Huerfano County Presents
The John Shank Story

Contributed by Jim Unti

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Samantha Salsbury Shank and Lucy Williams Shank
Charlotte Shank
John and Lucy presented one of my first family history mysteries. To begin, I was not even sure John and Lucy were a couple. Tina has a few pieces of white china, not many ... a cup, a couple of small plates, and a sugar bowl ... that are hand painted by an L.A. Shank. They are painted with a decorative gold "S" and are inscribed on the bottom in the same gold paint with the "artist's" name. The sugar bowl reads "L.A. Shank, E.Las Vegas, N.M., 1912". Other pieces either have initials or say "Lucy" and "Christmas 1909". The china had come to Tina through her mother Merle Williams Gardner, and to Merle through her mother, Friede Kane Williams, or Merle's aunt, Lena Kane. Friede and Lena were sisters whose mother was Anna Shank, wife of James Kane. We therefore knew this Lucy was one of the Shank relatives but which one was unclear.

Through conversation with Aunt Michaela (Friede's daughter, Merle's sister) Tina and I learned that after Anna's death in Kansas in 1900, Friede and one of Anna's sons went to Lodi, California while Lena and the other son (maybe Frank), went to New Mexico to be with an uncle. Well, that all made sense. Because of the china we knew of a Shank connection in New Mexico at least in the name of Lucy Shank. Now we just needed to find out who Lucy Shank was! Michaela also related that Lena and Frank "ran away" from their aunt and uncle's to be with their other siblings in Lodi. After the fact I do not know how much weight to put on the "ran away" story. Lena left a diary that does not indicate she went to New Mexico before coming to California. There are indications that the "New Mexico Shanks" maintained friendly relations with the "Lodi Kanes". The gifts of china are one piece of evidence. We also know quite a bit about the Kane relatives in Lodi, particularly Catherine Shank Thompson and her children. By most standards the Thompsons were financially well off and well connected in the community. If one of the Kane boys did go to New Mexico and then decide to leave ( perhaps against his uncle and aunt's wishes ) it should not seem strange. There was every good reason for the four Kane children to be together in Lodi.

When looking for the New Mexico Shanks, I had some initial false starts. I had information that John had married a girl named Samantha in Kansas; if that were true could Lucy be right for John? I also knew that there were two brothers, John and Jacob who came West. Which one went via New Mexico was the question. From cemetery records of Las Vegas, NM I finally concluded that it was John, that he probably left Kansas in the 1870's or 1880's and that his wife, at the time of his death, was Lucy. I next became focused on Las Vegas. Prior to then I had never even heard of the town, but apparently it was quite a boom town between 1880 and 1910. There are some published histories but an "e-mail history friend", Kay Townsend, sent me the history I have copied below:

“Most people have never heard of Las Vegas, New Mexico until they start looking around for ancestors. You didn't ask for a history lesson and you can skip it if you want, but I never can resist”

“The original town, that is West Las Vegas, started out as a Mexican land grant village in 1835. The Santa Fe Trail (started in 1820 after Mexican Independence; prior to that Spain wouldn't let colonies trade with foreign nations) caravans used to stop here after their trek across the Plains. There was grass (Las Vegas means The Meadows) and running water and they rested and fed, or "recruited", the stock before they made that last long pull over the mountains to Santa Fe. Most of those same people who never heard of Las Vegas, NM aren't aware that the Santa Fe Trail was primarily a commercial route between Mexico and the US. If you were one of them, now you aren't. In 1846, during the War with Mexico, US troops invaded New Mexico, on the way to California. When the war was over the United States had been increased by the additions of New Mexico, Arizona, California and the southern parts of Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. Terms of the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo, that ended the war, stipulated that "citizens" of the conquered territories would be protected from hostile Indians. This required a sizable military presence, which in turn required that all military equipment and provisions be shipped in from "The States". Outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico was populated by people who barely managed subsistence.
We're getting to Las Vegas.

