Those pioneer men of Western Kansas who came
and who remained in spite of drouths and discouragement,
really enjoyed that life as they first found it here.
But it was hard on the women, the majority of whom had
been reared in homes of comfort and culture in the east.
They tried to be optimistic and worked out their part
nobly, but they suffered loneliness and privations. Mrs.
B. L. Stotts came with her husband to Garden City in
1881, and has since learned to love the country, but she
almost shrinks from any mention of those first years.
"I never took any credit to myself for being a pioneer,
having gone to Colorado in 1870, when the Indians were
still making periodical raids on the settlers. There was
some spice in that life, but being a pioneer in Western
Kansas was different. The spring and summer we came
here, 1881, was very dry. For nine consecutive months
there was not a single drop of rain. There were no trees.
Some cottonwood cuttings had been set out along the
streets of Garden City, but as yet furnished no shade, and
the soap weeds, the largest thing here, furnished very
"Each day the sun arose in a blaze of glory, each
succeeding day more dazzling than the one before. We kept
our eyes turned heavenward looking for clouds, not being
so presumptious as to expect rain, but merely seeking a
dimmer for the intense sunlight. We saw in the mirage
limpid lakes of sparkling water, buildings which might
have been churches and theaters, and beautiful groves of
stately trees, but it all kept just out of reach and the
blazing sun shone on. The certainty that it would be on the
job again in the morning took away the pleasure of its
"We drank water from driven wells not more than
eight or ten feet deep, and rank with alkali. We suffered
for ice, though in case of sickness we were sometimes able
to get it from the passenger trains.
"The awful monotony was killing. There was nothing
to do, nothing to see and no where to go, and should
we have attempted to go anywhere we would only have
become lost, for there were only a few dim trails leading
to the claims of a few settlers, so we women crept about
from house to house. There was no use to hurry; we had
all the time there was. Our conversation each day was
a repetition of that of the day before and always
concerned the awfulness of living in such a desert, where
the wind and the sun had full sweep.
"Frequently on wash day, a line of clothes would be
seen sailing through the air. On one of those occasions
after a woman had rescued and washed her clothes for
the second time, she was heard to repeat language similar
no doubt to some she had heard her husband use. It was
a time to try women's souls. I never heard the men
complain, and as a sect, I was sure they did not require much
to satisfy them. I am sure the children were sensible of
their hardships. One day my little son came into the
house, threw himself on the floor in the abandonment of
grief, and howled out, `Mamma, will we always have to
live here?' and when in my desperation I told him that
I thought we would, he, with a more desperate howl,
cried out, `and will we have to die here, too?'
"We old timers smile now when we meet, and it's a
knowing smile the newer population does not understand,
for we are rich in experience."
The following sketch was written by C. A. Loucks of
"Probably no woman in the history of the pioneers
of Western Kansas has contributed more to the welfare
and happiness of humanity during that period than Amy
M. Loucks. She was born in Pennsylvania in 1843. She
received a high school and academic education. Through
association with a brother who was a physician, she
became interested in the science of medicine and surgery.
"In 1866 she married William P. Loucks, and in
1879 they moved to Lakin. At that time Kearny county
was unorganized territory, as was most of the western
part of the state. It was entirely a cow country, there
being no substantial settlement. There was no school,
churches or other organized society. The nearest doctor
was at Dodge City, seventy-five miles away. Lakin was
on the Santa Fe railroad and consisted of a depot, an
eating house, the house in which the agent lived, a store
operated by John O'Laughlin, who supplied cattle
ranches, buffalo hunters, and the travelers on the Santa Fe
trail, and the town had a saloon.
"Mrs. Loucks ability and helpfulness made her a
friend to all who were in distress. She treated their
injuries, nursed them to health, or said a prayer at their
death. To show her resourcefulness and ability, we may
relate a few instances: A man had been scalped by the
Indians and left on the prairie for dead. He was found
and brought to Lakin. The scalp had not been entirely
removed, but was pulled down over his eyes. She replaced
the scalp, stitched it with a fiddle string and a common
needle, and nursed him back to health, communicated
with his relatives in the east and sent him to them.
Although the poor fellow lived for many years, he never
regained his sanity.
