- Associated Press - Friday, October 3, 2014

YANKTON, Kan. (AP) - The prairie has nearly swallowed up Yankton.

Squinting from the morning sun, Dan Stringer motored his wheelchair across a sandy driveway in Harper County toward a small pasture where a few head of cattle grazed. Here, he pointed, once was a town.

So obscure, in fact, that few even know it once existed.

Kansas had nearly 6,000 towns that sprang up after the Civil War - towns filled with residents with dreams - but many died for various reasons. Some never gained population. Some lost county seat battles. Some never existed except on paper, The Hutchinson News reported (http://bit.ly/1xCTQZ8 ).

Yankton’s death knell came when it missed the railroad. It was too much for the town to recover. Pioneering dreams died and, except for a brief mention in an old history book, are forgotten and lost with time.

“Yankton?” asked Mary Helen Baker, with the city of Harper Historical Society. Her mother grew up by Attica, just a few miles from where the Yankton townsite is located.

She had never heard of it, nor had her mother ever mentioned it.

Harper County has more than 30 extinct villages - towns like Joppa, Pilot Knob, Shook and Ruby, according to the Kansas State Historical Society. While some have chronicled histories, the details of Yankton’s brief existence are few. There is no evidence of its birth or how and when, exactly, it died.

There are some clues however.

Perhaps the town was started by the Oliver family. According to the book “Harper County Story” written in 1968, Yankton was a pioneer village in Ruella township. It had a post office, which opened Aug. 6, 1883. The postmaster was Stephen C. Oliver. He also owned the Yankton Hotel, livery and stable.

Meanwhile, Marcus Oliver, postmaster Oliver’s brother, was in real estate of the town, having “a number of city lots for sale cheap,” according to the book. He also ran a peanut stand in connection with his real estate business on the north side of the Yankton square.

Yankton even had a newspaper, the Yankton Gleaner, an eight-page paper devoted to Yankton and its vicinity. It sold for $2 in advance.

And, for a time, people came to the area and settled here, calling Yankton home. A.J. Barr was a bricklayer, plasterer and sod carpenter. R.S. Sullivan was a shoemaker and cobbler. L.A. Jones was a hairdresser.

There was also Dr. Joseph Brockway. He settled with his wife and six of his children - noting in a letter to family that his daughter was at a university in Iowa.

His family’s roots are deep, he wrote to the receiver - noting his family history goes back to “the Massachusetts colonial tradition.” Two family members were massacred at a fort on the banks of the Connecticut River at the close of the Revolutionary War, he wrote.

The letter, the property of the University of Kansas’ Kenneth Spencer Research Library, was dated May 1884 and gave no details about life in Yankton, except to mention he was writing from Yankton in Harper County, Kansas. Brockway did write that he hadn’t finished his doctorate and was taking classes at Ann Arbor University.

There are few mentions of Brockway in other publications. One genealogical document noted he also was an attorney. The Annual Report by the U.S. Bureau of Animal Industry lists Brockway fighting southern cattle fever on his farm south and west of Harper along Nine Cottonwoods Creek in 1883.

Brockway must have eventually left Kansas, perhaps it was after Yankton’s demise. An obituary for a Dr. Joseph Brockway in the Wichita Daily Eagle published in May 1911 said he fought slavery and was one of the chief organizers of the abolitionists, as well as an associate of Harriet Beecher Stowe.

“His house was a station of the underground railroad used by . refugees on their way to Canada,” the paper wrote. Coming west after the war, he was one of the pioneer settlers of the former “No Man’s Land.”

He served as an Oklahoma Territories provisional governor for a few years in the 1880s.

He died in Aline, Oklahoma, which is about 70 miles from Yankton.

Then the trail of Yankton’s story runs cold. Brockway’s obituary never mentioned Yankton. Even Postmaster Oliver’s obituary never mentioned Yankton or his time as a postmaster. It said he settled in the Attica area, just two miles to the west of the Yankton townsite, in 1882. He is buried in the Attica Cemetery.

What little details there are show the town was short-lived. The post office closed one year after it opened in October 1884.

Stringer said the stories he heard was Yankton was near the site of an Osage Village. In Souix and Osage, the name means “village at the end.” Yankton residents planned for a railroad. However, the tracks were laid to the north, going through the nearby town of Crystal Springs, instead.

Thus, Yankton disappeared. Today, there is little left.

The hotel still stands, although it looks more like a farmhouse than an early 1880s structure.

It was a saloon in the lower level, Stringer said, adding “upstairs, there was a brothel.”

There are some concrete fountains in the pasture. The city well still stands, although today it is covered in trees.

Stringer lived on the property with his second wife, Phyllis Yoder, whom he married in 2002. She told him the story of Yankton, even showing him a concrete stone that had the name of the town carved in it.

It has since disappeared.

Stringer said he found gas lights in the attic of his and his wife’s home, which helped light the hotel at night.

The Stringers operated Countryside Christian Ministries on the site, and Phyllis donated the land to the ministry her husband originally started in 1982. When the couple moved off the property a year ago, the ministry moved to Delphos but it still owns the land, Stringer said. Now a local church that streams in its sermons is planning to use the site as a retreat.

On this late September day, Stringer rolled his wheelchair across the lawn near the hotel turned home where he spent a decade with Phyllis. It’s no longer liveable.

He pointed to where he thought a street might have sat, where he once found remnants of sidewalks. But all of that is overgrown.

With the town nearly reclaimed by the earth, he added “Not many know about Yankton.”

___

Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, http://www.hutchnews.com

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