Galena - A Lead
Kansas, had a peak population of
about 10,000 during its mining hey days.
In the rocky hills and gravel-filled valleys of
Kansas is the small
town of Galena, born of rugged characters when lead was discovered in
1877. Before this time, the land was only sparsely settled by
hunters and farmers earning meager livings from the rocky and sterile
The existence of lead
in the area was known by the Indians long before the white settlers
began to populate the area. Large lumps of almost pure lead were
often found on or near the surface and would be melted and made into
bullets at the camp fires.
In the spring of 1877, a couple of
young white men found several heavy stones which contained high
amounts of lead. The land owner, a German farmer by the name of Egidius Moll, wasted no time in making negotiations with the nearby
Missouri Mining Companies. Before long, more rich deposits
of ore were discovered and by June 1, 1877, two rival companies were
in the field bidding against each other for the lease and sale of
mining lots. The two rival mining companies also
formed their own town sites – Empire City north of Short Creek, and
south of the creek, which was named for the abundant bluish-grey lead, to the south.
Galena was immediately laid out, and the
excitement caused by the lead discovery was so great, that no sooner
was a lot staked off than a purchaser was ready with the money in hand
to buy it. The influx of people was extremely rapid, so that in the
space of about two months Galena numbered a population of nearly 3,000
people. Business houses were hastily established, miners' shanties
were built by the dozens and and the town site was everywhere being
dug up with mining excavations.
A tract of eighty acres of railroad land adjoining the site was
purchased by a joint stock company called the South Side Town & Mining
Company, which also became a part of the town site.
Galena was incorporated as a city in May,
1877, in less than two months from the time it was laid out. That same
month, a post office was opened and a newspaper, called the Galena
Miner was established.
More wagons, tents and hastily constructed
buildings sprang up in the new boomtown, which, within months, supported a population
of almost 10,000.
For a time, a heated spirit of rivalry was
carried on between Galena and Empire City,
each keeping pace with the other, and seeking to excel in the race.
"Red Hot Street," looking north from Galena to
with Short Creek in the foreground,
Kathy Weiser, June, 2010.
The rivalry between the two mining
companies carried forward into the building of the two towns, bound
together by the rich veins of lead. Because Empire City was nearer the field of
operations for the mining activities, the majority of new settlers
first camped upon that town site. However, the natural advantage was
with Galena, since nearly the whole, and by far the richest, of the
lead field lay beneath and near the town. No sooner was this
fact discovered, than Galena began to take the lead of Empire City. This change soon began
to seriously discomfit the Empire
camp, who strove arduously to turn the tide, and save themselves from
being entirely absorbed.
With two cities striving to settle within
their own limits and the thousands rushing to the camp, more friction
naturally occurred. The prospect of keeping order in the two mining camps
was not a very promising one. Columbus Street in Empire and "Red Hot" and
Main Streets in Galena were the first to build up with business houses,
which were of log and frame boxes, hastily thrown together for
The quarrel assumed a serious aspect when Empire City decided to stop
their population from moving over to the Galena side. On the night of July 25, 1877, the city
council of Empire City passed a
resolution ordering a stockade eight feet high and one-half mile in length
to be built along the south side of their city. If the plan was carried
out, it would virtually stop all communication between the two cities and
hinder public travel. The stockade was to enclose the south end of
Columbus Street and the bridge over Short Creek.
the stockade began to be built, it created such a ruckus that the workmen
were given police protection while building the wall. Galena
residents protested in vain, petitioning the city, which, in turn appealed
to the U.S. Government to prevent the closing of a public highway to the
However, as the gap was being closed and the action of
the federal government was too slow, the Galena Mayor,
acting under the authority of the city council, organized a posse of fifty
citizens to prevent closing the gap. On August 15, 1877 at 4:00 am,
the posse attacked, tore down, and burned the greater portion of the wall. Empire City, not anticipating the surprise attack, was unprepared, which
resulted in the exchange of only a few shots and very little bloodshed.
For several years, the two towns would vie for
dominance with constant feuds between not only the towns, but their
residents. The war between the towns became so bad that the main
connecting link between the two cities became known as "Red Hot
Street,” when feuding became so intense that doctors and undertakers
began working nights and sleeping during the days.
This feud, coupled with the countless miners,
transients, and outlaws hiding within its midst, provided a hotbed for
violence. In this section of the town were
innumerable saloons and gambling halls that catered to murderers, outlaws,
and gamblers. During this time, many hardworking miners were lured
inside to lose their hard earned gold at the gaming tables and other
questionable pastimes. Some were never seen again.
During the early mining days, the
population shifted and flourished along with the fortunes of the mining
operations and many an enterprising entrepreneur became wealthy during the
early days of Galena, building fine homes and buildings. Others, who did not
find wealth in
Galena, soon left in pursuit of other endeavors.
In the fall of 1877 a building was constructed to
serve several church denominations, including the Presbyterian,
Episcopalian and a Methodist congregations.
The first school was taught in the winter of
1877-78, in a building that had been built for a store room.
In the fall of 1878, H. Webb established a
paper called the Short Creek Banner, but it was sold the following
year, the name was changed to The Messenger and moved to Columbus.
In 1879, the Kansas City,
Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad extended its line to Galena and
before long the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad followed suit,
extending its line from Joplin,
Missouri. Deeper mining operations began in earnest and the town soon saw all manner
of passengers, freight and lead being shipped through the area. The same
year the Presbyterians built their own church one-story frame building.
