FRED KEAST. The 3rd of December, 1877, was a foggy, cloudy, rainy day. That was the atmospheric setting in which the Keast family made their first acquaintance with Pawnee County. With all that concerns the county in the subsequent forty years Fred Keast is thoroughly familiar, not only by observation but by practical experience. He has lived through these years, has endured the toil and hardships and has gained the profits by persistence and intelligently directed efforts. He is now living comfortably retired at Larned.
The little party that arrived at the date above mentioned consisted of Mr. Keast, his brother Thomas Keast, and the family of their father-in-law, William H. Shill. They all took homesteads in Ash Valley Township. Fred Keast entered the southeast quarter of section 6, township 20, range 17. His first shelter and home there was a sod house of two rooms. Over the sod walls he laid a coating of native plaster, and overhead were boards covered with a layer of sod. This house had an addition subsequently, but for eighteen years it served as the family home and Mr. Keast's three children were born in it.
It was succeeded by a frame house of seven rooms, and about the same time the old sod stables gave way to a barn 32 by 60 feet, with a capacity for all the grain and stock.
Toil and tribulation met Mr. Keast almost at the threshold of existence in Pawnee County. The team he brought with him died the following fall. He had no money with which to buy another, and he lived three years without a cow or a pig or a horse. He broke up the land on his quarter section with a yoke of cattle, which he paid for with work performed by his neighbors at breaking prairie. The land itself gave few crops and little support for several seasons. Occasionally the harvest did not even return the seed which had been planted. His first encouraging crop came in the fifth year of his residence. He harvested and sold a large crop of broom corn that year.
A few years after the Keast family came to Pawnee County Fred and Thomas Keast sent back to Illinois for their old well drilling outfit, and they put it to use with considerable profit to themselves for several years. They drilled wells over all their section of Pawnee County and did some work in Rush County. They were busy with its operation for several winters. Some of their customers paid for the work and others did not.
Mr. Keast proved up his claim in seven years, and out of his varied experience he finally concentrated his attention on wheat raising. Gradually he became more prosperous and was able to buy other land. He bought one quarter section, paying $1,000 for it, and he fenced and cultivated his land successfully until he gave up his farming interests. The best wheat yield came to him in 1914. In that year the Keast family threshed from their land more than 80,000 bushels of wheat, and it brought a good price at that. Corn raising has not been reliable, and Mr. Keast believes that the locality is not especially adapted to that crop.
Though Mr. Keast has spent the better part of his life in this country he was born in Cornwall, England, in 1849. His father, Edward Keast, brought his family to the United States in 1853. They landed in Canada and settled near Toronto, and they were six weeks and three days in making the voyage across the ocean. Ten years later, in 1863, the family came to the United States and located in Jo Daviess County, Illinois, near Warren. Edward Keast followed farming nearly all his life and died at Warren in 1914, at the age of eighty-nine. He married Mary Bassett, who died in 1911, at the age of eighty-three. Edward Keast followed mining in Southwestern England, but became a farmer on coming to this country. The family consisted of eight children, all of whom are still living, and three of the sons are in Kansas and live within sight of each other in Larned, now being retired farmers. Fred is the oldest and his brother Thomas is second; Elizabeth married Henry Leverington, of Winslow, Illinois; William also lives at Larned; Horatio lives at Nora, Illinois; Sophia is the wife of William Neese, of Warren, Illinois; Fannie is the wife of Joseph Wallace, of Warren, Illinois; and Hattie married James Groom, of Warren, Illinois.
Fred Keast was four years of age when the family came to America, and he was about fourteen years old when he came to the United States. He acquired a limited education while the family lived in Canada and he remained with his parents until he reached his majority. He worked at monthly wages on farms, and at the age of twenty-four he married in Illinois Miss Jannette Shill. She was a daughter of William and Mary (Zimmerman) Shill, her father a New York man. The Shills came out to Pawnee County, where William Shill proved up a claim and spent the rest of his years.
Mr. Keast's first wife died in October, 1895. Ida, the oldest child of that marriage, is the wife of Lewis Vail, of Ash Valley Township and has a daughter, Lizzie. Hattie married John Baker, lives on the homestead where she was born, and is the mother of a daughter, Pearl. Edward is a farmer in Ash Valley Township and by his marriage to Ida Moore has children named Irene, Frederick, Lillian, Opal and Fern.
In October, 1910, Fred Keast was married in Pawnee County to Mrs. Jennie (Cooley) Page. Mrs. Keast came to Kansas from Athens County, Ohio, where she was born. A son by her first marriage, Will Page, is with the Standard Oil Company at Medford, Oklahoma. He married Alice Sell and has children Lula, Frances and William. Mrs. Keast's daughter is Louie, wife of Rev. H. A. Dausman, field secretary of Winfield College, Kansas, and has issue, Alice, Richard, Lillian, Helen and Laura.
While living in the country Mr. Keast helped organize School District No. 57 and was a member of its board until he moved to Larned. He also served as trustee of Ash Valley Township and was overseer of the roads. He helped organize the Methodist Church in his community and was superintendent of its Sunday school over twenty-five years. At times he has attended church conferences and Sunday school conventions and has also been class leader.
Mr. Keast took out his papers as an American citizen in Freeport, Illionis,[sic] and voted for president in 1872, when he supported General Grant. About the time he became an active church member he also joined the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and has been one of its regular members for more than forty years. He is a past noble grand of his lodge, and while filling the office of noble grand he missed only three meetings. He had to ride eighteen miles to attend lodge. He played the piano for his lodge meetings and still performs that service. He has never been ill, and is a man of rugged constitution. His encouragement has always been given to progressive enterprises in his community. In order to have some work for his leisure time he is now serving as janitor of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Larned. Mr. Keast is a man full of good nature, never feels old, and looks forward and not backward.
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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