The city of Atchison, Kansas has a long history of rising to the challenge. Squatting along the banks of the Missouri River, the town was founded just a decade before the start of the Civil War. This Midwestern city of around 11,000 has seen its own struggles. Their delay in constructing a bridge to span the Missouri River would give nearby cities a leg up in the future. While Atchison would be destined to lose much of its manufacturing power, this city on the bluffs would find its niche in today’s world.
We took a short excursion from our hometown to explore the Atchison County Historical Museum. Although it was named for Missouri Senator David Atchison, a pro-slavery supporter, the city would break from that to back the Union during the war. In fact, Atchison would supply three militia companies. They also formed a ‘home guard’ designed to protect their homes from an invasion from Missouri. Rising to the challenge, they were able to suppress the raiding bands of thieves that roamed the edges of the frontier. When the nearby city of Lawrence was sacked, the citizens of Atchison raised $4000 to help out the stricken citizens.
Lying at the eastern edge of the Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe rail line, the city’s growth was tied to that of the railroad. For many years, Atchison would vie with nearby Kansas City for dominance as a major rail hub. While its larger neighbor would eventually win out, this town along the bluffs would amass the businesses needed to guarantee their future. After the Civil War, the agricultural base of the surrounding region was an impetus for the construction of mills and grain elevators. The local foundries produced vital materials for the expansion of the railroad to the west.
During the first part of the 20th Century, Atchison schools were a mixed bag. At Atchison High School, whites and blacks attended classes together. Until the 1950s, black students were not allowed to participate in extracurricular activities. Black students wanting to play sports would have to attend Lincoln School, which was segregated. While there were many restrictions placed on them, these students would still find success. The Lincoln Kittens rose to the challenge and won the state title in 1936 and 1945. Upon seeing the continued superiority of the Lincoln team, the Atchison High School coaches decided to integrate with the Kittens.
Music has been called the poetry of the air. This art form crosses all class levels and brings us together equally as fans. In the early 1900s, Jesse Stone was being raised at a music-filled home in Atchison. With a lack of entertainment venues for blacks, families were forced to entertain themselves. The Stone family excelled at this and little Jesse was a natural. By the age of five, he was performing in his family’s minstrel shows. By the time he turned 25, he had his own band and they cut their first record. During his career, he would write over 600 songs that would be performed by many famous artists. In 1992, he was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame.
A Master Rising to the Challenge
While each person is allotted their own struggles, it’s those that face them who have the best chance to succeed. It’s easy to fall prey to the woes of the world until you learn about someone who excelled at rising to the challenge. As we were exploring downtown Atchison, we happened upon a statue of ‘Little Will’ Boular. Stricken deaf at the age of four, he lost his legs to a train that he didn’t hear approaching. Not to be defeated, he became one of the greatest bricklayers of all time. He is even listed in Ripley’s Believe It or Not for laying 46,000 paving bricks in one eight-hour shift. So the next time you’re feeling like life’s got you down, just look at some of these Atchison heroes for inspiration.