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J. B. Edwards Collection, 1872-1935

Microfilm MS 1256
MS. (Coll. 334)



The papers of John Beach Edwards, early resident of Abilene, Kansas, were given to the Kansas State Historical Society in 1951 by his daughter A. Blanche Edwards.


45; Linear feet of shelf space occupied: 0.208


John Beach Edwards was born 1 September 1844 in Chemung County, Pennsylvania, near Athens and grew up on his parents’ farm. His health prevented him from serving in the Civil War. The year 1867 found him working in the Pennsylvania oilfields as an agent for an express company. He came west in 1870, arriving in Abilene, Kansas, in May of that year.

Except for two years spent in Dodge City and southwest Kansas selling buffalo hides and operating a general store he resided in Abilene the remaining 80 years of his life. He operated lumber, grocery, cattle, and house-construction businesses in Abilene and was a co-owner of the firm of Hodge & Edwards.

He was a friend of James Butler (“Wild Bill”) Hickok, “Bear River” Tom Smith, and many other notables who were in Abilene during its cattle-town period. Reputedly he was influential in persuading Hickok to come to Abilene as sheriff.

During his short tenure in southwest Kansas, he and George O. Smith operated the first trading post at the site of present-day Lakin, Kansas, in 1872.

He married Martha Jane Lady on 20 January 1876. They had six children: Mary Emma, Anna Blanche, Frank Milton, Charles Wilbur, Albert Lady, and Paul John.

In June 1896 Edwards wrote reminiscences of early Abilene that were published in the Abilene newspaper; the series was reprinted in June 1938 and published two years later under the title Early Days in Abilene. Henry B. Jameson’s book Early Days inAbilene Kansas; Where It All Started (c. 1983) was based on Edwards’ accounts.

Edwards also worked 34 years for the Kansas Legislature while it was in session. He began in 1907 as assistant sergeant-at-arms, then served as engrossing clerk in the House of Representatives from 1909 through 1943, when he retired at the age of 98.

He died 18 December 1950 at the age of 106.

Scope and Content

The J. B. Edwards collection consists primarily of letters written to him by other early residents of Abilene-and to a lesser extent Dodge City-commenting on the early history of those communities. Most of the letters pertain to the cattle-town era of Abilene history and were written by men who were in Abilene during that period. There are a few letters by J. G. McCoy recalling Abraham Lincoln in Illinois prior to and during the 1860 presidential election, proposing a lecture tour by those who had firsthand knowledge of early Western history, and remembering Tim Hersey and his family in early Abilene. Letters written by C. F. Gross contain lengthy recollections of McCoy; early efforts to steer the Texas cattle trade through Kansas; the founding and early history of Abilene and Dickinson County; gunfights and other lawlessness and efforts by lawmen to contain it; the tour of the Grand Duke Alexis; hiring J. B. (“Wild Bill”) Hickok and bringing him to Abilene from Fort Harker, Kansas, as marshal; clothing; the James and Younger gang in Abilene and Hickok’s reaction to them; reminiscences and impressions of Hickok; a chronology of events in 1867; Civil War recollections; his opinion of “North of 36” and other motion pictures; and Masonic matters. Other letters discuss the shooting of Phil Coe, Hickok’s literacy, the Hickok-McCanless affair in Nebraska, Kansas politics, cattle driving and loading, and saloons. The letters often contain autobiographical information about the writers. Several of the letters are critical of the motion picture “North of 36” and the inaccuracies of other written and cinematic attempts to portray the West.

The small group of letters and other items forming the W. T. Bishop collection contain similar information about the frontier period of Kansas history. Bishop was chief clerk of the Kansas House of Representatives during the 1935 session, and Edwards gave him copies of a number of letters, many of which pertain to Dodge City and Nettleton Siding along the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Rail Road in southwest Kansas. Topics contained in these letters include the death of Charles D. Morehouse, Jr.; gun sales; and buffalo hunts. The Bishop collection also consists of a lengthy autobiographical sketch by Edwards and comments relating to the distortion of the historical record in articles and motion pictures. Edwards also included extensive descriptions of several early Dodge City photographs; photocopies of the photos are retained with the descriptions. (The original photographs have been transferred to the Photograph Division.)

