Samuel Stark and his wife, Elizabeth, and their small daughter came to what is now Kansas City in 1855. My father, Eli, was born there in 1856. The village was called Westport Landing, and Grandpa Stark was a partner in a small grocery business there. Indians flocked to Westport Landing by the hundreds. In summer, they would strip off their buckskins and plunge into the muddy Missouri, Grandma said. The women would toss young children into the shallower water so they could learn to swim. The mothers apparently felt no fear that the children would drown. Grandmother said the men’s wet bodies gleamed like polished bronze when they emerged from the river. She remembered especially the women’s great love of red calico.
Westport Landing was a wild, unkempt place then, and fences were unknown. Cattle and hogs roamed and foraged at will. Grain was scarce, and the animals often were ravenously hungry.
One day a woman came to Grandfather's store, removed the papoose holding her child from her back and set it down outside the store. A hungry sow came along, sniffed the skin covering around the baby and decided it would make a good dinner. The sow rooted it over and pitched in with tusks and hooves, luckily beginning at the baby's feet.
The infant screamed, and Grandfather Stark ran out and with heavy boots and a club fought off the hungry animal to rescue the child. Indians ran in from every direction, and when they understood what had happened, the mother insisted upon giving the baby to Grandfather. It was with difficulty he convinced her he could not accept the gift.
To show their gratitude, however, the chief had a sign printed over my grandparents' home and whenever Indians came to Westport Landing, they brought gifts of fresh meat for as long as Grandpa lived there.
Charlotte Stark Offen
El Dorado, Kan.
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.