Marshall County’s Pioneers

Back in 1855, fifty or so pioneers made their way into what is now known as Marshall County, Kansas. Food was scarce, housing was non-existent. Each of them paid approximately $25 into a general fund for a determined amount of land and agreed to use the money to purchase a steam saw-mill. By 1857, they had their mill.

Daniel Caldwell Auld was one of those pioneers. Born in Pennsylvania, he was raised in Ohio by his Irish immigrant parents. He became the area’s first justice of the peace a year after his arrival in Kansas and his home also served as the second post office ever established in Marshall County. His son, William, took over as postmaster when Daniel Auld joined the army. A staunch union man, he fought many battles in the Civil War and returned home to serve in the legislature and help Kansas become a state.

And here is where my ignorance of pioneer statehood comes to light: Kansans fought ardently to make theirs a “Free State”, the very opposite of the bloodthirsty pro-slavery agenda being carried out by Missourians just across the border.  It turns out Kansans had no intention of creating a Free State for blacks escaping or being released from their lives of brutal slavery in the South. What they really wanted was a Free State for free white people who saw no good in getting politically involved in the slavery issue.

This changes my original feelings for Mr. Daniel Auld, who I spent a week or so believing was an do-gooder abolitionist, but I live a relatively comfortable life 150 years after the fact, so…I can’t judge. Besides, who’s to say back then that having no involvement in the slavery feud was just as bad as, or worse than, being pro-slavery? Was there a difference? Ah, questions for another day.

By now you may be wondering why in the world I’m rambling on about Kansas, the Auld family, and legislative issues from the 1860s. If it helps you at all, I am, too! My story about Marshall County, Kansas, wasn’t supposed to go in this direction but, as you may sometimes notice, I get excited about historical facts that nobody else cares about in the hopes that you will eventually care about them.

It all started with this book my husband purchased a few years ago for $10 at a local antique shop:

Vermillion KS 1866 school bond records

…which led me to me getting all weird about holding in my hands a record book that came to life a year after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination!  

Vermillion KS 1866 school bond records

Vermillion KS 1866 school bond records

The pages of this record book hold school board minutes beginning in 1866 and document who paid their school bonds on time, in full, and who still owed on a payment plan. Daniel’s son, William, was elected to be the Superintendent of the school district they were trying to create and signed off on many a paragraph closing the meetings and passing directions to others. The surnames Barrett, Raiden, Strong, and, of course, Auld are prominent (as were their families in local matters, I have come to learn).  I’m afraid to keep perusing through the book because the fragile pages are beginning to slip from their binding, so I tried my best to make mental notes and employ my usually useful photographic memory to retell what the majority of the pages really hold: recipes and oddly placed bits on how to survive pioneer life.

There are recipes for everything – I lost count of how many types of bread these people baked – and I am utterly confused by the recipe instructions, so Matt and I got a good laugh at the final step for a lot of them, which is to “toss it into the quick oven”. What does that even mean? I need temperatures and measurements to work with, times for which to let the breads bake, and where does one even find lard these days?

Household tips include burning brown sugar bits on charcoals inside your room (“room” was underlined emphatically!!!!!!) to ward off mosquitoes. And if your child is suffering from croup, tie a handkerchief tightly around his neck (but not too tightly) after soaking the cloth in various “vapors”. Uh…what?

And here’s another gem found on a page explaining how to remove stains from one’s silk square pieces (handkerchiefs?) – a tip to treat cholera (is the acid phosphate sold in the same place I can find lard?).

Vermillion KS 1866 school bond records

Matt and I decided to donate the record book to Marshall County’s Historical Society, a small volunteer-run organization that is only open for phone calls three hours a day. I got so excited that I called early and left a message. A nice woman named Ms. Skinner called me back while I was making dinner, long after the three hour window had closed. When I told her the book was from 1866 and rattled off some of the names listed inside, she sounded genuinely shocked and said, “1866? That was before anything!” She took our names to give us credit for the donation and told me to ship it to her at my convenience.

I thought a little this morning about the name Skinner, because it didn’t show up in the record book at all. Marshall County, Kansas, is home to a tiny population of 10,000 and it’s unlikely (according to my amateur observations) that someone would live there unless they had always lived there, at least in the family name. If I am correct, which I think I am, Ms. Skinner is somehow related to one half of the publishing firm Brice & Skinner who distributed a local weekly called the Blue Rapids Times. The paper made its debut in July of 1871 and still runs today.

Maybe Matt and I will be mentioned in it!

Isaac and Me

Jones, Oklahoma

Jones, Oklahoma

My family is a hardy bunch of contemporary Midwesterners and Floridians whose ancestors emigrated from England and Prussia over 350 years ago. One of the first of our kind to land in America, John Throckmorton, helped to establish the first Baptist church in the country in Salem, Massachusetts with Roger Williams before going on to found the city of Providence, Rhode Island. Ambitious man, apparently. Another of my ancestors served in the 1st Ohio Regiment during the Civil War and fought in the Battle of Shiloh, among many other battles over his three years of service. This is only a smidgen of the history I have found in my Dickensheets family tree.

Throckmorton? Dickensheets? (Don’t forget my Bieber lineage!) Go ahead, poke fun all you want at my family names, but know this – I have castles named after me in England! Moving on…

Most of my family, from centuries past and until now, is settled in Northern Wisconsin and Southeastern Ohio (only in recent decades have some of us headed south to Florida). There is a distant connection to the Ingalls family of Little House fame by way of my grandmother by marriage, but besides that most of our kind have stayed east of the Mississippi River with the exception of my daughter and me. However, a few weeks ago, my brother informed me that we were not, in fact, the first of our family to head this way…out here to Oklahoma.

Introducing Isaac Wentz – a grandson of the first Dickensheets to arrive here in America!

Wentz Family - my Oklahoma history

On Saturday, a friend and I took a drive out to Jones, Oklahoma, where Isaac and his wife are buried. It is only about 25 minutes away from my house in Oklahoma City but I found it a bit comforting that others in my family tree are nearby. So what if they’re dead?

The weather was a bit chilly but the sun was out, making it a near-perfect way to spend an afternoon in an old graveyard. I haven’t enjoyed a good old cemetery stroll since the last time I visited Savannah, Georgia. And no, the Jones IOOF Cemetery is hardly an elaborate showcase of burial vaults and historical markers, but the headstones served enough purpose to at least make me want to know more about these people who were alive when Oklahoma was only a territory, not even yet a state.

Did Isaac come to Oklahoma for something or to escape something back East where most of his siblings remained (good ol’ Grandpa Dickensheets had amended his will out of resentment, though I don’t know if Isaac or his mother were affected)? And why did he decide to settle in the small town of Jones? The Oklahoma Land Run took place long after Isaac was already established here with his wife and children. I know so little (read: nothing) about the history of Oklahoma, especially this region, and can’t imagine what could possibly make life so appealing here at the time.

Yet Isaac and I have at least something in common with each other – we’ve both left our families and all we know back East to make a life of adventure in the wild, wild West (even if my adventures really only consist of visiting long-lost relatives in nearby rural Oklahoma cemeteries).

Wentz Family - my Oklahoma history

Wentz Family - my Oklahoma history