The Untold Story: Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site
by Orvis N. Fitts
Civil War round Table of Kansas City
Parts 1 and 2 (appeared in April 2005 Border Bugle)
With the showing on the History Channel on 15 November 2004 of the Battle of Mine Creek as the "Lost Battle of the Civil War", the national television audience became aware of what happened on the Kansas prairie in the Civil War on 25 October 1864. What could not be told was how the Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site came to be owned and interpreted with a visitor center by the Kansas State Historical Society. That story needs to be told.
In 1864 the battle was fought on privately owned farmland. Nineteen years after the battle was fought, Union veterans gathered for their first reunion on 24 and 25 October 1883 at Pleasanton, Kansas. The reunion was held under the auspices of Jewell Post No. 3, Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Kansas. Subsequent reunions were also held, and the veterans with others attempted to have a state park created on the battlefield. Their efforts were not successful.
Twenty-six years later, John Eby, a farmer, while plowing the soil near Mine Creek, unearthed the skull and bones of a Confederate soldier who had been buried in a shallow grave. The remains were given a proper burial. Also, a rusted bayonet and musket were found on the same farm. In 1904, an artillery shell was dug out of the banks of Mine Creek. Today, it is on display at the Linn County Historical Society Museum in Pleasanton.
At the junction of Highways 69 and 52 near the battlefield, a monument was dedicated in October 1940 to commemorate the Battle of Mine Creek. Present at the ceremony was 94-year-old Union veteran, A. L. McMurphy, the only known survivor of the battle. He was a boy of 15 at that time and had participated in the cavalry charge against the Confederate battle line. Today the monument is not there, and what happened to it is not known. The Kansas State Historical Society and the State Department of Transportation in 1964, the centennial year of the battle, erected battlefield historical markers at a roadside park on Highway 69 about a half-mile south of the intersection with Highway 52. There were two markers - one Union and one Confederate. Today those markers are also gone. Likely, the work of despicable vandals.
In 1968 the Linn County Historical Society was organized. Bill Wilson, postmaster at Mound City, whose wife had an ancestor that fought at Mine Creek, was the first president. The second president in 1972 was Dan Smith, who lived in Pleasanton, and at that time a student at the University of Kansas. The Linn County Historical Museum was built in Pleasanton and opened in 1973 during the time Dan Smith was president of the Society. In later years, Dan Smith became a prominent attorney with a law practice in Overland Park. He also was a president of the Civil War Round Table of Kansas City and chairman of the Monnett Battle of Westport Fund. Dan again became president of the Round Table in 2005.
Lumir F. Buresh, a wounded and decorated veteran of WWII and a past president of the Civil War Round Table of Kansas City, spent twelve years researching the Battle of Mine Creek. Buresh was also Chairman of the Monnett Battle of Westport Fund, which he and Larry Phister had conceived and organized to raise funds and purchase historical markers for a thirty-two mile self-guided automobile tour of the Battle of Westport in Kansas City. He became involved with the Linn County Historical Society in their common objective to preserve the battlefield and place it on the National Register of Historic Places. Based on the research of both Dan Smith and Lumir Buresh the Society prepared a nomination of the battle site for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. It was sent to the Kansas State Historical Society where it was approved and forwarded to the United States Department of the Interior. The nomination was limited to 160 acres, as other adjacent landowners would not consent to the nomination. In 1973, the Mine Creek Battlefield was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service gave landmark status to the battlefield. A bronze plaque was placed at the roadside park on Highway 69 in recognition of this status.
In late 1972,40 acres of the battle site south of the creek was for sale. Bernard West, a board member of the Linn County Historical Society, paid for a purchase option and then purchased the property until public funding could be arranged. Dan Smith on behalf of the Society in 1973 presented a proposal to the Linn County Commissioners, John Rees, Willis Wilcox, and Frankie Noel, to form a park board and acquire the 40-acre site as a public park. His proposal was approved and a tax levy was adopted to purchase the site. At a cost of $30,000, Linn County acquired the initial 40 acres of the battlefield in 1974.
Also, in 1973 Buresh, Smith, and other members of the Society completed negotiations with the owners to sell an adjacent 80 acres of the battlefield. Mrs. Anna Mary Crawford, the new president of the Linn County Historical Society, and Lumir Buresh requested the assistance of Senator Robert Talkington of Iola, Kansas to introduce legislation in the Kansas Senate for the creation and acquisition of the battlefield as a state historic site. Through the efforts of Senator Talkington, Representatives Jim Cubit, and Nyle Miller, the Kansas Legislature passed legislation creating the Mine Creek Battlefield site and funding of $50,000 to acquire the 80 acre tract in April 1974. The acreage became state property on 27 February 1975 for a cost of $43,500.
