Douglas County History
Jacob Ulrich, Pioneer
by Jan Tompkins
Jacob Ulrich, a Douglas County pioneer, was instrumental in bringing
what was then the German Baptist Brethren Church to Kansas Territory
before the Civil War. German Baptist Brethren (now called Church of the Brethren) were by tradition pacifists, good farmers who believed in living unostentatiously and in getting along with their neighbors. In the 1850's Jacob Ulrich brought a wagon train of Brethren west to Kansas.
Jacob was apparently a rich “man of God,” according to his descendants. “He farmed, preached, organized church fellowships, supported the Underground Railroad, was a friend of John Brown. At least that’s what folks tell us,” says Joyce Ulrich Reinke, his great-great-granddaughter.
Elmer Leroy Craik in his 1923 book, History of the Church of the Brethren in Kansas, tells us:
“Jacob Ulrich was a well-to-do farmer living in the Nettle Creek church near Richmond, Indiana. He had extensive holdings in both Wayne & Henry counties. Previous to 1855 he had made perhaps two trips to Kansas Territory, being, as one of his sons describes him, ‘a sort of natural rover.’ His objective was eastern Kansas, but on one of these trips he came as far west as Fort Riley.
“Disposing of his Indiana property early in 1855, Brother Ulrich headed a caravan of 11 wagons bound for Kansas. The other members of the party were Aaron Eller and family, I B Hoover and family (Mary’s brother?), Henry Messenheimer and family, the Evans family, and David Longanecker, an unmarried man.”
The party, of course, included a fair number of Ulrichs, since Jacob and Mary had seven living children at the time, all born in Indiana. Their families had already made major moves several times in the past, from Pennsylvania to Ohio to Indiana. Jacob and Mary were originally from Pennsylvania, Jacob having been born in 1803 in Blair County, the son of John Ulrich and Christina Brumbaugh. Mary Hoover was born in Huntingdon County in 1809, the daughter of Elder John Hoover and Elizabeth Brumbaugh. Jacob and Mary married in 1826, and Mary eventually gave birth to 11 children in Indiana.
In the 1850 federal census for Jefferson Township, Wayne County, Indiana, the Ulrichs were Family #48, consisting of Jacob Ulrick, 47, Mary Ulrick, 42, Benjamin, 18, Anna 16, John, 14, Jacob, 11, Daniel, 9, Mary, 6, Samuel, 2, Henry, 4. Jacob and Mary had earlier lost a daughter, Elizabeth, who was born in 1830 and died in 1840, and in 1845 a little boy named Isaac had died in his first year. Little Samuel, only 2 in the 1850 census, didn’t survive past 1851.
What enticed Jacob Ulrich and other eastern Brethren farmers to move way out to Kansas Territory? It was a wild and lawless place, newly opened to European-American settlers in the early 1850's. The Kansas Nebraska Act became law in 1854. Were these Brethren making a statement about the extension of slavery into the west? Brethren doctrine opposed slavery, and Brethren could not own slaves and remain members of the church. So Jacob’s sense of justice may have played a part in his decision to settle in Kansas. Or maybe it was his sense of adventure, of being that “natural rover.”
At any rate, 1855 saw the Ulrich wagon train leaving Indiana. Their route, says Craik, took them through Terre Haute and St. Louis to Kansas City, which was then called Westport. The Evans family didn’t complete the trip, stopping off in Illinois about 50 miles east of St. Louis, but the other wagons went on.
“They arrived in Westport October 20, 1855,” says Craik, and decided to spend the winter where comforts of life were easier obtained than they were on the Kansas side. Accordingly they took up temporary residence at Wyandotte, doing all their trading at Parkville, ten miles up the Missouri river.
