HISTORICAL SKETCH OF ST. JOSEPH’S PARISH AND THE AREA

The crowded living conditions, compulsory military training, higher taxes to keep men in arms and in some sections, religious restraints made many in Germany look for better living standards outside their homeland. Thus the glowing reports received from the New World as a land of unlimited prosperity and a land of religious freedom, made a strong impression on the minds of these German immigrants.
The first settlers of Ost came originally from Westphalia, from Baden and other places in Bavaria. A few families came from Switzerland. After weathering the storms for weeks, crossing the Atlantic, they went westward to become rooted in virgin soil in the States of Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. They had contacts there through relatives and friends. They lived there but a few short years. In the hopes of sharing in the prosperity and opportunities that lay west of the Mississippi River, where much land could still be homesteaded, they looked farm wise to the flat plains of Kansas. 

A wild country it was, to be tamed by the sweat of man’s brow. But what were hardships and toil compared to the farm to be gained and a family life to be established? So reasoned Frederick Ast, John Ast, George Erker, George Thiemmesch, Karl Schwaiger, Martin Leibel, Peter Bohr, Matt Bohr, Peter Marx, Sebastian Bugner, Nicholas May, John Cyskowsky and James Elworth the only Irishman in the group. 

The above named men found themselves and their families in the heart of Kansas in the spring of 1879 after a long and tiresome overland journey from the east. These sturdy men constituted a new settlement to be called Ast after the shortest name in the community . Through a blunder by an American post office official the name was changed to 1I0sh II So overnight, Ost, Kansas was born in the extreme south-east corner of Reno County, “to be as it were the thumb tack to hold down the county map. Strange as it may seem, this parish is scarcely known as Ost, but as St. Joe ll by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. 

The families were all poor, which explains partially, why they settled on the eastern fringe of the Red Jaw Valley. This valley, several miles wide, in which today sixty per cent of the members of the Ost congregation live, begins seven miles north-west of Ost and runs into Oklahoma as far south as Manchester. The families had hoped to settle on better land near Wichita,Garden Plain or St. Mark1s. But by spring of 1879 all the good land had already been homesteaded . 

The very first settlers did not venture into the valley itself. The later comers had to set up their dwellings further west. Those in this red valley learned to love the ever flowing Ninnescah River and went to the task to ti II the soil. They gathered together a few head of long horned Texas oxen, yoked them to old fashioned plows and turned the red soil I. This was indeed a humble beginning in comparison to the modern tractors and combines that now harvest the crops . In these seventy five years the valley has produced many excellent crops, especially the wheat crop of 1952. In the upper valley, oil was found in 1934 and again in the spring of 1955. Besides this earthly wealth, the valley has given to the Church the greater number of priestly and religious vocations now in the parish records.

Six thousand miles apart, and as early as the 1840s, events were happening that would eventually shape not only the lives of many people at that time, but would have resounding effects on the unsettled wilds of the New World and the lives of thousands today.

The events would expend, and then burst, with their fragments of explosion determining the A future of our very area, Kansas in the New World of America, and to be more explicit – Reno and Sedgwick Counties.

Across the seas, a reshaping of the German states, threat of war and draft, and religious restraint sent people scurrying for refuge in a new land. Here, the Indian tribes were signing away their freedoms through treaties with the United States government. Already the buffalo were slowly trekking farther and farther west, relinquishing their feeding grounds to the growing number of cattle drives.

OLD WORLD

The first wave of German immigrants came to this country from 1849 to 1853, as a result of the collapse of the new government, which was supposed to unify the German states and replace the rule of the aristocrats. The plan failed, and with it, the possibility of better living conditions for German citizens.

Although the unification was successful later under the Minister-President of Prussia, Bismarck, another mass exodus took place from 1862 to 1867. The impending and inevitable wars between Germany and Austria, and later, the Franco-Prussian War brought compulsory military training.

The third exodus from 1870 to 1873 was brought about by restraints being leveled mainly at German Catholics. The staunch Lutheran, Bismarck’s fear of the Pope’s control over the European Catholics as a whole, and priests being actively involved in the States-rights movement, exploded into almost total control over the ruling of the church, forcing priests into other countries. Catholic lay people saw the new world beckon without religious constraint.

