PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS
by Adolph Roenigk
ACQUIRING A HOMESTEAD ON OUR
The Homestead Law in Brief: The Homestead Region; The
Arrival of the Settlers; The Prairie Schooner; Temporary
Shelter; The Dugout; Rattlesnakes; The Ox Team; Changes
for the Better; The Wealthy Retired Farmer.
To acquire title to a quarter section of land, the United States homestead law a half century ago required a settler to reside upon and cultivate a tract of land for a period of five years, and pay a fee of eighteen dollars. Of this amount, fourteen dollars was paid at the time of entry and the balance at the time of making final proof. After making entry at the government land office, the homesteader was allowed six months time in which to settle on the claim.
Besides the claim thus acquired the bona fide settler could acquire a quarter section of government land under the preemption law, by making certain improvements and paying the government price, one dollar and a quarter per acre. In addition to the foregoing, he could obtain still another quarter section of land under the timber act, by planting and cultivating ten acres of timber for a term of seven years. Thus each person over twenty-one years of age, or the head of a family, was entitled in all to four hundred and eighty acres of government land.
The homestead region in which most of our people were interested, the northwest part of our state, less than a century ago, was designated a part of the North American Desert. This so-called desert was in reality watered by beautiful streams, and covered with grass on which thousands of buffalo fed, and for centuries had been the hunting ground of Indians. Why it was ever called a part of the American Desert has been a mystery to every immigrant and homestead settler who has penetrated this region.
Many of the settlers, especially those from neighboring states, came in prairie schooners. The prairie schooner was a wagon with upright bows, covered with a white sheet of canvas, which could be seen moving along at a long distance, looking, when seen from afar off, not unlike a schooner sailing on the sea--hence the name. Such an outfit was generally drawn by a yoke of oxen driven by the owner, his wife and small children occupying the wagon. At night they camped out along side of the road on their line of travel. Often a family cow was brought
along to furnish milk for the family during the journey; and a box containing a number of live chickens strapped on the back of the wagon completed the outfit. The whole equipment was intended to reduce living expenses while traveling, and on arrival at the destination, to be used as a start on the farm. Apparently the emigrant had everything ready to begin work as soon as he had found a claim and located his family.
After the settler had been to the land office and had obtained his homestead papers and was permanently located, the first thing to be thought of was some kind of a dwelling for himself and family. If his claim was located near timber along the rivers or creeks probably a log house would be built, but as the homestead region was mostly prairie land, void of timber, the primitive dwellings of the homestead settlers on what was called the frontier were what was commonly called dugouts. As they were only temporary affairs hastily constructed by the settler for immediate use and the present comfort of their families until a more substantial residence could be erected, they have now become obsolete; but in order to perpetuate the recollection, I insert a brief description for the benefit of those who in the future may desire to know the design or style of architecture that prevailed among the homestead settlers in the first settlement of the country.
The site for a dugout was generall selected on the side of a hill or ridge. An excavation was twelve by fourteen feet, more or less, according to the needs or inclination of the settler.
At each angle a post, and at each end a large fork was set firmly in the ground to hold up a beam or ridge pole. On this, extending to the sidewalls were placed poles as rafters strong enough to hold up the heavy roof. On these poles were laid boards, if on hand, otherwise simply brush and hay; and the whole was covered with sod thick enough to keep out the rain. The front was generally stone or logs with a door and several windows in it. If well built, the dugout was quite comfortable, warm in winter and cool in summer; and besides, it had the advantage over modern homes of being cyclone proof.
During the time of building the cabin or dugout, the family prepared their meals at the campfire, and slept in the covered wagon or a temporary tent prepared for this purpose.
Many of such dugouts during those days gave evidence of refinement and culture of the inmates. They sheltered families who had seen better days, and had enjoyed pleasanter experiences than roughing it on the frontier. The wife had been reared in refinement in the older states, a fact shown by the tastefully arrainged fixtures around the otherwise gloomy earth walls. The earth floor was cleanly swept, the walls were whitewashed, and upon them were pasted the newspapers that had been read by the family, among them the New York Ledger, Tribune, Cincinnati Enquirer and other papers, according to the state from which the family had emigrated. A neatly decorated shelf, supported by pins driven into the wall, contained the album and family Bible.
