A small wooden structure sits in the unassuming shadow of a creaking windmill in the backyard of a Haviland resident. "It was here when I bought the property," said the homeowner. "But I don't know how it got here or who put it in my backyard."
Amongst the rusted machinery and shrubs, alive with creepy crawlies, rests one of the most interesting buildings in Haviland's history. Don't let the seemingly decrepit façade fool you, the building, once known amongst criminals as "the box," may have been a terrifying tool that kept members of the burgeoning community safe.
When Haviland was founded in 1884 other communities in Kiowa County were having problems with crime, murder and theft. The first Quaker families in Haviland, who came to Kiowa County from Indiana, faced a reality that was in direct conflict with their pacifist beliefs.
"All bloody principles and practices we do utterly deny, with all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole world," said Quaker Margaret Fell in a 1660 letter to King Charles II of England. "That spirit of Christ by which we are guided is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world."
With county sheriffs located in Greensburg — a minimum 30-minute trip by galloping horse — early Haviland settlers were mostly without law enforcement.
Research hasn't uncovered the exact date of construction of the dovetailed stand-alone cell house, but there is no denying it's potential psychological effects on would-be criminals.
Less than 40 square feet of standing space with a short ceiling and a few 2-foot square barred "windows" made the jail an unpleasant place to spend more than a few hours.
The lack of shade and the right amount of Kansas heat would make it almost unbearable, as ventilation was non-existent.
With Haviland located 15 miles east of Greensburg, which had a more traditional jail in the basement, and a larger indoor jail 20 miles further to the east in Pratt it seems that a single night in the box might convince thieves to seek another line of work, or to shorten their stay in town. Who knows how many wayward young ruffians' lives the rough bristled walls of the old jail changed?
It is thought to have been discarded around 1915 when a new city hall was constructed.
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In order to save our county historians from injury due to excessive finger wagging I wanted to issue this brief disclaimer.
Readers should not take the stories in this week’s “Kiowa County’s Spookiest” special section as definitive truths. Many of the stories have been embellished and exaggerated to create a more macabre and entertaining read. They are historical fiction stories that mix actual facts, rumors and legends with a pinch of seasonal hyperbole.
As a writer I work extremely hard to limit weekly news items to reputable facts and quotation, but these types of stories let me flex my fiction muscles and have some fun.
I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.