The existence of lead in the area was known by the Indians long before the white settlers began to populate the area. Large lumps of almost pure lead were often found on or near the surface and would be melted and made into bullets at the camp fires.
In the spring of 1877, a couple of young white men found several heavy stones which contained high amounts of lead. The land owner, a German farmer by the name of Egidius Moll, wasted no time in making negotiations with the nearby Joplin, Missouri Mining Companies. Before long, more rich deposits of ore were discovered and by June 1, 1877, two rival companies were in the field bidding against each other for the lease and sale of mining lots.
Wagons, tents and hastily constructed buildings sprang up in the new boomtown, which supported a population of almost 10,000 overnight. The two rival mining companies also formed their own town sites – Empire City north of Short Creek and Galena, named for the abundant bluish-grey lead, to the south.
The rivalry between the two mining companies carried forward into the building of the two towns, bound together by the rich veins of lead. On June 18, 1877, Empire City was incorporated and just one day later, Galena followed suit. Because Empire City was nearer the field of operations for the mining activities, the majority of new settlers first camped upon that town site. However, others favored Galena because many of the rich finds of ore were found at the bottom of Short Creek, which on the Galena side of town.
With two cities striving to settle within their own limits and the thousands rushing to the camp, more friction naturally occurred. The prospect of keeping order in the two mining camps was not a very promising one. Columbus Street in Empire and "Red Hot" and Main Streets in Galena were the first to build up with business houses, which were of log, frame and box hastily thrown together for temporary use.
The quarrel assumed a serious aspect when Empire decided to stop their population from moving over to the Galena side by building a stockade. On the night of July 25, 1877, the city council of Empire passed a resolution ordering a stockade eight feet high and one-half mile in length to be built along the south side of their city. If the plan was carried out, it would virtually stop all communication between the two cities and hinder public travel. The stockade was to enclose the south end of Columbus Street and the bridge over Short Creek.
As the stockade began to be built, it created such a ruckus that the workmen were given police protection while building the wall. Galena residents protested in vain, petitioning the city, which, in turn appealed to the U.S. Government to prevent the closing of a public highway to the U.S. mail. However, as the gap was being closed and the action of the federal government was too slow, the Galena Mayor, acting under the authority of the city council, organized a posse of fifty citizens to prevent closing the gap. On August 15, 1877 at 4:00 am, the posse attacked, tore down, and burned the greater portion of the wall. Empire City, not anticipating the surprise attack, was unprepared, which resulted in the exchange of only a few shots and very little bloodshed.
For several years, the two towns would vie for dominance with constant feuds between not only the towns, but their residents. The war between the towns became so bad that the main connecting link between the two cities became known as “Red Hot Street,” when feuding became so intense that doctors and undertakers began working nights and sleeping during the days. This feud, coupled with the countless miners, transients, and outlaws hiding within its midst provided a hotbed for violence.
In this section of the town were innumerable saloons and gambling halls that catered to murderers, outlaws, and gamblers. During this time, many hardworking miners were lured inside to lose their hard earned gold at the gaming tables and other questionable pastimes. Some were never seen again.
During the early mining days, the population shifted and flourished along with the fortunes of the mining operations and many an enterprising entrepreneur became wealthy during the early days of Galena, building fine homes and buildings. Others, who did not find wealth in Galena, soon left in pursuit of other endeavors.
In 1879, the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad extended its line to Galena and before long the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad followed suit, extending its line from Joplin, Missouri. Deeper mining operations began in earnest and the town soon saw all manner of passengers, freight and lead being shipped through the area. In the same year, Galena built its first school and before long the town supported a Presbyterian, an Episcopalian and a Methodist Church.
By the late 1890s Galena had 265 producing mines, two banks, 36 grocers, and more than four dozen other retails stores.
One of the most gruesome and interesting stories of Galena’s past began when an enterprising woman by the name of Steffleback decided to profit from the many miners, prospectors and businessmen when she opened a two story bordello in the 1890s. In no time at all, the Steffleback House was the most popular place in town, as it filled with heavy-drinking miners, gamblers, and those looking for more bawdy pastimes. Steffleback grew quite wealthy over the next few years, but she was a greedy woman and the sight of the the large amounts of money carried by many of her customers was more than she could handle.
One evening when a local prospector sat at a table drinking whiskey, Steffleback noticed that he paid for his drinks by pulling gold coins from a heavy leather sack tied to this belt. When the customer was drunk, she lured him into a back room, where one of her sons snuck up behind the man and split his head open with an ax.
With the numbers of transient miners passing through the area, Steffleback soon decided that eliminating these prospectors and relieving them of their money was a faster way to get rich. Over the next several years, she allegedly lured as many as thirty victims into her back room, depositing their bodies in the many mine shafts of the area.
After an argument with one of her “girls,” the woman turned Steffleback in. Tried in 1897, Steffleback never admitted her guilt, nor revealed where she had hidden her fortune. Sentenced to the State Women’s Prison in Lansing, Kansas, she died in 1909. Today, the treasure is still said to be buried somewhere in Galena.
By 1904 there were over thirty mining companies in Galena.
Finally the dispute between Galena and Empire City entered the courts and after a long period of litigation, a truce was declared between the two cities, which finally began to work together in building one of the best mining camps in the world. A spirit of friendship grew between them until July 9, 1907, when Empire became a suburb of Galena. The surrender of her rights as an incorporated city to Galena was made amid great rejoicing and pieces of the old stockade were taken away as souvenirs by citizens of the old Empire and the old Galena. Empire City became a virtual ghost town and was annexed into Galena as its Fifth Ward in 1910.
In 1926, when Route 66 came through Kansas, Galena, like other small towns along the Mother Road, responded with services to the many travelers, bringing with it a additional prosperity to thriving town. However, just a few years later, in the 1930s, terrible labor strikes between the miners and the mining companies would result in hundreds of unemployed miners and bloodshed along Route 66. Soon, the rich lead and zinc ores began to diminish, taking Galena with it.
Though mining continued in the area until the 1970s, it was never the same. The mines were eventually exhausted and the population dwindled to less than a tenth of its former glory. On the outskirts of town you will see the blighted land left from the years of mining. Still, there is a strange beauty to be seen in some of the land’s devastation.
Today, Galena still provides vintage examples of the Mother Road, as well as architecture from the booming cattle and mining days of this historic city. If you're traveling Route 66, keep your eyes wide open because the next small town on the Kansas Mother Road is just some three miles down the road. Enjoy the ride as you head to Riverton, Kansas.
Galena is located at 37°4'28N, 94°38'8W (37.074459, -94.635549).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 11.9 km² (4.6 mi²). 11.8 km² (4.6 mi²) of it is land and 0.1 km² (0.1 mi²) of it (1.09%) is water.
As of the census of 2000, there were 3,287 people, 1,290 households, and 868 families residing in the city. The population density was 278.9/km² (721.9/mi²). There were 1,471 housing units at an average density of 124.8/km² (323.1/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 89.38% White, 0.76% African American, 5.90% Native American, 0.06% Asian, 0.88% from other races, and 3.01% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.79% of the population.
There were 1,290 households out of which 31.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.5% were married couples living together, 13.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.7% were non-families. 28.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.49 and the average family size was 3.04.
In the city the population was spread out with 26.3% under the age of 18, 9.4% from 18 to 24, 27.1% from 25 to 44, 21.5% from 45 to 64, and 15.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 87.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.8 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $25,401, and the median income for a family was $30,595. Males had a median income of $27,101 versus $17,865 for females. The per capita income for the city was $12,172. About 18.5% of families and 23.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 36.2% of those under age 18 and 12.0% of those age 65 or over.