The visitor to such people in these dugouts was received with genuine hospitality, and the evidence of thrift which surrounded many of these sod roofed dwellings furnished ample proof that they were capable of extending civilization into the wilderness by their industry, converting the wide prairies into fields of plenty.
Though primitive in architecture, the dugouts of Kansas have been refuges for many families, when parts of the country have been visited the tornadoes that have swept the plains with resistless force, destroying farmhouses and sometimes whole villages. While more pretentious dwellings and farms in the track of tornadoes have been completely demolished and swept away, often with loss of life, the inmates of dugouts have escaped injury. These modest structures have with stood the fury of the storms; and when a more substantial residence was erected by the settler, the old dugout was often permitted to stand, not
only as an interesting relic of the past, but as a safe retreat in case of a threatened disaster from the elements.
In the early settlements of this homestead region, the immigrants were composed not only of persons from many different states of the Union, but also largely of immigrants from Europe. The greatest number of foreign immigrants in one section were from Sweden and Norway; industrious, enterprising people, orderly, moral, frugal and good citizens, who left their homes and workshops in their native country, to seek homesteads and obtain titles to quarter sections of beautiful land on the prairies of Kansas. They have aided materially in developing the country. These Scandinavians founded the city of Scandia, now one of the prosperous cities in the Republican valley. In certain sections in this region, foreigners of a certain nationality congregated on account of their language, or religion, or both. In one section we have the French and French-Canadian in large numbers. They were interprising citizens. In other sections the Germans were in the majority. In general, however, the population consisted of Americans and various European nationalities intermingled in the same neighborhood.
While the homestead region of the Republican and Solomon valleys was attracting the attention of the homeseeker, I was living at Manhattan, Kansas. I was well acquainted with the young man two years my senior by the name of Lars. The young man wished to take up land, and besides, there were several other persons interested with him in securing a homestead. As to my self, I had no particular plans as to my future occupation. Not being a farmer, I had not decided to become a landowner. However, I thought that owning a quarter section of good land would not come amiss, no matter which occupation I should follow in the future.
We were enterprising and felt enthusiastic about our future prospects, but like some other inexperienced young people we were imbued with visionary ideas; we thought to obtain a homestead, a quarter section of land, at such a nominal consideration, amounted to little short of a gift from Uncle Sam. Here was an opportunity for an investment not to be carelessly overlooked. At least we thought it was worth while to go and take a look at the country that was then open for settlement.
Accordingly, we two young men procured a team of horses
NOTE: The homestead region was surveyed public laid lying between the frontier settlements on the east and the Indian country on the west. As the country became settled it passed out of existence.
and a wagon and equipped ourselves with a camping outfit to make a trip of several weeks duration to look at the western country and investigate before we decided on any definite plans. It was in April, 1870, when we started from Manhattan, Kansas, for the northwest.We followed up the Wild Cat Creek and camped on that stream the first night. The next day, on reaching the highland in Clay County, about thirty miles from our starting point, we came to the new country. Here we saw settlers who had recently arrived and had taken up land. Clay County had been organized four years prior to our arrival, and, as best land in this vicinity was taken, we passed on toward the west.
On our journey we passed the village of Clay Center, the County Seat of the county, and crossed the Republican River at Rocky Ford. After crossing the river the road led up on the steep incline to the top of the bluff. Here, toward the west, as beautiful landscape presented itself to our view. Five Creeks on our left, fringed with timber, was to be seen in the distance winding its way from the west toward the Republican River on the east. To our right lay a vast stretch of prairie; the whole presenting a picture of surpassing loveliness. Excepting a few claims that had been taken along the river and creek, this land was all vacant, awaiting development and inviting settlers.
We drove on ten or twelve miles farther and viewed the surrounding country. The favorable impression we had received on top of the bluff, on first sight did not change and we resolved to avail ourselves of this opportunity to take up government land and become landowners.
