Reproduced with the permission of the Osawatomie Graphic.

History More Than A Hobby For Homer White of Lane, by Brian Sanders, Staff Writer for the Osawattomie Graphic

February 15, 1996, LANE -- History may be little more than a recurring fancy to some people, but to Homer White of Lane, it was his life.

Photograph of Homer White; casual flannel shirt, strong rectangular face with pleasant features, an engaging smile, and shock of white hair.     The Lane historian has spent the better part of the last 20 years amassing a large collection of historical facts, figures and paper clippings about the area's past.

     "I like to do it," White said of his fact-finding hobby. "I'm just interested in the local history. It takes a lot of work, and it's very time consuming, but it's a lot of fun."

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     WHITE'S INTEREST in Kansas history goes back to his childhood, although he said that some of the stories that his grandfather told him about the old times tended to go "in one ear and out the other."

     But as the youngster White grew older, he began to listen more closely to what his grandfather had to say, and sometimes had to get him to talk.

     "He was Lane's city marshal back in the early 1900s," White said of his grandfather. "He was also a city maintenance worker, and one of his jobs was to pour coal oil in the street lamps. I've got some pictures of him doing that."

     Also in White's photo collection is a snapshot of the first time an automobile came through Lane, which was a big deal at the time, he said.

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     HIS INTEREST in local history began to grow in the early 1940s, when one day, he was out to catch some bait fish, and Harry Pyle, a former neighbor who was living in St. Louis, Mo., stopped by with his mother.

     Pyle asked White if he had some time to look at something -- particularly the graves of the Doyle family members who were killed in the Pottawatomie Massacre of 1856.

     But Pyle's main concern was to make sure that members of the younger generation in the area would not forget where those graves were.

     "His mother's family was the first one to own that property after Mrs. Doyle went back to Tennessee," White said. "That was after (Mrs. Doyle's) husband and her sons were killed."

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     THAT INTEREST in local history did not remain completely active until 1961, when the state of Kansas celebrated its centennial. The Franklin County Historical Society, which was holding driving tours through the area's historic points, asked the late Dolly Belt, a Lane historian, if she would conduct the tour.

     "She asked me to go with her, and she had all of this history written down, and her notes for her talk along the road. She gave me those notes when she got through, and I guess that's what got me started into all of this."

     When Lane was designated as a bicentennial town in 1976, White jumped into the local history again, digging into a lot of local memorabilia that was at the town's exhibition hall. He obtained the original land survey maps from Franklin, Linn, Miami and Douglas counties.

     "They also had the Fort Scott Trail on that thing, which was a road from Fort Scott to Baldwin, where they caught the Santa Fe Trail, and that trail came through Lane," he said. "I just got to digging into more and more of that."

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     WHITE PICKED UP one of his favorite finds, an Andreas History Book of Kansas county-by-county history published around 1881, at an auction. That book contains accounts of the Pottawatomie Massacre.

     "That was one of the major events in the area that led up to the Civil War," he said. "This group that was massacred were all pro-slavery people, and they kind of poured it on anyone else who came into the community as 'free-staters.' They burned people out and threatened them until they went back over into Missouri, or what have you.

     "So when John Brown's group came back from Lawrence, after the sacking of Lawrence the night before, they learned of some of what was going on when they were out in the area. They decided it was time for retaliation, and so they went down to the creek and took them, one by one, as they came."

     Although the big history book's binder has fallen away, the book remains, for the most part, intact.

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     ANOTHER OF White's favorite finds is a letter written to a Kansas City newspaper by "Little House on the Prairie" author Laura Ingalls Wilder. The author had written about a stopover her family made in Lane on the way to Marshfield, Mo.

     Other favorites are an 1878 landowner's atlas, several news clippings of John Brown from the Lawrence Journal-World, a survey map of the area which points out the seat of the Indian headquarters, and "Sentimental Journey," a book created in 1989 by Osawatomie eighth grade students in appreciation of his work.

     "That was a real nice gesture from them," White said.

     White's collection also contains historical documents that were written by members of his own family. One such document is a history of the Quaker church in the area, which was written by his grandmother around 1912.

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     WHITE HAS also been called upon to contribute some of his historical expertise by city leaders who were looking for a short contribution to a cookbook produced for the city's 1993 centennial fair.

     "I was limited to seven pages, so I could only write up until 1910," he said. "So I wrote about the Hanwey quarries, the Pottawatomie Massacre, the bogus legislature, and up through where the Hanweys started their marble factory."

     The brief history also contains accounts of the incorporation of Pottawatomie and Lane townships into one town, as well as the blaze of 1907 which destroyed all of the businesses on the east side of Main Street.

     "They're getting ready to put up another cookbook for this year's fair," White said. "So I'm going to write another history that will continue from where I left off."

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     WHITE KEEPS a file cabinet at home full of historic pictures, maps and clippings, as well as stacks of Kansas State Historical Society quarterlies which date as far back as the 1930s.

     He said he is unsure of how much information that he has picked up over the years, but it was enough to prompt an Osawatomie school teacher to send students his way for information when they were assigned to write about the area's history.

     "The first year they sent someone over here, I just talked to him and gave him a lot of the story," White said. "I took a great big manila file folder and just gave him a whole lot of the stuff that had been written up, along with some pages that I had copied out of Reverend Simmerwell's journal, in reference to the Baptist mission."

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     WHITE TOLD the student to take the wealth of information he had received and do "whatever" with it. The next day, he received a call from the teacher, who asked permission to send more students over for history lessons in later years.

     "He said that I had sent more information in one little packet than he could find in the whole Osawatomie library," White said.

     He also continues to make himself available as a source of information to area students who show interest in local history and a willingness to learn.

     "There are always younger kids coming around who want to know about this story or that story," he said. "Even the kids in the local school come and ask questions about certain things, so I give them some information where they can go and look it up somewhere."

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     WHITE ALSO said that Dolly Belt was a great influence on how he became so interested in local history.

     "She was quite a historian in her own right," he said. "Her father was also quite a historian, too, because he collected a lot and wrote a lot of things himself."

     Mrs. Belt also served on the Franklin County Historical Society's board of trustees for several years. One of her biggest projects while on the board, White said, was to have historical markers installed in Lane, since she believed that the town was "more rich in history than anywhere else in the county," but could not do it.

     Eventually, White finished what Mrs. Belt had set out to do, getting a historical marker put up in the town park in 1982, the same year Mrs. Belt died. The monument was dedicated to Mrs. Belt and her efforts to get Lane recognized as a historical place.

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     BERTHA WHITE, the historian's wife of 29 years, also gets into the act.

     "When we go digging through some of this stuff, I tell her what I'm digging for," he said. "She goes though different stuff and finds different things."

     Most of their trips together have been for genealogical purposes, White said. It is that aspect of the work that Mrs. White has taken well in hand.

     But while they were working on his family genealogy, his wife became interested enough to start looking further into her own family tree and finding about her family's past.

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     ONE OF THESE days, White said, he will organize, and hopefully publish, his vast catalog of historical information so that libraries will have access to the information he keeps.

     "I keep telling myself all the time that I'm going to get it all in some kind of order and publish a book," he said. "But whether I get it done or not is something else.

     "I'm going to at least get into some kind of order, so that somebody can take it all and do something with it. There is a lot of work and a lot of research that's got to be done on all this.

     "But you just don't know where you're going to find some of this stuff."

Copyright, The Osawatomie Graphic; all rights reserved.

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