Kansas Collection Books: The Abolitionist, by George W. Schiller

Chapter 7:
Life at Barrett's Mill

     Mary's main concern was the safety of her children and she made every effort to familiarize them with the outdoor hazards around their new home. Jane and Winifred were a great help with the housework, while William watched over little Cyrus. Mary found time to continue the children's schooling until a new school could be established. Albert taught his children about life on the plains, starting with the history that had led to their living at Barrett's Mill.

     Following the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, in the early 1800's, President Jefferson sent explorers Lewis and Clark to explore the new addition to America. While they covered the Missouri river basin and headwaters, they did little to add to information about the Great Plains.

     Major Stephen Long of the U. S. Army was one of the first white men to explore the new Louisiana Territory west of Missouri River as far as the Rocky Mountains. In 1819 and 1820 he passed through northern Kansas and crossed the Big Blue River near the present town of Marysville. He mentioned in his report that there was a westward flow of trappers, traders, and mountain men en route to the territories toward the mountains and beyond to the Pacific and Northwest Coasts.

     A band of Mormons recorded crossing the Big Blue River at Independence Crossing in 1847. In 1849, Lieutenant Standberry, also of the U. S. Army, laid out the Military Trail from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Kearny, in Nebraska, crossing the Big Blue River near the junction of the Big and Little Blue Rivers. Prior to that time there were few permanent white settlements in the area, only a few transient trappers and traders along

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major rivers. His report indicated that it was possible to travel the area with wagons and carts, rather than just horses and pack animals, which gave impetus to the westward movement along the Oregon-California Trail to the west coast.

     Before migrating to the western territories, the prospective immigrants were often told stories of Indians and their savage attacks on newly-arrived settlers. However, newcomers in the Marshall County area were not harassed as often as expected. The U. S. government had made treaties with several eastern Indian tribes such as the Otoes, Missouris, Iowas, Sacs and Fox, and Pottowatomies. In exchange for their land, these eastern tribes were moved west to Great Plains reservations. The Otoes and Missouris were assigned to a reservation that lay along the proposed Nebraska-Kansas border in Nebraska. It was ten miles wide and twenty-five miles long. Due to inadequate border markings, it overlapped two miles into Kansas, across northern Marshall County. These tribes were generally peaceful tribes but were not familiar with living on the open prairies. Missionaries and government supervisors came to live on the reservation for the purpose of educating the Indians and teaching them Great Plains ways of living. Schools and churches were built and the Indians were allotted food rations of corn meal, cured meat, and other prepared foods. The Indian tribes generally resisted many of the white man's ways of living, although they were dependent on the government for food, clothing and shelter.

     Administration of the reservation was poorly supervised and often the food rations were late in arriving, or at times, not at all. Often their corn rations were in the form of whole corn and the Indians were instructed to take the corn to Barrett's mill to be ground into meal. The Indians would arrive and wait their turn for grinding. While waiting,

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they spent their time camped below the mill making bows and arrows, arrowheads, and other weapons for hunting small game. They also made clothing items from deerskin, hoping to exchange these items for more food. The Otoes were sometimes overly friendly. When their food rations did not arrive on time, they were often hungry and would appear, unannounced, in Mary's kitchen asking for food, or at the mill begging for corn meal and flour. Albert usually charged a "toll" for grinding the corn and had extra meal available. He would give them some cornmeal and other food to tide them over until their supplies arrived. Mary always fed them, and they never went away hungry. On one occasion, Mary had baked a number of fruit pies to feed her crew. She lined them up on the pantry windowsill to cool. When she came back to get them, several had disappeared. Sitting alongside the wall outside were several Indians devouring her hot pies, complaining about their burned fingers. The Otoes were not above scrounging for food no matter what or where it was. They did not cooperate with the missionaries and teachers, preferring to pursue their native customs and way of life. They were later moved to reservations in Oklahoma.

     Indian legends record that in the days of Indian warfare against neighboring tribes, the Plains Indians would paint their faces black at the western Blue River tributary. As they traveled east and came to the second branch of the Vermillion river, they would paint their faces vermillion red. Thus, the two rivers became known as the Black Vermillion River and the Red Vermillion River. Barrett's Mill was located on the Black Vermillion River.

     As the Quakers settled into their new lives on the prairie, more normal events began to take place. In 1854, Mrs. Teller gave birth to the first white child born in the

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area. In 1855, Mary Barrett gave birth to a baby boy, Thomas, but he died before his first birthday. Due to the lack of medical facilities and doctors, infant mortality rate was high. In 1858, Mary later gave birth to a baby girl she named Phoebe. The census-taker later misspelled Phoebe's name and she became "Phebe," a name she used the rest of her life.

     As soon as it was possible, the settlers put into practice the customs and beliefs they brought with them. They believed that education and religion should be high on their priority list. Sisters-in-law Mary and Winifred Barrett (Mrs. Isaac Walker), who between them had seven school-aged children, rode around the area organizing a school district and soliciting funds to hire a schoolteacher. The school district, officially established in 1858, later became Marshall County School District No. 1 and functioned until 1959. Dan Leavitt, J. S. Parthemer, and Albert Barrett served on the first school board. The first teacher was John Crawford, whose salary was paid by private funds; Mrs. Travelute was the first teacher to be paid out of public funds.

