"WENT TO KANSAS" by Miriam D. Colt



Speed the ONE PLOUGH boys, plant the bright corn;
Summer's upon us -- the work should be done,
That Autumn may brown with bright yellow ears --
Hope to enliven -- and quiet our fears.

       MAY 24TH. -- A very busy time now, with each man, only one plough in the company, (except Mr. Stewart's) and every man wants to use that at the same time. My husband has ploughed nights; some of these lovely moonlit nights. It is time that our corn and seeds were planted, though they say that corn will ripen in this climate, planted in July

       Have been over to see Mrs. Herriman, poor sick woman! She is suffering severely with the inflammatory rheumatism; sometimes she seems to be in perfect anguish -- could not move her hands at all to-day. Cannot take any care of her little one, now nearly two months old. It was presented to her while on her journey into the Territory -- delaying the company only two days. She was very smart indeed, but so many exposures have brought this dreadful disease upon her. Her cabin is very uncomfortable, with a shed roof, which covers it but a little more than half way over with bark, a fire in one corner against the green logs, a ground floor, and no door. She cannot bear to hear a word about staying in this country. I picked up a lovely bouquet of prairie flowers and carried to her, but she could not take them into her hands; so I put them into a phial of water and hung them to one of the bark covered logs over head, so that she could look at them.

       MAY 25TH. -- This is a most lovely day. Hope is lightening up the hearts of the settlers. The spring rains are giving way to bright and lovely weather, and summer-time is coming with its beautiful array of lovely, bright-eyed flowers.

       The climate of this Eastern Kansas is said to resemble that of Virginia, only more balmy. The winter lasts from Christmas until the last of January or the first of February -- then trees can be set, and all kinds of planting done, from that time until July. Some seeds yield two crops a year.

       This part of Kansas "is attended with rains from the beginning of March until June. The streams are swollen; and wagon routes become miry, but not like those of Indiana and Illinois; and it is not probable that corduroy or plank roads will need be constructed" "The vegetation is exuberant."

       The summer is long; high noon is fanned by the south wind from the Cordilleras, keeping off the intense heat, which otherwise would be almost unbearable. Dewy, cool nights. No long rains through the summer or autumn; showers come up quickly with tremendous and deafening thunder -- one glare of lightning and rain in torrents -- as quickly clear away, leaving the moistened earth to heave with luxuriance.

       "Autumn brings the calm beauty of the Indian Summer of New England and the Middle States," "is rather dry -- creeks stand in pools." "But the crops are harvested, so matured as not to be injured by the drouth." There is one sunlit season, from October until December, when all the crickets and katy-dids are finishing up through the live-long nights, their last autumnal songs.

       Max. Greene further says of this country: --

       "Throughout the Osage country, there are scenes of romantic loveliness; and some even bordering on the picturesque. In tranquil summer-time, it has the plain, yet dreamy beauty of the Flemish landscape. Over all, a Sabbath serenity is diffused; and grassy knoll and leafy wood are embathed in a soft and subdued lustre, which is indescribably soothing and inspires holiest impulses. Remembrances come to me now of one full August of soul-felt enjoyment, because it was a life so novel and so free, every evening of which my blanket was spread upon one or the other of its tufted hill-tops. Then goldenly the sun would go down, and crimson bannerets of clouds would follow in his royal wake. The tall grass would wave beneath the zephyr, stealing up like a pet bird of the stillest wing from the twilight reaches of the dell beneath. The swarthy figure of some solitary Indian horseman would flit near and disappear by a path leading into the hollow of a stream."

