African American News and Genealogy

This site was developed to provide you with news that relates to African American Genealogy, History and News. Please feel free to forward this link to others. I hope you enjoy this site and good luck with your research! Cheers, Kenyatta D. Berry Managing Director

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Former slaves from Kentucky help found historic Kansas town

An award-winning children's book about black pioneers in Kansas has a Kentucky connection. "Wagon Wheels is the true story of the Muldie family from Kentucky," said Angela Bates, a historian and writer in Nicodemus, Kan. Ex-slaves, a majority of them Kentuckians, settled historic Nicodemus in 1877. The town was named for the anti-slavery ballad "Wake Nicodemus!" Former slaves from the South and from border states like Kentucky founded several communities in Kansas after the Civil War. Fewer than 30 people live in Nicodemus. "But children from all over the country know about us from Wagon Wheels," Bates said. The little book is a story of tragedy and triumph. The mother dies. The father is forced to leave their three young sons in Nicodemus so he can search for better land far away. In the end, the boys, led by 11-year-old Johnny, the oldest, rejoin their father after trekking more than 150 miles across the prairie. "That's exactly the way it happened," Bates said. Nicodemus sprouted on a flat, treeless plain next to the shallow Solomon River. The first pioneers were almost 300 ex-slaves from the Lexington vicinity who arrived in September, 1877, according to the National Park Service, which operates the Nicodemus National Historic Site. The park service says approximately 175 more freed slaves, mainly from Georgetown, came in the spring of 1878. Apparently, the Muldies were among them. In the beginning, the settlers lived in "dugouts," holes they dug in the ground, Bates said. The homesteaders nearly starved one winter. "But like in the book, the Osage Indians brought them wild game," Bates said. In Wagon Wheels, too, the Muldie boys' father leaves Nicodemus seeking "land with trees and hills." Reluctantly, he orders the boys to stay. "You have shelter and friends here," Daddy says in the book. "...I will send for you when I find a place." "That's also how it happened," Bates said. "Johnny took care of his brothers." Willie was 8. The youngest child, age 3, is "Little Brother" in Wagon Wheels. "Sadly, we don't know the names of the father and mother or the smallest child, or what became of any of them," Bates said. "But the mother died in Topeka on the way to Nicodemus." Following a map their father mailed them, the boys walked 22 days to find him near Solomon City, Kan. Years later, Johnny remembered that they braved "several storms" and eluded "wild beasts in the woods." Wagon Wheels, written by Barbara Brenner and illustrated by Don Bolognese, is based on records kept by the late Lulu Sadler Craig, a Nicodemus teacher and the town's first historian. Craig was also Bates' cousin. Founder and executive director of the Nicodemus Historical Society, Bates and others helped get Nicodemus declared a National Historic Landmark and National Historic Site. ___ On the Net: Nicodemus National Historic Site: Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


  • At 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thank you Kenyatta for the info on the the Muldie family. My 2nd grade group is currently reading the book and wanted to know exactly where the Muldie's began their trip
    and what caused Mama's death. They are also hoping that someone might know what happened to Daddy and the boys in their later life.


Post a Comment

<< Home