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A big THANK YOU to Renee Archambo, a descendent of George Elmore, for submitting this wonderful story. George had a wonderful way with words and paints a perfect picture of what life was like in early Meade County.

Copyright: Renee Archambo

The Elmore Family
Settlement in Meade County, Kansas

By George Elmore


The following excerpt was taken from a manuscript written by George Albert Elmore in the 1950’s. Elmore was born in Morgan County, Indiana, April 30, 1873. He must have had an incredible memory as he recalls his childhood days in graphic detail.

The day before his eleventh birthday, April 29, 1884, George and his family loaded up and headed for Kansas to find a new home. We start our story as they move into Meade County headed west. At this point they were just crossing Deer Creek near the Camp Supply Trail, early in July, 1884.

Chapter 1 – Finding a New Home

Dad wanted to stop near the creek and camp for the night, but Mr. Davis said, “No! My cow will catch the Texas fever. I see a big herd of cattle coming up the trail now.” And sure enough it did look like a big drove of cattle way down the trail five or six miles, maybe more than that away. And if it was a drove of cattle on the way to Dodge to be shipped it might take them a day to get to where we were, for they travel slow because they have to make their living along the trail.

Well, we drove on and in our haste to get away from the trail so Davis’ cow would not catch the Texas fever we forget to fill up our water keg. We drove and drove until nearly dark looking for a good place to camp with water for us and for the horses, but none in sight, so we went into camp anyway. Dad and Mr. Davis went up a draw quite a way thinking to find a buffalo wallow with some water but everything was dry as a bone. We squeezed enough out of the water keg and jugs to give us all a little drink to wash down some crackers that we had for supper, and we went to bed.

During the night there came up a prairie wind squall. Dad got up and took the lariat ropes and tied the wagon down for fear it would blow away. The next morning, that beautiful Kansas sun came up out of the buffalo grass far away and started it’s daily journey through the heavens to the golden west, and we hitched up the horses and started west without any breakfast looking for water for ourselves and the horses and a place to feed and eat. After we traveled many miles we came to a creek we called Sand Creek. Plenty of good clear water and wood for a campfire. Mother put on a big pot of bens to cook. Mrs. Davis heated up her Dutch oven and did some baking and we had a regular feast for breakfast and dinner together. The cow and horse got a good drink out of the creek and enjoyed themselves pasturing in the good green grass.

Speaking about the old Dutch oven makes me think of the first time we went into camp and had to cook without any wood. Mother said, “How are we going to cook without wood?” Dad said, “Boys gather up some cowchips.” The women folk said they would not cook with those dirty things so Dad built a fire and called for the frying pan and started to get the meal, but the women soon came to help and everything tasted as good as ever. It soon became as natural for them to cook with chips as it did with wood.

After we had a good rest at Sand Creek we hitched up the teams and started on toward the setting sun, but we filled up the water kegs and jugs so we would be ready to camp where ever we wanted to. The next day we came over the divide between Sand Creek and Crooked Creek and beheld the beautiful Crooked Creek Valley. We could see some place of habitation over along the creek where there was plenty of water... so we pulled into the place called Belle Meade. A post office on a mail and stage route from Dodge City, Bell Meade was about 40 miles south and a little west of Dodge City near the Jones and Plummer Trail. The trail got is name from a big freight outfit that used to travel that route. We drove into a camp at Belle Meade for there were four or five other outfits like ourselves camped there. There was a German family living there that had lived there for about five years. His name was John Schmoker. They had quite a large family and about 100 head of cattle and post office in their home. Mrs. Schmoker was the Post Mistress. We found out that it was July the forth. We had lost one day somewhere for we thought it was the third.

Chapter 2 - Staking Out a New Claim

Crooked Creek had been flowing down its wandering way for years and had accumulated mud and dirt along the shore line, some had been thrown out by the water and some had blown in from the prairie and lodged along the water line. The grass grew up and held it and more blew in and soon the shore line was higher than the surrounding land, and when the creek over-flowed it’s banks it left many lakes and marshes… these were grown up with swamp grass and bulrushes. On these lakes were hundreds of wild ducks and mud hens. When Mr. Davis saw them he said here is were we will have some ducks to eat, so he got his old shot gun and Dad dug out his old single barrel muzzleloader shotgun that his Dad had given him when he was sixteen year old. The lock was so worn that the hammer would not stay up so he would have to hold it until he got ready to shoot, then let it go. He loaded it up ad away we went for the lakes. Billie Wilson and I went along to carry the ducks, but when we found some nests we went to gathering eggs. We got five dozen duck and mud hen eggs and nearly all of them were good as this was about setting time. Most of the nests were built of grass and weeds and were built afloat on the water and anchored to the bulrushes. The men got five ducks, so we had a wild duck and egg supper.

The well at Mr. Schmoker’s was quite alkaline and not very good for drinking and cooking so he hauled water from a well about one mile away at one of the neighbors. He was going for a barrel of water so he asked some of us boys to go with him and he would show us the school house where his and some of the neighboring children had been having a Fourth of July celebration. The schoolhouse was a house that had been built for a dwelling house by one of a group or colony that had settled there. Most of them got discouraged and moved away, so this house was fitted up for a schoolhouse.

Dad seemed to like the looks of the country and Mother said we came west to get some government land and it looked as if there is plenty of it here, so what is the use to go any farther. Dad talked with Mr. Schmoker and a local surveyor who was staying there and helping to get people located. They told him of some good land about three or four miles southeast of here where he could get a quarter-section preemption or homestead and another quarter-section adjoining it for a timber claim. A preemption was a claim that if you would live on it and make certain improvements and make it our home for six months the government would give you the privilege of buying it for one dollar and a quarter an acre and give you a deed for it… or you could live on it for two years, then pay the dollar and a quarter an acre and get a deed. A timber claim was one you could hold for eight years by making certain improvements each year. At the end of eight years you would have to have so many acres of timber growing on it before you got a deed for it. Not many homesteads were proved up as timber claims. If there had it might have had some affect on the dust bowl that was to follow years later.

Well… the next day Dad got the surveyor to go out with us and survey us out the three hundred and twenty acres. He made the corner stones by digging a hole and piling up the sod. These markers would sod over and remain there for years. The surveyor rode out on one of our horses and Dad and I rode on the other. They took me along for a hitching post. I held the horses out to pasture while they ran out the lines. He had his surveying instruments along and he could see for miles. It was noon when we got back to camp. Mr. Monnett, for this was the surveyor’s name, went into his little office room to make out the papers and Dad and I stopped at the well to water the horses.

