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Centennial History of Olsburg
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From "A Centennial History of Olsburg, Kansas" 1980
Most previous histories of Olsburg say that the town began in 1880 when the Kansas Central Railroad ran its line through this part of the prairie and Oscar and C.W. Fagerberg opened up a general store. To taste the real flavor of the times we need to go back further to the settlement of the land around Olsburg before the railroad. The first settlers in the area homesteaded the land along the creeks where there was the most fertile soil and water for livestock. These first pioneers go back earlier than 1853, since Samuel Dyer, whose grave is the oldest in Carnahan Creek cemetery, was commissioned by the government to operate the ferry at Juniata Crossing in 1853. He must have had passengers in some numbers to warrant this appointment.
Though Olsburg was settled primarily by Swedes and Norwegians, some of the surrounding communities were composed of other ethnic groups from Scotland (Carnahan Creek), England (Booth Creek) and Germany (Spring Creek). The Carnahans, as a family, came from Scotland via Pennsylvania in 1855 and life was not comfortable for the new settlers. They were perhaps not fully prepared for what they had to face. For instance, during their first Kansas winter the Carnahans lived in a primitive cabin, heated only by an open fire in the middle of the floor in its one room, and the doors and windows were covered only with blankets. It must have been quite a harsh awakening for the family. Susan, the mother, and Joseph and Martha, who were used to the relatively civilized life around the Erie Canal, where Samuel had been a mule skinner towing boats on the canal. An amazing fact about these early pioneers is that so few of them were farmers. In spite of their hardships and lack of agricultural knowledge they prospered and urged kin and friends to move west. Samuel Carnahan's son, Pollard, came in 1856. Alexander Esdon and George Gilliford came in 1867. The Alexander Flemings came in the same year. The following year John and Mary Springer came to Carnahan Creek. By 1869 the first Carnahan Creek schoolhouse had been built. Soon afterwards the United Presbyterian Church, Rev. James P. Finney, began having services there. A church building was erected in 1879. During the interim, in 1872, Rev. Walter P. Currie had come from Missouri with his wife and five children in a buckboard drawn by a single horse. We may therefore assume he arrived with only a few worldly possessions. Rev. Currie served the church until 1883 and the congregation never had another full time pastor in its remaining history, when it was dissolved in 1956.
Booth Creek, a branch of Carnahan Creek, was also one of those early settlements. John Booth, after whom the creek was named, immigrated from England in 1855. He was married (to a Kershaw) and had two young daughters, and after assessing the situation in the new country he sent for them. They boarded a boat bound for America and were never heard of again. Subsequently Mr. Booth remarried and moved to Kansas. Later, in 1867, John Kershaw, Mrs. Booth's brother, and his family came from England and settled near the Booths. By a strange coincidence Mr. Kershaw also drowned only a year after he arrived at his new home. John worked across the Blue River. He always borrowed a boat for this purpose and weekly brought home supplies. Otherwise he stayed at work during the week. Farmers working a second job off the farm is not a new thing, you see. Anyway, one weekend it rained heavily and the river was high and flowing swiftly. Nevertheless, John, who was a conscience man, decided to return as usual Sunday night, despite the fact that some other men who traveled with him decided to stay home and cautioned John to do the same. That evening his family walked him to Rocky Ford Crossing for the last time. Only pieces of the boat were ever found.
Shannon Creek, north of Olsburg, was another of those early "creek" communities. It was founded by the William Shannon family who moved here from Galesburg, Ohio, in June of 1855. Along with them came John A. Johnson, their hired man, whose name I mention because he then staked his own claim to land that was later to become the site of the Mariadahl Lutheran Church, mother church of the Olsburg Lutheran Church. Even though the Shannons arrived by "mover's" wagons and lived in them until log cabins could be built, they soon came to be known as the "well-to-do" Shannons. Others of several nationalities emigrated to Shannon Creek over the next few years: Mons Polson Monten in May 1862; Ole Trulson, who some say gave his hame to Olesburgh, also arrived in May 1862, and besides a homestead established a post office; Peter J. Teberg in April of 1875; Paul Holstein in Jan. 1878; Anders V. Johnson March 1881; and Jacob Welen in 1884. But for some years the Shannons were the closest neighbors the Carnahans had a good ten to twelve miles away.
