This week we get a look at early Morris County as told by Samuel C. Scott, son of J.P. who we’ve read about previously. Sam was born on the family farm north of Council Grove July 2nd, 1875.
Sam is very good about representing life on the farm at the end of the nineteenth century. When Sam was very young, he and his father went to Enterprise to have some wool carded. He tells how his mother would spin wool and make socks for the kids. He also tells of his mother making straw hats for them. While Sam and his sister were out herding cattle one day, a storm came up and blew his rye straw hat away. A cow snatched it up and devoured it, so he went without for the rest of the summer. Another early recollection of his, was accompanying father on a trip to Parkerville. They went to buy leather harness for the big black mules Jack and Joe. John Moser was the harness maker, and he presented young Sam with a strip of leather that he played with as a whip.
Sam tells us that he remembers seeing the ‘Pottawatomie’ Indians camped on the S.S. Snodgrass farm north of Council Grove. These were not the Pottawatomie, but the Ponca Indians. I am quite amazed at Sam’s memory; he would have been less than two years old at the time. The Ponca were the last of the Indian tribes to be moved to Indian Territory. About 150 of the tribe came through Council Grove in late May of 1877. The remainder of the group, about 550, came through a month later and camped on Little John Creek close to where the Allegawaho Memorial Park is located south of Council Grove. I’m afraid I can’t reconcile the differences in Scott’s history and other historical accounts. Most likely, Scott is a bit off target on his recollections, the numbers are about right, but the location is wrong. Scott says, “Dogs I never saw so many in my life. They were a hard looking bunch, poor ponies… when they departed the women with the young ‘papoose’ rode on a rig consisting of a pole on each side of a pony, back end dragging the ground. A few old skins and blankets hung across these poles on which was perched the mother and child…I can remember [three?] Indians sitting on their ponies for hours looking down at our old shack.”
Sam relates some stories that the old timers told him about the grasshopper plague, as it happened before he was born. Sam Pierson lived up north of town on Munkres Creek. He came to town during the siege of grasshoppers. When asked if there were many up his way he replied, “Gosh, yes, thousands and millions of um. Yes by gum, units of them.” Many folks complained of holes being eaten in their hoe handles and other hand tools. Mr. Pierson said they had ruined a good log chain of his. An Irishman, Frank Doran, went to run the hoppers off of his cabbage patch. He tripped and fell on a clod of dirt and before he could get up, the hoppers had eaten holes in the back of his pants. Peter Clarke witnessed an extra big hopper sitting up on a cottonwood limb and acting as brigadier general. He waived the rest of the army on to Bumgarner’s field.
Scott also relates, “Wells Brand said the hoppers sure showed him up to his neighbors by leaving the weeds all stand and going into John T. Sharp’s field of corn.” Also, “George Biglin said an old gobbler ate so many hoppers he had to send for John T. Sharp to operate on said turkey. Sharp’s testimony in the case was that the old gobbler had eaten about three bushels of them.”
My favorite story related by S.C. Scott was told to him by Mr. Charles T. Forster. This event happened in 1875. Forster’s family tended cattle, and in those days Morris County allowed stock to roam free. Fields and gardens were fenced in, and folks had to herd their cattle. There was a calf that the Forster’s turned out with the mother to graze. For some unknown reason the calf was starving. When young Forester went out to herd the cattle one day he came across an astonishing scene. “On approaching the herd he noticed the big white cow standing in a peculiar style and as he drew near he could see two large bull snakes sucking the cow and two steers were horning and pawing at the snakes. The snakes released their hold on the cow’s teats and began to wind around the steers front leg and neck and in a short time had the steer down. So now was the time to interfere, the ox whip was plied (sic) so fiercely that the snakes released and disappeared in the tall blue stem grass. However, the cause of the calf’s leanness was found.”
Scott shares his own encounter with the snakes of Morris County. “I remember when I was fourteen years old my brother R.C. (Dick) and myself were out trying to locate a wolf’s den, it was between sundown and dark. He had an old army musket and I had a bow and arrow. I got tired and laid down in a slough of high grass about one-fourth of a mile from where the snakes had encountered the steers and cow, but some fourteen years after. I was rolling around and first thing I knew a big snake got around my body. I got up and started screaming and running towards Dick. I could see the snakes head dangling in front of me and I ran and clawed with both hands. I soon saw my brother coming toward me, the snake had released and fallen to the ground. We looked afterward for the reptile but never could find it.”
Among other snake records of Morris County, Scott says his father J.P. killed a timber rattle snake that had twenty-nine rattles. Mr. McGoldrich and C.T. Forster were reported to have killed a snake that measured seventeen feet six inches in length. This monster was caught in Council Grove northwest of Frank Flemings produce house.
S.C. shares one of the dangers the early settlers had to fear. “A great prairie fire was raging from the north coming down the divide between Munkres Creek and Short Creek and a gentleman of Kentucky stock lived on a farm at the intersection of these two streams by the name of Warren Johnson. He was one of the men that came to Morris County in the early ’50s and had some real pioneering. But a young man living up the divide was much alarmed at the fire and mounted on a pony started south yelling, “fire, fire” as he passed the settlers shacks. He finally reached the Johnson homestead and rode up shouting, “fire, fire.” Being about ten o’clock at night he could not see the clothes line which caught him fair under the chin and hurled him ten feet in the air. He lit yelling, “My God Johnson, I’m killed. I’m killed.” Johnson who had stepped out on hearing cries of fire, said, in a stern tone of voice, “You’re making a hell of a fuss for a dead man.”
Here’s one of the recollections of Scott while in Council Grove. “I remember entering the little city of Council Grove just when Mr. Virgil Roberts was having considerable trouble getting the ‘Old Mule’ to take him and the street car up the grade going west on the bridge. He and the mule had trouble and the mule turned around and gave him the ‘Mule Daugh.’ However, Mr. Roberts finally mastered the situation and with some help got in on the schedule time, no damage or loss except Mr. Roberts ‘cud’ of tobacco.” Scott gives the impression that the street car was a flop. Therefore, the mule and car was sold to Strong City, where I’m sure it was every bit as successful.
S.C. wrote a biography on his brother J.P. Jr. A story is mentioned in this biography that I have found nowhere else. It claims that B.R. Scott and a Mr. Munkres owned a butcher shop in Council Grove. There was a Frenchman employed as butcher. Two Kaw Indians came in and placed the butcher’s head on the chopping block and removed it for him. The two Indians were then hung from the bridge spanning the Neosho. So goes the story. To date Ken McClintock and I are not aware of B.R. having owned a butcher shop. And what’s more perplexing, decapitation is very out of character for the Kaw. If this did in fact happen, it had to have been between 1869 and ‘73. It’s possible it could have been Indians from a different tribe, or perhaps it was just blamed on the Indians. Until we can find more substantial evidence supporting this story, all we can do is wonder.