Kansas City Dictionary

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Bandits, Border Ruffians, Bushwhackers, Drunken Rabble and Pukes: Let us introduce the notoriously bad boys and girls of the historical border war during the Civil War between Kansas and Missouri in the mid-1800s who wrecked havoc through the Midwest in the name of slavery. While they all had the same pro-slavery, anti-union goal in mind, these Missourians had many different names and each name held a different meaning and story. The back story in a nutshell: essentially, during the Civil War in the 1800s, Kansas wanted to become a “Free State,” meaning that slavery would not be allowed. However, its neighbor Missouri, did not want that to happen and wanted to keep slavery. During this time, many groups of Missourians, both poor and rich, formed groups to attack the “Free State” to let slavery ring. Here’s the rundown:


Bleeding Kansas: “Ad aspera per astra” adorns the Kansas flag as a reminder of Kansas’ hardships in the past during the Civil War. The Latin saying means “to the stars through difficulty,” and difficult it was. In fact, during the Civil War, Kansas had more deaths than any other state. A quick history: In 1820, the Missouri Compromise outlawed slavery north of the former Louisiana Territory with the exception of Missouri in the West. Thus, Missouri became a slave state during the anti-slavery vs. pro-slavery battle. Then, in 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act essentially overturned the Missouri Compromise by allowing popular sovereignty within the Kansas and Nebraska territory to determine whether the area would be a slave or a free state. After the act passed, a mad rush of free-staters flooded Kansas to sway the vote. Of course, Missourians didn’t like this, and so started the border war.


Bushwhacking: A form of fighting that was very similar to guerrilla warfare, which means that it was irregular, unpredictable attacks during a long period of time. During the border war, much of the attacks happened in rural areas that must have had a lot of greenery and the attackers were called “bushwhackers,” duh. William Quantrill, Bloody Bill Anderson and Jesse James were just a few of the more famous bushwhackers of that time. These men were known to attack farmsteads and small towns in Kansas and neighboring states. An example of this hits close to home that proves even the most brutal of bushwhackers have a sweet tooth. In the summer of 1862, Lucinda Mahaffie, co-owner of the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop in Olathe, Kan., baked up an idea that would save her family’s home from a being looted and burned by a large group of bushwhackers who were making their way through the area. After most of Olathe had been burned down, she decided to leave the front doors unlocked and wide open, weird, huh? She filled her kitchen and cabinets cakes, cookies, pies and snacks. Lucinda fled with her children during the raids and when they returned, Lucinda discovered her house, and belongings, untouched with the addition of one thing: crumbs. However, many homes were not so lucky. Bushwhackers were known for their brutal attacks. They often burned down entire towns and killed many people in the process.


Border Ruffians: Thanks to war propaganda, these “border ruffians” were described as rough, pun intended, dirty, toothless Missourians from the boonies, and while most did hold true to this description, many of these ruffians were actually high-class, slave-owning elite men who were well-dressed and often fought the “Free State” in a little more sneakily. In 1867, the first time the border ruffians, again who were well-educated, upper-society men, appeared was when they snuck into Kansas and stuffed election ballot boxes to prevent an anti-slavery congressman from being elected. Going back to the idea of border war propaganda, many Kansas newspapers wanted to shed a dark light on Missourians. Even Northern states that were against slavery were known to paint these men in a less than savory way. Horace Greeley, writer for the New York Tribune, developed the term “border ruffian” in the effort to prevent people from joining the movement. Thus other terms such as drunken rabble, pukes and bandits were coined to also describe these anti-unionists that are still used to describe them to this day, even more than 150 years later. There you have it. A run-down of just a handful of the not-so-loving names given to the union rebels of the infamous border war that still causes light-hearted arguments between Kansans and Missourians. Which side are you on?


