Voices of the Past & Present

T. J. McDermott "Seward County 1888 - 1894"

T. J. McDermott was an early Seward County resident, hotel operator, newspaper man and openly told of rigging elections. Before he died in the spring of 1932 he dictated the following story of early Seward County. It was published in the Southwest Tribune on December 3, 1931.


Mary Jane & T.J. McDermott    The Rock Island built into Liberal about 1888 and I came in on the first train that arrived. By that I do not mean the first passenger train, but the first train of any kind, a work and supply train. I lived there for many years and it still seems like home to me. At the time I am writing of later the county seat was at Springfield and there was a small settlement at Arkalon and still a few people at Fargo Springs. There were 882 people in the county and half of them were living in Liberal. We lived in the old Rock Island eating house, just where the present one is but a different building as the old one burned down several years ago. Some of the businessmen and companies were the Star Grocery Co., O.K. Dry Goods, Co., Chas. Summers store and the Ezra Boyle and the C.Y. Martin hardware stores. Many of you know that the son of C.Y. Martin was the later well known aviator, Glen Martin. We had no industries of any kind except the little building that wenton as the town developed.


Buying the “Liberal Lyre”


     Dr. H.V. Nichols, father of Ross and Schuyler Nichols, both later doctors at Liberal, and a very fine man, started a newspaper called the "Liberal Lyre." He ran this paper for some time but had too much doctoring to do to put much on it and told me one Sunday that he was going to stop issuing it and I thought that was too bad so I traded him a lot and a barn where the Star Lumber Company now is for the paper and all that went with it. I knew absolutely nothing about running a paper but that afternoon Doc and I drove to Arkalon and saw Will Stoufer, Abe's brother, who was a fine printer and newspaper man, and I hired him for $10.00 per week to come over and run the newspaper. In the first issue I told the public that I knew nothing about the business and asked for suggestions and advice. I got a lot, but the best of all came from old Bobby Davies from over on the river near Arkalon. He said, ''Mack, I am glad you bought up this paper. Doc Nichols is too smart a man to all away his time trying to run a weekly newspaper. He knows too much about medicine and other things. What we want is news about our friends and neighbors. We don't care anything about international politics and diplomacy but we do want to know who comes to town and who ships cattle and what kind of market they struck and who has a new baby and who goes on a trip and so forth.

     After that I tried to do just that. I would snoop around town and talk to everybody I saw and ask a lot of questions and put all I heard in the paper. We were running the hotel and most of the ranch people came there so I had a good chance to get them going and coming. People seemed to like the paper and gave it good support in the way of subscriptions, but I couldn't get any ads at first, and everybody knows that you can't run a newspaper without ads, so I went to all the businessmen and tried to get them to advertise but they all said it wasn't any use, everyone in the country knew what they had to sell anyway, etc,, so l said, "Well, I'd like to have you folks take the space but if you don't I will have to get it outside of town," and they were much surprised and asked who in the world would advertise in a small town paper like that and I said the mail order houses would take all the space I could give them and they all said well that was different and they tried to support the advertising side of the paper from then on, all but Ezra Boyle.


Merchant Becomes Advertiser


     He wouldn't put in a line. He had a hardware store where the Independent hardware store now is. One week a farmer from up in the northwest part of the county, in the "Squire Hill'' district, bought a nice new spring wagon from Boyle. I gave the farmer a big write up: told of his farm, what he raised, etc., and congratulated him on being able to buy such a nice wagon, described it and told how he was planning on using it for a lot of things, but I didn't say a word about where he got it. Boyle came to me and said, "You told so much about the deal. Why didn't you say where he got the wagon?" and I said, "Oh, that would be advertising!'' Boyle saw the point and after that he always had an ad in. We got a few ranch ads, some ''for sales," lost and found, etc., and got along. When the paper didn't pay expenses the hotel had to make it up.

     We had an old foot power job press and worked up quite a business along that line. We printed letterheads, sale bills and anything we could get to do. At that time the Springfield paper had all the county printing and we didn't think that fair so we tried to get our share but found they were doing it for half price to get it and we made the county commissioners let us have our share and divide the money. We didn't have enough type to print the tax lists and some other things that came up along that line so fixed it so that the Springfield paper set up the type and issued their paper on Thursday and then sent us the "set ups'' and we would print it Friday of the same week. That meant that someone had to drive 42 miles up there (and back) each week, to get the type back and forth. This was just one of the things we did in the early days to help each other out.


Liberal Declared County Seat


     In the campaign year of 1892 and we got lots of ads for candidates, etc. We had an old Washington hand press for the paper. Sam Dunn ran for sheriff that year and we wanted to see him elected. Business was improving and the country was filling up rapidly. Liberal was trying to get the county seat away from Springfield, in 1894, and there was a lot of competition and some bitterness about it. Arkalon was supposed to be neutral. We had a man from Liberal go over and quietly send word around to the Arkalon people that if Liberal got the county seat we would move them and their houses and businesses over to Liberal, give them lots to put the houses on and support the different firms. Of course we couldn't coerce votes but this was just good business and the Arkalon folks saw what it meant to them and voted for Liberal.

     Springfield claimed the election to move the county seat wasn't legal and didn't vote. Some of the men around Liberal, not the old residents but transient people who had a vote, said they didn't care where the county seat was and would vote where they could get the most money but we stood them off and that day I drove to Springfield and when I found that Springfield wasn't voting I drove back to Liberal as fast as I could and told our men not to buy any votes as we wouldn't need them. We got the county seat by a big majority and the judge decided that the election was fair.

