Life at Laurel Town in Anglo Saxon Kansas by Kate Stephens



Founders of our government and old-time prophets of our people, the Puritans are, we repeat, today the heart of the American nationality. Their instinct for state-building did away with the autocrat, and showed all peoples of the earth the road to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

They would purify life of mouthing professions; and stand only by truth. In their thinking truth could not be too hard provender for any mind. Therefore they would do away with symbols in every relation of the individual. Symbols to their earnestness intruded upon truth, distorted truth, at last displaced truth, and by substitutions weakened and disordered the people's intellect.

The Puritan was an unalienable democrat. He loved simple form in his government, simple statements in his religion, simple humanity in his morals; even simple form and color in his dwelling and meeting house.

The Puritan was a utilitarian as well as an idealist.

Such also were Puritan offspring, the early people of Kansas, carrying onward Puritan traditions. They



aimed to clean life of the lie that equitable work degrades, and of superstitions hostile to the fellowship of man. They were futurists, zealots, old-time Americans, the strong and even the weak striving for an idea, steeped in constructive optimism, laborers towards a utilitarian Utopia, seeking conditions which they knew had never existed anywhere, first of all giving themselves.

Our democratic, Puritan way, you see, whose course here in America started when the English devouts set foot on this continent. Through their blood and their transmitted spirit, it has gone on to this hour.

So our human kind goes forward, driving on, blundering on through lives of generations, eying a light afar off, aiming at the right thing, sometimes doing it, often failing, but never putting aside effort to reach its shining goal.

Now (in this paragraph only) let us look back to centuries before our Puritans, when schools were for the education of churchmen, when priests and brother hoods were the reservoirs of learning; preservers, transcribers, commentators, employing their time and strength to keep and exalt rules and authorities upon which their ease, their honor and life itself rested.

What their schools taught served theologians and the ends of theology. The people at large were sunk in gross ignorance; their natural growth dwarfed, their minds unawakened, stupefied by unremitting toil to



gain their scantiest physical sustenance. Events brought about emancipation of intellectual life in the Restoration of Learning. In the next century sprang forward emancipation of religious life in the Great Reformation. Then, in the seventeenth century, followed emancipation of political life in the Puritan Revolution.

In their heirship of these three great movements our Puritans embodied a regnant principle of Protestantism whose preciousness has been put by many, but by none better than Shakespeare in this sentence;

                 "Ignorance is the curse of God;
Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven".

Puritans, that is, developed a passion for founding schools and teaching children. "After God had carried us safe to New England, and we had builded our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God's worship, and settled the civil government, one of the next things we longed for, and looked after, was to advance learning and perpetuated it to posterity."

With the result that those Puritans who came to American soil made our race's early history, in good degree, the effort of an earnest people to set in sun bright clarity education's benefactions. These old Puritan ideas the early Kansans inherited. Obedient to their mighty estate, in the evolu-



tion of order in their commonwealth, they proceeded to build toward their educational ideal.*

The ideal took on the form of a pyramid, you might say -- yet a pyramid greater than any people before their times had ever reared. Near three score centuries ago old Khufu -- to cite the most renowned of all who built pyramids heretofore -- old Cheops set the vast pyramid which bears his name upon Sahara's sands, covering upwards of thirteen acres. With the labor of slaves he vaingloriously made a dead-house to preserve the embalmed flesh of an absolute sovereign.

But the early individualists of Kansas built their pyramid, greater than any pyramid ever raised save in other states building with like ideals -- the early individualists of Kansas built their pyramid as a living-house for making best possible, forward-looking citizens of a democracy, any one loyal citizen being worth many absolute sovereigns; a living-house, not upon sands of a desert, but rock-founded in a rich soil materially and spiritually housing and furthering the soul of its people.