Chapter 3 - Mr. Schmoker's Offer

Mr. Schmoker was sitting on the cyclone cellar door and he motioned for my Dad to come over and they sat on that door and talked for a long time. I was getting hungry and kept wishing for them to get through. Finally Dad came and got on one of the horses and we rode out to camp. Mother had dinner ready. She said, “Well, I guess you have got you a claim located and we we’ll soon be building that sod house or dugout and have a home once more.” Dad said “Well, we got the corners located but there is no water and it is quite away from the creek.” Mother said, “I had a visitor… Mr. Schmoker was over to camp and we had quite a visit. We even could talk the same kind of Dutch. He inquired about the family and said he hated the idea of the children going so far out away from school, of course distance don’t mean much here on the prairie if you have plenty of ponies to ride.” Dad said, “Yes I had a long talk with him he is coming over after dinner.” In a few minutes here he came. He and Dad walked off down the trail south of camp for a half or three quarters of a mile and then came back. He went back home and Dad said, “George harness up the horses,” and began packing up the things and taking down the tent. Mr. Davis said, “Are you going to move out on your claim this afternoon… there is no water there.” Dad said we might as well move first as last… we will have to haul water until we can dig a well. Mr. Schmoker said he had an extra barrel we could use.

Well, when we got loaded up Dad started off down the trail the way he and Mr. Schmoker had gone instead of the trail that went out to where we had the claim located. We went nearly a mile and he pulled off of the road and said this is our claim. Mr. Schmoker said that they had been keeping quiet about this quarter section being government land and even it had been checked off of the plat, but they knew now as the country was settling up so fast someone would look it up, and they would like to choose their neighbors if they could. He looked at Mother and said, “Perhaps your talking Dutch had helped some.”

Well, we unloaded the wagon and set up the tent. We had brought along the small cooking stove we had bought in Harper City and we sat it up on the prairie and put one joint of pipe up. Mother fixed up one of the boxes in the tent for a cupboard and unpacked some of the dishes. Dad and I lifted the top box, bows and all, off the wagon and sat them down to make a sleeping room. Dad and I took the empty wagon and went after a barrel of water. When we got back to camp, Mr. Davis and some of the others said, “Well… you changed your mind did you… and did not go out there this afternoon?” Dad said, “Well, I did change my mind but now I am on my claim and the surveyor is making out the papers for this 160 instead of the piece he surveyed out this morning. If any of you want that piece it is already marked out and still vacant. Mr. Davis said, “Well, I think I will go farther west where I can get located on some creek where there is plenty of water for I want to raise cattle.” The next day they bid us goodbye and drove on west.

Dad and I got a barrel of water and Mother got us a supper cooked on the stove but the fuel was cow chips. Mother and Dad made them a bed in the tent and Molly, Jen and Ben and I slept in the wagon. Along in the night there came up one of those prairie squalls blew the tent down, upset Mother’s cupboard and broke some of the dishes. Mother crawled out from under the tent with a sack of flour under her arm and came crawling into the bed under the wagon cover with us to get out of the rain. Dad threw the lariat ropes across the tent and staked it down. He got as wet as a drowned rat, but he wrapped a blanket around himself and sat in the corner until morning.

Chapter 4 – Settling In

Well…. That was the first night on the claim. The next morning the sun come up nice and bright over the divide between Crooked Creek and Sand Creek and continued its travel toward the Rocky Mountains. Dad and I straightened up the tent and spread things out on the prairie grass to dry. Mother and the girls gathered up the dishes… some were broken… and we soon had breakfast. Dad had planned to go to Dodge City for some lumber to build a house, but after the little wind squall we had he thought he had better fix things up a little better before he went, for it would take him a day or two to make the forty-mile trip.

We dug a hole big enough to set the wagon box, with the wagon cover on, down into the ground so it would not blow away if there came another squall while he was away. Then we and fixed up the tent better. He didn’t get started until afternoon. He folded up some blankets… you might call it a saddle… on the coupling pole of the wagon, got straddle of it and away he started for Dodge City. Mother unpacked some more things and us kids gathered up some cow chips so we would have plenty of fuel.

After we had eaten our evening lunch we watched the sun grow into a big golden ball and then sink out of sight over the western horizon. We sat there on the prairie watching the stars come out in the sky and with the aid of the big dipper we located the North Star. Soon all of the heavens were lit up by thousands of twinkling stars in that cloudless sky. Soon the lights of Belle Meade and the camp and all the places of habitation along the creek that we could see went out, all became quite, and we crawled into our beds without even the howl of a coyote to disturb our rest.

The next day Mother said, “I wish I had some water to do our washing, for everything is dirty as can be. I wonder if there are any women living in the sod house just about a half-mile west of us… it doesn’t look that far away, I saw a man driving some cattle up there yesterday. I think I will go over there and see if I can borrow a washtub and board, we can carry some water from the draw and heat it on the stove.” So she and I went to call on our neighbors and on a borrowing trip the first thing. She knocked on the door and soon a man came out buttoning up his clothes, we had got him out of bed. Mother told him who we were and said she thought there might be some women here and she might be able to borrow a washtub and board to do some washing. He talked with an Irish brogue told us his name was Colman… that there was no woman there but he had a washtub and board we could have and welcome to it. He was very polite. We carried some water from the draw and Mother put on a big washing. We did not have a clothesline, but everything spread on the nice clean buffalo grass in the warm July sunshine was soon dry. When we took the washtub and board back Mr. Colman was out after his cattle so we set the tub and board against his door.

Chapter 5 - The New House

Dad had marked out a place for us to work at digging a hole for he indented to make his house partly in the ground, a half-dugout. The ground was dry and hard and we didn’t have very good tools to dig with. While we were digging a cowboy came riding up on his pony, his spurs a jingling and his belt supporting a six-shooter and cartridges, but there was a nice pleasant smile under that big broad rimmed hat. He visited with us for quite a while. He worked for the WL Ranch and it was his job to ride the ridge between Sand Creek and Crooked Creek, but he usually came over to the Post Office on mail days. I think at this time we only got mail once a week. He was a very pleasant young man… had been out in this country about three years. Soon he made it a habit to ride over lots of days that were not mail days… I think he was getting a little homesick to see women and children.

