Pioneer Life in Kansas, by Mary Barrett, 1912, Part 8

Mr. Bell, the uncle, and some neighbors started immediately for Fort Hays, where some soldiers were barricaded, for help, not knowing what direction the Indians had gone. The men knew too that they were not able to cope with the Indians, and recapture the children should they find them alive.

All possible haste was made in reaching the fort, and soldiers were soon racing over the prairie in every direction, looking for any sign that might tell them Indians had been near.

In the meantime, the Indians had ridden almost night and day, the children knew not in what direction nor how far. Somehow the Indians got wind that the soldiers were after them and dropped the two wretched little girls out on that wide sea of prairie, with not a tree or shrub in sight, and no sign of habitation near!

The Indians made the children understand by signs and motions that they must ride “fast” and “far” and the children, already tired out with the three days and nights ride, could not stand to ride so fast and far as the Indians were going, as they would have to leave them on the prairie!

Poor, forlorn, forsaken, little tots! This last fate was even worse than the first, for the Indians had been as kind to them as they well could be. They had made as soft seats as they could on the ponies’ backs, and tied the children on that they might not fall; they had given them enough to eat to stay their hunger, and had given them tin cups to drink their coffee out of, while the braves drank their coffee out of tin cans!

The Indians certainly had not taken the children with any intention of massacre, but the grief-stricken parents did not know this, did not have even this fact to comfort them.

Now came the saddest, loneliest time there wretched little girls had, or ever would experience. It being about three o’clock in the afternoon as the children supposed, when the Indians dropped them, the little tots started wandering over the prairie, fondly hoping to reach home before night!

The sun went down, the stars peeped out and hungry, tired and oh, so scared, the children lay down on the soft buffalo grass, and with no covering but the sky, no vigil but the stars, soon forgot their wretchedness in slumber, never waking the whole night long!

When the lost children awoke next morning the sun was shining brightly. They arose quickly and started on again, roaming, roaming, they knew not, cared not, where, only that they might get home!

All day long they tramped, without food, without water, the older one trying to cheer the younger with the promise that they would “soon be home, now” when she seemed likely to give up, and wanted to stop.

Near night on the second day of their aimless tramp, they came to a little stream, now dry, save for a little water standing in puddles in the tracks made my the buffalo as they had come down to drink. Here the children laid flat on their stomachs, and drank their fill of the dirty water, but they said long afterwards it seemed the best water they had ever drank!

To be continued on December 10th.


Pioneer Life in Kansas, by Mary Barrett, 1912, Part 7

Living in Beloit was a family by the name of Bell. They were among the very earliest to settle here, and knew much of the depredations of the Indians.

A year or so before my acquaintance with this family began, two of the children, girls aged seven and five years, were visiting for a time with an aunt who lived on a homestead about fifteen miles southeast of town.

One day while the aunt was busy in the house and the children were playing in the yard, a band of Indians suddenly surrounded the house. The children ran in, screaming with fright, clinging to the terrified aunt for protection. The husband and uncle were away at a neighbor’s at work, and the poor, helpless woman knew not what to do!

The Indians rode around the house several times, then broke open the door and went in. An Indian seized each one of the children, and another dragged the poor, crazed woman outside and attempted to mount her on a pony. Every time the Indian tried to lift the woman on the pony a big watchdog they owned would bite and claw him so furiously that he would be compelled to drop his burden to fight off the dog.

Strange as it may seem, none of the other Indians offered to help, and so, after receiving several bits and numerous scratches, this Indian, who seemed to be the leader, mounted his pony without his captive, and gave the word to “go!”

The braves who had been holding the terrified children, raised them quickly to the backs of their ponies, leaped on behind them and galloping away, were soon out of sight, leaving the woman more dead than alive, moaning in the yard.

After a time the poor soul dragged herself into the house where she crouched in fear the rest of the afternoon. She was afraid, had she been able to do so, to cross the miles of prairie that she must, to reach her husband’s side, for in those days neighbors were indeed “few and far between.”

With the coming of night the husband came hurrying home, knowing naught of what had taken place, to find his wife hiding in the little cabin, almost too afraid to unbar the door and let him in!

The pony team was soon hitched to a wagon, and they made all possible speed to the Bell’s to inform them what had happened.

Imagine, if you can, what it would mean to have such word brought to you. Their darlings taken by the savages, and carried away, they knew not where! Might they not even before now have been scalped, and left with mangled bodies on the prairie, the wide, wide prairie! Oh, the horror of it! None know, only those who have passed through it, what such anguish means!

To be continued on Thursday the 6th.

