During the summer of 1855, we learned of the formation of a company called the "Vegetarian Settlement Company", organized for the purpose of making a settlement in Kansas. Its officers were Charles H. DeWolf, of Philadelphia, President; John McLauren, Treasurer, and Henry S. Clubb, of New York, Secretary. The purpose and plan of operation of this company may be understood from the following extract from a circular issued by the officers, dated Dec. 1, 1855, in connection with a few articles of their constitution.
The capital stock of the Company consisted of shares of from 65 up, each, equal in number to the acres of land located. The circular of December 1, 1855, referred to says in part:
"In September last, Dr. John McLauren, as one of the directors, proceeded to explore Kansas Territory, and after spending several weeks traveling along the Kansas, Osage, and other rivers, he came to the conclusion that a fine site on the Neosho river, between latitude 38 degrees and the boundary line of the Osage Indian lands, and between 18 and 19 degrees longitude west from Washington, would be the best location for the Vegetarian settlement. He accordingly took possesion of a claim, comprising excellent water privileges. The Neosho river, at this point is very rapid, and for ten months in the year, the water is sufficiently abundant to make it serviceable for mill power. It is free from any bad taste, and is very soft. There is sufficient amount of timber to serve the purposes of Settlers until additional timber can be grown. Coal, limestone and sandstone, suitable for grindstones, etc., and abundant springs of pure water, are interspersed throughout a fine rolling prairie; and the land comprises an excellent vegetable mold, loam, etc., to great depth, with a gravely, and, in some instances, rocky substratum. The scenery is beautiful, and the surface undulating like the waves of the ocean subsiding after a storm. The banks of the river are from 15 to 30 feet high, so that a milldam can be easily constructed without causing an overflow. Altogether, it does not appear that a more suitable site could be found for the purposes of the Company.
The aim of this company, and its plan of operations, as set forth, seemed feasible; and in accord with our views. And from what we learned of the promoters through the New York Tribune, and the "Phrenological Journal", my brother and I took stock in it, and at once began preparations to go with the company to Kansas.
In the early spring of 1855, I sold out my business to John W. Pampell. We had a wagon made to order, bought a team of fine young horses, and, early in March my brother started overland with wagon, team and outfit for camping. It was his purpose to drive to St. Louis and there meet with other members of the company, and together to proceed overland to Kansas. He was then to return to Jefferson City, Mo., where myself and family (having journeyed thus far by public conveyance) would meet him and proceed by team to our destination.
Having arranged all matters for our departure, on April 17, my wife, her mother, our children and myself, took passage on a steamer to Terre Haute; having shipped our household goods to St. Louis. We staid over night in Terre Haute, and from there went by rail to Champaign, Ill., in the vicinity of which we spent several days visiting with friends. Leaving there, we went via Springfield to St. Louis stopping for a day and a night; and from there by rail to Jefferson City, at that time the western terminus of the only railroad in the state. We arrived there on the 27, or 28, of April, as agreed upon with my brother, and found him waiting for us.
The information he brought was very encouraging as to the country, but he did not like the appearance of such of the company as he had seen, nor of the arrangements made on the companys location for the comfort of its members. He had met our Sec. Mr. Clubb, and found that he was a man of no experience of Western life and a new country and was, in his opinion, unfitted to manage the affairs of the company.
We had paid, I think, two ten cent assessments on our stock, and another due; but I have forgotten what amount of stock we then had. We concluded to withhold further payments until our arrival on the ground and decided as to our future action, after an examination of the conditions as we might find them.
Anxious to hasten on our journey, we set out on the same afternoon, on our way to our Kansas home. Hitherto we had traveled by steamer on the river, and by railroad, with all the comforts attending such travel. The Spring season was on, all nature was smiling, wood and landscape were all in beautiful green, and we were starting out with joyous feelings. On each side of our road were well improved farms, with fine houses and surroundings; the day was bright and warm, and we hoped to get out into the country a short distance and find a good camping place, and stop there for the night.
But just a little before night, there suddenly came up a hard thunder storm, the rain falling in torrents; but our wagon cover was good, and we did not get wet. On account of the rain, and as that was our first night out, we began to look for a place where we could get accommodations in some house, and take some more favorable time for our first camping. While it was yet raining, a gentleman on horseback, caught up with us, and entered into conversation; and as we neared his residence, he very politely invited us to go into his house and await the slacking of the rain, which offer we very gladly accepted.
