In today’s post I will begin to tell you about a fun little side trip that Kay and I took while visiting her family in Minnesota during the summer of 1993 – and it’s unexpected benefits. This time in my life was particularly noteworthy as my early travels to Marion County, Kansas and the many years of research and study spent on their fascinating story and philatelic accomplishments had just recently culminated in an article titled The Fish and Game Stamps of Marion County, Kansas.
This article was originally published in The American Revenuer, the journal for the American Revenue Association, in June of 1993 (see Figure 1). It has been updated fairly recently and was put on the internet with the initial launch of this website in April of 2016.
Both the Marion County waterfowl and the fishing stamps are personal favorites of mine and I enjoy writing about them and picturing them on this website. If you read the article, you will find the waterfowl stamps were actually an afterthought and relatively few were issued as compared to the fishing stamps. Also, there were a number of compelling typesetting errors in the waterfowl stamp series as compared to a single error (1969) in the fishing stamp series.
Therefore, it is the Marion County Waterfowl stamp series that includes many of our hobby’s greatest rarities and, as a consequence, I may spend a disproportionate amount of time focussing on them. So today I have chosen to highlight the Marion County fishing stamps.
For our new readers, the introduction and background information for today’s story contains several excerpts from the updated American Revenuer article.
Marion County, Kansas
Marion County is located in central Kansas, with the county seat of Marion about 43 miles northeast of Wichita and, for the purposes of this post, about 626 miles southwest of Stacy, Minnesota – the location of Kay’s parents house where we were staying. It was named in honor of Francis Marion, the famous American Revolutionary War General, better known as the “Swamp Fox”.
The United States acquired most of the land that constitutes present day Kansas from France in The Louisiana Purchase of 1803. In 1848, the southwest portion was obtained from Spain after the Mexican – American War. The Territory of Kansas was established in 1854 and Marion County was created in 1855. In 1861 Kansas became the 34th state.
The city of Marion was founded in 1860 and became the county seat in 1865. Originally, the county included over a third of the land in Kansas. It was subsequently reduced to the present size in 1872.
Historically, Marion County is perhaps best known as the place where the Chisholm Trail and Santa Fe Trail intersected. From 1821 through 1866, traders and settlers followed the Santa Fe Trail west through the county on their way from St. Louis to Mexico and later New Mexico (see Figure 3). Then, thousands of head of cattle were driven north along the Chisholm Trail through the county on their way from Texas to Abilene from 1867 through 1871.
The first settlement was made in 1860 and, in the 1870s, the area attracted a large number of European immigrants, mainly Dutch and German. These early settlers were primarily farmers and ranchers and were attracted by the area’s especially fertile land.
When I first visited Marion County, in 1989, I felt an immediate connection. The small agricultural town of Marion had a very similar feel and “vibe” to the place where I grew up in Healdsburg, California, during the 1960s and early 1970s. The land in and around Healdsburg was also comprised of farms and ranches, mostly planted with apples and prunes. This was before California wines became a big deal and Healdsburg, located in the center of Sonoma County’s Wine Country, became a worldwide tourist “destination”.
The population of Healdsburg in the 1960s was 3,000 or so and Marion in the 1990s about 2,000. The people were very much the same – warm, friendly and unpretentious. Both towns were small enough that everyone knew everyone else. There was no hustle and bustle – everyone and everything was very relaxed. For me, it was kind of like going back in time and I always enjoyed the time I spent there.
There was one common feature, in particular, that plays into today’s story; both of these small towns were served by multigenerational family insurance agencies – Brandt insurance in Healdsburg and Case Insurance in Marion.
Both companies, as well as the families than operated them, were very active in the community and had been since they were both founded. Case Insurance was founded by Civil War veteran Alex E. Case on January 25th, 1868 (see Figure 4). It is currently the oldest insurance agency in the state of Kansas to operate continuously in the same location.
In Healdsburg, my friends and I had fun collecting old bottles as a youth (I still do) and it was a great day if we were lucky enough to dig an embossed beer bottle or milk bottle that was produced by the local Brandt Brewery or Brandt Dairy, respectively, at the end of the 19th century. The Brandt family expanded into the insurance business in 1962.
