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Oscar K. Swayze Papers

Collection 83



Oscar Kepler Swayze (1860-1949) was an early Topeka newspaperman, businessman, and county official. Throughout his long residence in Topeka he was active in local Republican party affairs and in many civic and fraternal organizations. His collection, which consists of four boxes of correspondence, reminiscences, clippings, and other items, is a valuable resource for early Topeka history and for local affairs throughout the first decades of the twentieth century. The collection includes materials dating from 1883 to 1949, with the bulk of the items coming from the period 1914-1940. Also included is a small collection of papers of Swayze’s father, Jason Clarke Swayze, which date from 1856-1877.

The collection was donated to the Kansas State Historical Society in 1949 by the estate of Oscar K. Swayze. There are no restrictions on the use of the materials. The proper citation for the collection is Oscar K. Swayze Collection, Manuscripts Department, Kansas State Historical Society.


Oscar K. Swayze was born in Brooklyn, New York, on January 19, 1860. He was the son of Jason Clarke Swayze (1833-1877) and Kate Lucy (Edwards) Swayze (1834-1862). Jason Clarke Swayze was a printer for the Saturday Evening Courier, a New York City weekly devoted to the theatrical world. He later bought a half interest in this paper and became one of its publishers. Kate Lucy Edwards was born in London, England, and came to the United States in 1846. She was an actress and playwright. A small collection of her papers in the Manuscripts Department of the Kansas State Historical Society contains four manuscripts of her plays, as well as some material pertaining to her play, Ossawatomie Brown, or the Insurrection at Harper’s Ferry, which was published and produced at the Bowery Theater in New York in 1859. Also included in the Kate Lucy (Edwards) Swayze Collection is a short biographical sketch of her written by Oscar K. Swayze.

Jason Clarke Swayze and Kate Lucy Edwards were married June 22, 1856. During the following years they collaborated in writing several plays and also formed a theatrical company which toured throughout the South before the outbreak of the Civil war. In 1859, Jason Clarke Swayze moved to Griffin, Georgia, where he operated a printing press for a newspaper office. He eventually purchased a one-third interest in this plant. During the Civil War, he was arrested as a traitor to the Confederacy and impressed into military service but eventually escaped and crossed over to the Union lines near Richmond, Virginia. Joining the Union Army, he became a scout and served under General William T. Sherman, eventually attaining the rank of captain.

In 1862, Kate Lucy Swayze died of a fever shortly after the birth of her third child. Until their father returned from the Union Army, the Swayze children were cared for by a sympathetic Southern family. During the Reconstruction period, Jason Clarke Swayze worked for a time as an agent of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. He also published a Republican newspaper, The American Union, first in Griffin and then in Macon, Georgia. In 1873, he moved to Topeka and began publishing The Topeka Blade, which later became the Topeka State Journal. His children, who had at first been left in the care of relatives in New York, joined him shortly. However, Mr. Swayze had remarried in the interval, and due to problems between the children and their stepmother, the three children left Topeka and went to Leavenworth, Kansas, where they worked as typesetters on the Leavenworth Times, under the direction of M. C. Morris, a family friend who had learned the newspaper business working for Jason Clarke Swayze in the American Union offices in Griffin, Georgia. In 1877, after publishing articles in his paper in which he implicated prominent local men in a lottery scandal, Jason Clarke Swayze was murdered outside his office in downtown Topeka. The Topeka Blade was then sold to interests outside the family.

Oscar Swayze stated later in his life, in interviews and correspondence, that he never attended school. While his family lived in Georgia, local prejudice against the son of a “Yankee” prevented him from attending school. In 1871, the three Swayze children were sent to the Lookout Mountain Educational Institution, near Chattanooga, Tennessee, but Oscar became ill as soon as school began and did not attend class that term. The next year, the children returned to the same school, but strife between children from Northern families and those from Southern families forced the closing of the school before the new term actually began. Swayze attributed his education to his father, and claimed that he began setting type in his father’s newspaper office at the age of five years.

Oscar Swayze returned to Topeka in 1878 and became a journeyman printer on the Kansas Farmer and the Daily Capital. In 1880, he left Topeka to work on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, working at the railhead in New Mexico, where the line was being built south to El Paso, Texas. He held a variety of jobs on the Santa Fe in New Mexico and Texas until he returned to Topeka in 1884 and became foreman of the composing room at the Topeka Daily Capital. In that year, Swayze gave Arthur Capper his first job in Topeka. Capper, who had been working on a small-town newspaper in Garnett, Kansas, wanted experience with a city daily, and Swayze put him to work as a typesetter on the Capital, a paper which Capper eventually owned. When the Topeka Press Club was organized that same year, Swayze was a charter member and held the secretaryship in that organization at various times over the years. On September 30, 1884, Swayze was married to Hettie McPherson, of Topeka, formerly of Brownstown, Indiana. The couple had no children.

