Sumner, Kansas Territory


Perhaps the most important, although not the oldest, town established in Atchison county outside of the city of Atchison was Sumner.  A peculiar aroma of legendary glory still clings to this old town, which was located three
miles below Atchison, on the Missouri river.

Its founder was John P. Wheeler, a young man who came to the Territory when about twenty-one years of age, and who has been described as “a red-headed, blue-eyed, consumptive, slim, freckled enthusiast from Massachu-

Atchison at this time was a strong pro-slavery town, and no abolitionist was a welcome settler in her midst.  For this reason Sumner sprang into existence.  It was a dream of its founder to make Sumner an important forwarding point, one of its claims being the fact that it was the most westerly of any of the Missouri river towns in Kansas.

In 1856 the site was surveyed and platted, and the name “Sumner” given the new town, in honor of George Sumner, one of the original stockholders, and not for his brother, the Hon. Charles Sumner, United States senator, of
Massachusetts, as many people suppose.

To bring Sumner before the public Mr. Wheeler engaged an artist named Albert Conant to come out and make a drawing of it, and this was later taken to Cincinnati, and a colored lithograph made from it, which was widely cir
culated.  From copies of this lithograph still extant it must be admitted that the artist did not slight the town in any particular.

In the fall of 1857 the Sumner Town Company began the erection of a large brick hotel.  Samuel Hollister had the contract, his bid being $16,000.  The brick used in the construction were made on the ground, and the lumber used
in the construction work came by steamboat from Pittsburgh, Pa.  The hotel was completed in the summer of 1858, and at last accounts the town company still owed Mr. Hollister $3,000. Some years later the brick used in the
hotel were gathered and cleaned and hauled to Atchison and used the construction of a building owned by the late John J. Ingalls, located at 108-110 South Fourth street.

In the fall of 1857 Cone Brothers (John P. and D. D.) brought a printing outfit to Kansas, and were induced to locate in Sumner, where they shortly began the publication of The Sumner Gazette, the first issue of which appeared on
September 12.  During the political canvass that fall they also issued a daily.  The Gazette was issued until 1861 when it suspended, its publishers believing that it was the only paper in Kansas that outlived the town in which it

Among those engaged in business in Sumner on October 1, 1857, the Daily Gazette shows the following:

John P. Wheeler, attorney and counselor at law, commissioner of deeds, dealer in real estate, etc.

Kahn & Fassler, general store, on Front street, between Washington Avenue and Chestnut street.

Mayer & Rohrmann, carpenters and builders.

Barnard & Wheeler, proprietors of the Sumner Brick Yard.

Wm. M. Reed, contractor, Atchison and Sumner.

John Armor, steam saw mill, in the city.

Butcher & Brothers, general store on Front Street, between Washington Avenue and Olive Street.

Allen Green, painter and glazier.

S. J. Bennett, boot and shoe store, corner of Washington Avenue and Fourth Street.

Arthur M. Claflin, general land agent, forwarding and commission agent.

J. P. Wheeler and A. M. Claflin, lumber, office with the Sumner Company.

H. S. Baker, proprietor of Baker’s Hotel, corner of Front and Olive Streets, near steamboat landing.

A. Barber, general merchandise. Front Street, between Washington Avenue and Olive Street.

Lietzenburger & Co., blacksmiths, wagon makers, etc.. Cedar Street, between Third and Fourth Streets.

D. Newcomb, M. D., office in postoffice building, corner of Third Street and Washington Avenue. Mr.  Newcomb also dealt in lime, and on September 24, received a large and select stock of hardware, stoves, etc.

When the Territorial legislature of 1858 met, a bill was introduced, incorporating the Sumner Company, Cyrus F. Currier, Samuel F. Harsh, J. W. Morris, Isaac G. Losse and John P. Wheeler, their associates and successors,
constituting the company.  The act also provided that the corporation should have the power to purchase and hold, and enter by preemption and otherwise, any quantity of land where the town of Sumner is now located, not to exceed one thousand acres, etc.

A firm at Sumner was also incorporated by the legislature of 185S, J. W. Morris. Cyrus F. Currier and Samuel Harsh being the incorporators. T his boat plied between Atchison and Sumner and the Missouri side.

In 1858 Samuel Hollister built a steam sawmill, adding a gristmill later.