       In my rambles on the bottom lands and on the banks of the Neosho, have seen the large, spreading sycamore with its white trunk, extended spectral limbs and broad green leaves. The grape-vine clambers from tree to tree, weaving its tendrils through all their branches, making one complete arbor all in among the forest trees. While lower down, all the shrubs are interlaced with the hop vine, climbing roses, and many geranium-like vines. Under foot were blooming whole garden-like beds of flowers -- all strangers to me, aside from the mandrake or May apple, adder's tongue, violets, and splendid verbenas. On the banks of the Neosho grow plum trees and gooseberry bushes; along the gulches, ravines and creeks, grow black raspberries and running blackberries, clasping whatever grows near them. Find the Neosho to be as dark and muddy a stream as the Missouri; high banks, which are overflown in the spring, the water carrying off all the harvest of nuts of the previous fall from the bottom lands, down to the Arkansas river, and from thence onward to the Mississippi. It is not serviceable for mill purposes, as had been represented. The water is so low in summer-time that one can walk over it on the stones. We find plenty of water now; springs come bubbling out from every dell, and brooklets from every gulch. I have picked up many petrified pieces of limbs of trees, in the spring where I go for water, also other fossils.

       Have not allowed the children to stir from the cabin alone, for fear of the snakes; but for a few minutes ago gave them permission to go a few rods to pick some roses. Mema soon came running in, saying: "O! papa, I see a little snake out here." Her papa went out, and just where they were picking roses lay a great gray rattlesnake. He killed the snake and threw it away in the grass. I asked him why he did not take out the rattles. He said, "I cannot do such a piece of dirty work."

       Notwithstanding the snakes,

If thou would'st find a favored land,
        By Nature's chosen bounties blest --
A fertile soil, a climate bland --
        Come seek the regions of the West.

"Here is the farmer's paradise;
        Rich harvests come with little care,
While spreading rivers brimming rise
        And to their marts these products bear."

       MAY 26TH. -- Have been washing to-day, and dried our clothes right out in the burning hot sun. We dare not leave them out in the dewy nights, for fear of the Indians, who come thieving round -- slying about -- taking everything they can lay their hands on; pieces of rope, cord, strings, twine, matches, and bits of paper, which are all valuable to us now, on account of their scarcity. They are soon going two or three hundred miles west on their buffalo hunt, where they go twice or thrice a year, staying three months at a time. Game is getting scarce in this region, and is confined to deer, wild turkeys, prairie hens, and small game. Plenty of large birds abound in the waters of the Neosho.

      It is rumored here that these Osage Indians are at war with one of the savage tribes of the western mountains, and if they gain the victory, they will take their hunting grounds, and leave this part of the territory. If I am to live here, I can't but secretly hope it may be so.

      These Indians are said to be friendly, but I cannot look at their painted visages without a shudder; and when they come around our cabin, I sit down and take Willie on my lap, and have Mema stand by my side, with my arm around her, for fear they may steal my children from me. They point to my boy and make signs that he is pretty. "Chintu-chinka," they call the boy, and "che-me chinka," girl.

      This is a new country to the white man; every scene affirms it, yet for ages unknown these green expansive prairie meadows have been traversed by the red man. Here he has built his wigwam -- here hunted the wild game, not more wild than himself -- here sounded the war-whoop -- here smoked the calumet of peace -- and here worshipped the "Great I Am," in the simple way He could be presented to his savage wild nature. He leaves no traces of civilization -- all his prints are Indian -- wild -- his hard trodden roads of one foot in width cross and re-cross this country in every possible direction. It seems almost useless to try to inject civilization into his veins, otherwise than by amalgamation with the Anglo-Saxon race, which is now being done -- fading out the red of the race. There are thousands of half-breeds, now living in cabins, cultivating the soil, and keeping herds of cattle.

      "The whole Indian population of Kansas, at the present time, is probably twenty-five thousand, scattered over a territory of eighty-one millions of acres." Four thousand Osages just across the Neosho from us, living in their city of wigwams. They take life easy, depending upon their hunting tours and their annuities from the government, for support.

      Some of these Indians dress, others dress but little except a breech cloth, moccasins, deer-skin leggins to keep off the snakes, and their blankets. They come into our cabin, and sit down; while sitting, their blankets slide from their shoulders, revealing their large, dark brown, and nearly nude forms, to the shudder of the unaccustomed beholder.

