Emigrant Life in Kansas by Percy G. Ebbutt



The Whiteman family.--John Hardy.--Beer gardens.--Harvesting.--Fourth of July.--Heavy storm.--Swimming in the cornfields.--Horses on the railroad.--A funeral.--The Eureka Valley.--The lake.--Thrashing.--A panther.--Another chance of adoption.--My watch

WHEN our job was done I returned home with Tom and worked a few more days for Anderson, and then packed up my very few belongings and went to Whiteman's.

I found that the family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Whiteman and four daughters, and there was besides a hired man, John Hardy. They lived in quite a fine house, having actually five rooms in it, with a verandah and mosquito blinds of green muslin; the largest and most comfortable house I had seen on a Kansas farm. His farm, too, was in fine condition, had an osage-orange hedge all round it, and a nice orchard, and he was building a

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splendid big stone barn and stable, the largest in the neighbourhood.

The family was much better educated than most of the people I had mixed with, but were considered rather straight-laced by the neighbours, for Whiteman did not swear, except on very special occasions, and on Sundays nearly all the family drove over in the buggy to Manhattan to attend meeting. I believe that they were both members of a Church, but I guess I have seen Whiteman thrash one or two of his daughters for quite a slight offence, until he was about tired out. I didn't think that that showed a remarkably Christian spirit.

Hardy and I had Sundays to ourselves after the "chores" were done. We were allowed to take a horse, and were at liberty for the rest of the day to go where we liked. Occasionally we went to meeting at the schoolhouse on the hill; but more frequently we amused ourselves walking or riding about in the woods around the lake, or swimming in the river. Now and then I went down to see my old friends, the Andersons, who were always pleased to have me call.

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Hardy, though, used to go very often on Sundays to some German beer gardens in the woods near town, where all sorts of amusements were carried on, just the same as on the continent,-music, dancing, beer-drinking, card-playing, etc. I went with him once to see what it was like; but as I never was fond of dancing, and was a total abstainer, I did not care to go again.

The beer drunk was only lager, and very mild, so that no harm ever arose on that score, and perhaps there was no more harm in spending Sunday in that way than in the way most young fellows do over there,-fishing, shooting, swimming, or horse-running.

The summer wore on without anything of special importance arising; we "cultivated" our corn, and then harvesting came on, during which period we had a busy time. Of course, we three could not do it all, and the neighbours helped one another, as the usual custom is. The grain was all cut by machine; one never sees a reaping-hook out there. It requires about six men to keep up with a machine. Binding is nice work, but rather hard, and it wants some practice to make a good tight job

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of the sheaves. I could get along very well, and keep my station clear as well as the rest of them; but one has to be on the jump all the time, to get all bound and out of the way before the machine comes round again.

We had a lot of this work, for Whiteman, having a good many acres himself, it, of course, took us a good many days' work to counterbalance those on which the different neighbours worked for us.

On the fourth of July we had a holiday, and all repaired to the woods near Manhattan, where a grand picnic was held. We had a splendid time and a most substantial spread under the trees. Then there were "spread eagle" speeches, music, dancing, and all kinds of games, followed in the evening by a grand display of fireworks. Liquor was very plentiful, and I am sorry to say that some of the party, John Hardy amongst the number, got rather elated in consequence. He emptied ten pint bottles of lager beer, which apparently had no effect upon him, but when later in the day he capped these with a few glasses of whisky, he began to get boisterous, and to so misconduct himself, that Whiteman, who had

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a great dislike for such practices, gave him notice to quit. He was replaced by Dick Foote, Whiteman's nephew, who had just come out from Indiana. He was a decent young fellow, and we got along very well together.

When the harvesting was about finished, Whiteman and his wife went east to see the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition [1876] and to visit friends, and were absent some two months, during which time Dick and I ran the farm, ploughing the stubble land up, and getting ready for the next crops, besides cutting and getting in all the hay.

While they were absent we had a terrific thunder-storm and heavy rain, which did a good deal of damage about the country. There was such a quantity of water fell, that in one part of the corn-field, where there was a little hollow running across, there was a fast-rushing stream four feet deep, right up to the ears of maize. Dick and I waded in to see how deep it was, and were carried off our feet and had to swim for it. At another part of the farm we had a lot of hay cut, and this was washed away until it was caught

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and deposited on top of the hedge. All this was where, in the ordinary way, no water ran at all, simply in a little dip in the land. During the storm, which was in the night, one of the bullocks in the corral was struck and killed by lightning. In the morning we drove the cattle out and started them away a little bit, and then skinned and buried the ox so as to get him out of the sight of the others; but during the following night the prairie wolves dug the hole open and exposed him to view, and then what a fuss the cattle made when they smelled the blood! They bellowed and snorted and tore up the ground with their hoofs; they fought and gored and trampled upon each other in their excitement, and it was with the greatest difficulty that we managed to get them away from the spot.

We afterwards dragged the carcass a mile away, and left it to be devoured by the wolves and buzzards.

It is strange that cattle should make such a disturbance over blood; they seemed perfectly mad for the time being.