Electric Park: Kansas City’s Coney Island: Disneyland – a staple of American culture and the pioneer of the contemporary theme park. The best part of it, though, is not the perfectly painted Cinderella doppelganger or the Space Mountain ride, but the fact that ol’ Kansas City native Walt Disney modeled Disneyland after his favorite childhood spot: Electric Park. Originally located in the East Bottoms on Kansas City’s east side, Electric Park was set up next door to its builders’ Heim Brothers Brewery. Ferdinand Jr., Michael and Joseph Heim claimed the title of biggest brewery in the world when they unveiled Electric Park in 1899; with the advantage of proximity it was the only beer brand sold in the amusement park’s beer garden. With little competition and attractions like the Mystic Chute water slide, the park prospered and just a few short years later, outgrew its locale. The Heim brothers chose 46th and Paseo for the new spot. Electric Park II opened in 1907, featuring several of the same relocated-rides plus many new enticements: a living fountain, a bandstand, an alligator farm, a pool parlor, a lake (known as The Lagoon) complete with a swimming beach and boathouse, the Electric Swing – all integral parts of what became touted as “Kansas City’s Coney Island.” The city’s hot spot for kids and adults alike (in 1911 alone boasting a patronage of 1 million) enjoyed two flourishing decades before a fire swept the grounds in 1925, closing down much of Electric Park. No longer burgeoning largely in consequence of national Prohibition, the Heim Brothers Brewery owners did not have the capital to re-invest in fixing ‘er up. Electric Park’s legacy lives on in Disney’s own legacy. One of the crucial impressions on Disney was the Heim’s attention to landscape detail, the painstaking care and upkeep of the property a requirement for all his future parks.


Exchange Club:  Long before the internet-dating era, those people who were “matrimonially inclined” found love another way in Kansas City – The Exchange.

That’s right, folks. The Exchange Club’s publication featured photos of lovely women – all ages, from 18 year olds seeking refined gentlemen to widows looking for new love. Refined gentlemen scoured and chose the ladies they liked best (each photo was accompanied by a very short description of physical features, profession and monetary situation). After selecting the women, the men mailed in $1 to the Exchange Club office in the Gibraltar building at 818 Wyandotte Street.

Upon the receipt of the dollar, the Exchange Club returned documents to the gentlemen with the names and addresses of their lady selections. Knock, knock – surprise!


General Order No. 11 and the Burnt District: Probably one of the most well-known and controversial orders made by Gen. Thomas Ewing during the Civil War came just after the brutal attack of Lawrence, Kan., by the blood-thirsty William Quantrill and his anti-union, pro-slavery men. On a warm, muggy morning in Lawrence, Kan., on Aug. 21, 1863, with barely 15 minutes of notice, Lawrence men armed themselves with Springfield muskets from the Palmer’s gun shop downtown, just before the Missouri guerillas tore through town. More than 150 Kansans were murdered by Quantrill’s raid; the historical downtown district of Lawrence on Massachusetts Street was all but burned to the ground. The next night, on Aug. 22, 1863, Sen. James Lane and Brig. Gen. Thomas Ewing met on the Kansas-Missouri border to discuss this horrific event. Lane urged Ewing to enforce the notorious Order No. 11 that had been discussed by many high officials. And three days later, on Aug. 25, 1863, General’s Order No. 11 was born.  Think of it as an old-fashioned “ethnic cleansing,” but back then they called it a “military order.” The order essentially claimed that all Missourians living in Jackson, Cass and Bates Counties, Mo., and various other Western Missouri towns, must leave their homes within 15 days or suffer the consequences. Only those who were loyal to the Union could stay behind, but they must prove it. It is said that some 20,000 people were kicked out of their homes. Now why would the General do something like that? The idea was these border-living Missourians would give shelter, food and water to Missouri guerillas, including those who attacked Lawrence, Kan., only to aid in their attacks on Kansas. The General wanted to stop this and prevent all Missouri guerillas from becoming stronger. During this time, while many Missourians were being forced out of their homes, Kansans led by Daniel Anthony and Lane, were plotting their revenge. However, they weren’t allowed in the state of Missouri and Ewing believed the Missourian’s punishment from the Order No. 11 was enough. So, the Kansans found another way to obtain sweet revenge on their neighbors. Many Free-Stater Kansans were involved in removing Missourians from their home, and they did it rather brutally. Many shot uncooperative Missourians at point-blank range. Others rode through towns, burning everything in sight from homes to businesses and from court documents to barns. Bates County, which is about 50 miles south of Kansas City, was almost completely abandoned and when residents were able to return home in 1864, it was as though the county had never even existed. Across the Western area, homes were burned to ashes; once domestic dogs now lived feral lives often attacking the left-over cows and sheep, livestock ran amuck. These counties soon became known as the “Burnt District.” Order No. 11 didn’t really pan out the way Ewing had hoped. Low and behold, banishing Western Missourians didn’t stop the Missouri guerillas from joining forces. Many people were forced to leave behind food, grain and livestock, of which the guerillas were able to take advantage. Luckily, by 1864, the attacks against Kansas began to settle down for many of the Missouri guerillas were hired by the Confederate Army in the South.


