Part One - Dog Days

All day, the hot wind had been blowing
     Its breath across the grass.
All day, the hot sun had been shining,
     A ball of burnished brass.

It was August 23, 1918, about the middle of “dog days,” the time of the constant hot winds across the plains of Kansas. The leaves on the osage orange hedges along the road, and the two big cottonwoods in the cornfield were turning yellow-brown. They were dry enough that they rattled together in the hot winds passing.

     "Bub” [1] had spent the day plowing the dry, baked ground in the field south of the house. He was working the mules (Pete and Beck) and a big, black mare (Myrtle). Myrtle’s team mate, Pet, was heavy with colt, and she was not being worked. The ground was being plowed in preparation for wheat planting, with the hope that enough rain would fall in September to sprout the grains.

     The buffalo grass in the pasture on the slope west of the house had turned a light brown. Kenneth [2], a boy of about thirteen years, and Charlie [3], about twelve years, were returning from the cornfield west of the pasture, where they had been cutting sunflowers from the corn. Laurence [4], seven years old, and Willis [5], three years old [6], were playing in the shade of a big hackberry tree by the garden gate. In the forty acres across the road north of the house were three big stacks of prairie hay, harvested from that meadow.

     “The war to end all wars” was winding down in Europe. Most news from there was good, and there were signs that the conflict would end before Christmas.

     “Midge,” [7] as she was always referred to by my father, weighed about one-hundred-thirty pounds. She was five feet, nine inches tall. She had long, red hair. She always wore it combed severely back and rolled into a bun on the back of her head. Her hair was very thick and wavy, and when it was let fall free hung below her waist. She was very light-skinned. Therefore, whenever she was exposed to the sun she developed freckles. When outside she always wore a sunbonnet, which came down in the back below her shoulders and extended well out over her face in the front, being supported by cardboard slats sewn into pockets in the cloth. This gave the appearances that she was looking through an eight-inch piece of calico stovepipe. Since she always wore a short-sleeved dress and a Mother Hubbard apron, she would take a long pair of black stockings, cut about half of the foot off and make a hole in the heel. Then she would pull the legs of the stockings over her arms, letting her fingers go into the foot and her thumb stick out of the hole in the heel. When the tops of the stockings were pinned to her dress sleeves no sun could develop freckles, as no skin was exposed. Had you been there on this August evening, this would have been about the way you would have seen her as she came in from the garden, her apron caught up by the corners to form a sort of bag to carry the few vegetables she had managed to find in the garden. As she sat on the edge of the porch in the shade of the hackberry tree and removed the sunbonnet to fan with, you would likely have noticed she was “expecting” another child very soon. She likely sent Laurence to the well for fresh water. As she waited for Laurence to return with the fresh drink, she was glad to see “Bub” and the boys returning from the field. Now she could get supper finished early. She thought she would get “Bub” to go down to Ionia after supper to get “Toot,” her sixteen-year-old sister. It had been planned earlier that “Toot” [8] would stay with her during her confinement. After supper and the chores were finished and Dad was on his way, Mother lay down. As she lay on the old folding bed in the north downstairs room of the four-room, one-and-a-half- story house, she hoped and believed this would be a girl. Dad had picked out a name for the baby, “Jennie Blanche.” “Jennie” after his mother’s older [9] sister, and “Blanche” after his mother. Several weeks ago, they had decided to call it “Quinton Slagle” if it was a boy, as it would be their fifth boy. Jennie’s sister-in-law had had a boy a few days ago and had called it “Quinton,” so she didn’t want to use that name. No other boy’s name had been decided on. She was thinking about this when she heard the Model T coming. She was very relieved to know that Dad was home and “Toot” was with him. Dad had gotten cigars and candy to be given to anyone who visited the new baby. Soon, everyone was put to bed, and all was quiet. Early the morning of August 24, Mother was awakened by labor pains. She woke Dad and they timed the pains and called Dr. Poppen. [10] So my life started early that day. As was the custom, when Dr. Poppen got back to his house, he notified the telephone central, the line ring was given, and the announcement of my birth was made, so all the neighbors knew of my birth that day. There was an old Dutchman, Charlie Havis, who lived on the farm across the road north and east of our house. Mr. Havis and Dad had been neighbors and friends for many years and had, on occasion, hunted and fished together. So Mr. and Mrs. Havis were among the first to come to see the new baby. As was the custom, Dad gave Mrs. Havis a candy bar and offered Mr. Havis a cigar. Mr. Havis said, “Da, Bill, you know I don’t smoke, but I’ll take da ‘nekle.’”