After weeks on the storm tossed Atlantic Ocean, many of these German Catholics traveled westward across the United States to plant family roots in the virgin soils of Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Others stayed in the eastern areas, New York and New Jersey. Later, a quest for more freedom, a chance to build a new life in unforged territory, and the opening of the Great Plains states after the Civil War, challenged and enthralled the immigrants. They packed their belongings, and once again, moved on. Instead of the ships of the ocean, they used the ships of the plains, the prairie schooners.

NEW WORLDOst's position is marked with a dot, showing its location in the Osage Reserve, as designated in the Indian Treaty, 1825. (Map from Kansas --- the 34th Star, Pg. 9)

In the southern part of what was to become known as Kansas, several tribes of Indians, mainly Osages, Arapahoes and Cheyennes, made their homes, moving about the plains, following the buffalo herds.

The first treaty signed with the Osage Indians was made June 2, 1825, at St. Louis, and covered Reno County, a part of the Louisiana Purchase. The north boundary of the Osage Reservation passed through Sumner and Ninnescah Townships, approximately one mile north of Ost.  

Plat Book of Reno Co., Ks., Northwest Publishing, Minneapolis, Minn., 1902

Chiefs of both the Great and Little Osage tribes, the tribe divisions, were present and recognized by the U.S. Government. Lack of knowledge of the country terrain caused an error in the treaty, and as a result, the Osages received pay for some land claimed also by the Arapahoes and the Cheyennes. The Reno County area was part of the doubtful territory and was in essence, a neutral ground between the Osages and the other Indian tribes.

The two southern rows of sections of Reno County were included in the third land treaty signed with the Osages. On Sept. 29, 1865, the I. Plat Book of Reno Co., Ks., Northwest Publishing, Minneapolis, Minn., 1902 Indians relinquished this territory, known as the Osage Trust Lands for $300,000.

The 250 mile long area, began 15 miles east of Fredonia and extended to five miles south of Dodge City, and covered 20 miles from north to south.

The government was to resell the land, approximately 3.5 million acres, for $1.25 an acre, under the preemption law. “Under this law, the settler established residence and paid $50 cash with the balance due of $50 a year for three years, at three per cent interest, $1.25 an acre, or $200 per quarter. The money went to the Osage Indians. If the settler wanted a little more time to go back east to get his family or to raise the money, he could use what was called ‘squatter’s rights’. He could throw up a mound of dirt, put up a shingle on it with his name and date, and his intention to file on the land. He could hold the quarter for three months. Sometimes these rights were sold for a small sum. A man could use as many squatter’s rights as he wanted to, but he could file only one quarter section.,,2 2. When The Prairies Were New, Alfred B. Bradshaw, 1959, Printed and Published by Arthur J. Allen, Turon, Ks. 

When The Prairies Were New, Alfred B. Bradshaw, 1959, Printed and Published by Arthur J. Allen, Turon, Ks.

“After the purchase price had been paid by the sale of the land, with five per cent interest, the balance of the fund was to be placed in a fund called ‘The Civilization Fund” The1825 treaty, on twenty year terms, guaranteed the Indians, each year, 600 head of cattle, 600 hogs, 1000 domestic fowl, 10 yoke of oxen, six carts and whatever farming implements government officials thought were necessary to persuade them to settle down and take up farming. Blacksmiths and shops were also provided to repair the farm implements and tools. The government,however, had not anticipated the Indians reaction, and their life styles. More than sixty years elapsed before they seriously took up the farm life.2The Indians never really annoyed or bothered the settlers. In fact, many the settler who never saw an Indian here. There were occasional cattle raids or small groups of Osages that drifted through the county,mainly begging. Rumors caused several Indian scares, however, after the first settlers came. The biggest scare came in 1878, and caused quite a frenzy, sending people rushing to the east and more settled areas, for safety. Some returned to their homesteads, although many others decided to move back to the eastern part of the States,considering it more civilized.

NATURAL CHANGES

Most of the area from the Kansas limestone hills to the east and as far west as the Kansas Border was covered with buffalo grass, the mainstay of millions and millions of buffalo throughout time.Flowers dotted the grass in the spring and summer. As the buffalo later began moving farther west in the late ’70’s, the buffalo grass seemed to be overtaken by a type of bluestem grass.3 This grass, which often grew as tall as the back of a horse, came to be called “saddle back” bluestem by the settlers.4

The buffalo were being replaced with the cattle drives. Many of the settlers never saw a buffalo. Occasionally a stray, either too old or horned out from the herd, might wander down from the hills in other parts of the county.