He had a beautiful home, nicely set about with shrubbery and flowering plants. He was a southerner, with some slaves. After a time, as it was nearing night and the rain had nearly ceased, we suggested a desire to remain overnight; stating the fact that we were not very well equipped for camping out. To this suggestion, he very politely informed us that he could not accommodate us, but that he thought the rain would soon slack up, and that, at a house a ways beyond, thought we could get in for the night.
So, the rain ceasing for a time, we resumed our journey, only to meet with like receptions, until darkness began to shut down upon us, and we were becoming quite discouraged, when we came to a rather indifferent looking house to which we had been sent by the man to whom we had last applied for entertainment and be refused.
We found the family were "renters", with scant room for their own large family; but on learning of our situation, they at once gave us a hearty welcome, with such accommodations as they could offer, saying that they were not prepared to properly care for us, but that they could not turn women and children out, in such a night as that.
We learned that they were not native Missourians, and we made the best of the opportunity thankfully; and, in the morning, it having cleared off, we went on our way.
For the future, we provided ourselves with provisions, and as a rule, when night came, went into camp. We had no tent, the wagon cover was very good and would shed rain quite well; we had plenty of bedding, and the wagon offered a lodging place for the women and children, Samuel and I sleeping under the wagon, on the ground.
For about a week, the weather was very unsettled, raining more or less nearly every day or night. I think on the second night, we camped just at the bottom of a hill, near a small creek, and where the ground was dry. During the night, there came a hard, flooding rainstorm, Samuel and I were lying under the wagon where the water soon came rushing down the hill, driving us out of our sleeping place; and for the balance of that night we were camped in front of the wagon, inside, but with no chance for sleep.
The heavy rains soon made some of the streams impassable; and sometimes we pushed through swollen streams that were unsafe, but we met with no serious mishaps. When we had been about a week on the road, we reached the vicinity of the Osage river at Pappinville; there was a bridge across the river at this point, but the river had overflowed the bottom land on the other side for about seven miles; and, finding that it would be impossible for us to proceed further, we were fortunate in getting into a house with a family by the name of Dewese, who gave us a room with the privilege of using their stove for cooking; and here we put in eight days while waiting for the fall of the water.
Mr. Dewese was a northern man, and had no slaves; he owned a very good farm.
We were now nearing the Kansas line; there were but few slaves in this part of Missouri, most of the people having come from the North.
Hitherto, we had passed through parts where there were numerous slaves, but we never sought conversation with them, and if, at any time, we had occasion to speak with them, we were careful, as to what was said.
In our conversation with the slave-holders, we were equally careful not to give offence; still we never represented ourselves as holding other than Anti-Slavery sentiments. This course on our part seemed judicious, for the reason that just then excitement ran very high, and by the Missourian, persons passing through the state from the North to Kansas, were not generally looked upon with favor.
We, however, never had reason to fear any trouble from an expression of our political opinions.
While waiting here, we bought three yokes of oxen, finding that they were cheaper here than in Kansas, and knowing that we would need them for breaking the prairie.
It was about the 15th of May when the water had fallen so that we could cross the river and again proceed on our way.
Our delay had put us about a week or ten days behind the time we had set for our arrival at our destination. When we crossed the river on the bridge we found ourselves on a "bottom" road, on much of which, the water was still from one to two feet deep, and all very bad, making our progress very slow; in places, the pulling was very hard and through the mud and water, so that we had to attach one yoke of oxen with the horses, in order to make any headway. As it was, we found ourselves still in the mud and water when darkness began to shut us in. The road was through timber, very muddy and crooked, and we began to fear that we would not get out that night. Looking forward, we could see the lights from a house just outside the timber, maybe half a mile distant. Samuel took out one of the horses, and rode out to see if we could secure houseroom for the night; finding we could, and as we were all tired and worn out and hungry, he arranged with the woman to have us some supper prepared against our arrival. On his return, we took the two horses, Samuel getting on one, and I on the other, each of us taking on a woman behind and a child before; and thus we made our way out of that veritable "slough of despond". We turned the oxen loose, and started them ahead of us, expecting them to go to the prairie and graze on the grass, and that we would find them there in the morning.
We had a regular backwoods supper, which we greatly relished and enjoyed a good night's sleep, feeling that our travel troubles were over.
