The battleship U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana harbor a hundred Februarys ago. We might remember the Maine, but the details of that exotic war, both international and local, have been forgotten. Yet it was a matter of great importance and excitement for Franklin Countians at the time. This is the first in a series of five stories focusing on the Spanish-American War and its local impact.
In 1898, Ottawa had a five-year old courthouse, water mains being extended as far as the university, and a Commercial Club of 40 leading citizens trying to get the area moving industrially. John Nelson was building a 3-story store building along west Second Street and Walnut, and in a very few years he would sell out his line of buggies and harness and begin selling automobiles. J.W. Scott built a stone house for H.A. Dunn on the northeast corner of Sixth and Cedar for $4,280. Residents began to hope that the long-promised “day current”—that is, electricity made available during daylight hours and not just at night—was coming soon.
American society as a whole had endured a decade of social unrest, political upheaval and economic uncertainty. The rise of Populism—an alliance of farmers and laborers—shook Kansas government to the core and had national impact as well. More than a thousand bloody labor strikes had occurred in 1893 along. To top everything off, the financial panic of 1893 drove many into bankruptcy and shattered economic confidence.
The possibility of a military expedition to Cuba to avenge the destruction of the battleship Maine united the county and the country in a patriotic frenzy. A recruiting office was set up in Ottawa to provide a unit of National Guard troops to join the fray. Frederick Funston of Iola went from private citizen to major general in three months. Capt. Edmund Boltwood of Ottawa, a Civil War veteran and organizer of boys’ militia companies in the intervening years, knew that this would be his last chance to take up arms in earnest. Readers of the 1939 novel “Mrs. Pennington” get a clear picture of the old soldier who is “Mr. Pennington” in that story—a natural warrior uncomfortable in peacetime Kansas.
Other real Civil War and Wild West personalities volunteered to serve in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Robert E. Lee’s nephew, Fitzhugh Lee, was one. The aging Buffalo Bill Cody and the reformed outlaw Frank James wanted to fight. Frank thought his experience with guerrilla warfare on the Kansas-Missouri border would serve the United States well in the jungles. President McKinley got a million answers to this call for 125,000 volunteers, and every house and store danced with red, white and blue bunting.
When the local boys gathered at the new courthouse to depart for Leavenworth, Topeka and eventually San Francisco, the George H. Thomas Post #18 of the Grand Army of the Republic lined the sidewalk and marched as an honor guard to the Missouri Pacific depot to send the recruits off in style. These enthusiastic old veterans were thrilled to experience another military expedition, if only vicariously.
This group of young men gathers in front of the Franklin County Courthouse to hear Judge A.W. Benson send them off to fight in the Spanish-American War on May 2, 1898. Flanking them on both sides are the Grand Army of the Republic—the Union Civil War veterans—who escorted them north on Main to the Missouri Pacific train depot. The youths were transported first to Osawatomie, then Topeka, San Francisco and then over overseas to the Philippine Islands.
Franklin County’s Youth Sign Up to Fight
It is often said that Kansas contributed more men per capita to the Union army during the Civil War than any other state. This fervor is understandable since the territory’s pioneers had “crossed the prairies as of old their fathers crossed the sea, to make the West, as they the East, the homestead of the free.” That “wall of men on Freedom’s southern line” was happy to continue the fight further east. The returning soldiers settled into peacetime pursuits, resolved that “the party that saved the Union”—i.e. the Republican Party—should rule it. So Republican politics and the Grand Army of the Republic veterans’ organization dominated public affairs.
Their sons, coming of age in the 1890s, yearned for an equivalent adventure. The supposed depredations of the creaking old Spanish empire provided an excuse to break out mothballed Springfield rifles and allowed for world travel, to boot.
From the announcement of the U.S.S. Maine explosion, patriotic excitement grew. Talk revolved around the formation of local National Guard units to answer President McKinley’s call for volunteers. One newspaper article announced local coal and ice man B.D. Bennett’s recent order of uniforms sufficient to outfit a colored company. No more is known of that venture, but African-American units such as the famed Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th and 11th U.S. Cavalry saw much action in the Philippines.
The newspapers ran lists of volunteers weekly, sometimes daily, until a company of 100 men was gathered. Endless speculation about the nature of their service—would it be overseas?—filled columns.
Units of the 20th were recruited as follows: Company A in Shawnee County, B in Wyandotte, C in Leavenworth, D in Crawford, E in Anderson, Coffey and Woodson, F in Bourbon, G in Wilson and Montgomery, H in Douglas, I in Miami, Bourbon and Shawnee, K in Franklin and Linn, L in Geary and Dickinson, M in Salina, Ottawa and McPherson counties.
