This story is a fictionalized account of my five times great-grandfather acquiring land in Kansas.
Dr.Barton Robinson's winced as he gripped the leather reins. Arthritis crippled his hands. As a doctor he saw the signs. His swollen knuckles and a couple of his fingers would not bend anymore. His doctoring days were over. Barton tugged on the reins and the mare shook her head, anxious to get moving faster than just a walk.
He felt just as anxious as the horse, to be off to somewhere new. A man could set down roots in the Kansas Territory and have a family tree that would spread far across this new land. They'd traveled from Illinois. All their belongings were stored until they found a parcel of land to build on. He pulled on the reins. The surrey with its faded fabric top and often missing tasseled fringe slowed to a stop in front of the hotel.
“Father! we've been waiting forever. What took you so long?” Three young boys jumped from the wooden porch pushing each other to get the best seat in the buggy.
Behind them, Barton’s eldest son Herbert, escorted his mother to the surrey’s step and helped her in to the seat behind his father.
“Father, if it’s all right with you. Could I take the reins today? I need some practice finding my way around these roads.” He stood beside the step up to the front bench and waited.
Barton knew what his son asked. Herbert had watched him put liniment on his hands the night before. It was his way of taking over a duty too taxing for his father by the end of the day's adventure.
“Herbert, the only way to learn the lay of the land is to drive it.” His smile welcomed his son and the answer was the rock of the buggy when Herbert climbed up the step and settled on the bench.
“You can handle this. I'll sit back with your mother like a proper Englishman and enjoy a ride in the country.” He thickened his British accent and touched the brim of his new Bowler hat as he moved to sit next to Mahala.
“I want to sit with Herbert.” Lander and James began to scramble over the seat to reach the front. John Charles just bounced on the back seat with excitement.
“Here now, none of that. Herbert doesn’t need you as navigators. Sit back there and enjoy the ride.” Barton grabbed one son by his collar and the other by his britches, preventing them from going any further. “Onward Herbert.”
The sun rose in the sky and a slight wind stirred the hot air. As they passed plowed lands, they saw both sod and board farm houses with matching barns. Forests of trees gave them cool cover from the blazing sun.
“It sure is different from Illinois,” Herbert called over his shoulder.
Barton nodded as the buggy made the sudden dip in the road that led to a small bridge over a creek.
“Do you miss it?’ Mahala turned her face toward him so that she could see his expression and not just the sides of her bonnet.
“It was getting too crowded. Houses being built on top of each other. The roads so full of carriages and lorry’s it's no wonder my practice was full of clients. No, I love it here. I won't hear my neighbors. They're not just a few yards away, most are a mile or two.”
“Are you sure that isn’t too close?” She teased.
“Father, look! there are Indians here.” James yelled and pointed to a group of Indians moving almost single file down the road toward them. Some rode and others walked.
“How do you know they're Indians?” Barton asked. He tapped Herbert to slow the carriage. The horse shook her head and pawed at the ground. Herbert held her in check, speaking in low tones to calm her.
“Our teacher, in Mt. Pulaski, showed us pictures of them. They're wearing the same clothes.”
“These are different Indians. They aren’t wearing the same clothes as the Indians in Illinois.” Lander chided his brother.
“Stop it boys,” Barton ordered. He turned back to look at the group. The men at the hotel told him the Indians around here treated the settlers kindly and traded with them. "They're Indians. They're not heathens to be shunned. Let’s go Herbert.” Barton held on to the front seat and his wife as the surrey jerked forward.The horse seemed to know the way and started to trot. The younger boys leaned over the back seat until they had moved out of site.
"Our first Indians up close!" James leaned forward to inform his father.
They stopped in the shops of a couple villages. After the sun rose to its peak they stopped, spread a blanket and set out the lunch basket. Mahala requested a lunch from the hotel’s kitchen. They ate mouth watering fried chicken, biscuits and fresh vegetables with a cake for dessert. Cool sweet tea in a gallon jar quenched their thirst in the heat of the day. The boys expended their energy in the afternoon sun.
