Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, copyright 1918
JACOB RUMBAUGH was for twenty-eight years one of the most widely known citizens of Fort Scott. He had come to that section of Kansas and established a home on lands just across the state line in Missouri in 1870. He endured all the trials and vicissitudes that beset the average farmer of his day. But he was not himself an average man. He had a resourcefulness, a faculty for hard work, that often made him prosper while others were blaming fate for hard times and misfortunes. He was optimistic. As long as he lived he was sustained by hope. It has been well said that when a man ceases to hope he is spiritually dead. Hope is only another word for faith. It was faith that took Jacob Rumbaugh through every trial of life. It was faith that sustained him during the 15 years he spent as an invalid prior to his death on December 1, 1910. As a citizen he was liberal minded, always ready to do his share or more than his share in any undertaking for the public benefit. He was a generous neighbor and friend, and in spite of the sufferings that burdened his later years he was never heard to complain.
Apart from his experiences, his achievements, his useful life in the state and among his family and neighbors, he rendered an especially noteworthy service when in his declining years he put down on paper the words which were published in the year of his death under the title "Reminiscences of Jacob Rumbaugh." These reminiscences were written and dedicated to his children and grandchildren, but they have a wider appeal and an interest to all who would know the individual part played by men in the making of modern Kansas. The reminiscences make a small book that is a rare privilege to read, and it is one that should be part of the permanent literature of Kansas.
The keynote of the book is happily stated in his concluding words: "As fathers before me have told their sons and daughters the story of their ancestors that the children of their children might profit by the experience of past generations, so I have told mine, with the hope that their knowing of the days gone by may strengthen them for the days to come and may make their thoughts coextensive with the life of the race. For what is history but truth clad in a living personality and acted out anew in each generation."
Much condensation is necessary that the life of Jacob Rumbaugh told in his own words may be reduced to the limits assigned this article in the History of Kansas.
Jacob Rumbaugh was born in Seneca County, Ohio, July 26, 1839. His grandfather, John Rumbaugh, at the close of the Revolutionary war, in which he had participated as a soldier, settled in Virginia, where he owned a sawmill and also had a number of teams with which he did freighting. His wife lived to be eighty-five years of age. There were eight children, five sons and three daughters. The sons were George, Christopher, Nicholas, John and William.
William Rumbaugh, father of Jacob, was born in 1799. When he was thirteen years of age the War of 1812 broke out, and his older brothers went into the service, while he remained at home and assumed double responsibilities. The old homestead was located near Harpers Ferry, Virginia. At the age of twenty-two, in 1821, William Rumbaugh married Polly Museeteer, daughter of a prosperous planter and one of thirteen children. Mr. Jacob Rumbaugh pays some beautiful tributes to his mother, who died March 8, 1847, when he was eight years of age. She was a woman of great industry, proficient in all the household arts, well fitted for bearing pioneer burdens, and was kind, generous and lovable.
After his marriage William Rumbaugh moved to Ohio and located in Seneca County on a land warrant given to John Rumbaugh and his sons for their services during the Revolutionary war. This land comprised 320 acres, situated in the midst of the forest. On one 80-acre tract William built a log cabin 20x22 feet, and moved his family into it in 1826. While he worked in a nearby sawmill and in the intervals did what he could in clearing and cultivating a small tract of land, his wife remained at home carding, spinning, weaving and making the clothes for the family. William and Polly had three children when they moved to Seneca County, Ann, John and Susan. Five others were born in the pioneer home, George, William, Christopher, Mary and James, and then in 1839 was born Jacob. In the spring of 1843 the family moved to another farm in a community where the neighbors had organized a school district and had put up a schoolhouse out of logs. There Jacob Rumbaugh received his first schooling. After three years the family returned to the old homestead, another child having been born in the meantime, named Rufus. It was not long after the return to the old homestead that the mother was taken ill with the measles and died. William Rumbaugh never recovered from the shock of his wife's death and spent his last years as an invalid, carefully looked after by his sons.
