I am excited to finally be able to push this letter out on this blog. This letter will be published here in multiple parts as it is quite lengthy. I will also publish it in a couple different places. It will be available here for free, We will also publish it as a series in the Plainsman Herald. It also seems to be the kind of thing that would be good in a new book format compilation of Baca County History, but that is another conversation. I have my reasons for wanting to get to to folks in multiple formats. I won’t address that here, you can see a bit of that reasoning at my tech blog kentbrooks.com in the article “Are you ready for the Digital Dark Age?” I would like to offer up a hearty “Thank You” to Arlan Hiner for providing us another item for our efforts to document Baca County History.
“This letter was written by Wayne Collier, October 27, 1969. Wayne Collier was born at Cherryvale, Kansas May 11, 1905 and died April 21, 1985 at Palisade, Colorado. Given to me at the Hiner family reunion in May 2018 by Opal Ketterman Brinkley, my oldest cousin.”
Arlan G. Hiner
My father, George Collier, and my uncle Charly Collier, had come earlier to Baca County from Wichita, Kansas, and had filed on the section cornering at Edler and lying to the west – Edler was not yet there – only Number Nine. They brought my mother and my brother and my Aunt Gertie by train to Lamar, and left us there while they went to build a house on Uncle Charly’s place. He had filed on the east half of the section, and they built his house just across the section line to the northwest of Number Nine. The area was then in the midst of a big prairie dog town. There were also what were called buffalo wallows around on the prairie. There were no fences, and the only roads were trails over the prairie. Number Nine was a cross road for a number of these angling trails. There was also a fireguard angling from the northwest to southwest over by my Father’s and Uncle Charly’s places near Number Nine. It had been made by the Stinson brothers. The younger brother, for whom my mother worked after my father’s death was named James or Jimmy. It seems to me his older brother was John. I never met him.
Well I can’t get to the end of my paragraph; so I’ll just start another one anyway. The Stinson brothers ran both cattle and sheep over a large part of Southern Baca County. Their South Ranch was some ten or fifteen miles south of old Number Nine and their North Ranch was some ten or fifteen miles to the northeast- I believe fifteen miles would be nearer to the truth. I believe Jimmy lived on the North Ranch in those days. These brothers had drilled wells every four or six miles over a large part of southern Baca County so their livestock could find water.
At first, most of these wells were equipped with a wooden wheeled windmill which was never shut off except in so far as a hard wind would do so partially or maybe altogether by pushing on the small fan which turned the edge of the will to the wind. The large fan, at other times, caused the wheel to face into the wind and turn. The windmill on Number Nine was a U.S. brand mill having an eighteen foot wooden wheel, with a direct stroke. As in the case of most other Stinson wells, Number Nine pumped water first into a low stock tank, which then overflowed into a pond. The Stinson brothers willingness to let settlers haul water from their wells did much to make settlement possible, for most settlers didn’t have money to drill and equip one of those deep wells.
These brothers showed their good will to the settlers in another way-even though this did not make the same major contribution to the settlement of the country. Number Nine was the place where they assembled their sheep for shearing. I would estimate that there were about one hundred to two hundred sheep herders and sheep shearers collected at that location for several weeks. One man herded the sheep that were designated for slaughter to feed the camp and another man butchered each day. As I remember, a stick was thrown to break a sheep’s leg to make it easier to catch-there were no fences where they butchered. My brother and I often watched them butcher and then, in accordance with the instructions of the Stinsons, they gave us a generous portion of mutton to take home. So did they for all the settlers. They could each have as much mutton as they could use free of charge while the shearing season lasted.
I remember an old Mexican employee of the Stinsons who came to the butchering each day and asked the butcher for a piece of raw liver, which he ate on the spot.
The sheep to be sheared unlike those to be butchered, were put in pens for easier catching. The men were evidently paid according to the number of sheep they sheared. The shearing was done by use of hand shears. In their haste to shear as many sheep as possible, the men were not careful with the sheep. You often saw sheared sheep which had lost patches of skin along with their wool. After the sheep were sheared, they were run through narrow chutes and branded on their wool for the next year with a black tarry looking stuff.
