Noble L. (Noble Lovely) Prentis.

South-western letters online

. (page 2 of 11)
Online LibraryNoble L. (Noble Lovely) PrentisSouth-western letters → online text (page 2 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

hedges. The plants are set out in three rows, which are cut
down alternately. Peter had already cut down one row, and had
a great pile of brush for firewood. The Mennonites relied at first
on straw, and a mixture of straw and barnyard manure, which
was dried and used for fuel, but now the wood is increasing on
their lands. They have seldom or never indulged in the extrava-
gance of coal. Another source of pride was the apricots. The
seed was brought from Russia, and the trees bore plentifully last
year, and the Mennonites, taking them to Newton as a lunch,
were agreeably surprised by an offer of $3 a bushel for them.
Peter Schmidt showed all his arboral treasures apples, cherries,
peaches, apricots, pears, all in bearing, where seven years ago the
wind in passing found only the waving prairie grass. No won-


der Peter Schmidt, of Emmathal, waxed fat and smiled. He
started on the prairie with $800 ; he now has a farm worth 4,000.
We went into the house, of course; the door of every Menuonite
is open, and the proprietor showed us his silk worms and his pos-
sessions generally. He exhibited his Russian oven, built in the
partition walls so as to warm two or three rooms, and to which
is attached also a sort of brick range for cooking purposes. This
device cannot be explained without a diagram. It is perfectly
efficient, and the smoke at last goes into a wide chimney which
is used as the family smoke-house. A happy man was Peter
Schmidt, and well satisfied with his adopted country, for when I
managed to mix enough German and English together to ask
him how he liked America as compared with Russia, he an-
swered in a deep voice, and with his little smile: "Besser." With
a hearty good-bye to Peter Schmidt of Emmathal, we pursued
our journey, passing many houses, hedges and orchards, and
finally came to the home of Heinrich Richert, of Blumenfeld, or
Flower Field.

This place was of the more modern type. The house was a
plain frame, of the American pattern, but the stable had a roof
of thatch, on which the doves clung and cooed, as you see them
in pictures. Not far away on either hand were two other houses,
to which shaded alleys led. In one of them lived the oldest
married daughter of the family. Leading up to the front door
the path was lined with hedges of mulberry, trimmed very low,
and flat on top, as box hedges are trimmed; and there was also
a large flower bed of intricate pattern, the property of the Misses

When Mr. Richert came in from the fields, his bright eye, his
square jaw, and the way he stood on his legs, showed that he was
accustomed to authority. He had, in fact, been a schoolmaster
in Russia, and in America occasionally exercises his gifts as a
preacher. In the sitting-room, which had no carpet, but a pine
floor which fairly shone, was a book case set in the wall and filled
with books, which usually are not very common in Mennonite
houses. They were all sober-colored volumes, commentaries on
the Scriptures, and works on horse doctoring. Madame Richert,


a very pleasant woman, with, it may be remarked, a very pretty
and small hand, gave the history of the older books, which were
brought from Prussia, where her husband was born, but she her-
self was born in Southern Russia, as were the thirteen young

It was decided to accept the hospitality of these good people,
and the mother and daughters got supper and such a supper!
such bread and butter and preserves; and everything, nearly, on
the bill of fare was the product of this six-year-old farm. At
table the conversation turned on the mode of living in Russia.
From Mr. Richert's description the Mennonites lived much bet-
ter than most working people in Europe. They had Brazilian
coffee which came by way of Hamburg, and tea which came
overland from China; then they had fish, both fresh-water fish
and fish from the Sea of Azof. He said the mode of serving
food had been changed somewhat since the Meunouites had mi-
grated to this country.

After supper, Mr. Richert, his sou, and the visitors, had a long
talk about Russia. The treatment accorded the Mennonites by
the Russian government, up to 1871, was all that could be de-
sired. The agreements made in the days of the Empress Cath-
erine, what Mr. Richert called the "privilegiurn," were faith-
fully kept. The Mennonites did not own the lands, but leased
them on the condition of cultivating them; the improvements
were their own. The Menuonites had, in fact, very little to do
with the Imperial government; each of the fifty villages had its
burgomaster, and a chief burgomaster was elected by the people.
The Government transacted its business with the Mennonites
through a council consisting of three Russian officials, and these
performed their duty honestly a rare thing in Russia. The
Mennonites were industrious, peaceable and loyal; a Mennonite
was the richest man in the Crimea, and one of the wealthiest in
Russia. Everything went well until the Government, in 1871,
announced its intention of enforcing a universal conscription.
Against this the Mennonites protested. Ten years was given
them to yield or leave. Thousands left. In 1881 the Govern-
ment revoked the "privilegiurn," compelled the remaining Men-


nonites to take lands in severalty, and began to introduce the
Russian language into the Mennonite schools. Russia's loss is
our gain.

