(page 9 continued)

Almost from the time we left the Missouri river, on our journey west to Rock creek, we encountered bridge after bridge where toll was collected before we were allowed to cross. Some of these were over creeks where there was running water, while a good number were across sloughs where a rough corduroy roadway had been thrown over. Father finally lost his patience when our party was held up at Lost creek, near present Belvue. He was bringing up the rear when our wagon train was held up by a toll collector. Starting on ahead to learn what the matter was, he was hailed by the keeper, who called to him that he wanted fifty cents a wagon before he would allow them to cross. Father kept going and called out, "You'd better get off this road before I get hold of you!" Father was a large built man, and the toll keeper evidently thought he meant business, for he at once took to his heels and cleared out, after which our wagons crossed and went on their way unmolested.

The military road from Red Vermilion crossing ran directly west, through the present towns of Louisville, St. George, Manhattan and on to Fort Riley. We went up the Vermilion to Rock creek, following up the latter stream some miles before stopping. The country looked good to father and also to James Limerick, the latter settling on a tract that suited him, while father, thinking there might be still better land farther on, went as far the Black Vermilion. Finding the land no better and the water much poorer, he returned to his first choice on Rock creek. From the time we started from Illinois until we unloaded our wagons on Rock creek, nine weeks had passed. Father Selected a claim, and after laying a foundation for a house in order to hold the land, discovered there was no good water supply for the household. He abandoned

page 10 Kansas State historical Society.

this location and selected another claim to the east, on a branch of Rock creek, where he had found a fine living spring. Here he pitched his tent and in it the family lived for a time. A couple of days later he got his breaking plow and hitching on a yoke of oxen started breaking prairie, the exact date of this first plowing being June 20, 1855. Six or eight acres were all that he plowed at this time as it was late in the season for gardening. However, the season was favorable, and fine crops of watermelons and vegetables were matured. After our garden was in, father decided to start work on our house, choosing as his building site a spot about fifty or sixty feet from the creek and handy to a fine spring. At this time there was little brush or under

Military Road at Rock Creek crossing, Louisville, Pottawatomie county, Kansas.
William Darnell in picture.

growth along the creeks. He went into the timber and cut logs for the house, hewing them to about six inches in thickness and dovetailing the corner joints. Our cabin was built of various kinds of wood -- black walnut, oak, elm, hickory, sycamore, etc., the four top layers being of red cedar, a plentiful supply of which was then growing on the opposite bank of the creek a short distance away. This was the only hewed-log house in the neighborhood, and accordingly was the most pretentious of the early habitations. It was 18 by 22 feet in size, one story high, with a roof of burr oak, the shingles split out of logs with a frow and mallet.

After the completion of the house father set about breaking more land, turning under about ten acres this time, no other plowing having been done in the Rock creek valley other than what he had done.

That summer till spring from which the family got water was dug out and lined with flat stone, set upon edge. It had a bottom of flat rock. When

page 11 William Darnell.

finished the spring was about three feet square and deep enough to fill a large wooden bucket at one dip.

Among the things brought to Kansas by father was a small writing portfolio, or cabinet, of ancient make. This article belonged formerly to a man named James Nett, who took up a claim in early days about forty miles from Chicago. Nett was thought to be a sailor. He was addicted to strong drink, and while making a trip to Chicago died from the effects of his imbibing. His effects were sold at public auction, and father bought this portfolio, which at that time was thought to be at least a hundred years old. This was long before father decided to remove to Kansas. This old keepsake is now treasured in the family of a grandson, Lee Darnell.

Late in 1855, after we had finished our house and completed a corral, a six-rail stake-and-rider affair, father started out hunting one day. He had gone some distance when he discovered on the top of a hill, near Moody's Springs, what he believed to be a herd of buffalo. He crept as close as he could in order to get a shot at the herd, and discovered they were cattle instead -- cows and heifers -- all alone and wandering unattended on the prairie, and not inclined to be very wild. He had to return via Moodyville coming home, and on this trip he heard a bell in the timber. On investigating he discovered an Indian and five or six ponies. "Will you help me get these cattle?" he asked the Indian, receiving a reply, he would. The next morning father started for the Indian's camp and heard dogs baying. On reaching the camp he found the Indian had shot a coon. The Indian had two beautiful gray ponies. These were saddled and bridled and they started after the cattle, bringing them to the corral later in the day. That night a boy showed up at our cabin and said he was looking for stray cattle. Father told him he had found a bunch of strays and had them in the corral, and asked the boy to come along and have a look at them. The boy did, and said he recognized all of them except a bull father had in the corral at the time. "They belong to a Billy Shannon, who lives near Marysville," he said.

