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Marion County included in historical exhibit

Staff writer

A special exhibit that opened March 1 at Kansas Historical Society in Topeka contains highlights from all 105 Kansas counties including Marion.

The Marion County display focuses on the story of Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun. Stories and images about Marion County’s origins; Peabody’s silk station; Claude Francis Laloge, proprietor of a Santa Fe Trail station; and Keystone Ranch can be accessed through a touchpad.

Father Emil J. Kapaun

Emil J. Kapaun grew up at Pilsen, became a Catholic priest, and enlisted in the military as a chaplain.

Kapaun is best known for the care he gave to fellow soldiers and prisoners of war in North Korea during the Korean War. He died in a POW camp in 1951.

He posthumously received the Medal of Honor from President Bill Clinton in 2013.

He was named a “Servant of God” by the Catholic Church in 1993, beginning his cause for canonization as a saint. The Diocese of Wichita is working to compile information is working to compile information on alleged miracles attributed to him. A Kapaun Museum is maintained by St. John’s Nepomucene church at Pilsen. It attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Marion County

Marion County was established in 1855, when Kansas was a territory, but it remained unorganized until 1865, four years after Kansas became a state.

Some historians say they believe that, because the territorial government was pro-southern politically, the county was named in honor of American Revolutionary War hero, Francis Marion of South Carolina.

The county was on the edge of the western frontier and originally extended to Colorado. Its current boundaries were established in 1872.

Frank Laloge

Cottonwood Hole was a Santa Fe Trail stop two-and-a-half miles north of present-day Lehigh. Frank Laloge, a Frenchman, established a trading post there in 1861. It became known as “French Franks.”

Laloge was the first settler. A nearby creek was named French Creek after him. It flows into Marion Reservoir.

Indians were becoming hostile toward settlers in 1865. Kiowa Indians, led by Satanta, came to French Frank’s, becoming insolent and demanding. Laloge, described by historians as “black haired and rugged looking,” responded to their demands by threatening to blow them up with a keg of powder. They left, but after that, Laloge and his partner, Peter Martin, decided to sell the station and move to a safer Chase County location.

Keystone Ranch

Keystone Ranch is the original name of a 20-acre historic homestead that was established in 1881 by a German immigrant, Frank Wells, southeast of Burns. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The homestead includes a 420-foot-long limestone sheep barn, bunkhouse, two-story horse barn, foreman’s house, and icehouse. All remain standing as well as several segments of limestone fences.

Wells died in 1913, and the grandparents of present co-owner Rick Grace purchased the property. Grace grew up at Grace Ranch and took it over in 1980.

He works to maintain the buildings. He nominated the site for the National Registry in 2017.

Peabody Silk Station

From 1887 to the mid-1890s, the Kansas legislature was active in promoting new economic enterprises. It experimented with the commercial production of silk by funding a silk station at Peabody.

Silk production was brought to the state by German Russian Mennonite immigrants who had cultivated silkworms in the Ukraine as a way to supplement their income.

Silkworm eggs were placed in a warm spot in the home, where they soon hatched into worms with a voracious appetite for mulberry leaves. They ate until they spun silk cocoons about the size of a kidney bean.

To harvest the silk, cocoons were heated to kill the developing moths inside and then were unwound by hand. Each cocoon produced about 11 miles of fine, silk thread. The ends were tied together to form skeins that were woven into fabric or sold to manufacturers by the pound. Some moths were allowed to develop to produce eggs.

The silk station, established in 1887, included several acres of mulberry trees and a 30-foot by 50-foot building. The basement was used for storage of leaves and supplies, the ground floor was devoted to reeling, and a second floor held the cocoonery.

The station was thriving in February 1889, but by 1895, it was no longer viable. It lost state support and closed the next year.

Cheaper labor led to cheaper silk imports and contributed to its failure.

The station was purchased and became a home and farmland. However, mulberry trees remain common around Kansas.

Last modified March 14, 2019

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