Kansas: Its Interior and Exterior Life by Sara Robinson



THE first Kansas party of the season left Boston, March 13, 1855, under the charge of Dr. C. Robinson. There were nearly two hundred in the party, men, women and children. We reached Kansas city March 24. The name of Kansas city sounded pleasantly to us, wayfarers, twelve days en route from Boston; and, having trunks and carpet-sacks all locked, we were ready to leave the boat in anticipation of our arrival. When the cables were thrown out upon shore, and the planks lowered, we passed off the boat and entered the long parlor at the hotel, only a few steps distant. The mystery was, where could a place be found to stow away so many. Such place, however, was made for all, and sleep without the boat's continual rocking was very sweet.

25th. -- Another boat came in with another party of Kansas passengers. I awakened to find the hotel directly on the levee, the street very narrow, the river in front of the house, and Clay county opposite, with forest skirting the shore. Wyandotte, settled by a tribe of Indians of the same name, was also in sight, and in the distance the buildings looked finely, among the trees. My husband made an arrangement to accompany a portion of our fellow-travelers into the country, to look for a pleasant location for a new settlement.

26th. -- The party looking for a location left this morning for a trip south, and will return to Topeka and Lawrence. Many of our party are busy getting teams for their trip into the country, buying provisions, and the general outfit for a few weeks; and many left for their new homes in the territory at the "top of the morning." We hear a great deal said here of the preparation the Missourians are making to go over into Kansas to vote on the 30th. We heard the same while on the river; crowds are coming from Lexington, also from one hundred miles below that point. Mr. P., who was to carry us to the Baptist Mission, said he should be ready to start for the mission by ten o'clock. We sat with bonnets and shawls on over an hour; then he concluded we had better stay to dinner. About four o'clock, he said, again, we would leave Kansas city; but, as he was continually interrupted with company, we were not fairly in the wagon until another full hour had passed.

We then had a good view of all there is to Kansas city. It is a most singular location for a town, being a gathering together of hills, high and steep. Houses of very limited dimensions are perched upon all the highest points. They have usually a small porch over the door, or light piazza. There is another peculiarity prevailing here, as elsewhere in Missouri; the chimneys are all built upon the outside of the houses. We passed several of our party with ox-teams. In one of the great lumber-wagons was a young lady from Massachusetts, who in this way was attempting to make the journey of more than a hundred miles into the territory.

It was near evening when we reached Westport. It has a look of recent growth -- some good brick buildings and a large hotel. A good deal of the Indian, also Santa Fe, trade comes in here. We were late at Dr. Barker's, having made a call at a house off of the road for some time; and I was completely chilled through on arriving there, so much so as to be unable to walk without assistance. The mission is situated about a quarter of a mile from the great California road, four miles from Westport, and about two from Rev. Thomas Johnson's Methodist Mission. After the road turns from the California road, it descends slightly, and, for an eighth of a mile, is skirted with timber upon either side. The night was not dark, being starlight; and there was novelty in the whole scene presented before us, as we reached the terminus of the road. A large yard was enclosed by a high fence, with stairs by way of entrance. Some four or five steps were on the outside of the fence, a platform, perhaps two feet in width, above it, and as many steps on the inside. The occasion of such an uncouth arrangement I cannot divine, although it prevails all through the country. The houses of log, making five or six rooms, stretch along parallel with the fence, and at some distance from it. The ground is still descending. The first effect upon one used to high lands is most singular. There is a feeling of oppression at the thought of dog-day heats, and insecurity in spring floods. Several dogs gave us greeting as we alighted from the carriage and stumbled over the stairway. We were glad to be at the end of our evening's ride -- to feel safe after its insecurity. We had been off on a wild, untraveled road, to see a person who had sent for Mr. P. to come and see him, without telling him the reason of such message. He had urgently, however, pressed his coming. It was dark ere we reached his house, and, to show us a nearer way back, he took us down through fields and by-paths. He walked behind us, and I could not resist the inclination to turn my head occasionally to see what our guide might be doing. A foe in the front would have been more agreeable than in the rear, though the event proved there was no occasion for fear.

