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Wyandotte County, Kansas

1844
2012

 

 

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From an article in the Kansas City Journal Post, February 20, 1927

Old Settlement was Made up of Negro Refugees from Tennessee, who Came up River in 1879 and Established Town Soon to be No More

Only five shacks remain of the old town of JUNIPER, one of the strangest settlements in the United States.

Juniper at one time had a population of 500, all Negroes.  It was located within two blocks of the western end of the intercity viaduct and literally thousands looked upon it every day.  Yet it's doubtful if one person out of a thousand in Kansas City ever heard of Juniper.

The Negro city of Juniper was transplanted from Tennessee, just as the old Indian city of Wyandott, the predecessor of Kansas City, Kas, was transplanted from Ohio.  The expedition that brought the people who established Juniper became famed throughout the United States, yet Juniper itself was lost in the very town it adjoined.  And no one seems to know why it was called Juniper, for there are no Juniper trees anywhere in the neighborhood.

[Annotation:  It seems very plausible to the transcriber of this article, that the Negroes coming from Tennessee might very well have chosen the name of Juniper as Tennessee is covered with Juniper trees, also known as the Eastern Redcedar. -- Eastern redcedar  is not a true cedar. It is a juniper and the most widely distributed native conifer in the Eastern United States. It is found in every state east of the 100th meridian. This hardy tree is often among the first trees to occupy cleared areas where its seeds are spread by cedar waxwings and other birds that enjoy the fleshy, bluish seed cones.]

BEGINNING OF JUNIPER

I. F. Bradley, a Negro attorney in Kansas for more than thirty years, remembers the expedition that brought 1,000 Negro refugees from Tennessee in 1879, and left half of them stranded in old Wyandott, to found the city of shacks that became known as Juniper.  He was then a lad of 14, living at Cambridge, Saline county, Missouri, on the Missouri river.  He says:

On April 9, 1879, the majestic steamboat, Fannie Lewis, hove in sight around the bend, towing a couple of great barges, upon which was the largest number of refugees that came in the great Negro exodus at any one time. Those were the halcyon days of steamboat traffic on the Missouri river, but the Fannie Lewis, accompanied by its barges loaded with Negro refugees, attracted unusual attention.

We learned from the shipping clerk that the boat would not lash on the rock levee, as usual, but would land some distance below town - just why was never learned.  Many persons, both white and black stood on the banks to watch the majestic boat plow her way past the town after she had lifted head line and steamed up the river.

But I was not satisfied with that.  I begged mother to let me go down into the woods, where the boat landed, and went aboard her.  There I heard those refugee Negroes sing and pray and tell their stories of the terrible days of reconstruction in the South.  They sang, Rock, Daniel, and they rock as they sang.  They also sang Ride on, Jesus, Ride on, and I Done Got Over.  Some of the songs I had heard before, but never sung with the pathos and feeling that they had that day; and the prayers I heard I can never forget.

I was a bare-headed, bare-footed and sparsely clad youngster, and who could have dreamed that, only ten years from that date, I would have picked up what education I have, located in Wyandotte, be elected justice of the peace, and come into close association with those refugees of the far famed, Negro exodus."

LANDING OF THE REFUGEES

When the Fannie Lewis appeared in the river off the village of Wyandott, with barges carrying more than 1,000 Negro men, women and children, many of the residents of the village, white and red alike, wished to prevent the landing.

Corwine Patterson, a Negro who was constable, sought to persuade the people to permit the landing, and enlisting the cooperation of Senator W. J. Buchan, a white man, finally carried his point.  The whole number was landed on the low lands south of Jersey creek, east of Third street, and north of Everett avenue in Kansas City, Kas.

The leader of the Negroes in this exodus was a remarkable man named Isaiah Montgomery.  He had been a slave of Jefferson Davis, and because he could read and write and was trustworthy, had been made foreman on the Davis plantation. After conditions became well-nigh unbearable around Nashville, Tenn, it was Montgomery who managed the exodus; and that he did his work ably is shown by the fact that not a refugee died en route or was even ill, though all were exposed to the elements.

