KANSAS COLLECTION ARTICLES


REMINISCENCES OF WILLIAM DARNELL -- Part One

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THE first Darnells in America, according to traditions in the family, were two of that name who came to Maryland with Lord Baltimore. From these two early emigrants the family got its start in the new world, settling for the most part along the South Atlantic states in Virginia and the Carolinas. One Darnell, a native of Buncombe county, North Carolina, was a soldier under DeKalb, in the Revolutionary War. During one of the campaigns in the South he was captured, along with a number of other patriots, and sent to a prison camp some miles from home. Finding an opportunity to escape confinement by subscribing to the oath of allegiance to the crown, he did so, and on being released was supposed to make his way home with all possible dispatch and refrain from taking up arms against the crown in the future. Instead of going home, however, he made his way with all haste to the camp of the Continental forces, and again took up arms in the defense of his country. Some time later he was captured a second time. When taken before a military tribunal he was soon recognized as one who had been brought in some time before and paroled, and on being question if such was not the case, admitted it. He was then confronted with the evidence that he had subscribed to the oath of allegiance, and admitted that he had. His trial was short, and the sentence of the court was death before a firing squad, the execution to take place a week or two later, at sunrise. He was then placed under guard and each day given scarcely enough food to sustain life. One day one of his guards, in a spirit of exquisite mockery, tossed him a cob from which he had just finished nibbling off every grain of corn. Darnell, nearly famished with hunger, eagerly seized the cob, devouring it, thinking at that moment no food ever tasted so delicious.

The night before the day set for his execution a terrific rainstorm came up. Everyone in camp was busy, rank and file both endeavoring to find protection against the storm. The night was dark, and Darnell decided if he got a chance he was going to try making an escape, thinking he might as well die in the attempt as to linger and be shot in the morning anyway. Late that night and while the storm was at its height he decided the time had arrived. His watchers having left him for a few moments in order to look after other things, Darnell took a hasty departure, crawling out of camp on his belly --

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his greatest fear being that his captors would again find him by hearing the loud beating of his heart. On and on he crept, rolled and slid, until he had gotten beyond the British lines, when he got to his feet and made a dash for freedom. Having no means of provisioning himself for his trip, he was obliged to forage as he went along. The next day, surprising a wild turkey on a nest of eggs, he appropriated the entire lot, devouring enough to satisfy the pangs of hunger and taking the balance along to sustain him on his journey. In due course of time he reached the patriot army, and again took up arms in the defense of his country. Later he met a hero's death during the battle of Camden, when De Kalb also received mortal wounds. This Darnell was married at the time he was in military service, and had a family, one of his children being named Benjamin.

William and Jane Darnell

Jane and William Darnell

Benjamin Darnell was a native of Buncombe county, North Carolina, born May 6, 1785. He lived on a farm in the vicinity of his birth, where he married and reared a family. He was married twice, the first time about the year 1850, this wife being: Miss Fanny __________, who was born February 29, 1780, and died when I was a very small boy. I don't know the name of his second wife. He lived in the vicinity of his birth until about the year 1830, when he decided to try his fortune in the new country to the northwest. Making preparations necessary for the trip overland, he embarked with his family, prairie-schooner fashion, for their new home, settling in Kendall county, Illinois. He was a man of powerful physique, close to six feet in height and weighing in his later years close to 265 pounds. He was said to be a most devout and temperate man, yet he had one characteristic, indulging in a small portion of whisky every morning, which he place in his coffee. He was never known to indulge at any other time The picture accompanying this article shows him to be a husky, stern-looking old man, with smooth face and long white hair, bright eyes, and a mouth that gave evidence of strong determination and yet kindliness. This picture, taken when he was between seventy-five and eighty years old, was the only one he ever had taken. No picture of

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his wife is known to exist. He died in Illinois about 1860. He and his wife were parents of ten children, as follows: Elizabeth, born August 6, 1803; married Thomas Judd. John, born March 5, 1805; married . Abraham, born November 12, 1806; married Susan Owens. Mary, born April 29, 1808; married __________. Susanna, born February 25, 1810; married __________Hollenback. James, born January 20, 1812; married Charlotte Owen. Larkin, born December 22, 1813; died a young man. Lucy, born January 6, 1816. Enoch, born February 5, 1818; married __________ Springer. Benjamin, born August 5, 1820; married __________.

