This is a portion of a memoir written by my paternal grandmother, Hattie Dorman Ramsey. It covers the portion of her family life between 1865 and 1882 when they lived in Kansas, first near Atchison and later, homesteading near Nickerson. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
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...........................At the close of the Civil war my father, Albert Judson Dorman or Jud, went to Kansas, bought a farm in Atchison county just one mile south of the north Atchison County boundary line where Donophin and Brown Counties met. After getting a home and stock and making ready his first year's crop he returned to Illinois for his bride and on April 18, 1865, he and Mary Elizabeth Cannon were married. They went by train from Springfield to St. Louis, then by steam- boat up the Missouri River to Atchison, Kansas. His brother, Jim, and sister, Hattie, were living in Atchison at the time. He was a blacksmith and she a milliner. Jud had left his farm wagon and two horses with his brother while he was away so now he continued his honeymoon trip by that means for 14 miles, over the flinty hills and took his bride to her new home.
My father was interested in Horticulture, so besides planting corn, wheat and oats and garden vegetables, he put out all kinds of fruit trees and a nursery stock to supply them to others. My earliest memories are of the big cherry trees at the south end of the house and the apple trees-ten I believe-and the fruit they bore, a large vineyard of Concord grapes and a peach orchard which seemed large to me; beside that there was the small fruit currant, blackberry, raspberry and gooseberry bushes and strawberries and two crabapple trees whose fruit made the best preserves I ever ate. I also remember the rows of green sage in our garden, the leaves of which were picked and spread on sheets upstairs to dry and send to market and the neighbor women used to come and pick it on shares to get the sage for seasoning their sausage.
On March 21, 1866 my oldest brother arrived and was christened Charles Francis for his two grandfathers. My arrival on November 21, 1867 must have crowded him out of the cradle but at least we were company for each other and usually did things together. When he was five years old he did not want to go to school unless I would go with him, which of course I wanted to do and as the young man who taught that term boarded with us, he said let me go. So I started to school at about 3 years of age. We stayed together in our classes and when I was six or seven years old we were often taken for twins.
My father was also interested in horses and cattle, which were very necessary to our mode of life, and he wished to introduce some good stock with which to improve the home variety. My earliest memories are of a stable or pasture with a brood mare or two, colts ranging from a few months old to one, two and three year olds, and several young horses that my father drove but which my mother was afraid of, beside old Josh, a roly-poly old white pony that was too lazy for anyone to be afraid of, that brother and I could climb on without bridle or halter if we chose, without fear, and when we went to school Mother would put Charley behind the saddle, put me in the wagon where she could reach me from the saddle, mount Josh herself and take me in her lap and take us the 1-1/4 miles to school when the weather was not good. She often came for us the same way. Of course we walked to school when the weather was nice. We had no buggy then and the rough, rocky roads were traveled in much more comfort on horseback than in the wagon. So it was not unusual for my father to lead out two saddle horses, put Mother on one with Charley behind her and mount the other himself and take me in front of him to attend Sunday School or go to have Sunday dinner with a neighbor.
I was between four and five years old when Uncle Jim got married and built a new house about three miles from ours and he and Aunt Lizzie often drove over on Sunday P.M. Uncle Jim drove a beautiful black stallion named Dixie who always squealed, when he came over the hill in sight of the house so we always knew when they were coming. Their daughter, Lillie Lizzie, was born in July or August 1873. She was the only one of his children I ever saw as we moved about 250 miles further southwest that fall and that was a long way in those days. We never visited them nor them us--we only kept in touch by occasional letters.
Our move out to central Kansas was an episode quite prominent in my memory and might be interesting to those of a later date, so I will enlarge on it.
My father's interest in cattle finally led him to decide to go further west, where there was much unoccupied prairie land and free range for stock; besides, he, as a veteran, was entitled to take a homestead by living on and developing it and with him to decide was to act. So he sold his hogs, chickens and all the cattle but five of his best cows and two Durham calves and all the horses but a good strong team of mares, an old saddle pony named Dick and a two-year-old colt and a yearling colt. He was not able to make satisfactory sale of his farm so he left it with tenants.
