Cemetery Tours

This time of year brings trips to pumpkin patches, apple orchards and haunted houses. However, a fun and unique alternative is to take a cemetery tour.  The Butler County Historical Center Home of the Kansas Oil Museum is hosting their annual event on the two Saturday’s leading up to Halloween, Saturday, October 16th and Saturday, October 23rd.

There are two primary cemeteries in El Dorado; Sunset Lawn and Belle Vista. A dispute has existed as to which cemetery is oldest but it is likely that Sunset Lawn is the oldest with its first burial documented in 1872. 

Belle Vista Cemetery Tour attendees in 2019 listen as a reenactor Tom Penning brings the story of Nathan Frazier to life. 

The tours in 2019 were held in Belle Vista Cemetery and there were no tours in 2020.  

This year, the tours focus on Sunset Lawns Cemetery.  Guests are invited to walk back in time, accompanied by a tour guide, to listen to reenactors of prominent El Dorado and Butler County figures as they tell their stories. 

Tours will be held at 4:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and 6:30 p.m. and are limited to twenty participants each tour.   

Tickets are available with a $10 donation per person and must be obtained in advance, in person, at the Butler County Historical Society Home of the Kansas Oil Museum located at 383 E Central, or by calling (316)321-9333.

Wilbur Clayton Barrett, recently returned home after dying at Pearl Harbor, is one of the many people buried in Sunset Lawns.

The Great Indian Doctor

Celebrating 150 Years in El Dorado

Nancy Griggs, according to an article in the Walnut Valley Times in 1895, was described as a women who “…came of that sturdy, rugged pioneer stock, whose indomitable will, honesty and courage laid the foundation of this nation and paved the way, through untold hardships for a civilization, the broadest and highest in the worlds history. This was the atmosphere in which she was reared and these were the environments in which she grew to womanhood.” 

Mrs. Nancy Griggs in a photo appearing in the 1895 Pioneer Edition of the Walnut Valley Times (now Butler County Times-Gazette).

According to her obituary published in the Butler County Democrat, in El Dorado, Kansas, on Friday, May 5, 1911 on page 5. She was born Nancy Johnson, in Crawfordsville, Indiana, on December 24, 1828.  However, her headstone shows her date of birth as December 22, 1828.  She died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. W.P. Bradley in El Dorado, Thursday, April 20, 1911 after months of sickness.  

Nancy Griggs, lived 82 years, 3 months and 26 days but between those two dates she lived a pretty incredible life. 

The podcast series, “Celebrating 150 Years in El Dorado” airs on Wednesday at 12 p.m. on KBTL 88.1 will be sharing stories from the life of this remarkable woman on this week’s episode, “The Great Indian Doctor.” 

An advertisement appearing in the Southern Kansas Gazette (now Butler County Times-Gazette) in 1882

Nancy Griggs first arrived in what is now Butler County, as Nancy Cowley, when Kansas was still a territory, in the fall of 1857.  At that time, she was married to Mathew Cowley.  The Cowley’s first settled in Little Walnut township. They later found that it was part of an Indian reservation and in the winter of 1858 moved two miles north of El Dorado on the West Branch.  Within a few years of settling there, Matthew Cowley enlisted in the Civil War and served as First Lieutenant in the 9th Kansas Cavalry.  He died in Little Rock, Arkansas, in August, 1864, of typhoid fever.

At that time, Kansas Territory was home to several tribes of Native American’s who were at war with each other and with the incoming settlers. According to reports, Griggs won their confidence, ministered to their sick, fed the hungry and became famous among them. 

She acquired a practical knowledge of their use of herbs as medicine and became adept in their application. She studied nature and nature’s remedies and went on to marry Albert (A.O.) Griggs on October 25, 1874.  Following their marriage, Nancy moved her healing practice into town. 

A large sign above A.O. Griggs Grocery store advertises
Mrs. Nancy Griggs Great Indian Remedies, circa 1883.
Photo: Courtesy of the Butler County Historical Society Home of the Kansas Oil Museum.