      They are tall, well-formed, and straight as an arrow. They shave their hair, leaving only a lock on the top of the head; they then rub paint all on their growing hair, and paint their faces, arms and breasts. They are very fond of ornaments; it seems as though their necks must groan under the weight of fancy beads. The rim of their ears is slit clear around, and filled with jewels of brass and tin, some of gold, and some filled the slitted rim with flowers and eagle feathers. I have seen some Indians wear little bells, strung on a strip of deer skin, and fastened around their legs just below the knee, making a noise for them every time they stirred. The squaws wear their long black hair hanging down their backs. They dress in calico loose-gowns and "brief" skirts; ornament with beads and jewels, but not so heavily as the Indians.

       MAY 28TH. -- Took my children into our white-topped wagon, and went with my husband two miles, to his claim, to plant corn. A bright and lovely day came in with the rising sun, not a cloud in the heavens above, and one carpet of green spread far and wide below, ornamented with thousands of new blown flowers, scenting the air with a mixture of their rich perfumes. Not a stump, fence, stone or log, to mar the beautiful picture. "Ah!" I exclaimed, "here is too much beauty to look upon a once, for one whose heart wears the gloom of disappointment and the forebodings of fear." We sat in the wagon, while my hopeful husband planted corn and garden seeds. After the ploughing, the planting is done by just cutting through the sod with an axe, and dropping in the seeds -- no hoeing the first year; nothing more is to be done until the full yellow ears are gathered in the autumn time.

       I gathered flowers for the children, listened to their soothing prattle, and thought as I have often thought, "how beautiful would this natural Eden look, if parted off with fences into farms, dotted over with cities, villages and farm-houses; the tall church spires reaching up into the clear blue sky, the round domes reflecting the bright sunshine, and the smoke seen in the distance, of the noisy locomotives chasing each other over these flowery meadows, bringing welcome faces and speedy news from home-land, and trade from north, east, south and west. I am sorry to breathe out, as I do sometimes, (for it damps the others' ardor,) that my hope is a star that has set.

       After we had eaten our dinner in the wagon, we went and selected a site for our log cabin, a little way from the clear, stony-bottomed creek that flows through our claim. The land lies a little inclining south towards the river, and the clear waters of the little creek will flow quietly along by our cabin door. The spider-wort blooms in acres of blue, all around; and the sensitive plant, with its slightly briery running stalk, covered all over with flowers of pink balls dotted with yellow, and its tiny leaves that shrink from the least touch, sends out its scent of otto of roses to meet your olfactories, some rods before you reach it.

       My husband says we shall have an elegant building spot, that he will build a neat little log cabin, and have the cellar so as to open into it from one side; that on the outside it will be a mound, which we can ornament with vines and flowers; that he will get the large flat stones from the creek, that will cleave apart, for walks to the creek and around our cabin; and that he thinks, when we come to get our goods, have our carpets to spread on our rough floors, our nice little stove to cook by, our bedsteads, dishes, and all the necessaries and comforts our boxes contain, together with our books, that we shall be comfortably situated -- shall be "squatter sovereigns" indeed. I do not like to hear that voice which whispers, "this never will be;" but still it will whisper.

       MAY 30TH. -- Am wearing the Bloomer dresses now; find they are well suited to a wild life like mine. Can bound over the prairies like an antelope, and am not in so much danger of setting my clothes on fire, while cooking when these prairie winds blow. Have had Mrs. Herriman's baby here for a few days, she is so very sick. Mr. H. wanted to plant his corn and garden seeds; he could leave his sick wife with the little two-year old boy, but could not leave the little one to cry when its mother could not stir to take care of it. Mrs. V. has taken most of the care it while here.

       Have been over to see Mrs. H.; she is some better. Picked another bouquet of very rich flowers on my way, and placed them for her to look at; there were Japan lilies, large beautiful snake's-head, larkspurs of many colors, and much larger than those we cultivate at home; prairie roses of every shade and variegation, golden coreopsis, sweet William, and a variety of others that were strangers to me. Wild peas and beans are scattered broadcast over these green fields; their blossoms are very pretty; they are eaten by the Indians; are said to make good coffee, and when green they are sometimes pickled. Beds and beds of onions are growing here and there, with the little onions all clustered in on the top, not larger than kernels of wheat.

