Three young men play a joke on homesteaders at a dance with their own version of the baby swap.
The Hutchinson Mill on the east side of the Big Blue River near Marysville, Kansas, was replaced with a new and larger mill in 1867. And that new mill was to be the scene of one of Marshall County Kansas most memorable nights, a night when a homestead prank involved a baby swap.
Plans were made for a dance in the new three-story stone mill before the machinery arrived. Notices of the entertainment were sent far and wide. Scores arrived for the dance, bringing well-filled baskets of food for the midnight refreshments. John Pecenka's music was at its swingin' best. Couples danced in reckless abandon, forgetting their babies sleeping peacefully in an adjoining room.
Three young single men observed the sleeping children, an even dozen bedded down on a pallet in the corner.
Then one of the trio, a twinkle in his eye, sprung the plan.
"How will they ever pick out the right kid?" he wondered aloud.
They worked fast, changing positions of the sleeping babies.
Christopher's pieced quilt was swapped for Annie's pink blanket; Billy's coverlet became Priscilla's wrap.
The mischief done, the three went their separate ways before the dance ended.
The mothers, tired from a night of dancing, wrapped the babies against the chill for the horse and buggy trip home. One young mother fretted as she rode along in the night. "I do believe Jamie has taken a cold. He sounds strange."
The husband was in the barn putting the horses away when his wife's cries told him something dreadful was amiss. Little James, his mother had discovered, was a girl. The horses were hitched to the rig again. The nine miles to the mill seemed to take forever. At the mill, a state of bedlam reigned: parents were gathering to exchange offspring; mothers cried; babies howled.
The last exchange of babies was completed as the first rays of sunrise appeared. Angry mothers would have meted out punishment for the perpetrators of the prank, but the culprits were nowhere to be found. Not a single baby seemed worse for the experience, and the humor of the situation soon began to surface.
Owen Wister borrowed this incident for a chapter in his novel, "The Virginian."
Vera M. Brooks
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.
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