This beautiful little city was once a thriving metropolis of over 2,000 residents. It’s not quite yet a ghost town, but long past its heyday, now with less than 200 people calling it home.
Located on the bluffs of the Missouri River, White Cloud was one of the earliest and grandest towns in a new and fledgling Kansas Territory. The port town was a popular stop for the big steamboats carrying supplies bound for the west. Often the docks were crowded with wagons in the port community, which boasted a population of over 2,000 in its heyday. The town continued to thrive until after the Civil War when in 1860, the first “iron horse” touched Kansas soil and supplies began to travel via the rails.
In 1804, the area where White Cloud would one day lie served as a vantage point and resting place for Lewis and Clark. According to legend, their names are said to be carved in a stone somewhere close to today’s White Cloud.
Long before the white men came to the area, the land belonged to the Ioway tribe. The tribe’s chief, Ma-Hush-Kah, or White Cloud, lived near the Missouri River at a place called Iowa Point in a double hewed log house. In 1854, Ma-Hush-Kah lost his life in a battle with the Pawnee Indians who were mortal foes of the Ioway. The Indian Chief was buried near a large tree overlooking the Missouri River, below Iowa Point. After his death, Nan-cha-nin-ga, or No Heart, succeeded as head chief of the tribe.
In 1856, just two years after the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened the territories to white settlement, two enterprising men named Enoch Spaulding and John H. Utt laid out plans for White Cloud. A log cabin was the first structure erected, and frame buildings soon followed including a drug store and a few frame houses, one of which was used as a hotel. The town was named for Ma-Hush-Kah, the noted chief of the Iowa.
In early 1857, the White Cloud Town Company was formed with $45,000 in capital, with officers James Foster, Dr. H.W. Peter, and W.J. Gatling, who invented the Gatling gun. Members of the Town Company included Utt and Spaulding, as well as Cornelius Dorland, who would later become White Cloud’s first mayor.
Initially, they faced problems with property rights until a famous land sale was held on July 4, 1857. Two thousand people arrived for the big sale on four steamboats and the bidding was spirited, with the final sale of lots amounting to $23,794. Celebrating in grand style, a barbeque was served, speeches were made, and the St. Joseph’s band played music in the background. No sooner was the celebration over, when the stock company began to build White Cloud in earnest.
In the same year, the new community attracted a doctor and an attorney. A post office was opened in a building which adjoined the drug store. A mill owner named Mr. Orton drove a deep well in a stockyard near the river where his fattened cattle were remarkable. Later it was found that his well was fed by natural mineral springs. Mr. C. Dorland was made the first mayor of White Cloud. The burgeoning community was quickly on its way to becoming a prominent city upon the Missouri River.
A steam ferry, that was said to be one of the best along the river, arrived from Wellsville, Ohio on June 3, 1858. Operated by Captain John Lock, who lived on a long-gone island in the middle of the river north of White Cloud, the steamboat met with an accident in 1867. The riverboat was so badly wrecked that it could no longer service customers, but in May 1868, a new boat was built and service was continued.
School was first taught in a small frame structure in the northwest part of the town. However, the building was struck by lightning and teaching was discontinued for a time. A new brick school was built and the children resumed going in February 1872.
Several churches were quickly formed including the Methodist Episcopal Church, the First Congregational Church, and a Catholic Church. Later, the Colored Baptist Church was established in 1875.
The White Cloud City Mills were built in 1863 by John Utt milling 120 bushels of wheat and 175 bushels of corn daily. Later, a sawmill was constructed, which was owned and operated by George Adams. In 1868, Noyes & Moore built a grain warehouse near the river.
The bank of Springer & Emerson began business on March 18, 1881, where the proprietors of the bank left their cashier, a woman by the name of Annie King, mostly in charge.
On July 29, 1875, White Cloud experienced its first murder. The victim was a widow who had married a man by the name of Mr. Hurst. However, almost from the day of their marriage, their home was the scene of constant quarrels and conflicts. After the marriage, Mr. Hurst, started drinking, often flying into violent rages.
Just a week before Mrs. Hurst’s murder, her husband was arrested on the charge of abuse. But upon his release, Mr. Hurst attempted to see his wife without success. Finally, he convinced the Marshal to accompany him, suggesting he wished to resolve the conflict with his estranged wife peacefully.
When the two arrived, Mrs. Hurst agreed to see him. Leaning over the fence, Hurst embraced her in what appeared to be a genuinely affectionate manner, only to pull out a large knife, cutting her throat, severing her jugular vein and carotid artery.
Hurst gave himself up to the Justice of the Peace; however, news spread rapidly and a lynch mob formed led by the Marshal. The Marshal, with a revolver at Hurst’s head, commanded that Hurst put his head in the noose, but Hurst refused and a fierce struggle ensued between the Marshall and the Mayor’s men. Both Hurst and the Marshal were jailed and Hurst was taken to Troy to be safely lodged. Hurst was sentenced to be hanged but was later moved to an insane asylum.