Passion for History Evident in Smallpox Research

04282016 Shannon Nolan Emmalee Blog 3By Emmalee Laidacker, Intern

Every semester, students in Dr. Morgan’s Lost Kansas Communities class research a local history topic that interests him or her. Students then write an in-depth essay detailing the results of their semester-long research. For her project, “The End of an Old Enemy: Smallpox in Clay County from 1900-1925,” Shannon Nolan discusses the devastating effect the epidemic had on the small communities in Clay County.

Small towns were especially vulnerable to the spread of disease due to many hospitals and doctors often being poorly-equipped to treat contagious disease. Railroads had the catastrophic ability to transport disease from town to town with ease. Shannon also mentions specific cases of infection among unlucky residents in Clay County. Only two out of three people infected with smallpox survived, but the disease has since been eradicated with the last known case occurring in 1977.

Portor Morgan Clay CountyShannon is a sophomore majoring in secondary education with a focus in social studies. She chose to take the class due to her strong interest in history.

“The syllabus said we got to write our own paper and I thought that was really interesting to be able to do our own research in a field that I’m interested in. I just really like history so I thought it would be a good fit.”

Like all students, Shannon faced a number of challenges during the research process.

“I’m not from Kansas, so I didn’t have any connections to any town or area in Kansas, and so I decided, instead of focusing on a lost community, I wanted to focus on a broader topic that would make more sense to me…”

Prevention From State Board of HealthAfter doing some research, Shannon discovered that there were a high number of smallpox cases in Clay County and decided it was the topic for her. Other obstacles Shannon ran into simply included a lack of information. “There were a few years that I couldn’t find any research from so that was pretty difficult… Also, pinpointing the exact reasons why this disease was stopping.” She visited Clay County museums in order to fill in the gaps in her smallpox story.

Despite this Shannon enjoyed many parts of the research process, including sifting through original documents. “I liked looking through all the old books that we have here at the Chapman Center and seeing the doctor’s notes first-hand; I thought that was really cool.”

Shannon has always had a passion for history which is the reason she decided to incorporate her passion into teaching; it is the best of both worlds. “You get to teach but you get to teach what you love.” she said.

With her degree, Shannon plans on teaching American history abroad and then later in her career, plans on working for a non-profit organization by teaching women’s rights in developing countries.

Straight to Video: Meet our Chapman Center undergraduate researchers

Chapman Center for Rural Studies undergraduate students and researchers Make History come to life!  Check out this video/slide show of who we are, what we do and why; and where we are headed. Click here for the Spring 2016 Video (or you can click on the photo below)!

CCRS Staff Fall 2105

Wondering what new Lost Kansas Communities have been added to our online archive?
Click the photo below to find out!

Wabaunsee Cowboy

You are invited to the Going Home: Hidden Histories of the Flint Hills exhibit coming to the Flint Hills Discovery Center this fall! You’ll have a chance to tell your town’s story in our “Story Store,” explore hidden histories of people and places of the Flint Hills, and discover more about what has made Kansas and the Flint Hills home to so many for so long.

Screen shot advert from open house video

You’ll also find all the Chapman Center for Rural Studies news online at

Student’s Lost Town Paper Exceeds Expectations

PNP245580 Defending the Fort: Indians attack a U.S. Cavalry post in the 1870s (colour litho) by Schreyvogel, Charles (1861-1912); Private Collection; Peter Newark Military Pictures; American, out of copyright

Defending the Fort: Indians attack a U.S. Cavalry post in the 1870s (colour litho) by Schreyvogel, Charles (1861-1912)

Blog Article by Emmalee Laidacker, Chapman Center for Rural Studies Intern

Last semester, Dr. Morgan’s Lost Kansas Communities class was tasked with writing an 8-10 page essay on a lost town of their choosing. They were expected to carefully and extensively examine its history, often uncovering new information in the process, and are given the full semester to do so. One such student, however, completed this assignment to an incredible extent. Darren Ivey, submitted his paper, “Lonely Sentinel:  Fort Aubrey and the Defense of the Kansas Frontier, 1864-1866”, which thoughtfully illustrates the history of Fort Aubrey along with the men who were stationed there.

Located in Hamilton County and formerly known as Camp Wynkoop, Fort Aubrey was named after explorer and trader Francois Xavier Aubrey. The fort’s life was short-lived, as it was abandoned after a number of troops deserted their post. Unfortunately, very little remains of Fort Aubrey today.