Mr. Griggs owned Griggs Grocery which, according to the El Dorado City Directory of 1885, was located at 129 N Main in El Dorado.  In a photo taken around 1885, a large sign on top of Griggs’ store advertised the services of Nancy Griggs: “Mrs. Nancy Griggs Great Indian Remedies.”  

“The Great Indian Doctor,” will air this Wednesday at 12 p.m. on KBTL 88.1 and following that airing, it will be available on the Everyday El Dorado podcast. 

First Butler County Settler a Horse Thief?

In keeping with the goal of providing verifiable information on the founding of El Dorado, and it’s early founders, Everyday El Dorado is producing a weekly podcast series that airs on KBTL 88.1 each Wednesday at 12 p.m. 

In the episode titled, “Hildebrand – Horse Thief or Holy Roller?,” the story surrounding the first settler in Butler County is examined.  

According to William G. Cutler’s “History of the State of Kansas, ”William Hildebrand is supposed to have been the first settler near El Dorado, having taken a claim near where J. D. Conner’s farm now lies. In 1859, his place which had become a sort of headquarters for horse thieves, was raided, and Hildebrand after joining the order of the flagellants or anglice, getting a sound thrashing at the hands of the vigilantes, was given twenty-four hours to effect his escape from the county, and disappeared forever from El Dorado’s horizon.”

This information on Hildebrand is all that is passed down by successive historians and documentarians, but in researching the history of El Dorado, another story begins to emerge. 

The Reverend WIlliam Hildebrand and Colonel Alexander Bigham came to Butler County in April 1857 and settled in the area that is present day El Dorado. 

In an article appearing in the Lawrence Republican dated August 27, 1857, Hildebrand was identified by the article’s writer (presumed to be the founding party’s lead military man, Captain Joseph Cracklin) as a missionary and one of two settlers. 

“Just two months from the 3rd inst., the day of election, the Eldorado Town Association selected this locality for their town site.  At that time but two white persons resided in the Walnut River valley, from the extreme northern post to the Osage Reserve.  These two were the Rev. William Hildebrand, former a Missionary amongst the Cherokees and Chickasaws, and now preparing to carry his Christiam labors to the Osages.  The other, Col. Alexander Bigham, from Miss., who distinguished himself at the taking of Monterey in Mexico, and at the storming of the Bishop/s palace was severely wounded.  We here regard him as quite an acquisition to our town.”

How did Hildebrand go from first being identified as a Missionary to his place in history as a horse thief?  That road is a winding one, as much of the information recorded about him comes from the daughter of the man he is accussed of stealing from and orchestrating his murder.  

Augusta Stewart, the daughter of town founder Sam Stewart, kept a diary during her family’s travel out west, the early years of Eldorado, and subsequently, she documented some of the events surrounding her father’s death.  That journal was later published by descendants in a four volume set titled “Augusta’s Journal.” 

Stewart’s journal, which was later researched and edited, by herself and family, provides additional clues as to why the story recorded in our history books, about Hildebrand, is a story about a horse theft and omits other key details.   

Diaries and journals, while considered a great primary source, must be read through a lens of understanding it was only one perspective.  The clues Stewart provides give a springboard for looking in new directions that offer additional information. That information will be the topic of discussion on this week’s episode, which looks at some of those clues to gain a bigger picture of the first settler in Butler County, 

Everyday El Dorado can be heard Wednesday at 12 p.m. on KBTL 88.1 and by streaming online at kbtl.butlercc.edu

Celebrating Brigadier General A. W. Ellet

While researching the history of El Dorado, it was discovered that one of our early residents and town builders has a historic birthday of his own.

Brigadier General Alfred Washington Ellet was born on October 11, 1820 and the 200th anniversary of his birth is this year.

Ellet received his promotion to Brigadier General from President Abraham Lincoln and gained fame for his instrumental role in the battle of Memphis and the capture of Vicksburg, which aided the Union’s assumption of control over the entire Mississippi River.  The original document promoting Ellet to Brigadier General is located at the Butler County Historical Society Home of the Kansas Oil Museum.

