Category Archives: People

Path of the Shawnee

Living in Johnson County, Kansas, we see the name Shawnee all around us. Schools, streets, newspapers, neighborhoods and cities adorn the name. Our county’s namesake, Thomas Johnson, ran the Shawnee Indian Methodist Mission. The Shawnee were not originally from this area, so we pay our respect this Native American Heritage Month by taking a look at the path that led them to Kansas. It was not what we would call a voluntary path by any means.

According to the Shawnee Tribe’s official website, Shawnee are an Eastern Woodlands tribe. In Sauk, Fox and many other Algonkian languages the name for the Shawnee, Shawunogi, and its variants means “Southerners.” Before being forced west by European encroachment, the Shawnee lived in areas that include Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and South Carolina.


Tenskwatawa, a Shawnee who was strongly opposed to Indian removal and brother to the legendary Tecumsah. He was forcibly relocated from Ohio to Kansas. Image courtesy of the Kansas History Society.

In 1793, the Shawnee received a Spanish land grant near Cape Girardeau, Missouri and a large group of Shawnee headed west for that land. After the Louisiana Purchase, that land became property of the United States government. This prompted some of the Shawnee to leave and head even further west to Texas and Old Mexico. They are known as the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, and they later moved to Oklahoma.

For the Shawnee remaining in Ohio, the Treaty of Fort Meigs granted them three reservations in 1817. By 1824, there were 1,383 Shawnee left in Missouri and about 800 in Ohio.


Spanish Land Grant map from 1793. Courtesy of the Shawnee Tribe.

Not long after 1824, the Missouri and Ohio Shawnee would find themselves being forced out of their homes and onto 1.6 million-acres in eastern Kansas, part of which is now Johnson County. Relocation of the Ohio and Missouri Shawnee started in 1826. To begin cultural assimilation, missionaries were setup throughout the Kansas reservation, one being the Shawnee Indian Methodist Mission located in present day Fairway.


Girls at the Shawnee Indian Mission School. Photo Courtesy of KSHS.

By the late 1860s, the Shawnee would once again find themselves compelled to leave their home for several reasons. The 1.6 million-acre reservation had been decimated to 160,000 acres by the U.S. government after the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Shawnee were also antagonized by the settlers coming into Kansas during and after the Civil War. The Shawnee and Cherokee Nation were then forced into an agreement by the U.S. government allowing the Shawnee land and citizenship in the Cherokee Nation reservation in Oklahoma. It was not until the Shawnee Tribe Status Act of 2000 that the Shawnee Tribe was restored to its position as a sovereign Indian nation.

We didn’t address the fascinating history of Indian removal resistance that took place in Ohio or the Shawnee involvement in the War of 1812. Perhaps we can look into that another time.

-Beth Edson, Johnson County Library


Howard, James. (1981). Shawnee!: The ceremonialism of a native Indian tribe and its cultural background. Ohio University Press: Athens.  

Kansas State Historical Society. Shawnee Indians. Retrieved from:

The Shawnee Tribe. History. Retrieved from:



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In the Line of Fire, Part 3: The Trial

A cold snowy day, November 17, 1952, opened the trial of Merle William Martin, man of numerous nicknames including “Steve” and “Red.” People blowing hot air into their cold hands were seen hurrying into the brand new Johnson County Courthouse. Dedicated not a month earlier, this $985,000 building was for the next two weeks where the fate would be decided for the man previously known as the “pillowcase burglar” and murderer of Deputy Sheriff Willard Carver.


Johnson County Courthouse

Throughout a day and a half, 36 men were called in and questioned to be potential jurors. It finally dwindled down to 12. Many were excused because they did not believe in capital punishment, others for business reasons and some because they had knowledge of the case or were acquainted with persons involved.

County Attorney John Anderson indicated in his opening statement that ballistic tests proved the gun found in a vacant lot close to the apprehended Birmingham, Alabama, car was indeed the murder weapon. Deputy Sheriff Floyd Gaunt, Carver’s partner on the night of his homicide, was questioned for three hours describing the events of June 23. Others who testified included Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Van Schoelandt whose trucks were stolen, Mrs. Irene Bruce and Mrs. Moss Davis who identified stolen articles, Olathe photographer Guy Pierce who took pictures at the scene, and Mrs. Barth who initially called in the attempted theft of her car.

