"John A. Watts,
Early Black Settler,
Tells His Story"


This letter was written by John A. Watts, one of a small group of black pioneers who settled in western Lincoln county. The letter, which is not dated, was provided courtesy of the Lincoln County Historical Society, and was probably written originally for a series of articles that appeared in the Lincoln Sentinel-Republican in 1939 and 1940 on Lincoln County settlers.

Sylvan Grove, Lincoln, Kansas
Hanover Township

John A. Watts came to this country with his parents in the year of 1877. They come to Salina in the spring from the State of Ohio and the next spring of 1878 my father come up in Lincoln county and taken up what they called a homestead.

He made what they called a dugout at those times and then that fall he moved his family up. Well things at that time apparently loooked wild, you could not see a house nowhere. Our closest neighbor was about 2 miles away. My father then bought what they call a yoke of oxen, we broke them to work, they were coming 3 years old. He bought them from a man by the name of Frank Urban. We worked those oxens about 6 years. We would borrow a team of horses a few times until we got our oxens broke to work.

Mr. John Onetlen was the man that let us use his horses. Then after awhile we bought a team of horses from a man by the name of Fred Meyer of Sylvan Grove. That was in 1883 but before my father bought these horses he would walk to Salina to get work. He made three or four trips different years to work. He would go down in the spring and stay till after harvest then come home to see how everything was, then go back to work through the threshing season then come back. He made all of those trips walking. I remember he drove two hogs from Salina home. I should judge they would have weighed about 80 to 90 pounds a piece. They give him no bother. The first day he got to Shady Bend. He put up for the night with some white family. The next day he got home all OK.

We never did have so very much but we never went hungry but had to work for everything we got although there was one time along in the first part of the Eighties my Father got a card from Lincoln county saying for him to come down. Well he went down, he got one bushel of seed corn, four bushels of cane seed, one bushel of seed potatoes that was for seed. That was the only help that we ever got but the way they put out this help now I do believe that would be a grand insult to my father. When we first come to our homestead the first three or four years there were plenty of antelopes. We only saw one deer and one elk. I think this happened in 1892. There were three or four men come up from Salina to hunt antelopes. They had their rifles and greyhounds. They come up in a surrey. They camped there at our place two different times. I remember one time the next morning they asked about the antelopes. We told them where to go. Well they went and they started one just about half a mile from the house. We had left our dugout at the time, built a two room sod house. The door to this house was in the east so these hunters went out east. They started one and finally he got herded toward our house. My brother Will and I was standing out in the yard watching them and we had left the house door open and so here they come antelope and the hounds come straight toward the house. My mother was out quite a little ways from the house doing work at something so we called her. She looked up and seen what was coming she said children run in the house and shut the door so we did just in time to keep them out. They turned around the corner of the house and went on but the hounds didnít catch the antelope so they come back but during that day the hunters captured two young ones and shot one old one. They give my brother and I the two little ones for pets. We didnít have them over two months until finally both of them died.

Well, Kansas was a great country those days and it is yet because it can raise you the highest and let you fall the hardest of any state in the union.

Well, at one time there were 19 colored families living in Lincoln County. Some of them left in the early days. It was too hard here for them so they left. Of course some passed away here but the majority left.

I have one brother and three sisters living in Lawrence, Kans. And one sister living in Colorado so we are the only colored family any more that lives in Lincoln county.

There is one thing that I do appreciate. We get along fine with everybody and everybody gets along fine with us. So that is the best of all

I am as ever

Yours Truly

John A. Watts


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