In addition, to the large number of Stinson employees and the very large number of sheep assembled at Number Nine during the shearing season, there was also a large number of burros, which the Mexicans used for riding and as beasts of burden. For carrying loads they had pack saddles for the burros. These consisted of cloth or leather to go next to the animals back with wooden pieces crossed above and resting on these pads. They could tie the load to these cross pieces and the whole thing was fastened to the animal with a girth fastened under his stomach. As I remember, they could fasten three heavy sacks of salt on one pack saddle – one on top and one on each side of the saddle and just above the animal’s back. Rock salt was used for the sheep.
The Stinsons ran counter to the stereotype of sheepmen always being enemies of cattle and by vise versa – they were both at one in the same time. They were also different from the stereotype of ranchers who were enemies of settlers. They were good neighbors to the settlers.
In addition to the Stinson stock, there were large numbers of cattle with the JJ brand in those days. We didn’t have much contact with the men who ran them.
In those days we had what was called the free-range law. It put the burden of protecting a man’s crop on the settler himself. He had to construct a legal fence if he wanted legal protection. A legal fence, as I remember, required four strands of barbed wire with posts at intervals not greater than one rod. Few settlers were able to build that kind of a fence in the beginning. I remember when there was a lot of talk about an initiative and referendum proposal for a herd law, which would put the responsibility for keeping stock out of a man’s field on the stockman. The settlers favored the herd law. But the stockmen were able to so word the proposal that they fooled the settlers so that they voted against the herd law, when they thought they were voting for it. They were pretty angry for a while, but soon so much of the country was fenced that the range was gone anyway. I would doubt if such stockmen as the Stinsons had anything to do with the trick played on the settlers.
I remember only one time when a neighbor’s animal got into our field. Ira Russell’s bull got into our field, and my brother and I were afraid to drive him out because of his pawing and bellowing. We told Mr. Russell and he came immediately to get him. As a youngster, I admired Mr. Russell’s size and courage and the strength with which he hurled a big object at the bull which he brought along for that purpose – I can’t remember now what it was.
And now back to the wells: The Stinsons installed a tall tank at Number Nine – as I remember it was ten or twelve feet high and about eight feet in diameter. The windmill first pumped water into it and then into the low stock tank and then into the pond. This was a courtesy to the settlers. It increased the amount of water stored and gave the settlers access to the water before the stock could drink of it. The settlers put first one siphon then two over the top edge of the tank. We could drive up beside the tall tank with a wagon load of barrels, suck on the long end of the siphon which hung down outside the tank to start the flow of water, then it kept flowing into our barrels till they were full or until the short end of the siphon inside the tank could no longer reach the water. When too much water had been hauled from the tank, we had to dip the water with a bucket. For this purpose a plank was rested across the top edge of the tank, on which a person could stand while drawing water from farther down in the tank with a bucket suspended on a rope of sufficient length to let the bucket reach the water. As I remember, the plank across the top of the tank was about a two by twelve. When we hauled water from there, it was always I who drew the water from the tank, when it was too low to siphon, and my brother poured it in the barrel. At least, this is the way I remember it. He was younger and smaller than I. At the time, I felt no fear in standing on the plank and drawing water. It wasn’t until years later, that it ever occurred to me that danger was involved. The remaining water in the tank was nearly always of greater depth than my height and I couldn’t swim.
When we couldn’t get water at Number Nine, we hauled water from Stinsons’ West Sand Canyon well or from their Horseshoe well or from some neighbor’s well.
As I remember the West Sand Canyon well as about five to seven miles southwest of Number Nine and the Horseshoe well was about four miles north.
So many of my memories center around Number Nine as much of our lives did in those days. My brother and I took great interest in the traffic which passed that way throughout the year since it was a crossroad location and the center of the community around there. Men who hauled wool from the sheep shearing left from there. A number of the neighbors including my Uncle Charly, hauled wool for the Stinsons. I think most of it went to Clayton, New Mexico. Men who went to the Cedars in the foothills or canyons west of Number Nine passed by there. My brother and I were very interested in their horses. We learned the names of all the horses which came by the place when we were there. We were very interested in the work of Stinson’s well repair men. They kept two men traveling constantly from well to well to keep them serviced and working. A Mr. Wood and his helper, whose name I can’t recall (Jack Jackson), used to visit Number Nine regularly and fairly frequently. Some times they remained for a day or longer.
