JEB Stuart

(Deb) Welcome to Around Kansas. I’m Deb Bisel your co-host. Today is a really special edition of Around Kansas for me. We’re obviously right here in the middle of historic Topeka Cemetery where I am the resident historian now, but I’m going to take you back home to Ararat, Virginia, and I’m going to show you the connection between where I’m sitting now and the place I grew up. Please join us.

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(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas. I am here in historic Topeka Cemetery, right in the heart of downtown Topeka, just a few blocks from the Capitol. And I am sitting actually on top of the gravemarker for Mary Holliday, I hope she doesn’t mind. But I wanted to point out the gravemarker for Cyrus K. Holliday and of course he’s well known to most of our viewers. He’s the founder of Topeka. Founder of the Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe Railway. Founder of Merchants Bank here in Topeka. Obviously a mover and a shaker during the founding of the territory and the state. But he’s more than that to me. A lot of the reason I am still in Kansas after 20 years is because of him and actually this marker right here. When I came to Kansas a little over 20 years ago to go to Washburn University as a very non-traditional student, I would walk around the cemetery and that’s how I got to know the community. All these markers around us that bear the street names of the founders of Topeka, that’s how I got to know the history and it’s how I felt at home. And like I say so many times coming from the south, you know we love dead people. I had grown up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia and northwest North Carolina. And what I knew of Kansas was from TV and the movies. Obviously, Gunsmoke and then all those other movies, Dodge City, Santa Fe Trail. And I have to say Santa Fe Trail is probably the movie that has had the greatest influence in my life. Because that movie was about JEB Stuart Now, JEB Stuart was a Cavalry Commander who gained fame because he was the Cavalry Commander in the Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War. He was a Confederate officer. But JEB who grew up in my hometown of Ararat, Virginia, spent most of his adult life in Kansas and the Kansas territory. And that movie Santa Fe Trail with Errol Flynn playing our hometown boy JEB Stuart, can you get any better than that? That movie is what introduced me to Bleeding Kansas and the connection between us back in the hills of Virginia and Bleeding Kansas. I can still remember sitting in front of the TV set watching an Errol Flynn marathon and when that movie came on and there’s our hometown boy. I went to school in Stuart, named for him after the war was over. I can’t tell you how many Stuart connections there are. When I saw him on the big screen, a la Errol Flynn, it was like magic. And one of the other characters that’s depicted in that film is Cyrus Holliday. Now in the film Holliday and Stuart are not quite contemporaries. It shows Holliday as an older businessman. That would not be true. They would have been about the same age. They would have both been young, energetic young men coming to the Kansas territory. And probably not more alike than we might think, even though JEB was in the military, he was a very good businessman. He invested in property out here. Owned the property actually out around Fort Riley where the first capital of the Kansas territory was located. So, they probably would have had an awful lot in common. Now, when I was walking through the cemetery one of those first days in Topeka, I came across the grave of Holliday quite by accident. Because as you can see it’s very modest. And people are always coming up to me and asking about… where’s Holliday because they’re looking at the big mausoleums or the big obelisk, those really impressive markers. And his stone is quite simple. But when I found his marker, that was the connection. That’s when I realized that even though that movie, obviously fiction, the history it depicted was very real. And this was the crossroads of those two incredible individuals. I had to stay.

(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas, still here in historic Topeka Cemetery, taking about the connections between my hometown boy, JEB Stuart, J.E.B. Stuart and the folks from territorial Kansas. Now, when I was walking through the cemetery one of those first days in Topeka I came across the grave of Holliday quite by accident because as you can see it’s very modest. And people are always coming up to me and asking about you know, where’s Holliday? Because they’re looking at the big mausoleums or the big obelisk, those really impressive markers. And his stone is quite simple. But when I found his marker that was the connection. That’s when I realized that even though that movie obviously fiction, the history it depicted was very real and this was the crossroads of those two incredible individuals. Now Holliday is not the only person he would have had a connection with here at historic Topeka Cemetery. There’s dozens of people he would have known. Dozens more that he might have met on the street in Topeka. Some of the most important events in Kansas history, had JEB front and center. One of the biggest events of course in Bleeding Kansas was the Battle of Black Jack. Now, JEB wasn’t at the Battle of Black Jack, but somebody that would become very significant in life was, Henry Clay Pate. And Henry Clay Pate was the one who led the Missourians, against who? Right, John Brown. Now JEB was part of the cavalry that were sent to catchup with John Brown and relieve him of his prisoners, including one Henry Clay Pate after the Battle of Black Jack. Now, that’s depicted in the film Santa Fe Trail not very accurately, quite honestly. In reality, John Brown asked Stuart and those other cavalry men to join him in camp, they had dinner, they had a conversation, there along Mosquito and Pottawatomie Creeks, just outside of Baldwin City. It was a very hospitable if not strained meeting that they had. But most importantly JEB came face to face with John Brown.

