HOMESTEAD IN COLORADO
Wilma Hotchkiss Hildebrecht
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My father heard some new government land in Colorado was being opened to new settlers. It was decided the family would go west. The year was 1907 and I was two and one-half years old. We would be going to land near Seibert in Kit Carson County about one hundred thirty miles east of Denver.
Arrangements for the move were started raising money, getting machinery, livestock, family and household goods ready and filing some kind of claim papers. Money was raised by selling all the things we were not taking with us.
Mothers brother, Frank Allen, wife Claudia and children, Ellouise and Reginald, had recently arrived in Kansas from West Virginia. Hoping to settle somewhere in the West, they also made arrangements to move to Colorado.
This was quite an undertaking. Horses, cows, wagons, farm tools, household items, barrels of flour and food so many things to remember. Apparently it was cheaper to move what we needed than to buy out west, if it were available. The men rode the freight train with equipment and livestock which, for us, was one cow and four horses. Two of the horses were named Flora and Fred and very faithful ones they were, for later they returned to Kansas pulling a covered wagon.
Mother, Claudia, and the four children rode the passenger train, which at this time burned coal and was far from clean. A coal-burning stove in one end of the coach furnished heat. Soot from the engine filtered in around the windowpanes, which in warmer weather could be opened. We arrived in Seibert in March of 1907 in a snowstorm.
The only hotel was our home the first few days. Equipment was unloaded and livestock placed in a corral at the train station. Next morning, imagine the feeling of loss when it was discovered someone had left the gate open and the horses were gone. With so much open rangeland this could be disastrous and certainly there wasnt any extra money to buy more horses. After two days of hunting, the horses were found. Now the job of moving could begin but moving to what!!! Nothing was out there but he prairie with wind, coyotes, rattlesnakes, and countless unseen obstacles for homesteaders.
The men went to the claims which were located four or five miles from Seibert. Mile of prairie no trees no close houses and no wells. A tent served as a place to sleep while the first building was constructed. This was a rough structure of lumber used to house both families until the individual homes could be built. It later became our barn.
The women and children were to remain at the hotel until the building was ready. Since the hotel left much to be desired plus the problem of handling four children, Mother and Claudia moved to the claim eve4n though nothing but a tent was available. So began our life on the one hundred sixty-acre claim which had been purchased for one dollar and twenty-five cents an acre.
A special plow was necessary to turn sod which was then cut into blocks and used to form walls of the house. Our one-room house was set against a slope giving it the appearance of a partial dugout. The only door was in the east, a window in the north and one in the south end of the room. Flooring was rough wide boards, which was better than many sod houses with dirt floors. Walls were plastered with material from a local gypsum bank. The roof was wide boards covered with roll roofing. Some house had layers of sod on the board roof which made it warmer in winter and some cooler in summer, but would leak if not carefully built. Our only stove for cooking and heating was the potbellied variety with high oven. Coal and cow chips were the fuel. Coal was hauled from Seibert.
Open rafters were partly covered with boards to make more storage space. The iron bedstead had a trundle bed, which pulled out at night and was pushed under the big bed during the day.
A barn was built with one side of the roof so close to the ground that children could climb on it. We probably were told many times to stay off but climbing up an sliding down were a tempting pastime until I became the owner of a large splinter in my posterior. This stopped further adventures on the roof for me. Young as I was, this was something remembered.
Comforts of life were few. Shortage of water, hot sun in summer, wind, lack of trees, rattlesnakes, cactus, howling coyotes, badgers digging into chicken houses, cold winter and sometimes just the loneliness of the prairie must have made people wonder why they came to such a country. It was during these lonely months that mother made some of her loveliest embroidery by the light of a coal oil lamp.
Water was hauled in barrels from the Hawthorne claim. This was a dug well, very deep and equipped with a pump. Dad soon dug a cistern on our claim and cemented it so larger quantities of water could be hauled and poured into it. Water was removed with a rope tied to a bucket.