By the end of 1858 Sumner had outstripped its rival, Atchison, in population, and steps were taken looking towards the incorporation of the town.  Early in the beginning of the legislature of 1859, articles of incorporation were
passed and received the approval of Governor Samuel Medary on February 9.  These articles of incorporation were later amended by an act passed by the first State legislature, which was approved June 3, 1861.

The decline of Sumner began with the drought which started in the fall of 1859 and prevailed through the year i860. In June, 1860, a cyclone struck the town and either blew down or damaged nearly every building, this calamity being
followed in September by a visitation of grasshoppers, all of which were potent factors in wiping Sumner off the map.  Some of the houses which could be moved were taken to Atchison, and some to farms in the immediate vicinity

One of the most interesting accounts that appeared about Sumner was written by H. Clay Park, an old citizen of Atchison, who for many years was editor and part owner of the Atchison Patriot.  It would not be just either to Mr. Park or to Sumner, were this account not perpetuated in this volume, and it, therefore, appears in full as follows :

“the rise and fall of SUMNER.

“Three miles south of Atchison, Kansas, is the site of a dead city, whose streets once were filled with the clamor of busy traffic and echoed to the tread of thousands of oxen and mules that in the pioneer days of the Great West
transported the products of the East across the Great American Desert to the Rocky Mountains.  It was a city in which for a few years twenty-five hundred men and women and children lived and labored and loved, in which many lofty aspirations were born, and in which several young men began careers that became historical.

“This city was located on what the early French voyagers called the ‘Grand Detour’ of the Missouri River.  No more rugged and picturesque site for a city or one more inaccessible and with more unpropitious environments could have been selected.  It was literally built in and on the everlasting hills, covered with a primeval forest so dense that the shadows chased the sunbeams away.  It sprang into existence so suddenly and imperceptibly it might almost have been considered a creation of the magician’s wand.  It was named Sumner in honor of the great Massachusetts senator.  Its official motto was ‘Pro lege et grege‘ (For the law and the people).  This would, in the light of subsequent events, have been more suggestive: ‘I shall fall, like a bright exhalation in the evening.’

“Sumner’s first citizens came mostly from Massachusetts, and were imbued with the spirit of creed and cant, self-reliance and fanaticism that could have been born only on Plymouth Rock.  They had come to the frontier to make Kansas a free State and to build a city, within whose walls all previous conditions of slavery should be disregarded and where all men born should be regarded equal.  The time —1856—-was auspicious.  Kansas was both a great
political and military battlefield, upon which the question of the institution of slavery was to be settled for all time.

“The growth of Sumner was phenomenal.  A lithograph printed in 1857 shows streets of stately buildings, imposing seats of learning, church spires that pierced the clouds, elegant hotels and theaters, the river full of floating palaces, its levee lined with bales and barrels of merchandise, and the white smoke from numerous factories hanging over the city like a banner of peace and prosperity.  To one who in that day approached Sumner from the east and
saw it across the river, which like a burnished mirror, reflected its glories, it did indeed present an imposing aspect.

“One day the steamboat Duncan S. Carter landed at Sumner.  On its hurricane deck was John J. Ingalls, then only twenty-four years old.  As his eye swept the horizon his prophetic soul uttered these words: ‘Behold the home
of the future senator from Kansas.’  Here the young college graduate, who since that day became the senator from Kansas, lived and dreamed until Sumner’s star had set and Atchison’s sun had risen, and then he moved to Atchison, bringing with him Sumner’s official seal and the key to his hotel.

“Here lived that afterwards brilliant author and journalist, Albert D. Richardson, whose tragic death some years ago in the counting room of the New York Tribune is well remembered.  His ‘Beyond the Mississippi’ is to this day the most fascinating account ever written of the boundless West.,

“Here lived the nine-year-old Minnie Hank, who was one day to become a renowned prima donna and charm two continents with her voice, and who was to wed the Count Wartegg.  Minnie was born in poverty and cradled in adversity.  Her mother was a poor washerwoman in Sumner.

“Here lived John E. Remsburg, the now noted author, lecturer and free-thinker.  Mr. Remsburg has probably delivered more lectures in the last thirty years than any man in America.  He is now the leader of the Free-Thought Federation of America.

