Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Vigilance Committees in Kansas During the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression

August 19th, 2021

When people find out about my job, or when students are interviewing me to figure out their career options, they often ask me what my favorite thing about my job is. I usually say something about the variety or about the fact that I get to learn something new every day.

Take, for example, when I was creating a finding aid for a manuscript collection we’ve held at Spencer Research Library for several decades but that never had an online presence before. The Lawrence National Bank & Trust Company was located downtown on Massachusetts Street in Lawrence, Kansas, from the 1860s until the early 1990s. After several mergers and changes of hand, what was this bank and trust is now part of the U.S. Bank banking system.

This collection has been minimally processed—in archival parlance, this means we haven’t done a lot of physical rehousing of the materials, and we’ve described at the box or volume level without going into a whole lot of detail for each folder or individual volume. In order to describe the collection, I had to do some quick surveying for the inventory, which is how I learned about vigilante committees of the 1920s and 1930s.

Vigilante, or vigilance, committees were formed by bank associations in order to stop bank robberies. They were apparently formed throughout the Midwestern United States during the 1920s, when the likes of John Dillinger and “Pretty Boy” Floyd were headline news. Daytime robberies increased exponentially in the early 1930s during the Great Depression, typically against banks with few staff in towns of small population, according to a member of the American Bank Association’s Protective Department.

Black text on a neutral background or page.
Part of an address by James E. Baum, deputy manager of the Protective Department of the American Bankers Association, from the Proceedings of the 44th Annual Convention of the Kansas Bankers Association, May 21-22, 1931. Call Number: RH C679. Click image to enlarge.

Kansas had one of the earliest bank associations, organized in 1887, according to the Story of Banking in Kansas, available at Spencer Research Library (Call Number: RH C4040). The Kansas Bankers Association began its vigilante system in 1925. Individual banks throughout the state contributed vigilantes (over 3,500 individuals in the 1920s), who were commissioned as deputy sheriffs and provided with arms and ammunition by the local banks. Another part of this security program was installing alarm systems.

A vertical form with instructions to operators in case of a bank attack and a grid to record names and phone numbers.
A blank placard used by the vigilance committees to provide names and telephone numbers for local vigilantes in case of bank attacks. Lawrence National Bank & Trust Company Records. Call Number: RH MS 264, Box 2. Click image to enlarge.

The Kansas Bankers Association, and other associations around the country, established these vigilance committees not only to slow down the number of robberies taking place but also to lessen robbery insurance rates for banks. James E. Baum, a deputy manager with the American Bankers Association, noted in his 1931 address at the annual state convention that Kansas had 97 out of 105 counties organized into vigilante committees.

W.E. Decker, an employee of the Lawrence National Bank & Trust, was the Secretary for the Douglas County Bankers’ Association in the 1930s. The bank’s records at Spencer Research Library include approximately half a box of correspondence and financial records from the association.

Page listing receipts and disbursements, each $601.86. Receipts are for "regular meeting" ($37.34), "vigilante maintenance" ($324.02), and "4-H Club Banquet" ($240.50).
“Vigilante maintenance” brought the Douglas County Bankers Association the most receipts from 1934 to 1935, more only than the 4-H Club Banquet, according to the secretary’s report for that fiscal year. Lawrence National Bank & Trust Company Records. Call Number: RH MS 264, Box 2. Click image to enlarge.

Much of this material details the local association’s vigilante committee, records they kept to be in good standing with the Kansas Bankers’ Association. Other records from the local association include information regarding a banquet they held annually on behalf of the 4-H Club, as well as agreements amongst the county banks about interest rates and other banking matters.

Short typed letter with First National Bank letterhead.
In between organizing the vigilantes committee, the Douglas County Bankers Association also discussed savings rates and other banking matters. Lawrence National Bank & Trust Company Records. Call Number: RH MS 264, Box 2. Click image to enlarge.

Members of the local association participated in regional and statewide Vigilante Shoots, both a competition and an opportunity to improve one’s marksmanship.

Full-page typed letter with Kansas Bankers Association letterhead.
A form letter from the Kansas Bankers Association regarding logistics for county shoots around Kansas in the fall of 1934. Lawrence National Bank & Trust Company Records. Call Number: RH MS 264, Box 2. Click image to enlarge.