Dad did not get home until the next day about four or five o’clock. We saw him coming across the prairie about a mile away and when he got closer we could see one of the horses was limping. The afternoon he started to Dodge he drove as late as he could before he stopped to get a little rest and planned get to Dodge early the next day so he could get loaded and start back before night. He unhitched the horses and tied the lariat ropes to the wagon and crawled under the wagon and went to sleep while the horses pastured on the grass as far as the ropes could reach. The next morning when he hitched them up he noticed one of the horses limped and her leg was swollen… he thought she had stepped into a hole and hurt her leg, but as he drove on she kept getting worse. When he got to Dodge he had a horse doctor examine her and he pronounced it a snake bite and put medication on it. There he was forty miles away and a lame horse.

He had to leave some of the things he had intended to get. He got a little lumber to start a house and some things to eat and started for home. He tightened up the stay chain so that one horse could pull the load and the other just hobble along.

Well.. the next day we finished digging the hole for the house and at four o’clock Dad began putting the boards together and at sundown we moved into the house… if that is what you could call it. He set two by fours at each corner of the twelve-foot-square hole we had dug and at the top of the ground began mailing on boards weatherboard fashion to the top of the six foot high two by fours and on top he put some two by sixes for ridge poles.. joists.. rafters or whatever you are a mind to call them. They were set as such heights so when you bent boards across them they made a rounding roof. He brought a roll of tarpaper to help shed the rain. He did not have any roof cement to stick them together but we put some sod and dirt on top to keep the roof together. He cut a hole in one side for a door to crawl in, then jump down on the dirt floor.

The next day, Sunday, in the afternoon a lumber wagon with a span of mules hitched to it and loaded full of young folks drove up in front of our new house to call on their new neighbors. Mother invited them in and they all crawled through the hole and jumped down inside. We sure had a house full, but they gave us a good welcome to our new home.

Later Mr. Schmoker let us have a mule to hitch up with our horse when we wanted to go to Dodge after a load of lumber or supplies. Sometimes Dad would bring a part of a load for him and sometimes they would go together and take two teams.

Chapter 6 - Brother Bill

In a few weeks brother Bill finished up his work in Indiana and came west by train. He arrived at Dodge in the night and next morning intended to come by stage coach to Belle Meade, but the stage coach was loaded and he made up his mind he could walk as he was used to taking long hikes. He left his baggage and started down the trail on a forty-mile hike. He knew he could walk the forty miles in a day. Three big trails went south from Dodge… they were all one trail until it crossed the Arkansas River, then split into the Camp Supply Trail which angled to the east, the Adobe Wall Trail to the west and the Jones and Plummer Trail that came south by Belle Meade.

Walking was good those days and it was not a bit crowded out in that country. It was a dark and gloomy day. Bill took the right trail after he crossed the Arkansas River and was hiking right along when the stage coach pasted him… it was loaded full so did not invite him to ride. It was almost dark when he got to Belle Meade, and there was a misty drizzly rain falling. He asked someone if that was Belle Meade post office and they told him it was, then he asked which way was south (we had written him we lived just a mile south of Belle Meade.) They told him he was going south, which was true, but after he went a little way one trail angled a little southwest and one angled southeast. If it had been a bright day he could have seen our place, or if he had asked where we lived instead of which way was south they could have pointed it out. Well, when he came to the fork of the road he took the wrong one, the one that lead east, and he walked until he came to a house which was a little over a mile, but was three fourths of a mile east of our place. The man there told him he had made a mistake and had taken the wrong road and pointed across toward our place and told him he could see it, only there was a slight rise in the prairie. He thought he could make it cross lots, but not being used to the prairie, and as there were no lights in sight, not even a star, he began traveling in circles. He finally realized the best thing to do was to lie down and wait until daylight. He had a railroad map in his pocket, which he spread over his face to keep the rain out, and there he stayed until morning.

It was still dark and misty, but when he started to walk around he saw a place of habitation and as he drew near he recognized old Nellie Gray tied to the wagon and know he had found the right place. Dad met him at the door, the rest of us were in bed yet. He was sure a haggard piece of humanity. We got some dry clothes on him and some warm drinks and some food and got him into bed. He soon went to sleep and slept until three or four o’clock… so he could surely remember his first night in the wild and wooly west.

Bill took a preemption of 80 acres about a mile and a half from ours. It was a piece that Mr. Schmoker had kept covered up trying to hold it until one of his boys became of age, but seeing the country was settling up so fast he told Bill to file on it.

Chapter 7 - Taming the Wild West

Dad and Bill went to Dodge and got a load of lumber and Bill’s trunk he had left there. They put up a little box shanty on Bill’s claim and built an addition on our house We built it the same as the other, partly under ground, but his time they put a shingle roof on it, but not knowing the force of those western blizzards, they neglected to put tar paper under the shingles. The first part we built with the rounding roof and sod on top leaked like a sieve when it came a long dizzily rain for two or three days like the one Bill came in on. One day the stagecoach stopped at our door and brother Dock got out. Now the whole family (that were still single) was at home again. We got some more lumber and built another addition to the end of the other two… that made a long three-room house to eat and sleep in. That is about all we needed a house for at that time of the year for the weather was pleasant.

Mr. Schmoker had lived on his farmstead five years so Uncle Sam gave him a deed for it. He was now building a house over on another 160 acres, which he had preempted and was getting ready to move. Dad was helping him rebuild. Schmoker’s oldest girl, Mary, was working as a domestic in Dodge City and she got Mollie a job with a nice family there also. Dodge City at that time was the Dodge we read about and see in the movies. The main street was along the Santa Fe Railroad and there were more saloons and gambling dens than any other place of business, and there was “a man for breakfast” almost every morning.

One morning I remember there were two. Both men drew their guns and shot at the same time. The graveyard for those who died in their boots was about as large as the one for those who died a natural death. Mary Schmoker was a fine young lady and she said she would look after Mollie. Dock went to work for a man who had taken a claim about twenty miles south of us, and I went to school as soon as school started. A man by the name of John Innis was our teacher. Mr. Innis had been around Belle Meade for some time. I think he had taken a claim out about three or four miles, but I don’t remember of him living on it.