In 1975, the Linn County Commissioners donated and transferred title of the initial 40-acre tract to the State of Kansas as the future Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site. Later a kiosk with a battlefield map plus interpretive information, and including a parking area was constructed by the Kansas State Historical Society on this initial 40-acre tract. The Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site began with the initial 40 acres and the 80 acres acquired in 1975 for a total area of 120 acres.
After twelve years of research by Lumir Buresh, his book "October 25th and the Battle of Mine Creek" was published in 1977. To date, it is the only definitive account of the battle ever written. His research involved trips to the National Archives in Washington D.C., numerous trips to Mine Creek to survey the battlefield, trips to Iowa and other state archives to obtain data on troops that had participated in the battle. Dan Smith, Lumir Buresh's friend and cohort, was the book's editor. The publication of this book did much to stimulate interest in the Battle of Mine Creek and promote the preservation and interpretation of the battle site.
There is a Lumir F. Buresh commemorative plaque in the Mine Creek visitor center placed there by the Civil War Round Table of Kansas City. At the time of his death in 1986, he was legally blind. He is interred in the National Cemetery at the Veteran's Administration in Leavenworth, Kansas.
Mrs. Crawford, Lumir Buresh, and Dan Smith continued their efforts to persuade owners of another adjacent 160-acre farm north of the creek to sell their property to the state. It was in 1978 the owners' consent was finally obtained. Senator Robert Talkington was again asked by Smith and Buresh to secure the necessary funding, and $70,000 was appropriated by the Kansas Legislature to purchase the 160 acres. Linn County Commissioners also approved an additional $30,000 that was needed to purchase the property. The property was acquired by the State of Kansas in 1980. The site contained a farmhouse, bam, outbuildings, three stock ponds, fences, and hedgerows. Fanning continued on the site until October 1989. The Mine Creek Battlefield now consisted of 280 acres.
A metal footbridge was placed across Mine Creek that made access possible between the 120 acres south of Mine Creek to the 160 acres north of the creek. A series of unimproved walking trails with several culverts and temporary interpretive markers were also put in place. This was done by the Kansas State Historical Society.
At the instigation of Buresh and Smith, the Civil War Round Table of Kansas City contracted with Betty Gentry, Superintendent of the Pea Ridge National Military Park in Northwest Arkansas, to prepare a "Proposed Development Plan for Mine Creek Historical Park, Kansas". The completed plan was presented to the Kansas State Historical Society in 1980. Only portions of this plan were incorporated in a later plan prepared by the Kansas State Historical Society.
Ola May Earnest became the president of the Linn County Historical Society in January 1980. Under her leadership, the museum building was expanded three times and included a genealogy library. She initiated a research genealogy project of many of the Union veterans who fought at Mine Creek. Today, Ola May continues as the President of the Linn County Historical Society.
During the 1980s there was no further development at the Mine Creek Battlefield. The kiosk fell into disrepair, the parking area became overgrown with weeds, the temporary historical markers had disappeared, the trails were not maintained, and the area was closed to the public. Efforts by the Linn County Historical Society and the Civil War Round Table of Kansas City to promote development and interpret the battlefield were futile. No action was taken by the State Legislature to appropriate funds and the battlefield had a low priority status with the Kansas State Historical Society.
In early 1989, the battlefield was given Tree Farm status by the Kansas Tree Farm Committee affiliated with the American Tree Farm system. The designation meant assistance in improving and managing the trees including nature and walking trails. Forestry specialists from the Kansas State University Extension Service were to make periodic visits to recommend procedures. In reality, the designation was meaningless as nothing ever happened.
A Battle of Mine Creek committee of members from the Civil War Round Table and Linn County Historical Society led by Dan Smith met with Senator Gus Bogina of the State Legislature in December 1988. With the support of Senator Bogina and meetings with other Legislative committees, the 1989 Legislature appropriated $35,000 to begin development of the battlefield. The Mine Creek committee had requested $120,000.
