Nine miles southwest of Salina, Kansas, the command of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock stopped for dinner on March 31, 1867. There, officers of the expedition were treated to a lavish fare at a trading ranche operated by Ernst Hohneck. Correspondent Henry M. Stanley, who accompanied the expedition and was to gain worldwide acclaim for finding Dr. David Livingstone four years later in the heart of Africa, described the meal.
"We stopped at Hohneck's ranche, our quondam friend, for dinner, who had already prepared, in the delightful anticipation of our visit, an elegant and plentiful repast, consisting of bona fide buffalo, deer meat, smoked ham and quinces. We enjoyed it amazingly, and therefore suggest to the belated travelers that they always stop at Hohneck's ranche when they come this way. Hohneck proved himself a gentleman and a scholar, and it was with some akin to sadness that we departed from the adobe mansion that he had himself built on the wild waste of the desert."
Hohneck was born in Germany on November 18, 1828. As a youth of twenty years, he was caught up in the revolutionary spirit which was then sweeping Germany and other European countries. The young postal worker fled his country in 1850, emigrating to the United States. One source stated that, "his sympathies being to democratic, he came to the United States.
Hohneck first settles at Sulphur Springs, Virginia, before moving to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was employed by a German newspaper. In 1855, he went west with a German colonization society and settled on Mill Creek in what was to become Wabaunsee County, Kansas Terrtory. In 1867 he was elected Justice of the Peace for Alma Township. In 1859 he was elected to the House of Representatives of the first Kansas Legislature, which did not meet until March 1861, after Kansas was admitted to the Union. He did not serve because the hunting expdition he accompanied to western Kansas in the late winter of 1861 was delayed by a snow storm.
In old age, Hohneck claimed he was elected to the legistature in 1857 and explained why he missed the session. Being, as he said, "wretchedly poor," Hohneck joined a group of fellow citizens on a hunting trip to the western part of the territory. Their object was to become finanically solvent by the sale of buffalo and wolf hides. The trip, due to inclement weather and the blizzard which prevented his return to assume his elected duties, was not successful, and Hohneck returned home penniless.
He later wrote, "if the whole settlement had been stood on its head I doubt if one could have shaken $100 out of the pockets." Hohneck's return to Wabaunsee County postdated the adjournment of the legislature. He was never seated.
In addition to his hunting ventures and ill-fated, if brief, political career, Hohneck was also involved in trading with Indians. James Mead recalled meeting him and a partner named William Greiffenstein in the Smoky Hill River country sometime in 1859. The partners, engaged in Indian trade, had much in common. Both were immigrants from Germany, fleeing from the political unrest of 1848.
In 1860 the partnership was dissolved. Greiffenstein moved to the Walnut Creek Crossing on the Santa Fe Trail two miles east of present Great Bend where he established a trading ranche. Hohneck's whereabouts for a time is uncertain. He was unable to take his seat in the legislature, as noted above, because of the hunting expedition in 1861. The following year he was associated with Daniel Page and Joseph Lehman in the operation of their ranch at the Smoky Hill River crossing near present Kanopolis, Kansas. The chief enterprise of the ranche was the sale of buffalo hides and tallow which were transported to the Leavenworth market at regular intervals.
In 1864 or 1865 Hohneck settled in Saline County where he established a trading ranche. There he operated a brewery and stage station. His ranche was well located, situated on the Fort Riley/Fort Larned Road, a route used by both the army and the Kansas Stage Company. With the arrival of the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division, at Junction City, Kansas, in June 1866, the Fort Riley/Fort Larned Road became the far eastern leg of the Santa Fe Trail. Consequently, traffic past Hohneck's Ranch was multiplied many times over by the thrice-weekly mail deliveries of Barlo, Sanderson Company, which superseded the Kansas Stage Company's weekly schedule, and the ever increasing number of freight caravans, military and civilian.
The boom soon ended, however, when the railroad pushed past his ranche to Fort Harker in the summer of 1867. Immediately, the fort replaced Junction City as the official depot of the U. S. Postal Service and the eastern terminus of the Santa Fe Trail. Overland traffic past the ranche ceased; but Hohneck found other ways to enhance his business.
On July 8, 1867, a post office was established at the ranche named in his honor. Hohneck was appointed postmaster. Regulations did not allow a post office to be named for a person, but Hohneck circumvented the prohibition by spelling the post office's name "Honek." In the same year he constructed a two story frame house which served as a residence, post office, and grocery store. Four years later, Hohneck platted a town named for himself at the ranche site.
His town failed, but in 1877 E. F. Drake reorganized the little municipality and named it Bavaria in recognition of Hohneck's German heritage. The postal service changed the name of the Honek Post Office to Bavaria on Junuary 8, 1880. Meanwhile, in 1879, an addition named Hohneck was attached to the original twenty-five-acre Bovaria townsite. Hohneck's Ranche was one of a few which ultimately became a town. Another was the ranche at Walnut Creek Crossing on the Fort Hays/Fort Dodge Road, operated by Alexander Harvey which envolved into the town of Alexander in present Rush County, Kansas.
Hohneck left Saline County in 1883 and was employed with the land division of the Northern Pacific Railroad at St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1903 he moved to Spokane, Washington. The house he built in 1867 stood for 72 years on the west edge of Bavaria before it was razed in 1939. This only reminder of his tenure in Saline County is a township road marker one mile east of Bavaria which reads "Hohneck Road."
Andreas, A. T., History of the State of Kansas, 2 Vols. Chicago: A. T. Andreas, 1883
Diary of Page and Lehman, unpublished, n.d., Kansas Colections, Salina Public Library, Salina, Kansas
"The Frist State Legislature," Kansas Historical Collections, X (1907-1908): 232-254.
"Governor Walder's Administration," Kansas Historical Collections, (1891-1896).
Hughes, Harry and Helen Craig Dingler, From River Ferries to Interchanges, A Brief History of Saline County, Kansas. Ellsworth: Ellsworth Printing Co., 1988.
Hughes, Harry and Helen Craig Dingler, Pathway to a Frontier Spring Creek Valley, unpublished, 1994, Kansas Collections, Salina Public Library, Salina, Kansas.
Junction City Weekly Union, April 20, 1867.
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