It was one of the most dramatic and critical chapters of American history. Heated debate over slavery left the halls of Congress and erupted in bloodshed on the prairies of Kansas.


       This prelude to the Civil War — “Bleeding Kansas” — saw proslavery and antislavery settlers struggling for control of Kansas Territory.


    Through the efforts of local residents and friends known as the Mount Mitchell Prairie Guards in partnership with Audubon of Kansas, a historic park is being developed that ties Wabaunsee County to this pivotal period in our nation’s past. Located on a 50-acre hilltop three miles south of Wamego, the park is called the Mount Mitchell Heritage Prairie. It is dedicated to Captain William Mitchell and the Beecher Bible and Rifle Colony, The property, part of Captain Mitchell’s farm, was given to the Kansas State Historical Society in 1953 by Mitchell’s son W.I. Mitchell.

    Organized in New Haven, Connecticut, this famous colony of free-state immigrants arrived at Wabaunsee in April 1856. Determined to see Kansas become a state free of slavery, they formed a militia with earlier settlers and fought along side John Brown and Jim Lane in the Border War.

    When free-state Governor Charles Robinson and other leaders were arrested shortly after the colony’s arrival, one of its members, Dr. Joseph Root assumed a prominent leadership role in the free-state movement. He is credited with laying out the route of the Lane Trail. He was present at the dispersal of the legislature by Federal troops and was later elected the first Lieutenant Governor of Kansas. Other members of the colony who stayed after the free-state success were pioneers in setting up local government, schools and churches in Kansas.

    The Kansas Historical Society accepted Mitchell’s gift but the land was never developed into a park. When local residents learned that the society wanted to relinquish ownership of the site, the Mount Mitchell Prairie Guards was formed to preserve and interpret the site’s history and to fulfill the wishes of the original donor.

    When the Kansas Attorney General ruled that the property could only be transferred to a non-profit organization the Prairie Guards proposed a partnership with Audubon of Kansas, based in nearby Manhattan.

    Our vision is to create an outdoor place where Kansas youth can experience and learn about the tallgrass prairie, and at the same time develop a sense of place and pride in the region’s rich history.

    In 2007, the Prairie Guards and Audubon of Kansas contracted to purchase an additional 15.3 acres that includes the south side of the hill and the township access road to the park.

    The park is an intact tallgrass prairie of remarkable biological diversity. Last fall prairie enthusiasts from Minnesota, after a tour of Kansas prairies and wetlands, called the flora at Mount Mitchell the most impressive they had seen.

    The hilltop remains mostly in its pre-settlement condition, allowing visitors to experience the sights and sounds of the territorial prairie landscape. Its summit affords exceptional views of the Kaw River Valley and its rich agricultural lands. The Mount Mitchell Heritage Prairie has the potential to become an important attraction within the new Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.

     The privately owned Mitchell farmstead, just north of the property, is recognized by the National Park Service’s Network to Freedom Program as an authentic Underground Railroad Station. It is one of the few original structures in the Midwest known for hiding slaves.

    A military road called the “Nearest and Best route between Fort Riley and the eastern part of Kansas” descended from the Flint Hills uplands into the river valley on the east flank of Mount Mitchell. Ruts from the trail are still visible today. Between 1857 and 1860 slaves seeking their freedom used this road with the help of local families. At least 20 individuals from the Wabaunsee community were active in the operation of the Under-ground Railroad.

    Each succeeding generation after these pioneers have made efforts to keep the stories of their history alive.

    It is now our turn.

    Come stand on Mount Mitchell amidst the wildflowers and nesting birds. Listen to the sound of bluestem in the wind. Look out across the fields to the house where slaves were hidden. Having done this, you will see why we are so excited about developing this educational resource for the area’s children and visitors. Please join us.

    We need funds to pay for the recent road improvements and to continue our infrastructure development.


    Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to:

    Mount Mitchell Prairie Guards   

    23320 Rockton Road                        

    Eskridge, KS 66423

   





For more information contact: info@mountmitchellprairie.org


To learn more about Audubon of Kansas visit:


http://www.audubonofkansas.org/


MOUNT  MITCHELL  HERITAGE  PRAIRIE

WABAUNSEE COUNTY, KANSAS

Mr. Mitchell’s gift stipulated that a memorial marker was to be erected on the site honoring his father, Captain William Mitchell, and the Connecticut Kansas Colony. This famous company of New England emigrants came to Kansas in April of 1856 to assure the territory’s entry into the Union as a free sate. They became known as the “Beecher Bible and Rifle Colony” because of the notoriety of their departure from the East armed with Bibles and Sharps rifles.
 
Governor Kathleen Sebelius signs SB 533

Back row: Robert McElroy, President,  Audubon of Kansas, Senator Laura Kelly, Rodney Allen, Wabaunsee County Commissioner, Mary Powell, Audubon of Kansas board member,  Kathryn Mitchell Buster, Representative Richard Carlson, Michael Stubbs, Wabaunsee County Historical Society, Carol Cook, Paxico Grade School, Terry Marmet, Kansas State Historical Society, Front row, Mary Gleason, Maurice Gleason, Wabaunsee County Commissioner, Linda Craghead, Director, Flint Hills Tourism Coalition, seated, Governor Kathleen Sebelius

 



A wildflower walk at Mt. Mitchell sponsored by the Soil Conservation Service and the Kansas Native Plant Society