THOMAS NICKEL. One of the commonest sights along the highways of Eastern Kansas thirty or forty years ago were the white topped movers wagons, drawn by a team of horses or in some cases by oxen, and containing a family whose ambitions had not been satisfied by life in the older and better settled communities and who were seeking new opportunities and new scenes in the West. While these wagons most of the year wended their way slowly toward the west and out to what was practically the frontier, at the end of some of the dry seasons there would be a sudden exodus of the same wagons beating a hasty retreat to the east.
Most of these journeys were made in the early spring or summer. But in the early winter of 1878, in the month of February, there arrived in Rush County a wagon which had completed the long journey begun in Iowa. The occupants of the wagon were Mr. Thomas Nickel, his wife and four children. They had been many days on the road, it was freezing weather, and in order to protect them from the inclemency of cold and wind Mr. Nickel had kept a fire going in a stove in the wagon, gathering fire wood as he went along and leaving a trail of smoke that passed out the chimney through the canvas roof. Such were the circumstances of the arrival of a family that never gave up the struggle until they succeeded in making a substantial home and winning financial independence on the prairies of Western Kansas. Thomas Nickel is now living retired at McCracken, and while it cannot be said that he entertains "Fond regrets for days no more returning," he has every reason to be well satisfied with the prosperity which has rewarded his efforts and by the esteem which he has gained in the community.
Thomas Nickel was born in Guernsey County, Ohio, September 4, 1840. His father, William Nickel, was born in County Antrim, Ireland, in 1802, was brought to the United States at the age of twelve years, grew up in Guernsey County, Ohio, had very few educational opportunities, and spent his life as a farmer. In 1853, when his son Thomas was about twelve years of age, he moved to Iowa, and from that state came to Kansas in 1880. He died in Rush County in 1882, and his wife passed away there in 1880. Both are buried in the Nickel cemetery. His wife's maiden name was Jane Richards, who was also born in County Antrim, Ireland, and was brought to America when two years old. The children of this worthy couple were: Mary, who died in Monroe County, Iowa, the wife of John Griffin; James, who died in Rush County, Kansas; Thomas; Nancy, who died in Rush County, after her marriage to Theodore Crouse; William, who lives in McCracken; Samuel, a farmer in Rush County; and Robert a resident of McCracken.
Mr. Thomas Nickel grew up in Monroe County, Iowa. He attended the country schools, and in that day public schools were not a matter of course as they are now in every community of the United States. Instead of the school board the teacher usually took the initiative, and on arriving in a community would circulate a petition, asking subscriptions from the patrons, and when he had secured promise of enough to satisfy him the school would he opened and would be maintained as long as the teacher found it profitable. Thus school was kept for a few months a year, and only the families who could afford the cost of tuition would send their children for instruction. It was a school of this type that Mr. Thomas Nickel recalls as the first he attended.
He had just reached his majority when the war broke out. About a year later, in August, 1862, he enlisted to help fight for the preservation of the Union. He went out with Company A of the Thirty-Sixth Iowa Infantry, under Captain Varner and Colonel Kitridge. This regiment was at first a part of the Sixteenth Army Corps, commanded by General Steele and later by General Reynolds. Much of the early service was in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. The battle in which Mr. Nickel received his baptism of fire from Confederate guns was at Helena, Arkansas. He participated in the capture of Little Rock, then went to the relief of Bank's army on the Red River, and fought in the battle of Jenkins Ferry. The regiment went into this battle after having seen very rough service in the engagement at Marks Mills a few days before. The regiment suffered many losses at Jenkins Ferry, and after that battle it was never recruited to its proper strength. Mr. Nickel was one of the four men of his company who came out of the Jenkins Ferry battle uninjured. After that he was sent to Little Rock, did duty at different places, but had no more active fighting before he was discharged in September, 1865. During the Yazoo Pass expedition Mr. Nickel was hit with a buckshot in the left cheek, and the shot stopped in his mouth. He served throughout the war as a private. His brother James, of the same regiment, was shot through the leg and captured at Jenkins Ferry, and was imprisoned at Tyler, Texas, until exchanged.
Following his military experience Mr. Nickel engaged in farming in Iowa, but finding it a hard matter to make a living from his farm and provide as he desired for his growing family, he sold out and started for Kansas in the manner above described.
