Tales and Trails of Wakarusa,  by A. M. Harvey

Jake Self

     ON A SLAB in the Ridgeway graveyard there is this inscription:

"Jacob W. Self.

Died January 27,1878."

     Jake Self was forty-nine years old when he died, and he had been a pioneer and a plainsman since his boyhood. He lived on the old Berry farm near the stone bridge. On the morning of the day of his death he, together with Wash Townsend and S. A. Sprague, went on horseback to Carbondale. Carbondale was then a thriving little village, with a few stores, a blacksmith shop, and about a dozen saloons. It was a warm day for winter, and the roads were muddy and sloppy. Late in the after- noon Self and his companions mounted their horses and started for home. They noticed that the wind had commenced to blow from the north and was quite cold, and that the ground cracked and broke under the horses' feet on account of the frozen crust that then covered it. As they left the village, riding briskly toward the northeast, they discovered that clouds had overcast the sky, and that low in the northwest they were heavy, and had that liquid-black appearance that settlers described as inky. The breeze from the north- west soon developed into a strong wind, with an occasional bit of snow, and it became colder and colder. By the time they reached the upper crossing of Berry Creek the air was full of snow, dry, hard, and driven fiercely by the wind. The men were suffering from the intense cold, and Townsend suggested that they take the creek road, which followed the lowland from that point to their home, but Self, who was riding a wild and spirited horse, insisted that he would ride across the prairie, and when the others separated from him, he called back that he would beat them home.

     He rode at a gallop by the Elliott school-house. John MacDonald, the teacher, stood in the door and watched him, and meditated upon his recklessness and upon the curse of strong drink, for he sat his horse as one who had been drinking and from, though not intoxicated. Sprague and Townsend followed the course taken by them, and arrived at the farm shortly after dark, but Self was not there. They waited an hour, then another, and becoming alarmed concluded that Self had lost his way and that they would go out and try to find him. By this time the storm had become a frightful blizzard, the temperature far below zero, and the snow and wind driving like a hurricane. The two men rode westward onto the prairie, and as nearly as they could, they followed the road which they had expected Self to take. On account of the darkness and the storm, it became necessary for them to tie their horses together to prevent their being separated, and in this way they rode for an hour or more, and then concluded to give up the search and return home. They rode rapidly, and suddenly plunged into a deep ravine, which indicated to them that they were going in the wrong direction, and then they realized that they were lost and unable to agree on the direction they should take to reach home.

     Sprague suggested to Townsend that since the storm was coming from the northwest they might ride directly in the teeth of it and finally reach the Wakarusa bottom, and that then they could follow the stream downward to the farm. They adopted this plan, and after considerable difficulty reached the low wooded land along the stream at a point near where the Santa Fe Railroad now crosses the valley, and about one o'clock they were home. Each of them was frozen about the face, hands and feet. Self was not there.

     They stayed up all night looking for him, and about four o'clock in the morning his horse came galloping home without him. Early in the morning, they, together with a party of neighbors, went out upon the prairie, and at a point about two miles from the farm they found his body completely frozen, crouched in the snow. The beaten snow near the body indicated that the horse had stood near him for a long time after he had fallen. A full pint of whiskey was in his pocket. Some said that he should have drunk more when he felt the whiskey die out of him and the cold come in; but one of them crushed the bottle on a wagon wheel, and they took the body home.

     It was afterwards learned that he had ridden up to one farm house three times and inquired the way home, and each time started off in the wrong direction. He had lost the sense of direction and was tempest tossed, like a ship in mid-ocean without a pilot.

     The next day three sturdy men started for Topeka with a heavy team and wagon, and shovels to be used in getting through the snow-drifts. They were going for a coffin for Jake Self, and it took hard work for almost the entire day before they reached the city.

     And so Jake Self died, January 27, 1873, as indicated upon the marble slab.

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