Hezekiah Brake was one of Morris County’s early settlers, and boy did he have an eventful and varied life. He wrote all about it in his book On Two Continents published 1896. Brake was born December 4, 1814 in Sherborne Dorset County, England. His father was a manufacturer of sailcloth and linen. At that time linen fabrics made at home were being out done by cotton fabric made in factories. So after a few years of struggling in the sailcloth business, Hezekiah’s father left his family and sailed to America, never to be seen again. The Brake family was left to fend for themselves.
Hezekiah set about to earn his way through life. He secured a position in the counting-house of a Methodist preacher not far from his home. This led to a fair education in theology and by the age of 20 Brake was put on the circuit as an exhorter. He soon felt that his knowledge of the scripture was not sufficient and so made a great effort to better himself by reading Dr. Dwight’s “System of Theology,” Dr. Paley’s “Difficulties of Infidelity,” and Baxter’s Commentary.
While engaged in the Sunday school, Brake met a lovely young lady that was also a teacher. Hezekiah said he fell “violently in love” with her and marriage arrangements were made quickly. When Brake, returning home from a trip to Bath, called upon his love he was refused admittance. Puzzled over such a drastic change he found that the girl’s father had died and his last wish was that she never marry and remain devoted to her mother the rest of her life. So she did. This threw Hezekiah into a depressed state of mind and so he left job, home and all and walked to London.
Poor Brake had a hard time. He wore out his shoes on the long walk and arriving in tatters a pickpocket stole all the money he had. As his situation improved with employment as a livery and carriage man with a wealthy family, he made plans of marrying another girl. The marriage was on hold until he had secured enough to keep a wife. When he went to go see his destined bride he found she had died and two days prior was buried. He never got to make a proper parting with her.
After a long while of working as a livery man and various menial jobs he did fall in love again and married Charlotte Cranham the cook for the family he was employed with. This one stuck. It had long been Hezekiah’s desire to leave England and go to America. So the new Mr. and Mrs. Brake set forth on a great adventure in the Free Land. Brake had always hoped to find his father while he was in America and try to reunite the family. It turned out that they did track down the father, but he had died years before.
The Brakes went to Minnesota to establish a town, Hezekiah sold lots and built cabins and cleared timber, not necessarily in that order you see. They experienced the most miserable nasty cold you can imagine. They were miles from anything resembling civilization and had to provide all their wants themselves. After Hezekiah had had a few close calls, getting caught overnight in blizzards or stuck in mud holes, his wife encouraged him to bring his business to a close in Minnesota and head for warmer country. And so they did. They moved to Missouri. Finding nothing in Missouri to suit him, Hezekiah left his wife and adopted daughter at home and set off on the Santa Fe Trail to see what prosperity he may find.
February 1st, 1858 Hezekiah Brake and company started out from Westport heading for Council Grove. When they reached the Grove the following day they procured mules, a pony, a large wagon and other provisions from Seth Hays. Brake says, “An old negress (Aunt Sallie) who worked for Mr. Hayes (sic) roasted coffee, made cakes, and gave us a keg of pickles and sauerkraut as relishes.” It took four days to prepare for the long trip.
While Brake was in Council Grove he gives us a description of what it was like. He says, “The few business houses at this time were mostly log cabins, and there was very little attempt made by the citizens to follow the fashions.” One man he described dressed in “an elaborately trimmed buckskin suit fringed down the side. His attire was finished off with beaded moccasins…” His long unkempt hair topped off with a wide brimmed hat, and wearing navy revolvers on both sides with a bowie knife secured in his belt.
The amusement for the times revolved around the court proceedings. A couple stories Brake relates were as follows. “A ‘Squire Mansfield, then a squatter on the present site of Council Grove, tried a fellow for some misdemeanor, and he was found guilty. With much dignity the court sentenced the prisoner in the following announcement: The court stands adjourned. The constable now will march the prisoner to the nearest wet-goods establishment, and see to it that he sets up the liquor for the attorneys, witnesses, and spectators. Boys, fall in!”
Another one runs that the presiding judge charged the jury after deliberations were ended, “Gentlemen, you have heard the evidence in the case. You have also listened to the words of the learned counsel for both the plaintiff and defendant. If you believe what the counsel for the plaintiff has told you, then you’ll side for him; and if you believe what the counsel for the defendant stated, decide for him. But, gentlemen of the jury, if you are like me, and don’t believe what either of them said, then I’ll be darned if I know what you can do.”