This greatest of pyramids, the educational, the Kansans reared over the whole vast acreage of their

*So early as October, 1854 (shortly after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill) the first governor of Kansas territory, Andrew H. Reeder, said in a speech at Lawrence City (reported in the Herald of Freedom, No.3, Vol. I) "It is important to a state that the people should be educated; for when they are thoroughly educated they understand their own rights, and know how to defend the rights of others."



state its base the common school for every child; and, superimposed on the common, high schools for all who would seek them. And above these secondary schools university teachings of what is for all ages true -- teachings affording Everybody content of that which the spirit of man has wrung from his own soul, and from the nature about him, through the aeons of our human evolution. A pyramid, you see, built on preserving and glorifying everlastingly not one dead prince, but a whole, united, vital people.

This educational pyramid, stretching the length of Kansas, four hundred miles, and its breadth, two hundred miles, has then for its apex a university, a House of Light, testifying that its supporters apply ideas to life with overwhelming force.

For any democracy must be loyal to the truth that instruction of the people in the imperishable ideals of humanity forwards that people, and raises the plane of their knowledge and of their ethics.

And the Kansans set it, this Light-House of their educational ideal, upon a wind-driven hill; with result that all comers to Laurel Town, and all passers-by Laurel Town may see its outer beauty and behold their beacon, their guide to safe-journeyings, if in the future, the people shall welter through any void of mystery and dread.

With genuine democratic spirit those lonely, passionate, experimental founders would have education



broaden and deepen all human life. Not men's alone. Women, as well, should be students. A golden leaf from Aristotle's "Politics" they carried in their hearts -- a principle, in fact, which affected nearly all their foundation: "Women and children must be trained by education with an eye to the state, if the virtues of either make any difference in the virtue of the state. And they must make a difference; for the children grow up to be citizens, and half the free persons in a state are women."

The sentiment that would abolish women-competitors in what men esteem their fields of labor has often worked against women in democracies, over-balanced men's judgment and led to malignant injustices. Few men have been disposed to raise women from ages-long position as handmaid in their works and ambitions to a rivalship in the same ambitions and works. As a rule aristocracies have been more generous to women than democracies.

But in Kansas, when a state-making ideal, in angry revolt against social iniquities, would take the people in its arms and lift them heavenward, would deepen consciousness of their life and vocation by competent knowledge of the mysteries of the great nature about them, by ideas of what other dwellers on earth have done; in Kansas, when state-making ideals dominated, their organs of expression determined that women, with men, should profit by whatever education the



state afforded. "Where there is no vision," said an old maxim-maker, "the people perish." Contrariwise, where there is vision, the people thrive. So came the University of Kansas**lt of the leaguing of a long-visioned people.

Strange that through its history short-visioned folks should assail the institution, its every evolving interest, its every expanding ambition. Fortunately for the state the myopic have numbered fewer than the far-sighted. At times in the world's history long-visioned people have counted less than the short. Ten righteous men could once save a city; and old Abram prayed. Yet the city perished.


It was now the eighteen-sixties; in Kansas and War Between the States ended. Hardly had the people eased their hands of the rifle, however, and strengthened their gaunt forms from the winning, when booms began assailing their ears -- money-mad bondsellers exciting the futurists to town-building and county-forming, to railway construction, to cattle-raising, to irrigation-ditch-digging. In other words, astute financiers in eastern counting houses played with the virtuous weaknesses of idealistic pioneer-agriculturists --sanguine temperaments always "going to be" prosperous;



and so fired their imagination that at times they called special poll-days for voting their little moneys to the conscienceless counter-desks; and gave not only their own strength and time, but their men and horses, their machinery to fill the counter-desks' pockets -- something of the old-time saint, something of the old-time martyr; much of Don Quixote and Tartarin of Tarascon, you see.

But disappointments came and reactions set in. Discontent with the farmers' social condition, demand for a voice in affairs commensurate with their economic value, dissatisfaction with charges of middle-men and with discrimination of railways, protest against lessening prices of the soil-tillers product, at last led farmers to co-operate, and to their forming party which entered practical politics under the name of Grangers.