(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas, still here in historic Topeka Cemetery. Talking about the connections between my hometown boy, JEB Stuart, J.E.B. Stuart, and the folks in territorial Kansas. Another significant event in Kansas history, there was a big fight in 1857 with Colonel Sumner, Bull Sumner, who also dismissed the State Legislature down here on Kansas Avenue where JEB was. But in 1857 he’s out fighting the Cheyenne Indians on the Solomon River. JEB was there, he was wounded, he was shot in the chest by an Indian who had a little pepper box pistol. It just barely missed his heart and while he was out there recovering, laying in the hot July sun along the river bottom there, he sketched something that would allow a saber to be used more quickly and effectively in battle. Now fast forward to 1859, JEB, good Episcopalian boy, heads back home to Patrick County to visit the relatives. He goes to Richmond to see the Episcopal church folks and then he goes to Washington where he’s sitting in the office of the War Department when word comes that Harper’s Ferry has been attacked, that something is going on at Harper’s Ferry. JEB scoots on up there with Colonel Robert E. Lee and it’s JEB Stuart that goes up to the Engine House to whoever is there, whoever has caused this insurrection. Then the door opened and JEB Stuart recalled, “He opened the door just wide enough for me to see his face and the gun he was holding. I immediately recognized Old Osawatomie who had given us so much trouble in the Kansas territory.” JEB Stuart was the only man there that had ever seen John Brown and he could positively identify him because he has met him on the prairies of Kansas. It’s just an incredible connection and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. And I thank you for joining us and I hope you can come back home with me some time to Ararat, we’ll show where it all started.

(Deb) I’m standing here at the birthplace of JEB Stuart. Now JEB Stuart is the reason that I am in Kansas, quite honestly. When I went out to Kansas about 20 years ago, I knew that JEB had been there during his military career. But it didn’t dawn on me until I’d been there for a few months, most of JEB’s adult life had been spent in the Kansas territory. Now, when I was growing up my cousins, Shug and Icy Brown, Icy was my Grandpa’s cousin, lived in the little house just right here on the property and all of this was just cow pasture. So Shug and I would walk up to the hill top where the Stuart home stood until the 1850’s, it burned in the 1850’s, and Shug would point out all those things to me – where the house was, the cemeteries and such and I wish it was not so cloudy today so that you could see what a beautiful spot this is. The view of the mountains is just spectacular. This is on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And we’re just a rock’s throw from North Carolina right here. Now when JEB was in the Kansas territory, when he was stationed out there one of the things that he wrote, was that his one desire was to come back here and retire someday. And of course, he wasn’t able to do that. So, while JEB is in the Kansas territory he was a lieutenant in the United States Army. He’s stationed at Fort Leavenworth, he’s stationed at Fort Riley. He’s at Fort Wise, which of course is now in Colorado. It became Colorado territory while JEB was there. He laid the corner stone for the foundation of the Episcopal Church in Junction City. He had such a life. He was married there. His children were born there. His life, any kind of normal adult life, was in the Kansas territory. Now, when the Civil War started and JEB was an officer in the Union Army he resigned his commission, not to go to the Confederacy but to offer his services to the Commonwealth of Virginia. He was first and foremost a Virginian. And he would not raise his sword against his home state of Virginia. And when you can see this, you can tell why, it’s such a beautiful place. This used to be cow pasture when my cousins owned the property, this was a cow pasture. Thanks to the efforts of my good friend Tom Perry, who’s couple of years younger than me, a little bit behind me at Patrick County High School. Really wonderful historian on the life of JEB Stuart. Tom was behind the effort to have this established as a… or have this property preserved. So now this is the JEB Stuart birthplace, preservation, trust. So the trust actually operates this property. As you can see, they’ve marked a lot of spots here. There are reenactments and other events held here throughout the year. The property is kept up. You’ve got this beautiful overlook of the Ararat River that runs along side the property. And it’s just a beautiful place to come out and spend a day and learn a little bit more about history. We’re hoping to get a lot of these people from Ararat to come out to Kansas sometime and see where JEB was in Kansas.

(Deb) Welcome back to Ararat, Virginia. Around Kansas goes to the east coast, almost. We’re actually in the mountains here, the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia. Now, the JEB Stuart birthplace is just over my shoulder up the hill here a little ways. But this is where his Great Grandfather would have lived, probably just behind me where you see the break in the boxwoods. The house was probably located right there. He was born in 1750. And during 1780 the height of the American Revolution, especially in the southern colonies, he was a patriot. And he was murdered in his bed by one of the local Tory sympathizers. So, he only had one child, that child. a little girl, became JEB Stuart’s Grandmother. Now William Letcher, of course, a patriot who died for the cause, he’s memorialized here with an elaborate marker. There’s a little shelter built over his stone. But what is so significant to me about this, is when I was a senior in high school, 1776 to 1976, it was the bi-centennial year. So, I think it was our gifted program that produced a play on the history of Patrick County, to celebrate the bicentennial. And we wrote a play about the history of JEB Stuart or the history of Patrick County through the life of JEB Stuart and we started with the murder of William Letcher in his bed. It was a real dramatic scene with the high school student playing that out in his bed and then we go on and wind up with JEB of course, memorialized through the naming of Stuart, Virginia, after him after the war was over. But the history right here is just so significant. And again, it’s one that’s really special to me. And I just wish I could bring you all back to show it to you. Thanks for joining me today on this nostalgic journey. You know, Kansas means so much to me as a transplant from Virginia, and this is the reason I’m here. JEB’s story, the connection with Holliday and all the other people here in the cemetery, Elmore Hopkins, the Stinsons. So many people that he would have known and that sense of adventure that brought JEB west through the military is just one that I’ve followed all over the country. I lived in Richmond not too far from where JEB was mortally wounded in the Battle of Yellow Tavern. But spending my life in Kansas has just made me feel like I was supposed to be here. You know all those JEB connections, his connections to Fort Riley and to Fort Leavenworth. You know JEB is the only, he and Phillip St. George Cook, they’re the only father-in-law and son-in-law combination to be in the Command College Hall of Fame at Fort Leavenworth. And I have been privileged to spend so much time at the Command and General Staff College there. So, it’s like I’ve just followed his foot steps everywhere. And they’ve been incredible footsteps to follow. I am glad you could join me on the trip.

Closed Captioning is brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

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