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Emma Bowen: Leaves from Memory

The most vivid of childhood's recollections are not of most important events. Society is thrilled in every fibre, rocked to its foundations, and wholly reconstructed. The storm passes and leaves not a memory with the child; while the sweet song or brilliant plumage of a bird, the color or odor of a rare flower, or some slight shadow obscuring for an hour its sun, leaves impressions never to be forgotten!

Memories of early childhood consist chiefly of little oases of brightness and gladness, of sweet surprises and sudden joys, interspersed occasionally with sorrows and disappointments, with fears and forebodings, with bereavements and tears.

So, when now I'm asked for my reminiscences of the early days of our young State, of the years when she was the battle-ground on which the destiny of the nation was decided, I feel that I have nothing of importance to offer, nothing of interest to the genuine "old settler." What can I tell that he does not already know or that will not seem trivial? I shall not attempt it; but will talk to his children or grandchildren, who will bear with childish things.

The first page contains a picture taken early in the spring of '56. Playing with my sisters on the carpet, before a bright wood fire in an open fire-place, the conversation between my parents arrests my attention. they are talking of good to a far-away new land, where there are wolves, deer and buffalo, and where Indians roam over uncultivated prairies. What stories are suggested by this name!

My mother had told me of the early settlement of Pennsylvania where her great-grandmother fell a victim to the scalping-knife, while her son, wounded and weak from loss of blood, vainly strove to hold the savages at bay till she could escape; how afterwards he crept to the fort - since called for him Ft. Watson - where he lay at the entrance until the women within, one of whom was his intended wife, carried him in to die.

I was soon in tears, but my father, taking me up, comforted me with assurances of safety and bright visions of the distant prairies, with their sweet flowers and pretty little Indian girls whom we would tame for playmates. I remember no more fears.

There follow indistinct memories of a sale, of packing goods, of bidding "good-bye" to weeping friends, of a short trip on the cars to Cincinnati, then of a delightful steamboat ride down the Ohio, up the Mississippi and Missouri, between green banks, in sight of fields, forests and lines of hills, until landed in a boarding-house in the suburbs of the little town of Kansas City.

Here a week was spent, we children playing on the blue-grass of the shady lawn, while father vainly tried to employ some one to carry us to our destination. No one could be found willing to take the risk. The "border ruffians" were on the alert to seize the teams of free-state emigrants and at least turn the people back destitute. An armed escort was indispensable. During this embarrassing delay, a part of the New Haven colony, led by Hon. C. B. Lines, who had settled Wabaunsee, came to Kansas City for a sawmill. They were armed with Sharp's rifles and Colt's revolvers. They gave us a cordial invitation to accompany them, which we accepted with pleasure.

Having purchased a covered wagon and two yokes of oxen, and stowed away in its depths as much as possible of our baggage, we perched on top of this and fell into the procession, A week, sometimes delightful, often wearisome, but always novel and interesting, brought us to the town site near which we expected to locate. To our surprise we found the town to consist of a few tents, all crowded. To add to our discomfort and disappointment, a drizzling rain set in. One of the company, Mr. J. M. Bisbey, lived about three miles farther one, and pitying our condition invited us to go home with him. It was nearly night when our weary oxen started for the additional pull through the mud. It was very pleasant, when the distance was passed, to find ourselves once more under a roof. The cabin of unhewn logs and earthen floor contained one room and a loft. There were six of them and six of us, but we had a good time, became fast friends, and parted with regret when a few days later we went to the neighborhood now known as lower Zeandale, then in Davis county and now in Riley, so that without ever moving we lived in three counties.

The people of Wabaunsee were - and still are - a sociable people and very patriotic. The Fourth of July was a day to be anticipated with pleasure during the entire year, and once enjoyed, never to be forgotten.

One of their most memorable celebrations was that of '57. The distinguishing feature was the grand parade. The procession consisted of wagons drawn by oxen. Horse teams were then seldom seen. It was later than this that the young ladies were thrown into a state of wild excitement by the startling news that a young gentleman of their acquaintance had fitted up a dry-goods box for a buggy, had mounted it on two wheels taken from the ox wagon, and found means to attach it to an Indian pony, of which he was the proud possessor. It seemed to them a triumph of genius and to promise social changes.

To return to the parade. Some of the wagons were covered with snowy canopies artistically decorated with various floral and evergreen designs. The yokes and horns of the cattle were festooned and garlanded. One bright pink cover especially pleased the children and took their votes. The "rig" receiving the largest number of votes tood [sic] the prize.

At this celebration I remember seeing a little boy, then in his third year, a bright, handsome little fellow dancing and playing at his mother's side. His face recalls the last leaf that I shall present - a sad, a terrible tragedy, a mystery, which time cannot solve. It was early that fall, '57, I think, that one chilly, frosty evening messengers rode from cabin to cabin for miles around, carrying the news that Charlie Meacham was lost. The father was away at work, the mother busy with household duties, and Charlie, as usual, playing about the house, outside and in. Once coming in, he asked if it was nearly time for his father to come home. Then he was gon longer than usual, and his mother looking for him could not find him. The nearest neighbor lived about half a mile away. Thoroughly alarmed, the mother ran with her baby in her arms to call for help. On her return she found the little dog, Charlie's constant playmate (that had also been missing), at home alone.

All night the men, walking in long lines, carrying lanterns, scoured the prairies and searched the hills and ravines. The cold night air stung and chilled them, strong men as they were and warmly clad - what must it have been to the wee boy in his thin child garments? Three days and nights of fruitless search, and the hope of finding him alive was gone. Then fires were kindled and the prairies burned over, that the lifeless little body might be brought back to the desolate home, but no trace of the lost one appeared.

Search, long and diligent, was made among the Indians, a band of whom had been seen in the vicinity a few days before. Once the glad tiding came that he was found. The sympathizing neighbors gathered on the evening when he was expected, awaiting at a house near, the news of his approach, that they might meet him in joyful welcome. There came only the lonely father in his hopeless grief. Weeks after, a little skull was found several miles away. Possibly it was Charlie's - none could know. Still later a large gray wolf was killed within three or four miles. But the days, months and years have rolled on, and no word comes to those who "watch and wait and wonder" until the morning shall come and the clouds flee away.


Source: The Alumnus, September 1908
This article was written by Mrs. Bowen at the occasion of an old settlers' reunion at Manhattan.
Any typographical errors are the result of retyping.




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