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

Chapter 12:
The Railroad Finally Comes

     Once the Civil War was over and Kansas Territory became full-fledged state in the Union, local governmental powers were installed and began to function. The United States Government completed their official surveys and established state boundaries, published maps and journals to establish boundary lines, and passed laws and held court proceedings to settle land disputes. The states joined the effort to build major roads, usually on longitude and latitude lines. Both state and counties developed a method of land location and description to identify the location and size of land parcels within the county. Taxes were assessed to support governmental functions and elections were held to fill the government offices. County governments were established and began to function in local affairs. The states established within the Louisiana Purchase flourished and grew to fulfill the dreams and promises of the early settlers, especially Kansas.

     After the development of legal description and identity of farms, it was possible for settlers to build houses, barns, and corrals to identify their boundaries and control their livestock, not an easy task. In 1873, Joseph Glidden of DeKalb, Illinois, invented and began to produce barbed wire. This was two strands of wire woven together with sharp pointed barbs protruding. It could be purchased on spools to be unwound and fastened to posts to form an enclosure to contain livestock and also identify the farm boundaries. The wire was a boon for farmers, but a bane to cattlemen. It effectively put an end to the Free-Range option that cattlemen had enjoyed for many years. This kind of fencing also enabled settlers to

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enlarge their farming options and take advantage of livestock production to supplement their incomes. Soon many farms had big barns, poultry houses, hog houses, and numerous corrals. The tending of the livestock became known as “doing the chores,” often the duty of the women and children, while the men worked the fields. Each morning there were cows to milk, hogs to slop, poultry to feed, milk to separate, calves to feed the milk, wood to chop, and fresh water to carry in. In the winter time there were also fires to build, ashes to carry out, and water to heat. Most of this was done before breakfast. The process was repeated in the evening before supper, the evening meal. It is fairly easy to rationalize the concept of large families in those days. That was not only a matter of survival, but became a way of life for the settlers. Large families were really an early form of the present day Social Security for pioneers on the American frontier. The farm family became the building blocks for the American way of life. While Albert owned substantial amount of land, he did not fully qualify as a farmer. He was more of a businessman, with a sawmill, gristmill, general store, and several other activities. However, Albert was much involved with the farms and farmers in the vicinity. His family grew and spread across Marshall County and into other areas, some as far away as Oklahoma and California. Many of them were true farmers.

     Schools held a top priority with the settlers. Schoolteachers were nearly always female and unmarried. They usually boarded with one of the families, typically parents of their students. The teacher's job was not only to teach the children, there were other duties to perform. The schoolhouses were heated with wood burning stoves that must be started each morning and fed firewood throughout the day. Ashes had to be removed, floors had to be swept, fresh water carried in, and black boards erased. The teacher was also

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nursemaid, counselor, and surrogate mother to the children. She was coach for the outdoor games and judge for spelling contests and other games on rainy days when the children were confined to the schoolroom. She guided the children throughout the day in their relationships with each other. The children ranged in age from six to sixteen, sometimes older. But perhaps the most important feature of the country schoolteacher was her ability to pass on to her students the fact that education could be the most important factor in their young lives.

     When the second building at School District No.1 was added, the classes were separated into two grade groups, with a teacher for each room. Grades one through four were in the newer building while grades five through eight were in the older building. Each room had a number of desks in rows and a recitation bench up front. Every day each of the four classes were called to the bench and quizzed about one of several subjects they had supposedly studied. Students from the other grades had the privilege of listening to the recitations of other classes, learning more than they could from just their regular assignments. School years were eight months in length due to the need for the older boys to quit school to help harvest the crops. Thus, some of the boys were as old or older than their teacher and it was not at all unusual for one of the students to marry his teacher when school was out in the spring. Most students walked to school but some rode ponies or horses. The school ground was fenced and the animals could graze on the tall grasses during the day.

     The one unifying function in the country schools was the Parent-Teachers Association (PTA) meetings that were held once a month. It was

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a time for parents and teachers to get together to discuss the progress and problems of the students. It was the time for the parents to get to know the teachers better and hear the teachers' first-hand versions of the students’ progress. The teachers often related personal stories about their various students. One incident occurred on a day when there was a rather bad storm brewing and the teacher dismissed the school early, advising the students to hurry home ahead of the storm. One little first grader was struggling with his heavy coat and cap. He also had problems with his overshoes. After more struggling, but with the help of the teacher, the little boy was ready to start home.

     The teacher asked, “Where are you mittens?”

     The little boy answered, “They are in my overshoes.”

     “Why are you mittens in your overshoes?”

     “'Cause my overshoes are my sister's and they are too big. I put them in the toes of my overshoes so my feet won’t slide around.”