To carry out our resolution our next step was to proceed to the United States land office, which at that time was located at Junction City, forty-five miles away. Here we procured a copy of the plat of this township, which showed the different sections and locations of school land, state land, and government land. After returning to this vicinity, we proceeded to select and locate the land which each one of us preferred. Without difficulty we found a north and south line and a section corner stone of the government survey. From this point, with a small pocket compass to point the direction, we followed the line west, thence north, etc., stepping the distance from one corner to the other. We had no trouble in finding all corners and intermediate surveyors stones and located section fourteen, township seven, range one, east of the sixth principal meridian, 640 acres.
Each of us selected a quarter section for himself, and the other two quarters for relatives who came later.
Having located our claims, we were now ready to begin work. Next we returned to the land office where we received our homestead papers, then drove back to Manhattan and returned the team of horses to the owner. We then bought a yoke of work oxen, a breaking plow and a few other tools, which we needed in our preparation to open up our farms.
Returning to our claims with the ox team we now proceeded to plow up sod and build a temporary sod house to serve us as shelter in place of a tent. This primitive structure was completed in a few days. In one end of this temporary abode we made a beadstead of poles. A tick filled with hay and a blanket for cover constituted our bed. After breaking up some ten acres of prairie, thus making a good showing to comply with the homestead law, we went on the next quarter section and did the same there. Altogether during that summer we built four such dugouts and sod houses. As they were meant to be only temporary, we built each of them with an opening for a door and a window, but no actual door or window was installed. A piece of canvas hung up at the opening served for the purpose of a door.
Since I have been dwelling on the favorable qualities of the well built dugout in this chapter, the description of these primitive habitations would not be complete without making mention of a serious fault, or drawback, of these temporary abodes we were building.
On the prairie in its wild state there were numerous rattlesnakes. While we were living here, one of those unwelcome visitors occasionally made his appearance in our shacks to annoy us. Why these snakes came to visit us I could explain only in one way. The roofs of these temporary shacks, built of brush and hay, with sod on top, made a harbor for mice, which in turn attracted the snakes which liked to feed upon them, and so we had both of these vermins to contend with. It was no uncommon occurrance to find a snake in the room. I have thrown more than one out of my own dugout.
At one time I discovered a snake overhead alongside of the ridgepole of my dugout. Seeing the snake, I picked up a revolver I had lying handy and with a well directed shot I blew his head off and down came Mr. Snake, when I threw him
out doors. This was a harmless bull snake; but another snake episode I will mention here might have proved more serious.
During the summer we had a visitor with us, my partners brother, Andrew by name, who stopped with us several weeks. For him we made a bed on the dirt floor by putting down some hay and a blanket for cover. He had slept there several nights when one evening while we were retiring for the night, Andrew, the last one to go to bed, had put out the light and lain down to sleep when the familiar sound of a rattlesnake was heard. We got up and struck a light to investigate and sure enough was a rattlesnake disputing Andrews bed. We killed the unwelcome intruder and threw him out doors. Andrew then fixed up his bed a second time, and without hesitation lay down again and slept until morning. After this occurrance, during the remainder of the summer, we examined our bed every night before retiring for possible vermin, such as rattlesnakes. These snakes were so plentiful the first year while we were living on the homestead that I kept count of them until I had killed twenty-four, while other persons with whom I talked about these snakes claimed to have killed more than this number, a claim which I readily accepted.
A snake story was told in our neighborhood about a family named Merick, who lived in a sod house within a few miles of our place. At one time when the housewife, Mrs. Merick, was taking down a dress which had been hanging or lying against the sod house wall, she found a rattlesnake snugly curled up, making itself at home in the folds of her dress.
From the foregoing it might be inferred that there was great danger of being bitten by these snakes. Many snake stories have been told about the danger of being bitten by these poisonous reptiles but it is my opinion, based on experience and observation, that these stories have been exaggerated. During all our years living on the frontier I have never known a rattlesnake bite to prove fatal. Several persons in our neighborhood were bitten by rattlesnakes. A swelling was always the consequence, which a poultice of some kind would relieve when quiet was observed. Stock, such as dogs, cows and horses, were bitten more often than people. These always got well by themselves if let alone and not irritated by traveling.
