By Jess White.
Ponca City, Okla., January 18, 1922
I was one of the 1900 guys of old Comanche, so my hardest experience was hauling cane and kaffir to a bunch of bawling doggies in rain, snow and Kansas winds. I can surely say that things are much different now from what they were then. The auto has come in to take the place of the bronco which we used to ride. We would work all day (I say work, for pitching from two to three loads of cane a day is a man's job). Then we would saddle up our broncos and ride from 18 to 20 miles to a dance and get back to the ranch just in time to help do the morning chores. Now, I hesitate to go six miles after night in a car. Now, if people are going any place they knock off early, do the chores, and take Road Lizzie and are there before you can go to the pasture and get a horse. The truck has taken the place of the A-horse team we drove 25 years ago on the long 15 to 30 mile hauls in the cold, windy days. We had no tractors in those days to do the plowing, and had to string out a bunch of wild broncos in the plowing season. And then there was lots of kaffir to cut with the one-horse sled - now they have a binder. That was a man's job, too, good money though. Ask E. E. Parker (known as Boss Parker) and Lloyd Sunderland. They belonged to the kaffir-corn salvage gang. If anyone would have told me then that Comanche-co. would ever make what it is today I would have said he was a fool or a new-comer, for as a rule, our only thoughts were "Kaffir Corn." Just to show you what the county was then: S. M. Jackson, deceased, tried to get me to buy a quarter of land for $150 on three years time, and I would not take it. This quarter corners my wife's father's place on the southwest, and now I don't suppose it could be bought for eight thousand dollars. I say Comanche-co. is a fine country of today.
At one time I knew every man in Comanche-co., and at one election there were 81 votes cast - ask anyone - ask Charley Cole or any of the old-timers, if they knew everyone in the county, and they will tell you. Therefore I say the Southwest has made a most wonderful development in the past 25 years - wonderful wheat farms where there used to be big pastures and herds of cattle.
Another great change which has taken place in Comanche-co. is that so many of the old settlers of as late as 1900 have passed away; and boys and girls were just starting to school a few years back (it doesn't seem long ago) are now married and have homes of their own.
I do believe, though, even with low wages and lots of hard times, we had more pleasure in life. In those old days our motto used to be: "Do unto the other fellow as you would have him do unto you," but now days you have got to do the other fellow before he DOES you. In the early day the old boys never thought of locking the door, while now, what they value very high they keep in a Safety Deposit box in a bank, and then it is likely to be stolen.
We enjoy the Star very much which our folks send us, as to the conditions of Coldwater, but we only know such a few people who are mentioned in the paper that it is the same as reading a Kansas City or Chicago paper.
Of course there are a good many people living in Coldwater who never get their names in the paper - they "auto' do something so they could get a write-up. Some of our people get them every day or so (chock sic).
It was in the spring of 1900, sometime in March, that I got a job with the D. F. outfit - the Kehl ranch. He had wintered a bunch of some 800 or 900 cattle around Springvale, Kans. That afternoon we got them gathered up was fine - just like a summer day. We camped that night on the John Anderson place, just south of Wild Horse Hill. Everything went fine until 12 a.m., when it began thundering, and about 4 a.m. it set in for a drizzle-drazzle. Only one in the bunch had a rain coat - it was a mackintosh and not much good, which I later found out. The puncher who had the coat was Bert Withrow. He traded it to Joe Latham, at whose place we got our supper and breakfast, and he got Joe's slicker for his mackintosh and $3; then I slipped in and got the old rag, taking three plunks of my hard earned cash. Well, we shoved the bunch west over the hill. John Baily had always said he could ride, and that morning he had a chance to show us. He and old Diamond went round and round, but John was out.
There were five punchers: Jake Kehl, owner, John Baily, Bert Withrow, Darl Latham, and myself. Hop Sewell later met us over in the Black Hills, at Wild Cat Canyon, in the Robinson pasture. Well, about the weather: It rained, sleeted, snowed and the wind blew about 65 to 00 miles per, and everybody was wet to the hide I guess. I know I was, and my clothes were frozen stiff. We got the bunch in the George Sombart pasture and left them there. Then the big race started. At the Davidson gate between Kehl and Sombart, the gate had to be opened and the last puncher through had to shut it. I was riding a go-and-get-em little bronc, the best little cutting horse that ever went west into a herd. Some of the boys made a try to open the gate and to pocket me at the same time, but in doing so only got the top wire off the gate stick, and thought they had fooled me; but as I said before, Little Malinda was a wild cat. I leaned over in my saddle, hung a row in his flank and at the same time grabbed the gate stick. Old Malinda went through like a flash, and the canyons and hills and level lands, went for some three miles, but Jake was riding Lighfoot, and he was a long-legged black and had wind like a locomotive engine. Hop Sewell was riding Old Kid - a gray about 19 which had run his race years before, so Hop had to shut the gate, and came to the ranch some minutes later.