We found Dr. Barker's family most hospitable and pleasant, and appreciated thankfully the prospect of a quiet resting-place for a few weeks after this long, wearisome journey. How cheerfully the fire beamed a welcome, and how genial its heat after such a chilly ride! The great logs were rolled into the huge fireplace, and burned and crackled until every corner of the room was light as day. Supper being over, we were soon in dream-land; friends we had left were around us; the "loved and lost" were near.

27th. -- The sun shining in at our windows disturbed our slumbers early, just before the little Indian girl came in to start a fire. One glance at the room was sufficient to show that our host and hostess were not born in this western land. Books, pamphlets, pictures, vases, &c., were on all the tables, walls, and everywhere. Sixteen years ago they came to the West; and Dr. Barker has worked indefatigably for the best good of the Shawnees. As minister, teacher, and physician, he has labored for their physical as well as spiritual good, through summer's heat and winter's cold, by day and night, with unceasing effort. Through the evil reports and influence against him of Rev. Mr. Johnson, his school has been discontinued. A colored woman, whom he assisted to gain her freedom, and two little Indian girls, are still in his family. Since this emigration to the territory commenced, their house has been a pleasant home for many on their way thither; some remaining with them six or eight weeks. Their kindness will be gratefully remembered by many.

29th. -- The Missourians, for some days, have been passing into the territory. They talk loudly of "fighting, and driving out the free-state men." They go armed and provisioned. There is nothing truer, however, than that "stillest waters run deepest;" and the most courageous men usually have no occasion to boast of their courage.

30th. -- It is the election day in the territory. We shall hope to hear something by to-morrow from Kansas. There are several families stopping here, mostly from Indiana, with some pleasant ladies among them. Their peculiarities of speech cause us to smile occasionally, while I dare say our Yankeeisms are as strange to them. This "feeling powerful bad" and "mighty weak" sounds oddly to us; so also when they say, "a right smart chance of calicoes." There is a little English woman boarding here. She is young and girlish. She was born in India, of English parents, and, upon their death, she came to this country. She is very artless and childlike in her manner, and, I fear, will see some hardships in frontier life.>

1st. -- It is a warm, sunny day. The spring flowers bloom in every sheltered nook. A lemon-colored flower, like adder's tongue in New England, bends its graceful stalk before the gentlest breeze. We have been out over to the high grounds overlooking the main road into the territory for miles; and it is full of people of most desperate look. They come on horseback, in wagons, in carts; in fact, every sort of vehicle seems to have been put in requisition to convey these men into the territory. Now and then a carriage of more pretensions appeared, and was probably occupied by some of the leaders of the gang. The horses, as well as the men, looked wearied out with their journey.

Will these frauds be allowed? or are they a part of the system connived at by a corrupt administration to force slavery into Kansas against the desire of the actual settlers? Mr. P. arrived from Lawrence this afternoon with a lady, who is going to visit some acquaintances in Independence, Mo. They have passed many of the desperadoes, on their way, armed with all kinds of death-dealing instruments. They carried with them provisions and whiskey, and baked bread by the roadside.

April 2d. -- Mrs. C. left to-day for Independence. Mr. S. and family, from New Hampshire, arrived. Their youngest little one sickened on the way, and they are now carrying it with them to Lawrence for burial. There is a good deal of sickness upon the river, especially among children.

3d. -- People are continually coming and going. Gentlemen leave their families here, while they look up a situation in the territory. They go into the nearest towns to buy grain and feed for their horses, which are now very scarce and high.

Towards evening, four gentlemen came in from Lawrence. The doctor, with others, soon came; and the number continually increased, until there were fourteen in from Lawrence. A very pleasant family, who were our fellow-travellers a part of the way, have just arrived; Mrs. Nichols also, the Brattleboro' editress and earnest worker for the rights of women, with a young lady, soon to be her daughter-in-law. The son, and chief attraction to this young lady, was already in the territory. Had we just arrived in the West, we should have wondered where all could find resting-places for the night; but we had been here long enough to know the expansiveness of western homes.

4th. -- The morning was bright and pleasant. More than fifty slept under the roof last night. I gave up my room to some of the new comers, and slept on comfortables and buffalo-robes on the floor in the attic; and, with the exception of an occasional tug at my pillow, or nibble at my finger, from some stray mouse, I never slept better.