The year 1989 was the 125th anniversary of the battle, and the Linn County Historical Society supported by the Civil War Round Table sponsored a reenactment of the battle. Due to scheduling problems, the event was held on 10 and 11 November rather than 25 October, which was the actual date of the battle. Labor from the Osawatomie Correctional Facility was used to remove fences, hedgerows, brush, and trees before the battle reenactment which took place on the actual battlefield. The two-day event was attended by an estimated 8,000 people. In March 1990, the Linn County Historical Society received the top award for promoting the battle reenactment at the Southeast Kansas Tourism Region Exposition in Parsons, Kansas.
Dr. Bill Lees, Archeologist from the Kansas State Historical Society, began an archeological survey of the battlefield in 1989. This survey developed into a three-year project and covered about 725 acres of both state and privately owned land. Approximately 1,000 artifacts were recovered including Minie balls, gun parts, a canteen, uniform buttons, military insignia, and artillery shell fragments. In earlier years, it is known many artifacts had been taken by persons exploring the battlefield. Based on the survey by Dr. Lees, the area covered by the battle was greatly expanded beyond the 280 acres of state owned land. This result was to have positive consequences in later years.
The Linn County Historical Society in February of 1990 organized a Friends of Mine Creek support group. The first president was Dan Smith, now an attorney in Overland Park. Over the years, various types of events were held to raise funds, promote the battlefield, and attract new members.
A television crew from KCPT, Channel 19 in Kansas City visited the battlefield in August 1990. Several interviews were held, areas of the battlefield were filmed including artifacts from the battle on display in the Linn County Historical Museum. The Mine Creek film was to be shown locally following an eleven-hour National PBS series titled "The Civil War" broadcast 23-27 September.
The Website Administrator is stil trying to track down Part 3 of "The Untold Story."
Part 4 (appeared in September 2005 Border Bugle)
In early 1999, 80 acres adjacent to the east of the visitor’s center became for sale. This property was a key part of the battlefield over which the Fort Scott road ran. It was identified as part of die battlefield by the archeological survey conducted in earlier years by Dr. Bill Lees. Knowing there was no hope of an appropriation of funds to purchase die property by die Kansas State Legislature, a Limited Liability Company was formed to purchase the 80 acres until the Mine Creek Battlefield Foundation could be formed. Leading die charge was Dr. John Spencer, a Fort Scott physician whose gr eat grandfather fought in the battle with die Union Frist Missouri Cavalry. Joining Dr. Spencer was Dale Sprague, a Linn Comity banker, Charles Conley, a Pleasanton businessman, and Bill Pollock, CEO of Key Industries. These men made a $20,000 down payment until arrangements for a $108,000 loan from the Farmer's State Bank in Pleasanton could be made. Elliot Gruber, vice president of the Civil War Trust in Arlington, VA, said, "the purchase of such land by individuals was ad but unheard of. That is dedication".
After the formation in 1999 of the Mine Creek Battlefield Foundation, giant applications were made to die Civil War Trust, Land and Water Conservation Program, Baehr Trust of Paola, and hi May 2000 die TEA-21 Transportation Enhancement Funds administered by the Kansas Department of Transportation. All grant applications were approved. The TEA-21 application was approved for $618,000 with part of the grant subject to matching fluids. Those matching fluids were raised by the Foundation. Over a four-year time period a total of 320 acres were purchased more than the size of the original 280 acres. A statement by Arnold Schofield, Historian at the Fort Scott National Historic Site and a board member of the Mine Creek Battlefield Foundation, in essence told the story of the land acquisitions, "this was prime development land that, if it had been developed, would have absolutely destroyed the primitive nature of the property and its historic significance".
A recreation of the Union veteran's reunion of 1884 took place at the Mine Creek State Historic Site on 22 May 1999. The events scheduled were designed to reflect the actual features of the 1884 reunion. Volunteers, both men and women, were dressed in period clothing. Men portrayed the returning veterans of Jewell Post No. 3 G.A.R. Women represented the Ladies Auxiliary of the G.A.R. and were battle eyewitnesses. The photo taken of the veterans in 1884 was reenacted with the banner of Jewell Post No. 3 G.A.R. displayed as it was in 1884.
On 2 May 2000, the Mine Creek Battlefield Foundation was recognized by the City of Fort Scott with certificates of appreciation for the selfless dedication in working to preserve history in neighboring Linn County.