Darren Ivey, K-State student

Darren Ivey, K-State student and author

The study itself is over thirty pages in length, while the bibliography comes to nearly fifteen, making Darren’s submission an impressive forty-five pages in length.  “There was a lot to say”, said Darren, a former firefighter from Hutchinson, Kansas. “I wanted to exercise my research and writing skills”. Darren stated he has always had an interest in history since grade school, but more specifically “…in the American Civil War, mainly the cavalry of both sides, and the West, especially the frontier army and the Indian Wars; Texas Rangers, U.S. marshals, and other lawmen; and gunfighters.”

Ivey said he “perked right up” when Dr. Morgan mentioned the word “fort” in class and selected Fort Aubrey due to the fact it had not been thoroughly researched yet. Because Fort Aubrey existed for such a short time, he mentioned that one challenge was “just having enough there to really talk about, which apparently I did.”

Surprisingly, Darren went the extra mile in another area; he purchased the right to use the painting on the front page of his essay. Because the image he was set on using was copyrighted, he had to obtain permission as well as pay a fee to the copyright holder. “I emailed Bridgeman [Art Library] and asked for a quote. In a series of emails, the account manager and I eventually figured out which fee would be most appropriate for usage on a class project, and inclusion on the Chapman Center’s archives… The whole process only took about two days to complete, and the final fee was not outrageous.” He had already been familiar with the artist’s work and wanted to use the painting because it was one of few that depicted Fort Aubrey.

Darren Ivey has also authored a book, The Texas Rangers: A Registry and History and is currently in the process of writing another, making him no stranger to researching, writing, or studying the past. He plans on submitting his Fort Aubrey essay to a magazine.

Spring Break in Western Kansas with Friends

While K-State students searched for their Spring Break refreshment, the Chapman Center’s Executive Director, Bonnie Lynn-Sherow, and KSU’s Kansas History Professor, Jim Sherow, headed west to forge new connections on behalf of Chapman Center for Rural Studies’ research.

Wayne Ehmke, Lane County Courthouse

Vance Ehmke, Lane County Courthouse

Our goal is to have at least one researched place name per Kansas county in the Chapman Center’s digital archive.

While the archived student work continues to grow each year, it is more difficult to find students who are willing and able to travel far to research. It is crucial we make contacts in these distant Kansas counties to support future students’ interviews and search for elusive histories not found online or in books.

This is especially true of western Kansas’ Lane and Ness counties which are among the least populated counties in the high plains. Many former town sites are found in these western counties and are quickly being lost to memory. Our Chapman Center contacts, Louise and Vance Ehmke, make their home in Lane County. They own and operate Ehmke Seed, a large and going concern dedicated to wheat, Tritricale (a wheat-rye hybrid), and their regional heritage. Over the years, the Ehmke’s have hosted an army of researchers looking for paleo Indian artifacts and stories of Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holiday.

Lane County Courthouse Art Deco Detail

Lane County Courthouse Art Deco Detail

The Ehmke’s know much about the small surrounding communities which have seen better times: Ravanna, Eminence, Beersheba, Farnsworth, Nonchalant, Denmark, Hanston, and Speed. Each community has its own unique histories. Vance and Louise also know who have continued to care for the memory of these places—people like K-State alum, Amy Bickell, who writes a regular column about lost places for KansasAgland. Swing by to read her many stories. Yeah Amy!

After an enjoyable conversation in the Ehmke’s guest house, a beautifully renovated round grain bin known as the Scale House (1), it was off to supper at the local bowling alley diner before attending the storm spotters’ meeting at the Lane County courthouse in Dighton. There, the Weather Service staff offered a lively presentation (to an appreciative and wisecracking audience) of what not to do in case of flash floods, severe thunderstorms, extreme winds, and TORNADOES.

George Washington Carver Historical Marker

George Washington Carver Historical Marker

One look at NOAA’s 2015 map of reported tornadoes, hail, and thunderstorm wind gusts makes it obvious Kansas remains a center of tornadic activity. There was plenty to learn about how to spot a tornado. We learned more about cloud walls to the beaver tail formation; clear signs an updraft and a downdraft are working together to form funnel clouds.

Early the next morning, a look through the Scale house window showed how important weather spotting is to residents of the high plains “where it takes three days for your dog to run away.”

Soon, on their way with no breakfast in Dighton, Jim and Bonnie headed to Ness City for a Cuppa Joe. Along the way, they stopped to read the KSHS marker in honor of the homestead of George Washington Carver as he left Missouri for Kansas in search of an education. Carver later developed over 500 products from his agricultural-based research of sweet potatoes and peanuts alone!

Tumbleweed Hitchiker

Tumbleweed Hitchiker

A great breakfast in Ness City and a conversation with the owner and it was home again (with a hitchhiker tumbleweed).

