|KANSAS COLLECTION BOOKS|
INCIDENTS OF PIONEER LIFE.
Thirty years ago, Wabaunsee County, with the greater portion of Kansas was considered part of the Great American Desert. But few white people then ventured west of the Missouri River, intending to make settlement on Kansas soil, and those that did so venture, came with the expectation of battling against privations, difficulties and hardships never thought of or known but to the early pioneers. In those days the Atlantic and Pacific oceans were not bound together by steel bands, nor did the iron horse go bounding across the seeming boundless prairies of the West. Settlers came expecting hardships and fatigue, nor were they disappointed in their expectations, and those who first settled in Wabaunsee County, were no exception to the rule. Up to 1861, their fare was of the hardest kind. Leavenworth and Kansas City were their nearest trading points, and these were distant one hundred miles or more, and the usual mode of conveyance was by ox-team. Their manner of trading was for the people in an entire neighborhood whose means enabled them so to do, to club together and purchase their goods by the wagon load, and the poorer settlers whose means, if they had any, were very much limited, were obliged to get along as best they could. It usually required from ten days to two weeks for an ox-team to make the trip to Kansas City and back, and its return would be as anxiously looked for as a shipwrecked mariner tries to descry land. In 1855, some of the settlers succeeded in raising a little sod corn, but how to prepare it for food was a troublesome question. The nearest mill was fifty miles away, and the quantity of the corn raised was so small that it would not pay for the hauling and milling. Their manner of preparing it was to dry it on a sheet and then break it up between two rocks or in an improvised mortar and then to make it into hominy. Tea was a luxury that very few, if any, enjoyed, and burnt corn or corn bread was very often substituted for coffee, while chickory was relished as a delicious beverage. When they began to raise a little wheat they supplied their necessities for flour by grinding it in coffee mills, and thus they fought and struggled on from year to year until garden patches began to furnish them with vegetables and wider wheat and corn fields afforded crops sufficiently abundant to enable them to go to mill. To add to their other discomforts every year would see about eight out of ten of the settlers shaking with the ague which was caused by the use of creek water. This was attributed to climatic causes, nor was the true cause discovered until people began to dig wells and get pure water, after which all signs of ague disappeared. Nature, however, was kind to them and stocked the streams with an abundance of fish and the prairies with plenty of buffalo, antelope, elk and deer, while of wild turkeys and prairie chickens there was an amplitude. Fencing was about the most difficult task the settlers had. They did not expect to fence in large farms in the earlier days of the settlement, but yet efforts were made to fence in patches of land running from five to twenty acres. Most of the posts and rails had to be made from cottonwood trees, the snarly nature of which rendered it almost impossible for a man during a hard day's work to split more than fifteen or twenty rails. Nor was this the worst they had to contend against, for after having their fences built they ran the risk of having them destroyed by prairie fire, and not only their fences but all their worldly possessions. Then there was (sic) no roads to stop the progress of a prairie fire when once it got started, and it would sweep across the prairie, licking up the tall, rank grass on its way, with a roar like that of mighty ocean when under the power of a raging tempest.
This fighting prairie fire was a very arduous duty imposed upon the settlers, and there was no telling when it might come. It would frequently be set on fire by Indians while out hunting, and three times it entered the settlement and did considerable damage. Notwithstanding all the backsets and disadvantages under which they labored, 1860 found the settlers in such condition as to be able to get along with some degree of comfort. This was a terrible year, however, for Kansas, for it was then visited by the severest drouth that has ever been experienced in the State. So severe was it in character, and the heat of the siroccos so intense, that the streams were dried up, cattle died by the hundred, buffalo, elk, and deer perished by droves, and the entire State was so scorched, that not a sign of vegetation could be seen above the surface. This was a very disheartening blow to the settlers of Wabaunsee County, who had already undergone so much, but they met it bravely and triumphed over all difficulties, and are now enjoying in peaceful homes, surrounded with plenty and prosperity, the reward of their industry, courage, and perseverance.