Well lets back track to Lamar in 1913 again. After building a shelter on Uncle Charly’s place, my Uncle Charly and my Father came back to Lamar for Aunt Gertie and Mother and us boys. Uncle Charly had a team of bay horses that weighed about fourteen hundred pounds apiece named Max and Charly. My Dad didn’t have any horses as yet. The men loaded our furniture and Uncle Charly’s hogs on a hayrack. Then Aunt Gertie and Mother and Andy and I got on top of the load which seemed very high to me and very cold since a March blizzard was coming up. They led Uncle Charly’s cow.
We left Lamar in the middle of the day and reached a ranch somewhere south of Clay Creek that night, where a number of other travelers also camped. I got very cold riding on the top of the load on the hayrack and complained about it. Mother told me that if I would get down and walk like Daddy and Uncle Charly, I would get warm, but I couldn’t believe it. Finally, the men stopped the wagon somewhere south of Clay Creek to fix something, then they sent the women and us boys on afoot toward the place where we were to camp which was now near. After walking away, I said, “Mamma, it’s getting warmer.” She answered, “It’s not getting warmer. I told you that if you would walk you would feel warmer.”
By the next morning, a blizzard had arrived. Among the travelers camped at the ranch that night, was Dr. Keyster, who had been our family physician at Wichita, who had homesteaded about two or two and a half miles east of Number Nine. He was driving a team and surrey. The men made arrangements with Dr. Keyster to take Aunt Gertie and Mother and us boys in the surrey for he could travel faster. Aunt Gertie rode in the front seat, Mother and Andy and I rode in the back seat. We had quilts or comforts over our laps. During the day we saw Two Buttes Mountain come slowly into sight then recede in the distance behind us. I remember when we passed through Springfield, but I’ve heard my Mother tell one thing which I did not note or remember. She said we tried to buy something to eat in Springfield but could buy nothing but a bottle of olives. Apparently, the stores were caught between freight loads of groceries. As the day progressed the storm got worse. Andy and I took shelter under the blanket and around Mother’s feet. Mother later said that by the time we got to Horseshoe one of the horses was played out and the other was pulling the carriage. We finally got to Dr. Keyster’s place before we stopped for the day. Dr. Keyster and his wife and ten year old son lived in a half dug-out covered with a tent. I would judge it to be about twelve by fourteen or sixteen feet in size. I was seven years old at that time and my brother was five.
The next day, Dr. Keyster took a couple of buckets and set out afoot to Number Nine for water. He stayed a long time. The storm got worse. Mrs. Keyster began to panic. Mother and Aunt Gertie tried to quiet her, but she made us children uneasy. The storm threatened to take the tent off the dugout. Finally, Dr. Keyster got back, and he had Daddy and Uncle Charly with him. They had come in while he was at Number Nine and he had waited to help them take care of their horses and load. That’s why he was late. They had put the horses in the half dugout barn which the Stinsons had there at that time. It was covered with rusty red corrugated iron. At that time, the barn also housed the horses that belonged to Doc Elder and his wife whose homestead cornered at Elder and lay to the southeast. They were then living in a tent setup on top of the ground.
When the men got back to Dr. Keyster’s place the storm was becoming so threating that the men drove more stakes around the tent then wrapped the bottom of the tent around boards and nailed them to the stakes. Not being sure that would hold, they put one mattress on the floor for all the women and children to lie on then put another mattress over the top of us; so we would be well protected if the tent went before morning. The men all got in another bed, and Uncle Charly pulled Dr. Keyster’s two grey hounds into bed with them for extra warmth. In addition to the human beings and Dr. Keyster’s hounds, we also had Dr. Keyster’s chickens in the tent-covered half dugout that night. The reinforcements held the tent throughout the night and the storm broke by the next morning.
Old Doc Edler and his wife were not so fortunate. Their tent was set up east across the section line from where Edler store and Post Office would later be located. It blew away during the night, and they took shelter in the half dugout barn with the horses.
With the end of the storm, we moved from Dr. Keyster’s place to Uncle Charly’s house. It was just a tar paper covered shack with a tar roof and no partitions at that time. We also moved his two hogs into the house, since they had no other place for them as yet. They were penned off in one corner. One bed was made up too close to their pen and they got one quilt and ruined it.
Then Dad built our house in the northwest corner of our claim a mile west of where Edler would be built. He first dug a cellar then over it he built a three-room tar paper covered shack with a pitch roof.
Uncle Charly later partitioned his house and added more rooms to it. The last I knew it was still standing on the spot where it was built.