Fingerprints belonging to the defendant were found on stolen vehicles at the murder scene and in Birmingham.  When Roberta Rae Carter, Martin’s girlfriend, was called to the stand, all she replied was, “I refuse to answer the question on the grounds that the answer might tend to incriminate me.” Earlier Martin’s attorney, who visited Carter while she was incarcerated, tried to not include her as a witness, attempting to prove she was Martin’s common-law wife. This attempt was not successful.


Merle William Martin being lead to the courthouse

Martin’s attorneys used insanity as his defense. Three Psychiatrists testified throughout the trial, all appointed by Judge John L. Kirkpatrick. Two of the three psychiatrists found him sane and able to understand his position. The third psychiatrist found him to be suffering from a severe nervous disorder.

On Saturday, November 29, at 6:10 p.m., after deliberating only three hours and 40 minutes, the jury found Merle William Martin guilty of first degree murder, felonious assault, burglary and grand larceny. They recommended he be put to death. It was the first death penalty recommended by a county jury since the penal code of 1935 was enacted. After one stay of execution and another attempt, he was hanged by the neck on July 16, 1954. Before his execution he penned a letter taking full blame for the shooting: “Isgrigg did no shooting,” he wrote. He walked calmly and unaided to the gallows. The trap was sprung at 1:03 a.m., and he was pronounced dead at 1:16 a.m.

Three days after Martin was found guilty, Charles Wilford Isgrigg, Martin’s accomplice, entered a plea of guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.  After serving approximately 20 years, Isgrigg was paroled in 1973 and released from parole in 1975.  He died in 1981 in Joplin, Missouri.


Deputy Sheriff Willard Carver

Deputy Sheriff Willard Carver was a popular man. He served in World War II for three and a half years and was awarded the purple heart and a presidential citation for action during the Normandy Beach invasion. In 1949, he joined the staff of the Johnson County Sheriff’s office, and at the time of his death he was a sergeant. Also at the time of his death he was in the running for the Republican nomination of Sheriff.

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library


Johnson County Archives

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In the Line of Fire, Part 2: The Manhunt for Merle William Martin

After the death of Willard Carver, the first officer killed in the line of duty on record in Johnson County, Kansas, police immediately started looking for the suspects. On June 24, 1952, the day after the murder, Charles Isgrigg surrendered to authorities. It would take more effort to capture suspect Merle William Martin.

After almost two months on the run, Martin along with his “statuesque blond” companion, Roberta Rae Carter, was spotted on August 17, 1952, in Utah. Police roadblocks were put in place, and a mother and 13-year-old daughter were injured when an officer mistakenly shot. Throughout the next few days Martin was spotted in Colorado and California, with one report stating that he was carrying a sub-machine gun.


Roberta Rae Carter, Martin’s companion while on the run

It was not until Carter was captured while sleeping in a stolen car that officers began to believe they were getting close. Then on August 27, Martin was sighted driving along a St. Louis highway and forced into a ditch. Jumping from the car he fled to a nearby cornfield. Troopers and FBI agents searched for him, and three bloodhounds were added to the hunt. The troopers and agents searched all night, but at daybreak with no sight of Martin, a spotter plane was called in. When there was no luck and the bloodhounds lost the scent, the agencies were forced to give up. They believed a man could hide for days in the rough terrain.


Removing handcuffs from Merle William Martin

Their luck turned on August 30 when two motorcycle policemen spotted Martin driving down a St. Louis street, and they pulled their revolvers. They raced alongside Martin, and then two other policemen joined the chase and rammed Martin’s car into a curb, thus ending the hunt for one of FBI’s Ten Most Wanted. Tired, hungry, disheveled, cut and bruised, Martin was finally apprehended. His pants were torn at the knees and he was covered in mud. The apprehending officers described Martin as a “whipped dog.”


Merle William Martin captured in South Saint Louis

Stay tuned for part three of this series that will cover the trials of Merle William Martin and Charles Isgrigg.

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library

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In the Line of Fire, Part 1: First Officer Downed in Johnson County

Shortly after midnight on the morning of June 23, 1952, police were contacted about reports of a robbery at the home of Moss Davis and his wife. The home was located at 98th Street and Mission Road in Johnson County, Kansas. Deputy sheriff Willard Carver and patrolman Floyd Gaunt searched the northeast part of Johnson County for thieves. While out on the search, Carver and Gaunt were radioed to head over to a home near the Zarah community because of a possible stolen vehicle.