“It appears that while waiting here at Wyandotte, Jacob Ulrich went out to Ozawkie to see his cousin Jacob Brown relative to the prospect of securing land, but the trip was fruitless, since there was no chance to make use of ‘float titles’ in that locality. So in March 1856, the immigrants started out on the old Santa Fe Trail for what was then Breckenridge county...,”
where they found what they thought was a favorable location and acceptable conditions. Those elusive float titles were used to secure for Ulrich two sections of good Wyandotte Indian land, ten miles southwest of the site of present-day Emporia. But within the year, the wagon train emigrants were dissatisfied with that location, and most of the group of Brethren decided to move away. The Ulrich and Hoover families went to Douglas County, while others went to Iowa. Isaac B. Hoover was Mary’s brother. The Gospel Visitor, a Brethren newspaper, in its December 30, 1856, issue includes a letter from Jacob Ulrich announcing that:
“we intend, God willing, by the first of March to move eight miles south of Lawrence to a place called Hickory Point, near the Santa Fe road. This is a pleasant and fertile country....”
Ulrich was perhaps hopeful of persuading still more Brethren from the east to come to Kansas. But Kansas was not, alas, a peaceful place in the 1850's. Says Craik:
“but ...on May 21, 1856, Sheriff Jones entered and sacked the town of Lawrence...”
Three days later came John Brown’s Osawottamie massacre. Craik reports:
“Jacob Ulrich’s home was one of the stopping place of the celebrated John Brown of Osawatomie. It was shortly after the Osawattomie massacre that, being on the way home from Lawrence, he [Brown], with another man, put up for the night at the Ulrich home. The conversation at the breakfast table turned on the question of slavery. Daniel Ulrich, a son of Jacob, said he remembered quite vividly that John Brown, in addressing his father, said with emphasis, ‘Mr Ulrich, show show me a man that will justify slavery and I’ll show you a man that’s rotten to the core.’
For four months, there was genuine border warfare between Kansans and Missourians, between free-state and pro-slavery folks. The Wakarusa War ended in December 1855, but not until Governor Geary, third territorial executive, had arrived in 1856, was there some restoration of order.
“Once settled south of Lawrence about eight miles,” writes Craik, “Jacob Ulrich became the prime mover in organizing the few Brethren in Douglas county.” Among the newcomers was Abraham Rothrock, a Brethren elder from Pennsylvania. Brethren church services at this time were held in the Ulrich schoolhouse.
Ulrich had met David Kinzie, an earlier Brethren arrival, in 1857 at Clinton, Kansas, while attending a Fourth of July celebration.
“Henceforth these two men were warm friends. Jacob Ulrich was widely known in the community, and being a man of affairs was once urged by his friends to run for a seat in the legislature. He was an intimate friend of ‘Old Jakie’ Branson, an Indianan, now living at Hickory Point, and a conspicuous figure in the Wakarusa War. Ulrich was also a friend of ‘Jim’ Lane and often had the distinguished senator at his hospitable board. He was the mainstay of the Brethren in the famine of 1860. He was a man of influence and being a facile writer often wrote for the columns of the Gospel Visitor....It was his writing which induced Gabriel Jacobs to move from Indiana to the Cottonwood church in 1856 and Abraham Rothrock to leave PA to become a resident of Douglas county in the same year.”
Formal organization of a Brethren congregation occurred in 1858, in Stephen Studebaker’s log house “about four miles southwest of the present Pleasant Grove church.” Craik lists 12 charter members: Abraham Rothrock and wife; Stephen Studebaker and wife; Daniel Studebaker and wife; Daniel Keeny and wife; Jacob Markley and wife; Isaac B Hoover, and David Kinzie. Love Feast (Brethren communion and foot washing service) was held May 22, 1859, at Jacob Ulrich’s home.
The Kansas territorial census for Douglas County in 1859 lists a Jacob Ulrich in Willow Springs Township but doesn’t give any more information or his age. Presumably this is Jacob the patriarch and not his son Jacob.
John C Metsker of Marion Twp, Douglas county, was one of the wealthiest and most influential Brethren in KS. Metsker, Jacob and Mary’s son-in-law, brought his family to Kansas from his native Indiana in Sept. 1859, and settled 14 miles southwest of Lawrence.
