Humboldt, Kansas, has a rich and interesting Civil War History. Follow the links below to learn more.
Civil War Days
Humboldt's Civil War Days is held triennially at Camp Hunter Park, featuring troop encampments, reenactments of the Raid and Burning of Humboldt, and the Court-Martial of Private Alexander Driscoll, member of Kansas 7th Volunteer Cavalry (Jayhawkers). Click here for information from the 2012 Civil War Days and photos from the 2009 event.
12-Site Civil War Tour
For a self-guided tour, you may pick up a brochure at City Hall, Terry's on the east side of the Humboldt square or Johnson's General Store on North 9th, or you can download one here: Civil War History Self-Guided Tour. If you would like a free guided tour, please call Eileen in advance (mid-May to mid-July) at 620-473-2325.
Bleeding Kansas conflicts with Missouri over slavery continued when Kansas entered the Union as a Free State in January 1861, and the Civil War erupted back East in April 1861. Later that year, on September 8, 1861, Humboldt was raided by Confederate Captains John Mathews and his friend Tom Livingston who led other white Confederate proslavers, southern sympathizing Indians, and Missouri Bushwhackers seeking fugitive slaves from Missouri who were hiding in Humboldt. According to three different newspaper accounts of that time, they were captured and returned to their slave owners in Missouri. Bitter over losing their pro-slavery cause in Kansas, the raiders also came to punish, harass, rob, and intimidate Free State Humboldt, a strong Union town.
This large, etched marble mural pictures stories of people and events, featured on the 12 individual markers around town, that depict the Civil War in Humboldt during the September Raid and October Burning in 1861.
Evidence points to Confederate Captain John Mathews, Agent among the Osage from Little Town (now Oswego), as instigator and leader of the September 8, 1861, raid. Hearing that Mathews had terrorized the vulnerable women of Humboldt while their husbands and sons were away fighting for the Union, General James Lane, leader of Kansas Union forces, assigned Colonel Blunt and 200 troops to hunt down Mathews. Mathews was found and killed near present-day Chetopa in late September, 1861. In retaliation for Mathews' death and for burning, plunder and killing in Osceola, Missouri, by Union General James Lane and his Kansas Jayhawks, 331 Missouri Home Guard Cavalry under Colonel Talbott, rode into Humboldt, late afternoon, October 14, 1861, and burned Humboldt, destroying most businesses and displacing forty families. Flames could be seen in Iola.
This marker, bearing a quote from Abraham Lincoln and directions on where to find tour brochures, is located to the right (west) of the large CIVIL WAR MONUMENT.
Colorful stories of suffering and courage during the Burning and the capture of fugitive slaves in Humboldt during the Raid are depicted at our 12 sites, graced by the marble etchings of Chanute artist, Bob Cross. We invite you to take a self-guided tour and relive Humboldt's Civil War history. To give you an idea of what you will see on Humboldt's 12-site Civil War tour, we offer here 5 of the 12 sites.
To proceed with this visual tour, click on the site number below the image. This will direct you to a larger image and a detailed description of the importance of the site.
Site 1 (Located in the city square, on the south side of Bridge Street near the corner of 9th Street, just west of the water tower)
It has been reported that on the day of the Burning a rifle barrel was seen poking out of an upstairs window at the Pilcher Hotel. The Pilcher Hotel stood across the street from this site at the northwest corner of 9th and Bridge. The Hotel was destroyed by Confederate burning October 14, 1861. Present building at same location has a turret similar to the original one on the Pilcher. No one knows who was holding that rifle when a shot rang out, killing a Confederate soldier. He had just begun to chop down a flag pole that held a Union flag. The flag continued to wave.
This site north of Bridge on 8th Street, tells the story of Abel Secrest, who, in the midst of Confederate attack on October 14, 1861, ran east on Bridge Street with his brace of mules. At about 8th Street he was ordered by a Confederate Private to halt; instead, he ran in a northerly direction, trying to save his mules. He was shot in the shoulder and found dying in the tall grass and timber three days later by Union Col. Orlin Thurston.
Facts about entrepreneur Col. Orlin Thurston: A 24-year-old attorney, Thurston arrived in Humboldt in the summer of 1857. After building a saw mill and a house on the Neosho River, he created Thurston's Ford north of the present Neosho Bridge. A non-Catholic, Thurston wanted to encourage Catholic settlers, passing through, to stay in Humboldt, so he invited Father Ponziglione of Osage Mission (now St. Paul) to his home to serve the first mass in Humboldt. Masses continued there until a gift of land from Thurston and collected money in 1866 made a stone church, St. Joseph Catholic Church, possible. Mass was offered in 1867, and the church was completed in 1868. That church was replaced in 1910 by the present St. Joseph, built just south of the original church. You are invited to view the interior (renovated 2001): elaborate moldings, exquisite stenciling, stained glass windows, and European High Altar detail. St. Joseph is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm at the northeast corner of 5th and Central, north of Bridge Street.
On 1st Street, this monument tells that fugitive slaves used the river, caves, and tunnels as a means of escape from slavery to freedom. Slaves captured in Humboldt during the raid were, we believe, from the Neosho/Seneca portion of Missouri, 5 to 15 miles from the Grand River in Indian (Oklahoma) Territory. At the Kansas border, the Grand becomes the Neosho River. During the severe drought of 1860, the Neosho River stopped running. Escaping slaves, seeking freedom in Humboldt could have walked the Neosho River by day and slept in caves on the east bank by night. Hand-dug tunnels leading west and south have been traced to a cabin that once stood behind the marker on 1st Street and to another, Aunt Polly's cabin (SITE NUMBER 9 on Sycamore between 1st and 2nd Streets). It has been suggested that these cabins were used by fugitive slaves running from Missouri.
After the Burning, Union officials determined that Humboldt needed protection against possible further Confederate attack, and Camp Hunter/Logtown was established at what is now Camp Hunter Park. Humboldt's Civil War Days is held triennially at Camp Hunter Park, featuring troop encampments, reenactments of the Raid and Burning of Humboldt, and the Court-Martial of Private Alexander Driscoll, member of Kansas 7th Volunteer Cavalry (Jayhawkers). Visit Humboldt Historical Museum at 2nd and Neosho. Open weekends between Memorial Day and the 2nd weekend in October or call for appointment: 620-473-5055. Ask about viewing the DVD: "Tracing Trails of Blood on Ice: Opothleyahola's Great Escape!"
Creek leader Opothleyahola courageously led 10,000 Indians and 600 Black slaves and freedmen from Confederate Indian Territory to freedom in Kansas in the most bitter winter on record 1861-62. Out of 7000 survivors, 1000 Indians and Blacks volunteered to form the 1st Volunteer Indian Home Guard Regiment. They marched 4 abreast from LeRoy to Camp Hunter, Humboldt. From here, they were sent to Baxter Springs for training before returning to Indian Territory to rescue kin still suffering harassment under Confederate control. Lincoln's papers contain reports of their valiant fighting in border wars against Confederates in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).
After the September 8, 1861, Confederate Raid, Captain George Miller of the Humboldt Home Guard, fearing the Rebels might return, wisely removed ammunition and supplies from O'Brien's Mill, where they were stored on the east bank of the Neosho River, and hid them in this German Evangelical Church. Miller knew rebels would not burn the church. On October 14, 1862, the Confederate torchers destroyed the mill and other businesses and displaced 40 families, but, fortunately, never found the ammunition or supplies.
We hope you visit Humboldt soon. See all 12 Civil War sites and more!