Willard Carver, circa 1950

On the way to Zarah, the officers located a car that resembled the stolen vehicle in a muddy ditch, uninhabited.  Previous heavy rains that week made the side roads muddy and the presumed stolen vehicle appeared stuck. Upon investigating the abandoned vehicle, the officers found a German Luger pistol in the front seat and various other items in the back. Making the assumption that the culprits would return, Carver and Gaunt decided to lay in wait.


Stolen vehicle Carver and Gaunt discovered stuck in the mud

The culprits did return and this time with a stolen truck to pull out the car. The officers started to walk to the car and decided to separate and approach from different directions. When they got near the car both yelled, “Come out with your hands up. Police.”   The culprits immediately started firing at the officers with the officers returning fire.  Gaunt found a telephone pole to use as cover but he heard Carver calling, “Gaunt, help.”  Gaunt got to his partner, but felt no pulse.  Later the coroner determined that the bullet entered from the right side, killing Carver within minutes. Carver was only 31 years old.

Evidence_from_Sgt_Carvers_murder_1952 (1)

Carver’s blood-stained uniform

On June 23, 1952, deputy sheriff Carver became the first downed officer on record from Johnson County. Carver was later honored and awarded the Medal of Valor by the National Police Officers Association.


Burial of Sergeant Willard Carver in 1952

The next day, June 24, 1952, suspect Charles Isgrigg surrendered and was charged with Carver’s murder.  Suspect Merle William Martin was later picked up in St. Louis. Martin was known as the “pillowcase burglar” because of his preferred method of carrying stolen loot.

mug shots

Mug shots of Martin (left) and Isgrigg (right)

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library


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Wild Bill Hickok: Constable of Monticello

The world knows him as an army scout, a stagecoach driver, a gunfighter, a gambler and a lawman, but did you know that Wild Bill Hickok’s career as a lawman started in Johnson County, Kansas? On March 22, 1858, Hickok was elected constable for the Monticello Township. He was only 20 years old. At that time, Monticello had dreams of being the county seat, but because it was not centrally located the honor went to Olathe.


James B. “Wild Bill” Hickok, 1869 ca.

James Butler Hickok was born in rural Illinois and raised on a farm. When his father died, Hickok stayed close to home to help his family when all he wanted to do was to head west like his older brother Oliver. Newly opened land called to him, but he was in charge of providing the food supply for his family, so he stayed. Some say he finally left in 1855 at the age of 18 because a fight he was involved in made him mistakenly believe he had killed a man. He fled for fear of retribution. Lorenzo, an older brother, and Hickok set off on foot from Homer, Illinois, following the Illinois River to St. Louis. Upon arriving they stopped at the post office where they found a letter from home. The letter informed that their mother was sick. Lorenzo decided to head back home, and Hickok continued on to Kansas.


Clip of an 1874 Atlas of Johnson County

Shortly after arriving in Kansas, Hickok met John Owens, a local farmer. It is with Owens that Hickok joined the Free-State Army (also known as the Jayhawkers) led by James H. Lane. Legend has it that to join the Free-State Army a contest took place to find the best shot. Hickok only had $32 and the entry fee was $30. Because he was an excellent sharpshooter, he took the chance and out-shot everyone and took first place.  He became a scout for Lane’s army, and some say he was Lane’s bodyguard.

By the end of 1857 Hickok was in Monticello, where he was elected constable of the Monticello Township.  A sheriff is over the entire county while constables are over the townships. Hickok was known for inventing “posting” men out of town, which is putting a list on what was then called the dead man’s tree. He also attempted to lay claim on 160 acres that is now 83rd Street and Clare Road, but it fell through in 1859.


Sign in Wild Bill Hickok Park at 85th Terrace and Clare Road in Lenexa, Kan.

Hickok did not stay long in Johnson County. The Monticello Community Historical Society keeps record of his stay. In 1876, Hickok was killed in Deadwood, Dakota Territory while playing five card stud, shot in the back of the head by Jack “Crooked Nose” McCall, who was thought to have shouted, “Take that!”  McCall was hanged at the age of 24 for the murder. Hickok’s hand is forever known as Aces and Eights, the dead man’s hand – the unluckiest hand one can have.  In 1980, Hickok was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library

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Black History Month: Corinthian Nutter

Five years before Brown v. the Board of Education, Webb v. School District 90 ended segregation practices in South Park, Kan. In honor of Black History Month, we would like to spotlight Corinthian Nutter, a major contributor in this case. Nutter risked her career to take action on behalf of African-American students and parents in her community.


