Two Years In Kansas


My work became so routine that it left little to record. In June my sister brought her boyfriend to meet us. We found him very likable, well educated, and a teacher who worked in the post office between times. When she saw how well we liked him, he became a frequent guest at our Sunday dinners by the river. On November 7, 1877, they were married. His name was Isaac Graf f Seltzer, and he was of old Pennsylvania Dutch stock that put stress on education and thrift without show. His motto was: Don’t guess but know.

When he told me there was a good opening in Ellinwood for me and the team, I did not question his judgment but got ready to leave Great Bend. First I had to see Hank and tell him we were leaving. I also felt I owed him something from the garden, but doubted that he would take it. So I put a twenty-dollar bill in an envelope marked, “Thanks for sending carpenter prospects to me.” He read it and said, “Don’t thank me, for you see you haven’t got a claim yet.” I said, “Thanks just the same, Hank. I already have my claim. You are so blinded by your conceit you are completely out of touch with reality. Better luck next time, Hank, but don’t try it on anyone from Pennsylvania.”

My next stop was at the homestead office, where I was assured that the claim I had chosen was reserved for me by Mr. Hunter and all I needed to do was go to Hays City and file it.

Then, after wishing me the best of luck, he handed me an open letter addressed to Mr. Hunter, which read, “I have known Mr. Trimm for nine months and can vouch for his integrity and ability. The rest I leave to you. Signed, Thomas Thornton, U.S. Homestead Office, Great Bend, Kansas.” At the bottom he had added the P.S., “Any favors shown this man, Bill, is a favor to your old friend Thor.”

I felt proud of this letter and vowed that I would be loyal to their trust.

There were other reasons I wanted to move to Ellinwood besides being near my sister. It had a doctor, where Great Bend had none. Winter was coming soon, and I had to have shelter for the horses and a steady job. But most of all, Mary had become so much a part of our home that we felt lost without her, and Susie wanted to be with her during the winter. So we drove to Ellinwood to inspect the job.

We found it better than we expected, thanks to my brother-in-law’s thoroughness. A man who did most of the freight hauling for the town needed an extra team to take care of his Friday and Monday rush over the Christmas season. When he saw my team, he made me this offer: he would stable the horses and furnish the hay and give me three dollars a day for the two days he needed them. I was to furnish the grain and care for the team. All the rest of the week I could use them as I pleased, and what I earned would be mine.

When I asked if he knew where I could find a house, he asked, “How many children?” Then he said, “If you are I. G. Seltzer’s brother-in-law, I have a place I can show you. It’s a sod house but comfortable.”

I paid him a month’s rent, and after telling my brother-in-law our decision and thanking him for his help, we left for Great Bend to get ready to move.

As we drove along the Santa Fe Trail, I said, “Do you know, I am disappointed that we have seen so little of the historical glamour of Kansas. It was only two years since Ouster and his men were massacred at Little Bighorn and the Indians forced to live on reservations, yet it is never mentioned in conversation. I haven’t seen even one man wearing a six-gun in a holster since I came to Kansas, so I feel cheated.” My wife said, “Forget it. We didn’t come here for adventure. You may not know it, but you’re badly in need of a haircut before we move to a new town.”

AFTER I LET HER OUT at the house and picketed the horses, I decided to walk back to the town and have it done. As I came in sight of the barbershop, I noticed that all the men on the street were ducking out of sight into the stores. Then I saw what I thought was a drunken cowboy riding down the middle of the street taking shots with either hand at whatever sign took his fancy. He was headed my way, so I kept on walking until he passed. When I got to the barbershop, I asked the barber if he had seen that drunken cowboy go past. He said, “That was no drunken cowboy. That was Texas Jack.” I asked who this Texas Jack was, that all the men in town ducked out of sight. Were they too scared to fight? He said, “What would you do, mister, against the fastest gun in the West?” I asked, “What about the sheriff, where is he?” He said, “He is where he orter be, in his office reading his paper, most likely.” Then, while cutting my hair, he gave me this explanation, “Texas Jack is no stranger to this town. They know his record. No man who has drawn against him has ever lived to tell it. So by mutual agreement, every man including the sheriff keeps out of sight when he is in town. The rule is that as long as a man stays mounted he can carry his guns. Jack was just having fun. Don’t discredit our sheriff’s courage. If Jack had dismounted for one moment, the first man he would have to kill would be the sheriff. Jack knows this, and that he would never be allowed to leave town if it happened.”

The next morning a neighbor whom we knew came over to say good-bye, and lent a hand in loading the harrow and plow. By noon we had bid farewell to a dozen or more who wished us well and expressed regrets that we were leaving.