Early Day Pioneer

John Biringer, Gunmaker

As pioneers made their way into Kansas Territory, there was an immediate need for firearms and gunsmiths. They were in need of reliable firearms for not only hunting, but for their protection as well. During the years of Bleeding Kansas the atmosphere on the streets of Leavenworth was tense and violence would erupt easily as different points of view would clash over the question of Kansas as a Free State.

John Biringer was one of those early day pioneers who brought his trade and craft of making firearms to Leavenworth, a trade he would pass along to his sons. He was part of the ‘Free Staters” who came to Leavenworth on steamboats and wagons from Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Western Ohio, according to H. Miles Moore, Early History of Leavenworth City and County.

John Biringer was born in Prussia in 1830 and immigrated to the United States in 1847 after he had completed an apprenticeship in gun making, according to the U.S. Census.  He arrived in Philadelphia, Pa where he went to work for George Tryon and his son Edward. It is here that he learns to make the Pennsylvania rifle, which was a long rifle characterized by an unusually long barrel, according to Henry J. Kauffman, The Pennsylvania-Kentucky Rifle. In those days an apprentice would sometimes work for credit and not money. “When I came West, I brough about 300 guns with me and with these I started in business in Leavenworth,” said Biringer in a newspaper interview for the Leavenworth Times.

Biringer would marry German born Fredricka Messig in 1854, according to the Kansas Historical Society, Cool Things – Gunsmithing Tools. Their first two children were born in Pennsylvania, George in 1856 and Josephine in 1858. He reads in the newspapers of the day about the opportunities to be had in the West. One particular article spoke of Leavenworth and how the soldiers at Fort Leavenworth were being outfitted to go to Utah and put down the trouble in Utah, according to the Leavenworth Times. Within four years they relocate to Leavenworth which is still part of Kansas Territory where Biringer opens up his own gunsmith shop. In the U.S. City Directory of 1862 he is located at 109 Shawnee, which would be 109 lots from the river in the old numbering system. The middle of the block on the south side between Fourth and Fifth Streets would be today’s location. He was one of four gunsmiths according to the directory.

In 1877, John Biringer would sit before the camera of A.C. Nichols and have his ambroytype made along with his son George who was celebrating his 21st year.

George Biringer age 21, photo by A.C. Nichols

George had learned the trade of gunsmithing at an early age from his father, who by that time was operating out of 601 Shawnee.  In the 1874 Leavenworth City Directory, George is listed as a gunsmith working for J. Biringer, Gun and Locksmith. He was 17 years old.

It was not all work and no play as George grew up, he was the oldest of 12 in the Biringer Family and as such he had more liberties.

One summer night in August of 1878, while out on the town with his friends Louis Fieger, George Opel, and Julius Miller, all gainfully employed as cigar makers at Simmons and Staiger, they made their rounds through downtown Leavenworth serenading second floor residence along the way at 2:30 in the morning. One of those establishments was still open and operating in the wee hours of the morning, The Leavenworth Times. According to the editor, the Times office was besieged by these gentlemen who were on a serenading tour. The instruments consisted of a violin, piccolo, guitar and harmonica, and “the melodious airs rendered by them helped to close the labors of the week as pleasantly as a beautiful dream”, The Times, August 8, 1878.

In the early 1880’s Biringer married Louise Goenner of Leavenworth. Her father was William Goenner, a cigar maker at Simmons and Staiger, a place that was all too familiar to Biringer.

Their first child, William P. was born in 1883 and their second, George W., in 1888 and neither of them would be taught the trade of gunsmithing.

June 12, 1897 the residence of Col. Andrew Jackson Smith, Governor of the Western Branch of the Soldiers Home, was dynamited in an assassination attempt on Gov. Smith’s life, according to The Times. The amount of explosives used was great for it was reported that residents of the city had their houses trembling from the shock of it as if the earth was moving below them. The full force of the explosion tore away one side of the house. Fortunately no one was killed, but Mrs. Smith did sustain some injuries.

The explosives used in the explosion had come from John Biringer’s gun shop, according to The Times. Several nights before the explosion, Biringers powder magazine had been robbed and it was believed that the robber was the one who caused the explosion.

More later….

The Museum

Located on the front lawn of the former Kansas State Penitentiary, the Lansing Historical Society and Museum is one of a kind with none to compare it to anywhere else in the country. What makes this Museum so unique? It is a fully restored 1887 Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railroad depot, which played an import part in this countries history with the railroad. But more than that the Museum houses a collection of oddities that can be found nowhere else.

At the height of the Civil War, with unity so much on his mind, President Abraham Lincoln sought a way to connect and secure the great expanse of our nation, to unite it entirely, from sea to shining sea. The transcontinental railroad. And with it came a host of smaller railroads going through towns like Lansing, Maltby, Delaware, Richardson, and Bain City. Some of these towns are but a memory today.
The Museum is keeping those memories alive with pictures, newspaper articles, and family photographs.

Kansas State Penitentiary

The Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing is one of the oldest correctional institutions in the country. It had its’ start as early as 1859 when it was authorized by the Constitution of Kansas. The prison required that all officials live in the Lansing area and the town grew up around it. Executions of state, federal, and military prisoners were performed by hanging at KSP until 1965.Some of the famous inmates who found their way to the gallows and executed by hanging are: Lowell Andrews, murdered his parents and sister on November 28, 1958, a crime for which he was later executed.

Perry Smith

Richard “Dick” Hickock

The most notorious were Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, who were convicted for the 1959 murder of four members of the Herbert Clutter family of Holcomb, Ks. They were hanged April 14, 1965 on a rainy, cold night. The story of the Clutter murders and the execution of Hickock and Smith drew national attention as a result of the Truman Capote novel, In Cold Blood. George York and James Latham, a 1961 spree killer team, were the most recent individuals executed by the state of Kansas. Other villain’s were Harvey Bailey, cohort of Machine Gun Kelly. Emmett Dalton, sentenced to life imprisonment after 1892 Coffeyville bank robbery attempt with his brothers and other Dalton Gang Members.