Mennonites in Lyon County, KS 1880-1890
Emporia, Lyon Co., KS
The Mennonite Quarterly Review, July 1952
Published by the Mennonite Historical Society
Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana
Copyright by "The Mennonite Quarterly Review"
Permission to share this information via the Flint Hills Genealogical Society Web Site granted by "The Mennonite Quarterly Review".
During the early eighties Amish Mennonite families from the East with a few from Iowa founded a settlement in Lyon County, Kansas, in the vicinity of Hartford. After a precarious existence of several decades it disappeared entirely. Nothing of the colony now remains except the memory of a few of the families and a deserted little cemetery several miles west of Hartford, formerly known as the Borntreger graveyard.
A few Amish settlers had moved to the eastern part of Lyon County near Hartford just across the Coffey County line probably as early as 1880. In 1883 Isaac Stoltzfus, a member of the Union County, Pennsylvania, Amish congregation, moved into the neighborhood and became in promoting the sale of real estate among his former Union County relatives and friends. In the Union County congregation considerable dissatisfaction had arisen on account of certain neighborhood quarrels which eventually led to the silencing of Bishop Elias Riehl, who then united with the Mennonite Church in Juanita County.
The death of Dean Christian Stoltzfus and three of his sons about 1880 hastened the dissolution of the congregation. One of the minister, Christian King, a son-in-law of Christian Stoltzfus, returned to Lancaster County from which the Stoltzfus family and other had come in 1838. In Lancaster County, King was ordained a bishop in the Old Order Amish Church. Isaac Stoltzfus, one of Christian's son, co-operating with certain real estate interests in Kansas and the railroad companies, promoted a free land inspection tour for a number of his relatives and friends from Union County, Pennsylvania, and from Champaign County, Ohio, in 1884. The group visited Kansas in June when Kansas corn already was several feet high at the time it was barely through the ground in Union County. The entire group was fascinated by the richness of the soil, the beauty of the growing crops, the cloudless skies of "sunny Kansas", and the luxuriant growth of grass on the unfenced prairie promising cheap pasture for horses and cattle.
B.F. Umble, the husband of one of the Stoltzfus sisters, who remained in Union County while his wife made the tour to Kansas with her brothers and sister and other relatives, strongly advised against investing in Kansas land. In 1879 he had worked as a hired man in Harvey and Reno counties. In that year a plague of grasshoppers destroyed the crops in Reno County. Some of the members of the community had planted potatoes by the mulching process, that is covering them with a light layer of soil and spreading a thick coat of straw or prairie hay over the ground to retain the moisture. The grasshoppers not only ate the tops but followed the stems down into the straw and consumed the entire plant. In an adjoining county, in addition to the grasshoppers, the chinch bugs and the hot south winds from Oklahoma had ruined the corn crop. But what was the testimony of one person who had happened to be in Kansas in an "off" year, compared to the actual sight of fine prospects for corn in Lyon County!
The enthusiastic reports brought back East by the visitors to Kansas aroused keen interest not only in Union County, Pennsylvania, but also among some of their relatives and friends in Western Ohio. Preacher Moses Stutzman of West Liberty, Ohio, tried in every way to persuade his son-in-law, Jacob S. Kenagy, to join the westward trek so as not to miss this golden opportunity to purchase the rich Kansas land before the in-rush of settlers would double or treble the price. He sharply criticized his son-in-law's failure to move to Kansas.
At the death of Deacon Christian Stoltzfus in 1883, each of his seventeen surviving children and the families of his deceased sons had inherited three thousand dollars, a large sun in those days. Most of those who moved to Kansas purchased a quarter section (160 acres), part of which was virgin prairie sod. Some bought improved land at a higher rate per acre and gave a mortgage for part of the purchase price.
Late in the winter of 1884-1885 the Union County group chartered an "emigrant car" and left for Kansas, taking enough food with them for the trip. At Urbana, Ohio, by previous arrangement, the car was put on a siding, and the group went to Huntsville in Logan County in sleighs and sleds for the wedding of one of the members to his Logan County bride. Eli Stoltzfus, later an Ohio bishop, married Ella Yoder, daughter of Bishop and Mrs. Jonas C. Yoder, Stoltzfus had come to Kansas the summer before and had plowed part of his quarter section so that it would be ready for planting when he arrived in the spring. It was customary in the early days to plow the stiff prairie sod to a very shallow depth to allow it to decompose until the next seasons before it would be prepared for seeding. The soil was strongly alkaline so much so that here and there a spot would grow no vegetation of any kind.
The furniture that these families took with them to Kansas in the "emigrant outfit" would make a twentieth century dealer in antiques "turn green with envy". There were solid walnut bedsteads. There were eight-day grandfather clocks that not only struck the hour in beautiful chimes but also showed the phases of the moon. These were mounted in highly polished ornamental solid cherry cases over six feet tall. There were writing desks (secretaries), bookcases, massively built, all of solid cherry. Then there were highboys, "bureaus", also of solid cherry, a few of solid walnut. There were also solid cherry drop leaf tables so skillfully put together with butterfly mortices and dowel pins instead of screws and nails. There were also a large number of chests of various sizes and uses, most of them of solid walnut, or of cedar to repel moths. Some were intended for storing clothed and bedding, and some were "wood boxes" to be placed near the kitchen stove to hold the kindling of firewood.