Probably the last official recorded sighting of a buffalo was in 1872, near Hutchinson. An old, decrepit bull was killed in July, 1874, south of Hutchinson, and the possibility existed that it may have been the same one sighted two years earlier.5

However, unofficially, there were buffalo still skirting the area along the Ninnescah River, as late as 1877, when Sebastian Bugner came to settle. He refrained from hunting them too often,as he lived seven miles east of the river, and considered that quite a distance to drive with a team and wagon.6

According to 1874 Kansas State Board of Agriculture maps, 99 per cent of Sedgwick and Reno Counties was prairie, with the remaining one per cent trees. Accordingly, few trees greeted the earliest settlers in these areas. When some of the first settlers came to Ost in 1880, there were, only three or four trees between this vicinity and Wichita.7

There was one large stand of cottonwood timber found along the Arkansas River in northeastern Reno County. The trees measured eight feet in diameter and some fifty feet up to the nearest branches. The stand, several miles long, was the only timber available, and from 1872 to 1873, it had completely vanished, being used for building and heating. 5

The north fork of the Ninnescah River passed near the St. Joe · area, and its reputation of”Sweet Water” (which Ninnescah means), continual water and fine bottom lands along each side of the river caused it to be a splendid watering and fording stream for the cattle drives out of Texas. The stream, which heads in the eastern area of Stafford County, is principally fed from the western and northwestern part of Reno County. The early spelling of “Nenescah” was later changed to the present spelling. 1

John Chisholm’s cattle drives began in Texas in 1854. Chisholm originally traveled further east through Kansas, but as people began settling the eastern Kansas counties, the drives moved farther and farther west. His trail, laid out shortly after the Civil War, moved from Texas,crossed Reno County across the eastern part. After it became settled, homesteads and fences began appearing, so Chisholm entered the southeastern part of the county, (apparently west of St. Joe), and followed the Ninnescah River to about Sylvia, then directly north to meet the railroads for shipment to eastern states.2

Chisholm’s company broke the cattle drive record in 1872, by moving six thousand head of cattle in one herd over his trail from the Red River in Texas to Kansas, along the Ninnescah River. The animals left a trail a half mile wide,with tracks weaving back and forth, but as close together as the cattle could get and still walk. 3

With little plowed ground, early settlers found farming very uncertain. Prairie fires were common,and were not a sight likely to be soon forgotten.

The flames raced on, pushed by the forceful winds, fanned into low burning, or tall flames,depending on what type of grass was being devoured,until they came to a stream where they burned themselves out. Burned areas ten to fifteen miles across were not unusual, and prairie fires seemed to be an almost annual occurrence. Lightning started many of them, and later on,sparks from the “Iron Horse”, the coal fed steam engine trains, also took their toll.

The most destructive prairie fire took place in the fall of 1872. It began in the northern part of Kansas and crossed the entire state to the south. Swept along by terrifically high winds, the holocaust jumped rivers and streams by winds carrying fiery tumble weeds through the air to start new infernos on the opposite banks.

The fires were the most probable reason for there not being more trees in the vicinity. Between fires, it was almost impossible for a tree to grow big and strong enough to stave off the onslaught of the roaring menace.4

SETTLERS’ WOES

Reno County’s first crop of wheat was recorded in 1873, planted southeast of Hutchinson. In addition to the lack of passable roads and bridge spanned streams, the wheat had to be hauled nearly 100 miles to Cedar Point, where the nearest grist mills were located. In 1874, Hutchinson opened a mill to alleviate the expense and long distances of hauling and milling the grain.5

Many of those living east of Ost took their wheat to millers in Wichita. Sebastian Bugner,like many others, sacked his wheat in 100 pound heavy grain sacks, and when he was ready to sell,loaded his wagon and hitched up his team of mules when he was ready to go. An early start was necessary to make the Ten Mile corner south of Colwich by noon, where he stopped for dinner, then on to Wichita.

After unloading and reloading with flour and meal from the miller, he started home again. A nearly start assured him of getting home by evening. If for some reason he was delayed in the morning, it meant an overnight stay in the city.6 The railroads coming to Garden Plain and Andale eliminated the long slow trips.

Even though the buffalo had long disappeared,an abundance of smaller game, ducks, geese, rabbits,quail and prairie chickens helped the early residents replenish empty larders.75 Ibid