Towards the first evening after the storm I had to go out and hunt the cattle up for the

Cattle Ford

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night, and I had a nice time of it. It was usually done by one of the daughters, who could all ride first rate, but on this occasion, as there was so much water about, I thought it better to go myself. I found the herd all right after a while and started for home, but on the way we had to cross a spot where there was usually about a foot of water. This evening, though, I found that it seemed very deep, but the cattle started across and so I followed. Presently the water came up to my feet and then to my knees, so I drew my legs up and sat on the saddle with my feet on the pony's withers, for I didn't care about getting wet through again just then.

However, it was no good, for before long the water reached up to the saddle, and in a few minutes the whole herd was swimming. I put my feet down and stuck to the pony, and as a horse when swimming is pretty deep under water except for his head and neck, of course I got soaked up as high as my chest. Still we reached the opposite bank in safety, and I guess I took those cattle home at a good sharp rate to get them warm and dry, for the nights were beginning to get chilly now.

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One evening about this time I saw a herd of horses run into by the train, and five of them were killed or so badly hurt that they had to be shot. The railroad track ran across the valley a little way below our farm, and the cattle and horses used to feed around there often; and on this occasion a bunch of horses got on it, and did not go off when the train came along. As it approached, the driver blew his whistle and rang his bell, but the horses, instead of getting oft; ran along the track for some distance, until they drew near to a trestle bridge across a ravine.

By this time they could not get down off the track, as it had risen on a high embankment; they could not go back because of the train following them nor could they cross the bridge. The driver did not attempt to slack down, but dashed on to the helpless drove, who stood huddled together quaking with fear. In a second the engine was upon them, and the powerful cow-catcher in front flung them right and left and sent them rolling down the embankment on to the stones below.

The train passed on without a pause to see what damage was done, and was soon out of sight. I galloped up, and found three of the

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poor things quite dead, and the other two with their legs broken and otherwise injured. I knew who they belonged to, and rode up to tell the owners, who came down and shot them. Such things occur occasionally, for the drivers very seldom trouble to stop their engines for cattle on the track. The farmer, however, usually gets compensation from the railway company. During the summer, I attended the funeral of a young lady, the daughter of a neighbouring farmer, who had died under somewhat painful circumstances.

Miss Dora Shepherd was a very beautiful girl, and as lively and gay as she was pretty. Her death was caused by dancing when she had something the matter with her foot, which would probably have got right with a little rest, but being of a very lively disposition, she persisted in going to the dance, and the consequence was that her foot and leg became very bad.

After a while she was taken east to St. Louis, Missouri; and here it was eventually decided that amputation was necessary. This was carried into effect, but she died shortly

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after the operation, and was brought home to be buried.

All the Methodist community looked upon her death as being a judgment for dancing, and never lost an opportunity of bringing it up as an example.

The funeral was very simple, but impressive, and took place in the ground attached to the school-house. The coffin was carried by several young girls, her former companions, and was completely smothered in flowers. There was a glass panel over the face, and the corpse was dressed in her best clothes, and looked very beautiful when we all passed round to take the last look.

This was the only funeral that I ever saw in our parts; they seemed to be rare occurrences. The district was certainly very healthy, though I don't think that we were quite like the town out west, which Mark Twain described as being "so beastly healthy that they had to kill a man to start a cemetery."

Whiteman's farm was certainly one of the best I have seen. It was splendidly situated near the banks of the Kansas River, in the fertile Eureka Valley, which was enclosed by

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high bluffs, which helped to make the fine rich bottom land for which the valley was noted, the fine loam washing down by the heavy rains, and leaving the big limestone rocks behind. A short distance from the farm was the Eureka Lake, one of the most beautiful places imaginable. It was of irregular winding shape, and nestled down among steep banks, clad with trees almost tropical in their luxuriance. A large island stood in the middle, and here the vegetation was magnificent. Great cottonwood trees towered up, festooned with Virginia creeper and wild grapevines, while over the smaller trees and undergrowth the wild hops, cucumbers, and gourds cast their brilliant green network, making it most difficult to force a passage through. Here flourished the coffee-bean tree, which in the springtime is covered with large clusters of pink and white flowers, something like the horse-chestnut, but giving out a most powerful and sweet perfume, scenting the air for a long distance around; also the black locust tree, with its great prickles a foot or eighteen inches long, bristling from its otherwise clean smooth bark.

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Again, in the early spring, before the leaves were on the trees, the iron-wood tree decked the landscape with its bright pink blossoms, similar to the Japanese almond, and in the autumn the woods were gay with the wawhoo's brilliant scarlet and orange berries, in addition to the splendid colours of the dying leaves.

Besides these more conspicuous trees there were numberless other varieties, as the hickory, hackberry, black-walnut, the black, white, live, and scrub oak;, the white, red, wych, and water elm, ash, yew, cedar, mulberry, and the stately plane tree. The undergrowth was a tangle of gooseberry bushes, raspberry and blackberry canes, vines and creeping plants, dog-wood, box-elder, wild plum trees, pawpaws, cherries, withes, reeds and rushes, all growing in the most dense, picturesque, and wild confusion.