Of course we had due respect for the rattlers. We always kept a quart bottle full of whiskey on hand--whiskey was said to be a sure antidote for such bites. But we had no occasion to
use it for ourselves; but we did use it in drenching a horse which had been snakebitten. The horse got well, but it might have gotten well without whiskey. Rattlesnakes only act on
the defensive. A person coming in contact with them receives due warning. The rattler curls up and makes a slight hissing and rattling noise before he strikes. By stepping aside, all danger of being bitten is avoided. A person hearing this noise warning once, will never forget it.
Besides the unpleasantness just described numerous other things turned up while we were roughing it on the homestead that were far from being agreeable. Our fare was meager. Bread not always being obtainable, we depended on pancakes and such provisions as bachelors could buy at the store and prepare themselves. Our living was very different from what we had been accustomed to at home, where we put our feet under the table spread with good things to eat. It gradually dawned upon our minds that our homestead was not really a gift to be conferred upon us by Uncle Sam. Our youthful delusions which we had in our heads in the beginning of our venture, disappeared before the end of the first summer and stern realities confronted us in their place.
The season was very dry and crops were a failure. We ourselves had lost no crops because we had not planted any, but the older settlers along the river and creek bottoms had raised very little on their farm, which gave us a hint as to what might happen to us later. We both had money in our pockets when we arrived on the homestead, but we had paid the charges on our land investment and also our current expenses out of it and we were without means in sight to replenish our supply. Hence we reasoned that it would be only a matter of time until we should reach the bottom of our pockets, and if we were to starve it out on the homestead for five years in order to obtain a title to a quarter section of land, it put a different aspect on our future prospects of gaining wealth.
On our arrival, and during the first year while we were living on the homestead, game was very plentiful, especially prairie chicken, of which I killed quite a number. Young fried prairie chicken afforded a very acceptable change in our bachelor mess. Besides chickens, there were wild ducks, and geese, in great flocks along the Republican River. Of large game there were yet antelope and a number of deer.
In the fall of that year a few neighbors arrived. One of
these, Sam Woodside by name, killed twenty deer in the winter of 1870-71. But by the second year after the arrival of the settlers, all large game was exterminated in this vicinity. Buffalo were yet plentiful in the west, within three or four days drive with a team. Several hunting parties from the Republican River neighborhood--among those remembered were Thomas Tuffly, his brother-in-law, Frank Allen, Len Harbaugh, Joe and William Greenwood--drove out to the range for a hunt, and each time brought back a load of buffalo meat.
While I am on the topic of game I will also mention the following facts: While we were living here on the homestead the first season, we found many elk horns or antlers all over the prairie toward the west. Evidently this section of the country at one time had been the grazing ground of vast herds of these noble animals, prior to the coming of the white man. These antlers were weatherbeaten and decayed, unfit for preservation.
The fall after our arrival and the following spring many families arrived in our vicinity and within a year nearly every quarter section of land in our township was occupied, which made a good deal of change in our neighborhood. We now had plenty of neighbors.
Breaking prairie to open up fields was the principal occupation of the men. The best time for this purpose was the spring of the year, after vegitation had started to grow. It was then the opportune time to kill the grass and subdue the wild nature of the soil for the planting and cultivation of crops. During this time of the year, long stretches of fresh turned over sod were to be seen on nearly every homestead throughout the
NOTE: A word is due here in regard to one of our foremost useful citizens, Thomas Tuffley. During the Civil War he, as a mere boy, enlisted in an old line regiment, the 32nd Illinois Infantry, and at once was engaged in the battles at the front in the south, and was with Sherman in his march to the sea. At the end of the war the regiment was ordered west to fight Indians, and in 1866 had arrived at Fort Kearney, Nebraska, but from here was recalled to Fort Leavenworth and mustered out of service.
