Theophilus Little

Theophilus Little in the Wickedest Town in the World--Abilene, Kansas

This is #21 in a loose leaf notebook titled EARLY DAYS IN ABILENE that is owned and housed by the Abilene (Kansas) Historical Society. Jim Wright Little, a cousin, sent it to Pj Little, who contributed the story to this web site. Jim states: "No attempt has been made to correct any possible errors in spelling, punctuation, etc., since it reads as though Theophilus possibly wrote the original himself". Theophilus, his family, and a grandson are buried in Block 6, Section 16, of the Abilene Cemetery. You can read more about Theophilus Little and his family back ground at Ohio, Kansas and Oklahoma: "Squire" Thomas Little and his Descendants. Pj Little, our contributor, can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] The Sullivan County Genealogical Web Page is grateful to Jim and Pj for this historical information.  


In January 1851 I landed at Abilene. The depot was a little square building built of cottonwood boards, about 16 or 20 feet square located about where Cramer and Krugerís lumber office now stands.

I am sure that there was not a single shade tree in the town plat. There were hardly any buildings on the north side of the U.P.R.R. track. I think not to exceed twenty or thirty. Of course there were on Mud Creek banks, but not nearly so large as now. That was forty years go last January. The Post Office was located on the south side of the rail road down near to where now stands the big flouring mill. It was built mostly, if not all, of logs. H.H. Hazlett was Postmaster and had a stock of general merchandise therein. At his time there were not to exceed 600 people in Abilene. Nearly all the business was done on the south side of the U.P.R.R. which was the only railroad in town. The only house west of Mud Creek was a large hewn log house, which stood, where now stands Geo. Sterlís home. I think it stood just a little north of Mr. Sterlís home.

Just a few rods west of the house stood a long, low stone stable covered with dirt. This had been the stage and eating station for the great Overland Mail and Passenger route running from Leavenworth, Kansas to San Francisco, California.

This is where the great Horace Greeley and Bayard Taylor got their "last square meal" as they were crossing the Plains on their way to the Pacific Coast, by stage in 1849. (Incidentally Horace Greeley was the greatest journalist that this or any other country ever produced.)

Timothy Hersey kept this Overland Stage Station. Mrs. Hersey gave Abilene its name, getting it from the bible.

In the early spring great herds of Texas cattle began to arrive for shipment to eastern markets, thousands upon thousands. With them came cowboys, cattle owners, cattle buyers, gamblers, thieves, thugs, murderers, the painted women, the rich, the poor. Money flowed like the waters. Thousands upon thousands of people came. It was said that there were 7,000 people by June first. Talk about the "Wild and Wooly west", everything wild or wooly ran away from it.

Nothing but human beings would stay with it. Everything but man fled from it. Abilene was called the "wickedest place on earth."

My lumber yard was on the corner of Walnut and First Street, right in the red hot center of H-ll.

We called first street Texas street. It had no other name. It was Texas close down to the Gulf of Mexico.

It wasnít Kansas. It was fullĖjam fullĖof saloons, gambling dens, dens of infamy of all kinds of character, cutthroats, robbers, murderers. Iím not exaggerating, I have not half told it, it was indescribable and I was there on Texas street selling lumber.

All the cattle were herded west of town. Every cowboy that came into town had to pass my office door. There were hundreds of them every day and every "son of a gun" had two guns and I thought ever gun was as long as an Ohio fence rail. These boys came to town and did not leave Texas street, would drink and gamble, get rip-roaring crazy drunk and towards evening jump on their Texas ponies and then begin to shoot hundreds of shots, yelling like a million Indians, ponied on the dead run. Every boy passed my office and by the time they got there the air was lurid as they shot upwards. At first I would run to the door to see the show, but I soon learned to crawl into a hole and pull the hole in after me or pull a pile of lumber over on to me. Then down into the creek and up the west bank and disappear over on the unlimited prairie and

then back the next day and repeat.

James B. Hickock "Wild Bill" was then City Marshall of Abilene. Born in the state of New York, his father a Presbyterian deacon as he told me, he "just went west and just couldnít stop going and just kept going."

He stood over six feet tall, straight and erect, graceful as a woman, superb fingers, shoulders as a Hercules, hair flowing to the shoulders, an eagleís eye, and with two big ivory handled guns loaded to the muzzle always hanging to his belt, the "bad men" feared him.

He never missed his mark when he fired those guns and the "bad men" fled from him.

"Phil" Coe was from Texas, ran the "Bullís Head" a saloon and gambling den, sold whiskey and menís souls. A vile a character as I ever met for some cause Wild Bill incurred Coeís hatred and he vowed to secure the death of the Marshall. Not having the courage to do it himself, he one day filled about 200 cowboys with whiskey intending to get them into trouble with Wild Bill, hoping that they would get to shooting and in the melee shoot the marshal. But Coe "reckoned without his host." Wild Bill had learned of the scheme and cornered Coe, had his two pistols drawn on Coe. Just as he pulled the trigger one of the policemen rushed around the corner between Coe and the pistols and both balls entered his body, killing him instantly. in an instant, he pulled the triggers again sending two bullets into Coe's abdomen (Coe lived a day or two) and whirling with his two guns drawn on the drunken crowd of cowboys, "and now do any of you fellows want the rest of these bullets". Not a word was uttered.

"Get your ponies and ride to your camps of Iíll shoot into you," a hush was upon these boys and in less than two minutes the mob had vanished into the darkness. Wild Bill sent to Kansas City for the policemanís mother, bought a fine coffin, paid all expenses of burial of his policeman.