Laundry and bathing were problems due to scarcity of water and equipment. Water was heated on the stove, clothes scrubbed on a washboard and ironed with andirons. Bathing was done with a small amount of water or by putting children in a washtub. The only means of refrigeration was hanging food in the cistern. Fresh meat was the wild life found on the prairie plus chickens we raised. Deer, antelope, ducks, rabbits were usually available. At that time we had not heard about eating rattlesnakes, if so we could have had a nice supply.
Coyotes were a nuisance during watermelon and cantaloupe seasons as they could select a ripe melon every time and soon destroy a patch. Dad tried putting nearly ripe melons in gunnysacks but the coyotes would tear the sack and split the melon.
Dad earned extra money working as a carpenter in Seibert. Frank Allen worked in a general merchandise store. The families remained on the claim I suppose the men rode back and forth. Frank later did watch repairing for Seibert and surrounding country.
A few months after we arrived in Colorado, other relatives settled on adjoining claims. Now in addition to the Frank Allens and us were Dr. W. T. Harvey and wife Harriet, who was one of our mothers sisters. They came from Parkerville, Kansas, Ethan Allen, and unmarried brother of mothers, my fathers brother Frank and his wife Eva and children, Earl and Hazel from Kelso, Kansas. Doctor Harvey built a frame house but the other families built sod homes. Each homesteaded a claim of one hundred sixty acres and all stayed long enough to obtain title to the land. All but one family returned to Kansas when title was obtained. The Frank Allens remained on their claim for five years then moved to Seibert. At this time Frank was awarded a contract as rural mail carrier, a job he held until retirement in 1936. His wife Claudia was the substitute carrier.
Every settler had several guns always within easy reach. One was loaded and hung over the only outside door. One of ours was a 22-rifle, another a combination double barrel shotgun with a 45-90 rifle barrel. I do not believe guns were really needed as protection from other people, although it surely was considered.
Badgers were a nuisance as they bothered the chickens. With their long sharp claws they soon dug a hole through the sod walls of a chicken house and created havoc. Chickens had to be shut up at night as coyotes came almost to the door of our house and sometimes were found on top of the low chicken house. The howl of a hungry coyote can be a chilling sound.
Antelopes were a common sight as were the jack rabbits with their enormous ears. Claudia Allens pet for several years was a young antelope caught after its mother was killed. A hungry coyote finally killed the pet.
It is a wonder some of us were not bitten by rattlesnakes but all escaped. Ellouise tells of the time she and Brother Reginald were playing outside the house when she saw a rattler. Not looking where she was going, Ellouise dragged him through a bunch of prairie cactus. It took Claudia several days to pick the stickers out of Reginald.
Rural mail delivery had not been established in the country around Seibert, so getting mail meant a trip to town by wagon or horseback. Mail usually would be picked up at the time supplies were purchased. When Dad was working in Seibert, of course, he brought it home. In bad weather we did not get mail for several days.
Most religious training was received at home although some Sunday School was held. It was fortunate none of the children in this group of settlers was of school age as the nearest school was in Seibert.
Mother, Allen and I returned to Kansas by train in late summer of 1908. We lived with Mothers parents at Council Grove until Dad arrived early in October. He started his trip to Kansas about September 21, 1908, in a covered wagon, bringing what remained of the family possessions. When Dad arrived we moved to a small house close to my grandparents. Allen had entered the first grade in Council Grove School. In the spring of 1909, we moved to our farm home five miles west of town.
A man named Magee bought our claim. He also purchased the acreage from Frank Hotchkiss after the original buyer, a Mr. Stephens, could not meet the payments. Each of these claims sold for one thousand dollars.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wilma Irene Hotchkiss Hildebrecht is still living in Kansas with her son Lee. She is now 95 years old but has a very sharp memory. She has been doing research on the Allen family since she was a little girl and has many terrific books full of pictures and history. I want to give a special thanks to her for helping me put some of this all together. - Sandie