THE SMITH FAMILY AT MT. VERNON
Edith Smith Collins
Read at the sixth "Annual Home Coming at Mt. Vernon", 1931.
The first of the Smith family to arrive in Kansas was my brother, Ad, who in company. with R. F. Burden came from the state of Iowa in June, 1871.
He was 23 years of age at that time.
They both came with the intention of homesteading land offered by the government for settlement.
They were pathfinders into this new and sparsely settled country, and helped to blaze the trail for those who came afterwards.
At the time of their coming the county had a population of 600. However 1871 proved to be a red letter year in the history of Cowley county as much in the way of improvement and organization began during the year.
Ad and Mr. Burden first made camp by the big spring on what has been known for years as the Marshall place and for a time they thought this would be their permanent location; but after devoting some time to inspecting country and comparing the advantages of one location with another, and always keeping in mind, as all early day settlers did, the necessity of locating near a spring of flowing water, they finally decided to locate farther south in Windsor township on what is and has always been known as the Burden place, R. F. Burden taking the claim on which the spring was located, and Ad the one directly north of it. They made this decision one morning and that afternoon went to Grouse Creek and began to cut the timber to erect the buildings that would meet the legal requirements for holding the claims.
Windsor township had been organized that spring with a population of 79 although covering much more territory than it does now.
After completing these buildings, Ad and Mr. Burden returned to Mahaska county, Iowa, where on August 10, 1871, Ad was married to Phebe I. Appel, the daughter of Philip Appel and the niece of R. F. Burden.
Soon after this they again took the covered wagon trail for the plains of Kansas, Ad accompanied by his wife, and R. F. Burden accompanied by his wife and six children. Marion Savage was also in this party, and staking a claim just across the line west from the ones taken by Ad and Burden, he later returned to Peoria, Iowa, and married Ellen Shelley, who came as a bride to Cowley county. She was later followed by her father and mother and three brothers--Jasper, Ambrose, and George.
Ads and the Burdens arrived at their chosen locations in September and here the pioneer life of these families began. Both Ad and Burden were natives of the state of Ohio, and they found the plains of Kansas vastly different, and in many respects harder to conquer than their forest covered native state.
Statistics tell us that 94 percent of Cowley county was a rolling prairie of bluestem grass, and only 6 percent timber and that along the banks of the streams, so it was an ever ending task for the pioneers who homesteaded the upland claims to obtain fuel for their needs, and from this same source the lumber for the claim must be obtained or freighted in from the nearest R. R. which was 100 miles or more distant.
A steam sawmill owned and operated by B. H. Clover on Grouse Creek was established about this time and simplified lumber problems greatly, and a gristmill established by Ed Sutton in the same vicinity proved of great convenience to the settlers.
Immediately after the arrival of Ad's and the Burden's families, they began to make preparations for the winter that was soon to come. A two-roomed house with a basement was erected on the Burden place and Ads lived in one room of this house. It seems that they passed through the winter without mishap and in the spring continued their improvements. In April of 1872 my father and mother and brother, Miles, who was 17 years of age, and my sister, Maxa, who was 13 years old, joined those who had located in Windsor township. They came through in two covered wagons, one driven by Ike Hewitt who later returned to Iowa.
My father filed on a claim in Windsor township that Ad had already stacked for him.
That summer the Burdens returned to Iowa and my people lived in their house, and during the summer built a house on their homestead 1 1/2 miles south of here, and moved into it that fall. My father was always known as "Iowa" Smith to distinguish him from "Cherokee" Smith, "Kentucky" Smith, and "Singer" Smith.
Ad homesteaded his claim and sold it to R. F. Burden and then bought 80 acres adjoining his homestead on the north, of Steve Prouty; this he in turn sold to Charles Appel, and then bought 80 acres of David Froundfelter in Harvey township. This brought them directly into the Mt. Vernon neighborhood, and here they made their permanent improvements. With all the problems confronting the pioneers, they were not forgetting educational problems. In 1871 the county had 122 pupils and 5 teachers; in 1872 they had 50 teachers and in 1873, 76 teachers. Mrs. Ad Smith was one of these early-day teachers, teaching first in a building on what was then known as the John Clover place, now owned by Grant Wilkins, and later teaching on what was called the Jimmerson Corner just north of her own home.
Things were moving along nicely until the spring of 1874 when it was very dry, and the settlers became badly discouraged; but rains came later, and everyone was having high hopes of a good crop after all their anxiety. Then in August befell the outstanding disaster of all early day history--the grasshoppers. They came from the northwest and in such countless numbers that they formed a cloud that obscured the sun.
Their destruction was complete.
After the grasshoppers were gone, and my people began to take stock of their supplies for their winter needs, Ad and father decided that by combining the remnants of the crops of the two families, there would be enough to provide for the needs of one family through the winter, but under no circumstances enough for both families.
Ad's family now numbered four-the second child being born in August-the month of the grasshoppers. So it was decided that Ad's would refugee, and they returned to Iowa for the winter, leaving what supplies they had for my father's family.