While attending Healdsburg High School in the 1970s, I lifted weights and trained with a great group of guys which included Joe Brandt and he later became one of my football coaches. After high school, I helped the Brandt family put together a collection of federal duck stamp prints and these have hung in their offices in the Brandt Building in Healdsburg for over thirty years now.
Despite the eight years age gap, Joe became a close lifelong friend and still handles many of my family’s insurance needs. This was a great source of comfort during the Santa Rosa Fire in 2017. Although we were much more fortunate than many people in the area, we did have to evacuate and undergo extensive cleanup. Joe saw to it that we were taken care of in a timely manner and Kay and Will be forever grateful (many people are still struggling with their claims made with other insurance companies today).
Marion County Park and Lake
In the early 1930s local residents, including many sportsmen, became interested in building a recreational park featuring a lake. A park committee was formed in 1935 whose goal was to produce “a recreational center that cannot be excelled anywhere in the country” (Marion Record, March 30, 1939). The federal government agreed to cover virtually all of the costs, presumably as a flood control project and as a way to put people to work following the great depression. A site was chosen 3 miles southeast of Marion. Plans for the dam were drawn by the Kansas State Fish and Game Commission and approved by the Division of Water Resources of the State Department of Agriculture. Construction began in February of 1936.
The county park committee worked with the Marion County Board of Commissioners, the SCS and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to bring the project to completion in 1939. When finished, the new recreational center named Marion County Park and Lake featured an 80 acre lake 35 feet deep at the dam, 39 concrete picnic tables, a golf course, a baseball diamond, tennis courts, shuffleboard courts, a roller skating rink, croquet grounds and a fly casting course (Marion Record, May 23, 1940).
Jerry E. Mullikin, a former-peace officer who had a lifelong interest in fish and game conservation, was selected by the board of commissioners as the first Park and Lake Supervisor (Marion Record, March 30, 1939), and the park was opened on a limited basis for boating and picnicking before the end of 1939.
I have a cool old photo that I have never shared before today. It shows a little eating place that was moved from downtown Marion to just inside the park gates. It was originally a railroad car and once it was moved to the park, it was run by Ray Kelsey – from the personal collection of Jerry’s wife, Verona Mullikin (see Figure 5).
Fishing was intended to be the primary attraction of the park and during its three years of construction the lake had been stocked with 80,000 fish (Van Meter, 1972 and Waner, 1992). These included bass, crappie, channel cat, bluegill and striped perch (see Figure 6).
It was announced that at 5:30 a.m. on May 26, 1940, a starting gun would be fired to signal the official opening of the lake to fishermen (Marion Record, may, 1940). This was a widely anticipated event, and by early morning on the 26th 10,000 people had jammed the park and 2,000 licensed fishermen from 35 countries and 8 states lined the banks of the lake. To put this in perspective, the population of the town of Marion numbered about 2,000 and the entire county about 20,000 at the time. According to an excerpt from the front page of the local newspaper, the Marion Record, “when the starting bomb exploded promptly at 5:30, hundreds of fishers lining almost all available spots about the lake were poised with hooks baited, fly rods ready or cane poles strung up waiting for the sound and the water’s top was immediately lashed with the plunk of hundreds of lures, minnows, shrimp tails, gobs of melt and squirming angle worms” (Marion Record, May 30, 1940).
The celebration extended to nearby Marion, where county and state officials gave speeches, bands played and a parade marched through the town. A large number of fish were caught that day and everyone had a splendid time (see Figure 7). The Record reported that the biggest catch of the day was a catfish caught by Ed Navrat, “a blue which tipped the scales at 9 1/4 lbs.”
So began the great infatuation with “the lake” that extended well beyond the county’s borders and which lasted for the better part of three decades. Lake news was carried on the front page of the Record in a column first entitled “ On the Fishing Front” and subsequently changed to “On the Sports Front” after duck hunting was permitted on the lake. The column often referred to sportsmen by name and provided statistical information on their day’s catch. Soon word of the popular lake spread to surrounding states and eventually across the country. County records showed that as recently as 1971 fishermen visited from twenty-one states from New York to Alaska (Marion County Record, September 23, 1971). A recent photo of the lake can be seen in Figure 8.