The members of the Union County group included the widow and the following children of Deacon Christian Stoltzfus: Isaac K. Stoltzfus, already mentioned, and family; Jonathan Stoltzfus and family, who had moved to Brown County, Kansas in 1883; the widow of Simeon Stoltzfus and her family; Mr. and Mrs. B.F. Umble (Nancy B. Stoltzfus) and two sons; preacher and Mrs. David Stoltzfus (Lizzie B. Stoltzfus) and two daughters; Eli B. Stoltzfus and his recent bride; and the one remaining unmarried son of Deacon Christian Stoltzfus, Benjamin B. Stoltzfus. Later Benjamin married Emma Rich, a member of an Iowa family who had moved to a farm south of Hartford about 1870. They lived on a farm purchased by his widowed mother, Mrs. Lydia (Beiler) Stoltzfus. In 1951 Mrs. Emma Rich Stoltzfus now a widow past eighty years old, gave the writer some of the facts about the Rich family and their Iowa friends.
The Pennsylvania group included Preacher Andrew Miller and family and his brother John O. Miller and family, as well as an un-married sister-in-law of the Miller brothers, Rebecca Riehl, and an um-married brother-in-law Jonas Riehl, all from the Union County Amish settlement. The group was joined also by Jonathan J. Warye, of Urbana, Ohio, of the Hooley Amish Mennonite congregation in Champaign County. All of them purchased farms west of Hartford in Lyon County.
In the beginning they held church services in the Fairview schoolhouse about three miles west of Hartford and were served in the ministry by Andrew Miller and David Stoltzfus. They also met in some of the homes in the neighborhood, especially for counsel meeting and communion services. Bishop Joseph Schlegel, of Nebraska, served as bishop.
The community was joined in the early years by Joseph Stuckey who married the widow of Simeon Stoltzfus. He had been ordained a deacon in the Amish Church but on account of certain alleged business irregularities, he was inactive most of the time.
The members of the congregation suffered a variety of vicissitudes. Coming from Pennsylvania and being accustomed to grain and stock farming, the new settlers planted corn and intended to feed cattle. Feeling certain that Kansas land would yield a good corn crop and wishing to put up the kind and type of building to which they had been accustomed in the East, the writer's parents built a large wagon shed and corncrib soon after moving to Kansas. The wagon shed had a corncrib on each side of the driveway. Neither corncrib was full of corn during the entire time that the family lived in Kansas, but during the last two years when there was something like half a crop of corn, one of the cribs was full and the other contained some corn. When the writer visited this farm in the early thirties, the corncrib and barn were in an extremely dilapidated condition; and, when he returned to the place in 1948, the once new beautiful building had disappeared entirely. The entire farm including garden, truck patch, and feedlot was sown to wheat.
During the first season (1885) after the corn was planted a severe flood ruined the prospects for a corn crop and left the families without a crop of any kind. During the next three years, drought, hot winds, and chinch bugs ruined the corn crop. The settlers tried oats and even flax but the crop seldom was worth harvesting. Native prairie grass yielded a fair crop of hay, coarse and unpalatable for nutritious.
What made it particularly hard for the families form the East was that they had been well-to-do. They had been hard-working frugal people, but they were accustomed to seeing some fruit for their labors. They had well-stocked cellars and smokehouses, and always a little ready money for an occasional little luxury. They pt up ice in winter and enjoyed many a freezerful of ice cream. Here in Kansas they had nothing but deprivation and hardship.
Each of the three lean years was the same. The early spring gave promise of a good season for growing crops. The farmers turned the rich black earth and planted their corn early. Each year Frank Umble planted more than half of his quarter section in corn. It grew well, became a rich green color and the entire community would be congratulating itself on the prospects of a fine corn crop. Such corn never grew in Union County, Pennsylvania. Later in June as the corn was already tasseling and ready to shoot ears, a hot wind from the south swept across the plains of Texas and Oklahoma and the level sections of southern Kansas.
Each year the heat and wind continued for three days. The very air seemed thirsty. The wind, drawing the moisture from hand and face, seemed to shrivel the skin. Chickens remained under cover. Cattle grazed only at night. No one could work in the fields. The ground became so dry that huge cracks appeared in gardens and fields. Even wagon wheels sometimes became wedged in these cracks. At the end of three days most of the corn tassels were burned white, leaving the fields with little prospects for a crop. The stalks, however, remained partly green and most of the settlers said, "We shall at least have fodder to winter our stock."
Still hopeful, he cut a large amount of the fodder and placed it in shock, according to good Pennsylvania practice, expecting to winter his stock on the fodder. He purchased fourteen head of calves and branded them and turned them out on the open range to graze during the summer. In the fall when he rounded them up down on Eagle creek several miles away, they were in fair condition. He placed them in the feedlot and began to feed fodder out of the shock. They did not thrive. Finally one died. He consulted a veterinarian. After the veterinarian had examined the dead animal he turned to Umble and said, "This steer died of starvation." The reply was, "Impossible, he gets all the fodder he can eat and plenty of water." "But," the veterinarian said, "the chinch bugs took all of the nutriment out of the fodder last summer. You might as well feed sawdust. Unless you supplement this fodder with grain al of your cattle will die." Umble purchased corn at a dollar a bushel to keep the remaining cattle alive until spring.
This was an example of what happened to the entire community for three years in succession. The farmers plowed the fields in the fall and since the Kansas climate permitted early planting, they would plant corn in early spring. Then they would see the corn thrive until after it tasseled. But every year there would be a repetition of the same sad story, - hot winds, burning sun, shriveled tassels, no ears or only very imperfect ones, and chinch bugs that made even the fodder unpalatable to the cattle because after they had sucked the juices from the corn they crawled between the stalk and the shank of the leaf and died there. Even the cold of winter did not destroy the sickening odor of the chinch bug.
S.E. Allgyer, brother-in-law of Frank Umble, although he had never considered seriously moving to Kansas, made a visit to Lyon County about 1886. He states that he never saw a more desolate discouraging prospect. The heat was intense. Even the strong wind gave no relief form the heat. Even at night the air was stifling. Chickens and farm animals sought in vain for a less torrid spot. The brilliant sun and scorched air literally dried up all vegetation.