"A posse summoned her to treat a badly wounded
prisoner. With a small vial of carbolic acid as an
antiseptic, a knitting needle as a probe, and a pair of common
pincers, she removed the bullet and saved the man's life.
"At another time, with a razor as a lance and her
embroidery scissors, she removed three fingers from the
crushed hand of a railroad brakeman.
"In those days the railroad ran immigrant trains. One
day the conductor telegraphed Mrs. Loucks to meet the
train on its arrival at Lakin. She found a woman who
was about to become a mother, and before she could be
removed to a private place, it was necessary for Mrs.
Loucks to perform the act of mid-wifery on the freight
truck on the depot platform.
"A railroad wreck occurred near Lakin in which
several employees were killed, and many passengers were
injured. Mrs. Loucks administered first aid to a score or
more, awaiting the arrival of a special train from Dodge
City carrying their railroad surgeon. In appreciation of
this act, H. R. Nickerson, the Division Superintendent,
and later president of the company, gave her a pass, which
courtesy was extended as long as he was connected with
"Not only did she minister to the afflicted, but she
was always doing those things which promote the
general welfare and happiness of the country. In 1879 she
organized and taught the first school in Kearny county.
This was a subscription school and there were but 17
pupils enrolled, including her two sons. She was
instrumental in organizing the first church in Lakin."
The only schools in Southwest Kansas in those early
years were financed by private subscriptions. As for text
books, they were odds and ends from as many states as
there were families represented. Garden City became an
organized district the fall of 1880, and was the first to
employ a teacher with a certificate. No other districts were
organized until 1884.
Churches and Sunday schools were few and far
between and were held in private homes or barns, until
later years when school houses were built and used for
that purpose. Garden City, Sherlock, Pierceville, and all
points along the railroad had men who were able to
preach and conduct religious services. These were
attended by all classes and by a much larger per cent of the
people than today, when there are many fine churches.
Services in Garden City were first held in the Landis
and Hollinger building, which was built in 1879, or the
Red Lion Livery stable. The Rev. H. S. Booth was
conducting a service on Sunday in the Red Lion Livery stable
when a bunch of drunken cowboys came in and sat down
by the stove. They began to feel good as they got warmed
up and tried to break up the meeting. B. L. Stotts was
sitting pretty close to them and he raised up and asked
them politely to keep quiet. But the cowboys took it for
a joke and opened up, louder than ever. Mr. Stotts then
got up and walked to the front. He asked the minister to
let him have the floor for a minute, and he proceeded to
address the cowboys.
"Now, if you fellows want to remain in here you are
welcome, but if you stay, you will have to behave like
He was answered by a drunken twitter. Mr. Stotts
then picked up a chair and placed it by the side of Rev.
Booth, and he continued.
"The first fellow who makes any disturbance will
have to be carried out that door.
The drunken laugh was smothered for Mr. Stotts had
calmly sat down by the side of the preacher, and across
his knees lay a big six shooter. His fame as a crack shot
had never been doubted by anyone. Thus he sat through
the service, and the audience remained deadly quiet, if
The early settlers were left entirely on their own re
sources for amusements. The literary was perhaps the
first organization and the programs consisted entirely of
"home talent", but they were very interesting and heartily
enjoyed. Picnics and dances were common, and holidays
were all observed. The first Fourth of July celebration in
this region was held at Garden City in 1879. People came
in wagons and on horseback for many miles, and they
were all surprised that there were so many people really
living in the country.
The following was the order of the program.
National salute at daylight, 38 guns.
Military parade led by the band at 10 o'clock. Then the program continued at the new Finnup building, which Frederick Finnup donated for the occasion.
Vocal music; Prayer.
Declaration of Independence, read by C. J. Jones.
Music by the band, and the speeches.
Thirteen colonies represented by thirteen little girls.
Music by the band, responses, and music, Star Spangled Banner.
Then followed contests, sack races, horse races, etc.
A dance was held at night with twenty couples present.
Captain Fulton was chief marshal of the day. The personnel of the band was: Levi Wilkinson, Eb cornet; Frank Wood, 1st; N. F. Weeks, 2nd; Amos Baim, tenor; R. N. Hall, baritone; L. C. Reed, tuba; J. N. Collins, tenor drum; Chas. Weeks, bass.