     The earliest schoolhouse was a 14x20 foot structure built with lumber donated by Albert Barrett. Eventually it became too small and in 1870 was replaced by a 30 x 46-foot limestone building. By 1896, there were 80 students enrolled, and a second limestone room was added. This limestone structure still stands, although it is badly in need of repairs.

     In 1857, the first religious services were held by lantern-light in Albert's mill. Later a church was built on land donated by an early settler, Horace Sage. Until a permanent preacher could be found, most of these services were conducted by traveling circuit riders. The pioneer women established the first missionary society.

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     In addition to the land donated for the church, Horace Sage also donated land for the Barrett cemetery, one-half mile south of the original town site. This cemetery was maintained as a beautiful final resting-place for many early settlers and their descendants.

     Social life at Barrett's Mill remained alive and well in the late1850s. Hungry for sociability, the settlers sometimes held dances at the mill, the only building large enough to accommodate a group of people. There was always someone in the neighborhood who was musically inclined and had an instrument to play. Violins, sometimes called fiddles, were popular, as were guitars, mouth harps, and banjos. There was even a set of drums.

     Some of the musically inclined settlers put out the word that they were gathering together on a Saturday for a picnic and barn dance at Barrett's Mill. Everyone was invited. Saturday morning found some of the group butchering a steer and putting it into the barbecue pit for roasting. The women were baking and preparing all sorts of good things to eat, including many garden vegetables. Green roasting ears of field corn were gathered and laid beside the barbecue fire, ready for roasting. Sourdough bread and corn bread were baked in Mary Barrett's large kitchen. Pies made from wild fruits and berries appeared by the dozens along with cakes and other goodies. Each family brought something good to eat. It promised to be a gala affair.

     By mid-afternoon the settlers began to arrive in buckboards, wagons, on horseback, and on foot from far and near. Long tables were set up in the mill yard and covered with clean cloths. As the afternoon sun dipped, the barbecued beef was hauled out of the pit and the roasting ears tossed onto the bed of coals. Food was set out

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and the feasting began. The fare was plain, but plentiful and delicious. The Quakers frowned upon intoxicating drinks, but then not all of the settlers were Quakers. Staunch churchman that he used to be, Albert tended to overlook the imbibing of corn liquor on special occasions.

     The babies and children were fed first and sent off to play. As darkness settled in, the mothers gathered their babies and youngsters and took them to the Barrett home close by, where several mothers told bedtime stories and rocked the little ones to sleep. The room was cool and quiet, dimly lit with a single kerosene lamp. The sleeping babies were laid out on beds and each was covered with an identifying blanket. A grandmother volunteered to watch over the little ones. The other women adjourned to the mill as the dancing began.

     The mill room was crowded with boisterous couples who danced to all sorts of music from the fiddles, banjos, drums and guitars. The ladies lined one side of the room, while the men lined the other. Couples paired off and continued dancing late into the night.

     Two mischievous young bachelors grew weary of dancing and conceived an idea for a practical joke. They quietly stole next door to the bedroom where the children as well as the grandmother were sleeping. The young men very gently switched the identifying blankets on the sleeping babies and then slipped back to the dance floor and later disappeared. Their deed was done.

     At midnight the "pickup" band played "Goodnight Ladies," and the women went to gather their sleeping children while the men brought around their buggies, wagons and horses. They all were tired and, after the ladies had gathered their youngsters, they

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dropped off to sleep as they headed home. Many of the families were several hours away from home and did not arrive until after daylight. It was not until the women unwrapped the babies and attempted to feed them that they discovered the two young men's disastrous deed: they had someone else's baby! The return trip to the mill to reclaim their own babies was even longer and more tiring than before. The two young rascals who had perpetrated the joke had disappeared and were not identified until later. This incident could well have been the first unintentional kidnapping in the territory.

     Politics grew along with the village. Several political parties were emerging in the territory. Albert became active in the Republican Party and served for eight years as Chairman of the County Central Committee. Later, he became disillusioned with the Republicans and switched his support to the Union Labor Party. In later years, Albert switched again, to the Democratic Party, and helped build it to a party of strength.

     Settlers in the northern part of the county around Marysville dominated early elections in Marshall County. In January and February 1855, B. H. Twombly took the first territorial census. This unofficial survey showed there were 36 men of voting age: 30 Americans and 6 foreigners. Women did not have voting privileges.

     In March the first election was held in what was to be Marshall County to elect one Representative and one Council member to attend the first Territorial Legislative Council at Pawnee, an Army post on the Kaw River. It had been declared the first Territorial capital. The election in Marshall County was held at Frank Marshall's general store in Marysville. The ballot box was placed on a barrel that had been placed in the loft above the store. Each voter would climb the ladder into the loft far enough for the judges to see his head, and he would call out his name. He would be then deposit his ballot in

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the box on the barrel. Upon his return to the main floor, he would be awarded a drink of rotgut whiskey. No one challenged the voters, and each one could vote as many times as he could climb the ladder to the loft and call out a name. A voter nicknamed "Shanghai," from Weston, Missouri, jumped onto a chair and offered to bet anyone that he had voted more times than any other that night. No one counted how many times he had voted. It was later revealed that he was using a registration book from St. Louis for new names to vote under.

