My grandfather, N. W. Murphy, left his trade as a carpenter, sold his farms, built his covered wagon, and left Fort Madison, Iowa, in 1860. He came to a Kansas homestead to help make it a free state – or so he told his wife.
With daughters, 12 and 8 years old, and a son, 2, the Murphys spent the first winter at Shawnee Mission with the Native Americans. Grandmother, formerly a schoolteacher, helped with the teaching. The little girls, who attended the school, had time off when the Native Americans went on the warpath.
In the spring, the family purchased land from the Indians in Johnson County, west of the Missouri border. Native Americans were friends and neighbors.
Having completed his house, Grandfather next built a log cabin schoolhouse, declaring he would not have his children grow up in a land without schools. His wife's maiden sister came to be the teacher.
Then the Murphys said there must be a worship service, and they held the first church service in the township in their house. A circuit rider came from Lawrence, riding a pony and carrying in his saddlebags a change of clothing and any donations that were given for his services.
As soon as he had chosen his land, Grandfather started an orchard. Grandmother laid out her garden, planting sage and herbs brought from Iowa. The herbs grown there produced many of the ingredients for her tonics and salves.
The daughters of the family often told how long were the days. They dipped candles; dried apples, corn and pumpkin; knitted mittens, stockings and caps; made lye and soap; sewed all the clothing; quilted and tacked bedding; and cooked endlessly. The Murphys fed anyone who came to the place. Grandmother thought she kept the Native Americans happy by giving them doughnuts.
Often they kept people who were traveling on the Underground Railroad. When Grandmother would hear that they had arrived in Baldwin, Kansas, she would remark, "Thank God, that many more souls are saved."
The son loved the Native Americans; they taught him to ride their ponies and to shoot their bows and arrows.
When Grandfather made a trip back to Iowa to collect money due him, his wife was left with three children on the prairie. She kept plenty of doughnuts on hand for Native Americans. Sometimes they would stretch out in front of her fireplace and nap.
Grandfather returned bringing money for the family, maple sugar and other gifts from relatives, and coal oil lamps because "They would help so much for the church service."
Ever the organizer, Grandfather deeded an acre of his farm to establish a burying ground. He reserved a strip through the middle, the length of the acre, for the use of his family. When a second son was born to the family and died within a few months, the child was the first to be buried there. Five generations rest there now.
Grandfather often made coffins for families in the community; Grandmother lined them with whatever materials were at hand.
Social life centered in the church, school and the grange. Programs were apt to be temperance lectures or debates concerned with a leading issue of the day. In the home the social events were quilting parties, comfort tackings, husking bees and taffy pulls, the taffy cooked with home-produced sorghum.
In 1865 a church was built in the township; the Murphys were charter members of the congregation.
As more settlers came to the prairie, Grandmother would say, "It is so good, in the morning, to see the smoke from some neighbor's cabin." To her that meant they were establishing a community.
Mrs. Thelma Murphy Quaintance
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.