Permanent Settlement of Butler County, Kansas
From: History of Butler County, Kansas
BY: Vol. P. Mooney
Standard Publishing Company
Lawrence, Kansas 1916


Real Settlement - In 1867 or 1868 real settlement was begun in Butler county. Many quarter sections were homesteaded and preempted, much land was broken and farmers settled down to the business of making homes and accumulating property. The tide of immigration turned in this direction. The white covered "prairie schooners" began to arrive, and from that time on until 1874, "grasshopper year," they were always in sight, bringing those men through whose veins coursed the best blood of the race of mankind. Men, energetic, ambitious, optimistic, courageous. And they came with the mystic power of looking into the future, of seeing beyond the present boundaries into the invisible future; home seeking men, trusting to the lands of Butler county their future and their families.

And here let me speak a word for those women of the early days. those loyal women who accompanied to the plains the men of their choice; women of refinement and culture; forsaking father, mother, relations, girlhood friends of the years; leaving homes, if not of luxury, yet of comfort, a roof to shelter, a bed for rest, a stove for warmth and cooking; to cook over a camp fire; to live upon meager necessities; to sleep in comfortless corners; to forget the sight of new garments. Brave, uncomplaining women, doing their duty, meeting trials, overcoming difficulties, getting along without, giving up the essentials of enjoyment and happiness; timid, lone women at times left alone with the doleful sound of the prairies, and neighbors not for twenty miles. Pioneer woman, going down into the valley without the comfort of a sister woman, awaiting the uncertain call of an unskilled doctor - but a doctor who spared not his efforts to help; and at last awakening to that joy that only a mother has ever known, the knowledge that out of her travail has come a man child, into her home and into her world. Then she goes about with a song of gladness, performing the duties of the house, and after that often going into the field to help her husband.

Where would be the boasted civilization of Butler county today, save for the pioneer wives and mothers who took and kept their places side by side with the pioneer men. Women with woman's refinement and power to comfort; women of endurance and able to compel men to higher things. The high standard of citizenship, the civic righteousness of Butler county today, the schools, the churches and all things, which tend to make this county desirable for home and family are the material results wrought from the inspiring influence of the brave, noble women of the frontier.

The immigration continued, settlers multiplied. The bottom lands, and after that the uplands, began to be occupied. Houses began to increase along the streams. "Box" houses and caves in the hillside were used for dwelling places for "proving up" on the claims.

The need for homes brought into the county the first enterprise of a public character - the erection of saw mills. These were located from time to time at Chelsea, El Dorado, Little Walnut, Douglass, Augusta, Towanda and Plum Grove. None of these mills are in present use. With the saw mill came the cutting and sawing of timber, and board shacks appeared on the uplands. These seldom contained more than two rooms, one inside and the other out. But somewhere in the attic or on the wall was the guest chamber. No matter where he was from or who he happened to be, a welcome always awaited the visitor. And "such as I have, give I unto thee." Perhaps only corn meal and salt pork, with a cup of Arbuckle's coffee - but given with that good will and hospitality that today still characterizes the Kansas people.

Many hardships and privations were encountered and lived. Problems were met and solved that the present generation would hesitate to undertake. And the chief one of them all was to make one dollar do the work of nine. But in those homes and among those people, the hardships and privations notwithstanding, there were formed friendships as lasting as time. Everyone was willing to divide the little he had with his neighbor. Any article for house use pr any implement for farming - and all were scarce was always at the neighbor's service, whether a neighbor of a mile or of ten miles distant. It is known as a fact that a bacon rind used to grease the griddle for corn or wheat cakes has been loaned around a neighborhood. But in those primitive homes were brought up the boys and girls that are the men and women of the county today. Sturdy, self reliant, capable men and women that have shaped the destiny of this county, and who are yet furthering their efforts by precept and example to make Butler county the greatest and grandest land of homes on earth. Every man a king, every woman a queen, and whose confidence in their ability to overcome, and their faith in the promises of almighty God laid the foundation of a community of right thinking, right living, God fearing people. And the boys and girls of those other boys and girls, whose blood contains no taint of the saloon or brothel, whose inspirations are the memories of the clean lives of their ancestry, and whose aspirations are to build yet greater, aim higher and leave the impress of their lives unto future generations.

The period of from 1868 to 1874 is the period of the true early settlement in the history of the county. It is the period usually referred to as the "early day" and the period of reminiscences. Also it is the time of the arrival of the "official" old settler, an "old settler" being defined in the constitution and bylaws of various organizations as "one who came to Kansas prior to grasshopper year." These were the days of earnest purpose, days of good will to all, days of the fullness of life, days without social strivings and days without class distinction, but a loyal people from many lands, met together on a common ground, with common ends and common pleasures: "For with this simple people, who lived like brothers together, all things were held in common, and what one had was another's."

