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

An Old-Timer

     DURING the midsummer of 1854, James Lynn and William Lynn started across the prairies from Westport, Missouri, to find homes in Kansas. With a stalwart pair of oxen yoked to a heavy wagon they proceeded slowly but surely westward, and finally, following up the Wakarusa Valley and out along one of its tributaries, they camped one night after a blistering hot August day near a spring that flowed from among a pile of stones and boulders that had been deposited at that point in great abundance by some glacier that must have covered this part of Kansas centuries ago. The flowing spring reminded them of Kentucky, and they concluded that then and there one of them had found a home. James Lynn drove his stake into the ground and said that it was his. Afterwards they traveled further up the little stream and located another claim, and William Lynn marked it and claimed it for his own. The location of these two settlements caused the little stream to be named Lynn Creek, and so it is known from the hills among which it rises on through Berryton, Tevis, and into Wakarusa near Richland.

     The hardships of pioneer life were too much for James Lynn, and he died within a few years after their settlement; but William Lynn weathered the storm and lived upon the land thus picked out by him on that August day until his death, which occurred in February, 1908. At the time of his death he had lived in Kansas nearly fifty-four years, and he was then one hundred and two years old. When it was found that he was dead, one of his sons called one of the Newcomer boys, who then lived in Topeka, over the phone and said: "Pap is dead. You know he never was much as to churches, and we just thought that we would ask you to come out and say something at his funeral."

     And, of course, the Newcomer boy said that he would; and on the day appointed he drove out to the old Lynn home, and among the neighbors and friends gathered around he stood by the coffin of this old-timer and looked down upon his face, which resembled a hickory nut worn and preserved with age, and in part he said: "One October day in about the year 1837, in Madison County, Kentucky, a small boy, the oldest son of a widowed mother, had set himself to work trying to split clapboards to make a shelter for some stock that belonged to his mother. He was working hard and making slow progress, when a stalwart young man came along on his way to his own duties of the day. The young man stopped, spoke kindly to him and commenced helping with the work. What had promised to be a day of toil became a day of pleasure, and when the sun sank low in the west on that day, the boards had been made and the shelter erected, and the boy and man were happy -- one scarcely more happy than the other. That boy was my father; and that young man who was his friend from the beginning, was none other than the grand old man whose lifeless body lies before us today.

     "With the recollection of the story of this act of simple kindness in my mind, the request was to me a command when the family communicated to me their desire that I should speak at this funeral.

     "The span of this life was so great and covered so many years that you and I can hardly realize the length of it. He was old enough to remember the stirring times of the battle of New Orleans. He was a man grown when the Kentucky soldiers came marching home victorious from the war with Mexico, and when the Kentucky dead were brought home from Buena Vista's battlefield and all Kentucky stood in mourning as O'Hara read his immortal poem, commencing:

       'The muffled drum's sad roll has beat the soldier's last tattoo,
       No more on life's parade shall meet that brave and fallen few;
       On Fame's eternal camping ground their silent tents are spread,
       And Glory guards with solemn round the bivouac of the dead.'

     "When the civil war came on he was old enough that his sons became soldiers in the army. When I first knew him --more than thirty years ago he was strong and rugged, but an old man.

     "As you and I have now gathered to say the last word and do the last service for this old friend, I feel that we are standing on sacred ground. We realize that we are today confronted by the two great mysteries of life and the other of death. Life preserved in this man a constitutional strength that kings would give millions to possess, that coursed the red blood through his veins, and that made his right arm strong as an iron shaft for more than three-quarters of a century -- indeed a mystery; but Death stopped the flowing blood and rested the tired limbs a greater mystery. And, strange to say, at a time like this, when these two mysteries seem closer and more oppressive, we are met with the brightest, best and greatest hope of the human race hope of immortality, of life that will endure forever, a hope that belongs to every man, of every religion, of every race, under every sun. Death waited long and patiently for him. With muffled oar he guarded close the nearer shore of the silent river. Many of his friends came down and crossed the river, and finally he came. It is easy for me to believe that on the other shore he saw a familiar face, and that a friendly hand and a strong arm were joined to his to help him up the other bank, as he had helped his friend on this side. And so I say that we stand today on sacred ground as we are brought to a contemplation of the solemn fact that the sun is set and the day is done for one who used to walk upright among us.

     "He saw the red man give place to the white man, and he saw the buffalo herds melt away that domestic animals might take their place. He heard the shriek of the first locomotive that trundled its way over the line of the great railway that traverses this part of the county. And he saw the first break of virgin soil when men commenced to build our splendid Capitol.

     "His native State had been called 'the dark and bloody ground.' Indian tribes had struggled for the possession of its hunting grounds, and had fought and killed and waged their wars until they said the ground was dark and bloody. And, strange to say, these same hunting grounds became scenes of conflict, bloodshed and war long after the white man had taken them. In that State were honest, industrious, hospitable men and women; but human life was cheap, and everywhere men were ready at all times to fight and die for what they thought was right. It was the dark and bloody ground. It was a strange fate that took this pioneer from Kentucky and gave him a home in Kansas, which was soon to become the battle ground of the first conflict between slavery and freedom, and in truth the dark and bloody ground of the West.

     "He lived to see the end of this quarrel. He had known Kansas when she was bleeding and torn, and then had seen her rise, beautiful, strong, and without a wound. He had experienced the horrors of war and murder, but lived to know that peace possessed the State.

     "His education was limited, his life was humble, and he knew not ambition. You and I may learn a lesson from the fact that the great Giver of Life gave to this humble man all of this experience and all of this contact with human affairs, and a full round century of life in this strange old world. It is written that certain things are withheld from the wise and prudent and revealed unto babes, and who can say that this life has not fulfilled a great purpose. Here is a man who lived a long, industrious life and never knew the greed, avarice and crime that comes with the modern struggle for money. Political strife was to him a closed book. He knew nothing of the great paintings of the great masters in art, but he had seen Nature in her beauty and grandeur, and it was more beautiful than any painting made by man. He had seen the sunrise in a thousand forms, and the Storm King had builded mountains of black and gold for him. And the great prairies and the stalwart forests had made pictures for him. He knew what beauty was.

     "The story told at the beginning of this talk is only illustrative of his kindness of heart. No person was too poor or despised to enlist his sympathy and help in time of trouble.

     "He knew little of creeds and thought little of doctrines, and yet his life was fashioned after that simple plan given to mankind by the great Teacher who sat down with publicans and sinners and rebuked hypocrisy wherever it was found.

     "This is but a brief memorial to the life and character of William Lynn. His work is done. Although he lived far beyond the allotted time for man, his death has come as a tragedy to his family and friends. Comfort is gathered from the fact that his life was one of service. Service in the building of his country and his State, service to his family, and service to his fellowman. No honest effort is ever lost. Service -- the best and faithful a force and influence that will live forever. We can understand that the name of this man will be perpetuated because his service in building a home along this little watercourse has caused it to be named 'Lynn Creek,' and that his name has house and to a church and to a political division of a township, and yet every other deed of honest service from the beginning to the end of his long and useful life will live and share in framing the lives, conduct and destiny of those who follow him so long as time shall last."

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