A number of families left through those lean years. The Andrew Miller family moved to Missouri after Mrs. Miller died. John O. Miller moved to Herrington, Kansas. The J.J. Waryes' returned to Ohio. During the first summer (1885) on account of his wife's homesickness, Eli Stoltzfus sent her home to Ohio for a visit to her parents. He tried to do his own cooking but he told his brother, "Honest, Ben, my cooking makes me sick." Before her return to Kansas he joined her in Logan County and she never saw Kansas again. Stoltzfus simply surrendered the farm to the holder of the mortgage and left. The young couple was very poor. During the first winter after their return to Ohio, Stoltzfus sawed, cut, and split wood for a neighbor at fifty cents a cord. They had no money and lived on corn meal mush, boiled in the evening and friend for breakfast. He took cold fried mush with him to the woods for his noon meal. Sometimes it was partly frozen in the dinner pail. Finally they had no lard to fry the mush. Mush without lard lacked something. So Stoltzfus went to a farm sale, bought a big fat hog for fifteen dollars, gave a note in payment, butchered the hog, sold the meat to pay the note, and his wife used the lard to fry mush.
A few families who had a little more money stayed on in Kansas for several more years. Frank Umble and family did not leave until 1890; Preacher David Stoltzfus and family partly out of loyalty to the congregation, not until the year following. During the last two years, Umble had somewhat more than half a crop of corn. When he decided to leave some of his Yankee neighbors thought he was very foolish because crops were so much better and because he was able to reduce the mortgage still due on his land. His reply was, "I am going back East while I am able. A few more years of drought would make it impossible for me to return."
He chartered a freight car, loaded two western horses, a few cows, his implements, household furniture, and part of his 1890 corn crop in the car and returned to West Liberty, Ohio. He accompanied the freight car, partly to take care of the stock, and partly to save passenger fare to Ohio. The story of that trip, the difficulties in watering and caring for the stock, and finally the necessity of changing the trucks on the freight car because the rails on the western lines were farther apart than those in the East - all this is a saga in itself.
His family left by train. He rented the farm to a Whitaker family, grandparents of the present Glen Whitaker of Thurman, Colorado. He was unable to seel the farm and for a number of years the income from the one hundred sixty acres did not pay the interest on the fifteen hundred dollar mortgage still due on the farm. Later they sold the farm for the amount of the mortgage, happy to be rid at last of their Kansas land.
In the fall of 1890 before the Umble family left, four neighbors, including a Stutzman family, the Umbles, and possibly a Gingerich family had a farm sale to dispose of their surplus stock and part of their farm implements. The sale was held at the home of a certain Stutzman family living in the southern part of the settlement. Jonathan Stoltzfus, father of Preacher Ammon Stoltzfus, loaded his few belonging on a wagon and moved to Brown County, Kansas, later to Nebraska.
Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin B. Stoltzfus left the Hartford community near the end of the century. They had a sale and disposed of most of their property, intending to move to Oklahoma to take up a claim. First however, they visited Mrs. Stoltzfus' relatives in Iowa and Mr. Stoltzfus' relatives in Ohio in the vicinity of West Liberty. When they visited the latter place the relatives said, "You should stay here instead of taking your family to a wild place like Oklahoma." They rented a farm near Huntsville and later moved to the vicinity of West Liberty where they purchased a farm and united with the Bethel Mennonite Church. Benjamin Stoltzfus was ordained to the ministry, served faithfully for a number of years and then moved to Lima with his family, serving as superintendent of the Lima Mennonite Mission. The family lived there until the death of Mrs. Stoltzfus. Mrs. Stoltzfus now resides in her own home in West Liberty.
Although a number of other Mennonite families moved into the community later, the congregation never built a meeting house. One of the members named Schlegel was ordained to the ministry but he also moved away later. Another family were the Steckleys'. Eli Kauffman married one of the Steckley girls. Daniel Kauffman married Mary Steckley; John Suter married the eldest girl in the Steckley family. They lived on the Isaac Stoltzfus farm for a time. The Whitakers' moved into the settlement about 1890 and occupied the Frank Umble farm when the Umbles' left for Ohio.
The writer recalls one meeting at the Fairview schoolhouse when the congregation chose candidates for the ministry. The air was tense with emotion. A few women wept. None of the members were bible students. None could speak in public. Services were in German and although they carried on the simple conversation of the farm and fireside in Pennsylvania Dutch, it would be quite another matter to preach and pray in the German language. But their Baptismal vows had included the promise that if they were chosen for the ministry they would accept the responsibility of reading and preaching the Word in the public worship service. All members, men and women, in secret council, told the ministers whom they preferred to have ordained as minister. As soon as the names of the candidates were announced their families and even some of the candidates themselves, wept. Some wept loudly and uncontrollably. (Note: this was not an unusual occurrence in connection with Amish ordination. In fact it was, and still is, the rule. It may hark back to the European period when ordination meant certain persecution and possible banishment or even death to an Anabaptist known to have been ordained to the ministry. It probably also expressed the sympathy of the congregation for one on whom the heavy responsibilities of the ministry were about to be imposed. Like some other centuries - old Amish practices it has become a custom that is almost a necessary part of a given occasion.) The faces of those candidates who did not weep were drawn and tense. The writer's father was among the candidates. He did not weep but he was very serious. Mother, however, was convulsed with weeping. As soon as the family was in the spring wagon ready to go home, Father rebuked her sternly and commanded her to quit crying, adding something like the following, "Just being chosen for the lot doesn't mean that the lot will hit me. It won't. I am not called to preach. I was in the lot in Union County. It did not hit me then. It won't hit me this time. So control yourself and quit crying." Although his voice sounded harsh, his intention was kind for he knew that violent emotion would give her one of those terrible "Sunday headaches" causing her to vomit her dinner and go to bed practically helpless with pain until far into the night. On these occasions nothing would ease the pain except cold towels laid on her forehead and temples.
