[From Sea to Shining Sea] Charles A Thresher – Part 3


Charles A Thresher

American Pioneer

This is the third of four parts of the journal of my great-great-great-grandfather, a pioneer of Kansas, Charles A Thresher. I have transcribed (the nearly impossible to read handwriting of) his memoirs here for all to share. I’ve done all the hard work but it’s worth noting a few important transcription edits. Anything in [square brackets] is my edits to make a word intelligible and I’m 95% confident it’s what he intended. If something is in {curly brackets} it’s my best guess what he wrote. I’ve also included links to anything that might be an obscure reference that I was able to clarify with this magic of the internet.

We made that year in Topeka a lot of Cotton wood shingle. I made the plank tank in which the wood blocks {get}steamed soft, & then the shingle cut with a descending knife. Shaved off one at a clip. My house was shingled with them. Lasted well.

Hunters of runaway slaves often came and their sherif would enter and search Free state homes and places for them. They did not find them, all the same they had been there. One scare out here proved a joke. I was at a neighbors house one starlight cold night, snow on the ground.

Total assholes.

A knock at the door. Opened it. There stood 3 negroes, questioned them. They were slaves, runaways. Wanted food & shelter. Now to give that by the law of our land was a crime. So said. We asked where they came from. (there then was yet slaves in our own K[ansa]s.) They pointed to a star supposed to be over M[iss]o[uri]. Said we came from that star. Just then some men as their pursuers came yelling up fired their revolvers. And all run off fast as could on road to Topeka. It was all a hoax.

Another time they came to my cabin in night demanded entrance, pounded the door, fired revolver, broke an extra glass to make noise like firing through window. All this fun to scare me. Fortunately I was not at home. In town they searched Mr. Richey’s house for sure. The sheriff came and demanded entrance. Richey refused. After some time fire got low, no fuel in, sent boy out to get some. They would not allow the boy to pass. Richey said he was not going to freeze for all the soldiers in K[ansa]s. Went out, got armful wood, coming in Sheriff said “I go in with you .” No says Richey. I be darned if you do and locked the door against him.

They then broke it down and searched the house – found nothing.

Some time afterwards they undertook to arrest him. And he shot and killed the person sent to take him. For the last 20 years I have each night jotted down in a Diary the chief happenings of the day. For 20 years previous I wrote them down {some} occassionally.

From that old Diary I take this note: In spring of 1858 “I write this at home {…} there is no place like home. Hereafter I am to be a farmer.” As you see this beings me back to the point where I have before told of setting up Bachelor Hall on my land. I hired 10 acres broke up at 5.00 per acre (the usual rate). High? Yes, the land itself was worth 1.25 per acre. Hired ox team, went down near where Richland is now, for load of posts; coming home hot day, got near deep hole in creek, oxen hot & thirsty, broke & run over bank into the hole of water, load & all, no harm done.

To get use of ox team a day I worked a day for their owner. When I wanted it being a bachleor I got up and got my own breakfast, the oxen meanwhile being out with the herd eating their own. I go that far to get them, find them on the Prairie nearly over to Pauline.

Drive them to their home, yoke them, drive to my home, rady to work about 10{acre}. Once in hitching to waggon tongue I stepped between them to put end of pole in place, they broke away and run clear home.

Next year I worked for Reese and bought 2 yearling steers. At 2 years old they were my team. 2 Wheels like out horse cart wheels, with a bed, and ox tongue was my waggon and buggy. My first waggon, the wheels were sawed off the end of a round log.

Like the rhyme of the lady with rings on fingers and bells on toes I had music wherever it goes.

Fred Morse, owner of claim east of me, the next season batched with me. He had 30 acres broke on his. We made up to go partnership in {???} part of it and {raise} some corn. We went to Wakermann’s to split stake for fence – drive them in eart about 12 inches and about 12 in. apart, and nail a shaft and strip across them continuously about 3 ft from ground. It would take 3,700 stakes of 5 ft long. We split part of them, bought the others..

Good season, good corn, but cattle from away over near Pauline and others nearer roamed over, broke in and we got but small share of corn. And was even told we ought to be put in jail for having such a fence as to {tempt} our neighbors {coup} into what might prove their death. Such is life.

We had Methodist preaching regular at Stansfields House. Also a School self superintendent.

Lawrence, Kansas. 1860.

This house and Church was the building Mr. Dean uses as stable. Important place to me as will appear later on. When steers was 2 years old I bought small plow and broke them to plow. They were a great help to me and I left as proud as a boy now does with horse and new buggy; It is said a man of travel can tell what state a man is from by his talk. I suppose I showed plainly I was a Yankee. We always said in parting company, “Good afternoon,” where here they say good evening.

I once called at a house of southern folk and when leaving I said good afternoon, she replied Good afternoon – and in a low tone added “and good forenoon too.” Well & why not, only I had never heard that before.

Neither had I heard such expressions as the southern and M[iss]o[uri] people used. I asked how much corn did you raise last year “O , we raised a right smart chance of corn. We sold a pile, and had a heap left.”