In 1850, the Army built Fort Union about 18 miles north of Las Vegas. Eventually, Fort Union included an Army Post, Quartermaster Depot, Arsenal and Hospital. Santa Fe Trail commerce picked up immensely. Supplies intended for about 50 forts throughout New Mexico and Arizona came through Fort Union via the Santa Fe Trail until arrival of the railroad in 1879 made it cheaper and faster to carry them closer to their final destination. Las Vegas was the first community of any appreciable size reached by travelers coming from the East. It grew fast between about 1850-1878 and when the railroad came in 1879 it just exploded into building and all kinds of commerce. There was a fairly short, but dramatic, episode of Wild Westness in the early 1880s. Doc Holiday opened a dentist's office in town, but reportedly spent most of his time gambling in one of the numerous dens of iniquity. Jesse James spent a night out at the Hot Springs Hotel . The vigilantes hung a few of the bad guys and posted notices that convinced the rest to seek their entertainment elsewhere. By 1900, Las Vegas was the biggest city in the Territory. It was the commercial capital of New Mexico between about 1880-1910. (The hotel that had the first telephone you speak of was, and is , The Plaza ... all spiffed up and awaiting your visit.)” Kay

I think people today can understand why people would go from Kansas to California but still wonder why anyone would go to New Mexico. Read the above history, then look at where the Shank's lived in Kansas, and you can see that Las Vegas was a logical choice. The Shank farm was in Douglas County, Kansas, a couple of miles south of the city of Lawrence. From a hill near the farm ( which actually has a US Geological designation of "Shank Hill") one could see the famous Santa Fe Trail. From the time they arrived in Kansas in 1858 all the sons and daughters of Christian and Phillipena Shank could see wagons and people moving along the trail a mile from their house. Later, the railroad arrived, and it too passed near the same place. A little further away the Oregon Trail also crossed Douglas county. There were plenty of chances to observe other westward movements but I think the Santa Fe Trail made a strong call on John Shank.

The trail entered Douglas county near its southeast corner, a few miles east of Black Jack, from where it took a northwesterly course through Palmyra and on to Willow Springs. Here it turned to the southwest, passing close to Globe and Baden of later days and into Osage county about three miles north of the southwest corner of Douglas county. Palmyra, which later became a part of Baldwin, was long a favorite place for repairing wagons and for rest. Willow Springs, about seven miles to the northwest of Palmyra, was also a favorite place and had a thrilling territorial history Source: Reprinted from the Eighteenth Biennial Report of the Kansas State Historical Society 1911-1912.

I do not have any particulars on John Shank as a child or young man. (I have attached a regular geneaologial chart detailing a couple of generations of his parents and siblings.) We know from family history that John was born December 13, 1845 in Lee county Iowa near Keokuk. His parents were Christian and Phillipena Shank who had come to America in 1833 from Baveria Germany. They were married shortly after arriving in America, probably in Ohio. About 1846-49 the family moved to Hancock County, Illinois then to Lee county Iowa. In 1859, Christian again moved his family, this time to Douglas County, Kansas. Kansas was still a "territory" and John was about 14 years old. The family settled a few miles south of Lawrence. If John was still attending school he probably went to the Pleasant Valley School. Almost certainly he went to the German Brethren Church in which his parents were strong members. In fact, Christian helped establish the first Brethren Church in that part of Kansas. (Much of the information on the Shanks in Kansas was found at the Watkins Community Museum of History, Lawrence Ks., by Jim and Tina 6/1999 with the assistance of the helpful Museum staff.)

While life certainly was difficult on the frontier for the Shank family and other farmers of the time, one fact seems almost unique for this family. Of the nine children born to Christian and Phillipena, all managed to live to adulthood. Maybe that was a bit of luck, or maybe the family was always provided for despite the droughts and pestilence that frequently occurred on the plains in those early days. Most of the Shanks lived to marry and have productive lives. It appears however they followed their own hearts when deciding who to marry, where to live and what religion to follow in later years.

The first "official' mention I have of John is from the Kansas Census data. (The first census data was supplied by Julie Strong of West Des Moines, IA who was looking into the history of Anna Shank Kane.)

The 1860 Federal Census for Douglas County, Willow Springs, Parrie City Post Office on July 26, 1860 reported the family as follows:
C. Shank 49, farmer;
Phillipena 50
George 20 Iowa;
Jacob 18 Iowa;
John 15, Iowa
Cornelius 12 Ill (Anna’s middle name);
Harry 10, Ill
Mary 6, Ill ;
Willie 4, Ill
The 1865 Kansas State Census, supplied by the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka, Kansas, indicates that John was still living with his parents and five other brothers and sisters at that time. We also know that he was enlisted with the Kansas 16th Cavalry at the time.