The Mine Creek Battlefield Foundation received permission from the family of Lumir Buresh to reprint his book in a paperback edition. The second edition, "October 25th and the Battle of Mine Creek", was published early in 2001. An educational brochure with detailed maps of the Price campaign and the Battle of Mine Creek was produced with funding from the American Battlefield Protection Program of the National Park Service. In partnership with the Kansas State Historical Society, a limber and artillery piece were purchased in 2001 to conduct firing demonstrations. Tours of the battlefield were conducted, and a Blue and Gray banquet became an annual event. A major project in May 2003 was a painting of the "Charge at Mine Creek" by the noted artist, Andy Thomas. It depicted the Union cavalry charge when it hit the Confederate battle line, and now is displayed in the visitor’s center. The Kansas State Historical Society made a contribution which made the purchase possible.
Kip Lindberg, curator at the battlefield, resigned in January 2001. Earlier, Brad Woellhof had been assigned to a different historical site. Personnel staffing at the battlefield was beset with problems including available budget funds for the next several years.
A Union and Confederate soldier’s monument was put in place and dedicated near the visitor’s center in 2003. In 2004, a Confederate monument was placed on the battlefield and dedicated by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
On the 140th Anniversary of the Battle of Mine Creek a major reenactment of the battle was conducted on 23 and 24 October 2004. It took place on nearby land with the owner's permission. The entire two day affair was organized and sponsored by the Mine Creek Battlefield Foundation.
Bill Kurtis Productions in producing a television series for the History channel called "Investigating History" came to Mine Creek in July 2004. For one week, using reenactors battle scenes were filmed. The finished product called the "Lost Battle of the Civil War" was shown on National television on 15 November 2004. The Mine Creek Battlefield Foundation is to be commended for arranging this historic event.
Part 5 (appeared in October 2005 Border Bugle)
In retrospect, the Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site would not exist today if there had been no Linn Comity Historical Society. One of the earliest objectives of the Society was the preservation of the battlefield. Over the years, it was a monumental task, but those early people leading the Society were never deterred in achieving their goal. Dan Smith, Bernard West, Anna Mary Crawford, and Ola May Earnest, who is still president, are among those people who made it happen. It was Dan Smith who over the years persevered in confronting and overcoming the many obstacles that would have defeated a person less dedicated. Dan's friend and cohort, Lumir Buresh, was also dedicated to the cause. His book "October 25th and the Battle of Mine Creek" was a key factor in the ultimate preservation of the battlefield.
Credit must be given to those Linn County Commissioners who approved the first purchase of 40 acres, and then gave title of the property to the State of Kansas. Senator Robert Talkington gave critical support in the Kansas Legislature in seeming finding to purchase the next 80-acre segment of the battlefield. Talkington again helped secure funding in the State Legislature to purchase the 160 acres north of the creek. Linn County Commissioners also appropriated funds to assist in the 160 acre purchase. Through the years, the Civil War Round Table of Kansas City fully supported the Linn Comity Historical Society in the preservation of the battlefield.
It was Dan Smith again who persuaded the Linn County Commissioners to vote a resolution requesting the State of Kansas to return the battlefield to the County. After all the years of benign neglect, this action energized the Kansas State Historical Society to form the Mine Creek Development Steering Committee. From this new beginning, progress to develop the battlefield continued and culminated in the 1998 construction of the visitor’s center.
The formation of the Mine Creek Battlefield Foundation was the brainchild of Dr. John Spencer and Arnold Schofield. The earlier archeological survey by Dr. Bill Lees proved the extent of the battlefield was well beyond the 280 acres owned by the State of Kansas. To save this surrounding property from development, it was urgent that what was available for sale be added to the battlefield. It was an extraordinary act for Dr. Spencer, Dale Sprague, Charles Conley, and Bill Pollock to use their own money for the down payment and take out a bank loan pending the formation of the Foundation. Over time more battlefield acres are likely to be purchased in addition to the 320 acres now owned by the Foundation. It is the intent to eventually transfer title of all the land to the State of Kansas. What is the future of the Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site? Much yet remains to be done. Foundation property will need to be incorporated with that owned by the State of Kansas.
New and weatherized walking trails with interpretive narrative markers will have to be put in place. Static artillery pieces need to be purchased and properly located on or near the walking trails. More landscaping in terms of tree removal and eliminating the stock ponds should be done. Perhaps the most critical item will be the necessary funding and employment of qualified personnel to staff the battlefield. To date lack of proper funding to hire qualified people has been a deterrent to the proper operation of the battlefield. The Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site has the potential to be the top tourism attraction of all the historic sites owned by the State of Kansas.
The "Untold Story" would not have been possible without the cooperation and help of Ola May Earnest, President of the Linn County Historical Society. She made available the archival documents and other material of the Society so this story could be told.