“Here Walter A. Wood, the big manufacturer of agricultural implements, lived and made and mended wagons.  Here Lovejoy, ‘the Yankee preacher,’ preached and prayed.  Here lived ‘Brother’ and ‘Sister’ Newcomb, from whom has descended a long line of zealous and eminent Methodists.  Here was born Paul Hull, the well known Chicago journalist.

“And Sumner was the city that the Rev. Pardee Butler lifted up his hands and blessed and prophesied would grow and wax fat when the ‘upper landing’ would sleep in a dishonored and forgotten grave, as he floated by it on his raft, clad in tar and feathers.  The ‘upper landing’ was the opprobrious title conferred by Sumner upon Atchison.  The two towns were bitter enemies.  Sumner was ‘abolitionist;’ Atchison was ‘border ruffian.’  In Atchison the ‘nigger’ was a slave : in Sumner he was a fetich.  It was in Atchison that the ‘abolition preacher,’ Pardee Butler, was tarred and feathered and set adrift on a raft in the river.  He survived the tortures of his coat of degradation and the ‘chuck-holes’ of the Missouri river and lived to become a prohibition fanatic and a Democratic Presidential elector.

“Jonathan Lang, alias ‘Shang,’ the hero of Senator Ingalls” ‘Catfish Aristocracy,’ and the ‘last mayor of Sumner,’ lived and died in Sumner.  When all his lovely companions had faded and gone ‘Shang’ still pined on the stem.  The senator’s description of this type of a vanished race is unique :

” ‘To the most minute observer his age was a question of the gravest doubt.  He might have been thirty : he might have been a century, with no violation of the probabilities.  His hair was a sandy sorrel, something like a Rembrandt interior, and strayed around his freckled scalp like the top layer of a hayrick in a tornado.  His eyes were two ulcers, half filled with pale blue starch.  A thin, sharp nose projected above a lipless mouth that seemed always upon the point of breaking into the most grievous lamentations, and never opened save to take whiskey and tobacco in and let oaths and saliva out.  A long, slender neck, yellow and wrinkled after the manner of a lizard’s belly, bore this dome of thought upon its summit, itself projecting from a miscellaneous assortment of gent’s furnishing goods, which covered a frame of unearthly longitude and unspeakable emaciation.  Thorns and thongs supplied the place of buttons upon the costume of this Brummel of the bottom, coarsely patched beyond recognition of the original fabric.  The coat had been constructed for a giant, the pants for a pigmy.  They were too long in the waist and too short in the leg, and flapped loosely around his shrunk shanks high above the point where his fearful feet were partially concealed by mismated shoes that permitted his great toes to peer from their gaping integuments, like
the heads of two snakes of a novel species and uncommon fetor.  This princely phenomenon was topped with a hat which had neither band nor brim nor crown :

” If that could shape be called which shape has none.

” ‘His voice was high, shrill and querulous, and his manner an odd mixture of fawning servility and apprehensive effrontery at the sight of a “damned Yankee abolitionist,” whom he hated and feared next to a negro who was
not a slave.’

“The only error in the senator’s description of ‘Shang’ is that ‘Shang’ was ‘abolitionist’ himself, and ‘fit to free the nigger.’

‘Shang’ continued to live in Sumner until every house, save his miserable hut, had vanished like the baseless fabric of a vision.  He claimed and was proud of the title, ‘the last mayor of Sumner.’  He died a few years ago, and a little later lightning struck his cabin and it was devoured by flames.  And thus passed away the last relic of Sumner.

“In the flood tide of Sumner’s prosperity, 1856 to 1859—-for before that it was nothing, after that nothing—-it had ambition to become the county seat of the newly organized county of Atchison. J. P. Wheeler, president of the
Sumner Town Company, was a member of the ‘lower house of the Territorial legislature, and he ‘logrolled’ a bill through that body conferring upon Sumner the title of county seat, but the Atchison ‘gang’ finally succeeded in getting the bill killed in the senate.  Subsequently, October, 1858, there was an election to settle the vexed question of a county seat. Atchison won ; Sumner lost.