The ordination took place some time after the candidates were selected, probably several Sundays later. This may have been the occasion when John Whitaker was chosen by lot and ordained to the ministry. He never preached.
In the early thirties when the writer returned to his boyhood home in Kansas, the buildings on the old home place were in a rather dilapidated condition but entire farm, including what had been the large peach and apply orchard and the feed lot, was sowed to wheat. The crop was just ripening and it was estimated that it would produce between twelve and fifteen bushels per acres, such a crop would have paid for the land in the late eighties and left a neat bank account beside.
A few of the settlers from the East had tried to raise winter wheat but that, too, was a failure. For two successive years Frank Umble experimented with ten acres of winter wheat on a piece of higher ground lying the northwest corner of his farm. But apparently they knew nothing of the hard wheat that has since made Kansas one of the principal granaries of the United States.
In later years some of the settlers who had left Lyon County, Kansas, told of some of the hardships they had endured during those four lean years. None of them had a woodlot for fuel. A Yankee neighbor, Osborne, who had several sections of land including some wooded land along the river, offered to let them cut wood on the shares. A number of the Amish Mennonites co-operated in sawing down trees and sawing and splitting wood. When the time came to divide it, the Yankee kept all the wood from the more desirable logs and demanded that the group take cottonwood and other soft woods for their fuel. This wood had almost no heat value.
Some of them then worked with a team in a strip coal mine ten or fifteen miles north of Hartford in the vicinity of Lebo in order to secure some coal for fuel. They were paid fifty cents a day, required to board themselves and furnish feed for their team. At the end of each week's work they brought home a pitifully small load of coal. During the time that the writer's father was working in the coal mine, the mother used a three horse team to plow forty acres of ground for corn the next spring. She curried, harness, and cared for the team alone during that entire period. During the preceding winter she had lost two little boys to death during the Christmas season and an infant son in March. She preferred to work and work hard in order to retain her mental health. During part of that summer there was no fuel to cook the meals. She sent the writer out on the range with a basket to gather "cow chips" (the dried droppings of cattle) to use in cooking the meager supply of corn meal mush. The chips burned like tinder but with an intense heat. The odor of the burning fuel was rather unpleasant.
Another hardship suffered by the families in the Hartford settlement was sickness. In the winter of 1888 the scourge of flu, then called la grippe, swept the community. Although there were few deaths, many people were desperately ill and were in a weakened condition for months following the epidemic. The writer was ill for three days. Those three days marked his first absence from school during his first three years. Two families lost children ill with diphtheria, then known as membranous croup. In those days medical science knew no cure for this scourge of children. The physician had no consolation for the distressed parents except to describe in a rather heartless fashion how the membrane would grow in the windpipe until it finally closed the air passage, choking the child to death. The writer was present at the death of one of these little ones and vividly recalls the distress of the parents. They lost three of their children in one winter. All three, the writer's brothers, now lie in the lonely little cemetery several miles west of Hartford. A two-year-old cousin of these died of "cholera infantum" one summer and is buried in the same cemetery.
Father and Mother had decided to go to Kansas to bring the remains of their three children to Ohio and re-inter them in the Hooley cemetery in Champaign County as soon as they had made the last payment on their farm and had helped their neighbors finish threshing. Less than a month after Father had made the last payment on the farm, he was killed instantly in front of the home of a neighbor as he drove his wagon across the trolley tracks where he was helping to thresh. The three little bodies still lie in the cemetery west of Hartford. It was not too well kept when the writer visited the spot in 1949.
Typhoid fever also took its toll. Preacher John King and his family moved to Hartford from Logan County, Ohio and bought a tract of land in Coffey County south of the settlement on what was known as Eagle Creek, southeast of Hartford. Bishop King had sold his property in Long County, Ohio and had come to Kansas in order to provide each of his sons with a farm. After he and his sons had erected two houses on the tract, a land company in Emporia, the county seat, came to take possession of the land. It developed that they had held an unrecorded mortgage on the tract for eighteen thousand dollars. King had no other course except to leave the land in the hands of the holders of the mortgage. This meant losing all his property and the small amount that his sons had accumulated. Partially as a result of anxiety over the loss of his property he became ill and died of typhoid fever in January 1888. He was buried on a bitter cold day when the temperature was forty degrees below zero. The writer's father had the only new spring wagon in the community and was always called on to convey the casket to the cemetery when there was a funeral. The writer remembers vividly seeing his father, wrapped in a robe made of the skin of a buffalo, drive away on that bitter cold morning in a blizzard with two horses hitched to the spring wagon.
The hot weather in summer was hard on stock and animals as well as people. One hot day after a terrific struggle a farmer's dog killed a skunk. The dog was almost prostrated by the heat. A few days later, as the farmer was coming out of the house, the dog snapped at him savagely. Fearing hydrophobia, the farmer tied the dog. Every time anyone would approach him, the dog would attempt to bite. One being reproved, he would go back and lie down but only for a few second when he would again attempt to break his chain. The dog had to be killed. On another occasion a dentist from Emporia was driving toward Hartford accompanied by his prize blood hound. The bloodhound started after a jackrabbit and later it was estimated that he had chased him for about three miles. The jack rabbit escaped, but the dog died of heat prostration. The writer never saw but one jack rabbit overtaken by a dog. And that one proved to be a female heavy with young.