There have now been seven supervisors since the lake’s completion. Jerry Mullikin held the position until his death in February 1956, after which time his wife Verona took over temporarily until John Waner could succeed Mullikin in April of that same year. Dale Snelling succeeded Waner in late 1964 and retired in 2007. Steve Hudson succeeded Snelling and served through 2017. Native son Isaac Hett is the current Park and Lake Director.
Fishing Stamps Issued
In 1939 the County Board of Commissioners developed a set of rules and regulations for the Park and Lake. Section 14a is of historic significance to collectors of fish and game stamps. It reads, “All residents of Marion County, Kansas, who are required to purchase a state fishing license [all persons 16 to 21] shall secure a permit [stamp] which shall cost twenty-five cents ($0.25) and attach to said license; at the expiration of any fishing license another permit which shall cost twenty five cents shall be secured and attached to the fishing license.” (Anonymous, 1939). And so it was that with this directive the first fish and game stamps issued by a local government in the United States were to be put into use.
The 1940 fishing stamps were printed in black ink on red paper. They are rouletted and measure approximately 38 x 28 mm. The Sports License Records show that 1,500 stamps were printed and that they were received by the County Clerk on May 13, 1940. The clerk distributed 950 of the stamps to vendors the same day they were received. What is believed to be the first stamp sold is shown in Figure 9, used on the resident fishing license issued to Jerry Mullikin – the first Park and Lake Supervisor.
Much of the above two sections was reproduced from the main article. However, the article tells the story of the early days at Marion County Park and Lake in much more depth and for those who may have an interest, I would highly encourage you to take a closer look.
Alex Case, Junior and Jean Case
Alex Case, Junior (often referred to simply as “Junior”) was born in Marion in 1929. That same year, Jean Elaine Hagans was born an hour south, in Augusta, Kansas (Butler County). When she was a year old, she moved to Marion with her parents and older brother.
Junior Case obtained his first state fishing license in 1946, the year before he and his high school sweetheart, Jean, graduated from Marion High School. Since Junior was an avid fisherman, he also purchased his first Marion County fishing stamp, for 25 cents (see Figure 10).
To illustrate the disparity in the number of fishing stamps sold vs waterfowl stamps, I have included a copy of the annual report for 1946-47 (see Figure 11).
After high school, Alex went into the navy and Jean attended Kansas State University and was a member of the Tri Delta Sorority. She graduated in 1951 with a bachelors degree in economics.
After Jean finished college, the two were married and Jean became a Navy wife – something she was very proud of. The couple moved around the country a bit and when Alex went to serve our country in Korea, Jean returned to Kansas to live with her parents in Manhattan (72 miles northeast of Marion) and await the birth of their first child, Deborah.
In 1955, Alex came home from Korea and the family moved into the house in Marion where Alex and Jean would spend the rest of their lives. The couple wasted no time in pursuing their shared passion – fishing at Marion County Lake – and on June 30th, 1955, both Alex and Jean purchased Kansas Resident Fishing Licenses and Marion County Fishing stamps (see Figure 12). Soon, on December 25th, 1955, Alex would become a partner in the family insurance firm, Case & Son. The couple had another daughter, Diana, and then a son, Casey, who joined the firm in 1988.
Casey told me that almost every summer evening, just before dark, the family would go out to Alex’s favorite spot at the lake to fish for catfish. They would throw chicken livers in the lake to entice the fish and often would stay out until 10-11 o’clock. One night Casey, then 8 or 9 year sold, was sitting in the back of the family pickup with his line in the water. It was getting late, so he was dozing off when he was jolted awake; the fish was so big that it yanked him off the tailgate of the truck and onto the ground. It continued dragging him toward the water until the line suddenly broke – leaving the whole family in amazement and young Casey with a great story to tell for the rest of his life.
Alex and Jean would continue to purchase a state license and Marion County Fishing stamp almost every year until the time the stamps were discontinued in 1973 (see Figure 13).
Fortunately, Alex was a sentimental guy and saved both of their licenses – with the stamps still affixed – for over 30 years in a desk drawer in his office. At that point, he saw an ad I had placed in the Marion County Record and called me in California.
Meeting Alex Case
At this point in my life I was beginning my pilgrimages to Marion, Kansas (there would be 22 in all), in search of the elusive Marion County waterfowl and fishing stamps and information about them which I would use in both my exhibit and The American Revenuer article. I have been on a lot of philatelic treasure hunts in my life, however, the Marion County one was one of the most enjoyable, rewarding and memorable. Much of this is due to the friendship I developed with Alex Case, Junior.
