The history of this extraordinary family has been interwoven with the country since its earliest settlement. They have had experiences enough to fill a fair sized volume of Hillhouse reminiscences of pioneer and frontier life. John Hillhouse and his wife, Jeanette (McClair) Hillhouse, were natives of Scotland. They were born in Ayrshire and Lenarkshire in the years 1834 and 1832, respectively. They were married in their native land August 5, 1853, and eagerly longed to try their fortunes in the new world of which such fabulous stories were told. They came to America in 1856 with their little family which then consisted of themselves, William A. and Jessie. They landed in Boston, May 1, 1856, came to Chicago when there were not more than three hundred houses and on through Rock Island and Davenport to Iowa City, the terminus of the railroad. Here they bought an outfit and made an overland trip across the plains to Salt Lake City where they landed in October, 1856. Salt Lake City, was then far remote from civilization, and Brigham Young ruled the territory with a rod of iron. The opposition of the Hillhouse family was early recognized in the church, and not only were they refused the privilege of earning their bread, but constant and unendurable vigilence was exercised by there persecutors, lest they should leave the city.
It was in April, 1857, that this family with no supplies but a little flour aboard a hand cart, quietly left the city one morning and hurried away to join a train of emigrants, on its return to recross the plains, and two days journey out. The escape of the little band was early learned in the city and a posse of seven mounted Danites started rapidly in pursuit, overtaking them early in the morning several miles into and over the mountains, and almost within sight of the train to which they were eagerly and rapidly hurrying. The horsemen drew down upon them with drawn revolvers and commanded them to retrace their footsteps under penalty of instant death. Mrs. Hillhouse refused point blank to return, telling them they had starved while there for want of work, and that they were not spies as charged but were to return to Scotland from whence they came. The men finally decided to let the mother and children proceed, but Hillhouse was dragged from his family, returned a prisoner to Salt Lake, more than two and one half years elapsing before the family were reunited.
The day was far spent, and night, cold, snowy and blustry was already there. The attempt to push on and reach the train that night was for the weeping mother, children and sister of Mr. Hillhouse to lose their way, and surely perish from hunger and cold. With a little shovel Mrs. Hillhouse scooped away the snow, placed the children under the cart, covered them as well as possible and settled down to watch through that long, dreary winter night for the first gray streak of dawn that would light them on their way toward the train. But the longest night will pass, and with the children in the cart and with blinding tears this woman pushed out for she knew not where. Toward the middle of the afternoon a party from the train who knew of the intended escape and that the fugitives were to join them on the second day, rescued and took them into camp. Their destination was Plattsmouth, Nebraska, and the journey began. The train was heavily loaded but the little sack of flour was taken aboard and Mrs. Hillhouse with the two children in the cart tramped five hundred miles, the distance to Fort Laramie. The incidents of this journey alone would fill many columns. Plattsmouth, Nebraska, was finally reached and through the influence of kind friends who had heard of her adventures and heroism, the mother mourning her husband as dead, found work. Mrs. Hillhouse had learned the dressmaking trade in Scotland and did fine needlework which enabled her to support her little family while Mr. Hillhouse was detained in Salt Lake. Within a year she was running a successful dressmaking establishment in their new home.
Mr. Hillhouse after the separation in the mountains was taken to Salt Lake a prisoner and threatened with death. In the autumn of 1857, he escaped, joined an emigrant train bound for California and there found work. Through the medium of letters to the old home in Scotland, the husband and wife were finally notified of each other's existence and address, but not until all hope had been abandoned of the return of Jeanette, who liked the new land and decided to stay. Her return was expected and not until then was word to be given her that her husband still lived; but the return did not come, and Mr. Hillhouse was finally notified of the whereabouts of his family. He immediately sailed from San Francisco for New York and then crossed the continent again, to Plattsmouth, where the family were reunited.
For reasons concerning his health, another move was made to Platte county, Missouri, in 1859, where, in those troublesome days of business uncertainties, and dangers of war, peace came not; but the trials of former days were to be renewed in other and equally distressing ways. Mr. Hillhouse enlisted in Company K, 18th Missouri Volunteer Infantry, January 2, 1862, and was discharged the following August. There was no peace, no security in Missouri for them; the father was hunted day and night by prowling bands of bush-whackers and guerrillas. His property or possessions were taken or destroyed as fast as accumulated, and Mrs. Hillhouse was frequently at the point of pistol or bayonet, commanded to reveal the hiding place of her husband. Some of his escapes were little less than miraculous. Many and frequent were the skull and cross bone notices to leave, the torch applied to the little log house and the children, William, Jessie and Margaret (there were three now) threatened with death; until with an outfit such as they could muster from the wreck and ruin of the past, the family left Missouri overland for the Solomon valley in Cloud county, Kansas.