The 1865 Kansas Agricultural Census, Douglas county, Wakarusa township, v.3, p. 129:
Christian 52
George 23
John 19
Mary 11
Phillipena 54
Jacob 21
Henry 13
William 9
Several sources show John joined the Kansas 16th Cavalry, Company K, in Nov.1864 where he served for a year. This company was formed near the end of the Civil War. It appears that the 16th never fought any major Civil War battles but was mainly engaged in "police actions" of protecting Kansas citizens from rebels and renegades. John may have had a special reason for joining this unit as his home was very close to the attack by Quantrill's Raiders on Lawrence,Kansas on Aug. 21, 1863. He certainly knew some of the 200 people killed in this raid, especially since Quantrill's men seemed to particularly single out "blacks" and German immigrant settlers like his father. While my original assessment of the John's military interest and the main activity of the 16th may be sound I have had the opportunity to review John Shank actual army discharge papers and to read of some of his companies exploits in his obituary. John Shank, age 19, six feet tall, fair complexion, pinks eyes and dark hair was discharged from Captain B.S. Bafeett's company K on November 18, 1865. He received a payment of $145.86 at that time. John had listed his occupation as "soldier" at the time of his enlistment. From John's obituary in 1926 it states: "John shank joined the State Militia and was with the Kansas troops for two and a half years, though several times he made excursions into Missouri fighting the guerrillas and was with the Kansas home guard that stopped the invasion of General Price in 1864."

I do not want to diminish the importance or the danger and hardship of this Kansas Militia operations but general they only lasted a few days and then the participants could return to their farms or shops. However at some point, maybe when he was old enough, John decided to enlist in the Kansas 16th Cavalry. His obituary further states: " he was stationed at Fort Leavenworth for a few month and in 1865 started his company for Fort Kearney, Nebr.; then to Julesburg, Colo. and up the 'north cut' to Laramie, Wyo. From Laramie they went on to the Black Hills and had several Indian fights. From the Dakotas they went on to the Yellowstone River, and for some days were on the verge of starvation. after reaching some of the outpost of the northwest, the Cavalry returned to fort Laramie and then to Fort Leavenworth". After reading these exploits and realizing for example this expedition was almost ten years before General Custer made his ill fated excursion into the same area, I believe the Kansas 16th Cavalry deserves more historical research. Source: John Shank obituary in the Las Vegas, NM "Optic" about March 1926. Discharge papers from Lena Kane personal file, Lodi, Calif.

A year after John left the Cavalry, he married. He was wed on Nov. 20, 1866 to Samantha Salsbury. "The Douglas County Marriages 1854-1884" book says the marriage took place in Douglas county and was performed by Rev. H.D.Fisher. The Rev. Fisher was associated with the Methodist Episcopal Church. Samantha was only 16 at the time. (She was born Jan. 1, 1850 [or Dec 31 1849].) John would turn 21 about three weeks later.

John does not appear in the 1870 Federal Census as living with his parents. In fact the Kansas State Historical Society found the following census entry: "In 1870, a John Shank is listed in Johnshon County, Shawnee township, p.646. Listed in the household, John age 23, male, born Ill. and S.A., age 30, female, born Ohio, with real estate valued at $1,800 and personal propery of $100." I am sure the S.A. refered to was Samantha A. Shank but the age was in error and should of been age 20. Source:Kansas State Historical Society Topeka Ks, letter to Jim Unti 4/27/1999.

The couple had one child, Charlotte Halcyon, born in 1870 in Johnson county, Kansas near Shawnee. ("Halcyon" was a Kingfisher bird of legend, who calmed the winter Solstice seas for mariners. One wonders what thoughts Samantha had when she named Charlotte?)

We do not know of all the travels of John and Samantha in those first years of marriage but we did find that Samantha died at age 25 in 1875 in Huerfano County, Colorado. This provied the emphsis to assume that John had given up on farming in Kansas in the 1870's and to move West seek other occupations. How or why John and Samantha arrived in Huerfano County is still a question. It is possible that John believed he drew on his experience in the Cavalry and went West to work as a cowboy, or ,that he left to work the mines around Walsenburg. At the time I began reseaching his paper it was much more likely is that he worked on the building of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. The line started in Atchison County, Kansas in 1871. By 1872 it had reached Dodge City in Ford County. The line crossed into Colorado at Granada and by 1875 it was near La Junta and Rocky Ford, pushing toward Pueblo. The line finally went into New Mexico at Raton Pass (1878), Las Vegas (1879) and Santa Fe (Feb. 9, 1880).