For amusement or entertainment the neighbors visited. They talked over times back east, where they were from, why they left (some of them) and why they located in Butler county. On Sunday there was either a horse race or preaching: The horse racing on Sunday soon died out, the preaching continued and along with the preaching services came the Sunday school, and in the opinion of the writer, a greater per cent of the people attended then than now. For the younger set, there was riding on horseback (or ponies rather). And when the boys could raise the two bits or the four bits necessary to pay the fiddler, they would gather for from two to twenty miles for a dance, and 'twould be "dance all night till broad daylight," with an intermission for refreshments. These consisted of cove oysters and crackers, with bologna on the side and home roasted coffee (and they were mighty good).

One of the most noted and longest remembered dances was held in Towanda in the fall of 1871. One E. G. Richards had erected a two story building about 25x40 feet. There were two rooms below and one above, the stairway being on the outside. The building was constructed of the ordinary sheeting lumber sixteen feet long (which was the height of the building) and stood upright. The upper story was the "hall." The music consisted of one organ operated by Mrs. J. H. Dickey; one piccalo, for which Dan Overocker furnished the motive power, and one fiddle (before the days of the violin) required to talk under the direction of W. C. Wait, father of one of our present county commissioners. And the old timers, "Turkey in the Straw," "Devil's Dream," "Fisher's Hornpipe," "Arkansas Traveler," and others similar, and the square dances, the old folk dances, Virginia reel, money musk and others did duty that night if never before or since. Also a banquet was spread for this occasion. The menu is remembered as follows: Cove oysters, roast pork, bread and butter, ginger bread, prunes, dried apple pie, dried peaches and milk and hot coffee. What more could be wished. Neither were there tables for serving, but a plate was held on the lap, and very few spilled the contents of their plates on the floor. A number went out from El Dorado to take in this society event. Among these were George J. Hartman, Miss Hartman, Will Julian, N. F. Frazier and Miss Emma Crook, who afterward became Mrs. N. F. Frazier, and both of whom are gone from us. And always at a Fourth of July celebration was the platform dance the popular amusement. Of course, then, as now speeches were made, but also no one heard them any more then than they do now. But "on with the dance, let joy be unconfined," kept the platform busy until the early hours, or until the fiddler ceased fiddling from sheer exhaustion. Even, mayhap, from another reason, when the same tune began to go roufid and round in unceasing success, the hint went out that it was time to mount your ponies and go home.

Another popular amusement of this period was the amateur theatrical. Home talent plays, ranging from "Handy Andy" to "Mad Nance" never failed of thrills both in front and behind the curtain. The home troup always played to crowded houses and real appreciation. Later there came periodically through the county the traveling repertoire companies. Favorite of all these was "Louie Lord," star of the eighties in Butler county. Other talented "families," as the Davis family and the musical DeMoss family' became almost as familiar to us as friends. Other pastimes were the singing schools and the spelling schools that buzzed and hummed with excitement. The name of the occasion mattered not. The enthusiasm of light hearts and free life carried it along on joyful wings. And any or all of these times must call forth a ride across the prairies, often of many miles. But blow cold, blow hot, it mattered not, young life was ready to go and young hearts beat with gladness. The boys and girls of the early days got all out of life there was in it. They worked with a will, they played with a will. Clans and cliques were unknown, each one needed the other.

Thus the time passed on. The land was tilled, the soil cultivated, the people were happy and reasonably prosperous, till came the year of 1874. The seed was sown and the harvest planted. But the summer came on and there was no rain. The sky continued a burned out blue, the grasses withered, the few forest and fruit trees planted began to droop. Farmers began to inquire of each other of the prospect for crops; farmers not disheartened, only fearful. Each one with the spirit of Kansas optimism tried to encourage the other, while at the same time cheering himself; and all scanned the sky for the clouds that came not.

