Kansas: Its Interior and Exterior Life by Sara Robinson



LAST evening we saw a light, which my husband said must be from our house, while we were three or four miles distant. On arriving, we found our trunks, furniture and bedding, had been carried to it. Although the first work done upon the house was upon the Friday before, after taking supper down street, we preferred going to it to stopping elsewhere. One room was clapboarded within a foot of the chamber-floor, loose boards were laid over the joists above to keep out the rains or falling dews. The windows were also similarly protected upon each side, while at the front the glass was set. There were mattresses laid upon the floor and upon the lounge, while upon the table a candle was burning, supported by a candlestick of entirely new invention, being a little block, perhaps three or four inches square, with four nails driven in to support the candle. A broom had also been provided, and a brimming pail of cold water. Blessings on him who was thus thoughtful of our comfort! By nailing a buffalo-robe at the doorway, and arranging some articles of bedding upon chairs, out of one room we made two for the night. Sleep was never sweeter or more refreshing than last night, after a long drive, with the thermometer standing at one hundred degrees.

Was awakened early this morning by a noise around the house, and, looking through a crack in the temporary partition, saw a cow very demurely examining the premises, having stationed herself in the quarter which will soon be dignified with the name of dining-room. My anxiety was considerably relieved, as my thought on awaking was, that we were visited by the same house destroyers as a few days previous.

When we came to look out upon Lawrence and the surrounding country, as we had nearly run through the vocabulary finding words to express our rapture at the ever-changing beauty of every part of our route, and as this view from our window, and from the hill beyond us, was the master-piece, silence expressed most truly our feelings, stirred as they were by a divine hand. The house fronts the east, and is situated upon an elevation commanding a prospect unequaled for extent, or variety of loveliness, for miles in all directions. Half a mile to the north sits Lawrence, a little hamlet upon the prairie, whose fame has even now crossed the continent, awakening hopes and fears in the hearts of many for friends, who for six months, have battled with pioneer life. Malignity and hatred have been aroused in the souls of others, who see in this little gathering of dwellings of wood, thatch, and mud hovels, the promise of a new state, glorious in its future.

The town reaches to the river, whose further shore is skirted with a line of beautiful timber, while beyond all rises the Delaware lands, which in the distance have all the appearance of cultivated fields and orchards, and form a back-ground to the picture of singular loveliness. To the eastward the prairie stretches away eight or ten miles, and we can scarcely help believing that the ocean lies beyond the low range of hills meeting the horizon. The line of travel from the east, or from Kansas city, passes into the territory by this way. Blue Mound rises in the south-east, and, with the shadows resting over it, looks green and velvety. A line of timber between us and Blue Mound marks the course of the Wakarusa, while beyond the eye rests upon a country diversified in surface, sloping hills, finely rolling prairies, and timbered creeks. A half mile to the south of us, Mount Oread, upon which our house stands, becomes yet more elevated, and over the top of it passes the great California road. West of us also is a high hill, a half mile in the distance, with a beautiful valley lying between, while to the north-west there is the most delightful mingling together of hill, valley, prairie, woodland and river . As far as the eye rests, we see the humble dwellings of the pioneer, with other improvements.

19th. -- A dark, dull day; almost raining. We sit with cloaks and bonnet on to keep warm, and sew a little. Have some calls. We walk to the door occasionally, -- which will, when hung, open into the other room, -- forgetting it will not open at one's bidding now. It is cramped up to stay in one room always, though, as I hoped before leaving Massachusetts, we "have out-of-doors a plenty." Doctor brings from town our dinner, to save our going down. It consists of slices of cold ham, cookies and doughnuts. We laugh at him because ho brought no bread, which is worth more than all.

20th. -- A slight rain today. The flowers are springing all over the hill-side; purple and straw-color being the prevailing colors. A little lilac-colored flower, of fern-leaf variety, fragile and beautiful, grows under every step, and yellow flowers, resembling lupine, are everywhere. The hammering, the continual pounding of a dozen workmen is confusing, and we walk out upon the brow of the hill for quiet and rest. How lovely nature has made this Kansas valley, and yet it seems as if, from a full lap of treasured gems, she had poured out the fairest here! More ham and cake today,-- no bread. Our merriment over it will aid digestion, even though it be cake and ham.

