St. Francis, Kansas a look at the past
Wano Meat Market,Wano, Kansas, about 1885-86
Cheyenne County Map 1887
Captain A.L. Emerson, founder of St. Francis
The Naming of St. Francis
Before there was St. Francis there was Wano, a small trading post directly in the middle of Cheyenne County. The remote outpost was in the far northwest corner of Kansas. A.M. Brenamen, a pioneer merchant, is credited with founding Wano in 1880. At the time there were only two large cattle ranches and six claims. The population of the county was 37 in 1880, jumped to 84 in 1882 and when immigration to the area began in earnest in 1885 the population increased to 204, not counting the Indians still living in the area.
By 1887, the town could boast of having two banks, a hardware store, two drug stores, a general store, a loan company, a newspaper and a physician who claimed he had no patients because everyone was so healthy.
Also among the residents was an unlikely couple, Captain A.L. Emerson and his wife Frances, known as Fanny. Leonard, as he was called by friends and family, and Fanny were both from well-educated and influential families in the East. The Captain sailed merchant ships on various routes around the world with his wife accompanying him on many of the voyages. He also served several years in the Civil War and was credited with capturing the Confederate blockade runner, Grey Jacket, in the Gulf of Mexico.
Edward Emerson, one of the Captain’s older brothers, purchased 3,000 acres west of Wano and created the “Log Ship” ranch as an investment after making a fortune in natural gas wells in Pennsylvania. The ranch included stock of “two hundred mares, three Kentucky blooded jacks and a very fine blooded stallion.” The Captain and his wife traveled to Kansas from York, Maine to oversee the ranch with the help of the foreman John Long, also from Maine.
As the Burlington & Missouri railroad was making its way across the country, the residents of Wano were certain when the tracks reached them, the town would become a major depot on the line to Denver and their fine town would become a booming metropolis. Unfortunately, the Lincoln Land Company (LLC), the land agent for the railroad, had different plans. They had the reputation of putting towns where they wanted, not where the towns were already located.
They did exactly that by insisting the tracks would be laid south of Wano. Captain Emerson, a respected leader of the community, was asked to advocate for the railroad to change course and pass by their town. Many thought that with Captain Emerson’s 6’4” commanding presence, he would be the right person for the job. Various newspaper posts at the time reported his numerous trips to Chicago and Lincoln to meet with officials, but in the end the tracks by-passed Wano.
The Captain, however, was able to negotiate with the railroad to pay all the moving expenses to relocate the town of Wano closer to the railroad. The move was coordinated by the Captain to the new location and was completed in May 1888.
From all accounts, the Captain and his wife were beloved members of the community. They embraced the citizens and the way of life on the plains. They were generous and came to the aid of many of the settlers who were struggling to keep their homesteads.
Initially, the town was going to be called Emerson in honor of the couple. Since there was already an Emerson, Kansas, the Captain requested the town to be named in honor of his recently deceased oldest brother, Francis. Where did the Saint come from? The most likely clue comes from a 1975 letter Josephine Churchill wrote to an Emerson relative in Maine. She states in the letter “a former resident asked the Captain where the name came from, and he said “after my sainted brother.”
In the December 2, 1887 issue of the Rustler, the official name of the new town was announced to be St. Francis. Moving all of the homes and businesses to the new location was completed by May 1888.
After much anticipation, on July 8, 1888 the first train arrived in St. Francis. It was greeted with much fanfare and excitement. The community at the time thought their future success would come from the train running through their town. Instead, the tracks ended in St. Francis and the success came not from the railroad, but from the residents themselves who went on to transform barren grass land into fertile farmland.
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