Goats v. Rabbits:  The euphemistic spirit animals for the long-standing rivalry between the powerful Pendergast posse (“Goats”) and their opponents, the Joe Shannon-led “Rabbits.” As Tom rose to power at the helm of the Pendergast name—one with influential political and professional interests—in the early 20th century, his crew was unfavorably nicknamed for the prevalent backyard pets of choice in their working-class Irish neighborhood. The Shannon clan lived in the creek valley below, earning their association with the rampant rabbits there. Each had rule over his own domain, with Pendergast’s “Goats” comprising those in the hills of Kansas City, while Shannon’s “Rabbits” lived on and along the river. While Pendergast flexed more financial might through his gambling rackets and underground booze endeavors, Shannon had a strong arm in Casimir Welch. Welch ruled over “Little Tammany,” a network of East Side neighborhoods whose impoverished residents gladly accepted Welch’s handouts in return for their votes. The camps stayed out of each other’s way, mostly, until Pendergast’s rising political star reeled in Welch and his cronies in the 1920s.


H.D. Lee Mercantile Company: Lee Brand jeans has provided a closet staple for years – after all, the company did perfect the zip fly jean in 1920. Before national recognition and distribution of denim, however, the HD Lee Mercantile Company lined local grocer’s shelves with comestibles from canned fruit to coffee (the largest distributor in both Kansas and Colorado), along with office supplies and home furnishings. HD Lee (as in founder Henry David Lee) set up shop first in Salina, Kans. in 1889, expanding to Kansas City, Mo. shortly after. When the company began manufacturing work clothes for their own employees, Lee Jeans quickly developed a following – continuously more so as it pioneered the zip fly and overalls – and even kids loved the company for its Buddy Lee Dolls. Today, Lee holds a title as one of the country’s most veteran and successful manufacturers of denim; the present headquarters is located a few miles from city in Merriam, Kans. The Kansas City distribution center was demolished in the 1951 great flood.


Hello Girls – Home Telephone Company: In the early 1900s, a group of women called “Hello Girls” operated the telephone switchboards for the Home Telephone Company in Kansas City, Mo. The Home Telephone Co. procured entrepreneur John Enoch’s People’s Telephone Co., founded in 1901, and adopted it into their headquarters at 1018 Baltimore. Hello Girls included females exclusively, though all other occupations within the company employed men. Home Telephone enforced strict policies against socializing amongst genders – one lady worker, spotted with a male employee outside workday hours, was sharply reprimanded the following day as she arrived for her shift. In 1912, Theodore Gary of the Kansas City Telephone Co. acquired Home Telephone, thus becoming the Kansas City Home Telephone Co. In 1917, the United States Army issued an emergency appeal for Hello Girls fluent in English and French– the first females to be enlisted into the US Army in the Signal Corps. The military sought women alone for this work, claiming their patience and demeanors qualified them for the tedious job. The Hello Girls, stationed in Chaumont, France, allowed for the first communication between soldiers in the field and their commanders. Upon returning home, these Hello Girls encountered controversy as it was claimed the women could not have possibly been sworn into the Army; at the time, only males were permitted in the military. Despite this unfortunate situation, Hello Girls certainly paved a previously unbeaten path for women in the workforce.


HGF (High Grade Food) Stores: The go-to for anything from food to floor wax in the early 1900s. The original HGF stood at 3522 Genessee St. in Kansas City, Mo.’s Volker neighborhood. The grocer sold quality products, including Armour Brand Franks (produced by the city’s own Armour Meat Packing Co.), classics like Rice Krispies and Grape Nuts, Ivory soap – and 10 pound bags of pure cane sugar for only 59 cents!


