Biography of Frank M. Stahl
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If all the events, circumstances and movements with which Frank M. Stahl had been identified since he came to Kansas should be written out in detail the result would be a Kansas history perhaps as complete and certainly as interesting and instructive as could be written with one life as the central feature. To do full justice to such a career is manifestly impossible within brief limits, and the following must be in the nature of a suggestive outline of the career of one of the noted pioneer Kansans still alive, and an honored resident of Topeka.
Born in Darke County, Ohio, May 23, 1841, he was one of the eight children, four now living, of Michael and Susan (Moore) Stahl. His paternal grandfather was a native of Germany. Michael Stahl was both a cooper and shoemaker, and as a youth Frank learned those trades from his father. In the decades of the ’40s and ’50s when he was growing up in Western Ohio there was no real public school system in that state. Most schools were maintained on the subscription plan, each family paying the tuition of those of its children who attended, and the time was usually only three months a year. Frank Stahl attended such a school in a log cabin.
The first great national discussion which influenced his career was the Kansas-Nebraska controversy which began about 1853 under the leadership of Stephen A. Douglas culminated in the so-called squatter sovereignty policy, by which Congress determined that the Kansas-Nebrasks territory should enter the Union either as a free or slave state, depending upon the will of its inhabitants at the time of admission. This precipitated the great contest for the making of Kansas a free state.
Frank Stahl was thirteen or fourteen years of age when this controversy was at its height. All the papers were filled with reports from the western border country, telling of pitehed battles between the advocates of the free and the slave standards, and in the community where he lived as doubtless in many other parts of the older states, the younger men were greatly stirred by these stories, and in his particular section a number of boys perfected something in the nature of a society or organization for the purpose of going out to Kansas and contributing their assistance toward making it a free state. Their determination and enthusiasm were kept at white heat until the definite time for action came. Then all declined to participate, for one reason or another. Young Stahl was not of that mettle. He refused to back out, and going to his father asked for enough money to get him to his destination and not enough to bring him back.
Up to that time he had never been away from home. Starting from Ohio, he went by railroad as far as Jefferson City, Missouri, which was then the terminus of the old Missouri Pacific Railroad, and thence by steamboat up the Missouri to Kansas City. Leaving Kansas City, or rather Westport Landing, since Kansas City as a town did not then exist, he started West on foot. After many discouraging circumstances he landed in March, 1857, near Auburn on Six Mile Creek. He did not have a cent to his name. His first employer was Robert Simmerwell, who was a missionary among the Pottswatamie Indiana. He worked on Mr. Simmerwell’s farm, and later found employment in what was probably the first mill in Kansas, located at Auburn. This mill operated its machinery for the sawing of lumber during the day, and at night the burrs were turning to grind corn. It was one of the great institutions of a new country. Both whites and Indians came for a distance of a 100 miles to get grain ground. In this mill Frank Stahl worked for about two years.
In March, 1859, his parents, not wishing to be separated from their enterprising young son, followed him to Kansas. They located about ten miles southwest of Topeka, where his father bought a tract of land that had ever since been owned by some member of the Stahl family. Michael Stahl did not live long after coming to Kansas, dying in 1862. His widow survived him many years, passing away in 1903. While it is evident that Frank M. Stahl possessed to begin with a tremendous amount of physical energy and courage, he himself attributes much of such success as he had attained to the example and inspiration of his father. Michael Stahl was in fact a man of superior education for his time, and his mental faculties were balaneed by a high moral sense of right, and his children and descendants can always take pleasure in the record of his upright blameless life. He was an excellent writer, and while living in Ohio taught singing school, when the old “buckwheat” notes were used.
In 1859, after spending a short time in the new home of his parents, Frank M. Stahl went to Walnut creek in western and central western Kansas on a hunting trip. The party comprised nine persons at the start, but only two remained to complete the hunt. The chief objects of their search was wolves. They killed many score of these animals. In one night the slaughter amounted to forty, and all were mountain wolves except two.
Led on by the spirit of adventure, in June, 1860, Frank Stabl crossed the plains on foot to Denver. Denver was at that time a little city composed almost entirely of adobe houses. He had some experiences as a miner at Central City and Blackhawk, and was doing quite well there when he was induced to go on to Arizona. That proved a fruitless quest, and he returned to Colorado to be confronted with the disastrous news that his partner, a reputed minister of the gospel, had decamped with everything that could be converted into money. This partner, as was afterwards learned, was hanged by vigilantes for stealing mules. Thus he was left at Denver without a dollar.
