· John M. “Captain” Hedrick (1840-1938)
Sheriff 1876-1880 and 1882-1884
It’s Sunday, October 10, 1927, in Hutchinson, Kansas. At 504 East Sherman Avenue, Houston and Julia Whiteside are hosting a family dinner and reception to celebrate Houston’s 81st birthday.
Meanwhile, at 22 East 17th Street, the home of John and Mary Hedrick, a friend, Bertie Colson, is preparing to give Mary a sightseeing tour around town. It’s a special day when Mary, wheelchair bound, is able to leave the house.
That leaves John, her husband, 87, home with a curious grandnephew, Hedrick Alixopulos, age 9, who is visiting from Denver, Colorado. They are on the front porch, in rocking chairs, and can watch—and hear—the large American flag float from the pole in the lawn.
“When you were growing up, did you want to be a writer or an editor of a newspaper?” asked a visitor at the Whitesides?
“It never crossed my mind,” said Houston. “I was trained in law. In 1872, when I was headed west to the frontier, I became acquainted with Leslie J. Perry, of Paola. He offered me a job to write for a newspaper he was starting in this fledgling town. The first edition was July 4th that year.
“The same year, I was elected as the County Attorney and had my law office at the Hutchinson News, a small one-story frame shack on Main Street. I had one office, two jobs.”
“That’s a handsome little boy you have visiting,” said Bertie Colson, 37, to Mary Hedrick, 76. “He’s your husband’s brother’s grandson?”
“Yes,” Mary replied. “He’s Laura’s boy, daughter of Joseph. His first name is Hedrick, last name Alixopulos. His father was born in Greece. Hedrick is a nine-year-old, only child. We’re so glad to have him here for a couple of days. I thought about postponing our drive, but I wanted to give John and Hedrick a chance to talk privately.
“Oh, let me show you two Kodak photographs I have in my purse,” said Mary as she reached for her handbag. “We were just looking at them. One is of Hedrick and his mother when he was five years old. Laura Hedrick Alexopoulos and son The other one was taken this summer of Hedrick with his dog, Duke. Hedrick A. Alixopulos Circa. 1927 photo That boy is so precious to us. He’s a blessing.”
“Uncle John, did your parents really have 22 children?” asked Hedrick.
“That’s right, enough for two baseball teams and a crew of umpires,” answered John Hedrick, 87.
“Could you remember their names?” asked Hedrick, his grandnephew.
“When we were together, I remembered everyone’s name,” answered John.
“I’m an only child,” said Hedrick. “I can barely play cards by myself.”
“I was County Attorney for two, two-year terms,” said Whiteside, “sold the News in 1875, so I could devote my time to my extensive law practice. I served Reno County by working with the first county commissioners, and the first two sheriffs; Charles Collins and Henry Hartford.”
“With better farm machinery, families don’t need as many children to help like they used to,” said Mary. “Did you know that John is one of 22 children?”
“Heaven help his mother!” exclaimed Bertie.
“One mother and one step-mother,” replied Mary. “His father had seven children by a first marriage, and ten by a second marriage, while the second wife had five of her own, by a previous marriage. Just thinking about the constant task of cooking meals and cleaning clothes about makes me ill. Did you say Rorabaugh-Wiley’s has a new window display?”
“Uncle John, do you remember the Civil War?” asked Hedrick.
“I remember most of it, four years worth,” said John. “My father was an Ohio Squirrel Hunter. Me and my seven brothers enlisted in the Army when there was a call for arms. We were known as a fighting family, very patriotic. Unfortunately, two of my brothers died during the war.
Hedrick was silent for a moment. Finally, he said, “I’m sorry they died . . . Your father was a squirrel hunter? Did he help feed the soldiers?”
John laughed. In 1862, when Confederate forces threatened Cincinnati, Ohio, the Governor called for civilian volunteers to assist the federal government in preparing against a Confederate attack. John’s father, Isaac Hedrick, answered the call as part of the home guard. He was 56 years old, too old to be marching all over the country.
“They were called squirrel hunters because many of the men showed up armed with weapons more suited to hunt small game than to fight in combat,” said John. “They were also called squirrel hunters because most of them were farm boys who never had to shoot at the same squirrel twice.”
“Were you ever wounded?” asked Hedrick.
“Yes, on my 24th birthday, near Atlanta, Georgia. Spent a bit of time in the hospital. I was with the Fourth Ohio Volunteers Calvary.”
“Mom said you were one of the first pioneers that settled in Reno County,” said Hedrick. “It’s hard for me to imagine no houses here.”
“There wasn’t much to look at back then, that’s for sure,” said John.
“After the war, I returned home to Ohio and got married. After brief stops in Illinois and Missouri, we homesteaded a claim in Lincoln Township, south of Hutchinson, in 1872.
“My wife, the one you know as Aunt Mary, is my second wife. We were married in 1901. My first wife, Catherine Ann, died in 1897.”
“You’ve had a lot of people die in your life,” said Hedrick,” surprising his uncle at his willingness to talk about death.
“If you live as long as me, most of your friends your age will be gone, but I’m glad to be talking to you,” said John.
“Did you nearly drown a claim jumper?” asked Hedrick.
John laughed as loud as ever. “Who told you that?”
“Mom said it was a good thing, not a bad thing,” answered Hedrick. “She said you were a good neighbor and a peaceable citizen.”
“A bunch of our neighbors gathered together and persuaded a claim jumper that it would be in his best interest to leave the county before drowning in our creek,” summarized John. “Our close neighbor, Fay Smith, was the one who could have lost his property. Fay became a deputy for me when I was sheriff.
“How long were you sheriff?” asked Hedrick, “and did you have a jail?”
“Fay became sheriff after my last two-year term, which was my third successful election. I served four years, lost an election, then I won one. Yes, we had a jail.”
“Did you arrest a lot of bad men?” asked Hedrick.
“For a county that was founded as a temperance town, with liquor not allowed, I arrested my share of people under the influence.
“Hedrick, now I have some questions for you,” said John. “First off, what do you know about your grandparents on your mother’s side? Secondly, what do you think about the New York Yankees winning the World Series in four games? And finally, can you teach me how to say your full name in Greek?”
While Houston and Julia Whiteside were serving a large white birthday cake in a setting of vases of red roses and candlelight to a house full of prominent people, and Mary Hedrick was thrilled being out of the house and mobile with a young friend, Hedrick and his great-uncle John were enjoying apple cider, ice cream, and stories.
Until next time, happy writing and reading.