A couple hours’ drive is all that separates Miami County, Kansas, from even the furthest reaches of the Freedom’s Frontier. Centrally located in the heritage area, Miami County is close to everywhere with a little bit of everything.
A Couple Hours’ Drive, a Couple Hundred Years of History
While present-day Miami County was certainly within the territory of the Kansa and Osage tribes, it wasn’t heavily populated until the removal of eastern tribes to the area. The Miami, for which the county was named, Shawnee, Pottawatomie, Piankeshaw, Kaskaskia, Wea and Peoria were all settled within part of Miami County. The Piankeshaw, Kaskaskia, Wea and Peoria united in 1854 as the Confederated Peorias.
Being near Missouri’s western border, the area that became Miami County was bisected by the Military Road. The Military Road stretched from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Gibson in present-day Oklahoma. Approved by Congress in 1836, the road connected the line of forts that protected the western border of the United States and allowed the military to move soldiers and supplies across the frontier. Today the Frontier Military Historic Byway, following Highway 69, commemorates the Military Road and roughly approximates its historic route.
In 1838, the area that became Miami County was also the site of another, more infamous trail. The Potawatomi Trail of Death was the route that the Potawatomi Indians followed on their forced march to Kansas from Indiana. Chief Menominee refused to sign an 1836 treaty to sell his lands and move to Indian Territory. Despite this refusal, the Chief and the hundreds of Potawatomi who moved to his village were forced off their lands in the fall of 1838. During their two-month journey, 42 of the 859 Potawatomi died. While Osawatomie was supposed to be the end of the journey, many of the Potawatomie ended up at the Sugar Creek Mission in present-day Linn County, Kansas. There are many markers throughout Miami County commemorating the Trail of Death. One such marker is installed at the First Land Office building in Osawatomie. During the summer, the building, built in 1854, serves as a tourist information center.
An Indian interpreter and one-time chief of the Confederated Peoria, Baptiste Peoria, was instrumental in founding the city of Paola. The name of Paola is derived from the word Peoria to honor Baptiste Peoria who donated the town square. Peoria stipulated that no building should be built in the square, but that it should serve as a park. A bust of Baptiste Peoria and his wife Mary Ann Isaacs Dagenet, with a plaque recognizing their contributions to Paola is located in the town square. You can learn more about American Indians and their contributions to Miami County at the Miami County Historical Museum. Visitors can also stop at a small park with interpretive signage on Baptiste Drive near 311th street in Paola. This park is on the site of the Wea Mission, which was a Presbyterian mission that operated from 1834 until 1838. The mission later served as the Osage River Indian Agency and then the Wea Baptist Mission under the direction of David Lykins, for whom the county was originally named.
The American Indian tribes lived in Miami County until after the Civil War. As a special agent of the United States government during the Civil War, Baptiste Peoria reported in 1862 among American Indians, “I found the whole country, as might have been expected, in a very troublous [sic], disturbed condition—in fact, a reign of lawlessness, violence, and terror existing. Suspicion had taken the place of confidence. Spies were watching during daytime, and hired assassins during night, to pick off those whom neither money could buy nor threats silence.” In fact, from 1856 until the end of the Civil War, American Indians and white settlers alike lived under a reign of violence and suspicion.
Given its location along the border between Missouri and Kansas, divided only by an imaginary line extending south from the confluence of the Kaw and Missouri rivers, Miami County was in a prime location to witness raids by Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers, alike. Like most places in eastern Kansas following the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Miami County was being settled with abolitionists, free-staters, and proslavery setters. For example, Samuel and Florella Adair came to Osawatomie from Ohio as part of the second New England Emigrant Aid Company, while proslavery settlers from Georgia established the “Georgia Colony” near Osawatomie.
Even the name of Miami County is indicative of the Border War. In 1855, Miami County was established after Lykins County. The county was originally named after David Lykins, a Baptist missionary and prominent pro-slavery citizen. In 1861, following Kansas’s entry into the Union as a Free State, the county name was changed to Miami.