But not all was sadness of hardship. The country was very beautiful in the springtime. Early in the spring the prairies were covered with flowers resembling the dogtooth violet and called "Easter lillies" by the people of the locality. The school children gathered these flowers by handfuls and took them to the schoolroom or took them home. The springtime was a time of great beauty. The black soil produced grass and early garden crops in great profusion. In one of the better seasons some of the families planted peanuts and produced quite a crop. The writer remembers as a boy selling a considerable quantity of these peanuts at his father's final disposal sale and receiving five cents a glass for them. This was in the fall of 1890 after one of the two "good years."
There was the church service early every other Sunday with its singing; its worship service was always appreciated even though one of the ministers had only two sermons which he alternated with great regularity. But since there were several ministers and church services were held only every other Sunday, there was along enough interval between the sermons so that the congregation found something new and interesting in them when they heard them repeated once more. The congregation always looked forward to services conducted by visiting ministers. Especially beloved were Preacher David Zook of Harvey County, and Bishop Joseph Schlegel of Nebraska. Zook's sermons had a warm evangelistic note that appealed even to an eight-year-old boy. "Joe" Schlegel had an interesting sermon and his kind jovial disposition endeared him to the hearts of the people.
All the services were conducted in German with possibly a considerable sprinkling of "Pennsylvania Dutch". The hymn book was the "Allegemeine Liedersammlung." But to many of the members the singing was unsatisfactory, too slow, and the tunes to old or too difficult. The writer remembers hearing his parents discuss the singing. Finally Mother persuaded Father to lead a hymn sung to a popular secular tune. Father could not sing; Mother could. But women did not lead hymns in church. However, when Father started the hymn on the next Sunday, Mother gave him such good support that the singing was a "success". The writer was too young to note anything odd about it at the time and for once joined in the hymn. But he has since wondered what the congregation thought when Father started the hymn to the tun, "there'll be somebody waiting, waiting, There'll be somebody waiting for me." At any rate the congregation sang all the stanzas of the hymn.
Naturally since he was under ten at the time and since the council meetings of the congregation were open only to its baptized members, the writer may not be able to speak authoritatively about church government and discipline. But, probably because the group came from a rather conservative Amish background, little attention seems to have been given to such matters as dress. The western frontier settlements seem to have allowed more freedom in such matters. To the church service the women wore a large plain stiff bonnet with an attached short cape at the neck and under it the rather large neatly starched and ironed devotional covering. The writer does not recall that any of the women of the congregation except his grandmother wore this covering at any time except on Sunday. She may have worn it constantly because she had a bald spot at the top of the back of her head. Instead of a coat the women wore over their shoulders a large black shawl folded into a triangle
The men wore a regular business suit. The writer recalls that his father owned a hook and eye vest, probably brought from Pennsylvania, but he does not remember that it was used for any special purpose or occasion. Most of the clothing not only for women and children but also for men was home made. Amish Mennonite mothers were neat seamstresses.
Mother never removed the plain gold band wedding ring form her finger until it grew too small. Then she needed help in removing it but took it to a jeweler to have it enlarged. She continued to wear it for some years after the family moved to Ohio. Then, in consequence of Bible Conference teaching on the "wearing of gold" she removed it and never wore it again. She also owned and sometimes wore in Kansas heavy plain solid gold loop earrings suspended form holes in the lobe of the ear. It seems that piercing the lobe of the ear and wearing earrings was supposed to be a deterrent to attacks of headache!
Then there was the Sunday visiting when old and young met together for dinner at a neighbor's home, the older people recalling brighter days and planning for the future while the boys and girls played on the lawn or about the buildings of the farm home.
Then too, there were the two special holidays, Christmas and the Fourth of July. The writer was past ten years old before he knew that Santa Claus was a myth. To the Amish Mennonite families of the Hartford community he was Grischt Kindli, the "little Christ child" who brought to all "good" little boys and girls gifts of candy and nuts on Christmas eve. The children set a plate on the kitchen table before retiring. The next morning the plate contained a few piece of candy, some nuts, and the one orange of the entire year.
On at least one occasion "Belz Mickle" visited the writer's home on New year's Eve. He wore a huge beard and great coat and carried a bundle of switches as well as nuts and candy. On leaving, after a searching inquiry whether everyone in the home had been "good" during the past year, he took the switches with him when he left but distributed a few pieces of candy and some nuts.
Fourth of July never passed without its bunch of firecrackers, - just one five-cent package. To derive the full measure of delight from them the family waited until dark to light them and then only one at a time. Except for this, the Fourth was merely another work day.
As time went on and the children grew nearer the age for "joining church,' parents became more conscious of the need for a strong church life. One summer the group decided to organize a Sunday school. The writer remembers driving a number of miles south with his parents to a schoolhouse where a Sunday school was organized. None of the members of the congregation had ever taken part in Sunday school. Few, if any, families had family worship. Hence, when nominations were made for superintendent each one in turn refused to serve. Finally the group elected as superintendent Jonas Riehl, a young man who was a diligent Bible student but who was not a member of the church. The writer remembers hearing his father say as the family was driving home that afternoon, "Here we have wanted a Sunday school for a number of years and that we have at last organized one, we have an infidel for a superintendent." To be sure he was not an infidel, but under these circumstances the Sunday school did not flourish. So far as the writer knows, none of his relatives ever attended Sunday school in Lyon County after that.
