Tag Archives: Alice Gray Williams

James Lane Trail and the Underground Railroad

As Background Material I have included the following:

In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson wanted to purchase the Louisiana port of New Orleans from France.  This was an important seaport for the farmers of America.  Napoleon needed money to fight war with Britain and agreed to the sale.  The area included 828,000,000 square miles at the price of 15 Million Dollars. The Louisiana Purchase was arranged between the United States and the Government of France, 1803.  Slavery was a legalized institution, and many of the residents held slaves.  Slave holding was a major issue in America.

The creation of trails for moving people across the frontier became a reality after the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803.   The Lane Trail (James Lane) was one with controversy.

Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

Immigrants were going west on the Oregon and California Trails for new land to settle. The Territories of Kansas and Nebraska were being met by many. In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, during Franklin Pierce’s presidency.  The Territories of Kansas and Nebraska should have the right and privilege of making laws suitable to them, covering the issue of slavery.

James Lane (1814-1866), was a lawyer; US Senator, a Union General and a devotee of the American Civil War.  Being involved in the abolitionist movement and agent of the (New England) Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society, he moved to Kansas (1855) during the Bleeding Kansas period.  It was important for them to help people move to Kansas to aid in abolishing slavery and more importantly able to vote against the slave issue.  He was called the leader of the “Jayhawkers”, known as the Kansas Brigade, a leading Free Soil militant group.

The Lane Trail not only moved slaves from southern captivity to eventual northern freedom in Canada, but was used by Union soldiers. Free-state settlers used the Trail to avoid intimidation tactics by those in pro-slavery Missouri.  The Under-ground Railroad, the Lane Trail, became the trail to move slaves.

The Trail began in Topeka leading north to Holton.  The Lane “Chimneys” or rock cairns (landmark stacks of rocks) guided the travelers.  From Holton going north to Netawaka and moved towards Powhattan. All of the wagon trains advanced with caution. Escaped slaves were sheltered in Old Powhattan until it was safe to move north. The trail went further north through Pleasant Spring (Granada) and Capioma to Lexington, south of Sabetha.

Lane had built a small fort of hewn logs at Lexington.  (This fort and trail isn’t too far from where the George Williams homestead existed.  This is probably how James Lane knew George and Alice Gray Williams.)

From Lexington, the trail went to Sabetha and Albany. (More will be written about these towns later). From Albany, the group would join nearby Pony Creek and venture on to Plymouth.

Fort Plymouth located on Pony Creek near present day Sycamore Springs was a well-known fortification. Lane and his men had built the Fort along the Lane Trail. (More about this in a later post)

The Trail moved on north across the Nemaha River into Nebraska to the towns of Salem and Falls City and then moved across the Missouri River east to Iowa City, Iowa. There was movement in both directions.

Pioneers stopped and settled near the posts. All of the posts along the Lane Trail eventually became towns. You can see how the Lane Trail became controversial and yet pivotal to the progression of the United States as a nation.

 

The Beginning Of The Civil War

At the outbreak of the Civil war, John Gray enrolled in the Union militia but was rejected at Leavenworth, Kans.  Still desirous and anxious to serve his country, he joined the Brown County Kansas Home Guards.

While Mr. Gray was away, his wife, Annie Maria, cribbed 1,000 bushels of corn and cut and hauled the winter’s fuel from the woods, a distance of seven miles. Alice and her mother and siblings lived all alone and unprotected.

John Gray was possessed of a roving disposition. He was one of the original “Forty-Niners” who crossed the plains to the gold fields of California during the great rush of 1849. He returned home via Cape Horn (using the Drake Passage, South America. The Passageway was a major milestone by which sailing ships carried trade around the world. It was used before the Panama Canal was built in 1914. ) He also went on many freighting expeditions to Pike’s Peak and was an old Indian fighter.

After the memorable trip on horseback to Sycamore Springs, Alice Gray became friends with Chief Chawkeekee of the Kickapoo Tribe.  She was often asked to sit in on the Tribal Council. White men were never allowed to attend the Council. Women were rarely allowed to have this honor.

Alice taught school during the greater part of her mature life, and later years was engaged in the Indian service. Her first appointment in the Indian service was at Tuba, Ariz., as a teacher among the Western Navajos.

At her own request she was transferred to the Great Nemaha School of Iowa Indians and worked for several years on the reservation in Horton, Brown County, Kansas.

Miss Alice Mabel Gray married George W. Williams in 1881.

George Williams was seventeen years old when his father died, and he was left to help an invalid mother rear a family of boys and girls in a new and barren country. With ox teams he helped break up the virgin sod. With four yoke of oxen he hauled all the family supplies from the Missouri river. This was one of the first homesteads in Nemaha County, KS.

The Overland Trail to the Far West passed through Nemaha County near Oneida and Seneca KS at this time, and great wagon trains of gold seekers were constantly passing through on their way to the mountains of California. Many of the Pony Express riders and the old United States Rangers were well known to him.

Mr. Williams had often seen large herds of deer on the land where Oneida is located. He had many times seen hostile bands of Indians decked out with paint and war regalia and looking for trouble, but no depredations were committed by the Indians near the Williams’ home.

