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Trailblazer – Col. James A. Coffey, Maple Grove Cemetery, Dodge City, Ford, Kansas

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

A trailblazer is an individual who is willing to take risks and go on a path that isn’t already there. Col. James A. Coffey was living in Kansas before it became a state (January 29, 1861). He traded with Indians, established many trading posts, and was also the founder of the towns of Humboldt and Coffeyville.

The surname Coffey is of Irish origin. Family ancestry can be traced back to the early 1700s when the first Coffey family emigrated to America.

James Asbury Coffey was the third of 12 children born to Rev. Archelaus Achilles and Jane Coffey. James was born in Illinois in 1827. The early part of his life was spent in Illinois as a farmer. Louisa Adelade Carnahan became his wife on December 27, 1849. He was 22 years old, and Louisa was 15. They were the parents of six children. James did not like farming so when the U.S. government reached a deal with Indian tribes in Kansas to relinquish parts of their land, James saw an opportunity to make his path.

So, in 1855 James and his brother, loaded up three wagons. One was filled with merchandise to open a general store and the other two were for their family possessions. James set up shop five miles from Lawrence, Kansas.

Lawrence was at the center of the “Bleeding Kansas” fight which would determine if Kansas would enter the Union as a free or slave state. Growing up in Illinois, James was a free-stater. Several skirmishes occurred in and around Lawrence while James was living there. During one of those incidents, pro-slavery Missourians robbed the Coffey store and set it on fire. Louisa and the children were able to escape and hid by a nearby creek. The title of Colonel was bestowed upon him for his leadership and involvement during this time.

Col. Coffey petitioned the US government to allow him to open trading posts in and alongside any Indian reservations. Besides trading with the Indians, James bought and sold supplies to cattle drovers, emigrants, and freighters who supplied the forts. At one point, James had approximately seven trading posts in Kansas including Forts Larned, Dodge, and Scott.

Seeing more opportunity for his business growth, Colonel Coffey looked to southeast Kansas. The Osage Indian reservation was located just south of Allen and Greenwood counties and James was granted permission to open a trading post and operate as a postmaster. James purchased some land for his brother to open a general store. He also built a home for his family and a church for his father, Rev. Achilles Coffey.

Eventually, more white settlers were moving to Kansas because of its fertile soil, cheaper land prices for Civil War veterans, and the expansion of the railroad. Col. Coffey’s businesses continued to prosper. In 1869, Coffey built a trading post between the Neosho and Verdigris rivers in southeastern Kansas. As more and more settlers occupied the area, it was decided to petition the state government to incorporate a town. The order was issued on March 5, 1872. In honor of James’ early efforts in establishing a settlement, the town was called Coffeyville.

Always looking ahead and anticipating the continued success of his businesses, James came to Dodge City in 1878. He was part owner of Coffey and Marsh a general store. Col. James A. Coffey contracted pneumonia and died on January 13, 1879. He had only lived in Dodge City for three months. He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery. Louisa died in 1913 and is buried in Colorado.

Turner, Usrula. The Story of Col. James A. Coffey Founder of Coffeyville pgs. 7-22

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