James Darnell, Sr., my father, the sixth child of Benjamin and Fanny Darnell, was born in Buncombe county, North Carolina, January 20, 1812, and died in Pottawatomie county, Kansas, July 3, 1880. He was married at Putnam, Hennepin county, Illinois, December 1, 1833, to Miss Charlotte Owen, daughter of Archibald Owen. She was born November 25, 1817, in Virginia, and died in Louisville, Kan. They were parents of eight children, all but one of whom were born in Kendall county, Illinois, the other having been born after the family reached Kansas. They were: Lucinda, born March 24, 1839; died June 23, 1863. Margaret, born January 7, 1843; died April 13, 1844. William, born December 5, 1844. George, born November 11, 1847; died April 2, 1923. James, born June 10, 1850. Jerome, born June 10, 1852. Charlotte, born August 21, 1854; died March 27, 1899. Albert, born November 30, 1858.

James Darnell, Sr., my father, was brought up as a farmer. He was a soldier in the Black Hawk War. His father's place in Illinois was known as Fort Darnell, and was built as a protection from hostile Indians. This fort was surrounded by a stockade of white-oak logs split in half and set in the ground side by side, with sentinel blocks at each corner of the inclosure.

At Fort Darnell an old Indian named Shick Shack used to be a frequent visitor. He was a go-between among the whites and Indians. He would not fight anyone. He was "whipped." One night father was on guard at the fort during a scare, and Shick Shack, together with his squaw, daughter and son-in-law (the latter couple very young), came and asked protection in the fort, claiming the hostile Indians would kill them as quickly as they would the white settlers. When asked if they would fight with the whites, Shick Shack said "No." He and his family were not allowed to enter the fort, but were permitted to camp just outside and under the protection of one of the guard or block houses, which happened to be the one that father was to stand guard in. No sooner were they settled than they began chanting prayers to their God for protection. This so interested father that he begged to be allowed to stay there in order that he might learn the prayer. During the whole night these Indians kept praying, repeating the same prayer over and over, time and again. Each one of them had a prayer paddle on which were painted some Indian characters, supposed to have some potent charm, but father was unable to tell what they were, or their significance. During this chanting each Indian held his paddle up perpendicularly as his prayer commenced, letting it lower until it reached the ground and then raising it and repeating the same over again. This prayer ran:

    "Sac a no sac,
    Nock a moon
    Coc a nut sac."

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No attack was made that night, and the next morning Shick Shack and family moved on.

After father came to Kansas an Indian who went by the name of Smith -- Indian name Oshmeat -- came to his place and got permission to hunt. He would frequently stay three or four days, and when he had enough meat, would return to his home on the Red Vermilion. One day father got to talking with him and the conversation drifted back to his boyhood days in Illinois, and the Black Hawk War. Then father related the incident of the looked-for attack on Fort Darnell, and of Shick Shack's family camping under its protection and praying for the night. Oshmeat, of course, was much surprised, and in return he surprised father when he spoke. He said, "Why, that was me." In the course of their talk father asked him, "Where did you and Shick Shack go to keep out of that war (Black Hawk War)?" Oshmeat said, "Me and Shick Shack go to the Mazon." The Mazon country was rough or swampy country, and he and Shick Shack with their squaws hid there until the war was over, Oshmeat going out occasionally to kill a deer or other game, taking it to camp, where the families lived on it, and going out again as occasion required. Shick Shack was then an old man. One day Oshmeat said he himself shot a buck, breaking one of its hind legs. He laid his gun aside and took after the animal on the run, armed with only a tomahawk. With this he split its head open and came back with his game.

Father saw old Shabbonee many times in Illinois before he came to Kansas. When Black Hawk, the noted Sac and Fox warrior and chief, was making plans for his attack on the whites, Shabbonee, a Pottawatomie chief and a friend of the whites, proved his friendship in the following very practical manner: Before starting his war on the whites, the then venerable Black Hawk had assembled his warriors in council, and in an effort to rouse in them the proper war spirit, he told them they were going to be victorious. With a sweep of his hand he called attention to the great army of warriors assembled in council. "We have as many warriors as there are white oaks in this forest," he said in his impressive way.