After his service in the army Thomas Tuffley settled in Kansas, and since 1870 has lived continually in the vicinity of Clifton where he held the position of a peace officer for nearly half a century. During his numerous terms of service he has been a terror to the law breakers and evildoers in general. There was, perhaps, no other peace officer in the Republican Valley who commanded the respect of the rough element in the early days as has Thomas Tuffley. He now lives a contented life, satisfied with having been a true and faithful servant to his country in time of need, and to the community in the Republican Valley in which he lived, a kind neighbor, husband and father, respected by all who know him.
country. The landscape was gradually changing. It would be very interesting to see such a picture today.
Besides breaking prairie for fields to cultivate, breaking hedgelines along the section lines for fireguards to prevent prairie fires, was also very important. After a heavy growth of grass during the summer season and dry spell in the fall of the year, these fires became very dangerous. When breaking out on a windy day, such fires sometimes swept over the prairie at a furious rate, destroying everything combustible in their path. Such a fire at one time swept through our neighborhood, with a heavy gale blowing and it carried the flames and sparks of fire with the speed of an express train, so to speak. As there were no settlers living in the path of this fire, except for burning a few haystacks, little damage was done. In those days there were more high winds blowing that at the present day, and fires were always dangerous, until sufficient fields were in cultivation and fireguards broken to confine them to their original source.
The first few years on the homestead were very discouraging, as the seasons were generally dry the people had little confidence in the country. Many wondered if they had not made a mistake in coming here, and whether or not this part of Kansas would ever become a good farming country. There was an uncertain feeling about everything. Those who were optimistic looked forward in hopes of a turn for the better received another jolt in 1874, when an additional and unexpected calamity over took the poor settlers. It came so suddenly that it took every body by surprise. I remember well, when on a bright forenoon in the month of August the atmosphere became hazy in the north, as if a storm was approaching. There was something in the air that nearly obscured the sun. After noticing this strange phenomenon we did not have long to wait to learn its cause. Looking toward the sky we saw myriads of something like snowflakes coming down and falling to the ground--something new that the settlers had not experienced before--grasshoppers! They came in countless numbers and began their work of devastation. A person who has never seen them as they came upon this country can have no just conception of their number nor the incredibly short time it takes for them to clean out a field of corn.
When this new situation was realized, there began a hustle and bustle among the people to save the fodder of their growing
corn fields. Everybody was busy cutting up the green cornstalks and putting them in shocks to conserve them to feed their stock the coming winter. This race with the grasshoppers lasted only a short time for the growing corn was soon so badly damaged as to make it unfit for feed. However, enough was saved, together with an abundance of hay, so that there was no shortage of feed for the stock that winter. But all gardens and nearly every vestige of green vegetation were eaten up and obliterated by the grasshoppers.
Having finished the vegitation they took flight again and moved southward and were probably all drowned in the gulf of Mexico at a later date, having left a trail of havoc behind them. The whole period of devastation covered less than a week, although many of the insects remained in the country until they were killed by the frost.
So serious were the effects of the invasion that Governor Osborn called a special session of the state legislature to afford relief, through the Kansas central relief committee finance by a special state bond issue, over $70,000 in cash was distributed among the sufferers.
When this calamity which had overtaken Kansas became known throughout the country, kind-hearted people in the eastern states responded liberally by making contributions of provisions and clothing, which were collected and shipped in quantities to our state to relieve possible suffering. Besides these donations the United States government opened stations throughout the stricken settlements for the purpose of furnishing rations to people who might be in need during the winter of 1874-75. Such a station was established in Clay Center in charge of an infantry sargeant. While I was passing by the place at one time during that winter, I stopped and had a talk with the officer, but we ourselves did not apply for aid as we were not in real need of help.
People can adapt themselves to almost any situation, and get along with very little without much inconvenience. In time of plenty there are a great many imaginary wants, which, if indulged, may prove harmful. We ourselves were in the midst of the stricken people but we saw no real suffering. Those people who were most in need, perhaps were too timid or bashful to apply for aid, while others who received rations were less entitled to them. So here as elsewhere, at was difficult to be just.
