Into the Wild

When Orel Lovewell Poole compiled the story of her grandparents' life in 1958 she knew exactly one fact about her grandfather's connection with Marshall County, Kansas - that he had lived there briefly in the mid-1850’s.  By the time she found that scrap of paper in the National Archives which tied him to Territorial Kansas, the one source who could have told her all about the ill-fated adventure, her grandmother, Orel Jane (Davis) Lovewell, was long gone.  Although Thomas was married to Orel Jane’s Aunt Nancy at the time of his short-lived flirtation with Marshall County, Orel Jane had been there as well.

In fact, Marshall County left a faint echo in Orel Jane’s 1928 obituary, which states that she had first come to Kansas with her parents in 1856, the year she turned thirteen.  Unfortunately, whoever wrote her obituary was under the impression that it was Jewell County where Vinson Perry Davis had brought his family that year.  Testing the waters in “Bleeding Kansas” may not have been part of the verbal history that percolated through Thomas and Orel Jane Lovewell’s family, but descendants of Orel Jane’s brother Daniel Davis and his wife Duranda, never forgot that Daniel had proclaimed the place “too wild” to explain why the whole disgruntled Davis clan quickly packed up their wagons and retreated to Iowa.  

When Daniel delivered his benediction, he may have been thinking of the withering drought which held a stranglehold on the territory just then, or the pestilential miasma that seemed to creep up out of the Black Vermillion to suck the life out of his family’s two children, the young daughter they had brought to Kansas Territory, and a newborn boy named Kansas Victory Davis.  However, it’s also possible that the comment about the region’s being “too wild” was directed at a few of their neighbors.

According to the 1858 census of eligible voters, the man who might be considered the founder of the fledgling settlement along the Black Vermillion was Louis Tremblé, who gave his date of arrival as November 1854, only six months or so before J. D. Wells and other pioneers followed his lead.  Marshall County resident Keith Jones cites one historian who believes the frontiersman with the French name may have arrived on the scene much earlier.  There’s no denying that Tremblé and the rest of his crowd would have struck some of their fellow settlers as more than a touch wild.

Various histories say settlement in the Black Vermillion Valley in southern Marshall County began with the arrival of Louis Tremblé, who lived somewhere south of the Black Vermillion River in what is now section two, Bigelow Township at least as early as 1854 and possibly as early as 1850.  He had a blacksmith shop and operated a toll crossing the the Independence branch of the California-Oregon Trail crossed the Black Vermillion River.  The route to the Rockies through here changed dramatically from the 1820’s to the 1840’s, but by the mid 1840’s it crossed the Black Vermillion where Tremblé operated his crude corduroy shallow-water bridge, sometimes called “The Mormon Crossing.”

Pre-territorial historian Morris Werner believes Louis Tremblé was a half-breed Pottawatomie Indian, who mistakenly established himself south of the Black Vermillion believing it was a part of the Pottawatomie Indian Reservation.  Werner’s research suggests that Tremblé was there before Kansas became a territory, and according to Werner, there was confusion about where the northern boundary of the Pottawatomie reservation was located.  Some believed it was the Black Vermillion River.  If so, then Louis Tremblé could not have established himself at the Black Vermillion any earlier than 1846 when the Pottawatomie Reservation was carved out of the old (and first) Kaw Reservation.  It appears that Tremble’s wife was a Sioux, because there are indications that he and his family joined up with the Sioux tribe after he left Kansas.

Tremblé vanished from Marshall County history sometime during our late Territorial period.  In 1855, William Darnell was a ten-year-old boy when his family settled near present-day Westmoreland.  In his reminiscences, recorded several years later, he said Tremblé “had a shop on the Pottawatomie Reservation, near where the California road crossed the Black Vermillion” and he “was obliged to remove his shop from the reservation,” which would suggest Tremblé didn’t have legal title to his land there.  So when Tremblé was “obliged to move” his father swapped an “old gun” for Tremblé’s blacksmithing equipment.  Darnell also said Tremblé was a “man killer” who got into a quarrel with a man named Vasseur, and during the altercation Vasseur shot Tremblé “inflicting a serious though not fatal wound.”  Afterword Tremblé vowed to kill Vasseur when he got well, and “This he later did, shooting his victim from ambush.”

The centennial book, The Frankfort Story, under the heading “Territorial items in 1855, ’56 & ’57,” taken from original territorial record book, Court House, Marysville,” shows Tremblé was “appointed constable in and around Vermillion River” in 1856.

One assumes that he was appointed constable before bushwacking Vasseur, not afterward.  Besides having legal issues over his land, surely Tremblé moved on, partly because he found the neighborhood of the Black Vermillion valley quickly becoming much too tame.

© Dale Switzer 2023