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The Powell Trek to Comanche County, Kansas

by M. Mullen.

(Thanks to Robert E. Nelson for this history.)

There was nothinq unique about the little ship that nudged its way into Baltimore harbor that blustery day in late February of 1818, filled to capacity with a motley collection of hopeful immigrants to the New World. But it was a precious cargo none-the-less that had made its way from Liverpool, precious to a myriad of descendants whose American roots were being transported from the Old World, a world of repression, exploitation and poverty.

Huddled together on deck that chilling morning a family small in stature peered into the mist to catch sight of its new homeland. It had been a grueling trip for the old-before-his-time Welshman who had contracted with the Karthaus Iron Company to work in the coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania in exchange for his passage and that of his family - Joanna, his young wife, and their first-born son Llewellyn.

And snuggled safe and warm within the belly of the little Welsh woman lay her husbandís namesake, David, progenitor of a clan of Powells that would multiply and spread ever westward in search of any and all of the wondrous promises this new land held in store.

Can it be that the welsh have carried a curse from their early Celtic origins - a curse that has kept them from finding their El Dorado? For the families that arose from these beginnings are families who continued to fight to exist, through depressions, dust bowls and personal dilemmas.

In any event, it all started here in America with these two Davids - the one who continued to dream of a life spent farming the earth rather than digging itís insides out - and the younger one who made his entry into the New World at Baltimore within days after the docking of the ship at the foot of Bank Street, just as though he could not for one more day delay the start of his new life in a world that was to intrigue him and challenge him for all his days. It was 1830. Young David had become a man suddenly, for David the father died that year, leaving Joanna with her brood of five young ones. Llewellyn was already gone from the home, leaving David at almost thirteen to help his mother care and provide for the younger children. Within two years Joanna had died, leaving David on his own, and leaving the three younger ones orphaned and farmed out by the court.

With these responsibilities at an end, David, in the year 1838 at the age of 20, married Martha Ann, whose father must have been born of the same blood as David, he having deserted from a British man-o-war to make his way in America.

Once married, David was on his way, remaining in Pennsylvania only long enough to accomplish the birth of four sons - the first, Silas, stillborn, then the triplets William, Llewellyn and James Wesley. Of these, Llewellyn and James Wesley survived the trauma of multiple birth and before they barely had their eyes open, Martha had packed them into the wagon along with her worldly possessions,not the least of which was her cross-stitch sampler, so painstakingly created in her younger years in Pennsylvania, and the new little family struck out along the pilgrim pathways of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.

It was in Michigan that David and Marthaís first daughter, Emily Elizabeth, was born during an Indian Summer to be followed the following year by Zachariah. But that was long enough in Michigan for David, and once again the wagon was packed, once again the treasured cross-stitch sampler came off the wall, and and once again the babes, four of them now, were loaded into the wagon, and once again the curious Welshman was on his way.

Neither could the virgin state of Illinois long satisfy the inner craving of a man born to see and know his world, even though Martha joined forces with the farmlands to try to tame him. No matter how rich the soil and how abundant the harvest, no matter how warm and fragrant the basswood cabin, no matter the new babies (there were eight children now, and three in graves along the trail from Pennsylvania). No matter any of these things. It was from here, Malta, DeKalb County, Illinois, that David recruited a group of adventurous farmers and headed for the gold fields of Colorado. It was March of 1859 and David had tilled the soil long enough, and anyway, Lew and Jim were sixteen, and strong enough to handle the farm work for Martha, and good with a rifle.

So, taking the sturdiest wagon and a good team, Captain Powell, as he came to be called, led his party out. It would be be four years before he returned to his family.

He really hadnít intended to be gone so long. Across Iowa, through Nebraska and Kansas along the Platte River to Pikeís Peak and Denver, then on to Gregoryís Diggings took till mid June. Here Captain Powell and his fellow travelers found 3 or 4 thousand men building houses, washing gold, bartering, prospecting. The claims had all been taken! But gold was no longer Davidís aim. He saw a new land opening up that he wanted to be a part of, and it appears that for a very few years he did play an active role. In 1861 he was elected president of the town of Canon City. In 1862 he was the first county clerk for the newly formed County of Fremont. And subsequent to that he was a member of the first Colorado State Legislature representing Pueblo County.

Imbued with his desire to make his home in Colorado, David returned to Illinois for Martha and the children. After mastering the rigors of the preceding four years here in DeKalb County, Illinois, David met his match. Martha was adamant. There was no way she was going to take her children into an untamed land filled with untamed Indians and equally untamed prospectors! David was apparently cowed by Martha and a compromise reached, for a year later their youngest son, Edgar Alonzo, was born in the basswood cabin.

Then, as after the first births back in Pennsylvania, the treasured cross-stitch sampler was once again taken from the wall where it had begun to feel such a sense of security and once again was packed into the wagon.

The Powell clan, eleven strong, David and his Martha, James Wesley, Llewellyn, Elizabeth Emily, Zachariah Taylor, Isaac Newton, Harriet Beecher, Jessie Ann, William Harry, and the baby, Edgar Alonzo, encompassing a span of 23 child bearing years headed across Iowa and down into Missouri and then Kansas, settling in Comanche County. The family grew and spread out, back to Iowa and Minnesota, to Missouri, on into Oklahoma, and some to Oregon. David died in Oklahoma, Martha lies buried in Coldwater, Kansas and the treasured cross-stitch sampler hangs on a wall in Texas.

M. Mullen 515 Seventh St., Hudson WI 54016 November,1979

The move from Missouri to Comanche County, Kansas took place in April, 1885, however, Isaac, William Harry, and Edgar Alonzo had moved to Kansas several years prior to the arrival of the rest of the clan. (Robert E. Nelson, 1998.)


Related histories:

Memories of Lew Baker: the Baker & Powell Families

Lew & Kate (Roderick) Baker

The Roderick Family in Sharon & Wilmore, Ks

Felix Martin McMillen   "From Missouri he came to Kansas in 1886 by covered wagon route, accompanying the Baker, Wright and Powell families, well-known Comanche-co., pioneers.", The Wilmore News, October 29, 1926.

Jessie Ann Powell, youngest daughter of David and Martha Ann Powell's thirteen children was born July 7, 1856 in Waverly, Iowa.

The Memoirs of Grant Wright, nephew of of William Powell.