SILAS FRANK DICKINSON on the 3rd day of December, 1885, stepped from a conveyance which had carried him overland from Wakeeney and first put his foot on the soil of Lane County, Kansas. He has lived there ever since, and is one of the most prosperous farmers and ranchers of Alamota Township. The story of his life in Kansas is not only a chapter of experience but of achievement.
To understand this story in its proper relations it will be well to go back to the beginning, that is to Mr. Dickinson's birth. He was born in Lee County, Illinois, March 26, 1860. His grandparents were Oliver and Olive Dickinson, the latter of a New York Dutch family. Oliver Dickinson was a farmer and blacksmith and also a native of New York State. Their children were Henry, Silas Theodore, George, and Ellen, the last becoming the wife of Ransom Flint.
Silas Theodore Dickinson, father of Silas F., was born in Otsego County, New York. As a young man he entered the mercantile field, and in 1856 moved to Illinois, becoming a partner in a wagon-making establishment at East Paw Paw. This was near the present Town of West Paw Paw, and from that point he operated a stage line to Earlville, West Paw Paw and Shabbona Grove. He was in a fair way to prosperity but at the age of thirty-three died at Ashton, Illinois, in 1865. Silas T. Dickinson married Leah Beebe, who was born in Albany County, New York, October 12, 1836, a daughter of Nicholas Beebe. She died at St. Louis, Missouri, September 11, 1909, though for a number of years she lived in Western Kansas. She was the mother of two children: Silas Frank, and Ellen Elizabeth, who married Dr. William Porter, now of Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
After the death of her husband Mrs. Leah Dickinson returned to New York State and brought up her children in the vicinity of Schenectady. There Silas Frank Dickinson spent his early years, acquired his education, and for a time attended high school. He did his first work for his independent support as a laborer in a market garden for a year, being paid wages of $10 a month. He followed this with a job as coachman in Schenectady at $5 a month and then came out to Illinois, working as a farm hand at monthly wages of $18.
From Illinois Mr. Dickinson moved to Scotland County, Missouri, where he spent about half a dozen years before coming to Kansas. While he was only moderately prosperous as a farmer in Scotland County, he found a fortune there in another direction. In that county on March 24, 1880, he married Miss Anna B. McGowan. Mr. Dickinson declares that "he chose the best woman in Missouri" for his wife, and when the tale of the subsequent years is taken into consideration there is much to justify his opinion and certainly no one would dispute it. Mrs. Dickinson has had her shoulder at the wheel all the years they have lived together, and as they started out with youth, enthusiasm and courage, they have found in their later years the prosperity and comfort that wealth brings and also the even greater happiness of ideal home surroundings and the presence of children and grandchildren.
Mrs. Dickinson was born in Scotland County, Missouri, December 16, 1859, a daughter of Joseph McGowan. Joseph McGowan, a native of Pennsylvania, was a child when his father died and was afterwards bound out to a sheep raiser. At the age of fourteen he was taken to Iowa, and he was married in Lee County, that state, to Sarah Sterrett. She was born in Ohio, moved with her parents to Indiana, and subsequently to Iowa. About 1856 the Sterrett family went to Missouri. Joseph McGowan spent the last years of his life as a farmer in Scotland County. He was a Union soldier and one of the fifty men of Scotland County that supported the Stars and Stripes. He joined the first Northeast Missouri Volunteers, and when that organization disbanded he became a member of the Missouri Militia, subject and ready for call whenever his services were needed. During the period of his first enlistment he was orderly sergeant of the commissary and was wounded at the battle of Athens. Aside from his military experience he was always a private citizen. He died in 1896, at the age of seventy-one, and his wife passed away in 1906, aged seventy-nine. The McGowan children were: Robert, of Scotland County, Missouri; John, who lives in Scotch Bluffs, Nebraska; Mrs. Dickinson, Lincoln, who resides with Mr. and Mrs. Dickinson; Charles, of Council Bluffs, Iowa; and Samuel, of DeSoto, Iowa.
Mrs. Dickinson received a good common school education, but her real achievements have been as housewife, mother and companion. The children of this worthy couple are: Joseph, Pearl, Bessie, Belle, Willetta and Beebe; Joseph is a farmer in Lane County and married Erma Fallis, who is ex-county superintendent of schools of Lane County. Pearl is the wife of Cromwell Finkenbinder, of Lane County, and their four children constitute most of the grandchildren of Mr. and Mrs. Dickinson, their names being Willetta, Josephine, Durward and Delmer. Bessie is the wife of W. D. Holley of Louisville, Kentucky. Belle is the wife of Raymond Smith, of Lane County, and has a son, Frank Waymen. Willetta, who was educated in the Dighton High School and in the Kansas State Normal, is a teacher in the country districts of Lane County. Beebe is still at home. Mr. and Mrs. Dickinson also reared in their home from childhood James Oatley, whom they took out of an orphans' home. James Oatley is now a soldier in France. Earl and Pansy McGowan, children of Lincoln McGowan, have also grown up in this home.
Now to take up in some detail the experiences of the Dickinsons in Kansas. Mr. Dickinson had come to Missouri in 1879. He and his mother bought a farm near Memphis, that state, and on that farm he acquired his first experience as an independent agriculturist. After his marriage his mind was set upon getting some government land farther west, and he first came out to Lane County for that purpose. He finally selected as his location the northeast quarter of section 14, township 18, range 27. That was his preemption. On it he built his first Kansas house. It was constructed of sod, half underground and half above, and it was his home for about eight months. This room, 10 by 14 feet, was the scene of some interesting housekeeping. The contents of the dugout were a cook stove, table, two beds, a piano, upon which the children slept; three bureaus, sewing machine and one chair. The household consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Dickinson, their four children, and also Mr. Dickinson's mother. Many times they entertained company, and sometimes the company stayed all night.