I have heard Mrs. Ad Smith tell what an overwhelming homesickness she had endured all this summer, and what a relief it was to her to return to Iowa for the winter. They returned to Kansas in the following spring and fortunately that was the end of her homesickness.
The winter of '74 and '75 was a very severe one, attended by much suffering among the pioneers. In February of that year I was born, making the 7th child in my father's family. I have never heard that there was any loud cheering upon my arrival--and I do not wonder at it. My father was in his fifties and my mother was 48 years old--at which age pioneering, beset with drought, blizzards and grasshoppers, was enough within itself without the prospect of rearing another infant, but nevertheless I had arrived to be reared.
Another menace that constantly threatened the pioneers was the prairie fire that often swept for miles and miles without being controlled and destroying entire crops, as well as whatever improvements had been provided. I well remember that my father kept all old gunny sacks and heavy old garments in readiness that he might drop everything and go to the rescue of some unfortunate neighbor that the fire was sweeping down upon, and down in the stable the team of horses (Old Baldy and Old Halleck), that he had driven to Kansas, would paw and prance in their stalls as soon as they scented the fire until they were out and on the way. Father would dip these sacks in the branch at the spring, wring them out, throw them across the horses' necks, mount, and then would be off fighting fire, perhaps for hours.
The population of the county before the grasshopper invasion in '74 was 10,000. This diminished by half but was somewhat restored during the several years that followed, and then in 1880 another severe drought caused the population to again shrink, but the fine spirit of people (many of whom were ancestors of you who are here today) endured, and they continued to lay plans, defied the discomforts, and succeeded in accomplishing lasting and worthwhile things. Every day was a busy day, and their improvements were slow but permanent.
I remember how unceasingly my father worked on his claim enclosing the entire 160 with a hedge fence, as well as having cross fences of the hedge. I think he took an especial delight in the setting of his orchard which he watched so closely. In Andeas "Early History of Kansas"-the number of fruit trees planted and the number of acres under cultivation are recorded of each man mentioned.
My earliest recollection at church was when we used to go to Lazette where my father was one of the officials. After the Mr. Vernon school house was built we always attended church at Mt. Vernon where my sister, Maxa, and Mrs. Ad Smith taught in the Sunday School, and my father and "Cherokee" Smith were the class leaders, conducting service on the Sundays that the minister was not in attendance. After the church service, someone went home with us or we went home with someone for dinner. This was a social event. And I can remember when the preachers came out from Burden. They went home by our house, and mother had a chicken or roll of butter or something of' the kind ready for them to take home, which preachers liked just as well then as they do now.
We had neighbors who were real neighbors--the Shelleys, the Froundfelters and the Wingert boys, John, Henry, and August were our near neighbors. The Wingerts lived just east of us and usually spent about one evening a week at our house, and mother always had cookies or a pie or some sort of baking for them, as they grew tired of batching. August always sang for us, and we were very partial to the two or three German song he sang although we did not know what it was all about--but it was different. In the seventies before the railroad was built through the southern part of the county--everything was freighted in, mostly from Humbolt and Ad, having a good team and wagon, used to freight back and forth from Humbolt--making camp both going and coming.
In 1876 when Miles became of age, he filed on a claim in Silver Creek township, and began improvement on it. Prior to that, as was the custom with the pioneer youth he worked at whatever came to his hand to do. He was recorded as one of the early day teachers of Cowley county and taught at Baltimore, and in a claim house on the Peck place just across the road from his own claim; and also taught several terms on the Walnut River in Vernon township north of Winfield.
On September 10, 1882, he was married to Emma Burden. The marriage ceremony being performed by Ad who was a Justice of the Peace at that time. Prior to her marriage Emma also was one of the pioneer teachers of the county--having taught three terms at Baltimore, one at Box, one at Mt. Vernon, one at Grand Prairie, and one at South Torrance. Her means of transportation, part of the time at least, was on horse back with sidesaddle and long flowing riding skirt.
After their marriage they always lived on the claim Miles had homesteaded. This farm being near Grand Prairie and in Silver Creek township, they were identified with that neighborhood. This farm is still owned by Miles' heirs. Miles passed away April 4, 1898, aged 42 years.
On November 29, 1881, my sister, Maxa, and Jerome Huff were married. Jerome Huff came to Kansas in the spring of 1870. He was 18 years of age, and was accompanied by his mother and a younger brother. The boys not being old enough to take claims, the mother filed on what was later known as the Batch place. The two boys worked at whatever they could find to do to earn money for the homesteading, and afterwards the mother deeded each son an eighty.
The Ruffs came to Kansas from Morris county, Kentucky, and were a part of that colony of Kentuckians who located in Omnia township consisting of the Jenkins, Backus, Wards, Strothers, Laceys, and Bradshaws.
They were all ferried up the Ohio River to Cincinnatti, and started across the country in covered wagons for Kansas. The Jenkins and Huffs came together, the Wards and Strothers and Laceys later, and the Bradshaws in 1886. Some of these first came to Kansas in 1869.