Mahala and Barton gathered the remnants of lunch and called the boys to the surrey to finish the tour. They hadn't traveled more than a mile down the road when a cloud of dust appeared ahead of them and from cloud came a line of men on horses, led by a man in military attire . Herbert pulled the surrey to the side of the road to let them pass.
The leader slowed his mount next to the surrey. “Good afternoon Sirs, Ma’am,” he tilting the wide brim of his hat and touching it with a gloved hand. “What brings you out on this fine day?”
“We're looking for land to purchase.” Barton offered, not sure why this many men were armed to the teeth for battle and out on the road. The war was over, he reminded himself.
“British you are.” The man observed. “I'm Colonel Montgomery. We've just run a pro-slaver, who's been terrorizing Negro freemen off their property. He ordered the Negros to leave the territory with in twenty-four hours or have their houses burned down. We can’t have that. The war is over and all men are free. If you're looking for a piece of land that's already proven and a house ready to move in, I have one for you.”
“Sir, we would very much like to see this place.” Barton held out his hand to the Colonel, who leaned forward to shake it. The Colonel ordered a couple of the men on horses to escort the surrey to the farm they'd left.
At the farm, people scurried back and forth piling furniture and goods into a wagon. The two families didn't speak. Men stood guard watching the family remove their belongings.
Barton viewed the house from a distance. It was a white washed sod home. Built sturdy, it stood not far from a grove of trees. A bluff a few yards away looked over a valley below.
"It's the Sugar Creek." One of Montgomery's men informed him. "Good water, The land beyond the grove has been planted."
"How much land?" Barton asked.
"I'm not sure. You can inquire in Pleasanton, just down the road a ways."
"Tell the Colonel we'll take it and thank him for the reference." They returned to Pleasanton to make arrangements to move.
They moved in and settled firmly in the community. Barton bought a number of plots, one for each of his four boys.
They farmed the land and watched the local Indians as they ran buffalo over the bluff, not far from their house. Below their women would skin and butcher meat for winter. They never bothered Barton or his family, but shared some of the meat.
Many years later, after the boys were grown and married, Barton stood in the grove where white stones outlined the graves of his niece and babies that didn't live long after their birth. He looked out over the land his son's had settled and built their own homes.
This land would be here for many years to come. It would house his descendants. He smiled with contentment.
The original sod house was destroyed in a tornado and Barton built a wood house closer to the bluff and it is standing today, though not livable as the present owner allowed the horses to use it as a barn.
Arrow heads are found in the vicinity of Flat Rock on Sugar Creek. Later it was a place young people came to have picnics in the summer.
Barton added plots to the original property making sure all his sons had plenty of room to build a home and farm their own land.
Two of his sons had the same itch for open spaces. Charles moved on to Wyoming, married and had many jobs, one as a sheep herder. Lander found oil in Hays, Kansas. He married and his family is still there.
Note: After I located my ancestors, I arranged for a family reunion. Decedents from all four boys were represented. We toured the old homestead and found white painted stones outlining unmarked graves. The woman from the Linn Co. Historical Society, who had accompanied us to verify the graves, contacted the owner at that time and he agreed to fence off the grave area from the livestock that roamed the homestead. I imagine there is nothing left down there after a hundred years, but it was a nice gesture. When the owner decided to sell the property, I heard one of the family members purchased it.
The account of this story is found in the Linn County Historical book.
Carrie Wells, wrapped her brown braid into a knot around her head to keep it from swinging over the fire while she cooked. With a deft twist of the wrist the flapjack’s turned over on the griddle. Breakfast would be done just as Mr. Greer and his son Walter returned from their scouting trip. An anxious, almost excited buzz filled the air. The goal was in reach. Soon she would be married.
“Is breakfast ready?” A whiny voice called from inside the prairie schooner.