While there he learned that war had started between the North and South, and during the winter of 1861-62 he walked back across the plains to his Kansas home, with the intention of enlisting. However, about that time there occurred a lull in the fighting, and many thought that the war was over. Instead of enlisting at that time Mr. Stahl took a commission to drive six yoke of oxen over the old Santa Fe trail to New Mexico. His team carried a wagon loaded with 6,500 pounds of revolvers and ammunition. At that time, more than half a century ago, the old Santa Fe trail was still in its glory as one of the chief overland trunk lines for transportation and traffie between the Middle West and the Southwest. A thousand tales of romance and adventure have their scenes along that trail, and the trip which Mr. Stahl made over the highway in 1862 was one of the most memorable events of his entire career. Besides the hardships and the many incidents connected with such a journey, spice was added to nearly each day’s progress by the necessity of being on constant guard against hostile Indians. Again and again the party had narrow escapes from the red men.
Returning to Kansas, in August, 1862, Mr. Stahl enlisted as a private in Company I of the Second Kansas Cavalry. Within a week after he enlisted he engaged in a bushwhacking fight at Cross Hollows, Arkansas. His career as a soldier was one of unusual adventure and hardship, since the western cavalrymen, partícularly those engaged in Arkansas, were exposed not only to the open but also to the secret foe. The two chief battles in which he participated were those of Cano Hill and Prairie Grove, Arkansas, but all told he was in twenty-seven engagements where artillery was used. While on a scout down the Arkansas River he received two severe wounds at Dardanelle. One wound was through the body and the other through the left arm and hand. With the declaration of peace in 1865 he received his honorable discharge at old Fort Gibson in Indian Territory.
For about two years after the war Mr. Stahl did stone fence building in Kansas. In July, 1867, he became a member of the Eighteenth Kansas Cavalry, in Company B, the regiment being sent to assist in suppressing Indian outbreaks. Governor Crawford gave him a commission as second lieutenant. During the following campaign he fought at Prairie Dog and Beaver Creek, known more generally as the Spillman Creek fight. This campaign makes a long and interesting story in itself, and is one of the vivid chapters of early Kansas history. Mr. Stahl was away about six months on this campaign.
His next important work was to carry out a contract for a large commission house to deliver 1,123 head of cattle to the Government authorities at Fort Union, New Mexico, and thus again he traversed a large part of the old Santa Fe trail. Returning to Kansas he resumed the building of stone fences.
Not long after that he married, and then settled down by purchasing 160 acres of land in Auburn Township, and beginning as a farmer and stock raiser. “Kansas was my grazing ground,” says Mr. Stahl in recalling his early operations as a cattle man, and in fact forty-five or fifty years ago fences were almost unknown in Kansas, the settlements were few and far between, and the cattle man had an almost unrestricted use of the range for his stock. As years passed by, though his cattle had to be confined to narrower limits on sccount of the growth of towns, the settlement of farms and the increase of population, his general prosperity had little interruption and success had come to him in generous measure. Mr. Stahl still owned 640 acres, half of it in Shawnee County, and the rest adjoining in Osage County.
After coming back from the war the cattle taken to New Mexico averaged 1,133 head in twenty droves.
In 1869 Mr. Stahl married Jennie T. Dickson, and both are still living in good health and all their eight childreu are still alive. A brief record of the children is as follows: Alexander Michael, who lives in California; Effie May, Mrs. James Ely, of Oklahoma; Edgar Marion, of Topeka; Lloyd Lincoln and Lewis Garfield, twins, the former a farmer near Burlingame and the latter engaged in the lumber business at Wakarusa; Eva Irene, wife of Mr. Meredith of Eskridge; Clare W., a physician at Burlingame; and Leon Frank, a farmer at Shawnee County. Both Mr. and Mrs. Stahl are members of the Congregational Church.
All the experiences and events of his early life were such as would naturally make him a republican, and in fact he had been identified with that party ever since casting his first vote. In 1892 Mr. Stahl was one of the fourteen republicans elected to the State Lagislature of that year, which was almost overwhelmingly occupied by populist members. In 1894 he was elected treasurer of Shawnee County, and by re-election filled the office four years. With his alection as treasurer in 1894 he moved his home from his farm to Topeka, and had since been a resident of that city. In 1900 Mr. Stahl was appointed chief of police of Topeka, and proved a vigorous guardian of the peace and characterized his administration by a strict enforcement of the laws during the five years he remained at the head of the police force. He is a Royal Arch Mason, a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and is affilisted with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. For twenty-five years he was master of his masonic lodge.
Mr. Stahl was one of the pioneers in the temperance movement of Kansas, and had always been a stanch advocate of prohibition. Many years ago he established on his own farm and annual temperance picnic, and that had since been incorporated and is still flourishing. Since December, 1908, Mr. Stahl had been superintendent of the Kansas State Temperance Union, which is affiliated with the Anti-Saloon League of America. His duties require that he deliver lectures throughout the state and he had charge of from five to six men employed in similar work in Kansas. In addition he also had charge of the publication of the Kansas Issue, a monthly periodical devoted exclusively to the cause of temperance.