaiming himself the servant of the Lord, Brown led an attack in the spring of 1856, that resulted in the murders of five pro slavery settlers. The incident became known as the Pottawatomie Creek Massacre. This event was part of widespread violence during the late 1850s which became known as Bleeding Kansas.

A.G. Woodward's business ventures, now sprawling from Weston, MO to Oketo, KS lay in the thick of the turmoil. Richmond was made the temporary County Seat of Nemaha County Kansas Territory, but Woodward's very vocal stance on pro-slavery shifted the vote to Seneca in 1858 which became the permanent County Seat. 

In Marysville, Marshall and Woodward were actively soliciting slaveholders to move into the territory to vote Kansas in as a Slave StateFrank Marshall was also active in the pro-slavery politics of the time. In 1855, a South Carolina pro-slavery colony squatted down at the old Mormon crossing recently abandoned by Marshall. These adventurous colonists laid off a paper town, and called it Palmetto City, opening up as a rival of Marysville for the trade and commerce of travel. Here, now, were two little antagonistic towns, with a pretty rough citizenship in each; out on the frontiers, or rather beyond civilization generally. Bad blood soon got up; shot guns were loaded, and bowie knives sharpened.  By 1878, Marysville had won over claim to Palmetto City but history tends to leave its mark and if you stand on the south sidewalk of Center Street in Marysville and cross the street north, you will be standing in the location of the old Palmetto City.

The Abolitionist Movement was winning out in Kansas.  By 1859, Marshall had abandoned his elegant new home in Marysville and moved on to brighter opportunities in the mining country of Colorado. Sometime between 1858 and 1859, A. G. Woodward died.  How he died is as much a mystery as the location of his final resting place (as close as I can figure near Richmond).  However, Rebecca emerged as the administratix of his sizable estate and took up residence in Blue Springs ...  in the summer of 1859. 

The first suggestion of Rebecca Woodward's appearance in Blue Springs, Nebraska was the notation of a lady in a silk dress among the cotton frocks at the village's first celebration of Independence Day in 1859.  Rebecca and A.G. had taken in several orphaned children over the years, having none of their own, and after the death of A.G., Rebecca brought Francis Graham along with her to share her new home.  Frank was about 15 years of age in 1859 and like Rebecca, he lived out all but 3 years of his life in Blue Springs.

The most detailed story of Rebecca in Gage Gounty can be found in the 1918 edition of the Dobb's History of Gage County.  The Blue Springs Chapter XXIII was written by Francis Graham, Rebecca's foster son and gives an interesting perspective from someone who knew her over a period of about 30 years.  When Rebecca and young Francis ventured some fifty miles northwest into Nebraska Territory that summer, the landscape might have looked much the same but the Nebraska Territory was being settled by pioneers who were predominately Anti-Slavery.  By choice or by necessity, Rebecca was surely forced to silence her ties to the Old South.

Solon Hazen, the newly elected county surveyor, platted the town of Blue Springs in June of 1861.  Born in New York, Hazen came to Kansas with other Abolitionist followers of John Brown. After spending the winter of 1857-58 in Brown County, Kansas, Solon and George Stark traveled north to turn the sod on 160 acres and build a cabin in Rockford Township, Nebraska. After the Presidential election of 1860, he returned to New York until 1863, when he returned to Gage County and erected a store on the corner of Hazen and Wilson Street.

Rebecca Woodward sold her holdings in Richmond and bought the small trading post which was located on the northeast corner of Main & Hazen Street. 

When the town was originally surveyed, Woodward and others had bought lots in town from Chambers and Noyes, but their rights were tied up in a mortgage to Robert A. Wilson.  After the two men abandoned their rights to the town, Wilson had Hazen re-survey the town and register the deeds to the new owners.  Some of the earliest recorded documents of Gage County bear Rebecca's signature.  Her husband's estate had made her the wealthiest settler in Gage County in its early territorial years.

Woodward, Graham & Stearns built the towns first store, furnishing supplies such as calico, syrup, coffee, dried apples and nails to the settlers .... oh and also a little whiskey for snake bites as rattle snakes were very bad in those days. They bought buffalo hides from the Indians for prices ranging from $3 to $10 a piece.  Before this time St. Joseph MO was the only city of any size where supplies could be purchased.  Later Brownville and Nebraska City furnished staples.
Taken from the Blue Springs 1857-1982 book.

A government Post Office was established in Blue Springs in 1859, with William B. Tyler assigned Postmaster.  Stationed in the town's only trading post, Tyler keep the offices records in a cigar box.  The mails were carried on horseback from Nebraska City and Brownville.  For many years Blue Springs served a large portion of Southern Gage County with mail facilities.

Affectionately, known as "Pap," William was born in York County Pennsylvania on November 16, 1801.  As a young man, he married Sarah Wilt and together they raised four children.  When Sarah passed away in 1842, William enlisted in the First United States Regiment of Dragoons and served through the Mexican War.  In 1854, he was honorably discharged  at Fort Leavenworth, KS.

Tyler retained a clerical position in the government until 1859, when he decided on a move to Salt Lake City but changed his mind at the sight of the Blue River Valley or perhaps Rebecca Woodward.  William and Rebecca were married on January 21, 1860, the first marriage certificate issued in Gage County.   In April of 1861, William B. Tyler was issued a Patent for land purchased from Sarah Hardin, widow of Isaiah, who held a block of Bounty Land granted to certain Officers and Soldiers retired from military service of the United States.  This 160 acres was located a mile north & east of Blue Springs.   In July of that same year, Rebecca Ann Tyler purchased another 160 acres from William Cherry, another beneficiary of the Bounty Land grants.  You may recognize this farm (named after it was sold in 1878 and later became a nursery selling orchard stock) as Riverside Farm. 

Pap and Rebecca built a small loft frame house near the Blue River, it was later moved east and additions built onto it. If you look at the main house at Riverside Farm, the original house line can be identified by the center porch section of the house. 

When Rebecca passed on in the fall of 1878, Pap sold the farm and moved back to Blue Springs.  He married Sarah Warner sometime after.  Pap passed away on New Years Day of 1890.  Sometime between 1903 and her death in 1908, Sarah funded one of the Memorial windows in the Blue Springs Church to commemorate their union.  Pap and Sarah are buried with 2 separate stones in adjoining plots in the Blue Springs Cemetery.  Rebecca sleeps alone in the Original Section 1-41.

Rebecca is buried in Blue Springs Cemetery
this newer stone likely placed by Frank Graham

For an extensive and well written history of Blue Springs penned by Francis Graham -
Chapter XXIII  Blue Springs