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

Chapter 15:

     This book, The Abolitionist, is a saga of a true pioneer and an attempt to bring to the attention of the members of the Barrett families some of the glorious history of the Barretts. Much of the information was gleaned from Dr. Fred (Fritz) Emery's Barrett Book. I am including a few pages from his book that tell the stories of the Barretts. Some of the incidents and stories were told by numerous members of the family and for the most part are believed to be true. But since many versions were told from memories, it could well be that there may be some differences. Fred Emery's genealogy book was written in 1955. Information about some younger members of the family was added in 1991 and again in 1997. This book traces the Barrett family from England and the migration of Barretts to Pennsylvania, on to Virginia and to Ohio, and finally to Kansas and the establishment of Barrett's Mill. Some of the memories and incidents were recorded in family letters and pictures that Dr. Fred, and others, were fortunate enough to obtain.

     Bert Barrett, Albert and Mary's grandson, was an avid sportsman who loved to hunt upland game birds. Each season he would invite some special friends to join him in his favorite sport. On one occasion the group surrounded a plum thicket containing birds. A wild shot struck Bert and lodged a pellet below his eye. It did not affect his sight so Bert did not consider it serious. However, the next day he visited his family doctor for an evaluation. The doctor examined the eye and said to Bert,

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     "I don't think that shot is close to the eye ball and is not affecting your sight. I hesitate to probe for it for fear of damaging you eyesight. I suggest we leave it alone and if it bothers you later we will get a specialist to remove it."

     Bert's answer was typical of his sense of humor, "That's O K Doc, I'll be the only guy in town with ball-bearing eyeballs."

     Many stories exist about A. G. Barrett and his relationship to the church. Here is one: Following church services a circuit rider preacher accosted Albert at his sawmill where he was sharpening the big saw. The preacher proceeded to unbraid Albert for not attending his services that morning. Albert stopped his filing and said to preacher, "Yesterday I gave widow Buckley a cow to help feed her two small children. Today I am sharpening this saw to make enough lumber to build her a small house. She just recently lost her husband in an accident and is destitute. When was the last time you did anything to help a widow with two small children?" With that he turned his back on the circuit preacher and proceeded to finish his task. Although he formerly belonged to the Friends church, he left the church for what he felt was non-Christian behavior.

     Barrett was continually plagued with floods. In 1908 a severe flood occurred and the whole village was under water. Years later still another severe flood took place. Will and Rena Barrett were living in the old stone house just south of the mill. It had rained continuously for several days and was still raining early one morning when Phebe VanVliet, Albert and Mary's daughter, came into the bedroom of the big Barrett home that now resided on the hill top to the south of Barrett, and awakened husband George. When he was fully awake she said "George, get up and harness up a team

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and go down and get those folks out of the stone house. The water is clear up to the front steps." George went to the barn and harnessed his team of old mares, hitched them to a lumber wagon, and drove through the rain to the old stone house located on the banks of Gould's branch. His grandson, little George, insisted on going along and was frightened as the flood waters ran into the back end of the wagon box while Grandpa backed the wagon up to the front stoop of the stone house. George entered to find Will and Rena Barrett ready to evacuate the house. Rena's aged father, Rolen Montgomery, was an invalid, confined to his rocking chair. The two men threw a blanket over him and carried him and his chair to the wagon and they all rode to safety of the big white house on the hill. It was over a week before the water receded and residents of Barrett could return to their homes. It was not until later that the Black Vermillion River was tamed with dredging and diking.

     The Barrett clan was prolific and productive. Long after Albert and Mary had passed on, the family spread, thrived, and achieved. Daughter Phebe VanVliet became a small time politician. Her cousin, Mary Walker, married a Scotchman named Andrew Shearer. Andrew was active in local politics and helped Pebe become a delegate to the Democratic National Convention held in San Francisco in 1920. Phebe's sister Jane Barrett had married Everett Love many years before and had gone to California to live and raise family of nine children, some of whom Phebe had never met. This was an opportunity to fulfill a desire and see some of her relation she had never met before. Phebe bundled up her four-year-old grandson and they embarked via Union Pacific Railroad for California in November 1920. They arrived safely at the home of her niece,

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Mary Barrett Love Leach. After a short visit Phebe left for San Francisco, leaving little George Walter with the Leach family for a week while she attended the convention. The Leaches operated a grocery store and lived on a fruit farm. Phebe was much impressed with a young politician named Franklin Roosevelt at the convention and watched him grow into leadership in the Democratic Party, and later president of the United States. She had a nice visit with her eldest sister Jane, who passed away less than a year later.

