PIONEER HISTORY OF KANSAS
by Adolph Roenigk
INTERESTING EXPERIENCES OF
Comical Incidents Which Happened on the Homestead.
The first season of our attempt to farm on the homestead was in 1870. We had not been there in time to plant a crop, except some sod corn, which proved a failure. The season was dry and no crops were raised by the older settlers who were living along the river and creeks. In the beginning we had not really known what the country was good for--whether it was best adapted to corn or wheat; in fact, many of the settlers had no faith in either. In the light of more recent events, we now see why fifty years of painful experience were required to demonstrate the fitness of the great plains of Kansas to become the breadbox of North America. At the time of which I write the outlook was extremely discouraging.
A younger brother of my sisters husband, whom we shall know in this narrative as Lars, and I each had taken a homestead, as has been told in another chapter, located in what is now Bloom Township, Clay County, Kansas. Our few articles of person property were held in common. They consisted of a yoke of large native work oxen, a breaking plow and a few other tools. Each of us had some money in his pocket. We were breaking prairie, trying to open up farms when the drought set in. Our living and all other expenses were paid out of our pockets which caused our money to dwindle rapidly with nothing in sight with which to replenish it.
One day I went out to where Lars was breaking prairie and we both sat down on the plowbeam to talk the matter over. On our way out we had passed through parts of the country where settlers had obtained a start, and we noticed they depended much on their cattle and livestock and apparently they were doing well. We reasoned that what others had done, we could do. Our knowledge as well as our capital was limited. We had, of course, good land, grass and plenty of water, three of the essentials of successful stock farming. In addition we had our strong arms and young courageous hearts, very valuable assets. While the crops were burned up by the drought, there was always plenty of nutritious grass.
When I proposed to my partner that we go into the stock business he consented at once. Our limited means and the high
price of native cattle would not have allowed us to buy more than a small herd. So we concluded to buy Texas cattle, which were cheaper, as by doing so we could buy a larger herd and thereby make more money.
At that time the Texas cattle market was located at Abilene, which was within fifty miles of our homesteads. Great herds of the long-horns were driven from the south part of Texas to the ranges of Kansas and Nebraska, thence to the few shipping points on the few railroads that had been built thus far into the west.
Having decided fully to put our plan into execution, we made our first move by visiting the great cattle market to post ourselves, and there we bought a couple of ponies--a sorrel and a grey--which we would need for herding, as barbed wire for making fence had not yet been invented and board or other fences, for various reasons, were out of the question. We set about building a corral and making hay for the winter. In order to post ourselves more fully we occasionally visited the great heads that were constantly passing on the trail to Nebraska, which trail ran along the west line of our county within six miles of our farms. These herds usually consisted of from two to three thousand head, and often many more. These droves were accompanied by cowboys, often to the number of twenty or more, and the camp wagons or supply train and a big string of horses and ponies.
At the head of Mulberry Creek there was always plenty of water, consequently it was a favorite halting place for the mess wagons, and here we could see and talk to the men while they were eating their dinner. While we were making one of these calls on a passing herd we were informed by the manager in charge that one of their horses had been bitten by a rattlesnake a day or two previously. Moving along with the herd had caused the swelling of one of his legs clear up to his body--in fact, the unfortunate animal was in such a condition that he was unable to go any farther. In those days Kansas had an abundance of rattlesnakes, as I have noted in another chapter, and whiskey was considered the best antidote for their bite, so for safety we always kept a quart on our premises. Having informed the owner of this fact, he asked us to take the horse with us and see if we could cure him, offering remuneration if we succeeded in doing so. The horse owner stated his intention of calling on his return from Nebraska to Texas to get the animal
in case we cured him.
We took the horse home with us and drenched him with our quart of whiskey and sent over to Clay Center for an additional half gallon, which we also poured down him. By and by we noticed by his wabbling around that he was affected; by the uncertainty of his steps we saw that he was pretty well intoxicated, but still with this large quantity of liquor in his stomach the animal was not in the condition I had seen men in, after taking a pint, which established in my mind a new statistical fact; that the lower animals are as well fitted to indulge in vice as the superior human being.
