PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS
by Adolph Roenigk
Being a Brief Sketch of the Lives of the Roenigk Family and
Their Settlement in Kansas; The Writers Arrival in the U. S.;
Traveling by Steamboat; First Visit in Kansas
The writer was born in Ufhoven, Thuringia, Germany, in the year 1847. At the age of thirteen years I and sister Louisa, who was four years older than I, came to the United States.
We came with the consent of our parents who had provided us with means, such as extra clothing and money for traveling expenses.
We with a man named Otto Kerl, a resident of this country, who was then visiting in Germany. With him and other people to the number of twelve, we crossed the Atlantic in a ship named Teutonia, half sail and half steam, requiring seventeen days to make the trip across.
We came by way of New York and settled on a farm in Wisconsin, where we remained for two years. The next spring after our arrival on this farm, at the age of fourteen years, I was put behind a plow drawn by a large yoke of oxen, and drove this team for one year, doing all kinds of farm work. Sister Louisa worked for this family as a domestic.
At the end of the first year I was promoted to be the driver of a horse team, while a younger boy, a son of the farmer, became driver of the ox team. We two boys were the only help on the farm except during the harvest and threshing time when more help was employed.
In 1863 while the Civil War was going on sister Louisa and I were in Madison, capitol of the state, where I began to learn the saddlery trade, and sister Louisa continued to work as a domestic.
While we were practically alone here among strangers, we were contented, although separated from our parents, brothers and sisters, by thousands of miles, the Atlantic ocean between us. We looked forward with hopes of a prosperous future and to meet our parents and the rest of the family at some future time. Their influence remained with us and we intended to make good.
While in Madison sister Louisa made the acquaintance of a young man named Mates Rasmussen, a Dane by birth, who was then working in a book bindery, but soon after went to
Chicago and enlisted in the United States navy. He was transferred South and served on a gunboat on the lower Mississippi during the remainder of the war.
In 1864 sister Louisa made the acquaintance of a Southern family from St. Louis, who were then on a vacation at a summer resort in Madison. This family on returning home in the fall of that year persuaded us to accompany them to St. Louis, Missouri, where sister Louisa worked for the family as a domestic, while I again found employment at the saddlery trade.
With the ending of the Civil War in 1865, young Rasmussen, having been discharged from the navy, came to St. Louis to renew his acquaintance with sister Louisa. They were married soon after and moved to Leavenworth, Kansas, where the husband found employment in the print ship bookbindery of D. R. Anthony. In the spring of 1866, before the advent of the railroad, the couple went by wagon route to Manhattan, Kansas, with the intention of eventually engaging in agriculture, while I remained at St. Louis working at the leather trade.
At this period of American progress, many steamboats were plying on the Mississippi river and its tributaries. This river traffic was at its height of prosperity before the advent of the railroads. While I was generally steady at work, I took time enough off to make trips up and down the river, and I have set foot on the banks of most of the states bordering on that stream. The accommodations on these boats were such that anyone used to roughing it, could, as deck passenger, travel very cheaply.
Most of the laborers (roustabouts) on these boats were negroes. Many times we enjoyed ourselves sitting in front on deck, watching the course of the boat going around the bend of the river. There was usually heavy timber on both banks and apparently all around us.
We enjoyed also stopping at towns to discharge or take on freight or stopping at a woodpile to take on cordwood as fuel for the boilers. All steamboats burned wood. Many incidents connected with these trips have been a pleasure to me, and still remain a pleasant memory.
In the fall of 1866 a companion a few years older and I made a trip up the Missouri river, our object being to see the
country and visit sister Louisa and her husband at Manhattan, Kansas, the new railroad having been completed to the point.
At St. Louis we boarded a boat named Dear Lodge, for Kansas City, proceeding up the river, all went well until we reached the vicinity of Jefferson City. One morning a storm came up that developed into a hurricane that swept a part of the upper deck, and both smokestacks into the river. This accident to our boat was well timed, as in this vicinity near the river bank was an abandoned sawmill with its tall smokestack lying on the ground. The furnace of the boilers of our boat having little or no draft we were compelled to go very slowly to that point.
Here the smokestack of the abandoned sawmill was cut in two pieces which made very serviceable funnels when placed in position on our boat, and again we proceeded on up the river toward Kansas City, It required six days to make the one-way trip.
The boat landing, or wharf, was located near the foot of Main street. On the river front the Missouri Pacific ran from east to west. Within a block the depot was located. This depot was an ordinary size frame building with boards up and down, as I remember it, similar to others I saw later in country towns throughout Kansas.
To the east of Main street, along the levy, were numerous two and sometimes three-story brick buildings and warehouses built up against the bluff that was then called Westport Landing, which in its day did a thriving business in connection with Westport and the Santa Fe Trail, but was then on the decline with the coming of the railroad.
On our arrival my companion and I proceeded up town and took in the Market place (then principally a horse marker), located on Fourth and Fifth streets as it is today, but very few buildings were there at that time. The town seemed to have about five or six thousand inhabitants. Great bluffs were along the river front, which were cut down some years later to make room for streets and building lots. After seeing the town we went back down Main street to the Missouri Pacific depot, and from there traveled on foot westward along the bottom road a distance of about a mile and crossed the Kansas river on a pontoon bridge, near the rivers mouth. South of this road and east of the Kansas river, was about forty acres of cut over
timber land. Hundreds of stumps were to be seen, and here and there scattering large cottonwood trees unfit for saw logs were still standing. This is where the present stockyards are located.
Across the Kansas line at Wyandotte we boarded the train for the west and visited Lawrence and Topeka on the way. Lawrence had been raided by Quantrell only three years before, August 1863, when between two hundred and three hundred inhabitants were killed. Most of the damage caused by burning buildings had been repaired and we saw but little of its former destruction.
After visiting Topeka we took the train for Manhattan, the end of the railroad. Here we visited sister Louisa and her husband, whom we found prosperous and in good spirits. We prolonged our visit here for a week, getting a good view and forming a favorable impression of the then new state of Kansas.
On our return trip we again took the train for St. Louis, this time going by way of Lawrence to Leavenworth, where we took the Missouri Pacifc train and arrived at St. Louis without further incidents worth mentioning, satisfied and well pleased with our trip. Two years later, in 1868, I came to Kansas to make it my home.
In 1871, after being in this country eleven years, I had become an American citizen, and had taken a homestead of the vacant government land in Clay County. Sister Louisa, with her husband and family of two children were also living on a homestead in this vicinity when our parents and the rest of our family came from Germany to join us and make their home in this land of our adoption. Three brothers, Richard, Julius and Charles, and two sisters, Anna and Augusta. I went to New York to meet them when they landed from the steamer Rhein. I brought them to Clay County, where they all settled on Homesteads. Our father died at the age of sixty, having lived here four years. His death was caused by scurvy, contracted on account of not having vegetables to eat during the grasshopper year of 1874. Julius was murdered by highwaymen in the Ute Pass, fourteen miles west of Colorado Springs, in 1882. Augusta married and with her husband and family moved to Oregon, where she died in 1893.
Our mother died in 1906 at the age of eighty-four years, retaining the old homestead until the time of her death.
Mate Rasmussen, after a lingering illness, died in 1908. His widow (sister Louisa) died March 23, 1930, at the age of eighty-six, also retaining the old farm until the time of her death. One of her children, Waldemar, went to Colorado, engaged in mining, and died there in 1900, at the age of thirty-two. All the others were married and have families, who are now living in Clay County, Kansas, and California, and all are well to do.