Our school district was quite large. It took in the whole county, which was a county only by map at that time. We still belonged to Ford County of which Dodge City was the county seat. The county east of us was not organized yet and all the counties west were just government laid out counties, and, of course, Meade County was bordered on the south by No Man’s Land or the Neutral Strip as it was sometimes called. There was a big wide lane for the Indians of the territory to go out to the mountains to hunt, but Uncle Sam kept an army of soldiers at Camp Supply as it was called, to see that they behaved themselves, which they did not always do.

Chapter 8 - School Days

Well… now back to school. Sister Jennie and I had about two miles to walk. Some of the other pupils had ponies to ride. One Norwegian family that lived across the creek had a homemade cart and a burro which some of their children came to school in. Their name was Eliason, a boy about my age whose name was Al Reep who lived with the Eliasons most always rode his pony.

A little girl by the name of Dolly Norman who lived across the creek boarded with Mr. Blair who lived right close to the schoolhouse. There was another family by the name of Siebanthaler who had moved to that neighborhood a little while before we did. Two girls came from there… they had about he same distance to walk as we did. One boy came for a while rode is pony fourteen miles. In all there were twenty or more pupils, mostly girls, and Al Reep and I had about all we could do to hold our own with all those stout Dutch and Norwegian girls who could run like antelope. Well… school went along fine. Mr. Innis was a very good teacher, I think. He did not have a very high education but he could teach the three r’s. He did not have to use the rod as I remember, but he had us stand on the floor up in the corner and some times stay after school when we missed a word in spelling or he thought we neglected to study our lesson.

I will never forget the time I had to stand in the corner from recess until noon for writing a note to Dolly Norman and signing another boy’s name to it. It was a lovely little note and I was proud to be the author of it. It was a little poetical and mostly original… it was similar to a Mother Goose rhyme. Another boy got me into it and he was the one that put it into her book. Well… some of the other girls got hold of it and gave it to the teacher. When school called after recess, the teacher held the little note up and said, “ I have a letter here and by the sound of it, it has gone about far enough.” Then he stepped down the isle and said, “George did you write this?” And of course I remembered George Washington and the cherry tree, so I said, “Yes sir I did for the fact.” He said, “Well for the fact you can take your book and stand up there in the corner until noon.” Pretty soon my geography class was called and he said you can take your place in the class… and the nice thing about it I had a perfect geography lesson and had to answer most of the questions. When the class was dismissed I took my place back in the corner to finish my term.

Of course, it got out and I thought I would never hear the last of it. When I would show up at the store or the Post Office on my way home from school, someone would say, “George, I hear you are good at writing love letters, what will you take to write a few for me?” I think I got off with a very light sentence for forgery and I have always been very careful about signing other peoples names ever since.

Chapter 9 - The Fight for the County Seat

We had a very pleasant winter some snow but no severe blizzards. The older people of the neighborhood organized a Literary Society Lyceum, and the men exposed their oratorical powers in debates. The women sometimes joined them. There were songs and recitations and we school kids would sometimes have a place on the program. John Blair would give us “Sheridan’s Ride” or one of Bob Ingersol’s speeches on infidelity. John was the son of Peter Blair who lived near the schoolhouse; he was about fifteen or sixteen years old. He did not go to school very much, he kept busy looking after his herd of sheep. He liked to read and memorize pieces and would recite them to the sheep. He always had a good and appreciative audience and when he proclaimed in impressive tones they would stop their grazing and lend an attentive ear for they loved to hear his voice, and if they did respond with a “Bah!” it was no insult for it was just a sheep voice in applause.

When the green spears of grass began peeping out all over the prairie and the ducks and geese were back home on the lakes, the mournful crow of the prairie chicken could be heard and everybody began feeling the breath of spring, a new interest was in the minds of the people.

The county was getting so settled up and organized and the thought now was: where will the county seat be? New towns were being started so Belle Meade organized a town company. They met at the post office and sometimes I would stop on my home from school and listen to them express their views on why Belle Meade is located in the best place in the county and should be the county seat.

Fowler City about seven miles northeast was already a little village. Carthage was nine miles west on the western horizon, Spring Lake was across the creek about three miles and Touzalin, about eight miles south on a high plain, was digging a well and was planning on a town site as soon as they struck water. A new town site two miles south and two miles west was being started on government land. That town board which was sponsored by “Eastern” capitol tried to make a deal with the Belle Meade board to let them come in and help plan and lay out the town. They were willing to furnish the bulk of the finance, but they wanted to bring in certain places of business that the Belle Meade board did not approve of. Kansas was a dry state and had always been a dry state and certain things they wanted were nothing but saloons although they might be called drugstores or some other name.

Fowler City had a newspaper called the Fowler City Graphic. The editor put in his paper a little poem that went something like this: “About seven miles below us and almost gone to seed, if Fowler gets the county seal I’m ‘fraid for our Bell Meade. Carthage is in the mist, and Spring Lake is in the marsh. Poor Touzalin died in infancy no water in her well, and now they have deserted her and she has gone to h- -l. Meade Center is a booming and expects the county seat, but Fowler is a dandy and you bet she’s hard to beat.”

Editors note: On page 26 of Frank Sullivan's "A History of Meade County Kansas" this entry can be found: "The Belle Meade Town Company followed, incorporating June 6th, 1885, with J. M. Brannon, Robert P. Cooper, John Schmoker, James H. Elmore and H. Chaney, directors."

Chapter 10 - Meade County's First Cornfield

Well, these towns sprang up like mushrooms, although the building material had to be hauled over land from Dodge City over forty miles. Meade Center was started along in March or April and by the forth of July there was almost a solid block of business places around a square block which was left in the center of the town to build the courthouse on when they got the county seat. Bank, hotel, Opera House, grocery stores, dry goods store, general stores and drug stores galore lined the square and besides there were stores on some of the side streets. Belle Meade had a hotel, three general stores, a furniture store, lumber yard and implement house, black smith shop and one of the stores had a supply of drugs and medicine. It was such a good healthy country nobody ever got sick. The town board put down a deep well and got plenty of good water, put up a windmill and as we always had a good breeze, everybody came to the town pump with their water pails and jugs. There was an endless supply for the well never went dry. The settlers around who did not have wells of good water came to the town pump.

