The Diary of Lizzie Dopps





Chapter  VI


Our arrival at the pioneer Kansas homestead on the prairie.


Out Where the West Begins

Out where the handclasp's a little stronger,
Out where the smile dwells a little longer,
That's where the West begins.
Out where the sun's a little brighter,
Where the snows that fall are a trifle whiter,
Where the bonds of home are a wee bit tighter,
Thatís where the West begins.

Out where the skies are a trifle bluer,
Out where friendship's a little truer,
That's where the West begins,,
Out where a fresher breeze is blowing,
Where there's laughter in every streamlet flowing,
Where there's more of reaping and less of sowing,
That's where the West begins.

Out where the world is in the making,
Where fewer hearts with despair are aching,
That's where the West begins,
Where there's more of singing and less of sighing,
Where there's more of giving and less of buying,
And a man makes friends without half trying,
That's where the West begins.Ē
(By Arthur Chapman)

Early one morning in the late summer of 1873, just as the day was breaking and the eastern sky was streaked with gold, seeming to proclaim a bright future for us, our caravan of eleven covered wagons started for the Kansas plains.

This was, indeed, a new mode of living, sometimes tiresome, but on the whole very interesting. Sometimes I drove the team, myself to relieve Eli.  Making camp at night with the heavens full of twinkling stars, the smell of bacon and coffee for an early breakfast-Ėoh, it was fun we were probably a month on our way.

I think the most exciting time on this trip was as we were about two miles from a small town. We were stopped by a farmer who informed us that the town we were approaching was having an epidemic of cholera, many dying.

What to do, what to do? Should we detour around this town thus adding many more days to our wearisome new journey or would it be too much of a risk to feed up on asafetida* (an old fashioned remedy for warding off disease found in every household) and march bravely through?

After holding a consultation we decided on the latter.  So, after partaking of this Oriental herb, we took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and hurried through this town.  

After leaving it some miles behind, when we stopped to make camp that night, one of the boys, John Defenbaugh who was driving one of Dave's teams (he had three) had a violent fit of vomiting.

Alas, we were in consternation.  We had tempted fate, for that was a sure symptom of this dread disease.  However, John soon seemed much better and we soon discovered it was an over dose of the unpalatable asafetida instead of any terrible disease.

At last we arrived at our destination--the pioneer prairies of Kansas.  There, Father and Mother Dopps, who had preceded us, greeted us with open arms.  Their claim was located on a small stream of water, the Sappy*, not really large enough to be called a river, and yet there were times when I have seen it a raging torrent and roaring away with the proportions of a river.

The claims father had selected for Eli and Dave were about twenty or thirty miles farther on.  These were on a stream called "The Prairie Dog."  

We were anxious to reach our land where our new home was to be, so, after a day or two with Father and Mother Dopps, we traveled on, father accompanying us.

Father had told us that on one of the claims there was a deserted dugout.  We decided that would be the better one for Ellen and Dave as they had the baby.

Ellen and I were anxious to see this of course but, lo and behold, when we arrived and started to enter this low dugout, we discovered it was filled with buffalo burs which had drifted in.  Ellen decided it would be far more comfortable to sleep in the wagon until this place was cleaned out--especially after she had sat down on a nest of them and Dave had to spend much time in the operation of removing them.

A dugout sod house is a far cry from a New York Fifth Avenue mansion, but they can be made very neat and homelike.

It is preferable to build one on a side hill or hillock, digging into the hill three or four feet deep and saving the sod to build the walls up higher.  When built high enough for one to stand up comfortably, a ridge pole is obtained and interlaced with other poles and branches, and sod placed on these for the roof.

Of course there is little timber out on these wide open prairies, but where there is a stream of water, one can obtain cottonwoods, poplars and such trees.  We were on the stream, The Prairie Dog.

Windows were made in the sod part, and glass sent for.  There was a soft rock formation nearby that was quite white--I suppose it was limestone--mixed with water, it made a sort of white-wash and this we put on our walls.  In more prosperous times we sent for white muslin and hung it on our walls.

At first we had only hard earth floors, but in time we cut timber and laid wooden floors.

When pictures and mirrors were hung on these walls, fluffy white curtains at the windows and rag rugs strewn on the floor, it was neat and cozy, cool in the summer, warm in the winter, in this little mother-earth house, and we were as snug as a bug in a rug.

