About Us
Museum Membership
Event Schedule
Museum Newsletters
Museum Displays


Recap Sheriff A. T. Shenneman

From various files I am giving information on Sheriff Shenneman, one of my favorite people from the early days. I would love to write up a story that involves him before he even became Sheriff, which follows along with a local butcher in Winfield, who got caught by Shenneman slaughtering stolen cattle for his meat market. It is a fascinating story inasmuch as it concerns Rhonimus, the thief; his sister, Mrs. McNeil, a crooked lawyer in Winfield by the name of Payson, Judge W. P. Campbell, our very first district judge, and three of the newspaper editors in Winfield. Believe me, it is quite a story.
[Note: There were some instances in which the early newspapers did not spell the name of A. T. Shenneman correctly. Quite often they referred to him as “Shinniman.” I have seen a number of variations on his name such as “Senneman.”]
Information on A. T. Shenneman.
The Winfield census of 1878 lists A. T. Shenneman, age 32, and unmarried.
The Winfield census of 1880 listed A. T. Shenneman, 34, and his wife Ella C., 27. She was the daughter of J. C. Walters.
A. T. Shenneman was a native of Waynesburg, Ohio. While a small boy his parents moved with him to Illinois, where he was brought up and educated. At the age of 16, in 1861, he entered the Union Army, enlisting in the 68th Illinois volunteer infantry. He joined Dan Wilt’s Company “D,” 7th Illinois Cavalry, in which he served with distinction to the close of the war. It is a compliment of his young patriotism to state that when he entered the service, his stature was only five feet seven inches; and when he came out, he had elongated to the height of six feet one and one-half inches, and had grown immensely in the esteem of his comrades in arms.
Drawn by the opening of the West and the Osage Diminished reserve, he emigrated to Kansas, being one of the early settlers in Cowley County, where he made a very large number of friends. On Christmas eve of 1869, A. T. Shenneman was in the freighting business and spent the night at what is now known as “Island Park.” He worked at several jobs, including Stewart and Simpson’s Brickyard.
In August 1873 I found an article in the Winfield Courier that Shenneman was the city marshal, and did not have much to do. In April 1874 he was a local constable. He also served as time as a local policeman. As a constable, Shenneman learned much about law enforcement from Capt. R. L. (“Dick”) Walker, Sheriff of Cowley County from November 4, 1873, through January 10, 1878.
Shenneman took off for Texas, returning in July 1874.
              Shenneman a member of Company “G” of the Cowley County Militia.
On August 24, 1874, Shenneman was sworn in by Capt. J. B. Nipp along with other men in Winfield to form Company “G” of the Cowley County Militia. He became 1st Lieutenant.
E. B. Kager was elected captain of the Winfield company; Capt. G. H. Norton was made a Lieutenant Colonel of Company “A” at Arkansas City.

On August 31, 1874, “Magnet,” a correspondent from Winfield, Kansas, wrote a letter to the Commonwealth newspaper at Topeka. “The companies of Kansas state militia have been organized in this and Sumner County, and now await the order of the Governor to protect their own border from invasion by these “government pets.” E. B. Kager is captain of the company from here, and G. H. Norton of the one at Arkansas City. The latter expect marching orders at any moment, as the Little Osages are making things lively along the line every day.”
In early September 1874 Lt. Col. Norton reported a slight brush with the Osages by some of the scouts sent out by him. “Sergeant Berkey and Privates Patterson and Hoyt left the picket line, and had gone as far as Deer creek, five miles from the state line, and finding no signs of Indians, concluded to return. They had gone but a short distance, when they were fired upon by a party of Indians, who immediately charged upon them with demoniac yells. They seemed to have been concealed in a ravine, and were not seen until they opened fire. The scouts spurred their horses into a run, and the Indians followed to within a mile and a half of the state line. Thirty six shots were fired on the run by the scouts, but owing to the approaching darkness and the speed at which they were going, none of them probably too effect. The next day Norton, with some eighteen men, proceeded to the vicinity of the encounter and found the Indian Trail. They followed it to within three or four miles of the Big Hill Osage ford on the Arkansas. It pointed southeast towards the Osage reserve.”
Shenneman became Captain of Company “G” in June 1875.
The Winfield Courier commented about Shenneman and a horse he owned on June 24, 1875. “While Shenneman was trying the speed of his mustang in the northeast part of town last Saturday, it became unruly and succeeded in running on a pile of stone containing about nineteen cords, and then capped the thing off by jumping sideways through a crack in Bedilion’s fence, without damaging anything—except the fence.” In August 1875 it was noted that Capt. Shenneman, still busy selling ponies, was cultivating a mustache.
Shenneman ran for Sheriff in October 1875, but withdrew his name in favor of another candidate. He took off for Indian Territory and Missouri, buying horses that he sold in Cowley County. In July 1877 A. T. Shenneman contributed $50 toward completion of an iron bridge across the Walnut. He again ran for Sheriff in September 1877, withdrawing after 52 ballots were taken in favor of Leon Lippman. Lippman was defeated by C. L. Harter.
In April 1878 A. T. Shenneman opened a livery stable in Winfield with a partner, Frank Millspaugh of Vernon township. Millspaugh sold his interest in May 1879 to Mr. A. G. Wilson, an old liveryman in Winfield. Shenneman sold his interest to M. M. Thompson that month and withdrew for a short time to his farm in Vernon township. In the latter part of June 1879 he purchased a lot for $475 in Winfield and made tentative plans to erect a livery barn on the corner of Manning street and 10th avenue. In July 1879 he announced that he was again running for the office of Sheriff. He also married Miss Ella C. Walters on July 20, 1879. At the Republican convention in September 1879 the nomination of A. T. Shenneman for the office of Sheriff was made unanimous. He won the election despite a vicious campaign waged against him by the incumbent, Sheriff C. L. Harter. Mr. Shenneman sold the lot he had purchased for $475 in June to John Witherspoon in December 1879 for $500.
Before he became Sheriff, A. T. Shenneman took action...

