MRS. BARBARA MAYRATH. This is an appropriate point at which to consider somewhat in detail the experiences of a pioneer woman in Southwestern Kansas. Mrs. Barbara Mayrath, now living in Dodge City, came to Ford County nearly forty years ago. She assisted in the acquirement and building up of a home and fine property and went through many trials that are part of Kansas history.
Mrs. Mayrath came from Chicago, Illinois, to Dodge City February 14, 1879, in company with her husband, the late Nicholas Mayrath, and a baby daughter. She left two other children in Wisconsin. Another family accompanied them to Kansas, and they all rented a one room house in Dodge City and lived in that inconvenient but necessary style for several weeks.
During the previous summer Mr. Mayrath had visited Hodgeman County, Kansas, and filed on a quarter section of land there, but after a careful survey of Ford County he relinquished his Hodgeman County claim and took up a quarter section about seven miles southwest of Dodge City. This was the first land filed on in Fairview Township. Their nearest neighbors were three miles away toward the river, and they had to travel twenty miles to the southwest before they came upon another settlement.
In Chicago Nicholas Mayrath was a gardener. He brought with him to Kansas a team, wagon and plow. On his claim he built a half dugout. It was boarded up and down in front, the ends being of sod, and a rough board roof covered the structure, the cracks being stopped with tin made from cans that had been unsoldered. These tin strips were held in place by nails. The house had one window and one door. After getting up this simple home Mr. Mayrath proceeded to plow and plant about thirty acres of land to wheat. The grain did not come up until the following March, and it was entirely destroyed by a later invasion of grasshoppers. There was no water near the home. He hauled barrels of water from a distance of three miles and on getting it to the house the horses would be so thirsty they would consume most of it. Even so the water was so dirty that long time had to be allowed for the sediment to settle before it was fit for human use. One of his first efforts was towards remedying this condition. Against the advice of neighbors he dug a well in the lowest part of the ravine, and the first rain that came washed the sod wall away and completely filled the well with sand. A second well was started, but he changed the location before it was finished and finally completed the third hole on higher ground. There he secured an abundance of fine water, and that well is a living source of water to the present time. In later years many of the settlers came to the well from a distance of several miles to get water.
The first experience of the Mayrath family in starting a garden has special interest. Mr. Mayrath was advised by his neighbors not to clean the garden patch from weeds nor to hoe and cultivate the vegetables, since these weeds, according to the theory then prevalent, would act as shields to the plants and protect them from withering away under the hot sun and wind. It was also argued that by cultivating the land the soil would blow away. Nicholas Mayrath had some of the thoroughness of the old German gardener. The presence of weeds among his vegetables was more than he could stand, and he determined to take the hazardous experiment of getting rid of them. As a result he had fine sweet cabbage, while his neighbors who refused to cultivate, had only small, knotty and bitter ones. His success with other vegetables was equally good. For a number of years his garden truck had a ready sale in Dodge City, and was the chief means of furnishing the family a livelihood. While the land was productive of wheat, the family did not possess the modern machinery and conveniences for planting and harvesting, and as a consequence they confined their labors to truck growing. The people who came into this section later were usually called "settlers." As they began to fill up the country they were impressed by their observations of the Mayrath garden patch, and his public spirit, one of his chief characteristics, caused Mr. Mayrath to take many days from his work and conduct land and homeseekers all over the country without remuneration. These new homesteaders copied his methods and tried to emulate his success in growing garden truck, and as a result the business was overdone, there being a surplus of gardeners and of vegetables. Thus it came to a point where the first one on the ground at the market place was the only one who could realize profits. Many days during that period of active competition Mrs. Mayrath was half way to town before the sun would greet her.
After the first year on the Kansas homestead Mrs. Mayrath's mother died in Wisconsin and it was necessary for her to return there and get her children. On her return to Kansas, besides her children she was accompanied by her father and a brother and sister. From July, 1881, until the next March they all lived in Dodge City, the men working on the railroad and the women, keeping boarders. From the money saved from operating the boarding house Mrs. Mayrath was able to buy the first cow for the family when she returned to the farm. They then took up the work on an adjoining quarter section which her sister had homesteaded and which Mr. Mayrath helped to improve by erecting a four room house with basement. The entire family lived in this new and somewhat modern structure until the death of the sister, when Mrs. Mayrath inherited the place. In later years they extended the improvements and invested many hundreds of dollars in up-to-date structures. Having secured one cow, this animal was the nucleus of a herd which gradually developed, and by the second year they had sixteen head. The milk and butter and the produce from the chickens after that largely took the place of the garden truck.