The Kansas "breezes" and the hot winds succeeded
in driving many out of the country in a rage of disgust.
Andrew Rinehart, a carpenter who had come from
Indiana, declared with appropriate expletives that more
than once he had put a weather board in place against
the side of a house, and the wind had held it there while
he nailed it in position.
The elements seemed to be favoring again the cattle
industry and the cattlemen viewed with satisfaction this
clearing of the range. The free range law was still in
effect and there were cattle and cowboys every where, and
the few remaining settlers found it difficult to homestead
on the open range. George W. Finnup recalls conditions
of the winter of 1880-81:
"That winter was just one snow storm after another.
Antelope were thick in those days and drifted in to the
edge of town; and cattle drifted down here from the
Smoky Hill river, and other localities in northwestern
Kansas and western Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming.
Many cattle companies had representatives at Garden
City to look after their cattle. After a severe storm there
would be some nice weather for several days and the boys
would say, `Well, we'd better get out and look after the
"They would first go east and west up and down
the river and haul sand over the ice so that the cattle
could cross without danger of injury from falling. They
would then gather them up and cross them to the south
side of the river. This was necessary in order to protect
the interests of both cattlemen and settlers. There was no
one living south of the Arkansas river, and the cattle
could drift and graze wherever they pleased, but north of
the river was a scattering of settlers, all up and down the
valley. These had small crops and a few cattle of their
own. They had little feed and very little fencing, and
they showed no mercy for those strange, storm-driven
cattle from northern ranges that would swoop down and
destroy and devour all their feed in a night's time.
Naturally they were driving them day and night, chasing them
with dogs, shooting at them, and of course they always
had plenty of fresh beef on hand.
"It was also necessary to keep the range cattle on the
south side of the river on account of the Santa Fe railroad
tracks. They would get on the tracks and bunch up in the
cuts, and the trains would plow through them and kill
many every few days. The Santa Fe paid out thousands
of dollars for cattle killed in this way during the winter
of 1880-8 1, and in order to protect themselves in the
future, they fenced their right of way. They fenced the road
bed that spring on each side from Dodge City to La Junta,
Colorado, a distance of 200 miles, using heavy round
cedar posts, eight feet apart, and four galvanized wires.
"After the cattle were crossed to the south side of the
river they would travel day and night, up and down, and
you could hear them bawling by the thousands. In a few
days another storm would come and every head would
be gone, drifting on south with the blizzard, but a fresh
bunch would come down from the north to again torment
the settlers, and the whole crossing process had to
be repeated. Thousands died that winter from starvation,
as many had been brought up late from Texas and were
pretty thin, and they were not used to such a severe
climate. Many of the cattle companies went broke that
"The men who were here looking after the cattle
were often the managers of the cattle company and were
above the average cowboy. Some remained here and
married girls they met; among several others were John
E. Biggs and Ed L. Wirt. While they were waiting to
cross the herds to the south side of the river so they could
drift with the storm and get away from the railroad and
settlers, the cowboys would pass their time by playing
pool or billiards during the day, and at night it would be
cards, if there wasn't a dance in town. These dances
occurred frequently and they would generally have Chalk
Beeson and others to play, from Dodge City.
"That spring dozens of cow outfits came through
Garden City and on to the Canadian river of Texas, where
they gathered up what was left of their herds. Along in
May they brought them back to the Arkansas river,
where they camped, in a big round up. For days they were
busy cutting them out, and separating them so the
different outfits could take their cattle to their own range."
There was never any very serious fueds between the
cattle rangers and the homesteaders in Western Kansas.
Perhaps the cowboys tried to discourage settlement on
their ranges, but they were not desperate about it, and
they were always very respectful toward the pioneer
women. Mrs. L. E. Thomas, who lived on the range,
remarked recently of the cowboys: "Many a time I served
meals to cowboys. Did they sit back and let me do all the
work? No, they rolled up their sleeves, washed, and then
went to work like good fellows. They were always
gentlemen as we found them."
