KanColl Books


by Adolph Roenigk

Mr. J. W. Hopkins Tells of Some Incidents that Went to Make
Up the Youth of the Pioneer; The Little Arkansas Valley
in 1870 a debatable place; Come Home, Sonny,
Come Home.

     The Little Arkansas Valley in 1870 was a veritable sports man’s Paradise; buffalo, antelope, turkey and prairie chicken were extremely plentiful. In the spring of ‘72 we made a trip to the lake where Inman now stands and secured nearly a half wagon load of water fowl, swans, cranes, geese, brants, and ducks of many varieties. All in a hunt of only two days duration. The most unskilled hunter could bag a big string of those delicious, migratory birds in a half day’s time.
     Long before white settlement, the place where Blackkettle Creek joins the Little Arkansas, where Halsted is now located, was a noted spot. One of the best fords was here, and the bend in the river just below was a favorite camping place for the Kaws. The rescue by a detachment of Custer’s cavalry of a party of freighters who were hemmed in by a band of Cheyennes under Black Kettle, also occurred at this place. But for the timely appearance of the soldiers, the freighters would have been exterminated. The Indians often visited us--often hundreds in the band. It was a favorite saying that they would steal the tires from the wagon wheels while you were driving on a trot. The Cheyennes were very sullen and ugly; still smarting from the terrible chastisement administered to them by Custer in the fight on the Washita, where Black Kettle and many warriors were slain.
     The Kaws and the Cheyennes both claimed the locality as their hunting grounds, the former, under Ka-he-ga-wa-ti-an-ga, or “Fool Chief,” were no match for the Cheyennes, and lived in constant fear of them.
     The dugouts and “dobies” built by the first settlers, while quite comfortable when first made, were soon preempted by

Note: It was during this fight that one of the cruelties made imperative by the stern necessities of war was enacted; the capture made from the Indians included about five hundred ponies. As the soldiers were already well mounted and could not take any extra horses along, the entire herd of innocent, but unfortunate equines were shot, the time required for this massacre being over an hour.


mice and other rodents, and then, in turn, by snakes. To awaken in the morning and find your bunk had been shared by a rattler, was quite “upsettive.” After two experiences of this kind, a board house was considered a necessity, and although some of the material, including the shingles, were hauled over a hundred miles, the house was built.
     My father being a justice of peace, many trials of “bad men,” horse thieves, malefactors, etc., were held in the small sitting room of this old cabin home. Our first Sunday School was a movable affair and covered a large territory; meetings were held at the homes of the settlers in rotation.
     Part of the facts in the following are taken from a book written by a resident of Caldwell, and if there is any misstatement, it can be traced to the guilty party, and the writer of this volume will shoulder the remainder. Caldwell, in 1873 was not the thriving city we now find, but a sort of a wart on the earth, not like the hero of novel, “born of poor but respectable parents” but like Topsy, not born at all--”Just growed up.”
     Life at times grew monotonous for the idler, the cowboy and the Texas steer. If there was nothing doing, they must start something. Lucky were the peaceful dwellers of Caldwell when the mind of the cowboy turned to frolic and fun, for then he was an entertaining individual. His fearful oaths were stowed away for a more fitting time; his death dealing six-shooter was snugly tucked in its holster, his keen bowie turned point downward and mirth and merriment reigned supreme.
     While in this admirable state of mind a bunch of cowboys and idlers in Caldwell concluded to hold a Kangaroo Court, only their plan involved the very respectable Justice by the name of Fox (by the way his name did not assist his perceptive powers much in this instance) as judge, he being entirely innocent of any thing irregular taking place. Two attorneys were also engaged, they also being in perfect good faith. The officer who made the arrest was onto the game and also the witness. After the criminal was arrested and duly arraigned twelve witnesses were subpoeneaed and while these were being brought in, the leader of the joke was busy at a nearby saloon getting

Note: A settler in Western Kansas tells that after he had built his much prized “board house” the snakes that used to live in the walls of his dugout, took to living under the floor of his new house, where he could hear them quarreling in the summer for the coolest place, and in the winter for the warmest place.


the opposing lawyers “steamed up” for the trial. When about all the pressure they could bear had been raised, court was called to order and the trail began. Good order prevailed while the witnesses were giving their evidence, and after all the testimony was given to the court, a few minutes adjournment was taken to allow the lawyers to raise a little more steam. The entire crowd, jury and all, entered the saloon, and it was half an hour before court again resumed session.
     The lawyer on the defense was a very small man who usually went by the name of “Yank,” but he had a large share of conceit and professed great ability as a lawyer. He could make a good plea when well “steamed up.” The lawyer for the State having waived the opening speech, “Yank” took the floor and made a lengthy plea in favor of his client, but as soon as his steam began to run down, he weakened and took his seat. While “Yank” was speaking, the other lawyer was being tuned up with liberal drinks, and when he rose to make his rebuttal, he was “steamed up” to the highest notch and some to spare. He was a large man, well known throughout the west; he served as deputy sheriff of Cowley County before he came to Caldwell, and was elected several times to act as an officer in Sumner County. By his intimate friends he was known as “Bent.” He was a man of good reputation and had many excellent qualities as a citizen.
     As he rose to speak, the crowd, aware of his top-heavy condition, began to laugh, but order being restored, he began to speak in a somewhat rambling manner, the immense load of steam he had on interfering with his articulation. To keep an upright position, he took hold of the counter, and so with this assistance, was able to stand. After speaking a few minutes, he turned to the Justice and, looking him steadily in the face, raised himself to his entire height by standing on his tip-toes, and said, “Now, Mr. Court, as the people say bind him over, you say bind him over, and God says bind him over, and I say, by G--, bind him over.” While “Bent” was finding a seat, the audience was yelling with delight. The Justice was looking at the lawyers, then at the witnesses, meanwhile the crowd was shouting and hurrahing with appreciation of the novel scene. The Justice hesitated a few minutes, then the truth began to dawn upon him and he saw through the whole hoax. He saw the joke was on him with a big ”J,” for he had used all the dignity he could muster and looked very wise throughout the


