The entrance to New Santa Fe Cemetery tells a story of a community of pioneers before suburban development.

Telling History in Stories

When I was seven, I would saunter up the hill to an old burial ground called the New Santa Fe Cemetery, an area that felt as if it were a time capsule amid development.

By Diane Euston

  In March 2017, I received a phone call from a woman unknown to me. She’d heard that I wrote a blog about the history of Kansas City, and she wanted to know if I was interested in contributing stories to this little startup newspaper called The Martin City Telegraph. 

  That call came from Kathy Feist, editor of the Telegraph, a paper which hit the streets in 2015.

  My undergraduate degree from Avila was in Communications, and I did write many years earlier for Avila’s newspaper, The Talon– but my journalistic skills were definitely rusty. Regardless, I loved the idea of expanding my audience and sharing my love of history. History should be fun, I always said. It should be told in stories. 

  Most of you who flip to the back of the paper to locate my bimonthly column likely don’t know how incredibly odd it is that I, Diane Euston, would be labeled a historian – someone who loves to dig into records and report the fun, unknown stories about our city’s history to the masses.

  Just ask my American History teacher from Grandview High School, the infamous Mary Beth Craddock. She’ll tell you this was quite unexpected; I wasn’t exactly a teenager with a thirst for knowledge.

  In hindsight, this journey has been unconventional but extremely rewarding. I want to take you on an early journey of my history – Let’s look at what led me as a child to a place where pioneers once farmed the land we converted into subdivisions.

Left to right: Diane Euston with her cousins, Karen and Mary, spent countless hours exploring.

A Child on the Santa Fe Trail

  It’s hard to put into words the objective behind my historical journey, but I had my reasons.

  It all started when I was a little girl. To be clear, I’m a 43-year-old teacher now, but my “little girl status” seems like only a few years ago. But, alas, it has been 35 (gasp!) years, and every year has taught me something new. My genealogical journey truly started when I was about seven years old.

  While many were “Livin’ on a Prayer” and others were “Walking like an Egyptian,” I was walking up the street to a desolate stretch of land stamped with history. As we built around this land, a time capsule lived on in a small cemetery on Santa Fe Trail in Jackson County, Mo. This cemetery on Santa Fe Trail between Wornall and State Line is the heart of my love of history.

  My amazing parents, Helen and Larry, built their simple ranch home in a subdivision dubbed “New Santa Fe” in 1974. This little subdivision is nestled in what was then considered south Kansas City – and was still pretty isolated.  Just next door, Verona Hills was being slowly developed by J.C. Nichols, farm roads still crossed the landscape, State Line Road was a two-lane highway with no lights, and the Leawood Drive Inn was the biggest landmark within miles.

  This was my home. And my parents made it work.

An early photo looking south from Santa Fe Trail showing the development of Verona Hills in the early 1970s.

  I heard a lot of stories growing up about how there was a famous trail which crossed within the very foundations of this suburban development. I can still vividly remember when a group of reenactors – complete with a wagon train – trekked up the Santa Fe Trail. I can still hear the clanking of the horse’s hooves on the paved street.

  I consider myself so blessed. The area matured as houses coated the rolling hills – the land to the south of my little house grew into a subdivision called Timber Trace, and I felt as if I traced those woods before any other. When I was little, it was nothing more than woods separating Blue Hills from our little hidden cul-de-sac. 

  I was my own pioneer. My imagination soared; directly across the street from my house was a little field, unoccupied and mowed by Ron Hodgden. He wished to keep the neighborhood clean and the land was not developed, nor is it to this day. Just to the south of the land was a white barn. And just past that was a home that fascinated me to the core- the Watson Farm- a house built pre-Civil War that originally functioned as a tavern along the Trail. I never thought much about the land in the valley, but I knew it was special.

  I grew up with history oozing around me. And, boy, how I am grateful. I used to shimmy through an old fence to trespass on land known as the Watson Farm isolated from everything else. I knew it was old, but how old was a mystery to me. I loved standing in front of the Watson Farm- that old, white brick house that was regal even over a century later.