"I paid an Indian five dollars to help me corral the cattle," father said. "You take the cattle with you and tell Mr. Shannon to send the money I paid out. I don't want anything for myself." The boy left with the cattle. Later Shannon sent word that he had not hired anybody to look after his cattle. "Just leave them alone is all I want." He never paid father for what he had spent.

Prairie fires were a source of danger to the early settlers as the grass on the prairies was quite long in many instances. In the fall of 1855 a man and a boy who lived on the Black Vermilion were on their way to Marysville to do some trading when they were overtaken by a fire and burned to death, together with their team and wagon.

During our first year or two on the farm we had to take our corn to a gristmill on the Black Vermilion in order to get it ground into meal. On one occasion when we were going to the mill our team of mares gave out when we were about a mile from the nearest settler's house. It was nearly night and there was nothing to do but spend the night at that cabin. Unhitching the team we made our way to the cabin, explained our predicament and asked if we could stay all night. We could. On going inside we found the cabin consisted of but a single room, the building being about 12 by 14 feet

page 12 Kansas State Historical Society.

in size, and containing his wife, two grown up daughters, several smaller children, besides ourselves. That evening the oldest daughter entertained her beau to boot. The whole crowd slept in that one room; how, I do not know. In the morning the beau was gone. Father after breakfast asked how much we owed for our entertainment. "You don't owe us anything," was the reply. That was the accustomed way of treating visitors in those days.

Topeka was one of the nearest settlements at the time we settled on Rock creek, but as no provisions could be purchased there at that time, trips had to be made to Missouri river points for such things as were needed, St. Joseph, Atchison, Kickapoo or Leavenworth being the most common points visited. Supplies were usually purchased by the wagonload, as trips were long and required too much time to be made often.

In the fall of 1855 three Pawnee Indians suddenly appeared at father's place and warned him that if he did not abandon the farm and leave for good he would be attacked by a war party. This of course threw a scare into our household. Father did not take much stock in the threats of the Pawnees, but at the same time he was unwilling to take any chances. He decided to move the family down to one of the neighbors, where the combined families could unite and make a better stand against any attack, if such there should be. Father had a twenty-five pound keg of powder in the house at this time, and this explosive he decided to use in such a way that if the Indians set fire to the cabin it would furnish them a little diversion they had not counted on. Opening the keg, he poured out a quantity in a dish, and then placing the keg where he thought it would do the most destruction, he took the powder he had poured out, running trails of it to different parts of the house, each one leading back to the open keg. Then locking up the house, the family got into the wagon and drove down to the Limerick farm and told them of the visit of the Pawnees. The Limericks, too, decided to go along, and the combined families drove on to the Jenkins farm, where we all stopped for the night. After an uneventful night, hearing nothing of the Indians, father decided to risk returning to the farm to investigate. He started back and reached the house that forenoon. Nothing had been disturbed. He returned for his family and they all went home. This was our first and last Indian scare.

By the spring of 1856 father had broken sixty-four acres of ground. This was mostly put into corn, and a fine crop was raised that season. In order to care for the crop he erected large cribs of poles, fashioned much as a log house would be, and into these cribs the corn was heaped.

One day two men, "Uncle Tommy" Twiss and George, his brother, drove up to our vicinity and stopped. Uncle Tommy was agent for the Sioux Nation, and was on his way west with several wagonloads of annuity goods for distribution among the Sioux. George Twiss had a wagon loaded with trinkets, gewgaws and other things prized highly by Indians, besides a number of more useful things, such as farm implements of one sort and another. George, after getting this far on the trip to the Sioux country, for some reason decided he did not wish to go on with the trip. Driving to father's place he told him he had a lot of plunder he was tired of hauling about and wanted to make him a present of it. Among the wagonload of stuff he unloaded was a great quantity of colored glass beads Indian women prize highly for decorating moccasins, coats, legging belts, war bonnets, etc. Besides this, and in violent

page 13 William Darnell.

contrast, was an old-fashioned mowing scythe and two boxes of the once famous seidlitz powders. This mowing scythe was the first and only one in the Rock creek neighborhood for a number of years. George Twiss stayed with father while his brother pushed on to the northwest for the Sioux country. The Twiss brothers were natives of New York, and George decided to return, timing his trip at a time when father was obliged to make a trip to the Missouri river settlements for needed provisions.

