Two Years In Kansas

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When we got to Ellinwood, we found our quarters rather compact but not unpleasant. Freight hauling was heavy work, but I didn’t mind for it was only two days a week. My wife was very happy there, for she and my sister had much in common discussing their husbands and doing the shopping. The winter proved to be a mild one, with no snow until after Christmas.

On January 15, our sixth wedding anniversary, we drove to Great Bend to get information from Thornton about the best time to file our claim. He advised March 1 if the weather permitted.

NOW THAT WE HAD a definite date for our trip to Hays City, we could hardly wait to get started as homesteaders. My work had slackened off to a point where it became subordinate to our desire to get started, so March 1 found us ready. The cover had been put back on the wagon and all our farm implements and seed loaded, which made it rather crowded. It was a sixty-mile journey to Hays City, so we figured it would be a three-day trip. The weather had turned warm, so we cooked our meals over an open fire and slept in the wagon.

When we reached Hays City on March 3, 1878, I went directly to the homestead office, where I met Mr. Hunter and gave him the letter that Mr. Thornton had given me. After reading it, he said, “Your claim is reserved for you. Come to the office early tomorrow and we will file it in your name.” Then he told me I could file on an extra 160 acres as a “Timber Culture Claim.” So on March 4 I filed for both as follows: Homestead, N. W. 4, Section 25, Township 20, Range 23 W. Timber Claim, S.W. 4, Township 20 S, Section 24.

This gave us 320 acres of virgin prairie soil that had never felt a plow. It would be hard to define what our feelings were, between elation and the realization of the tremendous task ahead.

Whatever it was, we were eager to get started.

I consulted with Mr. Hunter about what was most essential for a homesteader to take with him. He said, “Determination, imagination, and a willingness to forget civilization. A good gun and plenty of ammunition. But most of all, several rolls of tar paper.”

So far our claim was nothing but a mathematical equation that seemed to have no relation to the claim I had chosen. I said, “If this is my original claim, I can find it without a guide.” He said, “Go ahead if you are in a hurry, but the guide will be there to show you the lines and record your possession. You are our responsibility now, and we will do everything we can to help you.”

We were tired, but no day ended without family worship.

That night we stayed in Hays City and got an early start. We hadn’t gone far when we were overtaken by a man on horseback who said, “I am from the homestead office and am here to record your arrival and answer any questions you may have.”

About noon we came to a small stream, where I watered the horses and my wife got lunch over an open fire of buffalo chips. The man watched us closely, and when I said grace before eating, he removed his hat and held it in his hand. Then he said, “I admire a man who is loyal to his religion, whatever it may be. Personally, I am a Mormon.” Then, after congratulating my wife on her cooking, he remounted and led the way.

This territory was entirely new to us, an open, rolling prairie that seemed as endless as the sea. We had no idea of where we were until we forded a large stream, which he called Willow Creek. Then things seemed familiar to me, like the memory of a dream. I said to my wife, “I have a feeling I have been here.”

It wasn’t long before I sighted definite landmarks along Pawnee Creek. The guide drew alongside and said, “You people were a little seasick back there a ways. Don’t worry, that is a common reaction of Easterners on their first trip over these rolling plains. It will pass as soon as you begin to work.”

My wife asked about Indian raids. He said, “I don’t think you will be bothered. The bad ones have been put on reservations since the Custer massacre at Little Bighorn two and a half years ago, and the troops at Fort Larned do an excellent job patrolling this section.”

At about 4:00 P.M. he halted us and said, “You are on your own land, how do you like it? This is the homestead. ” Then he took some surveyor’s stakes from his saddlebags and, after studying a map, said, “This is the southwest corner of your timber claim. You are lucky, for they parallel each other, which gives you 320 acres, one half section, which means your farm will be a half-mile square.” He took time to mark the corners. Then after wishing us the best of luck, he left. As he disappeared over the first elevation, we felt little elation.

My wife said, “Let’s get to work.”

We had no home but the covered wagon. Our first and foremost obligation was to choose the location for our house. So I started at the stake that marked the western boundary of our homestead and drove east along the creek to the eastern border, searching every nook for a suitable location. Before I had finished I was appalled at the vastness of our possession and the work that lay ahead to make it a home.