The Granger movement was a protest, we say. "The old feudal system," farmers reasoned, "sprang up when the chief form of wealth was land. On one side was the rich man who, to get an income from his tenure, rented it for service. On the other was the man who had his service to sell; which he traded for the use of the ground.

"In this new feudal system burgeoning about us, where the chief form of wealth is commerce, the man rich in all the vast material of commerce is the baron. He gets an income by renting berths to the poor man



with labor to barter, pinches us land-workers as his legitimate spoil and cheapens our product.

"Just as in old centuries the baron, or rich man, gobbled small lands and demanded service from the freeholder, so now 'Big Interests,' railways and other corporations, swallow little businesses, crowd to the wall few-acre, independent farmers and small traders, starve them into selling out, and force them to gain support in dependencies and offices of their employ. To-day in the huge armies of commerce-clerks and meagre farmings, we have incipient serf conditions.

"In the old time the strong seized the rights of government. The court that enforced the law was their court."

By such reasonings the Granger movement strengthened, and became an outstanding protest of the American pioneer against developments and complexities he could not meet; his organized declaration against gradual enchaining -- in fact, the first united agriculturists' voice in the now world-wide cry for the emancipation of the workers' life; an on-coming emancipation whose final fruits must be men and women so large-soured that money to them will mean what the word itself, in an early use, signified, the adviser; people so honorable in word and deed that their simplicity will make decked-out show and pomp ridiculous.

Spread of Grangers' tenets accomplished great



good. Kansas stump-speakers from Granger cohorts, however, during one of the hottest campaigns of the eighteen-seventies, misrepresented the university. They threatened to cut off legislative appropriations which supported it, and cried out that the professors were a lot of "old barnacles ;" that the Grangers would dismember the institution altogether if they should win at the polls. Twilight of election day showed Grangers sweeping the state.

As we look back now, the threats of these campaigners become mere perfervid ignorance, red-rag oratory. The university was not dilacerated. It lived on, and today bears proof of health in its survival after certain ideas and men were inducted into its life-current -- its vigor reminding you of a super-healthy human body immune from stated maladies after fever-giving serums have been injected in its blood.

This night of the Granger election in the early seventies, however, when Laurel Town had received returns and closed her polls, a group of young men-students saw for the future only a ruthless carrying out of Granger threats and the crushing of a university they loved.

Before a single adverse act of the party arriving at power, their loyalty was forecasting opposition, plotting revenge, giving itself as inexperience will, as youth will, to sudden, blind, retaliatory feeling, to the raging reprisal of the herd.



An impulse struck them to arm with staves and raid the country-side. They had no clear thought, no definite plan of action. Grangers were farmers; farmers Grangers; therefore all soil-tillers, no matter how unoffending, however non-Grangers, object of their spirit of vengeance.

Precisely such instincts as led our forebears to forays famed in song and story gripped these boys. Back in the centuries, and yet not so very far back either, when our ancestors lived in England and Scotland and Ireland and other parts of Europe, neighbors in armed bands pillaged one another to gain some possession, or for sport. In early Ireland, when all land was common and property lay mainly in herds, men took their every-day exercise in cattle-spoiling. "The Cattle-raid of Cooley" incited the greatest of Irish epics. "Fleet foot in the foray" stood on every march between old Wales and England, Scotland and England, and even on boundary lands of France and Italy. Our race ballads, such as "The Hunting of the Cheviot," make this clear. So also our chronicles. Froissart's tale of the battle of Otterbourn pictures the Scots "doing many sore displeasures," "burning and exiling the country" when they penetrated England.

That night of the Grangers' victory in Kansas, we say, these university students were possessed of impulses inherited by our north-of-Europe races. Who knows but the very blood of Hotspur, or of James



Douglas, went coursing through veins of more than one of the boys! Not a soul of them, probably, who had not come down from fighters at Chevy Chase, or like contests. Then, besides this, there were the group-impulses of forefathers in town-against-gown, gown-against-town life.