“At one time he [Metsker] was the largest taxpayer in Douglas County, being in possession of 2100 acres of land. He spared neither time nor money in caring for the work of the church he loved. He was one of three brothers who settled near the Washington Creek church before the Civil War...”
The federal census for 1860 shows the Ulrichs in Palmyra Township, Douglas County, Kansas Territory, with a McKinney post office:
J Ulrich, 57, b PA
Mary Ulrich, 50, b PA
Christina, 29, b IN
Benjamin 27, b IN
Anna, 25, b IN
John, 23, b IN
Daniel, 22, b IN
Jacob, 19, b IN
Mary, 17, b IN
The year 1860 brought severe drought to Kansas. Jacob Ulrich wrote in the Gospel Visitor for September 13, 1860 of the problems of the Kansas Brethren and the possibility that some Brethren farmers were doomed to default on their mortgages. “There were perhaps 100,000 people in the territory when it began to cease raining,” writes Craik, “and of these fully 60,000 would need help. During the fall of 1860, 30,000 settlers forsook their claims and left Kansas. Charity was necessary for the 30,000 who remained on their claims.”
The editor of the Gospel Visitor, Henry Kurtz, called for various church organizations to solicit and distribute aid. The Washington Creek congregation, southwest of Lawrence, asked Elder Abraham Rothrock to solicit aid for Brethren and for their neighbors from Brethren in the east. Elder Rothrock left home October 9, 1860, traveling to churches of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania; he returned December 30, 1860. Contributors responded with $8500.00 in cash or more, 600 bushels of seed corn, wheat, oats, and potatoes, and even 300 pounds of garden seed of all kinds, collected by the women of Illinois. The folks delivering the aid also held fifteen missionary meetings, meetings which were well attended. Most of the funds for the Lawrence area were distributed through Jacob Ulrich, and they were distributed to Brethren and non-Brethren families.
Editor Kurtz made a special trip to Kansas, arriving in Lawrence on May 24, 1861. “The next day”, writes Craik, he spoke at the Washington Creek school house six miles southwest of Ulrich’s. Of this latter meeting he said:
‘The school house, a very primitive building (cabin) was
filled to the utmost capacity and surrounded by a crowd.
The teacher’s desk at which we were placed was of such
a rickety fashion (a piece of board with four pins underneath
for legs) that we were afraid to lean on it or lay our staff aside.’
“This log school house was the second school building erected in Douglas county,” according to Craik. “That the aid was distributed without regard to color or creed was perhaps largely due to Brethren Rothrock and Ulrich.”
Kansas was created a state on January 29, 1861, with a smaller population than it had possessed before the drought of 1859-60 and the violent border troubles. The Civil War began in April, 1861. Because of the attempts of General Sterling Price of Missouri “to ravage the border counties and to assail Fort Leavenworth,” state militias provided much of the defense. Despite the pacifist traditions of the Brethren, several Rothrock and Ulrich sons were part of the state militia. Records show that D. Ulrich, born in 1838, and young Jacob Ulrich, born in 1841, both living at Willow Springs, Kansas, registered for the draft.
As the strife of the times escalated, many Brethren from Missouri, pacifists who didn’t want to take sides, felt they had no choice but to leave that state and chose to move to free-state Kansas. But violence continued to plague Kansas’ residents. Says Craik:
“On August 21, 1863, there occurred at Lawrence one of the most dastardly episodes of the whole war. William C Quantrill, a guerilla of more or less notoriety, had for some time nursed a grievance against this free-state town. Going over into Missouri and gathering up some 300 deperadoes, early on the morning of the day mentioned, he swooped down on the defenceless town. In a few hours about 150 persons were killed and from one to two million dollars worth of property was destroyed...
“The drunken and infuriated band of desperadoes left burning Lawrence late in the forenoon, going almost directly south from the present site of the University of Kansas on Mount Oread. Dinner time found them at the well-ordered farm of prosperous Deacon Jacob Ulrich, nine miles south of Lawrence. The aged brother was not aware of their malicious intentions, but two of his sons, John and Daniel, and a son-in-law, Joseph Shively, divined their fell purposes and rescued the unoffending deacon and his wife.”
