Editor’s Note: As Kansas prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday this year, The Gardner News will periodically run stories commemorating the people and communities formed before Kansas recieved statehood.
The Santa Fe Trail crossed Bull Creek northeast of Edgerton. The crossing was a popular campsite for travelers on the trail, including American soldiers of the Mexican-American War.
Johnson County was Shawnee Indian Territory, before the 1850s.
“The first caucasian to own land or have a farm in Johnson County was Richard McCamish,” according to the Johnson County Museum.
Richard “Dick” McCamish married a Shawnee Indian woman, and purchased land to make his home at the ford of Bull Creek in the early 1850s.
McCamish traded and did such business with the travelers, and was well known as a southern sympathizer.
“The Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854 opened Kansas Territory for settlement, and the issue of slavery in this new territory was to be decided by squatter population,” Greg Hermon said.
Thus began an outpour of pro-slavery men from Missouri infiltrating Kansas, and for sometime the sympathizers seemed to have the “upper hand” over free-state settlers.
Kansas soon became a battleground for issues dividing the country, which birthed such men as John Brown and William Quantrill.
In the summer of 1856, the free-state settlers seemed to outnumber the pro-slavery four to one, according to Greg Hermon.
These southern sympathizers were reinforced from Missouri and bands of
“Missouri Ruffians” crossed the Kansas-Missouri border often. Night riding, murder, and robbery were common among each side.
In August of 1856, General Lane campaigned to rid all pro-slavery forces from the Kaw Valley. Lane’s army defeated several make-shift cabin forts around Lawrence.
General James H. Lane of the “Free-State Militia” had proven himself to be skilled tactician 10 years earlier in the Mexican-American War when he commanded the 3rd Indian Infantry, which played a major role in the defeat of Santa Anna’s army at the Battle of Buena Vista, according to Greg Hermon.
Toward the end of August, 1856, pro-slavery idealist had assembled approximately 1,600 men and entered Kansas. In a few days, groups of ruffian soldiers raided a Quaker Mission on a Shawnee reserve, and captured then killed Frederick Brown, John Brown’s son in Osawatomie.
On Aug. 31, 1856, the “Grand Army” of southern militia men had set up camp by Dick McCamish’s cabin at the Bull Creek crossing.
A few days prior, General Lane learned of the numbered Missourian forces, but he was located north on the Nebraska border at the time. He immediately headed south and began to assemble as many volunteers as possible from the Topeka and Lawrence areas. Only four-hundred or so men were gathered to fight, and among them was General Lane’s 19-year-old, personal bodyguard.
According to Hermon, James Butler Hickock had recently moved to the Kansas Territory from Illinois in the spring of 1856, and was soon caught up in the turmoil.
Known as an excellent marksman after taking first place in a contest, he impressed Lane. By July of 1856, the young man was appointed duty to ride along side and protect his general. Later on in life, James Butler, became infamous, and was more popularly known as “Wild Bill” Hickock.
Upon the dawn of Sept. 1, 1856, General Lane led his militia in sight of the Bull Creek camp sight.
“While the Missourians scrambled to saddle their horses and prepare for the attack, Lane deployed his troops in a line of battle. Lane had the left flank circle around to the rear and out of sight of the enemy, so that they would reappear as the right flank. In this manner he was able to parade the same men in view of the Missourians several times, which gave the enemy the impression that they were the ones who were outnumbered,” according to Hermon’s research.
The scare tactic worked, and the enemy was ignorant to the fact they far outnumbered Lane’s army. When the battle began, confusion among the southern sympathizers spread and many fled the scene. Most retreated, and some did not stop until they reachedWestport, Mo., 30 miles away.
Lane ordered his men to burn down McCamish’s cabin, though McCamish had fled moments prior, he escaped being hung.
According to Hermon, “While the little remembered Battle of Bull Creek did not produce the expected bloodbath, it was indeed a decisive battle. Never again in the pre-Civil War days would a large force enter Kansas from Missouri.”
