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Whitson and Hatfield

Those interested in preserving the history of southwestern Kansas are indebted to John H. Whitson of Rowley, Massachusetts, for the story of Whitson and Hatfield. Mr. Whitson came to Sequoyah county in 1884, and with his father, Aaron F. Whitson, and his sister Barbara, homesteaded three quarter sections in section 20-22-33, northwest of Garden City. He is now a well-known author, having had a number of books published, and is listed in "Who's Who in America". In his novel, "The Rainbow Chasers", published in 1904, he calls Garden City the Golden City and portrays the boom days of 1886.

Mr. Whitson tells a story on himself that in some way got started as to his singular literary activity while he was living on his Sequoyah ranch: "Robertus C. Love, then a Garden City editor, later and at the time of his death connected with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, wrote to me from St. Louis saying he was getting out a book that would deal with characters of the old days on the plains; and that he would like me to furnish him for inclusion in it the story of how I used to write my stories in some kind of a house built on an old windmill. I had to tell him that some one had hoaxed him. I knew my stories might have been rather windy, as they were fiction emanating from a wind-driven country, but I had written them in an ordinary room, in an ordinary house, on an ordinary ranch.

"A man we became well aquainted with was John W. Gregory, who became editor of the Garden City Sentinel, was probate judge, and later laid out the town of Hatfield, adjoining our quarter sections on the northwest. I helped in the surveying of Hatfield, carrying the surveyors chain. We had at our place a post office names Whitson which served the settlers of that part of the country. It was probably the smallest post office in the United States as it occupied only a portion of my mother's kitchen, with a few pigeonhole boxes for letters, and some drawers for stamps and records. In 1886 the post office was moved to Hatfield which started out with a fireworks of advertising and collapsed. It was 15 miles northwest of Garden City on the proposed line of the Denver, Garden City and Southeast railroad, and on the line of the Cannon Ball Stage and U.S. mail route to Leoti. At its best it had a store, operated by Thompson and Crawford, a claim house occupied by Rev. Godley, a local minister, a town hall, the Antelope hotel of eleven rooms, a few other houses; and a little later having the most magnificient sod house that was perhaps ever built.

"This sod house was erected by C.G. Coutant, who succeeded Gregory of the Garden City Sentinel, coming out from New York where he had held positions on New York City papers. His house of sod, cut from the plains, was a large square structure, two stories high, with four rooms on each floor. It had a shingle roof, board floors and was ceiled; the inner walls smoothed down with coats of plaster and whiting; with carpets on the floors, good furniture, a fine piano, book cases, etc. It made a good, comfortable home of which he had a right to be proud. He drove out to this home each day from Garden City, lashing a span of fiery ponies that took him over the trail at a great rate."

The Hatfield News was published from 1887 to 1889, the issues ceasing with the death of the editor. The fall of Hatfield was due in part, no doubt, to the uprising of Terry on the northeast.

J.N. Reeves and family lived four miles east of Hatfield. Mrs. Reeves taught school in all the adjoining districts, teaching a term in later years among the deserted ruins of Hatfield. Mr. Reeves was a member of the board of education while his wife taught. Several children came from without the district, but within the district the school only consisted of the Reeves children.

Note: Text taken from "Conquest of Southwest Kansas" by Leola Howard Blanchard, which can be ordered through the Finney County Historical Museum.

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