Shabbonee, then about sixty years of age, was an attentive listener to that speech. He was not in favor of this planned attack on the whites. In an attempt to dissuade them he rose to his feet and also made a speech, telling the assembled warriors if they attacked the whites they were going to make a serious mistake. "Why," he told them, "the whites have as many warriors as there are leaves on these oak trees."

While the war council was going on Shabbonee started a young buck out to warn the white settlers of the impending war that was to be made on them. This young Indian was named Pepper, and Shabbonee furnished him with a fast horse and told him to ride fast, even if he killed every horse he had in order to get the warnings to them in time. Tradition has it that he killed two horses by running them to death during this trip.

In after years Shabbonee lived at a place called Shabbonee Grove, near old Fort Darnell. The settlers in and around this place took particular pains to see to it that old Shabbonee was well taken care of and had plenty to eat during his old age. This was their appreciation of his efforts in saving a good many lives. All white people were his friends.

There was an Indian burial ground at either Shabbonee's Grove, or Pawpaw Grove, near Fort Darnell. On one occasion father, in company with a

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young man and two old men, made a visit to Shabbonee's Grove in search of government land. They found some Indian graves on this trip. The corpses were deposited in the forks of trees, and were inclosed in coffins made of bark, tied about with rawhide. The old gentlemen evinced some curiosity as to the manner in which the departed ones were prepared for burial, so the young man took one of the coffins down for them to examine. The old men gazed at it a few minutes, neither caring to take the initiative in investigating farther. The young man having no desire to open the pack, the coffin was returned to the fork of the tree from which it had been taken, unmolested.

On their return trip home the party stopped for the night at the house of a settler who was a sort of preacher. During the night their host glanced out the door and was met with a sight that caused him to fall back in astonishment, and he shouted to his guests, "The stars are falling!" The occupants

James and Charlotte Darnell

James and Charlotte Darnell

all hastened to the door to get a sight of this unheard of thing, and no sooner had they done so than they all thought the world was coming to an end. Down on their knees went everyone and father said he never attended a more earnest prayer meeting in his life. About daybreak the party decided to start for home, father thinking if the world was coming to an end, he would rather be at home in the fort with his own family. This meteoric shower occurred on the nights of November 12 and 13, 1832, and has since been commonly known as "the nights when the stars fell." One meteoric fragment during this shower fell a short distance ahead of the returning party, rolled off to one side but did no damage.

On the Big Sandy, near Fort Darnell, in early days, lived a blacksmith who had settled there with his wife and family. His cabin was a short distance from his shop. Living so close to Indians he kept his rifle handy all the time. Shortly after he began work one day, two young white men came to the shop for some work, and while they were chatting, the blacksmith heard his wife scream. He glanced toward the house and saw an Indian warrior holding her by the hair with one hand and getting ready to tomahawk her with the other.

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He grabbed his rifle and killed the Indians while the white men, frightened, ran away. The settler ran to the rescue of his wife who was being attacked by other Indians, swinging his rifle like a club, and despatched four Indians before he was killed. There were about twenty warriors in the party, and the supposition was that if the young fellows had stayed and helped the blacksmith, instead of running away, they would have whipped all twenty of them.

Father was working for a man named Guilard when the Black hawk War broke out. Guilard was supposed to be a Revolutionary War soldier, and both he and his wife were old and helpless. An unmarried daughter lived with them. When the news of Black Hawk's uprising reached them they decided to get to the Darnell fort for protection. Father was sent out to find the horses which were in a pastures. The night was so dark he could not distinguish objects, and he was obliged to get his ears to the ground and follow in the general direction of the sounds made by the horses' hoofs striking the ground. He finally located them and got them saddled and bridled and ready for the trip. The old-maid daughter, father said, showed more nerve than any woman he ever saw. She got her parents ready for the trip, put them on the horses, and started for the fort, apparently showing no signs of excitement.