A north-west wind had cleared the sky, and a fulling moon filled the night with such splendor that the earth whitened where its light struck, and bold, black shadows lay back of all that opposed its pale glory. The dry, packed ground, frost-hardened, rang under footsteps as if it were iron.

An exhilarating night! With its stimulus of cold, brilliant, electric air, undeniably a night to develop a temper for walking. To study such a night! To sleep such a night! Not when Grangers had swept the state.

"What's the use, anyway! A fortnight and there won't be a university to go to."

"Then why worry about that assignment of Tacitus!"

"And those problems in calculus!"

"That Bestimmung of Fichte!"

"Have at 'em! Have at 'em," the band roared, "Grangers! Grangers!"

Noise is necessary in a sally -- unless secrecy and victory are pledged. Not merely one hot, flashing shout -- that does not let off electric currents. Rhythm



leads the blood to even beating, unifies feeling and chokes back individual conscience pressing to the fore. Sing they must. "Marching through Georgia" they began; and soon "Maryland, my Maryland."

A buoyant air carried their voices far. Wives who had gathered husband and children round the family reading lamp -- a favorite way of spending the evening in those days -- listened wondering, and sent "honey" to the door to see what the passing singers meant. "Only university-boys, mother dear," the scout reported.

These student-forayers, we say, bore through the town northwestwardly, till street and house no longer hemmed their way and they had traversed the big ravine.

A country road, picketed on either side by osage-orange hedges opened before their eyes. Through such brambles forayers might not enter Grangers' acres.

Forward then!

Forward to the little ravine; then across it, and so on till at last they reached the north woods spoken of on page eight foregoing -- the north woods from whose depths the music of whip-poor-wills wailed in moon-lit, summer nights.

Fate no man can explicate. What lot now swerved these self-appointed requiters off the main road and down a by-path not one of them could ever afterwards tell. From their spirit reason, good-sense, had fled.



Youth's fun-making and youth's rage for mere action, even if inept, had the lead.

William Crooks, an American of the old bound-to-win-out, "over-the-mountains" stock, had united his fortune with a buxom wife back in his native state; and after tacking and veering their prairie-schooner to Kansas, they had settled in a little house near the north woods, with such belongings as delight thrifty soil-dwellers gathered about them.

This moonlit night their cottage stood calm and silent. Inside Mr. and Mrs. Crooks were sleeping the sleep of tired muscles and peace of mind; and on their perches in an outhouse hard by sat the lady's birds, snugly somnolent, folding wings over twenty to thirty pounds apiece avoirdupois -- fat bronze turkeys, and at this November election-night ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas markets.

A roost so remote from the main road had little need of padlock. Any one might take the pin from the post and swing back the door.

"What's this!"

"A roost!"

"A roost?"

A forayer's hand draws the pin.

"Do I see chickens?" -- looking inside.

"Do I?"

All try to thrust their heads in.

"No, I do not see chickens."



"What do I see?"



"A brace of the birds! What d'ye say?"

"Three would make it surer!"

"A feast!"

"Draw their blood and pledge everlasting war on Grangers."

"Careful! Gemini! Grab their throats so they won't squawk."

The forayers rush up the hill, toward the main-traveled road, hugging the fowls so tight that not a sound could escape their beaks.

"Let's find a place to roast 'em."

"Not round here. What'd we cook 'em in?"

A moment's pause.

"Confound it! What shall we do with the blamed things now we've got 'em? Can n't take 'em to a landlady -- she'd say why this? -- and why that? -- and go off on her ear."

"Got to cook 'em ourselves."

"Cook 'em ourselves! You know a lot about it!"

"Huh! I helped two summers in our Colorado camp."

"Well, then, where?"

Chorus: "Yes, oh-h-h where?"

"I've got it! Donegal, that fellow with grades in zoology -- janitor -- he's in basement of old North



College; probably hasn't had a bite of anything but corn pone and bacon since September."

