Free Land Draws Grandfather in Covered Wagon

Sitting in a rocking chair, girl hears Civil War stories from her grandfathter after family travels in covered wagon to reach Kansas claim of free land.

Civil War Battle Field in Autumn With Canon

If these old Civil War battle fields could talk, the stories they would tell.

Delmas Lehman/Fotolia

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I would sit in my little rocking chair beside my grandfather, rocking and listening to these stories. My grandparents left Indiana with two small children in a covered wagon, traveling for days before reaching what is now Kansas, to stake the claim of 160 acres of free land. This land was only two miles from the Missouri line, which had joined the Union as a slave state.

On arriving in Linn County, the friends who had reached Kansas sometime before met them several miles from the place they planned to call home. Told Grandfather to work fast, get the wife and two children to hide in a cornfield and take one horse and move west as fast as he could to where the Union soldiers’ camp was. The friends helped unload the wagon, took the other horse to wooded area, where it was tied to a tree, the wagon was placed in tall grass. This had to be done to keep the bushwhackers from Missouri from stealing them. If they had met Grandfather before he reached the Union camp, he would have been shot.

The word had reached the Union camp in Linn County that Gen. Sterling Price of the Confederate Army was planning to move across Eastern Kansas and reach Fort Scott. The Union Army had a big supply of guns, also their trained men were in camp there.

Camped close to Mound City, Kansas, most of these men was untrained, and had only hoped to be farmers. When the raiders moved into Linn County, they got a big surprise, these men fought as the South had never seen before. What men who had not been killed, gave up within a few days. This was a great victory for the Union Army.

My grandfather was shot in the leg; he could not walk, no way to stop the bleeding. He crawled two miles away from the battlefield, passed out and was finally picked up by men of the North and taken to a makeshift hospital in Mound City.

Where Grandmother and the little children were hiding in the cornfield, this was only a few miles from where the fighting was taking place. They could hear the guns. One night some men on horses rode around this cornfield hunting for people and whatever they could steal. Grandmother had the family dog. She and the children talked to the dog, prayed it would not bark and give their hiding place away.

The second night in the cornfield, a light rain came, their bedding was cold and wet for the rest of their stay in the cornfield.

When word came to Grandmother the battle was over, however, Grandfather had been shot and could be dead.

Grandmother and a friend started walking with buckets of water to try and find him. As they walked across this field, it was covered with blood, dead and dying men from both sides. Grandmother said she gave every man who was still alive on the ground a drink. After walking five miles, their water was gone. They met some Union soldiers, who were checking the field for their men, and they told her that Grandfather had been found and was in the hospital

Grandmother went back to the children and friends, looked for their horse and wagon, they had not been found. The horse Grandfather had rode into battle was killed.

When Grandfather returned home to start their new life on free Kansas soil, they both thanked God. Their hardships had meant freedom for everyone.

Evelyn Hamilton
Pleasanton, Kansas

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.