Recollections of early times, Butler County, Kansas
From: History of Butler County, Kansas
BY: Vol. P. Mooney
Standard Publishing Company
Lawrence, Kansas 1916

By D. M. Elder.

I have been asked to give my recollections of early life in Butler county.

Be it remembered that Butler county as a farming community dates from 1870. Previous to that year the population was sparse. The frontiersmen, hunters, trappers, Indian traders, etc., date back to 1860 and a very few a few years beyond, but the bulk of the homesteaders came in 1870.

Uncle Joe Adams, who came before 1860, lived in 1870 on section 6, in what is now Plum Grove township; Daniel Stine, at the junction of Walnut and Whitewater rivers; an Indian trader, J. R. Mead, at Towanda; J. C. Lambdin at Chelsea; James Gillian and Kige Bemis, who should be classed as frontiersmen. Then came the hunters, adventurers, and men who were dodging the sheriffs in other States. Part of these men came in 1860 and some before.

The bulk of the farmers and homemakers came in 187o. It must be remembered that the homesteaders settled on the two western tiers of townships and north of the Osage diminished reserve, the north line of which is about four miles south of El Dorado. This was given up by the Osage tribe in 1870. That winter witnessed their breaking camp from their village north of Douglass. In the summer of 1870 Northeast Butler, east of the west line of Lincoln and El Dorado townships, and North Osage lands had been opened for public entry and was known and deeded as Speculators' Land, including what was known as Peck, and afterwards Potwin Land, also Lawrence Land, both of which were known as Railroad Land. This was given by the United States to the State for educational purposes but in reality the dishonest legislators gave it to the railroad promoters. This shows why the southern part of the county was more thickly settled. The Osage land was sold to settlers for $1.25 per acre.

The first town in Kansas at which I stopped to look was Abilene, then a Texas cow town. I was told by the cattlemen that the Whitewater country was the best in Kansas, which so impressed me as to cause me to come to see. The first person I became acquainted with after arriving was C. V. Cain, our Charley, who was building the best house in Northwest Butler on section 16 in Plum Grove township, and boarding with Bob Dearman in the house so long occupied by William I. Joseph. I boarded there until I located land and I never regretted my first acquaintance.

Homesteads were plenty and easy to get for the first year. I recollect I could have located a homestead on the town site of either Wichita, Newton or McPherson. I remember of picketing my pony on Main street of Wichita and I thought it too sandy. Emporia was the nearest railroad town - sixty miles distant. My first trip after moving in was for mower and rake and lumber for a shack.

Horace Wilcox, who lived with his family in a log cabin about eighteen by twenty feet, with one small window and one door and nature's floor, was the principal cattle man. He had perhaps 200 Texas cattle. Henry Cornstock was next in importance with perhaps thirty head. Stark Spence had about twenty head. He lived in a cabin which also had nature's floor but it was very fashionable with the earliest settlers. Dugouts and sod houses were not so common here as farther west. Cattle wintered largely on open range, which was then thirty miles west. Buffalo were found occasionally as they would stray into the herds of cattle. Hunters went out in the winter and filled their wagons with buffalo meat and a few hides. John and Andy Smith and Sam Crow often found deer and antelope to supply the larder south of Burns.

It was a common saying for years that the best house in any school district was the school house, which was largely true. A large per cent. of the population were ex-soldiers, a small number of whom were "Confeds." I don't recall any gerious disagreements. We treated the "Johnnies" cordially. They were here from almost every State in the Union and many European nations. A big influx of Russian Menonites came in the early seventies. They brought their farming tools and equipment with them. Their thrashing machines didn't look much like ours and I never saw one in use after being shipped so far. They learned their lessons and became good citizens. Here the "Johnnie" forgot he was a southerner and became a real American. We all imbibed the ideas of the others and became possessed of the knowledge of all, hence the great progress. The early settlers were temperate as a class, which placed Kansas in the lead. The other States are following her example. The Prohibition amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1880.

