Springfield, Ill., May 24, 1921.
Editor and Readers of The Western Star, Coldwater, Kansas.
Thirty six years ago last March the writer introduced himself to Comanche-co. pioneers and early settlers of sunny, southwestern Kansas, it being our initial trip to what then was to be, and has become one of the leading states, both agriculturally and commercially. It was frequently referred to as "bleeding Kansas," famous for hot winds, droughts, grasshoppers and blizzards. But "presto," some time ago we read in a bankers' journal a statement that said Kansas had the distinction of being the state having more money on deposit in banks per capita than any of the 48 states.
Our entry into that part of the state was made via S. K. Ry (now the Santa Fe) landing us in Attica, Barber-co., which at that time was the "jumping off place" as far as railroad travel went. That was the blooming days for that burg. Town lots were changing hands at advanced prices almost daily. The building activities were evidenced by the sound of hammer and saw from early dawn till dewy eve, seven days a week.
Every train landed a mass of humanity and personal belongings. The baggage room was piled ceiling high with every conceivable type of baggage and if one left his baggage for a few days he was liable to leave it for weeks, or months as was the experience of the writer. After several calls at the baggage room and several replies that "it isn't here," we became more persistent in our demands and finally after insisting on a search through the mass of accumulated baggage ours was dug out and brought forth. Upon taking inventory of the contents, we checked up 'short," as someone had taken a "pre inventory" of its contents.
We 'staged" it from Attica to Medicine Lodge and on to Rumsay (afterwards named Evansville) near Mule Creek and Salt Fork of the Cimmarron in the southeastern part of Comanche-co. We there "fell in" with one of the many "locators," namely J. M. Curran, who proceeded to show us "the best quarters" in sunny Kansas and we were soon "located" informally a short distance north of headquarters of the Comanche Pool Cattle Co., one of the big cattle companies of that day. After casting about for a few days we, in company with a neighboring bachelor tenderfoot, who was the owner of a team of oxen, set out on the running gears of a wagon for the railroad, which was at Attica, to get a supply of grub and other necessities, preparatory to improving (?) our quarter and establishing our domicile.
We hit the trail on a bright sunshiny Sunday morning early in April. It sure was a "long, long trail" too, to encounter with a young team of green oxen and green settlers from the Sucker state and writer just out of the school room as teacher, but unschooled in the ways of a "wild and woolly west." Before we pitched camp for our noonday snack old Sol hid his face and the spring clouds gathered and while we were at "luncheon" one of those Kansas cloudbursts "busted," and say - or it is needless to say - as we had only a "paulin" stretched over the wagon wheels for shelter, we were convinced it did rain, even in droughty Kansas. After the rain ceased we proceeded (without a dry hair or stitch) till nightfall and camped in the open, still wet, and slept on the wet ground and a wet pallet of blankets.
On the afternoon of the second day we reached Medicine Lodge, where, on the Elm creek, was the most ideal camping place in all that country. There never was a day or night but that a number of prairie schooners were in evidence at this camp. Knowing we would not find such an ideal camping place farther on we discussed the matter of pitching camp and spending the remainder of the day and night at this beautiful camp on the banks of the Elm Creek just at the foot of Medicine Hill east of town. With some reluctance we decided to plod on till night overtook us, which we did and were truly thankful of our reluctant decision.
No sooner had we camped till another storm came, with wind and lightning very much present - another "busted" cloud. The fury of the cloudburst was greatest above and near Medicine Lodge and without sufficient warning scores of campers were peacefully sleeping and sweetly dreaming of the golden future on the prairies of the west, when the flood came thundering down Elm creek valley and swept horses, wagons and screaming humanity down with the dashing wall of water. In the inky darkness, 'mid the rushing, roaring torrents of destruction cries of help could be heard but none could be extended. Some struggled to shore, some clung to tree branches and some were swept far down stream to a watery end. The body of one woman was found several days later, hanging by her clothing to a barb wire fence.
On our return trip the bridge having been swept away at this point we were compelled to ford it, which gave us a thrill because of treacherous quick sands. On the following Sunday night at midnight we reached the end of our journey tired, wet and full of experience. Because of washouts, detours and being stalled a number of times and unloading and reloading, the trip consumed eight days and not a day and night passed without rain. We slept in the open every night.
When we reached our claim we were somewhat surprised to find a frame shanty thereon inhabited by a "newcomer" and his family including two cowboys as the new settler had quite a bunch of cattle. Besides otherwise improving the land, he had broken out several acres during our absence. Upon inquiry we were informed that he had been located by the same locator who had located us on the same quarter and that he proposed to "stick." We informed him of our previous location and intention and that we would be, at least a neighbor to him as we would "stick."