At breakfast the conversation turned on the wonderful success
of the Mennonites with all kinds of trees, quite excelling any-
thing known by Americans, with all their low-spirited horticul-
tural societies. Herr Richert remarked that one thing that
helped the trees was " plowing the dew under." This is one of
the secrets of Mennonite success they "plow the dew under"
in the morning, and do not stop plowing till the dew falls at even-

The history of Herr Richert was that of all the Mennonites
we talked with. He had come to this country with $1,000 ; at
the end of the second year he was $1,300 in debt, but had lifted
the load and was now the possessor of a fine farm. The Men-
nonites, we may say, bought their lands in alternate sections of
the railroad company, and in most cases bought the intervening
sections of individual owners. They have been prompt pay.
Many of the Mennonites were very poor. To provide these with
land, a large sum was borrowed from wealthy Mennonites in the
East. The beneficiaries are now prosperous, and the money has
been faithfully repaid. Besides this, a mission has been main-
tained in the Indian Territory, and a considerable sum has been
recently forwarded to aid destitute brethren in Russia.

To continue our journey: our next stop was to call on a settler
who wore a beard, a Cossack cap, and looked the Russian more
than any other man we met. He took us into a room to show
us some Tartar lamb-skin coats, which was a perfect copy of a
room in Russia; with its sanded floor, its wooden settees painted
red and green, its huge carved chest studded with great brass-
headed bolts, and its brass lock-plate, all scoured to perfect
brightness. In a little cupboard was a shining store of brass
and silver table ware. It was like a visit to Molotchna.

At the humble dwelling of Johann Krause we witnessed the
process of reeling raw silk. The work was done by Mrs. Krause,
on a rude twister and reel of home construction. The cocoons
were placed in a trough of boiling water, and the woman, with


great dexterity, caught up the threads of light cocoons, twisting
them into two threads and running these on the reel. The work
required infinite patience, of which few Americans are possessed.
The Mennonites carried on the silk-raising business in Russia
with great success, and bid fair to make it a great interest here.

After leaving Johann Krause, we made few more halts, but
drove for miles with .many Mennonite houses in sight, and the
most promising orchards and immense fields of the greenest
wheat. I have never seen elsewhere such a picture of agricul-
tural prosperity.

If anyone has not yet made up his mind as to the possibilities
of Kansas agriculture, I recommend a visit to the Mennonite set-
tlements. It is not difficult of accomplishment, as the points I
visited in Harvey, McPherson and Marion counties can be reached
by a few miles drive from Newton or Halstead, on the main line
of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, or from Canton, Hillsboro
and other stations on the Marion & McPherson branch.

It is a matter, I regret to say, of uncertainty whether the work
begun by these Mennonite settlers will be completed. If the sons
and grandsons of Peter Schmidt of Emmathal and Heinrich
Richert of Blumenfeld will walk in the ways of these worthy
men, the result will be something like fairy-land the fairies
being, however, substantial men, weighing about 185 pounds each.
The orchards will bud and bloom, and amid them will stand the
solid brick houses, like those of Russia, and the richest farmers
of Kansas will dwell therein. But there is a danger that this
will not come to pass. Jacob and David will go to work on the
railroad, and let the plow take care of itself; and Susanna and
Aganetha will go out to service in the towns, and fall to wearing
fine clothes and marrying American Gentiles ; and the evil day
may come when the descendant of the Mennonites of the old
stock will be cushioning store-boxes, saving the Nation with his
mouth, or even going about like a roaring lion seeking a nomi-
nation for Congress. I wish I could believe it otherwise. I wish
our atmosphere did not make us all so smart that we cannot en-
joy good health. Were it not for that accursed vanity and rest-
lessness which is our heritage, I could indulge in a vision of the


future of a peaceful, quiet, wealthy people, undisturbed by the
throes of speculation or politics, dwelling in great content under
the vines and mulberry trees which their fathers planted in the
grassy, wind-swept wilderness.