     In the next few weeks, many neighbors stopped by to offer congratulations and get their cigars and candy.

     Now, while a name was much discussed, and many choices were offered, I was still only “Baby Slagle Sipe.” Then, one day, Mother was reading the war news from the Jewell County Monitor. In the news, there was quite a lengthy piece about the adventures of Capt. Winton Smith. Mother had found the right name for me. Wint Smith’s mother and my grandfather were brother and sister. During World War II, Wint Smith served as a colonel in tank destroyers. After the war, he was commissioned to form the Kansas State Police force, a post he held for many years before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. [11]

     I grew as most healthy boys do, and after three years I had grown into a chubby little boy. As was the custom then, I was dressed in an undershirt, diapers and an ankle-length dress. My hair had never been cut. It was long and blond. Mother parted it in the middle and combed it straight down. She would separate the hair into locks about the size of a lead pencil, wet it, and coil each lock around her finger, then tie the coil thus formed with a rag string. After the hair had dried, she would cut the string. The hair would then hang in a series of curls, resembling, more than anything else, coil springs, around my head. Each spring originated on the top of my head and terminated about my lower jaw line.

     I remember nothing of my life before I started school. I tell the stories as they were told to me in later years.

     Being the youngest in a family of five boys has its advantages, though I cannot, to save my life, recall any of them at the moment. Did you ever see a three-year-old boy trying to keep up with one fifteen or sixteen, either physically or mentally? To illustrate some of the pitfalls, I tell you the following story. Dad smoked cigarettes, which he rolled himself from Bull Durham, which then sold for five cents per sack or six sacks for twenty-five cents or a twenty- four-sack box for ninety cents. Dad always bought it by the box. He always kept the box on top of the old walnut cabinet in the kitchen. When Charles or Kenneth wanted to smoke, they would send me to steal the tobacco. That way, if I got caught, they would swear they knew nothing about it. If a tool was found lying out on the ground where it had been used and left, there were always at least two boys to say, “Wint likely left it there” – ad infinitum! But, as time went on, I learned. Yes, growing up as the youngest of five boys is surely a learning experience. One soon learns many things, one of which is that there is a difference between fighting with one’s own brothers and fighting with other people’s brothers. We were a clan. When any member was threatened from outside, we were all there to back him up. Everyone called me “Sog.” My mother made our bread, as trips to the store were seldom. When I can first remember, she baked six loaves every day. She made what is known today as sourdough bread. Each day before she set the dough to rise the final time she would pinch off a piece of the dough about the size of a baseball, put this piece of dough into a Mason jar, add a cupful of water in which potatoes had been boiled, and then she would set this jar on the warming oven of the kitchen stove, where it would stay warm enough to ferment and make yeast for tomorrow’s bread. After thrashing time in August or September, Dad would take his wheat to Glen Elder to the mill, where it was milled into flour and middlings. The middlings were the bran or the outside shell of the wheat grain. Most people fed it to their hogs, but we cooked it up into a gruel, put honey or sorghum on it, and ate it for breakfast cereal. You see, we didn’t have to try to get plenty of bran, it just came natural. And now, back to the flour. Naturally, the new wheat would be high in gluten content, causing the bread to be very moist and rubbery when it was fresh baked. If a piece of this bread was shaped into a ball and dropped on the floor, it would bounce, almost like natural rubber. When the bread came out like this, it was said to be “soggy.” My brothers found that when I fell or was bumped I bounced back like soggy bread, so my nickname was “Sog.”

     My sister, Jennie Blanche, [12] was born about one month after I was three years old.

