Since 1951, the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, near Canton, has provided home and shelter to a number of native Kansan wildlife, including bison and elk. But the history behind the creation of the refuge, including the background of the family for which it was named, was largely a mystery. Until McPherson resident Miriam Worden began researching their background.
Worden said her undertaking began as a hobby, as her four sons, then in high school, would often spend time at the reserve. When she began asking about the background of the family, Worden said nobody could provide any solid answers on the Maxwell family history.
“It was if they never existed,” Worden said.
Worden said she then took it upon herself to delve deeper into the family history, digging back through Kansas archives from the 1800s, as well as contacting modern-day descendants of the family.
“It became my little project; my little hobby,” Worden said.
Worden discovered the the origins of the Maxwell family in Kansas began with John Gault Maxwell Sr., a Scottish-born businessman who was heading west during the gold rush of the late 1800s. Worden said Maxwell Sr. fell in love with Kansas during his travels west. Returning with his New York-born wife, Emma Alice Maxwell, Maxwell Sr. began to establish a home and a name in McPherson County despite the hardships of the wilderness, including the occasional skirmish with nearby Native Americans.
But the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge was the dream of his sons, John Gault Maxwell Jr., the first known white child born in McPherson County, and his brother Henry Irving Maxwell. In an article, Worden indicates the brothers both wished to leave the state of Kansas with the gift of a wild animal refuge after their deaths.
And so they did. In Henry’s will, he requested his administrators buy what is now the Maxwell Wildlife Reserve, and to provide suitable shelter for buffalo and antelope.
The Maxwell Wildlife Refuge is at 2565 Pueblo Road in Canton and is the only wildlife refuge in the state of Kansas. Today, it provides shelter to more than 200 buffalo and 100 elk.
Worden’s work has received a number of recognition from historical and biographical organizations, including Kansas Fish & Game, The University of Kansas and a nomination in the biographical Who’s Who in America.