These letters and other documents are significant for their first-person accounts of the cattle-trade era in Abilene and Dodge City. The fact that Edwards and many of his correspondents were in Abilene at the time the town was established and during its early days as a terminus for the Texas cattle trade makes these accounts significant. The letters, particularly those of C. F. Gross, comment extensively on events and people such as Joseph G. McCoy, “Wild Bill” Hickok, and the James-Younger gang that have become legendary in the popular image of Western American history. As with all recollections, however, it is likely that the passage of time between the events themselves and the writing of the letters in this collection may have altered some of the perceptions of the authors. Many of the letters express a sadness at twentieth century portrayals of Abilene, the cattle trade, and the West generally in motion pictures and the popular press.

Other writings of or about Edwards in the collections of the Historical Society Research Center include his 1896 columns in the Abilene Chronicle (newspaper microfilm); the two books cited in the biographical sketch, above, that are based on Edwards’ reminiscences; and numerous articles and clippings about him, all in the Library. The aforementioned photographs of Dodge City are in the Photograph Division.

Other manuscript collections that pertain to Abilene, Dodge City, and the cattle trade include the William Elsey Connelley (no. 16), Charles Sumner Jobes, E. P. Lamborn (no. 156), James L. McDowell, Masterson Family, Henry Hubert Raymond, George Allen Root, and Robert A. Taft (no. 172) collections; the George Washington Brown, Walter Brown, Mary Magdalene (Bower) Brulport, Butcher family, Melville Clark Campbell, Dan Casement, Charles Monroe Chase, J. B. Fuller, Timothy F. Hersey, J. B. Hickok, Hickok Family, F. A. Hobble, Bernard H. Lemert, Larry Maddux, Warren Lebius Matthews, Almon C. Nixon, Mrs. R. A. Park, Fred N. Raymond, Decatur Stout Rees, Charles E. Ross, Kenneth W. Scott, Francis Marion Stahl, Luther A. Thrasher (miscellaneous box 5), G. W. Veale, Will Wayman, Steven K. Whitfield, and O. W. Wright miscellaneous collections; and the Cowtowns, Dickinson County, Ellis County, Ellsworth County, Ford County, Names (Geographical), and Washburn University history collections. Collections on microfilm include Abilene records (MS-81.2), COD cattle ranch record book (MS-205.3), the W. S. Campbell collection (University of Oklahoma) (MS-398), Cheyenne Indian manuscripts (Indians history collection), Delmonico Hotel register (Dodge City) ((MS-779.4), Dickinson County commissioners’ journals (MS-81.1), Dodge City Police Court and other records (MS 157-161 & MS-377), Eicholtz funeral home records, Ford County register of deeds records (MS 892-912), Leon Charles Fouquet diary (MS-921), correspondence of Kansas Governor George Glick relating to the ouster of Luke Short (MS-739.1), Joseph G. McCoy diary (MS-406.3), Joseph G. Masters collection, Piatt & Co. record book (MS-38), Henry Hubert Raymond diary (MS-300), James C. Richards diary (MS-70.7), Eli Seavey Ricker tablets (MS 278-280), White House Hotel registers (Ellsworth) (MS 132-134), and Wright, Beverly & Co. records (MS-162). There is also an audiotaped interview with Jessie Mable (Raymond) Blake (A-11).

Contents List

This collection has been arranged to the document level, described to the series level, listed to the folder level, and cataloged to the subgroup level. A folder list is appended to this register; in addition, an alphabetical index has been prepared to the Letters Received, 1905-1932 (series A). The entire collection has been microfilmed (roll MS-1256).