       I will take time now to describe a novel picture that met my gaze a few evenings ago, as my husband and self were returning from Mr. Stewart's. Just as we neared the creek, on the other side, a little way up, saw a smoke and a few Indians. Our curiosity soon led us to the spot. One squaw was very busy cooking their supper. She had two stakes driven into the ground, meeting at the top, and a chain suspended between them, on which hung a brass kettle filled with dried apples, stewing. Down below the fire, she was frying cakes in buffalo grease. Her dough was wet up in a tin pan, and she was making them out round on the bottom of an iron dish, cutting them across grid-iron fashion. She had already a stack one foot in height; they looked brown and inviting. On each side of her stood her two little twin Indian boys; when they saw me, they cried and cried, and hid their black heads under their mother's loose-gown. I spoke to them, but they only cried the harder, and cuddled up the closer to their mother, making it difficult for her to tend the frying cakes. So I told them I would not talk to them or hurt them. Of course they understood my language. Close by lay an old Indian on a blanket, groaning with severe pain in one shoulder. Young squaw was cupping his shoulder in their savage way, by first hacking it with one of their large Indian knives, then placing the large end of a buffalo horn over it, and exhausting the air with her mouth through "the little end of the horn," spitting the blood from her mouth which she had drawn from the wounds.

       We heard, afterward, that the old Indian's shoulder was out of joint, and that he sent up the river for a white doctor, who set it, and exacted an Indian pony, worth fifty or sixty dollars, which he got. White men triumph over the "big trades" they make with the red men of the plains; a little coffee, sugar, and whiskey, will go a great way in paying them off. "Is it right?" I ask. Three dollars for a buffalo robe, worth twelve at home.

       JUNE 1ST. -- Church at Mr. Clubb's. Mr. Clubb read a sermon. That will be our present place of worship. Suppose sometime, when our settlement gets flourishing enough, our tall church spire will stretch heavenward, and we shall be called to worship by

"The sound of the church-going bell
        These valleys and rocks never heard;
Ne'er sigh'd at the sound of a knell,
        Or smiled when a Sabbath appeared."

       We find the most of our company to profess the Presbyterian faith.

       I am thankful that wherever our lot may be cast, we can worship the Upholder of the Universe in temples not made with hands. This quiet Sabbath eve is a fit time for retrospection -- to think of all the pleasant surroundings and privileges we were wont to share, away in our Northern homes.

"Oh, had I the wings of a dove,
        How soon would I taste you again!"

       JUNE 3D. -- Many an acre of prairie is now ploughed, and planted with corn; looks quite like farming, and our corn will be our hope for next winter's provision. The grass is getting high, and to walk through it on a dewy morning one gets as wet as though they had forded a river. The cattle fill themselves with the fresh feed to a monstrous size. They mow down the spider-wort with its blue flowers and juicy stalks, with great eagerness -- the juice fairly dripping from each corner of their mouths. One of our oxen was so bloated this morning, we thought he would die; is better now.

       A most terrific thunder-storm came up last night; the thunder tumbled from the sky, crash upon crash, as though all was being rolled together like a scroll; the fiery chains of lightning streaked the heavens from zenith to horizon. The rain came in torrents, and the wind blew almost tornadoes. Our cabin, seemingly, was but little security against its wildness. When we heard the storm approaching, we dressed ourselves, wrapping Indian blankets about us, and made ready to protect our children from the rain, that was then dripping through the roof. We put all our bedding around them, and all we could see to get by the glare of the lightning, (could not keep a candle lit,) spread our umbrellas, (five in number,) placed about, and held over them. We all got wet, and were obliged to lie in our wet beds till morning. This morning all was calm; the bright sun ascended up into a cloudless sky, as majestically as though there had been no war in the elements through the night. But the rain had dissolved our mud chinking, and the wind had strewed it all over and in our beds, on our clothes, over our dishes, and into every corner of the house. Have had all our sheets to wash, beds and blankets to dry in the sun and rub up, our log walls to sweep down, our shelves and dishes to clean, and our own selves to brush up. "Such is prairie life," so they say.