     After rescuing the mittens and getting the little boy all bundled up again, the teacher urged him to hurry home ahead of the storm. At the next PTA meeting, the mother was thanking the teacher for being so attentive and helpful. She related Johnny’s reaction:

     “Little Johnny was so thankful for your help. He said, 'I like Miss Jones and I’m going to marry her as soon as school is out next spring.’"

     Another teacher circulated her story. She had six little first graders and was instructing them in such things as their 1-2-3s, their ABCs, and the flag salute. Her instructions began “Now children, when you give the flag salute, you should rise, face the flag, put you right hand over your heart, and repeat: 'I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States....'"

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     She noticed that little Susie was placing her hand on her backside instead of her chest. After several days she reminded Susie:

     “Susie, you should put you hand where you heart is.”

     “But I am!” replied Susie.

     “No, Susie, your heart is up here, not back there.”

     “No it’s not, it’s back there.”

     “Why do you say that, Susie?”

     “’Cause, when my grandma comes to my house, she hold me and rocks me pats me right back there and says, ‘Bless your little heart.'”

     The community of Barrett’s Mill was, for the most part, made up of religious folks who needed a place to worship. The first church services were held in the Barrett Mill building. Soon afterward a group got together to form a full-fledged church. Horace Sage, an early settler, donated land for the church. Various others furnished the material and built a small church in the center of Barrett’s Mill. The first pastors were circuit-riding preachers but later pastors from neighboring towns shared the pulpit. The denomination at the Barrett church varied from time to time, depending on what group felt the need to maintain the church activities. In addition to the regular services, the settlers held weddings, funerals and special meetings in the church for many years. The little church building was one of the last buildings to be demolished when the village was evacuated.

     Farming on the prairie was a labor-intensive endeavor. The first corn was planted by dropping kernels of corn in a hole chopped in the sod and then covering them. Then a hand-operated corn-dropper was developed, which was a time and labor saver. Later,

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a horse drawn corn lister was developed. This was a machine that plowed a furrow, dropped a seed, and coved it in one operation. Also, a horse-drawn cultivator was developed to help control the weeds.

     Wheat production was even more labor-intensive. Early on, the wheat seed was hand broadcast over the plowed field and covered with a horse drawn harrow. Harvesters at that time used a scythe-sickle to cut the wheat and bind it into bundles that were later threshed by hand to collect the grain. But the early-day reaper would cut and bunch the wheat into bundles, and still later came the McCormick binder, that cut the wheat and bound it into tied bundles in one operation. Very early wheat-threshing machines were horse-powered and required considerable hand labor to operate.

     Storage of harvested grain was also a problem. Wooden bins were built to contain the grain until it could be used. In a short time the grain became infested with weevils and grain borers, making it unfit for human consumption or even for seed for next year’s crops. This was also a matter of concern for Albert in his gristmill. Once the mill became infested with grain insects, the ground grain was neither palatable nor saleable. He and his millers were forced to adopt a strict sanitation program to control the spread of insect infestation in his grain bins and the gristmill.

     The development of petroleum products such as gasoline and kerosene resulted in the use of the internal combustion engine to power farm equipment and relieve early day farmers of tedious jobs on the farm. By the end of the century tremendous strides had been made by the Industrial Revolution to make farming profitable and more enjoyable.

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     The coming of the railroads changed the lifestyle of the early settlers. The means and methods of communications improved with the telegraph lines and the development of newspapers. These news channels allowed settlers to become better informed about state and national news, as well as overseas activities. Also, while farming was the backbone of the area, many small businesses developed to enrich that way of life for the citizens. In addition, the railroads opened up new markets for the farm products as far away as Kansas City, Atchison, and Leavenworth. Now the farmers had a ready market for their farm produce.

     As Albert visited the Barrett cemetery to pay tribute to his ancestors buried there, he gazed across the broad Vermillion valley and remembered his first view of the valley as he stopped to rest his bay gelding, Moses, on the same hilltop in 1854. It was a pleasing sight and he was a happy man.

     Although Barrett obtained a rail station and stockyards, and a grain elevator was built, the community never sustained much growth, as did other locations in Marshall County. One of the problems that faced the little town on an irregular basis was flooding. Albert failed to recognize that the locations of the buildings would, on occasion, be flooded. The Black Vermillion River drained many miles of territory and when heavy rains occurred, some of the mile-wide valley was under water, several feet deep. That feature became apparent to developers and builders that were looking for places to expand in the new territory.

Barrett at flood stage     As a result, several members of the area selected a town site three miles up stream and formed the town of Frankfort. However, their judgment was no better than Albert’s, and Frankfort had flooding problems also. This flooding problem was not limited to the Marshall County area. The early setters failed to recognize the sage advice given to them from the original occupants, the native Indians. That was not to build dwellings on the riverbanks. In later years the settlers recognized their mistakes. Many years later, with the aid of government, the Vermillion was dredged and diked.