Grasshopper Year - And August came, the month from which all things in Kansas since that time are dated. And the sun shone, and the sky carried day after day a gun metal lining. The hot, dry, ceaseless wind from the south burned the faces of men and seared the life of nature. Crops withered, grasses of the prairie drooped and cried for moisture. Dumb animals, domestic or wild, stood motionless. Then came noon of the seventh day of that memorable month. There fell over the land a dimness of the sun, like unto dust upon a window pane. Following this a sound as if a rushing wind, or as of swallows leaving a chimney; then pat, pat, pat, faster and faster and faster upon the doors came that which caused strong men to bow themselves, and women to cry out in dispair. And the land of promise became a land of blight, of shattered hopes and of disappointment. The great black cloud swept down, and thus the grasshopper came, came with his kindred, his ancestry and all their descendants; like "the arrow that flieth by day and the pestilence that walketb in darkness, the terror by night and the destruction that wasteth at noonday." Not by thousands, nor by tens of thousands, but like unto the sands of the seashore that no man could number. A hoard of hungry, leaping, hopping, flying insects; a buzzing of wings and a sound like the rushing of waters; they came with such speed and velocity that contact with a solid substance often stunned or killed.

Persons were compelled to protect their faces for fear of injury to the eyesight. Animals turned from them as they would from storm or hail. It was impossible to drive a team against them, and almost as impossible to keep control of it when driving with them. Frightened stock stampeded and in frenzy ran heedless, perhaps not to return. Alighting in headlong speed, the pests settled layer upon layer until the land was covered. There lay over Butler county a solid covering of from two inches to two feet in depth; and there was drifted against the hedges or anything that retarded progress a depth of writhing plague of from two to four feet. Wagon tracks were filled until driving over them sounded like the eating of onion or chewing dill pickles. A hungry, famished, voracious, greedy, greasy, repulsive, devouring insect. "Longing, they look, and gasping at the sight, devour hereo'er and o'er with vast delight." Eating, eating, eating, eating and destroying. The settler's few remaining vegetables, in his withered garden, everything, except onions, was taken in a twinkling. Clothes hanging on the line were consumed before they could be rescued. Even the clothesline itself was eaten. Corn standing in the field, giving some promise of crop, was left looking like a field of dry sticks. Like a field for which peas had been planted, and carefully staked, but no vines bloomed. Only an arid stake about two feet high remained, from which the every blade, the ear, the silk, the tassel and the top of the stalk were eaten.

I remember one desolate field as described above, in which was left one lone, solitary volunteer stalk of sorghum. Passed by the grasshoppers, it waved its top and blades back and forth over the destruction around it, looking grand, gloomy and peculiar. Judge A. L. L. Hamilton relates that there were also saved in Butler county, besides the lonely sorghum stalk for which I bear witness, two fairly good crops of corn. One of these fields was preserved by the placing of straw, recently thrashed, on the windward side of the field. By keeping this burning the smoke became a defense against the plague. The other field was shielded by its position, being surrounded by timber. And, by the queer freak that is often played in the visitations of Providence, it was left unfound, and so untouched.

Every leaf upon every tree, and even the very bark itself, was consumed by the devouring pest. Eating the gauzy netting at the windows the noisy, gnawing, consuming blight seized upon the hard earned homes of the settlers. Grasshoppers in the flour bins, in the milk pans, in the water buckets, in everything; the curtains and carpets, clothings and bed clothing until nothing was left. Even articles of wood were attacked, beds, chairs, tables, were left perforated with a million holes. This was true also of the wooden parts of tools and implements, such as the hoe or rake handles; harnesses and flynets, of whatever material; in fact, only solid iron itself served as a barrier to the million mouthed appetite. Eating, eating and never satisfied with a noise like hungry pigs munching their kaffir. And nothing remained safe save only the houses, the sheds, the animals and a few stalks of sorghum. Chickens and other poultry, even the hogs, gorged on the insects and died in great numbers. But as these would have escaped only to die of starvation later, it worked no additional hardship to the farmer. Then when the land was barren the grim visitors left. But before going they deposited a certificate of their return. Eggs were left in a ground honey combed with cells. This stood a menace before the settler the winter long. After the passing of the grasshopper the sight was one awful to contemplate, fearful to look upon, terrible to behold. The land lay desolate as though a whirlwind of devastation had passed over, and the pioneer saw his county dreary, dismal, doleful, lonely and forbidding. A great pall had settled upon the community. Surely those were days that tried men's souls. As a realization of the calamity grew upon the struggling settlers they became as souls bewildered, stunned or dazed. They appealed to each other in a manner that was pathetic as helpless children asking help from someone that was as helpless as they themselves. Small wonder that steps grew laggard, that energy and ambition weakened, that head drooped on the shoulder, while everything in nature seemed to say "man was made to mourn."

