Page 715-716, transcribed by Carolyn Ward from History of Butler County, Kansas by Vol. P. Mooney. Standard Publishing Company, Lawrence, Kan.: 1916. ill.; 894 pgs.


Mrs. J. E. Harding, of Benton township, belongs to a family of Butler county pioneers. She was born in that part of Virginia, that is now West Virginia, in 1849, a daughter of Michael and Matilda Gidley, natives of Virginia, and of old Virginia stock, the former being of English and the latter of Irish descent. They came to Butler county, Kansas, in 1870, and for a time lived in a tent, surrounded by the primitive conditions of the plains, and they homesteaded 150 acres in Benton township, and during their second year on their claim they built a small house of native lumber.

Michael Gidley, Mrs. Harding's father, dug the first well in Benton township, and the water from this well supplied fourteen families, many of whom came a long distance to this well for their supply of water. He drove from where Benton now stands to the present site of the city of Wichita when there was not even a trail across that stretch of prairie, and made the first wagon tracks between those two points.

Like most of the early settlers, he was forced to do almost any kind of work for meager compensation in order to make both ends meet during the strenuous pioneer days. He frequently walked to Towanda, a distance of six miles, and after sawing wood all day, would return home carrying a stick of wood, which furnished fuel with which to cook his breakfast. After he had paid the expenses of filing on his claim he


had a cash capital of seventy-five cents to begin life in a new country. Prices of provisions were as high as money was scarce, corn costing $2 per bushel, and other provisions in proportion.

The abundance of game, however, furnished the early settlers a plentiful supply of meat, their main food of that nature being venison and prairie chickens. Mr. Harding killed a great many deer, often in close proximity to his home. One day he stood on the south door of his cabin and shot a deer, and looking over his shoulder out of the opposite door he saw another one, which his unerring aim soon converter also into the family meat supply.

J. E. Harding and Miss Mattie Gidley were married in 1867, and came to Butler county in 1870, homesteading 160 acres of land in Benton township. Mr. Harding was a native of Charleston, Me., born February 7, 1839. When seventeen years of age he left his New England home and went to Illinois, locating at Odell, where he remained until August 12, 1862, when he enlisted in Company M, First Illinois light artillery, and served until the close of the war. He participated in many of the important battles of that great struggle and received his honorable discharge July 24, 1865, with a spotless military record to his credit. He was severely wounded at the battle of Chickamauga, September 20, 1863, but rejoined his command as soon as he was able.

Mr. Harding was a carpenter, and after coming to Butler county worked at his trade, while his faithful wife and little family "held down the claim" on the barren plains. Mrs. Harding also cared for her aged parents, cultivated some ground and looked after the cattle. In the early days all their supplies were hauled from Emporia. There were practically no roads, but merely a trail across the country, with no bridges across the streams, and Mrs. Harding recalls that the first year they lived here the season was a very wet one and the swollen streams made travel almost impossible, and wagon trains which were hauling supplies to the Indians and others farther west than Medicine Lodge, were detained here for weeks, being unable to ford the streams.

To Mr. and Mrs. Harding were born the following children; Nora L., Benton, Kans., who was born in Illinois; Mrs. Nellie A. Morehead, Benton, Kans.; Mrs. Matilda M. Wagner, Benton, Kans. Mr. Harding died July 15, 1907. Mrs. Harding resides in Benton township, and belongs to that type of American pioneer women who were not only here and saw the development of the great West, but performed their part in the great role of empire building.

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Pages 715-716,