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Medicine Lodge, Kansas, the seat of Barber County, is a trim little town, spreading out comfortably on a hillside overlooking the Medicine River and its timbered valley. Low brick buildings line the broad main street and spreading trees shade modest frame houses in the residential section.


Expanding gradually from Main Street, the thoroughfare upon which the town's first log houses were built in the early 1870's, Medicine Lodge has grown with the surrounding country, adding new blocks and new streets as more space was needed with little thought of a definite city plan. Its streets jog and turn and oftentimes end blindly, and those on the outskirts meet the open farmland suddenly.

Medicine Lodge, a country town with a rural serenity about it and a trading center for farmers in the river valley, has a certain importance as a shipping point for the vast wheat and cattle country to the south and west. Its one industrial touch is the gypsum mill where gypsum rock, mined in the hills that extend north and south on the west side of the town site, is made into cement and a fine grade of plaster used for making molds and wall decorations. The mill furnished much of the plaster used in Federal buildings in Washington, D. C.

Once each five years, Medicine Lodge presents a Peace Treaty Pageant commemorating the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty negotiated by U. S. Government representatives and the chiefs of five plains tribes in October 1867. The first pageant was held in 1927 on the sixtieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty and others have been held at five-year intervals since that date.

The pageant, sponsored by the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Association, reenacts the signing of the treaty and hundreds of Medicine Lodge residents and Indians from Oklahoma reservations participate. It is held in a natural amphitheater in Memorial Peace Park, on the eastern limits of Medicine Lodge. Widely advertised, it is attended by thousands of persons from Kansas and neighboring States.

For years before the settlers arrived Indians in the region believed the spot to be under the protection of the Great Spirit. Prairie fires, which periodically destroyed tree growth along the western rivers, had passed around the region making it seem that the waters of the Medicine River possessed a magic power to protect the green woodland clinging to its margin.

Representatives of all tribes in the Southwest met in peace at a little medicine lodge which is said to have stood on the river bank near the present town site. Here they fasted and prayed and bathed in the curative waters of the sacred river so that their bodily ills might be healed.

When settlement of the Territory was brought almost to a standstill by constant Indian wars in the 1860's, representatives of the Federal Government made plans for a great peace council between the Indians and the white men. Scouts, soldiers, settlers, and gold seekers were enlisted to carry word to tribes that Government representatives desired to meet them and negotiate a treaty of peace at a place of their own choosing.

Image Indian lodge at Medicine Creek, Kansas illustration by Howland, J. Courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society.

After months of tribal councils and powwows the tribes chose the site of their medicine lodge on the banks of the wooded river. Two factors influenced their choice. They believed that near their ancient sanctuary the Great Spirit would watch over all that took place. The spot, too, was miles from the white man's civilization and here, in their own country, they believed there was less danger of treachery on the part of the white men. Plans were completed for the meeting in the early fall of 1867 and in October of that year at the present site of Medicine Lodge 15,000 Indians met with 600 Government representatives in what is said to be the largest gathering of Indians and whites in the history of the United States.

The commissioners, whose duty it was to negotiate the treaty with the chiefs of the five plains tribes (Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho, Apache, and Cheyenne), were all men of prominence in war and Government affairs. N. G. Taylor, orator and scholar, was president of the commission. Gen. W. T. Sherman, Civil War hero, and S. J. Crawford, Governor of Kansas, were there as advisers. Others who played important parts were Col. A. G. Boone, grandson of Daniel Boone, Col. Edward W. Wynkoop, agent of the Arapaho and the Cheyenne, respected by the whites and possessing the trust and confidence of the Indians, Col. James H. Leavenworth, agent of the Kiowa and the Comanche, Kit Carson and William Mathewson, Indian fighters and scouts, and Jesse Chisholm, for whom the Chisholm Cattle Trail was named. Henry M. Stanley, later known for his explorations in Africa and his search for David Livingstone, covered the event for the New York Tribune.