     Later the two travelers rode the train up the Pacific Coast to Portland, Oregon and from there across Canada to Minneapolis, Minnesota and home. It was a quite a trip for both of them. Little George remembers only a small part of it, but Phebe could relate the details vividly for some time to come. She would recall the memories of the trip at the slightest invitation.


     It is fortunate that Albert and Mary are spared the pain of having to view Barrett as it is today. The only recognizable features are the old school house and the cemetery. The schoolhouse is slowly falling to pieces but Roger and Konnie Jones, descendents of the Sage-Jones family, keep the cemetery in beautiful condition. Fate played a part of the life of Barrett's Mill. In the late 1950s, 100 years after the establishment of the mill and 50 years after Albert and Mary passed on to their heavenly rewards, the U. S. Corps of Engineers determined that is was necessary to build a huge dam at the lower end of the Big Blue River. Although the dam was at Tuttle Creek, 40 miles downstream from Barrett, the Engineers declared that Barrett and a number of other small towns were in the Flood Plain of the Tuttle Creek reservoir and must be

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evacuated. Everything must go! And so ended a glorious chapter in American history, featuring some very bold and illustrious pioneers who spawned a generation of peopleand events that merit recording and retelling the events that molded the history of America. Although all the little towns of Barrett, Bigelow, and Irving no longer exist, they have left impressions in a number of ways.


     This book includes a considerable amount of history, both Kansas Territorial and State. The purpose is to lay the groundwork and provide the background for the historic struggle in Bleeding Kansas to bring the territory into the Union without slavery. It also reveals some of the pitfalls and failures of the village of Barrett to become and sustain a viable economy and develop into a major trading center.

     Albert, and many of his associates, most all settlers from the Allegheny Mountains, assumed that the rivers and streams of Kansas would provide sufficient waterpower for industrial developments. They were not alone in their lack of knowledge of climatic shifts from floods to droughts. Many other communities on the Plains also made these errors.

     Barrett suffered terribly from 1854 to the late 1860s. Following the end of the Civil War guerilla warfare did not cease for some time. Once local governments were established and law and order were in force, the towns and villages began to grow and prosper. The development of the nations railroads was the impetuous for small industries that hopefully would grow into major businesses. Barrett grew and prospered and several small industries developed until the 1880s. However, the railroads in to and out of Barrett never did connect directly with either Coast.

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This became a disadvantage and many small businesses folded and moved on. Those that stayed were plagued with repeated floods and losses. Barrett began to dwindle and die. In 1908 the worst flood of all devastated the town and destroyed many homes and what few businesses that remained. Like many other small towns and villages in the area, their time had come and gone.

     When some of the Barretts that descended from Arthur, the emigrant from England, moved from the beautiful countryside of Applepie Ridge above the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, to the mountains of eastern Ohio, they recognized their mistake. As the United States expanded westward, they looked forward to finding better places to live and raise their families. Hardy pioneers that they were, the challenge was there to move again to new territory, the Kansas-Nebraska Territory in the 1850's.

     In his later years, as Albert reflected his past ventures and some of his accomplishments, he realized he had accomplished his main goals that had guided him to Barrett's Mill. First, to establish a home for his family in the new territory. Secondly, to help bring the new state of Kansas into the Union as a state free from slavery. When Kansas entered the United States as a state in 1861, his second goal was accomplished. He was a tired but happy warrior.

     For the numerous Barretts who would like to know more about their ancestry, I offer this saga of Albert Gallatin and Mary McKeever Barrett, the ones I know something about from stories, books and tales told over the many years. I hope it gives as much pleasure to readers as it did to me in writing it.

George W. Schiller

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