A little later on Montgomery divided the refugees and took about half of them or 500, to Topeka, where he founded Tennessee Town, which still exists in the state capital and is a large and prosperous Negro settlement.  Later on, he brought another colony to Kansas and established the town of Nicodemus.

For several years he made his home in Juniper, then returned to his former home in Tennessee.  After this he was able to buy the Jefferson Davis plantation where he had been a slave and became its owner and manager.

He also founded the Negro city of Mound Bayoo in Mississippi, which continues to this day, one of the few exclusive Negro cities in America.  It is officered by Negroes and is said to be prosperous.

HOW JUNIPER WAS BUILT

"The kind hearted and well beloved Patterson, who belonged to a group of Negroes who had lived in Missouri before attaining their freedom, a group that settled around Quindaro, helped these unfortunate people to become good and active citizens," Mr. Bradley said.  "In this he was greatly aided by such distinguished white persons as George Fowler, the packer, who gave them employment.  Some of their descendants are still employed at Fowler's.  Mrs. Fowler made weekly trips through Juniper as late as 1889, distributing charity and teaching them the correct way to live.  The refugees made remained where they landed, squatting on the river bank and building them shacks of irregular shapes out of whatever could be patched together."

Many of these shacks were wonderful to behold.  They were a patch work of picked up boards, scraps of sheet iron and tin.  The writer has often wondered why artists of Greater Kansas City did not flock there to draw and paint the strangest and most picturesque dwellings in America; for artists travel half around the world to catch the atmosphere of far less picturesque surroundings.  Most of the shacks were set on posts, and under them there were flocks of chickens, ducks and geese.  Often the shacks were approached by boards laying flat on the grade in front and behind, where they led to the doorway, were 4 and 5 feet above the ground.

Readers have thrilled at the matchless description of the home of the Peggottys and Little Em'ly, in Dickens' David Copperfield; but almost any of these shacks was just as strange and picturesque; was the boat house in the book.

And here children were born and grew up.  Here for more than forty years this community of 300 of the famous "Exodusters" lived, forgotten by the world that wondered what had become of them.  Thousands of people, looking from the elevation of the intercity viaduct [Annotation:  Lewis and Clark Viaduct in 2004] as they passed within two blocks of Juniper every day, never considered that the strange conglomeration of huts below them might hide romance and history.

SOME UNIQUE CHARACTERS

The colony of refugees brought its preacher, its lawyers and its doctor.  The lawyer and the doctor merely called themselves by these titles.  Neither could read or write.  But they were accorded the titles they assumed, and the doctor actually practiced medicine among the refugees.  Mr. Bradley describes them in this way:

"The only qualification their Doctor Childs had was to rig up his little, ill fed nag, with a ghost of a saddle, martingales, collar and crupper, and periodically ride around and up Minnesota avenue, looking as important as a congressman.

The lawyer in the person of the well known Manuel Powell, was unkempt, wholly ignorant, and looked wise and ugly".

The lawyer actually hung out a shingle and called one of the rooms of his two room shack his office.  According to Attorney Bradley, the white people of Wyandott and later of Kansas City, when it became that, had their fun out of him by inducing him periodically to try for office.  At one time a white man made out in due form a petition for him to be appointed postmaster, and everybody to whom he presented the paper promptly signed it.  It was forwarded to Washington, and President Harrison sent in the name of Powell for appointment as postmaster of Kansas City, Kas.  It was only by quick and strenuous work on the part of some of the men who had signed his petition that Manuel Powell, the illiterate Negro Exoduster, was kept from becoming postmaster of Kansas City, Kas.

The Negro preacher they brought with them, Curtis Polalrd, is described by Attorney Bradley as possessing some ability of leadership, but unfortunately he did not live long.  He did, however, found a church which was built at Third street and Freeman avenue, and now is located on Walnut boulevard and Troup avenue.

