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‘Women Writers on the Santa Fe Trail’ author to speak in Wellington Saturday

Dr. Leon Olivia

Sumner Newscow report – Dr. Leo Oliva, author and former professor of history at Fort Hays State University, will present “Women Writers on the Santa Fe Trail” to members and guests of the Sumner County Historical & Genealogical Society on Saturday, March 18 at 1 p.m. at the Wellington Public Library. Everyone is invited to attend the free program.

Olivia is fascinated by 19th Century Kansas early settler’s history, Native-American, and military history, and is currently working on a book with Alice Anne Thompson about women who traveled the Santa Fe Trail.

“I’m mostly interested in the 19th century,” Oliva said, “20th Century seems too recent.”

Dr. Oliva has been a member of the Kansas Humanities Council Speakers Bureau since 2010. He attended college at Ft. Hays State, received his PhD from the University of Denver, Colorado, and is the author of a dozen books, most about frontier military history (including Soldiers on the Santa Fe Trail and six of the eight fort histories in the Kansas Forts Network series).

 “We are working to find stories on all the women that we can,” Oliva said, adding that they are continually finding new stories, many coming from the descendants of those women.

 Oliva said that the trail was used by a very diverse group of people: African-American slaves and non-slaves, whites, Native Americans, Mexicans, and more.

 According to Oliva, Susan Shelby Magoffin, Kentucky, was granddaughter of Isaac Shelby, the first governor of Kentucky, and traveled the trail in 1846 with her husband’s wagon train.

 “There was an African-American woman who served in the Army for two years,” Oliva said.

 “We think that she decided she wanted out of the Army because of the poor treatment of African-Americans in the service,” Oliva said, “even the discharge papers don’t state that she was a woman.”

 “Another woman served in the Mexican American war and was discharged without any mention of her being a woman,” Oliva said, “she applied for a land warrant and the soldiers testified in her behalf and she got her land grant.”

 Marian Sloan Russell traveled the trail five times from the age of 7 to 17, with her “single” mother. Marian’s mother, Eliza Sloan, was married to an Army officer.

According to Oliva, Marian’s grandsons have located two marriage records for Marian’s mother Eliza, but no divorce records. From all evidence, she traveled the trail with her daughter, married and remarried, and – leaving both husbands behind, though not divorcing either, continued to travel the trail. (Possibly to avoid being in the same area as either of her ex-husbands?) Oliva said that she even ran a boarding house at Ft. Hays for a short time.

Lydia Spencer Lane, who was an Army officer’s wife, traveled the trail at least 7 times, Oliva said, and Katie Bowen traveled the trail in 1851, and suffragist and abolitionist Julia Archibald Holmes, traveled the Santa Fe Trail across Kansas Territory to the Rocky Mountains, where she became the first woman to climb Pike’s Peak.

Dr. Oliva is a founding member of the Santa Fe Trail Association and Fort Larned Old Guard, served as editor of the Santa Fe Trail Association Quarterly, Wagon Tracks, for 25 years and writes a weekly newspaper column titled “Our Kansas Heritage.”

 Dr. Oliva and his wife Bonita operate the family farm in north-central Kansas.

For information or weather cancellations: President Jane Moore - 620-441-9835 or Vice-President Sherry Kline at 316-833-6161.

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