Kansas has more than 6,000 dead towns. Here are a few of them I traveled to as a Hutchinson News journalist.
Monday, September 29, 2014
Yankton, Kansas a defunct town in Harper County
Photos by Sandra Milburn. Concrete still remains at Yankton townsite
A few clues about Yankton
I got an email after the 2014 Kansas State Fair from Dan Stringer, who said he once lived at the townsite of Yankton in Harper County. So, photographer Sandra Milburn and I picked Stringer up where he was living in Argonia and trekked to the former townsite near Attica.
Harper County has more than 30 extinct villages – towns like Joppa, Pilot Knob, Shook and Ruby, according to the Kansas State Historical Society. While some have chronicled histories, the details of Yankton’s brief existence are few. There is no evidence of its birth or how and when, exactly, it died.
There are some clues however.
Perhaps the town was started by the Oliver family. According to the book “Harper County Story” written in 1968, Yankton was a pioneer village in Ruella township. It had a post office, which opened Aug. 6, 1883. The postmaster was Stephen C. Oliver. He also owned the Yankton Hotel, livery and stable.
Meanwhile, Marcus Oliver, postmaster Oliver’s brother, was in real estate of the town, having “a number of city lots for sale cheap,” according to the book. He also ran a peanut stand in connection with his real estate business on the north side of the Yankton square.
Yankton even had a newspaper, the Yankton Gleaner, an eight-page paper devoted to Yankton and its vicinity. It sold for $2 in advance.
And, for a time, people came to the area and settled here, calling Yankton home. A.J. Barr was a bricklayer, plasterer and sod carpenter. R.S. Sullivan was a shoemaker and cobbler. L.A. Jones was a hairdresser.
There was also Dr. Joseph Brockway. He settled with his wife and six of his children – noting in a letter to family that his daughter was at a university in Iowa.
His family’s roots are deep, he wrote to the receiver – noting his family history goes back to “the Massachusetts colonial tradition.” Two family members were massacred at a fort on the banks of the Connecticut River at the close of the Revolutionary War, he wrote.
The letter, the property of the University of Kansas’ Kenneth Spencer Research Library, was dated May 1884 and gave no details about life in Yankton, except to mention he was writing from Yankton in Harper County, Kansas. Brockway did write that he hadn’t finished his doctorate and was taking classes at Ann Arbor University.
There are few mentions of Brockway in other publications. One genealogical document noted he also was an attorney. The Annual Report by the U.S. Bureau of Animal Industry lists Brockway fighting southern cattle fever on his farm south and west of Harper along Nine Cottonwoods Creek in 1883.
Brockway must have eventually left Kansas, although I'm not sure when. It could have been after Yankton's demise. An obituary for a Dr. Joseph Brockway in the Wichita Daily Eagle published in May 1911 said he died in Aline, Oklahoma, which is about 70 miles from Yankton.
Then the trail of Yankton’s story runs cold. Brockway’s obituary never mentioned Yankton. Even Postmaster Oliver’s obituary never mentioned Yankton or his time as a postmaster. It said he settled in the Attica area, just two miles to the west of the Yankton townsite, in 1882. He is buried in the Attica Cemetery.
What little details there are show the town was short-lived. The post office closed one year after it opened in October 1884.
Stringer said the stories he heard was Yankton was near the site of an Osage Village. In Souix and Osage, the name means “village at the end.” Yankton residents planned for a railroad. However, the tracks were laid to the north, going through the nearby town of Crystal Springs, instead.
On our trip to the site, Stringer pointed out where he and his second wife, Phyllis, lived. It was once the Yankton hotel and saloon, with a brothel upstairs, he said. They ran a Christian ministry from the site, which is now being used by a local church.
To read the whole story on KansasAgland, click here