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     The development of the railroads in the 1870s and 1880s really changed the lives of the settlers of construction crews. It was customary in those days for the engineers and railroad dignitaries, the money managers who held the purse strings, to ride ahead of the track-layers to determine the exact route for the next few miles of track to be laid. The decisions often were determined by the generosity of the little town or village being considered. The more land and/or money offered usually determined where the next railroad station would be placed. One morning, the Southern gentlemen, who were building the new railroad that began as the Atchison and Pike’s Peak Railroad, reached Barrett’s Mill in their elaborate horse drawn carriage with a uniformed driver. The gentlemen were met and greeted by Albert Barrett and his Committee. The visitors were shown about the village, the saw mill, the grist mill, the blacksmith shop, and most everything of importance. As the tour was nearing completion, toward noon, the group was invited to stay for dinner. They accepted and were escorted to Mary’s dinning room and offered a place at her table along with some of the mill workers that included a few Negroes. These Southern born and bred gentlemen were highly insulted and refused to eat at the same table with Negroes. They left in a huff, to go three and one half miles upstream and offer to build a rail station at the newly

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formed town of Frankfort. Thus, it was several years before the breach was healed and Barrett’s Mill obtained a rail station. Albert, being the strong abolitionist that he was, never gave the matter a second thought when he invited the Southern gentlemen to dinner with his mill crew.

     The Atchison and Pike's Peak Railroad, later called the Central Branch of the Missouri-Pacific, finally made peace with Albert, and when he donated forty acres for the town site to the railroad, the company agreed to establish a railroad station at Barrett’s Mill. The first annual report of the Kansas Board of Railroad Commissioners on June 30, 1883, reports the following: “The Atchison and Pike’s Peak Railroad was incorporated in 1857, construction was completed through Frankfort, Barrett’s Mill and on to Waterville, the terminus point, 100 miles west of Atchison, in 1867.” The name was changed from the Atchison and Pike’s Peak Railroad to the Central Branch of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1866. Waterville was just a short distance west of the Big Blue River. Beyond were hundreds of miles of rolling prairie, thousands of buffalo, and numerous Indian tribes. There were few, if any, permanent settlements. Waterville remained the western terminus until 1876, when the line was extended to Downs. In 1886, the Blue Valley Railroad was built from Manhattan to Lincoln, Nebraska, thus connecting the north and south Union Pacific lines to the West Coast. Rail traffic was now open for passengers and freight from the Missouri River to the West Coast. The Oregon-California wagon trail had served its purpose and was slowly replaced with more modern transportation methods. Albert was elated. It was what he had dreamed of for many years.

     The telegraph that came with the railroads was a vital link to the outside world. Every little railroad station along the lines had a telegraph key and someone who knew how to use it. When major events was taking place such as national elections, settlers would gather at the rail station listening the click-clack of the telegraph key as it spelled out the important news of the day. Telegraph operators were revered and admired for their ability to dispense news from the chattering box on the desk.

     Likewise, the railroads themselves offered relief to earthbound residents who were sometime restricted in their desires to travel from one place to another. Soon after the Central Branch of the Missouri Pacific Railroad began operation, there were passenger trains from Atchison as far west as Waterville, beyond Barrett’s Mill. Passenger trains moved in both directions both day and night. If the weather was inclement and the roads were muddy, it was possible to board a passenger train at Barrett and travel to the nearest shopping center of Frankfort in the morning. Later in the afternoon a westbound train would deposit you back at Barrett’s Mill that afternoon for a fare of thirty-five cents. Furthermore, the Central Branch made connections with the Union Pacific line in Frankfort and one could travel to Marysville and beyond. The line also connected to Topeka where a connection could be made to the West Coast on the Union Pacific line. The railroads changed the atmosphere and the attitude of the earthbound people who had traveled so far and so often in wagons, buggies or on horseback. Now they could travel to markets to sell their produce and replenish their needs. Even better they could visit loved ones they left back east many years before.

     Little did Senator Douglas and the Congress, who promoted the railroads through the West, realize what a profound effect the railroads had on the development of civilization in the Louisiana Purchase lands.

     Although Albert’s insult to the railroad dignitaries was not intentional, the incident did delay the coming of the railroad to Barrett for a little while. However, when the rail service was finally established, the little village quickly took to the conveniences of having better postal services. For several years the U.S. postmaster was also the railroad station agent. Whether that combination was good or bad was debatable, but at least the citizens knew who to complain to if they were not pleased with the services they were receiving. With rail service, mail service, and telegraph service, it was now possible to keep abreast with daily developments throughout the nation. For such services Albert and his numerous relatives gave thanks for on a daily basis.

Map of Barrett, 1904

     Albert mellowed in his late years and was a much different person than the fiery abolitionist he was when he came to Kansas. He was busy, happy, and content with life. His decision to leave Ohio years ago seemed like a forgotten dream, but was still very real.

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