In the spring of 1885, Dad re-plowed the spot where Christopher Chilistofils (?) plowed up for us to get sod to build a stable and we worked it up and planted some garden. Where we had taken the sod off it was easily worked but the tough buffalo grass sod was hard to work. He plowed up eight or ten acres of new sod and planted it to corn. I planted it with an ax. I followed every third furrow and where it lapped on the other I chopped a hole with the ax and dropped in three grains of corn, hacked the sod a little and pressed it down with my foot. It was slow planting but I had lots of time and needed something to do.

I think I had the honor of planting the first field of corn in Meade County. Mr. Joe Brannon who had taken a claim a mile south of us had plowed up some sod the year before. He worked it over this year and got it in a shape to plant with a two horse planter. Mr. Brannon had been farming in Harper County a few years, had sold out at a good price and had come on farther west to try it again and had brought his farm tools with him. He perhaps had a larger field, but I had mine planted first. We had plenty of rain that year and the crops were fine. We had as good corn as any we had ever raised on the old clay knobs of old Morgan County Indiana, and we did not have to hoe and cultivate it either, the soil was too tough to cultivate. All that country needed was plenty of rain, and we got it that year. Kansas was on a boom and we could sing… “We’ve reached the land of corn and beans and every thing looks fresh and green.” The tide of immigration still kept coming. The government land was all being taken up. You cold see the sails of prairie schooners in any direction you might look. A few feet of lumber some nails and a roll of tar paper would build a claim shanty and you could soon live at home.

Chapter 11 - The Fourth of July Celebration of 1885

Belle Meade, like some of the other towns, was getting ready to put on a big celebration the Fourth. A committee was appointed to make plans and get up a program. The lumberyard furnished lumber to build a platform and also for seats and tables. The theme was an old-fashioned basket dinner. Every family in the neighborhood was to bring a well-filled basket of food. The coffee was furnished by the grocery stores, the hotel prepared it, and those who had cows furnished the cream. Peter Bowrs, the furniture man, furnished the flags. The stores had a good supply of firecrackers. A group of young folks had been practicing some patriotic songs. There was only one organ in the country and the lady that owned it said she would bring it and do the playing.

It was a beautiful day. The people began coming early, some on horseback, some in lumber wagons drawn by horses and mules. One family, I recall, drove an ox team. I helped Ed Blair drive his sheep that were feeding down toward the town site up the creek a little farther and also untangled some rams that had got their horns locked.

There was a nice steady Kansas wind and the wheel on the tower was turning so as to give an even stoke to the pump that was bringing from the bowels of the earth that precious of all beverages that men could not exist without. It made me think of that lesson in the old “McGuffey’s Fourth Reader” about the town pump talking through its nose. Some of the teachers would have us read it as talking through our nose… “Here I stand like a dram seller on a public day and cry to all here it is, here it is, better than cognac, Holland and Jamaica strong beer and wine and not a cent to pay.”

Toward noon there could be seen a large herd of cattle coming over the prairie, which the cowboys parked, as we would call it today, just outside the village and some of them came into town to help us celebrate. They bought firecrackers and gave some of them to us boys and watched us fire them. Someone laid one on the brim of my new cowboy hat to see me jump when it went off… it didn’t scare me much, but I did not like the scorch mark it made on my new hat.

The cowboys ate dinner with us. We knew most of them for they worked on the ranches nearby. They were on the annual roundup and they had some cattle in the bunch that had Mr. Schmoker’s brand on them, and they told him if he would get a rope they would catch them and tie them up. He went in the store and got a long piece of rope from the coil and then we all went out and saw a real rodeo. Two of the boys rode into the herd and drove out the ones that had Mr. Schmoker’s brand on them, lassoed them, threw them and tied them to examine the brand more closely to be sure it was the right one and there was no other brand on them. There were no trees or fence posts to tie them to, so they drove down stakes to fasten them to. The boys then rounded up the herd and started them on their way towards the ranches where they belonged. It was quite a sight for those who had not seen that kind of work.

Chapter 12 – Independence Day in Meade Center

The crowd then gathered back around the platform for the afternoon program. They sang “America” and “Marching Through Georgia.” John Blair recited “Sheridan’s Ride,” Joe Brannon, who had been a soldier in the Civil War, made quite a speech and told stories about the war. Mr. Schmoker was on the program for a talk and I think he had a well-prepared speech, but when he got about halfway through his son, Ed Schmoker, who worked on a ranch quite a few miles away and had not been home for some time, rode up. His brothers and sisters and lots of other children and neighbors that knew Ed rushed out to meet him. Mr. Schmoker excused himself and went to meet him too. He had lost the greater part of his audience and the speech was never finished.

I believe the singers on the platform sang… or tried to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” and the celebration came to a close for there had been no provisions made for fireworks. Soon the families were loaded up and were wending their way home to their claim shanties, sod houses and dugouts, having done their duty as a citizen to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Meade Center had a celebration also, with races, athletic sports and other entertainments. The drugstores and “dram sellers” were also busy with their wares… some that were stronger than those of the “town pump.” There was big dance hall in full operation with it’s old time fiddlers and callers with their rhythmic and staccato voices mingling with the noise of firecrackers and other noises that make a Forth of July celebration.

Each business place was trying to outdo the other with its flags and streamers. There were boys and girls running up and down the newly laid streets, shouting and waving their little flags and shooting firecrackers. Ladies dressed in their eastern fashion of high hats and big bustles, red and green sashes around their slender waists tied in a big bow on the top of the bustle sent out streamers to flutter in the Kansas wind. Some of them carried parasols to protect their powdered faces from the hot Kansas sun. There were men with tailored suits and derby hats, to distinguish them from the rustic farmer and common laborer and also to brand them as an Eastern tenderfoot. There were also women and girls from Aunt Lou’s place down the street, for every profession and business was being represented in this little town that had sprung up like a mushroom.

There were a great many citizens that had been there only a few weeks. Some had not come to get a home and grow up with the country, but that they might get a bite of that land that flowed with milk and honey, and many were not very particular how they got it.

Well on that beautiful day in the afternoon another group thought they would show their patriotism and ride up to that booming town. Some of them had not had the opportunity to help in a Forth of July celebration for many years and it would give them a chance to see the faces of women and children which they seldom did. So cowboys from near and far come riding into town dressed in their ten-dollar hats and high boots riding on a forty-dollar saddle and a ten-dollar pony, their belts with six-shooters strapped around their waists and their spurs a jingling. It was quite a sight for some of those eastern newcomers. They rode up and down the streets and around the square exhibiting some of their western horsemanship.

