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The following article is an interview with Utica pioneer Sarah Ellen Warden Ferrell by Fern E. Cook and was originally published in 1932 by the Ness County News. It is republished here with their permission. Mrs. Sarah Ellen Warden Ferrell died in February, 1938. Florence Cannariato submitted the article for republication on this web site.


Fifty-three years ago which was in 1879, Mrs. Ella Ferrell with her husband and one child settled on the original townsite of Utica which is about one and three quarters miles southwest of the present site of Utica.

Among Mrs. Ferrell's most outstanding memories of the early days is their arrival in western Kansas. They left Ashland county, Ohio, with the intention of taking up land in Russell county but on looking over the land Mr. Ferrell did not like it because it was too broken so he decided to go father west. In Russell the Ferrells met the C.W. Bell family who had just arrived from New York. These two families, being strangers in an almost foreign land, became acquainted and friendly. Mr. Bell also was disappointed in the land in Russell County so decided to accompany Mr. Ferrell. Leaving their families in Russell they came to Ness County and took up adjoining claims near Utica. Here Mr. Bell and Mr. Ferrell each built a one-room sod house forty-five rods apart before returning for their families.

"I never will forget that trip from Russell to Ness City. The road was a mere trail. We were in an open wagon and were burned brown as a penny," related Mrs. Ferrell. "The prairies, instead of being green, for it was April, were burned black. The cowmen resenting the intrusion of the settlers had burned the grass to discourage their coming. It took three days to make the trip from Russell to Ness City. The first night out we camped in a straw stack but did not sleep much for we were afraid of snakes. On arriving in Ness City we stayed at the Immigrant House, a sort of stopping place for settlers, which was run by G. H. Smith.

"When we arrived at our new home, we found that someone had paid us a visit and by parting the boards on the roof had climed in and stolen a supply of dried apples and meat which Mr. Ferrell had left in the house."

As soon as his family was settled Mr. Ferrell hauled native stone and built a small store. The nearest railroad was at Collyer so he hauled all of the merchandise overland. Also, the first Utica postoffice was in the Ferrell store and remained there for five years when the Ferrell family went to Iowa and was gone for two years and the postoffice was moved to the Killingbeck farm and renamed St. Sophia. Mrs. Ferrell assisted in the store.

"Three or four miles west of us in Lane County," said Mrs. Ferrell, "was a cattle trail that led from down in the southwest to Cheyenne, Wyoming. From where we lived for days we could see the dark moving herds of cattle. Often the men on these drives came to the store for provisions. They were mostly /?/, rough looking and always armed. I wasn't exactly afraid of them but I was always glad when they were gone."

"Mr. Ferrell and Mr. Bell used to go away to work when there was no work on the claim to be done. Mrs. Bell and I would stay together. One night when the men were away a herd of longhorns got into a stack of millet that we had. Hay was very precious for there wasn't much of it. We did not know how to drive them away so we put sheets over our heads and went out and stampeded those longhorns.

"Another time that Mrs. Bell and I were together a flock of cranes flew over and we decided to shoot some. Mrs. Bell had a big army gun and I had a double barreled shot gun. When Tillie, that was Mrs. Bell's name, went to shoot it knocked her down and my gun didn't have any caps in it so the cranes were perfectly safe.

"In those days we had no screens on the window. One night when Mr. Ferrell was away, I was awakened by the most dreadful noise that seemed to come from behind the dresser and I was scared to death. Some of our neighbor's cats had decided to make us a visit, jumped through the window and started an exceedingly noisy fight.

"There were lots of snakes in the early days," said Mrs. Ferrell. One day Mrs. Bell went to get a pail of water and when she came back there was a big copperhead in her house.

"A young man by the name of Jerry Driggs had a claim not far from us. He was just proving up on it and did not have much money. Jerry liked company and stayed with us a great deal. When he was home, he slept on straw piled on the ground. One morning he awoke rather suddenly and saw a rattlesnake just ready to spring at him. Jerry jumped up and threw the bedclothes back over the snake just as it was ready to strike. I guess the snake scared him away for he left the country and never finished proving up on his claim.

"There were no buffalo when we came to Kansas but quite a lot of antelope. One time some buffalo hunters came from Colorado, stopped at our place and asked me to roast some meat for them. I filled my oven as full as I could and they gave me a good supply in return.

"We made a trip into Scott County one time to the place that is now the state park. Here we gathered wild grapes, wild plum and choke cherries. We picked so many and I did such a lot of canning that I have never cared for any of them since.

"We did not have a lot of amusements. We had been here for two years when a Sunday school was organized by a traveling missionary who was going through the country. We used to meet at each others' houses and the services were always well attended. At home we had a croquet set and enjoyed that, then we used to have parties and visit a lot. We were attending a picnic on the Walnut one day and trying hard to forget that the day before our corn had been hailed out when a man rode by and told us President Garfield had been shot. That sure put a damper on the crowd.

"There were some bad storms in those days. There had been no rain for a long time, and a big thunder storm came up. Soon the water was trickling down the walls and in a few minutes the whole side of our sod house caved in and there was mud everywhere and we had to go to the store and stay.

"One winter during a blizzard a man and his daughter who lived west of us in Lane County were found frozen to death. Evidently the girl's father had been taking care of his cattle and she started to find him and got lost. She was found not far from her father's body on her hands and knees.

"Shortly after our arrival the settlers began coming. There were a number of families from Ohio and we named the township after our home state. The Bell family wanted the town name for their home in New York, so Utica, Kansas became the namesake of Utica New York.

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Tom & Carolyn Ward / Columbus, Ks / tcward@columbus-ks.com / KS State Coordinators

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