He retorted that if we undertook to be a neighbor, we'd sure be a sick neighbor and emphasized the remark by a twirl of a pearl handled "side partner" taken from his holster and which went a long ways in those balmy days in establishing one's supremacy on a claim. Claim jumping was no unusual occurrence and many contests were decided by "Judge Six-shooter."
Lacking both cash and also a steady nerve we decided, as many other tender footed settlers did in those days, it would be less expensive and gainful to relocate, which we did and finally acquired a deed to a quarter in T 32 R 16.
We had a fairly comfortable log shack 12X14 with sod "veneer," dirt roof and floor. On the roof ridge we planted a row of corn which grew to be about knee high and was the occasion of many remarks from emigrants passing along the trail. Many long and lonesome, hot and cold days and nights we passed in that old shack - days with no one to even exchange a single word with.
Many of the old timers will recall the Indian scare of 1885. I think that was the first "digging in" ever done as a wartime defense. At some central points where settlers gathered for concerted defense, trenches were dug in squares as in digging for building foundations, throwing the dirt outward to serve as breastworks. On the night of July 3, 1885, the writer propped the old cabin door with a pole and laid down, not to sleep, but just to wait till "Lo" broke in and did the scalping act. I have witnessed the movements of many, many soldiers in line, but none ever looked so good to "yours truly" as those cavalrymen did when they first appeared coming over the hills, with their equipment glinting in the sunshine far off. They were stationed along the border for a couple of months, but the scare was as far as the war got.
We had quite a bit of pleasant and unpleasant experience in assisting in surveying out claims and re-establishing township lines and corners in the eastern part of Comanche-co. J. W. Dappert who I think was first official surveyor of the county manned the instruments. Mr. D. at the present lives near us and furnished five sons for the late world war.
Another interesting occurrence was our first and last visit to your city of Coldwater, which was in the winter of 1885-1886. The date for our final proof was that provided by nature, we borrowed a beautiful black Indian pony from a neighbor, upon which to make the trip next day. During the night one of those real northwestern blizzard set in and as we had no other shelter for the pony we shared the protection of our dirt roof with him. Morning came and the blizzard still raging and continue to rage all day and into the next night. Morning came again, but the storm had calmed but was stinging cold - 26 degrees below if I remember correctly. The snow had piled up to the top of the door and was about an inch deep on my "shake down."
I dug my way out and about 8 o'clock headed my mount toward the occident city of Coldwater. The draws and canyons were drifted level full and no sign of a trail could be seen. We simply made a wild guess and struck out cross country. To add to our difficulties the sun was hidden. We lost our bearings - if we ever had any - and zigzagged from one shack to another in quest of where we were but, no body home, every shack deserted, "gone back east." Wading through drifts and plunging into level full draws and dismounting and crawling out on hands and knees we finally saw what appeared to be a village. We said to our self, "there's the burg at last." I steered about and after a few minutes I rode triumphantly (?) into the village and inquired at a livery stable as to the name of the place. "Nescatunga," he replied.
It was then high noon and I was only about halfway to the goal. It was my first and last trip to Nescatunga. I didn't even stop for dinner and was forcibly reminded of the cowboy's nickname for that place, "Must go hungry." From there on we had better sailing as the stage had marked the trail to Coldwater where we arrived about sundown cold, hungry and somewhat "put out" but glad to get next to a red hot stove on the outside of a hot meal. Next morning we went to the court house - or to our part of it for final proof - which was scattered all over the village in several small buildings. We returned to the shack next day without difficulty.
That year the railroad was extended as far as Kiowa and a branch to Medicine Lodge. Attica died, a very sudden and sad death. Where a year previous there was hum, hustle and bustle, scores and scores of buildings were empty and could be occupied rent free so as to hold insurance.
Our acquaintance did not extend far, but among the ranchers of that day we remember the Comanche Pool Cattle Co., which was just closing out there, Snearly, Estill, Gallagher, Platt and Flato and
D. T. McIntire. Settlers nearby were Geo. Rutman, Sid Heller, W. P. Ward, Capt. B. M. Veatch, Fred Veatch, W. Carnifax, Sam Wagoner, Jim Curran and J. H. Hackney. We remember Emil (Joe) Bowers, who we remember as Comanche-co.'s first duly elected sheriff.
Thousands of cattle died on the prairies during the winter and spring of 1884-85 because of short feed and a long severe winter. We spent many trying, but happy days among the old gypsum hills and canyons of old Comanche and Barber-cos. and often wonder just what charges thirty-six years have wrought and hope some day to see for ourselves. Since 1885 we have made a number of trips to Kansas, but have never gotten back to the place we spent our preemption days. We truly hope that the pioneers who "stuck" have made good and are enjoying the luxuries on "easy street."
Thanks to Shirley Brier for finding, transcribing and contributing the above news article to this web site!
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