Pioneer Life in Kansas, by Mary Barrett, 1912, Part 6

After the morning tide of annihilation had in its westward course, driven the buffalo to the extreme western portion of the state, there still remained, even in the parts most thickly settled at this time, thousands of acres of good grazing lands.

As the homesteader rarely kept more than a team or two and only a few acres, this land was, for the most part unused.

The Texas cattle ranch men, hearing of this fine grazing land, began to send in great droves of their native cattle to this section. Gaunt, slim-looking animals they were, with great, big heads and enormous long horns!

They came in drove anywhere from one thousand to three thousand in a herd. To every one thousand there would be two or three herders with saddle ponies. These herders were supposed to keep the cattle in bounds and see that they did not destroy the homesteader’s small acreage of crops; but often the cattle would take a slip over the boundary line, with or without the herder’s consent and make a raid on is growing or garnered crops.

Fashions in 1912

As the crops of this time were never very large and as there was so little broken land, a raid like this always played sad havoc with the crops, as these beasts were always ravenously hungry.

The herders of course were always very sorry (?) and offered to pay the damages, but the amount they were willing to pay and which the homesteader felt he must take, never in any manner made up for the damage done.

It took a better fence than the early settler was able to provide to keep a bunch of hungry Texas steers out of mischief. I remember at one time our sole crop was a small pile of corn raised on the sod and a little stack of millet hay. One night these marauders broke down the board fence and in the morning our beautiful pile of yellow corn and precious stack of hay that we had counted on so much was nearly all inside that bunch of cattle and they looked just as gaunt and hungry as ever!

In the winter these animals were more apt to “make fight” on pedestrians and it was not safe to walk among them, although they never attacked anyone on horseback.

Fashions in 1912

One day, there being only my mother and myself at home, mother told me to fetch a pail of water located about a hundred yards from the house.

My mother looked all around to see if there were any Texas cattle near and seeing none, told me to run on. The wind was blowing a gale from the north and spits of snow were flurrying by. I shot out of the door, the wind blew me swiftly around the corner of the house and sprang! I went right up against the head of a huge Texas steer! The sight of those hungry eyes staring at me and those long horns encircling me made me think that “my time had come.” I dropped my pail and fell down screaming with fright! My mother rushed out and picked me up, not knowing what it was all about! The steer never “made fight” for a wonder, but stood there blinking, as if he wondered what we would do next! We got safely back into the house and that steer stayed there till my father and the boys came home and chased him away and I never brought home that pail of water, either!

Pioneer Life in Kansas, by Mary Barrett, 1912, Part 5

From the earliest knowledge that the whites had of the state of affairs west of the Missouri River we learn that the “Sahara of America,” as Kansas was then sometimes called, was inhabited by buffalo and Indians. Long before Missouri was settled to its western border, white men, traders and trappers, camped along the eastern shore of the river and traded for furs which the Indians would bring across the river by canoe loads. Among the furs traded by the Indians would sometimes be buffalo robes, tanned as only an Indian could tan them at that time.

The Indians looked upon the buffalo as belonging to themselves and when the white settlers began to kill and slay they objected. They told the whites that the buffalo was their “cattle” and wanted them to be let alone.

The Indians had of course killed all they needed for their meat, also for the making of robes which they tanned most beautifully, and which it was hard for a white man to equal.

Enough of these robes would be tanned by the Indians for their trade with the whites and for their beds; often also, their wigwams were made of buffalo hides stretched around poles lashed together at the top and spread a few feet apart at the ground.

While the Indians killed all they needed for their own use, they never made the ruthless slaughter of the buffalo that the whites did after they began to settle up the country.

When the tide of civilization crossed the Missouri and began to settle along the western banks and later, farther out, the settlers made such havoc among the buffalo that these noble animals drifted farther and farther west, trying to get away from the haunts of the white man, always drifting before the tide of civilization.

When we settled on our homestead in 1871, the buffalo, for the most part, had drifted on and taken up their abode west of us in the counties of Brown, Norton, Phillips and others in that section of country. Here they could still be found in great herds and it was here the settlers used to go on hunting expeditions.

Almost every family had a supply of tanned buffalo robes. They served as covering for the horses when they must stand out in the storm while the pioneer visited awhile and did his little bit of trading at the small store. Those who never have tried it can never know what a good night’s sleep one CAN have stored away between the furry sides of a pile of buffalo robes! When a child, I was always glad when we had company for then I knew my bed would be made of buffalo robes piled down in the corner!

I think I had the experience of witnessing the tramp of the last herd of buffalo that ever passed through Mitchell County, Kansas, and had the privilege also of eating some of the meat killed last in this locality.