NEWTON — Two things helped settle down Newton, which had hosted one of the wild west's bloodiest gunfights — the rail head moved further west reducing the number of cattle drives topping in Newton, and Prussian Mennonites settled in the area.
One of the most prominent of those Anabaptists was Bernard Warkentin, the Ukrainian Mennonite immigrant credited with making winter wheat a cash crop in Kansas. His home, now a museum, is just blocks from his Newton Milling Co. — and blocks from where Hyde Park (the site of the gunfight) once stood.
His home, at 211 East First St., is now a museum telling the story of Bernard and his wife, the settlement of Kansas by Mennonites and the rise of Turkey Red Winter Wheat.
The house is listed on the Kansas Register of Historic Places and National Register of Historic Places as a splendid example of the Victorian period in American architecture and furnishings. It offers a glimpse into the way the Warkentins lived, with 80 percent of the original furnishings remaining.
Warkentin had made major contributions to the town’s growth since moving there from Halstead with his wife and their two children when construction on Warkentin House was completed in 1887.
Warkentin House has for many years displayed the last photo of Mr. and Mrs. Warkentin taken before his death, which shows the couple in the native dress of Jerusalem. The photo was made in a then-popular postcard format and is dated March 15. Recently, longtime volunteer Karen Penner found another postcard from the same trip in a drawer in the butler’s pantry at the museum.
The museum has several letters from the trip in its collection.
The Warkentins left with a group in January 1908, visiting Europe, Egypt and the Holy Land, where they took a wagon trip to Nazareth and an excursion across the Sea of Galilee. The couple and their traveling companions boarded a train in Palestine on April 1, en route through the old Ottoman (Turkish) empire, which includes the modern countries of Syria and Lebanon.
At about 8 a.m., the Warkentins were in their compartment. In the next compartment, Prince Mehemid Said, whose grandfather Eddel-Kahir was emir of the Arab tribes in Algeria, displayed a gun to his friends and pulled the trigger to prove it wasn't loaded. The prince was mistaken and the bullet hit Bernard Warkentin. He was taken to a German Deaconess Hospital in Beirut and died about 11:30 p.m.
His body was returned to Newton on May 1 and a well-attended funeral service was held at the Warkentin Home on May 5, 1908, led by The Rev. J. Y Ewart and David Goerz. A memorial was held the following week at the new First Presbyterian Church on Main Street.