Kate's Letter

Introduction by Nancy Hampton Attey

Young Kate

This document will introduce you to my great grandmother, Kate Thompson Gilmore Bowen (1853-1928). It was written December 9, 1925 to the Jetmore, Kansas "Republican" and is about a Christmas on the prairie.

Dear Republican,

     One day last spring I was pleasantly surprised to have Mr. and Mrs. Will Sinclair of Hodgeman Co call on me. Never in my life was I so happy to see any one outside of my own family. I had not seen Will since he was a little boy and certainly did appreciate him and his estimable wife taking the time (they were only out here a short time) to hunt me up! More especially have I long since reached the uninteresting age, and when I knew they could have spent the time looking at hundreds of lovely things that So. California has to offer. But OH! how we did improve the short time they were here. How I plied them with questions! Questions of this and that family I had known so many years ago. I knew many of the older members of these families had gone to their long home and the ones I knew as children had grown up and established homes of their own, as Will had, and were now in the heat and battle of the day. I was interested in them and their parents who were my neighbors, and I was under a great obligation to every one of them for so many kind neighborly acts.

     When Will returned to Kansas - what should he do but see that a copy of the Republican be sent to me every week and a notice I read in it put me in the notion of writing this letter. It stated that an entertainment was to be held at the Kidderville school house to raise funds for the Christmas tree. That sent me to thinking of a Christmas tree and entertainment I participated in in 1886. When the settlers were all new in that locality and most of them were poor. There was not an evergreen tree within a hundred miles that I knew of!

     We had moved from Richardson Co Neb. to Hodgeman Co Ks in the early spring of 1885 and brought a family of five little girls and as Christmas drew near we realized we had brought them away from many things they had always enjoyed at that season of the year. We realized it was up to us to find the best substitute we could. That fall the first district school had began in the little school house!---which was of sod --- and we had a good little Sunday School every Sunday afternoon and preaching every two weeks. Mr. Reed was our Superintendant and it was a union school. We met there to take steps to have a Christmas tree and entertainment We counted our pennies and made our plans, sent Mr. Will Burns to Dodge City with our money and a list of oranges, candy, green tissue paper (as near the shade of evergreen as he could find). We got a good sized hack berry tree- its top reached the ceiling- and cut the paper in long strips half a finger length and fringed each strip as deep as possible, leaving only a plain margin to wrap around the bare limbs of the tree. We wrapped the whole tree and you who did not see it have no idea how pretty it looked. After the popcorn was strung and festooned around it and oranges fastened on and dozens of little pink mosquitoe netting bags filled with candy and hazel nuts and a pretty red apple for each pupil (the later Were contributed by families who had had them sent from Richardson Co) with an occasional tin horn, picture book and the little school house lighted by the biggest and best lamps the country side afforded. I want to tell you it was a pretty sight. We had a really fine program.

     Some had taken part in programs not so long before in good big Sunday School entertainments and they taught the exercises to our little S.S. One especially comes to my mind, which some of you will remember called "Little Grandpa and Grandma Blackeyes". Little Jimmie Henderson and Little Effie Meyers took the parts and I can see them yet. Each with their sparkling black eyes and dressed for the part, and a little pupil stood between them to recite the piece.*

     There were two cottage organs in that part of the country our own and the Leepers. We put ours in the wagon three times a week and took it to the school house where we met for practice. Ella Leeper played nicely and she was our organist and the songs were the fine old Christmas hymns "Joy to the World" "Low in a Manger", and "Merry, Merry Chiming Bells", and many others that for generations have rung out in the Christmas air and cheered the hearts of God'd people.

     The school house was crowded and not even standing room. Many were there that had never seen a Christmas tree and many were carried back to their childhood and younger days in their old homes back East. Many tender memories were awakened that had long been dormant and as we seperated that night and rode to our homes under the lovely Christmas stars that seemed to me to always shine brighter in the clear Kansas atomsphere we all felt the solemn influence of our Christmas entertainment.

     Changes came to many of us before another Christmas. My dear husband was sleeping on the hillside of our ranch and before another year had rolled around several of the older members of some of the families had gone to their long rest. And I and my little family had gone East and left forever the lovely rolling prairies with the beautiful sunrise and sun sets and the pure wholesome air, and those dear neighbors. These and many many more thoughts of 39 years ago were awakened as I read that little notice.

     The families there then were the Sinclairs, Meyers, Pitts, Jones, Hamms, Faulkners, Reeds, Bennets, Higginbotham, Berrys, Guerkis, the bachelors who are still there Billy Crab and Potter. North of us the Howden and Hall ranch and then came Charles Jackson, whose name I still see in your paper and for whom there is a mighty warm spot in my heart because he allowed us to gather willows along the creek to cook our meals and warm our bodies, and I want to say right here to all who are still living there either whose parents or they themselves came to our rescue when our little sod house caved in after my husband had been injured in an accident---there were a dozen or more came and laid up another house for us, and the next year when my husband died so suddenly leaving his plow in the furrow, the same good neighbors came bringing their wives---the men finished the breaking and the women brought the dinner. And several years after these same good neighbors left their work at a busy time of year and moved my husband's body from its lonely sleeping place on the old ranch to the little cemetery near the school house where he lies surrounded by the graves of some of those same good neighbors. I am still under obligation to the dear kind people back there who never let a Decoration Day go by without seeing to it that the grave of our loved one is decorated.

     I want again to thank you all and in this connection I want to say I will never forget the comforting words of Dr. Yingling who conducted Mr. Bowen's funeral service.

     The little sod school house is dear to me for another reason-- my baby girl was baptised there at a quarterly conference.

*Note: Kate's daughter Katie was the young child who read the piece.

Another portrait of Kate
Kate Bowen

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