The first settler in Starr township was William Zahn, the subject of this sketch, who settled on a homestead where he now resides in 1867. During his early residence there his little sons would gain some high point of land from where they could look over the surrounding country and inquire of their father how much of the land within their vision he possessed. Mr. Zahn would reply, with a wave of the hand, "Just as far as you can see," and he indeed felt as if it were, for the idea that so wild a waste of boundless prairie could ever be desired by settlers, was foreign to him. They had no neighbors except an old trapper who lived in a dugout under a bIack oak, on the bank of the creek, by the name of Tiffany.
Mr. Zahn is a native of Prussia, Germany, born in 1821 and emigrated to America in 1850. He had served three years in the war cavalry of Germany and after coming to America received a position in the military riding school it Hoboken, New Jersey. Finding all the avenues of employment or business closed by competition he decided to come west. He was married in Germany and with his wife and three children emigrated to Kansas. At Junction City, the terminus of the railroad, he bought two yoke of oxen and not being accustomed to cattle, he secured the service of a driver. They arrived in Starr township in a snow storm on April 10, 1867. Mr. Zahn had preceded his family a few weeks prior, built a dugout and returned for them. Their dugout was built on the bank of the creek. A short time afterward a cloud burst occurred and the inmates were compelled to make their escape through a window as the door opened out to the flood. They waded in water waist deep to get to the upland, and many of their goods were floated away. They then built on higher ground. Early in the 'seventies they were again deluged by a flood, which did much damage, carrying away their granary, The lowlands were a seething flood for miles. They had built a stone house soon after their arrival and a son was sleeping on a straw mattress in the basement. The first apprisal he had of the overflow was the sensation of being carried around the room on his bed of straw. The cattle were swimming in the flood to places of safety, but none were lost.
In 1870 Mr. Zahn erected a massive stone structure, 20x4O feet in the clear, with basement and two floors above. During this period migration was rushing in and this was headquarters for all manner of entertainment, dances, theaters and Fourth of July picnics were all held there. The Zahn settlement was designated as Zahnsville and was the center of amusement. A home talent theatrical company known, as "Pipe Creek Theatrical Troupe," gave some very interesting entertainments there. They had a good band, known as the "Zahnsville String Band." After the theater the improvised stage and seats would be removed and dancing would follow. Everybody attended, "with his mother, and his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts." It was also the "halfway place" or inn, for the settlers en route to Clay Center, or Junction City. For several years these were their nearest trading places, often taking more than a week to go and come to Junction City over the roadless prairies and bridgeless streams.
The country at that time abounded with elk, deer and antelope and an occasional buffalo. Mr. Zahn trapped many beaver, otter and coyotes, making it a profitable industry for several years. They had many Indian scares. One day Charles and his sister remained at home with their father, who was ill, while the other members of the family were away, and about forty Indians put in an appearance. Three of their number came inside and with their bowie knives began whittling the chairs. Mr. Zahn bravely arose and secured his gun, which he drew on them. Charles and his sister in the meantime had slipped out and notified the neighbors, who hastily gathered together and drove them away. Many Indians camped along the creeks, drying and curing their meats obtained on the hunt. Mr. Zahn underwent many rare experiences and struggled with destiny for several years. While on his return home from Junction City with a supply of provisions he was caught in a deluging rain. While attempting to cross a swollen stream the vehicle was upset and the one hundred dollars' worth of groceries were swept away - a severe loss at that time. One hundred dollars at the present time would almost purchase the whole stock of many of the pioneer stores, but an ordinary wash tub held all of Mr. Zahn's purchases upon this event.
Mr. Zahn was married in Germany in 1848 to Henrietta Wenzel. Of their eight children but two are now living, William and Charles. Four lived to maturity. The oldest son is a farmer and lives just over the line in Ottawa county, where he owns two hundred acres of land and raises stock extensively. Charles lives on the homestead with his father since the death of their mother in July, 1900, but owns one hundred and sixty acres of land which he homesteaded, adjoining his father on the north. It is a well watered farm with a variety of fruit trees which bear abundantly. In 1892 he was married to Margaret Emiline Diller, the daughter of Martin Diller. The Dillers were among the early settlers of Cloud county. He took a homestead near Meredith and died shortly afterward. A sister, Anna Zahn Stocks, died in the spring of 1882, leaving a husband and four children. A son, Otto Zahn, died about seven years ago, leaving a wife and six children. He ran away from home at the age of fifteen years, went into the army and later joined a scouting party in Colorado. The Zahn children were educated at home. The first school they attended was seven miles distant and while en route they were in mortal terror of Indians and the coyotes.
For several years the Zahns found wheat raising most profitable, but finally went back to corn again, which they have raised along with oats and barley. Several years their corn has yielded sixty-five bushels to the acre on the uplands and far better on the bottom land. In 1901, the poorest corn year that Cloud county has known for many years, they raised eight thousand bushels of corn on one hundred acres of ground. They have hauled corn to Clay Center, receiving only ten cents per bushel. They keep a herd of about eighty head of native cattle. It is natural to suppose Mr. Zahn, having had the choice of homesteads, would select a good one, and such is the case. It is one of the finest farms in Starr township, watered by Chapman creek, a never failing stream. The historical big stone house stands as a monument on a high prominence of ground and can he seen for many miles distant in either direction - a reminder of the much good cheer it brought to the early settlers. The Zahns are thrifty and honest German people. Mrs. Zahn was missed in the community where she had lived so many years and where many of the well-to-do people of the neighborhood have been recipients of her kindness in the early days. Many of the settlers were poor and her charity was never withheld. She gave with a bountiful hand.
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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