Cordley, Richard; Pioneer days In Kansas

Chapter 15

The Benign Influences of Peace

The collapse of Price's invasion practically ended the war in Kansas. It was too late in the season for guerilla operations, and there were no important military movements in that section of the West. The next spring came Lee's surrender, and the end of the rebellion. After ten years of disturbance in one form or another, we were to enjoy what Governor Geary was fond of calling, "The benign influences of peace." It was so comfortable to feel that we could retire at night without fear of alarm, and work by day without fear of attack. We need no longer start at every unusual sound, nor scan with care every unusual sight. This was a luxury we had not enjoyed since the beginning of the settlement ten years before. One hardly needs to say that we enjoyed it as few people enjoy peace and quiet.

But we were to have one more dark day, the darkest we had ever seen. That was the day of Lincoln's assassination Friday, April 14, 1865. It occurred a little after eight o'clock in the evening, at Ford's Theater, in Washington. We had no telegraph, and so did not hear of it till the next day, which was Saturday. Even then we only received the most meager reports, and were in an agony of suspense, not knowing how great the disaster was, nor what the thing might mean. We could only guess what might lie behind it all. It might mean the renewal of the conflict, and plunge us back into the horrors of war. The next day was Sunday, and the church was draped in black, and the entire service took on the color of mourning. Not till Monday did we learn the particulars, and then things returned to their normal state. After a few days we began to realize that peace had really come, and that we might sit every man under his own vine and fig tree, with none to molest or make as afraid.

No state appreciated the return of peace more thoroughly than Kansas. She had had a longer experience of war than the rest of them. The war began with her when she began her existence. Like Minerva, she sprang into being fully armed for war-or to translate the figure into modern speech, she was born with a musket in her hand, though the musket in this case was a Sharpe's rifle. The rest of the nation had four years of war, and they were thoroughly tired of it. Kansas had eleven years of war, and was more than weary.

The war meant more to her than to any other state. She had been the object of dispute between the North and South in all the earlier struggle, and the wider conflict was only an extension of the struggle with which she began her life. Her foes were on her very borders, and they cut her off from all her sympathizing sister states. As she was the bone of contention in the controversy, she would undoubtedly be compelled to go with the victorious side. I heard an eminent preacher once say: "When a man and a bear enter upon a fight, it is not a mere question as to which shall whip. It is a question whether the man shall become bear, or the bear becomes man. If the bear wins he will eat the man, and if the man wins he will eat the bear." The conflict in Kansas had something of the same features. The war involved her very existence as she then was organized. The people who had given her the shape and character she possessed could not remain if the South were victorious. Kansas would then become a slave state, and these people had staked their all on making her a free state. It was more than a bit of poetry when they said: "We pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor." The war meant everything to Kansas, and everything was in suspense till the final issue could be known. Nothing permanent could be done while the very existence of the commonwealth was in doubt. As a result of this, a larger proportion of her able-bodied men enlisted in the army than in any other state. From a population of one hundred thousand, over twenty thousand enlisted in the volunteer service of the Union. One in five of her population was in the field. The quota required of her was sixteen thousand, and she sent twenty thousand men, and was always ahead of her quota. Her troops were in the thickest of the fight, and everywhere they fought valiantly and well.

The war, too, raged along her border and often crossed it. For four years she was in constant peril. Her fields had been desolated, her homes laid waste and her towns burned. She knew what was meant by "the horrors of war," as no other part of the country did.

She hailed the dawn of peace, therefore, with a satisfaction which could not be exceeded anywhere. And of all places in Kansas, Lawrence never known quiet. The town had been besieged, and sacked again and again. When one trouble ended another. began, and when one difficulty was settled another appeared. And the people of Lawrence were not lovers of strife; they were lovers of order and of peace. They stood in the gap for conscience' sake, and not from preference. Now peace had come after all these years of strife. And it was a peace that would stay. The serpent's fangs had been drawn. Not only was Kansas a free state, but slavery itself was abolished. Kansas had won her case, not for herself alone, but for the nation. She had not stood in the focus of the fight for naught. When Lawrence realized that peace was really assured, it seemed as if a new sun had arisen in the heavens, and a new atmosphere was giving vigor to her life. Under "the benign influences of peace" she could look forward to years of progress and prosperity.