On the Big Sandy there was a schoolhouse in which a family had been living for a short time when the Black Hawk War broke out. The family was attacked by Indians and everyone killed. One of the Indians took the baby of this family by the heels and dashed its brains out against the end of one of the logs of the schoolhouse. The stain clung there for many years. Twenty-five years after the event a cousin of father's came to Kansas, and said the stain of that tragedy was still visible at that time. It is said this old school building is still preserved.

A member of father's relatives came to Illinois about the same time he did, and the men folks at once set about to find claims that suited them. That was before the day of the homestead law, and the land could be bought direct from the government. They secured claims and started improving them. Later on my uncle, John Darnell, who was living in the vicinity where father lived, wished to add a bit more land to his claim, and as money in those days was hard to get hold of he got together a bunch of cattle which he drove all through the settlement, thinking he would be able to sell them to various ones and thus get hold of the necessary money to pay for the land he wanted. Finding no purchasers in his vicinity he drove the cattle to the village of Chicago, then known as Indian town. There he found no one who would offer him more than $4 a head for his cattle, and being unwilling to sell at that price, he drove his cattle back home.

Richard Moore, another uncle, whom we familiarly called Uncle Dick, was on the lookout for land about the same time. He selected a claim, became dissatisfied with it, and finally abandoned it. That particular place of land forms a part of the present town of Plano, III.

Shortly after my grandfather, Benjamin Darnell, came to Illinois he and his brother Larkin got a job cutting corn for a neighbor. Their pay was fifty cents an acre for the work. Down in North Carolina, their old home, corn did not grow as thrifty as it did in their new home, and a man could easily cut an acre a day. The corn they were now to cut was immense, stood high, and the ears were about a foot in length, making it hard to cut and shock. Work-

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ing as hard as they could they found it a hard task to do more than an acre a day. When they were paid they received a bushel of corn a day as wages, this commodity being valued at fifty cents a bushel at the time.

Father and Uncle Larkin were splitting rails on Rock creek, the name of a stream near their place in Illinois, one day. The day had been a clear one and they had made a fine start on their work in the timber. Along in the afternoon it gradually began to darken, but on looking up at the sky they could see no signs of clouds, so kept on. The darkness grew more pronounced every minute, and they had an idea the afternoon might have slipped away faster than they had any idea of. Finally they put away their axes and started home, hearing roosters crowing as they neared the house. Shortly after they got home the sun started coming out. There had been an eclipse, and they were not aware it was to be staged that day. Their wives had a good laugh at the men, however.

Shortly after the Black Hawk War father started out with his father to look for land. Father Selected a claim on one of the two Rock creeks, in Kendall county, two or three miles from grandfather's, near the present town of Plano. On a certain day that year a representative of the United States land office arrived in the county to hold a public auction for such lands as had been selected. These lands brought a minimum of $1.25 an acre, and anyone was free to bid. On the day set for the sale a land speculator said to be from the vicinity of Chicago arrived on the scene and made it known that he intended to buy in some land, intimating he might overbid the settler who was then on the land. A number of those settlers who were there to buy in their own claims held an indignation meeting, and agreed not to bid against one another. They then appointed a committee to wait upon the speculator, which told him they were going to give him just so many minutes to get out of the neighborhood, or take the consequences. The speculator evidently thought they meant business, for he departed at once. The auction went off as scheduled, and each settler bought in his own claim and got a deed by payment of $1.25 an acre.

About the time father was married one of his neighbors, who had recently come out from the east, wished to have some mowing done. He asked father if he would do it and was told he would. Owing to the scarcity of money in that vicinity, father was promised a "bee tree" a day for his labor. This was satisfactory and father went to work. That mowing was done by the oldfashioned scythe, and it took him about a week to finish the job. When he had finished Grandfather Owens went along to help cut the trees after he had selected them. The owner led the way to a large, ornery-looking bur oak, which stood on the bank of a creek and in a mean place to cut. He wanted father to cut that one first. Father was not much impressed with that tree, and while he was arguing with his late employer, Grandfather Owens made an examination of the tree, and came up and joined in the confab. "Jimmie," he said, "let's cut this one first." Grandfather was pretty wise in the lore of the forest, and father decided to risk his judgment, and said he would take this tree for the first one. They set to work and felled it. Then they got the surprise of their lives. That old tree was chock-full of honey. They filled two tubs, all the buckets, jars, crocks, pans and other receptacles they could scare up, and still did not have enough vessels to hold the balance of the honey,

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which they were obliged to let go to waste. They were so stocked up with honey that father never went back to claim the other trees owing him for the mowing.

