The Diary of Lizzie Dopps
Our arrival at the pioneer Kansas homestead
on the prairie.
Early one morning in the late summer of
1873, just as the day was breaking and the eastern sky was streaked with
gold, seeming to proclaim a bright future for us, our caravan of eleven
covered wagons started for the Kansas plains.
This was, indeed, a new mode of living,
sometimes tiresome, but on the whole very interesting. Sometimes I drove
the team, myself to relieve Eli.
Making camp at night with the heavens full of twinkling stars,
the smell of bacon and coffee for an early breakfast-Ėoh, it was fun
we were probably a month on our way.
I think the most exciting time on this trip
was as we were about two miles from a small town. We were stopped by a
farmer who informed us that the town we were approaching was having an
epidemic of cholera, many dying.
What to do, what to do? Should we detour
around this town thus adding many more days to our wearisome new journey
or would it be too much of a risk to feed up on asafetida* (an old
fashioned remedy for warding off disease found in every household) and
march bravely through?
After holding a consultation we decided on
the latter. So, after
partaking of this Oriental herb, we took the bull by the horns, so to
speak, and hurried through this town.
After leaving it some miles behind, when we
stopped to make camp that night, one of the boys, John Defenbaugh
who was driving one of Dave's teams (he had three) had a violent
fit of vomiting.
Alas, we were in consternation.
We had tempted fate, for that was a sure symptom of this dread
disease. However, John
soon seemed much better and we soon discovered it was an over dose of
the unpalatable asafetida instead of any terrible disease.
At last we arrived at our destination--the
pioneer prairies of Kansas. There,
Father and Mother Dopps, who had preceded us, greeted us with
open arms. Their claim was located on a small stream of water, the
Sappy*, not really large enough to be called a river, and yet there were
times when I have seen it a raging torrent and roaring away with the
proportions of a river.
The claims father had selected for Eli
and Dave were about twenty or thirty miles farther on.
These were on a stream called "The Prairie Dog."
We were anxious to reach our land where our
new home was to be, so, after a day or two with Father and Mother
Dopps, we traveled on, father accompanying us.
Father had told us that on one of the
claims there was a deserted dugout.
We decided that would be the better one for Ellen and Dave
as they had the baby.
Ellen and I were anxious to see this
of course but, lo and behold, when we arrived and started to enter this
low dugout, we discovered it was filled with buffalo burs which had
drifted in. Ellen
decided it would be far more comfortable to sleep in the wagon until
this place was cleaned out--especially after she had sat down on a nest
of them and Dave had to spend much time in the operation of
A dugout sod house is a far cry from a New
York Fifth Avenue mansion, but they can be made very neat and homelike.
It is preferable to build one on a side
hill or hillock, digging into the hill three or four feet deep and
saving the sod to build the walls up higher.
When built high enough for one to stand up comfortably, a ridge
pole is obtained and interlaced with other poles and branches, and sod
placed on these for the roof.
Of course there is little timber out on
these wide open prairies, but where there is a stream of water, one can
obtain cottonwoods, poplars and such trees.
We were on the stream, The Prairie Dog.
Windows were made in the sod part, and
glass sent for. There was a
soft rock formation nearby that was quite white--I suppose it was
limestone--mixed with water, it made a sort of white-wash and this we
put on our walls. In more
prosperous times we sent for white muslin and hung it on our walls.
At first we had only hard earth floors, but
in time we cut timber and laid wooden floors.
When pictures and mirrors were hung on
these walls, fluffy white curtains at the windows and rag rugs strewn on
the floor, it was neat and cozy, cool in the summer, warm in the winter,
in this little mother-earth house, and we were as snug as a bug in a
Upon our arrival we immediately set about
to build our dugout sod houses. Ellen's
and Dave's was to be built first as they had the baby. When theirs was finished then ours was built.
Before winter set in we were cozily settled in our new homes.
Our homestead claim consisted of one
hundred and sixty acres, so naturally we did not have many close
neighbors. Dave and Ellen,
Eli and I, had built our homes near where our claims joined, so we
had each other and were not lonesome.
