Nearby Leavenworth County, Kansas has a long and impressive history because of Fort Leavenworth, which was established in 1827. The first residents of today's Leavenworth County were the Kansa Indians and their allies, the French traders, who frequented the neighborhood. The Kickapoo tribe was soon transplanted there from their homelands.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were the first national celebrities to grace their doorstep, but that celebrity list has grown substantially as the years have unfolded. Some famous names were born there, others grew up there, some retired there, and some went to school on post, while other celebrities served time in the "big house.”
Kansas City's notorious political boss Tom Pendergast graced the halls of the Federal Penitentiary, as did the big-time gangsters Machine Gun Kelly and Bugs Moran. Remember the dictator Manuel Noriega and Leonard Peltier?
The "Bird man of Alcatraz," Robert Stroud, did most of his bird watching at Leavenworth before he was transferred to Alcatraz, and middleweight champion Rocky Graziano got his start in boxing while incarcerated there.
Meanwhile, across town at the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were cellmates and became good friends. Both were paroled after serving their time, but both returned to be hanged by the neck until dead for murdering Herbert Clutter and his family near Holcomb, Kansas. Truman Capote made the two famous with his book "In Cold Blood."
Buffalo Bill Cody arrived in Leavenworth from Iowa during the Border Wars with his family when he was only 7 years old. The family settled near Fort Leavenworth and the children of the Kickapoo taught young Cody how to shoot a bow and arrow and ride a horse like a warrior. Young Cody's first job after his father died was riding that horse through the streets of Leavenworth delivering telegrams at the age of 12. Both his mother and father are buried in Leavenworth.
Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane bebopped in and out of town on occasion. Hickok was a gambler, and I understand he rode his horse onto a second-floor pool hall in town just to win a bet. Both Wild Bill and Buffalo Bill rode with the Red Legs during the early days of the Civil War, and they both rode with the Jayhawkers during the closing days of the war.
Some notable military generals of our time have walked the streets of Leavenworth, such as Benjamin O. Davis, Colin Powell, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Patton, not to mention Custer and Sherman from earlier times.
Fred Harvey retired to Leavenworth during the height of his restaurant career, bought a mansion, and lived there for the rest of his life. I'm quite sure the "Harvey Girls” were often seen shopping in the downtown stores. C.W. Parker, the "Carnival King" manufactured his carousels and other carnival rides in Leavenworth beginning about 1910.
Richard Sanders, who played Les Nessman on “WKRP in Cincinnati,” and author Tom Oliver of "To Watch the River" were both local boys, as were Randy Sparks of the New Christy Minstrels and singer Melissa Etheridge. You can also toss in Wallace Beery and Oscar Wild.
Neither Abraham Lincoln nor John Wilkes Booth ever lived there, but both performed on the same stage at separate times – Lincoln, while campaigning for president, and Booth as an actor. If you remember, Booth was the one who assassinated President Lincoln.
Reference: Leavenworth 2010-11 Visitors Guide
To reach Ted W. Stillwell send e-mail to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-895-3592.