The following material was provided by Bill Bentley, It has been posted here with the permission of The Yates Center News.
During the early months of 1954 the Home Demonstration Council of Yates Center, Kansas sponsored a contest for people in the area past the age of 70. They were asked to write and submit a story of their early pioneer experiences in Kansas. The stories were judged by a committee and Mrs. Mabel Irwin's story of her early day experiences in Wilson and Woodson County received the highest points. What she wrote appeared in The Yates Center News on Thursday, April 15, 1954.
In 1871 my parents, Nathaniel Morgan Butcher and wife, set out from Keokuk county Iowa in a covered wagon loaded with their few possessions and their three children, Margaret age ten, Charlie three and a half, and myself age one; their destination Kansas. Since my parents could not agree on a name for me I was nicknamed "Pet." Although a few years later I gave myself the name of Mabel Lucy. The nickname stuck and is still used to this day by the family and close friends.
Father had a dream of raising cattle for market, on the lush grass so abundant in this area. Mr. Moss, five miles west of the little village of Buffalo in Wilson county, wanted to sell his claim on which was built a large log cabin with fireplace. Although only a small patch of ground was broken, it suited father; so he bought it, hired a neighbor with his ox team to break the remaining ground needed for an orchard - which later supplied the family with apples, peaches, pears, cherries and plums.
Next, father undertook to dig a well near the door, as our only water supply was a spring about a quarter of a mile from the house. He reached a depth of 20' his only tool a spade, but the well remained dry and we continued to carry water from the spring. However, father's labor was not in vain, as the dry well proved an ideal place to suspend pails filled with butter and cream. Even in hot weather the butter remained firm and the cream sweet.
The only available fuel was wood. Father earned our winter supply for the fireplace and mother's cook stove, by clearing some timberland on the Verdigris, for Mr. Ludwic. Then he bought lumber at Humboldt, the nearest trading post, and by early winter had completed a new frame room adjoining the log room. In this new room was placed the four poster, walnut bed, brought from Iowa. Whenever I think of this bed, I recall one morning when we heard a rustling noise. Mother poured hot water back of the corner post, and out into the room writhed a large black snake. In those days plaster was unknown, so the walls and ceiling were finished with boards. Homemade rag carpets were put down, wall to wall, softly padded with clean straw. Coal-oil lamps and the fireplace provided light and we were very comfortable, although we had very little money. Father lost all the money from the sale of the Iowa farm through a dishonest broker in Topeka who forged father's name to the bonds. And although he sold his mules and used all cash available trying to bring the man to trial, he was unsuccessful and lost all. Even so, he was always able to provide adequately for his family.
The many poisonous snakes, rattlers and copperheads were a constant hazard, but our dog, Frisk, with his strong heavy body and short legs, could make short work of them - he would catch a snake back of the head and shake the life out of it. Once Charlie wandered away from the house, accompanied by Frisk, as always, when suddenly they came upon a rattlesnake too large for the dog to lift, but he barked and ran back and forth between Charlie and the snake till father came and killed it. Although Charlie was not hurt, Frisk had been bitten twice but he knew an antidote. He would roll in and crush a certain kind of weed, then roll in fresh earth. And sure enough on the second day here came Frisk, crawling back to the house and mother gave him some sweet milk. He had passed the crisis and survived to be out devoted protector throughout all my childhood.
Soon father took claim to 80 acres adjacent to our farm - then in quick succession three more families took adjoining claims, the four farms cornered and on that spot father gave an acre on which a school house was built. Our closest neighbor, Alex Jameson had a married daughter who came each year to visit. Then there was the William Starr family, and on the fourth farm was the Starr's married daughter and family. But tragedy came to the William Starr's. Mr. Starr was injured while hunting and took an overdose of medicine to relieve pain which proved fatal. Soon after his death, their son, William Jr., was stabbed to death in a quarrel at a dance. But George, the eldest, was a great comfort and strength to his mother and soon the second son, Abe, brought a young bride to live in the home and the youngest daughter, Clara, completed their household.
When we were not able to have a teacher at the home school, we children walked three miles to Maple Grove School, also for Sunday School and church. And just beyond lay the small community of Middletown, consisting of the post office, general store, a blacksmith shop, and Dr. Cope's office and dwelling. He later moved his practice to Humboldt. I recall on one occasion mother needed sugar, so Charlie and I were sent to Middletown carrying a basket of eggs and butter, a stick under the handle, each of us holding one end of the stick. For this produce we were to get sugar and, most important of all, a few sticks of candy. Three miles is a long walk, especially returning; so we stopped often to rest and examine the candy. If one stick seemed longer than the others, a tiny bite would even it up. And when we finally reached home the sticks were indeed small, though even, and now had to be shared by two smaller brothers, Marion and James, and a baby sister, Gertrude.