Soon they were mingling with the populace of the town, playing with the children and walking up and down the street with the ladies. (The soldier or cowboy is always charming to a lady.) Some of these boys had lived the early part of their lives in the east, sons of well-to-do people and were well educated and knew how to behave themselves in cultured society. Some of them had come west for adventure. Some to try to forget disappointments, other to escape penalties and some had been sent or persuaded to go west by their parents to get them away from the environment or society they were in.

No patriotic program had been arranged so the celebration took on the more of an aspect of a carnival. The gambling places were running full away and the drinking places had a good business. The cowboys were doing their part, and some of them were beginning to feel the effect of this new life. One of them rode his horse into the dance hall and asked, or I might say… commanded, the musicians to play a lively piece so he could show them how his horse could step and kick it off. After the sun had gone down over the western horizon of Crooked Creek Valley and darkness settled down, the absence of street lights forced all activities to be carried on inside by kerosene lights.

The cowboys concluded the rest of the celebration with fireworks of the western style. They rode up and down the streets yelling like wild Indians, shot all the lights out and left the place in darkness and beat it for their ranches and camps where they had left their cattle. It was a miracle that there was not a man for breakfast to start a new business and a new subdivision (cemetery.) One was started a short time afterward by a man dying with his boots on.

Chapter 13 - Organizing a County

The tide of immigration was still flowing and the county was getting settled up and plans to organize the county were being made. The fight was on for the county seat, and those that were political minded were campaigning for the various county offices.

At last Election Day came and the election was carried on in an orderly peaceful manner. More orderly than some the writer can remember as a boy back in the rural precincts of Indiana. When the vote was counted, Meade Center got the county seat by a good majority and the elected officers were sworn in without any contests. Old Chris Schmoker said, “No matter how it be ebery body newd it was gude ebon so as it vas.”

Now that the county seat was established, the other little towns began to move. Some of the buildings in Belle Meade went to Meade Center and some to Fowler City and all that remained were the windmill tower and the blacksmith shop, which was worked over into a schoolhouse. The wheel had been taken off the windmill tower, and to get water now we had to work the pump handle.

We school kids used to make forts out of the cellar holes and pile up tin cans and have fun knocking them down. An old greyhound that had got lost from his owners hung around the schoolhouse for a few days. He was nice to play with until he began staling the kid’s dinners. Then he was brought into court and proved guilty and the sentence was a tin can tied to his tail and he was told to leave the country. The last we saw of him was a streak of greyhound going across the prairie.

Mr. John Innis was again our teacher. Someone shipped us some new modern seats and desks and we discarded the old board benches. Our school district was divided up that year; part of the term was at Bell Meade, and part over across the creek. I did not have a pony to ride so I missed part of the term.

Bill sold his preemption near the Belle Meade town site.. or rather traded it for a span of old mules… and he took a homestead twenty miles south of us right along the side of a timber claim Dad had taken. Dad’s claim lay right along the creek one fourth of a mile wide and a mile long. Bill’s was the same but part of it ran up on the bluff…but he had quite a lot of good bottomland.

Chapter 14 - The Wedding

The seeds of love that were sewn at the Spelling School at old Mt. Olive in Morgan County Indiana had germinated. Although the field had widened from the Old Rock Hill to the broad prairie of Western Kansas, the growing plant had been cultivated and sprayed by many love letters carried by train and stagecoach. The plants being so far apart were exposed to many pests and need many sprayings, and sometime that invisible spray that is carried between the lines. Now that plant had budded into full flower and only needed the fertilization of pollen carried by that little bee called Cupid that knows no distance. The ripened fruit was now ready to be garnered into that Holy bond of wedlock.

Preparations were being made for the wedding. Mollie R. Elmore had completed her wedding dress and chosen her bridesmaid. R.D. (Doug) Brown had signed a contract for a school in Indiana, and now before the time for school to commence was a good time to go west and bring home his bride. He traveled by railroad train to Dodge City and them by stage to Belle Meade post office. When he got off the stage at Belle Meade, his dress and manners identified him as the Hosier schoolmaster that had come west to pluck one of the young ladies that made up their small social circle, and he was the subject of much inspection and comment by the young men and the young ladies of the community. As Meade County was only in the process of being organized a trip to Dodge City was necessary to get the legal papers to join two people as man and wife. So it was decided that while they were there they would have the nuptial knot tied by a minister.

Bill and I rode his mules over to Meade Center where there was a livery barn to see if we could get a light two seated rig to make the trip, for Bill was to go along as best man and the brides maid was to be picked up at Fowler City. We could not get a two-seated buggy so had to take a single seated top buggy. When we got back home the mules were replaced with old Nellie Gray and Moses, Dad’s team. The three of them loaded in and started for Dodge City. At Fowler City Bill hired another team and buggy. Amner Chenney, the bridesmaid, rode with him and they were soon on their way.

When they arrived at Dodge City the day was well spent and they procured lodging for the night. Early the next morning they got the license to get married and soon found a preacher to do the job. They took a short wedding trip to Old Fort Dodge and then headed for home. Amner Chenney was dropped off at Fowler, Bill returned the rig he had to the livery barn, got in the buggy with the newlyweds, and they were soon back home.

A few of the girls had planned a reception and a wedding gift for them. The boys, too, had planned a reception but of a different kind. Mrs. Schmoker, who had got some wind of the kind of reception the boys had planned, came along with the girls to give the family some warning. She told Dad and Mother that if the boys came and asked the newlyweds to step outside so they could get a good look at them, to not let them do it.

When the boys arrived, Mary Schmoker went to the door and told them there was not room for them all in the house, but she would have Mr. And Mrs. Brown stand right by the door and she would hold the light so they could get a good look at them from the outside. They took their place by the door and when Mary held a kerosene lamp so that they could all see, Silas Schmoker, her brother, took his hat and fanned out the light. Dad, who was sitting on the steps that led outside from the kitchen was there quick as a flash and told the boys if they could not come there and act like gentlemen, they had better got out. Dad never did have very much diplomacy and when aroused could use some rough commanding language. Fred Schmoker, an older brother of Mary and Silas, was the spokesman for the gang. He and Dad exchanged quite a few words. Brother Dock never could keep still… he said, “Oh, Dad, can’t you let the boys have a little fun?” If he had known the boy’s plans he would probably have said more than Dad did.