On getting up in the morning, we found two yoke of the oxen on the prairie, but one yoke was nowhere to be seen. After a time we thought that we had found their tracks leading back on the way we had come, and following on that distance of six or seven miles, through that miserable road of mud and water, we came to the bridge, and there they were--quietly lying down, having an aversion to going upon a bridge, they had laid down on dry ground off the approach. By the time we got them back, and the wagon out upon dry ground it was late in the afternoon, and we concluded to remain another night where we were. Here the woman of the house was kind enough to entertain our women with all kinds of stories of snakes, skunks, and wild-cats; filling their minds with great fear as to their future in this wild country.
The next morning was clear and warm, the sun shone brightly, and we started again upon our journey with high hopes of reaching the Kansas border during that day; the road was still muddy, so that our progress was slow, but in the afternoon, we passed out of Missouri and into Kansas, and camped for the night upon a small creek two or three miles northeast of Ft. Scott. Here we remained for one day; Samuel going into town to secure necessary supplies.
We were now within about fifty miles of our destination, which we hoped to reach within a couple of days. Our next days travel was over a beautiful country, with here and there a settler along the streams, but with but little in the way of a road other than an Indian trail.
That night, we camped on the head of Elm Creek, a little timber along the same, but no settler in sight. The night was beautiful, a clear, balmy Kansas Spring night, with light of a full moon.
After supper, my wife and I were walking a little distance from the camp, admiring the beauties of the scenery, when, not far away in the timber, we heard the sharp cry of a panther or a catamount. The cry is startling, and sounds much like a human cry. We sought the camp without any unnecessary delay, and some of the more timid were more or less nervous during the remainder of the night; but we heard nothing further of its cry.
The next day we followed the course of Elm Creek, there being no wagon road. About noon, we came to a new town called "Cofachiqui", located near the Neosho river, and about two miles south of where Iola was afterwards located. The place was occupied at that time mostly by a company of Col. Bufords men, from Georgia, who had few slaves; and coming with the avowed purpose of assisting to make Kansas a Slave state. The legislature had designated the place as the County seat of Allen County, and at that time the settlers of the village and the surrounding country were nearly all "pro-slavery" in sentiment.
We did not like the appearance of these people, but passed on down the Neosho river that evening, reaching a point just a little south of where Humboldt now is, and near a settler by name of Henry Bennett, where we camped for the night. Mr. Bennett was the only settler near there, and we passed only two or three during the day, outside of those in the village of Cofachiqui. Mr. Bennett had come from Tennessee and was a strong "Free-State" man.
We were now within five miles of our destination; and on the next day, May 20, we reached the "promised land". We were not so badly disappointed as some others of our company, from the fact that Samuel had informed us as to what we might expect.
As voicing the general feeling of the members of our company on the ground before our arrival, I give the following from Mrs. Colt's book "Went to Kansas". She and her family arrived in the settlement about a week before our coming. Speaking of their arrival, she says:
"We leave our wagons and make our way to a large camp fire. It is surrounded by men and women, cooking their supper, while others are busy close by, grinding their hominy in hand mills. Look about, and see the grounds all around the camp fire are covered with tents in which the families are staying. Not a house is to be seen. The ladies tell us they are sorry to see us come to this place; which plainly shows us that all is not right. Can any one imagine our disappointment, on learning from this and that member that no mills have been built; that the directors, after receiving our money to build mills, have not fulfilled the trust reposed in them, and that, in consequence, some families have already left the settlement. For a moment, let me contrast the two pictures; the one we had made provision for and had reason to believe would be presented to us, with the one that meets our eyes. We expected that a sawmill would be in operation, a grist mill building, and a temporary boarding house erected to receive families as they come into the settlement, until their own houses could be built. As it is, we find the families, some living in tents of cloth, some of cloth and green bark just peeled from the trees, and some wholly of green bark, stuck upon the damp ground without floors or fires".
Only two stoves in the company. These intelligent, but too confiding families have come from the North, East, South and West, to make pleasant homes; and now are determined to turn right-about, and start again on a journey, some know not where. Others have invested their all in the company; now come lost means and blighted hopes.
Sufficient to say, that we found conditions in no manner improved; one log house 16 x 16 feet, without floor, had been built, and was called the "Center House". It was located on the east side of the creek, named "Vegetarian Creek". In this, the Colt family was living; Mr. Clubb occupied an old Indian wigwam, covered with tenting cloth, south of the Center House. A family named Adams, lived in a log and bark shack a little north; the Broadbents were living in a cloth shack southwest, near the river; and a Mr. Herriman and the family were in a similar shack near Mr. Clubb. He and wife, with one child, had come from St. Louis in the wagon with Samuel, and while on the road, Mrs. Herriman gave birth to a child, only detaining them two days.