"When I was twelve years old," wrote Mr. Rumbaugh, "brother James and I took entire charge of the farm and my school days were over. All counted, the number of days I spent at school were less than the number of days in one year; but in that time I finished an old English reader, Gray's arithmetic (to part third), a curious looking geography, and the elementary spelling book. The only book to read in my house consisted of a common sized Bible, bound in smooth leather and printed in small type, and a prayer book about the same size, which was printed in larger type. There were no newspapers until the time of the Kansas border troubles, and then we took a county paper. There were no magazines and I never saw my mother with a book of any kind in her hands. My parents were good Christian people and very strict in many ways, especially in observing the Sabbath day. In after years there was a Sunday school organized at the schoolhouse, and then a New Testament was purchased, and father was very proud of it, and it was lighter than the old family Bible and easier for him to hold. Then, too, he enjoyed the small story book circulated to the people from this private Sunday school library. If I was more innocent of books, I was rich in the lore of Nature's works. I lived so near to Nature's breast that I knew her voices well; the signs of the moon, the names of every tree that grew, hundreds of different animals, birds and fishes, all these and more. I was always industrious and frugal. I loved to work and never wanted to idle away any time."
When Jacob Rumbaugh became twenty-one years of age, in July, 1860, he applied himself to reading and discussing the various platforms of the political parties. His father was a whig, two of his brothers were republicans, and two brothers and two brothers-in-law and a stanch friend were democrats and admirers of Stephen A. Douglas. Jacob thought he was a democrat, but when the republican party issued its platform he was strongly impressed with its plank against the extension of slavery, and in the following fall he voted for Abraham Lincoln and the republican ticket, and thereby as he says became a republican for life.
About that time he left home and ventured into business for himself. He sold books in the vicinity around Saginaw Bay, Michigan, and by work all the winter earned a large commission and was pronounced a first-class salesman.
In nearly every career there is a point where a man's destiny seems to come upon him suddenly and transform all the future. This point in Mr. Rumbaugh's career was the Easter Sabbath of 1861. He attended church at Bettsville. Church was held in a very rude and unpretentious building, with the old slab benches which have been made familiar by the recollections of school children of that and earlier years. Before the service began four young ladies from the town of Tiffin, Ohio, came in and took seats immediately opposite him. By one in particular he was attracted, and he thought "there never was such perfection of womanly grace and loveliness." He found it impossible to fix his attention on the preacher, and before the service concluded he realized that he was "head over heels in love." That was the beginning of his life's great romance, and less than a year and a half later he was married.
In the meantime he and his brother James had rented a farm and were busy with the preparations for a crop. War came on, and James Rumbaugh turned over the farm to Jacob and enlisted in the Fifty-fifth Ohio Regiment. He continued with the management of the farm and the crop and was also pressing his courtship to Miss Isabel Holt. On August 6, 1862, at her Uncle William Holt's home in Tiffin they were married. He was then twenty-three and she in her eighteenth year.
Very soon after the war began Lincoln's call for 600,000 more soldiers started him from his fireside and caused him to enlist in the Forty-ninth Ohio Infantry. He sold his team of horses and farming implements at a sacrifice, left his crops with his brother-in-law, and while Mrs. Rumbaugh prepared to teach school during his absence he marched away to the front. He had hardly arrived at Camp Chase when he was taken ill with fever and quinsy, and he remained in the hospital for some days. The first news he read in the paper after getting out of the hospital was about the battle of Chancellorsville, and midway in the list of dead was the name of his brother James. The war went on, many battles were fought and many lives were lost. Then came the surrender of Lee, and Mr. Rumbaugh was back at home, overjoyed to be again in the presence of his wife, but finding that the management of the farm had not prospered during his absence.
About that time he worked out the plans for an improved cider press and was getting ready to have his invention patented, when the perfected form of an invention came along so similar to his that he abandoned the idea of getting a patent. He originated several other devices, but never applied for any patents. For several years after the war he engaged in buying stock, and was one of the pioneer dealers in poultry in that section of Ohio, and made considerable money as a dealer. He made money, and also lost some, and both the good and bad were mixed in his fortunes then as also during the early years he spent in Kansas. From Ohio he moved with his family to the vicinity of Kendallville, Indiana, and occupied a one-room log cabin, which his wife made exceedingly attractive and homelike by her industry and domestic tastes. They enjoyed two prosperous years in Indiana. While living in Ohio their first child was born, Lura, and in Indiana Minnie Bell was born February 26, 1869.