As the grasshoppers had destroyed the gardens, there were no vegetables that fall. We raised no potatoes and there were none to be obtained, which affected the health of old people more than the younger generation. One death occurred from scurvy, the cause of which the doctor pronounced to be lack of vegetables. It may be stated that such cases were exceptions, but here we may ask: How did this enforced diet effect the general health of the people? Was there much sickness inconsequence? One who saw this calamity and later reflected over the history of those days, would answer, No. There was little or no sickness. People lived a rugged life, practically out doors, and it may be said in general their health never was better. In those days we never heard of an operation for appendicitis. This disease has made its appearance since that time. Nor were there any other operations. We did not have a hospital, or did we need any. There was no dyspepsia, no kidney trouble, or any other disease caused by high living and overeating. Of course we needed a doctor in case of accident; but there was only one in the town of Clay Center and he had little practice. Now there are many doctors, most of them driving big autos, apparently enjoying a lucrative practice and one or more hospitals are located in every town of any size.
The season following the grasshopper year opened up favorably; crops were good and the future looked more encouraging.
Judging from the standard of living of today, those early settlers certainly did see hard times. On arrival on their homestead the majority brought with them very little of this worlds goods. Some had just money to pay the homestead fee of fourteen dollars. Then they had a claim of a hundred and sixty acres of land, but nothing else in the world. We had a neighbor, a man with a small family, who had a good claim but he did not farm it because he had no team. No work was to be had to obtain money. Scarcely a dollar in cash was to be earned in our vicinity at that time. There was a great deal of trading and trafficing going on among the settlers. The word, claim, was used a great deal. It meant either a homestead or a timber claim, generally one hundred and sixty acres. Such a claim was often traded for a mere trifle, such as a horse. If the owner of a claim was able to trade his right to the claim for a team and wagon, which enabled him to move with his family back to the place where they came from, he considered himself lucky.
I have heard this joke often: A. B. has bet Uncle Sam fourteen dollars against a quarter section of land that he will stay on it long enough to make final proof. People were placed in a position which they had never experienced before--they had to learn how to farm. Farming in this new country was different from farming in the eastern states, or the old country. They had to learn which crop would most likely be a success in this part of Kansas. Corn was the crop which the homesteader depended on mostly. It was planted on every farm, but frequently it happened when the prospect of an abundant harvest looked bright, a few days hot winds in August would blast the brightest hopes of the settlers.
One of the best crops, as a drought resister, was found to be sorghum, a species of sugar cane. When planted in favorable places this crop grew and matured even in dry seasons when nearly every other crop was a failure. This cane was used for the manufacture of sorghum molasses, and was a very fair substitute for the well known New Orleans molasses. Cane mills were established in our neighborhood and operated by settlers. Nearly every homesteader planted a patch of cane, which, in the fall of the year he stripped, cut, and hauled to the cane mills, and had it made into syrup for the family winter supply. This, with cornbread, constituted the principal diet of the settlers on the homestead the first few years.
It was used so extensively that the settlers were nicknamed Sorghumlappers. Besides this there were several other epithets applied to these western farmers in those days. One of these was the sobriquet Hayseeds. The explanation of how this word originated is this: The settlers, in making long trips to distant towns, always camped out. On arrival the camp was generally made on the outskirts of the town. But in the fall of the year, or in inclement weather, the settlers being too poor to patronize hotels, would seek shelter and comfort at the office of some livery stable, where many of them congregated to warm themselves at the office stove, and where also they ate the lunch they brought along with them. These future landlords were so poor as to welcome the opportunity to avail themselves of the hayloft at bed time, where, with a few blankets or quilts they made their bed for the night.
Getting up from this bed of hay in the morning, it was natural that a few short sticks of hay or seeds adhered to the
clothing or hair of the lodgers, hence the word, Hayseed, applied to them. In the early days of breaking prairie there were so many clods that the settlers were also called clodhoppers. All sorts of humiliating terms were heaped upon these tillers of the soil, as if it was not enough to suffer hardships in making these attempts to open up the soil and build up the country for future generations. Since then times have changed. These verbally abused pioneers built better than they knew, as this part of Kansas has become one of the greatest grain producing sections in America, and is now known as the Golden Belt.