"Will he keep 'em till to-morrow night, do you think?"

"Gee! By that time we can get bread and things; cook 'em by his stove!"

"A grasshopper sat on a sweet potato vine",

struck up the van entering the main road.

"A sweet potato vine, a sweet potato vine!"

echoed the rear.

"A turkey gobbler waltzed up behind,
And yanked him off that sweet potato vine",

yelled every cub-forayer.

But singing was too poor. They must dramatize the song. One forayer must be a sweet potato vine. Another the grasshopper. Still another must waltz about and, with a great show of a pecking turkey, "yank" the grasshopper off the vine.

In such mental and moral vacuity these students trooped back to Laurel Town, the marvellous moonlight casting their figures on the broad highway in a blackness as dark as their deeds.

Town gained, they made for North College, and by dint of beating on windows roused the student-janitor to half-awake, and left their booty in his hands.

Next night witnessed the sacrifice of the birds.



And barbarians never used more binding rites, each of the company daubing forehead and hand with the victims' blood, pledging and vowing, as our earlier men used, to gird his body with thorns, to go about with shaven, ash-strewn head, and undertake other penance, if he failed in retaliatory vengeance upon all Grangers dismembering his faculty and withholding legislative support of his university.

Oaths sealed and ablutions made, the feast followed -- turkeys, and by their side such dishes as to boys' zestful palates enhanced the meat's lusciousness.

The morning of the evening of this merry-making Mr. Crooks rose early. Mr. Crooks rose early every morning, but now unwonted noises got him out of bed. His wife's turkeys were loose, scratching close by the house.

Every evening, after enjoying the well-balanced supper Mrs. Crooks prepared, Mr. Crooks fastened the roost-door with its pin. He knew he shut the door last night. Yet here the birds were outside their pen.

He surveyed the industrious fowls through the window. "Annabella," he called, buttoning up his waistcoat, "did you say you now have fourteen turkeys?"

"No, seventeen," answered his wife from her milk skimming in the pantry.

"They're all out, and I cann't count but fourteen, returned Mr. Crooks.



Mrs. Crooks hastened to his side, and even after another numbering, and after a searching of the roost and looking in the woods for wanderers, fourteen were all they could muster.

Niggers!" ejaculated Mr. Crooks.'

"Niggers!" echoed Mrs. Crooks.

"I'll get a dog," threatened Mr. Crooks, "If it were the first time those brickyard darkies had swiped a meal from us, I might stand it. Them shoats they stole last July made a mighty fine dinner for their Fourth. A dog'll settle their hash."

"That's the way it always is with everything I have!" weakly wailed Mrs. Crooks, wiping her eyes on a corner of her Kentucky homespun apron, "I never can have things like other people!"

A few days after these happenings, Mr. Crooks came to see Judge Stephens about the rent of more acres. Business done, he sat back in his chair, crossed his legs and told of his wife's loss. So it went. A farmer was the most bedeviled fellow on earth. Everybody tried to skin him, from brokers off in Wall Street to brickyard darkies here in Laurel Town.

Months and months, from the day they hatched, Mrs. Crooks had tended them birds, picking the turkey-chicks out of dew-laden weeds, wrapping them in flannel, stuffing pepper-corns down their throats to ward off deadly chills and keep away the pip. Half of her hatchings always die, for turkeys is



hard to raise; and now, just now, holidays coming on and fowls getting highest market prices, here comes a nigger and picks off the finest three. Mrs. Crooks is just broken-hearted about it; was calculating how her turkey-money would buy her a new winter dress and 'low her to send a Christmas present to the folks back in Kaintucky.

So Mr. Crooks went on, conscious he was meeting sympathy. He knew many shoats and turkeys and chickens went off from our barns between sunset and sunrise, and never came back. Still the Judge listened in silence. He had on his thinking-cap -- but he always had on that.