Greenbury Hall, who Settled on Rock creek above Westmoreland in 1856, was one of our early neighbors. He broke up his farm that spring. Hall had a habit of getting drunk. On day he went on the Black Vermilion and got into a quarrel with a man named Louis Trumbley, who operated a toll road over that stream. Trumbly was a man killer, having two to his credit. After the quarrel they shook hands and parted, with the vow that the next time the two met one of them should die. After Hall got home and sobered up he became apprehensive about his recent quarrel. He came over to father's place and wanted him to buy his homestead. Father did not want to buy his farm. He wanted Hall for a neighbor. He told Hall he could patch up the differences between him and Trumbley. But Hall was a man of his word, and said the only way to avoid bloodshed was for him to sell out and leave, so father bought his claim, and Hall left and went to Iowa. Trumbley was a Frenchman and had an Indian wife. He and another Frenchman named Vasseur got into a quarrel at Rossville, and Vasseur shot Trumbley through the body, inflicting a serious though not fatal wound. Trumbley told Vasseur at the time that he would kill him when he got well. This he later did, shooting his victim from ambush.

There was need of a blacksmith in the valley during the early days, and this need was all the more keenly felt when it required a two or more days' journey when a wagon needed mending, or a plow sharpened. Anticipating this want father decided to put in a shop of his own. Completing his building he cast about for tools. Recollecting that Louis Trumbley had a shop on the Pottawatomie reservation, near where the California road crossed the Black Vermillion, where father had camped during his Search for a claim, he decided to interview Trumbley first. Father had got hold of an old gun which had been fixed up to trade to the Indians. Stowing this antiquated old firearm in his wagon he set out on his journey, taking a little ready cash along. Trumbley was obliged to remove his shop from the reservation, so father found no trouble in bargaining with him. When he arrived from his trip he had all the necessary tools to begin work with. This shop was located about seventyfive yards from the cabin, on the road that ran past our house and on through our farm to the ford. Father knew nothing of blacksmithing, but being a man of resourcefulness and perseverance he started in and learned the rudiments of the game as he went along. Before he gave up the business he was accounted the best man at sharpening plows that ever lived in the neighborhood. I was his helper, and my principal task was to pump the bellows. The first fuel for the forge was bark from the oak trees. This was the nearest natural fuel for blacksmithing purposes to be had at first. Later father dug a pit which held several cords of wood, and set to work and burned a supply of charcoal which lasted him for some time. He was the second blacksmith in what was later laid out as Pottawatomie county.

In the fall of 1856, a band of Pottawatomie Indians, about twenty in all,

page 14 Kansas State Historical Society.

came over to our farm and camped. One of the number had killed a spotted fawn, and as soon as they made camp proceeded at once to dress it. While engaged in this task one of them dropped his hunting knife in the grass, it falling with the point sticking up. A little later he stepped on the blade in such a manner that the point was thrust through the foot, producing a painful injury and severely crippling him.

When the fawn had been dressed one of the squaws preempted the jawbone and put it to use in a most practical manner. Obtaining some of the corn raised on father's place that season, she seated herself on the ground, and holding the jawbone in her right hand and an ear of corn in her left, rubbed the teeth over the ear in such a way that it cut the corn into meal. It was a successful, even though slow, way of grinding.

Being so far from a trading point it behooved the early first settlers to raise a supply of everything needed that could be raised on a farm. Learning that one of his neighbors, a Mr. Cook, had planted a small patch of cane and had made sufficient molasses for himself and his neighbors for a year, father called on him for particulars. "I planted one-half an acre and got enough cane to make us all the molasses we need," he told father. Father, who had a larger family, decided to have plenty, and accordingly planted five acres. When the crop was ready he fashioned a press of his own, the rolls being made from logs of native timber, and the machine turned by a rude crank alibi to one found on a hand windlass. With this equipment and the addition of three large iron kettles holding front fifteen to twenty gallons each he started in making molasses, finishing by making about twenty times as much as he could use, and not using over half an acre of the batch of cane he had planted. This cane was exceptionally rich in saccharine qualities, and the sorghum on being boiled down sufficiently produced a fine grade of brown sugar, an addition to the family larder not to be despised. On frosty mornings, or when the conditions were just right, the raucous squeaking of those old sorghum mills could be heard for two or three miles, and all our neighbors living near enough to hear the music were thus apprised when the mills were in action.