When Alex called we had a pleasant chat during which he explained who he was, a bit of his family history and his passion for fishing at Marion County Lake. As it turns out, Alex was actually a stamp collector (in an admittedly modest way) and told me he liked federal duck stamps. In return, I told him a little about myself and my collecting interests. As I was in the early stages of my own personal love affair his home town of Marion and the stamps used at the lake – we immediately hit it off and made it a point to have lunch together on my next visit.
We would not have to wait for long, because in those days I often visited Marion two or three times a year. I would try to spend a couple of days there when I was in the midwest – visiting Kay’s family, Les Kouba or Bill Webster in Minnesota, the Rosebud Sioux or Crow Creek Indian Reservations in south central South Dakota, Ken Pruess in Lincoln, Nebraska or Jerry Koepp in Des Moines, Iowa – in addition to dozens of others like Alex Case, whose names may not be recognizable to philatelists. I spent a big part of my life driving around the midwest and have a lot of great memories.
Alex struck me as a true gentleman and his love for his community and the sport of fishing were obviously very genuine. He very much reminded me of my friend in Healdsburg, Joe Brandt. Looking back on it now, I believe my familiarity with Joe and his family and their very similar involvement in our community allowed me the to connect with Alex and develop a solid relationship much quicker than would otherwise have been possible.
Alex was very supportive of my work. I could sense that he was perfectly able to comprehend the depth of my interest in his home town’s history. Over the years we would spend many enjoyable hours sharing information and stories about the Park and Lake.
Alex showed me some of his and Jean’s licenses the first time we got together – and he even allowed me to acquire a few, including his first when he was a boy of 17. This meant a great deal to me as he had saved these his entire life and we had had only just met. He appreciated what I was trying to accomplish with the exhibit and was excited about the article I intended to write – so he decided to help me attain my goals.
One of my Biggest Supporters
Alex became one of the biggest and most important supporters out of a large number of local contacts I developed in Marion. He allowed me to acquire at least one of his or Jean’s licenses on each of my first dozen or so trips. This was fun for me and gave me something to look forward to. There was no particular order to the acquisitions so I had fun putting together a jig-saw puzzle of their life spent fishing together at the lake.
In addition, he introduced me to many “old timers” and other well-connected people around town, helped provide instant credibility to some of the strangers whose doors I knocked on (I went door to door on several occasions) and even introduced me as a guest speaker at the Marion Rotary Club, where I discussed the historical importance of their Park and Lake from a philatelic point of view.
Word got around that town that he was friends with “that young stamp collector from California” and people would often ask him for a reference before answering my ads. But what endeared me the most to Alex was that he would ask all of his friends if they had saved their licenses and stamps for me during the rest of the year when I was not in town (see Figures 14 and 15).
When all was said and done, Alex played a significant role in helping me to complete my collection of Marion County waterfowl and fishing stamps, acquire several rarities that helped my exhibits of Classic State and Local Fish and Game Stamps and U.S. Fish and Game Stamps: 1960 – 1979 to break through the ceiling imposed upon collectors of “back of the book” material by the old guard of organized philately (see Figure 16) and to write an article about some locally-issued fish and game stamps that resonated with enough people that it was formally recognized as the finest philatelic article written in the world during the second quarter of 1993 by the American Philatelic Society.
Over the years Alex allowed me to acquire all of the licenses that he and Jean had saved. Today, their licenses represent an archive for Marion County Fishing Stamp usages that rivals those formerly belonging to Park and Lake Supervisors Jerry and Verona Mullikin and John Waner.
Aside from Junior’s 1947 license, it does not contain anything that can compete with the great pre-remainder rarities in the Mulliken and Waner Archives. However, for the period 1955 – 1973 it is more complete; lacking only those from 1957 and 1971. To see most of Alex and Jean’s licenses, click here. If you ever find yourself in Marion, I donated one of Jean’s licenses to my friends at the Marion County Historical Society and you can see it there (see Figure 17).
Phyllis and the staff at the Historical Society kindly assisted me when I was doing research for the article and I will always be grateful for their help. They have a nice museum that does an excellent job of telling the story of Marion County’s history and it is well worth a visit.