The brightest and most momentous holiday of my childhood was a Fourth of July celebration on the picnic grounds at Fredonia, 15 miles away. The Frisco tracks ran close by the park and it was on that day I saw a train for the first time. I shall never forget how incredible it seemed "that great noisy thing, no horses to pull it - traveling so fast" must have been all of 20 or 25 miles per hour.
Indians passed our farm frequently, moving from the North reservations towards Indian territory to the South, and not all of them were friendly. I especially recall a day when a large band of Indians stopped at our place asking for water. There were the braves and all the women and children, no wagons, all of them on ponies - their belongings strapped to long poles drawn by horses. Father was gone and we smaller children were terrified. Mother couldn't make them understand that the Verdigris was only three miles further down the trail. She brought all the sweet milk for the little ones, showed them that the well was dry and, when they were unable to find any water for themselves, they departed without giving any trouble.
Our mode of living was very simple. Laundry equipment consisted of a tub and a washboard, clothes were spread on the grass and bushes to dry, a pad on the table served as an ironing board and irons heated on the hot stove. Mother made her own lye for soap by filling a barrel with wood ash, then the top and bottom were knocked out of the barrel and wood ash kept saturated with water. The lye, produced through the chemical reaction dripped from the barrel into an iron kettle which had been placed underneath. Mother raised Pekin ducks, their feathers made very fine pillows and feather-beds. The green coffee beans purchased at the general store were roasted in the oven (summer or winter) as needed, then ground in a coffee mill attached to the wall. The granite pot with the steeping coffee always sat on the back of the stove. Fruit was usually dried for winter use (no fine glass jars and sealing lids in those days). However apples and many root vegetables could be kept nearly all winter in the pit dug in the ground if they were well packed and covered with clean, dry straw.
Yeast was not available to buy, but mother saved a starter from one baking to the next and, of course, baked all the bread used by the family. We had no sewing machine - a new calico dress was rare indeed - but mother managed to get a new piece of calico, just enough for me. Our friend, Mrs. Chappe, often rode over, horse back, from a neighboring farm. She owned a sewing machine and volunteered to make my dress. My excitement knew no bounds on the day she brought the finished dress and when the bundle was unfolded there was also a new dress for mother. What a good friend this dear lady was to us.
I pieced my first quilt at ten years, a double nine patch. Mother and Margaret helped me quilt it and I use it now on my bed, and made 73 years ago. Shoes were another item of apparel that we took very good care of. They were scarce and costly and often very hard to find correct sizes. We children always went barefoot from early spring until late fall to save our shoes.
Musical instruments were a rarity in those days, but Mr. Allen Rich, the music teacher, owned a small organ which he always took to church, school picnics or community sings. His music was a fine contribution to the life of the community. Spelling bees and literary were other gatherings we enjoyed.
I was converted and accepted Christ as my Saviour in a revival meeting when I was 15 and the next April was baptized in Little Sandy, near the school of the same name where a small Baptist group held service once a month. Rev. Madison Frame was the pastor. He also performed the marriage service when later I was married to Wesley Irwin, in my parents home in Yates Center.
My sister Margaret was married to Robert Grider near Toronto and I was in their home often. Some of the friends I met there were Eva Hensley, Lura and Dell Wilson, Laura and Lilly Lovett, and in Toronto, Emma and Dell Frakes, Neal Mauk, Ellen ~Huff and her brother, Andrew.
In 1895 father sold the farm and bought 20 acres just outside Yates Center from Abner Yates. There he raised small fruit and strawberries. Mother passed away in 1905. Father lived on alone there, until 1917, when he sold and made his home with my sister Gertrude, the late Mrs. W.T. Swinney of Buffalo, and with me in Chanute until his death in 1922. I lived in Yates Center from 1889 to 1901 and recall very well when the Court House was built in Yates Center and the political fight which preceeded the building, trying to decide whether the county seat should be at Kalida or Yates Center. I have lived in Chanute now since 1913, but I still recall vividly my childhood, when Kansas was young.
Mrs. Mabel Irwin
305 North Forest
NOTE - The 160 acres on which N. M. Butcher settled in 1871 is located four miles west of Buffalo in Wilson County in present Webster Township. Its northern boarder is two miles south of the Wilson Woodson County line. Its legal description is: The NE 1/4 of Section 17, Township 27, Range 15 East. All of the 160 acres is now in grass and no evidence exists of former buildings in September 1991.
Tom & Carolyn Ward
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