Sixty years! Looking head it seems a lifetime but to those who can look back it seems but yesterday. The events of 1872 are easily recalled by those who were living in Kansas at that time. They remember everyone who was here at that time, where they all lived and how they managed to make a living in the near wilderness.
W.S. Rees is now 83 years old. In November 1872, a young man of 23, he arrived in Lincoln with his sister. They came from Illinois to join their father who had come in í71, establishing a saw mill. The first winter they were here Mr. Rees helped his father cut cottonwood logs for the mill building, by spring it was in operation.
Land was cheap, dirt cheap -- $2 for an acre of river bottom farm land. But even that price was not enough to induce many to buy it. The country was too sparsely settled, there was too much danger from Indians, there was no railroad in the county, supplies were too far away. But if one were courageous, and didnít mind hard work, and wanted a farm although he didnít even have the price of $2 for an acre, a homestead of 160 acres could be obtained for the payment of $14.
New settlers or visitors to Lincoln county must have been certain that they had reached the "jumping off" place when they came to Salina. They could get there on the railroad. From there it was necessary to take a stage coach to "points west and north." The stage made three trips per week. If you were in a hurry you hired a special driver. Mr. Rees and his sister missed the stage by a d ay and decided to take a special driver. They left Salina at noon and arrived, very tired and very hungry, in Lincoln about nine hours later. Good time, for a team of horses.
Those early days were filled with exciting events. There was a lynching at Rocky Hill, a cyclone, buffalo hunts, terrible blizzards, prairie fires, and the grasshopper invasion.
Rocky Hill was quit a settlement, almost as large as Lincoln. A Yankee miller there had an argument with a Swede, and in some way the Swede was killed. The miller was to be taken before Squire Myron Greene for a trial but before justice could take its course, a mob was formed and the miller was brutally murdered.
It must have been in the early Ď70s that Kansas earned the title Cyclone state, for wind storms quite frequently did much damage. One summer a number of farmers in this vicinity suffered losses from small cyclones. At the John LaBarr farm a threshing machine was wrecked, and buildings along the creek were blown down. Mrs LaBarr took refuge in a meat house and when wind struck there her arm was broken. Their log house was taken down to the floor. Chickens had their feathers all blown off but escaped more fortunately than did Mr. LaBarrís cattle, which were all killed. Near the Tom Hedrick farm the storm sucked the water from the river, throwing it out again on the prairie. In another similar storm a large number of buildings were unroofed.
Later, the grasshopper invasion made the name of Kansas known throughout the United States. Mr. Rees rmembers it very well. He says that the damage they did is exaggerated, stories told of their eating hoe handles, clothing from lines, etc. are probably untrue. However, they did arrive in a great mass, covering the skies like a great dust storm. There were only a few people who had crops planted and whenever the hoppers found a field of growing corn they devoured it. Leaves were stripped from the few trees, and along the river where they rested on the trees, droppings which fell into the river killed practically all the fish.
Visitors who came from the east were often entertained on buffalo hunts. But even 60 years ago the buffalo were becoming scarce, although antelope were plentiful. The usual procedure in a buffalo hunt was to ride into the hills and attempt to find a herd of the animals. If a herd was sighted three or four would be separated and driven off to be killed.
Prairie fires were another common occurance, especially in the fall when prairie grasses were tall and dry. Several Lincoln county families were burned out in prairie fires and at one fire a man was badly injured. It was no uncommon happening to have all the men in town called out to help fight fires as much as ten or twenty miles from the settlement.
What did the settlers do with their leisure? Well, they didnít have much. There were so few of them it wasnít easy to have parties and they lived too far apart to get together often. Mostly they just "visited" back and forth, spending evenings or Sundays together. Occasionally there was a sociable. The first dance in Lincoln that Mr. Rees remembers took place on the spot where the Sentinel-Republican office now stands. At that time a small candy store of a sort occupied the land. A group of people were standing around, someone started playing a "fiddle" and the dance started. There was no floor, the building was too small. It was summer, and moonlight, so they just danced on the buffalo grass. Needless to say, "a good time was had by all."
In conclusion, Mr. Rees talked about some of the old timers, Dave Pontius who kept a little store on the Lincoln State Bank corner; Cap Henderson, one of the first county trasurers; Dr. Ed Culver, a veterinarian; George Weeks, Dr. Sherrick, Dr. Bryant who built the old Bryant Opera House; Mr. Webster; Mr. Adams; Mac Stearns; Bob Loomis.
In those days liquor flowed quite freely but later it became hard to get. Hereís an amusing little story about a pioneer from Lincon who found it hard to buy "the stuff" and went to Beloit for a supply: He filled a jug with half a gallon of water, went to the saloon and asked for half a gallon of alcohol, giving them a jug to put it in. He walked away with the liquor, telling them to charge it. The saloon keeper hurried after him and demanded his acohol back, and the Lincoln man obligingly handed him the jug of water.