Carrie bit her lip and straightened. “Almost, Mattie. I think I see the menfolk coming across the ridge.” She pressed her lips together knowing the flurry of activity would ensue at the news. Sure enough, the sound of bumps, bangs and screams of frustration as Mattie, the young bride of Walter, hurried to dress before her husband arrived.
With practiced hand Carrie stacked the cakes in a pan and set them near the fire to stay warm. She had no idea if the men were on their way back, but they seemed to manage to be near when her cakes came off the fire. She had cooked the meals only to turn most of the serving to Mattie who pretended she had done the cooking. It had been this way from the beginning when Mattie had taken Cassie aside after they’d agreed to take her to Oregon with them.
“Do you cook?” Mattie asked.
Carrie responded with a definite, “Yes.”
“Over a fire pit you have to make?” Mattie’s eyes bored into her own.
“Yes. I’ve cooked outdoors before.”
“Then I’ll make a deal with you. You won’t have to pay full price to travel if you do the cooking then I’ll take over and serve it.” Mattie waited for Cassie to agree.
Cassie gave her the once-over look and knew the score. This little missy couldn’t cook but she didn’t want her husband and his father knowing. It was no skin off her nose, and it cut her price to travel west. "Every tub otta stand on its own bottom," she'd whispered over and over on the trip. Sometimes not under her breath. The other women had taken up the mantra when Mattie sashayed around the camp.
She left Mattie to follow her routine and climbed the rocks to a spot overlooking the train. The mountain's shadow gave a welcome relief from the heat of the plains they’d traveled through. On the days the sun beat down on them with such fierceness, she was sure God wanted them all to turn around and go back. Then the rain. What was worse? She knew. She’d take the hot sun any day to the whining of young Miz Mattie Greer, who made her life miserable over the course of the trip, acting as if Cassie had been hired as her personal maid. The wagons were camped in two rows with their passengers milling between. She smiled at the way everyone seemed to move a little faster to get breakfast out of the way and everything packed. With the news the End of the Trail was ahead, you could feel the anticipation in the air.
A little way west of where she sat. She had the best view to watch everyone at their daily chores. The teacher stood before her students. Each morning, either in her large Conestoga or outside it, she taught the children their sums, letters and about the flora and fauna they found along the trail.
The thundering of hooves announced the return of the menfolk. Cassie remained on her perch watching the men. They rode on to their wagons greeting their families. Mr. Greer, Walter and a stranger stopped at their wagon. Mattie greeted the three and after a brief discussion shook her head.
Cassie furrowed her brow, who was the man? A traveler on his way East? Possibly a Trail boss on his way to bring another wagon train west. She grinned as Mattie pranced around the fire offering pancakes to her husband, father-in-law and the stranger. She imagined the screech when Mattie burnt her hand lifting the heavy coffee pot. Walter jumped up taking it from her poured coffee for the other two. Mattie patted his arm and handed the men the precious jug of syrup Cassie brought. She'd found Mattie soaking her pancakes and passing it to neighbors until the jug was empty. Cassie didn’t bring out her stash until a month had passed and the bottle was a different color. Then she’d hid it after each use. Now she realized Mattie must have gone through her things. Cassie would check to make sure none of her things were missing.
Whatever they’d asked Mattie she was having nothing to do with it. With a whirl of her petticoats she walked around the wagon and out of sight among the other women.
Mr. Greer walked down the line of wagons stopping to talk to a group here and there along the way. She frowned, what was he looking for? Each shook his head or called to their wife who responded with a negative shake. Was he looking for her? She looked back at the man. Had she been sent for? Was this her new husband?
She stood and brushed the dirt and dust from her skirt. She used her fingers to catch any stray hair and tucking them away. The train parked near a small river of mountain fed water. The livestock fed down stream to leave the fresh water for the campers. Last night she’d taken a towel and slipped out for a quiet wash up while the camp slept. She hurried to the edge of the water, splashed its coolness on her face and dried it with her apron. With her head held high and a firm step she headed for the wagon.