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Mymother had a large trunk, where she kept her most prized possessions (i.e. her wedding dress, Dad’s celluloid collar and cuffs, her green, plush photo album with the little oval mirror on the front, Grandma’s gallstones, a little cupful of baby teeth collected from the Tooth Fairy, the little red dress first worn by my Dad’s baby sister and then by each of us boys in turn, Mother’s certificate of graduation from Athens Normal School, pretty dishes, Dad’s mustache cup, wedding presents, a small homemade rag doll from her childhood, a lock of hair from each of us kids, many family pictures, many letters and postcards from family and friends, and a very large, black book.) Stamped on the front of this book in gold letters were the words, “Teacher’s Record Book.” I suppose Dad acquired the book for her when he was chairman of the school board at Yapp School. Pasted on the front of this book was a picture of a little boy sitting in an old-time wheelbarrow. He had a toy whip in his hand. Standing between the handles of the wheelbarrow was an old black man with a short beard and short, kinky hair, both as white as cotton. He was shielding a match with both hands as he lighted a corncob pipe held between his teeth. The caption under the picture was, “Giddyap, Uncle!” This was Mother’s scrapbook. Pasted to the pages were news clippings of the war, announcements of marriages, deaths and births, poems, both printed and copied by hand, letters, recipes, directions for making quilt squares, cartoons, and any other printed material that Mother wanted to save. It contained many short stories and poems which taught various morals.

     My earliest memories of my mother are connected with this scrapbook. These memories begin the first winter after my sister was born and continue through many years.

     If us kids had been good, and Mother was not too tired, some winter evenings after supper Mother would get out the scrapbook, build a fire in the big “parlor furnace” in her bedroom, spread a large, thick quilt on the floor, move her old rocker and the cookie box she used for a footstool close to the edge of the quilt and place the stand table at the right of the rocker to hold the Rayo lamp. Sis would be placed in the middle of the quilt and each of us boys would scuffle to attain the best position possible within the limits of strength and cunning. After everyone was settled down, Mother would read to us from the scrapbook. We were allowed to make requests, in turn, for selections to be read. My favorites were “The Window Over the Way” and “Old Jim.” Both were sad, and I would have tears in my eyes all the time they were being read. “The Window Over the Way” was a story being told by a poor woman who lived in a small cottage. She had a healthy baby. The window over the way was in a large mansion where a rich couple lived. Their baby had been buried that day. “Old Jim” was a poem about a horse.

You don’t think him very handsome,
Well, he isn’t, poor old Jim,
For his coat is getting shabby,
And his eyes are getting dim.

But, we wouldn’t sell him, no, sir,
Not for all the cash you’ve got,
Nor a prancing span and buggy,
Or a handsome house and lot.

See that baby yonder,
She’s my sister, three years old,
She’s a merry, romping baby,
Ain’t her hair just like spun gold?

     The baby had fallen into the creek that day, and old Jim had pulled her out and saved her life.

     When Dad had finished his nightly check on everything outside and finished up all the chores, he would come in. When he entered the room, I would feel a wave of cold, fresh air, which would, for a few seconds, send a shiver down my spine and raise goose bumps on my arms. He would pull up a chair by the light, get the “Cappers Farmer” or the “Topeka Daily Capital” and sit down to read. I could hear the wind in the cedar trees. Soon, Dad would be snoring lightly, and Mother’s soft voice would continue.

     At that time, I think I was not conscious of any of these sounds, but I had a feeling of happiness, comfort, love and well being I have experience very few times in my life.

     Mother always chewed gum. As she read, she would hold the gum in her cheek. This caused the saliva glands to work, so at the end of nearly every sentence, it would be necessary for her to pause, chew the gum one time, causing it to make a small popping sound. Then, she would replace the gum between her teeth and cheek, clear her mouth and swallow, making a small squeaking sound, and then a louder “thunk” before she started the next sentence.

     Maybe supper had only been a slice of bread covered with gravy made from grease from fried slices of salted “fat back” combined with flour and milk. And maybe breakfast would be a bowl of gruel made from middlings and sorghum. But the feeling of happiness and well-being was almost more than one little boy could tolerate when Mother read from her scrapbook.

     By today’s standards, I am sure we would have been considered underprivileged children. But, at that time, no one told us we were, and we had no way of knowing we were. So we were probably one of the happiest families in Kansas.

