When I began writing for the paper it was my intention to cover history in all of Morris County, not just Council Grove. Part of the reason for being stuck in the Grove is that the Council Grove papers are all that I’ve had access to, besides that I am always finding great stuff in them. I am pleased to inform you that the Historical Society will soon get the papers from other towns moved over to the archives and when they are here I can assure you I will dive right in.
For my first historical sketch outside of the Grove I am going to head out west, Far West. This is something we need to clear up as best we can first off. If you have ever taken a look at some old maps of Morris County you may have noticed Far West. I had always been under the assumption that Far West was the same as Latimer. As it turns out it is not, yet was very close. Far West was a Post Office located in Section 15 of Clarks Creek Township in 1887. Latimer is in Section 23 of the same Township, roughly a half mile south-east of the Post Office. There is one plat extant that shows Far West platted out in 1887 as a town on the south side of the tracks opposite Latimer. The only explanation that I can come up with is that an effort was made to establish Far West, but it never came to fruition. In fact, I don’t think it ever so much as budded. Although the maps of the time show Far West and omit Latimer, the former is never mentioned in the following diary, only Latimer or Clark’s Creek. Any reader who may be able to shed some more light on the Latimer/Far West quandary is welcomed to do so.
I have been reading the diary of Susan Hallmark Reeves, thanks to Bob Strom from Parkerville who took the time to transcribe her diary. Susan and her family lived in the Clark’s Creek area (which is near present day Latimer) in the 1880s-90s. I will be perfectly honest, the diary is not a pleasure read. In fact, it is very much like our present day televised soap opera, in that the same stuff happens nearly every day and you can skip through it and miss some episodes and when you next tune in you haven’t missed a thing. For those who have the patience to read through it, they will be gratified to find what daily life was like in the 1880s and 90s.
Born January 30th, 1869, Susan was 17 years old when she began keeping a diary January 1st, 1887 and she kept it fairly regular till April of 1892. She lived in a very basic and small stone house with her parents Daniel and Clarinda Hallmark, along with two brothers and three sisters. Their home was approximately 4 miles south of White City and three miles east of Parkerville. During the time the diary was being written the family had a new and larger framed house built.
Susan was in the process of becoming a teacher when she started her diary. She had exams to take and she taught at the Burton school house which was about one mile north of her home. From her we learn that school started around 9 o’clock in the morning, or whenever the teacher got there. Sometimes she was late due to weather. School went until about 4 o’clock, sometimes it was let out earlier if few showed up because of poor weather. She writes about going to Council Grove to have examinations that take nearly the whole day, after which she and her friends go shopping in town.
The one thing that I have gleaned from the pages of her diary is that everything anybody has ever said to me about the ‘olden days’ was a lie. If you have ever been told that life way back when was hard work and boring; everyone was isolated and had nothing to do; they didn’t go anywhere because it was too far away and took too long to get there; went to bed early and got up early because all they had to do was work, you have been hoodwinked.
Although I am sure the Hallmark family is not the rule of frontier living; neither are they the exception. The family had a very active social circle. To give you an idea of life in the Clark’s Creek area, church was a very regular and looked forward to activity. Regular prayer meetings were held on Thursday evenings. It appears that the meetings alternated between different homes in the neighborhood. Some church services were held at the school house; otherwise the family went to church in Parkerville or White City. The family usually attended church service Saturday evening, and then Sabbath School at 11:30 on Sunday. The family went back to church again Sunday evening. During Sabbath School Conventions or revivals church services would be held every night of the week for one sometimes two weeks.
Another amusement that the family often partook of was Lyceum. Lyceum is a word we have corrupted from its original Greek. The idea of a secondary schooling having its foundation in ancient times, the Lyceum we know today is a bit different. Through the 19th century to present it has been preserved as an educational institution. It is difficult to tell what took place at Lyceum as Susan never gives details, but it seems that an individual or a group would give a presentation or a reading. Lyceum was held every Wednesday evening in Parkerville. Susan also mentions Literary on the same evening; it is hard to say if Literary was a different gathering or if the two terms were used interchangeably.