The first days travel from Council Grove found the party camped at Diamond Springs, the first stop after Council Grove because of the abundant and fresh water. One important piece of history we learn from Brake is that Council Grove was not the last point of civilization, at least not in 1858. There was a man that kept a little shanty on Cow Creek, just west of present Lyons. He sold cheap whisky and deer oysters to travelers. That was officially the last and only place of refreshment until Fort Union New Mexico and apparently very well attended. Large groups of travelers would camp there and form their wagons in a square to protect against marauders. Brake also mentioned that the cheap whisky so feely consumed at Cow Creek made the camp look and sound something like a lunatic asylum. Although Brake’s time in New Mexico was as equally entertaining I must skip over that to focus on his stay in Morris County. The reader may obtain the book for themselves and have the whole story.
May 6th of 1861, Brake returned to Council Grove, this time with his wife and child as they had made a trip over the prairie to join him in New Mexico. He described Council Grove as only having a few homes at that time as it was still Indian land and there was no push to make improvements. His family ate their meals on the lawn back of Dr. Bradford’s house, the present guest house on east Main. And Reverend Bradford loaned the family a claim house to stay in until they got their own. Brake eventually built a home north of Council Grove a few miles and farmed for his living.
Brake speaks of other notable individuals in our history, one being Sam Wood. On a return trip from Topeka, Brake and his company were camped near Auburn and Brake was approached by a booted and spurred man who fired “a volley of questions” at him. “Did you come from Council Grove?” he asked. Brake replied to the affirmative. “Did you ever hear of a man named Sam Wood?” Brake looked at him crossly and said, “Yes”. “What do the people say of him?” Brake tried to plead ignorance as he had never met the subject. After a few more pressing questions Brake figured out who it was he was speaking with and answered, “From what I have heard, I should suppose that he must be a d—-d rascal.” “I am that man,” said Wood in a satisfied way, then he hopped on his horse and rode off.
For a short time the Brakes lived in Topeka while their daughter went to school there. It was during this time that Quantrill took a holiday in Lawrence. Brake gave a very humorous description of what Topeka looked like at the time of the raid. The capitol was in a frenzy thinking that they would be burned and murdered next. So, reason had it that everyone should empty their homes of all furnishings and pile it up in the yard. What good this did, no one ever knew.
The Brakes moved back to Morris County and spent the rest of their days here. Hezekiah gives his accounts of the earthquake of 1867, the chinch bugs of 1869, the grasshopper plague of 1874 and he also recalls the drowning of Susie Huffaker at the Mission ford on the Neosho River. Brake had a very close call himself at the same crossing just a few weeks prior to Huffaker’s death. Brake’s relation I give in whole. “I noticed that the Neosho river near the old Mission -as we called the Indian schoolhouse- was nearly to the wagon-bed, and I hastened home as rapidly as possible for fear of being delayed in crossing. Only two hours had elapsed since I crossed it in safety, but the water had risen very perceptibly when I again reached the river. Still I did not think it unsafe, and drove into the stream. In the midst of the rapidly swelling current, a sudden swirl of drifting debris struck my wagon and forced me several yards down the flood. The ponies could swim and I was not much alarmed until the tongue of the wagon caught in a stout sapling. I climbed out to loosen it, and the current forced the wagon bed away and left me dancing upon the running gear. The box was gone, so I devoted myself to saving the horses. The traces were soon loosened, and with a lunge or two the animals safely reached the shore nearest home. Just as the horses started, the hind wheels of the wagon were rapidly turned over, and, lying upon my back in the water, I saw a wheel coming straight at my devoted head. With all my strength, I raised myself, and intercepted the blow by catching the wheel with my boot. I was only a few minutes after the wheel passed in gaining the shore I had just left, but by this time my bath made me feel as if I would enjoy a little friction and a Turkish towel. It was worse than a cold shower-bath in winter to wear my dripping garments, and it was with much comfort, after walking a mile to Reverend William Bradford’s house, that I donned some ministerial garments. It was the first time I had worn them since the days of my boyish efforts in the new chapels of England, and I would never have believed they could again be so comfortable.”
Hezekiah survived many dangers and lived just short of 89 and finished his days in peace and quiet in Council Grove. November 27th, 1903 he passed away to join the ranks of the pioneers in Greenwood Cemetery. I have omitted many interesting details in this abridgement of Brake’s life. I encourage the reader to obtain a copy of On Two Continents and read more about him.