Posted on Sun, Aug. 15, 2004
(K)Ness debate creates (k)notty problem for county
BY BECCY TANNER
The Wichita Eagle
More than 140 years after Cpl. Noah Van Buren Ness' death, and 131 years after a Kansas county and city were named for him, there is some dispute over whether those places got it right.
Should they really be called Kness, as the corporal originally spelled his name, or Ness, as every map in Kansas has it?
A Civil War buff from Georgia recently walked into the Ness County Historical Museum wanting to know if the city and county were going to change their spelling. After all, the buff pointed out, Cpl. Ness was born and raised a Kness.
"He asked what it would take to change the name of Ness County and I said not a chance," said Mary Hall, the newly elected president of the historical society.
But Hall said it did cause people to do some talking.
Located in western Kansas, Ness County has roughly 3,000 residents -- and many take great pride in the history and heritage of Cpl. Ness. In fact, the only statue in Ness City -- erected four years ago -- is of Ness. It took Ness countians 10 years to raise $50,000 to commission the statue which, they say, represents all veterans of all wars.
Ila Fritzler was one of those residents who researched much of the history on Ness.
"It was written 'Kness' on his marriage certificate but on most of his government papers, it was 'Ness,' " Fritzler said.
Federal military and census records show Kness was born in Ohio in 1838 and sometime in the late 1850s or early 1860s came to Kansas, settling in Anderson County.
When the Civil War broke out, Ness enlisted at Humboldt and served in Company G of the 7th Kansas Cavalry, nicknamed Jennison's Jayhawkers. The volunteer cavalry regiment raided, robbed and murdered its way into Missouri. Toward the end of the war, the unit distinguished itself in battles in and against the South.
Ness, 26, was injured in a skirmish at Hurricane Creek, Miss., and died at Abbeville, Miss., in August 1864; he was buried in an unmarked grave. His only child, a son, survived Ness but never had any children.
Peter Grace of Glenview, Ill., is the great-grandnephew of Ness and inherited his relative's Civil War letters and tintypes.
After reading Ness' letters, he learned of the K-N-E-S-S spelling.
"Noah was Jewish and when he married his wife, Eliza Jane -- who was Christian -- he promised to convert to Christianity," Grace said. "He dropped the K so it wouldn't be the Jewish spelling."
Grace said a letter dated June 3, 1862, is the first in which he signed his name "Ness."
"There are pieces and information in his letters that you never read in history books or can fathom hearing," Grace said.
Grace says he has mixed feelings about whether the name of the city and county should be changed.
"It's been that way since 1873," Grace said. "Since the historical records have it as an 'N' and they may not have known he was a Jewish fellow who originally spelled it with a 'K,' I would say leave it as it is."
Fritzler said Grace has made copies of the letters that the Ness County Historical Society has since turned into book form, titled "Cpl. Noah V.B. Ness."
The book can be purchased for $13, which includes postage and tax. It can be ordered from the Prairie Mercantile, P.O. Box 6, Ness City, KS 67560.
Proceeds go toward the restoration of the Ness County Bank building.
Reach Beccy Tanner at 268-6336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.