Decatur County Journal

February 9, l905


Larned, Kansas, Feb. 6, l905; To the Officers and Brothers of Decatur City Lodge of Odd Fellows. Greetings: Brothers, today while confined to the house by the inclemency of the weather, my mind has been wandering back over the years now past and gone. In my mind I have been reviewing the past and wondering as to the future. I have followed up the zigzag path of my life from boyhood to manhood and even down to old age, having just pased my 7lst birthday. I find that my wanderings of these years have led me from the old homestead in Ohio over the great Mississippi, out over the vast prairies of Illinois and Iowa, down through northern, central and southern Missouri, out over the once desert plains west of the Missouri River, through Kansas and Nebraska; and I have stood at the foot of Pike's Peak, saw snow-capped mountains in mid summer, wound my way through the Rocky Mountains, through New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, old Mexico and Texas, Indian Territory, Arkansas, etc. I would not ask you to follow me through all these wanderings but perhaps it might not be uninteresting for you to follow or go with me over a part of this road, for here and there along life's pathway are some bright spots in memory that my mind loves to stop at and reflect over scenes and circumstances that transpired long years ago. Among these or one of these bright spots is DECATUR CITY, DECATUR COUNTY, IOWA and in mind's eye I see and once more visit old Decatur City Lodge of Odd Fellows.

Here I would take you back to 60 or 65 years ago when I was a boy. Born in New York but raised in Seneca County, Ohio. I was raised on a farm and today I go over that old farm, through that old homestead house from cellar to garret, see every room, every door, the old log fireplace so comfortable on a cold winter's night with its blazing fire of hickory, maple and beech wood. I go over and see every field of from 4 to 8 acres. I see and can locate every pair of bars. I see the old orchard and can locate just where stood the choice Bellflower, Rambo or Pippin tree. I see the meadow fields, pasture fields, and those we used to cultivate in crops. I go over the road to that old log school house with its log fireplace, its slab benches and its cross teachers. In my mind I can see those old bridges across the streams, see the paths over the hills and across the hollows, and every foot of that road is as plain to mind today as roads I now travel. I see the familiar faces of my old schoolmates, can call their names, but alas, where are they now? Not even one that I can locate. They are scattered over this wide world, and many that I know of have gone to their long home.

When l9 years of age, I went to northern Iowa on a visit. I went by rail to Burlington, Iowa, thence by boat to McGregor in the extreme northeast corner of Iowa. Thence by stage 60 miles west to county seat of Winneshiek County, where I had relatives living. When a boy studying geography I had often looked at that long line extending clear across my map of the United States and read that it was called the great Mississippi River or Father of waters, heading in the lakes of the north and emptying its waters into the gulf of Mexico. I then made up my mind if ever I got to be a man, I would see that wonderful river and here at the age of l9 I had rode on its placid waters, crossed over and was on its western shores.

I remained here a few days and then went across through southern Minnesota to St. Paul in a covered wagon. I had only been at St. Paul at my uncle's but two hours when I received a letter to come home. My father was very sick and as I was the oldest boy and the only one that could care for the farm, I must come. So the next day, with a heavy heart, I started for home. By this time I had become infatuated with the western country. I liked its broad expanse of prairie. I loved the people with their enterprise and thrift and I had decided to be in no hurry about going home, but duty called and I had to go. After arriving home, I was restless. The western fever had got hold of me and I told the folks I was going to the prairie country where the land was already cleared. I had partly helped to clear up a timber farm and I wanted no more of it. My father wanted me to buy a tract of timber land close to home. I would not take it as a gift and be compelled to live on it. When he saw he could not cure or allay the western fever that had gotten hold of me, he said if I would wait until next spring, he would go west with me. So the next spring, l854, we took a team and a spring wagon and started for Iowa over land.

We decided to go to southern Iowa on account of the climate. A number of friends and neighbors had settled at Garden Grove, Decatur County, and we decided to go there and see the country. We crossed the Mississippi River at Burlington and a few miles out, we overtook a man afoot and asked him to ride. He got in with us and told us he lived twenty miles southwest of Garden Grove at Pleasant Plain, (now I believe, called Pleasanton.)

