By David K. Clapsaddle
A building called The Little Red House is given, like the little blue engine in “The Little Engine That Could,” the ability to tell a story.
I was born if you want to call it that, in 1863 at Fort Lamed an Army post in west central Kansas.
At the post was a sutler named Jesse Crane. The sutler was not a soldier, but a civilian who had a store at the post. He also wanted to have a cafe which would be called the sutler’s mess hall. Mr. Crane purchased some lumber which washauled from Leavenworth by wagons to Fort Larned.
Carpenters sawed, hammered, and nailed, and in no time at all, I was born a new building, red with white shutters. I was glad to be at Fort Larned and was proud of the flowery wall paper on my walls, but my canvas ceiling was nothing to brag about.
In 1869, Henry Booth came to Fort Larned. He was called the post trader, a new name for sutler. Three years later, Booth jacked me up, placed me on wheels, and pulled me down the south bank of the Pawnee River by a team of mules. I was floated across the river to the north bank.
There, the only building in this area, I became a post office, a restaurant, a hotel, and a saloon. I must say I wasn’t treated very nicely.
Men who came to the saloon were not real polite. They used bad language, tracked mud on my floor, and shot holes in my ceiling.
On New Year’s Day, 1873, someone shot through one of my windows. Mrs. Beck was wounded and Mr. John Morris was killed.
Mrs. Beck was taken by train to a hospital in Leavenworth and poor Mr. Morris was taken to the top of the hill. In those days, the top of the hill is where Fourth Street is today in Lamed. The ground was frozen and hard to dig. Someone remembered that not far away an Indian had been buried. So, the burial party went to the Indian’s grave, threw his bones into the snow, and replaced them with the body of Mr. Morris.
In 1873, Lamed became a town and I was the first building in the little city where the murder took place.
The murder was the first of many firsts which took place within my four walls. The first sermon was preached by Rev. Overstreet, a Presbyterian preacher from Emporia, in the saloon room.
Mr. Booth said that the attendance was slim and so was the sermon. Larned’s first wedding was also conducted in the saloon room. Daniel Bright married Miss Emma Post.
In September of 1873, the saloon room became Lamed’s first school. Living within my four walls at that time was the Worrell family. Mr. J.P. Worrell was a lawyer. He had been a captain in the United States Army during the Civil War.
The Worrells had four children — George, Isabel, and two other sisters.
When Isabel was 16 years old, she became Larned’s first teacher. She cleaned out the saloon room and turned it into a school room. Miss Worrell’s scrubbed the floor but could not remove the blood stain from the murder.
She was not discouraged.
The bar, two barrels, and a board became her desk. On the wall behind the desk was a rifle from the saloon days hanging on leather thongs. A cartridge belt was hung nearby.
Little children sat on boards atop flat stones from a nearby hill, and the bigger boys sat on beer kegs.
A few weeks after school started, Dr. Wampler donated some pews he brought from an old church in Illinois, and someone donated a bell. Miss Worrell said that the bell came in handy when she had to call the boys back to school during the noon hour while they were fishing down at the river.
There were no text books. The only books available were those the parents were able to loan. I remember one book quite well, “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.”
It was fun. Having little paper and few pencils, the children wrote on slates which were erased with rags.
I must tell you about the first trial held in the saloon room. Mr. Booth sued Georgie O’Dell for payment of rent on a room before the Worrells came to live within my four walls. The case was settled when Miss O’Dell paid the rent and Mr. Booth agreed to pay the court costs assessed by Judge Tousley — two gallons of beer.
By the end of 1873, I was one of nine buildings on the north bank of the river. In 1874, all nine of us were moved to the top of the hill. I was moved to Fifth and Main Street where I became a carpenter’s shop,
a newspaper office, the United States Land Office, and finally a blacksmith shop filled with the smell of burning coal and the sound of the blacksmith’s big hammer ringing on the anvil.
In time, I became a smoky, dirty building. And in 1890, I died, you might say, when I was torn down and my boards were carried away.
I was only 27 years of age, but I had lived an exciting life as a sutler’s mess hall, a post office, a restaurant, a hotel, a saloon, a church a school, and a courthouse.
But my most happy days were in the fall of 1873 when I was a school with 13 smiling faces to greet me in the morning.
I also liked Miss Worrell.
What a sweet young lady. She was the one, you know, who first called me the Little Red House.