There is a rumor that it is the intention of those Missourians elected to the Legislature, by the votes of the overwhelming forces who went into the territory on the last week and voted on the 13th, to assassinate Gov. Reeder unless he grants certificates of election. They have so declared; and these high-minded gentlemen say also that "he can have fifteen minutes to decide whether he will give them the certificates, or be shot." Gov. Reeder has only allowed four days' time in which the protests against these frauds can be sent in. We fear in many districts the time will be too short to allow them to be canvassed. Besides, the persons who desire to do it are in danger of losing their lives in the attempt, a large number of the Missourians declaring openly their intention to "remain in the territory until the four days are past, and that they will kill any one who endeavors to get signers to a protest." This threat will intimidate many.

Word came from the Shawnee Mission that armed bands, upon horseback and in carriages, were assembling there. The gentlemen who came from Lawrence had mostly gone over. As my husband sat quietly writing, an express came, desiring his attendance also. There have been so many threats upon the part of the Missourians, that, had we any faith in their courage, we should have believed oar friends in imminent peril to-day. As it was, we bade them God-speed with light hearts, expecting to see them again at sundown. At noon a messenger returned, and reported all quiet at the mission. Although the Missourians number considerably more than the actual settlers gathered there, they seemed to think their forces insufficient to justify an attack either upon Gov. Reeder or them. Gov. Reeder, having been loudly threatened with assassination unless he granted the certificates of election, examined the papers with pistols cocked near him.

The members elect were holding caucuses during the day. One of the gentlemen from the territory was invited by an acquaintance to attend one of them; and he assured me, as he looked in upon them at his first entrance, their stolid faces, their disordered, rough dress, and their various attitudes, impressed him with anything rather than their wisdom. Some were lying on the benches, others sitting on the backs of the same; and he could hardly believe such a body of men desired to be considered grave legislators. From the appearance of one, at least, to whom a paper was given, who, after scanning it closely, gave it to him with a request that he should read it aloud, he judged he could not read his own mother tongue.

5th. -- In every district where the election was contested, and papers sent in showing the fraud, Gov. Reeder refused to grant certificates. As we feared, however, the time allowed was so short, the protests could not reach the mission from a majority of the districts.

6th. -- A day of quiet has passed, after the leaving of so many people. We went to Westport this morning. The country was most pleasant. The air was dry and balmy as a day in June. The birds were carolling among the bursting buds and new-springing leaves; the butterflies, flitting here and there, rejoiced in their young life. A part of the way lay through the woods, where a driver needs some skill to pass safely among the stumps. We met a party of the Indians dressed in their native costume, in blankets and moccasins, with much paint upon them, feathers and a large quantity of beads. As I looked back, after we passed them, and saw one of them with most repulsive face also scanning us sharply, with one hand apparently grasping a pistol or gun, I felt an involuntary shiver. I saw, however, at the next moment, it was only a childish fear, and that mutual curiosity actuated us.

The Kaw Indians are the most uncultivated of all, while the Shawnees have made good advances in civilization. They have houses, cultivate their lands, and wear the dress of Americans.

8th. -- Attended the little white church upon the rolling prairie today. Standing as it does upon quite an elevation, overlooking a great extent of woodland and prairie, being built with spire pointing heavenward, it reminds one of dear New England, and her pleasant villages scattered through all her valleys and upon all her hillsides. Being early, I noticed the Indian worshippers. Many of the men seated themselves in little groups upon the grass, and entertained each other in their odd-sounding dialect. The women came upon horseback, and, after tying their horses to the fence near by, came into the church, and maintained most strict decorum throughout the entire service. With the exception of the handkerchief upon their heads, in place of bonnet, their style of dress differed in no way from our own. They admire rich materials, and gay colors, and the most of those I saw at church were clad in chameleon silks. The service, although we could understand only an occasional word, was very impressive. The speakers, especially the interpreters, had rich mellow voices. Their quick and varied intonations, their rapid mode of enunciation, their graceful and most expressive gestures, singularly enchain the attention of the hearers, and impress upon them the substance of the discourse. The interpreter was a fine-looking man, large, well-formed, and with intelligence speaking in every feature.