As the island was not often visited, owing to the difficulty of access without a boat, game was very plentiful, but during the winter, when the lake was frozen over, the young fellows crossed and shot and hunted a good deal. The lake teemed with sun-fish, cat-fish, bass

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suckers, and turtles, and we often spent an hour of an evening practising the gentle art, frequently with good results.

When Whiteman returned from Philadelphia, we set to work thrashing out the small grain, and had a fine time of it. He had several stacks, and the work was mostly done on the same principle as the harvesting, that is, the neighbours came and helped, and Whiteman worked for them in return, either himself, or by sending a substitute, so that, as nearly all the grain in the valley was thrashed at the same time, it kept us busy for a while. The thrashing machine, and some of the horses in use, belonged to one or two parties, who make it a business of going about the country working either for cash, or taking a part of the grain thrashed. The farmer whose grain is being thrashed finds the other horses necessary for turning the gear, as well as the majority of the hands required, and boards and lodges the men for as long as they stay on his farm. It is nice, lively work, though some positions are fearfully dirty, notably the straw-stack, and this position was usually mine.

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At Whiteman's I built a tremendous strawstack, the largest in the valley, and it was so straight and substantial, that I was almost invariably selected for stacking at the neighbours' places when their thrashing came round.

The feeding of the machine was very dirty work, too, and, in fact, we nearly all looked like niggers by the time we quitted work. There were usually about twelve men employed, one on the wheat-stack, who pitched the sheaves to another, who laid them on a table with the ears towards the machine, where the band was cut by a third man armed with a blade from a reaping machine, set in a handle. He passed the now loose wheat to the feeder, who guided it into the drum. The grain then ran out at the side of the machine and employed three more men, measuring, sacking, and carrying away, while the straw went up the elevator and gave employment to two, or sometimes, when the stack was high, three more hands, and then there was a man or boy on the platform, over the horse-gear, to keep the horses going at the right rate.

Thrashers always live on the fat of the land,

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and the quantity of fried chicken and pumpkin pie consumed is pretty considerable. The principal meal is supper, about six or seven at night, after the regular day's work is done; but the other two meals, breakfast and dinner, are also substantial ones. There is no tea, only three meals. Of course tea is drunk, but coffee is the principal drink out there.

The men travelling with the machine, and some of the farmers living a little distance away, sleep on the place, mostly out of doors, about the waggons or the stacks.

It was getting late in the autumn now, and it was rather cold to wake up of a morning with white frost all over one. By the time thrashing was over, the corn was ripe, and we then started gathering it, and this kept Whiteman, Dick, and me engaged for some time, for there was a big patch to do.

I was out on one of the neighbouring farms at one time, with some more young fellows, where there was a fine orchard, and I guess we didn't go to sleep until we had sampled their fruit to a considerable extent.

There was a panther, or perhaps, more correctly speaking, a jaguar, killed just across

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the river during the autumn. For some time it was known to be in the neighbourhood, and it at length attacked a man and pretty badly damaged him. The settlers then got up a hunt, and after a little time found him in the woods and managed to shoot him.

Such things are now remarkably scarce, that one was the only one heard of for several years, and it caused a considerable scare on the river.

While here I received another offer of adoption. This made the third offer I had had, for while at Anderson's I was asked by old Hockley to take up my abode with him and his wife, but I could not quite see it, they were such a disgustingly dirty lot. This time, however, the circumstances were rather different.

Living with Whiteman's family was an old maiden lady, Miss Avarilla Goodwin, a retired "school-marm." She owned a first-rate farm, which she was obliged to let out, having no one to attend to it, and so proposed to adopt me. She was a very nice old lady, and much liked by all who knew her, and I have not the slightest doubt but that we should have

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agreed very well, but as I was even then on my way home to my mother, I could scarcely fall in with the arrangement. She had a niece though, in Manhattan, who came to see her sometimes, one of the prettiest girls I have ever seen, which might have been a powerful argument, if I had been at all inclined to stay in the country.

When the husking was done, we spent a while hauling corn to town for sale, and then, my six months' agreement being completed, I left Whiteman's and arranged to go back to old England.

Whiteman paid me up all right, though he wanted me to take out as much as I could in store goods, that is, he gave me an order on a store- keeper in town to get anything wanted, for which he paid in corn, and he would get a higher price for his corn in this way than he would if he sold for cash.

I got a suit of clothes, a pair of boots, and a few small necessaries, but as I was going a long journey, of course I wanted cash and not goods, and so could not oblige him much in that respect.

All being squared up between us, I said

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good-bye to Whiteman's family, and went to stop a few days with Tom Crofter, who had made another move, and was living up the Blue River, about two miles from Manhattan.

I stayed with him while I arranged what ship I should go by, and then went east. While with him I bought his watch, and the trading instinct being strong with him, I gave him six dollars and exchanged pocket knives. It was a very good little silver watch, of English make, and although a former owner had been out of his mind and taken it apart and put it together again, it still went very well.

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