We also bathed the swollen limb with a tea made of wild sage which grew on the prairie and was considered very good in such cases. In a few days the swelling went down and with good care we soon had a fine looking horse. But after we had saved his life that horse was about as grateful as some people, who, after recovering from a severe spell of sickness, refuse to pay the doctor bill.
At this time we were living alone on the wide prairie. Some of the homesteads in our neighborhood had been taken, but six months time was allowed by law in which to make settlement and the people who were to become our neighbors had not yet arrived. Our nearest neighbors were three miles distant. They were two bachelor friends, boys like ourselves, living near the Republican River.
One Sunday we had planned to pay these boys a visit, expecting to ride over on our ponies. Lars brought up the now fully recovered snake bitten horse, intending, as he was a very showy horse, to ride him, and I was to ride one of our own. Lars was a thoroughly good fellow, but at times somewhat stubborn, a fault which sometimes required some little diplomacy on my part to overcome, but notwithstanding this little defect we had been getting along finely together. He did claim to possess a superior knowledge of how to conduct most affairs, and when he got a notion in his head nothing but actual experience to the contrary would suffice to change him. Often boys in their teens know more than at any other time of life. Lars had never got over the affliction peculiar to boys, known as the big head. He had been reared on a farm and was early accustomed to handling horses.
More than on any other one thing Lars prided himself on
his abilities as a horseman. Now, I was never greatly impressed with his abilities in that particular direction, as I had noticed him falling short on some of his calculations, As he was two years older than I was, and in most disputes, in the interest of peace, I usually gave in, especially when the outcome was apt to be uncertain, or I expected something unforseen might happen. So at this time when Lars made the claim that it was his right to be the first to have the honor of riding the new horse, I gracefully yielded. Lars saddled the horse, but on mounting, at the first jump a number of feet of blue sky could be seen between the rider and the saddle; at the second buck of the horse Lars struck the ground with a sound thump. The horse, after this easy victory, retreated, snorting, a rod or two away, where he very quietly went to eating grass.
Presently Lars gathered himself up, holding both hands in the region of his stomach were the saddle horn had struck him. Hobbling towards the house, he exclaimed, Dear me! Dear Me!--he might have thought, You low-down fifteen-dollar cayuse, Ill have your hearts blood for this. The saddle horn had torn in at the crotch of his new seven-dollar trousers and ripped them clear to the waist-band. Many of the pioneers brought good clothes with them when first settling on their claims, but when these wore out a few years later these same people were glad to be able to obtain overalls and common calico.
To resume the account of Lars mishap, I caught and unsaddled the horse and tied him back on the picket rope. We still had our well broken ponies to ride and did not need the convalescent; and come to think of it, it did not look as if we wanted him very badly anyway.
While Lars was at the house changing his trousers I went to get the pony I had usually ridden, the sorrel. Like the other pony, he had been afflicted with saddle and girth sores, the result of an eight hundred or a thousand mile trip from the most distant part of Texas, but these were now healed. His condition was fine and he was nice and sleek. I hopped on his back, thinking to ride him bare backed up to our sod house, but he, too, making a couple of jumps piled me over his head, but I, being active and supple, was not hurt in the least.
Gathering myself up, I took the horses bridle rein and led him the rest of the way, telling Lars what had happened to me. The Texas cowboys never rode bare backed, and the pony, not
being used to it, did not respect a bareback rider, and I now remarked that henceforth I never expected to attempt to ride in that fashion.
It makes no difference, sneered Lars, it was simply poor horsemanship. His rough experience of less than an hour before had not shaken his confidence in himself. I will ride him, he boastfully stated. I had always ridden him and intended to do so this time. I place my saddle on the horse, cinching it tight. As I was about to mount, I noticed that the whites of the horses eyes had taken on an alarming look. I knew what was coming and hesitated a moment. Lars stood near, and when he saw this he jeeringly cried out, Aint you going to get on? Let me get on. I gave him the reins and told him to hold them tight and not let the horse get the start of him, but Lars paid no attention to what I said. Leaping to the saddle, he drove in the spurs in regular cowboy fashion.
