Attracted by the free land in Kansas, and the possibility that two young sons, too, could homestead or buy cheap farms in a few years, the Zerah Stedmans sold most of their possessions in 1870 and bought passage to the end of the railroad line at Nebraska City, Nebraska, with hopes of settling a Kansas homestead.
When their goods had been ferried across the Missouri River there, Zerah hired a driver with a wagon and oxen to carry the family to their claim in Marshall County, Kansas.
The oxen pulled the plow which cut the prairie sod, and the Stedmans built their first prairie home. The final job for the oxen and wagon was to deliver a ridge pole and shorter roof supports from timber on the creek. Then the Stedmans watched the wagon roll across the lonely prairie until it disappeared.
Zerah, once the transaction for the land was completed, found work at a mill 16 miles away. On Saturday afternoon he walked home and on Monday he walked the 16 miles back to work. Part of his wages was paid in flour and cornmeal, a great benefit to the family.
In the soddy, Phebe Stedman directed her boys to hoe out a shallow trench at the base of the walls, and in one corner she had dug a sinkhole, a little larger than a gallon pail. In case the side walls leaked in a driving rain and water threatened to muddy her packed-dirt floors, the trench would collect the seepage and direct it to the sinkhole.
Always a neat and industrious homemaker, Phebe hand sewed yards and yards of sheeting, brought from her Michigan home, to make a ceiling. It hid the poles and the sod overlay, and even better, it prevented dirt from sifting down. She also constructed a muslin wall to gain the privacy of a bedroom.
The boys were preparing for winter, too. They cut dried tall grass and twisted it so it would burn slowly and evenly in the stove.
How fortunate this family was! They had a snug house, food, fuel, and more land than they had ever hoped to own. I am happy to be kin to these pioneers. Zerah and Phebe Stedman were my great-grand parents.
Submitted by Mrs. Adolph Musil
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.