Kiowa County, Kansas Old Timer 1910
By William M. Smith, son of Henry T. Smith
Henry Tobias Smith (Heinrich Schmidt) was born in Russ-Poland 7 January, 1871. When he was 4 years old, he with his parents, a number of brothers and sisters came to the USA. Their reason for leaving Russian Poland was to avoid military service. Their religion being Mennonite was against bearing arms. Although my grand parents were born and raised in Russ-Poland they did not adopt the Russian or Polish language. They maintained the Low-Dutch (Plattdeutsch) language. This is the only language I knew until I started going to school.
My grand father, along with his family and a large number of other Mennonite families, sailed for America on German ship FATHERLAND landing at New York sometime in the early winter of 1875. From there they went by rail to Topeka, Kansas where they spent the rest of a very cold winter in temporary shelters furnished by the Santa Fe Railroad Co. A book titled The Coming Of the Russian Mennonites contains a very good history of the Mennonites. A copy of this book may be obtained through the Bethel College at Newton, Kansas.
My father grew up on a farm about 8 miles N/W from Durham, Kans. in Marion Co. At about the age of 26 he married Susie Unruh who was about 16 years old. The first few years they lived in a sod house on the McPherson & Marion county line some 12 miles N/W from Durham, Kans.. Later moving to a 160 acre farm about 8 miles N/W from Durham Kans.
In early 1910 my father contracted for a 320 acre unimproved farm in Kiowa county, Kansas. About March or April 1910 Father had an auction sale and sold the property he felt he couldn't take to the new farm. After the sale he engaged a railroad box car a Durham and loaded some horses, farm machinery and household goods and left for Greensburg, Kansas, leaving my mother, sisters Mabel & Lena and brothers Frank, Herman and me (Willie) to stay with Mother's folks until he had established a place for us to live. This new farm, being unimproved, had no buildings, only about 80 acres was in cultivation and fenced in. The rest of the land was open range. Horses had to be hobbled or staked out on long ropes to keep them from going astray.
About a month after Father went to Kiowa county he wrote and told mother to come. We arrived a Greensburg about 10:00PM on a beautiful moon-lit night. Father was a the depot to meet us with a team of horses hitched to a wagon. We all climbed aboard and about 2:00 AM we arrived at what was to be our home for the next few months. It consisted of about a 20 foot square area dug out from a bank with a canvas tent over it. The floor was dirt and there was a double bed, wood burning cook stove, a table and chairs and some wood shelves to store food and cooking utensils. When mother saw this she was furious. She had expected a building with a bit more comfort for her brood. We children slept on the dirt floor with quilts, blankets or whatever we had. This Dugout was located about 200 yards from a spring where fresh water was carried in buckets for cooking, drinking, etc. Since we had no cows, hogs or chickens, our food consisted mostly of canned food, beans, rice, crackers, cheese, cookies, bologna, etc. Mother baked bread.
This 320 acre farm was located about 12 miles S/E from Greensburg, Kansas. Area of the land was 1/2 miles N/S and 1 mile E/W. There was a large draw diagonally from S/W to N/E going almost the full length of the land. There were a number of smaller draws leading into the large draw. In the large draw there was a large cottonwood tree near a small pond. There were two more small ponds further down the draw which had some catfish in them and we caught some of them. During the hot dry summer the ponds would dry up and many small fish died.
Near the NE corner of this land was a clear water spring from which we got our water for drinking, cooking etc. Since we had to carry the water in buckets for about 200 yards to our temporary Dugout we were careful not to waste any. In one of the smaller draws were a couple of smaller trees, Elm or Maple.
Being early Spring, the first order of business was to get the spring crops planted, which Dad did.
A few weeks after our arrival in Kiowa county Dad bought a wooden frame building from a neighbor just to the north. With help from some neighbors the building was moved near the SW area of our farm. After a short time the building was ready for occupancy and we moved in from our Dugout. Now we were about 1 mile from the fresh water spring. Water was then hauled in a 50 gallon wooden barrel mounted on a wagon. Later Dad made a sled on which the barrel was placed. This made it easier to fill with water. The sled was pulled with one horse whereas the wagon required two horses. Due to the rough terrain and long distance much of the water was spilled by the time we reached home. Needless to say we had a very strict water ration. Soon after our move to the new home Dad built a barn, chicken house, blacksmith shop, pig pen, and corral. Chickens, ducks, pigs, and a milk cow were obtained in due time.