Sgt. Irwin Todd wrote a series of letters back home to his fiancée, Ethel Tucker, and they were discovered several years ago, hidden in the wall of an attic, by Walter Preston. Todd gives amusing reports of his sea voyage. “Sea sickness so bad I had to tie knots in the toes of my socks to keep from spitting them up.” He admired the Hawaiian Islands: “Hired a wheel (bicycle) and rode across the island yesterday to take in the scenery. The Rocky Mts does not begin to compare to it.” The last stage of his journey was memorable: “No rough sea to amount to anything until the China Sea. Then we had it pretty rough until yesterday. We struck a monsoon and the waves were twice as high as the ship. When we were on top of the waves we could see for miles and when we went down all we could see was mountains of water all around us.” He described the food on board ship as a mixture of everything—potatoes, cabbage, carrots, rutabagas, onions and garlic all mixed together as soup. “Mighty poor stuff to live on,” he declared. His fighting fare in the Islands was heartier than the shipboard stuff: “We had tea, bread, gravy, roast mutton, fried potatoes and fried onions.”
Todd schemed endlessly to bring Ethel over to the Philippines, hinting that some grand plan would bring her as well as the girlfriends of soldiers Basel, Steele and Alderman. He planned to hunt for gold, coal and copper when released from duty. However, when the troopships returned to the mainland, Todd was aboard.
Willie Perdue, a soldier in the Philippines, shows off his uniform. The portrait was taken at a Manila photo studio.
‘Jayhawks in the Jungles’ an impressive crew
“Everybody, soldiers and all, call us the fighting 20th, and we sure are, too. Everything moves when we go after it. They have a good reason to call us that, and our company is the fighting company of the regiment.”—from a letter by Irwin Todd on duty in the Philippines to Ethel Tucker, Ottawa, dated Dec. 14, 1898.
Hand to hand fighting, swimming rivers under fire and other hazardous feats were part of the 30 engagements in which the 20th Kansas Volunteers lost more men than any other regiment engaged in the Spanish-American War.
Sent without uniforms to Camp Merritt, Calif., ridiculed as “green” by the San Francisco newspapers, the regiment was lionized upon its return. Upon his triumphal arrival on the mainland, Brig. Gen. Funston was presented a jeweled gold and silver sword engraved with his famous reply to an inquiry from Gen. Arthur McArthur, asking if his troops could hold a line. “I can hold the line until my regiment is mustered out.”
At the battle of Caloocan, Feb. 7, 1899, the 20th Kansas was advancing through the jungles toward the fortified town. The enemy’s left wing was diverted by Lt. Ball and 100 men. One of the men of the 20th shouted “Kansas Day!” and the cheer echoed down the line. Soon the Filipino insurgents heard a shout more familiar around these parts:
“Ro-c-k Ch-a-a-l-k! Ja-a-y Ha-a-w-k! Ka-a-a U-u-u-u!” Lt. Alford, formerly a student at Kansas University, was fatally wounded in the charge.
After the battle of Caloocan, Gen. Harrison Gray Otis, commander of all the armies in the Philippines, sent word to Gen. Arthur McArthur, commander of the division which included the 20th Kansas, that an advance was too rapid for safety and strategic reasons. He ordered a halt. MacArthur replied, “I’ll stop if I can catch those crazy Kansans.” They were a mile ahead of all the other regiments. MacArthur declared the 20th Kansas to be the backbone of his division and nominated 10 of its men for the Congressional Medal of Honor. Forty-five years later, his son, Douglas MacArthur, would also command U.S. troops in the Philippine Islands.
A scene from the battle of Caloocan, Philippines, re-enacted by Company K of the 20th Kansas, in Forest Park in 1899.
While the nation had rallied enthusiastically against the Spanish in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Manila Bay, the actual “Spanish-American War” was over and the treaty signed before the 20th Kansas reached the Philippines.
While the United States and Spain had fought for imperial control of the Philippines in 1898, a group of native freedom fighters also was making a bid for control. Its leader, Aguinaldo, had received U.S. support against the Spanish previously, but then found himself facing U.S. troops in a power struggle. Home-front support for this form of U.S. aggression was by no means universal. Famous Americans such as Mark Twain, Jane Addams and former president Benjamin Harrison railed against it. Andrew Carnegie said, “Our young men volunteered to fight the oppressor. I shall be surprised if they relish the work of shooting down the oppressed.” Yet the fighting with the rebels continued for three more years.
