Poole of Knowledge

While at the Center for Historical Research in Topeka in 2006 I found a copy of “Sketches of the White Rock,” Orel Elizabeth (Lovewell) Poole’s original history of her grandfather and the settlement of White Rock.  It had been run off on a Ditto Machine or "spirit duplicator" many decades earlier.  The telltale purple typeface was still only slightly faded, but the edges of the pages were yellowed and brittle with age, and torn from being thumbed through a hundred times.  I thought it was a shame that the work existed only in this rough, fragmentary shape and had never been properly published.  I was wrong, of course.  Her information had been amended and polished and run through rotary printing presses several times under different titles.

Orel Poole’s “Sketches of the White Rock” formed the core of a history of the valley serialized in the Belleville Telescope in 1958, leading up to the dedication of Lovewell Reservoir.  Her version of Thomas Lovewell’s life story was also adapted by Sherman Lee Pompey for his 1962 genealogical tome about the Lovells of England and America and the Lovewells of America, “The Wolf and Little Wolf.”  I thought that might be the end of it until I ran across something unexpected in a Feb. 9, 1978 issue of the Telescope. 

To Whom it may concem: My husband's double cousin, Orel Lovewell Poole, has a book published by you people.  The title is "History of Republic County 1868-1964", by Republic County Historical Society.  We would like to obtain a copy of this book. Please let us know what the cost would be.


Very sincerely,

Mrs. James Franklin Lovewell 

(Editor's Note: We have tried to obtain a copy of this book for you, but It has been unavailable for several years. Perhaps you can buy one from someone that Is willing to sell theirs. We understand the book has been acquired by those that have advertised for it and offered $20 In order to get them.)

Mrs. James Franklin Lovewell is probably better known as Gloria Gay Lovewell, the researcher who published “The Lovewell Family” later that same year.  I now own a copy of the Republic County history book Gloria Lovewell was so eager to get her hands on, a recent gift from my friend Chuck Westin at Belleville.  Before it arrived quite unexpectedly in the mail last fall, I had to trudge off to the Pittsburg State University Axe Library every time I needed to consult a copy, somehow failing to notice that the lengthy section on White Rock Township was pieced together and submitted by Mrs. Chet Poole, a.k.a. Orel Elizabeth Poole.  Seeing Gloria Loverwell’s letter to the editor reminded me that Mrs. Lovewell dedicated her own book to Orel Elizabeth Poole and credited her husband’s cousin with preserving so many of her grandparents’ stories.  Since Roy Alleman’s “The Bloody Saga of White Rock” is largely a fictional retelling of the Thomas Lovewell tales from Gloria Lovewell’s volume of family history, that makes three more books informed by the writings of Orel Poole.

She came to a few mistaken conclusions.  Preferring an early date for the arrival of the Lovewells at White Rock and armed with a single scrap of information to support her theory, she places Thomas on the scene in the spring of 1865.  Unfortunately, at least a dozen sources have come to light, including Thomas Lovewell’s own testimony, establishing the fact that the family settled in Republic County no sooner than the spring of 1866.  Her mistake had a trickle-down effect, leading writer Roy Alleman to imagine an 1865 meeting between Thomas Lovewell and George Armstrong Custer at the Lovewell cabin, during a time when there was no cabin and neither man had arrived in Kansas.  When I started investigating land records, I was surprised to find that Thomas put off filing his Homestead application until January 1867, several months later than some of his neighbors who arrived in the county shortly after he did.  Thomas Lovewell was much less interested in establishing his bona fides as a pioneer than in claiming the exact piece of ground he really wanted.

Orel Poole could also put too much faith in her family’s recollection of events that had happened fifty years earlier, or in her understanding of exactly what they meant.  Contradicted by the several historical sources lined up against her, she stubbornly clung to the idea that the 1867 ambush of Vinson Davis and the man she calls “Andy” Bump occurred in Jewell County instead of Cloud County.  She may have heard Orel Jane Lovewell reminisce about seeing her wounded father being carried into the house after he was shotgunned by peddlers.  Either Orel Jane remembered it as being her cabin at White Rock, or Orel Poole just assumed it was that same cabin.  In fact, no white settlers were living at White Rock just then.  The April massacre had happened only a few weeks earlier, and settlers from Jewell and Republic counties were houseguests at Lake Sibley, Elk Creek, Clyde and Clifton.        

Would Thomas Lovewell be such a familiar figure in North Central Kansas without the tireless promotion of his granddaughter, the unofficial historian of White Rock?

Even without her involvement, we would still have Winsor and Scarbrough’s “History of Jewell County,” published in 1878, reprinted in local newspapers early in the 20th century, its text readily available today on the Internet.  The village of Lovewell, now a ghost town but once the fastest-growing trade center in the county, was founded and christened ten years before she was born.  As far as I know, Orel Poole never lobbied to have Lovewell Reservoir or Lovewell State Park named after her grandfather, though she was no doubt thrilled by the turn of events.  The project was named after the local pioneer at the suggestion of State Director of the National Reclamation Association Will Dannefer, who grew up near Lovewell and was a friend of the Lovewell family.

Thus, without Orel Poole, Thomas Lovewell might still be regarded as a local folk hero, and, thanks to Winsor and Scarbrough, interested researchers could even read a few tales from his days of derring-do on the Plains.  What we would lack is what Orel Poole added, the homespun texture of everyday life along the Kansas frontier, target practice with a gun that kicked so hard it nearly broke Orel Jane’s nose, a runaway mule that left her stranded alone on the prairie for two days, a buffalo skin that nearly scared the life out of her one night when she caught sight of it draped over a chair.

We could still learn something about Thomas Lovewell’s story.  The question is, without Orel Poole’s lifetime of research and storytelling, would anyone go to the trouble?

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com