newest gallery features a sampling of the memoirs and reminiscences that have been contributed to us. George Schiller notes in his 1994 book, Reflections from the Prairie, "Where is it written in the book of life that we have to live in this modern, hectic world all the time? Where does it say we can't kick off our shoes, lean back in our easy chair and punch the memory button in our mind, to pull up all those episodes we enjoyed in our yesteryears?" He adds, "It's called reminiscing. I highly recommend it."
He's not the only one to feel that way. Some folks have written down their memories for their children or at the request of others, some because they don't want people to forget what those times were like -- and some just like to remember "the good old days," when times may not have been good but families and friends were.
George Schiller's book is full of evocative stories about growing up in Marshall county, Kansas. His reminiscences cover a broad range: his childhood, Kansas history, how life has changed during his lifespan, how technology has changed the world. He tells his stories with warmth and gentle humor, and clear insights into what makes life what it is. In one story he mentions the universal truth that "fish grow much faster after they are caught than they do before," and in another he observes, ""Failure is never final, neither is success."
George tells wonderful stories in this book of swimming holes and schoolhouses and windmills and Christmas traditions and Kansas history, all with a sharp eye not only for detail but the meaning behind the story. We highly recommend it!
Then there's Winton Slagle Sipe, who grew up on a Kansas farm. Like George Schiller, Wint Sipe can really tell a story. He begins his autobiography, Memories of a Kansas Farm Boy, with this paragraph: "It was August 23, 1918, about the middle of 'dog days,' the time of the constant hot winds across the plains of Kansas. The leaves on the osage orange hedges along the road, and the two big cottonwoods in the cornfield were turning yellow-brown. They were dry enough that they rattled together in the hot winds passing." August 23rd was the day before Wint's birth; and as he tells what happened after that -- schooldays and work on the farm, joining the military and starting his own family -- he shares what he saw and what he learned. His sense of humor and of what's really important are woven together in a chain of stories that you will find hard to stop reading.
Closer to the present day, Don B. Dale describes growing up in western Kansas in the 1950s in his book, Do Tell: The Early Years. Written for his daughters, we can all benefit from what Don has learned about life, family, and how things should be. Reading about some of his escapades as a boy, you may wonder how he ever managed to live to adulthood! But as you read these stories, you will be very glad he did.
His book ranges from being a patrol guard for the month in San Diego to dealing with the sight of body bags in Vietnam, from learning how to swim to being seriously injured in a track meet, and being one of the class clowns and cut-ups to the way things worked in the Air Force Academy. And along the way, you find observations like this: "Off East Fulton, over next to the Arkansas River, was a small pond on Bill Jamison's place, a client of Dad's. We had permission to fish his pond. I always felt like Huck Finn lying there half asleep with a rod across my stomach waiting for a fish to bite.
Some of the memoirs in Kansas provide a view of a time long gone by, and in this category you will find the Personal Memoirs of Watson Stewart. Watson was born in Miami County, Ohio, and became interested in Kansas as a young man, who although employed in working marble had a hankering to try farming. Then too, he read in the New York Tribune of the free-state and pro-slavery conflict; he was squarely with the free-staters. When he and his brother heard about the Vegetarian Settlement Company establishing a community in Kansas, they resolved to go.
Watson's description of those times -- how things were, what he saw -- are a real insight to how it was then. His sense of humor is dry and understated, his sense of right and wrong unswerving. Particularly in the section of the memoirs which describe the Bleeding Kansas and Civil War days, Watson's memories are of larger events. For example, he includes a letter written to Miriam Davis Colt, author of Went to Kansas (a book which describes the ill-fated Settlement Company in much more detail), as well as a story also told in the Andreas/Cutler's History of the State of Kansas of a militia in Humboldt. But there are stories of a more personal nature also, such as the death of his wife, which touch your heart.
Similarly, Sherman Peter Young's recollections of nearly a century of living describe the progress of Kansas as much as the details of his own life. He describes the troubled times in Territorial Kansas, the Civil War, the progress in farming. It is his conclusion that resonates most strongly with us: "One hundred years have passed since Kansas was organized as a territory. How differently we work and play today. Yet, human nature is the same. Some strive and fail; some work and succeed; some weep, and some rejoice and how few of us become masters of our souls; yet, we all respond with one accord to the stirring call of Kansas.
Other memoirs in KanColl are written more for the author's children, both to preserve family history and to explain what the author thought was important. Nancy Davis Wisener's memoirs, Recollections of Pioneer Life, begin with stories of growing up in Indiana and moving to Iowa, then Kansas, but conclude, "Especially was it hard on the older children, who were then just the age to want nice clothes and such things worse than they ever do afterwards. But I hope they will forgive us and try to think it was for the best, for when I look back over it all, I cannot see where I could have bettered it, considering what we had to contend with -- droughts, bugs, grasshoppers, and war, but we lived through it all and perhaps enjoyed life as much as the average of humankind; and now we are thankful that it is as well as it is." She adds, "I should not have let my mind dwell so much on getting gain, accumulating this world's goods, for I can see plainly now as I am nearing the end of life's journey that we should make it the chief aim of life to gain the Glory World, and I desire nothing else for my children than that they lay up their treasures in Heaven and that they begin now."