But one single lady accompanied the Beecher Rifle Company from New Haven to Wabaunsee, and she acted as cook, washerwoman, and maid of all work for the Company. She took up quarters across Antelope Creek on the opposite side to that where the majority of the Company were quartered. The means of communicating between the two sides, was by a tree placed across the creek and running from bank to bank. In ordinary times the creek could be forded without much difficulty, but when the water was high the log became very convenient. It happened on one occasion that the water was pretty high, and Miss Alford was sorely troubled as to how to get the washing across to the men. This was on Saturday, and she was extremely desirous that the men should have clean "hickory's," (in those early days all the men in Wabaunsee wore hickory shirts, in which to attend church on Sunday), but how to get across the creek perplexed her sorely. She battled with the problem for a long time, until shades of evening began to come down, and if the washing was to be delivered at all it would have to be done quickly, or darkness would render it impossible, and her New England religious training precluded every thought of delivering the clothes on Sunday. She tied the washing firmly together, and then fastened it to the top of her head, and thus prepared, undertook to "coon" the log, that is, cross in on hands and knees, or all fours. When about at the center of the log and just where the water was deepest, there was heard a scream and a splash, and the next moment she was neck deep in water, holding on to the log to steady herself against the current. On hearing the scream, some of the men rushed towards the creek to ascertain what was the matter, but by the time they got there Miss Alford was safe on terra firma, and though soaked from neck to feet herself, the bundle on her head was perfectly dry; and yet after all her fidelity and devotion, not one of the whole company had the manly courage to propose to her. After vainly waiting for a year or so, she returned to New England, where her many virtues would likely be met with such warmth of appreciation as to dispense with all "cooning" of logs in future.
An amusing incident is told of the early courts. It was during Territorial days, and it was the first court to be held in Wabaunsee County. The presiding judge was Judge Elmore. While the court was in session, a man from the neighborhood of Harveyville came stalking into the room in true Western style, with his pants stuffed in his bootlegs, a corn-cob pipe in his mouth, and a great whit hat on his head, the rim of which flopped down like the dead ears of a mule. Throwing himself into a seat he stretched his legs out at full length, folded his arms, and assumed an attitude something like that given to Napoleon in some of his pictures. To say that the judge was horrified would not express it. he looked at the disrespecter of judicial dignity for a moment or two, but noticing that his fierce scowl was disregarded, he cried out in stentorian tones, "Take off your hat, sir." The countryman straightened himself up a little and glanced around the room, then turned towards the judge and said, "Me, sir." "Yes, you, sir," said the judge, adding, "this is a land of law and order and both shall be respected." "All right, sir," said the rustic, standing up and taking off his hat, and looking around the room and seeing no place where he could hang it, he turned again to the judge and asked, "Where shall I put it?" The audience could not restrain themselves, but broke out into roars of laughter. "Sheriff," said the judge, "take this man into custody." and the order was instantly obeyed. The man was well thought of by his neighbors, and during the noon adjournment they interceded for him with the judge, and pleaded that he might let him go unpunished. Now, if the judge was partial to anything in the world, it was to a nice, ripe watermelon, and on re-opening the court, the judge had the culprit brought in. He gave him a sound lecture and told him if it had not been for the intercession of his neighbors he should have meted him out the full penalty of the law, but now he was disposed to be lenient, and he should sentence him to furnish watermelons for the crowd as quickly as possible. The man went off highly delighted, and in a short time a wagon-load of watermelons was drawn up in front of the courthouse, and the biggest one of the pile was carried up and laid upon the judge's stand. Then they commences to roll in over the floor by the dozen, when the judge ordered court to be adjourned to the following morning, and that afternoon a melon-feast was held in the court room.
