John Landis

John Landis (1827-1878)

Portrait from Enlistment in the 4th Kansas Infantry, 1861. []

John Landis was born in Allen County, Kentucky and moved to Missouri's Platte Purchase in 1842. He volunteered for the Regular Army for the Mexican War in 1846, fighting in the battles of Palo Alto, Reseca de la Palma and Buena Vista. Returning home, he married Mary Langstone of St. Joseph in 1848. [Lockhard, Norton County, 37ff] In the 1850's he operated a Missouri River ferry between Doniphan, Kansas and Rushville, Missouri. The Bogus Legislature granted him an exclusive license within the town limits of Doniphan at their Shawnee Mission session. The Leavenworth Herald said in March 1855 that he "had a good ferryboat." [Root, Ferries, Part I, 115ff] It was a small ferry, nonetheless, accommodating only one yoke of oxen at a time in 1856. [Werner, Mosquito Creek]

Landis moved his family to the Kansas side of the river in 1854, making a claim in Doniphan County. He was active in politics from the beginning. In 1855, he ran for the first Territorial Legislature but lost to Stringfellow and Kirk. A Democrat and a supporter of fellow Democrat James H. Lane in the Topeka Constitutional Convention in 1856, Landis was remembered by William Addison Phillips this way:

"JOHN LANDIS looks like a border ruffian; but he is not. A right stanch, good free-state man he has been. I am not positive about his politics, but I think he is some kind of a Democrat. " [Phillips, Conquest, 134] Landis voted with fellow Democrats in the convention for limiting citizenship in Kansas to Whites, supported strict enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law but was opposed extension of slavery to the territories. [Lockhard, Norton County, 37ff]

Enlisting in the 4th Kansas Infantry in 1861, he was quickly promoted to Quartermaster Sergeant and remained in the service until 1864. He returned home to his farm near Troy in Doniphan County and to his wife and 11 children. He was active in the life of the county, serving on the building committee of the local school. [Cutler, History, Doniphan County] But he was restless in the settled community and in 1872 he traveled west to Norton County and made a claim in the Solomon River valley near Edmond, Kansas. He spent the winter in Troy, taking his family west in the spring. It was said John Landis "never forgot a friend or forgave an enemy, and when his southern blood was fired it was his boast that he feared the face of no man." He seemed to court trouble. On his western Kansas claim he built a two story log house, with a look-out on top and "made preparation for war," possibly with hostile Indians.

He soon found trouble from other sources. In 1874 grasshoppers destroyed the crops and State aid was ordered for victims. George Hansen was in charge of distribution in Norton County and Landis and others were "dissatisfied with his administration." In January 1875, the unhappy farmers went to Hansen's place, broke in and took the money there to distribute according to their own idea of fairness. Hansen had them arrested for burglary and bound over for trial. The trial resulted in a hung jury and the county attorney did not renew the charges. There was a falling out among the defendants in the process and "from this time on Landis was in trouble continuously." Divisions in the county over the county seat location and over other political and personal matters continued with Landis in the middle of it all.

When wheat stacks belonging to one of his enemies were burned in 1878, Landis was accused. "From this time on nearly every day they sent word to Landis to leave the country or he would be killed. He replied that he would meet them on the open prairie at any time or place and at one time he offered to fight them all at one time, but they had no desire to meet him on equal grounds." One day in September 1878. Landis was shot and killed by a stranger whose claim he had gone to survey. The stranger left immediately but many were convinced that Landis' enemies in the county were behind the killing. [Lockhard, Norton County, 37ff]

Charles Clark