The Magic Lantern was another popular form of entertainment of the time. And in a few places Susan mentions going to a Magic Lantern show at the school house or in Parkerville. A magic lantern is a lamp that projects images on the wall, something like our modern slide shows. These lanterns have been around in one form or another for nearly 300 years. The magic lantern made its rounds through the country as a traveling show. I have seen one of these lanterns for sale in an antique store once, and if only I had money to burn! The images are often nature or landscape scenes with four or more pictures on each glass. Some are actual photos of world famous places, some are cartoons and characters, and some even create the sensation of a motion picture. Occasionally local musicians would provide music to go along with the show.
Among the other social gatherings Susan mentions, is dancing. For a time her brother Will went to a dance every Tuesday night at one of the neighbors. When I say neighbors, that may have been three or four miles or more away. Susan more than a few times writes of going to a party at someone’s home where they play games, sew, play music or sing or just talk till one or two in the morning. Music was another recreation in the home. The pump or reed organ must have been a household staple as there was mention of several homes that had one and Susan took lessons from two different instructors in Parkerville.
Now that we have covered all the fun stuff let’s talk about the daily chores. Susan usually tells what time she gets up each morning. At times she may not get up till 8 sometimes 10 o’clock. On the other hand there were times when she was up at 5 or earlier because she could not sleep. When classes were in session she was considerably more punctual. She swept the house every day. Often helped with or prepared the meals. It’s hard to pin down their meal times but it seems dinner was usually at 11 and supper at a late hour but occasionally dinner and supper were combined at about 5 or 6, depending on what the day’s activities were.
Her mother had a loom on which they made rag rugs. This was a very popular past time then and many women did this to use up their old clothes that could no longer be mended and to make a little extra income for the household. Susan mentions evenings where she sewed rags on the machine and mother and father sewed by hand. She also writes that she and the other women were making quilts. Susan had made a crazy quilt. To my surprise (of course what do I know about it) Susan quilted her quilt on the sewing machine! And she broke her needle and had to wait till someone could run to town and get new needles. She also spent much time in learning lace patterns and crocheting lace for her collars. She was very capable of cutting out and sewing her own dresses. Her mother could nearly get a dress cut and finished in one day.
Probably the most monotonous and tedious chore was the laundry. She never complained about doing it other than when company would show up unexpectedly and they would have to hide the laundry till their guests had left. Many times she writes of rubbing the clothes, drying, starching and ironing. They spent a good deal of time ironing.
I read so much about the baking that went on in the Hallmark house that I had a great desire for an apple pie. So, one day after work I went home and made an apple pie to satisfy myself.
Another inconvenience of the times was travel. Not so much that travel was slow or bumpy, that didn’t stop folks from driving miles every night to go do something, or from going into town daily. Sure, they only came to the Grove once or twice a month since it took about three hours to get there, but they might go to White City or Parkerville three or four times a week or more. Or if the whole family didn’t go to town at least one person went keeping the family always supplied with their needs and connected to the latest happenings. High water would put an end to a trip because at that time there were only low water crossings, no bridges had been built yet. If it had been raining for a considerable time you just planned on staying home because there was no way to get across the creek.
Another less enjoyable part of life was dealing with death. Susan mentioned the first time she ever touched a dead person. In those times death was a near and regular visitor. Susan mentions a number of deaths that touched the neighborhood, some from farm accidents and others by sickness. During an epidemic of influenza they lost three neighbors in the space of a week. In the event of a death the neighbors would help with the preparation of the body for burial, and it was at such a time that Susan helped to wash and dress the body of one of their neighbor lady’s.
