By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
FRANKLIN, Kan. —
As a 10-year-old while growing up in Franklin, Joe Maghe read a book that changed his life.
“It was a novel about the Civil War, and I became enthralled with the chivalrous life of the cavalrymen,” he said.
Maghe’s enthusiasm for the past set him on a path to become a future history teacher, but as a student at Pittsburg State University in the 1970s, he realized the field offered scant jobs.
Then 28 years ago, while on vacation in Florida, he saw a notice for a Civil War weapons show.
“I left my wife and kids in the motel and told them I’d be back soon,” Maghe said. “I ended up buying a Civil War cavalry sword, but I got into looking at some really good stuff there, and it took me a little longer than I anticipated. By the time I returned to the motel, I found my family sitting on the curb. It was past time for us to check out.”
His wife and children were understanding, and Maghe, now of rural Riverton, has spent the nearly three decades since continuing to collect Civil War weapons and artifacts.
The former employee of the U.S. Department of Defense in St. Louis and the U.S. Postal Service in Baxter Springs said his emphasis in both collecting and research has been on the Border War between Missouri and Kansas.
“Collecting these items, and then sharing them with others, has really brought that history to life,” he said.
Maghe also learned everything he could find about the role of immigrants in the Civil War; his father, Joseph, was the child of a Belgian immigrant. The younger Joe would grow up across the street from the town’s miners’ union hall, and as a paperboy he got to know the town’s diverse immigrant population.
“I was intrigued by their story,” he said.
The May 4, 2003, tornado would destroy his childhood home, take the life of his mother, Josephine, and level the miners’ hall. Today, a new Miners Hall Museum stands in its place. It is there that Maghe’s Civil War weapons and artifacts are part of a featured exhibit, “A Nation Divided: The American Civil War,” on display through September.
A few other collectors, who like Maghe are members of the Border War Collectors, a small group of Four-State Area enthusiasts, also contributed weapons and artifacts for the exhibit.
Weapons on display would have been used by the men who fought along the Missouri border and in Crawford and Cherokee counties in Kansas, Maghe said. They include a Savage revolver, sabers and several Colt revolvers of varying calibers.
There’s also a carbine short rifle that would have been used by the cavalry, Maghe said, as well as several farrier knives, binoculars, a bugle, a canteen and grapeshot used in artillery.
“A lot of times, people might not be interested in weaponry but want to know what life was like for soldiers,” Maghe said. “So we have a number of camp and personal items on display, as well.”
Those include a twist of tobacco, cutlery and cooking items, a set of playing cards, and ebony and ivory dominoes made in 1860, and perhaps the most intimate artifact: a letter written in 1864 from an encampment. It starts, “Dear wife ...”
The exhibit also includes Confederate paper money and coins, paintings and maps from the Border War, and photographs of soldiers based at Fort Blair at Baxter Springs.
Maghe, who is a past board member of the Baxter Springs Historical Society and has displayed his collection at the Baxter Springs museum, plans to have a tent set up at the Civil War encampment there in October in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the attack on Fort Blair.
Many of his items also have been or are on loan elsewhere, including “An American Turning Point,” a five-year traveling exhibit of the Virginia Historical Society.
This Saturday, Maghe will present “Immigrants in the American Civil War” in connection with his exhibit at the Miners Hall Museum in Franklin, and will answer questions from 2 to 4 p.m. He also will hold open houses to allow visitors to ask questions from 2 to 4 p.m. on Aug. 30, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 9, and from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sept. 17 at the museum.
THE EXHIBIT IN FRANKLIN includes three musical instruments: a bugle, a drum and drumsticks, and a fife. Every field company was to have a pair of musicians, and each was to master more than 100 calls to order to communicate to the troops while in battle or camp. Regulations allowed 12-year-old boys to enlist as musicians.