All this is just speculation about what brought John to this new frontier. Maybe it was nothing more than the same desire to keep moving to new lands that had motivated his parents 20 to 25 years before. After all, Christian Shank could have taken the easy route after arriving in America in 1833. Places like New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania were well settled by second and third generation German immigrants by the time he arrived, but he pushed on to Kansas, not yet a state at the time.

Three years after Samantha's death, and with Charlotte only seven years old, John married his second wife, Lucy Alice Williams. John was 33 and Lucy was 26. They married in La Veta ,Colorado, on Jan. 15, 1878. Lucy was born in Battle Creek, Michigan and both her parents were said to have come from New York. (Per 1900 Census data, Las Vegas, N.M.)

The 1880 Federal Census of Huerfano county, Colorado page 35, precint 6, household # 272 taken June 16th shows John and Lucy Shank living at "Coal Banks". (This is more likely a small mining community rather than a street name.) John occupation at the time was Superintendent of a coal mine. Lucy's father was stated as born in New York and her mother from Connecticut. There was no listing for John's daughter, Charlotte, at this location in 1880.

The most complete information we have on John and Lucy Shank comes from Lucy's obituary published in the Las Vegas newspaper, The Daily Optic, in 1924. I have transcribed it completely as the details are important.

Las Vegas Daily Optic, Monday July 28, 1924
Recent Deaths: Mrs. Lucy Alice Shank
Mrs. Lucy Alice Shank passed away yesterday afternoon at 5:15 o’clock at her home at 511 Tenth Street following an illness of two years. Mrs. Shank’s illness resulted from a fall sustained two years ago.
Mrs. Shank had been prominent for her many years in local educational and hospital activities. She was for many years an active member of the Las Vegas Hospital board. The deceased taught at the first public school in Las Vegas in 1884. She was also a very active worker in the W.C.T.U..
Mrs. Shank was born in Battle Creek, Mich. on March 22, 1852. She came to Colorado in 1874 and was united in marriage to John Shank, who is at present the secretary of the Mutual Building and Loan Association in La Veta, Colorado, in 1877.
During her long illness, Mrs. Shank was cared for by Mr. Shank’s niece, Miss Lena Kane of Lodi, California, who made her residence with the family for some time.
In addition to her husband, John Shank, the deceased is survived by a sister, Mrs. Mildred Marty, Marion, Kansas, and two brothers, Frank and Casimer Williams.
The death of Mrs. Shank brought poignant grief to the many friends who knew her and to the many associations she had in her public activities. A resident of many years in this city, Mrs. Shank made many close friends who feel strongly the shock of her death.
The funeral of the deceased will occur on Tuesday at 2 o’clock from the First Presbyterian Church. The Rev. R.C. Jackson will officiate. Interment will be in the Masonic cemetery in the Shank family lot. J.C. Johnson and Son, local morticians are in charge of the funeral arrangements.
(Obituary found by Kay Townsend, Las Vegas, NM, from microfilm files; copied by Jim Unti Oct. 2000 underlining and bold lettering added at the time of copying.)

We do not know why or when John and Lucy moved from La Veta, Colorado to Las Vegas, New Mexico after they married in 1877 (Some records say they married Jan 15, 1878). The above obituary mentioned by 1884 Lucy was teaching school in Las Vegas. We can presume the reason they moved was for the usual reasons of better jobs. After all the railroad was moving in that direction and by 1880 Las Vegas was booming. Charlotte was still only nine in 1880 and there may have been the same motivation that happens these days, i.e. better schools (or any school), better doctors, and an improved standard of life. John's daughter may not have been in good heath.

It was reported to me that in the Carnegie rare book collection in Las Vegas there were mention of John and Lucy Shank. In one report it was stated that the editor of the Optic (local newspaper) in May 1884 complained of the mobs of children roaming the streets and decried the lack of public school. In September of that year, the superintendent of schools opened the first free, public school in Las Vegas. Classes were held in the remodeled "Prince Building" with two teachers: Mrs. E. A. Hopkins and Mrs. L. A. Shank.