One of our acquaintances, a Pottawatomie Indian named Louis Vieux asked father if he cared to do a little experimenting with buckwheat. Saying he had a small quantity of seed he would be glad to turn over to him if he did. Father said he would be glad to plant it, and Vieux turned the seed over to him -- about one quart in quantity. When this was harvested it produced about three and one-half sacks of buckwheat. This was the first of this grain ever planted in the Rock creek valley.

Father planted the seed and grew his own tobacco -- a small patch sufficient for his own use. He evolved a contrivance for pressing his tobacco, which though rude in construction, was the acme of simplicity. A burr-oak tree not far from the blacksmith shop formed one of the component parts. A good-sized hole was cut through this tree, and into this hole a lever fashioned from a strong sapling was fitted. A small platform on which the tobacco was p laced was built directly beneath this lever, and the tobacco to be pressed was placed between boards on this platform, the lever let down on the board covering the tobacco. With the addition of a few hundredweight of stone, attached to the far end of the lever this made a mighty effective press for the purpose intended.

page 15 William Darnell.

During the early days, before we had a place where we could keep milk, mother was in the habit of setting the milk pans and crocks in the water that flowed from the spring in the creek bottom. On several occasions the family milk supply was missing in the molding and as this was one of our chief articles of diet, the loss was sorely felt. Father decided to put an end to this petty thieving, which had happened entirely too often. Loading one of the guns, he staked it securely off to one side the next night, the muzzle pointing directly over the milk crocks, suspending a bait of meat a trifle above the same, and in such a way that if the bait were tampered with, the gun would be discharged at the slightest pull. Irate that night the gun was discharged, and we were sure we had got the thief. An examination showed that the bait had been pulled off to one side before the gun was discharged, thus allowing the animal to escape. Father then built some traps out of walnut lumber, setting one near the milk supply and another a little distance away. In the one near the spring he caught a large she wolf, and also got a wolf in the other trap. He skinned these wolves, and the next time he had to go to Leavenworth for provisions took the pelts along and traded them for a pound and a quarter of powder, satisfied he had made a good swap.

Corn was one of our chief stand-bys. Before the corn was hardened enough to grind we youngsters frequently went into the field and got new-growth corn which we grated in order to have corn bread.

Father soon started raising hogs for market and also to help out the family larder, He soon had quite a bunch of little porkers that ran loose in the woods fattening on the acorns and nuts that were so plentiful. One day I was in the blacksmith shop blowing the bellows when a man rode up to the shop and commenced chatting with father. Noticing the pigs he asked father what he would take for one of the little chaps. Father told him he could have one for a dollar. The man picked out a pig which had some very distinguishing marks, paid his dollar, and placing the pig in a sack, drove to his home about three miles distant where he placed his purchase in a pen. A few days later the little porker disappeared. A day or two afterwards the man came back and asked father if he had seen anything of the pig he had bought of him. Father said he had not, but would call the pigs up and see if the little truant was among the lot. He gave the call the pigs understood when it was time to feed, and a few moments later they came in a run from all directions, and among the lot was an old sow and her brood, one of which was the little pig with the distinct markings. We helped the man catch his property and he went home again. What instinct guided that little porker back the three miles to his mother, my father or the purchaser were never able to figure out.

Father had a bunch of hogs in the creek bottom one time fattening for market. A small band of Indians came through his farm about this time, and noticing the hogs, saw a potential feast in sight. One enthusiastic admirer exclaimed to father: "Heap ko-kosh." Heap ko-kosh meaning heap of pork.

One day during the year 1856 a band of Pottawatomies came through the neighborhood. After they had gone it was discovered that thirteen head of cattle belonging to father had disappeared. A search was at once begun and the Indians were located on the Vermillion, a few miles away. A man named Greenmore, who lived in that locality and who was well known to the Indians, quizzed them concerning the missing cattle. The Indians acknowledged hav-

page 16 Kansas State Historical Society.

ing the cattle; said they had found them near the head of Rock creek, unattended, and that no one seemed to be living in that locality, and they considered the cattle as much theirs as anybody's. Greenmore related to father what the Indians had said, and father sent word to tell the Indians the cattle belonged to him. Greenmore did this, asking the Pottawatomies to bring the cattle back as quickly as possible. This the Indians promised to do, agreeing to have the cattle back by sundown, which they did. This was the last trouble father had with the Pottawatomies.

