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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • First City History: Kate Blunt's life, accomplishments shouldn't be overlooked

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  • The life story of some women can sometimes be overlooked by how noteworthy their husbands or fathers were, and that holds true for Katharine Putman Blunt.
    Her father played a key role in the history of Kansas and her husband was one of the most influential people of his time.
    She was born Aug. 2, 1867, the daughter of Maj. Gen. James G. and Nancy Blunt, in Leavenworth. The family lived on the corner of Sixth and Chestnut streets.
    James Blunt was born in Trenton, Maine, on July 21, 1826, and at the age of 15 he went to sea following a family tradition. For four years he served as a seaman. He followed his maternal grandfather, Rufus Gillpatrick, to Columbus, Ohio, where he graduated from Starling Medical College.
    He established a medical practice at New Madison, Ohio, where he met and married Nancy G. Putman. In 1851, Sarah was born, and Rufus Gillpatrick followed in 1853.
    James Blunt, who was an ardent abolitionist and Republican, moved to Kansas in 1857, settling in a small town west of Osawatomie called Greely in Anderson County, Kan., according to General Blunt’s account of his Civil War experiences, "Kansas Collection: Kansas Historical Quarterlies." He established his practice and settled into a doctor’s way of life, but ever being the wanderer, he soon became embroiled in “Bloody Kansas.”
    James Blunt played a role in Kansas becoming a free state as early as 1857, and he joined forces with John Brown and James Lane, according to Robert Collins's, "General James G. Blunt: Tarnished Glory." He was elected chairman of the militia during the Wyandotte Constitution held in Wyandotte, Kan. It was there the Constitution of the State of Kansas was adopted.
    At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, James Blunt was appointed lieutenant colonel in Lane’s 3rd Kansas Brigade, despite the fact he had no previous military training, formal or otherwise.
    He would later be promoted to major general, which was the highest military rank received by any Kansan in the Union Army. He was known for his combative, bulldog-like persona, which made him highly successful on the battlefield, according to Collins. He was also known for his womanizing, which would come back to haunt him later in his short life.
    At the end of the war, he moved his family to Leavenworth, finding a large Victorian on the corner of Sixth and Chestnut streets, according to the 1865 Leavenworth City Directory.
    It had been 14 years since the birth of their last child, and in 1867 Kate was born. When she sat before the camera of either Stephenson or Henry in 1870, she was identified as “Blunt Girl.”
    James Blunt passed the bar exam, attaining a law license, and served as a solicitor of claims agent at Leavenworth, according to the 1871 City Directory. He would take that profession all the way to Washington, D.C., leaving his family behind for good.  
    Page 2 of 3 - The Kansas Conservatory of Music and Collegiate School, located at 206 Fifth Ave., was opened in Leavenworth in 1877. Nancy Blunt is listed as the principal and teacher of the school in the City Directory. Three years later, the 1880 U.S. Census has the marital status of Nancy Blunt as divorced.
    It was discovered in 1879 that James Blunt was suffering from softening of the brain, and in all of the history books his death is listed as such. Blunt had been committed to the U.S. Insane Asylum in Washington, D.C., because he was in the last stages of syphilis and had lost his mind, according to "The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology."
    According to the records of internment at Mount Muncie Cemetery, James Blunt died July 25, 1881. It had been rumored the family was going to leave him at the asylum and allow him to be buried in a paupers gravel. However, after the remains were temporary interred in Washington, Col. J.H. Gilpatrick would be the one to travel to Washington to bring the remains back to Leavenworth, according to the Leavenworth Times on July 29, 1881. He was interred at Mount Muncie on July 31, 1881, for his final burial.
    Kate Blunt would graduate from the Kansas Conservatory and teach music to students there. Perhaps to defer the cost of living, her sister, Sarah, and her husband, Col. Gilpatrick, honorable Judge of the District Court, would move into the house on Sixth Street where they would remain for the rest of their lives.
    Kate had other plans.
    Since she was a child, she had been a student of the violin tutored by masters, and by the time she was 18, she was considered to be one of the most accomplished and cultured violinists in the U.S., according to the Daily Commonwealth on March 17, 1888.
    She took her love for music, as would be displayed in her later life, and studied abroad in Stuttgart, Germany, for a year from August 1889 to July 1890, according to her U.S. passport application in 1919.
    When she returned from her year in Germany, she was once again teaching at the Kansas Conservatory. It may have been through her brother-in-law's legal connections she met Edwin B. Parker, who was also part of the legal community. He worked for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, known as “The Katy,” first as secretary to the vice president and general manager and afterward as assistant general passenger agent in Kansas City, according to The Handbook of Texas, a history of Texas online.
    On Dec. 27, 1894, he married 27-year-old Katherine Blunt at her home in Leavenworth. He  practiced law in Houston and became a partner with Baker and Botts in 1897, and they were a part of high society.
    The birth of a baby boy in Missouri brought the Parkers their only child through an adoption, and they named him Edwin B. Parker, Jr., and he would lead a blessed life as a child of wealthy parents.
    Page 3 of 3 - He would attend all the fine colleges, taking his prep work at Culver Military Academy, a boarding school located in Culver, Ind. He would continue his education at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, N.H., and was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.
    He was 20 when he attended Leland Stanford University to make up school work from Dartmouth, according to a letter written by Parker, Sr., to the brothers of his son's fraternity. "We consented that he might go to work in the oil fields of Southern California not very far from Bakersfield where he was employed by the Southern Pacific Land Company learning the oil business," according to the Parker, Sr., letter.
    "Returning from town after picking up the mail, he was driving his motorcycle around a sharp curve in the dark, his motorcycle collided head on with a two-seated Ford Car without lights and on the wrong side of the road. He was thrown headlong onto the hard pavement and instantly killed."
    More about this later …

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