Metaphorically speaking, I like to unravel things, mostly puzzles. I am fascinated by the tangles and knots of life and find satisfaction in determining their causes.

That is what led me to my main career as a clinical social worker/therapist. Helping clients identify those factors causing them discomfort and searching for new ways to resolve disease was both challenging and rewarding. In recent years, that “unraveling” has mostly been about history and clarifying something that happened in the past.

For several years now, I have been wanting to prove that Susan B. Anthony, one of my personal “herstory heroes,” visited Osawatomie. It seemed to me that she had to have done so. Her brother Merritt lived here and even fought in the second Battle of Osawatomie. Rev. Samuel Adair performed the marriage ceremony for her brother Daniel and his wife. Couldn’t Susan have been here some time?

We know she came to Kansas in 1867 with Elizabeth Cady Stanton to address the then-fearsome issue of “Wimmen’s Rights.” There is sufficient documentation to show that she spoke in both Paola and Mound City, so why not Osawatomie? One major problem is that there was no newspaper in Oz at that time. Earlier ones had folded, and the Graphic had not yet begun publication.

I keep reading and looking for threads. Someday, I’ll find my answer.

Another appealing historic figure who seemed to be everywhere in the middle 1800s was Col. James A. Coffey, founder of my first home town — Coffeyville — and of Humboldt. My issue with the Colonel is determining if he helped Mr. Anthony and others to defend the town at the 1856 B of O. I found him listed in only one source. That’s not enough. Coffey was at Wakarusa at the right time, but was he here? The closest I’ve come to pulling that thread is a single incident described by W. A. Mitchell in his valuable “Linn County Kansas: A History.”

That 1928 recounting of Mitchell’s memories and research gives breadth to some of our local lore. He puts a Coffey in this area, “scolding” our William Chestnut for not enforcing election laws. Is that “my” Col. Coffey, though?

It’s hard to be certain. It takes effort to distinguish between fact and surmise or fiction. That’s not only true for historians and history buffs but also increasingly for all of us. The proliferation of opinion and propaganda as fact has infected our society and is, in part, responsible for our present cultural divide.

It is the duty of historians to get the story right. Maybe that can be a goal for each of us to consider as we make our New Year’s resolutions. I won’t make any claims about Susan and the Colonel until I can prove them. I’ll try to do the same with other expressed opinions.

Margaret Hays is a longtime Osawatomie resident who writes a weekly column for The Miami County Republic.

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