Having gotten his claim, father soon married and settled on his piece of land and went to work making a home for himself. He lived on this claim for the next twelve or thirteen years. Several of his children, including myself were born on this place. He did fairly well some years, but some were thin picking. Mother has said she raised lots of chickens, and had lots of eggs to sell, one year selling enormous quantities for three cents a dozen. About that time pork was worth almost nothing. Dressed hogs could be bought for two cents a pound, and went begging at that. One day a neighbor of father's came over and asked him if he did not want to buy his hogs. Father started dickering with him and finally came to an understanding, agreeing to take all his dressed hogs if they were delivered to him at a little village called Waverly. This was agreed to. A renter of this same farmer learned of the deal and wanted father to take his hogs also. Father agreed if he would haul them to Chicago for him. This he agreed to do, and did. Father found no difficulty

disposing of all the meat at Chicago and cleared about $100 on the deal, a tidy little sum for those days. The neighbor who first suggested the deal felt pretty cheap when he found how easily he could have made this profit for himself, and his family twitted him about it, one member remarking, "That man Darnell made his living this winter off of you."

Father has said that he did not have to work so very hard while on his farm in Illinois. He often went hunting, and said he had pigeon pie nearly every day, the wild pigeons being very plentiful in his neighborhood in early days.

Thinking he might better himself in some other line of business, father left his farm and started a cross-roads country store on Fox river, a few miles distant from his old home. He put in a big stock of general merchandise and ran the store for several years. He had always been used to outdoor work and the inside work of the store began to tell on him. Having a feeling that it would kill him in a few years if he did not get out, he moved what was left of his stock to the village of Waverly, a railroad town a few miles away, added a little more to his stock and set about to close the business out entirely. Kansas was much talked of at this time and father decided to come west. During the winter of 1854-'55, while selling off, he was also making active preparations for coming west. By early in March he had things in such shape that he wound up his business in a hurry and started getting ready.

Disposing of his farm and such things as we could not bring with us, he loaded his family and possessions into two prairie schooners, hitched two yoke of oxen to each, with an extra pair for emergency purposes, and with four milk cows in addition, set out on the journey to the new land of promise -- Kansas. I still remember the names of the oxen. On one wagon were "Kip" and "Yuler," with "Ball" and "Bright" as wheelers. To the other wagon were hitched "Buck" and "Broad," with "Dick" and "Darb" wheelers. "Rock" and Paddy" were the names of the emergency pair. Our line of travel soon took us to the Mississippi river, where we crossed into Iowa at the town of Burlington.

From there we took a southwesterly course into northwestern Missouri

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finally reaching the Grand river. Here on the banks of the river we found an Irishman named James Limerick and family, who had been detained by high water and crippled oxen. Limerick had two wagons, each drawn by a single yoke of oxen, one yoke of which had gone lame, and in consequence he was unable to continue his journey. Limerick was the possessor at the time of a fiddle, and while in camp at this place his enforced idleness was in a measure relieved by the many lively jigs and ballads he sawed out of his old fiddle. Learning that Limerick was also bound for Kansas, where he intended to settle, father kindly proposed to him to unhook his lame oxen and herd them along with our stock, and make use of the extra team of ours to pull his own wagon. Limerick was more than glad of this offer, pulled up stakes, and together the two families started on the way. Their route took them to St. Joseph,. where they crossed the Missouri river, pushing directly into the territory and taking a road that connected with the Fort Leavenworth to Fort Riley military road. This road crossed the Delaware (then called Grasshopper) river, Soldier creek at Indianola, then into the Kaw valley where it joined the old California road. Topeka at this time was a small village of but few houses. Up the Kaw valley we went, following the California road, past St. Marys and on until we reached the crossing of the Red Vermilion. Here the roads branched -- the California road running to the right in a northwesterly direction, directly towards the present Westmoreland, and cutting across the southwest corner of the town site, thence straight on to the Black Vermilion and Marysville.


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