It was late in the fall of 1860, when a party started from Wabaunsee to go Buffalo hunting, in order to lay in a supply of meat. The hunting ground was about forty miles west from Salina, or nearly one hundred miles from the starting point. It was Saturday evening when they pitched their camp on the edge of the hunting ground. Next day being Sunday, the question was debated whether they should hunt on that day or not. Some favored hunting, but more opposed it, and it was decided not to hunt. However, a man of the party named Williams, a little more skeptical than the rest, concluded he would hunt anyway, and started out. He had gone but a short way when he shot a buffalo and dropped it. Thinking the beast was dead, he went up to dissect it, but he had not quite reached the spot, when up rose the buffalo and made for him furiously. He now began to realize that there was not quite so much fun in being hunted bythe elephant as in hunting him. He ran and shouted, and the faster he ran the faster the buffalo ran, and was rapidly gaining on him. To hasten his speed he threw away his rifle; but it was useless, on came the "King of the prairie" until his horns almost touched Williams' coat tail. At this juncture Williams turned suddenly and took hold of the infuriated animal by the mane and got up straddle of his back. The lookers on dared not fire for fear of hitting Williams. It was a life or death struggle with him, but the brute danced, and bucked, and kicked, until it threw him off, and the next instant Williams was pitched into the air and came down full length upon the sod. Just as the buffalo was just about stamping the life out of him, a crack from a rifle was heard, and his majesty dropped; but Williams was saved. The horns of the animal did not enter his body, but he was stripped of his clothes, even to his under-garment. He came back to camp pale as death, and said that it all occurred from his disregarding the Sabbath, and made solemn promises never to do anything on Sunday again.
An incident is told of love and jealousy among the pioneers. In 1857, a very estimable young lady, named Miss S., who found her way down from New England to Wabaunsee, where an uncle of hers had preceded her. (sic) She was a bright, well-educated lady, and to the eyes of the young men in Wabaunsee, seemed as fair as the Jersey Lily. That some of them lost their balance on her account was no fault of hers. She was modest and well-behaved, and had been raised under the strictest New England training. The first who was smitten by her charms was a young doctor, who soon began to flutter around her like a knat (sic) round a candle. He was stricken by a disease that all the compounds and nostrums known to the science of medicine could not cure. He seemed to be prospering well in courtship, but just about this time a second suitor came along who thought he had as good a right to try win the affections of the girl as the compounder of pills. The young lady was civil to both suitors, and sometimes would be seen strolling along the banks of the river with one, and sometimes with the other. The second suitor was the owner of a cow, and while the courtship was going on this cow gave birth to a calf. Here was his opportunity to get ahead of the doctor. Those little attentions generally paid to girls, by way of presents, was out of the question in Wabaunsee, and the idea entered the head of number two, that he would show his devotion to his lady-love by presenting her with his calf, which, he concluded, would be a setler on the doctor. In due time the calf was led forward and presented, and the young lady, having an eye to business, accepted the quadruped with a very gracious smile, which greatly pleased the donor, and he thinking he had laid out the doctor by this little strategem, went away delighted. While all this was going on, there was a third gentleman who had been taking observations of how things were moving, and about this time he made his appearance upon the scene and carried away the prize. In a short time they were married in due form, and having previously had a home all prepared for the reception of the bride, thither they repaired after the marriage ceremony was over, with a number of their friends, where they found the wedding supper already prepared to which the company sat down. This over, the guests in due time departed, and the newly married couple were left to to enjoy the commencement of their honeymoon. Suitor number two, had taken his discomfiture quite philosophically, and consoled himself by the old adage about as good fish being in the sea, etc.; but the doctor's mind took a very different turn. The green-eyed monster had taken possession of him, and that night when the settlement was all still and quiet, he stole forth and applied the torch to the house of the new-made bride and groom. Soon the house was in flames, and instantly the cry of "Fire" ringing through the settlement disturbed the newly-married couple in their dreams of future pleasure and happiness, and rushing from the house, they left the bridal couch to become food for the flames. In the morning the doctor was missing, and never after returned to the settlement.
