Sunday, May 25, 2008

They Came to Kansas

My father, Erwin A. Thompson, became enthralled with a recent discussion on the Women Writing the West listserve concerning the mid-day meal. He discovered and transcribed this story written by Audery Blackburn Johnston,the wife of my great-uncle (on my mother's side), Floren Johnston. A. Schooley,one of the travelers in this story, was Audery Johnston's great grandfather.
Notice that in this account of their journey, they say "nooned" for the noon stop. My father says, "The heritage told of in this story is mine only by marriage, but these were a great, rugged people. Refined, perhaps by the years of so-called progress, but the strain is still alive." Here, then, "They Came to Kansas." --Janet Grace Riehl

by Audery Blackburn Johnston

"June 15, 1865, R. Schooley, Vincent Scott, and James Esters left home in Cumberland County, Illinois, for Kansas, tavelled 17 miles, and camped for the night on the edge of the prairie. Rested good."

Thus begins the saga of over a century ago.
Mr. Schooley begins his account with the actual start of the journey, saying nothing of the work and planning needed for such a trip. Louisa Harmon, future daughter in law of R. Schooley, who came to Kansas three years later, gave a detailed account of the preparation.
"Father made his (wagon) to suit the occasion. He first made the front and back wheels quite a distance apart for a wagon. Then he put a bed on. Besides his own family, Father brought a niece and nephew to Kansas. Altogether, 13 slept in the wagon, and three men slept on the ground.
Of the farewell to his friends and neighbors she says: "Well do I remember the morning that we left. We all met at the corner, and what a crowd there was to tell us goodbye. When we said goodbye then it was almost for good."
One the second day the Schooleys and their friends made better time. "Broke camp at ten o'clock, nooned at Shelbyville, travelled 26 miles, and rested good."
For several days the journey continued uneventfully. Only 15 miles were travelled on Sunday, then: "Camp was made on the south bank of the Sangomon, and we laid over until Monday morning. The country around Springfield is described as rolling, and in some places quite hilly, but fine farming country and in a fine state of cultivation."
Why the route the caravan followed bore so far to the north is unexplained. Possibly it was because of the difficulty of crossing rivers. On the 22nd of June the group reached the Mississippi which they crossed on a ferry at 4 o'clock. They then traveled north up the river bottom which was very level and rich, with corn growing about waist high.
(** Editor's note: This was late June. The old farmer's almanac stated that corn needed to be "knee high by the fourth of July.")
The train travelled southward, through a country "very broken and hilly," but the travellers made steady progress across Missouri through Macon City, Chilacothe, and Saint Joe. By the eighth of July, they reached Kansas after crossing the river at Saint Joe. They "travelled down the west bottom to Atchison where they turned off to Topeka where they crossed the stranger, nooned on a fine prairie, and camped for the night at Grasshopper Falls."
On the ninth of July, R. Schooley wrote: "We crossed the crick on a fine bridge and from there to Topeka on the Kansas River. Topeka stands on a high elevation, and many buildings were of stone. The State House is of rock and is a fine house. Travelled thirty miles today."
On the next day misfortune overtook the travellers: "We camped about two miles south of Topeka, and there came a heavy rain, and we got a fine drenching. Next morning, Monday, the tenth, we started without our breakfast, and travelled 12 miles to Mrs. West's, where we had breakfast about eleven o'clock. On the way we crossed six mile crick and the Waskarusa River. Stopped at Mrs. West's one-and half-days."
After passing through Empora and Burlington and crossing the Weshon, Cottonwood and other rivers and "Cricks", the group finally found what they found what they were seeking: Free Land! In Neosho and Allen Counties they took claims. They had been on the road nearly six weeks.
Food for the journey must have been carried with the travellers, they bought very little on the way. According to Reuben Schooley's account he spent only $4.45 for food. Most of it was for crackers and bread. The only exception being "five cents for onions." "Furridge" across the Mississippi River was $4.70. Hay and corn for the horses was $9..20.
Today, R. Schooley lies just inside the gate of the Seanasa Cemetery in Neosho County. His was the first grave in the plot that he and his friends selected as a suitable burying ground.
Rest in peace, The Pioneers. Our heritage.

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