Daniel M. Leavitt and Susan P. Nichol


EARLY DAYS IN KANSAS


Story by Jennie (Leavitt) Jones, their daughter, written 1957


[Jennie was grand-daughter of Thomas Nichol (1805-1890) and Sarah (Patterson) Nichol ( 1808-1897). She was also mother of Amy (Jones) Tillotson (b. July 9, 1904)]

My father (Daniel Merrill Leavitt) was born (March 14, 1825) near Saco, Maine in a home built of granite. The house and stables were connected in such a way that one need not go outside to reach the animals in times of storm. Perhaps that accounts for the way many of the buildings on our home place were connected. It was rough, rugged country. As a boy he become interested in shipping and joined a crew which sailed a steamer which delivered freight and passengers between Portland, Maine and Providence, Rhode Island. He was 'second mate'. Then he wandered on to Boston, always picking up some new trade; such as shoe-making, horse-shoeing, carpentering. All these trades helped out in later years. Mother said he made Luie's and Mary's first shoes. He wrote in his diary 'I tramped from Boston to Ohio and on to Iowa'; then back to Ohio. A group of young men gathered for a trip to far-away Kansas, where he took a pre-emption claim and remained the rest of his life. He built a log cabin on the south of the Vermillion river that ran through the place, later moving it to the north side where the home still stands (1957), but will soon be covered by water from Tuttle Creek dam. It was in 1855 that my father came to this place near Barrett, in Marshal county, Kansas. In 1859 he went to Iowa and brought back a bride. I suspect, although I do not know, that he had met mother in Ohio. A cousin of hers was married to a cousin of his. He passed away November 28, 1890 with the 23rd Psalm on his lips and a vision of his mother. They were "Uncle Dan and Aunt Sue" to the end of their lives to many in our community. Father was known for what he stood for, rather than any other one thing.

Mother (Susan Patterson Nichol) was born (September 5, 1834) at St. Clairsville, Ohio, the eldest daughter in a family of eleven. Her father was a doctor (Dr. Thomas Nichol), often taking her with him on his medical calls and instructing her particularly in the care of infants. (We suffered for that later when Father would call "get up, girls, and get breakfast. Mother isn't here.") Later, when the Nichol family had moved to Iowa, a group of girls gathered together and proposed sending valentines to boys who had gone west. Hers was to Daniel Leavitt who was somewhere in Kansas. The letter was addressed to St. Mary's and reached him at the little Post Office at Barrett's Mills some fifty miles away (probably carried by some traveler who was going that way). This may have started the romance that resulted in father's driving in a covered wagon to Oskaloosa, Iowa,(married September 6, 1859) and bringing her to Kansas where they spent their lives and raised six children; my twin brother and I being the youngest. I alone survive in 1957 (age 86).

Thus began life in the then far west; father had built a log cabin, with a loft above and a ladder stairway. Many a wanderer spent the night there. Late a shed was built as a summer kitchen. Cooking was all done on the fireplace. Before the second baby was born, a frame house was built consisting of a large room with a fireplace and a bedroom, with a floor of oak (the log cabin had a dirt floor). The house was build mostly of walnut lumber from timber on the farm and is still standing (additions were made from time to time, one of them when the first Barrett P. O. was moved and joined onto the west end of the house). When the new house was built, the log house was used as a stable and later the milk cows were sheltered there. Many happily hours have been spent in that sitting room; popping corn, roasting chestnuts and sometimes potatoes in the coals; eating apples, father reading and mother knitting; we children playing checkers, dominoes, authors and such.

Harvest time always had an attraction to me. The firs reaper was a scythe. Seeding was done by hand. I have seen Mother get a good strong sheet and fasten it around father so as to make a bag in front to hold the grain. He would throw the seed, the right hand throwing to the left, and the left hand throwing to the right. The standing grain was cut with the scythe, later with the cradle which dropped it evenly; then in later years the binder which tied it into bundles was used. When it was cut and thrown on the ground without binding, men followed the cutter, taking an armful of grain and twisting a few straws around it to make a bundle. Soon became quite adept at it. Our (Arthur's and mine) part in the harvest was to turn the grindstone to sharpen the sickles. Our arms grew quite tired sometimes. (When I say our or we, it usually means Arthur and me; for we did things together.) We waded the creek to the Post Office or on errands for mother to the store connected with the Post Office. An Englishman operated the store and P.O. One time mother wanted a can of corn, everything came in tin cans with the lids soldered on; Mr. Farrant said, "Tell your mother to put 'ot hashes' on the can to open it" and that is what we told her. We took many trips on that walk through the creek and timber, always finding something new - a clam shell, little minnows playing in the riffle, gooseberries on the bushes; the first blossoms of violets and wild flox and honey-suckle. Whenever I speak of us, I cannot help but think of the many things we did together in later years.