  Growing up on a street nestled next to “Santa Fe Trail” gave me a clue from history class and from stories surrounding me that I was someplace unique- even preserved, in a way.

  When I was seven, I would saunter up the hill to an old burial ground called the New Santa Fe Cemetery, an area that felt as if it were a time capsule amid development. This is where my true fascination began, or so I tell people now. Even as a young child, I was drawn to these people marked in stone. I felt connected to them in a way I cannot aptly put into words, nor would I want to. I would enter past the gates as a guest and feel like family. 

  I can remember asking my mother to buy the materials to do grave rubbings. I wanted to connect with these strangers – these people that lived before me. The Red Bridge Library was my next stop. I danced around the shelves, looking for information about the people that I connected with in that cemetery. I wanted to know everything.

  This was my first real attempt at genealogy work, and I was less than a decade old.

Matt Euston (left) with author Diane Euston (right) in her backyard circa 1983.

The New Santa Fe Trailer

  As the years went by, I stumbled through life doing some amazingly fun things with the neighborhood crew: my brother, Jeff, my cousins, Jason and Matt (who lived in one of the historic lots just up the street), Angelo Trozzolo and his sisters, Jill and Sarah, Molly O’Dower, Ray Clark, the McInerneys, the Syretts – and a host of other kids. I can vividly remember carving out a trail (ironic) in the woods behind Santa Fe Trail. The objective was to find an outlet to the gas station on State Line. In 1987, it was called “Pip’s,” and Pip’s had everything! We would shovel our way through the woods in any season to get some candy and explore. 

  A gas station stands on the site now, but it doesn’t hold the nostalgia of that beat-down Pip’s. 

  My two best friends/cousins, Karen and Mary, moved from California about this time and would come over to our house to do some exploring of our own. This led to “The Mystery Club,” where we would oftentimes trespass on the old Watson Farm’s territory and create new adventures to solve. Did I mention we found a treasure map? And, there was quicksand near the creek?

  Some of the early entrepreneurs of our subdivision, New Santa Fe, such as Angelo Trozzolo used an early Apple computer to publish a neighborhood paper called The Santa Fe Trailer. This is where the name of my blog originated from- the old newspaper. We took an old red wagon and filled it with copies, knocking on doors to distribute the newspaper to the willing recipients. At this time, there was even a “rival” newspaper called 122nd Terrace Express published by the older and wiser Mike Micco.

  My childhood in 1987 was awesome.

The first ever Santa Fe Trailer “newspaper” published by the very talented Angelo Trozzolo certainly had “breaking news” for our small cul-de-sac!

Exploring the Names Etched in Stone

  Who was Dabney Lipscomb? What about his son, Nathan? What do you mean people stopped in this town that no longer existed to gather supplies to explore the West? That cemetery held some serious questions for a seven-year-old.

  Those names I found on the old headstones, carved carefully in the once-thriving town of New Santa Fe, fascinated me. I remember as a child learning that Dabney Lipscomb, born in 1806 in Kentucky, bought farmland that included current-day Verona Hills.

   Dabney’s goal was to establish a town – a center full of materials, expertise and the ability to assist the brave on their trip to the Wild West. The town of New Santa Fe, established in 1852, would have been the last official town in the United States – everything to the west belonged to the Native American tribes.

  These graves fascinated me. One of my other favorite haunts inside the cemetery was the infamous “Horse Thief” grave in the northwest corner. The granite marker there now has been replaced more recently, and when I was little, the grave matched the legend. It was primitive. Out of place. Scary.

  Of course, that meant we kids loved it! The story we were told was that a horse thief came through the town of New Santa Fe and stole a horse from one of the locals. At the time, horse stealing was a big deal, and the community went on a large manhunt to discover the culprit. When they found him nearby, they had a quick trial and utilized the old “vigilante justice.” They strung the thief up to a tree and hanged him on the spot.

  That story was enough to make any child want to know more about this crazy frontier town! 

