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Covered Wagon Trip
to Kansas in 1868
By Mrs. Eleanor “Nellie” Serepta (Fisher) Baldwin
Following is the story of the Baldwin family, as written by Mrs.
Henry Baldwin for Mrs. Ida Collister, and brought to the Ottawa County
Historical Society by Mrs. Collister’s niece, Mrs. Edgar Goodfellow, nee
We found that Uncle had erected a frame hotel (** apparently in St. Mary's **), and we camped on his premises, unloaded part of our goods, and thought we would stay till we got a letter from Newton. We had heard of so much trouble from the Indians, that we wanted news from the front before we went further. We stayed there a week, and those Pottawatomies made the nights hideous with their yells, and running around us, jingling irons, or shooting their revolvers. It seemed to me the whole population were always awake, and took special delight in keeping us awake also. If I got partly to sleep, I would awake, fearful and trembling.
The government had just paid what they called “head money”, i.e. every man, woman, and child of their tribe had received $600 each, and so they became citizens at that time. The people had come in, anticipating this, and had determined to get all they could of this “head money”. They sold them large quantities of bad whiskey, and so they were on a “spree” nearly all of the time. We had no place to escape their noise, and disturbance. Through the day, they were looking over our belongings, but, strange to say, they never took anything away. After a week’s stay, and no letters, we started once more on our journey. I wanted to go back, of course. I thought if the Indians who were supposed to be civilized, were so bad, I did not want any acquaintance with the uncivilized. But Husband said, “I shall go until I find Brother Newt, or learn what has become of him”. I thought they were all killed on First Creek, so it was with a heavy heart we started out.
After leaving Solomon City, the country looked so wild and dreary. (** Editor’s note: It looks like they took a route very close to present day Interstate 70. There is a present day Solomon, on I-70, about 10 miles west of Abilene.**) I can’t remember of seeing but very few houses along the way. All that told us of the nice town that now is, was a sign, painted “Bennington”. (**Editor’s note: Bennington is about 20 miles north and west of Solomon, about 10 miles straight north of Salina. It looks they may have traveled along the Solomon River. **) It looked to me like a joke. Near here we saw a “dugout”, the first we had seen. It had no window, and the place left for a door, had a big, dirty rag hung up in front of it. Along there, somewhere, we met a man, who said his name was Dalrymple. He told us many stories of Kansas, and we thought some of them were decidedly “fishy”, but we lived to find most of them were true, especially about the “hot winds”. Another sign, farther on, said that place was “Lindsay”. When we got to Minneapolis we were offered two fine lots, if we would build and live there. (**Editors note: Minneapolis is about four miles north of Bennington and a mile west.) Oh my, I did want to stop right there, and not go one step nearer First Creek, but Husband said he was going to get a claim, but if I wished, he would build a house for me there, and I could stay till all danger from the Indians was over, and he would batch, but I would not do that.
I believe the only frame house in Minneapolis, was one built by Joe Smith’s father, which he used as a store building, and had stocked with a small quantity of drygoods, groceries, etc. There were perhaps, three or four log houses, and some “dugouts”, along the river banks. At that time, it seemed hardly possible that Minneapolis would ever become the beautiful town it now is.
After leaving Mr. Gard’s place, there was not a building to be seen, until we got to First Creek. Near the crossing a log house was standing, and, as we looked, a woman’s face partially appeared around the corner. It was Mrs. Tom Cullen. On the west side was another log house, and I saw within, a woman holding a baby on her lap. The woman was Mrs. Elijah Grace and the baby was Ed Grace, who lives near Ada. (** Editor’s note: Ada is about 4 miles west of Minneapolis. **)
We arrived at Newton’s all right, about the 8th of October, and I shall always remember the hearty welcome we received. That night, we feasted on buffalo meat, (for the first time), and Johnny cake. We had only been with them a week, when John Lancaster came to us, in the night, I think, and told us the Indians had been making trouble again, and the settlers thought best to go back east a ways, and stay there through the winter as there was nothing to be done on their claims at that time of year. So, Brother Newt’s family, Frank Ross, John Lancaster, and our own family, went back as far as St. Mary’s. (** Editor’s note: St. Mary’s is on today’s Highway 24, about 20 miles west and a touch north of Topeka. This means they traveled back about 80 miles by wagon. **) Uncle’s house was just as we left it, and we saw many dreary days before we were sheltered from the winds. The men worked with a will, and in time, Sister Allie and I each had a bedroom, and one room for a kitchen. On the morning of the 17th of December, a little baby girl came to us, and we called her Minnie. She lives at Ada now and is the wife of Dr. W. H. Lee. We, then, had three little girls. The oldest one, Mrs. Mattie Brewster, who died last November (Nov. 4, 1908).
The night after Minnie was born, the Indians had a dance in the hall over our heads. About midnight, they came into the kitchen for refreshments. One young Indian leaned against my bedroom door. It flew open, and he fell, full length on the floor in front of my bed. The surprise was mutual, and I believe he was as badly frightened as I was.
The proprietors of the hotel set up a saloon, in one of the front rooms, down stairs, where they sold all kinds of drinks, raisins, candy, sardines, and such things as Indians like best. One night a fellow wanted whiskey. Everyone was in bed, so he could not be accommodated. He was very angry, and fired off his revolver. The bullet lodged in the studding at the head of Sister Allie’s bed. If that piece of studding had not been there, she would have been killed. (**Editor’s note – I believe Sister Allie refers to Newton Baldwin’s wife: Alcena (Ross) Baldwin.**)
Those Indians did not seem to think about the rights of others at all. It was amusing to see them grab John Lancaster’s hat, (which was a pretty good one), clap it on their heads, and as they did so, would say, “Mine”, and make for the door. John would up, and after them, grab his hat and put it on his head, and say “Mine”. What we passed through that winter, would fill a volume.