Others of the company were in a large tent, pitched on the high ground northeast of the old ford of the river. We availed ourselves, for the time being, of the shelter of this tent, in connection with the wagon cover.
One great difficulty with most of the members of the Company was their inability to adapt themselves to conditions unavoidable in frontier life; their expectations were too great as to the comforts and conveniences to be found under such conditions. They were mostly from the far East; mechanics, professional men, and men from offices and stores in the cities, and altogether unable to adjust themselves to a frontier life.
After spending one day in conversation with Mr. Clubb, our Secretary, and other members of the Company on the ground, we became convinced that the company would prove a failure.
We looked over the surrounding country for a few days, and were well pleased with the general appearance of the land, and resolved to remain. We bought a claimant out, who had selected a location just outside "Vegetarian Settlement", on the northwest, for which we paid him about $100.00 in a yoke of oxen.
The site for the building, in a beautiful grove, on high ground, we thought the most beautiful of any in all the country. But I will again quote from Mrs. Colt's book, "Went to Kansas".
" the Stewarts have located their claim west from here; and are building their cabin on a high prairie swell, where nature has planted the walnut and oak just sparsely enough for both beauty and shade. Just back, and south of the cabin is a ledge of shelving rocks where many berry bushes have taken root in the vegetable mould in their crevices, and are clinging for support to their craggy sides, grapevines clamber over rock, shrub and tree. There is a natural cut through the ledge, and an Indian trail leading down to a quiet little lake, sleeping among the tall grass, whose waters abound in fish and clams. The whole view is beautifully picturesque."
This site, we named "Cottage Grove", which name has been retained ever since. The Township in which it is situated, also bears the same name.
In reaching this period of my life, it now looks to me, after my life work. Hitherto, I had led a fairly comfortable, even course in life; had, for a number of years been engaged in a business congenial and fairly profitable; was happy in my family life, with wife and two children, all of whom had always lived in a city, surrounded with friends and most of the comforts of life. Here, we were on the frontier of civilization--indeed, just over the borderland; far away from a post-office, and over 100 miles from any town of importance--the nearest being Kansas City; with neither church nor school, and surrounded by strange, and for the most part, an uncongenial company of uncongenial spirits, united in a common effort to secure freedom for Kansas, and build up a strong colony of intelligent, temperate, liberal minded, right-living people, who would at once, by their combined efforts, secure schools, churches, mills, post office, and all the slow process usual in the settling of a new country.
But we found a majority of the company entirely unfitted to cooperate in securing the desired results; too many came without means, expecting to get employment from the company; those who had some means were so disposed to withdraw from the company; not willing to entrust their money with persons whom they found to be impracticable in methods of business. Of the officers, only the Secretary, Mr. Clubb, was on the ground; he had brought a small supply of groceries, for the use of the company; such as sugar, rice, beans, crackers, dried and canned fruits.
Some of the people thought that he had misappropriated the funds entrusted to him. I did not have that opinion of him, but I believed that he did not have the practical ability to manage the affairs of the company successfully. He was wholly unacquainted with Western life; he was an Englishman, about thirty years of age, with a wife but no children; had been connected with the New York Tribune, I think, as a reporter, and knew nothing outside of office work.
We therefore concluded to put nothing more into the company, but as we had "cut loose" from our Eastern relations, and "burned the bridges" behind us, we would remain in the country; having literally followed the advice of Horace Greeley, so often read, and "Go West" we would now try to "Grow up with the country."
It was now late in May, and our first thought was to break up some prairie, and get some things planted; corn, pumpkins, squashes, and melons, as well as some garden, for which we had brought an abundant supply of seeds. And here was a new experience for me, the driving of oxen. Samuel was, however, an expert at that; having worked with oxen when breaking prairie in Illinois. We broke out a few acres north and east of the building site, where we planted a variety of things; and in the meanwhile we went to work building the cabin of round rough logs, 16 x 18 feet square. This we built up to the square only, at the time, and added a shed on one side 8 or 10 feet wide for a kitchen; for a roof, we bought a large tent that had been used by the members of the company, who by this time had either gone to their own claims or had left the country; and this we drew over the top of our building, until such time as we could complete the roof.
