Furniture helps tell story of early Wichita – Wichita Eagle

The furniture of J.R. Mead, one of Wichita’s earliest pioneers and settlers, has been restored, re-upholstered and polished to once again be on display, this time at Old Cowtown Museum.

The pieces – a settee, four chairs, a table and a trunk – date to the late 19th century and are in the Eastlake style, known for its decorative carvings and natural wood grain finishes.

“Some of the furniture was brought to Wichita from the family home in Davenport, Iowa, and other pieces were acquired here after Wichita was settled,” said Jacky Goerzen, director at Old Cowtown.

Mead came to Kansas in 1859 at the age of 21 – before Kansas statehood – and settled in the Smoky Hill region by Salina. He and two other men operated a trading post.

In 1863, he established another trading post at Towanda in Butler County.

Two years later, he attended the signing of the Little Arkansas River Peace Treaty.

He was friends with Jesse Chisholm, Kit Carson, William “Buffalo Bill” Mathewson and William Greiffenstein – all of whom played a role in the development of Wichita and the Old West.

Mead, as one of Wichita’s early developers, suggested that a new town springing up be named after the Wichita Indians.

He organized the Wichita and Southwestern Railroad to bring Santa Fe rail service to Wichita from Newton and then was one of the four horsemen who intercepted Texas cattle drives headed for Park City and on to the Kansas Pacific railroad in Ellsworth. He laid out a 114-foot-wide Douglas Avenue and donated it to the city as a public thoroughfare. He persuaded Col. Marshall Murdock to come to Wichita to start a daily newspaper, The Eagle.

That’s why, Goerzen said, the furniture is such an important symbol for Old Cowtown.

The furniture was donated to the museum in 1990 by Ignace Mead Jones, daughter of J.R.

Ignace Fern Mead was born on April 20, 1902, in the master bedroom of the 14-room Mead mansion at 433 N. Wabash, the first of two daughters born to the 66-year-old, twice-widowed Mead and his 23-year-old third wife, Fern. A photograph depicts a 3-year-old Ignace standing on the furniture in 1905.

Mead died in 1910, when Ignace was 20 days shy of her eighth birthday. She would devote much of her life to preserving her father’s stories and the city he helped develop.

“This furniture belonged to one of the founders of Wichita,” Goerzen said. “We don’t have a lot in our collection that belonged to J.R. Mead – the trunk has his named signed on the side. We think this is a way to get his story out more. We have the Munger House, and we talk about Darius Munger; we have the Murdock House and talk about Marshall Murdock. I would love to have an entire exhibit devoted to J.R. Mead. It is wonderful to have something that significant of his.”

Goerzen said staff members at Old Cowtown wanted the furniture refinished as a tribute to former curator Teddie Barlow, who died in October.

“When you think of early Wichita, to have something so tangible and major as furniture from J.R. Mead is something we can be proud of,” Goerzen said. “It is already on display in our furniture store.”

Old Cowtown Museum

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays

Admission: $7.75 for adults, $6.50 for ages 62 and older, $6 for ages 12-17 and $5.50 for ages 4-11

Address: 1865 W. Museum Blvd.

Info: http://www.oldcowtown.org

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