I’ve studied a lot of Kansas history over the years working at the Spencer Research Library and elsewhere, but I had never heard about these vigilante committees until I stumbled across the information in the Lawrence National Bank & Trust records. As the old adage says, “You learn something new every day!”

Marcella Huggard
Archives and Manuscripts Processing Coordinator

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with Oral Histories

October 13th, 2020

As Hispanic Heritage Month draws to a close I would like to draw attention to three oral history collections housed in the Kansas Collection at Kenneth Spencer Research Library. These collections speak to the everyday lives and experiences of the Hispanic communities in Garden City, Emporia, and Kansas City, Kansas.

The collection I’m going to highlight is the Oral History Project Regarding the Hispanic Community of Garden City, Kansas (RH MS 750). The collection consists of interview transcripts, audio tapes, and photographs. This project was funded by a grant from what is now Humanities Kansas.  

For example, in her interview Cipriana “Sue” Rodriquez spoke about the harsh conditions and treatment her father faced as part of the working class in Mexico before coming to Garden City to work for the railroad, originally in 1900. Cipriana also discussed living in a railroad house, her experience in school, the family’s work experiences, and the strong sense of community among the Hispanic families.  

Photograph of a railroad crew in Garden City, Kansas, circa 1900
A railroad crew in Garden City, Kansas, circa 1900. Oral history Project Regarding the Hispanic Community of Garden City, Kansas. Call Number: RH PH 183, Box 1, Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.
Portrait of an unknown Hispanic family in Garden City, Kansas, circa 1900
A portrait of an unknown Hispanic family in Garden City, Kansas, circa 1900. Oral history Project Regarding the Hispanic Community of Garden City, Kansas. Call Number: RH PH 183, Box 1, Folder 25. Click image to enlarge.

Similarly, Lydia Mendoza de Gonzalez and Louis Mendoza discussed the conditions in Mexico that lead to family members coming to Garden City around 1900. They spoke of growing up in a culturally traditional Mexican household and the discrimination faced by the Hispanic community. A primary focus of this interview was education and Lydia’s efforts to help members of the community get the financial support they needed to attain a vocational education.

Photograph of a Mexican Fiesta in Garden City, Kansas, circa 1950
A Mexican Fiesta in Garden City, Kansas, circa 1950. Oral history Project Regarding the Hispanic Community of Garden City, Kansas. Call Number: RH PH 183, Box 1, Folder 24. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of graduates Angela and Salina Gonzales, with their mother Lydia, at a commencement ceremony in Garden City, Kansas, circa 1970
Graduates Angela and Salina Gonzales, with their mother Lydia, at a commencement ceremony in Garden City, Kansas, circa 1970. Oral history Project Regarding the Hispanic Community of Garden City, Kansas. Call Number: RH PH 183, Box 1, Folder 31. Click image to enlarge.

The other oral history collections are the Oral History Project Regarding the Hispanic Community of Emporia, Kansas (RH MS 751) and the Kansas City, Kansas, Spanish Speaking Office Interviews and Slides (RH MS 752).

Letha E. Johnson
Kansas Collection Curator

LGBT History Month: Remembering Kristi Parker and Liberty Press

October 2nd, 2019

This LGBT History Month we would like to commemorate the life of Kristi Parker, a prominent activist in the LGBTQ community in Kansas and the founder of Liberty Press, Kansas’s first and only LGBTQ news magazine.

Kristi Parker and Sharon “Vinnie” (Levine) Reed in the Liberty Press office, late 1990s
Kristi Parker, left, and Sharon “Vinnie” (Levine) Reed in the Liberty Press office, late 1990s. Call Number: RH MS-P 1480, Box 2, Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.

This October marks eighteen months since the final issue of Liberty Press was published shortly before Kristi Parker’s unexpected death last year at the age of forty-nine. During the Liberty Press’s twenty-four-year run, Parker and her team tackled an enormous variety of topics affecting the Kansas LGBTQ community, including politics, art, sports, health, parenting, events, religion, and education. The magazine was truly one of a kind in the central Midwest, and its regional focus created a sense of collective identity for Kansas’s LGBTQ community.

