I have many wonderful memories of an 500-acre farm in southeast Kansas where I was born and lived until I married. I was an only child until I was almost 7 years old. Our nearest neighbor was nearly a mile away by way the crow flies, so I didn’t often have playmates. I learned to amuse myself. I always had a favorite cat. I learned early to ride in front of my dad in the saddle. Our transportation then was horseback or buggy. We attended a country church about four miles away. We made the 10-mile trip to town every week or two. A trip took most of the day. Mama sold cream, butter, eggs, chickens and garden produce.
I learned at an early age to help with the farm chores. I disliked churning because it seemed the cream was either too cold or too warm to become butter quickly. I liked cattle and sometimes had a pet calf. When one of the milk cows had a calf I decided to pet him, but the cow didn’t want my affection. She gently pushed me between her horns against the barn and held me away from the calf. I was a brave 4-year-old and just talked to Bossy until she let me go. I made “beautiful” mud pies, cakes and sculptures. I had lots of cousins, and families visited occasionally, but all were several miles away. I walked a mile to a one-room school of a dozen or more pupils. One day my fellow first grader and I whispered too much and the teacher made Warren and me sit together. How awful!
One January morning when I got up, I saw the doctor at the house. Dad said I had a baby brother. I was so pleased I didn’t want to go to school. It was fun to help take care of him. The next six years added another brother and two sisters to our family. Mama was then very busy. She no longer helped in the hay making. Dad thought I was big enough to drive a team, so I helped mow, rake and buck hay. It was fun unless a snake slithered out of the hay. One day I raked over a bumblebee nest. The horses got stung and we made some crazy windrows before I got them settled down. I learned to milk and take care of the chickens.
Mama always raised a big garden. We canned or dried all sorts of vegetables and what fruit we could get. The dried corn was especially good. I knew the location of every wild plum, grape and gooseberry on that ranch. Mama sometimes made pumpkin butter, which is almost like apple butter. Dad dried cured pork. Sometimes we would fry sausage and pack it in lard in a stone jar or crock. We had no refrigeration, but the lard method worked well in cold winter weather. Sometimes Dad killed a wild duck or rabbit and caught fish. Mother was a resourceful cook and made good nourishing meals. Sometimes we had corn meal mush and milk with a spoonful of molasses or vegetable soup for supper on cold winter nights. No bakery bread can compare in aroma or flavor to Mama’s bread. If we were hungry when we came home from school, she might cut the crust from a warm loaf, butter the end of the loaf, then cut off the buttered slice for us.
My friend Isla and I helped our dads with cattle. We had to drive them to the railroad 10 miles away to send them to the Kansas City market. Sometimes we would run races-she on Buddy and I on Daisy. I can’t think of a prettier sight than looking out on a sunny, dewy, early morning and seeing cows and calves on the pasture slope near our house. The pasture sparkled like diamonds. A white-faced calf might give a gentle bawl as he scampered to get his breakfast, and the cow would answer in a soft moo. Other cattle pairs dotted the hillside. It was a beautiful picture of contentment.
This story sounds like all we did was work. We not only worked together, we fished, picnicked, went to town and visited family and friends.
I have enough memories of that ranch to fill a book, such as our first car, the new house, Mama’s illness, growing up with brothers and sisters, different animals, storms and much more. A niece and I now own the ranch, which my dad bought in about 1907. It is all pasture now and is used for grazing.
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.