Several times Mr. Rumbaugh had been stricken with an attack of "Kansas fever," and late in the fall of 1869 he again determined to move to Kansas. After selling everything except his wheat crop he found himself possessed of about $800. His household goods were shipped by rail to Kansas City, and after a final visit among relatives and friends in Indiana and Ohio, Mr. Rumbaugh and his wife and children arrived at Olathe, then the terminus of the railroad, in January, 1870. It was a very expensive removal Mr. Rumbaugh found. He paid really exorbitant prices for the miserable hotel accommodations afforded them, and it cost $5 a hundred weight to get his goods freighted from Kansas City to his destination. In his reminiscences he recalls that flour sold for $7 a sack, meat for 25 cents a pound, corn and potatoes $2.50 a bushel, butter 50 cents a pound, while a dollar's worth of sugar or coffee could easily be carried in a man's coat pocket. Mr. Rumbaugh spent many days riding over the country on horseback, and finally determined to buy land in the hilly region to be above the damp, and chills and fever from which they had suffered back in Indiana. Thus he finally arrived in the country around Fort Scott. Mr. Rumbaugh assigns several reasons for choosing land across the line in Missouri rather than in Kansas. In the first place he found it difficult to accustom himself to the idea of negro and white children attending the same school, as was done in Kansas. Then again, the laws in Kansas were very liberal in exemptions. While in Ohio he had had a rather unpleasant experience with a partner who had gone to Michigan and by the laws of that state had been exempted from his responsibility for debt left behind in Ohio and which Mr. Rumbaugh had to assume. After some investigation he found that in Missouri there was no exemption law; that a man, rich or poor, was subject to his debts, and this was more and more in accordance with his way of thinking. "I wanted to pay my taxes and have the protection of a citizen of America and the benefit of all its laws. I was willing to be sold out if I did not pay my debts, provided that I had the right to sell out others who refused to pay me."
Thus in the spring of 1870 Mr. Rumbaugh bought, paying part of the purchase price in cash, 120 acres of land in Vernon County, Missouri. "I bought cabin logs for $20, lumber for $23, walnut shingles for $15, and did all the work myself, even to the chinking and mortaring, and had the house finished and my family moved into it before the holidays." The distinctive part about the career of Jacob Rumbaugh, and an important lesson that may be gleaned from his reminiscences, is that when he was halted by an obstacle in one direction, he was so resourceful that he was not long in discovering a way out of any financial difficulty. Thus when a mortgage was overhanging his farm in Vernon County and no immediate prospect of his crops giving him sufficient money to pay it, he recognized a general demand all over that section for fruit trees, and he bought a stock of apple trees and begun selling them at a good profit, buying and selling some 7,000 trees in one winter. Later other nursery men came in from a distance and reduced the price, but in the meantime he had effected his purpose and he was ready to give up selling trees.
On April 29, 1872, another child was born, Nellie Blanche. This child was a constant source of joy and delight to her father, and her death in August, 1873, was the hardest blow he ever sustained.
The experiences of several following years are best told in Mr. Rumbaugh's own words: "In 1874 there was a great drought throughout all the country; many people did not raise any corn, but I had plenty for our needs and a little to sell. In 1875 the grasshoppers took possession of the country; they came in such clouds that the sun could be but dimly seen behind them, and when they settled they left the country brown. Everything green, from a stalk of corn to a young tree was destroyed. They were so thick on the ground that one could not step without walking on them. They would hop into the houses and on the beds unless the doors and windows were kept closed. There was a great financial panic among the people; some were frightened into 'greenbackism,' 'beggingism' and 'pauperism.' But strange to say, I never raised a better crop of corn, and I also sold my first three head of fat cattle.
"In 1881 Lura graduated from the Kansas Normal College and taught the summer and winter terms of school at Lone Oak.
"Our prosperity continued without a break and in 1882 we commenced to build us a beautiful home, with pillared porches, great bay windows, octagonal fronts, and long, wide halls with curly birch and walnut finish on all the doors and window facings; there were dainty boudoirs, a bathroom with all the modern conveniences, dens, a music room and a library with good books and magazines; the basement extended under all, and was partitioned into rooms for milk and cheese, for potatoes, apples, and all kinds of fruit and vegetables. In 1883 it was finished, painted and decorated at a cost of $4,600. This year I was even more prosperous and I bought a carriage for $350, to which I harnessed a fine team. I had dozens of horses now. Then, too, the girls needed a new piano; so one day Isabel and I drove to Nevada, Missouri, and purchased a handsome square piano for $450.
"In 1884 I raised 12,000 bushels of corn and 100 tons of German millet hay, and sold hogs to the amount of $2,000 and cattle amounting to $7,500. Our personal property was estimated at $30,000, and we were exceedingly prosperous. In the early spring of this year Isabel visited in Ohio. On April 5th Minnie graduated from the Kansas Normal College and went to Nevada, Missouri, for the teachers' examination, from which she received a first-class certificate, and taught a summer term of three months at the Lone Oak School."