During these years the old cattle trails from the south were crowded with herds of Texas Longhorns during the driving season, and when the Texas cattlemen brought their stock to Dodge City for shipment the Kansas settlers in the vicinity moved their herds to the north side of the river in order to keep them away from the infection of Texas fever. This was not the only inconvenience the local people suffered, since the Texas cattle would clean up nearly all the crops as they passed through the country.
Another thing they had to contend with was horse thieves, the scourge of the small farmer. To protect their horses, Mr. and Mrs. Mayrath picketed their animals a few rods from the house in the absence of stables, and then late at night before retiring they would remove them to another spot in an opposite direction, so that the thieves would have difficulty in locating them.
The Mayrath family also passed through the period of droughty years, when many of the "settlers" mortgaged their farms and either left immediately or stayed until the first payment of interest was due and then packed their few belongings and went away. As a result land became very cheap. Mr. Mayrath and members of his family and such other people as had faith in the country and the persistence to stick through times of adversity gathered up as much of this land as they could pay for and frequently bought tracts for less than $1.00 an acre. As a result of this process the Mayraths accumulated about ten quarter sections, giving them ample room for their herds of cattle, which in the meantime had grown to large proportions.
On the Mayrath farm about twenty acres had been set out to orchard, including peach, apple, cherry and other trees, as they demonstrated that with intelligent and proper handling fruit culture was not a resource to be despised in this semi-arid district. Their trees produced fruit of great excellence of quality and in sufficient quantity to make the trouble of starting an orchard a paying investment.
In 1911 the Mayraths retired from their farm and bought property at 706 Avenue B in Dodge City. After a year of residence in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, they began housekeeping in Dodge City in the modest five-room, one-story frame house where Mrs. Mayrath is still living.
Mrs. Barbara Mayrath was born in Luxemburg, Germany, in 1844. Her father, Francis Lanser, was born in the same duchy and came to America when about thirty-one years of age. He was one of the pioneer settlers of Wisconsin, near Fort Washington, where he cleared away the timber and made a farm. As already noted, he later came to Kansas and died in Dodge City in 1893 at the age of seventy-seven. Francis Lanser married Katharine Reiman, a native of Luxemburg. She died in Wisconsin in 1881, at the age of sixty-three. Their children were: Margaret; Barbara; Cecelia, who died in Ford County in 1900; and Nicholas, who died in Ford County in 1893.
Mrs. Mayrath acquired a common school education in Wisconsin. In June, 1873, she married Mr. Nicholas Mayrath. He was also a native of Luxemburg and had come to America at the age of nine years with his father and two brothers. As a boy of sixteen he enlisted for service in the Union army, in the Thirteenth Illinois Cavalry, and was a brave and gallant soldier. He was wounded several times and for special service was promoted to the rank of corporal. After the war he resided in Chicago and was in the milk business there at the time of his marriage to Miss Lanser.
Mrs. Mayrath is the head of a splendid family of children and grandchildren. Her oldest child, Cecelia, married Tom H. Bell, a contractor and builder of Dodge City. Their children are Neva, Howard and Barbara. Martin, the oldest son, who lives near the old homestead, married Florence Slocum and has three children, Martin, Robert and Thomas, the last two being twins. Barbara is the wife of Shannon Johnson, of Ford County, and has a family of four, named Marie, Ellen, Leo and Robert. The son, Harry, who occupies the old homestead, married Katie Pfleiger and has two sons, Francis and Nicholas. Rosa married Walter Bunnel, of Dodge City, while Anna, the youngest child, is the wife of Clayton Bell, of Kansas City. By a previous marriage Nicholas Mayrath had a daughter, Katie, now the wife of Martin Stohr, of South Dodge City.
Nicholas Mayrath was one of the notable men of Ford County. In business affairs he was successful as has been noted, and besides his interests as a farmer and rancher he owned stock in elevators, banks and other enterprises that would tend to advance the community in which he lived. He was reared a Catholic and was an active member of the Grand Army of the Republic. In matters of politics he was first and last a republican and very active in county and local affairs. He served as county commissioner of Ford County for twenty years. He was the leading character in the campaign for a better courthouse at Dodge City. He used all the influence he possessed to secure this improvement and passed through three of the bond elections for that purpose until the building was finally assured. He had worked heart and soul for it and it seemed a fitting conclusion to his life that be should have been intimately associated with it at the very end of his days. When the ground for the new building was broken he was present all the first day, but unhappily the beginning of the project was all he was privileged to witness, as he died during the following night, April 12, 1912. The Dodge City courthouse was completed in 1913. The following year Mrs. Mayrath had a beautiful drinking fountain erected in the lobby in the memory of her husband. This fountain bears the inscription "From Barbara Mayrath in memory of Nicholas Mayrath." Mr. Mayrath's name is also inscribed on the cornerstone at the northeast corner of this splendid public edifice.
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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