Jayhawkers: Although, it is not quite known where the term “Jayhawker” derived from, it was a household name during the Civil War (1861-1865), and even more so than today. A “Jayhawker” was a pro-union, anti-slavery fighter during the Kansas-Missouri border war. A Jayhawker is pretty much the opposite of a Missouri Bushwhacker or Ruffian, who were anti-union and pro-slavery. Usually hailing from Kansas, Jayhawkers often clashed with Border Ruffians in the fight to make Kansas into a free-state. And much like the Missourian Border Ruffians, Jayhawkers were an unorganized group that wreaked havoc for the opposition. Almost 20 years after the end of the Civil War in 1865, The University of Kansas created its first football team and deemed them the Jayhawkers. Years later, the school dropped the end of the name and settled with the Jayhawks, which is thought to be mythical creature that is a combo of a blue jay and sparrow hawk


Kansas City Ready-Mixed Concrete: The name of Tom Pendergast’s prolific paving company that provided the concrete for a number of notable Kansas City landmarks. The business cemented “Boss Tom’s” role as integral to municipal happenings, securing exclusive contracts to key endeavors by the Works Projects Administration. Pendergast profited greatly from a time of grave uncertainty for most of his countrymen; using his political muscle to guarantee his company’s role in the building up of Kansas City, he simultaneously raised his own wealth exponentially. When Tom first moved to his Ward Parkway mansion in 1927—his earlier capital grown heavily on illegal funds—his dissenters balked at the flashy “friend of the poor.” It was surely to Tom’s dubious delight that in the 1930s, his riches were inflated not only legitimately, but also with federal support. City Hall, the Jackson County Courthouse, Municipal Auditorium, and Brush Creek are all structural remnants of the Pendergast era.


Kelly’s Westport Inn: Kelly’s Westport Inn at the corner of Westport Road and Pennsylvania has been around the block – more than a few times. An enduring favorite of locals, the old red-brick bar was erected in 1850 by brothers William and George Ewing. The Ewings traded with the Shawnee Indians to supply the then-terminus, purportedly the oldest building in Kansas City (Westport was annexed by the city in the late 1890s). Albert Boone, none other than the grandson of famed frontiersman Daniel Boone purchased the ol’ Ewing spot, establishing his trading post. Boone’s was the last stop for supplies before the long trek westward, travelers facing the unknown in covered wagons. By 1903, the Weidenmann brothers acquired the post and converted it to their namesake grocery store – a successful endeavor, as the grocers remained in business for more than two decades. After the repeal of Prohibition in the 1930s (allowing beer and liquor to again be produced, served and sold legally in the United States), the industrious location saw its first redevelopment as a bar when The Wrestler’s Inn owner Phil Taggart– the successor to Wiedenmann’s – obtained a liquor license. Featuring live wrestling matches, the pub earned notoriety for its boisterous patrons and late-night “misconduct.” In 1947 a trio of retired police captains from Kansas City took Wrestler’s over, called it the Westport Inn, and hired one Irish-born Randal Kelly as bartender. Randal was so personable, generous and well-liked by the community that eventually, the inn was officially dubbed Kelly’s Westport Inn. Pat and Kyle Kelly (Randal’s sons) still run the always-hoppin’ joint – the upper deck patio is a favorite on a fabulous Kansas City night.


Kings and queens of the Range Stockyard: Boomtown Kansas City – the late 1800s/early 1900s bustled with prosperity from the stockyards and the meat-packing industry. Countless publications existed regarding the livestock community, but one in particular surpassed them all: Kings and queens of the Range. (Note to reader: queens was intentionally un-capitalized. Kings was always capped, Range was always capped… no caps for the queens!) In 1897, a publishing company of the same name published the first issue. Containing the stockyard stats, the monthly publication also included feature stories on leaders in the city, emphasis on the fine arts and a calendar of social goings-on around town. The publishers would hold drawings – naming the winners “King” and “queen” and gifting them a free subscription. Some historically notable winners of the kingly title include August Meyers, president of the Park Board of Commissioners and advocate of the Parks and Boulevard movement (later known as the City Beautiful movement), and Simeon Armour of the once-flourishing Armour Meat Packing Co – and also an influential participant in the Parks and Boulevard system’s development.