In addition to her role as editor and publisher of Liberty Press, Parker was also a member of the Wichita Pride Committee and Kansans for Human Dignity, and she was a member the governing board of The Center, an LGBTQ community center in Wichita.

We are fortunate to hold the papers of Kristi Parker at Spencer Research Library and would like to highlight a few items from the collection that demonstrate Parker’s role in the history of the Kansas LGBTQ community.

The evolution of Liberty Press covers over the years. Call Number: RH MS 1480, Boxes 1-2. Click image to enlarge.

We hold a nearly-complete run of Liberty Press issues from the second issue published in 1994 through the magazine’s final issue in 2018, as well as a full run of the Kansas City-specific edition, Liberty Press Kansas City. The production files that accompany each issue of the magazine include preparatory correspondence, mock-ups, photographs, and sample advertisements, all of which serve as evidence of the creative process behind the business. The files also provide invaluable insight into the LGBTQ community in Kansas from the mid-1990s through the 2010s, particularly through a selection of truly touching letters written by readers to Kristi Parker and others behind the magazine. Many letters come from members of the LGBTQ community living in small towns in Kansas; they write about the struggles and loneliness they feel as LGBTQ individuals in these rural communities, but also about the life-changing impact Liberty Press had on their lives. The magazine encouraged them to be confident and proud as LGBTQ Kansans and affirmed that they were not alone in their experience, but rather were part of a widespread, vibrant community across the state.

Buttons collected by Kristi Parker at LGBTQ Pride events in Wichita, Topeka, and Kansas City. Call Number: RH MS Q420, Box 2. Click image to enlarge.

Kristi Parker’s involvement in the LGBTQ community began several years before the founding of Liberty Press. Parker attended Stonewall and Pride events from the 1980s onward and became deeply involved in Wichita Pride in the early 1990s, writing guides for the festival, providing press coverage, and later sitting on the organizing committee. Her collection holds a vast amount of ephemera from Wichita Pride and other Kansas-based Pride events, including colorful buttons, lanyards, flags, magnets, posters, sashes, trophies, and even t-shirts. These artifacts complement the collection’s documentary evidence of these parades, rallies, and concerts celebrating the LGBTQ community in a very tangible way, allowing us to visualize these events and the energetic, joyful experience had by Parker and other attendees.

Rosie O’Donnell, a staff favorite among the Kristi Parker artifacts, relaxes in the Spencer Research Library mailroom. Call Number: RH MS Q452, Box 2. Click image to enlarge.

There are countless other gems throughout Kristi Parker’s papers that testify to the Kansan LGBTQ experience and to Parker’s work, life, and lasting impact on the community. We hope you have enjoyed this brief tour of the insight Parker’s papers have to offer, and we invite you to continue exploring her papers and other collections we hold regarding the history of LGBTQ communities in Kansas this October and beyond.

Vannis Jones
Processing Archivist

Albert Dwight Searl: A Free-State Surveyor in Bloody Kansas

August 13th, 2019

In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened the Kansas Territory for settlement, destined to become a free or a slave state by popular vote. Conflict between settlers from slave-holding Missouri and anti-slavery New England inspired the nickname “Bleeding Kansas.” Although a free-state Kansas constitution was adopted in 1861, the Civil War prolonged the strife until 1865.

Among the first Kansas settlers were land surveyors needed to lay out land claims and towns. Albert Dwight Searl (1831-1902), a civil engineer from Massachusetts, reached the Lawrence town site in September 1854 with the second group of settlers.

The first group had arrived a month earlier and roughly laid out land claims. As one settler wrote: “After pacing off a half mile square, we drive down a stake at each of the four corners; on one of the stakes we write: I claim 160 acres of the lands within the aforesaid bounds, from the date of claim. This is then copied and taken to the register and recorded.” After Searl arrived they pooled their already staked claims, and he began “to survey farm lots in number equal to the claimants in both parties.” When Searl and an assistant surveyed the Lawrence town site in September, the tall prairie “grass wore out their pants to the knees till they had to cover them with flour sacks for protection.” Searl “established the meridian line …by setting a row of lights up and down Massachusetts Street in the evening and running a line by the North Star.”

