In the rocky hills and gravel-filled valleys of southeast 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 soil.
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 campfires.
In the spring of 1877, a couple of young white men found several heavy stones which contained high amounts of lead. The landowner, a German farmer by the name of Egidius Moll, wasted no time in making negotiations with the nearby Joplin, 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 Galena, 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 the townsite 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 townsite.
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.
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 townsite. 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 temporary use.
The quarrel assumed a serious aspect when Empire City decided to stop its 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.
As 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 U.S. mail.
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 Methodist congregations.
The first school was taught in the winter of 1877-78, in a building that had been built for a storeroom.
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 year.