MRS SARAH E WILKINS
To be a worthy pioneer involves true heroism and history proves that women are as heroic as men. The annals of the settlement and development of Kansas contain the names of many pioneer women who, leaving the comforts and associations of their old homes, braved dangers and endured hardships that their children might be established in good homes in one of the most productive and attractive states of the Union. Atchison county has been the place of residence of some of these "mothers of the Sunflower state," and few of them came to the county earlier and none have been more widely or more favorably known than she whose name forms the caption of this article.
Mrs. Wilkins is a daughter of Thomas Bilderback, who came to Kansas in 1854, leading his children to a "promised land" where they might have farms for the asking and an opportunity to fight the battle of life with something like an even chance for success. He had but just decided upon a location for them when he died of cholera. This venturesome and hopeful but unfortunate pioneer was a son of Gabriel T. Bilderback, a native of Germany, who came to the United States and, after establishing a home in the new world, took for his wife a daughter of "bonnie Scotland."
Thomas Bilderback was born in 1805 and located, in 1840, in Missouri, where he became known as an upright and estimable citizen. His children were: Sarah E., born in 1831; Elizabeth J., wife of James R. Mayfield; Rachel M., who married Henry Mayfield and is now deceased; Mary Emeline, who married Eridios Killough and lives at Council Grove, Kansas; Gabriel Y. and A. C., of Center township, Atchison county; A. B., who is dead; John M., who lives in Oklahoma; W. E., of Texas; and Gettie A., wife of Thomas C. Gabberd, of Hall's Station, Missouri.
Sarah E. Bilderback and Michael Wilkins were married in August, 1852, when Mrs. Wilkins was twenty-one years old. Mr. Wilkins was born near Salem, Marion county, Illinois, June 12, 1827, a son of John Wilkins, a native of Tennessee, who married an Irish Catholic in defiance of his parents wishes and settled in Illinois, where he became a farmer. He had eight sons and eight daughters, all of whom lived to be married. On the 1st of September, 1854, Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins deposited their scant household effects on the southeast quarter of section 10, in Mount Pleasant township, and there he lived through all the remainder of his life, until October 28, 1891, when, as he was driving across the Atchison & Santa Fe Railway track near Atchison, with a load of lumber, he was killed instantly by a passing train, of the approach of which he had had no warning.
The land upon which the Wilkins family had settled had not had a previous owner and was in its primitive condition. Its appearance may be imagined by any reader acquainted with conditions in that part of the country at that time. They were the first white people in their neighborhood and not owning a chicken themselves they did not hear one crow for six months succeeding their settlement there. Mr. Wilkins and his industrious wife had enough money to supply their modest wants until a crop was raised and Mrs. Wilkins says she can tell no tales of hard times from lack of provisions and other necessaries or life. They planted forty acres of sod corn the first year and got thirty bushels to the acre. The next year eighty bushels to the acre were gathered off the same field and this was sold to farmers, less industrious perhaps, from Doniphan, Brown and Atchison counties, at eighty cents or a dollar per bushel. The Indians trading proved a source of revenue to them, for they bought their grain and their stock and proved friendly and reliable.
The year 1856 brought trying times to the loyal and "free state" settlers of Atchison county. The southern men and pro-slavery element who came into the state to harass its citizens and coerce them into throwing Kansas into the pro-slavery column proved to be a band of robbers and assassins. Men who were outspoken in their hatred of slavery were their special objects of displeasure. They stole horses from them and made threats of violence against them which frequently led to the death of some patriot. The teams of the pioneers were frequently composed of several yoke of oxen. Horses were kept largely for riding and no man had more than three or four. It was no uncommon sight to see six and eight yokes of cattle slowly crossing the prairies into Atchison, Leavenworth and other river towns for provisions or carrying the crops to market. On one occasion, after having successfully secreted his horses for weeks and until, as he thought, immediate danger of robbery had passed, Mr. Wilkins placed his team in a lot near the house, with the household to watch for thieves while he ate breakfast. He had not finished his meal before the "border ruffians" had them and were gone. Mrs. Wilkins followed after on foot tracking and tracing them for a few miles and found them hidden in the brush. She evaded the guard, cut the tie ropes with a dirk she carried and away went the horses for home at their utmost speed. This is only one of many plucky and fearless acts performed by women of that time and others may justly be credited to Mrs. Wilkins.
Mr. Wilkins belonged to the state militia and was in the battle of Westport during Price's raid into Missouri. He was a Republican and expressed his sentiments without fear. He was one of the best men the county possessed and his judgment was widely respected. It was no trouble for him to make money, for he always knew what a thing was worth and either paid the price or got it. He was eminently fair and liberal in dealing with his neighbors, gave to them rather than took from them, and was frequently called upon to settle disputes between farmers where one had done the other an injury.
Mrs. Wilkins had no children, but has reared three daughters of her brother, A. B. Bilderback: Florence, now twenty-four years old; Nora, who is now twenty-two and is a teacher; and Dollie E., aged twenty-one. They are known by the name of Wilkins and have been fitted for life by attendance at the Atchison county high school.