During the summer of 1856, violence broke out through Douglas, Jefferson, Franklin and Miami counties, beginning with the sack of Lawrence on May 21. Much of the violence—especially the Pottawatomie Massacre and its fallout—centered on John Brown. Brown was very familiar with the area around Osawatomie and often sought shelter at the cabin of his half-sister and her husband, Florella and Samuel Adair. Although Samuel and Florella didn’t fight slavery with weapons like Brown, they were strong abolitionists in their own right, sheltering fugitive slaves, giving aid and shelter to Brown and his sons, and reporting on conditions in Kansas Territory to their friends in Ohio. After a brief lull from the summer’s earlier violence at Lawrence, Pottawatomie Creek, Black Jack and Franklin in late May and early June, Free-State forces attacked the Georgia Colony near Osawatomie on August 7, 1856, burning homes and destroying property of proslavery settlers. Violence between proslavery and antislavery forces continued through the month of August, 1856.
On August 30, 1856, a proslavery force of 250 men led by Missouri State Representative John Reid rode into Osawatomie intent on targeting towns with strong abolitionist sentiment. Reid’s men spotted John Brown’s son Frederick near the Adair cabin and shot him. Brown and his men engaged Reid’s forces and exchanged heavy fire. Although Brown and his men attempted to draw the proslavery force out of Osawatomie, they stayed, burning and looting the town. Reid’s forces rode further into Kansas, harassing abolitionist and Free-State settlers before returning to Missouri.
In 1911, the Adair cabin was moved to the grounds of the battlefield. Today you can visit the battlefield, which is part of the John Brown Memorial Park and the Adair cabin at the John Brown Museum State Historic Site.
After the war broke out, conditions did not improve in Miami County. In a letter to his sister, dated October 21, 1861, Paola resident Allan T. Ward describes the retaliatory nature of the war on the border. While Ward does not display a strong sentiment for either side, he is critical of Jayhawkers who he says “had it not been for them we would have had no difficulty here…” and complains about the influx of contraband slaves into Kansas that resulted from James Lane’s sack of Osceola. While Ward’s letter is part of the Kansas Historical Society’s collection, you can read it online at the Kansas City Public Library’s award-winning digital repository, Civil War on the Western Border. You can learn more about the residents of Paola and Miami County during the Civil War at the Miami County Historical Museum. The Osawatomie History Museum also contains information on the lives of Miami Countians before and during the Civil War.
And a Little Bit of Everything
The Native American and Civil War history of Miami County is rich and interesting, but the county has lots more history to offer! Check out the day trip ideas suggested by Miami County Economic Development, the City of Osawatomie also has suggestions for a driving tour that hits the sites mentioned above and other significant points of historical interest in Osawatomie. Once you’re all historied-out (Is that possible, Heritage Travelers?), there is still plenty to see and do in Miami County.
Agriculture and Viniculture
Plan now for next year’s Miami County Spring Farm Tour! This annual self-guided tour is a great way to see the county while checking out some amazing specialty farms in the area. If you can’t wait for spring, you can still take in the Louisburg Cider Mill, the historic New Lancaster General Store (Heritage Traveler Insiders receive a special coupon for New Lancaster General Store and Middle Creek Winery.) and the Somerset Wine Trail. The wine trail will introduce you to the viviculture and winemakers of Miami County. Miami County also offers a trolley that travels the wine tour route so you can kick back, sip samples and enjoy a beautiful ride through the countryside.
The Great Outdoors
Located between Spring Hill and Paola, Miami County is home to Hillsdale State Park. The park, situated along the Hillsdale Reservoir, offers 12,000 acres of area for camping, fishing, boating, hunting, shooting and wildlife, swimming, hiking and horseback riding. In addition to Hillsdale, Miami County has ten other lakes that are open for fishing and other recreational activities. For those who really want to get off the beaten path, Miami County have over 50 miles of recreational trails, including a portion of the 117-mile Flint Hills Nature Trail that connects Miami County to its western neighbor, Franklin County.
With a day full of history and outdoor fun, your visit to Miami County can still go strong even after the sun goes down. After a trip to a great local eatery and before you head home, have a closer look at the stars at Powell Observatory. Constructed and operated by the Astronomical Society of Kansas City with a grant from the Powell family, the observatory has one of the largest telescopes in a five state area. Powell Observatory has public programming on Saturday evenings through October 31.