His equipment when he homesteaded his first claim in Kansas comprised three horses and an old wagon. He did not have enough money even to file on his pre-emption. He borrowed some money for this purpose, and entered the southeast quarter of section 30, township 16, range 19 in Fairview Township of Rush County. On that land he erected his sod house which contained a single room, 15 by 20 feet. When that primitive structure, typical of all other early habitations in Western Kansas, was worn out he built a second house of the same character, though it boasted the added convenience of a floor. This house served him until he was able to trade for a frame house which he moved to his farm, and thus from time to time there came new improvements, new comforts, new facilities and a gradual elevation of the standards of living. From the start Mr. Nickel placed a great deal of dependence upon his corn and wheat crops, and though he had grain most of the year there was very little market for it and the profits altogether were small. In the early days before railroads were built he hauled his crops to market at Hays City. Like other pioneers he had to resort to various expedients in order to live and support his family, since the crops of the fields were not adequate for that purpose. One time he hauled corn from the Solomon River to his community, buying it at 14 cents a bushel and selling at sufficient profit to pay for his labor. He also hauled considerable cornmeal, having the raw corn ground at Russell and selling it among his old neighbors. When crop conditions became more reliable and profits came from his own land he gave up outside work, though when the Missouri Pacific Railway was constructed through Rush County he assisted in the work by hauling bridge timber.
Mr. Nickel also started to raise stock, but after a few years he realized that his choice of stock had been an unfortunate one. He raised horses instead of cattle, and for years horses were so cheap that they could not even be used for paying debts. Besides his original pre-emption Mr. Nickel proved up a timber claim, which he exchanged for a quarter section of railroad land adjoining his half section pre-emption. This land he still owns, and he has the entire farm extensively improved, much of it under cultivation. In August, 1906, he retired from the farm, leaving its management to younger men, and has now resigned nearly all the responsibilities of business except the general oversight of his land and as a stockholder of the Citizens Bank of McCracken.
Mr. Nickel was one of the few patrons who supported the first school of his district, No. 2. The first school was taught by Mrs. McConaha in her little stone house, about 12 by 16, and her wages were ten dollars a month. The first regular school house was a sod structure, and New Robinson was the teacher who dedicated that house to public education. Mr. Nickel continued to serve as a member of the school board throughout nearly all the years he lived in the country. The church facilities were hardly less meager than those of public education. The only building erected for exclusive church purposes in that community was the work of the Christian denomination. The Nickel family were reared as Presbyterians, but they eventually became Methodists in Kansas.
The father of Mr. Nickel was a democrat. Thomas, himself leaned toward that political persuasion until he entered the army. The fact that he was fighting democrats in Dixie made a republican out of him. He cast his first presidential vote for Abraham Lincoln in 1864, voting at Little Rock, Arkansas. His father advised him to vote for McClellan, but he replied "That the fellows he was fighting were voting for McClellan, and he guessed he would vote the other way." Besides his service on the school board Mr. Nickel was trustee for several terms in Fairview Township.
When he came out to Kansas Mr. Nickel had been married a little more than ten years. In Monroe County, Iowa, April 3, 1867, he married Miss Mary Gillaspie. Mrs. Nickel was born February 18, 1845, a daughter of Lorenzo D. and Elizabeth (Dent) Gillaspie, the former a native of Kentucky and the latter of Virginia. They were married in Owen County, Indiana, and in 1849 removed to Iowa, where Mr Gillaspie engaged in farming, and both of them died in Albia, Iowa. The Gillaspie children were: Julia, who died in Albia, Iowa, the wife of Benjamin Rose; Nancy, who married Joel Webb and lives in Ottumwa, Iowa; Mrs. Nickel; Susan, wife of Robert Miller, of Los Angeles, California; and Lue, wife of James Fisher, of Albia, Iowa.
Mr. and Mrs. Nickel now have not only their own children but grandchildren, and the greatest satisfaction of their lives is found in the household that has grown up around them and with whom they have shared their increasing prosperity. Edward, the oldest child, died in young manhood. Elizabeth Jane is the wife of Lewis Templeton, of Sergeant, Colorado, and they have children named Jessie, Archie, Virgil and Doyl. Elmer, who lives in Rush County, married Ethel Hardwick and has two children, Cleo and Cecil. Albert L. a resident of La Crosse, Kansas, has a son, Ross, by his marriage to Gertrude Frey. May, wife of Frank Earlenbaugh, of McCracken, is the mother of two daughters, Bessie Lorain and Mary Lorena. Bessie, the youngest of Mr. and Mrs. Nickel's children, married John Swisher, a Rush County farmer, and they have two young sons, William and Albert.
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
Home Page for Kansas
Search all of Blue Skyways
The KSGenWeb Project