But the reaction came. The spirit of the pioneer Kansan began to assert itself. Calamity and misfortune were met with an indomitable, invincible will that suffers, endures and finally overcomes. The far larger portion of the early settlers who had decided for Butler county for their homes renewed this decision in the firm determination of their hearts. They took a new grip and made ready for the battle for bread for those dependent upon them. They plowed and planted, they managed in some way to live until the soil again produced something to live upon. True, some returned to the East to stay until seed time came again, and some to come back no more. True, the aid sent by eastern friends was timely and tided many a home to new life and fortune. This aid, the grateful hearts of Butler county were rejoiced to repay, when the privilege came in later years. (See account). True, also, of the autumn and winter of '74 that no new dresses were bought that season. Last year's bonnet was good enough for this year. The patches upon the men's clothing and boots were a little larger. Pockets were empty and hunger sometimes present. The boys and girls wended their way to school thinly and poorly clad but with intellects strengthened by adversity - lacking, not luxuries, but necessities. Their interests were not divided with the follies of fashion, nor their minds set aside from the business of learning. The hardships and privations seemed to increase in the pioneer his determination to stay, and one of his boasts is today: "I was here during grasshopper year, and I stayed."

In the spring of seventy five the young grasshoppers began to appear. But this visitation, forestalled by precaution and as much as possible by the destruction of the eggs, was not so disastrous as anticipated. And as the balmy spring breezes came from the southland, there sprung in the hearts on the devastated frontier a thrill of gladness, of joy, of hope and of faith in the future. Blood coursed more rapidly through the veins, steps regained their spring and prospects grew brighter. A county of prospects by which the planter lives, hopes and prospects so allied they reach the end of the road together. And while mostly the end is in fruition, yet in times the road traveled has been rough and well nigh impassable, but in the event the way is lost and the goal unreached, strength is ever at hand for a new start. And new hopes and new prospects keep the soul alive, while the heart beats time to the measure of "success, next time." It is this spirit which combats and conquers that has made Butler county what it is today. The wisdom and judgment of the sturdy pioneer who stayed has long since been evidenced. The grasshopper has not returned. It will not. Dry weather has been, hot winds have been, storm and flood have been, but on the whole Butler county stands best and surest in the world for crops. I have personally witnessed forty six crop seasons here, and with never a total failure. Never a year but something material has been produced. Never one acre but upon which something can be raised. And one sure crop not affected by draught, heat, storms, hot winds, cyclones, good times or bad seasons, is the crop of good fellowship, true friendship, and genuine philanthropy - these never fail.

Sometimes, it is true, a longing and a homesickness for the scenes and friends of youth has come upon the lonesome, far off prairie isolated pioneer, until the impulse to return has been almost irresistible, but that this was the shadow of a longing and not its substance, was always evidenced by a return trip to the old places. For after submissive years which had ever failed of contentment, after conditions and circumstances were improved, after the family was grown, after the crops of the season were "laid by," it happened a visit might be made to the old home, "back east," and it took only a little while to realize that changes were there also. Faces and ways were changed. Familiar places cherished through the years in memory had not the look the mind had pictured. Disappointment was everywhere. What had been remembered as an immense acreage was shrunk to the size of a Butler county corral. The old "worm" fences, the worn out trees, the dead orchards, the oldness, the smallness, the slowness; measured against the great open fields, the prospects and promises of the plains, the new life and enthusiasm of the West; and the Kansas pioneers said together: "Let us go home." They returned vaccinated against desire and longing for the home back east, and "it took."

The early settlement of Butler county is now pressing back into the dimness of years. The experience of those who stand for the embodiment of this history is represented by the monuments of a generation of the old pioneers - they who exemplified the motto: "Ad astra per aspra." They have lived their lives. They had their enjoyments, such as they were, and their sorrows, and the glory which was theirs and of which they dreamed has departed. We who are left, who are here, are enjoying the results of their labors. We visualize their efforts to materialize the dreams which were theirs, in the days of hardship and privation. While they builded with their hands, they yet erected the castles of their imagination; they looked forward to the time when the things desired by them should become a reality; when their talents and their ability should be recognized, and the esteem to which they are entitled should be given unto them. Respect be to their memory, and the honor of this history be theirs.

When the springtime touch is highest,
When the summer eyes are brightest,
Or the autumsings most drear,
When the winter's hair is whitest,
Sleep, old Pioneer:
Safe beneath the sheltering soil,
Late enough you crept.
You were weary of the toil
Long before you slept.
Well you paid for every blessing,
Bought with grief each day of cheer,
Naure's arms around you pressing,
Nature's lips your brows caressing,
Sleep, old Pioneer!