Winfield Courier, November 20, 1879. Last Sunday evening Mr. A. T. Shenneman brought in Frank Shock, who did the carving at Frank Davis’ recently, and he is now safely lodged in the county jail. Mr. Foster offered a reward of $50 for his capture, and as none of the officers seemed to take any interest in the matter, Mr. Shenneman offered to bring him in, and Sunday evening returned with his man. He captured him in Chautauqua County while making tracks for the Territory. Mr. Shenneman learned before starting that he had gone toward the east, and also that he had friends in Chautauqua County, and immediately started for that locality. Arriving there he played the land-agent dodge and learned in a roundabout way that Shock had been there and had left for the Territory a short time before. He started in pursuit and overtook his man before he got out of the State. Mr. Shenneman would receive nothing for his time while after the criminal, and only asked enough to cover his expenses, which was cheerfully given.
                   Sheriff-elect Shenneman Arrests Rhonimus and His Hired Man.
Winfield Courier, January 1, 1880. Mr. Rhonimus, proprietor of the “North end meat market,” and a hired man, Henry, were arrested last week for stealing cattle. It seems that these gentlemen, in order to make the meat business as profitable as possible, have for some time been systematically stealing the beeves that supplied their market. It has been known among the stock men of this and Elk counties for some time that thieves were operating among their herds, and the matter was placed in the hands of Sheriff-elect Shenneman, who shadowed the above-named gentlemen, and at last caught them killing one of the missing beeves near the fair ground and promptly arrested them. Mr. Jones, of Windsor, has lost 14 head of cattle by these depredations, and parties on the line of Elk County have missed as many more. It seems that the gentlemen were not partial as to the kind of meat taken, and sometimes stepped aside from their regular line of business to gobble a hog or two, and sometimes three, from the large herds of W. J. Hodges, at the stock yards, near the depot.
A preliminary trial was held before Justice Buckman, last Friday, but the case was continued till this week, and the prisoners remanded to jail in default of bail.
Winfield Courier, February 12, 1880.
Last Wednesday, Dick Rhonimus, young McMahon, and another prisoner effected their escape from the county jail in a very mysterious manner. The next morning two horses were missing from Rev. Henderson’s stable.
Winfield Courier, February 19, 1880. Last week Sheriff Shenneman got on the track of Rhonimus, the escaped cattle thief. Rhonimus had relatives in Elk City and dropped in to see them; but the constable had been notified of his escape, and was on the lookout for him. As soon as the constable learned of Rhonimus’ presence in the vicinity, he laid his plans to capture him. Rhonimus, hearing that he was in a bad fix, made a break for his horse, but was compelled to leave it and take to the timber on foot. The constable telegraphed to Sheriff Shenneman, who started at 1 o’clock Friday night and by Saturday was on the thief’s trail. After following for some time, all trace of the thief was lost, and Mr. Shenneman returned home Sunday. The horse, belonging to Mr. Henderson, was recovered; but was too lame to bring along and was left at Elk City.
Rhonimus was never captured.
Sheriff Shenneman had a very active role in getting rid of criminals in Cowley County. Countless stories were told about him in the newspapers. The most amazing thing to realize about him was that he really should have been a “detective.”

I will not go into the details about Shenneman getting careless and allowing a young man to get the better of him and shoot him as happened on Tuesday, January 23, 1883, when Shenneman tried to arrest Charles Cobb, circa 19 years of age. Shenneman did not die immediately from his wounds.
The newspapers, I believe, tried to cover up the facts concerning the seizing of Cobb and the subsequent hanging of Cobb from the K. C., L. & S. railroad bridge.


Cowley County Historical Society Museum