The Diary of Lizzie Dopps





Chapter XV


Now I will tell why we left the Kansas plains and came to Washington Territory.

After we had been on the plains for about three years and had proved up on our claim so that it was ours, we sold it and bought land about a mile from the little town of Norton.

Eli and Dave had much to do with the growth of this little town.  In fact, they were two of the founders of this little place.

In the meantime my father and stepmother with their little family moved out from Illinois to where we lived in Kansas, so I was no longer lonesome for my family.

Eli’s brothers were growing to manhood and marrying and soon my own brothers did the same, so we had plenty of company and places to visit.  It was all a very happy community in spite of some of the hardships we went through.

We had no evergreen Christmas trees but we would cut down a tree, perhaps a cottonwood or poplar, wrap the branches and trunk in white cotton and sprinkle rock salt on it and have a very pretty, white, sparkling Christmas tree--a community tree at the church where we also had delightful Christmas programs.  It was things like this that made life happy for us.  

Later on we gave up farming, sold the homestead place first, bought another farm closer to town and then sold that.

Eli then went into the furniture business in town.  We built quite a nice store with living quarters on the top floor.  We did very well here, until the great fire that nearly wiped out the little town of Norton.

Several homes were burned and ten stores--ours one of them.  It happened on a windy night, and not having an adequate fire department, the flames leaped like demons, destroying everything in their way.

There was no chance to save anything--nothing but our lives.  When we saw there was no quenching it, we gathered up our three little ones and fled to a stone house at a little distance, where a friend lived.  

Our little boy, Oscar Leroy, was only six months old, but in spite of the glare and excitement, he "cooed and crowed," really effecting a calm on others.  Of course, he was unaware of the tragedy that was happening and of the good he was doing by seeming to calm others, but the town fathers said that such a baby should be rewarded and gave him a small metal award with inscription on it,  I still have it.

Our store was fully insured, but a few days before the great fire, our flue had been altered (for the better, too) and we had not had time to notify the insurance company, and in spite of the fact that the fire did not, start with us, but several stores away, and the flue had nothing whatever to do with the fire, the insurance company used that excuse as a loophole, and we were never able to collect one cent of insurance.

Our home was gone and everything in it, as well as the store, but my grandfather had left me some money upon his death, so we bought some property about a half mile from town--a beautiful place on the banks of a little stream and here we built a lovely home.

Nothing daunted, Eli again started in the mercantile business.  This time it was a dry-goods store with boots and shoes.

We were regaining our losses and prospering when along came another fire.

This time we were not burnt out, but it would have been bettor luck if we had been for all was covered by fire insurance and in a good company.

It was a cold windy wintry night, snow falling and the store next to ours caught fire and burned.

We were awakened in the night by someone shouting, "Eli, do you know nearly your whole stock of goods is out in the street and your store is apt to burn?"  Eli dressed and rushed up town but even then it was too late to save much.

Eli's employees living nearer the store thought his store would surely burn, so meaning to help, they broke into the store and removed bolts after bolts of cloth, and boxes after boxes of boots and shoes, and in the excitement just laid them out in the snow.  What wasn’t ruined by snow, smoke and water was stolen.  Our store didn't burn so there was no insurance to gather, but our stock was completely ruined or gone.  It was another total loss.

Next, Eli took up the harness business*.  He had a nice harness shop and a good business, but he had a crafty partner and while he could prove nothing, he knew all was not going as it should and that he was losing hundreds of dollars that should have been his.

Then along about this time we had another great loss by fire.  It was this way.

We had a beautiful big black thousand dollar stallion.  While we were building a nice big barn on our new place, we were keeping him in the livery stable in town.

The barn was near completion and Eli was planning to bring this beautiful stallion home one night.  However, there was a little more hammering to be done and Eli's partner, knowing what a high-strung, nervous, horse Charlie was said, "Oh, I wouldn’t take him home tonight, Eli. Why don't you wait until tomorrow night?  By that time all the hammering will be done."  Eli took his advice.

I am not putting the blame for what happened on Eli's partner.  He meant it as good advice, but it just goes to show that a few words spoken, sometimes make a difference in one’s life, as these words changed the current of our lives.

That night the livery stable caught fire.  It was thought that the fire started from a tramp smoking in the haymow.

Our horse, Charlie, burned to death that night with seventeen other horses.  He was the most valuable horse in the whole stable.  He was so big and strong he was tied with two ropes.

The stable owner tried to rescue him, he being the most valuable horse there, so rushed in and cut one rope, forgetting the other one.  When he started to lead Charlie out, the remaining rope jerked him back.  It was too late then.  The burning roof started to fall in, the horse's tail caught on fire and the man barely escaped with his life.

That night and the next day the air over the whole town was rancid with the acrid smell of charred horseflesh.  The stable seemed to go in no time, just a puff of smoke then a racing blaze spreading over the whole structure and it was gone.  So was our thousand dollar horse, gone up in smoke with just one stroke of Fate.  Another big total loss.

It was discouraging, so many losses by fire in just a few short years, and our finances and capital were getting low.