9th. -- Doctor returned with E. from Kansas city. She will go with him to Lawrence, and he will return for us in a few days. We have some apples sent us from Kansas city. How fresh and nice they taste in these warm spring days! I have been down to the creek, half a mile from the house, for water. The well here is nearly dry, and most of the water used in this large family is brought from the creek. With assistance I succeeded in bringing up a six-quart pail half full of water. A young married lady here, from Indiana, whose whole appearance gives evidence of unabated health, her lively ways bespeaking a rich fund of good nature, who said indeed "she never knew what it was to be tired," laughed merrily at us, that we have accomplished so great a feat. I enjoyed the laugh as much as she, and am quite sure that it borders a good deal upon the ridiculous to go half a mile for water, and get only three quarts. But one's strength is not equal always to their will, and carrying water is entirely novel business for me.

11th. -- Doctor left with E. this morning. Soon after they left we were attracted by the sound of carriage wheels, and looked out of the window to see what new comers had arrived. There was a hack stopping at the gate, and two ladies alighted. In descending the steps at the entrance one of them tripped her foot and fell. From the hearty welcome which the ladies received, we knew they must be friends, and we were soon introduced to them as the sister and daughter of Dr. Barker. The daughter has not seen this western home since her remembrance, her parents having taken her on to New England when she was a mere child, and this is her first return, now that she is "budding into womanhood." How strangely all things -- this log house and perfect solitude everywhere, fresh as she is from the sympathies, the gayeties, the never-ceasing prattle of young school-girls -- must look to her! But most singular of all to be a stranger in one's father's house, where the countenances of the youngest of the flock are unfamiliar. Mrs. B. is a person, the very first impression of whom will be that of her superiority, both mentally and morally, over most others; and we feel that if the mother in this Indian country must commit her child to another's care, she acted wisely in giving it to her charge. Mrs. B. is seeking the boon of health in this change of residence.

13th. -- One day here is like every other, save in an occasional change of faces around us, as the new comers arrive to take the places of others just leaving. We wrote, read, and walked out into the woods, or took a longer walk upon the prairie. The woods near here were full of gooseberries and grape vines. Bitter-sweet and running roses wound their tendrils upon the branches, and climbed high among the trees. The red berries of the bitter-sweet were still hanging on the vines. We have tried to call upon an Indian family to-day. We followed the trail through the woods, succeeded in getting over a high fence which enclosed a large cultivated field in which the house stands, but found no one at home.

14th. -- We have been expecting the doctor to-day to take us to Lawrence. After such a journey as this, westward, one will be content with bare comforts, and humble abodes, where there is quiet, and one feels it is really home. There is truly "no place like home." At evening some gentlemen, in from Lawrence, reported our house cut down, and the workmen ordered to stop building, by Dr. Wood, a man notorious for the disturbances he has occasioned in Lawrence.

15th. -- Doctor arrived at the mission in the early evening, and corroborates the statement of the others. During his temporary absence from Lawrence, on the 13th, Dr. Wood and other choice spirits, armed with revolvers, went up to the house, and, after commanding the workmen to leave, commenced to cut off the timbers with an axe. The workmen, save the gentleman who had the work in charge, ceased their labor, saying they would do so until the doctor's return. These pro-slavery men were determined he should have no house there, although, for a long time, he had held the claim by another building; but, in his absence from the territory, one of these men attempted to "jump the claim." The next morning, the doctor went to the house, and the workmen returned to their labor. While at the house, he met Dr. Wood, who had gone out of Lawrence, swearing that "one of them had got to die that morning." He was, however, very quiet and peaceable. Doctor told him, "he should protect the house, but he could attempt to take it down any time he pleased."

16th. -- We went to Kansas city this morning, and made such purchases as we feared we might not be able to make at Lawrence. We met some very pleasant people, who were going to find a home in the territory, and returned to the mission at evening.