       JUNE 5TH. -- Our young and very much respected Mr. Sober, has left the settlement, and gone back to his home in Michigan. There are too few prospects here for him. Mr. Voorhees comes in, sits down on the lowest round of the ladder, holds his head down, and looks sad. I am sure the star of hope is not very high here for him, notwithstanding all the natural resources of this beautiful country for making it a favored land. Disappointment has darkened every brow, however hard they may have striven to rise above it. We are 100 miles from a grist-mill; and 50 from a post office. Mr. Clubb has petitioned to have the mail come here.

       The Indians have gone away now on their hunt; it seems quiet and good to have our fear removed for a time. The people say we have had our hardest time here, but it does not seem so to me. I often ask myself, "Why do I have so many presentiments of coming sorrow?" The dark storm-clouds, (to my mind's eye,) are gathering in our horizon, and even now they flap their cold, bat-like wings about my head, causing my heart to tremble with fear. I am so impressed some nights with this feeling, that I sit up in bed for hours, and fairly cringe from some unknown terror. I tell my husband, "We are a doomed ship; unless we go away, some great calamity will come upon us; and it is on me that the storm will burst with all its dark fury." Sometimes a voice speaks to me in thunder tones, saying, "Rise, rise! flee to the mountains, -- tarry not in all the plain. Haste away! Destruction's before thee, and sorrow behind;" and, "you never will be a happy family again." I call Willie to me, put my hand on his head, and weep and weep, and say, "O, Willie! Willie! Willie!" My husband says, "Miriam, don't feel so; I am afraid you will go crazy. I think it is your imaginings, caused by our disappointments and discomforts." I answer, "I hope it is, but I don't know why I should be so overpowered with such feelings; they come to me without being invited, and I cannot help giving them expression sometimes."

       JUNE 7TH. -- My husband is up at his claim planting corn. Hopeful man! Whatever of calamity may be pent up in the black clouds for us, may Heaven grant that our lives may be spared! I can bear all pecuniary losses, -- go hungry, cold, barefoot, and sleep on the rough and uneven floor, -- but spare me my beloved husband and my darling children.

       The one plough is broken. Father started off this morning to go twenty-five miles, down to the Catholic Mission, where is the nearest blacksmith, to get it mended. Mrs. Herriman and her two children are here; she is better, They intend leaving the Territory in two or three days. I am cooking some victuals for them to take on their solitary journey over the prairies. We are as much shut out from the world here as though we were on some lonely island in the ocean; and it requires almost as much skill to navigate these green seas of grass, with prairie, gulch and dell, as it does the distant blue seas of water, with their islands and rock-bound coasts.

       I have cooked so much out in the hot sun and smoke, that I hardly know who I am, and when I look in the little looking-glass I ask, "Can this be me?" Put a blanket over my head, and I would pass well for an Osage squaw. My hands are the color of a smoked ham, and get so burnt that the skin peels off one after another. I should feel happy if we were going along with Mr. Herriman, as he wants us to.

       JUNE 9TH. -- Mr. Herriman started off this morning with his ox-wagon, sick wife, and two little children. It will be necessary for him to be navigator, driver, nurse to his sick wife, and carer for the little ones. They intend to journey thus to some northern town in Illinois. But they have, to cheer them on, the hope that they are traveling world-ward, and every mile will take them nearer to civilization and a better home. They have given their little puppy, "Sambo dog," to Willie. He is very much pleased with it, but don't like to have it bite his apron. He says, "See mamma, Sambo bites Willie's apron!" This little chestnut-colored dog with his large drooping ears and profuse "bow-wow" when anybody is coming, will be a pet dog, and a great deal of company for the children.