Of course not much could be done toward the permanent development of the country while a war like this was raging. affairs had been too unsettled and too uncertain to warrant much in the way of permanent improvement. People built their houses and plowed their fields, but they had little encouragement to do more. During all the preceding eleven years there had been an unsettled state of things which made everybody cautious both in public and private matters. During all that time the country was essentially without bridges. The streams were crossed in the primitive way, by ford and ferry. The roads were left as nature made them. The people had neither the time nor the heart to make roads or build bridges. Schools were maintained whenever it was possible, but only here and there was a schoolhouse built. Even in so large a town as Lawrence there was none until 1865. They had their plans matured for building a year earlier, but the near approach of Price's army in the autumn of 1864, compelled them to put their plans aside and wait another year. The state, too, was practically without railroads. A few miles of railroad had been built during the closing months of the war, but there was not enough done to be of any service to the country.

The development of Kansas, therefore, really began with the close of the war. When peace came it found her without any general public improvement, and without very much private thrift. Her roads had to be made, her bridges had to be built, her schoolhouses erected, and her institutions established. In a very large degree her farms had to be stocked and cultivated, her improvements made, her towns built and her lines of traffic opened.

In extent Kansas is an empire. She has over eighty thousand square miles of surface, over fifty-two million acres of land. She could give nearly an acre apiece to every man, woman and child in the United States. She is larger than all New England, and if her population were as dense she would have over six millions of people. If she were as densely populated as New York, she would have twelve millions; if she were as densely populated as Massachusetts, she would have twenty-four; if she were as densely populated as England, she would have over thirty-six. with all her attractions of soil and climate, of mineral wealth and central position, there can be little doubt but the first century of her settlement will give her ten millions of people. Her resources have only been touched thus far. Even the great body of her land is as yet, unbroken prairie. Her day is yet before her, and it is surely coming.

The first settler's found a beautiful country of ample extent and of marvelous richness. But they only saw what lay on the surface, and this proved to be but a very small portion of the resources of the state. Some one has said that "Kansas is four hundred miles long, two hundred miles wide, eight thousand miles deep, and reaches upward to the stars." This description is not a mere figure of speech. To estimate the resources of Kansas one must consider all the four dimensions; he must measure the height and the depth as well as the length and breadth. The minerals below and the air and climate above constitute a large portion of the wealth of Kansas, and they have hardly begun to be developed. Even the surface has a various capacity which was not dreamed of at first. If any one comes to Kansas with the traditional idea of "flat prairies," he will be surprised at least when he looks at her surface. Here are hills and valleys, bluffs and streams, woodlands and plains, and all these intermingle in a way which suggests art and long cultivation. There is hardly an acre of waste land throughout her whole extent. Without the touch of a plow, here was hay enough growing every year to feed the flocks and herds of the whole nation. There are very few acres, in the eastern half of the state at least, where two tons of good hay could not have been cut before man had touched the soil with a plow. The soil is everywhere fertile, while in some of the valleys the depth and quality of the soil are almost incredible. Beside some of the watercourses the soil is sometimes found to be more than fifteen feet deep. These river bottoms have sometimes been planted continually year after year and still show no sign of exhaustion. Fields have been planted to corn forty consecutive years, and the annual crop is larger now than at first. This may not speak well for the farming, but it speaks volumes for the farm. The soil on what is called the "high prairie " is not so deep, but it is very rich, and with deep and thorough cultivation it will doubtless produce qually as well as the deeper soil by the streams. At all events, what the high prairies lack in richness they more than make up in greater salubrity of climate.

This was Kansas as she was at the beginning. These were the attractions which she held out to people seeking homes. This was the capital with which she began. These were what she offered to people who would come and occupy her fertile plains, and develop her boundless resources. The old maps set her down as "The Great American Desert." But when men looked on her they saw that the "desert had bloomed and blossomed as the rose."

But the years have revealed resources of which the early settlers hardly dreamed, and which they certainly did not see. From certain surface indications they were wont to predict the finding of coal, but no veins of any value were discovered. Thicker veins were found from time to time, but no one could guess the extent of the coal fields of the state. The state geological survey, made a few years later by Professor B. F. Mudge, state geologist, showed that almost the whole eastern portion of the state was underlaid with coal. It is now known that there are thousands of acres of land under which there is coal of a good quality and fair thickness. It is a common opinion that a few hundred feet lower down are thicker and better veins still. It is not at all unlikely that coal may yet be discovered in the more western parts. But the supply already known is practically exhaustless.

There has been no iron of any consequence yet found, but in the southeastern portion there are mines of lead and zinc which have already yielded large profits, though their development has hardly begun. In the western part of the state there are exhaustless beds of the finest gypsum. Building stone is found everywhere, some of it of the finest quality. It lies in layers of from eight inches to a foot in thickness, as if packed away in the hills on purpose for building. The Florence, the Cottonwood and the Manhattan stones are very handsome and easily worked, and large quantities are being shipped to distant parts. Some varieties can be sawed into any form or size desired. Some will take on the highest polish.

