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From Custer’s last stand to court business, 1876 paper had the news!

The hunting party – George A. Custer and Grand Duke Alexis at the end of a buffalo hunt in Topeka, Kan., during the Grand Duke’s visit to the U.S. in 1872. (Reproduction of a book plate illustration published in 1900)

The hunting party – George A. Custer and Grand Duke Alexis at the end of a buffalo hunt in Topeka, Kan., during the Grand Duke’s visit to the U.S. in 1872. (Reproduction of a book plate illustration published in 1900)

By Linda Emley

There are few things I love more than picking up an old newspaper and reading it for the first time. It’s like going back in time and reliving one day in the life of our ancestors.

I’m usually looking for a certain event, but sometimes I just pick a random date and see what is going on. I picked up a 1915 Missourian and was planning on doing a story about the wettest May in history because I just heard on the news that 1915 was the wettest one on record.

My plans changed when I found a copy of a 1876 Richmond Conservator in the middle of the pages of the 1915 newspaper. It was page one and two of March 10, 1876, and since it had been laminated, I just knew it had to be something special. I sat down and read it cover to cover like we would any newspaper and was surprised to see it didn’t have any big headlines. It was just an account of everyday life, but I did find a few stories that I knew would turn into something bigger after they had enough time to play out.

Before I started writing this story, I wanted to know how many of my ancestors were living in Ray County in 1876, so I pulled out my family tree. The United States of America was 100 years old in 1876 and I was surprised to find 18 direct ancestors who were already here making new history. My great-great-grandparents, Sanderson and Sarah Schooler, were expecting their first child. Their son, William Alfred Schooler, was born on June 15, 1876, in Knoxville. He became a primitive Baptist farmer who lived to be 79 years old and died on Jan 31, 1956.

I was born in the fall after he died and only missed knowing him by a few months. His wife, Nellie Jane Campbell Schooler, lived to be 94, so I knew her well. She was the best great-grandmother that any little girl could hope for.

Most of the news in the 1876 Richmond Conservator was national news. Many of the “national” news stories would later combine to make a bigger story. “The telegraph informs us that rich mines of gold have just been discovered in the Big Horn and Owl Creek mountains, in the Black Hills section, and that the miners are correspondingly happy.”

The next column said, “INDIAN WAR. The Indians made a raid on Custer City in the Black Hills on the 4th, swept the town like a tornado, killed one man, and drove off all the loose stock, and then attacked an immigrant train coming into the town. Every able-bodied man was enrolled at once for pursuit and an Indian war has commenced.”

Five columns over was another short story: “General Custer says that every post on the plains has been sold to the highest bidder.” I spent several hours trying to figure out what Custer was talking about when he made this statement. After talking to some friends, we came up with two possible answers. The first one is that all the Wild West forts had awarded supplier contracts to the highest vendors, but I like the second possible version better.

Maybe he was talking about all our Wild West forts had been assigned “post commanders” and he was making fun of his fellow generals that fought over these assignments. Maybe I watched too many western movies when I was little, but I remember there was always a battle of who was in charge. I watched a few of these old movies this past winter, and I was surprised to see how many of them had left over stories about the Civil War. Many of the men that fought in the Civil War went on to serve during the Indian Wars in the 1870s.

Now back to General George Armstrong Custer. A few months after this newspaper was published, he fought his last battle at Little Big Horn. He and 267 U.S. soldiers died on June 27, 1876. I would love to see the local newspaper account of this battle, but I will have to find it on a roll of microfilm because we don’t have the actual newspaper.

The Battle of Little Big Horn is probably the most famous battle of the Indian War and one of the most misunderstood. I did some research and the biggest myth was his long blond hair. Apparently he had cut it sometime before this battle. Another big myth is that there were no survivors. There were Indians and soldiers from other U.S. companies that survived.

There are many details about Custer’s death that are not known. Several different Indians claimed to have fired the shot that killed him.

In 2005, the Northern Cheyenne broke their silence and announced that according to stories passed down from their forefathers, Buffalo Calf Road Woman, a Northern Cheyenne woman, fired the shot that knocked him off his horse. She was a Indian heroine from the Battle of the Rosebud that was fought on June 17. Custer was shot twice, so we may never know who killed the famous general.

I visited the Battle of Little Bighorn with my family when I was a teenager. I didn’t appreciate it then, so I would love to go back and see it again some day.

I was talking to a friend about Custer and he told me that he met a survivor of Little Big Horn when he was a young boy in the 1960s. Chief Red Fox was at a Indian Souvenir Shop on 50 Highway near Sedalia. He was a nephew of Crazy Horse and saw the famous battle as a 6-year-old boy. He later joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and also acted in a number of silent western movies. He became an Indian-rights advocate later in his life and died in 1976.

So what was happening on the local front in 1876? One of my favorite people, Judge George Dunn, was taking care of the county.

“Circuit Court. Judge Dunn is in the middle of a very heavy docket, disposing of business promptly and satisfactorily. A number of important cases have been decided, among them H.J. Robinson, against Hamilton, administrator of the estate of Clark and others, which was decided in favor of the plaintiff against all the defendants except Phillips, the Judge is cracking things through on time.”

Whoever said “The more things change, the more they stay the same” had to be talking about Ray County. “Meeting of the Democratic Central Committee. Richmond, Mo., March 4,1876. The Ray County Democratic Central Committee met at their rooms in Richmond, with J.P. Haynes Esq. in his chair, and proceeded to business as follows, to wit : On motion of T.A. Redd, it was resolved that a meeting he held in the various townships in the county on Saturday, March 25, 1876, at 2 p.m., for the purpose of electing two members from each township to compose a Central Committee of the Democracy of Ray County, and that the meetings be held at the following places in the various townships: Fishing River at Vibbard, Polk at Lawson, Knoxville at Knoxville, Grape Grove at Millville, Crooked River at Hardin, Camden at Albany, Richmond at Richmond. And it was further resolved that the delegates elected on the 25th of March next, meet in Richmond on Saturday April 8, 1876, for the purpose of organization and other business. On motion adjourned . M.G. Dale, Secretary.”

I found some interesting details in the ads in our 1876 newspaper. Two banks were listed in Richmond. The Hughes and Wasson Exchange and Bank owned by Jos. Hughes and Geo. Wasson and the Ray County Savings Bank, which listed A.W. Doniphan as president and Dr. Henry Garner as cashier. The directors were, Doniphan, H.C Garner, Wm. T. Brashear, C.T. Garner, H.P. Settle, P.T. Smith, Benjamin Gillis, R.J. Williams, A.K. Reyburn, J.W. Shotwell, Thomas B. Fowler and P.L. Woodson.

“The above Bank is now prepared to do a general banking business and will buy and sell Eastern and St. Louis Exchange, Gold, Silver, un-current money, Government Securities, and Loans negotiated. Collections made on favorable terms and deposits received. Banking hours from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.”

And last but not least, “Last Friday evening one of the most pleasant parties that it has been our good forturne to attend came off under the auspices of the young gentlemen of Richmond at the Hudgins House. Shortly after dark the hotel was brilliantly illuminated and soon the parlors and large dining hall was filled with the gay gallants and lovely maidens, eager for the Lexington String Band to discource some of their softest strains.”

After reading the rest of this article, I went upstairs to the Alexander Doniphan Room in our museum. We have a dining table from the Hudgins House in his room because Doniphan lived there in his senior years. I stood there for a while just looking at that table and thought to myself, “Oh how I wish this table could talk.”

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