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Wichita's Beginnings

​The structures in the Wichita’s Beginnings Area center on the area's first economic activities. Many men came to the Great Plains to hunt fur-bearing animals of all kinds. The sale of their skins was quite profitable, especially the buffalo. As they killed so many buffalo at one time, most took only the choice pieces of meat and left the rest for the prairie scavengers. The collection of the bleached bones from the buffalo carcasses created a "bone trade" that provided more economic activity. Traders interacted with the area's Native American population, arriving settlers, as well as the hunters. Many of the hunters and traders also engaged in hauling freight to the “Indian Territory” (Oklahoma). As most of the Native Americans had been moved from the area to the south, they were promised government goods by treaty. These activities all combined to provide a solid economic base to begin a town which continued into the Cattle Trade era of Wichita.


Heller Cabin

The Heller Cabin is interpreted as a trading post on the plains, such as what J.R Mead or “Dutch Bill” Greiffenstein might have occupied. The hunting and trading activities are the primary economic draw to the early settlement of Wichita. The area around Wichita was important to the Native Americans for hunting and trading. Non-Native American hunters and traders capitalized on the natural resources of the area i.e.: buffalo, elk, deer, antelope, and on trading with the Indians. Hunting, trading, freighting and government subsidies for supplying goods to the Native Americans south of Wichita remained an important economic base for the city throughout the 1870s. The prairie trade lingered with buffalo hunting, with the hide and meat trade as well as the bone trade continued to provide business after the arrival of the railroad. The hunting culture paved the way, as well as overlaps, the cattle and farming economy that builds Wichita.

Heller Cabin was built by Civil War veteran Leonhard Hoffman, who expertly cut and pieced the logs together. Its log construction aspects, including notching and flooring, are different from that of Old Cowtown Museum's Munger House or the Trapper's Cabin, both of which were built during the same time period.

The cabin was donated to Old Cowtown Museum by the estate of Wichita resident Donna B. Heller. The restoration process that began in April 2009 and was opened in October 2009.

Its addition to Old Cowtown Museum was especially significant as it is considered as one of the top 10 intact structures in the United States from the settlement period. This rank was given to the cabin by Douglass C. Reed of Preservation Associates in Hagerstown, Maryland, who originally assessed the structure in 2002. Reed is a nationally known preservationist, author and historian on the subject.

Historic Wichita Cowtown, Inc. funded the efforts to move Heller Cabin from Elmo, Kansas to Old Cowtown Museum and its restoration.


Trapper's Cabin

In addition to hunting fur bearing animals, others used traps instead of guns. The Trapper’s Cabin is interpreted as a structure that was used by a trapper as a residence and a base of operations. While a less lucrative occupation, it continued to profit from the prairie as did the buffalo hunters, traders and freighters.

This hand-hewn, cottonwood log cabin originally stood near the Chisholm Trail several miles south of present-day Clearwater, Kansas. It was built around 1865 on the south bank of the Ninnescah River by an unknown individual.

When the Osage Trust Lands were opened for settlement, a man named Kincaid filed a claim on the land occupied by the cabin and lived there with his family. He sold the property in 1878 to Adrian Sautter, an immigrant from Switzerland. He built a new frame house connecting the cabin which was then used as a summer kitchen. By 1934 the cabin had been completely incorporated into a larger house which accounts for its preserved state. The structure was donated to Old Cowtown Museum by Sautter's son, Louis A. Sautter, in 1969.


Munger House

Darius S. Munger of Topeka was sent by the Wichita Town Company in 1868 to create the town of Wichita. Though others lived in the area, his was the first formal attempt to build a town. In 1869 he completed this story and a half residence on a plot of land near 9th and Waco. It served as the core of the original platted town site. The structure is considered to be the first substantial structure in Wichita.

All of the building materials come from the river bank vicinity with the exceptionof the hardware and windows, which had to be freighted from Emporia. The logs are hand-hewn cottonwood, the floors are walnut and samples of the original plaster still exist on the second floor. A log barn stood between the house and the river.

Due to Munger's role in the development of the fledgling town, his family residence served many functions, including that of Post Office, boarding house, meeting place and office of the Justice of the Peace.

In 1874 W.C. Woodman, an early entrepreneur and Wichita's first banker, purchased the Munger House. Woodman enlarged and improved the structure until it was completely integrated inside a Victorian house that he named "Lakeside Mansion". The Munger House was rediscovered when Lakeside was demolished in the 1940s.

The Eunice Sterling Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution purchased the cabin to preserve the city's heritage and donated it to Historic Wichita Cowtown, Inc. in 1949. The Munger House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.