Corinthian Nutter

In the 1940s, Nutter taught at the Walker Elementary School in South Park, now known as Merriam, Kan. Over the years of segregation practices in School District 90, Walker Elementary became dilapidated and unsuitable for a proper learning environment. While Walker Elementary School remained open, School District 90 built a new school, South Park Elementary. Unfortunately, the school district denied enrollment for African-American students at South Park. The denials continued even after several formal requests from parents and others in the community. So in 1948, Nutter, students, parents and other community members orchestrated a boycott of Walker Elementary.


Walker School, 1949. Photograph courtesy of Bill Curtis.

As a result, Nutter lost her job with the school district and was replaced by two new teachers. However, only two students remained at Walker Elementary after the boycott. With the help of teacher Hazel McCray Weddington, Nutter continued to teach the former Walker Elementary School children out of private residences, and their salaries were paid by parents and other supporters.

Over the next year, boycott supporters rallied and raised money to hire a lawyer to sue the school district. The case went to court and  Webb v. School District 90 successfully ended segregation practices in South Park.

Corinthian Nutter and her class at Walker School, around the time of the school boycott

Corinthian Nutter and her class at Walker School, around the time of the school boycott

For more information about the Walker Elementary boycott and other individuals that helped end the segregation practices in Johnson County, go to


-Beth Edson, Johnson County Library

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Jim Lane and “Bleeding Kansas”

James Henry “Jim” Lane is a figure who in many ways has been lost to history.  His name does not ring familiar when mentioned to most people these days, but during his lifetime, Jim Lane was regarded as a hero and he had a town in Johnson County named after him.  Lane played an important role in determining the future of Johnson County and of Kansas during the pivotal years of 1855-1865.

James Henry Lane, circa 1860.  Courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society.

James Henry Lane, circa 1860. Courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society.

Jim Lane was born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana in 1814.  He served in the Mexican-American War in the late 1840s before being elected to the U.S. Congress as a representative from Indiana.  The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 had cleared the way for new settlement in the Kansas Territory, and Lane staked his claim on a piece of land outside of Lawrence in 1855.  He quickly became involved with the abolitionist movement in Kansas.  The battle over whether Kansas would be admitted to the Union as a free state or a slave state caused many violent incidents from 1854-1861. This border war between pro-slavery forces and anti-slavery elements led much of northeast Kansas to be known as “Bleeding Kansas” during this period.  Lane was regarded as a powerful orator and he spoke widely about the anti-slavery cause.

The Olathe Mirror, October 25, 1862.

The Olathe Mirror, October 25, 1862.

The Battle of Bull Creek took place in southwest Johnson County on September 1, 1856 and cemented Lane’s reputation in the Kansas Territory.  Utilizing his military background, Lane mustered a group of a few hundred men from Lawrence and Topeka to confront a pro-slavery force of 1,600 fighters who were camped out at Bull Creek.  Although Lane’s group was hugely outnumbered, from a distance he positioned and paraded his men in such a way that the pro-slavery Missourians believed Lane’s forces were larger.  After a brief skirmish, the Missourians retreated 30 miles back to Westport.  The Battle of Bull Creek made Lane a hero.  In 1858, a small town established on the west side of Bull Creek was named Lanesfield in his honor.

Kansas entered the Union as a free state in Janaury 1861, and Lane was elected as the first U.S. senator from the new state.  He also commanded regiments of soldiers during the Civil War while serving in the Senate.  Lane was rumored to have struggled with mental illness, and in 1866 he took his own life near Leavenworth. Jim Lane’s legacy lives on in Johnson County and in other parts of Kansas.  Lane has a street named after him in Johnson County.  The last remnant of the town that bore his name, The Lanesfield Historic Site in southwest Johnson County, is on the National Register of Historic Places.  Lane County in western Kansas is also named in his honor.

– Matt Gilligan, Johnson County Museum

Lanesfield School was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Lanesfield School was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.


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