After the long drouth period ending in 1882 climatic
conditions improved so that immense crops favored the
farmers all during 1883-84-85. C. M. Johnston came to
this county the spring of 1882, and he recalls the climatic
conditions of that year:
"Never having been in a semi-dry climate, I could
not get accustomed to the dryness. There was scarcely
anything here but distance, and that was only half clad in
short grama and buffalo grass. However, when fall set
in, it was followed by rains aplenty and there was
abundant moisture all during the year of 1883. The summer
months of that year I used to ride up on the flats
carrying a good-sized basket, returning with it filled with
mushrooms, some as large as saucers. That year along the
railroad right-of-way the horse weeds, cockle burrs, etc.,
grew to immense proportions, requiring constant
attention of section hands to clear the track for vision. Draws
and fertile spots were miniature forests. We tenderfeet
were at a loss to figure how, if the country was put under
the plow, the crops would be. I have only seen a few
seasons like it since."
The word that Western Kansas would produce a big
yield of grain and vegetables traveled swiftly.
Homesteaders came by thousands, and in a short time there was a
shanty on every claim, and speculators began arriving
from every state in the Union.
This was all fine for the country and the settlers, but
it was a blow to the cattle rangers. Many of the ranchmen
had by this time fenced large areas of the government
land. The following article appeared in a Dodge City
newspaper in the spring of 1885:
"It cannot be denied that the present season thus far
has been favorable to the growth of agricultural products.
Ranchmen must survey the situation squarely in the face
and make preparations to meet it. The days of free range
in Kansas are numbered among the things of the past.
Ranchmen must hereafter own their grazing lands. All
of the government land in Kansas will soon be occupied
by settlers or owned in fee simple by individuals. The
stock industry will in the future, as in the past, be the
main reliance of our people for support. Its character,
however, must change. The herds must be in less number
and the cattle of a better grade and shelter must be
provided during winter months and stock feed should
be raised here."
On July 2, 1885, the land commissioners made
decision that persons must remove all wire and posts from
the government land.
An article which appeared in a Garden City
newspaper in the spring of `85 gives a little idea of the
intensity of feeling which existed between the settlers and
"Many newcomers are building and plowing on the
south side of the river who are hoping that Major Falls
will be persuaded not to bring his 20,000 head of cattle
here to be branded this summer, but keep them on the
Cimarron range. The stock will annoy the settlers and
destroy their crops, so that they will soon become
discouraged and leave. . . . It is said that stockmen are
setting the prairie on fire so we will have a dry season,
and the `cussed granger' will be a thousand miles away.
By the spring of 1885 the settlers were coming in so
fast as to break up and destroy the range and make it
impossible to manage large herds. Boom towns sprang
up all over the old range, and boasted of populations they
have never had since. John H. Whitson says, "The spring
we moved in, 1885, the big cattle ranches were almost
gone and the settlers had a song which they sang glee
"It was the tenth of May, God bless the day,
When the X Y cowboys went away.
"There was no good feeling between the cowboys
and the newcomers. And the cowboys of the big X Y
ranch, getting intoxicated in Garden City, would race
their horses past the sod houses or humble homes of the
settlers, emit blood-curdling yells, and fire off their
revolvers in order to scare the women and children and
intimidate the settlers into leaving."
The last blow to the free-range cattle industry was
the blizzards of 1886, which destroyed thousands of head
of livestock and financially ruined many of the biggest
cattle dealers. It seemed as though the elements and the
law had joined forces which brought about a complete
victory for the homesteader, for the herd law became
operative in Finney county and others of this region
June 24, 1886. The effect of this law was to prevent the
running at large of all cattle, horses, sheep and other
domestic animals. This law is still in effect.
The day of open range and that wild life has passed,
but not yet has the last of those old-time cowboys ridden
his bronc into the "sunset". A few of the men who made
that history are still living and they recount with startling
clearness, tales of round-ups, Indians, and the chuck
wagon comforts of range life. They picture vividly the
terrible blizzards; and at last the tragic fate of their herds,
which they found piled in cuts and ravines and frozen
to death in deep snow, during the blizzard of 1886.
Note: Text taken from "Conquest of Southwest Kansas" by Leola Howard Blanchard, which can be ordered through the Finney County Historical Museum.