The Battle of The Blue

The Battle of The Blue
Rebel forces charge the Topeka Battery at Mockbee farm, original painting by Benjamin Mileham

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Nelson Holder Ritchie, Co. B - "A Good Clean Man"

                                                        photo courtesy of Kurt Rogers 

          Nelson Holder Ritchie arrived in the Topeka Kansas area around 1860, coming over from western Missouri.  Born Nelson Holder in what was later Lawrence County Missouri,he was a man of mixed race who was listed as "white", "black" or "colored" in various census and Civil War Draft Registration records.  It has been the subject of discussion amongst Nelson's descendants that he may have been part Cherokee.  According to one daughter, "He was a very good looking man over six feet tall, about 200 hundred pounds, black curly hair, a good clean man."    Nelson told his descendants that he was raised by an old Scotch lady, as his mother died when he was a baby and his father died before he was born.
  Nelson took on the Ritchie surname after being taken in and perhaps employed by noted early Topekan John Ritchie.  John Ritchie was a Free-stater and abolitionist with ties to the Underground Railroad and was also Commander of the 2nd Indian Home Guards - a Federal Unit from Kansas during the Civil War.  John also served in various capacities with the 5th Kansas Cavalry in 1861/62, a unit which frequently skirmished with the Confederates in the Border area.  It was perhaps on one of these forays that John encountered 20 year old Nelson - or it could be that Nelson came to Topeka seeking a better life and was taken under the wing of John Ritchie.  Whatever actually happened, by 1864 Nelson's prospects at a better life had dramatically increased with his arrival in Topeka.  The threat of Rebel invasion put these prospects at risk however and in October 1864 Nelson answered the call to arms and joined the 2nd Kansas Militia, Company B.  According to one of Nelson's daughters, "It was at the close of the Civil War, and Nelson got in on the last part of it.  He was in the Cavalry and had a good horse.  He had his hat with a few bullet holes in it, but he was never hurt.  He was in his twenties at the time of the war.
  Like so many of his peers in the 2nd Kansas Militia, Nelson narrowly escaped the Battle of Mockbee Farm and returned to Topeka, where he rejected an offer from John Ritchie to attend school.  Nelson had decided that he would build a life in Kansas, but it would be on his terms.  He worked hard, perhaps working construction on one of the numerous buildings sprouting up in the rapidly growing capitol of Kansas and by 1870 he had married and fathered a child.  After his wife and child both died in 1871 (Nelson joked with his later family that he thought an old black mammy had poisoned them) Nelson persevered and moved to Great Bend Kansas where he owned and operated a hotel, complete with livery stables and carriages for hire.  He remarried and raised quite a large family at Great Bend and in 1892 relocated to Bountiful Utah where he worked for the railroad for many years.  His family continued to grow and Nelson was a good father and husband, passing on these enduring qualities to his loved ones before passing away in Bountiful in 1913 at the age of 72.
   Nelson passed to the great beyond without giving many details of his experiences with the 2nd Kansas Militia to his friends and family.  This seemed to be a common trait among these men who had come so close to death.  He had made the most of his humble origins and endured to become the cornerstone of his family as it moved out west.  And he found that not only would he be accepted in Kansas, but he would flourish.

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