From the late 1880s to 1912, Swayze held a variety of positions in Topeka. From August 1885 to September 1888, Swayze was assistant secretary to the Kansas State Board of Agriculture, working on the state census. In 1893-1893, he was a clerk for the Chicago, Kansas, and Nebraska Railroad, a subsidiary of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. From 1894-1896, he was a clerk in the Passenger Auditor’s Office of the Santa Fe Railroad. He served as deputy county clerk of Shawnee County at two different times from 1900 to 1902 and later from 1907 to 1910. From 1902 to 1906, he was associated with the Topeka Daily Herald as bookkeeper and city editor. He made an unsuccessful campaign for Shawnee County Clerk in 1910, but was elected to this position in 1912 and again in 1914, serving until January, 1917.

During his term as county clerk, Swayze was instrumental in organizing a “Three-in-One” convention of county clerks, county commissioners, and registers of deeds from throughout Kansas. In connection with this meeting, the Kansas Official, which Swayze edited, was begun. Published by Halls Lithography in Topeka, the magazine was sent to Kansas county officials. (A complete file of this periodical is in the Kansas State Historical Society Library.) The Kansas Official Council, an organization made up of county officials from throughout the state, was also formed as a result of this 1915 convention in Topeka.

Prior to becoming county clerk, Swayze had been, for a time, a salesman for Halls Lithography, a large Topeka printing house. After leaving the county office, he immediately went back to work for Halls, as head of a newly-created county department, which sold supplies, forms, and blank books to county officials in the region. He also continued to edit the Kansas Official until publication ceased in 1937. For a time, Swayze also edited the Halls Company employees’ paper, Diamond Dust. Swayze retired from Halls in December, 1938.

Throughout his long career in Topeka, Swayze was active in numerous civic and fraternal organizations, and also in local Republican party affairs. He was a member of the Topeka Republican Flambeau Club, serving as secretary and editing their Bulletin for a time around the turn of the century. He was a member of several of the Masonic bodies in Topeka. He also belonged to the Sunflower Camp No. 536 of the Modern Woodmen of America and held the post of secretary of that organization for many years. He was also secretary of the South Side Civic Improvement Club for a time. Beginning in 1915, Swayze was involved with the Kansas Free Fair for several years, spending his vacations working as supervisor of the entry department of the fair. Much of the correspondence in this collection is related to Swayze’s involvement with these various political, civic, and fraternal groups.

Swayze lived at 1426 Van Buren in Topeka, a home he had built in 1912. Hettie McPherson Swayze died May 26, 1946, after a long illness. Oscar K. Swayze died in a Topeka hospital on June 13, 1949, of complications resulting from a fall he had suffered in his home that spring.

Scope and Content

Although a variety of types of items are included in this collection, the bulk of it is made up of Oscar K. Swayze’s personal correspondence and papers. Swayze was a prolific letter writer and evidently gave careful attention to maintaining a file of his correspondence. Most of his letters were typed, and he retained carbon copies for his files. Thus the collection contains both copies of letters sent and letters received. This material is chronologically in fifteen folders, with the exception of letters relating to certain organizations which are filed under the name of the organization.

Much of Swayze’s correspondence was with personal friends and family members. There are a number of letters to and from his younger sister, Annie Lawrie (Swayze) Charles. However, there are few letters from his older sister, Julia Harriett Swayze, who died sometime in the early twentieth century. There were also frequent exchanges between Swayze and his stepbrother, Jason Clarke Swayze, Jr., a lawyer in government service in Washington, D.C.

Beginning approximately 1917, Swayze carried on a long correspondence with James F. Thompson of Griffin, Georgia. Thompson, who worked in a grocery and later operated a vinegar bottling plant, was a descendant of the family which had befriended the Swayzes during the Civil War. Swayze also kept in frequent contact with M. C. Morris, publisher of the Billings (Montana) Times. Morris had been an apprentice under Jason Clarke Swayze in the American Union newspaper office in Griffin, Georgia, and had later employed the Swayze children as typesetters on the Leavenworth Times. In the period of 1916-1920, there are numerous letters between Swayze and John R. Johnston, owner of a glass manufacturing plant in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Johnston had lived in Topeka as a young man and had been acquainted with Swayze then. There are numerous other individuals with whom Swayze corresponded less frequently.