An account of his heroic contributions to the Civil War can be found in the “History of the Ram Fleet and the Mississippi Marine Brigade in the War for the Union on the Mississippi and its Tributaries.The Story of the Ellets and their Men.”

The book chronicles Brigadier General Ellet’s command of a fleet of steam ironclad ramboats that battled for control of major riverways and assaulted the Confederate fleet and stronghold at Vicksburg.  The members of Ellet’s fleet were perhaps the first regularly commissioned United States Marines.  

Ellet began investing in El Dorado in 1873 and made many trips to visit his son Edward Ellet before finally locating Butler County. He was primarily living in Topeka as late as 1875 and traveled to former homes in Philadelphia and Illinois. His political connections took him to Washington, D.C., where he successfully lobbied for the Florence, El Dorado, and Walnut Valley Railroad, which later became the Santa Fe. 

Along with his son Edward Ellet, and friend Nathan Frazier, he helped organize the Bank of El Dorado, which eventually became Farmers and Merchants Bank.  

His last name may sound familiar to many because it was bestowed on the building he had built for El Dorado – The Ellet Opera House.  

The Ellet Opera House opened in 1884, and became the cultural heart of the city.  It was the location of most public entertainment, from lectures by prominent speakers and political speeches to commencement ceremonies and church services.  The Ellet Opera house was also host to talent shows and grand balls, as well as opera singers and eventually vaudeville. 

A display featuring memorabilia donated to the museum by descendants of Ellet is planned as part of El Dorado’s 150th birthday celebration

Happy Birthday, General Ellet.

Crossroads: Change in Rural America

The Butler County Historical Society and Kansas Oil Museum wants Butler County residents to become part of the traveling Smithsonian/Humanities Kansas exhibit “Rural Crossroads: The Changing Faces and Places of Butler County”. 

By contributing to this exhibit  citizens can help tell the story of Butler County.  Two areas of specific interest are Butler County towns and Farms & Ranches that are no longer in existence. 

Crossroads: Change in Rural America

In 1900, about 40% of Americans lived in rural areas, By 2010, less than 18% of the U.S. population lived in rural areas. In just over a century, massive economic and social changes moved millions of Americans into urban areas. Yet, only 10% of the U.S. landmass is considered urban.

Many Americans consider rural communities to be endangered and hanging on by a thread—suffering from brain drain, inadequate schools, and a barren, overused landscape. Why should revitalizing the rural places left behind matter to those who remain, those who left, and those who will come in the future? Because there is much more to the story of rural America.

“Crossroads: Change in Rural America” is a traveling Smithsonian exhibition and is part of the Museum on Main Street (MoMS) collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and state humanities councils nationwide. 

The exhibit offers small towns a chance to look at their own paths to highlight the changes that affected their fortunes over the past century. The exhibition will prompt discussions about what happened when America’s rural population became a minority of the country’s population and the ripple effects that occurred.

Here is how you can be a part of this exhibit:

Search through your photos for any images of Butler County’s past (1850’s – present). Topics include, but are not limited to: specific & identifiable buildings; streets; roads; places; events; activities; etc. 

Replicate that scene or take a current photo of the same topic.

Haberlein’s at Central and Main in 1955
Specs in 2020, formerly Haberlein’s.

Scan the photos & download the photo release form that can be found on the Kansas Oil Museum’s website.  

Email the photo(s) and the completed photo release form to director@kansasoilmuseum.org. Please include any pertinent information you have regarding the photo, such as location, when it was taken, individuals in the photo and who took the photo. 

Photos must be submitted by July 31, 2020

All photos, old and new, must be of Butler County people, places, activities, or events.

While no monetary compensation will be given for the scans of these photos, the museum will acknowledge the proper parties based on information provided in signed permission forms.

Release forms, as well as additional information, can be found by visiting kansasoilmuseum.org and clicking on the “Rural Crossroads” tab.