Symptoms of salt were discovered very early in streams and springs here and there. In boring for coal on the bank of the Kansas River about 1868, a stream of salt water was found at the depth of some five hundred feet. Saline County and the city of Salina received their names from the signs of salt which appeared.

All along the Kansas River these signs were met with every now and then. Everybody felt sure that salt in paying quantities would some time be found. But no one dreamed of the enormous masses of this article which were really lying beneath the surface. In the southwest the whole country seems to be underlaid with it. Borings have been made and shafts sunk at a number of points quite distant from each other, and the same condition is found to exist. There is found to be a solid mass of salt from one hundred and fifty to two hundred feet thick. This mass is almost pure, and can be put on the market just as it is brought out of the mine. The common method of manufacture, how ever, is to pour water into the mine, then pump it out, and evaporate it. This source of wealth has hardly yet been touched. No one pretends to guess the extent of these deposits. They have been traced forty or fifty miles each way and no sign appears of diminution. They very likely extend for a hundred miles or more. Kansas can furnish the world with salt as long as the world will want salting.

Very little systematic effort has been made to develop the mineral resources of the state. When this shall be done, no doubt other sources of wealth will be found lying beneath the surface.

There is a very common opinion that Kansas is all alike. Henry Ward Beecher once told an audience that they might interrupt him at any point with questions; his speech was like a sausage, they might cut it anywhere. So people used to say, "It is all Kansas - all prairie - all alike. Go to any part you please." They used to think of it as one great corn-field. "Hog and hominy" were the predestined food of its people. Some humorist speaks of Kansas girls as "home bred and corn fed." In all this there is a suggestion of dreary monotony of appearance and production. Now, there is no discount on the Kansas corn crop. It is the great crop, reaching some years to two and three hundred million bushels and more. And Kansas has not yet begun to raise corn. But corn is not the only crop, nor is it the only or main dependence. There is a great variety of soil and climate and products in Kansas although the surface seems so uniform. A glance over the reports of the Board of Agriculture will amaze one as showing how different crops prosper in different sections. There are thousands of bushels of peaches grown in the state, but nearly all of them are grown along the southern border. The sorghum crop is annually worth some two millions of dollars; but the greater part of it is found in the western section. Over one hundred thousand dollars' worth of castor beans are grown each year; but the larger portion of them is found in a few counties in the southeast. There are over one million dollars' worth of broom corn raised every year; but most of it is cultivated in a few counties near the center. It was formerly thought that this was accidental. It was supposed that broom corn growers had happened to settle in that section, and this bad turned the thought of the people in that direction. But it is now known that it is a matter of soil and climate; they say Central Kansas is one of the few localities where the best quality of broom corn can be properly matured. The quality they grow is in great demand and readily sells at good prices. Two acres of land well cared for will produce a ton of broom corn, which is worth from seventy-five to one hundred dollars, according to the quality and the market. Thousands of acres of land are planted to broom corn every year, and over fifteen thousand tons are annually shipped away. The industry is growing to large proportions, and Central Kansas is everywhere known among broom makers as one of the best sources of supply for the raw material they need. This crop will doubtless become more important still as the country becomes more thoroughly developed and the best methods of growing and caring for it shall become generally known and practiced.

Kansas was never reckoned among the great wheat growing states until the discovery and development of what is called "The Wheat Belt." This is a belt of land running through the center of the state from north to south and is about one hundred miles wide. It is said to contain over ten million acres in which the soil and climate are peculiarly adapted to wheat. You may ride for miles and easily fancy you are passing through one continued wheat-field. They tell of a wheat farm of eight thousand acres. When the harvesters enter to cut the grain it is like the moving of an army. The yield is very heavy, some fields averaging over fifty bushels to the acre. The opening of this "Golden Belt" produced a revolution in the wheat interests of Kansas. Before this the wheat crop had been a mere incidental affair, hardly being counted among the resources of the state. In a few years after the opening of this region wheat became one of the leading products. It became a large element in the commercial and railroad situation. Cities competed for the trade, and railroads were built for its accommodation. But a nation's wealth is not in her soil, or her mines, but in her people. An enterprising people will thrive on a desert island, while an indolent people would starve in Paradise. A rugged climate and a niggardly soil have produced the most thrifty nations, while the lands which fed their people without effort have been the home of shiftless tribes. Even wealth does not make strong nations or prosperous people. It is as true now as in the days of Goldsmith:

"Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates and men decay."

