• Ted Stillwell: Kansas women of the extremes

  • In early-day Kansas, most counties were named after men of importance, such as legislators, soldiers and such, but there was at least one county that was named after a woman – a woman of the night, no less.

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  • In early-day Kansas, most counties were named after men of importance, such as legislators, soldiers and such, but there was at least one county that was named after a woman – a woman of the night, no less. Jane Shirley was a “notorious Leavenworth prostitute” known to all “the boys.” It probably started out as joke, but if indeed it was in jest, the rest of the legislators soon joined in on the joke and the majority voted in Shirley's favor. Shirley County was organized in 1860 and carried her name up until 1866.
    Many of those early residents however, were embarrassed and angry at the “stigma of burlesque” attached to their county’s name, some even claimed the county was not named for Jane Shirley at all, but was named in honor of Gov. William Shirley, the colonial Governor of Massachusetts from 1741 to 1756. Finally, John B. Rupe, a Shirley County representative, introduced a bill to change the name to Cloud County, in honor of Col. William F. Cloud of the Second Kansas. Rupe considered Cloud one of the “noblest and bravest of the state’s heroes,” a man and a name of which the people could finally be proud. Today, there are around 10,000 living in Cloud County, with the majority living in Concordia on U.S. 81.
    One of their most famous residents down through the ages has been Napoleon Bonaparte Brown, a soldier, businessman, philanthropist, politician, and resident in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is most known as the namesake and builder of the Brown Grand Theater in Concordia, a majestic opera house completed in 1907 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The theater was the most elegant theater between Kansas City and Denver.
    During World War II, there were several POW camps located in Kansas, and one of those was located near Concordia. Two German prisoners apparently escaped and were headed for Mexico, according to "Stalag Sunflower," a video produced at the Emporia State University. The authorities knew of the escape, but didn’t even bother to go searching for them for a couple of days. When they located the two escapees and returned them to the prison, they sat them down and pulled down a large wall mounted map.
    They pointed out where the prison was located and how far they had walked before they were picked up by authorities (they had not even made it to the Cloud County line yet). Then they pointed out how far it was on down to the Rio Grande River and the safety of Mexico. The Germans realized just how much bigger America was than Germany and no further attempts were made to escape from Concordia.
    South of Concordia along the Santa Fe Trail is Marion County, another one of the original early-day counties, which also has a rather unique history that began over in Russia. Except for seven families, the entire village of Alexanderwohl, Russia, immigrated to North America in 1874, seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity.
    Page 2 of 2 - Six hundred of those German-Russian Mennonite emigrants bought land in western Marion and eastern McPherson Counties and settled in eight related villages that altogether were known as the New Alexanderwohl community in Kansas.
    The origin of the name goes back to the year 1821, when a large group of Mennonite colonists met Russian Emperor Alexander on the road. He asked where they were going; they said to a new settlement in Russia; he wished them well. Thus, Alexander inspired the name of their Russian village, Alexander well, or Alexanderwohl. The communities within New Alexanderwohl were Gnadenfeld, Gnadenthal, Blumenfeld, Blumenort, Hochfeld, Gruenfeld, Springfeld and Emmathal.
    Reference: “Early Days in Kansas” by Bliss Isley.
    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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