“The Stolen Boy” is a fascinating story that has been handed down through my family. The main character’s name is never revealed, but there are several details in the story that prove it describes the life of my 3X great-grandfather, Ambrose Bowen Epperson. I am almost certain that Ambrose is also the author of the story, although the evidence for that conclusion is a bit more circumstantial. I will be devoting a series of blog posts to a historical and genealogical analysis of the story. The text of the story will be shared exactly as I received it, including all misspellings and grammatical errors.
On the 28th of March 1855, he started again with his family on a long journey for Kansas. Altho it was very cold and the ground covered with snow, the little family faltered not for they were bound for Kansas Territory. Crossing the surging Missouri River at a little two horse town called Kansas City, he drove on out to Indian Creek, went into camp twelve miles southwest of Westport. While in camp he had the pleasure for the first time since 1831 of seeing his oldest sister. In a few days, they struck camp and were on the road again. Being already out of the United States, yet their intention was to make a home in a distant land. In due time they landed at the old Jack [sic] and Fox Agency, Franklin County, Kansas Territory.
“A Little Two Horse Town”
After spending the winter with relatives in Iowa, Ambrose and family resumed their journey to Kansas Territory in the spring of 1855. He doesn’t give any details of their route until they crossed the Missouri River at Kansas City. I was struck by Ambrose’s description of Kansas City as “a little two horse town”, since the Kansas City I am familiar with is a major urban center that sprawls further outward every year. I wanted to learn more about the town that Ambrose would have encountered. Technically the town’s name in 1855 was “City of Kansas” and it was finally beginning to rival the importance of nearby Westport, a long-time supply post for westward migrants. The location had been chosen in 1838 because of the presence of a natural rock ledge that provided an excellent landing site for river vessels. Growth was slow, however. When the town was officially incorporated in 1853, it covered an area (shown in green outline on map) only 10 blocks long and 5 blocks wide! Those limits were essentially dictated by the river on the north and tall bluffs to the south. A single road led south to Westport. It would be several years before additional roads were cut through the bluffs, allowing expansion of the city to the south.
A Google Earth map of the current Kansas City area. The area originally incorporated as the City of Kansas in 1853 is outlined in green. The locations of Westport and the Indian Creek Campground are marked with red pins.
I’m sure that Ambrose’s description of Kansas City was meant to be humorous, even then. By the time Ambrose wrote his story in 1881, the population of the City of Kansas had already grown to over 50,000. In 1889 it was renamed Kansas City and in 1899 it annexed its former neighbor Westport. Today the Kansas City metropolitan area has over two million people. I wonder what Ambrose would think if he could see that “little two horse town” now!
Kansas City in 1855 and 1887. The central panel shows an artist's image of Kansas City in 1855, while the surrounding panels show Kansas City buildings as they appeared in 1887. By Daderot (Self-photographed) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Indian Creek Campground
Ambrose mentions camping at Indian Creek, southwest of Westport (see map above). Indian Creek (sometimes called Flat Rock Creek) was a popular rendezvous site for travellers on the Santa Fe, Oregon and California trails. Migrants would often camp there for several days while making final preparations for their trip. Edwin Bryant described his experiences at the Indian Creek campground in his book What I Saw in California (1848). “Our camp this evening presents a most cheerful appearance. The prairie, miles around us, is enlivened with groups of cattle, numbering six or seven hundred, feeding upon the fresh green grass. The numerous white tents and wagon-covers before which the camp-fires are blazing brightly, represent a rustic village; and men, women, and children are talking, playing, and singing around them with all the glee of light and careless hearts. While I am writing, a party at the lower end of the camp is engaged in singing hymns and sacred songs.” Perhaps Ambrose and his family experienced a similar scene.
While camped at Indian Creek, Ambrose was reunited with his oldest sister, Permelia Langley (Epperson) Laws, for the first time since 1831. 1831 was the year he was “stolen”, so he probably had not seen this sister since visiting her at Christianburg when he first arrived in Kentucky. Permelia came to Missouri quite early and married Alfred Laws in Jackson County on 20 Dec 1838. They lived in Jackson County, in the Westport area, for some time and then moved to the Sac and Fox Agency in what is now Franklin County, Kansas. Alfred was employed by the government as a blacksmith for the Agency from 1848-1857. The entire family was enumerated there in the 1855 census of Kansas Territory. The Agency was approximately 50 miles southwest of Indian Creek, so how did Ambrose happen to meet his sister there. The story says that Ambrose’s family eventually “landed” at that Sac and Fox Agency, so perhaps his sister came to Indian Creek to meet them and guide them on the rest of their journey.
Ancestry.com. Kansas State Census Collection, 1855-1925 [database on-line]
Franklin County, Kansas Territory
The Sac and Fox Agency was located in section 16 of township 17, range 18 in Franklin County (yellow pin on map). But, what exactly was this Agency? Throughout the 19th century, Indian Agents were appointed by the government to act as liaisons between Native American tribes and the federal government. Some of an agent’s responsibilities were distributing annuities paid by the government to the tribe and overseeing trade between whites and Native Americans. A few other government employees who provided various services usually joined the Agent, and the resulting settlement was known as the Indian Agency.
A Google Earth image of the area of Franklin County, Kansas where the Sac and Fox Agency was located (yellow pin). The land patented by Ambrose Epperson is outlined in yellow and is shown in an enlarged view below.
The Sac (or Sauk) and Fox tribes were originally from the Great Lakes region. As white settlers moved west, the tribes had been induced to relocate several times. In 1846, they moved to what is now Kansas. Their reservation included most of present-day Osage County and parts of Lyon and Franklin counties. The tribes lived there until the late 1860s when they moved to a new reservation in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).
I have not found any indication that Ambrose was ever employed at the Sac and Fox Agency. Early histories of Franklin County, Kansas report that “a Mr. Epperson settled on Middle Creek in Ohio Township in 1855.” Consistent with this, I found that Ambrose B. Epperson claimed 160 acres of land (see yellow square on map) comprising the north half of the southeast quarter and the south half of the northeast quarter of section 18 in Township 18S, Range 19E, a location just east of the Sac and Fox reservation and about 7 miles southeast of the Sac and Fox Agency. Middle Creek flows through the property. Ambrose obtained this land as the assignee of a military land warrant originally granted to Edward Cross. Veterans who received bounty land as a reward for their service had the right to sell their interest and could simply endorse the back of the warrant to transfer it to another party. The assignee then had to follow the normal patenting process to receive their land. One puzzling detail of this transaction is that the patent to Ambrose is dated 15 Jun 1860, five years after he apparently settled on the land. Moreover, as we will see in the next section, Ambrose “sold out” and left Franklin County in 1857. Did it take that long for the government to issue the patent? Did Ambrose sell the land to someone else before receiving the patent? If so, wouldn’t the patent have been assigned to someone else? Deed records for Franklin County beginning in 1857 have been microfilmed and are available through the Kansas State Historical Society, so perhaps I can find some answers there. A road trip to Franklin County might also be on the agenda!
Ferris, Ida M. “Sauks and Foxes in Franklin and Osage Counties” Collections of the Kansas State Historical Society (1910)
Cutler, William G. History of the State of Kansas (1883) (kancoll.org)
Teresa is the the owner of KinSeeker Genealogy Services. She has a Ph.D. in Biology and a lifelong fascination with genealogy. She been researching her own family history for over 20 years and loves helping others "find their stories."
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