Friday, December 18, 2015

Morton City - a dead exoduster colony in Hodgeman County

In the years following the Civil War, a couple dozen black colonies dotted Kansas.

That included a short-lived settlement in Hodgeman County.

After Pap Singleton established Nicodemas in northwest Kansas, exodusters arrived in Kinsley in March 1878. They headed into Hodgeman County and began to form Morton City, which they named after Oliver P. Morton, according to the book "Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction" written by Neil Irvin Painter.

Benton Butler, James Board, Carrell Lytle, George Perry, Frank Harris and William Maxwell were black Union soldiers who moved to Hodgeman County sometime in the 1870s, according to a February 2003 article in The News. They are buried in the Jetmore cemetery with other pioneers. The men and their families were part of an early surge of migration before the "Great Exodus" from the South in 1879.

Most who left during the exodus were responding to the South's reconstruction, which resulted in violence and economic dependency for black residents, said Rita Napier in the article, who was then an associate professor of history at the University of Kansas.

A dream of free land spurred them on. Under the 1862 Homestead Act, the federal government provided acre to any settler, regardless of race or sex, who improved the land for five years.

"This is to lay before your minds a few sketches of what great advantages there are for the great mass of people of small means that are emigrating West to come and settle in the county of Hodgeman," one poster advertised. "And more especially the colored people, for they are the ones that want to find the best place for climate and for soil for the smallest capital."

Migration was led by Thomas Moore, said Crystal Bradshaw, 21, who wrote a book about her family history - which traces her five-great grandmother Eliza from slavery to Kansas.

According to Painter's book, the homesteaders had a hard time building the settlement and taking care of their homesteads. Eventually, they focused on just their homesteads.

However, only one settler, equipped with a team of livestock, could grow crops. Others had to make due with gardens and hiring themselves out to the area's established farmers.

Most of the settlers moved away - scattering to nearby communities, said Mary Ford, with the Haun Museum in Jetmore.

Wilburn Bradshaw continues to farm in the area, Crystal Bradshaw said. 
Crystal Bradshaw will have a book signing for her new book, "Eliza: A Generational Journey," from 1 to 3 p.m. Dec. 22 at the Hodgeman County Museum. 
Refreshements will be provided. 
The books costs $14.95; the ebook is $9.95. To order the Kindle version, visit Or visit Crystal's Facebook page at

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