Contibuted by Mary Ann Sachse Brown and produced by Early Kansas Imprint Scanners

The Cow from Grasshopper Falls

Written by Mary Ann Sachse Brown
and Illustrated by Roy Lee Brown


     My great aunt Ruth had a caring and generous spirit but never married. As one of the youngest of eleven children, she immensely enjoyed the families of her brother and sisters. She often visited my grandma and grandpa on their farm near Atchison, Kansas. I can still remember the excitement my sisters and I had as we raced each morning to her room. Before she was hardly awake, we were pleading with her to tell us a story. One of our favorites was "The Cow from Grasshopper Falls", because it was the story about her father when he was a small boy. We listened intently to her detailed descriptions of life on the Kansas prairie years ago. She delighted in telling the story because at the end she always encouraged us to share it someday with others in the form of a children's book.

     Years passed, and my brothers and sisters and I all grew up, married and had children of our own. As I raised my own two children, I never told the story to them. It was only after my husband and I moved from Kansas to Vermont did I remember the story and Aunt Ruth's dream of a children's book.

     When I sit on the porch of our 200 year old colonial home, overlooking the lush green hillsides in Vermont and close my eyes, I can imagine myself a little girl again, back in Kansas with my sister gathered around Aunt Ruth, listening to her kind, unhurried voice as she began our favorite story.................

Aunt Ruth with children

Once upon a time there was a young married couple by the name of John and Margaret Considine. They lived in a little village by the name of Grasshopper Falls, located on a gently sloping hillside by a waterfall on the Delaware River. First known by the Indians as Necascatobe (the waters where the martins dwell), then by the French fur trappers as Soutraille (grasshopper), the first white settlers called the river the Grasshopper.

Kansas view

     Grasshopper Falls was a new town on the prairie of the Kansas Territory. The Indians had given their surplus land to the U.S. Government and sales were held of these lands. The Considines came from the state of Ohio, along with other Irish settlers, when they heard that land was plentiful and the soil rich and fertile in the Kansas Territory. The sunshine was as abundant as the hope for a good place to raise a family. They could grow plenty of food to eat from the good soil. When they left Ireland there had not been enough food. It had been the time of the Great Potato Famine. They were happy to find a place like Grasshopper Falls. The young couple lived in a tent while they built their home of logs from the trees that grew near the river. One stormy night, their first child, Johnnie was born in the tent. The local newspaper later reported, "The wind had blown violently that night and the rain fell in torrents-a terrific thunderstorm. The next morning everybody drank to the health of the newborn child, the first child born on the town site of Grasshopper Falls."

Tent Scene

The Log Home

     The Considine's new log home was soon finished and so they moved all their things from the tent and wagon into it. Many more pioneers were coming to settle and farm in Grasshopper Falls and many times stayed with them while their own homes were built. Soon the Considine log home became known as the Farmers Home Hotel. There were not many buildings, other than a few houses on the townsite. The Crosby Brothers had a general store, Dr. Northrup, a drug store and Lewis Stafford ran a blacksmith shop. Townspeople had convinced the McCarger brothers to build a hotel because this helped the town grow.

     Life was not easy on the Kansas prairie. Many families had been encouraged to settle there to influence Kansas' entry as a free or slave state. There were not many homes, and the food was not very good. Many became homesick or sick from disease. Then there was a severe drought that lasted a very long time. People were starving because crops could not grow without rain. Kansas had also become a battleground between the forces of freedom and slavery and soon was known as "Bleeding Kansas". And so many families had left by the time Kansas was finally admitted as a free state. But the issue was not resolved for the nation as a whole and the Civil War began--the war between the states.

     President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers from each state to fight in the war and Johnnie's father was one of many from the new state of Kansas who answered. Now Johnnie's mother took over management of the Farmers Home Hotel. This was a very hard time for the young family. Johnnie was only four years old and also had a new baby sister, Mary Ellen. They missed their father very much, so far away from them. They thought about him all the time and wondered where he might be and what he was doing.

Johnnie and Bessie

     Johnnie soon learned to do many chores for his mother, to help out. He fed the chickens, gathered their eggs, fetched water from the nearby stream, carried wood to the house for the cooking stove, and watched after his little sister, Mary Ellen. Johnnie's most favorite job of all was the care of gentle Bessie. Bessie was a brown Jersey cow, given to the Considines by a family who had left Grasshopper Falls during the drought. Jersey cows were by nature contented cows and gave good, rich milk. Bessie always watched every single move Johnnie made with her big brown friendly eyes. A brass cowbell hung around her neck. Johnnie would know where she was whenever he heard the bell go "Clank". She was very important to the family. Besides the delicious, sweet milk to drink, the family enjoyed the many ways they could use the milk from Bessie. Johnnie's mother skimmed the 'top milk' for the rich cream or churned it into butter. Many times, any surplus was then traded for other food items like sugar, flour or salt pork. Bessie assured that the young family always had something to eat.

Johnnie feeding the chickens

     Every morning and every evening, Johnnie took a tin pail to the barn and sat on a three-legged stool to milk Bessie. She often turned her head to watch him as he rhythmically tended to his task. Johnnie was always kind to Bessie and she liked him too so gave a lot of milk. She never kicked over the milk pail as some milk cows would do at milking time. Somehow, she knew the family was depending on her. When Johnnie was finished, the hungry barn cats gathered round for the saucer of warm milk he always gave them.

Johnnie milking Bessie

     While the purring cats sipped the frothy milk, Johnnie led Bessie out to the pasture on the side of the hill. There Bessie would graze for most of the day slowly chewing the sweet, green grass. Sometimes, Johnnie stretched out on the lush grass of the creek bank in the shade of a big oak tree while Bessie grazed nearby. Johnnie loved this time spent with Bessie. As long as Bessie was near, he was not frightened without his father. It was so peaceful as he listened for the song of the meadowlark, the call of mourning doves and the sound of water flowing over the rocks of the river. As a gentle breeze whistled through the tree leaves, Johnnie breathed in the delicate fragrance of the colorful wildflowers that grew nearby.

Johnnie dozing in the field with Bessie

Johnnie sleeping against Bessie

     At the end of the day Johnnie sometimes picked a handful of flowers for his mother and fetched Bessie back to the barn for the evening milking. When the milking was finished, Johnnie cleaned her stall in the barn so Bessie was comfortable for the night. Then Johnnie gathered the eggs from the chicken coop, while the hens “curred” in contentment as they picked at the grain he had scattered on the ground for them. With all the chores finished, Johnnie went to the house to eat the supper his mother had fixed. Even though there was not much food at times, Johnnie's mother could always fix a good meal. Maybe it tasted good because they had worked so hard throughout the day. Johnnie's mother looked tired and sometimes Mary Ellen was fussy, but when they sat down to eat they were all happy to be together. They talked about their father and the things they must do while he was away. At bedtime they prayed for his safety and his return home to them soon.

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