Two other women, Rosie Clem Maxton and Melissa Anderson Moore, also wrote down their memories toward the end of their lives (Mrs. Maxton was 71, Mrs. Moore 78). Their memoirs are full of the everyday details of life pioneering in Kansas, as well as the sweep of world events. Both were the last of their group to arrive in Kansas, and both were looking back at a wondrous time of great development and a life of striving to do the best they could. Mrs. Maxton says, "Sixty-six long years have rolled by since our first arrival in the Neutral Land, now known as the State of Kansas, and what a change those years have wrought, not only in our own little community, but all over the state...." And Mrs. Moore writes, "...surely we have lived in the greatest age the world has ever known. My grandfather cut his wheat with a sickle; my father cut his with a cradle; my husband had a McCor-Mick reaper. What is used now, I do not know, for it has been forty years since I lived on a farm or saw a field of wheat harvested. Instead of the ox, we have the automobile. Doubtless our grandchildren will think that is too slow. They will ride in airships." It is as Mrs. Moore observes, earlier in her book: "The first letters I wrote bore the date 1854. But it was only a short time until Mother said, 'Now, Melissa, you must make the date 1855.' I thought it was funny the year changed so soon. But years have been changing faster and faster ever since."
For some, the times in Kansas were simply hard. Mary Beeson tells of the first sixteen years of her life in Kansas in her autobiography and it is a harrowing account. For a young child unused to the rigors of pioneer life, it seemed that everything was frightening ... and when the war came, life simply got worse. Mrs. Beeson recalls, "We had an Uncle that had disappeared and we did not know where he was. He came back after about three days. When he got to the place where he had lived a year or more he didn't know where he was and asked what place it was. I told him it was Allan Beeson's place. He had almost lost his mind. I was sixteen years at this time." She was about fourteen when her father was murdered by bushwackers: "I ran on down the main traveled road and found my father lying dead on the ground. about one half mile from the widow ladys house. His right hand lay across his heart and his left hand hung at his side. I put my hand on his and found it icy cold."
Life was a little different for Sara Eutsler Kennedy, but in some ways no easier. In her autobiography, written for her children, she begins the story as one you might tell a small child. Gently Sara (known as Sadie) explains the death of her mother when still a very young girl: "The oldest little girl can remember her little sister Anna standing at the window crying for her 'mama'. She can remember of trying to comfort her in her childish way." Sadie tells of her father's asthma and having to live with the grandmother, and of a young man whose mother "had made him carry Sadie around one time when she was a baby which certainly did not please John. When Sadie grew to be a young woman some way she looked different to him so he decided to try to get her to change her mind about attending college." He was successful and they married, raising a large family. Sometimes things went well, more often times were hard, especially during the Depression years. But Sadie simply states the facts as they were. The memoir concludes with John's death in 1956 ("he left this world for that better home where there will be no sickness or sorrow or weeping"), a few months before she began writing down their story, completed later that year..
Still other reminisicences are purely trips down memory lane -- recounting stories of Kansas in early and later years. E. T. McFarland explains in a newspaper article he wrote for the Havensville Register sometime between 1889 and 1890, "During the month of March 1865, I was persuaded to read a circular sent out by the U. P. R. R. Co. who at that time was who owner of a large tract of land resembling on the map the black spots of a checker board, such spots being separate and independent of the other and covering a belt of country long known as the plains or desert of America. This circular described the country as a fertile region undulating surface thickly interspersed with streams of clear running water and belts of timber sufficiently abundant for all purposes. A land of rich grasses, beautiful flowers, a seasonal climate and an invigorating breeze where the lame were made to walk and the blind to see and the consumption supplies with a new set of lungs. So taking Horace Greeley's advice to 'Go West Young Man' I was not long in getting two other young men whom I will call John and Ed who were like myself, desirous of going west to grow up with the country." And so off he went, and what follows are his recollections of arriving in Kansas and his life in those early days, story after story of "growing up with the country" and having a right good time in the process.
A. M. Harvey put together many stories of the Wakarusa Valley in his book, Tales and Trails of Wakarusa. Published in 1917, Mr. Harvey explains, "This book of tales and trails of people whose annals are vacant, because they were peaceful and happy, is dedicated to the nineteen-year-old soldier boys of 1917 and to their comrades; and especially to that nineteen-year-old soldier, Randal Cone Harvey, whose image and whose service is with us by day and by night. May their service help bring to a war-cursed world such peace that the annals of all men will be stories of love, companionship and association one with another." Some are favorite stories, and others are clearly labeled legends and ghost stories ... but all make you feel like pulling up a chair and sipping from a glass of lemonade as you listen to tales of a time gone by.
These are just a sampling of the memoirs, reminiscences, and recollections that have been contributed to KanColl. The hardest part in putting this gallery together was deciding where to stop! What about the story Ulysses S Grant Sanders told about apprehending Frank Bursinger back when? Or Benjamin Franklin Smith's account of meeting Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas? Or Elizabeth Totten Thorne's recollections of life on the plains? Or -- well, you see our problem. Fortunately, all these memories are preserved in KanColl, and you may read them at your leisure ... without having to decide where to stop!