"WENT TO KANSAS" by Miriam D. Colt



"On each condition disappointments wait,
"Enter the hut, and force the guarded gate."

Also -- "Disappointment lurks in many a prize."

       MAY 13TH. -- Can any one imagine our disappointment this morning, 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.

       Now we all have come! have brought our fathers, our mothers, and our little ones, and find no shelter sufficient to shield them from the furious prairie winds, and the terrific storms of the climate!

       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:

       Expected a saw-mill would be in operation, a gristmill building, and a temporary boarding-house erected to receive families as they should come into the settlement, until their own houses could be built.

       Wherever there are mills in this south-western world, there surely is a town. And how much of life, active life, would resound through a new settlement, from the noisy saw-mill, the filing of the saw, and the handing out of new, clean, white boards. How soon could comfortable houses be built; and hope and animation light up every father's and mother's face. 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 up on the damp ground, without floor or fires. Only two stoves in the company. These intelligent, but too confiding, families have come from the North, East, South and West, to this farther West, to make pleasant homes; and now are determined to turn right about, start again on a journey -- some know not where! Others have invested their all in the company. Now come lost means and blighted hopes.

       We see that the city grounds, which have been surveyed, (and a log cabin built in the centre, where is to stand the large "central octagon building,") are one mile from here. It seems the company did not pitch their tents there, on account of its being so wet, so chose this higher prairie until after the spring rains should be over. Two or three families of us, and a few single men, take to our wagons again, drive over the roadless prairie, and around the head of a creek, to become the first residents in the "Neosho, or Octagon City." Find the city, as we had seen, to contain only one log cabin, 16 by 16, mudded between the logs on the inside, instead of on the outside; neither door nor window; the roof covered with "shakes," (western shingles,) split out of oak I should think, 3 1-2 feet in length, and about as wide as a sheet of fools cap paper.

       The men have set themselves at work now to improve this dwelling. Some are laying a floor, or rather paving one, by drawing fresh dirt, spreading it all over the ground, then laying flat stones of irregular shape on to it, leaving them bound on all sides by the rich prairie soil. Others are laying a floor to the loft above, of "shakes," doubled and trebled, they being just long enough to lap from beam to beam, which from their slivery sides and warping propensity, methinks, will present no very smooth surface to pie upon, when nothing, hardly, save one Indian blanket is to intervene between us and them.

       My husband is making a ladder, by way of easy ascent to our dormitory. The bed-ticks, comfortables, few sheets and pillows, that we took the precaution to put in our trunks, I think will be duly appreciated.

       MAY 14TH. -- Some improvements are being made in the "centre octagon" to-day. My husband has put up some shelves on one side, by boring holes into the logs, putting in long and strong wooden pins, and laying on some of the "shakes" for shelves. Have arranged on them our five tin plates, two tin cups, one tin tumbler, the nine tea-plates I brought in my trunk, one cream cup, knives, forks, spoons, and the covered tin pail that holds our milk. Underneath stand our provision pails and cooking utensils. Mrs. V. has a shelf appropriated to her use. A pole bedstead is made, corded with strips of bark, and a tick filled with dry prairie grass we have gathered here and there; so a bed is made up and placed in one corner on the bare stone floor, to be occupied by father and mother. Placed some of the trunks in another corner for a lounge for sister L., for she dare not risk her fat sides up the ladder, on to our "shaky" floor. The bags of flour, meal, salt, etc., are set in the third corner, while along towards the shelves stands the cracker bag, and on its lowered contents have put our small quantity of groceries -- tea, sugar, rice, and baking powder. The fourth and south-eastern corner is where go out doors, stepping over a threshhold about a foot high. Keep the wash-tub sitting handily by, for with it turned bottom side up, two provision pails, and one end board of the wagon, we make a table; then gathering around our both circular and parallelogramic table, some on trunks, others on their elbows, partake of our simple meal; each one trying all the time to appear cheerful -- trying to make the best of present condition, while a heavy weight is resting upon each one's heart. Have found a piece of a little round log, just long enough for my children to sit on. On it they sit and eat their food from their plates and out of their tin cups. They say "this is a funny way to eat." Our small trunks are set back and used for chairs.

       MAY 15TH. -- A cold, drizzling rain. The prairie winds come whizzing in. Have hung up an Indian blanket at the door, but by putting trunks and even stones on to the end that drags, can hardly make it answer the purpose of a door. It is dark, gloomy, cheerless, uncomfortable and cold inside.

       Have a fire out of doors to cook by; two crotches driven into the ground, with a round pole laid thereon, on which to hang our kettles and camp pails, stones laid up at the ends and back to make it as much as it can be in the form of a fireplace, so as to keep our fire, ashes and all, from blowing high and dry, when these fierce prairie winds blow. It is not very agreeable work, cooking out of doors in this windy, rainy weather, or when the scorching sun shines.

       The bottoms of our dresses are burnt full of holes now, and they will soon be burnt off. If we stay here we must needs don the Bloomer costume. Out bill of fare is limited; we do not ask, "what shall we have good for dinner?" or "what delicacy for tea?" something to please the palate, for it is the same simple dishes, right over and over again: hominy, johnny cake, Graham pudding, some white bread, now and then stewed apple, a little rice, and tea occasionally for the old people.

       Our excellent cow, that came so gently into the Territory, tied to the back end of our wagon, supplies us and her calf with fresh, rich milk; no place to set it however, and nothing to set it in, does away with the work of churning. Pies, cakes, butter, etc., would be superfluous articles in these "diggins."

