Esther Billings' Kansas homestead adventure lasted all of one night.
When our century was young, there was still government land in Kansas to be given to people with "pioneering fever." In the summer of 1908, my parents had an attack of that malady and decided it was time they should own their own farm and try out a Kansas homestead.
Some friends who had bought a relinquishment in Kansas sent back letters full of hope for the future. After the threshing was over, my parents had a few hundred dollars which they planned to use either for filing a claim or for buying a relinquishment.
Father insisted Mother and I go with him to this land of promise, so on a hot Sunday in mid-August we boarded a train and headed for the far corner of Kansas.
We arrived at the town shortly after noon and walked to the hotel with a scorching sun bearing down on us. At the hotel we were served a meal of leftovers. Then Father hired a driver with a team and surrey to take us to the home of our friends.
Those were the longest 15 miles I ever traveled. The sun beat down on our backs and the heat was almost unbearable. The horses struggled thru sand while sweat dripped from their bodies. Up hill and down we went, seeing no signs of life on that road until we came to a sod house. In a group of people sitting on the ground in the shade of the house, we recognized our friends. Father paid the driver, and we joined the party. They gave us drinks of water from a barrel which sat in the shade of the house; it was wet but not cool. When the group broke up, we were loaded into a wagon to ride a few more miles to our hosts' home.
Our friends, who had a little money when they moved to this area, were better equipped to face the hardships of frontier life than were many of their neighbors. They had a well and a windmill, a two-room frame house and a cave.
Our hostess built a roaring fire in the cook-stove using "Kansas coal" and prepared supper for eight.
While the hour grew late, we were all bedded down for the night. Mother and I were given the bed and Father slept on a pallet on the floor. Our friends and their children went to the cave to sleep.
Plans were made for us to go the next day to see a relinquishment which we were interested in buying. But when morning came Father had the lumbago so bad he couldn't get off his pallet without help. His only thought was to get back home where he would be near a doctor.
We were soon loaded in a wagon and headed for town where we met the train that carried us back to our comfortable rented home. Our pioneering fever had been cured.
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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