“About this time Atchison secured its first railroad.  The smoke from the locomotive engines drifted to Sumner and enveloped it like a pall.  The decadence was at hand, and Sumner’s race to extinction and oblivion was rapid.  One day there was an exodus of citizens ; the houses were torn down and the timbers thereof carted away, and foundation stones were dug up and carried hence.  Successive summers’ rains and winters’ snows furrowed streets and alleys beyond recognition and filled foundation excavations to the level, and ere long a tangled mass of briers and brambles hid away the last vestige of the once busy, ambitious city.  The forest, again unvexed by ax or saw, asserted his dominion once more, and today, beneath the shadow cast by mighty oaks and sighing cottonwoods, Sumner lies dead and forgotten.”

In the above article, reference is made by Mr. Park to Jonathan Lang, and it is important in this connection to print herewith an excerpt from the Atchison Daily Globe, December, 1915, relating to this interesting character, which follows :

“The reunion of the Thirteenth Kansas infantry at Hiawatha Tuesday recalls that the late Jonathan G. Lang, self-styled ‘Mayor of Old Sumner,’ and hero of John J. Ingalls’ ‘Catfish Aristocracy,’ was a soldier in this regiment, and was the butt of many jokes on the part of his comrades in camp as he was in the days of civil life at old- Sumner.  Thomas J. Payne, a sergeant in the Thirteenth, now living in California, relates an amusing story of ‘Old Shang,’ as Lang was generally called by his comrades : When the regiment was mustered into service on September 28, 1862, and the newly assigned officers were reviewing their troops at Camp Stanton, in Atchison, the tall, gaunt form of Lang (for he was nearly seven feet tall and very angular) towered above the rest of the men like the stately Cottonwood above the hazelbush.  Riding up and down the lines, and scanning the troops with critical eye to see that there was no breech of ranks or decorum, the gaze of Colonel Bowen could not help but fall upon the lofty and lanky form of Lang, rising several heads above any of his comrades.  The colonel paused, and pointing his finger at the grenadier form in the ranks, shouted in thunderous tones, ‘Get down off that stump.’  A ripple of suppressed laughter immediately passed along the lines, and when Colonel Bowen saw his mistake he promptly revoked his order with a hearty chuckle and rode on towards the end of the column.  And not until twenty years later, when all that was mortal of old Lang—-his nearly seven feet of skin and bones—-was laid way to moulder with the ruins of old Sumner, did he finally ‘get down off of that stump.’  He rests at the entrance of the Sumner cemetery and his grave is marked with one of those small, regulation slabs such as are furnished by the Government for the graves of dead soldiers and bears this simple inscription: ‘J. G. Lang, Co. K. 13th Kansas Infantry.’  There are two other members of the Thirteenth Kansas buried at Sumner.  They are, John Scott, of Company D, and Albred Brown, of Company F.”

Another article relating to Old Sumner, which is entertaining and instructive, was written by E. W. Howe, and is taken from the Historical Edition of the Atchison Daily Globe, issued July 16, 1894:

“The founder of Sumner was John P. Wheeler, a red-headed, blue-eyed, consumptive, slim, freckled enthusiast from Massachusetts.  He was a surveyor by profession, and also founded the town of Hiawatha.  He was one of the adventurers who came to Kansas as a result of the excitement of 1855-’56, and was only twenty-one years old when he came West.  Most of the men who had much to do with early Kansas history were young.

“The town was not named for Charles Sumner, as is generally supposed, but for his brother, George Sumner, one of the original stockholders.  At that time Atchison was controlled by Southern sympathizers—-P. T. Abell, the Stringfellows, the McVeys, A. J. Westbrook and others—-and abolitionists were not welcome in the town.  It was believed that a city would be built within a few miles of this point, as it was favorable for overland freighting,
being farther West than any other point on the Missouri river.  On the old French maps Atchison was known as the ‘Grand Detour,’ meaning the great bend in the river to the westward.

“Being a violent abolitionist, John P. Wheeler determined to establish a town where abolitionists would be welcome, and Sumner was the result.  The town was laid out in 1856, and the next year Wheeler had a lithograph made, which he took East for use in booming his town.

“Among others captured by means of this lithograph was John J. Ingalls.  Wheeler and Ingalls were both acquainted with a Boston man of means named Samuel A. Walker.  Wheeler wanted Walker to invest in Sumner, and as Walker knew that Ingalls was anxious to go West, he asked him to stop at Sumner and report upon it as a point for the investment of Boston money.

