Prominent among the pioneers of Aurora township is W.M. Durkee, who added to the good citizenship of that community by casting his lot among them on November 24, 1871. He is a native of the state of New York, born May 26, 1836. His parents were Lucius and Lucy (Farwell) Durkee. His paternal grandfather was the Scotch emigrant to America and died at an advanced age where he settled in Cataraugus county, where Lucius Durkee and also our subject were born. That part of the country was a deep wooded wilderness; on these lands, remote from any settlement and in a very early day, this Scotch emigrant selected a site whereon to build a home. He assisted in the organization and naming of Farmersville township, where the village that bears that name later sprang up. Mr. Durkee's father visited Illinois in 1855 with the idea of locating in that state, but after looking over the situation, returned home, where he lived until his death in 1885 at the age of seventy-six years. The Farwells were of English origin. Mr. Durkee's mother was of New York birth, but removed to Vermont with her parents when an infant, where she grew to womanhood. They subsequently returned to New York and settled in Rushford, Alleghany county, where she was married. She died in January, 1899, at the age of ninety-one years, in West Salamanca, where they had resided thirty-four years.
Of the twelve children born to Lucius and Lucy Durkee but four are living: Our subject, a son in Michigan and two daughters in New York. W.E. Durkee was married in Barry county, Michigan, where he had located when about eighteen years of age, to Miss Harriett Backus, who was also of New York birth. With his family, which consisted at that time of a wife and three little daughters - having buried one in Michigan, - they started for Kansas. Mr. Durkee had no boys to secure land for, the common apology, but was prompted to try the virtues of a frontier life to recuperate his failing health, which proved beneficial until 1889, when for four years he was confined to his bed during the summer months; but since recovering from this physical collapse he has been able to transact the routine work of the farm, though now retired and living in Aurora. Mr. Durkee retains half of his original homestead and owns two other good farms. His worldy possessions consisted of a team and a few dollars in cash when he settled on the uncultivated prairie. To secure his homestead he traded his horses and wagon for the interest of another party who had filed on the claim as it must either be purchased or contested. For three years he obtained the use of a neighbor's team by dividing the proceeds of the freighting profits, and when he broke his ground would turn an equal amount of sod for the man who furnished the team, thus making his means of livelihood doubly arduous; and between these drawbacks - prairie fire, drowning by overflows or crops burnt by the drouth there was meagre existence. Their first mode of conveyance was one horse he had secured by trading around, hitched by chains to a sort of sled he had manufactured with cottonwood poles turned up for runners. Neither did they wait to be favored with a fall of snow, but after a shower of rain or a heavy fall of dew, the Durkees could be seen perched on the box that did duty as a seat for this queerly devised vehicle, wending their way across the prairies to visit a settler. But the "bluest" day our subject ever saw dawn was in the summer of 1875, just after the grasshopper raid. The family had survived the winter in good condition, with enough wheat left over to seed a small field, and unconscious of the depleted flour supply, without consulting the housewife, Mr. Durkee, after sowing the last vestige of grain, said boastingly to his wife, as he entered the house, "We will have flour enough next year." Whereupon she in dismay lifted the flour sack, revealing to him that there was only about a gallon of flour in the house and not one cent of money wherewith to buy more. While brooding over the situation and casting about in his mind how to relieve their condition and replenish their larder, there came a loud knock at the door. In tones more forcible than eloquent Mr. Durkee bade him enter. The visitor was E.L. Prince, "an angel of mercy unawares," for his mission was to engage the assistance of his distrait neighbor in building a new school house, and a deal was consummated whereby Mr. Durkee was to be paid one dollar per day and board. He was comparatively a millionaire in a minute; the clouds that were hanging so heavily about him were lifted, revealing the silver lining. The bundle of groceries and dry goods purchased with the ten dollars for his ten days' work made him the richest man in Kansas. But the dawning of the 'eighties found Mr. Durkee gaining property, which he has continued to do until today he can live at ease and enjoy his hard earned fortune.
Mr. and Mrs. Durkee are the parents of eight children, six of whom are living, viz: Rosetta is the wife of J.B. Springsted; Mary, the wife of Henry Rich, and Minerva, the wife of C.B. Roach; all influential citizens and farmers of Aurora township. Arthur J. also lives in Aurora township and is a prominent farmer. He married Cornelia Wheeler. Alson and Nile are both unmarried. The former is a resident of Sedgewick county and the latter of Aurora township.
Mr. Durkee is a stalwart Republican and takes an ardent interest in political issues. He has filled the offices of assessor and justice of the peace. For about twenty-five years he was a member of the school board. After a strenuous life of labor, marked by many hardships and reverses, Mr. and Mrs. Durkee are enjoying a serene existence in a comfortable cottage home in Aurora, while their children, except one, are settled in life and live near them.
Transcribed from E.F. Hollibaugh's Biographical history of Cloud County, Kansas biographies of representative citizens. Illustrated with portraits of prominent people, cuts of homes, stock, etc. [n.p., 1903] 919p. illus., ports. 28 cm.
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