La Cosa Nostra:  An Italian phrase that loosely translates to “our thing.” This blanket term was used to identify the network of Sicilian crime families across the United States. In Kansas City, its synonym is Civella—for Nicholas Civella, mob boss of three mid-century decades and bloodline in local organized crime. The family’s roots go back to 1912, when the DiGiovanni brothers fled Sicily and settled in Columbus Park. The family found great fortune in the 1920s, when its Prohibition-era bootlegging was given free reign by Boss Tom Pendergast, who kept the law enforcement away from the mobsters. After Nick Civella assumed power in 1953, rackets ruled by the mafiosi included Kansas City gay bars and Las Vegas casinos. The organization sustained infamy for decades.  Its violent nadirs include the suspected involvement of boss Johnny Lazia in the 1933 Union Station Massacre and family infighting leading to a series of 1977 bombings in the mob-owned River Quay bar district.


Nehemia’s Horse-&-Mule: Good ol’ New York-native Nehemia Holmes moved to Kansas City, Mo., in 1856 and established the Kansas City and Westport Horse Railroad Co., a literal pioneer in mass transit systems. The two-cart track was the city’s first organized transit, running North/South on what is now Holmes St. – thusly enabling travelers to and fro the River Market and throughout downtown and Westport. The system’s one flaw (and a rather large flaw, for that matter) was that every so often (a lot often), cars derailed. ‘Twas modus operandi that the male passengers – jarred and confused after a sometimes very rough track jump – would hop out to push the car back up on its rails. Don’t fret, poor, fragile women; we just pulled our weight differently: remaining seated in a group, a human jack propping up the opposite end of the car. Nehemia’s son Walton inherited the company, although eventually the horse-and-mule-drawn cars were replaced with a fancier, higher-tech cable car system – holding an impressive ranking as “America’s Third Largest Cable Car Line.”


Peters’ Hog Serum: The turn of the 20th century saw a big problem in Kansas City, Mo.: Cholera broke out amongst the pigs in stockyards and on farms. Deadly and infectious, the disease was more comparable to typhoid fever, but the name hog-cholera stuck. The epidemic threatened the well-being of countless humans and hogs alike. Along came one Mr. Mason S. Peters of Nebraska, the hog cholera conqueror and president of the National Anti-Hog-Cholera Serum Company. Kansas City publishing biz Kellogg-Baxter Printing Co. released Peters’ book How to Make and Use Anti-Hog-Cholera Serum in 1911. Deliberately easy to understand for the farmer or stockyard worker, the book explicitly instructs the reader in the art of at-home serum creation. It goes something like this (weak stomachs, beware): First, choose an infected hog – But! – its fever must be very high in order for the cholera-blood to be effective. Tie both sets of legs and hang him upside down, alive. The rest I’ll leave to your imagination – hint, it involves infected-blood catching and loads of antiseptic. Shiver. Mason S. Peters, we thank you for doing the dirty work to develop the cure.


Purple Capsule Gang: Though Kansas City, Mo. is well-known for its Italian mob families and activity throughout the years, the rise of the Civil Rights movement in the ‘60s motivated the creation of a new gang in town: the Black Mafia aka Purple Capsule Gang. Ok, so these groups actually operated throughout innumerable major cities in the United States — Kansas City’s own Black Mafia was headed by James “Doc” Dearborn and Eugene Richardson.

“The organization grossed up to $190,000 daily,” reported Lawrence Daily Journal-World in 1971, “from narcotics, gambling, loan sharking, burglary, prostitution and bank robbery.” And oh, the narcotics – from heroin they drew their name; they sold it encased in purple capsules. In the span of just a year — between 1969 and 1970,the Purple Capsule Gang was responsible for at least 17 murders (mostly people who owed them money) and simultaneously grew their drug operations across the state line, reigning in and reigning over two large cities in Kansas.

The notorious reputation of the Purple Capsule Gang was furthered still in 1973, when ol’ Doc Dearborn and two other mafia members were indicted (but never formally charged) with the 1970 bloody assassination of Leon Jordan. Jordan was a former lieutenant for the Kansas City Police Department, a three-term Missouri congressman and the founder of Freedom, Inc., a community organization for the betterment of black lives.

