Hiram Northrup: Last of the local Wyandottes

 Hiram NorthrupOn March 23, 1893, the Journal observed the passing of Hiram Northrup, a Kansas City pioneer. He came to Kansas City in 1844 from New York, penniless after the failure of his father’s business, and formed a partnership to trade with Comanche Indians in the southwest. According to the Journal story, the traders were attacked by Osage Indians and “robbed of their entire outfit, and only managed by much cunning to escape with their lives.” Northrup headline

Undeterred, Northrup developed a thriving business, purchasing “everything the Indians had to sell, and he kept in stock all trading post articles for frontiersman and Indians. His business relations were so conducted with the Indians that he always enjoyed their confidence, and has always claimed that in all his dealings with the tribes his losses were less than $100.” Northrup’s trading firm “soon controlled an immense trade that extended far down the Santa Fe trail,” with trading posts all over the West and a wholesale house in Kansas City.

Northrup was adopted as a member of the Wyandotte tribe and married Margaret Clark, a Wyandotte, settling in Kansas City, Kansas (then called Wynadotte city) in “a log house on the south side of Minnesota avenue, just west of where Eighth street now runs.”  He served as a member of the legislative committee of the Wyandottes, on one occasion going to Washington as the tribe’s special agent to argue a disputed claim with the U.S. government.      

IN 1853, Northrup served as Kansas City treasurer, and in 1857, with Joseph Chick, he opened Kansas City’s first banking house, Northrup and Chick. A few years later, during the border wars leading up to the Civil War, the bank was “plundered by a band of Jayhawkers and every penny in the safe carried off." The bank’s operations were relocated to New York.

 Returning to Wyandotte in 1873, Northrup and his son Andruss opened another banking house, the Northrup Banking Company, “a thriving business which has continued to grow,” reports the Journal.

Since most Wyandotte (or Wyandot) people had “left here for their home in the territory,” as the Journal describes the tribe’s relocation to Oklahoma,   the writer refers to Northrup as “the last of the local Wynadottes. For years … Mr. Northrup and “Aunt” Lucy Armstrong, two of the pioneers and leaders, were prominent figures here. They were the old guard left to protect the dust of the tribe that rests in Huron place and Quindaro. Both now are gone and the last sentinel has been removed.[1]

Margaret Northrup tombAfter a funeral attended by many of the Kansas City elite, Northrup was buried alongside Margaret, who had died some years before, in the Huron Indian cemetery in central Kansas City, Kansas.[2]  Northrup tomb

Vandals have destroyed many of the headstones, including part of Northrup’s, but a new headstone has been erected on the old base marking the burial place of Northrup and Margaret. In another spot in the cemetery is the headstone of Andruss Northrup, who had died a year before.

In an editorial, the Journal commented on Northrup's integrity, when "confidence in business men was a different thing than it is now.... Men sent their orders from the mountains, along with their robes, furs, pelts and silver tied up in raw-hide -- all in wagons -- to the merchant, and often did not see him for years. He was banker, broker, commission man, buyer and seller, shipper and receiver for his customer - the only security being individual character."

"No one in these days," say the editors, "can form an idea of the best interests, of the most personal and intimate business trust and confidence which the conditions of a new country imposed with a trade made up of Mexicans, trappers, Indian agents and Indians, as well as the overland traffic to California, all at greater or less distances and on credit running from a year to whenever settlement was practicable. And all these centered in the confidence reposed in the personal character of the merchant."[3]

In April, the Kansas City City Council approved a memorial and resolution honoring Northrup. An alderman lauded Northrup’s role in the city’s development, pointing out that when Northrup was city treasurer four decades earlier the expenses of city government for March were $264, and taxes collected about $64, while the current city government’s budget for the same month was over $75,000.[4]

Northrup died a wealthy man, his estate in land and stocks valued at $1,000,000, more than $25 million in today's dollars.

Soon after his death, his only surviving son Milton and wife Sarah engaged in a messy maintenance suit, with Sarah claiming that Milton had deserted her in 1880 and failed to provide for her or their children. In his place, father-in-law Hiram had supported the family. Under Hiram's will, however, the remainder was to go to Milton and to his children, with none to Sarah, who sued for "the maintenance of herself and her children as would befit her station in life."[5]                                                                                                     

[1]His Life Work Done,” Daily Journal, March 23,1893, p. 3.

[2] “The Burial of a Pioneer.” Daily Journal, March 27, 1893, p. 5.

[3] “Hiram M. Northrup.” Daily Journal, March 23, 1893, p. 4

[4] “For Beauty and Health.” Kansas City Times, April 4, 1893, p. 2.

[5] “Suit for Maintenance.” Daily Journal, June 15, 1893, p. 5.