• Ted Stillwell: Valley of the Swans

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  • The Marais des Cygnes River is a French name, a term meaning “marsh of the swans” in French. Several legends surround how that name came about, but one Osage Indian legend tells of two young lovers who disappeared mysteriously while canoeing on the river. As the horrified people looked upon the scene where the young lovers had vanished, they saw two great white swans swim away together. The name also was given to the waterfowl refuge area and the historic Marais des Cygnes massacre site from the Border War days.
    In the valley of the Marais des Cygnes in eastern Kansas there are more than 15,000 acres of oxbows, natural lakes, and wetlands, and an occasional pair of swan can still be seen there. The river was originally called the Osage after the Great Osage Nation, and still is in Missouri after it converges with the Marmaton and Little Osage River; however on the Kansas side it was officially renamed Marais des Cygnes many years ago.
    The Marais des Cygnes flows through the heart of Miami County, which is the first county south of Johnson County along the Missouri-Kansas border. Miami County dates back to 1855 and was among those earliest counties established in Kansas. The county originally carried the name Lykins until the 1861 legislature changed the name to Miami in honor of the Miami Indians, who had been resettled in that region from their original homelands back in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. Miami was an Indian word for “mother.” Today, their tribal headquarters are in Miami, Okla., in Ottawa County.
    The name of Osawatomie in Miami County was formed in 1855 by combining Osa of the Osage River with watomie of Pottawatomie Creek. The militant abolitionist John Brown brought notoriety to the town in 1856, when his forces defied the proslavery faction. His son, Frederick, was among those killed in the Battle of Osawatomie.
    Settlers who came to Kansas from Bucyrus, Ohio, brought the name for their town with them to Miami County in 1887.
    A year before the town site of Louisburg was surveyed in 1872, another settlement named St. Louis, or Little St. Louis, had developed a quarter of a mile east of the present town site along U.S. 69. When the new site was platted, the St. Louis settlement was included in the community, but the founders believed that St. Louis, Kan., could be easily confused with St. Louis, Mo., besides hard feelings between Kansas and Missouri were still running pretty high, therefore they chose Louisburg.
    Another one of Kansas’ first towns, Paola, honored Baptiste Peoria, a linguist who knew several Indian languages in addition to English and French. Indians had difficulty pronouncing the “R” in Peoria, consequently the name became Paola. Peoria, who lived in the vicinity, was also a member of the Paola Town Company. In the 1870s and 1880s, Paola was the first center of oil drilling and pumping in Kansas.
    Page 2 of 2 - James B. Hovey named Spring Hill, Kan., after a suburb of Mobile, Ala., noted for its beautiful gardens and their town dates back to statehood.
    Several towns in Kansas and Missouri were named by the post office and many were named either by the railroads or for the railroads. In 1871, the town founders of Edgerton decided to name their town after the chief engineer of the Santa Fe Railroad, and the community of Stilwell, Kan., was named for a conductor on the first Missouri Pacific train to arrive in town in the 1870s. This writer has absolutely no idea who he was, but I would venture to guess that we are probably related a few generations back. I imagine all Stillwells and/or Stilwells are related if you go back far enough.
    Reference: “1001 Kansas Place Names” by Sondra Van Meter McCoy and Jan Hults.
    Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups.
    To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to teddystillwell@yahoo.com or call him at 816-252-9909.

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