Joyce Ulrich Reinke offers her family’s version of how Jacob and Mary Ulrich escaped the raiders:
“The family were spared when a neighbor warned them of the approaching
raiders and they were able to hide in a nearby cornfield. Probably the family
was saved because the raiders were so inebriated by the time they reached the farm they didn’t notice people lying between the corn rows. They set fire
to the buildings, took the horses and rode on. The family was able to return
and put out the house fire, but I think the barn burned.”
Craik’s book says:
“The Quantrill band helped themselves to all the eatables to be had. Then the house was fired, many valuable records and papers perishing therein. The fine $2,500 barn with its well-filled bins and mow went up in smoke. The total loss was about $6,000—a considerable sum in those days. Leaving the buildings in ruins the raiders set out toward the Marais des Cygnes river, hoping to escape thence into Missouri. John Ulrich wished to pursue the fleeing mob, but the better counsel of his father prevailed, the latter insisting firmly upon an adherence to the well-known non-resistant principles of the church.
Neighboring Brethren also endured the ruffians’ attacks:
“The guerillas brought distress to the quiet home of Elder Abraham Rothrock, who lived south of the Ulrich farm. It appears that Elder Rothrock, warned of the approach of the long-haired ruffians, had betaken himself to a hiding place in the cornfield, but that seeming to see his wife and daughter mistreated at their hands, he returned to the house. He took a stand near the open cellar door and undertook to reason with the guerillas. One of the rasher of them thereupon shot him thrice, throwing him into the cellar with the remark: ‘That’s the way we treat all d—d old preachers.’ The house was then fired and the band moved on south. As they left, one of the men, a former neighbor named Campbell, remained to help care for the wounded elder. Daniel Ulrich was also present and assisted in carrying the victim up out of the cellar. Bro. Rothrock received wounds in the back of the neck, shoulders and chin. He survived the injuries, however, and lived until 1870. Thru it all he never deviated from his conscientious principles. While he lay in bed, a neighbor, a Baptist preacher named Tucker, called and, thinking to discover a weakening in the elder’s views, asked: ‘Mr Rothrock, what would you do if you had those men [the guerillas] in your power now?’ Quick as a flash, the prostrate man replied: ‘I would convert every one of them.’ 'Well,' said the neighbor, 'That beats my religion.'"
“It was currently reported that the guerillas were bent on taking the life of J C Metsker. How desirous they were of doing so is a matter of dispute, but that brother took his family to the woods to make safe. He suffered no molestation whatever.”
Quantrill’s attack occurred August 21, 1863. Jacob Ulrich died November 24, 1863, at his home. Mary Hoover Ulrich lived another 20 years, dying October 22, 1883.
Jacob and Mary Ulrich’s house, restored and considered a local treasure, still exists and is occupied by folks who appreciate its history. “Because the home was built of native stone,” says Joyce Reinke, “most of the original structure still stands today. It is true that charred beams were left exposed when the attic was refurbished.”
Several years ago the old Ulrich house was threatened by plans to widen Highway 59, which links Ottawa and Lawrence, to four lanes, but Joyce says the problems were resolved:
“The neighbors won out, and they were able to preserve the Ulrich farm and the old Ulrich cemetery. The highway takes a curve around the property. Apparently many folks lobbied hard to make that happen.”
--written and submitted by Jan Tompkins
Jacob’s great-great-granddaughter-in-law, Ila Jean Ulrich, recommends a couple of other publications:
“The Old Ulrich Place, Pioneer Homestead, Farm and Burial Ground” by Peggy Glazzard, gives the home’s history and has pictures of the property.
“Kansas Pioneers,” a booklet by John W & Ethel Beeghley deals with the Ulrich Cemetery and the Lone Star church.
Douglas Co. KHHP
This website created Feb. 24, 2012 by Sheryl McClure.
© 2011-2012 Kansas History and Heritage Project