More than four decades ago, Sherman Peter Young recorded some interesting memories of early-day Kansas. Doni Wright, Sherman's great-granddaughter, makes her pioneer ancestor's written words available for us here:
THE FACTUAL HISTORY OF KANSASby Sherman Peter Young, 90 years of age - © 1954
The early settlers came with the spirit of our Revolutionary Fathers; to establish homes and to develop and enjoy the resources of a new land. In seeking a suitable location the homesteader considered water for family and stock, fuel for heat and cooking, and building material for homes and sheds as the three necessary essentials for survival.
My father, James Wiley Young and his wife, Mary Ellen Hamilton Young, with their four sons and three daughters, came to Kansas in the spring of 1857 from Cass County, Missouri, where he had migrated from Ohio and Indiana. Father homesteaded 60 acres in Osage County and 120 acres just across the line in Shawnee County.
Quite a large log house which had been built on the 160 acres close to the Shawnee County line served as a family home for several years. It had one large room, a fireplace and mantel. It had a large outside stone chimney on the south. Muzzle loading shot guns, powder flasks and "44" revolvers, as well as other weapons of defense ornamented the walls or hung on the beams of wood that extended from one wall to the other, the height of which a tall man could easily reach. A lean-to on the North with clapboard roofing made room for two beds. I was born in this cabin, the youngest of ten children. [11 were born, 10 survived]
At this time the territory of Kansas was coming into statehood with a battle between the Pro-slavery and Anti-slavery forces. The North section advocated a free state and the South section insisted that it join the Union as a slave state. The large majority of settlers were "Free Staters." "They came to make the West as they, the East, the homestead of the free". The settlers near the Missouri border were victims of crimes executed by Pro-slavery ruffians from Missouri who destroyed their property and burned their homes. Quantrill's Raid with the sacking of Lawrence climaxed this guerrilla warfare. History relates that 150 were killed, 80 women made homeless, and 250 children made orphans. John Brown was a vigorous advocate for the cause of freedom. He, with his four sons, led raids on Pro-slavery settlers and fought Border Ruffians from Missouri. He was a hero to all free thinking men, and my father joined the multitude singing the praises of John Brown who lost his life for the cause of freedom. [John Brown died, not James W. Young.]
Kansas Becomes a State
After seven years of territorial struggle, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state on January 29, 1861. Three months later, the Kansas Seal, designed by John J. Ingalls, who later became U.S. Senator from Kansas, became official. It reads: "Ad Astra Per Aspera" -- "TO THE STARS THROUGH DIFFICULTIES". In raising the flag for the first time with the added star representing Kansas, President Lincoln said: "I wish to call attention to the fact that under the blessing of God, each additional star has added prosperity and happiness to this country." The star of Kansas was raised above Independence Hall on George Washington's birthday by the hands of Lincoln, the Emancipator.
Kansas in the Civil War
Although only a year old at the close of the Civil War, it all seems very real to me. Two of my brothers, John and Will, were pressed into service. They were stationed out West to prevent the Indians from molesting the settlers by stealing their horses, cattle and chickens and frightening the women and children while the men were away at battle. An uncle of mine, also serving in the West, was captured and scalped by the Cheyennes. My father was an active member of the State Guard which was called to Topeka to prevent General Price from invading Kansas. My Uncle Ed Young and brother-in-law, M. [Manlove] Jester, both joined the forces from Kansas. A cousin, Josiah Young from Iowa, was captured and held prisoner in the Andersonville Prison in the state of Georgia until the end of the war. He relates that while a prisoner there, the water within the prison bounds became so stagnant it was not fit to drink. The prisoners held a prayer meeting to pray for rain and it did rain that very night. The next morning the men discovered a spring of water running from under a large rock in the prison yard. I would listen with mounting excitement to the stories my family and neighbors would tell that came out of the war. It seemed that I was actually taking part in the struggle. Kansas, though young in statehood and crippled by the territorial conflict, furnished her quota of soldiers. The whole number of Kansas militia exceeded 16,000 men.
The year of 1860
The early pioneers experienced a natural calamity in the year of 1860, recorded as the "Drought of '60". The six producing months from June to November was a severe test for the homesteaders. Vegetation perished save the prairie grass which flourished along the ravines and creeks in early spring and later when cured by wind and sun, afforded hay for the cattle. There were ponds in the Wakarusa and Kansas Rivers. I recall hearing my mother tell how she and father took their soiled clothes to a pond in the Wakarusa to wash and then hung them on the bushes where they soon dried.
In 1825, the year my mother was born, a trade route was established between Franklin on the Missouri River to Santa Fe, New Mexico, about 775 miles in length with 500 miles of it traversing the Kansas Territory. It was 60 to 100 feet wide. There was no bridge in its whole extent. The Indians used it as well as the traders. They had traveled the trail for hundreds of years. They naturally resented the white man's appropriation of their pathways, but in 1825, the Osage Indians formed a pact with the white man which brought about a freer use of the trail. This treaty was signed at the Crossing of the Neosho River under a great tree. Indians and traders would meet here to trade their wares. The Trading Post was later called Council Grove. A mission school was built there for the Indians. This old 775 mile Indian Trail was known as the Santa Fe Trail. Although the Indians were relentlessly pushed westward, they roamed the white man's territory and sometimes asked for food. I remember mother giving a chicken to a small band of Indians passing by, I must have been nearly 5 years of age.
Being ten years old at the time, I well remember another tragedy met by the homesteaders in 1874. The grasshoppers came in great hordes, forming clouds that darkened the sky. They covered the fields and trees, destroying everything green. They ate the peaches, leaving only the bare stone hanging on a bare tree. They did not hesitate to penetrate the family living quarters. Mercifully, relief came from the East. A special session of the legislature was called and organized a State Relief Committee that secured and distributed food, clothing an money to the amount of $235,000. My father received a sack of four and some sugar. Sister Hattie a dress, and I, a coat. Soon after, Hattie and I, attired in our new clothes, were taken to Downing's Gallery in Topeka to have our pictures taken. I still possess the picture and prize it very much. The pests laid their eggs in the hard ground by boring into the ground with the tail end of their body. The new hatch the next spring did some damage before their wings developed enough to fly; then they all rose into the air and flew Northwest, the same direction the swarms of the year before had come. There were still some days left for planting.
My earliest recollections of Father's farm implements were a double shovel, two wooden beams, stirring plow and an axe. The spring following the breaking of sod, Father put in his corn crop by chopping an opening in the ground with one stroke of his axe, dropping in three kernels of corn and then stepping on the opening to cover the corn. I recall that one spring as Bill Mills turned up the sod with the breaking plow, I followed the plow every third round and dropped three kernels of corn every three feet close to the bar side of the furrow. The corn came up through the ridge between the furrows. The reward for my help was a nice suit of clothes made by my mother and which I proudly wore. It was surprising how rapidly the corn would grow in the virgin soil with no cultivation. Later when the sod had mellowed, Father would plow a furrow and the older children would drop three grains of corn every three feet to be covered with the hoe. The corn was cultivated by hitching a horse to the shovel-plow and going twice between the rows.
One hundred years have passed since Kansas was organized as a territory. How differently we work and play today. Yet, human nature is the same. Some strive and fail; some work and succeed; some weep, and some rejoice and how few of us become masters of our souls; yet, we all respond with one accord to the stirring call of Kansas.
No matter where my Wandering Steps May Go.
'Neath her Skies the Star of Hope is ever Beaming
In Kansas, Where the Sunflower Grows."