He said he was a merchant there and had been down to Burlington buying goods and had got tired waiting for the stage and thought he would walk on until the stage overtook him, but that if we would carry him he would prefer to go with us as he could then get his night's rest. We were very glad to take him in as we found him to be a typical western man and could give us much desired information. His name was DR. HINKLE. We arrived at Garden Grove in due time and the DR. told us to look around a few days and then come to Pleasant Plain and look at their country and make his house our home free of expense. At Garden Grove we found the STEARNS, KNAPPS, ARNOLDS, and others, many of whom had been my schoolmates in Ohio.



I had gone to school with SAM and JOE STEARNS, also the KNAPP boys. We looked around a few days and could not get suited, so we went down to Pleasant Plain. There we found several families from our county in Ohio. After looking around a few days there and not finding anything to suit, we decided to go farther north in the state and see what we could find. We drove into DECATUR CITY and soon a group of men gathered around and one man, I think by the name of GILL, who seemed to be the spokesman, told us that the county seat had just been moved away from DECATUR CITY to LEON, but it would not remain there long until it would be moved back and that now was the time to buy land around DECATUR CITY. It would double in value in a few months. Finally the crowd left and a man stepped up and said, "Gentlemen, I suppose you are strangers." We told him we were. He said he did not like to see strangers imposed upon and that man ought to have told you the truth because he is a Campbellite Preacher, but there is not a word of truth in it. The county seat is moved away and I tell you it will never move back and that you need not buy land with that expectation, but that we could buy land right in DECATUR COUNTY and if we would drive out to his house and stay all night, he would go with us next day and thought he could show us land that would suit and price to suit. He said his name was LOUIS WALKER. We went to his home one mile north of DECATUR CITY on the west side of the road. He lived then in a double log house. We found MRS. WALKER to be a very clever lady and a nice family of girls. All seemed to make us welcome and at home. The next day we looked at several pieces of land and before night, had bought 80 acres of prairie land and l5 acres of timber land of one JONATHAN P. HAMILTON, 7 or 8 miles north of DECATUR and near what was called PRAIRIE CITY. We traded him my team at $400 and bought the land at $5 per acre on conditions. There was l20 acres lay joining HAMILTON's that he said we could buy at $5, but the man lived in Jefferson County. So we made trade with HAMILTON that the trade was to stand open for l5 days, giving us time to see the other man and get back. We went to Jefferson County and bought the land at $4. So I had to go back with the team and complete my trade with HAMILTON. As we were in near the railroad, father said he would take our trunks and go home and I could come when I had completed the deal. I got an old saddle and brought the team back to DECATUR and MR. WALKER went with me and helped to complete the deal. I was then happy. I had 2l5 acres of as pretty land as a crow ever flew over, the cost of which was $940. I then expected to return to Ohio for at least a year or two. It was now just harvest time and Father WALKER had l5 acres of wheat (big crop at that time) and it was just ready to cut and did not know how to get it down as help was scarce. I concluded I could help him out and then get home in time for our harvest in Ohio. He was a cradler (we used the arm-stronreaper at that time) so I told him to go in and I would take it up as fast as he would lay it down, and we soon had his wheat in shocks. Wages were two dollars per day and so concluded I would help some of the neighbors out and still then get home in time.

It then leaked out that I was a school teacher and they wanted me to take up a fall term of school in DECATUR CITY. I finally decided to, and go home in the fall. About this time, word came up from Pleasant Plain that DR. HINKLE wanted to see me at once. I went down and he said he had found out that his clerk was dishonest and had turned him off and wanted me to go in his store at $l per day and board. This proposition suited me better than teaching and I accepted the situation. I soon found out that the DR. was a Mormon or Latter Day Saint, sometimes preaching and arguing which made him very unpopular, except with the Mormons, of which there were a good many there. I went in the store under very unfavorable circumstance as everybody said HINKLE had got another little Mormon. I first had the books to settle, and nearly every man swore he had paid his account or had a receipt for money paid in, which in many cases was correct. Finally, everything was adjusted and people found out I was no Mormon and we got to doing a large business. I remained there four years. During this time I had traded my Iowa land for 400 acres l l/2 miles southwest of Pleasant Plain. I then went back to Ohio and the next spring, I came back with the girl I had left behind and went on my farm.

