Posts Tagged ‘Sandy Whelchel’

HOME, SWEET HOMESTEAD

August 18, 2013

If it weren’t for the Homestead Act of 1862 the western portion of the United States might have remained unpopulated for at least another fifty years or longer. President Abraham Lincoln’s foresight hastened the settlement by offering plots of land, approximately 160 acres at $1 per acre, or for free, if the homesteader was willing to live on the land and work it (read that as putting in some type of viable crop) for at least five years.

Homesteaders had to be at least 21 years of age or the head of a household to take advantage of the Homestead Act. Thus my grandfather who was but 17, was able to claim his portion of the Homestead dream and file for a homestead plot.

Even current day residents of Eastern Colorado will tell you that 160 acres is a pitiful acreage for raising any kind of livestock. Weather in eastern Colorado is totally unpredictable and ranges from the average of 18 inches of moisture a year to a high of 25 inches or a low of 10 or less. This precipitation includes winter snows through summer showers or downpours. This means native pasture grasses are frequently dry or non-existent.

Making a home on the Colorado plains for early homesteaders involved a success rate akin to the gambling odds of winning a million dollars in Las Vegas. The rule for homesteaders was that bigger was always better. Homestead families linked as many 160 acre plots together as possible in order to make a viable ranch living. An old rule for ranchers was that it took 20 acres to feed one cow for a year, so if the ranching homesteader wanted to have enough animals to survive–everyone homesteaded. In addition to the family lands, homesteaders purchased railroad sections to add to their holdings, but I’ll talk about them later.

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WESTERN EDUCATION 1880’S STYLE

August 18, 2013

By 1800, the eastern states of the United States had a set education pattern. Young people entered the system to reinforce what had already been started at home. Unless the family was devoid of educated members, children had a working knowledge of the alphabet and basic numbers. Using the Bible as a basis for reading, some parents had even taught their children to read. The eastern education system took over from the basics and educated children through at least eighth grade.

West of the Mississippi education took on another form. Other than medium-sized towns where enough children justified a school building, education was left for parents to handle. Far-flung homesteads didn’t warrant the hiring of a schoolmarm or furnishing of a building, desks, and books.

One Colorado resident, Miriam Fonder, began her own school because the children in the area were becoming “ruffians.” Eventually taxes were assessed to pay a minimal teacher’s salary and supplies but were discontinued for a year because of “Indian” problems. According to some stories at one point, a Ute chief and his “braves” stomped into the one-room school, held a book upside-down, and finally stomped out much to the relief of Mrs. Fonder and her students.

As the children’s population increased some pioneers solved the education in a manner similar to the Rattlesnake School District in eastern Colorado where the school was placed on skids (later on wheels) and moved to the place of greatest school population.

What follows are a couple of questions from an 1895’s Kansas Eighth Grade Final school test which may give you a better idea of why an eighth grade education was sufficient. Unfortunately, I have no idea where this test came from so can’t attribute it to its proper owner.

4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.

WAGONS WEST!

August 18, 2013

They look so wonderful in old movies and Western television shows!  Those sleek, frequently white, horses pulling pioneer wagons and stages across the lush green Western prairie.  BUT, here is the reality.  Commonly, horses were not used in pulling wagons or stagecoaches across the plains.  Even the heartiest Percheron or Clydesdales weren’t used for the drudgery of wagon pulling in most cases.  Why?  Those handsome steeds were too expensive.

So, now you ask, what did they use?  Most wagons and stagecoaches were pulled by mules. Not nearly as romantic as those white horses, but more dependable and less likely to step in a hole or a wagon rut and break a leg.  The other animal of choice was the ox.  The lumbering oxen made slow progress, only about seven miles per day.  Small wonder it took months to reach the gold fields of California or Colorado.  Many folks who headed for the gold fields chose to walk.  They could make better daily mileage by walking than the ox team.

With animals another problem faced migrating pioneers.  Water and animal food were a constant concern.  Once they left the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, pioneers learned that many of the water sources in the West were rushing torrents in spring and dried sand in summer.  Water barrels helped with the problem, but the miles between places to fill barrels were long. 

So wipe those romantic ideas out of your brain.  Traveling West was a grueling, dry, miserable undertaking, and horses need not apply.

MY GRANDFATHER WAS A HUCKSTER

June 6, 2013

Huckster—the word evokes all kinds of sinister images in the modern mind, but in reality the dictionary defines huckster as a peddler. Hucksters in the 1800’s traveled from distant outposts and farmsteads selling notions—pins, needles, and perhaps a yard or two of brightly colored cloth.

The huckster was CNBC or CNN in a wagon. He brought news from the neighbors and the outside world. Far from a flimflam man, he often traded his goods for a good meal or a bit of hay for his livestock.

Traveling in a zigzag pattern over the Nebraska and Kansas plains, it is no wonder that it took my grandfather and his father more than a year to travel from their former home in Erie, Ohio to Denver, Colorado. When they arrived in Denver, they made the easy transition from hucksters to freighters into the Rocky Mountains.

The huckster wagon was a marvelous maze of compartments and cubbies each containing a treasure for a price. Items the pioneers were forced to leave along the westward trail were conjured from the depths of the huckster’s wagon to the delight of homestead husbands and wives. The replacement for broken scissors or a much-needed bottle of horse liniment emerged from the hidden recesses of the huckster’s wagon.

Yes, there were a few questionable traders out there, not my grandfather that I could discover, but for the homesteaders and ranch families of the plains the huckster’s wagon

100th Anniversary Celebration

May 21, 2013

100 years old. Quite a feat. I’m not 100, but the pioneer built Ruth Chapel in Parker, Colorado turned 100 on May 13, 2013. A community celebration sponsored by the town of Parker and the Parker Area Historical Society on May 18th featured hay rides, tours of the chapel, and refreshments of the era accompanied by music from a “brass band.”

I was fortunate to be included in the festivities and spent the morning handing out celebratory red carnations to the ladies. Also briefly neglecting my carnation duties, I had my photo taken in front of the “motor car” which added color and interest to the morning.

The story of Ruth Chapel is similar to other historic buildings throughout the West. Female residents of the area decided it was time for some childhood religious training so began a Sunday School that met in the local school in the 1880’s. Later circuit riding ministers held monthly services in the school. In the early 1900’s, the community was in need of a church. George Parker one of the co-founders of the town, which bears his name, sold the church property for $1 and later school superintendent, Dr. Heath, donated the land. The building had one paid worker, construction supervisor William Holmes; the remaining workers were local ranchers and farmers who donated their time and skills to build the small church.

It didn’t matter the religious affiliation of the worker; the community banded together to get the job done. The basement was excavated with a horse drawn scraper and local families contributed the building’s light plant and furnace.

By the 1913 completion date, Dr. Heath had passed away but the building was dedicated in memory of his daughter who had passed away before the Heaths came to Colorado. It was called the Ruth Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church.

Like all community endeavors, membership in the church waxed and waned with the area population sometimes counting less than ten attendees until the Parker community began to grow in the early 1980’s. The Methodist church out grew the building and purchased the vacant school building next door. The Ruth Chapel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 and after being purchased by the Town of Parker has become the site of small weddings and similar events.