The Diary of Lizzie Dopps
Now I will tell why we left the Kansas
plains and came to Washington Territory.
After we had been on the plains for about
three years and had proved up on our claim so that it was ours, we sold
it and bought land about a mile from the little town of Norton.
Eli and Dave had much to do with the
growth of this little town. In
fact, they were two of the founders of this little place.
In the meantime my father and stepmother
with their little family moved out from Illinois to where we lived in
Kansas, so I was no longer lonesome for my family.
Eli’s brothers were growing to
manhood and marrying and soon my own brothers did the same, so we had
plenty of company and places to visit.
It was all a very happy community in spite of some of the
hardships we went through.
We had no evergreen Christmas trees but we
would cut down a tree, perhaps a cottonwood or poplar, wrap the branches
and trunk in white cotton and sprinkle rock salt on it and have a very
pretty, white, sparkling Christmas tree--a community tree at the church
where we also had delightful Christmas programs.
It was things like this that made life happy for us.
Later on we gave up farming, sold the
homestead place first, bought another farm closer to town and then sold
Eli then went into the furniture
business in town. We built
quite a nice store with living quarters on the top floor.
We did very well here, until the great fire that nearly wiped out
the little town of Norton.
Several homes were burned and ten
stores--ours one of them. It
happened on a windy night, and not having an adequate fire department,
the flames leaped like demons, destroying everything in their way.
There was no chance to save
anything--nothing but our lives. When
we saw there was no quenching it, we gathered up our three little ones
and fled to a stone house at a little distance, where a friend lived.
Our little boy, Oscar Leroy, was
only six months old, but in spite of the glare and excitement, he
"cooed and crowed," really effecting a calm on others.
Of course, he was unaware of the tragedy that was happening and
of the good he was doing by seeming to calm others, but the town fathers
said that such a baby should be rewarded and gave him a small metal
award with inscription on it, I
still have it.
Our store was fully insured, but a few days
before the great fire, our flue had been altered (for the better, too)
and we had not had time to notify the insurance company, and in spite of
the fact that the fire did not, start with us, but several stores away,
and the flue had nothing whatever to do with the fire, the insurance
company used that excuse as a loophole, and we were never able to
collect one cent of insurance.
Our home was gone and everything in it, as
well as the store, but my grandfather had left me some money upon his
death, so we bought some property about a half mile from town--a
beautiful place on the banks of a little stream and here we built a
Nothing daunted, Eli again started
in the mercantile business. This
time it was a dry-goods store with boots and shoes.
We were regaining our losses and prospering
when along came another fire.
This time we were not burnt out, but it
would have been bettor luck if we had been for all was covered by fire
insurance and in a good company.
It was a cold windy wintry night, snow
falling and the store next to ours caught fire and burned.
We were awakened in the night by someone
shouting, "Eli, do you know nearly your whole stock of goods
is out in the street and your store is apt to burn?"
Eli dressed and rushed up town but even then it was too late to
Eli's employees living nearer the
store thought his store would surely burn, so meaning to help, they
broke into the store and removed bolts after bolts of cloth, and boxes
after boxes of boots and shoes, and in the excitement just laid them out
in the snow. What wasn’t ruined by snow, smoke and water was stolen.
Our store didn't burn so there was no insurance to gather, but
our stock was completely ruined or gone.
It was another total loss.
Next, Eli took up the harness
business*. He had a nice
harness shop and a good business, but he had a crafty partner and while
he could prove nothing, he knew all was not going as it should and that
he was losing hundreds of dollars that should have been his.
Then along about this time we had another
great loss by fire. It was
We had a beautiful big black thousand
dollar stallion. While we
were building a nice big barn on our new place, we were keeping him in
the livery stable in town.
The barn was near completion and Eli
was planning to bring this beautiful stallion home one night.
However, there was a little more hammering to be done and Eli's
partner, knowing what a high-strung, nervous, horse Charlie was said,
"Oh, I wouldn’t take him home tonight, Eli. Why don't you
wait until tomorrow night? By
that time all the hammering will be done."
Eli took his advice.
I am not putting the blame for what
happened on Eli's partner. He
meant it as good advice, but it just goes to show that a few words
spoken, sometimes make a difference in one’s life, as these words
changed the current of our lives.
That night the livery stable caught fire.
It was thought that the fire started from a tramp smoking in the
Our horse, Charlie, burned to death that
night with seventeen other horses.
He was the most valuable horse in the whole stable.
He was so big and strong he was tied with two ropes.
The stable owner tried to rescue him, he
being the most valuable horse there, so rushed in and cut one rope,
forgetting the other one. When
he started to lead Charlie out, the remaining rope jerked him back.
It was too late then. The
burning roof started to fall in, the horse's tail caught on fire and the
man barely escaped with his life.
That night and the next day the air over
the whole town was rancid with the acrid smell of charred horseflesh.
The stable seemed to go in no time, just a puff of smoke then a
racing blaze spreading over the whole structure and it was gone.