On the sixth of June, we removed our effects to this place, as our future Home. We experienced much trouble in getting the logs for this cabin from the timber; the river had overflowed all the bottom land, and now in the timber the mosquitoes fairly swarmed. The weather was becoming hot, and while at work in the timber we were compelled to wear our coats and tie handkerchiefs around our necks and over our faces, to as far as possible escape the torture of these pests.
A young man by name of Buxton, who had come through with Samuel from St. Louis, had, since we selected our claim, been at work for us made his home with us. Before moving into our cabin, we had sent him with the wagon and team of horses to Kansas City to get a lot of our goods which we had shipped to that point; and it was expected that it would take him about three weeks to make the trip.
I should have said, as to our house, that it had no floor; neither had we any table or bedsteads. We arranged our beds on one side of the house. About two feet from the ground, with a large auger, we bored holes in one of the logs, got poles about four feet long, sharpened one end, which we drove into the holes, letting the other end rest upon a stake driven into the ground; and up these, we built, with poles, brush, and grass, a bottom on which we placed our mattresses and bedding forming a line of beds the entire length of the house.
We used boxes in which we had brought our goods, for a table, and for chairs, we resorted to various devices. We, however, had two or three chairs for the use of the women. We had brought with us a cook stove.
On the first night in our new home, there came up a flooding rain, with heavy thunder and lightning and a strong wind. For a time the storm threatened to dismantle our abode by carrying away our tent covering; and Samuel and I were compelled to get up and hold on to it, to prevent its blowing away. As the sides of the house were quite open, the rain blew into it, and quite thoroughly wet everything within.
It was an unpleasant experience, for our first night, but the morning came bright and clear, as is its wont in "Sunny Kansas" and we felt reconciled to our condition.
Of the company, probably eight or ten families and several young men remained, and were engaged in putting in some crops, and improving the places which they still hoped to make homes for themselves; yet, for the most part, in a half-hearted way. It was very trying on the women of the party, most of whom had been accustomed to city life, or good society, in an old settled community of the East.
Here, settlers were few, and outside of our own company, were an uneducated, coarse class, mostly from Missouri and Arkansas, with more Indians than Whites as visitors; also, just at this time, in the North part of the Territory, there was much trouble between the settlers from the North and the "Border-Ruffians" from Missouri. We were not as yet troubled, but it was uncertain as to when the conflict might extend to us. The "Pro-Slavery" element was quite strong in our vicinity, and probably was, at that time, in the majority in the county.
Our nearest post-office was Ft. Scott, a distance of fifty miles; and to us who had been accustomed to a daily mail, it was a great deprivation. We soon arranged to have some one go once a week for the mail. Samuel often went for it, taking three days to make the round trip. It was a great event, each Saturday night, to get dozens of letters and papers by one mail, and we would sit up nearly all the night to read over letters from friends far away, as, also the papers which were very full of accounts of the troubles in "Bleeding Kansas."
We began to feel some concern about Mr. Buxton and our household goods, after he had been gone about three weeks, with no word from him. We could hear many reports of trouble about Lawrence, and of Northern men being turned back on their way through Missouri to Kansas, and of raids from the vicinity of Kansas City and Westport. We began to fear that we would never see more of Buxton, Team, or goods; when, one day we saw Buxton coming over the prairie, afoot and alone. Indeed, he was disconsolate a looking person as one could imagine. He was an Englishman, of slender build, with serious countenance, ordinarily; but on that occasion, his face was unusually elongated, and expression most forlorn.
His story was soon told. He had secured the goods, consisting or a large hogshead packed with chinaware, with articles of clothing and bedding among it, a bookcase, packed with books and bedding; and some other things in boxes. He had also some groceries and a prairie breaking-plow, that he had bought for us all in the wagon.
He had looked around and loaded up Kansas City, and started home. It should be stated, that at that time, Kansas City consisted of a few warehouses on the front of the river, and a few business and residences on the bluffs, it was, indeed, called "Westport Landing," Westport being the main town, four miles out on the state line.
He had reached Westport, when a party of armed men stopped him on the principal street, and informed him that they wanted his horses; took off the harness, putting it into the wagon, which they pulled into an alley; they told Mr. Buxton that he could go his way. He could do nothing else than make his way on foot. It took him about ten or twelve days to return; much of the way without roads other then Indian trails, and the country being but sparsely settled, so that some times he had difficulty in getting either food or shelter.