After he had proved up his pre-emption Mr. Dickinson abandoned the dugout and the following year was spent in the home of his mother on her homestead. For his own homestead Mr. Dickinson took the southeast quarter of section 14, township 18, range 26. His first home there was a one-story sod house 13 by 15 feet. It was roofed with willows and sods, and from a deposit near by he gathered sufficient magnesia to plaster it on the inside. From time to time he increased this sod residence, and when it was finally given up it contained five rooms. His present modern stone house of ten rooms was built in 1903.
The first team owned by Mr. Dickinson in Kansas was a yoke of cattle. These cattle contributed a large share to the family support, since he used them working for others, and are in great contrast to the farm tractor he now uses on his extensive holdings. Another important source of the food supply in those early days was a cow, which Mr. Dickinson rented, paying a dollar a month for her use. One of his first experiences as a crop farmer was the planting of corn and rice-corn. The seed returned very meager harvest for several seasons. The first enterprise which really paid him something for his effort came with the purchase of a mowing machine. He hitched his oxen to this machine, and put up a large quantity of native blue-stem hay. This hay he sold during the following year to the graders along the Santa Fe Railway at from $6 to $12 a ton.
The first crop from the land which seemed encouraging to his efforts came about 1890. At that time, and for a couple of years altogether, the wheat harvest was abundant. In spite of the discouragements and setbacks, Mr. Dickinson was able to keep pretty well out of debt, and thus when good crops did come the proceeds were not entirely wiped out by previously contracted obligations. A rule of thrift is never to go into debt for anything that will not have some permanent use or profit in the future. In 1888 Mr. Dickinson went in debt for fifteen head of cows. It was a wise obligation, since these cows largely saved him from incurring further indebtedness.
In spite of frequent crop failures, the family spirit was good and happiness reigned within the old sod house. Mr. and Mrs. Dickinson have no regret in referring to these early years. After Mr. Dickinson had been married thirty years he figured out his doctor bills for the period, and discovered that only $35 had been paid out for such services.
Besides his original yoke of cattle Mr. Dickinson subsequently acquired another team of that kind, and he also bought a pair of horses. He traded the piano for one pony and gave a steer calf for another to make up the team. The first year spent in Lane County he had no wagon, and when the family went to church or Sabbath School they rode on a sled which slipped quite smoothly over the buffalo grass and along the level ground. This sled was drawn by oxen. It took a long time to get anywhere with the older oxen, but they had a yoke of young steers when hitched to the sled would start off on the lope and keep up that speed for two or three miles. The early settlers were occasionally disturbed by one of the worst feared calamities of the prairies, a prairie fire, and in July, 1891, Mr. Dickinson lost his pasture by such a fire, and had to take his cattle south for grass. His cattle prospered and increased every year, and at the end of ten years he had a herd of about a hundred head. They were grade native stock crossed with an Aberdeen Angus male, and he has kept that strain in his stack ever since.
When Mr. Dickinson had been a Kansan about nine years he began looking out for more land. For his first quarter he paid $300. He did not pay the cash, and it was six years before he had lifted the debt and had a clear title. For the next quarter he paid $250, and four years passed before that was all paid up. It was the talk of the entire community when he subsequently laid out $200 in cash for his third quarter section. In later years he bought five more quarters and paid a thousand dollars for each of them. At the present time his landed estate comprises thirteen quarter sections in a single body. It is one of the largest and best equipped ranches and farm properties in Lane County. A thousand acres are under the plow, and the entire tract is well fenced.
The worst affliction that came to the family prosperity in Kansas was the horse plague of 1911, when Mr. Dickinson lost seventeen head, among them fifteen brood mares, the most valuable horseflesh he had. In 1912 came a scourge of grasshoppers, not so destructive perhaps as that of the famous year 1874, though these pests took everything green on the Dickinson farm, and to quote Mr. Dickinson's, own words, he did not raise "fifty cents' worth of feed of any kind." Added to that came a winter which was the most severe ever experienced in the entire thirty-three years the family has spent in Kansas. For twenty-one days not a train was operated on the railroads through this section, and there was no mail from the outside.
Mr. Dickinson states that he has sold cows for $8 a head. While there may have been some profit in raising animals at that price, when the conditions of modern times are considered and the high prices of cattle on the hoof in recent years, it seems as though time and labor were completely wasted in bringing a cow to maturity for $8. Among other extensive interests, Mr. Dickinson is stockholder in the Farmers' Elevator Company at Alamota.
As a local citizen interested in schools and community improvements, Mr. Dickinson participated in the organization of school district No. 29, and was elected a director of the first board. The first schools, however, were conducted on the subscription plan. In his community the first school was held in a sod house and its teacher was Susie Crosswell. Two other terms were taught in a combination farmhouse of sod and stone by Mr. Kirschner, the father of the recent prohibition candidate for Congress in the Seventh District, who was then holding down a claim here. The subscription schools preceded the organization of districts as required by law. The first regular schoolhouse was like the farmers' residences, a sod building. Mr. Dickinson has served his township as a member of the board, and his political affiliations have been with the republican party. His chief experience in politics has been furnished as a delegate to county conventions. He and his wife were identified with the first religious efforts of the community, Mr. Dickinson being one of the organizers of the Sunday School in 1886. That school was held in a soddy formerly occupied as a residence. The Sunday School continued through all the years, and for a large part of that time Mr. Dickinson was its superintendent. The Dickinson family themselves are Methodists.
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.
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