One household would often furnish the lumber and build a casket and line it with muslin or whatever they might have. Another household would dig the grave and another would wash and dress the body. I might take some time to explain some of the lesser known practices of the old fashioned burial here. Some might find themselves uncomfortable at the following descriptions and are encouraged to skip this paragraph if they are especially queasy with the macabre. Customs differ from region to region, but most practices remain standard. It is always best to prepare the body as soon after death as possible because as soon as rigor mortis sets in it is difficult to wash and dress the body. The body was usually laid out on a board so that it would stiffen in a straight posture. Some have told of breaking bones while trying to position the body for the casket. Silver coins would be place on the eyes to keep them closed. Copper coins were not used as they could leave the skin green. The body would be washed thoroughly and the hair combed. If the deceased did not already have their burial clothes set aside for the day (which was quite often the case), then a neighbor would furnish them. Women would often be buried in a shroud of white. The clothes were cut in the back and tucked around the body to make it easier to dress them. Once the body is placed in the casket it is set on a couple of chairs and a wake is kept. The wake is not so much to make sure the body is dead as most assume, but it is a last show of respect for the person and a time of mourning for friends and family. The burial usually takes place the following day, however it was sometimes put off till longer to allow distant relations to arrive. In such a case the body would have to be kept in a cool room and sometimes cooled with ice.
In the Appalachians it was tradition to ring the church bells when someone died. As soon as a person deceased some one immediately went to a nearby church and rang the bell in observance with the age of the deceased. Folks in a small rural community could pretty well figure out who had died by the number of the bells. Although this could have been done in early Morris County no proof of this practice has ever been found to my knowledge.
One other incident that I must insert here to give us one more look at early burial practices, is the drowning of four children near Parkerville. November 11th, 1879 Thomas Poole sent his son Frank to pick up his other four children at school. The team and wagon crossed Laird’s Creek without any problem on the way to the school. Two neighbor boys by the name of Evans were riding back with the Pooles. When they came back over the creek the water appeared to be the same depth. They entered the creek and while mid-stream a three foot high wall of water hit the wagon throwing the children out. The oldest boy Frank and the two Evans’ boys managed to get out alive. Martha, age 11; Ida, age 8; Clara, age 6 and Walter, age 4 were all drowned along with the horses. The wagon maker in Parkerville made two caskets. Friends of the family lined the caskets and places two girls in one and the other girl and boy in the second. They were taken to the Swartz school house as there had been a few other funerals held there. A hymn was sung and a prayer said and they were buried there. My great, great grandmother’s maiden name was Poole, and I think she had a brother named Ralph. I suspect Thomas is relation but have never been able to make any connexion. If anyone knows anything of the Poole family, or Clara Alzina Poole Varner Miller in particular, I am anxious to know something.
Let’s end on a brighter note. Susan mentions a friend who was to be married and it wasn’t more than two weeks after the announcement was made and they were hitched. Engagements were very short in those times. In fact, in the Mennonite community today short engagements are customary. Well, to draw my story to a close, Susan married her sweetheart Levi Reeves before the end of her diary. They had no children but lived to old age. Aunt Sudie, as she was known, passed from this world in 1967 at the age of 98. And if you care to know more of her family and personal life I recommend you contact Bob Strom of Parkerville at 407 Main St. You can obtain a copy of Susan’s diary for your own perusal.
Bob Strom who is an avid historian in Parkerville has shared some more information on Far West. He has his information from the Kansas State Historical Society’s publication ‘Kansas Post Offices’. The post office Far West was established April 26th, 1864; William M. Walter was the postmaster. On March 23rd, 1869, the post office was moved to Aroma in Dickenson County. The post office operated out of a corner cupboard in the 16 by 20 foot log cabin of Alexis Blanchett. On October 3rd, 1872 the post office was reopened at Far West and remained in operation there until it moved to the town of Latimer on September 20, 1887. For unknown reasons the post office closed June 20th 1888 then reopened February 5th 1889, and closed again April 15th 1895 reopening November 2nd 1895 and closing permanently on January 6th 1961.
Printed in the Kansas History A Journal of the Central Plains Volume one number one of 1978 are the edited reminiscences of Catharine Emma Wiggin. She was a teacher in Northwest Kansas near the same time that Susan Hallmark was. She was in the Hill City, Graham County from 1888-1895. I cannot include everything she wrote here but her story is nearly identical with Susan Hallmark. It only helps to reinforce the evidence of daily life in that time period. Among the things mentioned were Literary meetings, Lyceum, magic lantern shows, church meetings, dances, late parties, organ lessons, wakes and funerals.