The First Building
Larned, Kansas - The Little Red House
GPS: N38 10.525 W99 06.257

The Little Red House
of the
Little Red House

Click on photo's for larger view

     In April of 1872, Booth, one of the original members of the Larned Town Company and post trader at Fort Larned, Kansas positioned wheels under one of the sutler's buildings at the fort and transported it to a location near Schnack Park in present-day Larned, Kansas. The building was floated across the swollen Pawnee River behind a team of swimming horses and established at a spot variously described as "below the hill" or in the "lower part of town." Other accounts depicted the buildings to have been situated somewhere near the sites where the old quarry and Schnack's brick kiln were later located. Still other descriptions written by early Larned residents confirmed the site to be in the lower part of town where other buildings were constructed in 1872 and 1873. Such was the origin of Larned's first building.

     The original function of the building has not been positively identified, but descriptions and dimensions written at later dates strongly suggest that the building in question began its existence at Fort Larned as he sutler's mess house, a civilian restaurant on the military post. This frame building, built in 1863 at a cost of $1,700.00, was described as twenty-one and a half feet wide by thirty-four and a half feet deep, fourteen feet high. Containing three rooms with floors and partitions of pine, the structure was equipped with four windows and two flues. The front room was papered. A sketch of the mess house shows the front of the building with two large windows, one situated on either side of a transomed double door. Such details are in keeping with Inman's 1893 account which described the building as being jointly occupied as residence and schoolroom, the latter being twenty feet square. The schoolroom, papered in a gaudy flowered pattern, possessed two large windows, one on each side of the wide door. Ball's report indicated the building contained three small rooms in back and one big room in front. Ball also recalled this room as being "hung with wallpaper of fantastic figures." Undoubtedly, this was the same building sold to John Foster of Barton County by John Murrary of Barton County for the sum of $700. The building was thus described:

     "One story frame house 20' X 40' in Larned, Pawnee County and now occupied by me as a saloon, etc. Subject to a lien for material furnished by G. L. Brinkman for $65. One small frame dwelling house, heating stove, furniture, bedding, tableware, cutlery, hardware, queensware. Also the Bar, bar fixtures, liquor, cigars and stock…on lots in Larned."

     While some inconsistencies are apparent among the four descriptions, the general agreement as to the dimensions, floor plan, and other details as recalled by the various authors would seem to indicate that the building in question was originally the Fort Larned mess house which eventually became a post office, saloon, residence, hotel, brothel, dance hall and school.

     Booth's building was first occupied by Mr. and Mrs. George B. Cox who used a portion of the structure to operate a saloon and restaurant. Hotel accommodations were also available. Cox, a Confederate veteran from Butts, County, Georgia, was appointed Postmaster in June of 1872, and so the building took on the added function of post office. During the same month, the building assumed another distinction. The first sermon to be preached in Larned was delivered in the saloon-post office by C. H. Smith from Wyandotte, Kansas. Booth reported that both the attendance and the sermon were slim.

     Shortly there after, Cox and Al Boyd constructed a hotel in the same general area, and the Cox's took up quarters in the new establishment. Booth's building continued to function as a saloon and dancehouse, under the proprietorship of Murray and Young, through the following year, culminating in Larned's first murder on January 1, 1873. Some unknown gunman, firing through the saloon window, shot John Morris and a woman named Beck. Morris died instantly, and the Beck women was taken to Sisters' Hospital in Leavenworth where she succumbed. Booth opined that "a woman was at the bottom of the fracas." No graveyard being available, Morris' body was taken to the top of the hill for burial. Samuel Coppenger suggested that since the ground was frozen hard and no shovels were available, the body could be interred in a nearby Indian grave. The soft earth of the Indian's resting place was easily removed, and his skeletal remains were replaced by those of Mr. Morris. Someone carried off the Indian's skull as a macabre momento of Larned's first murder.

     Booth's family occupied the converted mess house in April of 1873 when Booth gave up his position as post trader and moved to Larned. Ball asserted that legend once was that no one could qualify as a settler of 1873 who had not at some time lived in what she called "the little red house." The legend was interesting but hardly feasible. One hundred and thirty-two heads of family were counted among the 1873 settlers in Pawnee County. Nevertheless, the claims that the building was busy twenty-four hours a day is hardly an exaggeration. During one period, Booth rented the house to Georgie O'Dell. In the fall of 1873, Booth was forced to sue O'Dell for payment of rent in the first Justice of Peace court conducted in the county. Chief Justice J. C. Fousley ruled in the favor of the plaintiff. The defendant was identified in the 1875 U. S. Census as a German immigrant, twenty-five years of age, formerly of Ohio. Her occupation was listed as "prostitute." Booth's building was, indeed, a busy place.