A GENTLEMAN who had traveled in Egypt once told me that,
so rank is the vegetation in that country, a picketed camel graz-
ing in a circle cannot keep up with the growth of the grass ; that
is to say, when he returns to the point in the circle where he
began, he finds the grass higher than he found it at first. I find
that something of the kind occurs in this country. The traveler
or correspondent who fails to visit a portion of Kansas for two
or three years discovers that the country has outgrown him. In
the four years that have elapsed since I visited the southwest,
although I have read the local papers every day since, I have
not kept in my mind a clear conception of the march of progress.
For instance, there is a new system of railroads and a whole
batch of new railroad towns. Beginning at Emporia, there was
no "Howard Branch;" only an unfinished road which was ex-
pected to end at Eureka; no Marion & McPhersou Branch turned
off at Florence; the Wichita Branch ended at that place, and
Winfield and Arkansas City were railroad towns only in expect-
ancy. Caldwell, now one of the famous towns in the State, I
knew as a remote hamlet, its recollection preserved only by a
story that an unfortunate stranger wearing a silk hat, venturing
into its precincts, had been murdered by a ruffian who, saying
he would knock the hat off, shot the poor fellow through the

At Wichita I found everybody talking of the "Frisco" road
as if it had always been in existence, yet my last recollection of
it was as a bob-tailed affair, as far as Kansas was concerned,
running from Oswego to Columbus, and so east. Now, passen-
gers from St. Louis pass through Fredonia, Neodesha, and so on,
to Wichita ; then up the Santa Fe Branch to Sedgwick City ;
then by a recently constructed cut-off to Halstead, and then
by the Atchison main line to the Pacific.
2 (21)


The Atchison road itself, of which the roads mentioned are all
branches or connections, has in these four years entered the field
as an actual Pacific railroad, competing for the trans-continental
business, and has been "armed and equipped," running enormous
passenger trains; and in the Marion & McPherson Branch pos-
sessing what amounts to a double track for a long distance. A
complete line of fine eating stations has been put in operation,
the Superintendent of Kitchens being Mr. Phillips, formerly of
the Sherman House, Chicago, where his salary was $2,500 a year.
Beginning at Atchison, the eating stations are Topeka, Florence,
Coolidge, La Junta, Raton, Las Vegas, Wallace, Hot Springs,
Deming and Larny. To these will be added, in a day or two, New-
ton, with a fine railroad hotel. This will divide the business with
Florence, now the most important of the stations, as two branches,
the Marion & McPherson and the old Eldorado Branch, there
connect with the main line. We were accustomed to speak,
years ago, of Kansas as "gridironed with railroads," but a mul-
tiplicity of new bars have been added within the last two years,
not to speak of four.

The most unchangeable-looking country so far familiar to me
on what may be termed the old Santa Fe, is that between Topeka
and Emporia. The scenery consists, as aforetime, of coal shafts
and wood-built mining towns, and side-tracks full of coal cars;
and yet Kansas cannot be made to look anywhere like a genuine
mining country. There are no sooty hills, and the sky is too vast
for pollution by smoke. Kansas will never look like Pennsyl-
vania, nor ever possess a Pittsburg. It is one of her many good
points to be the tenth coal-producing State of the Union, without
being begrimed. In the Osage coal country, pick and plow do
not seem to work well together, but great herds of cattle are graz-
ing a few feet above the coal beds; and I saw in Cherokee county
once a fine wheat field, white for the harvest, and the miners were
digging the coal from under it.

Passing Emporia, the gradual agricultural transformation of
the Cottonwood valley is seen; but the first remarkable change
in the surface of the earth is at what was once called Cottonwood
Falls station, now Strong City. The quarries here, from whence


came the stone for the great bridge at Atchison, have been devel-
oped enormously, and a smart little town has grown up around
them. Coal, cattle, wheat and stone form a striking combination
of products along one line of railroad.