A school building was also built in 1879, which was comprised of a
large two-story frame structure containing four rooms. The school
district also purchased four lots for the schoolhouse site, which were
later found to contain rich lead deposits. A second school
building was erected in 1880 -- a two-story frame containing two
rooms, and the land on which the previous school sat was leased for
mining purposes, from which the school district profited handsomely.
The Episcopalians erected their own one-story church building the same
Short Creek Republican newspaper was established on September 16,
1880. The name would later be changed to the Galena Republican. It
survived until 1900. Another newspaper called the Galena Times was founded
in 1890, but suspended in 1899.
Mining Strike, Frank Leslie' Illustrated Newspaper.
This image available
for photographic prints and downloads
By the late 1890s
265 producing mines, two banks, 36 grocers, and more than four dozen other
Galena continued to thrive and by 1904 there were over thirty mining companies
situated in or near the town.
Finally, the dispute between
and Empire City entered the courts and after a long period of
litigation, a truce was declared between the two cities, which, at
began to work together in building one of the best mining camps in the
When Empire City became a suburb of
July 9, 1907, the surrender of her rights as an incorporated city to
was made amid great rejoicing, and pieces of the old stockade were
taken away as souvenirs by citizens of both settlements. Empire City was annexed into
its Fifth Ward in 1910.
By that time, Galena boasted
three banks, three newspapers, and an opera house. Though its primary
lead and zinc mining and smelting remained its principal industries,
there were also foundries, stamping works, grain elevators, a novelty
works, and a broom factory. The population in 1910 was 6,096.
Route 66 came through
like other small towns along the Mother Road, responded with services
to the many travelers, bringing with it a additional prosperity to the
However, just a few years later, terrible labor strikes between the miners and the mining
companies would result in hundreds of unemployed miners and bloodshed
along Route 66. In 1935, the
members of the Mine, Mills and Smelter Workers' International Union
went on strike in the Tri-State Mining district. The mining companies
were unimpressed and quickly replaced the strikers by non-union
workers who were organized into a company union, commonly called the
Blue Card Union.
As a result, a mob of angry unemployed
and sprayed bullets and rocks onto any passing
vehicles who failed to follow their commands. They were particularly
interested in any vehicles that were transporting the scabs belonging to
the Blue Card Union. Police officers were forced to detour the
traffic and then Governor Alf Landon, declared martial law in Galena, and
dispatched National Guard troops to quell the violence.
The unrest; however, would continue for
the next few years, before exploding into violence again in April,
1937 when the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) undertook to
aid the unemployed workers belonging to the Mine, Mill and Smelter
Workers' Union. While the unemployed miners were distributing leaflets
for the CIO at a smelter in Joplin,
Missouri, they were seized by Blue
Card unionists and severely beaten on April 10, 1937. The next day,
about 5,000 members of the Blue Card Union met at Picher,
armed with clubs and pick handles to disperse a meeting of CIO
organizers and wrecked the local Union Hall. They then traveled to Treece,
Kansas where they demolished another Union Hall before
continuing on to Galena.
union members in Galena; however, had been forewarned and barricaded
their meeting hall. When the Blue Card mob arrived, brandishing clubs,
gunfire broke out and nine men were shot, one fatally. In the end, the
hall was wrecked and the union records stolen. Twenty-five members of
the Blue Card Union and ten members of the CIO were later arrested.
Though mining continued in the area until the
1970s, it was never the same. The mines were eventually exhausted and the
population dwindled to less than a tenth of its former glory.
By the time the
last lead and zinc mines closed in Cherokee County, nearly 2.9
million tons of zinc and 700,000 tons of lead had been produced.
Up until just a few years ago, the Galena
area, and all of the Tri-State Mining District, which encompasses
approximately 2,500 square miles in southeastern Kansas, southwestern
Missouri, and northeastern Oklahoma, was dotted with chat piles and
mine tailings. These however led to
environmental problems when the lead, zinc, and other
minerals began to leech into the shallow groundwater. Contaminating
wells and nearby streams and rivers, the Environmental Protection
Agency began to clean up the area in 1983. Completed today,
most of the old sites have been returned to their natural state. Few
mining remnants can be seen other than buildings, foundations, and
scattered mining equipment.
After the clean-up the area was still
dangerous, as old mining shafts and tunnels still run beneath
and, in 2006, a mine collapse caused two historic buildings in
Galena to cave way. Stabilization of buildings is an on-going
is called home to about 3,000 people
today and provides peeks at a number of historic buildings, including vintage examples of the
as well as architecture from the booming cattle and mining days of this
A must stop along
is Cars on the Route (originally called 4 Women on the Route), housed in an old KanOtex Service Station. Right beside the station is "Tow Tater," a a 1951
International boom truck that was the inspiration for "Tow Matter" in the movie
Cars, plus vehicles that resemble Doc the Hornet Hudson, Red (the
fire truck), and a Buick as the Sheriff of Radiator Springs.
Make sure to stop at the Historical and Mining Museum to learn all about
Galena's rich history.
Galena is four miles north of the
border and immediately west of the
If you're traveling
Route 66, keep your eyes wide open because the
next small town on the Kansas Mother Road is just some three miles down the
road. Enjoy the ride as you head to Riverton,
of America, updated May, 2015.
Galena-Empire City Slideshow:
Images available for Prints and Downloads HERE