Series Descriptions

A. Papers of J. B. Edwards: Letters received. 1905-1932. 2 in. (42 items) (folders 1-12)

Letters received from a number of early residents of or visitors to Abilene, Kans., and vicinity. The letters focus on the early history of the community including the cattle trade, establishment of the town, and lawlessness. Other subjects covered include the Texas cattle trade; Abraham Lincoln in Illinois; proposals for a lecture tour; recollections about Tim Hersey, J. G. McCoy, J. B. Hickok, Phil Coe, and members of the James & Younger families; and opinions of the motion picture “North of 36” & other 20 th-century depictions of the frontier. Some letters have been edited for publication. Included are a few letters written by Edwards. Correspondents include C. F. Gross, Green R. Lamb, and J. G. McCoy.

Arranged chronologically

Indexed alphabetically by authors’ surnames.

B. W. T. Bishop Collection. 1872-1935. ¼ in. (3 items)

Copies given by Edwards to W. T. Bishop of documents relating to the early history of Abilene and Kansas. Included are transcripts (typewritten) of letters from Charles D. Morehouse, Sr., relating to the death of his son, Charles D. Morehouse, Jr., & from John M. London & G. W. Hewitt about gun sales and the buffalo hunts; a photocopy of a letter from Edwards to R. W. Thorp relating autobiographical information & commenting on distortions about the West appearing in articles and motion pictures; and an autobiographical sketch by Edwards containing early reminiscences of Dodge City & information on his starting a store there, with descriptions of several early Dodge City photographs.

Organized by type of item with the transcripts first, followed by the letter from Edwards to Thorp and the autobiographical sketch.

Series Folder Description Dates No. Items
A   Letters Received, Donated 1905-1932 42
    by A. Blanche Edwards    
A 1   1905 4
A 2   1911 1
A 3   1915 1
A 4   1917 1
A 5   1922 8
A 6   1924 2
A 7   1925 9
A 8   1926 8
A 9   1927 3
A 10   1928 2
A 11   1929 1
A 12   1932 2
B   W. T. Bishop Collection 1875-1935 3






Notes on the Microfilm Copy

In the filming of these papers, typewritten transcripts were filmed before originals. In some cases a first typewritten draft was made from the original and a second, perfected transcript prepared from the first draft. When this was the case the first typewritten draft has not been filmed.

Photographs were sent with two of the letters received by Edwards in 1925; in addition one of the documents in the W. T. Bishop collection refers to photographs. These photos were removed at the time the papers were accessioned or processed and transferred to the Photograph Division. For microfilming, however, they have been re-inserted into their original place in these papers and filmed with the documents that refer to them. On this microfilm the descriptions of the photographs follow the images.

Additional Information for Researchers


There are no restrictions on access to these papers.

The subject of literary rights was not addressed at the time of donation, consequently copyright is presumed to belong to J. B. Edwards’ heirs. Copyright to letters written by persons other than J. B. Edwards is owned by the heirs of the authors.

Suggested Citation

The suggested citation form for this collection is:

[name of document], [date of document], [series], J. B. Edwards collection, Manuscripts Department, Kansas State Historical Society. If the microfilm of the collection is used instead of the originals, it is suggested that that fact and the roll number (MS-1256) should be cited.

Series and folder designations are not necessary but often can help archivists locate materials more quickly.

Some examples of specific documents:

C. F. Gross to J. B. Edwards, 13 April 1922, folder 5, Papers of J. B. Edwards: Letters Received, series A, J. B. Edwards collection, Manuscripts Department, Kansas State Historical Society.

Gross to Edwards, 9 March 1928, Papers of J. B. Edwards: Letters Received, J. B. Edwards collection, Kansas State Historical Society microfilm MS-1256, 1990.

C. D. Morehouse to Mfs. Edwards & Co., Dodge City, Kansas, 9 December 1872, W. T. Bishop collection, series B, J. B. Edwards collection, Manuscripts Department, Kansas State Historical Society.

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