What was the celebration to which certain students, who often visited us, had invited a scion of the house the night after election? Why had the young freshman told nothing about where he had been and what he had done? Commonly he was fond of rehearsing his merrymakings. But of this not a word.

Then why had he said at dinner, only the night before, "Turkey's good; but there is such a thing as seeing too much of it?"

Again, what was the new badge he was wearing with evident satisfaction, in the way Greek letter societies wear their pins? What did the cross patée and its letters conceal? T -- Turkey? Eh? C -- Catchers -- Crusaders? Looks that way. Had a band of students leagued for some purpose? What purpose? So-



cial? Could it have any other incentive? Who but they knew!

When the family met at next meal, the Judge asked about the cross dangling from a bit of red ribbon.

"Oh, T. C.'s a new secret society."

"Who are the members?"

Odd! The very students hotly interested in politics and vigorously defensive of the university against Grangerism!

"Did the boys take the Grangers' victory at the polls much to heart?"

"Oh, they're getting used to it by this time" -- here an ill-concealed smile.

"Do they still think the Grangers will wipe the university off the state's educational map?"

"They don't know yet."

Every answer fenced off definite information. To an expert reasoner, clever in examining witnesses, one with so native a gift at reading human nature, a freshman may tell more than he thinks he does. The history, or mystery, of Mrs. Crooks' turkeys cleared to definite narrative.

The Judge talked the matter over with the Good Genius of our household and determined upon trying to recall the lightminded young rogues to sense of, and reverence for, law. And wishing to do this in a way they should not forget, he sent the fraternity word that he had heard of its foundation and had interest



in its development--would the members, therefore, take supper with him on a certain Friday evening?

The young rascals confessed they felt flattered by so speedy a recognition of their union, and every son of them showed his estimate by coming on the night named.

Flushed in face from their long walk in the raw November air, they grouped about a blazing fire, and their host, standing with arm on the shelf of the chimney piece told stories in the captivating, story-telling way he had. The boys seemed delighted -- these were true human relations, a masterly, white-haired man extending the hand of fellowship to their untriedness in life.

Supper announced, the company filed into the dining room. The Judge took the head of the table. In front of him a huge turkey lay upon a platter, and midway, and at the table's foot, rested its fellows, smoking, fresh from the oven.

But before he fell to the old-fashioned gentleman's carving of the fowl in front of him, the host paused and began telling how he had noted that the fraternity had its birth about the day of the Grangers' victory -- in fact he connected its foundation with a story Neighbor Crooks, who lived over by his north woods had told him. The badge of the society seemed, moreover, to confirm his reasoning. And now he had invited the members to sup with him in hope of for once satisfy-



ing their inordinate craving for the sustenance before them.

Still further, he wanted to say that if ever again they needed the flesh of their totem for any T. C. Orgies, they should come to him, and he would furnish it; but he begged them never again to stoop to robberies, or to any breaking of the law, even in sport.

He added that their raid on Mrs. Crook's roost had deprived the dame of pin-money, and upon his concluding the thieves were not unlightened, brickyard darkies, but enlightened university students!!! -- he had sent her full value for the turkeys they had taken.

At sight of the big, trussed birds lying quite alone upon the table, that is, with neither sauces nor vegetables commonly served with the meat, and at the beginning of the talk, T. C. faces showed confusion and consternation. But as the Judge went on, what he said making clear his interest and affection and the humor that irradiated his life, the boys recovered their color and poise, and his speech ended amid their self-convicting laughter and applause and cries of "We'll come to you!"

In those days many merry dinners and suppers consorted with my Mother's table. Of all this T. C.'s' was the jovialest. The forayers had so good a time, in fact, that after midnight adieus and they had got almost to the big ravine on their star-lit walk to Laurel



Town, they turned and came back to sing under our windows.

"This supper broke up the society," wrote Professor Robinson in his "Reminiscences," "the Turkey Crusaders disbanded and their badges were seen no more."

Previous  next
KanColl  Return to Books