But now I will drop back in my narrative to DECATUR CITY. MR. and MRS. WALKER were to me as father and mother and at their home in DECATUR COUNTY, the fall of l854, I became of age on the l7th day of December. Brother WALKER then solicited me to join the Odd Fellows. He was a member of the church and a zealous Odd Fellow. It was hard for me to distinguish which he thought the most of, although he was a worker in both and I had confidence to believe that Bro. WALKER would not belong to any organization that was not right. Having unbounded confidence in him as a true man, I finally sent in my petition and in due time road the goat in the DECATUR CITY Lodge in January or February, l855, now fifty long years ago.

Living at Pleasanton and being in the store, I could not get to meet the brothers very often but attended as often as possible.

But now we will go back to the farm at Pleasanton which in later years was called the DR. PETERS place. I lived there several years and during the civil war I sold out and went back to Ohio with the expectation of making that our future home as all our relatives lived there. We had spent several years in the west alone. We spent the winter there and the next spring, I got out of there. I would not live there, too much style for a western man. Society was all divided up and there was not the sociability and the free and easy way of doing there was in the west. When I came west again, I settled near Nevada City, Vernon County, Missouri, one of the western counties bordering on Kansas. Nevada had been quite a good town before the war but was badly destroyed, and but few houses left. When the war was over, emigration began to pour in and the town began to build up again and in the course of time we found a few Odd Fellows had gathered in. We began to look around and we found enough, who by withdrawing from their own lodges, we could get enough to organize. We done so and a few of us organized the Nevada City Lodge. The lodge prospered and we soon had a good lodge. Nevada is now a city of l2,000 population and has two good Odd Fellow Lodges.

After remaining in Vernon County several years, I again sold out and 30 years ago last fall, came to Pawnee County, Kansas. Larned is on the old Santa Fe trail across to California in an early day. It is on the main line of the Santa Fe R.R. Three hundred miles southwest of Kansas City. It is also on the Arkansas River and what is known as the Ark. Valley. It is sometimes called the short grass country or the great wheat belt of the west. We have a fine country, a good class of people and the country is in a prosperous condition. When I came here, Larned consisted of twelve small houses. Now it has a population of about 3,000. It has the reputation of being one of the sweetest, neatest and cleanest towns in the west. We have not had a saloon since the cowboy days. Crops of all kinds do well here but wheat is our principal crop, few farmers having in less than l60 acres and more of them 400-500 acres, and some l,000 to l,200 acres. Our yield is from l5 to 35 bushels per acre. It is true a few years ago we had a few years of crop failures. We had drouths, grasshoppers, chintz bugs and everything else that went to ruin a country, and we were then dubbed as starving Kansas, a name to which we were justly entitled. Aid was sent in from other states and it was needed. We had several years of these reverses which made it pretty hard on the people but we stood the storm and then our season changed and since that time, we have had no reason to complain. Our people have prospered and are all now in good circumstances. Mortgages and debts have been paid off and now the farmers have broad acres of land with good buildings, (the sod house is a thing of the past) fine crops of growing wheat. Wheat in the granary, a good bank account and all goes well with them now. If you don't believe it come and see us. One of our banks report $200,000 on deposit and the other $l75,000, and have more money than they can loan. In a short time after coming to Larned, the country began to fill up and the town to grow. The government land office was located here, business of all kinds came in, and as in the first case, we began to find Odd Fellows. Finally, a few of us got our cards and organized Larned Lodge No. l29. At first, as in the case with all new lodges, we got along slow. We got along slow, had no suitable hall but improvised a little upstairs hall. We had no money, no furniture, no regalia, etc., but we began to grow and both members and money began to come to us, and today we number 2l7 members and have a hall second to none in the state. Our hall is carpeted with Brussell carpet, our furniture is of the best, fine regalia, electric light, a good team and doing work all the time. Our hall is paid for and we have several thousand dollars out on interest. The work here in sunny Kansas is in good hands and prosperous condition. We also have a first class Rebekah Lodge. It cannot be excelled in interest or work. Last Tuesday they had what we call in the west a big blow out--banquet, etc. The state president was here and had a fine, profitable meeting. Our Rebekah Lodge equals the subordinate in members and excels in interest and work.

