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The Western Star, April 22, 1922.


A Few Reminiscences of Pioneer Life in Comanche-co.

Some Early Day Event's Recalled.

By Robert Henkel.

Indianapolis, March 30.

Editors Western Star,
Coldwater, Kansas.

I am glad to respond to your request for reminiscences of early Coldwater, as I never allow anybody to out-reminiscence me.

I was a resident of Coldwater for two years from 1886 to 1888, and I believe they were the happiest of my life. It was there I courted my wife, it was there we were married, and it was there my first child was born. Thirty-two years ago Feb. 18th last my wife and I were married, and analyzing my matrimonial experiences, will say the greatest regret of my life was that I had not married her sooner. I would have done so had it been possible to fool her sooner, but she wasn't so easily won. With twenty worth while fellows for every girl, picking them off hurriedly was not as easy as it sounds. The one mystery of my life has been, how did I do it? Her parents were not urging the match. In fact, they had long since come to the conclusion she was throwing herself away, and could have proved it by any one who knew me.

What a fertile field for reminiscencing is Coldwater. How rich in golden memories, at least to me. No finer lot of fellows ever lived than those living there at that time. I was a member of the force of the old Coldwater Review whose circulation we ground out weekly on an old Washington hand press. There was little difference between our circulation then and the circulation of the Saturday Evening Post at this time, being merely a difference in cyphers. Roy Stafford as the "devil" of the Review, long-legged loose-jointed, bright minded --meaning the "devil," not the paper.

I roomed with Reb Goddard who was a man of regular habits. I'll say "regular habits." One of them was his habit of reading every patent medicine ad. and he was also in the habit of discovering that he had every symptom described in them. He believed the ads., bought the dope and took it. I have helped administer to him everything from cough drops to knock-out drops; from Lydia Pinkham to shellac. Once he really was sick. He had the itch because everyone else had it and he couldn't bear to be slighted. He consulted me professionally. I knew a lot about itch, because I once had a dog that had it, or the mange or something else that required scratching. I recommended Wolford's Sanitary Lotion, a positive specific - if the patient could live thru the treatment. I painted him from head to feet with the medicine. It cured him, but I was forced into hiding for two weeks, but I made a new man of him. He peeled off like a banana.

I want to visit Coldwater, but I hate to go back there with murder in my heart. Thirty-two years ago plus Dick Rich invited me to his home as a guest for the night and then induced me to drink a pint of Garfield tea, explaining that it was a simple home brew for prairie fever. I guess it was home brew all right but the constituent parts were barbed wire and dynamite. I found I could keep the barbed wire down all right, but the dynamite kept blowing it up. It was a struggle between the two giants for twenty-four hours, and I lived thru it only because Dick thought I was dead.

There is only one people on earth that can always meet adversity with a smile, and they are the Kansans, native born and foreign.

How well I remember the winter of 1887-88. The bottom was out of the country. I was the richest man in town. Had $25 all in lump unencumbered. About that time fire broke out on Main street and swept away the leading business blocks, including the Red Front Store and the Eaton Hotel. I had just proved up the orneriest claim that looked good, but Sam Jackson told me after I had proved up that he had a loan on that claim for two years, and that the one that really belonged to me was so bumpy there wasn't a level spot on it big enough to bait a rat trap. But he loaned me enough money to pay the government and get out of town, because I still had that $25. I proudly boasted that I was going back home to Indiana.

A competent committee of my peers decided that I was crazy, that it was criminal to leave the people there in their dire extremity. They were all trying to hold on to what they had until Kansas "came again." The committee decided that I was to run Reb Goddard's store containing about ninety dollars worth of stuff that nobody wanted, while Reb ran for county clerk. I was to teach everybody in town to dance, and every respectable male or female, young and old, halt and lame, was to be permitted to come. The Riches donated the use of their palatial opera house, Zeb Baker agreed to fiddle for nothing, and Zeb fiddled while Coldwater danced. Al and Frank Jennings agreed to join the free orchestra for the privilege of dancing "when they felt like it," which they usually did meaning "felt like it."

Each member of the club was to chip in at the semi-weekly gathering, chip in what they had and most of them had nothing, which they cheerfully gave. I know just how much money there was in Coldwater at that time, $16.53, because I had it all twice a week. The next day they would borrow it back so that they could pay their way in the next time. So I was the town autocrat two days a week, and the town pauper the other five days.

But I know that no town and its inhabitants ever spent a happier winter. Not a whimper, so don't tell me the Kansas people are not game.

I want to see them all again, and I intend to. Many of the residents of those days have become great in this world's work, one occurring to me at this time, because I believe few there recall him. I speak of Loren Wright, then a deputy bounty official, now rich as one of the Wright Brothers, Dayton, O., pioneers in flying machines.

I could spin on and on, and on, but I know this is enough. Forgive me, if you can for I cannot forgive myself.

Truly yours,


Also see:

Opening of the Opera House
The Western Star, June 11, 1887.

A $50,000 BLAZE! -- Coldwater's Principal Business Block in Ashes.
The Western Star, March 3, 1888.

Letters from R.E. "Reb" GODDARD
The Western Star, February 4, 1921 and January 18, 1922.

"Rich’s Opera House was built in the summer of 1886. The building, 50 x 130 feet, was said to be the largest in southwest Kansas. The drop curtain was a beautiful piece of city scenery surrounded by 20 advertising cards. There were 135 pairs of roller skates, as the hard maple floor was also used for skating. Roy Stafford wrote that it was the scene of some of the gayest of social festivities. Bobby Henkel was the dancing master, Dick Rich the roller skate tutor. It cost 35 cents an evening to skate and it required careful management on Roy’s part to attend every night on his printing office salary of two dollars per week." -- Coldwater Centennial Notebook, 1884 - 1984 by Evelyn Reed, published serially in The Western Star, 1984.

Thanks to Shirley Brier for finding, transcribing and contributing the above news article to this web site!

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