About September or October 1910 Dad engaged a well digger and a well was dug near the house. The well went down about 250 feet to get measurable water. A pump was installed. Since the well was so deep it took a lot of power to bring the water up. This task was left to my sister Mabel and me. A trough was placed near the pump where water was supplied for the live stock. In the early Spring of 1911 Dad bought a windmill. A derrick was constructed on which the windmill was mounted. This was a welcome relief to my sister and me.
Near our house there were a few Buffalo Wallows indicating the buffaloes had been there, not long before. While working on a plowed field I found an Indian arrow head indicating Indians had been there.
On our land we found land turtles, mud turtles, bull snakes, rattle snakes, garter snakes, rabbits (cotton tail and jack), badger, skunk and coyotes. One time we found a large bull snake in our barn.
Our ducks (12 of them) somehow found their way to the nearest pond about 1/4 mile away. In the morning they would go single file to the pond. In the evening they would return, again single file, to home. One evening I was sent to bring in the cows for milking. I was near this pond and heard a loud squawk from a duck. I went to the pond and saw a mud turtle had hold of a leg of the duck trying to pull it under the water. The duck was on the edge of the water pulling away. I walked over and when the turtle saw me it let go and slid under the water. The duck lost no time in heading for home apparently not hurt much.
At one time when I was harrowing on a plowed field I heard a loud cry from a baby rabbit. I went over to where the cry came from, there I saw a large bull snake had the hind quarters of the rabbit in its mouth. When the snake saw me it let go and slithered off in one direction and the baby rabbit hopped off in another direction.
Dad, using a sod plow, broke up some acres which were suitable for cultivation. Fences had to be put up around these acres which were a few here and there. Wheat, corn, maize, sugar cane, etc. were planted. About 230 acres were finally placed under cultivation.
During the first few years cash was scarce since we had little produce to sell. During the summer and fall Dad would sharpen plow shares, etc., for the neighbors in his blacksmith shop. This brought in some cash. The charge was about 15 to 20 cents per share. There was forge with a large bellows and long handle which was worked up and down, mostly by me, to blow air in the forge. There was a large anvil (about 150 lbs). As I recall, Dad had this anvil for 50 years or more. It is now in the possession of my brother-in-law, Jewell Whitley, living in Enid, Oklahoma.
In the fall Dad would have me go with him to set traps to catch skunks, etc. He thus taught me how and where to set traps. Now that I know where the traps were located it became my chore to check the traps early each morning and bring in the catch. Dad would skin the animals and stretch the hide on a board to dry. After a quantity had thus been processed they were shipped to a fur firm in Kansas City, Missouri. A check would be received and converted into cash.
Occasionally we had some eggs and butter for sale which also brought in a bit of cash to spend for other things we needed.
Mother made some of our clothes, a number were ordered by mail from Montgomery Ward or Sears Roebuck in Kansas City, Missouri.
During our seven years of living in Kiowa County Kansas we experienced a number of changes in living conditions. In the first few years we had to go to Greensburg to get our mail and groceries. This was a distance of 12 miles one way. It was mostly my task to ride horseback to pick up the mail once a week and a few groceries. Soon a rural route was established which delivered mail to within 1 1/2 miles from our house. We still had to go 12 miles to deliver crops, produce, etc., that we had for sale. During these years we did prosper somewhat, however not to any great extent. The land was poor and crops were poor also. Grasshoppers, bugs and drought took their toll.
Sometime during the later period of this time Dad traded our 320 acre farm for a 160 acre cotton plantation in Arkansas. In September, 1917, Dad rigged up a couple of wagons into covered wagons. Some farm machinery, household goods, and horses were shipped by rail to Arkansas. In the later part of September, 1917, we loaded up our personal belongings on the two covered wagons, along with Father, Mother, sister Lena aged 17, sister Sylvia aged 3, Brothers Frank aged 11, Herman aged 6, Jessie aged 1 and myself aged 14, and bid farewell to Kiowa county Kansas and headed for Arkansas.
(s) William M. Smith
William M. Smith
23 January 1979
[Handwritten note by Geneva Schloetzer Lyon:]
This is for the book
"History of Kiowa County
This is my mother's oldest brother.
/s/ Geneva Schloetzer Lyon