(Can't read beginning of sentence..) to you, brothers, in hopes they may be interesting to you and may stimulate and encourage you in my OWN HOME LODGE AT DECATUR CITY to more faithful discharge of duties, more zealous work and in hopes it may prove a benefit to some poor old Odd Fellow. But, brothers, I must close this long epistle or you will have to call an extra meeting in order to get it all read. And now, brothers, I presume were I to step in as a visitor there would not be one of you that would know me or one that I would know. Perhaps not one of you know that my name is on your lodge books, and I doubt if one of you ever heard my name. Fifty years is a long time and makes many changes. My old brothers that I used to meet there, I presume meet with you no more. The lodge is in strange and different hands. I look over your hall in my imagination and I see no familiar faces, hear no more familiar names, but all are strangers. I presume I was a member of your lodge before many of you were born. Where is that good old Brother WALKER? I have heard he crossed over the River Jordan years ago. Where are your charter members? Brothers, remember those old brothers who laid the foundation of Odd Fellowship in DECATUR CITY. They started a good work and left it in your hands to carry on and perpetuate the good work they had so nobly begun. Now, brothers, I have lived my three score years and ten, and with reasonable health and strength may live the other ten years, the allotted time to man. I have lived 50 years of that time in the Odd Fellow ranks, and now for the encouragement of young Odd Fellows let me say I have never for one moment of that time regretted the first step I took in your lodge. I have traveled a good deal over different parts of the country and everywhere I have went I have found brothers, and it has been a consolation all these years to know that no matter where I might meet accident or sickness, on the desert plains, in mountain gulches, no matter where, I have known that the three links on my breast and the certificate in my pocket insured help and protection among strangers or in strange lands. I have been a paying member all these years, never having drawn one cent from the order. I have been a healthy man and am yet a good man (physically) for one of my age. Sometimes think, and believe it to be true, that I am a better man today than a great many young men half my age. Some two months ago in driving to my house in town, a dog came out and scared my horse and he ran two blocks with me and collided with a telephone pole and I collided with the ground. Neighbors came running and I was picked up and taken to my home one block away.

The doctor was sent for and I only regained consciousness when he was taking my clothes off. It was found I had a broken collar bone, three ribs broken and a badly bruised elbow. My head and other parts of my body were untouched. They had hardly got me home until members of my lodge were on hand. They soon procured from town an easy, sick man's couch, a lady nurse provided and everything done to make me comfortable. Soon appendicitis developed and there were six days that it appeared as if my time to go had come. We had three doctors and they finally brought me out. One or two days more they said would have told the tale. For eight weeks I was not out of the house. Now, brothers, I want to say to you that then I learned what it was to be an Odd Fellow. No pains spared, no lack of assistance, but above all the friendship of the brothers exceeded all the rest. I was after fifty years well repaid for all Odd Fellowship had cost me. I am not out but have a very lame arm yet, which owing to my age takes time.

Now, brothers, I will close. I must close, but I started this letter indending to make it short. I wanted to write you for two reasons. One to let you know that one of your old members was on earth, that he remembered his parent lodge. The other one to have your secretary look up my date of initiation. It must be January or February, l855. Now, brothers, should any of you feel like writing I would like very much to hear from my old lodge. Would like to know how and what you are doing, and should any of you brothers ever stray out into sunny Kansas, come to Larned, hunt me up, the door is always open to a brother. I will introduce you to our brothers here who will welcome you among us and make your stay both interesting and profitable. Some of our brothers were visiting in Iowa last fall and report having visited DAVIS CITY LODGE and had a good time. Yes, I remember DAVIS CITY, NEW BUDA, etc. DAVIS CITY had Clark's grist mill and a few houses, but times make changes. I presume I would not recognize DECATUR CITY of today as the DECATUR CITY of 50 years ago. But enough--good-bye. Be faithful to your obligations, practice the lessons Odd Fellowship teaches and it will make you better men. It will qualify you better to perform life's duties and prepare you better for that last hour which is sure to come to us all sooner or later. Farewell brothers.

Larned, Kansas.

Copied by Nancee(McMurtrey)Seifert

August 20, 200l