Towering above all the Indians in native intellect, and bearing a remarkable resemblance to Andrew Jackson, was Little Raven, orator and chief of the Arapaho. A. A. Taylor, later Governor of Tennessee, attended the council as a secretary. In an account of the event published in the early 1900's he said: "Little Raven's speech before the commission on the question of damages ... his reference to the ill treatment the Indians had received from the whites was scathing, and his plea for protection and better treatment in the future was the most touching piece of impassioned oratory to which I have listened before or since."

Of no less importance to the gathering were Satanta, chief of the Kiowa; Young Bear, Iron Mountain, and Painted Lips of the Comanche; Wolf Sleeve, Iron Shirt, and Crow of the Apache; and Black Kettle, Bull Bear, and Slim Face of the Cheyenne.

Council meetings were held in a large tent near the river bank. Commissioners and Indian chiefs sat on camp stools in a circle and secretaries wrote on large packing boxes. Thus after three years of constant warfare, Indians and whites met peaceably, exchanging words instead of blows and concluding arguments with mutual concessions. Each chief spoke before the council and the grievances and claims of each tribe were settled individually. At the end of the two weeks' negotiations the treaty was signed. It fixed the southern boundary of Kansas and stipulated that south of that line should be Indian Territory "as long as grass grows and waters run." It ended a war of three years' duration, thus clearing the way for white settlement of the entire southwest. As a result of the treaty the populations of Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Arizona were augmented, making it indirectly responsible for the entrance of those States into the Union.

White men are known to have settled in the region shortly after the signing of the treaty, but it was not until 1873 that John Hutchinson and a party of men laid out the town of Medicine Lodge on a 4OO-acre site on the river bank. The town's first public buildings were a hotel and a store, surrounded by a cluster of log houses. In 1874, known as the "grasshopper year," swarms of insects destroyed the corn and vegetables that would have sustained the new settlers during the next winter. Experiencing its share of business failures and hardships brought about by droughts, floods, and blizzards, the town continued to grow slowly and, without the stimulus of a boom period, overcame the effects of each disaster.

In 1884 Medicine Lodge was a straggling country town without a railroad, and the cattle business was its chief source of income. The community boasted only one outstanding institution, the Medicine Valley Bank of which E. Wylie Payne was president and George Geppert was cashier. On May 1, 1884 four men rode into town and attempted to hold up the bank. They killed Geppert, mortally wounded Payne, and fled south, with a posse of townsmen hastily organized by Barney O'Connor, a prominent cattleman, in pursuit.

Aided by a group of cowboys the posse surrounded the bandits in a narrow canyon in the Gypsum Hills southwest of town. Trails leading out of the canyon were barred by riflemen, who covered an unarmed member of the posse sent into the canyon to demand their surrender. Realizing that they were trapped, the four men walked out with upraised hands and were placed in a small frame house which served as a jail.

Payne died shortly after nightfall. When word of his death passed through the crowd, the rumbling of voices in the streets was punctuated with cries of "Lynch them! Lynch them!"

The leader of the gang, killed in an attempt to escape from the jail, was John Henry Brown, city marshal of Caldwell, "reformed" bad man and former companion of the robber and killer, "Billy the Kid." Brown had a record of excellent work in Caldwell and had been presented with a gold-mounted Winchester rifle by residents of the town. With Brown were Ben Wheeler, assistant marshal of Caldwell, and Billy Smith and John Wesley, cowboys from Texas. Wheeler, Wesley, and Smith came to their death, according to the report of the coroner's jury, "by hanging at the hands of a mob, composed of persons unknown."

The town's first newspaper was the Barber County Mail, founded in 1878 by M. C. Cochran. In 1879 the paper was purchased by J. W. McNeal and E. W. Iliff, who changed its name to the Medicine Lodge Cresset. At this time T. A. (Tom) McNeal became associated with the paper. Tom McNeal served a term as mayor of Medicine Lodge, was State printer for six years and is now (1938) one of the editors of the Topeka Capital and the dean of Kansas newspapermen.

