STEPHEN VAN WEY. The traveler along the Dighton Road in Alamota Township of Lane County, takes note from afar of a group of conspicuous improvements against the sides of the hills rising from the middle branch of Walnut Creek and marking the Van Wey farm. It is a splendid estate, and is the output and result of the thrift, intelligence and steady management of Stephen Van Wey, who is one of the oldest settlers of Lane County.
Mr. Van Wey was born in Will County, Illinois, May 21, 1867, grew up on a farm, acquired a common school education and was about eighteen years of age when he first came to Lane County in the fall of 1885. He came to make a permanent settlement here in March, 1886. He was a youth in search of opportunity and adventure combined, and he found both as a cowboy on some of the ranches of Lane County. On coming to Kansas he followed the old cattle trail from Ogalala, Nebraska. Then followed two years of strenuous work and excitement as a wage worker in the saddle and on the ranch. When it came time for him to take up a homestead, in the year 1889, he went along the right of way of the Missouri Pacific Railway and filed on the northwest quarter of section 26, township 16, range 27. The team with which he did the first work on the land was a pair of Spanish mules. He paid $110, for them, and had earned that money as a cow boy. His first improvement on the claim was a sod house. It contained two rooms, and in that respect was even more commodious and pretentious than the average habitation of the kind. Another point of distinction was that it had a shingle roof, and shingle roofs were not so common in Lane County then as now. The rooms were also large and plastered overhead. That home of simple comforts and conveniences was where he lived while proving up his claim, and it also afforded shelter to his growing family until he sold out and moved to his Walnut Creek farm.
During the first few years his experience as a farmer was not unlike that of his neighbors. So far as crops were concerned there were more failures than successes. When his labor in putting in a crop had come to naught, he turned to wage working about the locality to help pay expenses. In 1893 he took his team into Nebraska and spent the summer farming for wages in Webster County. When he came back he brought a little money and also a load of corn. In 1892 his land produced a fair crop, a still better one in 1895, and then came a period of medium crops with a very small margin of profit. The thing which causes people to admire such men as Mr. Van Wey is that he and some of his neighbors had the courage to exercise patience and persistence during all those discouraging years. Thus he went on until the big crop year of 1903. The results of that year were very encouraging, but in the meantime he had contracted debts so that even his immense wheat harvest failed to put him above the surface financially. After 1903 there was a period in which fair yields came from the ground and fair prices at the market, and in 1906 Mr. Van Wey harvested 7,000 bushels of wheat. It was this crop which put him beyond the reach of his competitors and enabled him to expand his operations by the purchase of a section of land. He paid $150 for one quarter, $100 for another, $500 for another, and the rest he secured at a price which gave him the entire section for about $1,000. The following year he sold his entire holdings of five quarter sections for $8,000 and then moved to his present location.
The Van Wey farm is in section 36, township 17, range 28. He owned until recently the entire section except eighty acres. The only building on the land when he came was a barn. Some alfalfa had been sowed on a small tract of land, and of that crop he had sixty acres. As a portion of his land was in the narrow shelf of the valley along Walnut Creek he found alfalfa a reliable and valuable feature of his farming activities. After moving to that farm Mr. Van Wey erected a splendid home, two stories and eight rooms, and with conveniences and comforts which many a city man might envy. Though he continued to grow wheat at that location, Mr. Van Wey gave his chief attention to horses, mules and cattle. Among other interests he is a stockholder of the Exchange State Bank of Dighton.
Mr. Van Wey served as treasurer of Whiterock Township six years, was clerk of School District No. 21 almost from the time the schoolhouse was built, and he is now one of the directors of the Iron Bridge School. In politics he began voting as a democrat, his first presidential ballot going to Mr. Cleveland in 1884. Fraternally he is affiliated with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Modern Woodmen of America, and is a past noble grand of Utica Lodge of the former order.
Mr. Van Wey was only ten years of age when his father died, and much of the time during his boyhood was entirely dependent upon his own exertions for self support. His father was James Van Wey, a native of Pennsylvania. The latter was married in Bureau County, Illinois, and spent the rest of his days there as a farmer. He died April 15, 1877, when thirty-six years of age. Early in the Civil war he enlisted from Iowa in Company A of the Third Iowa Regiment. He went through the war, was captured and confined in Andersonville prison, but made his escape from that notorious stockade, rejoined his command, and at the close of hostiiities was given his honorable discharge at Atlanta, Georgia. His son carefully preserves and takes natural pride in an interesting letter which his father wrote to his mother while the regiment was fighting Price's army in Missouri. This letter is now framed and hangs in the Van Wey home in Lane County. The letter was written in Berry County, Missouri, and was dated April 13, 1862. What he had to say of a recent engagement deserves quotation: "On the 6th, 7th and 8th of March we had a fight with General Price. I was in the hottest of the fight, but I came out safe, but the balls whistled thick around my head. Three companies of our regiment had to open the fight. We were surrounded, but we cut our way out and lost forty-eight of our brave boys. But I think it won't last very much longer as the rebels in this part of Dixie are getting tired of the fun, as in the last fight they lost five to our one. Our shots came too fast for them and they had to skedaddle. The rebels said we fought like devils more than men."
During his residence in Will County, James Van Wey took no active part in public affairs except as a voter. He married Sarah Moore, a daughter of Eli Moore. Mrs. Van Wey now makes her home at Pendennis, Kansas. There were three children of this union: Stephen; Sena, who married Lincoln Wheatcroft, and both died in Lane County; and Willard, who died at the home of his brother Stephen, March 18, 1915.
It was several years after he came to Lane County that Stephen Van Wey took upon himself the responsibilities of a wife and home. He was married March 12, 1889, in this county to Miss Fannie Lou Wheatcroft, a daughter of Joshua Wheatcroft and of an old family elsewhere referred to. Mrs. Van Wey was born in Iowa, January 28, 1870. Mr. and Mrs. Van Wey have three children: Guy, Sena Edna and Marie. The son Guy spent three years in the Kansas State Agricultural College and is now serving in France, in the One Hundred and Thirtieth Field Artillery, Battery B. The daughter Sena has completed her education in the common schools and Marie is still in school.
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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