Those conditions that surrounded country life in America twenty-five or thirty years ago were such that material prosperity did not bring with it all those things which people of essential culture and broad intelligence demanded as a normal part of their lives. In that more than anything else can be found the real cause for the movement from country to town, which was the dominating feature of America's industrial and social life in the last quarter of the last century. The Rumbaugh family having reached a status of prosperity, found that money would not bring to their country home the advantages, the cultured association, the environment of music and art, which in order to enjoy they must live in town. Though farm management was as congenial as it was profitable to Mr. Rumbaugh, he felt his duty to his family obliged him to part from his business, and consequently he moved to Fort Scott, and lived for a time in a rented house. Later he bought a homesite at 720 National Avenue, and proceeded to erect the first Queen Anne house in the city, which his widow still owns. As he says, "it created much comment, and a mention of it was made in the daily papers from time to time as it progressed." It was a modern home, and when the family occupied it in 1886 its cost aggregated $6,700.
In the meantime Mr. Rumbaugh had experienced much difficulty in getting capable managers for his farm, and he also had to contend with poor markets, some of his cattle selling for only $1.50 a hundred weight and wheat for 42 cents a bushel. His early business experiences in Fort Scott was not profitable. When he went to the city there was a real estate boom. He was influenced into buying property at enormously inflated prices, and while he recognized the end before it came, he was unable to get out without the loss of much money. He also became identified with a manufacturing company and lost money in that.
One compensation was the happiness and the fine progress made by his daughters in their respective studies of art and music. On October 11, 1887, the daughter Minnie married Mr. Curt Myers of Fort Scott. Then, on January 5, 1888, another wedding occurred in their home at Fort Scott, when the daughter Lura married Mr. Greene, a wealthy and influential citizen of Wichita. The loneliness of the home without these daughters was greatly accentuated by other business losses and reverses which had followed closely in a train. It was characteristic of Mr. Rumbaugh that he gave no hint of these various troubles to the daughters who were then enjoying the happiness of marriage, but when both the daughters were gone he found himself in debt a number of thousand dollars. Again and again he secured tenants for his farm, and again and again each one disappointed him by shiftlessness or by unscrupulous business methods. Finally in 1891 he took complete charge of the old farm, and the 800 acres which he had acquired soon felt the impulse of his management and returned to him a prosperity sufficient to satisfy all his creditors and leave him much besides. He continued more or less actively identified with his farm and other properties until 1898, when his health finally broke down and reduced him to that stage of invalidism in which he spent fifteen or more years before his death.
And then, only a few weeks before the end came, he was able to write the following words which have in them nothing of vaunt and breathe only a humble gratefulness for the fortunes that had followed him through his lifetime:
"And now having emerged from the poverty and the obscurity in which I was born and bred to a state of affluence and some degree of reputation in the world, I look back to the pioneer days of the wilderness and see where the stump-dotted clearings have expanded into vast stretches of fertile farm lands. I see small towns or cities where log cabins once stood. All civilization has changed and developed with extraordinary rapidity, and I find myself comfortably situated, my debts all paid, and with abundance of money and worldly goods. I see my farm advanced from $5, $10 and $15 to $75 and $80 an acre, and bringing in a liberal income. And though shut in from all the world without, I sit by the side of Isabel in our home at Fort Scott, content to let the cold winds roar, while the perforated rough-barked, firebrick logs lie between the andirons and support the flaky asbestos which reddens with a glow that comes from the lighted gas. No more we do fourteen hours a day of hard work to earn money and then drive long miles to spend it; but rather, we turn by our glowing fire of gas and telephone our needs, and forthwith every want is gratified."
Some time before his death he was sitting by the window. When his chair was wheeled back to bed, a paper was picked up from beneath it. He had penned the following words: "The sunset of life approaches and soon the pleasures, desires and struggles, fears, hopes and mysteries will be over, and soon I will cross the river of destiny to meet the angel of destiny for weal or woe. Now, when the pleasant, happy and beautiful pilgrimage of life with me is over, then may my spirit be transformed into love and abide with the angels of the resurrection." An invalid fifteen years, and awaiting the sunset, he realized the passing as those around him could not.
Transcribed from volume 4, pages 2190-2193 of A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, copyright 1918; originally transcribed October 1997 , modified 2003 by Carolyn Ward.
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