trial. It was not hard to find an easy way out of the huge sell, so putting his hand in his pocket, he drew out a couple of dollars and said, “Gentlemen, you all know I do not drink, but you can take this and do as you please with it, and I hope it will pay all the costs that have accrued throughout this trial.” With a whoop, the whole court adjourned to the nearest saloon and drank to the health of Justice Fox.
     Evidently some of the niceties of present day courts were not fully understood by the legal profession of Caldwell in the early days, as this artless little tale will serve to show.
     Two men went out on a buffalo hunt together, and while on this hunt a horse was found, each man claiming the right of possession. One of the men took the horse and went home with it, whereupon the other swore out a writ of replevin. The matter was brought to trial in justice court, and as both parties were very bitter over he matter, a jury was drawn to hear the case.
     After the jury was duly sworn in the trial proceeded and peace reigned, until it came to delivering the verdict. Then the trouble began. The jury demanded their fees before they would give their verdict. The plaintiff and defendant both refused to pay the jury fees. The jury stood firm in their resolution, and as the hour was late, court adjourned until the following morning at 10 o’clock. The jury was taken away, given their supper and locked up. Everything was pleasant enough until about 9 o’clock when a new trouble arose.
     One of the jurors was a clerk in a store in Caldwell and his employer wanted him to start early the next morning to Wichita to bring a load of goods for the store. The officer in charge could not release the juror, so the merchant went to the justice to see what could be done. Presently the merchant and the Justice came to the officer and said that the clerk could tell the Justice what his decision was, and he would not give in the decision until the fees were paid. This was apparently satisfactory to all, so the clerk was excused and started early the next morning to Wichita. When court was called in the morning, the fees of all of the jurors were paid and the verdict rendered, but the case was appealed.
     One is led to conclude that they were badly in need of a little legal light, but Caldwell, like all frontier towns, was


officered by pioneers, who knew much of the law of right and might, but little of legal technicalities, which in this day, serve regardless of who is the injured party.
     In those days a “biled shirt” was such a rarity that an older brother and I having secured a pair of the scarce garments and donned them to attend Sunday School, one of our nearest neighbors very nearly passed us without being aware of our identity. In attendance upon this Sunday School were a number of settlers’ daughters, all marvels of grace and beauty. To pass an evening in company with one of those fair damsels was a cup of joy filled to the brim, but to walk home a distance of five or six miles, unarmed, was a most unpleasant final. I recollect once when an Indian scare was on, I was frightened by every dim object and moving shadow as I took on my solitary way across the lonely prairie. Any moment I expected a huge copper-colored savage to raise up from the grass and elevate my scalp. Had one really seized me by the hair he would have soon possessed my scalp, for I think I should have actually jumped out from under it.
     In reviewing events of those days, the voluntary abandonment of homesteads by so many of the first claimants seems the strangest of all occurrances. In the summer of 1873 I had as helper with our breaking outfit, a young man who was holding a fine homestead near by. One day he was very quiet. As he was usually very loquatious, I made some reference to his mood and he explained why he felt so gloomy. “I had a letter from mother,” he said, “and about all she wrote were the words, ‘Come home, Sammy, come home’ and,” he continued, “by---I am going.” When I spoke of his fine claim he only remarked, “The claim can go to ---, I’m going.” He went, and never returned. Rival contestants took possession of the claim and in the mix-up one of them was killed. The farm is easily worth $10,000 today. But the fathers and mothers of families; these proved the stayers. The fortune hunter, the get rich quick, and the speculator, the easily discouraged and timid ones faded away, while those noble fathers and mothers, the true empire builders, stayed. With a faith in the country almost prophetic, and for the children’s sake they stayed, and thus they overcame by labor and example the difficulties that lay in the path of the homeseekers.
     The old settlers are fast passing away; with folded hands


the few remaining now rest from their season of toil. If the Maxim of Lycurgis, the ancient law giver, were true, as unfortunately it does not seem to be, that “Peace has her victories no less renowned than War,” then those old settlers are entitled to a monument as great as those upreared to the memories of our military heroes. But our glorious commonwealth is their imperishable monument. Those determined and hardy settlers, by their labors and their sufferings, made her what she is and in this there is glory enough for all.

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