1911 Kansas Day
Lincoln Sentinel-Republican, 13 March 1986Awhile back – 75 years ago to be precise – Lincoln County pioneer O.N. Greene wrote an account of Lincoln County history as he knew it – had lived it – from some 40 years earlier. A Sentinel staffer discovered it on microfilm file recently.
Green’s article was written as an address to be delivered by Miss Clara Greene at a 1911 Kansas Day program at Lincoln.
With Kansas’ 125th birthday a matter of days away, this seems an appropriate time to reprint a portion of the old-timer’s recollections which were first published in The Sentinel dated Feb. 2, 1911.
“In viewing the differences between conditions as you know them today, in January 1911, and as I found them 40 years ago the 6th day of February, 1871,” the writer told, “requires you to eliminate (from your minds) for the time being, every tree and every house and every road and every street that you know. For there was not a tree or grove in all this county except along the water ways. Not a laid out road in all the country.
“Instead of straight roads and square corners, we followed trails that ran from one good stream crossing to the next, keeping to the hills to avoid the gumbo in the bottom lands, and curving in long undulating lines to avoid hilly and rough places from one bend in the stream to the next.
“Not a bridge across any stream (was there to be found) west of Salina. All the low lands were covered with blue stem grass that was a high as a horse’s back, and the uplands were covered with bunch grass and buffalo grass.
“No houses except log or sod houses or dugouts, not a fence except around the small patches of cultivated land, for there was no herd law then and cattle roamed at will. Barbed wire had not been invented … no railroad with its easy and swift means of transport of both freight and passengers … all travel was by stage coach, and the fare was $2.
“The trip to Salina required two days, one going and one returning, or you could walk, and many a man considered the walk to Salina a very easy method of earning $2.
“All incoming settlers arrived in covered wagons, prairie schooners, and it was not an uncommon sight to see 12 or 15 such pass in a day in spring and fall, all going west. One night 80 wagons camped on the Spillman alone.”
All provisions were hauled from Salina, although there was a small store where Henry Suelter lived in Elkhorn Township in 1911, which was operated during those earlier years by Lon Schermerhorn, Greene related.
There were men here 115 years ago in 1871, who made regular trips to and from Salina, and were known as freighters. They charged a rate of 25 cents per hundred pounds for hauling, Greene recorded.
Talking of meals: “Think how limited was the bill of fare with its corn bread, bacon and dried applesauce! Wheat flour sold at $6 per hundred plus freight for hauling while corn meal only cost $2 per hundred. Bacon was about the only meat that was shipped in, though the man who was a good shot never lacked for fresh meat, as there was an abundance of prairie chicken, wild turkey and quail. Antelope and buffalo abounded.”
There were few potatoes, probably not five bushels in the whole valley as the soil was too new for them.
Few settlers attempted to raise gardens, he said. One veggie that added variety to the diet was buffalo peas which were gathered and cooked till tender, then pickled. The children who craved a greater variety roamed the prairie and dug a plant called the “doaley,” which had a palatable root, he said.
“We used wild sage for tea, browned barley and rye for coffee. For mince pies we were absolutely unable to secure fresh apples, and we used beets instead. Many substitutes of the same sort might be mentioned.”
Farm products had to be hauled to Salina or to Ellsworth or Minneapolis. “it was not at all uncommon in the summertime to be obliged to turn aside or stop and kill an enormous rattlesnake that had curled up comfortably in the middle of the trail … Prices for products were much lower than at present.”
Pioneer Greene related that, after the fall of 1872, people in this sector of the county did not have to haul flour and meal from Salina, as he put a mill at Rocky Hill for Chas. Bennett, who thereafter supplied the settlers along the Saline.
Mr. Greene continued:
“Then the town of Abram was built and supplies were to be had at the Abram store.
“I have seen a settler comes from the northwest, buy his provisions and carry them home, a distance of 16 or 18 miles, on his shoulders.”
Mr. Greene related that instead of eight different churches as there were in 1911 in Lincoln, there was not a church or even a schoolhouse in the valley in 1871. He related that a Mr. Matthews had a book of sermons, and he would read one each, and settlers would come to listen. Then, when the store at Abram was built, services were held there regularly, as they were at the Rocky Hill school, once it was constructed. Rocky Hill was the first school in the vicinity, Greene related.
The use of walking plows, the use of brush for harrows and hoes for cultivators and as corn planters until the hand planter was introduced, were mentioned by the early day settler in his account of how things were here in early days.
“Wheat was sowed by hand, cut with a cradle, bound by hand and threshed by being trampled out by the stock. A space was cleared of grass, swept clean, then the wheat was piled on the ground and the livestock driven round and round till it was all free from the head, then gathered up and fanned free of the chaff.”
In talking of raising cattle, Mr. Greene said that two or three settlers combined their herds of long horns. They would take turns herding them or hire a herder.
The range was unlimited and all the herder had to do, he said, “was kill time and rattlesnakes, play mumble peg or solitaire.”
Stock buys came through the county and bought up the cattle and drove them to Ellsworth to be shipped to market.
“Instead of court being held three times a year in Lincoln, we were attached to Salina for judiciary purposes, and all contestants, witnesses, etc. had to go to Salina for court,” he wrote.
“We depended on our cattle ponies to carry news, go for the doctor, etc., instead of the telegraph and telephone which are now so common,” he noted.
He felt that no story of the early days would be complete, even then, without touching on the grasshopper visitation of 1871.
“The hoppers struck Lincoln on the 26th of July, 1871, and in three days’ time there was not a leaf left on trees, not a corn stalk that had not been stripped clean, and no other crop that was no destroyed beyond the hope of finding.
“Even the onions were eaten, tops and all, clear down into the ground, leaving on the outer paper covering and roots.
“The sides of houses were covered (with grasshoppers). They settled on the bark of the trees until it looked as if a swarm of bees had lit there, though they did not pile up as bees do.
“The grasshoppers stayed long enough to deposit their eggs, and when they hatched the following spring and were not yet large enough to fly, the farmers drove them out of their little patches of cultivated ground and into the tall grass, driving them with the wind and burned the grass. Or, they dug a trench and drove them into it, piled grass on top and set fire to them that way.
He concluded, “You may be sure that the women and children were each able to do a man’s work at the driving!”
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