The Flower Parade Welcomes the Heroes Home
Newspaper reports of the parade that welcomed the men of Company K of the 20th Kansas back home say that Franklin County, to a man, turned out for the event. Crowd estimates were made at 20,000. No doubt it was something to see.
Committees had been planning a mammoth parade for months. It would feature a queen and ladies in waiting. Ottawa was to provide the queen and the surrounding towns the attendants. General Funston and Col. Metcalf were among the invited guests—300 in number—that were served dinner in the dining hall at the Chautauqua grounds at Forest Park. One hundred chickens and six turkeys went into the preparations for the dinner.
At 2 p.m. on November 3, 1899, the flower parade began, with floats covered in blossoms, a queen and her attendants, prizes for the best decorated floats and bands galore.
After the parade, Ottawa University played the University of Kansas at football, losing to the Jayhawks, 29-0. Sports historians will note that 1899 was the second year of Kansas basketball. Its inventor, James Naismith, made annual summer trips to Ottawa to run the boys’ division at the Chautauquas. That evening the town trooped to the Rohrbaugh Opera House to hear a concert by the Twentieth Kansas band, which was greeted with fine applause.
Plans for the homecoming had begun with a quartet of men: M.B. Cohn, H.L.T. Skinner, S.W. Abernathy and Bert Miller. They soon created a committee of women who undertook the real effort of organizing the event. It was decided that votes for the queen would cost 5 cents, with the accumulated money going to finance the parade and dinner.
Among the first entrants in the decorated floats category were H.J. Smith, A.P. Elder, George Pierson, George Washburn, Dr. Herr, Mrs. J.P. Harris, Chase Brown and Miss Julia Walsh.
The first queen contestants were Florence Mantz, Carrie Lucas, Julia Walsh, and Ollie Lowe. Many, many women received votes: Ottawa (“Otie”) Pickerell, Laura Hyde, Alice Boltwood, Louise Sharpe, Belle Brockway, Ilo Harris, Flora Walker, Inez Wightman, Jo Broderick, Delia Broderick, and Pearl Priest. Votes were withheld until the last minute, and when the final tabulations were made at the Kaiser Palace Pharmacy, it was determined that Inez Wightman was the queen, receiving 1,292 of the 2, 070 votes.
Inez Wightman, queen of the flower parade, and her boss at Underwood & Underwood stereocard company, John Boardman.
The following ladies were the attendants: Nellie Krous of Princeton, Addie Sloan of Wellsville, Hattie Heron of Williamsburg, Margaret Amos of Baldwin, Florence Ankeny of Pomona, Edna Smith of Melvern, Minnie Wright of Lane, Jessie Thayer of Osawatomie, Hattie Allison of Quenemo, Alice Engleman of waverly, Adena Newel of Lyndon and Laura Maxwell of Richmond.
Because the parade was in November, paper flowers had to be made, by the thousands. The Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, California, had just begun a few years previously, and the idea of flower-covered floats had penetrated to rural Kansas. They covered 40 decorated vehicles which paraded down Main Street, nineteen bicycles, three floats—one designed and built by the business department at Ottawa University, one by Ottawa University and one by the Santa Fe car shops. Sixteen equestrians rode decorated horses. The entire town was decorated, and the gaslights were left burning in the courthouse so that it would be lit up on the previous evening when the soldiers returned.
The parade was led by the Twentieth Kansas band; then came the Grand Army of the Republic, 300 strong; the Lyndon band; Co E of the Kansas National Guard; officers in carriages; Company K; Lemon’s junior band; a living flag of 300 girls; the mayor and city council in carriages; Lemon’s First Regiment band and the fire department brought up the rear. The line of march was from the depot to Main Street, south to Fifth, west to Locust, north to Second, east to Hickory, and south to the Rohrbaugh. At the Opera House Judge Benson formally welcomed the soldiers, and Capt. Boltwood responded. After the service at the Rohrbaugh, a line was formed and everyone marched to Forest Park to dedicate the gates. A banquet was held in the dining hall. Another banquet honored the maids of honor at the Centennial hotel, an establishment (located on the site of the old City Hall) which was famous for the quality of its food.
The queen’s float was completely covered in pink and white (paper) chrysanthemums and drawn by six black horses bearing white harness. At the head of each horse walked a man in a white uniform. Queen Inez was dressed in white organdy. Years later she described a temporary problem when the float was brought out of the lumberyard where it had been built. The queen’s throne was too high to get past the lumberyard gate, which had an arch over it. A bit of last minute hammering and sawing fixed the problem, and the float was able to join the flower parade.