Naturally, there were other Christians in the community who were Germans or of German background. Daniel Rich, whose wife was a Widmer, had moved south of Hartford form Wayland, Iowa, about 1870 with their family of three boys and three girls. Mrs. Rich spoke German but could speak French with equal fluency. One daughter, Emma, now the widow of the late Benjamin B. Stoltzfus and living at West Liberty, Ohio, remembers seeing mail at Hartford dated in 1871. She was five years old when the family moved to Hartford. Daniel Rich had bene a renter in Iowa and drove two big wagons to Kansas because as he said, he knew that he could never purchase a farm in Iowa. In Kansas he was able to buy eighty acres. This Daniel Rich and his wife were relatives of the late Bishop Eli Frey of Fulton County, Ohio and also the Daniel Graver family near Noble, Iowa. Rev. Benjamin Eicher, founder of the General Conference Mennonite Church at Wayland, was a brother-in-law of Daniel Rich. Mrs. Stoltzfus told the writer in 1951 that Benjamin Eicher brought at least three groups over from Germany. Some remained in Wayne County, Ohio; others went to Iowa. On account of their connection with Benjamin Eicher, it was natural that the Rich family should lean toward the General Conference group. They did not attend services at Fairview schoolhouse but conducted a Sunday school at the Fleming schoolhouse south of Hartford. John Hoch was superintendent for a time. John Rich was an older brother of Daniel Rich. Both had sons named Daniel and several of these Daniels' are buried in the Hartford cemetery. Some of the group who worshiped with the Rich family were Evangelicals who also had come from Iowa.
Among these Evangelicals who worshiped with the General Conference group were Phillip Mann, Andrew Duttweiler whose wife was a Mann; and John Hoch with his three sons, Jacob, John and Phillip. All of these people or their children attended the Rich Sunday school in the Fleming schoolhouse. All of them were German or German-French and in the early years conducted their services in German.
This group never had a minister but the Russian Mennonite ministers used to hold services for them en route form Wood County to Hillsboro. Rev. David Dyck would stop at the Daniel Rich home and preach for the group on Friday night. Then, after staying overnight, he would go on to Hillsboro to hold services, stopping at the Rich home again Monday evening on his return to Wood County. He usually brought a spring wagon load of people with him. But the General conference group at Hartford never prospered. In his old age when Daniel Rich saw that no General Conference congregation group would develop, he united with the Amish Mennonite group west of Hartford.
During the summer of 1888 or 1889 a young evangelist came to conduct revival meetings at Hartford. He was a member of the Campbellite or Christian church. At the end of the campaign (it might have been in August) people drove form miles around to witness the baptismal services in the Neosho river at Hartford. (Later the Campbellites, now known as the Christian Church, installed a baptistry in the church. Mrs. B.B. Stoltzfus states that she and her husband were baptized in the church.) Baptism by immersion and all the candidates not previously immersed were rebaptized. The writer remembers vividly how his father was impressed by the ceremony and some of his remarks about the skillful manner in which the minister administered the rite. He stood in the river, facing the audience on the river bank, with the water about midway between his waist and his armpits. Attendants led the candidates into the water. When the candidate reached the minister, the latter in a low tone spoke a few reassuring words. Then the candidate faced the audience and clasped his hands around the left wrist of the minister. Then placing the handkerchief in his left hand over the face of the candidates and closing the nostrils, the minister rested his right hand behind the candidate's back and deftly but firmly lowered the candidate backward into the water. None of the candidates struggled or coughed. When the new member returned to the bank, attendants quickly threw a loose fitting robe around him to conceal the wet clinging garments. The simple ceremony was very beautiful, dignified and impressive. It was at this service that the writer first heard the baptismal hymn, "O Happy Day That Fixed My Choice." Two other memories stand out vividly in the writer's mind: the saintly expression on the slightly built young minister's face and the difficulty that one young women candidate and the attendants had in saturating her dress so that it would not float on the water. What trifles one's memory selects for special retention.
Several circumstances contributed to the decision of the Stoltzfus relatives to return East. Poor crops and lean years were one, but hardly the determining factor. The country was wild and moral conditions not what the eastern settlers considered the proper environment for rearing a family. In the summer of 1889 a sordid family feud resulted in a murder. A rancher's son fell in love with a young woman of whom the rancher disapproved. Then the rancher hired a young man of the town to rape the girl. In consequence the brother of the girl shot the rapist on the streets of Hartford. The writer recalls hearing his parents say that a neighborhood where such crimes could occur was not fit place to rear a family.
But church conditions also were a major source of dissatisfaction. At least one reason why the eastern group had left Union County was the unhappy church situation. They were disappointed to find conditions in Lyon County also farm from ideal. The deacon, Joseph P. Stuckey, to whom the congregation looked as a peacemaker, was himself almost constantly in trouble. He was a Frenchman of a violent temper and passionate disposition. A widower, with several sons, he married Mattie Stoltzfus, the widow of Simeon Stoltzfus and the mother of several grown children. The marriage was a very unhappy one. Perhaps the writer should warn the reader that he, as a boy, may have heard of understood only a biased version of the story. At all events, Stuckey, according to reports, soon showed himself jealous, selfish, impulsive. One night he considered himself misused and threatened to go out and "freeze" himself. On being told by his wife to "go ahead" he actually did remain out in the bitter cold for some time. When he returned, he replied in answer to a question as to why he had not remained out that it was "too cold". Later he complained of chronic ill health and attributed it to having "frozen his liver."
He was rash in his speech. On one occasion while showing a neighbor an especially fine field of oats he exclaimed, "Ei guck! Der Herr lasst mir mehr Hafer waschen als recht ist!" (Just look! The Lord lets more oats grow for me than is right!) That night a hail storm beat the oats into the ground. He was unable to harvest any of it.
His boys also caused trouble and were in difficulty more than once. One day they were playing in the barn with matches, set fire to the building, and burned not only the barn but the horses. The writer's father took his family to the place to teach an object lesson. The writer recalls vividly his horror at seeing the charred blackened ruins of the stable, and the swollen sprawling, scorched bodies of the horses. He never was tempted to play with matches!