Well, that pony surely registered action. He made but three or four jumps to get under good bucking headway and then I saw Lars cutting a part of a circle through the air about the shape of a rainbow, alighting head first as if he were trying to plow the ground with the side of his face. There he lay motionless for a moment, but before I got to him he came to, gathered himself up and exclaimed, Oh, my neck! my neck is broke! Shoot him! Shoot him! He kept this up after I had assisted him to the house. The pony, like the other, only a short distance away, went on quietly grazing as if it were a part of his regular daily routine. I looked at him and than at my rifle standing in the corner of the sod house. That pony was completely spoiled for our further use. If we could not use him we would become the laughing stock of the other boys; besides the horse was also unsalable except as a five dollar outlaw. Lars had a half interest in him but was willing to lose it if I killed him; but I held my temper and the pony was allowed to live.
Lars was a pretty sight. One side of his face was skinned, his nose was either broken or badly stove up, so it pointed to one side of his face, but the worst thing was his neck, which he insisted was broken. This necessitated by going to town for a doctor. I now brought up the third bony. Could I ride him without getting disabled myself? was the question. I saddled and mounted him with greatest caution, and luckily he made no trouble. I had no sympathy now for Texas ponies and rode
this one the fastest twelve miles he had ever traveled in his life, arriving at Clay Center only to find that the doctor was out of town. So I crossed over the Republican River to Republican City, a town of only a few houses, where lived a Doctor Gellispie, whom I luckily found at home. Learning my errand he saddled his horse at once and we were soon on our way. When I told the doctor how it had happened and the condition of Lars face and nose, his first inquiry was, Is he a married man? to which I answered, No, and I added, this accident will put that happy time still farther away as it is not going to be a beauty maker.
On our arrival we found that Lars had revived considerably and was sitting up. The doctor gave him some arnica to use on his various hurts, charged him five dollars as a fee for the visit, and took his departure for home.
Right then was a very busy time with us, as we were making hay to winter those cattle we intended to buy. I had to hire a man in Lars place while he was sitting in the sodhouse for three solid weeks, nursing his neck and trying to straighten his nose. It seemed as if every time I came to the house I would find Lars holding a small looking glass in front of his face while trying to bend his nose in the right direction.
After that Lars was very reticent as to his special abilities as a horseman, and more than that, he would never have anything to do with that sorrel horse. We had bought them in partnership and had not yet settled upon individual ownership; he would not have that one under any consideration. In fact, I did not want him either. Finally Lars offered to take choice of the two ponies and give me five dollars to boot, which offer he accompanied with a nice line to talk, and I gave in as usual.
After all, this sorrel pony proved to be a blessing in disguise. I wanted to learn to ride, and he was just what I needed to practice on. I mounted him again and again, and of course was dumped many times. I finally stuck him, for good, as the cowboy says. I now felt fit and would have tried to ride the snake-bit, but the owner came by and got him, paying us twenty dollars for curing him.
After three weeks nursing, Lars was again able to take his place in the hayfield, but never succeeded in getting the crook out of his nose. Within a year he sold his claim, planning to follow other occupations. The last time I saw him the effect of his fall was still to be seen. However, this blemish did not in-
terfere with his matrimonial prospects, as he married some years later and raised a large family. His wife died, and he was married a second time and is now living in California.
In making inquiry about old-timers, I learned that Dr. Gellispie afterwards lived for some years in Salina, Kansas.
Some further homesteading experiences will be found elsewhere in this work, but nowhere, here or in other chronicles of the early settlement of Kansas, will be found recorded a truer stated incident than the foregoing true tale of inexperienced horsemanship, a venomous reptile, equally potent spirits, and a happy outcome. Hero, heroine, villains, all, heavy and light, survived.