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

John MacDonald

     A SCOTCH lad who appeared to be scarcely out of his teens came to the neighborhood one October day and was soon employed as a farm hand. This employment did not last long, because the school ma'am got married, and he made application and was selected as the teacher in the district school. George Franks looked him over and said: "There's one thing certain. He's not liable to get married before the term is over."

     He was certainly an awkward lad, and his peculiar brogue as well as the unusual phraseology employed by him was a source of extraordinary amusement and entertainment to everyone. Of course, he was welcomed and made at home, just as every stranger was, and good-natured frontier manners prevented fun being made of him to his face. However, and notwithstanding the best that could be done, it was not unusual for a company of young folks to get around him and ask him questions, and they frequently burst into laughter over his quaint expressions. It embarrassed him very much at the time; and in his later years he often said that he sometimes blushed even then to think of what he had said and how the young folks laughed at him. Purely as a matter of self-defense, he developed the habit of saying things to make folks laugh; and, having an active, ingenious mind, he soon developed into a humorist, and this characteristic obtained with him during all his life.

     He became one of the fixtures in the community, and not only taught the Berry Creek school, but nearly every other school for a number of miles around. Although he was a thorough Scotchman, raised with all the strictness which his hardy people and the Presbyterian faith provided, he was known among school children as "John Easy"; and it is to be recorded that during the many years that he was a Wakarusa Valley school teacher he never struck a pupil nor laid violent hands on one. How he managed to get along without doing so is still a marvel to the old-timers in the neighborhood. It was probably because of the fact that he was a continuous and ardent student himself, always having on hand, in addition to school work, one or more scientific or literary studies which he pursued, and the youngsters caught the spirit from him, and on this account were not hard to manage. It can be truly said of him that by his conduct, his life, and his teachings, he coaxed and led the way of his pupils to higher education and to better things. Again, the idea that he was liable to say something that would make you laugh possessed the children as well as the grown folks, and he knew it, and frequently used his ability as a humorist to keep attention to himself and to the work the pupils had in hand. One day, during a drill in history, he pointed to a lad from the most outspoken Democratic family in the vicinity, and said, "You write the names of all the Republican Presidents on the blackboard." The way he said it caused a lot of merriment. The boy stepped to the board and wrote the full list, and, after the last name he wrote, "The last of that bright band." Every one watched the teacher when he looked over the work. He said not a word, but took a piece of chalk and wrote like he was digging into the board, "Do you think so?"

     To close friends he would confess that he loved the taste of every intoxicating liquor (and in his native land among those surrounding him it was a common practice for nearly everyone to use strong drink of some character), yet he never drank, and he was among the first to advocate and work for the destruction of the liquor traffic in Kansas. His splendid work as a teacher made him friends and acquaintances throughout the county, and in course of time he was elected County Superintendent, which position he held for many years. It was his custom as Superintendent to go on foot when visiting the different schools of the county, and he knew every trail and bridle-path. It was a treat to the pupils and teacher to have him come slipping in at the door, after which he would take off his wraps and "loaf around," as he called it. He always left something in the way of help to those who were trying to learn. His life along the trails of Wakarusa was a tour of usefulness, and he had the confidence of everyone, from the most well-to-do to the poorest; and from the most respected to the worthless.

     As years went by he married and commenced the establishment of a home on a farm purchased and owned by him. He mixed newspaper and educational work with his farming, and this took him away from home much of the time. One [fl~v ho] a short absence and found his home desolated. It is enough to say that it was the consuming tragedy of his life, and it left him alone among men. Very few aside from his country neighbors ever knew of his trouble. Years went by, and honors came to him in educational work, not only in the State but throughout the United States and the world; and his old neighbors on Wakarusa often thought of him and sympathized with him and had heartaches for him, because they knew how he suffered; and he knew that they knew, and they knew that he knew that they knew.

     It was some years after MacDonald had left the farm that one of the Berry Creek schoolboys, having grown to young manhood, was about to leave home for service as a soldier. His days were full of things to do, and he did not take time to hunt up old friends to say good-bye, but early in the morning of the day he was to go he met MacDonald on the sidewalk near his home. He was waiting for the young man, and he took him by the hand and looked at him as he often looked at him as a boy, and said, "I shall think of you often. God bless you. Good-bye." The beautiful May morning, with the sun just breaking "over the top," was something to remember, but the earnest man and his eloquent words of farewell were burned into the mind and heart of the younger man, and they gave him strength and courage.

     Such was John MacDonald.

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