Swayze also had frequent communications with several prominent political figures, most notably Arthur Capper with whom he exchanged numerous letters spanning the period from 1911 to 1947. Swayze also wrote often to other state, local, and national political figures, expressing his views on a variety of issues. Replies to these letters are usually filed with the carbon copies of the originals.

In the period 1910 to 1916, there are a considerable number of items relating to Swayze’s campaign for Shawnee County Clerk, and his tenure in that office from 1913 to 1917. However, there are relatively few items of an official nature from his terms in office. There are numerous letters and clippings concerning a controversy between Swayze and the previous county clerk, Samuel Zimmerman, whom Swayze accused of dereliction of duty and other misdeeds while in office.

During the World War I years, Swayze’s correspondence reflects the concerns of the “home front,” and documents war-related activities in and around Topeka. There are also a few letters to and from men in military service, both in the United States and overseas. By contrast, relatively little material relating to World War II is found in Swayze’s correspondence from that period.

Numerous items relating to Swayze’s employment at Halls Lithography and his editorship of the Kansas Official date from the period 1917 to 1938. Both of these positions kept him in frequent contact with various county officials throughout the state and with other individuals in the printing or stationery trade, such as Charles L. Mitchell, Sales Manager at Crane and Company of Topeka.

Besides Oscar K. Swayze’s personal correspondence, there are numerous other items in this collection. There is a small collection of papers of Jason Clarke Swayze, dating from 1856 to 1877. Included in this is material relating to his service as an agent of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands in the Reconstruction period in Georgia, including U. S. Representative Thomas J. Speer, Georgia governor Rufus Bullock, who was later U. S. Senator from that state, and Foster Blodgett, who was elected to the U.S. Senate from Georgia in 1870, but was not seated due to a dispute over his credentials. There are also several letters from the Swayze children when they were away at school in 1871, and a small diary kept by Jason Clarke Swayze during the year 1856, when he was living in New York City. There are only a few items from his four years in Topeka, 1873 to 1877.

Items relating to several of the organizations that Swayze was involved with have been gathered into separate folders under the names of those groups. These include the Topeka Republican Flambeau Club; the Modern Woodmen of America, Sunflower Camp No. 536; the South Side Civic Improvement Club; various Masonic bodies in Topeka, and the Kansas Free Fair. In all of these groups, Swayze was involved in some sort of leadership position and was secretary to many of the groups at various intervals.

There is one folder containing reminiscences by Swayze concerning early days in Topeka. This includes the manuscripts of speeches given before various organizations. However, these manuscripts are sometimes not labeled or titled clearly, and thus it is not always possible to determine the occasion for which they were prepared. There is also a folder containing biographical data about Swayze’s life. Some of this appears to be notes he made for his own use, but there also are two drafts of an interview with Swayze by George A. Root of the Kansas State Historical Society, conducted in the summer of 1948. The Kansas State Historical Society Library also has a scrapbook of Swayze clippings that the researcher will want to consult, although some items are duplicated in this collection.

Mark Joy
Kansas State University Intern
Summer, 1985

Contents List

Box No.
Folder No.
Description Dates
Correspondence 1883-1913
Correspondence 1914-1916
Correspondence 1917
Correspondence 1918
Box Listing (continued)  
Box No.
Folder No.
Description Dates
Correspondence 1919-1920
Correspondence 1921-1925
Correspondence 1926-1929
Correspondence 1930-1933
Correspondence 1934-1936
Correspondence 1937
Correspondence 1938-1940
Correspondence 1941-1944
Correspondence 1945-1949
Correspondence Undated
Index Rerum-commercially prepared blank book for  
recording an index to personal readings; a few entries  
have been made.  
Reminiscences-several articles  
Oscar K. Swayze biographical data  
Papers of Jason Clarke Swayze, 1856-1877
Clippings about Reconstruction Days in Georgia, some  
from Jason Clarke Swayze's American Union  
Topeka Republican Flambeau Club, Miscellaneous papers, 1885-1937.
County Officials Convention, Topeka, 1915
Kansas Free Fair, 1915-1931
Modern Woodmen of America, Sunflower Camp No. 536,  
miscellaneous papers, 1912-1946.
South Side Civic Improvement Club, papers and minutes, 1910-1913.
Topeka Abdallah Shrine Club, Papers, 1920
Freemasons-various Masonic Groups in Topeka, including  
Siloam Lodge No. 225, A.F. & A.M., miscellaneous papers, 1919-1920.