Geographically speaking Lincoln County is in the central part of Kansas, and Kansas is in the center of the Universe, hence the importance of what shall follow. It is watered and drained by the Saline River, and by its tributaries, the creeks, Wolf and Spillman, Lost, Beaver, Twelve Mile on the north and Twin, Bullfoor, Spring, Elkhorn, Owl and Table Rock on the south, also by Rattlesnake and Battle Creek, which flow into Salt Creek in the northwestern part of the county. There are seven hundred fifty sections of arable land, most of which is under cultivation. The landscape is just rolling enough to be beautiful, but not to interfere with tillage. The air is so clear that the eye may span many miles, and looking from any high point one may see comfortable and thrifty farm-yards, shaded by beautiful trees and surrounded by fertile well-kept fields. One can trace the streams by their wooded banks, and perhaps see the spires of a village in the distance.
Withdraw these evidences of civilization from the scene, people it instead with occasional herds of buffalo, deer, elk, antelope, towns of prairie-dogs, packs of gray wolves, flocks of wild turkey and prairie-chickens, with perhaps a band of Indians mounted or afoot, and you have the proper scene for the beginning of these chronicles.
Some of these herds of buffalo and deer were surprisingly large sometimes, containing tens of thousands. We have it on good authority that a single herd of buffalo crossing the railroad track some time in the sixties held up a train from nine o'clock in the morning till five in the evening. Mr. Erhardt tells of starting out from his home with a friend to get some tallow and killing ninety-two buffalos in one afternoon. This must have been before the year 1870. In ten years from the time the first settlers came, buffalo began to be very scarce in the county, very few were seen after 1877.
Mr. J.R. Mead, in a letter to Miss Clara Green, speaks of seeing a herd of elk between five hundred and a thousand, in number, coming down the valley from Spillman Creek. They crossed the saline where the town of Lincoln now stands. A hundred great bucks were in the herd, their immense horns looking like a forest of dry cottonwood limbs, as they walked through the sunflowers with their bodies partly hidden by the grass and weeds.
Mr. Mead also tells of a great herd of deer which he saw in this country. He has given a complete description of this section of the country in its natural state. We quote in brief:
"In the lowlands along the river the sunflowers grew a dense thicket ten feet high. Along the bluff was a line of drift showing the valley had been covered six feet with water. This line of drift extended far up the river, and the valley above where Lincoln now stands must have been covered, judging from the drift ten to fifteen feet deep, occasioned by the bluffs on either side and the thick timber forming a gorge."
In his letter he says further:
"I and my party nearly drowned on Wolf Creek in 1861. the water rose thirty feet in an hour. Big logs and trees were left at the foot of the bluffs a quarter of a mile from the creek."
Besides the animals above mentioned there were many beavers, ravens, eagles, squirrels, porcupines, raccoons, foxes, otter, and wildcats.
The famous Pawnee road which extended from Nebraska to the Big Bend of the Arkansas, thence wherever opportunity afforded, came through what is now Lincoln County and crossed the Spillman five or six miles above its mouth. This well-watered, well-wooded country, full of big game, offered a happy hunting-ground, and with its ridges and rocks was a bonanza for primitive warfare.
Of the tribes which frequented this country, the writer has learned very little except that Pottawatomies, Cheyennes, Sioux, Delawares, Kaws, Otoes, and Pawnees were all seen by early hunters in the valleys of the Saline and Spillman. It seems that these Indians were seldom dangerous if they knew a white man was armed and had the will and ability to defend himself. But J.R. Mead has well said:
"The timid and weaklings had no business in that country."
The Pawnees in particular were capable of being docilized, and the superior keenness which ages of thieving had taught them, made them valuable government scouts in the border warfares. They were excellent horsemen, and had a through knowledge of the country over which their raids extended, hundreds of miles in width and from Nebraska to Mexico.
The Pawnee road above mentioned was no defined path, but just a route within a strip of country a mile or so in width. They made semi-annual buffalo hunts with this road as a basis. next in importance, as a means to wealth and honor was their thieving expeditions. J.R. Mead describes the equipment of one of these parties:
"The Pawnees invariably went on these expeditions afoot in parties of from two to thirty-five, composed mostly of young men. The were lightly armed, all had a very serviceable bow and a quiver of arrows, and a knife. Each Indian carried from four to six extra pair of new moccasins, one or more lariats, twenty pounds of dried meat, some pieces of strap to repair their clothing also a pipe and tobacco, an occasional light squaw axe and a few trifles. This was all that was necessary for a thousand mile journey. Although they went afoot they expected to come back mounted for when they raided another tribe they depended on stealing enough horses to get away on. A piece of tanned hide looped around the lower jaw of the horse was bridle enough. They were so successful that they were hated by all other plains tribes. their hand was against every man and every man's hand against them. All tribes were united in their effort to exterminate the thieving Pawnees."
Mr. Mead says further:
"Periodically the Cheyenne warriors spread out like a net, swept over the rolling country of hills and streams and valleys between the Solomon and Saline in eager search of the detested raiding parties."
The Pawnees avoided conflict wherever possible as it interfered with their business, they were out to steal ponies and not to pick quarrels, but once drawn into battle they were among the bravest and most skilled warriors of the plains.
The Pawnees followed the same program after the coming of the whites. They had once occupied all the territory of Kansas and still claimed it, and thought they had a right to gain their living from it. This worked a great hardship on the settlers, which, with other hardships of pioneer life, prompted Washington Smith in his history to ask what motives "impelled men to leave the scenes of childhood, the surrounding of youth, the love of kindred and associations of home, the tender ties of friendship and the graves of their ancestors to contend with the inclement skies and inhospitable shores of an unknown country."
Their motives were various, but in any case it was not dangers, hardships, privations, calamity, war and death which filled the minds of those who laid the foundations of our present commonwealth. it was rather the opportunity of a new country, a veritable new haven and new earth, which attracted them. here was an opportunity to transfer the best of what existed in older settled places and to build to that something more advanced and better, and economically an opportunity to gain new and richer estates for themselves, and better advantages for their children.