The Old Neighborhood

Ironically, the land would have been held in common as the tradition of the tribe prescribed, but the dissolution of the culture previewed the division of the land among the families. With haste, they began building houses on the bluffs above the river. The town grew to include a company store, a blacksmith shop and a school and a brew house.The Methodists built a log church that was considered so far from the settlement that it was referred to as “The Church in the Wilderness.”

The Wyandot also operated a ferry between the settlement and Westport. Tribe members crossed for free while their white and black neighbors paid cash money. In short, the Wyandots prospered.

It wasn’t long until the tribe was divided by the question of slavery. John and Lucy Armstrong, among the first to actually inhabit a home here, represented a large population of the anti-slavery faction. They soon found themselves barred from the Methodist Church South. Several years later the new Methodists Church North built a church on land at 38th and Parallel that Lucy had donated from her tribal parcel.

Today at 38th and Parallel, the empty Monastery of St. Augusting sits atop the hill. In the gully a small white house remains from what had been my Grandfather Hughes’ dairy farm that the girls refer to as “the little house.” The girls are my four maternal Aunts and my mother, Bitsy. Some four miles from where their house sat in a neighborhood at 18th and Richmond, my grandfather would drive his car to the farm and ride the horses back to be tethered to the back porch for the children to ride.

Introduction to Wyandotte County

It’s spring and the ranchers are doing Mother Nature’s work, burning the prairie. A line of fire rolls over the Flint Hills, reducing the grasses to char. Half the slope is burnt black but the other half mixes the yellows and oranges and browns of the waving landscape. It undulates into the horizon like so many voluptuous women lying on their sides, the contours of their bodies repeating the texture as far as I can see.  The pinks and purples of the sunset soothe like the crackling of a warm fire. The hills tease my eye into thinking I can actually see the curve of the earth.

So many Americans see Kansas on a weather map and think flat. But on the eastern end it isn’t so. Between the Kansas and the Missouri Rivers, the land tumbles from high bluffs to rolling hills and finally to the flat and expansive Plains. Once Lewis and Clark arrived, white explorers and hunters and trappers moved through the area regularly. Less than thirty years later, in 1830, Indian Tribes still living east of the Mississippi began to displace the Plains Indians as they moved into the area courtesy of Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act.

Present day Wyandotte County, the land my grandfather’s house sits on, the house I was born in and the house I live in now, ended up in the hands of the Delawares.

The white folk stayed, including Moses Grinter who operated a ferry back and forth across the Kansas River on the military road between Fort Leavenworth and Fort Scott. The house he built for his Delaware wife, Anna and their children, still hails the river and the valley beyond. Four small rectangular windows frame a square balcony on the second floor and a covered porch on the first. He surely stood there of an evening watching the ferry churning back and forth, moving men and horses and their supplies The rooms in his home are spacious with fireplaces in all four quadrants, warming the bedrooms and the parlors. The bed and the armoire, though large and ornate, take up barely one end of the room. An ancient crib rocks close to the fire.

The Missouri winds to the north and to the west of Grinter Place. Look straight up and to the left to the old place where the Wyandots (French trappers called them Hurons) hoped to build a city they called Quindaro.

More Coming Soon..img_0533Photo from The Afro-American Community In Kansas City, Kansas: A History, Community Development Program, 1980.