The second mention indicated that in 1887 John Shank was the Superintendent of the streetcar line and was called a "genius" for inventing a switch that allowed turning of the cars without having to unhitch the horses. John Shank may have also managed the first telephone company in Las Vegas. (The ownership of the street car line which ran until 1920 and the telephone company may both have been part of the Las Vegas Electrical Company) (The above researched by K Townsend 11/2000)

Charlotte Shank, daughter of John and his first wife Samantha, died at the age of 21 on May 15, 1892 in Las Vegas, New Mexico. She is buried in the family plot in the Masonic Cemetery, Las Vegas, N.M.

The Federal Census of 1900 for Las Vegas, San Miguel County, New Mexico reported the John, age 55, and Lucy were living and operating a boarding house located on Center Street downtown Las Vegas near Grand and Railroad Streets. (Current name for Center St. may be Lincoln.) In most town particularly those which seem to be growing rapidly due to the arrival of the railroads, housing was at a premium. Anyone with a large house and extra rooms could be in the "boarding" business. This is to say that the 1900 boarding house may not have been John's only occupation but the most obvious at the time of the census. On June 8th, 1900 when the Census was taken the Shanks had seven boarders including a railroad conductor and his wife, a bar tender, and a carpenter.

Although this is in no way a complete history, in some ways we have come full circle from the questions raised in the beginning. We now know a lot about the person who painted Tina's china. We know about the relatives Anna Kane may have first planned to send her children to live with in New Mexico, and two of the people Lena Kane spent several years of her life caring for. We solved the relationship in time and place of John's two wives and his one daughter.

There are still many unanswered questions in this survey. We do not have a lot of details on John's life, his work, or even know for sure where he died. (Even though John is buried in Las Vegas, a certificate of death for him has not been found in either New Mexico or Colorado.) Did John have any other children by either Samantha or Lucy? None have been found and Lucy's obituary which was rather complete did not mention any children or stepchildren. There is also the question raised by Michaela who recalls that at one time Lena took care of relatives who were to leave her their estate but she did not receive what she was promised. Could this have been the John Shank's? Michaela was unclear on the names and places. At this point it is just a story that she remembers hearing, as a girl, either from her mother, Friede, or her Aunt Lena.

It is good that questions remain. It encourages us to travel to La Veta and Las Vegas to search for more information. John may not have been one of the earliest or most prominent settlers in La Veta or Las Vegas, but he arrived before the railroad so that should give him some edge in the local history. We know the Shanks were active in community affairs and businesses. From searching the "Web" I know that both towns are very interested in their own history. Las Vegas has something like 900 historical buildings. Good God! That may be more than in all of California! Although my brother Harvey, who is a commercial building/shopping center architect in Phoenix Az., might find Las Vegas, NM a developers nightmare it could also be a family historian's gold mine.

Later information............
Pioneers of the Santa Fe Trail
Some information was found after I wrote the paper on John Shank. The one below was listed in among historical web sites on Colorado history (even though the information was form a new Mexico newspaper). It is a nice postscript that seems to confirm my belief that the Santa Fe Trail was a part of John Shanks life. About 200 names were listed like Sanchez, Zenobia, Mora. She drove her own team into Kansas City several times. She is about 80 years old. Also listed were John and Lucy Shank. Thank you John for having your name included.
Web Site note: On July 4, 1910, in connection with its annual fiesta, Las Vegas, New Mexico, held what was billed as "The Old Trailer's Reunion." Everyone who had traveled the Santa Fe Trail in "the old days" was invited to attend. The local newspaper, The Las Vegas Daily Optic printed a list of "old trailers," whose names had been sent in to the paper in response to an earlier request in July, on July 30, 1910. Here is that list:

July 30, 1910

In view of the old trailers' reunion in Las Vegas on the Fourth of July, the Optic is publishing a list of the pioneers who traveled the Santa Fe Trail when that great highway between Westport and Santa Fe, was the main artery of commerce between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains. This list is being added to from the day to day, as rapidly the names of old trailers are received. Appended is a complete list to date:
Shank, Mr. and Mrs. John, Las Vegas

Jim and Tina Unti
Oct. 2000
2409 Willow Court, Madera Ca. 93637

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