Deacon Stuckey also was accused of certain business irregularities and of uttering falsehoods when he was called to account in an Artningsgma (Ordnungs Gemeinde), an examination meeting, held at a private home four miles west of Hartford on a certain Saturday. The boys and girls played outside while the meeting was held in the house. Suddenly Frank Umble hastened out of the house, hitched his horses to his spring wagon, gathered up his family and drove off rapidly to Hartford. It seems that he had been selected by the congregation to go to a certain place of business in the village to check on the truth of Stuckey's statements and that he had been instructed to reach Hartford ahead of Stuckey. The deacon lies buried alone in the little cemetery west of Hartford but he is said not to have been a member of the church when he died. His funeral was in charge of the Masonic Lodge and his widow and her family brought up the rear of the procession at the funeral. A small plain blue-gray slab marks his grave. His widow and her family moved to Herrington, Kansas.
The final dissolution of the congregation occurred yeas after the Stoltzfus families left in 1890 and 1891. The trouble came about, it is said, over the location of a church building. One faction wished it located in the cemetery, the other in the pasture field of one of the members. When the matter came up for a vote, the vote was nearly a tie. Then suddenly, almost without warning, all the members of the one faction moved away. That rang the death knell of the Hartford congregation.
Although the community was backward in some respects, the Teacher's College in Emporia, the county seat, made it possible for the local school districts to employ good teachers at very low salaries. The first teacher that the writer remembers was a Mr. Bixler, a firm but kind disciplinarian who gave his pupils a good foundation in the three R's and spelling. Then followed Ada Wilkinson, a young woman who was much interested in Friday afternoon programs of speaking and reading, but even more interested in a certain young man who occasionally visited the Friday afternoon programs and then took the teacher to her home in his buggy to spend the weekend. Probably the best trained of the teachers was Ella Mosher, also a graduate of the College at Emporia, who was interested in exercises in speaking and imaginative writing but also in singing. The writer owes much to these three teachers and also to his mother and grandmother who encouraged him in school work from the beginning. The grandmother gave him a German reader and speller when he was seven year old.
The rural school system in Kansas at that time provided for local autonomy of each school district. Both the men and the women of the district met at the schoolhouse in July and August to organize the meeting, elect three directors, decide on the school budget and tax levy and fix the salary of the teacher for the next year. The meeting at the Fairview schoolhouse always experienced considerable difficulty in persuading anyone to accept an office. On one occasion after a chairman had been elected no one would accept the office of secretary until finally a large-heated Germany Catholic, living across the road from the schoolhouse, announced loudly and firmly, referring to his eighteen-year-old daughter, "There's Annie. He'll (sic!) do" Annie was elected and the meeting proceeded.
The man who always tried to keep down the tax levy and to hire the cheapest possible teacher was the largest landowner in the district, a rather miserly old widower who lived in a decrepit old house down by the river with his five sons. On one occasion when Annie Scharff was doing the cooking for the family for a short time, she became tired of cooking only mush and making only corn bread. Finally she asked Mr. Osborne if he would not bring home a little sack of wheat flour. He responded, "Yes, I could but the boys don't care very much for wheat bread.." At the pump a few days later after she had baked some wheat bread, she asked the boys, "Do you like white bread?" They responded emphatically, "You bet we do." At the table a little later as she cut the bread a piece scarcely hit the place until one of the boys had grabbed it. Finally the old gentlemen said softly with well concealed emotion, "Annie, I wouldn't cut the bread so fast. It dries out so." It was this wealthy old gentleman's desire to keep down the school tax levy and to hire inferior teachers that always insured a good attendance at the annual meeting of the school district. Fairview school district made the levy high enough to hire good teachers.
The "Yankee" families in the district were Osborne, Hewitt, Overly, Holforty, Darbyshire, and Jones. The Amish Mennonite group included the families of John and Andrew Miller, Isaac, Jonathan, David and Eli Stoltzfus, and a Stutzman family, Gingerichs, Whitakers, and Frank Umbles. Benjamin Stoltzfus, the youngest of the Stoltzfus brothers, united with the Christian Church in Hartford during a midsummer revival in the community when seventeen young people were baptized by immersion in the Neosho River near Hartford. The family of Dan Rich and his brother also lived in the neighborhood but did not attend church with the Amish Mennonite group.
Two Older Order Amish families had moved form Indiana, a preacher Joseph J. Borntreger and his father-in-law Moyer. In spite of this relationship, the men were about the same age. Gideon Bender from Johnson County, Iowa, married one of "Joely" Borntreger's daughters. They did not attend services at he Fairview school with the Amish Mennonite group but held services in their homes every two weeks with the two families alternately entertaining the meeting. Occasionally one or more of the Amish Mennonite families would attend their services. The writer recalls attending at least one such service in the home of Preacher Borntreger. On that occasion of two Old Order Amish families were not on especially good terms. One of the grandchildren reported that "Papa couldn't come to church today because he had to stay at home to see where the turkey hen was hiding her nest."
The country at that time was still in a half wild state. On one occasion when the writer was going to school in the morning, he saw two gray wolves cross the road several hundred yards ahead of him. Terrified, he ran home, but in response to rather swift and prompt encouragement, he retraced his steps and went on to school. The next winter some animal kept disturbing the stock at night and was suspected of killing some chickens. The writer's father purchased a little strychnine, placed it in a dead chicken and left it lying among some sunflower stalks at the upper end of the farm. A few days later something moved the chicken but did not eat it. In a few days some animal buried it. Then after the wolf felt that it could no longer harm him, he dug it up and ate it. My father found the dead wolf, brought him home, skinned the animal and tanned the pelt. It was used in our home for a rug for at least forty years.
