On a February 13 field trip to the Chris Barr cabin near Deep Creek, Riley County, students in African-American Kansas found amazing historical evidence. Although a sign in front of the mid-nineteenth century log cabin states it was built in 1863, students found legible newspaper wadding scraps still visible in the chinking of the cabin, some exposed behind crumbling mortar used to restore the cabin. With the help of digital technology (cell phone cameras!), students recorded this vital evidence.
Below, class members crowd into the tiny one-room cabin to examine the construction. The Chris Barr cabin is reputed to have been a station on the Underground Railroad, perhaps a stop between Wabaunsee and Manhattan. History major Haley Claxton kneels to take a close-up of a scrap of newspaper that can clearly be seen to have been the Leavenworth Herald, the first newspaper ever published in Kansas Territory.
Two photographs, at the right, taken by Haley Claxton, demonstrate how the newspaper, in print between 1856-1858, appears behind the more modern cement mortar. The cabin was thus certainly built between 1856-1858, the heart of Bleeding Kansas in this area.
The 1850s also saw heavy use of the “western Kansas” route of the Underground Railroad, one that looped from Topeka northwest through Wabaunsee and Manhattan, eventually re-joining the Lane Trail into Iowa.
As some students said about the field trip and its surprising finds, “We had no idea it would be possible to actually discover historical evidence like this!”