Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Henry Bennett: A Settler of Kansas Territory (#4 of 52 Ancestors)

The name "Kansas" first appeared on maps in 1854 when the Territory of Nebraska was divided and the southern portion became "Kansas" under the Nebraska-Kansas Act. In May of the following year, 1855, Henry Bennett (my 3rd great grandfather) and his family arrived from Missouri and settled in the Allen County area shortly before it was named.

1855 first edition of Colton's map of Nebraska and Kansas Territories (image from Wikipedia)
This is the same year Henry Bennett & his family moved to Kansas Territory

The First Settlers of Allen County

Few white settlers reached this county before the Bennett family. Richard Fuqua and his family arrived in January of 1855. They started a trading post and dealt extensively with the Sac and Fox Indians. Another small settlement started in March of that year by the Cowden and Parsons families. They built near a camp of nearly 400 Osage Indians. Parsons' family had dealt with the Osage before and the settlers lived temporarily with the Indians while they built their homes. [Source: "History of the State of Kansas" by Cutler]

Henry Bennett, arriving in May, was one of the first of a wave of about twenty families who arrived in the late spring and summer. Most settled along the Neosho River with its timber for building and fertile lands for growing crops and raising livestock.

In Watson Stewart's memoirs of his immigration trip to Kansas, he writes of camping near the Bennett's property a year later in May of 1856. "We... passed on down the Neosho river that evening reaching a point just a little south of where Humboldt now is, and near a settler by the name of Henry Bennett, where we camped for the night. Mr. Bennett was the only settler near there, and we passed two or three during the day, outside of those in the village of Cofachiqui. Mr. Bennett had come from Tennessee and was a strong "Free-State" man." [Source: "Personal Memoirs of Watson Stewart"] [Note: The Bennett's had actually just come from Missouri, but had lived in Tennessee before Missouri.]

1861 Land Document for Henry Bennett in Allen Co, KS
Kansas didn't become a state until 1861, so I believe that
was the first year for land registration

The Slavery Issue in Allen County

Besides creating Kansas, the Nebraska-Kansas Act of 1854 had also allowed for a vote of residents to determine if each state was "Free" or "Slave." A "bogus legislature" that was pro-slavery was set up and declared Kansas to be a Slave state. But, Kansas became "Bloody Kansas" as, during the pre-Civil War years, people fought over whether Kansas would be "Free" or "Slave."

In Allen County, there were only a handful of slaves during that first year, but the free-state settlers pressured the pro-slavery settlers into either freeing their slaves or leaving the area. Although 1855-56 were known as the "Border Ruffian war" where the pro-slavery and anti-slavery people clashed, this was primarily in the North and along the Missouri border.  There are no known incidences of violence within Allen County or among its citizens during this 'war.' [Source: "Histories of Allen and Woodson Counties, Kansas" by Duncan and Scott]

The 1860 Drought in Allen County

The next few years brought more settlers and prosperity to the area. Henry and his wife had two more children during this time. But, the age of  "Kansas Territory" was almost over as Kansas would become a state in 1861. The year of  1860 proved to be tough. Why? Drought.

A rain fell in September of 1859, and then there wasn't any rain for eighteen months. But, of course the Bennetts and other families in the area didn't realize it was the start of a drought. They plowed and planted as usual.

The 1860 Agricultural federal census gives us a clear picture of the contents of Henry Bennett's farm in 1860. We can only imagine what these figures would have looked like in the summer of 1861...

  • 160 acres of land of which 100 acres were improved with a cash value of $1000
  • value of farming implements and machinery: $75
  • 3 horses
  • 7 milch cows
  • 10 working oxen
  • 13 other cattle
  • 32 bovine
  • value of livestock: $784
  • 125 bushels of wheat (produced during the year ending June 1, 1860)
  • 2,500 bushels of Indian corn 
  • 50 bushels of Indian potatoes
  • 6 tons of hay
  • value of animals slaughtered: $175

From "The Histories of Allen and Woodson Counties, Kansas" compiled by Duncan and Scott we read: "As spring passed on and ripened into summer there was still no rain, the dust in which the seed had been planted remained dust. The burning sun glared fiercely all day, and no dew descended at night... It was a heart-breaking experience, and those who passed through it cannot speak of it even now without a shudder. It is no wonder that many of the settlers, perhaps a majority of them, went back to their former homes, and that few of those who went ever returned. Those who remained suffered the extremest privation, and many of them were rescued from actual starvation only by the timely arrival of supplies sent out by the numerous 'Kansas Aid' societies which were organized throughout the East. There have been hard times in Kansas since then, but compared with 1860 there has never been a year that was not one of abundance and good cheer."

The Civil War Years in Allen County

At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, nearly every able-bodied man from Allen County enlisted including Henry's four oldest sons. One son, William H Bennett, became a corporal. Another, the youngest of these four, Joseph, who was about 21 years old, died of disease in Missouri in 1863. [The service records of all four brothers needs to be looked into further.]