21st. -- The floor in the dining-room is laid. The windows are in. The door between the rooms is taken away, and the stove is set, with the pipe out of the window, after the true pioneer fashion. The stove, however, will put one's ingenuity to work in using, it being second-hand. Having been used six months in a boarding-house, not the most carefully, the furniture is minus; and what there is, is of unknown use to me. There is one large iron boiler, which would cover the whole front of the stove one broken gridiron, one large dripping-pan, two tin boilers holding six or eight quarts, one of which, near the top, has a nose -- the other, close to the bottom, has a spout. The furniture, which is the minus quantity, are iron kettles, tea-kettle, spider, shovel and tongs. However, we get supper, stew apples, -- brought from Massachusetts, -- and have biscuits without butter. It is a real Graham supper, with cold water. Provisions are scarce.

22d. -- The old Westminster catechism allows works of necessity and mercy to be done on the Sabbath day, and we baked some pies; but had breakfast of simple griddle cakes with syrup, made of sugar and water. Even the shade of Sylvester Graham might have looked on approvingly. We are in danger of no intermittents from clogged liver at present. So far, so good. We read and write all day. Just at evening walked on the hill above, near the first camping-ground. A gentleman and lady from Massachusetts came in. They live not very far from us. The lady, with a large family of boarders, seventeen in all, in one little room, seemed disheartened. They had had some sickness, too. They feel the change from comforts to privations.

The slit-work for the stairway is set, and we are anticipating the time when we can get into the second story. How our friends in the East would pity us, did they know just how we live; but I dare say there is not one in a hundred of them who enjoys the half we do. We are deprived of no comforts, that is, of anything essential to our happiness; for, coming to the real root of the matter, every one will find that the externals have but little to do with a person's real enjoyment. We have the pure, fresh air, in abundance; we have fine, even spirits, and we feel that to live, to breathe in such a country, is a joy, especially on a day like this.

      "Under the hill where the sun shines slimmer,
        Shrunk from the eager beam,
      The work goes on with a fitful glimmer,
        And music for a dream.

      "Over the groves and moistened meadows
        The steady gray hawks wing,
      And down below in the shifting shadows
        The merry small birds sing."

A gentleman from Philadelphia, of most polished manners and brilliant address, is here to-night.

24th. -- Doctor returned last night, after we had retired to rest. The town was full, and his friend returned with him. Doctor made a bed, that is, laid down a buffalo robe on the floor, and, putting another at the door, formed a sleeping apartment of the kitchen and dining-room, pro tem. He was missing before we awakened in the morning.

We can get no butter, no syrup, no milk, no potatoes. There is an abundance of nothing save cheese, beef, ham, and sugar. We made doughnuts, and after a consultation fried them in a two quart tin upon the top of the stove. The smoke of the fire seems to have some strange attraction into the room, and E. and I take turns going out upon the staging to turn the pipe, with like success each time, not being able to move it at all. However, as the smoke poured out more and more with every extra whiff of the wind, and promised to add a seasoning to our cooking which we had not intended, we went each time to test our strength, hoping the emergency had brought an addition. Some strangers called, and, in a room sixteen feet by twelve, containing lounge, table, eight trunks, two dry goods' boxes, and chest, besides chairs, there was no extra room.

25th. -- Doctor accompanied three other gentlemen upon a tour of discovery into the country two or three hundred miles. They will be gone ten days. They dined with us before leaving. They are used to the simplicity of Kansas fare at present, else I would have been embarrassed in setting it before them. An old gentleman will do errands and take care of everything in doctor's absence. We hear the wolves howling at night, and the bells on the cattle that have an attachment for this hill keep me awake.

26th. -- A most delightful day. It seemed wicked not to gather new life and cull enjoyment from the bright skies and blooming prairies. Soon had the horse put into harness, and was bounding over them. We wanted to call upon a friend, who was of our party, from Massachusetts. We could see her house plainly from ours, but took the wrong road when nearly there.