The first of February, we moved back to First Creek, and soon rented Joe Kessler’s place on Spring Creek, and lived with him that year. As the spring of 1869 opened, the Indians began making trouble, and we were in constant fear. If one man had to go to help a neighbor with a day’s work, he had to take the whole family along. As the season advanced, we heard more of their depredations on the Saline.
And now I am going to tell you of an Indian scare which seemed, at first, the real thing. Near Mr. Kessler’s house, was a hill, which he called “Lookout”, because he could see so far. He always went up there after supper to “View the landscape over”, to see if there was any sign of Indians. He went up one evening, as usual, but he stayed so long, and seemed to be looking so intently, that one after another went up on the “lookout”, and they all stayed, till we began to feel they saw something unusual. After a while one came down and told us (Brother Newton had moved there with his family for safety) that we had better go inside the dugout, and make everything as secure as possible. There were nine men, coming on horseback, and they rode like Indians. My husband gave me his double-barreled shotgun. It was ready for instant use. We took a sharp axe inside, also, and then fastened the door. The children were put on the bed, as far back as possible. (Sister Allie had one boy, Edgar, who now lives near Delphos). The horsemen were making for the ford, a short distance from the house. They were all satisfied they were Indians now, and made up their minds to hide in the brush by the road, and pick them off, as they came along. I could never tell the awful sensation that came over me, when I knew the men were all gone from the house. We were terribly afraid, but fear gave me strength, and although I chilled as badly as if I had the ague, I felt I had the strength of ten. With Sister Allie, it was different. It seemed as if she was hardly able to get breath, and her strength almost failed her. We waited in silence, not daring to speak. It was something awful. I remember yet, just where I stood, ready to raise the shotgun or the axe, if necessary. After what seemed to us an awfully long time, we heard, instead of the crack of their revolvers, talking and laughing, and soon they were at the door. We neither cried, nor fainted, but there came a terrible reaction, and a great thankfulness came over me, to think they were not Indians. They were soldiers, on their way from Fort Har - - - to Asherville. Had lost their way, and thought they could find a place to stay, so had turned in that way. The day had been a hard one, and I thought I was tired before the scare, but I made biscuits, and made coffee for the hungry soldiers, and was glad to do it. We felt safe that night, for they camped in our yard.
One day, about noon, Mrs. Margaret Wormser came bareheaded, crying, and carrying Robert. She said we would all be killed, that the Indians had made a raid on the Saline, and other places, and there were about 40 killed and wounded, and taken prisoners. Mr. Kessler thought the danger over for the present, but to be safe, the neighbors came to our place that night, and we made beds all over the floor, for the women and children, in our dugout. The men stayed in Mr. Kessler’s frame house. Next day, they all went home, but I believe the men planned, that day, to build a stockade all around the buildings, except the stables. They were too far away. And all who wanted to, could move inside till there were better times. John Lancaster tore down his log cabin, and brought it over. It was set up for the use of Mr. Grace’s family, inside the stockade.
The 11th of June, a little boy came, to help keep away the Indians, the son of Newton and Allie Baldwin. They named him Francis, but we call him Frank, and he is our neighbor. I often went out to see if my husband and Mr. Kessler were having trouble. They always went well armed, when out in the field, but there was a constant fear and dread with me, and all who lived on the front at that time understand about it, but we were never molested. There was ever a watchfulness among the men.
Towards fall, those who had come for refuge, to us, inside the stockade, returned to their homes. My husband came up from the creek one day, and said he saw what seemed to be hundreds of snakes, done up in a ball, as big as a large bucket, their heads sticking out in every direction. They were probably water snakes, and crawled up on an old log, to sun themselves.
The first of February, 1870, we moved on the claim, where we yet live. One day in the summer, Minnie came to the door, with big eyes, and excitement written all over her face. She had not commenced talking yet, but made signs and little noises, trying to get me to go with her. She took me a little from the house, and there was the dog, barking on one side a huge rattlesnake, that had raised himself about 2 feet high, and on the other side was the cat, standing on her hind feet, just as high as she could raise herself and it seemed she could not take her eyes from the snake. My husband came with his rifle, and put an end to the snake's existence. Years later, we had potatoes buried in a hole, in a bank near the house. I sent one of the little girls for some potatoes, and she came back and said she didn’t want to go in there, she saw snake’s eyes, but I told her I did not think there were any snakes in there, she had better go, and get the potatoes. She went again, but came back soon, and said “I do see snake’s eyes, and I’m afraid to go in”. So, when her papa came, I told him, he went and looked in, and he said he believed it was snake’s eyes. He took a long pole, and jammed it in, and something grabbed hold of the end. He drew a big rattle snake out and killed it.
Well, the Indians don’t bother us any more, and rattle snakes are not as numerous as formerly, for which we are very thankful.
Signed: Mrs. Henry Baldwin”
Editor’s Note: Mrs. Henry Baldwin was Eleanor Serepta Fisher, known as both Nellie and Ellen. She was born in 1843 in Vermont, moved with Henry Gilbert Baldwin to Iowa after the Civil War and then, moved onto Kansas in 1868, one of the early pioneers of Ottawa Co, KS. She died in 1924 near, Ada, Kansas.
County, Kansas Genealogy Page - GenWeb, which includes:
History of Ottawa County, Kansas, Blacmar
The GenWeb Page for Delaware County, Iowa, where Sand Springs (their starting point) is located.
The fear these settlers had of Indians was due, in part, to incidents like the Fetterman Massacre, which happened in 1866, just two years before their migration to Kansas.
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This quoted article has passed into the public domain. Please cite the source for any use. Otherwise, Copyright 1997 Norris Taylor