     In the winter, Dad always went to the barn after supper to see that all of the animals were properly cared for. Since it was always dark by this time, he would light an old oil lantern to light his way. When he returned to the house, sometimes he would let us take the lantern and play like we were finishing our chores. We would take the lantern and check all of the dark places in the kitchen and bedroom. Our horses and cows were stabled under the kitchen table. In the shadow behind the kitchen stove was our chicken house, and in the pantry was an imaginary sow with eight little pigs. Straw had to be carried from the imaginary straw pile under Mother’s bed to the pantry under the stairs to make a bed for the little pigs. This would continue until Dad blew out the lantern and sent us to bed. The house was one and a half stories high. It was a two-room house with two attic rooms. The two rooms on the ground floor were plastered, but in the attic rooms cardboard was tacked to the studding, and this was then papered with old newspapers. This was a rather convenient arrangement after one learned to read. You could read the ceiling to put yourself to sleep and not tire your arms holding a book. The furniture in the north room consisted of one double bed and one bunk. There was a stand table between the beds to hold the lamp. In the south room, there was one double bed and a stand table. The beds had cornshuck ticks for mattresses.

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JohnB. Sipe, [13] my grandfather, homesteaded one-hundred-sixty acres when he built a dugout soddy and lived in it for several years while Dad was growing up. Before Dad was married, Granddad bought the north place. He built a frame house and outbuilding on this place and lived there the remainder of his life. When Dad was married, Granddad bought the place where we lived for Dad. Dad was the oldest child in the family, and Abe [14] was the youngest. Granddad kept all of the farms in his name. Dad was to make payments on his place, and Granddad was going to sign it over to him sometime. Dad farmed the place and kept the payments up on it from about 1905 until 1925. When Abe married, Granddad mortgaged all three places to get money to build the big house on the original homestead for Abe. Abe lived there from about 1912 to 1928.

     Dad was not a good farmer, but he worked at it. Abe did not try to farm. After Abe was married and moved in the big house (about nine rooms), he got the dealership for Indian motorcycles. As he had to have a showroom and shop to sell the motorcycles, Granddad increased the mortgages on the three places and built a large barn for Abe. Abe then realized that there was very little demand for motorcycles in that area. So he got the franchise for the Saxon automobile. This required more cash outlay, so the mortgages were increased. Dad realized what was going on and tried to get Granddad to put our homeplace in Dad’s name, and let him assume the mortgage on it. Granddad kept putting Dad off. Abe lost the Saxon franchise. In 1924, Abe tried to get Granddad to set him up in the trucking business. In 1925, the economy was in a slump. The bank foreclosed the mortgage and took Dad’s place. Later, they took Abe’s place, but Granddad managed to hold on to the north place until he died. Abe was divorced and living with Granddad when we left the homeplace in 1926.

     While we lived at the homeplace, my Uncle Buck (Lawrence) Slagle [15] sold Dad a five-year-old horse. This horse had run wild all of his life. He was gelded when he was about four years old, so he had much of the appearance and characteristics of a stud. His name was Prince. One day, Charles and Kenneth decided to break him to ride. He had probably been roped only twice in his life. So they got a rope on him and snubbed him down to the post in the corral and got him blindfolded. Then they put Dad’s big stock saddle and a bridle on him. Charles got on him and Kenneth slipped the rope off him. I forgot to tell you that when they brought the saddle into the corral, they forgot to close the gate. When Charles jerked the blindfold off, Prince went for the sky, noted the open gate and went for it. Chuck [16] left him after about the third jump, and Prince started down the road with Dad’s saddle. Both boys knew that Dad wasn’t going to be too happy when he found out they had let Prince get away. They also knew he was going to be even more moved to violence when he discovered his saddle was on Prince when he left. So they put bridles on Snip and Zion and followed Prince. Prince ran several miles. The cinch loosened, and the saddle slipped back and turned down under his stomach. He started to cross the railroad tracks when the saddle horn caught, so they caught him. They also caught “hell” when they got home.

     The well in the barnyard was about a hundred yards from the house. Sometimes it went dry. Since it was a dug well and not walled up, it collected surface water, so it was not the best source of water for house use. About this time, Dad decided to bore a well closer to the house. He made a well-drilling rig that could be operated by the old horse-powered machine that in the past had been used to turn the thrashing machine. With it he bored a well that could be cased with terra cotta pipe near the back of the house. When the well at the barn would not furnish water enough for the stock, some of the stock would be watered at the house. An old cast-iron bathtub was placed near the porch for use as a stock tank during these times. It also served as a bathtub for the family on Saturday nights.

