ANDREW KERR. In some of the older section of Kansas it is necessary to go to the books and records in order to secure an accurate history of the country. Not so in Western Kansas, where the experiences that are the meat of history are fresh in the recollection of the old settlers, and individual lives there become the fountain of the best material that will ever be woven into historical narrative.
One of the men of Rush County whose recollections enable the present and coming generations to understand what this country was in the early days is Mr. Andrew Kerr of McCracken. Mr. Kerr was one of the original settlers of the county. He arrived in February, 1878. He preceded the main body of pioneers, since the county began settling up rapidly in the course of that year and by the fall of 1878 sod houses and dugouts dotted the prairies in every direction.
Andrew Kerr was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, November 18, 1844. He grew up in that rugged, picturesque and historic section of Pennsylvania, and lived his early life on his father's farm. He had a somewhat limited schooling and from early boyhood has had an intimate fellowship with hard work. His grandfather was also named Andrew Kerr. He was an Ulster Irishman and Orangeman, was an early settler in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and by his marriage to Esther Stevenson had the following children: Robert, who spent his life in Pennsylvania; James; William, who was also a Pennsylvanian; Jane, who married Jesse Bain and spent her life in Pennsylvania; Elizabeth and Esther, both of whom died unmarried.
James Kerr, father of Andrew, was born on the same farm in Washington County as his son. He spent his life there as a farmer, and was always a progressive citizen in local affairs. In the early days he affiliated with the whig party and afterwards became a republican. James Kerr married Annie Van Soyoc, who was of the old Holland Dutch stock. Her father, Moses Van Soyoc, married a Miss Sherrock. James Kerr died in 1887, at the age of seventy-five, and his wife passed away in 1891, aged eighty. Their children were: Fannie, who married Alva Newburn and died in Livingston County, Illinois; Esther, who never married; Mary, who spent her life as a maiden; Andrew, of this review; Elizabeth, who died unmarried; Stephen, who died in Pennsylvania; Moses, whose life was spent in Pennsylvania; and Martha, who never married.
After reaching his majority Andrew Kerr moved to Livingston County, Illinois. For three years he was a wage worker on the farm and also did work in the coal mines at Streator. During two springs he was in Northern Michigan working as a lumber jack. He then took up farming for himself and remained in Livingston County until he started for Kansas.
He came to Kansas with some other settlers who located at La Crosse. He was unmarried when he came to this state and brought with him three horses and a wagon and some farming implements. He left the railroad at Great Bend and on arriving in Rush County selected for his homestead the southwest quarter of section 28, township 17, range 20. That homestead is still part of his present farm. His first efforts at improvement was the construction of a dugout in the bank, about 10 by 12 feet. Half of it was underground, and above ground the walls were raised with sod, poles were laid over the top and covered with brush and sod. He built a similar shelter for his stock. After getting this much accomplished, he started in and broke out forty acres of sod on which he planted some millet and corn. Both crops came up but they were consumed by the grasshoppers. Having nothing to give him a living from his fields, Mr. Kerr like many of the other early settlers had to seek employment elsewhere. Not only that year but other years he worked away from home. One fall he husked corn at Solomon City, at another time did plowing in that locality, also utilized his previous experience as a miner by digging coal near Wilson, Kansas, and again secured permission from the government to leave his claim and going to Colorado worked on the railroad from Julesburg to Denver and also on the road through Mosquito Pass to Fairplay. He was also employed on farms in Colorado.
Mr. Kerr states that his farm became self supporting about 1884. Rarely since then has the farm failed to give him enough for the household needs. His original dugout served as his home for two years. He then built a sod house with board roof, containing two rooms. In that home he began housekeeping, and it was his residence until 1893. In that year he erected his present two-story frame house, at the time one of the finest and most commodious houses in the county, and still conspicuous as a comfortable and modern country home. As a general farmer Mr. Kerr has found wheat the most reliable and profitable crop. He has also had some good corn crops. Besides his original homestead he took up a timber claim and subsequently bought a quarter section, all three quarters being in the section with his homestead. More than half of his land is now under cultivation. Since 1880 Mr. Kerr records perhaps four total failures of crops. However, none was more disastrous than that in the year 1912, when not a single dollar's worth of produce was harvested from his fields. Throughout the decade of the '80s it was only by strenuous effort a living could be made off the farm itself. Besides his ownership of one of the excellent farms of the county Mr. Kerr is a director of the Farmers Elevator at McCracken and a director in the Bank of McCracken.
Naturally he has taken an interested part in the organization of local institutions, in serving his home school district. He assisted in building the first school house, which was erected of sod. The patrons of the district donated their labor. For many years he was a member of the school board, served two terms as treasurer of Alexander Township, and has done his share of party political work. He served as township committeeman for the democratic party and in early days attended a number of county conventions.
Mr. Kerr was married in Rush County, Kansas, December 8, 1892, to Mrs. Anna Irvin. Her father, James Miller, came to Kansas from Wells County, Indiana. Mrs. Kerr died April 10, 1911. The only child of their union is Esther, now the wife of Mack J. Ryan of Rush County. Mr. and Mrs. Ryan have sons Richard, Bard and Warren Kyle.
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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