Dick Taylor produced this selection.

Elizabeth (Totten) Thorne's
Life on the Plains

    Before Kansas had become a state, George Thorne of Marshall County claimed young Hannah Elizabeth Totten as his brand-new bride in the year of 1860.  Elizabeth married at the early age of 15 just like her mother, Susan (Posten), who had tied the matrimonial knot during an Iowa autumn of 1844 with a 19-year-old Brandford, NY, native named Joseph Totten.

    Only two months before Mrs. Elizabeth (Totten) Thorne's death near the beginning of the First World War, she took time to document a little description of early-day pioneer experiences which occurred on the raw frontier of Kansas Territory six decades earlier.

    All the following text is from Emma Forter's History of Marshall County, Kansas (1917):


Beattie, Kansas
February 14, 1917

Dear Mrs. Forter:

Replying to your request to tell you something of old times: I came here from Maryville, Missouri, where I had three months schooling, before coming to Kansas with my father, Joseph Totten.  There were six children in our family.  There were no schools to go to here and there were more Indians than white people.

Mrs. Emma Jones, formerly Totten, taught the first school in our district.  We had to have three months school taught before we could draw any state money.  My brother, John Totten, and Frank Lannan went to Blue Rapids and paid tuition for three months school.

Soon after the neighbors got together and organized a district named Guittard, and then they had three months more school.  But three months school was all I ever had.

Yes, I plowed five acres of ground with an ox team.  The boys helped plant the corn.  We then had to harvest with an ox team.

In 1860 I was married to George W. Thorne and we went on a farm where we lived five years.  There was only one house between here and Marysville and that was a ranch kept for the traveler.


I remember one night I started after my father who had gone on foot to Marysville after the doctor and I met him about halfway.  My father used to go to St. Jo for provisions and once he brought out two cats, for which he paid a dollar apiece in St. Jo.

If we had a calico dress, it was good enough for church or dances.  And if I wanted a new dress I would go and drop corn for fifteen cents a day and earn the money for the dress.

To obtain the first feather bed I had, I husked corn for fifty cents a day for my father and paid him one dollar apiece for the geese to get feathers to make the bed.

When I was married I had a home-made table, three stools and a cottonwood bedstead that Mr. Thorne made and I cooked over a fire-place.  I dropped ten acres of corn in one day and had three cows to milk.  I have husked more corn than half of the farmers raised last year.

After we got to raising corn to sell, my husband used to haul it to Ft. Kearney, where he sold it for one dollar a bushel and we could only get ten or eleven cents a bushel in Marysville.

We knew nothing of corn shellers and once shelled forty bushels by hand.  My husband used to go to St. Jo with an ox team for groceries and meat.  That was our nearest meat market.

The first wheat we raised was three acres and there came a prairie fire and burned it up.  When we raised wheat my husband cut it with a cradle and I bound it with straw and we threshed it with a flail.  We had to take it to Table Rock, Nebraska, to mill, which took four or five days and I had to stay at home and do the chores.

There were plenty of Indians around, too, with whiskey to drink.  If I wanted to go and visit a neighbor I would walk four or five miles and stay all night and come home the next day.

When we wanted to write to a friend, we had to go to the hen house, get a quill to make a pen and make ink out of maple bark.

My family consisted of ten girls and one son, George W. Thorne, of Beattie.  Ten of our children graduated from the Beattie schools.  I am now seventy-one years old.

With best wishes,


   Mrs. Elizabeth Thorne died on Tuesday, April 17, 1917, and was buried Thursday afternoon, April 19.  She was seventy-one years, six months and nine days old.  She had been a resident of Marshall county since 1858.  She was a daughter of Joseph Totten, one of the pioneers of Marshall county.  Her husband, George W. Thorne, deceased, was another of the pioneers of Marshall county.  Mrs. Thorne was a splendid woman, kind, generous, faithful and true.  Her influence in the community was always for the good and for the advancement of the things which went for community betterment.

Mrs. Thorne was present at the pioneers' reunion at Marysville last fall and registered on the roll of old settlers.  Only a very few enrolled who antedated her in residence in Marshall county.  The last writing Mrs. Thorne did was the foregoing sketch for this History of Marshall County.