Shawnee names new parks from Nieman Road improvements; City leaders possibly reconsidering direction for Hickok statue

Located near Old Shawnee Pizza and Sushi Mido on Nieman Road, Oxbow Park features a spherical play structure and outdoor seating. It commemorates the history of the Star Blacksmith Shop, which stood on the west side of present-day Nieman.

The Shawnee City Council on Monday unanimously agreed on the names of Oxbow Park and Trail Scout Park for the two new Shawnee city parks along Nieman Road and Shawnee Mission Parkway. Meanwhile, in light of the nationwide discussions on race, the city may consider a new direction for the statue of Wild Bill Hickok along Shawnee Mission Parkway.

Located near Old Shawnee Pizza and Sushi Mido on Nieman Road, Oxbow Park commemorates the history of the Star Blacksmith Shop, which stood on the west side of present-day Nieman.

Built and operated by Jeremiah King, a Shawnee Indian, the shop served early residents of Shawneetown as well as the stage and freight lines traveling westward along or near the Gum  Springs Route of the Santa Fe Trail. The shop was purportedly large enough to fit a yoke of oxen to be shod or a disabled freight wagon for repairs, according to city documents.

Located along Shawnee Mission Parkway between Commerce Bank and the Stag’s Creek building, Trail Scout Park commemorates the life and times of James Butler — a trail scout, wagon master and lawman also known as Wild Bill Hickok — who served as a deputy in Monticello, now part of present-day Shawnee.

Upon completion, the park will feature a statue of a scout leading the wagon train from Pioneer Park a few blocks east on Shawnee Mission Parkway.

Also, located near Old Shawnee Pizza and Sushi Mido on Nieman Road, Oxbow Park features a spherical play structure and outdoor seating. It commemorates the history of the Star Blacksmith Shop, which stood on the west side of present-day Nieman.

Statue at Trail Scout Park could commemorate Wild Bill Hickok or trail scouts in general

Neil Holman, parks and recreation director, said the park board discussed making the face of the statue more generic to commemorate all trail scouts, not just Wild Bill Hickok, who was a white man. Above, file photo of the silhouette of a miniature model by sculptor Maretta Kennedy.

Some councilmembers also discussed whether the city should reconsider building a statue of Hickok or commemorating trail scouts in general.

Neil Holman, parks and recreation director, said the park board had recently discussed redirecting Trail Scout Park to highlight the history of all trail scouts instead of focusing on Wild Hill Hickok, who was a white man.

“Some of the conversation at the park board was with what’s happening in the world today with the statues,” Holman said, relaying conversations from the park board. In the wake of George Floyd’s death by a Minneapolis police officer, protestors have torn down statues across the country depicting white, male historical figures that have Confederate or racist ties.

City leaders noted that Hickok was a known abolitionist who was active in the Underground Railroad to transport slaves out of the South.

“It (Trail Scout Park) ties very well with Pioneer Crossing, so we thought instead of making this about James Butler… we would honor and celebrate all trail scouts that came through our area,” Holman said. “The statue could be a mixture of, a face of Native American, African American, and more of a generic face of that time… Again, I want it to be everyone’s statue.”

Councilmember Kurt Knappen said he supported honoring a specific person of any race with a unique history to Shawnee, but putting a generic face on a statue “seems odd” to him.

Councilmember Lisa Larson-Bunnell also suggested coming up with a historical figure with a history unique to Shawnee.

“Unfortunately, he is not just ours; he has memorials in Illinois, he has memorials in South Dakota,” Larson-Bunnell said. “This might be an opportunity for us to really focus on somebody that is truly unique to Shawnee.”

Larson-Bunnell suggested the city could perhaps honor Robert McCallop, an African-American resident of Shawnee who started the first school bus service in Johnson County and transported black children out of the segregated county to attend Wyandotte County schools.

The Shawnee Town 1929 museum has a tribute to McCallop, Holman added.

Larson-Bunnell also suggested picking a new location to honor Hickok, perhaps further west within the footprint of Monticello such as at the not-yet-built Wilder Bluff Park since Hickok was elected to serve that area.

Holman said Maretta Kennedy, the lead sculptor on the statue, has already begun work, but she is fine with whatever the city council decides.

The city council may revisit discussions on the statue at a later date.