Re-enactments of battles are all the rage nowadays, but it seems they were done a hundred years ago, too. The local boys were eager to pose for photographer “Dad” Martin as they had fought in the Philippines. The battle scenes shot by Martin look very authentic, except the vegetation, which looks very familiar and non-tropical. The sham battle took place in Forest Park.
The flower parade was fondly remembered 50 years afterward as Franklin County’s finest hour.
Despite Floods, the Eagle Still Flies
Before flood control work redesigned the bed of the Marais des Cygnes River as it winds through town, Tecumseh Street intersected with North Locust at a right angle. At that intersection ws the entrance to Forest Park, once the largest residential Chautauqua grounds in the Midwest, with 30 permanent buildings; home of the Franklin County Fair and racetrack; and renowned tourist attraction for its old-growth walnut and elm trees.
The original gates to Forest Park were wood, but when the 20th Kansas approached home in 1899, the idea was hatched to raise money to erect new stone gates for the park to commemorate the bravery of the local soldiers.
Fund-raising was begun, and its levels charted in the newspapers like United Way figures are followed now.
George Washburn’s architectural office undertook the design of the gates, and family tradition has it that this project was the first one which George assigned to his son, Clarence. Matt Dumont was the mason. Dumont, the apprentice and son-in-law of Simon Reedy, the sculptor of the capitals on the courthouse, decorated his house at 901 N. main with many stone-carved details which still exhibit his skill.
The plans called for seven pillers of rock-cut Carthage limestone, which had been hauled for free by the Missouri Pacific Railroad from that town. Four were to be topped with cast-iron planters, one with a lantern, and one with an eagle alighting upon a pyramid of cannonballs. The needed $1,800 was duly raised, the gates erected, and a dedication was held on Nov. 3, 1899, the same day as the flower parade that welcomed the heroes home.
Ottawa had suffered from flooding on the Marais des Cygnes since its founding. Major floods had threatened the Chautauquas and required boat travel between north and south Ottawa countless times, sometimes more than once a year. Photos of boats loading refugees out of the second-story windows of the Santa Fe depot attest to the disruptive power of these inundations.
Flood control had been talked about for 50 years, but the flood of 1951 prompted action, and the federal government responded with funding to build Lake Pomona and alter the river channel through town. Floodgates to seal off the business district were planned.
A new viaduct or bridge across the river demanded changes to Forest Park. Federal engineers announced grimly that the old gates would have to go. When the idea of moving the memorial gates was broached, the news reached to Burlington, Iowa, where Clarence Moody, former Ottawan and retired editor of the Burlington Hawkeye, kept up on Ottawa affairs.
“And so they’re going to destroy the historic gateway at the Tecumseh Street entrance to Forest Park!” railed Moody. “Well, if anybody reports seeing a ghost parading up and down before those sturdy stone pillars that have stood there nearly 70 years, it will be that of Capt. Edmund Boltwood.”
Moody recalled an instance in 1914 when Major General Frederick Funston passed through Ottawa on his way to his boyhood home of Iola and was waiting for the train in the little restaurant that used to stand directly south of the depot on Tecumseh.
Funston, the hero of both the Philippine insurrection and the commander in charge of the military effort to control San Francisco after the Great Earthquake of 1906, was irascible as usual, but inquired solicitously of “Cap” Boltwood and asked to extend greetings to the old fighter.
Boltwood, no stranger to hot temper himself, swore that “Funston need not send me any of his greeting.” The story was that Funston and Boltwood had exchanged harsh words on the ship coming home from the Philippines, with Funston threatening to relieve Boltwood of command of the 20th. Boltwood hadn’t softened over the feud 15 years later.
Moody mused that a modern day reporter, given the opportunity to interview Boltwood’s ghost, would still be restrained from printing the old warrior’s profanity.
The park entrance was redesigned and the gates were rebuilt and re-dedicated on October 31, 1971, through the generosity of the Local 18, K.C. Kansas Bricklayers and Stone Masons Union.
News stories from 1899 had reported that while the ornamental eagle was being set in place on its piller a real bald eagle had hovered overhead. Skeptics in 1966 thought that sounded fishy. But the metal eagle survived floods, theft and temporary storage (1966-71) to watch over Forest Park as an enduring reminder of the boys who marched off so eagerly to the Philippine adventure in 1898.
The Forest Park gates looking north toward the Locust Street bridge. Etta Semple’s sanitarium is visible to the right of the bridge, through the trees. The bridge—and the connection between Tecumseh and N. Locust—were lost when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the flood control dike to prevent the constant flooding of the downtown by the Marais des Cygnes.