Picture of the 1854 Searl Map of Lawrence housed in the Spencer Research Library Lobby

Searl’s plan of Lawrence arrived from the Boston lithographic printer in January 1855. “Map of Lawrence City, Kanzas, Surveyed in Oct. 1854 by A. D. Searl,” which is on display in the Spencer Research Library lobby. Click image to enlarge.
_

 

An 1869 bird’s eye view shows Lawrence expanding to fill the grid laid out by Searl. University of Kansas, Spencer Research Library call #: RH Map R140

An 1869 bird’s eye view shows Lawrence expanding to fill the grid laid out by Searl.
Ruger, A. Bird’s eye view of the city of Lawrence, Kansas 1869[Place of publication
not identified: Publisher not identified, 1869]. Call Number: RH Map R140. Click image to enlarge.

He also laid out Topeka, Osawatomie, Palmyra and Prairie City. An 1855 newspaper article said, “Mr. Searl … seems to us well qualified for getting up a complete map of Kansas, and we hope he well [sic] be induced to prepare one immediately after the completion of the surveys.” Soon the Territorial Legislature hired Searl to undertake the map project with a partner, Edmund Burke Whitman. They spent a year traveling the Kansas Territory. In April 1856 the local newspaper praised their draft map for including “all rivers and creeks, with their names, main-travelled roads to the various sections, post offices, towns, trading posts, forts, mission stations, Indian reserves, noted mounds, guide meridians, base and township lines.” In May 1856, before the map was published, pro-slavery raiders attacked Lawrence and burned down the Eldridge Hotel, the Free-State headquarters. The views on Searl and Whitman’s 1856 map of Kansas show the Eldridge Hotel newly built in April and as burned ruins after the May raid.

Searl described damage to his own nearby office: “I had among my papers notes of surveys of different parts of the Territory; … I also had notes of the surveys of Lawrence and Topeka … The transit instrument was injured, the axis of the telescope was bent, and the screw that secures the axis to the upright pieces that support the telescope was broken and rendered the instrument unfit for use; … The door of the office was broken open, some window lights broken, two chairs injured; the drawing table besmeared with whisky and sugar, and the house dirtied up by oyster cans, &c.”

Undeterred, Whitman and Searl opened their Emigrant’s Intelligence Office in Lawrence in May 1856. As general land agents they offered to help clients seeking land in Kansas. According to their prospectus, Searl, who had laid out the city of Lawrence, could “trace back all the lots to their original holders, and show the valid titles.” They were also “prepared to lay out town sites and to survey farm claims, – to negotiate the sale and transfer of town property generally, – to investigate the validity of titles, – to superintend the erection of buildings, and to act as Agents for the care of property owned by non-residents.” The partnership was brief, though, and Burke left Kansas in 1858.

However, Searl, his wife and two children remained in Lawrence. In November 1855 he joined a Free-State Army unit, the Kansas Rifles No.1. Short in stature like most of its members, Searl proposed renaming it the Stubbs. The Stubbs saw much action during 1856. In 1861 Searl joined the 8th Kansas Volunteers as a private, later transferring to the 9th Kansas Cavalry and mustering out as a captain in 1865.

From 1866 to 1871 he supervised the construction of a railroad line from Pleasant Hill in northern Missouri to Lawrence, Kansas.

In 1868 Searl and William Fletcher Goodhue, a younger civil engineer also employed in Kansas railroad construction, undertook a detailed map of Lawrence. A newspaper article said the map would measure 4’4” x 5’10” and cover “three miles square, or nine miles of the country in and about Lawrence.” The margins would include 25 to 30 representations of public buildings, businesses, and the better class of private dwellings. Holland Wheeler, then Lawrence City Surveyor, saw and approved a draft. Goodhue was supposed to oversee the lithographic printing, but errors in numbering city lots occurred when copying the map at the printer. Searl rejected the printed maps sent to Lawrence in August 1870. The defective maps were turned over to a local bookseller. Attempts to use the map in land transactions attracted severe criticism of its errors. Wheeler, Searl, and Goodhue responded in print, defending their work and laying the blame on the printer.

In 1866 Searl and Almerin Tryon Winchell, former manager of the Eldridge House Saloon, became partners in a Lawrence billiard parlor and saloon. Still advertising in 1871, they had ceased business by 1875.