Not only was the Purple Capsule Gang involved, but they conspired with the Italian mafia. “Shotgun Joe” Centimano, owner of an 18th and Vine liquor store, allegedly hired Dearborn and his abettors to “handle” Leroy Jordan. It’s only been in recent years that the final judgment came. After all this time, Dearborn was indeed guilty. It was a tad too late for justice. Doc was killed – by gunshot, the same as Jordan – in 1985.


Priests of Pallas Festival:Here is your vocabulary word of the day: profligacy. Its definition, in short, is extravagance – a mash of lavishness and outrageousness. Keep that brain sharp. Profligacy is synonymous with the Priests of Pallas festival, an annual Kansas City, Mo. affair spanning nearly 40 years. It all began when the local Flambeau Club (a civil organization) concocted the Pallas idea to bolster the city’s visitorship with a spectacle to rival Mardi Gras. The debut festival in 1887 boasted an impressive crowd with figures like then-President Grover Cleveland and future Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan. The inaugural parade emerged from the Priest’s Den (quite a fancy moniker for a warehouse!), and erupted in a vivid display of color and percussion. The many horse-drawn floats shone with adornments, and the first in line carried a woman festooned as Queen Pallas Athena herself. A goddess of many talents, Athena (often referred to as Pallas or Pallas Athena) embodied the festival in Greek mythology. As the yearly Priests of Pallas festival continued, the decorum and themes grew even more ostentatious. The costumes, the streetcars, fireworks, the elephant-drawn floats, electric lights – it must have been truly striking. And then, there was the ball. City bigwigs received invitations to the masquerade from an enigmatic “Jackson,” whose true identity was never revealed. The swank event closed the festival with a sensational all-night soiree. By 1913, the enormous costs and loss of interest rendered the festival obsolete. An attempt at revival occurred in the 1920s with little success. In 2005, the masked ball was simulated at Kansas City’s Union Station – perhaps someday, we may see the grand tradition reinstituted – a custom as immortal as the goddess for whom it was named.


Red Legs: A close cousin to the Jayhawker, a Red Leg was a more violent and organized form of free-state power. Distinguished by their uniforms that consisted of red leggings, Red Legs were a smallish group, with roughly 50-100 members, of Union Scouts that were established in 1863.  “The Red Leg was a terror in Missouri,” states historian Donald Gilmore. Among these terrors were well-known cowboy-esque names such as William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickock. The Red Legs had headquarters throughout Kansas including the Six Mile House on the road from Kansas City to Leavenworth, and places in Fort Scott and Lawrence. These men were known to be ruthless. After the raid on Lawrence by Quantrill and his guerilla Missouri men, Red Legs captured a handful of guerilla men and handed them over to their leader George Holt, who immediately had them killed.


Richest Man Ever to Live in Kansas City: Lamon Vernon Harkness was a wealthy man, to put it mildly. If your father partnered with the one and only John D. Rockefeller in the incredibly prosperous and enormous Standard Oil Company (and your father was the second richest man in the United States, only after Rockefeller) and then, your father left you a not-small fortune and a cushy career as Standard Oil’s vice president… you might be dirty, filthy rich, too. Thanks largely to Steven V. Harkness, upon Lamon’s death in California in 1915, Steven’s son was worth a cool 100,000,000 dollars. Harkness was neither born here nor did he die here, but in his three short years as a Kansas City, Mo. resident, he left somewhat of a loaded legacy. He moved to the city in 1888. In those days, Troost Ave. was known as Millionaire’s Row, housing the wealthiest and most influential (and white) Kansas Citians – more than a few decades before Troost would become the city’s racial dividing line. The imaginary line still exists in the present, though a bit blurry and not quite as defined. It was only natural that Lamon V. Harkness build his Kansas City home on Millionaire’s Row; a brownstone mansion towered at 3125 Troost Ave. upon its completion. Oddly enough, he only resided in here until 1891. He relocated to Kentucky and elsewhere, finally settling in New York. The Kansas City Star announced in 1951, 60 years after his move, that Harkness remained “the richest man ever to live in Kansas City.”