As I have stated before, we had an ox team, as was the case with nearly every other settler in the new settlement. It was the most practical team to open up a farm with. It was the poor mans team, not only because the purchase price of an ox team was less than that of a horse team, and no expensive harness was needed, but more particularly because oxen subsisted on grass and water alone, pulling the breaking plow all day long, while horses or mules must have grain for feed when worked, which the newcomers had not yet raised and was unable to buy.
Our nearest railroad towns were Junction City and Manhattan, forty-five and fifty miles away, respectively, where we went to do the bulk of our trading. To make such a trip with our ox team required four to five days. We made many such trips, camping out while on the road. With our ox team I hauled the building material for the first frame building we built on the homestead, including lumber, lime and brick for the chimney.
Gradually conditions began to improve. A railroad was built from Junction City up the Republican Valley that reached Clay Center in the winter of 1873. After the first four years the crop seasons became more regular and people raised corn. In five or six years time corn became the staple crop for this section of our state. Ox teams were not adapted for cultivating corn, so the patient, slow-going ox teams, the old stand-by of the early settlers, had performed their mission and were replaced with horse and mule teams. By the end of the first decade on the homestead very few ox teams were to be seen.
When the farmers raised the bountiful crops of corn there was plenty to eat for man and beast, such as it was, but as for
selling the crop to obtain money, that was next to impossible--there was no market. The stores in town took corn in trade for goods at the ridiculously low price of fifteen cents per bushel, but they paid no cash. Grain and all kinds of produce were cheap, even at the railroad stations forty-five miles away. These low prices prevailed for several years. Later, more railroads were built and corn advanced in price until farmers received twenty-five cents per bushel.
After hauling a load of corn to town, to the new railroad stations at a distance requiring a full days time, the farmer often found the proceeds of the sale amounted to no more than a days wages. But the farmers were getting cash, and being used to getting along with nothing, they were feeling better, on the same principle that a person always feels better after getting well from a sick spell. Farmers wives made butter and sold it to local stores at five cents per pound; eggs were six cents per dozen during the summer season. Fruit we had none. A quarters worth of dried apples bought at the store would have to do the family of the average homesteader quite a while. Canned goods were not thought of. Coffee was home made from parched grain of some kind. Sugar was an imagination or memory--it cost too much. But there was plenty of grass and feed for cattle. Soon every family had cows and plenty of milk, which was far better than coffee, especially for the children.
As soon as people raised grain, the women folks raised many chickens. Then we had plenty of eggs and young fried chicken with mashed potatoes and the best of gravy, with plenty of fresh butter on the table, and it was not long until as good a dinner was furnished in one of these dugouts as one could find anywhere. Peach and apple trees were planted. The former bore fruit in a few years and the latter a few years later--then we had fruit galore. Sorghum molasses also had served its mission. It is to be still found for sale at the grocery store, but as a staple food for country people it has disappeared.
While danger and hardships surrounded the settlers, still happy scenes of pleasure prevaded every household and the hope for a bright future kindled a noble impulse to establish a higher civilization. After all, it was not all hardship on the homestead; it was a part of the time self-denial intermingled with good times.
As soon as a sufficient number of settlers were located in a settlement, so there were enough children of school age, a district school was organized. Perhaps the first term of school was taught in a log-house or dugout. Then school bonds were voted and from the proceeds a schoolhouse was built. These schoolhouses generally became the center of social activities in the vicinity. There were literary societies in the winter time where people congregated and where many took part in debates and educational entertainments. Some of the people came from a distance of several miles and most of them came on foot.
Dances were popular amusements of many young people and were frequently indulged in. If a dance was announced at a distance too far to walk, then the ox team was used in the very earliest days, as we had no other conveyance. As this kind of locomotion meant slow traveling, we made an early start in the evening and in returning we did not arrive home until morning. The music furnished at these dances was generally very simple, perhaps one or two violins, but on certain occasions there were more pretentious dances when an organized string band furnished the music. There were good dancers, and the performances of such sets as money musk or the Virginia Reel were danced in a manner that could not be excelled anywhere. There were always refreshments on such occasions and there was no distinction in society--all had a good time.