     On one occasion, when the stock was being watered at the house well, someone had leaned a pitchfork against the house. As the water could not be pumped as fast as the stock would drink it, it was necessary to hold the horses in the yard for several minutes before they would all finish drinking. On this occasion, Diamond became very nervous and was doing considerable dancing around. He knocked the hay fork down, and it fell with the end of the tines turned up. Then he stepped on the end of the tines. This flipped the fork up into the air, and it went over his back. Sis was standing on the porch, watching. The fork came down, tines first, and one tine went through her foot, pinning her to the porch floor. Dad pulled the fork out, washed the wound good with turpentine and smeared both sides of the foot with Rawleigh’s Salve. Mother tore a strip from a piece of white cloth, probably a worn-out bed sheet, scorched it over the kerosene lamp to sterilize it, and wrapped the foot up. After a few days, the foot was as good as new. Sis still has a little white scar on the top of her foot to prove this story.

     Later, Dad broke Prince to harness, and he turned out to be a good work horse. Charlie never did give up breaking him to ride. Some years later, he tried again. I was about twelve years old. Prince had never been ridden. Prince was loose in the pasture, and Charlie was going to rope him. He made a good cast with his rope, but he got the noose too large, and Prince tried to jump through it. It tightened around his body just in front of his hind legs. The hondo was heavy and dropped down under Prince, and he got the rope between his rear legs. He was running as fast as he could away from Charlie’s horse. Charlie snubbed his end of the rope around his saddle horn. When Prince hit the end of the rope, it jerked Charlie’s horse down and almost broke Prince’s back. Prince and Charlie were both some “stove up” for awhile. But Prince was never broke to ride.

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1. William Kirkum Sipe (1873-1950) born in Odessa, Jewell County, Kan., July 20, 1873 the son of John Braddock Sipe and Mary Esther Brown; died in Mankato, Jewell County, Kan., Jan. 27, 1950; buried Mayview Cemetary, Jewell County, Kan. Winton Sipes' father. He is referred to herein as both "Bill" and "Will." Return
2. John Kenneth Sipe (1906-    ) born June 9, 1906, in Esbon, Jewell County, Kan. (He is referred to herein as "Slim.") Return
3. Charles Elmer Sipe (1909-1989) born Dec. 26, 1909, in Esbon, Jewell County, Kan.; died July 23, 1989, in Homeland, Riverside County, Calif.; buried in Rose Hill Cemetary, Compton, Calif. Return
4. Laurence William Sipe (1912-    ) born July 28, 1912, in Esbon, Jewell County, Kan. Return
5. Willis Karney Sipe (1916-    ) born April 4, 1916, in Esbon, Jewell County, Kan. Return
6. Kenneth was actually 12 years, two months old at the time of Winton's birth; Charlie was 8 years, seven months old; Laurence was 6 years, 27 days old; and Willis was 2 years, four months old. Return
7. Blanche Ruth Slagle (1878-1939) born in Athens Township, Jewell County, Kan., Dec. 15, 1878, the daughter of David Clayton Slagle and Irene Sophia Brown; died in Mankato, Jewell County, Kan. May 26, 1939. Winton Sipe's mother. Return
8. Crystal Irene Slagle (1899-1985) born in Jewell County, Kan., Aug. 18, 1899; died in April 1985 in Kansas City, Clay County, Mo. She would have been nineteen years old at the time, not sixteen. Return
9. Jennie was actually three years younger than Blanche. Return
10. J. A. Poppen, M.D. Return
11. Wint Smith (1892-1976) born in Mankato, Kan., Oct. 7, 1892; served in the U. S. Army during World War I; an Army colonel during World War II; a U. S. Representative from Kansas, 1947-1961; died in Wichita, Kan., April 27, 1976; buried in Mount Hope Cemetary, Mankato, Kan. Return
12. Jennie Blanche Sipe (1921-    ) born in Ebson, Jewell Countuy, Kan., Sept. 18, 1921. Return
13. John Braddock Sipe (1846-1925) born in Allen County, Ind., Aug. 10, 1846; the son of William Karney Sipe and Lydia Wells; died in Jewell County, Kan., Oct. 30, 1925; buried in Ionia Cemetary, Jewell County, Kans. Return
14. Abraham Lincoln Sipe (1880-1950) born in Odessa, Jewell County, Kan., Dec. 27, 1880; died in Hebron, Neb., May 28, 1950; buried in Ionia Cemetary, Jewell County, Kan. Return
15. Lawrence Wellington Slagle (1886-1934) born in Jewell County, Kan., Aug. 14, 1886; died Dec. 26, 1934. Return
16. Charles Elmer Sipe. Return

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