From 1874 to 1875 railroad work took Searl to Ohio. By 1877 he was surveying the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in Colorado. He also undertook Colorado mining ventures. An 1878 visitor commented that the “indefatigable A.D. Searl… and his lop-eared pony have traveled nearly one thousand miles since he came out. … He looks as tough as rubber.”

However, Searl’s family remained in Lawrence, and he returned often. During one visit in July 1881, friends surprised Searl at his Lawrence home to celebrate his 50th birthday. In 1883 his daughter was married in Lawrence, but by 1890 Searl and wife were living in Leadville, Colorado with their children and grandchildren. When Searl died there in 1902, though, his final wish was for burial in Lawrence.

Karen S. Cook
Special Collections Librarian

To learn more and consult citations, please see Karen’s longer article on the subject:

Cook, Karen S. “Partisan Cartographers During the Kansas-Missouri Border War, 1854–1861” in: Liebenberg E., Demhardt I., Vervust S. (eds) History of Military Cartography. Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography. Springer, Cham. 2016. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-25244-5_14

Meet the KSRL Staff: Lynn Ward

February 20th, 2018

This is the thirteenth (lucky number thirteen!) installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Lynn Ward, who joined the Spencer Research Library processing unit in late October as a processing archivist. 

Where are you from?
Since most of my adult life has been spent in Lawrence, I like to say that’s where I’m from. I grew up in Missouri but attended the University of Kansas for my bachelor’s degree (anthropology) and masters (museum studies). I have moved from Lawrence a few times, but I keep coming back!

What does your job at Spencer entail?
How do researchers know what’s on the shelves in the archives? That’s my job. I work on making all the amazing information that is here in the library—in documents, letters, maps, photographs, diaries, drawings, scrapbooks, and records—accessible. I do that by processing donations and collections and then making finding aids for them online. Then the information contained in the donations and collections can be searched, found, and utilized.

Lynn Ward in the Kansas Collection Stacks

Making Spencer’s collections accessible:
Lynn Ward in the Kansas Collection stacks.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?
This isn’t the first time I have worked at Spencer Research Library. When I was a graduate student in the Museum Studies program here at KU, I worked in the University Archives up on the 4th floor. That was my first archives position. Since then, I have had a long career working in a variety of museums, archives, and libraries. At each one, I have learned new skills, experienced many situations, and gained lots of knowledge! I’m happy to bring all this to Spencer Research Library where I can use all these skills and knowledge, plus learn even more from the excellent staff here. In a way, I’ve come full circle and now I’m back home.

What is one of the most interesting items you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?
It’s hard to narrow down one, because I find it all so interesting! I have worked on some great collections since starting here in late October. But, I would have to say that I am most interested in the territorial Kansas and also the early KU history material. In the lobby of the Spencer Research Library there is a map of Lawrence from 1854 that I love to look at—especially since “Kansas” is spelled with a “z”—“Kanzas.” I also like to walk in the North Gallery and see a cross-section of all the fascinating collections that are in the library. I love looking at all of the books and exhibits in that beautiful space.

Picture of the 1854 SearleMap of Lawrence housed in the Spencer Research Library Lobby

Map of “Lawrence City, Kanzas Territory, Surveyed Oct. 1854 by A. D. Searl.”
This map hangs in the Spencer Research Library lobby. Click image to enlarge.

What part of your job do you like best?
I like the feeling of being part of a team. We are all working to make the collections accessible so that everyone—the public, historians, students, genealogists—can benefit from them.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?
I love, love, love to travel and explore. I’m happy going anyplace and doing anything. For example, a few weeks ago, I went with a friend on a fun daytrip exploring territorial history in Big Springs, Kansas. And last summer, my daughter and I found a cool shark’s tooth near Hays, Kansas. (I’m a huge dinosaur and prehistoric life fan.) I enjoy little adventures like that! I’ve got two teenage kids, so my husband and I spend a lot of our time involved in their activities. I also read a lot—mostly books about Kansas history—but I do enjoy a good historical fiction or a Michael Creighton novel, too!

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?
I would tell them to take the time to talk to the reference room staff. If the staff know about your research project, they can help you think of resources here at Spencer Research Library.

Lynn Ward
Processing Archivist