Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Centennial at the Grass Roots: Finding WWI in Rural Kansas

By James Patton

The Axtell Doughboy
Axtell, Kansas, (pop. 401) is a sleepy little town in Marshall County, about 85 miles northwest of Topeka, the state’s capital city. Axtell isn’t on a main highway and the nearest commercial airport is in Nebraska. Axtell isn’t the county seat. That’s at Marysville (pop. 3,295), 23 dusty miles to the west. Axtell has never been a thriving metropolis—the 1910 population was 748. Nevertheless, she sent 150 of her own to war in 1917–18, including two women: Ruth S.E. Anderson and Claudia Ryan Clay. 

Nineteen local families contributed more than one member. There were four men who didn’t come home: Ray J. Creevan (one of three members of his family who served), Arthur Nelson (one of three Nelson boys), Ray R. Hendricks (also one of three), and Arthur Ross. 

In 1925 the community erected an impressive memorial to them, featuring an E.M. Viquesney “Spirit of the Doughboy” statue in pressed copper, with cast bronze plaques on the pedestal bearing the names of all who served. The monument was placed in the middle of the intersection of Fifth and Maple Streets and cost $1,850, almost all of which was raised by private donation. Ninety years later, the statue is in good condition, missing only the bayonet blade.

Seneca Memorial
(William S. Fischer, Jr. Photo)
As mentioned above, one of those commemorated is Cpl. Raymond R. Hendricks, 38th ("Rock of the Marne") Infantry, 3rd Division, who died in the Meuse Argonne Offensive on 9 October 1918. The local American Legion Post No. 214 was named after him when it was formed, and it still exists today.  The monument was relocated to the northeast corner of the intersection in 1960 and sits (with permission) on land belonging to the Union Pacific railroad, directly across 5th Street from the local feed store. 

Onaga Doughboy
Ten miles east of Axtell is Seneca, Kansas, (pop. 1,991), which is the seat of Nemaha County, where there is another WWI memorial (no Doughboy here, just a bronze eagle) bearing the names of 825 from the county (1910 pop. 19,072) who served, including 32 who didn’t come home. 

Thirty-five miles south of Axtell in Onaga, Kansas, (pop. 702), in the northeast corner of Pottawatomie County (Westmoreland is the county seat), there stands another Doughboy, this one cast in bronze by Viquesney’s arch-rival, John Paulding, also with a broken bayonet.

Two things stand out today from this virtual visit to a chunk of nowhere, parts of three counties in a "fly-over" state: first, that such a large number of the young men and women from here went to war in 1917–18 (and so many died). Second, that having given so freely of their human capital, the people of these tiny communities then gave willingly of their modest wealth so as to memorialize the service and sacrifice of their sons and daughters, and they continue to remember them to this day. None of these monuments has ever been "updated" to include all wars.

 You can read about all of the Kansas WWI memorials here:


  1. Some historians believe the so called Spanish Flu began on the hog farms of Western Kansas.

    1. While Haskell County, Kansas, gets the blame, other "birthplace" options have been advanced, as well. Camp Funston (near Haskell County) had one of the first major outbreaks of the 1918 poandemic and, of course, the flu spread rapidly throughout the military and the world.

  2. I'm from small town, rural Kansas. Our small town, less than 1,800, had about 20 men who served and a few that did not return.

    One of those who did not return died on 11/11/18 of Influenza.

  3. I'm glad to hear they are in good condition still.