The story of Samuel Dunn and James Anderson was not untold when it happened — the two were murdered May 28, 1869, in rural Butler County. There was an account in The Emporia Gazette of their deaths.
Dunn had settled on a small homestead the fall before, and he and his brother had a penchant for taking lumber from what was, at the time, called the 20 Mile Strip. That land was set aside for Native Americans of the Osage Nation. On May 28, 1869, Dunn and Anderson were part of a group surveying a pair of farms in the area.
That group found themselves confronted by the Osage, which — according to the newspaper account — made off with several mules.
After the encounter, Dunn and Anderson were missing — found later about half a mile from Dunn’s house, decapitated and mutilated. The Osage were accused, and later gave two young men to authorities and labeled them as the guilty.
It is an amazing story of prairie life, and one that caught the eye of Newton author Darren J. McMannis.
“The Territorial Years are the beginnings of Kansas and fighting over the land, territory,” McMannis said. “It is about who will control it, whether it is Indians or settlers from the east. If it will be free soil people or slavery advocates. Most of the murders are related to that.
McMannis is releasing his book “Murder and Mayhem On the Kansas Prairie: Volume I — The Territorial Years.” The book covers 1854 to 1869.
“It starts out in Kansas Territory and ends in the beginning of the Civil War,” McMannis said. “It is the initial period of Kansas history. Things change a little bit in the next period, starting in about 1870 when things start to settle down and people start to build westward. The border wars and the Native American conflicts phase out.”
He found some claim jumping during the era, as fighting over land was a theme. In Butler County, he found three different incidents — and eight deaths — connected to horse theives. The first murder he found for Butler County was listed on Nov. 28, 1858. Samuel Stewart and Reueben Palmer were both shot by a man called “Worldy” during a confrontation over stolen horses.
“I have been fascinated by how many conflicts there really were,” McMannis said. “In some cases you could see it coming, but for the most part you couldn’t. You were minding your own business and somebody wanted the land you were working on or someone wanted to make a point. In a lot of cases, you were at the mercy of someone else who wanted what you had.”
He said living in the territorial years was difficult — and not just because it meant settling in a new place and making sacrifices to keep a homestead going.
Living in Kansas at the time, he said, required courage.
“As a farmer trying to homestead a place, if you weren’t worried about Indians you had border ruffians that might be vexing you a little bit and you always had the worry of claim jumpers coming in and wanting what you had,” McMannis said. “If it wasn’t that, it was horse theives. You always had to be on your guard and be kind of tough about it, too. People who came to settle in Kansas … they had to be a little fearless.
Researching old murders is a hobby for McMannis, getting his start as part of a genealogy group in Newton.
When he first launched into researching old, grizzly deaths, he did not expect to find very many. He expected to maybe put together a presentation for the Harvey County Historical Society and the Newton Public Library.
But he found a lot more than he bargained for.
“The library had me do a presentation for a Third Tuesday genealogy night,“ McMannis said. “They asked me to do the murders from Newton. That is back when we thought there were maybe 10 all together. That is what started this. I realized there were a lot in Harvey County … When it came to Kansas, I was not really ready to pursue the Harvey County one yet. With Kansas, there are a lot of interesting stories.”
That led to three different nights of public presentations, and work on books.
He also found something he enjoys — enough that he is putting the finishing touches on another book, dedicated to Harvey County, and researching the next in a series about the state of Kansas.
“For every two or three that are kind of run of the mill, there is one that is much more interesting,” McMannis said.
Next on his list, aside from finishing up his book on Harvey County, is the next era of Kansas history.
“I plan on going to 1895, but it might go to 1900 just based on how many I find,” McMannis said.
Also on the list is to update his current book as possible. The last page of his book contains information on how to register the book — to not only receive updates to the book but offer up research to help McMannis create those updates.
“I will put articles, headstone photos and additional details on the website for those who have registered their book,” McMannis said. “Some of these stories, there is not much about them. I am sure there is more information. As I get into those, this keeps it updated … rather than having the book, at some point, becoming (obsolete).”