I had never had a sister near my own age,
neither had Ellen, and we found in each other what we had missed
all our lives before. Ellen
was about two years older than I, and I felt toward her as I would
toward an older sister.
She was older in her ways than she was
really in years--not that she looked any older than her years. She was a beautiful girl, rather tall and slender, with
beautiful brown eyes, and a wealth of long almost black hair. In later years, she grew quite stout, but was always a very
She was a very sensible, practical girl and
woman. I suppose this trait
was developed in her by her helping her mother who had so many boys and
only the one girl, except the little adopted baby girl,
She had never had much time for play.
The only doll she ever had was a rag doll that suddenly
disappeared. Later on in
the winter when the sauerkraut barrel was about half-emptied the poor
drowned doll was picked out of it,
Milton, her brother owned up he had put the doll there
when they were making the sauerkraut, for a joke.
It was nice for me to have this
serious-minded, yet jolly girl for a sister out on this pioneer prairie
Our nearest neighbors were across the
Prairie Dog, the Browns, and farther up the creek the Williamses.
Before we built our dugout-sod houses, we
had heard the Browns had the nicest dugout in the surrounding
country. Ellen and I
thought we would like to see it and perhaps get some good ideas for our
Never will I forget that neighborly call.
At that time, it was the fashion to
"build" a dress, both waist and skirt, onto a lining.
When we met Mrs. Brown, the outside of her dress had all
been worn away, nothing but the lining remaining.
Her face was brown and dry-looking, her hair lifeless and
stringy. In fact, she
looked so tired, all dried up and almost lifeless.
They had been in this wild prairie country
about two years. It was not
a very encouraging visit. I
wondered if I would look like that in two years time, but I am glad to
say, I am sure neither Ellen nor I ever presented such a sorry
Of course, we were younger and life was
before us to make what we would of it, and although there were
discouraging times, we had each other for companionship and we always
tried to make the best of things.
There was the starting of a little
settlement about five miles from us and here on Sundays the settlers
from all around would gather for Christian worship.
These Sundays were happy, peaceful, restful days to look forward
We would put up a lunch (perhaps a fried
prairie hen) and have our meeting in the morning.
After meeting we would spread out our lunches, have a sort of
picnic time, after which the men would sprawl out and rest, dozing or
napping, the women visiting, and watching the youngsters playing around.
Then Sunday school in the afternoon and a leisurely drive home in the cool of the evening. Ah, those were great days, happy days. There were about twenty families from around about that enjoyed these Sundays.
*asafetida - A brownish, bitter, foul-smelling resinous material obtained from the roots of several plants of the genus Ferula in the parsley family and formerly used in medicine. The odour of Asafetida is stronger and more tenacious than that of the onion, the taste is bitter and acrid. Its vile smell has led to many unusual medical claims, mostly stemming from the belief that itís fetid odor would act as a deterrent to germs. In several European countries a small piece of the resin would be tied on a string and hung around childrens' necks to protect from disease. The shock of the sulfurous smell was once thought to calm hysteria and in the days of the American Wild West it was included in a mixture with other strong spices as a cure for alcoholism.
- The Sappa Creek; possibly from Late Latin sappa
a sort of mattock; Sappa is a city and Catholic diocese in
Albania. It is unknown at this time  how Sappa Creek in
Norton & Decatur Counties of Kansas and Harlan & Furnas Counties
of Nebraska was named.
|© 2006 Laurie Arnold. All material presented herein was transcribed or otherwise provided by Laurie Arnold from the unpublished text of the diary, family photos and personal genealogy. She and her family have graciously given permission for the diary to be posted to the Norton County Kansas GenWeb website, for the benefit of others who had pioneer families in Norton County, Kansas. This diary, photos and personal genealogy may not be reproduced, published or re-published for any reason, in any format, without prior written consent of the contributors or copyright holders. web design © 2006 Ardie Grimes|