Clara Arcela Kitch's sister, Mrs. Joshua B. Brown (10/16/1865-6/7/1949), spoke to the Pawnee County Historical Society on June 6, 1946 about their Westward Trek as one of the Pioneers of the 1880s (actually 1886.) Also see the Kansas Pioneers page for other Kansas Pioneers.
Following is her address to this group:
Told by her pioneer families By Mrs. Joshua B. Brown (Cora Kitch )
I am not a pioneer of the '70s. But I am a pioneer of the '80s. A pioneer in every sense of the word. We found the western part of Pawnee county in which we settled in 1886, a treeless prairie covered with native grass with here and there a low sod house, stable and corral to break the landscape.
Being so far from a town or railroad, this part of the county was still in its pioneer stage. But little farming was done except on strips for fireguards. Fireguards were strips of land twenty or thirty feet wide, plowed for protection against the prairie fires which were a constant menace to the safety of the settlers and their stock. I came to Pawnee county in November, 1886 with my parents, Samuel Axtel Kitch and Julia Ann Kitch. three sisters and two brothers, from near Shelbyville Illinois. My oldest brother, William Anderson Kitch, had taken a claim here in 1883 and it was to his sod shanty we first came.
In March following my father bought the relinquishment of Hans Martinson two miles east of my brother's place. This was the northwest quarter of section four in North Grant township now Lincoln township.
We built a sod house of four rooms moved in and established our home which continued to be the family home until two years after our father's death in 1903. But in 1897 father bought the William H. Scott house in Larned and moved it to the farm which then became the family residence. This homestead with land around it is still in possession of the family. My mother left the homestead two years after my father's death, and built a home near me northeast of Larned where she died in 1910.
We had fine neighbors and soon made friends. with them. Being so isolated they were eager to welcome all who came to settle permanently especially if they had something to offer for community betterment and they did all they could to keep us from being lonely. We found many dear families living in sod houses and dugouts with warm hearts and a hearty welcome for the newcomers.
The Lawrences, the Uhlands, Groves, Vaughns, Smiths, Gings, Ewells, Gleasons, Blackwells, Kings, many of them and their children have been our lifelong friends. No period of my life is filled with happier memories than those years spent on the treeless prairies of western Pawnee county. By the time we arrived in 1886 many of the earlier settlers had proven up on their claims or sold their rights and gone back east to home and friends or moved to Larned which was then in its boom days. Burdett and Garfield were flourishing villages and also got their share of those leaving their claims.
The principal industry in those early days was raising cattle. Buffalo grass furnished grazing for the feed in winter as well as summer. But some cut a few small stacks of prairie hay which they placed near the corral to use if snow covered the prairie as it had the preceding winter.
The hardships and suffering and loss in the terrible blizzard of January 1886 was fresh in the minds of the settlers and as winter approached they had taken all precautions to prepare for an emergency. The pile of coal and kindling close by the door, and the careful stowing away of every needed article in some sod shelter told of their anxiety. In talking with them the newcomer got many details of that 'never to be forgotten storm which began raging New Years eve, became less, violent for a few days ,then started with increasing fury about nine o'clock the eve of January 6th, .culminating on the sixth, the worst day of the storm to cover everything with snow and ice. These dates have been confusing. There has been much discussion as to the real date of the big blizzard. Some counted that the one big blizzard extended from New Years Eve up to and including January sixth, while others count that the big blizzard was the last day of the storm January sixth, when it grew so cold that one could scarcely venture out.
My husband and other young folks in the neighborhood were at a New Year's Eve party at the J. H. Carpenter home which stood just across the street south from the old W. P. Peter home. The storm began shortly after midnight, but having a plainly marked road they all succeeded in getting home. But at the J. P. Kelly where Joe Lewis now lives another party of friends, many from Larned, were afraid to venture out in the storm because the trail -not a road- to Larned was not plainly enough marked. Mrs. Kelly told me that all the floors in their home were covered with sleepers rolled up in blankets. But the next day they all succeeded in reaching home.