       Father has returned with the mended plough -- has had quite an interesting time going to and from the blacksmith's shop, a journey of fifty miles. Took dinner to-day at the house of Mr. Godfrey, the Indian Agent, feasted on green corn, beans, pease, and cucumbers. A nice fresh dinner surely! Mr. Godfrey is married to one of the Osage squaws, She has mounted her pony, left her white husband to attend to business, and gone with her tribe on the buffalo hunt. Mrs. Godfrey has a Rocky Mountain Indian maid, that was taken captive by the Osages for her waiting maid. Without doubt Mrs. G. will enjoy the wild chase far beyond any sips of civilization.

       JUNE 10TH. -- Mr. Clubb has returned from Fort Scott, and the goods, groceries, seeds, and some provisions belonging to the company, have arrived. They were bought with the company's money, still we are charged a very high price for them. Potatoes four dollars per bushel; can't afford to have even one meal of them -- have cooked one for mother; they must, all that we have, be planted. Flour is dealt out to us in rations. Have just been to Mr. Clubb's with my small white bag; came home with a few pounds in one end strung over my shoulder. I must have resembled the Missourian woman, with her bag of corn meal, (for I felt as she looked) when I said, "shall I ever come to this?"

       On my way home called on "father" Cosgrove' he was planting pea-nuts. He is expecting to dig them out of the ground by the bushel in the autumn.

       I hear that Mrs. Clubb felt greatly annoyed while her husband was away, by an intruder at her feet in the night time; in the morning found that a large rattlesnake had been occupying the bed with herself. They are fond of a comfortable place to coil up in.

       JUNE 12TH. -- Yesterday father gave us an invitation to take a ride out into this roadless country. Soon Mrs. V., sister L., myself and children were in our covered wagon, and the oxen bore us slowly over the prairie, nipping and crushing the flowers as they went. The first of June is the time for flowers -- the broad, wild parterre is now glowing with thousands of them, from the richest hue to the most delicate tint. We passed broad beds of protulacca blooming in the richness in the bright sunshine, while near its large beds of bright sunny flowers, the prickly pear was growing in luxuriant clumps, ornamented with large yellow flowers dotted with black, which on touching would give sharp intimations of their nature.

       When five miles away out on the high prairies, we came to the ruins of a city of Indian wigwams long since untenanted. We saw no obelisks crumbling away -- no sculptured marble broken -- go granite walls tumbling down -- no relict of dome, turret, or spire -- but the rude dilapidation pictured the undeveloped mechanism of the red man, his poverty of tools, and want of knowledge to use them. Their wigwams, I should think, were first commenced by driving into the ground "punchuns," (their Indian boards split out of logs, about five feet in length and as wide as the log is thick,) about one foot, making a close upright fence, extending rods in length, and about one in width. Then poles were fastened and bent from each side, lapping past a large pole in the middle over head, which made the ridge pole. This pole frame was covered with mats made of the cattail flag, or buffalo skins. These long, rough terraces were then divided off into tenements. Streets of two or three rods in width separated these many terraces. There were buffalo horns in profusion, buffalo skins and mats in piles, once the covering of the wigwams. There were tin pans, plates, tin sieves, knives, spoons, wooden bowls, camp pails, brass kettles, clam shells, and Indian trinkets. We made a selection and placed them in the back end of our wagon.

       The enriched soil about the ruins was nourishing grass of a swampy height, and the purslain plant was growing rank and tender. We picked a large quantity of it to boil for greens.

       On our return home made a call at an Indian trading house, or an Indian chief's house, now going to decay. But it looked quite live-like, and if we had it here at the Settlement, should think we had a good house to live in. There too the grass was growing a monstrous growth, and snuggling down close to the ground were a "power" of spotted lizards making their abode in the cool dense woods of grass. Have had some of our purslain greens boiled for dinner to-day, and though seasoned with nothing but salt, they relished well with our Johnny-cake.

       Mother has set herself to work scouring up our plunder of the thrown away Indian utensils so now we shall have quite an addition to our kitchen ware. Father has stowed away the pieces of buffalo skin in the loft, close up in under the eaves, to be handy when strings are needed.  

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