At Newton, as one sees it now, it is hard for a stranger to be-
lieve that a place named in honor of a staid and godly Massa-
chusetts village presented, for the first season of its existence,
the " fittest earthly type of hell." I saw it once during that sum-
mer, sweltering in its sinful ugliness in the noonday sun, a fes-
tering ulcer on the face of earth. One street the present Main
street was lined with an irregular array of hastily-constructed
shanties gambling-rooms, drink-mills and the like while, as
if scorned even by these places, in a suburb stood the dance
houses, long, low, unpainted, and excelled in hideousness only by
the wretched, bloated, painted, blear-eyed women who dwelt there,
and the bow-legged, low-browed, Indian-like cow boys who con-
sorted with them. These creatures finally seemed to grow wild,
and went to killing each other. According to tradition, eight
corpses were the result of one night's fusillade. These events
had at that time a graphic local historian. He combined the
functions of a man of letters and a musician in a dance house.
It was literally a case of "all that he saw, and part of which he
was." What fate induced or seduced a man of his intelligence
to herd with the scum of the earth, and form part of it, I never
knew ; nor do I know what finally became of the writer who se-
lected for himself, amid such surroundings, the pretty nom deplume
of "Allegro." Newton's wild infancy was not only described
in prose, but our own Theodore F. Price wrote some wonderful,
weird verses on the subject a narrative poem called "Newton, a
Tale of the Southwest." By the way, the Champion, which keeps
the record of all the Kansas bards, and has often mentioned Theo-
dore, can add another paragraph to his story. The "minstrel
boy" has gone, not to the war, but to far Vancouver. It seems
to be a cold day for poetry in Kansas.

The case of Newton and a dozen other towns in Kansas illus-
trates the final triumph of goodness, or at least respectability.
Newton is now a fine, growing town, with the usual Kansas com-


plemerit of newspapers, school houses, churches, brick blocks,
and banks enough to hold all the money of all the editors in
Kansas, beside a really luxurious and aesthetic jail. White cot-
tages and gardens now cover and obliterate the old, hard, sun-
baked cattle trail. And so it is that while nobody ever heard of
a decent town becoming a nest of land pirates, gamblers and
ruffians, with the poor women who live with such, Newton, Abi-
lene and many more have risen above such beginnings. A very
old book, which possibly I do not quote with accuracy, says that
the name or memory of the wicked shall rot; and it is even so.
The evil is transient ; it is hunted and fleeting. Go to Abilene
or Newton now, and you may have pointed out to you, half hid-
den by other buildings, a battered, wretched wreck of a house,
the old "Alamo," or "Gold Room," or some place worse, its rec-
ollection kept alive by some dark and evil deed ; but even these
wretched monuments of shame soon disappear. Even the graves
of those who died in the fierce brawls of the old time are lost.
Their dust does not repose in the "God's acre" of the modern
town. It has been often noted that the dangerous classes in large
cities huddle together in dark places, in narrow streets and lanes
and courts, but in time a great street or boulevard is driven
through the doleful place; the sunlight is let in, and the misera-
ble flit otherwhere. And so it is, even in Kansas. As the view-
less air and the turbid river purify themselves, so does the moral

At Wichita, on Sunday, I saw more corroboration of the theory
here advocated. Wichita had its turbulent period, but it seems
to me that the town grows wider and roomier, and prettier and
finer, every time I revisit it. A photograph taken a few years
ago hangs in a gallery showcase. In the picture every house on
the town site stands up in bare distinction, " all by itself." To-
day, at the distance of a mile from town, hardly anything can be
seen save a few high roofs, and the church spires above the bil-
lowy green. There is one street, Lawrence avenue I believe
they call it, which seemed to me as fine in its way as Euclid ave-
nue in Cleveland. Going to the Methodist church, I found that
new sanctuary a trifle too gorgeous, if there was any fault. I


doubt if Bishop Asbury would have liked it. He might have
thought the I. H. S. in the stained glass windows a "relic of
Popery." But Bishop Asbury has been dead a long time, and
ecclesiastical ornamentation is better than "Rowdy Joe" and
"Red," subjects once more prominent in Wichita life and con-
versation than church architecture. And, besides, the preacher
in his prayer gave thanks for the creditable manner in which the
pupils of the public schools had acquitted themselves at the " ex-
hibition," which seemed a sensible idea, and smacking of Kan-
sas withal.

