Duncan's Crossing; it's not a place that immediately leaps to the forefront of ones mind when you think of the historic past of Kansas. But, it does have its place in our history, and a group of Kansans want to bring it back to the prominence it once occupied.
Located northwest of Burdett, Kansas Duncan's Crossing is remembered by a granite marker that was placed at the site in 1929. It was October 27th of that year that the Hodgeman Community Ladies Aide society erected a grand monument to commemorate the site.
On hand to mark the occasion was none other than Victor Murdock of the Wichita Eagle. Besides the featured speaker, George Duncan, for whom the crossing was named, was in attendance for the event as well as several members of the O'Loughlin family. Duncan lived for only one year after witnessing the official recognition of the importance of what he had established.
Junior Waterhouse, owner of the property on which the monument stands, was eight years old when the event took place. In a recent interview he stated "everyone grew beards for the event. There were covered wagons, games and the parade. My father didn't grow a beard for the occasion. Instead he made one of horse hair. It was the silliest thing I ever saw."
Mary O'Loughlin, wife of the original founder of the crossing, was also there to watch the parade and pageant that went with this very special commemoration.
Duncan's crossing was originally founded by John O'Loughlin, a young Irish immigrant who had come west to find his fortune. It was his work as a teamster for the Army Quartermaster Department that probably led him to this spot in the trail that linked Fort Dodge to Fort Hays.
After the railroad reached Hays City in 1867, the army shipped their supplies by rail to Hays City and used wagons to transport them on the Fort Dodge. Thus, the trail between the two forts was established by the Army.
O'Loughlin chose his location well. It was half way between the forts of Hays and Dodge in Kansas, and located on the Pawnee River. It was difficult to cross, even in the dry season, because of the high banks, so he built a bridge to aid both the Army and civilians as they came this way.
There has been some recently discovered evidence suggesting the bridge had originally been built by the Army in 1867. It is known that they transported a bridge to the site that year and used it to cross 1,400 men with all their related equipment. Some historians believe O'Loughlin simply rebuilt the existing bridge and charged the Army for using their own bridge.
The price of passage depended on who was crossing. Civilians paid fifty cents. The Army paid a dollar. Records show that the original cost of the bridge was $100. O'Loughlin collected nearly $1,200 from the Army during his tenure at the crossing.
While the trading ranche (trading post) was only a collection of dugouts, O'Loughlin did well financially by selling supplies to the Army, the buffalo hunters, and trail travelers. But when the railroad reached Dodge City, Kansas in 1872, he saw the end of the Army profits. It was then he sold the establishment to George Duncan.
O'Loughlin promptly moved further west on the rail line and established another store, and became the first citizen of Kearney County. He was appointed postmaster for the area and went on to be a leader in the establishment of the town of Lakin. Many of his descendents still live in the area and he has one daughter still living at the age of 102.
With the arrival of a new proprietor, the trading post took on a new look. Log buildings replaced the dugouts and a ten foot high stockade was built to enclose the buildings. But ever fearful of the Indians, and the possibility of attack, careful preparations were made. A tunnel beneath the stockade connected one of the buildings with a dugout outside, complete with trap doors and all.
Duncan's ranch is described as; "being made of logs set about two feet in the ground and standing perhaps seven or eight feet above the ground. These logs had been hewn on the sides to fit close to make a real protection from the Indians. Forming one side of the stockade were the log buildings, a home of several rooms and a stable, all built to afford protection against Indians. In the living room there was a table made of slabs of wood which was hinged against the wall, and which when not in use hung against the wall, filling the space between the hinges and the floor. Under this table was a secret door leading through a tunnel to a dugout, some distance away, providing a last stand should the buildings be taken by the Indians."
Although a stockade was almost unheard of in the area, and deemed useless by many, there was a time when the neighbors all gathered within its sturdy walls. The year was 1878 and Dull Knife had escaped from his Darlington, Oklahoma reservation. Dull Knife wasn't even close to the area, but the stockade served as a comfortable security blanket until the hysteria died down.
In 1875 Duncan married and was eventually appointed postmaster for the crossing. His first child was born in the Post Office.
And the homestead also increased. Duncan homesteaded three 40 acre parcels to completely encompass the stockade. The toll bridge continued in operation until a flood washed the structure away.
To supplement his income, Duncan built a lime kiln. Lime was in high demand for the area and it was not uncommon for it to fetch from three to four dollars per bushel. The process was simple. All one needed was wood for the fire and limestone rocks, plus some sort of kiln. The kiln at Duncan's Crossing was built in the side of the creek bank, with a hole at the bottom for both draft and to clean the kiln. The rocks were put on a hot fire and literally melted away into lime.
The lime was used for many things, including whitewash (the common paint of the era), mortar and for sanitation. The lime could be used in outhouses to dissolve the waste and eliminate the necessity of digging new holes and moving the outhouse.
By 1879 the homestead was abandoned and the family moved to Topeka. Workers from the Mudge Ranch (located west of Hanston) hauled away the stockade for firewood, and so went the rest of the buildings.
Even though one of the lime kilns was the extent of the improvements to still be in existence, Duncan's crossing, the Hodgeman County Ladies Aide Society recognized the historical significance of the area. It was this recognition that led to the erection of the granite marker that stands as the sentinel for the crossing today.
Although in a state of disrepair, the marker still boasts its bronze plaque, and hides inside a "time capsule." From research done, the capsule is a simple "bail and handle" half gallon glass canning jar. Enclosed in the capsule are essays written by the children of the Hodgeman School that was located one mile west of the crossing.
In addition to the marker and the lime kiln, there is the cutdown that is easily seen looking north from the bridge. The cutdown was used before the bridge was built and after it was destroyed.
Looking to the southwest from the bridge, there is an old trail rut that still shows. On the eastern side of the creek is the depression that was once a dugout in the side of the bank.
Gathering together is a group of volunteers who intend to repair and restore the marker. Mildon Yeager has had experience in this type of restoration and has been placed in charge of the restoration project. Yeager and other volunteers expect to complete the project early this summer of 1996.
Part of the restoration will be to remove and examine the time capsule. After expert examination, the contents will be resealed in the jar and placed back in the confines of the marker.
The group of volunteers have located twenty families in Hanston, Burdett area who were at the original dedication of the marker in 1929. They will be honored guests at the rededication of the marker when the work is complete.
Had it not been for the cooperation, and interest in the history of the area, by Junior Waterhouse, owner of the land encompassing the crossing there might be nothing left of this piece of history. Because of his interest, and that of many other volunteers, the site is well on its way to restoration so all may enjoy a part of historic Kansas.
Another related project by the group of volunteers is the marking of the trail leading from Fort Dodge to Fort Hays. In addition to the Duncan's Crossing marker, they plan to erect another ten markers along the way.
To date, the group has raised $400 of the $900 they will need for materials to complete the project. As a service project, Xi Zeta Nu has agreed to handle all incoming and outgoing funds for the trail marking project.
To reach Duncan's Crossing, drive west of Burdett, Kansas, till you see signs pointing north to Duncan's Crossing and Northern Natural Gas Company's Burdett Station. Proceed north, following the signs to the crossing.
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