By way of diversion Iíll give the children a little problem to work. In 1871 practically 40 years ago, I sold to this Phil Coe a bill of lumber amounting to $40.00. I could not get him to pay the bill, could have filed a lumber lien on his building and sold it. I knew if I did so, he would burn my lumber yard. He still owes me $40.00 with interest. Let some of the children compute with compound interest @6% for the 40 years, and send me what it amounts to in dollars and cents and if I can collect I will give them 50% of collection.

During the summer of 1871 the Post office was removed to the north side of the R.R. track. Prior to this the cowboys had never crossed to the north side, except to go to the "Twin Livery Stables", which stood where now stands the brick block, surrounded by Spruce, 2nd, and 3rd, and Buckeye. This was neutral territory and both cowboys and citizens held passes to the stables, but when they went after their mail they were polite, quiet and gentlemanly, when on the north side. "Not a shot, nor scarce a yell" but the moment they touched the soil south of the track they were back in Texas and were free men and with a Comanche whoop the old harry would break loose.

Sometime during the cattle season a large barn like structure was erected on the ground now occupied by the Steam Laundry on the south side. It was intended for public entertainment. In fact it was the "Grand Seelye Theatre" of the day. I do not recollect whether it was built by the citizens of the "400" of the Texas Element, but I do remember that some of the high toned plays put on the boards were somewhat on the high kicking and "whoopee-doo-dee-noo"order. Anyhow when the public schools were about to be closed probably in May, the south side "Seelye Theatre" was secured for the closing exercises in the evening. Of course the citizens were "permitted" to go.

The cowboys exercised the inalienable rights of the Texas American citizen to go where they "d-nd" please on the south side, were thee and filled the edifice to the roof of words to that effect, but hundreds were there, citizens, cattlemen, cowboys, gamblers, the elite from the addition on Fisherís farm Ė in fact Ė a cosmopolitan gathering. The cowboy element in the ascendancy being most numerous.

The exercises were very satisfactory and of great interest of the parents and patrons.

The cowboys held themselves steady just as long as human endurance could endure, but finally got tired and restless and noisy and more noisy and very noisy, interrupted the proceedings. Mrs. Little and I and the two little boys, Eddie and Willie were seated together in chairs immediately in front us were two big Texans. Each one big enough to have swallowed me whole. They became very noisy and offensive and I remonstrated with them quietly, pled with them to keep quiet. They turned and laughed at me, asking what in "h-ll" I was going to do about it anyhow. I quit talking and began to get mad, madder yet. I was young the, if not handsome. I began to think I could just whip 20 wild cats right there with a lot of Texans thrown in. They were standing up right in front of me, swearing and laughing, having the biggest time in town. I lost sight and sense of everything but mad and fight.

I jumped up and caught on of them by the throat and jammed him into his chair and choked him till he gurgled in a flash I had the other huck by the throat. You too I yelled and choked him until his Texas tongue ran out of his mouth, jammed him into his chair and hissed into their ears, another word out of you tonight and Iíll smash ever bone in your bodies.

Itís a wonder I was not shot to pieces, but I thought then that I could smash ever cowboy in that big shanty. I think they thought so too for I tell you that silence reigned profound the balance of that evening.

They were so utterly astounded at the audacity and foolhardiness of the act that they were cowed and helpless. Just as the exercises close, Wild Bill strode swiftly toward us with his silk hat in his left hand, his right thrown across the left breast and with a low and courtly bow to Mrs. Little, in most gracious tones said, "Mr. Little if you will allow me, I will walk home with you and your family this evening." I thanked him saying, "We would deem it an honor but not a necessity."

Said he, "I think I understand this case better than you do, Mr. Little" and he went to our home with us.

He was a great lover of children and tender hearted. My little boy Will, then nine years old, had the misfortune to cot off two of his fingers. As Dr. McCollam was dressing his hand one day, Wild Bill stepped in, "Ah", said he, "that is too bad, too bad such a find manly little fellow too," patting him on the dear head. Dear glorious Will.

I thought to close this talk now, but I must tell you about the sermon that was preached in Tom Smithís whiskey saloon.

In 1872 I was acting Mayor of Abilene and in that capacity kept close tab on the saloons, we had but two (in 1871 there were at least fifty) while not a patron of Tomís yet he and I were good friends.

Rev. Christopher sometimes preached in Abilene and was a very eloquent speaker, one, day said to me, "I would like to preach in on of these saloons."

"Well", said I, "Iíll arrange it for you". It was Saturday, I went over to Tomís place, said I, "Tom weíre going to have preaching here tomorrow.", his eyes looked wild at me, "And youíre crazy Littleí. "Tomorrow at 10 oíclock, Rev. Christopher will preach here, Tom, you better clean up a little, get your bar fixtures and whiskey out of sight."

"Say Mr. Little, d-n-d if I donít just do it. Why it will be a big ad for me wonít it though".

"Scrub the floor Tom, there will be a big crowd. I will send over a load of lumber for seats".

I hired a boy who with a bell, worked the streets announcing that Rev. Christopher would preach in Tom Smith Saloon at 10 oíclock tomorrow morning.

A crowd! Yes, enough to fill the saloon 3 or 4 times, and he preached a fine sermon with plenty of good music.

The monument for Theophilus reads:

Theophilus Little, Esq.
Settled at Olathe, Kansas 1866
Pres - City Council Abilene 1872
Acting Mayor 1873
Pres - School Board 1875
Organizer - Elder & Trustee
First Presbyterian Church
Born Granville, Ohio May 23, 1830
Died Kansas City, Kan. Oct. 3, 1919

Note: His children were William Thomas Little (Will T.) and U.S. Senator Edward Campbell Little.

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