She didn’t get far. Mattie grabbed her arm from behind and pulled Cassie around to face her anger. “Don’t think you’re going to leave here.” she spoke through gritted teeth.
Cassie looked at her in confusion. “What are you going on about?”
“That man,” Mattie hissed, “has come from the Valley to talk to you. If you think you’re going to leave me here to cook and clean until we get to our home, think again.”
Cassie pulled her arm away from Mattie and patted her hand. “Now here, here," Cassie spoke as if she were talking to a small child, “You knew you’d have to start cooking sometime. What are you going to do when you get to your home? You said it was a big farm house with lots of land. I assume you must be able to have a cook. If not now is a good time to start. I have no idea who this man is or why he’s here.”
Mattie narrowed her eyes, “You knew he was coming? How did you know he was here?”
“It's no secret. I was sitting up there and saw it all. When I saw Mr. Greer talking to people, I guessed he must be asking about me, so I headed over to find out what’s going on.”
“Cassie, there you are. Where have you been, we’ve been looking all over for you?” Walter and his father interrupted the two women.
“I saw her sitting up there,” She pointed to where Cassie said she was. “I thought she should come down and see what the man wanted.” She smiled all sweet and innocent at the men while Cassie wanted to gag. Instead Cassie turned to walk to the wagon.
The man stood with his back to her talking to a few of the travelers. They seemed quite taken with what he was telling them.
“Here she is,” One of them spoke, as Cassie walked to them.
He turned and Cassie gulped. Blue eyes looked her over. He pulled off his hat and the sun glinted on light brown hair with strands of golden blond highlights. He smiled and a lone dimple in one cheek peeked at her. His teeth were white and straight.
“Hello, Miss Cassie, I’m Grant Fillmore.” The deep timbre of his voice struck a cord inside her and all her nerves sang to his tune. “I’m glad to finally meet you.” He held out his hand.
She placed hers in his, “The pleasure is mine, I’m sure.” She let the soft southern accent tinge her voice. He was here. The man who had paid her way to marry him. Why on earth did he need to do that. The man was drop-dead handsome.
“I got word your train was a day or so out. I had my men ride with me and see if you wanted to get to the ranch faster than plodding along. We can pick up your trunks when the train gets there.”
She couldn’t speak. He wanted her to go with him. To ride a day and maybe overnight to get her to the ranch. Why? Part of her was scared now that the day of reckoning had arrived.
“Yes.” She heard her voice answer and wondered where it came from.
He told her what she could bring and that they would be spending the night as his brother’s house before finishing the trip the following day.
She turned to Mr. Greer who beamed at her, “Of course you can go. We’ll catch up with you in Oregon City where you can get your trucks and boxes.”
Cassie grinned when she stepped into the wagon. She thought about Mattie. "Every tub otta stand on its own bottom." She'd been told as a child. Now she would be on her own. It wasn’t proper, her going off with stange men. What if something happened to them along the way? She shrugged They got here safe, and I’m sure they feel it’s safe going back. she told herself.
In no time at all she had her large carpet bag packed with essentials for two days. That’s what it would take for the wagon train to travel to the of the trail.
Grant tied her bags to a horse and helped her into the saddle. He swung on to his horse with ease and gave a nod to those watching them leave. “I’ll see you at the End of the Trail.” Cassie called as she touched the sides of her horse.
They moved down the trail for a few minutes. The wagons were long out of site and the men with him divided into two groups, one up front and one trailed behind.
Grant looked behind him and pulled his horse to a stop jumping off. He came to her side and took her by the waist to pull her off her horse.
“Sorry, I can’t wait any longer for this.” And he pressed his lips to hers. Something inside she’d never knew she had exploded and began to burn her blood from her head to her toes.
If it felt like this when people kissed, how did they ever get their work done? She thought when she could wrap her mind around what she was feeling.
Up coming information about my new book
I hope to be able to have The Vanishing of Katherine Sullivan republished. Watch here for news