At my earliest remembrance, father kept sheep. Many a winter night he has gone to the sheep shed and brought in a new-born lamb in a bushel basket and kept it near the fire until it could stand on its own feet. Sometimes the mother sheep would not claim a lamb then we would feed it on a bottle. I remember watching father washing the wool on the sheep in the creek, then shearing it onto a clean cloth and rolling it into a bundle ready to be taken to the mill at Blue Rapids. There it was woven into cloth, blankets and hanks of yarn. Our underwear was made of red wool. Mother made all of father's and the boys' everyday pants. Ready-made garments were a luxury. We girls learned early to knit our own stockings, mittens, gloves, caps, etc. There were always cows to milk and calves to feed. It was a disaster if the cows were all dry at the same time; no cream, no milk, no butter for our bread. But I remember one such time when a neighbor came in with a big roll of butter that mother guessed weighed 5 pounds.

There were other times when the meat was used up and nothing ready for butchering. Again the flour was short and we had to make out on corn-bread. Father would take a load of wheat to the mill at Blue Rapids, get it ground and bring home its weight in flour. Instead of sugar,which was expensive, we had molasses, made from our own sorghum. Father had a grinder and made molasses not only for our family, but for neighbors who brought cane to be ground as well. The mill was turned by a horse which walked around in a circle over a turning rod or pole. Sometimes the horse got tired of his job and father put one of us on his back with a little switch to keep him going.

In earlier times, before the mills were built at Blue Rapids, flour, sugar, coffee, etc. must be brought from St. Joe. Neighbors took turns going, for they must be gone for at least three weeks. On one of these trips some of the boys who made their home with the Leavitts said, "Let's take Aunt Sue a stove; she had cooked for us on the coals long enough." So they bought her the first cook stove to come to Marshall County. These boys trapped quail but would leave them for mother to dress and prepare for eating. She got tired of doing this, so would get up early and go out and free the quail from the traps!

I was a small girl when the first train on the Central Branch (Missouri Pacific) was built as far as Waterville and some years later to Downs. When the first train went through, father took the whole family to the station to see it come in. I ran to mother and wrapped her skirt around my head. Older ones tell me I have just heard that story told, but the image of that big monster coming toward me was too vivid to forget.

And I know I can see the Indian's face when he said "Trade Papooses?". This was one of the times when Indians who were camped on the creek had come to beg. The Chief had come with an interpreter who was asking for flour, salt, etc. I was glad to hear my mother's refusal. Another Indian story - the children were alone at the house, with their father working a field nearby when they saw Indians coming up the lane. They were frightened and ran out into a field of wheat to hide. Their father saw the Indians and knew the children would be scared, so came to the house. He could not find the children until he slammed the barn door and they knew that he was there! Aunt Emma told me that she took Florence, (her doll) which she later gave to me, to the field that time. (She went to the cyclone cellar with me a few times, too! - Amy)

And now I must get back to old ways of living; perhaps the old ash hopper where Mother saved the ashes and poured water on them until lye ran out. From this soap was made for washing the clothes. I remember the first coal-oil lamp. Formerly we had used candles, made from tallow; twisting the wick and dropping it down through the molds, then knotting it tight. Then the tallow, hot as it could be, poured in and hung up to harden. Now we are in the cellar, where the candles were always made. Later, when fruit trees began to bear, that cellar was bulging. Big bins of apples and potatoes, cucumber pickles, jellies, relishes, catsup, gooseberries. But with eight people eating three times a day, the supplies diminished rather fast. There were walnuts and hazelnuts to be gathered from the timber.

Now, let's go to the kitchen. Here is the old copper kettle which was scoured until it shone; it was always used to make apple butter, plum-butter and for cooking tomatoes. Also the black baking pans used for bread and cakes. I will never forget being crouched down in front of the oven with one hand over my face, stirring the green coffee until every kernel was just the right brown. Coffee came in bulk, and was measured out of a barrel. The small coffee grinder such as every family used is still in the family.

Our farm was always open to visitors, friends or travelers who needed a place to spend a night. One such traveler who stopped sat visiting by the fireplace with father, who had not even asked his name and after a time father slapped his knee and said, "Why! you are ----!" (and they were off to an evening of reminiscences, for the stranger was a boyhood friend from Maine.

Father and Mother were early members of the Presbyterian Church in Frankfort and the family were regular attendants, riding to church in the wagon, or in a sled in winter. We children could always have a horse to ride or drive if we harnessed it ourselves and unharnessed it when we returned.

Luie and I taught schools near home; I taught at our home school, at Clear Fork and Barrett. Luie, Arthur and I attended Campbell University at Holton.

Will liked to play ball; his fingers carried the evidence of that, as some of them had been broken in games he played at Barrett and Frankfort. He left for California when he was about 19. He was talking with 'some of the boys' at the Post Office at Barrett one evening and Parker Barrett said, 'Let's go to California' so they and others started out. His first job in Fresno was in the Fire Department. Later he worked in the City Water Works.

Arthur lived on the home place until his death at the age of 80. Walnut logs that he sold at one time paid for a trip to California to visit Will in Fresno and the Hills at Santa Ana. (I remember a time when Uncle Arthur came to our house one chilly morning and after he had stood by the stove for a little while, getting warm, he reached in his pocket and held out a tine baby guinea for me to see. He and Aunt Jennie did many things to make them seem almost like another set of parents to Esther and me.)

Story written in 1957 by: Jennie (Leavitt) Jones at Frankfort, KS (May 18, 1871 - March 29, 1961).

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