Notice has often been made of the interest taken in Kansas by
men and peoples of every variety. At Wichita I learned that the
slant-eyed and much-whooped-about Mongolian had joined the
polyglot crowd who are engaged in the making of Kansas. The
books of the register of deeds for the county of Sedgwick show
that two eminent Celestials, Chin Lan Pin and Yung Wing, have
thousands of dollars loaned on real estate in the county, and that
they stand to quite a number of American citizens in the inter-
esting relation sustained by a mortgagee. The "Chinee" may
be a heathen, but his head is spherical when it comes to putting
his money where it will do the most good.


THE writer of this has long been of the opinion that the extent
and variety of his ignorance on the subject of farming well-nigh
qualify him for the editorship of an agricultural journal, but
has so far resisted the temptation which his misinformation pre-
sented, to write on the tillage of the soil, except so far as his
position as a Kansas journalist has obliged him to take part in
the everlasting "rain-belt" controversy, without which no Kan-
sas newspaper file is complete. But the hour has come, and your
correspondent proposes to enter the lists as writer on the first of
human occupations, promising, meanwhile, to allay the possible
fears of the readers of the Champion, that this is his last appear-
ance in that capacity.

In a former letter, the agricultural and horticultural experi-
ence of the Mennonites in Marion, McPherson and Harvey
counties has been mentioned. It did not require an acquaintance
with the reports of the Secretary of the Kansas State Board of
Agriculture for the past ten years, more or less, to know that
the Mennonites had absolutely succeeded. Nearly everything in
Kansas is going to succeed sometime. It is next spring that
property is going to be higher. "Ad astro, per aspera after
awhile," should be the motto of our State. The Mennouites,
however, have already "made it." Having been an agricultural
writer but a few minutes, I do not know what the best and most
learned authorities consider a successful farmer in this western
country, but I should call that farmer a success who gets out of
his land a comfortable shelter, plenty to eat, respectable clothing
for all hands, pleasant surroundings, as far as trees and flowers
can make such, means to give his children a sensible education,
and a surplus of money sufficient to buy books and newspapers
enough to prevent his household from relapsing into ignorance;
and who, above all, is out of debt. I do not look upon farming



as primarily a money-making business, farther than I have indi-
cated. In this view of the case, the Mennonites have succeeded.
They have in possession nearly all I have indicated, and could
have the rest if they wished. They live in a good country, but
no better than is to be found all over the eastern half of Kansas.
They have encountered the same seasons, the same grasshoppers,
the same drouths, the same hot winds, that other settlers have
contended with, and yet they have remained on their farms while
thousands of gifted Americans have fled precipitately to the
East, carrying a tale of disaster as they went. While many a
settler longer in the country lives in a bare, bleak, wind-shaken
and sun-blistered shanty, with a few desolate, unfenced, dying
peach trees adding horrors to the scene, the Mennonite dwells in
the shadow of his mulberries and apricots, and grows fatter every

It is true that some of the Mennonites brought considerable
money with them from Russia, but others brought nothing. It
seems plain enough, all things considered, that the difference be-
tween failure and success in Kansas, taking counties like Harvey,
McPherson and Marion as examples and there are plenty of
others as good lies in the men and women, and not in the soil
or climate. The patient, toiling Mennonite is doubtless consid-
ered dull by some of his American neighbors, but he praises
Kansas, and says she is the best country yet, and stays with her.

My next "skip" in the collection of this, my first agricultural
report, was to Lamed. That town, I believe, lies in the western
or third belt. Possibly I am mistaken, but if so the meteoro-
logical and agricultural savants can correct me. I went to see
about sorghum. The Champion has always been an advocate of
Kansas syrup, and its belief in Kansas sugar has rivaled that of
the late LeDuc himself. It may be said that the "sorghum lap-
per" has never had a more faithful friend than the Champion ;
and so, knowing that Mr. John Bennyworth, the pioneer sugar
manufacturer of Kansas, had invested a good deal of money in
the neighborhood, a stop at Larned was deemed advisable. In
company with Col. Ballinger, of the Chronoscope, the sugar fac-
tory was visited. A closed building was found, filled with silent


and costly machinery and a strong smell of sorghum nothing
more. Disaster appeared to have attended the enterprise from

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryNoble L. (Noble Lovely) PrentisSouth-western letters → online text (page 2 of 11)