     Captain James P. Worrell, an attorney from Illinois, accompanied by his son George and a partner, Archibald Bracken, arrived at Larned by team and wagon on June 14, 1873. Worrell and Bracken immediately invested in a herd of Texas cattle and Bracken opened a butcher shop to process and sell the stringy longhorn beef. On August 20, Bracken's family arrived in Larned, and eight days later Mrs. Worrell and three daughters joined the attorney and brother George. The family took up residence in the "little red house" recently vacated by the Booths. Worrell's daughter, Isabelle, seeking employment as a teacher, approached Henry Booth, Pawnee County Superintendent of Schools. The school district had been organized June 16 with W. R. Adams as director, C. F. Leicham as treasurer, and Daniel A. Bright as clerk. However, the first class was yet to be conducted. Miss Worrell recalled the meeting with an august Captain Booth (who) "nearly frightened the senses out of me when I appeared before him to answer as to my capabilities for the onerous and honorable position." After a brief discussion, the Superintendent responded to the candidate that he supposed she "would do" and instructed her to "hunt up a schoolroom and go to work." Miss Worrell chose the front room of her family's residence and promptly initiated a thorough cleansing with broom and concentrated lye. The resourceful Miss Worrell borrowed the last two available scrub brushes in town from Mrs. Frank Elliot and attacked the boot-blackened floor, but even her most industrious efforts failed to remove the stains of Larned's first murder victim, which remained to meet the thirteen pupils who attended the first day of school on September 23, 1873. The two large windows of the schoolroom were printed in red and yellow letters, some nine inches tall, proclaiming the building's former function, SALOON.

     On the first day of school, Director Adams and Superintendent Booth arrived to inspect the new school and to commend Miss Worrell for her ingenuity in supplying the furniture for the school. The big boys, two or three larger and older than the teacher, were assigned to beer kegs. The younger children sat on a board supported by flat rocks obtained from the nearby hill. Miss Worrell's desk was what had been the bar, a plank placed over two barrels' her chair, a beer keg. Over her desk hung a breechloading rifle and a belt of cartridges, precaution against the Indians who never came. The exception was Modoc, and Indian lad who came to Larned with Dr. and Mrs. William Wampler. Modoc proved to be an excellent student. Miss Worrell spoke of him as "a tower of strength to me when he was my pupil." In October, Dr. Wampler donated some benches which he had brought from a dismantled church in Illinois. Someone else donated a bell. With such equipment, Miss Worrell taught the first three-month term of school in Pawnee County for $33.33 per month.

     Before that first term had ended, the original enrollment of thirteen had increased to thirty-two. Miss Worrell recalled a number of the original thirteen: Tillie Leicham, whose father was Larned's new grocer; Booth's son, Fred; Laura Elliot, whose mother loaned the scrub brushes to ready the room for school; Willie Bracken, whose father ran the butcher shop; and a Poorman child. Also in attendance were three or four garrison's and a like number of Harnes children. The Harnes family, enroute to Syracuse, had been persuaded to stay in Larned, the number of their school age children being enough to help secure a school district in the county.

     The structure Booth brought from the Fort Larned and established as Larned's first building changed hands a number of times. Seven days following the school's opening, Booth bought at sheriff's sale the building then being used as the Worrell residence and schoolroom. Earlier in the summer, Booth had won a judgement in the amount of $76.67 against Murray and Young, and Judge D. A. Bright put the property on the auction block to satisfy that judgement. Booth placed the high bid of $100.00 and the following month sold the property to Tim McCarthy for $100.15. McCarthy received two monthly payments of $30.00 each for rent on the building to the school district in 1874.

     In the same year, the building was moved to a new location near the present Fifth and Main intersection where it continued to serve a number of junctions. Originally used as a carpenter shop, the building later housed two newspapers, the Larned Republican, and The Chronoscope. All the while, Colonel Inman served as the Chronoscope editor, he kept the Indian skull, retrieved from Larned's first burial site, on his desk as a grisly reminder of frontier days. Following, the building was used by the Larned Land Office, and eventually became a blacksmith shop.

The Little Red House Marker Text
     "This house has been reconstructed to represent Larned's first building constructed in 1869 as the sutler's mess hall at Fort Larned. In the Spring of 1872 the structure was moved by Post Trader Henry Booth to a site two blocks south of this location. The building served a number of functions: residence, post office, hotel, restaurant, saloon, dance hall, brothel, church, school, and courtroom. As one of the few public houses in early Larned, it accomodated a profusion of emigrants. Isabel Worrall, Larned's first school teacher, stated the legand that no one could qualify as an 1873 settler of Pawnee County who had not at some time lived in what she called the little red house."

     Larned's first building has been replicated by David & Alice Clapsaddle, at a location about two blocks north of the site used by Booth in 1872.

     The replication is situated just across the street from Sibley's Camp at 2nd and State Streets in Larned, Kansas. Now that the project is completed the building will be available for school groups and others interested in the early history of the town of Larned, Kansas.

     The text above is a short history of the way this historic building came to be in Larned and the uses that it had in the years it was located near this location.
Used With Permisssion of the Author:
David Clapsaddle

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