Upon our arrival we immediately set about to build our dugout sod houses.  Ellen's and Dave's was to be built first as they had the baby.  When theirs was finished then ours was built.  Before winter set in we were cozily settled in our new homes.

Our homestead claim consisted of one hundred and sixty acres, so naturally we did not have many close neighbors.  Dave and Ellen, Eli and I, had built our homes near where our claims joined, so we had each other and were not lonesome.

I had never had a sister near my own age, neither had Ellen, and we found in each other what we had missed all our lives before.  Ellen was about two years older than I, and I felt toward her as I would toward an older sister.

She was older in her ways than she was really in years--not that she looked any older than her years.  She was a beautiful girl, rather tall and slender, with beautiful brown eyes, and a wealth of long almost black hair.  In later years, she grew quite stout, but was always a very good-looking woman.

She was a very sensible, practical girl and woman.  I suppose this trait was developed in her by her helping her mother who had so many boys and only the one girl, except the little adopted baby girl,  

She had never had much time for play.  The only doll she ever had was a rag doll that suddenly disappeared.  Later on in the winter when the sauerkraut barrel was about half-emptied the poor drowned doll was picked out of it,  Milton, her brother owned up he had put the doll there when they were making the sauerkraut, for a joke.

It was nice for me to have this serious-minded, yet jolly girl for a sister out on this pioneer prairie land,  

Our nearest neighbors were across the Prairie Dog, the Browns, and farther up the creek the Williamses.

Before we built our dugout-sod houses, we had heard the Browns had the nicest dugout in the surrounding country.  Ellen and I thought we would like to see it and perhaps get some good ideas for our homes.

Never will I forget that neighborly call.

At that time, it was the fashion to "build" a dress, both waist and skirt, onto a lining.  When we met Mrs. Brown, the outside of her dress had all been worn away, nothing but the lining remaining.  Her face was brown and dry-looking, her hair lifeless and stringy.  In fact, she looked so tired, all dried up and almost lifeless.  

They had been in this wild prairie country about two years.  It was not a very encouraging visit.  I wondered if I would look like that in two years time, but I am glad to say, I am sure neither Ellen nor I ever presented such a sorry picture,  

Of course, we were younger and life was before us to make what we would of it, and although there were discouraging times, we had each other for companionship and we always tried to make the best of things.

There was the starting of a little settlement about five miles from us and here on Sundays the settlers from all around would gather for Christian worship.  These Sundays were happy, peaceful, restful days to look forward to.

We would put up a lunch (perhaps a fried prairie hen) and have our meeting in the morning.  After meeting we would spread out our lunches, have a sort of picnic time, after which the men would sprawl out and rest, dozing or napping, the women visiting, and watching the youngsters playing around.

Then Sunday school in the afternoon and a leisurely drive home in the cool of the evening.  Ah, those were great days, happy days.  There were about twenty families from around about that enjoyed these Sundays.

*asafetida -  A brownish, bitter, foul-smelling resinous material obtained from the roots of several plants of the genus Ferula in the parsley family and formerly used in medicine.  The odour of Asafetida is stronger and more tenacious than that of the onion, the taste is bitter and acrid. Its vile smell has led to many unusual medical claims, mostly stemming from the belief that itís fetid odor would act as a deterrent to germs. In several European countries a small piece of the resin would be tied on a string and hung around childrens' necks to protect from disease. The shock of the sulfurous smell was once thought to calm hysteria and in the days of the American Wild West it was included in a mixture with other strong spices as a cure for alcoholism.

*Sappy - The Sappa Creek; possibly from Late Latin sappa a sort of mattock; Sappa is a city and Catholic diocese in Albania.  It is unknown at this time [2006] how Sappa Creek in Norton & Decatur Counties of Kansas and Harlan & Furnas Counties of Nebraska was named.


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 © 2006 Laurie Arnold.  All material presented herein was transcribed or otherwise provided by Laurie Arnold from the unpublished text of the diary, family photos and personal genealogy.  She and her family have graciously given permission for the diary to be posted to the Norton County Kansas GenWeb website, for the benefit of others who had pioneer families in Norton County, Kansas. This diary, photos and personal genealogy may not be reproduced, published or re-published for any reason, in any format, without prior written consent of the contributors or copyright holders.  web design © 2006 Ardie Grimes