He rigged up a big "prairie Schooner" type wagon, put trunks and a stove and boxes in the bottom, mattresses and featherbeds on top of them; "grub-box" and cooking utensils in back. The spring seat was pushed forward on the sideboards which added about 6 inches to the depth of the wagon bed, so that three of us could sit on it with our feet on top of the dashboard or front end of the wagon. The team of mares was hitched to the wagon, the two colts tied behind, and while Mother drove the team, with Charley and me beside her, Father rode the extra horse, and drove the cows behind the wagon. They soon learned to follow pretty well, except when going through towns when sometimes we children had to get out and help keep them in line. But usually they were not hard to manage and often Charlie or I rode the pony behind them while Father relieved Mother for a while, One thing remains in my memory as tragic in connection with our move. My one precious possession, a rag doll Grandma made me, was not permitted to go. Mother tried to intercede for me but Father said "no'' only essentials were to be taken. When I see children now so surrounded by playthings that they do not value any of them I often remember how ay heart ached over having to leave that rag doll when, on November 6, 1873, we left my birthplace for a now home further west.
We could not travel vary fast for the team had a heavy load and we had to stop and let the cattle graze where they found good grass and lie down and rest at noon. Twenty miles a day was a good record. We tried to camp at night near some stream where we could get water for our own use as well as for the stock and if we could find grass too, so much the better. On Sunday we did not travel but camped and let the stock rest and graze, but in spite of our slow progress the two calves got footsore and Father had to sell them for what he could get.
We had traveled this way for two weeks and covered about 250 miles when I took sick in the night--had a high fever the next morning and we did not break camp. Mother went to a farmhouse nearby to get eggs or something for me and found there a Quaker family named Hanks. When Mrs. Hanks learned there was a sick child in the wagon, she insisted she bring me down there and put me to bed, which she did. I shall never forget Mrs. Hanks' quaint manner and speech and how solicitous she was for my comfort. By the way, that was my sixth birthday, November 21, 1873, that I spent in her big featherbed and traced the pattern on her quilt.
Mr. Hanks persuaded Father to look around there before going further which he did and found a location a mile from Cow Creek with a railroad section north and one west of it, and a school section on the northwest. None of these could be homesteaded but would have to be bought so the chance was they would not be settled as soon as government land, and there was prospect of free range and good grazing for some time, so father took out his homestead papers and the sideboards of the wagon with the bows and canvas cover attached was set up there for sleeping quarters and we were at home there - cooking and living outdoors, coal stove set up, table and bench, in late November and December - in fact through the winter; going to bed and covering with a featherbed to get warm.
The schoolhouse was less than a quarter of a mile away so we children were there most of the time during the short winter days. In February we had bad freeze and sleet storm one night and Dick, the old pony, who had no shelter, laid down and died.
Father was busy getting a house built before time to plant Spring crops. A description of that house may be interesting and convey some idea of the life of the pioneers, so I will try to describe it. With a 12 inch breaking plow Father turned over long straight rows of prairie sod three inches thick. The buffalo grass sod was very similar to a Bermuda grass sod, the roots of the grass binding the earth together for a depth of several inches. With a two-foot measure he measured the sod and cut it with a spade into lengths, which could be handled, 1-x 2 feet, 3 inches thick.
The site for the house was staked out one starry night by the North Star, since Father had a passion for having everything in line but had no compass. The sods were hauled to the site and like stone or brick, laid into a wall. The first row was laid end to end, two sods wide, and the next laid across, making a wall two feet thick. So, with patient hard toil, a rectangular room was made, with a small window in the east and west walls, a door to the south and a chimney where the cook stove could be set up.
The floor was native soil, which soon become packed as hard as cement. A ridgepole from the peak of one gable to the other supported the rafters which, with the material for window and door frames and the door were the only lumber used, and were hauled from Sterling. Some willow branches and small limbs were laid on the rafters and on these a layer of broom grass, then sod roof was laid overlapping like shingles.
This was rather cramped quarters, but it was warm and the same coal fire served for cooking and heating. Only once when it rained for three days and nights, the sod on the roof became so soaked that it leaked through. This house served us for two years, then Father built again, but it was while we lived in one room that my brother Willie made his advent on October 5, 1874, without aid of a doctor.
About three months later mother had erysipelas in bar head and face and a doctor who lived in the neighborhood was called in. Mother said it was the first time they had had a doctor since they were married.
My older brother was then nine years old and herded the cattle in summer for there were no fences there and the cattle had to be kept out of the fields.
Since the new sod land was not so well suited to other grains Father put in as much sod corn as he could get the land ready for that first year. We had a kitchen garden, some chickens and the cows, so all the milk and butter we needed, and he planned to sow wheat the second year. On July 4, 1874, corn was in milk, almost ready for roasting ears and prospects fine when the air suddenly dimmed by something like a mist. It proved to be locusts. Millions of them!