The boys finally moved back toward the road and the last words I heard Fred say was, “I’ll never call you Mr. Elmore again!” and he didn’t, for after they got back on speaking terms he always called him Jim. The boy’s plan was to grab the bridegroom as soon as the bride and bridegroom stepped outside, bind him and load him into a light wagon that they had waiting at the gate and take him over across the creek to a swampy place and let him find his way back.

Those western boys had never participated in an old-time charivari that was sometimes used to initiate the bridegroom into the mysteries of married life. … or perhaps that was the western version of it. It was lucky it was stopped before someone was hurt. Thanks to Mrs. Schmoker, the Guardian Angel of the young people of Belle Meade.

The next day Mollie packed her trunk with her few belongings and Dad took hem to Dodge City where they took the train on the old Santa Fe for Indiana to start a new home.

Chapter 15 - The Bubble Burst

The year 1886 came in with a big blizzard, but brought not many changes. The tide of immigration still continued and the counties west of us were being settled up. The little towns that were left were expanding and the stores were doing a good business. Prices were high as all supplies had to be hauled from Dodge. The production on claims did not furnish much support. The finance of the new settlers that had come west to make them a home was beginning to run short and there were no large industries near to furnish work. The girls that were old enough in some of the families went to work in the hotels or as domestics. The young men got work in building or driving teams and freight hauling while Dad and Mother held the claim down.

The new banks and real estate firms financed by eastern capital were willing and eager to make loans at a high rate of interest. The preemption law gave the claimant the right to, after six months residents, pay one dollar and a quarter per acre for the land and get a deed for it. The High Hate in Washington thought it would be an act of kindness to extend that privilege to homesteaders. “Thank you,” said Capital, “we will now show our kindness, we will furnish money to these poor people to prove up and buy their land and take a mortgage on it.” (I suppose in this day it would be Uncle Sam that would make that loan.) Many got a loan on their home and tried to stick it out… others got all they could, then forgot about it interest and all. In a few years the bubble burst and a lot of that beautiful prairie land belonged to eastern capitalists, and the tide of immigration was drifting eastward and the banner on the old prairie schooner was changed. Some wrote on their wagon canvas “In God we trusted and by God we’re BUSTED.”

On Decoration (Memorial) Day, 1886, when I came out of the house after dinner Dad was sitting by the west kitchen door watching a dark cloud in the southwest. He said, “That looks like it might be a cyclone coming. We had better go to the cyclone cellar.” He called to the rest of the family in the house and we all made for the cellar. I was next to the last one to go down and I took a good look at the whirling funnel-shaped cloud and quite a lot of rumbling could be heard for it was getting close. Dad followed me down and fastened the door.

This was the fist time we had run from a cyclone. We could hear a lot of noise like freight trains running over a bridge, then the hailstones falling on the cellar door. When the noise and the hail and rain had slackened, Dad opened the cellar door and we all went out. The house and the stables were still standing and nothing had been disturbed. We looked around and the neighbor’s houses (all that we could see) seemed to be alright. There was a rise in the prairie south of us and we could not see very far in that direction.

In a short time Mr. Schmoker came driving by and called Dad out and asked him to go with him to see what the cyclone had done. He had been watching it from his place and one of his family had remarked that it was “headed straight for Elmores.” When they returned they said it had destroyed two houses about one and one half miles southwest of us. There was no one living in one of the houses and the people living in the other saw the cyclone coming and ran out of it’s path… everything was completely destroyed. The only whole things of the household goods they found were a teaspoon and a baby shoe. The building was all broke up into kindling wood. The little horse stable was near the edge of the storm. It was picked up and destroyed but the team was unhurt except a few scratches caused by splinters hitting them. A new wagon that had just been driven home from Dodge was standing in front of the house, and the biggest piece left of it was an axle with a hub and two spokes. The lady of the house, skeptical about running from a storm, was the last to leave. When she got to a deep ditch that was dug to change the road she dropped into it and a piece of the wagon tongue lay across the ditch above her. It was not a wide cyclone and as there were no other buildings in its path for a few miles it either blew out or rose back into the sky.

The cyclone just hit the edge of Meade Center and tore to pieces two sod houses that no one was living in. The citizens of that up-to-date town were just getting ready for a memorial service (they just had one grave in their cemetery… the one who died in his boots on) and were watching the course of the cyclone. Some of them run out of town. When the cyclone crossed the creek and went up the bluff it changed its course a little and that is the reason it missed Elmores one half or three fourths of a mile.

Chapter 16 - Don't Fence Me In

The country was getting so thickly settled that it made it difficult for the big ranchers to drive their cattle up the trails to the shipping point. In some places the trails were changed and grazing was getting destroyed. Sometimes the cattle would stampede and sometimes they were stampeded to get them through. They were opening up a trail farther west to intersect one railroad at a place they called Trail City. Then Dodge would no more be the gateway to the southwest and loose the trade of the big herds of cattle, and the big freight outfits that traveled over the Camp Supply, Jones and Plummer and Adobe Walls Trails.

Some of the new-comers came west to raise cattle on a small scale, get a few cows… 25 or 50… let them out on the prairie and increase and multiply and soon they would have a big herd. Bill Nye or Josh Billings or someone said he knew a man that bought an old steer and soon had a hundred head of cattle. Maverick was more plentiful those days.

Some came to go into sheep raising. Peter Blair and Chris Schmoker (John Schmoker’s brother who lived about 20 miles down the creek, were about the only sheep men in the county. Mr. Blair sold most of his flock to a young man from Illinois who was ambitious to go into the sheep business. Ed Clark was a well-educated young Irishman. He came from the rich farming land of Illinois where his brothers were sheep and cattle raisers. Ed thought he could come west where land was plentiful and grazing free and do a big business. My brother, Dock, worked for him awhile. Ed soon got tired of it and went back… Dock and Bill took the sheep to keep on shares but they could not make it pay.

There was a tribe of Indians down in the Indian Territory that was giving the soldier boys down at Camp Supply some trouble in keeping them on the reservation. They had broken out a few years before and came up through Meade County and played a little havoc. I think one man was killed before they surrounded them… there were still marks of the battle down on Sand Creek where they were captured.