Careless crowds go daily past you.
Where their future fate has cast you,
Leaving not a sigh or tear;
And your wonder-works outlast you.
Brave old Pioneer!
Little care the selfish throng
Where your heart is hid,
Though they strive upon the story,
Resolute work it did.
But our memory eyes have found you,
And we hold you grandly dear,
With no workday woes to wound you.
Sleep, old Pioneer!

Afterwards - With grasshopper year, the history of the early settlement of the county properly closes. As the effects of that disaster wore away, population increased and developments came rapidly. Statistics are given below of the population of the county from the year 1860 to the year 1890, that the increases may be noted: 1860, 437; 1865, 294; 1870, 3,072; 1875, 9,840; 1880, 18,591; 1885, 27,018; 1890, 24,155; 1895, 21,126; 1900, 22,800; 1916, 25,000.

The first public enterprise to take hold in the county was the building up of various mills. In 1882 industries of this and kindred sort put Butler county in the first rank in south central Kansas. At that time the following mills, with their given value, were operating in the county: J. W. Smith, Leon, horsepower sorghum mill, $300; Lytle & Sons, Towanda, water power flowing mill, $1,300; H. J. & J. W. Ground, Augusta, steam flouring mill, $19,000; J. C. Haines, Augusta, steam corn mill, $4,000; A. Palmer, Augusta, steam saw mill, $1,200; John W. Dunn, Douglass, water power flouring mill, $10,000; Wise & Kirk, Douglass, steam flouring mill, $20,000; Burdett & Weeks, El Dorado, water and steam power flouring mill, $20,000; also in El Dorado at that time was a brickyard owned by L. Hunting, and a furniture factory, owned by J. T. Oldham, each valued at $1,000. With but a few exceptions these mills were not successful from a financial standpoint. The products of the grist mill are as a rule now manufactured outside the county. Though a mill at Whitewater and one at Douglass are doing a good business, the greater portion of the old mills have disappeared, a few remaining standing as landmarks. A general prosperity marked the way through the eighties, rising to high' tide with occasional bumper crops. April 6, 1884, Butler county had the pleasure of sending a train consisting of thirty cars of corn, containing 400 bushels each, to the relief of Ohio sufferers. This corn was received in Cincinnati, Ohio, April 11, and was sold April 12 for $7,000. Many times later has the county had the privilege of dividing its stores with those unfortunate from famine or disaster. The culminating wave of prosperous conditions was reached with the "boom" of the eighties, which engulfed this section of the country. Butler county withstood this period of wild dreams and visionary schemes with less formidable results that were suffered in other places. In fact, some advancement was achieved at that time, as that was the beginning of better homes in the county. Many of the larger and more substantial homes of El Dorado were built in eighty eight or eighty nine. The county, too, felt the effects of the depression which swept the country in the early nineties. A time when business was dull, money was scarce and times were hard, And thus have the fortunes of Butler county moved on, upward through the years, its season of mortgages and debt gradually giving way to a general and permanent prosperity. Dry weather still comes, and crops still fail, but a season's loss does not mean to the Butler county farmer what once it meant. His resources are sufficient to meet his needs, and his is a continuous preparation against the day of adversity. The Butler county land owner of today surveys from his modern home, his farm of modern appointments and equipment and his mind takes heed of the beginning.

The era of the pioneer has passed, the time of the primitive has departed. Butler county has taken its place and has become one of the integral parts of a great state whose praises are the pride and joy of its people, and whose fame is circumscribed only by the bounds of civilization. A representative county supplied with all those things that make up the sum total of life, including the hobo and the millionaire, the producer and the consumer. A county where there is enough opposition, climatic and otherwise, to cause a man to put forth his best efforts to overcome and succeed in his endeavors; to compel results in his favor. A county whose people have eliminated the word "fail" from their vocabulary and put the lard in larder. A county whose possibilities have become certainties, whose faith has given o'er to sight; whose hope has ended in fruition. A county whose people are happy and contented from the appearance of the dandelion in the spring to the disappearance of the golden rod in the fall; and who do each other good from the time the stock is sheltered in the fall until "the green gets back in the trees." A county where the hens cackle a little louder; where the eggs are a little larger, where the cows moo a little more melodiously; where the butter is a little more golden; where the alfalfa and kafir grow a little more luxuriant; where crops yield a little more abundantly; where the farmer markets his grain and stock a little more advantageously; where the oil in the wells is a little nearer the surface, and the gas has a little more pressure; where the children are a little dearer and brighter; the women a little more handsome, learned and lovely; the men a little more noble, courageous and manly; and where home is a little nearer and dearer than any other place in the wide wide world.

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