As the settlers were practically equal and mutually dependent there was little cause for envy, jealousy and selfishness which cause a large portion of unhappiness in older communities. So life was not all hardships. There are even people now who speak of the good old times we used to have, but I never found an old settler who in real earnest would like to repeat the experiences he had in what was called The good old days.
Where are now the old pioneers that led the way? Many of them sleep in unknown graves and their names have been forgotten. Others became discouraged and moved away to distant states. Those who remained, who braved the tempest of adversities and steered clear of the loan sharks and subsequent panics became well to do. Some of them became wealthy and those who are now living are riding in automobiles and are living a retired life at ease in modern homes, and those nicknames applied to them in former days have become obsolete. Now there are those who would begrudge the owners their possessions. I saw an article in a local newspaper some years ago,
while the World War was going on, in which some young snipe of an editor, who, having been born since that time, apparently never heard anything of the old settlers hardships, was telling these old settlers what Uncle Sam had done for them by giving them all a farm.
Nature was kind to Kansas when she made the soil and checkered it with streams of water, and covered the ground with nutritious grasses. The climate, though variable, is to be admired. The heat of the summer is mederated by pleasant breezes and refreshing showers and sunshine. The mild, hazy days of autumn, with an invigorating atmosphere, make the climate healthy. The hot winds and frequent droughts have become less frequent, settlement and cultivations and tree planting have moderated the climate. When prairie fires prevailed and before the prairie sod was turned with the plow, a large portion of the rain that fell flowed into the ravines and streams and but little penetrated the soil. Hence in a few hours the sundried earth contained no moisture, and long intervals elapsed without rain. After the prairie sod was broken a large portion of the rain that fell penetrated the ground of which more or less remained and helped to regulate the season.
If we would now go back to the high bank of the Republican River near Rocky Ford, where we obtained our first view described in the beginning of this chapter, we should notice a great change. From the viewpoint of an artist, it may be said, the landscape of natural beauty seen at that time has been spoiled. The low bottom lands of Five Creeks may still be seen but the level plain to the right is seen no more. This view is now obstructed by farm houses surrounded by groves of tall cottonwood trees, many of them large enough for saw logs, with hedge fences and rows of high cottonwoods along the section lines. The old settlers returning after an absence of a half century would scarcely, recognize any part of this vicinity so great is the change.
In closing this chapter, to verify my statement and show what others say about the hardships of the early settlers, I will quote from the writings of E. J. Jenkins, receiver of the United States land office of our district, located at Concordia, of whom it may be said that on account of his long experience among the settlers and his disinterested position, he is one of the best authorities on the history of the settlement of our state. He says:
The hardships and vicissitudes of the settlers were often
greater than the people of the eastern states imagine. The vision of a new country was magnified by imaginary guideposts to fortune with less labor, fewer hardships and more pleasure than at home in the older states. It was natural for those in the thickly settled eastern states, surrounded with facilities for comfort and luxury, to imagine that a homestead settler, by procuring a quarter section of land for a nominal sum in the midst of an extensive prairie surrounded by natures embellishments, was a fortunate being who, with a few days labor could convert his new possession into a garden of beauty and fields of plenty. Hence the landless in those states were induced to make the trial by the gratuitous advice of friends and elaborate articles in newspapers culminating in the memorable words of an eminent journalist: Go West. After careful observation, together with practical experience, I have no hesitancy in asserting that the man who takes his family to the frontier, and with them resides five years on a homestead and fulfills the requirements of the law as to cultivation and improvements, pays a valuable consideration for the land. The men and women who composed the homestead settlers on the frontier deserve the approbation and charitable sympathy, not only of those who conduct the government, but the entire people of the older states. To them the nation is indebted for the rapid advancement of civilization westward into the wild waste, and the development of the nations domain of uncultivated prairies, capable of yielding vast returns of wealth in time of peace, and a power in time of public danger.
Transcribed and submitted by his Great Grandniece L Ann Bowler
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