Evidently, the U.S. Army "visited" Bennett's farm during the war. In 1894, he filed a claim against the U.S. government "for compensations for timber, firewood and other personal property to them from the [Henry's] land near Humboldt, Kansas, by the officers and Soldiers of the U. S. Army, during the Civil War, and for the use and occupation of, and injury to said land and premises..."

In a document from 1900, Henry (now 85), because of his "age and physical infirmities," agreed to give half of a settlement to Barton M Turner, his son-in-law, if or when he collected money on a claim against the U. S. government. More records need to be found to determine if Henry ever received compensation. [Typewritten transcription in Beulah Brewer's genealogy papers titled "Henry Bennett, Intestate Will" at top. Sticky note on it also says "Book L, 184[blank]-Mar 27[or 29], 1894. State of Missouri vs. Henry Bennett, Delinquent taxes: Dismissed. These in Webster Co, MO.]

Leaving Allen County

Kansas took a state census right after the war in July of 1865. Henry and his wife, Ellender, are still in Allen County along with their youngest seven children ages 3 to 15. Sometime between July 1865 and the 1870 federal census, Henry and his family moved back to Missouri, this time settling in Newton County.

In less than fifteen years, Henry had settled on the newly formed Kansas Territory and watched it become the 32nd state; he had probably dealt with Indians and slavery; he had sent four of his sons to fight to preserve the Union and abolish slavery and learned that one of them had died of disease; he had seen U.S. soldiers use his timber and land; and he had survived an eighteen month drought. All of this while raising and providing for a family on the Kansas prairie.

While much has been learned about Henry Bennett and his life in Kansas, his time in both Tennessee and Missouri need to be explored further.

Timeline of Henry Bennett's life

  • Feb 1815 - born in NC or TN
  • abt 1836 - married Ellender Bookout in TN
  • by 1840 - living with wife & 3 young children in Fentress Co, TN
  • bet 1843-1848 moved to Greene Co, MO
  • May 1855 - arrived in Allen Co, Kansas Territory
  • bet 1865-1870 - moved to Newton Co, MO
  • bet 1880-1900 - moved to Webster Co, MO
  • Oct 1903 - died in Webster Co, MO
My Line of Descent
  • Henry Bennett (1815-1903) m. Ellender Bookout (1817-1905)
  • Elizabeth Bennett (1849-1914) m. Josiah Randolph Coppenbarger (1844-1934)
  • Myrtle Mae Coppenbarger (1880-1970) m. Emil Wilhelm Peters (1877-1955)
  • Hazel Lucille Peters (1910-1975) m. James Edward Stewart (1910-1972) (my paternal grandparents
Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow at "No Story Too Small" for creating "52 Ancestors" where we can share our ancestors stories, one week at a time. This week's theme is "closest to your birthday." I chose someone who shared the same birth month as me, though I don't know what specific day he was born on.)

Do we share common ancestors? I'd love to talk! Please write me at drleeds@sbcglobal.net


  1. Great story and full of interesting history. I lived in Yates Center, Woodson County for a short time. It is just west of Allen County and still very rural. It's full of beautiful wheat fields.

  2. I just learned a lot about Kansas reading your post. Thank you for writing it. Certainly they persevered for quite a while. I wonder what made Henry Bennett decide to leave Kansas after those 15 years? I have ancestors who have done similar things - moved "out west," and then ended up back in the Midwest, yet I don't know why. Thanks for the story.

    1. Great question! Maybe if I can pin down the year it would help. I had another family who moved 'back' after moving West and found a one-sentence newspaper article that said the wife had said they'd come back because of the drought and they wouldn't be leaving again. Well, something like that.

      I grew up in Kansas and learned a lot while researching this post! Thanks for the comment!

  3. This is a really nice post, Dana. It's well-researched and written. Sometimes you get a clue about why people moved if you can find them moving with family groups. I'm looking forward to reading your next posts.

    1. Great idea! I will look around and see if I can find any others families they moved with. Thanks!

    2. I was going to check out your blog, which I may have already visited, but the link took me to an old Blogger site and I can't find your WordPress site.

  4. great article! I learn so much general history through genealogy!

    Jeanne Ruczhak-Eckman
    Genealogical Gems

    1. Me, too! I didn't care for history as a child but really started to enjoy it while reading children's non-fiction with my daughter when she was younger. I realized how 'alive' history can be! And, now I have a lot to learn to make up for the many years I avoided it!

  5. Dana,
    Great post! Kansas fascinates me for several reasons, but mostly because having driven across Kansas many times, I cannot properly imagine how some of those pioneer families (especially those who traveled there from the more mountainous areas back east, or the rolling hills of Ohio) must have felt when they were faced with the flatness and the open sky? Was it a farmer's dream come true (at first)? Did they yearn for those mountainous regions to the west? The people who stayed had to have been a hardy bunch.

    1. Great points! I am now wondering more & more why they decided to return to Missouri. I'll have to do some more research!


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