The Rev. Thomas Johnson, a Virginian and slave owner, arrived in Kansas back in 1829 to establish the Shawnee Methodist Indian Mission. Between 1829 and 1858, he developed a training school and an experimental farm for the Shawnee people.

The Rev. Thomas Johnson, a Virginian and slave owner, arrived in Kansas back in 1829 to establish the Shawnee Methodist Indian Mission. Between 1829 and 1858, he developed a training school and an experimental farm for the Shawnee people.

When Kansas became a territory, Johnson served as president of the territorial council and a leader in the 1855 legislature. Although he was in sympathy with the South, he did not condone secession and remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War. Johnson was killed by an assassin’s bullet in the doorway of his home in 1865.

Three Greater Kansas City residential districts – Mission, Mission Hills and Mission Woods – are named for the historic Shawnee Methodist Indian Mission. Way back in 1985, the affluent Mission Hills community, with a population of 4,130 at the time, ranked second in the state in per capita income. Johnson County, Kan., is respected as the most successful neighborhood of the metropolitan area.

The city of Shawnee was  named in honor of the Shawnee people, whose reserve in Kansas was located south of the Kansas River in a strip about 25 miles wide and extending 150 miles west from the Missouri border. Thomas Johnson suggested the name of Shawnee for the county in which he lived, however, the powers-that-be named his county Johnson, and the name Shawnee was given to the county where the state capital is located at Topeka.

The word Shawnee means “southerner.” The Shawnee Indians had been driven from their eastern homes by the Iroquois and the white man. Today, they live near the Grand Lake of the Cherokee in northeastern Oklahoma.

Lenexa was named for the Indian princess “Lenexa,” who was the wife of Blackhoof, a Shawnee chief. In recent years, Lenexa has called itself the “Spinach Capital” and commemorates the designation with an annual celebration. Their community has been around since 1859.

Merriam, Kan., was first known as Campbellton, for J.M. Campbell, one of its earliest residents. However, in 1881 when they applied for a post office, the name was changed to Merriam for the man who obtained the railroad line through town.

Downtown Overland Park, the largest city in Johnson County, is situated on a ridge 136 feet higher than the highest point in Kansas City. W.B. Strang, the man who built the interurban train line from Kansas City through Overland Park to Olathe (The Strang Line), got credit for naming the town that could look down on Kansas City. The town of Overland Park dates back to about 1910.

One of the younger communities in the area, Leawood, was named for Oscar G. Lee, a retired police officer, who was a big real estate investor in the neighborhood.

Prairie Village was named by the J.C. Nichols Co., the developers who also developed and named the Country Club Plaza. Prairie Village, with a population of 2,500 in 1951, grew rapidly to become the eighth-largest city in Kansas in just 20 years. Since 1971 however, the population has declined somewhat. The name Prairie Village was simply a descriptive choice by the developers.

Fairway is relatively young also. In 1938, J.C. Nichols bought 133 acres in eastern Johnson County and he planted hundreds of trees to beautify the new housing development. Nichols named the area Fairway, because of its proximity to the then existing golf clubs at Old Mission and Mission Hills.

Those who laid out the town of DeSoto in 1857 named it after the famous Spanish adventurer, Hernando De Soto.

The railroad station and nearby community of Stanley were named for Henry M. Stanley, the journalist who found the Scottish-born David Livingston, the great explorer-missionary in Africa (“Dr. Livingston I presume.”) I bet you didn’t know that.

Reference: “1001 Kansas Place Names” by Sondra Van Meter McCoy and Jan Hults.

Ted Stillwell also writes a similar column for the Leavenworth Times and has recently compiled some of those stories in a Leavenworth edition of “Portraits of the Past,” which is now available at The Examiner office, 410 S. Liberty St. in Independence and the Blue & Grey Book Shoppe at 106 E. Walnut St., south of the Independence Square.