Much of the prairie was still "unbroken", - that is, it had not been touched by the plow. Deep depressions, "buffalo wallows", could be distinguished where the buffalo had once stamped and rolled in the dust to fight off the flies. The settlers used the large unfenced areas for summer pasture for their cattle and young horses. They would brand them in the spring, turn them out to the vast unbroken areas to the south, and then, when the weather grew cold and the pasture no longer palatable in the fall, they would bring them home and place them in the feedlot until spring. The writer recalls seeing his father brand the calves and colts above the right hip with a red hot horse-shoe forming a "U" easily recognized at some distance.
Wild fowl and birds of all kinds were plentiful. The prairie abounded in prairie hens, a kind of grouse, that furnished many a toothsome meal. On one occasion a flock of cranes alighted in a field easy of the writer's home. They stood in a straight line several hundred yards long flapping their wings and stretching their necks. Farmers seized their guns and rode away on horse trying to kill some of them, but the only result of their efforts was to frighten the cranes away. They were large birds standing probably three or four feet high. They once were plentiful but like the buffalo the prairie chicken are now nearly extinct. Wild geese were plentiful. On several occasions farmers were able to shoot wild goose. Then they would invite the neighbors in for a feast. The writer remembers one such occasion when his parents and he were invited to an "English" neighbor's home for a wild goose dinner.
The few streams, usually called rivers, abounded in fish. The Neosho River ran several miles northwest of the writer's boyhood home. He remembers accompanying his father and some neighbors one spring on a fishing trip. One group of men arranged themselves downstream and stretched a huge seine or het almost across the stream. Another group went upstream with poles and paddles and waded downstream making a great deal of commotion as they did so in order to drive the fish into the net. They caught tubsful of fish. The writer remembers how angry some of the Yankees were to find that a large part of the catch was the inedible gar fish, a long narrow sharp-nosed species. The men seized them, broke them in two and threw them on the bank. Most of the fish were of the rather coarse variety called buffalo fish somewhat resembling a carp. But they were an appreciated change form mush and milk and fried mush.
Early spring rains often spread the water of the Neosho River over a wide expanse of level prairie. The writer remembers one spring after a flood seeing his father, riding a small mule, returning from an early morning fishing trip with over seventy pounds of fish hanging from the horn of the saddle. He caught them all by spearing them with an ordinary four tined manure fork in a low-lying lake area which the overflowing river had flooded. When the waters receded many of the fish swam around in the shallow water seeking to return to the main stream. Parts of this lake were literally alive with fins sticking up out of the water as the fish tried to find their way back to the river.
The largest fish he brought home was huge buffalo weighing over fifteen pounds. The largest that he "caught" "got away" by a final desperate lunge that tore away part of his head just as he was about to be landed on the bank. Six of the fish weighed eleven pounds or over, and the seventh, the smallest, weighed about five. The writer's mother in dressing the fish used a hatchet to cut off the heads. Mother always cleaned the fish at our home. If Father cleaned them, they turned his stomach so that he could not eat them. Some of the rib bones, about six inches long, Mother sent back to relatives in Pennsylvania as a curiosity. Cut into chunks and preserved in heavy salt brine, the fish made an important addition to the family food supply for a number of weeks.
The rabbits, "cottontails", were especially plentiful. One spring, the writer's father, preparing a field for plowing, was dragging down the huge sunflower stalks that grew wild in this area; and, by the aid of his dog and a club, he killed nine cottontails in the forenoon. In the afternoon he took his gun with him and killed eighteen. Rabbits were so plentiful that when the farmers dressed them, they kept only the hindquarters and the bank, giving the front quarters to the dog. Hung out to freeze they were a welcome addition to many an otherwise scanty meal. One day several farmers went hunting along a road where the Osage hedge had been trimmed and the brush left lying in piles along the highway. Except around the building the only fences were barbed wire, - usually two strands of wire fastened to wooden posts or Osage hedge. One of the men came home with thirty-two rabbits, and the other three had from fifteen to twenty-six each. The writer recalls seeing two hunters returning to Hartford form a day's hunt somewhere northwest of where he lived. They had a small homemade sled about three feet wide and possible six or eight feet long. The sled was rounding full of rabbits they had killed that day.
In spite of the later dry weather and hot winds, early gardens always did well, strawberries were a good crop if they survived the previous dry summer, and dry weather vegetables like watermelons often yielded a large crop. The spring when Eli Stoltzfus broke the virgin prairie sod on his farm someone had told him that he might raise watermelons if he scattered watermelon seeds in the furrow as he was plowing. That was the spring of the flood when it was too wet to plant corn until it was too late. Sometime during the summer he happened to be speaking to a neighbor, telling him that all his time and effort had been wasted. The neighbor remembered about the watermelon seeds and asked, "Didn't you even raise any watermelons?" When he went out to the field to look, he had the largest watermelons that the writer has ever seen. It would be useless to tell the present day reader the size of the "Ironclads" because the story would not be believed. Evening after evening the neighbors would gather at his home to enjoy the huge red-fleshed, black-seeded watermelons, rather coarse in texture, but very sweet and juicy. At one time someone suggested that, since peanuts thrived in dry soil, perhaps Kansas could grow peanuts. The writer's mother planted a small patch in the truck garden the last year that they live din Kansas and raised eight or ten bushels of peanuts. Whenever a corp did well, it did very well. During one good season one of the farmers planted potatoes by the mulching process, that is covering them lightly with soil and then giving them a heavy cover of prairie hay. The potato yield was enormous.
During the last two seasons before the writer's parents returned to Ohio, fruit was plentiful. The writer's father had planted an orchard of peach and apple trees, and on the north and west side he had planted a windbreak of mulberry trees. These mulberry trees and especially the peach trees produced a tremendous crop of fruit during the two "good" years 1889 and 1890. The fall of 1890, after the writer's parents had decided to sell out and move to Ohio, his mother dried bushel after bushel of peaches.