Kansas has been fortunate both in her soil and her people. Some one has said that" when God would plant a new nation in America, he sifted the old world to find seed for the new." When God would build a commonwealth in Kansas, he sifted the older states to find the seed. It was a different method of sifting, and a different sort of seed was secured. But the sifting was just as effective, and the seed just as vital. The Pilgrims of old were driven from their homes and sought a refuge in America. The Kansas immigrants were attracted to Kansas by the situation. It was neither the soil nor the climate which attracted them, for they knew little of either, and cared less. But they were attracted by the principle at stake in the settlement of the new state. The question of freedom or slavery turned on the result in Kansas. As the events showed they builded better than they knew. A Free Kansas meant a free nation. She appealed to men of strong convictions, and men of strong convictions were drawn to her from all quarters, and of all sorts and all conditions. They were as diverse as men could well be, but they were all intense, and they all hated slavery. Many of them were eccentric, but they were all strong.

There might be danger of excessive ferment, but there never could be any danger of stagnation. Not all would approach the subject from the same quarter, but they would all move in the same direction and all conspire to one result. From this ferment of diverse elements there has come a strong commonwealth, in which numerous experiments have been tried, and numerous theories have been explored, but free discussion and an open field have given truth her opportunity. There have been some violent upheavals now and then, but the steady good sense of the people has always found its level.

It is too soon to know what sort of a race Kansas will produce. That the coming race will bear the marks of the original stock hardly needs saying. That they will be modified by the new conditions is no less inevitable. An eloquent speaker some years ago, in a public speech in Lawrence, said that it took a niggardly soil and a rugged climate to produce a strong; people. He said he was sorry to add that this might not be very flattering, or very promising to the inhabitants of a balmy clime and a fruitful soil like those of Kansas. Had the speaker known Kansas better he would have modified his tone. The surface is not all even, and the climate is not all balmy. From the Missouri River to the Colorado line the surface rises over three thousand feet, giving an -- elevation of about four thousand feet above sea level, as high as most of the mountains of New England. In going the length of our state there is all the effect of climbing a mountain four thousand feet high. There is a very perceptible change in the soil, the air and the flora every fifty miles. In a few hours of comfortable railway travel, a man will be transported from almost sea level to the mountain elevation. Then what we sometimes call our Italian skies are occasionally invaded by Dakota blizzards, or by hot winds from Mexico. Our enormous crops are shriveled by drought, eaten by locusts, or washed away by floods. The Kansas farmer can sing with his more northern brother:

"Are there no foes for me to face ? Must I not stem the flood ? Sure, I must fight if I would win."

The Kansas child will not lack for difficulties to develop his strength. If he would get anywhere he must stem the flood. He will not "be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease." If he would reach the skies he will have to climb. Every bushel of grain he grows has a foe at each turn of the season waiting to snatch it from him. He will find eternal vigilance is the price of a corn crop. Nowhere on earth are skill and vigilance in more constant demand, and where on earth are they more liberally rewarded. If one succeed he may cry with Paul: "We glory in tribulations also." In her climate and history she never repeats herself. There have never been two seasons alike, and there have never been two social or political phases alike. But in all her endless variations she has never had a dull phase. Whether it be prosperity or adversity, she always keeps people awake. For this reason all her people love her. Even those who have lived in Kansas but a short time, will remember that brief sojourn as one of the marked experiences of their lives. They may have failed in what they came for, but they will not forget her. She may not have met their expectations, but she surely stirred them up.

When I came to Kansas in 1857, she was little more than an extended camp. There was but little law and little authority. There were a great many claims, but not many farms. There were a great many farmers, but not much farming. There had been a great deal of money spent but not much money made. Yet there were the elements of a great state a fertile soil, a genial climate and an energetic people. These elements have now grown into a strong and compact commonwealth. She has come up through much tribulation. She has had more to contend with than any other new state. But tribulation has had its predestined and predicted effect. She has cost her people a hard struggle, but she is proving herself worth all she has cost. Through difficulties such as no other state ever encountered, and calamities such as no other state ever suffered, she has attained results such as no other state ever attained in the same time. The struggle she has cost has made her all the more dear to her people, and nowhere will you find citizens more loyal to their state than the citizens of Kansas. In her career and in her history she has well illustrated the beautiful and appropriate motto of her State seal: ad astra per aspera - "through storms to the stars." She was for many years passing through the storms; may we not hope that she has taken her place securely among the stars?