       Father has got a broom stick, and is peeling a broom; he says, "I intend you shall keep this stone floor swept up clean."

       MAY 16TH. -- Still rainy, damp and cold. My husband has brought in the two side-boards that fill the vacancy between the "wagon bed" and the white cover, has laid them side by side in the loft above, and says, "Miriam, you may make your bed on the smooth surface of these two boards." I say to him, "No; as you have to work hard, you shall have the boards, and with one pillow and your blanket, you will have an even bed, though it is hard. I will take the other pillow, the comfortable and blankets, and with the children will couch close by, endeavoring to suit myself to the warpings, rough edges and lappings of our 'shaky' floor." A few feet from me and the children, Mr. and Mrs. V. have their quilt and blanket spread; while a foot or two from their heads can be seen Dr. House and Mr. Sober, mummies in their Indian blankets. So every part of the "centre octagon" is appropriated. Hear that others are coming from the tents to quarter here -- and if they do, why then, I suppose, we must "hitch" along and make room for them.

       My husband has had a talk with our Secretary, who says, "I expect a saw-mill on from St. Louis, and the fourth company soon."

       We feel a little more hopeful, and conclude that, seeing we have come so heavily laden with our friends, we had better stay in this country, and take our fortune as it may come.

       MAY 17TH. -- The greater number of the company that came in with us, and others that were here, left this morning for Kansas City; and from there they know not where they will go! They feel so much disappointed, they care not to go home again, and indeed some have not the means. It is saddening to think about.

       MAY 18TH. -- Some of the settlers from up the river called in to see us to-day, it being Sunday, and their day to make calls. Among them was oneHenly, a smooth-tongued, oily-mouthed fellow, that caused a chill to pass over me to look at; the reason my intuition does not define. I asked them if they were Border Ruffians, after which my husband chided me, said I must be careful what I said to strangers.

       Have tried to quiet my mind to read some, but surrounded by so many discomforts and anxieties, I refuse "to be comforted."

       MAY 19TH. -- Mrs. V., sister L. and self, have been to the creek and done up our last month's washing. Had the inconveniences of hard water, a scanty supply of soap, and only a one-pail full camp-pail to boil in. Expected our Secretary, who was to purchase necessary articles for the settlers, would not neglect to have a supply of one of the most necessary articles, soap. Starching and ironing will be dispensed with, for the want of what we have been in the habit of calling indispensable, flat-irons. A rub through the hand is all my own and the children's clothes can have, and the same will be done to their papa's linen, though that is to be exchanged now for the striped blue wear.

       MAY 20TH. -- Have been busy all day in my kitchen, whose dimensions are by no means confining. It is roofed by the blue dome of heaven, the partition wall on the south, is the timer that fringes the Neosho; on the north, east, and west, the smooth green prairie, gently swelling, declining, then swelling higher again, until in the distance it is joined with the roofing of blue. Not a cloud has pictured it's vault; but yonder "king of day" has sent down his rays with scorching effect. Have raised salt yeast by keeping it covered tightly in a kettle of warm water, to exclude the ashes and flying dirt -- raised the bread and baked in a Dutch oven. The oven is small, could only bake one loaf at a time. The wind has blown so hard, that I was obliged to lay up stones all around the oven to keep the coals under it; made a fire on the top of chips, laying stones on to the chips, to keep them confined so as to serve my use. Have really labored hard all day, and have baked only two small loaves of bread, while in a family of seven, like ours, one can be dispatched at each meal.

       MAY 22D. -- Members of the company, who have concluded to remain in the Territory, think it time now to do what they can, under present disappointments, for the comfort of their families, and also for their future welfare. Some are building their cabins on their city lots, in their respective portions of the octagon; others, independent of the company, have become "squatter sovereigns," and will build their cabins on their claims.

       Each claimant can claim and hold, by the preemption right, 240 acres of land -- 160 timber, and 80 prairie. My husband, his father, and sister L. are each claimants; they have accordingly located their claims side by side, making 720 acres of land belonging to our family. It is two miles east from the "centre octagon," and joining the Osage Indian lands. My husband says, the timber on our claim is fine; there are different kinds of walnut and oak, (some black walnuts 4 feet through,) and that for several rods on the river is the prettiest bed of pebbles he ever saw, nice for walks. We intend, some time, to have walks made of them.

       The Stewarts have located their claims two miles west from here; 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. Grape vines 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 in among the tall grass, whose waters abound in fish and clams. The whole view is beautifully picturesque.

       Mr. Adams has made a cabin of "shakes" on his city lot, one-fourth of a mile north from the "centre."

       Mr. Herriman, a little shed-like cabin of logs and bark, one half mile, a little west of north.

       The Broadbents have pitched their tent on their city lot, one mile north.

       H. S. Clubb's dwelling is a cabin made of an old Indian wigwam and tenting, one mile south-east, on his city lot.

       Father Cosgrove resides in a cabin of "shakes," one-half mile south-east, on his city lot, near the river.

       The Ohio men have the large tent; it is pitched on Mr. Wheeler's lot, one-half mile north-west, just across the creek that rises from a spring near the Broadbents, and empties into the Neosho.

       Mr. Hubbs has a cabin of "shakes" and cloth, one mile south-west, near the river.

       Mr. Voorhees will plant his corn on his city lot, but for the present will live here in the "centre octagon," with us.

       The young men, and men without their families, board around in the cabins with the families. So we are all uncomfortably situated, for the want of proper building materials.  

Contents      Previous Chapter       Next Chapter