Harry Bosley built a half dugout about a half mile north of where Edler would be and a Mr. LaBanche, who had run a grocery store in Wichita, and with whom we had traded there built a full dugout about a half a mile south of where Edler would be. The roof of his house was about level with the top of the ground. These five families are the ones I remember as the first settlers around Number Nine. Others came rapidly or our acquaintance broadened rapidly from Number Nine or both. As the community grew, any neighbor who went to Springfield, began to ask for the Number Nine mail. After taking out his own mail, he left the rest at Uncle Charly’s place. Uncle Charly and Aunt Gertie acted as unofficial Postal Clerks. Any neighbor going to Number Nine for water could stop at Uncle Charly’s place to see if any mail had been left for him.
As I remember it, a Springfield Merchant by the name of Stroud put up a branch store a short distance west of where the Edler store and Post Office would later be located. Soon after his store was started a Post Office was authorized with the name of Edler. Old Doc Edler seemed pleased that someone had suggested his name when the government asked for suggestions, and the government chose his name. Doc Edler had built a half dugout house across from where the store and Post Office would eventually be and a half dugout barn just south from his house. Their half dugout house had its door to the east and its back to where the road would be. Right beside the door they had a sign, “Edler and Edler, Oculists” or maybe it was Eye Doctors, I can’t be sure anymore. Neither Doc nor his wife claimed to have any medical training, but they were equipped to fit people with glasses. They also had a battery operated electrical gadget with eye-cups which could hold some kind of medicine over the eyes while the electricity was applied. He also had a little electrically generator which would be operated by a hand crank to generate as much electricity as one could stand to take. He treated one man who was a stranger to us with his combination of electricity and medicine-I do not know with what success. He also treated my Mother for granmulated lids effecting a complete cure. He may have treated others, but I didn’t know about it, if he did. As I remember his fee was fifty cents per treatment.
Dr. Keyster treated my Mother successfully for gall stones while he was still in the community, but his wife decided that pioneer life was too much for her and left. He and his boy stayed on until he shot a rabbit one day which ran into a hole. He reached into the hole to get the rabbit and got a rattlesnake bite instead. As I remember they gave him alcohol and bitters and soaked his hand in kerosene and took him to Lamar for further treatment. He and his son went on to Wichita whither his wife had gone and he never came back. I heard that his son, J.C. became a dentist.
Doc Elder was considerably older than his wife. They had no children but they had a tom cat which they treated like a child. They dressed him in cap and nightgown for bed at night. They also liked other people’s children. My brother and I used to visit them often. Doc taught us nonsense jumbles of words which he called German. I can remember some of those jumbles of words to this day. By repeating them to a girl from Germany years later, I learned that these jumbles of words did, indeed, contain a sprinkling of German words. Doc also told us stories of the times when he traveled with a medicine show, and of some of the medicines and writing fluids, made of simple and familiar materials, and sold with much ballyhoo.
One Sunday, when we were going for a visit to the Edlers, we saw a great cloud of smoke to the north of us, which was traveling rapidly to the east. It was a prairie fire which had been started, we heard by sparks from a settler’s chimney – a settler who live several miles to the west. A high wind from the west drove the fire rapidly down the fairly tall grass in the Sand Arroyo in which Claude Russell and his parents and sister, Zayda, lived. The fire completely wiped out their home and other improvements. Claude had a stallion which he valued highly. The animal continued running ahead of the fire till he was fatally burned. I heard the fire loss estimated at fifteen hundred dollars, which was a considerable amount t for that time and place.
The fire guards which the Stinsons had formerly maintained had fallen into disuse, when the settlers filled the country. These were made by plowing strips of sod about thirty-five to forty feet apart then burning the grass between them under controlled conditions on a day without much wind. The settlers, however, spontaneously developed a cooperative system of prairie fire fighting when they saw a smoke, that served as a signal for everybody – every man, that is – to assemble as quickly as possible at the location of the fire with whatever fire fighting equipment they could bring with them. They all continued to fight the fire till it was extinguished. The fire that destroyed the Russell home traveled too fast for help to arrive in time. I think it had much to do, however, in stimulating quick cooperation in fighting subsequent fires.