In 1859 my Brother in R[hode] I[sland] bought a Land warrant for me to pay for my land. It was given to widdow of an old soldier a private in Revolutionary War, called for 160 acres Govt Land. Cost 175 or 80 dollars, so we saved part of the price at 1.25 per acre.

It was given to Mrs Annie {Miter}, widdow of Private Darius Mitchel.

About this time began to be a stock raiser. A mover out of K[ansa]s going east to wife’s folks, with the Brindle cow tied on behind stopped at my place. I wanted a cow, she was a bother to him, I was fond of milk, she was dry, but would be fresh soon. (it was 3 months later) I had 12.00 cash and a gun. We traded even. When she came in my stock was one cow, 1 calf, one pig, 1 pup, 1 cat, a few hens, 2 came off all eggs {???}.

The cow proved very troublesome. There being no companions she roamed away 2 or 3 miles to a herd and would not come up at night. Hunted 2 days one time to find her.

My dog sucked eggs and eat chicken. June 27, ’59 is this record.

Fido is dead he has killed many chickens and eat all the eggs he could, in a passion I killed him. I am sorry.

I mention these items to show how under some circumstances small affairs are of importance, seemingly, to us.

About the 5th of July another claim holder and I went to the land office together to [pre-empt] out land, one had to testify for the other. Office at Lecompton. The man was an Englishman, his name was Shilling. We got government deeds for out land, signed by Register of Deeds also the President Abraham Lincoln.

Borrowed of Brother money to pay for the land and little to make some small improvements.

As to how we farmed in those days. In comparison seems to me Farmers in these days, who put in their corn with machines doing the work. Plowing, planting, cultivating, husking all setting on machines taking it easy are simply trying to entirely get out from under the Old Time Curse “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.”

We had no {listers}, all land was plowed. We had no corn planters. No mowing machines. We furrowed out the land row at a time, dropped corn by hand. Covered it either by harrow or by a sort of “{go devel}” that was a spade iron attached to a shovel plow frame. The corn being dropped, a man and horse followed in the furrow with this implement, which pushed dirt front of it to the corn, the oeprator raised the plow, the dirst fell on the corn, he put the plow down, drugged more dirt to next hill covered that & so on. Much corn was covered by hoes, cultivated by large single shovel plow. When the double shovel come we thought it a good implement.

The first corn planter in this vicinity was homemade by Samuel Reese. Wooden wheels, wooden runners, ironshod, dropping bar made by a blacksmith.

It done the neighborhood planting for several years. The 1st Mower was an Excelsior, bought on time by a neighbor who began hay cutting that season for a neighbor with a sythe at 50 c[en]ts for a day. After he got the machine he had all he could do and cut for 7.00 a day I think.

An Excelsior brand mower.

He cut as far away as the Disney neighborhood. From then on Farming has come up step by step in ease and machinery, till now you can scarcely coax a fellow to work for you though you tell him he may set on a seat with sun shade over him and do nothing but ride all day. Even horses have less to do. Electricity is throwing them out of work, and if no wars needed them, would not pay to raise. A few years {more} and trolly lines in the country will take the farmers produce at his door and the storage battery plow & waggon & buggy will do the farmer {well}.

When our Prairies were open and {grain} grown, then every Fall we feared the Prairie fires – often some one trying to burn a strip about his own place, the fire got away and burned over large tracts.

Oct 16 I have this entry.

Hay all burned up. Fire came from the east. Next day a fire from south burnt some of my fence. All the grass burnt around here for 2 miles. Nothing but black Prairie. When the wind blew these fires would run, in a pointed V shape, run as fast as a horse, the wings then burning sideways more slowly.

In those days our few settlers were much more sociable than now, visited each often, rode in our farm waggons to revival meetings at Tecumseh. And to 4th July Picnics at Auburn &c. No one had a buggy then, near here.

A traveller knew he could put up at any house small though it may be.

I have the papers to show that 20 men, women & children travelling passed a night one stormy time in my own 10×12 cabin. Now a solitary traveller, may be told at dusk, that there is no room for him in many of our large Farm houses.

In the Fall of ’59 I put a shed addition to my cabin for a bedroom. We had no pine laths, or if any very high. I bought a sychamore log of Mr Lynn, hauled it to Topeka saw mill, had it sawed into strips 3 inches wide ½ thick. These were laths. I tacked them in place and with a chisel split {???} in them, spread apart and nailed them. I was not able yet to plaster. I pasted newspapers over the laths. I paid 2.00 for the log and 6.75 for sawing the laths.

1860 was the great drought, it began the Fall before, and for nearly a year, there was only a few small showers. Grass would burn in June. No crops grew on the upland. Many settlers moved back to the states. I had no where to go to, stayed it through. Mush & milk, milk & mush was all my diet. But nobody but myself I was under the orders of no one, I was contented in a fashion. However nearly 2 years batching began to grow monotonous. I began to look about me. Feb 12 1860 there was this record, “Last night set up with Miss Sarah Welker, I believe she would make me a good wife.” This Feb I began to dig me a well. Bro John {McQuisten} helped me some and one day helped me wall the well.

