Two Years In Kansas


When I went to the homestead office the next morning, the agent said, “All these figures are in Range 23, north of Pawnee Creek and out of my jurisdiction. You will have to file these claims with Mr. Hunter at Hays City.” I asked how far it was to Hays City. He answered that by saying, “I see you have started a garden.” I said, “Yes, but that doesn’t answer my question about Hays City. My only interest is to file a claim.” Sensing my anxiety, he said, “I think I can save you the trip by wiring Hunter to reserve the claim for you.” I asked, “How long would it take? It’s already late to plant a crop.” He said, “If I appear to be delaying you, it’s for your good, so trust me and you will not be sorry. Mr. Hunter is as anxious as you and I to see that the homesteader gets a fair deal. Filing a claim is not what is important, but that you stay long enough to prove up on it and get your deed at the end of five years. It is only then that you become a taxpaying citizen of the state, which is our main object.

“It’s rumored that you are a carpenter. If I had your team and occupation, I would consider I was master of the situation and stay right here. Don’t worry about the claim. I give you my word that Mr. Hunter will reserve it for you. All you need to worry about is, Have you the stamina to become one of us? This is not a season’s game but for life, and we need you as much as you need us.”

This interview gave me a new perspective, and I knew he was right. After that we settled down to routine and order in our life.

Now that we had decided to wait and gamble with fate, I put my work on routine by taking Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for hauling bones and the alternate days for carpenter work. I was doing very well and making many friends, so I felt I had little to worry about. When we left for Kansas, we had told our friends to send all mail to Ellinwood. It was now the middle of May and we had received no mail, so we decided to drive to Ellinwood, pick up what was there, and leave a forwarding address. There I found mail from back in April. My sister confessed that when she and Susie were visiting the town that first day, she had gone back to the post office and told the clerk to hold all mail until he heard from us. Then she said, “I think he’s cute, don’t you? Besides, he told me he’s from Pennsylvania too.”

When I told him where to forward our mail, she said, “All but mine. I will call for that personally.” I said,“How can you? We are fifteen miles away.” My wife gave me a nudge with her elbow and said, “She likes that clerk and she will find a way. ”

WE HAD BEEN in Kansas three weeks before we saw any rain. But when it came, it left a memory we will never forget. There was no rumbling thunder as we were used to in the East. Its lightning was a flash and explosion and seemed to skim along the ground rather than leap from the clouds, and one shrank in terror from its violence. When the rain came, it was a rushing torrent that seemed bent on the destruction of everything in its path. We took refuge in the basement away from the noise and din, where I could watch its effect on the horses. To my surprise they didn’t seem frightened. Then I knew this was nothing new to them, that it was what we could expect from any rain in Kansas. In an hour’s time the sun was shining.

When we went back to the main floor, I discovered a leak at one of the windows, so I got my tools and fixed it. I felt I owed that much for the offhand favors Hank had done us.

We found our garden had not suffered but seemed to have taken on new vigor as though it had been waiting all this time to quench its thirst.

I was anxious to show my wife the claim I had chosen. So the following Sunday she prepared a picnic lunch, and we drove to the location. When we reached the vicinity of the claim, I could see that my wife was very pleased. We found a shady spot under a cottonwood tree by the creek and ate our lunch. Then we left the children with my sister while we did a little exploring. When we got back, we found that she had put the children to sleep on a blanket and was almost asleep herself.

When I asked my sister if she would like to live here, she said, “The great open spaces are exclusively for men. A girl seeks civilization where her feminine graces get attention.” I asked my wife how she felt about it. She said, “Love thrives on isolation, so I have no hesitation in moving here.” I said, “You girls seem to have gone romantic. If this location is the inspiration, I am a lucky man.”

When we got ready to leave, we forded the creek and drove south to the Santa Fe Trail at Duncan’s Ranch. This was a large stockade built by the government to protect wagon trains from Indian attack back in 1849. It was built of logs set in the ground and was about twelve feet high, with no roof, and was large enough to hold twenty wagons or more with portholes breast high for small-arms fire. It fairly reeked with romance, and the girls found great delight in copying the hundreds of names they found inside, most of them cut in the logs with a knife.

One read, “Joe Weller, died of arrow wound 1852.” Others read, “Jean married Fred June 8, 1856 [no surname],” and “Baby born to Abe and Mary Wilson July 6, 1861.” There were also just names with no date, like Kit Carson, Jim Raider, Cody, Hickok, Fremont, and many, many others.