So was our thousand dollar horse, gone up in smoke with just one
stroke of Fate. Another big
It was discouraging, so many losses by fire
in just a few short years, and our finances and capital were getting
After this loss we talked about selling our
beautiful home so that we night have more money. However, I simply could not think of selling it and remaining
there, seeing someone else enjoy the home we had built expecting to find
so much happiness in it. If
we sold it, I wanted to go away so I could forget about our losses.
Then just about this time we suffered the
greatest loss of all. The
Angel of Death again visited our home and this time carried away our
only boy. We had been so
proud of him. He was such a
beautiful child with his deep blue eyes and golden curls.
He was all boy, too. When
he was about two years old his father thought he looked too much like a
girl with his long curls, and Oscar didn't want people to think
him a girl, so off came the curls.
He was a bright child, too.
He taught his sister Jessie, who was two years older, all
of her letters when he was only two years old.
I can see them lying on the floor on their little stomachs with a
book or paper in front of them and hear him say in his childish voice,
pointing out each letter, "Now, what dis?"
And if Jessie couldn't remember he would patiently tell
I can hear him answer when one would ask
him to spell "boy"--always "B-O-Y," "dood
boy" and he was always a good boy.
One day he had picked a blossom from one of
my house plants. I told him
he must never do that again, but that he could pick all the flowers he
wanted out—doors but never pick any in the house.
sunshiny day, I thought it would be good for my house plants if I'd put
them all out on the veranda for a while and let them drink in the
sunshine and fresh air. Not
long after I had done this, he came up to me with his little kilt held
up with his chubby little hands, full of the blossoms of my precious
house plants and exclaimed, "Oh, mama, see my pitty f'owers."
And when I saw what he had done I said,
"Oh, Oscar, you’ve picked all of mama's flowers she told
you not to pick."
He looked up at me with his eyes full of
innocence and with tears in his voice, pathetically said, "Why
mama, dey was out-doors."
When he was less than three years old--he
would have been three in May--an epidemic of scarlet fever struck our
town in March of that year. It
struck down our little boy and do what we could for him this dreaded
disease claimed him.
One morning just after sunrise, he called
his father to his bedside and wanted his playthings.
We thought at that request that he was getting better.
We brought them all to him, his colored blocks, a gay ball, and
most precious of all, a miniature riding whip, just like what his papa
had in his harness shop only small.
He looked them all over carefully, not trying to play with them,
then turning to his father smiled a pathetic little smile and said,
"Take them away now, papa, and keep them for me."
He then asked for his sisters and in spite
of the fact we had kept them isolated from him, I could not refuse this
last request, for I knew the end was near now.
He was so glad to see them after not having seen them for several
After a few joyous baby words he seemed to
see the Angel of Death hovering over him, waiting for him, and with a
sunny little smile for each one of us, turned his head and gave one
little sigh and was gone*.
We still had our two little girls, but our
only boy was gone, our finances seemed to be going, and if our home was
to be sold and go to someone else, I'd rather be away from where all
this sorrow had happened.
Then one day Ellen gave Nellie some
magazines with pictures to look at.
One evening after a big thunder and
lightning storm, Eli leisurely picked up one of these magazines
and within those covers saw pictures of a town in the West, Vancouver,
Washington Territory, an old, old town, one of the Old Hudson Bay
Trading posts, but at that time experiencing quite a boom.
He looked up and laughingly, half in
earnest, said, "What do you say to us selling out and going west,
out to this town that is having such a boom?
Just look at these pictures."
I couldn't think he really meant it, so I
laughingly agreed. He gazed
at the pictures a while longer, then looked up again and soberly said, "I meant it."
My heart sank.
Give up my home, my people, my friends, and go out west to a
strange country, among strangers!
True, I had a brother, Charlie, who
had gone to Seattle, but the great Seattle fire of 1880 had just
occurred, he had been burnt out, and I did not know that he would remain
However, after thinking the matter over, we
were finally convinced that it would be a good move.
All our friends were here, it was true, and
Norton was growing, but with each improvement that came to the town, we
were asked to help out with expenses, and since we were among the
founders of the town, we didn't have the heart to turn them down as long
as we lived there and were one of them, yet we had had so many losses it
was a drain on us.
If we went to a new place, we would have
none of this, and the cash from the sale of our property and belongings
would give us a new start. So,
Ellen tried to discourage us as she
did not want us to go. She
said she could never forgive herself for giving Nellie the
magazine with those pictures.
It is strange what one little innocent act
will do to change one's future. It
would be hard for me, too, to leave my dear sister-in-law who had been
more than a sister to me.
However, in a short time, everything was
My sister, Stella, and her husband, Joe,
decided to come with us. So
one night in July, 1889, the little railway station of Norton, Kansas
When the train came in, the conductor asked
of the station agent, "Well, what's going on here."
The agent replied, "Oh, nothing, only
a couple of families moving out west to Washington Territory."
We were on the train, the engine whistled
and the wheels began to turn. The
lights of our little town of Norton disappeared into the night. We were leaving everybody dear to us, a new country, new
faces, new friends. What
would the future hold?
* Eli is enumerated on the 1880 census in Norton, Kansas. His occupation is harness maker.
*Oscar is buried in the Norton cemetery. His tombstone gives his date of death as 01 March 1888.
|© 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|