Soon after the Huffs were married, they sold their farm to Franklin Batch and bought 80 acres adjoining my father on the south that had been homesteaded by Steve Prouty. They remained here until 1901 when they disposed of this and bought what was known as the M. A. Stapleton place in the same neighborhood. These two farms were both in the Grand Prairie district so these, too, were identified with that community. In 1813 they moved to Atlanta where Jerome Huff died on New Year's day, 1925, aged 73 years and my sister two years later, February 26, 1927, aged 68 years.
The year 1884 was an outstanding year for my mother as her brother, S. J. Foust, and his family came to Kansas from Columbia City, Indiana, to make their homes. Barring one short visit, my mother and her brother had not seen each other since 1844, so she was very happy over their coming.
In 1886 father and mother were able to abandon the old claim house of their earlier days and build the four room house that still remains on the farm.
On the night of July 27, 1887, my father passed away, dying suddenly without any sickness to warn us of his going.
Again do I remember the goodness of the neighbors-the Shelleys, the Froundfelters, the Wingerts, the Conrad Jones and others who came to us at that time, making all the necessary arrangements and doing all those little things that must be done in times of sorrow.
There was no licensed embalmer, no special music, no banks of flowers, but just a brief funeral sermon by Rev. Powell; and before the sun had set the following evening, my father had been laid to rest, mourned and followed to the grave by these early day folks with whom he had pioneered for 15 years.
After my father's death, my mother went to Iowa for the winter and then moved to Burden in 1888 where she lived until April 21, 1900, when she too passed away at the age of 73-my father was 63 at the time of his death.
With the passing of my father and mother from Mt. Vernon neighborhood, this left Ad and his family as the only members of the Smith family in the near community.
In about 1883 and 1884 they had moved to Burden where Ad had a position in John Clover's hardware store, and the children were in the Burden school. They returned to the Mt. Vernon neighborhood and Ad deeded a forty acre tract of land east and south of his home place, and in the course of time bought the remaining 80 of David Froundfelter as well as pasture land lying to the east of his original 80. Harvey township was organized in1874 but how early he held township office I do not know; but as early as 1882 he was Justice of the Peace, as has been mentioned here, and from then on held both school and township office at different times.
As I have said on another occasion, the revival in 1887 conducted by Banner E. Shawhan instilled a new spirit of piety and religious worship into the community and Ad and his wife were active in helping to establish the church on a firmer foundation, and doing whatever came to their hand to do, both in the church and out, that was helpful to the welfare of the community. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that Ads have entertained more ministers in their home than probably any other pioneer family in Cowley County. They had a true hospitality in their hearts, and the latchstring was always out. It did not matter whether it was in the old claim house in which they lived so many years, or in a more pretentious place, the atmosphere was always the same.
I can remember one instance in particular. One Sunday a number of men had been moving cattle from one pasture to another and they had had more trouble than they had anticipated and were a good many miles from home when the noon hour came. One of the men said, "Let's ride around by Ad Smith's and Ad will invite us in for dinner." They acted accordingly and sure enough upon their arrival, Ad insisted on their coming in and eating dinner-but it so happened that Ad's were having a family dinner that day, and the fellows, in relating it later, said, "We just didn't have the nerve to go in, although we had gone by that way for that purpose." There was nothing spectacular about either of them, and during the years they befriended many people in a quiet way.
They had a wide circle of friends, and kept up many early day friendships and enjoyed fellowshipping with the pioneers from all over the county. But nothing ever arose that in any way attracted them from Mt. Vernon. They always thought this vicinity the garden spot of the world, and they would regard a homecoming like this today as a high privilege and enjoy it to the full, for they were both at their best when in a reminiscent mood about the early days of Kansas.
Ad always had a liking for politics and besides holding township offices, he was elected county treasurer in 1899 and served 5 years--during this time the family lived in Winfield but returned to Mt. Vernon and Harvey township at the expiration of his last term of office.
Eight years later he was elected State Senator and served two terms. He was re-elected four years later in 1915 and again served two terms.
He passed away December 19, 1920, after a lingering illness of several months. He was 72 years of age. His wife survived him less than two years and passed away November 2, 1922. She was 70 years of age.
In fifteen minutes time I have tried to tell you something of the Smith family, covering a period of more than 60 years.
Five generations of Smiths have been privileged to live in this community and we take pride in the progress and achievement that have come about in the years that we have known this place.
This history is but little different from the history of many of the ancestors of you who are here today. They were all factors in creating the commonwealth of Kansas. Each man came with a determination to establish a home and create an inheritance for his loved ones. They defied the prairie fires, the grasshoppers, the droughts in summers and the blizzards in winter. We enjoy the benefits of their labors. To them we owe the fields, the orchards, the pastures, the various farm improvements, the schools, the churches, and libraries that have been established for our pleasures and our improvement.
It is hard to realize the Kansas we know today, changed and glorified with its victories of the past and its promises of the future, is the same that a few short years ago was but rolling prairie and virgin soil.