After this loss we talked about selling our beautiful home so that we night have more money.  However, I simply could not think of selling it and remaining there, seeing someone else enjoy the home we had built expecting to find so much happiness in it.  If we sold it, I wanted to go away so I could forget about our losses.

Then just about this time we suffered the greatest loss of all.  The Angel of Death again visited our home and this time carried away our only boy.  We had been so proud of him.  He was such a beautiful child with his deep blue eyes and golden curls.  He was all boy, too.  When he was about two years old his father thought he looked too much like a girl with his long curls, and Oscar didn't want people to think him a girl, so off came the curls.

He was a bright child, too.  He taught his sister Jessie, who was two years older, all of her letters when he was only two years old.  I can see them lying on the floor on their little stomachs with a book or paper in front of them and hear him say in his childish voice, pointing out each letter, "Now, what dis?"  And if Jessie couldn't remember he would patiently tell her.

I can hear him answer when one would ask him to spell "boy"--always "B-O-Y," "dood boy" and he was always a good boy.

One day he had picked a blossom from one of my house plants.  I told him he must never do that again, but that he could pick all the flowers he wanted out—doors but never pick any in the house.

One  beautiful sunshiny day, I thought it would be good for my house plants if I'd put them all out on the veranda for a while and let them drink in the sunshine and fresh air.  Not long after I had done this, he came up to me with his little kilt held up with his chubby little hands, full of the blossoms of my precious house plants and exclaimed, "Oh, mama, see my pitty f'owers."

And when I saw what he had done I said, "Oh, Oscar, you’ve picked all of mama's flowers she told you not to pick."

He looked up at me with his eyes full of innocence and with tears in his voice, pathetically said, "Why mama, dey was out-doors."

When he was less than three years old--he would have been three in May--an epidemic of scarlet fever struck our town in March of that year.  It struck down our little boy and do what we could for him this dreaded disease claimed him.

One morning just after sunrise, he called his father to his bedside and wanted his playthings.  We thought at that request that he was getting better.  We brought them all to him, his colored blocks, a gay ball, and most precious of all, a miniature riding whip, just like what his papa had in his harness shop only small.  He looked them all over carefully, not trying to play with them, then turning to his father smiled a pathetic little smile and said, "Take them away now, papa, and keep them for me."

He then asked for his sisters and in spite of the fact we had kept them isolated from him, I could not refuse this last request, for I knew the end was near now.  He was so glad to see them after not having seen them for several days.

After a few joyous baby words he seemed to see the Angel of Death hovering over him, waiting for him, and with a sunny little smile for each one of us, turned his head and gave one little sigh and was gone*.

We still had our two little girls, but our only boy was gone, our finances seemed to be going, and if our home was to be sold and go to someone else, I'd rather be away from where all this sorrow had happened.

Then one day Ellen gave Nellie some magazines with pictures to look at.

One evening after a big thunder and lightning storm, Eli leisurely picked up one of these magazines and within those covers saw pictures of a town in the West, Vancouver, Washington Territory, an old, old town, one of the Old Hudson Bay Trading posts, but at that time experiencing quite a boom.

He looked up and laughingly, half in earnest, said, "What do you say to us selling out and going west, out to this town that is having such a boom?  Just look at these pictures."

I couldn't think he really meant it, so I laughingly agreed.  He gazed at the pictures a while longer, then looked up again and soberly said, "I meant it."

My heart sank.  Give up my home, my people, my friends, and go out west to a strange country, among strangers!

True, I had a brother, Charlie, who had gone to Seattle, but the great Seattle fire of 1880 had just occurred, he had been burnt out, and I did not know that he would remain there.

However, after thinking the matter over, we were finally convinced that it would be a good move.

All our friends were here, it was true, and Norton was growing, but with each improvement that came to the town, we were asked to help out with expenses, and since we were among the founders of the town, we didn't have the heart to turn them down as long as we lived there and were one of them, yet we had had so many losses it was a drain on us.

If we went to a new place, we would have none of this, and the cash from the sale of our property and belongings would give us a new start.  So, why not?

Ellen tried to discourage us as she did not want us to go.  She said she could never forgive herself for giving Nellie the magazine with those pictures.

It is strange what one little innocent act will do to change one's future.  It would be hard for me, too, to leave my dear sister-in-law who had been more than a sister to me.

However, in a short time, everything was sold.

My sister, Stella, and her husband, Joe, decided to come with us.  So one night in July, 1889, the little railway station of Norton, Kansas was thronged.

When the train came in, the conductor asked of the station agent, "Well, what's going on here."

The agent replied, "Oh, nothing, only a couple of families moving out west to Washington Territory."

We were on the train, the engine whistled and the wheels began to turn.  The lights of our little town of Norton disappeared into the night.  We were leaving everybody dear to us, a new country, new faces, new friends.  What would the future hold?  

* Eli is enumerated on the 1880 census in Norton, Kansas.  His occupation is harness maker.

*Oscar is buried in the Norton cemetery.  His tombstone gives his date of death as 01 March 1888.


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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