Four large churches developed out of this mother church -- King Solomon, at Third and Garfield streets; Mount Zion, at Fourth and Virginia streets; Pleasant Green church, near Fourth and Oakland streets; and still another, an offshoot of Mount Zion church, in Stranger's Rest, at Fifth street and Stewart avenue.  The denomination was Close Communion Baptist.

[Annotation:  From the History of Wyandotte County and It's People, Perl W. Morgan, 1911 -- The First Colored Baptist church was organized in 1862 among the refugees who came to Wyandotte, and was the result of the efforts of the missionaries sent among them by that denomination. A frame building was erected on Nebraska avenue in 1869. In 1881 the building at Fifth street and Nebraska avenue was erected. From this pioneer body have sprung nine other colored Baptist churches - Metropolitan, at Ninth street and Washington avenue; King Solomon, at No. 1018 North Third street; Morning Star, at Kimball avenue and Howard street; Mount Pleasant, at No. 1521 North Third street; Mount Zion, at No. 417 Virginia avenue; Pleasant Green, at First street and Splitlog avenue; Rose Hill, at No. 823 New Jersey avenue; and St. Philips, at No, 346 New Jersey avenue. -- The South Side church is at No. 835 South Eighth street and the Third church is at Ninth street and Minnesota avenue. The colored churches of this Christian denomination are the First, at No. 1401 North Eighth street, and the Christian mission, at Sixth street and Rowland avenue. -- Seventh Day Adventists - First, No. 438 Nebraska avenue; Second, (colored), No. 713 Freeman avenue / Church of the Ascension (colored, No. 935 Everett avenue / Church of the Living God (colored), No. 337 Oakland avenue / Holiness Mission (colored), No. 935 Everett avenue.]

A GENEROUS RIVER

At the time the shack town of Juniper was founded, the Missouri river ran almost to the railroad and left only a narrow strip of land on which the refugees might build.  But it soon began to deposit new land to the north of them.  In the course of time, the whole of what is now called Fairfax district, comprising thousands of acres and a mile wide, was formed.  There was plenty of room for expansion given by nature to the Exodusters.

Many of them planted gardens and corn fields on the ground that had been laid down at their back doors.  Their domestic fowls had free access to a long range of bottom land, and the plentiful grasshoppers fattened them.  For many years fish were abundant in the two rivers, the Missouri and the Kansas, that flowed almost by their homes, and the children helped supply the homes with fish; while drifts brought fire wood almost to their doors.  The making of a living was almost as simple and easy as it was with Robinson Carusoe on his island where he was monarch of all he surveyed, his right there was none to dispute.

NATURE'S GIFTS BREED TROUBLE

The generous gifts of land which the Missouri river seemed to make to the destitute refugees became, later on, the source of great trouble to them.  White people wanted the lands.  First came white fishermen who squatted along the banks of the Kansas river, and got first chance at the fish and the driftwood.

Then the railroads wanted more trackage room and pushed the "exodusters" toward the river, still there was abundant land left.  But when the value of the district as an industrial center began to manifest, the menace became much stronger for the old refugees and their children.

Time came when all the land was claimed and confirmed by court decrees.  It was surveyed and tracts were sold as industrial sites and occupied.  Mr. Bradley came in handy in making the adjustments, and finding new locations for the Negroes who occupied as squatters the grounds they held for more than forty years.  New homes were built and the old ones, abandoned and practically without value, were wrecked.  Some five or six of the shacks yet remain.  But they are to go.

The doom of the city of Juniper is therefore in sight.  Now it is going in a strange reflection that, though it has exited for over forty years, transplanted from a distant state to Kansas, it remained to the last almost unknown and without publicity.

Nellie McGuinn's History of Kansas City, Kansas

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History Site created on December 02, 2002
Page last updated: 23-Apr-2014

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