It was strange how everybody had heard about the trouble with the Indians. There were no telephones or radios, but news travels fast by grapevine and it grows as it goes. Some of the new settlers were a little shaky. Some cowboys thought now would be a good time to give them a good scare, and they also thought it might be a good way to open the trail to the market for their cattle. They worked various schemes… one cowboy put on his slicker without any clothes on, jumped on his pony and rode pell mell into a new settlement… told everyone that the Indians had broke out and were coming this way and he did not have time to dress. Other tales got started and it spread like a prairie fire. One morning just as Dad and I turned the horses out in the pasture, Mr. Schmoker came riding along and stopped and told us he had heard that some Indians had got out of the reservation and were coming this way, he did not know how true it was, but it had happened once before. He said that two of his boys and some others had gone down toward the Neutral Strip (as No Man’s Land was called) to scout around and find out and it might be well to bring the family over to his place. He had a good bank house that would make a kind of a fort in case that they should have to get together to protect themselves until the Army from the camp got the Indians back to the reservation. He would go and ask some more of the neighbors to come over too.

Dad said, “George get up the horses,” and went and told Mother to get the kids and get something to eat to take along for we were running from the Indians. She was in the garden picking cucumbers and said, “Wait until I get the cucumbers picked.” I got the horses in the barn and Dad came to help me harness them. He got the harness a little tangled and I thought he acted a little nervous, but I did not dare to say so. Well, we loaded into the wagon and drove over to Mr. Schmokers. Some other neighbors were there and some more came.

Chapter 17 - Indian Scare

We kids had a good time playing and the women got us a good picnic dinner. In the afternoon Mr. Schmoker took his field glasses and climbed upon the house and looked all around… he could see for miles. He said he could not see any Indians nor even our scouts. We got in our wagon and went home to feed the chickens and milk the cows. Mother finished picking her cucumbers. After supper we went back to Mr. Schmokers. Night came and still no scouts nor Indians. They made beds for the women and children upstairs and the men were to sleep in the basement. The women said, “You brave men put us upstairs where the Indians can get us and then hide away in the basement!”

I stayed with the men in the basement. It got real dark and cloudy and misted a little rain. Someone said this would be an ideal night for the Indians to sneak up. After awhile the back door opened and Fred Schmoker walked in. He said, “You are dandy watchers… here I rode in and put my horse away and fed him and none of you saw me.” He told of the time they had.

Mr. Joe Brannon was with them and as he had been a soldier in the Civil War, he took command and organized his scouts, sent some of them one direction and some the other, so as to cover a wide area… and told them where they would meet. Most of the boys knew the country real well. Fred said as he was riding down a ridge in quite a rugged part of the country he heard a yell or an imitation war whoop. He looked across the little valley and there was Joe Brannon and another man waving their hats and a coming toward him. As they rode around a little bend in the valley, they saw a man going over a rise as fast as he could go. They soon came to his claim shanty. It looked as if he had dropped everything and run, some of his dinner was on his little table and a watch was hanging on a nail driven in the wall, but sign of no one could be found. He must have heard Mr. Brannon’s war whoop and thought the Indians were coming for sure. He was not the only one that left their claim shanties and hid out. Ed Clark, the sheep man, said he and his man left his little camp and the sheep in the corral one night and hid out. Dock was not working for Clark then, but was working down in the country where the scare originated and perhaps did his little part toward it. In a few days everything quieted down and everyone began getting back to their claims and droves of cattle could be seen moving up the trail toward the shipping point.

Chapter 18 - Final Chapter in Meade County

A Mr. Childs and his wife came to Belle Meade. He was a preacher and his wife a well-educated lady and an active part in the church and Sunday school. Mr. Childs preached once and awhile. Sometimes he would go to the other little towns to preach I suppose. They did not take a claim, but he seemed to be quite interested in real estate. One day he heard Dad say he might prove up his claim and sell out if he had the money to pay the required $200.00.

Soon Mr. Childs was over to see him. He offered to furnish him the $200.00 and then buy the place when Dad got the deed. They finally made a bargain and Dad began making the legal procedure to prove up the claim and get the deed from the government. Whey they got ready for Dad to deed the land to Mr. Childs he wanted Dad to throw in a lot of things that was not in the contract. One word brought on another until Dad lost his temper and accused him of going around under the cloak of a preacher and trying to rob the poor people. When Dad got ruffled up he did not care what he said and who he said it to.

I thought they were going to get in a fight and wondering what chance Dad would have in a fight with a big strong athlete like Mr. Childs. I knew he was a good shot too, for I had seen his practicing. He could throw up a tin can and shoot two or three holes in it with his revolver before it hit the ground. When it had gone about far enough Mother asked them to stop and think what they were saying. They calmed down and Mr. Childs apologized for the things he said, for he did not realize that Mr. Elmore was not in very good health. I think some of the things Dad said was hitting close to the spot. Mr. Childs was as much interested in the financial gain he could make in buying and selling real estate as he was in preaching the Gospel. We should all remember that: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger” Prov. 15-1. Well the deal was made and Dad got his one thousand dollars and now what? Dad had a sister living at or near Topeka, Kansas, he had not seen for a long time. He had been writing to her and now said we will go to Topeka.

Soon we were getting ready to move again. We did not have a sale but sold and gave away what we could not take with us. Some of the things Dad sold on time he never did collect for. The wagon was well loaded; our old tent was worn out or torn up, so the wagon was home for Dad, Mother and three kids. Old Nellie Gray was hitched to the wagon but she had a new partner this time… the black horse we called Moses. We headed northeast but the trails had been changed some since we drove in on the Forth of July, 1884. As we passed over the divide between Crooked Creek and Sand Creek we looked back and took a farewell look at our beautiful Crooked Creek Valley. We passed many places where the settlers were sticking it out in their sod houses or board shanties and proving up their claims. We had beautiful weather… Mother, Jen and Ben slept in the wagon and Dad and I slept under it. Some times we had beautiful camping places in some grove by a creek and the piping of the locust would soon put us to sleep.


If you enjoyed George Elmore's story about the Belle Meade area I would like to recommend the book, "Cimarron Chronicles" by Carrie Schmoker Anshutz and the book, "Trails South" by C. Robert Haywood. Both of these titles can be found on-line at www.prairiebooks.com.


 

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