     At this same election we were particularly interested in the sheriff and as the vote was rather close we got railroad men that really lived in Pratt, the other end of the division, to vote for our side. As the polls didn't open till 7 and closed at six they couldn't be there so we paid them for a lost day and they all laid off. Late in the afternoon one of them came to me and said that a man on the other side had challenged his vote and that he didn't care to swear his vote in. We had made out tickets for all these men to vote as they didn't know the candidates and we didn't then have the present system of voting. I told him to go back uptown and get into conversation with this man and tell him he didn't care how the election went anyway and he did and the man who challenged his vote gave him another ticket and withdrew his challenge, and he went ahead and voted, but he came right down to me and gave me the ticket the man had made out for him! He had voted for us after all. Well, politics don't change much. All our men were elected.

     About this time one day I saw a cattleman who always stopped with us uptown and he apologized to me for not stopping at our house but said he had no money and didn't want to ask for credit. I told him he didn't need any money to stop with us and as a matter of fact we didn't even keep tab on a lot of our regular customers who came and went as they pleased. They always kept their own accounts and usually owed us more than we had down so we just let them attend to it. Most of the cow men paid their bills twice a year. We never lost an account in those days.


Sheriff Dunn is Killed


Theodosius BotkinTheodosius Botkin     In 1894 Roy Guymon ran for sheriff and was elected but the election was contested and wasn't decided till the Saturday before New Years. There was court on at Springfield and a big crowd there. Judge Theodosius Botkin was in bad with the Stevens county crowd over some decision over there and the opponents of Guymon joined with them in some ways. On this Saturday the judge left court and drove to his home south of town, the road going along the head of the canyons that lead up from the Cimarron river. When he got home he found a note in his pocket that when he went back to court Monday morning he would be shot and killed at a certain place along this road and they said if his wife was with him to watch for a package in the road and let his wife get out to get it so she wouldn't be killed. Judge Botkin worked all day Sunday getting his friends organized to protect him and about four o'clock Monday morning Sam Dunn, Roy Guymon, Sid Nixon, George Cline, Joe Larrabee and his father, and Bill Custer went to this place and hid in the draws. The land in places dropped off from six to thirty feet. After waiting a long time and looking for the enemy they about decided that the whole thing was a hoax and were just going to give it up and go back to Springfield when Sid Nixon saw what he claimed was ''sixty men'' with guns and gave the alarm. Sam Dunn challenged them by calling out, ''Who are you and what do you wanting They answered with the call, ''Who are you'' and Dunn said, "I am the sheriff and demand peace." They replied with two shots, and Dunn was killed and fell to the canyon below. From the examination later, he must have received both shots for one entered one side of his body and the other on the other side. After he fell there Was another shot from above and this shot entered the body at the knee and went up through the body to the chest, as he had fallen head down.

Sheriff Samuel Dunn     The judge was at his home a mile away and saw the battle from the top of the windmill tower, it now being daylight. Joe Larrabee ran to the top of the canyon and called out, ''You have killed one man and we want you to surrender." The leader of the gang asked who he was and he answered giving his name. They told him to throw down his gun and go home. He did so, turning to the right and someone called out, "Oh, Bi, tell Joe to turn left and avoid the other wing of the party." This was the only name used and later it was used in trying to convict one man of this name, known to be on that side, but no conviction was made.


Mystery is Never Solved


     Joe Larrabee went to Springfield and gave the alarm and everyone in town armed himself and went out to the scene of battle but no one was found. Someone saw a large party of men go from the Fargo school house north and turn west at the Springfield school house but they never were caught, and the mystery of who the gang was is still unsolved. Roy Guymon had fallen and sprained his ankle during the shooting and he lay in the tall grass for two hours before he was found, and it was thought he was killed also. Botkin, thinking a mob was trying to do great harm, rode a horse to Arkalon and wired the governor for troops and two companies were sent the next day. Colonel Roberts and Colonel Ricks were in charge and most of the ''soldiers'' were clerks, salesmen, etc. They had a few newspaper men along and published two papers, one called the ''Camp Roberts Guard'' and the other the "Camp Ricks Guard'' and one was published in the Springfield paper office and one in ours. They spoke of the affair as the "bloody war in Seward county, in which not a shot was fired.''

     When the word came to Liberal that the two men were killed I at once planned to go but my wife wouldn't let me go alone, so I got a team from Bill Lampe and we drove to Springfield. I remember that the team was a couple of broncs and it took two men to hold them till we got in the buggy and then they ran till we got to the sand hills north of town. We made it in two hours, which was a record at that time. When we got there they organized a coroner's jury and I was made foreman. Joe Larrabee was the best witness I had. Many were so excited they couldn't remember much of what happened but he was perfectly calm and could tell us the details clearly. The whole thing was the outgrowth of the old Stevens county seat war and the killing of Sam Woods, a prominent lawyer.

     After the moving of the county seat to Liberal and the moving of the Arkalon people over, we had two newspapers, Abe Stouffer's Arkalon (later Liberal) News and our "Lyre" and as there wasn't room for two papers I sold out to Stoufer and so ended my experience as an editor and publisher and also the death of ''Lyre'' at the same time.

About Seward County Historical Society

The Seward County Historical Society provides historic and entertainment opportunities for the local, regional and international visitors to Southwest Kansas. From Dorothy's House to traveling exhibits and a repository of local history from the Spanish exploration of Coronado to current events, SCHS provides a venue and a committed group of staff and volunteers to insure local history is preserved and to reinforce the belief that Kansas truly is a place over the rainbow.

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The Seward County Historical Society provides historic and entertainment opportunities for the local, regional and international visitors to Southwest Kansas. From Dorothy's House to traveling exhibits and a repository of local history from the Spanish exploration of Coronado to current events, SCHS provides a venue and a committed group of staff and volunteers to insure local history is preserved and to reinforce the belief that Kansas truly is a place over the rainbow.

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