This week, we offer a clip show of sorts from previous Out of the Morgue columns. Great Bend has forever been a place where interesting people have passed through, and many have decided to stay a while. It has been something to commemorate and celebrate.
President Theodore Roosevelt chose spring of 1903 to make historic trip across the country to visit California. Along the way, he stopped in several states to greet his constituents. Kansas was one of these states, naturally. When the president made an appearance, it was occasion to close all the stores and places of business so everyone could come and see. While he didn’t stop in Great Bend, readers of the newspaper learned of his eastern Kansas stops. In Manhattan, “The special train bearing President Roosevelt arrived at 10 a.m. Weather was threatening, but a large crowd turned out The battalion of the agricultural college, consisting of 400 students and college band of 40 pieces were at the station. The president spoke about 15 minutes. At Salina, 8,000 people greeted the chief executive and while he spoke 3,500 school children with flags surrounded him.”
Getting a true picture of what side the people of Great Bend took on the matter of race is muddy at best. There is very little to be found in the newspapers of the time, except for the occasional police report from the wire. But there must have been a fair amount of tolerance and feelings of live and let live for the time if the following story is any indicator.
On May 11, 1903, the city lost its oldest citizen. Stephen Vanghan was 106 years old at the time of his death. “For many years, Stephen Vanghan, colored, who for many years has made his home in Great Bend, claimed to have been born in slavery, in the year 1797...He has been a well known character here for many years. On his birthday anniversary he would dress up with a bright colored sash, deck himself with many mysterious emblems, and parade the principal streets. He was very religious, and often preached to his people, especially in the summer months when outdoor meetings could be held.”
On May 16, 1954, residents of Barton County were busy celebrating the centennial of the Santa Fe Trail and Kansas becoming a Territory, according to several front page stories on the May 16, 1954 edition of The Great Bend Daily Tribune.
Early Saturday morning, a band of desperadoes on horseback arrived, leaving some scratching their heads and wondering what year it actually was. It was all in jest of course.
“After raiding the station house and shooting up the countryside, the 12 rode hell-for-leather down Kansas dirt road with their pursuers throwing hot lead all the way to the city park.
There, the foaming hot ponies suddenly became part of the Big Bend Saddle club as did their fate at the hands of the desperate outlaws.”
Purpose of the pseudo holdup was part of the program, explained Saddle Club President Butch Powell. The goal was to stir up interest in the parade.
The May 21, 1967 edition of the Great Bend Tribune featured a story about Mr. Charles Andress entitled, “Charlie Andress: Who Brought Elephants And Camels Where The Deer And Antelope Played!”
Andress joined the circus life at age 10 as a magician’s assistant. Great Bend was known at the turn of the last century to be appreciative of the circus, according to Area Editor at the time James Barr Fugate.
“Shows would leave Kansas City, drop down to Great Bend for performances and then go on to Denver. Great Bend was the only stop in Kansas for many years that the biggest circuses made.”
Andress decided to make Great Bend the permanent home of his circus, and eventually he purchased a 1/2 section nine miles south of Great Bend where he sent his animals to after the sale of his circus. He referred to it as “Andressville”. The Barton County Historical Society Museum has on hand a lithograph of his vision for Andressville in their permanent collection. However, he did not live there, not preferring the solitary life of the country. His brother and his family eventually took up residence on the farm.
Instead, Andress moved into town after retiring in 1907, and lived a block away from St. Rose Catholic Church and about a block away from his theater where vaudeville acts performed, and later silent movies performed.