In 1857, McCamish and his Indian wife rebuilt and operated a tavern along with a General Store and established the town of “McCamish” on the northeast side of Bull Creek. The following year, in 1858, William Ganns purchased one-hundred and sixty acres and founded a town on the south-west side of Bull Creek. It was named, “Lanesfield” in honor of General Lane’s victory.
According to the Johnson County Museum, William Ganns came from Indiana and was an elder of the Christian Church. He set up the town of Lanesfield to spite the neighboring town of McCamish.
McCamish residents were known to have pro-slavery ideals, and Lanesfield was known for being “Free-Staters.” McCamish and Lanesfield population combined, was approximately 150 occupants.
Reluctantly, the two towns had to share a post office on the Lanesfield side.
The post office went by several different names, presumably because one could not be ultimately decided on. Uniontown, Hibbard, after the general post master of that time, Bull Creek, Lanesfield, and McCamish, were among the few names.
Leavenworth, was the main hub for all the mail coming into Kansas in the 1850s and 60s. When a letter addressed to an unknown post office or town came to the Leavenworth post office, they sent it immediately onto Lanesfield and McCamish’s post office, hoping it was the correct location, according to research manuscripts by Virginia Johnson.
General Lane himself became a resident of Lanesfield and was co-owner of the hotel. Lanesfield had three churches, the Christian, Presbyterian, and Methodist. Lanesfield also had a blacksmith shop, hardware store, dry goods store, and school. McCamish also had a hotel, along with the tavern, and general store.
According to the Johnson County Museum, in 1870 the railroad built tracks through Judge David Martin’s farm, south-west of Lanesfield and McCamish.
The people of both towns decided it was in their best interest to put their differences aside and to start a new town closer to the rails. After all, the Civil War had already ended years prior.
House by house, church by church, store by store, were placed upon rollers and moved overland to their new locations closer to the rails, according to the Johnson County Museum.
“That’s how important the railroad was to people back then,” Hermon said.
The new town was named Martinsburg in September of 1870, but ten months later in July of 1841 the name was change to Edgerton, naming it after the chief railroad engineer. Officially it was recognized as Edgerton in 1883.
There was a letter once written by a member of the Kelly family, which lived in the Edgerton area in the late 1800s. The letter was written in the 1870s and sent from Los Angeles, Calif. The letter stated the writer’s opinion that Los Angeles might someday be as large and promising a town as Edgerton, according to research by Virginia Johnson in 1960.
Mayrene Norris and her husband purchased a farm off of 183rd west of Four Corners Rd. in 1955, almost 100 years after the Battle of Bull Creek.
“My husband farmed land on both sides of the street (183rd) and he could follow the old Santa Fe Trail on his tractor,” Norris said. “The ground where the trail was, the dirt was so compacted, that the plow would pop right up out of the ground when trying to plow over it (the Santa Fe Trail).”
The Norris’ had many tourists and visitors over the years tracing and investigating the trail. They used to receive Christmas cards from a couple who lived in Philadelphia after they passed by on vacation.
“We use to invite people in for coffee, and one time a woman asked if she could camp out by the creek crossing with her husky dog,” Norris said.
Hermon’s family settled in the area in 1859. Hermon’s Great Grandfather enlisted in the Kansas Calvary during the Civil War and his great-great grandfather was part of the Kansas Militia during the 1860s.
Hermon and his wife have lived in Edgerton for 40 years.
“We did most of our research about the Battle of Bull Creek in the early 1980s,” He said.
Hermon and his wife have found various items in the Bull Creek crossing over the years using metal detectors.
He has found buttons from soldiers tracing back to the Mexican-American War in the late 1840s. Hermon presumed they were probably traveling south from Leavenworth.
Hermon also has found coins around where he believes the McCamish Tavern was located. Some of the coins date back as far as 1854 and 1856.
The only building remaining in the Lanesfield and McCamish area is the stone Lanesfield school house, which children attended school at till 1963, then it was refurbished and turned into a historical museum in the 1988, according the Johnson County Museum.
“Three of my oldest children attended Lanesfield School,” Norris said.