Surveying in the Rock Creek district commenced in the year 1856. There were three squads of surveyors at work. In the first company George F. Foster was in charge. He became snow blind that winter and Col. _________ Morris ran the compass for him for seventeen days while he was laid up. Their work was laying the land off into sections

The second company was in charge of Dr. Hugh R. Robertson and his son John H. They were known as "sectionizers," their duties being to subdivide the sections into halves, quarters, etc. They lived in the neighborhood of Kickapoo, Leavenworth county.

The third company was in charge of George A. Dunn. His duties were to lay the land into townships -- tracts six miles square. His helper (Childs) had his feet badly frozen the first winter while engaged in surveying.

Dr. Henry Bragg, known to the surveying crew as "Old Doc" Bragg, was government inspector of surveys. He was also a doctor of medicine and a good one. He arrived the following year after the surveys had been started, and made his headquarters at father's place for a week while in our neighborhood.

In "Doc" Robertson's crew was a funny young fellow by the name of Jack Bolby or Bowlby. Bowlby, while engaged in making surveys through the timber, had become poisoned by poison ivy and was soon a very sick and miserable young man. His body was literally covered with the blisters the ivy produces, and his face was so swollen he could not see out of his eyes. This was his condition one day when Doctor Bragg arrived in camp. Bowlby imagined he was going to die, and implored Bragg to do something for him. Bragg was one of the old guard who used language more forcible than elegant. He examined the patient and in a most unfeeling tone of voice said to him: Damn you, you aren't going to die at all. Strip off those clothes of yours and get into that hog pen and wallow with those hogs." Bowlby protested and began to cry, but Bragg was firm. In the end young Bowlby stripped off, and aided by some of his companions was led into the pen where in one of the juiciest wallows he was soon slithered over with the ooze the porkers had been wallowing in, covered entirely from head to heels except the tip of his nose. After a couple of hours or more in this "mud bath" the intense itching had been so relieved that young Bowlby asked Bragg if he could not get out. "You'd better stay in for some time yet," came the reply. After some more importunate requests had been made to Bragg, he said, "Well, you can get out if you want to, but you will be damn glad to get back in again." Bowlby decided to risk it, so got up and out. Later, when the mud began to dry, the itching started up again, more intense than ever. Bowlby soon discovered that lying in the hog wallow could be endured much easier than the discomfiture of the intensely aggravating itching, so shortly he asked to be taken

page 17 William Darnell.

back to the wallow and covered up again. He stayed in the mud for ten or twelve hours, getting out late in the day, had a bath in the creek, then dressed and went to bed. In the morning he felt all right again -- the poison all gone.

Father's claim, taken up months before the land had been surveyed, lay along a branch of Rock creek that up to this time was without a name. When the surveyors reached our place and began work it was discovered that the improvements that father had made were located on four different sections, a forty of each. The stream running through the farm was given the name of Darnell creek by George Dunn, in charge of one of the squads.

The winter of 1856-'57 was a severe one, and the surveying parties underwent many hardships and privations. That winter father practically boarded the three surveying squads working in his neighborhood. During December, 1856, the snows had been so frequent and heavy that two of the surveying parties were obliged to abandon work and seek shelter. They came in and went into camp a little below our house and near the creek. The third company, under George Dunn, had not come in, and considerable apprehension being felt for their safety a searching party was organized and sent out to find them. At length they were located, and they were in a sorry plight. One man's legs were frozen to the knees, and some of the others were badly frozen, also. These men were all brought to father's place and nursed till they recovered. About the first of March, 1857, the weather having grown milder, the surveying parties again resumed their duties.

The bill of fare at the Darnell "hotel" during the winter of 1856-'57 was noted for its preponderance of corn products. Corn bread, parched corn, hominy, corn-meal mush and milk, with turnips as a change, was the unvarying fare. Father was milking three cows that winter, so there was plenty of milk. Every night the surveyors held a camp meeting, and one of their most oft-repeated prayers was that "Old Pet," the prize milker of the herd, would not go dry before the winter ended.

Previous     Next     Main menu

KanColl     Articles