We realized that we had, indeed, fallen upon troublous times. Our loss would be at least $500.00, and one not easily borne by us in our circumstances. In the hope that some part of our property might be recovered, Samuel took a pony we had brought with us from Indiana and started to Kansas City. On arriving there he found the wagon where it had been left, with harness and boxes of goods intact. The box containing the bookcase had been opened, but finding books and not "Sharps Rifles" as they no doubt suspected, nothing was taken.
The groceries and prairie plow were taken. Samuel, with the friendly aid of a Mr. McGee, a pro-slavery man, secured one of the horses, it having been left in a stable on account of having become lame; both horses had been used by the "Missouri Raiders" in making a foray into the territory; the one was still out in the service. He got possession of the one horse, but not being able to get the other, he hitched up the pony with the horse recovered, and came home.
His home-coming was a matter of much rejoicing, for while our fine team was broken, we felt thankful that we had come out so well.
We never saw more of the lost horse. In the meantime, summer was upon us. The season was favorable to the growth of our garden stuff and other crops, and we began to have a few green things to eat. We found fine blackberries along the edge of the timber, and especially an abundance of very fine ones along Big Creek, some eight miles south of our place. We had also bought a very good cow, and had plenty of milk and butter. The river, in the spring, had flooded the low lands, and now malaria began to affect many of our neighbors; mosquitoes were also very troublesome, so very persistent were they, that it became impossible to sleep in our cabin, too open to keep them out, and, as a rule, we were compelled to take out a couple of blankets and sleep on the ground on the open prairie, where the breeze would in a measure drive them away.
The dews were very heavy and this may have contributed to the attacks of chills and fever. Whatever the cause, many of our people became ill, and our numbers were decreased by still further desertions.
By the middle of the summer, we had put a roof on our cabin, chinked and daubed up the sides, and had secured some hewed-out boards which the company had made to be used in the works of a contemplated mill; these, we used to make a very substantial door; and for a floor overhead, we had gone to an old deserted Indian village, and got a lot of "Puncheons", made by the squaws and used by them in the construction of their wigwams. These boards were about five feet long and from eighteen inches to four feet wide, dressed down to from one to two inches in thickness. It was a wonder, how they could have dressed them out of large trees, in some cases as much as four feet in diameter.
In the building of a wigwam, they first took long poles, setting one end into the ground, in two parallel rows, about 12 or 15 feet apart, for a distance of 20 to 50 feet, bending the tops over so as to meet, forming an oval top, then they placed these boards, or "puncheons" on end along the sides and ends, leaving an opening at one end for ingress and egress; then, from the tops of these boards, over the top of the wigwam, would be covered with a matting of skins, leaving an opening in the center for the smoke to pass out. A fire was built on the ground in the center of the wigwam, where the cooking was done, and around which the family sat by day and slept at night.
In a village, the wigwams were arranged in lines, fronting a street, often as many as thirty or forty. We found one of these deserted villages, seven miles down the river, with wagon loads of these puncheons on the ground. It was a wonder to us, why they should have left such quantities of boards, the making of which must have taken so much time and labor. The settlers hauled them away, using them in various ways, about their places.
We noticed that when the Indians saw these boards, they were talking together about our use of them, and we inferred that they were displeased that we had appropriated them as we had. Imagine our feelings, when later, we learned that a few years before, this village had been scourged with an epidemic of small-pox! Which had abandoned the place. Fortunately, any germs of the disease left behind had perished before we became possessed of the boards.
After we had got floors in our cabin, below and above, we were the most comfortably fixed of all the families in the settlement; so that when sickness became general along the members of our company on occasion, our house became a sort of hospital for the sick who could not as well be cared for at their own homes; we sometimes had the house quite full of such cases.
We having come from a malarious country, did not so readily succumb to the disease here. My wife and her mother seemed immune, as also, did Samuel; the children and myself were, in the end, more or less victims of the disease. Mr. Buxton had quite a siege of the chills and fever.
We also, had for some time with us, sick Mr. Wheeler, a young man, and Mrs. Barker, a widow from New York City, and others. None of these persons were very ill, and all, during the summer, left the country.
In the meantime we were cultivating our little crop, and making such improvements as we could, on our claim. Yet we were not greatly encouraged, the unsettled condition of affairs in the territory prevented immigration; there was much sickness among our people; and quite general discouragement, so that many were leaving, while none were coming to take their places. Our number was decreasing, rather than increasing. We also, learned that we might have trouble as to our lands. It was unsurveyed, we knew, when making the settlement; but now it was understood that we were on Indian lands, from which we were liable to be removed at any time.
