Pioneer Days in Kansas

Chapter 5

Our First Home

page 84

On account of the unsettled condition of the country I came alone to Kansas in 1857, but after about a year, I went back and brought my wife. She was English born, and had enjoyed a delightful childhood in her father's house in Nottingham. Her father and mother dying, she came to America at the age of fourteen to live with her aunt. It was a great change from her father's English home, with all its comforts, to a farmhouse in the back woods. But she adapted herself to the new life with the zest of her ardent nature. Gathering flowers and berries in the woods, and boating on the lake, she was happy all day long. She was educated at the seminary at Ypsilanti, one of the best schools in that region. When she came to Kansas, farm life in Michigan bad gathered about it all the comforts of civilization, and she entered into the experience of pioneering for the second time.

At first we lived in a hired house in the out-

-------------------------------------------------------------

page 85

skirts of the town. Then we secured a home of our own. It was a little cottage on a gentle slope on New York Street. It stood on the open prairie, but we soon had some flowers and shrubs and trees growing, and it became quite an attractive spot. There were only three small rooms below, and two half-story chambers above. Six hundred dollars a year, as prices then were, did not allow a very large margin for costly furniture, but the pastor's wife had a knack for home-making, and a few dainty touches can make simple things show to advantage. A cheap but pretty paper transformed the walls, a simple but bright carpet covered the floor, and everything in the room seemed as if it belonged there. It was as cozy a home as one could find anywhere. After the custom of the time it was painted white, with green blinds, and looked very pretty among the growing trees. And that little home entertained more people than many a pretentious mansion. Lawrence seemed to be one day's journey from everywhere. No matter where one started from, he would reach Lawrence the first night. Brethren, traveling, always spent a night in our home, usually going and returning. A barn or shed,

-------------------------------------------------------------

page 86

built by myself, sheltered their horses as our house sheltered them. Not only ministers, but laymen in the churches, at our request, came to our house as they passed through town. Ministers coming to Kansas always came to our house first to confer about their locations and their fields, and very often to remain until the way was clear for them. In many cases they would leave their families with us, while they went to look up their fields. In some cases this required two or three weeks. It was a rare company of people which gathered in that little home from time to time, and their presence brightened up our life wonderfully. Sometimes it threw a burden on the pastor's wife, but she bore it cheerfully, and I can testify that the most cultured of our visitors seemed to enjoy her dining-room more than they did my study. Once a very handsome team drove up with a couple of gentlemen. They were one of our pastors and a wealthy layman of his church. They were making a tour of the State, and stopped to spend the night with us. They were both charming men, and we enjoyed their visit very much. In the morning they lingered a while after breakfast, and at last we reluctantly bade them good-bye.

-------------------------------------------------------------

page 87

After they were gone Mrs. Cordley began to clear the table, and found that the lay brother had left a dollar under his plate. She sat down and had a good cry. She had enjoyed their visit so much, and it spoiled it all to feel that he thought hospitality could be bought with money. The Superintendent of Missions, Rev. Louis Bodwell, made our house his headquarters when he was in Lawrence. He came at any time and often stayed several days. But he never came too often, and never stayed too long. He was a most interesting man to those who knew him well. He had a mind stored with the choicest bits of literature and poetry, and his words always fitted the occasion. When alone in the house he would go to the melodeon and sing some rare and tender songs in a mood which brought tears to those who chanced to hear. He made no pretence to being a player or a singer, or in any sense a poet. Yet he was all of these. To avoid the hot summer suns, he ** midnight. In such oases he would quietly put his team of gray ponies in the stable, and come in and go to his room, and be ready in the morning for a late breakfast. At other times, my college

-------------------------------------------------------------

page 88

chum, Parker, would come up and spend a few days, and the time was never long enough to talk over the old times in college, and the vacation tramps when we had been together. At another time it would be Rev. J. D. Liggett, of Leavenworth, who would come for a long conference. He was a different kind of a man. He was a lawyer, an editor and a politician before he was a minister, and the budget he opened was different from the rest, but none the less stimulating and inspiring. Those were rare days, days which the changed conditions make it impossible to repeat. The pastor's home was also a sort of a parish house. Officers, committees and members often met there to confer; the ladies met for entertainments and socials and sewing; and young people were especially made to feel at home. Mrs. Cordley had a meeting of young ladies nearly every week at our house to spend an afternoon. Sometimes they sewed, sometimes they had readings, and sometimes they had singing and prayer. Her chief aim was that the meetings should never be tedious, and never degenerate into frivolity. Here they planned for picnics, socials and fairs, and other means of

-------------------------------------------------------------

page 89

interesting girls and helping the church. There were usually twenty or more present, filling the little parlor to its utmost capacity. A few year's since we found a list of some forty girls who were wont to attend these meetings. They were scattered all over the country, east and west, a large number in Colorado. So far as we could trace them, every one of them was an effective Christian wherever she might be. Thus the daughters of Plymouth Church learned early to do their part. But we had then what we might call Parish Extension. Our church building was so situated that we could not well hold evening service in Lawrence. We had our morning service and Sunday-school, and then I was at liberty for the rest of the day. I took this time to hold services in the country, usually in the afternoon, but sometimes in the evening. The country about Lawrence was settled by the same high grade of people who were found in Lawrence itself. It was quite common to find cultured people and college graduates on the farms and in the cabins all about. I found groups of choice Christian families here and there from different parts of the country. Five miles south of Lawrence

-------------------------------------------------------------

page 90

there was a group of families from the First Church in Groton, Massachusetts. We called it the Dickson Neighborhood, from Deacon Charles Dickson, who was a graduate of Yale College, and his wife a niece of Samuel J. Mills, of Missionary Haystack fame. A few miles southwest of this was a group from New Haven, Connecticut. Still further south was a large group from the First Church, Newark, New Jersey, who had been special friends of Charles Beecher, the pastor. The same was true in other directions. I held services in these neighborhoods as I could, sometimes in a schoolhouse, but oftener in a private house. At different times I preached at not less than twenty different points. We thus formed a great many choice friendships which we valued very highly. Whenever we could, my wife and I would drive out into one of these neighborhoods in the morning and spend the day among them, returning in the evening. When these people came to town we insisted that they visit us. Saturday was the usual day for visits from our country parishioners. We enjoyed it very much, except that sometimes an inconvenient number would hit upon the same time. Once my wife had baked up a large batch of mince pies for the Christmas season. With her, making mince pies was a fine art, and she had had unusual success this time. Just as she was taking the last pie out of the oven, one of our country families, whom we esteemed very highly came in. Mrs. Cordley could not resist the temptation of having them sample her pies. So one of the pies was cut, and very soon disposed of. Before they had quite finished eating their pie, another family came in, and a second pie was soon disposed of. And so it kept on all the afternoon with no place where she could break the connection. We were spared, therefore, any bad dreams from that batch of pies.

-------------------------------------------------------------

page 91

We have often been told that we had no occasion to take such burdens on ourselves. But as I look back, I cannot think of any better way by which we could have kept in touch with our widely scattered parish. Our home was none the less to us because we made it of some use to others, and our own lives were surely enriched by the varied experiences which flowed through them.