They pelted us like hail, and covered everything. In a few days the corn stalks stood stripped of everything but the cobs, the blades, shucks and milky kernels had been eaten. Father turned the cattle into the fields and let them salvage what they could. That was a hard year for us and the cattle, too, since the locust robbed the grass of much of its substance and fodder and other feeds were destroyed.
Some of the earlier settlers had made spring wheat, so we were able to get breadstuff, either wheat or rye flour. We had Irish potatoes and put down cucumbers in brine. The tenants on the Atchison County farm had dried peaches on the shares and sent us about two bushels of dried peaches which were a Godsend. I ate bread and dried peaches 'till I wanted never to see another dried peach, yet bread with dried peaches was better than bread without. Father got a hog or two to butcher that winter. After that first year we raised hogs and beef or use, also turnips, pumpkins, cabbage, white beans, black-eyed peas and sweet potatoes to put in the cellar for winter use, and Father always managed to have one cow freshen late, so she would give milk all winter when those that freshened early in the spring were dry, thus insuring our milk supply.
Our social contacts consisted chiefly of school, Sunday school, the Grange for the grownups and a sermon by a Circuit Rider twice a month; all these were at the school house; an occasional Sunday dinner with neighbors, or some woman and her children would, come to spend the day with us while her husband made a necessary trip somewhere.
We children had the whole outdoors to play in and picked wild flowers from the prairie as far away as we cared to go, or petted the calves and collie puppies; and I always had a cat. I spent much time as nursemaid to my baby brother after his arrival.
During the second winter father began work on the new house. He had already made a cave cellar about 12 X 14 ft. and 5 ft. deep; put rafters up similar to those on the house, only he covered the roof with clay thrown out of the seller with a sloping door in the end near the house. This furnished much convenient storage space as well as keeping things cool in summer and preventing vegetables from freezing in the winter. We never had ice. The new house joined the old on the south, and was built of sod, too, but consisted of space enough for two large rooms, a large pantry in closet, and stairway, for it was one and a half stories high, with windows in the gables, and matched pine floors, larger windows and a shingled roof. This he plastered and whitewashed, inside and out, except the front room which was covered with wallpaper. We not only had the whitest house anywhere around, but the warmest in winter and the coolest in summer.
About this time the Atchison County farm was sold, and father invested the money in milk cows, and fixed up for making cheese as well as butter. This made lots of hard work for mother, for while father and the hired help took care of the cows and did the feeding and milking, she had to make the cheese and take care of the milk and utensils; besides, hired help meant one more to cook and wash for. She finally found a woman who would come one day a week to wash and iron.
The first calf born after we went west was a Durham bull that Father prized very highly. We children made such a pet of him that he was always gentle as a kitten. Each year added over a dozen calves to the herd. The steers were sold at two or three years to the butchers and the heifers added to the herd.
It looked for a few years like a father was in a fair way to realize his dream, but again odds seemed against him. A man arrived in our midst driving a thoroughbred horse; he built to shelter in the middle of the section of land that lay north of us and between us and the creek where the cattle got water. He said he had bought the entire section and intended to build barns and go in for breeding fine horses. He cut quite a dash and appeared to be going into things in a big way. There went father's free range, so we sold off his cattle, at a disadvantage of course, all but enough for family use, and when into a truck gardening.
Sterling, 6 miles west of us, and Nickerson, 5 miles south, furnished good markets for the truck as they had for dairy products. But the second season at that, a sandstorm in the day filled his hot-beds and cold frames under drifts of sand and blew up things planted in the open by the roots, besides leveling his stable. If a fire had swept his garden it could not have looked more desolate, and it was too late to replant.
Let me insert here, the horse breeding stables were never built. After Father disposed of his cattle and made other plans, our neighbor to the north faded out of the picture and was seen no more.
This was the spring of 1879. Father was 40 years old and suffering, as he had at times, with what was then termed dyspepsia -- probably stomach ulcers. He was almost in despair. He sacrificed his farm and went into the grocery business and Nickerson, but his health grew worse, and doctors advised him to go south, live an outdoor life or camp outdoors, so that meant another drastic change. Again the covered wagon came in the use. Everything nonessential was disposed of or left and we embarked once more on a prairie schooner cruise. It was October 12th, 1882, when we headed south, driving by day and camping at night - through Wichita and Fort Scott across the corner of the Indian territory, now Oklahoma into Arkansas and the Ozark mountains..........
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Donald Henry / D Henry
This page was last updated on 02/02/2001
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