     Hordes of pro-slavery Missourians in buggies, wagons and on horseback, most from Frank Marshall's hometown of Weston, Missouri, invaded Marysville, voted, and returned home the next day. Although there were only 36 people in the area who were qualified to vote, Frank Marshall and John Donaldson each received 328 votes for Representative and Council member! Both attended the first Territorial Convention. Although this first election in the northeast part of the Kansas Territory was fraudulent, it was not the last of the area's incidents of illegal political activity.

     As the sawmill grew and thrived, producing thousands of board-feet of choice lumber, the settlers' crude log cabins were replaced with more modern and comfortable houses. As the sawmill prospered, Albert purchased all rights to both the sawmill and the gristmill from the original shareholders, the members of the Kansas-Ohio Quaker Colony who had originally pooled their funds to purchase the mills. He kept a full crew of men working at the mills, the blacksmith shop, and the general store.

     Because there was no eating establishment in Barrett's Mill, Mary's kitchen was a very important spot in the village. With the aid of her two daughters, Jane and Winifred, and other domestic help, Mary often fed as many as twenty workers at her table, as well

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as her family. The kitchen was purposely large and well equipped. On one side was a four-foot long dough-trough in which she fermented her bread dough overnight. Each evening, she would set up sponge dough from flour, water, starter and other ingredients to be baked the next day in the large oven of her cast-iron cookstove, which was wood-fired with slabs from the sawmill. Whole wheat bread and corn bread were always in generous supply at most of the meals Mary prepared. Each week after the butchering was done, either wild game or domestic livestock added to her bountiful table. Those who ate at Mary Barrett's table were always well fed.

     Pioneer women learned to be self-sufficient in many ways. Mary kept a large iron kettle just outside her kitchen door. Each day ashes cleared from the stoves were deposited in the kettle. On occasion Mary would add water and stir the ashes with a wooden paddle. After a time she would pour off the liquid and combine it with rendered fat save from butchering and bring it to a boil. After cooling, the congealed fat would harden and Mary would cut it into small chunks to be used as soap for almost any household cleaning use.

     Although some clothing was available in the general store, pioneer women would spend long winter evenings spinning and carding wool into yarn to be used to make clothing. They also learned to copy the Indian methods of curing and making clothing from deer and buffalo hides.

     The population of the Quaker colony, Barrett's Mill, continued to grow. There were already a few French mountain men and their Indian squaws settled on the banks of the Vermillion when the Quakers arrived. However, they moved away as white settlers moved in. The Quaker colony, which included such men as Dan C. Auld, John

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Roland, J. C. Radcliffe, and William S. Blackburn, grew larger in 1857 with the arrival of W. H. Auld, P. Gregg, Benjamin McElroy, Leonard Cutler, W. T. Drinnel, C. W. Laudenberger, William Morrison, R. S. Newell, the Burell family, and Peter Trosper. In addition, several members of the Barrett family who had agreed to follow Albert to Kansas arrived. Nearly all these settlers were abolitionists who came to help promote slavery-free settlement of the territory.

     Albert became titular head of the colony as much by accident as by design. Some of the pioneers who grew discouraged and wished to return to their homeland came to Albert, hoping to sell their pre-empted parcels of land for whatever they could receive for it. Albert would buy these parcels at market value. In a short time he accumulated a substantial amount of land in Marshall County. In reality, he became a real estate dealer.

     Travel along the Oregon Trail dropped off during the winter months for a number of reasons. However, the advent of warm spring weather found the wagon trains rolling again. The factor that determined the beginning date for travel along the Trail was the weather, which in turn determined the height of the prairie grasses. Travel-wise "wagon bosses" insisted that the grass be six inches high before they started their travels. It was the native prairie grasses that sustained the oxen, horses, and mules which moved the wagon trains westward.

     The nearest rest stop prior to Barrett's Mill was a camp near Westmoreland. Just north of that stop the Trail divided. One branch headed for the Elizabeth Crossing of the Vermillion River

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near Bigelow. Although the distance to Alcove Springs by this route was shorter than through Barrett's Mill, the lowland river bottoms of the Vermillion River were difficult to traverse during wet weather. The longer branch to Barrett's Mill was over hills and higher ground. There was campground, a blacksmith shop, and a general store at Barrett's Mill, which made it was a good place to rest, repair wagons, and secure needed supplies. Also, those in need of health care could find comfort there. No one was ever turned away.

     Albert envisioned that someday his little village would become a major trading center and he often offered jobs at his mill to competent craftsmen passing along the Trail westward. He hoped that some enterprising manufacturing company would add to the little businesses already flourishing there. The village became a welcome rest area for weary travelers to repair their wagons, their lagging spirits, and their weary bodies after many days of slow travel. Barrett's Mill became known for its hospitality up and down the Oregon Trail.

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