Until next time western Kansas!

(1) The Ehmke Scale House is well known for hosting visitors to the region, from Governor Kathleen Sebelius and Ag Economist Barry Flinchbaugh to local school children and families. Guests are encouraged to sign the main floor wall as record of their visit which serves as an informal who’s who of Kansas.

Student Determination Opens Doors in Research

By Emmalee Laidacker, Chapman Center for Rural Studies Intern

Each semester, Dr. Morgan’s Lost Kansas Communities class researches and writes a study of lost Kansas towns in order to preserve each community’s memory. One recent student, Rachel Tucker, chose the Pearl Opera House, located in Alta Vista, as the subject of her study. Built in 1904 by a married couple who were early settlers in the town, the theater was an instant success with over 300 people in attendance opening night. The Pearl featured live performances as well as motion pictures, allowing residents of small communities to enjoy a new form of entertainment.

“When I was talking to Dr. Morgan about a research paper, I was telling her about my interests and I mentioned theater…she mentioned doing a small town opera house and as soon as she said that it just kind of clicked with me and I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Rachel Tucker, KSU-Chapman Center for Rural Studies

Rachel Tucker, KSU-Chapman Center for Rural Studies Student

Rachel is a junior studying journalism, but is also working toward a minor in theater which provoked her interest in studying the opera house.

“I followed when it first opened and everything that went in there, not only theater productions, but since it was in a small town, a lot of times they used those spaces for all different kinds of gatherings. They even used it as a skating rink for part of the time; it’s very interesting to see what the community can do with a space like that.” said Rachel.

During the lengthy and complicated research process, all students are faced with obstacles of some form, but the roadblock Rachel surmounted was quite significant. She visited the Pearl three times with the hopes of getting to view the inside of the theater. The first two attempts, the store on the first floor was closed. “When I went to Alta Vista and saw the outside of it, it was just so exciting and I really, really wanted to try to get upstairs.”

Vintage Ad for Wrestling Tournament at Pearl Opera HouseFinally, the third time she visited Alta Vista, the store owner was present and allowed her to come upstairs to the second floor and finally look inside of the theater she had been studying throughout the semester.

“It was weird to be able to go into the space and see where everything that I was writing about had happened and taken place, so it was really surreal to see that…I was so glad that I had tried the third time to go, because it was really incredible.”

Rachel decided to take the class because of her long-time passion for history, but also because she found the title of the course very intriguing. Click to read Rachel’s paper, “Pearl Opera House: Phantom of the Flint Hills, Alta Vista, Wabaunsee County, Kansas, 1880s – 1970s“.

New Additions to Lost Kansas Communities Archive

Silkville from Barbara Netherland Collection EDITED

Silkville, Kansas, Residents. Photo courtesy of the Barbara Netherland collection.

Ever heard of Silkville or Oronoque, Kansas? These are two of the new additions to our student-researched Lost Town profiles you’ll find at

Check out these fresh-from-the-students Lost Town profiles (click the town name):

“We often talk about the ways these small town people laid a solid foundation for those who came after them. These hopeful settlers had not ‘failed’ because the town was no longer there. They had done exactly what they were meant to do; raise up a successful generation of folks who found their own lives and vocations.” (Dr. Lynn-Sherow)

You’re invited to pull up a chair and meet these Kansans who helped to grow the Wheat State and the people who call it home.

Oronoque: Out of the Ashes

Oronoque, KS, Lost Kansas Communities“What comes to mind when you think of northwestern Kansas? Is it the rolling hills, prairie grass, fields of wheat and corn, or flowing streams? This paints a scene of Oronoque, Kansas. Ten miles southwest of Norton off of Highway 383 we find the remains of what was once the town of Oronoque. All that remains is a single house, the rubble of previous ones, a cemetery, and the old lumber company.

Looking at it today you may not have thought it to be the image of success and enterprise. Venture back to 1885 and you would get a new picture entirely, one where farmers plowed their fields and the blacksmith pounded out a horseshoe. Listen as the whistle blows, alerting the town that the train is coming through. Hear the wind blow through the trees on a windy afternoon and hear the birds chirping their tunes of joy. The story of Oronoque is filled with trials, of fire and depression, but more than its trials, this town tells a tale of perseverance. This is a story of a group of people not deterred by Mother Nature, but stronger than the trials they faced.”

Read more on our Lost Kansas Community website at

Samuel Field, senior in secondary education, author, “Oronoque: Out of the Ashes”
Spring 2015 Chapman Center for Rural Studies