When my brother came out in 1883 he got his mail at Harmony post office. Three years later when we came, Birdsnest post office had been established and we got our mail there. 'Birdsnest" was so named because so many sparrows made their home on the roof of the long low sod building that housed the post office. This building was three rooms in length. One end was a shelter for the horses, cows and chickens. The other end was the family home and post office.
Mr. Ewell was the postmaster, also mail carrier and went to Burdett twice a week for the mail. After a few years about 1889 or 1890, Mr. Ewell and his family moved away and the Birdsnest post office was discontinued. Then the Harmony post office kept by Mr. Prudham was moved two miles west, to the Pfenninger home to accommodate a larger community.
S. A. Kitch, my father, then carried the mail from Burdett to Harmony until the route was changed, when he carried it from Rush Center to Harmony. Harmony post office served a large community until the introduction of Rural Free Delivery. There was no school within walking distance of most of the neighborhood children. The five young Kitch children of grade school age made more than the required number to organize a school district. The necessary steps were taken and School District No. 61 was organized. Before a schoolhouse could be built a six weeks term with George Lawrence as teacher was held in a room at the Lawrence home. George Lawrence was the first clerk and S. A. Kitch the first treasurer of the school district.
One day in August 1887 my sister Edith, Mrs. Cassius O. Hoag, who lives at Pleasanton, Kansas and I drove to Larned, got our wagon loaded at the Mize lumber yard with everything necessary including a door and windows for the new sod school house that was to be built in District No. 61. We put our team in the livery barn, and early the next morning started with our heavily loaded wagon on the more than thirty mile drive in the hot August sun to the schoolhouse site. We ate our lunch sitting on top of the load and watered our weary team at the home of Mr. Prudham and by sunset had reached the schoolhouse site where we unhitched and walked with the team the mile to our home tired and dirty, but glad for the opportunity to be of service in community development and happy in the thought that we had a definite part in pioneering.
There were but few laid out roads in those days. Almost the entire way to Larned was an angling trail over the buffalo grass except for a few miles east and west past the ten mile house, Watson's, later the Struthers home, past John R. Smith's, the Tiny school house past Bowers and Sippels. These few miles of laid out road was given the dignified name of New York Avenue.
By October the school house was finished and I opened school with thirteen pupils. In a few weeks a Sunday school was organized in the sod school house although for a while the preceding summer we had had Sunday school as well as day school in the Lawrence home. The Sunday following the organization as we were walking up the slope to the school house the young man who had been elected secretary said, "I have my report for last Sunday all ready except a name for our school house. What shall it be?"
The building was on a Ridge, and feeling our Sunday school was a real mission to the folks there I said, "Let's call it Mission Ridge," he stopped and wrote the name at the head of his report. When it was read the name was enthusiastically adopted. Mission Ridge Sunday school soon became the center for a large community. Later the school was made very happy by having the son of the great Bishop Thoburn of India organize a church there. Later this church group with the help of kind friends built a church, Burns Chapel on my brother's land and church services and Sunday school were moved from Mission Ridge which by that time had become a frame building. When the school district was divided and High Point school house built, Mission Ridge was moved one half mile west and one mile south where it still stands. When the large pioneer families were grown and scattered and automobiles made it possible to attend church further away, Burns Chapel was sold to the township for a public center and the name changed to Lincoln Hall and is in use now. I repeat "No period of my life is filled with more happy memories than the years spent on the treeless prairies of western Pawnee county.
The following winter in 1888-1889, I taught school in District No. 58, the Gem. May 1, 1889 I was married to Joshua B. Brown in the sod house of my parents. After a brief trip to Missouri to visit his parents we began housekeeping one and one half miles northeast of Larned in the home where my husband had lived since 1876 where we have lived ever since and is still the family home.