“Mr. Ingalls arrived in Sumner on the 4th of October, 1858, on the steamer Duncan S. Carter, which left St. Louis four days before.  The town then contained about two thousand people, five hundred more than Atchison ;  but Sumner was already declining, and Mr. Ingalls did not advise his friend, Walker, to invest.

“A hotel building costing $16,000.00, had been built by Samuel Hollister.  A famous steamboat cook had charge of the kitchen in the old days, and the stages running between Jefferson City and St. Joe stopped there every day for
dinner.  Jefferson City was then the end of the railroad—-the Pacific Railroad of Missouri, now the Missouri Pacific—-which runs through the deserted site of Sumner, and directly over the foundation of the wagon factory built by Levi A. Woods.  This Avagon factory was one of the results of Wheeler’s audacious lithograph, and few wagons were actually manufactured.  The factory was heavily insured, and burned.

“Albert R. Richardson was a citizen of Sumner, when Mr. Ingalls arrived there; also James Hauk, the father of Minnie Hauk, who has since become famous as a singer in grand opera.  James Hauk was a carpenter, whose wife operated a boarding house.  Minnie Hauk waited on the table, and was noted among the boarders as a smart little girl with a long yellow braid down her back, who could play the piano pretty well.  The next year Hauk made a house boat and floated down the river to New Orleans.

“When John J. Ingalls went to Sumner, a young man of twenty-four, he took great interest in such characters as Archie Boler and Jonathan Grander Lang.  Lang was a jug fisherman in the river, melon raiser, truck patch farmer and town drunkard.  Ingalls says that Lang was really a bright fellow.  He had been a dragoon in the Mexican War, and his stories of experiences in the West were intensely interesting.  Ingalls used to go out in Lang’s boat when he was jugging for catfish and spend hours listening to his talk.  Finally Ingalls wrote his ‘Catfish Aristocracy,’ and Lang recognized himself as the hero.  He was very indignant and threatened to sue Ingalls, having been advised by some jackleg lawyer that the article was libelous.  Lang lived on a piece of land belonging to Ingalls at the time, and Ingalls told the writer of this the other day that it was actually true that he settled with Lang for a sack of flour and a side of bacon. Lang served in the Civil war, and long after its close, when his old friend was president of the United States Senate, he secured him a pension and a lot of back pay. But this he squandered in marrying.  His pension money was a curse to him, for it only served to put a lot of wolves on his trail.

“When the war broke out the Atchison men who objected to abolitionists settling in their town were driven out of the country, and this attracted a good many of the citizens of Sumner.  But its death blow came in June, 1860 when nearly every house in the place was either blown down or badly damaged by a tornado.  This was the first and only tornado in the history of this immediate section.”

Reference is made in both of these articles to John J. Ingalls, who arrived in Sumner from Boston, Mass., October 4, 1858.  Mr. Ingalls was a graduate of Williams College a short time before, and at the time he decided to go West he was a student in a law office in Boston, where his attention was first called to Sumner by an elaborate lithograph of the town displayed by Mr. Wheeler, the promoter.  The impressions of Mr. Ingalls upon his arrival in Sumner are, therefore, pertinent and convey some idea of the shock he received when he landed at the Sumner levee.  In a letter which he subsequently wrote describing the event, he said :

“That chromatic triumph of lithographed mendacity, supplemented by the loquacious embellishments of a lively adventurer who has been laying out town sites and staking off corner lots for some years past in Tophet, exhibited a scene in which the attractions of art, nature, science, commerce and religion were artistically blended. Innumerable drays were transporting from a fleet of gorgeous steamboats vast cargoes of foreign and domestic merchandise over Russ pavements to colossal warehouses of brick and stone.  Dense, wide streets of elegant residences rose with gentle ascent from the stores of the tranquil stream.  Numerous parks, decorated with rare trees, shrubbery and fountains were surrounded with the mansions of the great and the temples of their devotion. The adjacent eminences were crowned with costly piles which wealth, directed by intelligence and controlled by taste, had erected for the education of the rising generation of Sumnerites.  The only shadow upon the enchanting landscape fell from the clouds of smoke that poured from the towering shafts of her acres of manufactories, while the whole circumference of the undulating prairie was white with endless, sinuous trains of wagons, slowly
moving toward the mysterious region of the Farther West.”

History of Atchison County, Kansas