We were later beneficiaries of this custom of quick assemblage where smoke was seen. My father and Ralph Fox whose half dugout home was a half mile west of ours, set out early one morning for the Welsh Ranch which was about fifteen miles or so southwest of our place in the edge of the canyons. They were on a horse buying expedition. Mother and Andy went to the chicken house to look after the chickens. I was day dreaming in the sun in front of our east door, the one we considered the front door. I noticed smoke, entered the house to look for the source of it. I went west through the kitchen and on into the living and dinning room, which also had a door to the south. The bedroom was on the west of that. As I entered the dinning room, I saw fire running along the two by four at the top of the south wall and just under the roof. The house was still just a rough unfinished shack covered with tar paper; so the framework was exposed to sight. I ran out and told my Mother and brother, Andy. When we re-entered the house, an explosion scattered fire all over the dinning room. The fire along the two by four had evidently reached the medicine cabinet, where my Dad also kept a jar of gun powder for his muzzle loading shot gun. We backed out, and I started drawing water from the cistern with the bucket and rope which were regularly kept there, and I started throwing water on fire which was, by then, coming through the roof. This was a futile gesture. Two men with loads of wood from the cedars had just passed the house. They were about a hundred yards east of the house, when they noticed the fire. They rushed back and used their axes to break a hole through the west of the bedroom in the hope of getting some our furnishings out that way. But the hole just gave the fire more draft; so that it burned faster. My Dad and Ralph Fox noticed the smoke from about a mile west and hurried back. In short time neighbors from all over the county were there, but the house and contents were completely destroyed. The people who came to help fight the fire arrived too late for that, but there was one thing they could do and did so. Before the embers of the fire had burned out, they started taking up a collection to help us build again. That collection helped greatly in buying materials for the next house which was sided and shingled instead of being covered with tar paper. We lived with Ralph Fox while Dad, with the help of Mr. Fox, built the new house. Mrs. Fox was away at the time to give birth to a daughter, Virginia. Mother later moved our second house to Springfield to rent it. The last I knew, it was still in use. It was several blocks east of the courthouse on the street that borders the north part of the courthouse grounds. It was on the north side of the street.
As to school, I had entered the Lincoln Elementary School in Wichita and was in the middle of my second year there, when we moved from Wichita to Lamar on our way to Number Nine. There was no school in Number Nine community at that time; so my parents got a leave of absence and left the claim for our first winter there. We first went to Lamar where I attended school a few months while my father worked there. The school I attended was, I believe, located where the Prowers County Courthouse was later built. Then we went back to Wichita, where I completed this term of school in the Lincoln Elementary School.
When we returned to the claim the next spring, the neighbors west of Number Nine banded together to organize a school district and build a school. The most central location for those who had children was two miles west of the Edler corner and a mile south. The name chosen for the school as Lakeview – a strange name, you say, for a school in a prairie country. Prairie here of course means plains – not a small clearing in a wooded county as it means in someplace back east.
Well, here is how it got its name. Before the plains were broken up they held water on very rainy years to form ponds or small lakes in the low places which had no drainage. There was a shallow lake of considerable size just west of the low hill on which Number Nine was located – that is in very rainy years of which 1914 was one. Many cars got stuck in that part of the road which went through the edge of that low place. When cars began to come into the country, and before the roads was elevated there. There was a deeper pond just west of Ralph Fox’s house. There was still a larger pond or, as it was called a small lake about a quarter of a mile southeast of where the Lakeview School House was built – hence its name.
The school house was built as much as possible by voluntary labor to hold school taxes at a minimum. I believe it was Roy Bosley, who lived about two miles west of the location, who had a cement block machine. Some patrons volunteered to haul sand and some to make the blocks and some to lay the block; so the walls were made of cement blocks. My father, being a carpenter, volunteered work on such things as doors and windows frames and on the roof. Olaf Baldwin was employed to teach a six months terms of school. As I remember, the student body, at first, included Roy Bolsey’s daughters, Guida and Freda; two sons and a daughter from the Williams family, which I believe about a half mile south of Roy Bolsey’s – the only one of those whose name I can remember now was the younger and the two boys, Ollie, who grew to a height of more than seven feet, Laverne and Evelyn Franklin; Howard, Louis and Nellie Durham, whose mother died about that time. Frank and Claud Rice – then called Renniger after their step-father – these boys may have joined us the second year of school; and my brother, Andy, and me. Olaf Baldwin was employed to teach a second six months term of school but resigned after teaching about three months, as I remember. His leaving brought that term of school to an end since no replacement teacher was available.
More Next Time.