We came upon an abrupt ravine, and the young lady with me said she must get out. I tried to persuade her to remain -- that I would take her safely over; but my persuasions were useless, and she alighted. "Old Gray" and I went through it alone, all right. We soon, however, came upon a second ravine, where even he declined going. He said, as plainly as words could, that he wouldn't go; but in a twinkling he started off a little to the right, and came upon another and more traveled road, where there was a bridge, rudely constructed, but safe. A few minutes more passed, and we met our friend at her little log cabin door. Everything looked comfortable, she was glad to see us, and we enjoyed our call much. We took a different route home, and found so many beautiful flowers, each one seeming more lovely than the last, that we hardly could be satisfied unless we gathered them all.

27th. -- In the afternoon, horse and buggy were again put into requisition for a two miles' drive in search of the friend we met at the mission. She had lived nearly all her life in Boston, and was wholly unaccustomed to hardships, and unused to many things in domestic economy with which country people are familiar, although they may never have lent their own hands to the work. By instinct, almost, we found the cabin on the edge of a bluff, looking as if some high wind might take it over; but the door opened upon a finely rolling prairie, dotted all over with flowers, which, in variety of color, vied with the rainbow.

The cabin was of wood, and small, yet with bed nicely dressed in snowy linen, little table with white cover, upon which were placed a Chinese work-box and vase of bowers, easy-chairs, of home manufacture, just ready for the stuffed covers; a stranger would at once perceive that the presiding genius of all, fragile and slight, dressed in gingham of the smallest plaid, with linen collar, had come from far New England; and, whether the home be humble or lofty, elegance and taste would bring out their treasures to make it pleasant. Her husband, a New Yorker by birth, by profession a lawyer, a poet, and musician, allured by the health giving clearness of Kansas atmosphere, had sought and found that inestimable treasure. He came in while we were there; had driven home a cow just purchased. It was decided, against my earnest protest, that she should be milked, and that I should carry the milk home with me. It was but four o'clock in the afternoon -- an unusual time for milking, I was sure; but they thought one time would do as well as another, and persisted in it, and I carried home the first milking, which proved much to my chagrin when I heard of it the last for that day.

29th. -- We attended church. How strangely everything appeared! The hall where the meetings are held is in a two-story wooden building. It is simply boarded with cotton-wood, and that to a person in the country, is explanation sufficient of its whole appearance; for the sun here soon curls the boards, every one shrinking from every other, leaving large cracks between. For a desk to support the gilded, morocco-covered Bible, sent to the Plymouth church, a rough box, turned endwise, and standing near one end of the hall, was used. The singers, with seraphine, were seated upon one side of the preacher, while upon the other side, also fronting the desk, were other seats -- rough boards, used until the settees are finished. All this seemed rough and uncouth, and at the first moment we felt that two thousand miles lay between us and the pleasant sanctuaries of our fathers, where they tread the aisles on soft carpets, listen to the word read from its resting-place of richest velvet, and to the pealing organ's deep, rich tones. But when we looked upon the pleasant faces around us, so familiar all in look, in manner, in attire, and the services commenced with the singing of hymns learned long ago, and we heard, in the persuasive, winning tones of the preacher, the same heavenly truths which will render one's life here as holy as elsewhere, let us so will it, we felt that New England was in our midst. We realized more fully the truth, which has been pervading our thoughts for many days, that "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." Happiness does not consist in the furnishings of the upholsterer. It may be as pure and unalloyed in "gypsy tent as in palace hall." Most of us have come to this far-away land, with a mission in our hearts, a mission to the dark-browed race, and hoping here to stay the surging tide of slavery, to place that barrier which utters, in unmistakable language, "Thus far shalt thou go, and no further." This unlocks our hearts to each other, and at once we recognize a friend actuated by like sympathies and hopes.

At the Sabbath school many children were gathered, who entered with zest into the exercises, while there were learners older in years, young men, buoyant in the active life opening before them, and some with whom gray hairs were honorable.

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