So life at this period of local history was arduous, often uncomfortable, and always unsure. Men often came to the new land alone, enduring long separations from their families. Women sometimes left a more civilized east coast or European existence for the lonely, primitive life on the prairie. Danger was a constant reality. Prairie fires, for instance, could burn you out, destroy your crops and kill your livestock. If this happened, you had to rely on neighbors to feed and shelter your family until you could reestablish the farmstead. Often the fires occurred naturally, say from lightning. Sometimes the Indians set the fires either out of hostility or for the same reason that ranchers burn pasture to this day, to manage the deciduous plant growth. Sometimes even neighbors who weren't so friendly set the fires. For whatever reason, the fires came and farmers would have night time hilltop vigils during dry seasons to watch for them, and many plowed a fire break around the home site for added protection. Even if all went well, the work was hard and the Kansas weather capricious. One person's reminiscence recalls planting three acres of corn with a stick, dropping one kernel in at a time. It took a week and there was no guarantee of any corn either. The establishment of communities such as Mariadahl in 1871 and Olsburg in 1880 must have been quite a relief to these early pioneers.
The railroad, so instrumental in our countries western expansion, really accelerated this civilizing process. Many families had, of course, already come to this new territory. The midwest, called by early explorers "the great American desert" became in the public mind of the civil war decade a new Eden where land was free or "dirt" cheap and hard work was the only requirement for success. The land was different from what we now know it to be. There were few trees mostly along creek banks; so few in fact that a tree such as the Council Grove Oak could actually serve as a landmark, and there were no cedars! These were brought from the east coast as ornamentals (along with other pests such as the Russian thistle and the "cheat" grass). In fact, one farmer over by the present day site of Randolph was so proud of his cedars that he jealously guarded them at Christmas time lest too many become Christmas trees! The grass was all powerful and "as tall as a horse and rider," so the popular account goes. Wildlife was abundant and a welcome source of food for the pioneers. And the native Americans, who had themselves only migrated here not much more than a century earlier, were much in evidence. Lester Gilliford's uncle, Robert, recalled to Lester how in the fall of the year when he was in grade school a hunting party camped on their farm and used the salt lick that the father, George Gilliford, had put out as a lure to attract deer for his own consumption. One day as Robert returned from school he chanced upon an Indian and his son stalking a deer. As he drew close to the pair, the father motioned to him to lay down and be quiet and from the prone position he watched them bring the game down. Evidently, the Indians thought this young white man of little significance as they then didn't even acknowledge his presence. Later the Indian niche was pretty much filled by wandering bands of Gypsies, who were evidently treated with much the same laissez-faire attitude, the residents' combined fear and curiosity allowing these transients to take pretty much what they wanted and move on.
But perhaps we digress too much in the interest of setting the stage for our principal actor's entrance namely Olsburg, whose centennial we honor with this history. And yet the founding fathers of Olsburg lived in these surrounding areas and moved to the community's present location when they learned the Kansas Central railroad was building a branch line from Leavenworth, Kansas projected to end in Denver, Colorado. Well, the furthest it ever ran was to Miltonvale, but in 1880 the Blaine to Garrison rails were completed. In 1879, Oscar Fagerberg and his brother, C.W. (Charles) built a shanty, later used by Olsburg Gazette publisher, Fred Marble, as a chicken coop and, we presume, began building their general store. On March 24, 1880, Oscar was named the new postmaster of the new railroad town, and one might say, Olesburgh, as it was then spelled, was officially born.
City of Olsburg - Jackie Cassel, City Clerk
PO Box 127 317 2nd Street
Olsburg, KS 66520