It was in Medicine Lodge in the summer of 1890 that "Sockless Jerry" Simpson, Populist leader, began the career that gained him Nationwide publicity. Simpson, a resident of Medicine Lodge, acquired the name "Sockless Jerry" in his campaign for Congress against James R. Hollowell, a Republican. Appearing upon the same platform with his opponent one day Simpson attempted to brand Hollowell as an advocate of luxury with the statement, "My opponent wears silk stockings." Hollowell, stooping to pull up Simpson's trouser leg to display a few inches of bare ankle retorted, "My opponent wears no socks at all."

Simpson was victorious in the election held the following fall and as "Sockless Jerry" Simpson of Kansas held an important place in State and national politics for a decade.

Carry Nation, militant reformer and prohibitionist, moved to Medicine Lodge in the late 1880's; she and her husband, David Nation, rented a tiny stone house just west of Main Street. It was not until the last year of the century, however, that she began her crusade against liquor which later took her to all parts of the United States and to England.

In the 1890's dissension ran high in Medicine Lodge and in the surrounding country between cattlemen who wanted an open range and settlers who wanted to make homes, build fences, and till the soil. By 1900, however, the feud subsided and today cattlemen own great ranches to the south and west of town and farmers raise their chickens and hogs, plant their gardens and till the soil in the fertile valley along the river. The two industries cattle raising and farming contribute about equally to the economic life of Medicine Lodge.

Points Of Interest

  1. The PEACE TREATY MONUMENT N. end of Main St. was erected by the United States Government and the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Association in 1929. It is a marble statue of a frontiersman and an Indian clasping hands.
  2. MEMORIAL PEACE PARK, E. limits of city on US 160 is a wooded area containing a natural amphitheater, recreational facilities, and a network of foot trails. The park is the scene of the Peace Treaty Pageant produced every five years to commemorate the Medicine Lodge Peace Council.
  3. The HOME OF CARRY NATION (Now a Museum), NE. corner Fowler Ave. and Oak St., is a one-story gray stone structure marked by a bronze plaque presented by the W.C.T.U. Mrs. Nation's first public demonstration occurred in Medicine Lodge on a Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1899 when she and a few of her associates held a prayer meeting in front of one of the town's seven saloons, singing to the accompaniment of a small hand organ. By that time Medicine Lodge had become a thriving trading center and the streets were jammed with farmers, cattlemen, and townspeople. A large crowd soon collected about the little group of women and Mrs. Nation, encouraged by the audience, launched into a tirade on the evils of liquor. Each time she paused for breath and inspiration her companions waved their arms and sang: They who tarry at the wine cup,They who tarry at the wine cup, They who tarry at the wine cup-They have sorrow,they have woe. Then suddenly, clutching a big, black umbrella by the stem, Mrs. Nation stormed the door of the saloon. The proprietor, however, watching the activities from inside the window, had anticipated the move and Mrs. Nation found the door locked and bolted. Pounding on it she shouted to him: "You are a child of Satan. You will go to Hell!" And then, waving her umbrella and singing "John Brown's Body Lies Amouldering in the Grave" she led the group down Main Street to her home. According to her autobiography, written about five years later, it was then that she experienced "the birth pangs of a new obsession and realized that she was to become the 'Jrm Brown of Prohibition.' " Mrs. Nation retained her residence in Medicine Lodge for several years after the turn of the century, but she directed her militant attentions elsewhere. Early in 1900 she used stones and bricks to smash a saloon in Kiowa, also in Barber County, but it was not until she reached Wichita during the latter part of that year that she first used the hatchet for which she became nationally known.
  4. The GYPSUM MILL, Harvey St. at the W. limits of town, prepares raw gypsum for use in plaster by the calcine process. The plant has a capacity of 50,000 tons per year and gives employment to approximately 100 men.


Kansas Facts: Barber County Facts