I have heard him tell others, years afterward of this helping and of our dinner. “He said at noon I put on the table a pan of milk and a dish of mush, and we set down then I said to him, ‘Bro {McQuisten}if you think this is anything to be thankful for, you may return thanks.” I did not think he laid it up against me, but the fact remains that before might he come [near] killing me. We were walling up the well. I laid the stone, he let them down. I was down some 20 feet at he time. I had a fence {low} laid across the stone wall in Center, on where I had been sitting, and from which I stood to place the rock. I had noticed that he had filled the box too full for safety and said so, telling him to take his time and be careful. As I said I had been usually on the board across the end but after a while I had laid up the rock I had on hand, and got up and stood with back to the earth sides of the well close, looking down to the water.

When Crash went a large flat rock through that board to the bottom of the well. Bro {McQuisten} scarce dared to look to see was I hurt, but finally called to me, was I yet alive.

Like Daniel in the lions den I was not hurt. He had filled the box with stone then set on edge one about 12×16 leaning it against the handle and when the rope lifted the box ready to let down, it overbalanced the box and fell.

It is curious how some small things in our lives seems large {turns} and sometimes great events at the time are looked at as small. In my journal I had put on record small things, as it seems now to read them, but this the most dangerous moment of my lift it seems I never at the time thought it worth mentioning. Yet the fact remains, had I not been impelled to arise and stand back on the wall as I had not before done, my life would have ended there. I believe “there is a hand above that shapes our destinies rough hew them as we may.”

The next entry in my note book records the turning point of my life.

March 10 1860, “I expect to be married tomorrow. My house is not plastered yet, but Sarah says she is willing to take the House, as she takes me “for better or for worse,” and so as her parents are going to leave here and go to Southern Kansas for a Homestead I think she may as well stay with me. This then is the last night of my bachelor life, henceforth I may not be all alone.”

On March 11 suddenly we were married after Church services by the Rev. Ira Blackford. The church as before said was held in house of Mr. Stansfield, that same old horse stable now of Mr. Dean’s. This K[ansa]s was then not a state it was a Territory, Capital of Lecompton. Slaves even in K[ansa]s Judge Elmore over on Deer Creek had slaves, I saw them there.

On March 17th I find this entry. “One week of married life, all things considered I believe it beats batching.” We were then, each of us, 23 years old.

Then land here sold for from 3.00 to 5.00 per acre. There was but one hours between ours and Highland Park, only one between what is Berryton and the {Wakermaann’s}. All the {Rempton} shanties on every {gr} section had by this time been removed or burned up. Nearly all.

Herds of horses & cattle ranged at will over the Prairies. Horses roamed farther by nature than cattle. Their owners if they wanted them might find them any where between Pauline and Richland. Many never saw their loose horses for months at a time.

Fences being expensive were poor. Loose stock sometimes exasperating. Many neighbors were at {cuts} you might know, stock and fences was at the bottom of it. Many a night I have arisen to drive away horses and cattle from my field, which at the time consisted of only 12 acres. Plenty for one who owned no horse or team to tend it. But that year [18]60 it was all the same tending or not, this state never saw its equal for drought. Wife and I attended church in our art without springs drawn by the 2 year old steers. Most of the work in those days was done by oxen. We rode over to 4th of July near Salem. And many times to Topeka. It was our only way to go.

Sometimes it was amusing, sometimes vexing. William Lynn then lived on the {Levi’s} place. We visited there one day in the {east} wife & I started down there. The road went most the way where the Railroad now is. We turned south of the school house; Mr Reese had fenced in the bottom land, but for some reason part of the fence had been removed and only slanting stakes drive in their places still remained.

The land all over grown by tall sunflowers. Through these the steers pushed their way, until one the stakes passing under the bed of the cart upset us both. At the 1st raavine we crossed, as the team went out up the other side our weight lifted end of the tongue, the connection slipped off and we this time upset backwards.

Still we got there all right. About the 25th of Oct, having nothing to winter my few stock, I went south away below Emporia to see wife’s folks about taking my few cattle there to winter. I went in my cart with 2 year old steer. Left wife to run the place. I intended to cut grass there and later {lay} down my 5 head of stock.

Burlingame, Kansas. 1879.

The 1st night I camped on near Burlingame. Got leave to sleep on kitchen floor. The next night {camp} on me away from any house. I reached timber, chained my team to a tree, fed them. Upset the cart and crawled under the bed & slept, slept as sung as a bug in a rug. And so on to end of journey. I bought hay then and later Brother in {??} came up and drove the cattle down. Lincoln was still president and the southern states talking of seceding. We having no crop, much relief was sent to go around very far, especially when people well able to help themselves shared as well or better than those really needy.

I needed some and applied. Our Township relief station was some 4 or 5 miles east of me. It was winter 12 inches of snow on ground, my team of steers sent away to winter. I made a handshed and went a foot. I succeeded in getting a bushel of meal. That was the most I ever obtained. Afterward by vote the Township decided all should share alike. I applied once, but could take my share in a pocket.


One Response to “[From Sea to Shining Sea] Charles A Thresher – Part 3”

  1. and that’s why you always finish your mush!

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