WILLIAM SMELTZER. There is no story that comes closer to the heart of American life and its institutions than the story of the pioneer. Every life has its trials and difficulties, but the contest of the early settlers with the adversities of nature, the battling for a home in the wilderness, the simple living, the hard work, the sacrifices, furnish endless material for the great American epic which future generations will cherish and study with admiration.
Of some of the interesting phases of pioneer life on the western frontier of Kansas, the career of Mr. William Smeltzer, of Lane County, furnishes abundant illustration. He located in Spring Creek Township of Lane County, arriving in the year 1885, and filing on his homestead the fourteenth day of August. That homestead is still his home.
It will be proper to trace briefly his experiences prior to that time. He was born in Livingston County, New York, October 28, 1860. His boyhood was spent in the country, and his parents both died before he was seven years of age. After that until he was fourteen he made his home with a relative. That relative took a very meager interest in his welfare, and the boy determined to leave and achieve his own destiny in life. Up to that time he had attended school the minimum of days and was just able to read and write. Afterward he managed to put in two terms of school work. He found his first employment along the only line in which he had experience, farm work, and his wages for the first year were fourteen dollars a month. His usefulness increased until he was paid twenty dollars a month, and that tells the limit of his earning power in those years.
He reached his majority without having saved any capital, and knew nothing beyond farm labor. Tiring of the country in New York, he went west in the hope of finding better conditions for a laboring man. A few years he spent in the lumber yards near Hungerford, Michigan, having gone to Michigan from Steuben County, New York. While in the lumber districts of Michigan he was affected with rheumatism, and on the advice of his physician he left that state and sought a dryer climate.
Thus it was that he came to Kansas. The trip was made by railroad to Kingman, and he rode horseback from there to Lane County. This was a very strange community to him. He had come to Lane County on the advice of a man who had employed him for a time in Kingman County. After filing on his tree claim and homestead, and building a rude shelter, he had only fifteen dollars left in cash. His only horse died during the winter of 1885-6, which was the severest ever experienced on the frontier. To support himself while proving up his land he did day labor. His homestead is the northwest quarter of section 35, township 20, range 28. His tree claim, which he subsequently relinquished, was the southeast quarter of section 26, township 20, range 29.
The pioneer dwelling he built on the homestead was a half dugout, twelve by sixteen feet inside, the rough boards of the roof being covered with sod and with shingles on top of that. People who lived under conditions which prevailed in Western Kansas twenty or thirty years ago appreciate the fact that such a house had many comforts. In that home Mr. Smeltzer lived as a bachelor until his marriage, and then he and his wife kept house there for three years. In the meantime he had traded three calves for a horse, and to complete his team he traded some cane seed to his father-in-law for another. This team he used at times to break sod for his neighbors, and the money thus earned was a welcome supply to his depleted treasury. After he married the crops raised on his own farm were sufficient for the simple needs. Almost from the first Mr. Smeltzer devoted himself to mixed farming. As a cattleman he has usually kept the short-horn variety. He made wheat a permanent feature of his farming, but frequently has had to buy the seed to sow his ground. Out of the profits of his long continued labors he now owns a section of land and also eighty acres along the creek bottom. His place is more of a stock farm than anything else. About 1898 he was far enough along to justify him in putting up the substantial frame house with stone basement in which he and his family reside, and he has good barns and other buildings for the protection of his stock.
Mr. Smeltzer arrived in Lane County in time to assist in organizing school district No. 12. The first school was kept in a sod house, and four of his own children went to the instruction given there. The first teacher of the district was Jennie Collier, who taught a subscription school. For twenty-five years either Mr. Smeltzer or his wife have been on the school board. It was while he was in the State of Michigan that Mr. Smeltzer cast his first presidential vote. That was in 1884, and he supported Blaine for president. Later he became identified with the people's party movement in Kansas, and from that gravitated into the democratic party. He has served as a trustee of Cleveland Township and as justice of the peace of Spring Creek Township.
A word should now be said regarding Mr. Smeltzer's father. He was Conrad Smeltzer, who was born in Germany and from that country brought his wife and the two older children to the United States, locating in Livingston County, New York. From there he entered the Union Army and was killed as a soldier. His children were: Mary, who, married James Avey, of Dansville, New York; Conrad, who also served in the Union Army and died in the Soldiers' Home in New York; Jacob, who left New York many years ago and was never heard of again; Frank, of Danville, New York; William; and Mrs. Laura Wirts, of Dansville, New York.
Mr. William Smeltzer was married about eighteen months after he arrived in Lane County. His wedding occurred March 7, 1887. His wife was Mrs. Leonora Smith. Her father, John H. McKelvy, came to Lane County in 1885, homesteaded, spent the rest of his days there and died in October, 1888, at the age of forty-nine. He was born in Baltimore, Maryland, grew up in Venango County, Pennsylvania, entered the Union Army as a member of the Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry, and was in active service in the Army of the Potomac. He was wounded in the first battle of Bull Run, but spent the full term in the army, though he was in a hospital suffering from a second wound when the war closed. He first came out to Kansas in 1879, locating in Wabaunsee County, and from there moved to Lane County. Here he proved up a soldier's claim. His wife, whose maiden name was Eliza C. Bigley, died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Their children were: Mary, whose first husband was William Smale and her second Elijah Peavler, and they now reside in Kansas City, Missouri; Mrs. Smeltzer, who was born July 13, 1868; William A., of Neosho County, Kansas; Nancy, wife of Fred Alexander, of Reading, Kansas; Matilda, who married Mr. Sullivan and died in Trinidad, Colorado; John, of Beeler, Kansas; Samuel, a farmer in Lane County; Sadie, wife of Rowland Dorris, of Lane County; Thomas, of Lane County; Flora, who died in Pennsylvania as the wife of Joseph Miller; Ed, of Detroit, Michigan; Kitty, who married Charles Line, of Summerdale, Alabama; and Rosa, who married F. C. Martin, of Follansbee, West Virginia.
Mrs. Smeltzer's first husband was Marion A. Smith. The one daughter born to their marriage is Viola, now the wife of E. A. Grady, of Lane County. Mrs. Grady has two children, Vernon and John William. Mrs. Smeltzer is a woman of culture and of many useful activities. Aside from the making of a home and carefully rearing her children for a number of years she taught school in Lane County, and, as already mentioned, has borne her share of duties in the management of the home school district. Mr. Smeltzer and family have their home in that section of Lane County which is marked by the post office called Division. This post office was first established in 1907, and in 1914 it was moved to the Smeltzer home. Since then Mr. Smeltzer has officiated as postmaster.
Mr. and Mrs. Smeltzer had four children: Laura, Clara, William F. and Arthur. Laura is the wife of Chester Shaffer, of Lane County, and they have a son, William. Clara married Emery Brown, of Fountain City, Indiana, and their one child is named Omer. William F. and Arthur are still at home, the latter being a student in the high school at Dighton, and both sons are registered for the selective service of the United States.
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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