Our secretary, Mr. Clubb, took down with the chills and fever; and as he saw the members of his company leaving, one by one, while those remaining were only awaiting an opportunity to leave, he also became discouraged; and Samuel started with him and his wife to Kansas City about the middle of August; at Kansas City they found the people were not permitted to pass into the Territory. Samuel found that he could not return without trouble, and he sought the aid of his former friend, McGee; but the feeling was so intense that he could not get permission to come. After waiting two or three days, with no better success, he adopted a plan by which he got out of the City. He took down the bows and cover of the wagon, bought a broad-brimmed straw hat, and having oxen hitched to his wagon, he assumed the role of a countyman, started out into Missouri, and thus got out of the City into the country; and after going a few miles, he turned in a southern course, through the state, until near Ft. Scott, when he succeeded in crossing the line into Kansas. However, he had much trouble in passing through Missouri, having been stopped on two or three occasions.
In the early part of September, the family of Colt's left the settlement, W. H. Colt, wife and two children; one of our best families. They were from New York, were well educated and highly refined.
Mr. Colt and both children had been, for several weeks, sick with the chills and fever. Mr. Colts father, mother and sister remained.
The family started in a wagon for some railroad point in Missouri, with a view of taking passage for their former home; on reaching Boonville, Mr. Colt became too ill to travel further. And here, both he and the boy died; the widow and daughter proceeding on their way until friends were reached in Michigan.
Thus, one after another of our company left us; very few of those remaining had any intention of making permanent homes in Kansas. They waited only for opportunities to get away. Two brothers, Broadbents, from Tennessee, stalwart Scotchmen, in full vigor of manhood, were living alone in a tent, about a mile east of our place, and were for some time ailing, but I had no thought that they were dangerously sick; when, through a neighbor, I learned that one of them was dead and the other very low; both were dead within two days.
While many had been sick with chills and fever, no one of our company had, hitherto, died. They had died without medical attention, and with but scant help from anyone. A nearby neighbor had called on them daily, and had given them fresh water, and such help as seemed called for, but, as for a doctor, there was none within fifty miles.
And now, as to their burial; there was no undertaker, and no lumber with which to make a coffin, nearer than Ft. Scott, fifty miles; what should we do? We selected as fair boards of the Indian puncheons mentioned before, as we could, and formed very rude boxes from them, into which we placed the bodies, burying them on a slope of the prairie, a little distance from the tent in which they had died.
Samuel and I, with another neighbor, dug the graves just over a swell of prairie, and out of sight of our cabin, that the women there might not see, and thus learn that death had come so near to us.
Some little time after, we were called upon to perform a like service for a young man named Curtis, who had come from Connecticut; and refused to leave with his son, a few weeks before. Of this event, Mrs. Colt in her book "Went to Kansas" says:
"Kind neighbors came in and dressed the cold form of the departed for the grave. They nailed together some of the rough "puncheons" which they had taken from the wigwam ruins, for a coffin, wrapped him in winding sheet and Indian blanket, and laid him therein; then bore him away without prayer, requiem or knell, and laid him in his narrow home beneath the rich soil of the prairie, on whose bosom were still blossoming many a richly tinted flower."
Thus, four of our members were dead, and nearly all the living ones had left us. One of these four in question was old Mr. Colt, to whom the foregoing excerpt refers. The situation was anything but encouraging. The unsettled condition, generally over the Territory, was not improving; large bodies of Pro-slavery men from Missouri and Arkansas were invading the Territory; "Free-state" parties from the East were stopped in Missouri at different points, and turned back. Many free-state settlers in our part of the Territory were becoming discouraged and leaving; while settlers from the South, not being so liable to malarial troubles, and inured to the privations and hardships of frontier life, were remaining.
As to our success in raising crops, we could not, in the nature of things, expect much; and I and all being new, had nothing planted before June. We raised some garden stuff, plenty of pumpkins, squashes, and melons, but very little corn. I had learned to handle oxen, so that I could yoke up and drive them fairly well.