 

When the Oneida post office was placed under the civil service, Alice Williams was appointed the postmistress, The First Woman Postmistress.

Alice has direct descendants who came to America on the Mayflower and also family members who fought in the American Revolutionary War.

Connected to “Sacking and Burning” of Lawrence KS-1856

At this point, I want to give some background information on who was John Gray and his daughter, Alice.

Much of this information is summarized from various “Nemaha County (Kansas) Historical Records and Kansas Historical Society, Topeka, KS.

John Gray was married in Illinois in 1857 to Annie Maria McCune, who was born in New York, left an orphan at the age of twelve years, and then made her home with a cousin.

The cousin was the editor, George Washington Brown, who came to Kansas in 1854 to be the editor of the “Herald of Freedom.” – The first free-state newspaper in the Territory.

Mrs. Gray (Annie Maria McCune) was in Lawrence, Kansas in 1856, when the town was sacked and burned by pro-slavery ruffians, and she lost all earthly belongings.

Lawrence 3Lawrence 2Scenes of Lawrence

She then went to Illinois with a pro-slavery family named McVeigh, and later was married to John Gray. Six sons and a daughter (Alice) were born to this marriage.

John Gray and his family settled at Hiawatha, Brown County, Kansas, in May of 1857. There was just one house in Hiawatha at the time. Mr. Gray came there to make his in the new state of Kansas. He located a homestead one mile north of Hiawatha. (It was from here that John and his daughter, Alice, later made the trip to the “healing waters” of Sycamore Springs.)

Alice Mabel Gray was born in 1860 at Hiawatha, Kans., the daughter of John and Annie Maria McCune.

Later….more on John Gray and Alice

At The End Of The Trail

 

Trail

…and they were off on their journey to the spring of “healing waters”.

After winding around hills and trees, following a faint Indian trail, they arrived in sight of the end of their quest.  They were told that two big springs came pouring out of the ground beneath a steep hillside.

A strange sight met their eyes. Alice and her father, John, were amazed and shocked what lie before them. Along the bank of the beautiful winding Pony Creek, running full of sparkling clear water, breaking into pools and riffles, were many Indian lodges, about 70.  Can you imagine what that looked like among the large Sycamore trees?

The Indians and their children were moving to and fro through their village. Laughing and strange talking was heard.  Above this temporary encampment arose the brow of a steep hill, formed of a peculiar blue clay. (What is it about the blue clay? hmmmmm!)  From under the foot of this hill the waters of two great springs poured forth and fell in a cascade into the creek.  Soon the little party passed through the encampment and stopped in front of the springs.

What was going to happen next?  Could the waters contain great medicinal merit?

In The Beginning….Healing Waters

The beginning of Sycamore Springs or Sycamore Mineral Springs began when the Native American Indians roamed the Plains.  The place was not called Sycamore Springs, but it was the land where “healing waters” flowed.

Sycamore Mineral Springs Health and Pleasure Resort has a background of service to suffering humanity that reaches back in the earliest history of the North Western Tribes of American Indians.

The following is a summary (with added information) of a recorded story by Alice Gray Williams:

American Indian Background:

The old Indian tribes had no written history (Oral Traditions-Storytelling). Their history was passed from father to son. From some of the oldest Indians the knowledge of Indian tradition, customs and life were revealed to her.

It is said by these Indians, and history bears them out in their statements, that the first Indians of Kansas were a part of the Great Dakotah Tribe, and that they came here with the great bands of Indians who migrated from north of the Great Lakes. They wandered around for many years and finally settled on the Missouri River and its tributaries.

They were called the Kanzas (Kansa) or Kaw Indians and the Osages. The Kanzas had as their territory the land from Nebraska on the north to Arkansas on the south and all west of the Missouri river. The Osages were to have Missouri and all the land along the Missouri and that along the Osage River, and part of their hunting grounds extended into Kansas.

The Story of Alice Gray Williams:

Alice was the daughter of John Gray, one of the earliest pioneers in Kansas, growing up near Hiawatha, Kansas. John Gray became friends with a Kickapoo Indian Chief named Chawkeekee who spoke of “healing waters”. The Chief would frequently call at the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Gray and daughter, Alice.

Alice Gray of whom the Indians delighted to call, “Soniskee,” meaning- “Our Good Red Mother.”

The Indians attached a superstitious importance to Alice’s red hair.  She was a favorite among the friendly Indians.  As Alice grew older, this association with the Indians grew continually closer until she was at time permitted to sit in some of their tribal councils, a privilege accorded few white men and almost no white women.

Chief Chawkeekee said that many times he had seen sick Indians carried to the banks of the Healing Waters unable to walk, and after a few day’s sojourn, go away full of life and health again.  He said Indians came from “out of the sun” (the far west) and trekked many “moons’ just to recover their health at the magic health springs.

Because of the many tales that Alice and her father had heard about the springs, they were greatly curious to see them and after much urging.  Chief Chawkeekee consented to take them to the springs within a period of five “sleeps” (five days).  True to his promise, on the fifth day, Chief Chawkeekee appeared at the door of the Gray Homestead riding one pony and leading two others.  Alice and Mr. Gray mounted and they were off on their journey to the spring of “healing waters”.

Until next time…ahhhhh