In recalling those early days we think the teachers are worthy of notice, a few of whom are still with us. John Austin, our late city engineer, taught several terms before taking up his work as treasurer, surveyor, etc. Charles Page, now deceased, also taught school grasshopper year. Molly Burris, George Dafron (now deceased); Lou Shriver, now Mrs. S. R. Clifford; Fanny Hull Wilson; Alice Stevenson Gray; Florence Stearns, now wife of Dare Wait; Ada Newburry, later Mrs. Frank Ewing, deceased; Esther Newburry, now Mrs. George Tolle; Emma Lambing, now Mrs. James Wilson; Miss Hattie Weeks; John Shelden; Jos. Morton, William Price, deceased; Nell Hawley; Miss Lamb, and Nettie Maynard were all teachers in those early days. The writer taught the "Brown school" in Clifford township in 1874. Mr. and Mrs. Alvah Shelden also taught school, as did Mrs. John Riley. Riley was later a newspaper man and went to Arkansas. Old Aunt Jane Wentworth; who died in a fire caused by herself, is said to have taught school. Mrs. Hunt taught the Sutton Branch school and often walked out from El Dorado in the mornings and returned in the evenings. Prof. Shively and John Blevins taught and were county superintendents. Alvah Shelden was also superintendent. The Brown sisters, Mrs. J. K. Nelson, Mrs. Austin Brumback, Miss Lillie Brown, and Ida Brown; W. H. Litson, J. C. Elliot, Mrs. Clara Brumback; Emma Harvey, Pricilia McGuinn; Lavelia BectonĄ Alfred Synder, Flora Donaldson, O. E. Olin and Celia Boessma were all successful teachers. A report of the teachers institute clipped from the Walnut "Times" of 1877 gave the attendance as eighty two. The teacher's certificate issued in those early days gives subjects taught similiar to those now required. Some of the embryo lawyers of the late 1870's taught school, among whom were Ed. Stratford, V. P. Mooney, Austin and Ed Bruniback, Freemont Leidy and others.

Bachelors constituted nearly a third of the homesteaders, among whom were the Neiman boys, E. B. Brainard, Bert Magill, James Shoots, D. M. Elder, James Morton, Mart Ashenfelter, John and Sam Austin, and numerous others. Marriageable girls and widows were few in the early seventies.

Preaching and preachers were scarce but Sabbath schools were soon organized and many of them would compare favorably with the present schools. Such a school was organized in the school house near John Wentworth's and continued for five years without missing a Sabbath. Jacob Holderman was the first active worker, but he soon died and I have no doubt went to Abraham's bosom, for he was a worthy man. D. M. Elder and Joseph Morton took up the work he started. Lizzie Randall (Mrs. Will Randall), a sister of Charles and William Cain, furnished the music for public meetings and Sunday school in the Northwest part of the county, and occasionally went as far as Augusta.

The early settlers were generally law abiding and many God fearing people. The first year, 1870, we heard of horse and cattle theives, but after the Regulators near Douglass took action the business became unpopular and has since remained so.

Butler county was without railroad facilities until 1877 - although the A. T. & S. F. Railway was built as far west as Newton in 1871. It was a cattle town with dance halls and saloons. A graveyard was soon established for the burial of fellows who "died with their boots on." Wichita soon took its place as a cattle point and Dodge City also became prominent. This part of the country was then freed of that class of citizens, which included the "quick on trigger marshal" and Wild Bill and others of that kind.

Preachers were scarce. Occasionlly a "God made preacher" came forward. I remember one in particular whom I shall call "Old Yank." Old Yank felt called upon to deliver his message to the sinner and after some talk he sent word that he would preach at Lone Star. As a result about fifteen came to hear him. He arose very meekly and announced his text but became stage struck and after stammering awhile he said: "I am no preacher of the Gospel" (accent on the last syliable), and after repeating that remark three times we out of symapthy for him told him we understood and the old fellow sat down in some agony. This ended his ministerial career.

Another middle aged man who thought himself well gifted used to hold forth when asked. He had a well prepared sermon in three heads, which was like the song "Our Old Cow - She Crossed the Road" that had three verses which were all alike. The opening paragraph was: "Oh, yes, my beloved brethren." He would give his entire sermon in a very high key and for variation would repeat in a lower key and again in a still lower key and so continua until he had his subject driven home. I was present one night at a protracted meeting when he was asked to preach. I wouldn't have been there if I had know he was to talk. I had said in the presence of Mrs. Thomas Waliace that his repetitions made me think of a little dog chasing his tail. While I was enduring it with all fortitude possible my eyes met Mrs. Waliace's. She was looking at me with an expression that indicated what she was thinking and laughed aloud - the first time I ever laughed out in meeting, which mortified me to such an extent that I left immediately. I never knew of his preaching again and it may have been that my rudeness wrecked his career.

Another old gentleman who had raised a good crop of potatoes in 1874 was at a sale in the early spring of 1875, and was asked by a man who knew he had them and wanted some to plant, if he would sell some. The old gentleman, fearing that if he sold them he would be prevented from receiving aid, replied: "No, sir, I haven't nary tater to spare," and this fear of spoiling his chances of drawing aid caused him to put them in the loft, which not being strong, gave way one night and came near killing him and an old maid daughter.

Another story used to be told of a preacher who went East to solicit aid. He succeeded in getting $10 to aid some struggling church, and when he got back he reported the gift and then announced that as they were needy he would preach it out to them in the school house, wich was judicious and well considered.

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