Well, the cattle were left in Sombart's pasture until the next day. Nothing much happened but hauling feed for the next six weeks. Gus Bramlett worked at the ranch. He, Hop Sewell and myself stayed there, and the other two - Baily and Latham, went back home. When grass started the cattle were given the once-oer. Any that were not marked or branded were given the ranch degrees. Had lots of excitement at this time. Gus Bramlett worked in the crowding pen; Hop and a couple of other cowboys - John and George Janson - worked in the corrals, and I had the heavy job- carrying the hot iron. The corral boys were put to the top of the fence a good many times, but what happened to Gus - you will have to ask him - I am to polite to tell. And now for a little joke on Hop Sewell. It happened when we were plowing feed ground in the spring. On the old Wineburner place on Skelton Creek, Hop saw a skunk run across the field and he wanted to know what that pretty thing was. I told him it was a pole cat, and he wanted to know if they would make nice pets. I said, "You bet they do," so he tried to catch it, but it got to the cellar and went in a hole. Hop said he would get him, so when we came out to work after dinner. Hop had a trap and set it for his pet, and sure enough, that night he got him, and Hop hollered, "I got him! I got him!" and it was not long until I was satisfied that he had him for he came out spitting and rubbing his eyes - he sure was sick. Most everybody knows how a skunk smells. Well, it is not much to laugh at, but dogged if I didn't almost ruin a good shirt rolling on the ground and laughing at Hop. Well, Hop is in Alabama, Gus Bramlett was working on Claude Lewis' ranch the last I knew of him, and I think that little sawed-off Dutchman, Jake Kehl, and his son, Guy, live in Coldwater, while I am in Oklahoma but not handling cattle. I hate the looks of fat cattle - I got mine with the rest, the last two winters, full-feeding a bunch and got in on the drop.
I just recalled another instance on the Kehl ranch. I wanted to go to a doings at the Ferrin school house one Sunday and was in want of a pinto so Jake told me to ride "Mexico," a wiry little roan bronc that had not been ridden for some time. I was a fair rider, but never made any public exhibitions of the stuff, but a few have seen me ride and some have seen me hit the ground. Anyway, after riding up to the school house in the afternoon I went out with another bunch and I rode him pretty hard, so did not have much trouble that day. I stayed with some boys that night and the next afternoon got my bronc and started out by myself - then was when the fun began. He would kick or strike, it made no difference to him. I finally forked him, and we went around and around. I began to think he was going to win, but at last he stopped and I sure was glad. If he had made any more fence rows I would have lost. Then going home I went through a gate and in doing so he rubbed the stirrup on the post and turned it, but I did not notice it until I was on and went to put my foot in the stirrup. I thought he was getting tired, so I kicked the stirrup to straighten it, and like a flash he went to the left while I went to the right, But I held the rein, got up, brushed sand off myself (I thot) and went on. When I got in they all wanted to know how I came out. "O. K." says I. Frank McIntire (D. T.'s boy) says, "You got piled, for there is sand on your back and shoulder." I tried to tell them it was an accident but they insisted that it was a straight fall. So in some way Frank McIntire took this bronc home with him. Now Frank is, or was, a good rider, but this same boss piled him on top of a post and jimmed up some of his ribs. Mc. says his spur strap broke. Well, I guess it is so, Chas. Sewell says it was, and Chas. is suppose to be reliable, but when the good rider got piled the boys never hooted me any more. Fred Janson saw us have it out in the pasture in the afternoon got piled. He said he saw daylight between me and the saddle several times, and I know he did.
Note: The "Ferrin School House" mentioned in this account must have been the Ridge Summit School, as it was located near the homesteads of Arthur Ferrin and Loren Ferrin.
More Accounts of Pioneer Days in Comanche County, Kansas
Kaffir corn: (Sorghum bicolor) is a tropical African variety of sorghum used for human and animal food; bread and coffee for humans and grain and forage for animals. It is grown in dry regions in Africa and was imported for use in the American Great Plains. In appearance and growth habit it is similar to Indian corn except that the leaf edges are saw-toothed.
Another on-site reference to growing Kaffir corn:
George Nelson & Emma Sophia (Dewees) Sherman
Thanks to Shirley Brier for finding, transcribing and contributing the above news article to this web site!
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