17th. -- We leave for Lawrence this morning. I have just been into the woods, after some rose and gooseberry bushes, not knowing whether I can get them near Lawrence. The horse is lame, having stood where the wind blew on him during the night. At about nine o'clock our buggy was packed, and we also packed into it, and a carriage never held more or greater variety. There was one valise, three carpet-bags, baskets of crockery, umbrellas, cloaks, bundles, stone pitcher, and a small basket of crackers and gingernuts. And in the midst of all this "plunder," as the western people say, three of us were seated, two ladies in front, and the doctor behind. But after being thus packed, with geometrical precision, that no square inch of space should be lost, we attempted to start. The horse proved in such condition that we proposed walking, and giving him a ride. However, after a mile or two of snail-like progress, my husband walking, and raising the horse's spirit by the cheerful tones of his voice, we began again to cherish hopes of reaching Lawrence, which we had been brought to the point of relinquishing altogether.

We passed the Quaker Mission a little distant from the road, and the peach-trees all about it gave it a cheerful look. Our road lies over the high and rolling prairie, and never was fairer picture hung out between earth and heaven to feast the eyes of nature's lovers. The sky was cloudless and blue as ocean. The air was fragrant with the perfume of apple, plum and grape blossoms, which grew in clumps by the wayside, wherever we passed through small groves. Emerging from these, some new phase of scenery would cause new expressions of delight. Sometimes we would seem to be on the very height of the land, prairies stretching in all directions, noble forests marking the line of the rivers and creeks, while the mounds far away in the distance formed a complete amphitheatre.

At another time we would be passing rapidly into what seemed to be the cultivated grounds of some private mansion, over a smooth lawn, where the tall oaks and walnuts were grouped in admirable arrangement, and with such artistic beauty, in many places, that it was difficult to realize that art had done nothing here, but nature all. At one or two places we passed ledges, where, upon the highest points, the stones were laid up in walls as regularly as if laid by stone-masons. There were deep ravines also, to be crossed, which test the strength of one's nerves somewhat. These are skirted with graceful trees, while the water in their pebbly beds is limpid and clear. Just beyond one of these, with the green branches interwoven above us to shut out the sunbeams, we rested, and dined as best we might on crackers and apples, which an acquaintance gave us, who was baiting his horse at the same spot, while ours nibbled his grass with a most satisfied look at the base of a tree. A large emigrant wagon was broken down near us, and their exertions to right matters for the rest of the journey, as well as their gypsy-like appearance in camp, added not a little to the interest of the half hour. The friend we had overtaken would be our co-traveller the rest of the way. Our afternoon's ride was similar to that of the morning, with the exception of more company.

The stage, filled with young men, settlers just arrived, overtook us in the afternoon, and was sometimes ahead of us, and some times in the rear, and the loud tones of the cheerful horn, frequently blown, awakened the musical echoes from prairie and dell. The prairie seemed higher, and for many miles at some points our vision was uninterrupted. A few isolated Indian huts were passed occasionally, and a grave of an Indian warrior, with the skull of his horse and dog still lying upon it. These were to accompany him in the hunting grounds of the Great Spirit. We reached the Wakarusa as the golden sunlight was fading, fast fading, for we have no twilight here, no mountains behind which the sun sinks, still shedding its lingering beams upon earth and sky. We made our descent into the river's bed rapidly, for the bank is steep, and from a clear, gushing spring in the shadow of the trees overhanging the bank, quenched our thirst. A heavily-loaded wagon having reached the top of the opposite bank, and the horses proving refractory, has slid backwards into the river. It was no pleasant sight to us. However, we reached the top safely; and there were still six miles between us and our destination, our new home in fair Kansas. We drove on as swiftly as stumps in every direction in the wood would allow; the trees, which stood most nearly in the road, being cut down, leaving a foot or more of the base, which required a good deal of expertness to avoid. After I had come so near running over a tree, that the gallant steed bearing us had reason to discover which was the harder of the two, his head or the tree, the doctor took the ribbons, and guided us onward through the gathering shadows. We saw the lights from the dwellings in Franklin, as we passed. Another hour, and we were home; yes, home, after a journey of near two thousand miles, and five weeks among strangers, sometimes pinched with cold, and sometimes suffocated with heat, crowded into dusty cars, and jostled at every turn; tired, sick children, and worn out, impatient mothers everywhere. Give us fresh, pure air, cold water plenty, a shelter from the sun and rain, and we will call it home, and soon gather around us home comforts and home joys enough to verify the truth, that the purest joys left of Eden are found under the home roof.

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