  When I was a kid, I always made a point to deliver a few flowers on Memorial Day to the Horse Thief’s grave. And the best part was that I wasn’t the only person. The Horse Thief always seemed to have a few sprigs of flowers resting on his headstone.

The Horse Thief’s grave at New Santa Fe Cemetery. Photo by Diane Euston

Turning Back to My First Love: New Santa Fe

  I contribute the love of history and genealogy to these experiences, as insignificant and naive as they may seem. In 2000, my grandmother passed away, and everything became very real. I had to know more about my own family. As most amateurs do, I started with my last name – Euston. Within a few years, I had gathered information on their history and had expanded, per my mother’s request, to her side. A visit to distant relatives in Belgium rekindled my true passion for all things historical.

  In 2004, I became a certified professional genealogist. It took me ten more years to revisit my first love: New Santa Fe.

  A chance meeting at a local store had my mother explaining to the President of the Historical Society of New Santa Fe that I was “really good” at research. An opportunity to help secure a grant through the Daughters of the American Revolution had the Historical Society sold. Within a few weeks, I was 100% devoted to erecting a plaque to honor the members of the church that stood in New Santa Fe until it was torn down (despite preservation efforts) in 1971. The church was once part of that historic graveyard that fascinated me as a child.

  As I started my research, I found the historical records weren’t enough to truly demonstrate the effect this church’s demise had on the pioneer families that continued living in the area generations after the town had lost its true steam as a town of importance. I spent months combing over records, taking hundreds of pages of notes and organizing information. 

  With the stories running dry and the information weak, I began to contact members of the families who attended the church in this historic, lost town. I met with the McGees, the Wilsons, the McKinneys, the Klapmeyers and countless other families that once worshiped at the church and buried their kinfolk in the cemetery.

  I learned of sacrifices, devotion and family. I heard of pioneers living on the frontier of injustice in midst of the chaos of the Civil War. I heard of legends and love lost. In a short time, I, too, fell in love with these people all over again – just as I had when I first met some of them in the cemetery at seven years old.

    In some ways, I believe that a higher power was guiding me back to this old town on the Santa Fe Trail and securing a future for me that I hadn’t even imagined.

  I felt as if my research for the plaque wasn’t enough; I needed to tell the story of these people on a deeper level. I had already done a lot of the tough “digging” in records, and I wanted to share with the world what I have found out.  

  This is why I began my blog, The New Santa Fe Trailer in April 2016, and this is how Kathy from The Martin City Telegraph found me just a year later. 

  And, the rest is history.

  Since writing online and for the newspaper, I also began teaching a class at Grandview High School devoted to Kansas City History. I also now also teach Journalism – which may not surprise you but certainly still surprises me. In 2019, my friend and 610 Sports Anchor Bob Fescoe and I started a podcast called “Kansas City: 2 States, 1 Story.” We record monthly episodes talking about Kansas City’s really cool past.

  As if I didn’t have enough going on, I decided to pursue a second master’s degree in 2019. I tell history in stories – and I honestly don’t love how most of our history is written. It’s dry. It’s infested with citations. However, I didn’t love the idea that I was being labeled a “historian” when I had zero credentials to back that up. 

  I decided I’d get a masters in history partially to prove to myself that I was worthy of a “historian” title. In the summer of 2019, I started taking classes through Missouri State University. In the past few weeks, I completed my thesis on one of Kansas City’s founders, William Gilliss and took my final comprehensive exam. Fingers crossed – I will have a masters in history under my belt.

The New Santa Fe Cemetery. Photo by Diane Euston

Telling Stories 

  I feel today as if I’m still that tan-skinned, bleach blonde little girl swerving around the graves of the cemetery with the curiosity to ask questions about those who rested there. We can learn so much for their survival and dedication. It’s been my hope when I first started this journey to share the stories of these people from the past. I hope only to give their stories credibility, life and circulate information for  generations to come.

  I hope that through my writing, you have felt a connection to the past. I want everyone to feel as if they are that little girl in that cemetery.

Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com 

 

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