Archive for Thursday, May 23, 2013

100 years ago: ‘The vulturous Kaw triumped’ over Billie Bob Atkinson

May 23, 2013


From the Lawrence Daily Journal-World for May 23, 1913:

"The Kansas River claimed the life of 'Billie Bob' Atkinson. The little body was found this morning a mile and a half east of Eudora, and about twelve miles from Lawrence. The body was discovered about 9 o'clock this morning floating down stream. John Williams, a farm hand and a fisherman, was on the river in his boat when he saw a peculiar object floating in the stream ahead of him. He drew closer and found that it was the body of a child.... The features were barely recognizable, but there was the little blue shirt and the overalls, the bare feet and the yellow hair which had been so curly.... There was no doubt as to the identity of the child. The little body was carefully wrapped in blankets and brought to Lawrence in an auto.... The body must have floated down the river over the dam. Had Williams not happened to have been on the river at this particular time this morning the body might have floated many more miles as there are very few persons who frequent the river at this place.... 'Billie Bob' must have lost his life close to the boat landing at the foot of Ohio street. The establishment of the fact that the child was drowned adds to the belief that he was playing in a boat; he must have lost his balance and fallen in. The child was helpless in the fight against the waters, the vulturous Kaw triumphed, the little life was blotted out and the dark muddy waters closed about the little body. That was ten days ago. Ten days during which the Kaw held its secret.... No one will ever know just where the tragedy was enacted, that much is the Kaw's secret forever. But the finding of the tricycle close to this boat landing, the fact that the child was seen going down the steps that lead to the river and the knowledge of his fondness for playing in the water from a boat led to the belief that the little fellow must have met with the fatal mishap at this particular place. 'Billie Bob' had been there numerous times before. He enjoyed playing in the water and once before had been rescued after a fall into the river.... The funeral will be held this evening at 7 o'clock from the home, 824 Mississippi street."


workinghard 4 years, 12 months ago

Wonder where he was buried, Oak Hill maybe?

Tyson Travis 4 years, 12 months ago

What a melodramatically written story, styles were different back then. Home funeral after ten days in the river? Would've opted for a memorial service instead. Thanks, Sarah.

Sarah St. John 4 years, 12 months ago

Hi, all. Sorry about the sad ending. Closed-casket, I'm sure, jazzttt.... at least I would hope so..... According to the next day's reports, after the service at home, his body was taken for burial rites in Nevada, Missouri.

According to the "Nevada Daily Mail" from that week, Billie Bob was "the bright six-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Sam Atkinson, former residents of Nevada." (The newspapers didn't seem to agree on whether he was 5 or 6.) But where is Billie Bob's final resting place? There are many little rural cemeteries in that part of Vernon County. I can't find little "William Robert Atkinson" on, nor can I find his father, Samuel W. Atkinson, in either Kansas or Missouri on that same website. So it could have been in a private burying ground, or in a small cemetery now defunct, or maybe it's just that no one has entered it on findagrave yet.

I did find a Samuel W. Atkinson in Oak Hill here in Lawrence, but he was born in 1900 (so says -- I haven't been to the actual gravesite) so he can't be the father. However, there's a good chance that he's an older brother. It would make sense, named after his father, and the original articles did say that Billie Bob was the youngest of a large family.

I thought you might want to see a few more articles from the past ten days in the family's original hometown newspaper....

May 14 "Nevada Daily Mail" "Billie was known by practically every student and resident of the city [of Lawrence].... Grave fears are entertained for his safety as the Kaw river runs right in front of the Atkinson home....."

[What! That has to be a mistake. The Atkinsons were reported to have lived clear over on the 800 block of Mississippi. I haven't confirmed that at the courthouse but I'm assuming it's true. But to continue....]

"Billie Bob is well known in Lawrence and ever since a little toddler has gone all over the city. Mrs. W. ------ lth, sister of Mrs. Atkinson, left this morning for Lawrence, and if the child is not found by this afternoon, Mrs. W. W. Prewitt will go over in the morning. The many friends of the Atkinson family here hope that the child will soon be found."

[The sister's name is blurred out on the original newspaper. WOULDN'T YOU KNOW IT! The ONE part of the article that I was really wanting to see, for grave-hunting reasons. Oh well, the second sister mentioned, Mrs. W. W. Prewitt, was a better lead; there are a lot of Prewitts buried in the Deepwood Cemetery in Nevada.]

The story was picked up by several papers, including the Kansas City ones. If anyone wants to pick up the threads and try to find the Atkinson burial plot (if any), these names should give a good starting point.

In the meantime, I think I'll take a small rose from our garden and visit the river near where the Tennessee Street bank would have been, and set the rose afloat on the Kaw's muddy waters..... in memory of the little guy.

Stephanie Hull 4 years, 12 months ago

Thanks for all the extra info. I appreciate all the work you put into researching these news stories.

LadyJ 4 years, 12 months ago

It was lucky his body was found. I believe it was around 25yrs ago that a young man went over the dam and his family searched for months for his body. I remember they camped out at the boat ramp in North Lawrence below the dam. Also should be coming up on the 25th anniversary of the murder of the little boy in North Lawrence. Wonder if his killer is still in prison?

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