Hard Times in Kansas

Fascinating letter from a homesteading mother facing hard times in Kansas, written to her mother.

Content Tools

Here is a letter written by my grandmother to her mother. There is no date or place on the letter, but I believe the year would be 1880 and the town Minneapolis, Kansas, as the family moved from near Plymouth, Indiana, to central Kansas in 1879. Grandmother evidently had little schooling, but she wrote in this letter all the heartbreak of a woman who had moved from a land of green pastures, gardens and fruit, to the dry wilderness and who was faced with hard times in Kansas almost beyond her strength to endure. Some punctuation has been added and some spelling changed to make the letter easier to read:

Dear Mother, I will try to write you a few lines to let you know some of Kansas's hard times. The first things all mostly dried up. Things that Will put in Jim's garden, the chickens ate up and we didn't get a taste, and what he put out in ours, the pigs are trying to eat. We won't have any garden truck at all, but it seems so hard to live on bread and butter and coffee. And when–takes his cow away, then we can go it dry, but there's nothing here.

Oh, Mother, why did you let Rob buy such a place for his home? I tell him he is building a prison for me. Oh, what have I done that my punishment is so great?

We ain't bought anything much yet, and we can't, for things are so high. We got a stove, and Rob made a table and we have one chair, the one we had with us, and we bargained for a dozen chickens. So, Mother, you see we ain't got much.

Rob and I and Frank and the three little ones ain't had a penny spent for clothes this summer, and that ain't all, for we ain't got somebody to send us clothes all the time.

Helen has been sick for two weeks. She lost a baby. It was only seven months, and it didn't live but a little while, and she is so she can sit up now and is doing well.

Ida looks so bad and poor. She ain't felt well all summer. She will come home when Mary comes. Anna has been working for Converse. She worked there six weeks and he won't pay her, and I don't know what we will do. He ain't so nice as he was last summer when he was taking Rob round on his land . . . Will is working for John Roy.

Mother, this is the fourth time I have tried to write to you, but when I would think of you and home I could not. Mother, I have shed many tears since I have been here but nobody cares for me. I beg of Rob to try and sell for, Mother, I can't think of staying here. About the time I had my family raised, then I must be drug out here to be deprived of almost everything. Mother, I used to think that there was one sunshiny day for me, but they are all dark.

Charley is as bad as ever. He is so poor. And I am sick most of the time.

I must stop for you will get tired for my hard story. So goodbye, Mother. From Marie Stanley.

The year after this letter was written her twelfth child in 23 years was born.

That child was only 12 years old when Grandmother died at age 53. 

Mrs. O. C. Frantz
Rocky Ford, Colorado 

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.