They came to Kansas, at first by horse or on foot, then by wagon or by stage coach for the trains had not yet laid their tracks. They followed the deer and the bison. They followed the rivers to virgin lands and felled the trees and plowed the earth. And they waited. Waited for the rain to nourish the crops.The summer nights were hot and winter cold. They slept fitfully in sod homes or cabins made of wood, fearful of what the next day would bring, a prairie fire, a hail storm or tornado, a cloud of grasshoppers which could blanket the earth and consume all their hard work.
The Native Americans who had lived on the prairies for untold millennia saw their coming and knew too soon that their days and the days of the buffalo would soon end. Those that came made promises they didn’t keep and the Indians were tricked, cajoled, and forced to give up their lands and leave.
From the east they came and some stayed and some did not. They came, bright eyed, full of confidence, looking forward to a better future. Nature did not always make it easy. Prairie fires, grasshoppers, and drought took its toll, and even the simple unexpected accident of a careless rider might cost a life, but the most unrelenting challenge was illness that came in the night and stole a life.
Still they came and labored and conquered. Those that lived buried their dead and looked to a better day.
The Kansas Historical Society has preserved the Diary of Abbie Bright. In 1870, she came to Kansas from Danville, Pennsylvania to visit her brother Phillip who had taken up a claim near Clearwater in Sdegwick County, Kansas.
The diary makes for good reading.
Here is a short excerpt from July of 1871.
July 2 — Last evening I saw a deer leap over the sand hills. A shower is coming, we need rain badly. The boys brought more wild plums. They are nice, not like the wild plums East. They are more like our tame red plums.
[July] 3rd — I had expected to spend the 4th at home. Saw Jake to day, and he says there is to be a picnic down at the old Indian Encampment, and all the neighborhood is invited. Mr. Smith is coming for me ct. Baked in a.m. Good bread. How Philip enjoys it. Called at Roses [Ross’] this p.m. Mr. R [oss] gave me a snake rattle with 10 buttons, It must have been a big snake. Mosquitos so bad I must stop.
[July] 4th –The glorious fourth, not a cloud in the sky. Mr. Smith came for me with a two horse wagon, and we took other women along on the way. There were two dozen there counting the children. Five or six bachelors, I the only single woman — the rest married folks and children.
Of course they teas me. They think I am an old maid. 22 and not married. Girls marry so young out here.
As I have no stove — they had sent me word not to do any baking. Mrs. Rose [Ross], Mrs. Lane and Mrs. Springer [Summers] had all baked a plenty. Then we had canned fruit, lemonadade — coffee and roast meats. A swing for the children, gay conversation for the elders
I am tired this evening. Philip did not go to the picnic.
Abbie took out a claim on 160 acres but did not stay but returned to her her other brother’s home in Iowa, where she settled down and married. Phillip moved on from Clearwater to Texas and then to Arizona. He was murdered for his money.