While we cultivated friendship with the Indians, and were not fearful of any violence on their part, we were constantly subject to their thieving propensities, they would steal green corn, potatoes, or melons, under our very eyes; and I never thought of leaving the family alone, either by day or by night. We, however, gained the friendship of some of the leading members of the tribe, which, I think, stood in good stead, on occasion. We often had them with us at dinner, or other meals, and many times some of them would remain with us over night, in which case, if the night was cold, they would lie down on the floor in front of the fire, sometimes as many as half a dozen at a time.
As the winter approached we built a stone fire-place and chimney, and, as I was a stonecutter, we made us a neatly cut stone fireplace, with dressed stone chimney throughout. Our cabin was a very rough log building, but when finished up for the winter it was very comfortable; and was superior to any other house in that country, at the time. The cold of winter seemed to have destroyed the fever germs, we all regained a good degree of health, and thus were in better spirits.
During the winter, we got out much fencing material. I was no hand to either chop the timber, or to make rails, but I could drive the oxen, and haul the rails out of the timber. We hired two men from the north part of the county to come and make several thousand rails and posts. These were all hauled onto our claim, where we intended making fences in the spring; all in readiness for making extensive improvements in the way of farming more land.
In the Territory, 1857 opened up under more favorable conditions for the "Free-state men of the Territory." The laws passed by the Legislature of 1855, commonly called the "bogus laws" had been wholly ignored by the Free-state men of the territory. The Topeka Constitution had been adopted by the freestate voters; and, under it, a Legislature had been elected. Our part of the Territory had enjoyed quiet during the winter; we had some Free-state families come into the neighborhood in the spring; among them, my uncle, F. W. Stewart and family; also the family of Dr. I. N. Phillips, from Illinois, and a number of German families.
However, the Topeka Constitution, and the legislature under it were not recognized by the General Government, and on its meeting in Topeka in January, the presiding officers of both houses were arrested with several of the members, and taken to Tecumseh, before Judge Cato, and bound over to the U. S. Court, the legislature being without a quorum, took a recess till June. The second session of the Territorial Legislature met in Lecompton, in January, John W. Geary being the Governor; he and the legislature did not agree, and later he resigned.
The Free-state men had, hitherto, refrained from voting, but during the summer a feeling grew that by taking part in the elections they could elect a "Free-state" Legislature, and get control of the Territorial government; and later, when, in September, Governor Walker issued an address assuring the people that in October, election should be fairly conducted, the Free-state men were disposed to take him at his word; a Free-state convention having been held at Grasshopper Falls, of which my brother was a member; resolved to take part in the Fall elections.
As a result of that election, Samuel became a member of the House of Representatives. He was also elected a member of the Legislature under the Topeka Constitution.
Early that spring, a postoffice was established at Cofachiqui, but no mail service was put on, and the settlers arranged with someone to carry the mail from Ft. Scott, weekly, as had been done before.
A son was born on April 8th, we named him Fred. The following letter written to our afflicted friend Mrs. Colt, will fairly express my feelings, at this time:
Neosho, Kansas, May 17, 1857
Dear Mrs. Colt:
Yours of March 30 was but recently received. We had thought and spoken of you, very often, and in every mail had hoped to hear from you, but did not, until a short time before receiving your letter, hear of your great bereavement. Mr. Moorhees then wrote us of it.
Be assured, Mrs. Colt, you have, our tenderest sympathies, in this, your great affliction, bitter indeed, has been your cup. What a destruction of family, in one short year! How soon our fondest hopes may all be crushed, crushed.
To us, the past year has been one of many hardships and troubles, but our lives have been spared; and since about the time you left, we have enjoyed good health. We have got things fixed up around, so that we now live quite comfortably.
Samuel, our brother who went to take Clubb to Kansas City, got home the evening after you left, in good health.
He had some narrow escapes, and to get home was obliged to go round through Missouri 100 miles out of his way.
Mr. Adams went, shortly after you left, to Maysville, Arkansas. We had a letter from them in the winter, their health had improved. The Broadbents both died, shortly after, old Mr. Colt.
Mr. Hobbs went back to Ohio. Mrs. Barker remained with us until late in the Fall, then went to Kansas City, with the intention of going home. Buxton is still in the neighborhood; Blackburn went to Tennessee, home to his family.
Immigration is coming in very fast, and we are getting many new neighbors. There is a town laid off, up the river five miles, and a steam mill is to be put up there, this summer. Altogether, the prospects for us in the future, are encouraging.
Mrs. Stewart has a son, born April 8th. She is very well.
We would be gratified to have you write soon again. Receive our best wishes for your future.
Watson and Elizabeth Stewart.