First Settlers. -- Alma Township -- Henry Terass, Fred Plenski, G. Zwanziger, 1856; Washington Township -- Henry Grimm, A Brasche, Mr. Maxbrink, Adolph Patting, Mr. Durfee, 1857; Farmer Township -- J. P. Gleich, 1853; and Peter Thors, Frank Schmidt, B. Shrauder, John Copp, C. Schwankee, 1854; and Ed. Krapp, A Hankimmer, Joseph Thoes, and John Speicker, in 1856; Wabaunsee Township -- Peter Sharai (sic), 1854; and J. H. Nesbitt, B. Sharai (sic), Rev. Harvey Jones, J. M. Bisby, D. B. Hyatt (sic), Clark Lapham, Joshua Smith, Robert Banks, and Rev. Mr. Leonard, in 1855; and the "Beecher Rifle Company," or "New Haven Colony," in 1856; Maple Hill Township -- Henry Fauerbach, John Winkler, and John Durham, 1868; Mill Creek Township -- Henry Schmidt, William Drebing, B. Cline, J. Metzgar, 1856; and Joseph Treu, 1857; Wilmington Township -- Henry Harvey, 1854; and Isaiah Harris and Samuel Woods in 1856: Kaw Township -- Peter Renow and Henry Reeding, 1868; Newbury Township -- J. W. Phillips and F. Muchendahler, 1869; Rock Creek Township -- Ed. Baker, W. Cooper, Mr. Zink and J. R. Wolfe in 1859, and William Exon in 1860.
First Business Established. -- Wabaunsee Township -- country store, J. H. Nesbitt, 1855; Alma Township -- saw and grist mill, by G. Zwanziger, 1858; Wilmington Township -- country store, by H. D. Shepard, 1856; Farmer Township -- country store, by Thors Bros., 1857; Newbury Township -- dry goods and groceries, by Goldstandt and Cohn, 1870; Mission Creek Township -- country store, by Co-operative Company; Rock Creek Township -- country store, by Wm. Brewer, 1874; Maple Hill Township -- country store, by Brooks & Varety, 1880; Alma City -- dry goods and groceries, by Schmitz and Meyer, 1867; town of Eskridge -- grocery store, by Wm. Earl, 1880; Alma Township -- country store, W. T. Mahan, 1857.
First Schoolhouses. -- Wabaunsee Township, 1857, teacher, D. B. Hiatt (sic) Alma Township, 1862, teacher, A. Rusch; Farmer Township, 1862, teacher, Anna Kees; Washington Township, 1868, teacher, S. Thackery; Mill Creek Township, 1862, teacher, Mr. Woestraw; Maple Hill Township, 1872, teacher, John Loofe; Newbury Township, 1870, teacher, Miss Jessie Hughes; Wilmington Township, 1858, teacher, Susan Andrews; Mission Creek Township, 1859, teacher, Mary Garrison; Rock Creek Township, 1873, teacher, Miss Armina Walderman.
First Marriages. -- Alma Township -- T. Boydston and Margaret C. Johnston, April 19, 1868; Wabaunsee Township -- E. C. D. Lines and Grace A. Thomas, June, 1857; Washington Township -- Auguste Brasche and Wilhelmina Schultz, June 14, 1866; Mill Creek Township -- Joseph Treu and Catherine Cline, April, 1859; Rock Creek Township -- Robert Hastell and Catherine Consalus, 1872; Wilmington Township -- E. B. Murrell and Mary J. Harris, February, 1860; Farmer Township -- J. P. Gleich and Catherine Terass, April 16, 1857; Maple Hill Township -- S. S. Walkby and Ellen Taylor, December 21, 1871; Newbury Township -- Dean Carr and Anna Griffin, 1872; Mission Creek Township -- Geo. W. Daly and Eliza Doty, 1858.
First Postmasters. -- Alma Township, A. Meyer; Newbury Township, P. H. Mosier; Maple Hill Township, R. H. Waterman; Washington Township, H. Grimm; Farmer Township, John Speicher; Mission Creek Township, H. J. Loomis; Wilmington Township, O. H. Sheldon; Rock Creek Township, Wm. Exon; Mill Creek Township, John Hess.
C. B. Lines was the first man elected to represent the county in Territorial Legislature, and E. J. Lines was the first to represent the county in the State Legislature. The first -- and only -- State Senator ever elected from the county was J. M. Hubbard.
The first white person that died in the county was Henry Terass, who died in the spring of 1857; and the first births were, _______Sharrai (sic), in 1856; Wm. Krapp, October 1, 1857; and Caroline Gleich, April 19, 1858.
First Suit in Justice's Court. -- The first lawsuit tried in the county was tried before F. H. Hebrank, a Justice of the Peace in and for Alma Township. The case was brought to recover damages, and the following is a copy of the docket entries:
Peter Thoes, Plaintiff