During Pioneer Days, Grandparents Kept on the Move

My grandparents were quite the adventurers in pioneer days.

Grandpa Linzy had a bright yellow beard, eyes that flashed blue fire, a Viking ancestry and a boyish enthusiasm for pioneering that did not dim until he was well past 60 years old.

Things always were going to be better on some wonderful new frontier! It didn’t matter too much that they weren’t because by that time Grandpa already had started dreaming of the next big adventure.

So far as I know, Grandmother Mary never rebelled. It was Indiana to Iowa, to eastern Kansas, back to Iowa, down to Pottawatomie County, Kansas, away out to Ness County, Kansas, and then back to Pottawatomie County again – and every mile of it in a covered wagon.

Grandmother was a mild-mannered, gentle woman whose first husband had died the night her first baby was born. She was much beloved by all of her relatives and neighbors, and the only criticism of her I ever heard was that she was a little more partial to boys than to girls. She adored her Linzy and was proud of his bigness.

Many a woman of her day put her foot down and refused to let her man pull up stakes too often. Though Grandmother well knew that her husband’s glowing predictions for better days ahead weren’t likely to come true, I think she secretly enjoyed their adventures as much as he. At any rate, she bore her seven children in various dugouts, soddies and shacks, and sometimes waited only until the next baby was born to start out in the covered wagon again. My mother was only six weeks old when they jolted to Iowa’s “greener pastures.” Once they did stay in one place long enough to have a good house, one built of quarried stone – out in Ness County.

When they first homesteaded in Pottawatomie County, they had to go to Fort Leavenworth for supplies. Grandpa and my two half-grown uncles made the trip, a long day’s journey each way. Once they were to buy supplies for neighboring homesteaders, too, and Grandpa carried a money belt with a good bit of cash in it. For some reason, they found themselves many miles from the fort when night fell.

They made camp, and as they cooked supper three rough looking men, wearing guns, rode up and asked if they could camp there, too. Grandpa consented and decided he would “draw them out” before they went to bed and see if he would feel safe going to sleep with his neighbors’ entire cash reserve on his person. The men wouldn’t “draw out.” They sat silent and uncommunicative, though Grandpa was a great talker and a good storyteller and usually was successful in sparking off a lively conversation. That’s when he and the boys decided they would take turns through the night keeping watch for foul play.

They had no guns; an ax was their only weapon. As the night deepened and they realized their helplessness against guns on a lonely plain, father and sons felt more and more uneasy. Every time a horse would snort or one of the strangers would stir in his sleep, their hearts raced in panic. Though they had planned for only one person to watch while two slept, none of the three slept a wink all night, though my younger uncle, 14, is said to have dozed off at daylight.

Nothing happened, and the strangers, refreshed by sleep, were much more talkative in the morning than Grandpa himself. Grandma said that when her men got home from that trip they were so tired they were grouchy as three bears.

Once, the family had been eating cornbread for months because the weather was too bad for a trip to the fort to get white flour. Grandma could make fine, fragrant light bread, and the family longed for a loaf of it in a way we, who have it every day, cannot imagine.

At last the weather “broke,” and Grandpa and the boys made the trip. They left Grandma’s list with the grocer and went out on the streets to catch up on the latest news.

Grandma had fresh butter churned and was all set to do a baking the minute the menfolk got back with the flour. The little children awaited the warm white bread as eagerly as if it had been candy. Alas, when the wagon was unloaded, there was a barrel of cornmeal instead of a barrel of white flour!

For once, Grandma was a little cross. “If you’d seen to the stuff yourself, Pa, this wouldn’t have happened! But, no, you couldn’t wait to get out on the street and start chinin’! “

My mother, who was a little girl then, said she noticed, though, that Grandma wasn’t content until Grandpa had told her every last scrap of the news he’d garnered!

Alta Maxwell Huff
Topeka, Kansas

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.