JASPER NEWTON ALDRIDGE. Western Kansas during the '80s was a Waterloo for literally hundreds of families, who went there inspired with hope and longing for a home and prosperity, went through the bitterness of defeat, and gradually trailed out of the region, leaving behind a record of blasted hopes and abandoned improvements from which they never harvested the fruit. It is not pleasant to dwell upon this part of the annals of Western Kansas, and it is referred to only to present in more vivid contrast the prosperity enjoyed by the few who elected to stay and stem the tide of adversity regardless of conditions or consequences.
One of these old settlers, a fixture in Clark County for more than thirty years, is Jasper Newton Aldridge, now living retired in comfort at Ashland.
Mr. Aldridge was born in Clinton County, Indiana, November 9, 1858. He was a small child when his father, Hiram Aldridge, died about the beginning of the Civil war. Hiram Aldridge proved up some land near Bloomington, Illinois. He married Sarah Fogle, a native of Ohio. They had six children: Franz, who died in Baltimore, Maryland, while a soldier of the Union army; Mary J., now Mrs. Franklin Kemmerer of Indianapolis; John, who died young; Susan, who married Tobias Whitesell and died at Geneseo, Illinois; William H., who died young; and Jasper N. Mrs. Hiram Aldridge married for her second husband John Keefer, and by that union had two children, Aaron and Maggie, the latter the widow of Charles Anderson, of Clinton, Iowa.
Jasper N. Aldridge grew up in the country around Franklin, Indiana, and had a most limited education. He was never a scholar in school for more than two months at a time. When only nine years old he began work for others, and his wages were regularly contributed to his mother until he was eighteen years old. After that he worked for himself and had been a resident of Illinois for some years before he came to Kansas.
Mr. Aldridge arrived in Clark County May 21, 1885. Like most of the pioneers, he drove much of the journey overland to his destination. He and a party of Illinois people traveled into Kansas by railroad as far as Wichita. All of them had started to drive the distance from Illinois to Kansas, but conditions compelled them to take to the train at Des Moines, Iowa. Unloading their goods at Wichita, they went on west to their respective destinations, most of the party stopping in Comanche County. Mr. Aldridge came on to Clark County and established his home six miles north of Sitka. His pre-emption was the northwest quarter of section 18, township 32, range 21. It was one of the few claims in that region that presented a rolling topography. Mr. Aldridge was unmarried, and needed therefore only a bachelor home. A dugout furnished him a hiding place for about a year, after which he built a sod house of two rooms with shingle roof, plastered and floored. This was his residence during the critical and trying times that followed and served its purpose until 1903. He took his bride into that home, his children were born there, and the roof of the old dwelling is still doing duty on the farm.
Mr. Aldridge brought with him some capital, and invested part of it in a few cows. They were undoubtedly the most valuable part of his equipment. As a farmer he secured a fair crop from the sod in 1885, a lighter one in 1886, while in 1887 the only thing that came to maturity on these western prairies was the grass of the plains. That fall in order to make a living he hauled corn from Pratt County, selling it among the few neighbors who remained and putting the rest of it in his own crib. After 1888 crop conditions improved. In 1889, being assured of a good price, Mr. Aldridge began planting castor beans. This was one of his successful experiments, and he grew the beans for several years. The fields he planted to beans were succeeded with wheat, and there has seldom been a season when he has not had wheat in prospect every spring. Looking back over the years Mr. Aldridge states that the best yield of wheat was from twenty-five to twenty-eight bushels an acre, though the average over a long time was not more than ten bushels. The best corn yield in his experience never exceeded more than thirty bushels to the acre. His most dependable sources of revenue were cattle and hogs, and they also furnished the meat for the family.
After the first settlers had largely abandoned the country Mr. Aldridge realized that the real destiny of the region was as a range and cattle district. He therefore made strenuous efforts to enlarge his own herds. For a space of three years there was no other settler living along the road between Ashland and his farm. Under such conditions there was no incentive to acquire land in fee simple, since an unlimited amount of range could be had with no one to question the privilege. But with the second wave of settlement he understood that ownership of land carried with it value, and in fact was a necessity for a man who desired to enlarge his operations. He therefore kept his domain growing until he had a ranch and a farm of four sections. At this time about 1,000 acres are under cultivation, and his sons and some tenants perform the labor and take the responsibility of the crop. The prominent improvements upon the Aldridge estate comprise a frame residence of nine rooms, two frame barns, shed for cattle and other equipment. A few years ago Mr. Aldridge moved to town and now has a comfortable dwelling near the station in Ashland, surrounded with ample grounds. He has a garden and also fruit orchard and thus finds plenty of occupation for his leisure.
In the early years of his residence Mr. Aldridge's home was four miles from the nearest school, and his children had to go back and forth that distance every day to get their education. These children have become farmers and all are living upon the farm where they were brought up.
Mr. Aldridge began voting as a republican, General Garfield receiving his first ballot. He has failed to participate in only two presidential elections, and has always been a regular republican. Mrs. Aldridge has not yet cast a presidential vote.
After he had been in Kansas about two years Mr. Aldridge married, on March 8, 1887, Eliza Babione, daughter of Daniel and Jane (Stevens) Babione. Her father, a native of Ohio and of German ancestry, came west from Columbus, Ohio, living a few years at Kankakee, Illinois, and thence to Kansas across the country, stopping first in Cherokee County, then in Woodson County, and finally landing in Clark County near the Aldridge place. Daniel Babione died in Yukon, Oklahoma, in 1912 at the age of eighty-six, and his widow passed away March 7, 1917, at Acme, Wyoming, aged seventy-six. Their children were: William H., of Sheridan, Wyoming; John M., who died in Twin Falls, Idaho; Daniel W., of Thomas, Oklahoma; Mrs. Aldridge, who was born in Effingham, Illinois, March 28, 1867, and George, whose home is at Acme, Wyoming.
The four children of Mr. and Mrs. Aldridge are named in order of birth John M., Clarence E., Walter E., and Florence E. John married Zella Claypool, and their children are Francis, Opal and William N. Clarence married Catherine Moores and has two children, Virgil and Ivy. Walter E. is still unmarried and one of the residents of the Aldridge ranch; Florence E. is at home, completed her education in the Ashland High School in 1918, and has taken a clerical position here in aid of war conditions.
Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p.,  leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.
Tom & Carolyn Ward
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