This country was being surveyed, opened to soldiers and widely advertised. They arrived in March of 1866, and on April 1st located a homestead on the Solomon river, then Shirley county and not organized. The buffalo came to drink from their watering place. After homesteading, the munificent sum of twenty-five cents was the entire cash possession of the family. They were the only family for miles up or down the river except the Hendershots and Robert Smith. The family would often cry for joy at the appearance of a covered wagon.
At that time there were no suppiles[sic] only as freighted from Leavenworth. The Indians were alert, hostile and every moment to be feared and dreaded. Prairie fires laid waste possessions, droughts, floods and grasshoppers were to he met and endured. Scarcely a page of the life of the frontier but was to be filled out to the last line. While attending to the duties entailed upon farm life Mrs. Hillhouse would often be left alone with her three children. During the raid of 1868, their barn, corn and crib was burned by the Indians, a horse was stolen and the family pursued while enroute to the stockade near Minneapolis. This flight was made in a two-horse wagon. The Indians came within two hundred yards of them, but when they discovered the "Jim Lane" cannon in position they fled to the hills and far away. However, had they known the cannon was not primed they might not have been so quickly routed. The company were indebted to Mrs. Robert Smith's ingenuity; she took the bail off the coffee pot to prime the cannon. The party went on unmolested to Lindsay, where the little handful of settlers had congregated for protection. Two weeks later they returned. These families had gathered together for many miles around; some of the women and children were walking, some of them old and crippled, some screaming, others crying or praying.
A company of the United States infantry camped at the Hillhouse homestead. They had plenty of rations and the English captain relished the buffalo meat pie made by Mrs. Hillhouse. About this time a gentleman of noble bearing came with a party of friends to hunt buffalo. Mrs. Hillhouse cooked their supper and furnished them with a night's lodging. A week later, a Mr. McMillan of Harvard University with a guide, in search of rations, came and revealed the fact that she had entertained an English nobleman, for her guest was none other than the Prince of Wales.
The first season Mrs. Hillhouse had a beautiful garden in the low land near the river but one day a rise came and swept the whole thing away. She, with William and Jessie planted nine acres of corn by cutting an opening in the sod with an ax, placed the corn and with their feet pressed it into the earth.
John Hillhouse was visiting relatives in the west, Idaho and Utah for the purpose of regaining his health. He was at Heber, thirty miles out of Salt Lake, enroute home when he was stricken with an attack of heart trouble. In a few hours the man who had braved the dangers few men are called upon to undergo, dangers of land and sea, of Indians, Mormons and Gentiles, the horrors of war, terrors of the bushwhackers torch and the midnight assassin, privations and hardships of frontier life, days and weeks without food enough to sustain life and family, the discouragements of grasshoppers, drouth, etc., the heart that experienced all of these without surrender to fear, at last before the king of terrors ceased to beat, on August 1, 1892. Mrs. Hillhouse, a remarkably vivacious and interesting woman, survives him. She is thoroughly Americanized and prefers this to her native country, but is ever pleased to hear of prosperity in Scotland. But with all the hardships endured she is loyal to America and prefers her adopted home. She still retains the old homestead and as they had the choice of practically any location it is one of the finest farms in the Solomon valley.
The seven children are as follows: William A. (see sketch) Jessie, wife of D.D. Williams, a carpenter of Glasco; they are the parents of six children; Frank, Alice, wife of Walter Purcell, of Oklahoma, Maggie, wife of Herman Mann, Jessie, Nellie and David. Madge A., wife of M.L. Hare, a druggist of Glasco, Kansas. Mary, wife of J.V. Bartow, in the employ of Chapin & Sweet as second miller in the Delphos mills; they have two children, Earl and Willie. James Robert, station agent at Delphos, Kansas, where he married Miss May Jones. David, a farmer and lives on the old homestead, married to Mary Olmstead of Glasco. Catherine, wife of A.E. Abbott, for seven years a Cloud county teacher; he is a graduate of the Salina Normal and is now teaching on his third year in District No. 47.
Mrs. Hillhouse is a member of the Presbyterian church, christened in her native country by the old Covenanters. Her parents were Hugh and Jeanette (McKenzie) McClair, natives of the highlands of Scotland. Her father was a seafaring man, being a mariner on a ship under Admiral Nelson. Her paternal grandfather was a factor to the Duke of Argyle, one hundred and seventy years ago. Hugh McClair was stolen when a boy and for twenty years it was thought he had drowned at sea, but he had been sold to a pirate vessel instead. An uncle, her father's only brother, was a sergeant in the British army. Her maternal ancestry, the McKensies were all well-to-do Scotch people, overseers of coal works, merchants, etc. - [After an illness of several months, Mrs. Hillhouse was deceased in April, 1903. - Editor.]
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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