Perils of the PlainsBy Hattie Pierce Wimmer
An account of pioneer life as experienced by Will and Hattie Wimmer,
how they met, married, and lived within the boundaries
of the vast Comanche Cattle Pool
of South Central Kansas in the late nineteenth century.
Written in 1929. Previously published in Hardtner Community News and The Cowboy Storyteller in 1997. Thanks to Christie (Wimmer) McNett for permission to republish this copyrighted material on this website and to Phyllis Scherich for having obtained Christie's permission. This material is not to be used for personal monetary gain. -- Jerry Ferrin
Wesley and Semantha Pierce with children, Ell, John, Rube, Burt, Lida and Harriet left Hardin County, Ohio in two covered wagons for an overland trip to somewhere in Kansas. At the end of nine weeks we landed in Wichita, Kansas, which was a small town at the time. Most all business and houses were on east and west Douglas Street and five or six north and south streets that I do not remember the names. We camped at the west end by the river for a few days. The town's industries seemed to be freighting and bone business. There was a big camp of freighters, bone pickers and Boomers all along the river. I was only twelve years old, but still remember the great piles of buffalo bones piled as high or higher than 10 feet and many of them a city block long.
The west end of town had very rough places, every place with a saloon sign, Parker Rooms, dance hall or something of that kind. Two of my brothers, Ell and John, took one team and went back east of town to husk corn along Cowskin Creek. We had run a hotel back home, so my sister Lida had no trouble getting work at the Hotel Carrie. It was a frame two-story hotel at the East end of Douglas Street.
It seems the Boomers had all gone into camp for the winter as no one seemed to want to go to the ranches till spring. The weather was very nice for that time of year, and Daddy got restless to go on.
The next morning we started out. In about three days we came to the small town, Kingman. We stayed there at the southwest part of town by a small river. There were big camps and Boomers all waiting for spring to move on, saying winter is too close to go southwest. The next morning the sun came up bright, so Daddy told us to pack up and we would go on.
The third day we drove into a little Trading Post, a small one street town with a large sign on the left side of the road which in large letters said, Last Chance. We could see that we were at the Frontier's Ox freight yards. Teams, bone pickers, and saddle horses in great numbers lined each side of the street. We could see many groups of men, cowboys, freighters and stage drivers. We could tell the groups apart by their dress and the guns they carried. The cowboys and freighters had large six shooters on each hip, while the stage drivers and bone pickers carried large Winchester rifles. We had been told that cowboys and bone pickers held a deep grudge against the Boomers as they didn't want the country settled up.
We didn't know who to go to for road information. We stopped in front of a large building that we took for a livery barn and feed yard. But a large sign over the big door said, Northwest Stage Barn, and over the small door, U.S. Post Office. Daddy told us we had better drop some cards back to the folks while we had a chance. While Mother was writing the cards a tall, dark lad came out of the Post Office who looked to be six feet tall with a well-dented Stetson hat, heavy blue flannel shirt, plain leather chaps, alligator boots, and a heavy pearl-handled gun flung on each hip from a broad leather belt that held two rows of large caliber bullets. A fine buckskin horse stood between our team and the wooden curb. As he came to the horse he held some letters in his hand. He had taken one from the pack and put the rest in the saddle bag. The one he kept we could see was edged in black. He opened it, read it over and over, then stepped to the middle of the street, took his hat in his hand and took a long, long, look to the east, then went back to his horse. He took a look at us for the first time. With a smile he kindly spoke “Howda”. We were glad to hear such a kind voice in the place we were.
I had to get out of the wagon to rest myself after the long drive. He gave me a long look and said, “Pardon me, ma'am. I admire your long, beautiful curls of hair. Such curls I have never seen before”. Then he spoke to my Mother by asking, “Is this your little girl?” After he was told, “Yes”, he said, “May I congratulate you on having such a child.” She thanked him very kindly and he threw the bridle reins over his horse's head and with a smile started to mount. Daddy asked, “Is that sign the name of this place?” “No, Sir, this is the last town to the southwest. This is Sun City. You see, the tracks all go north or northwest from here, the stages go northwest, the freighters and bone pickers go north or back where they came from to find a market. There is a dim trail to the southwest, sometimes you see a chuck wagon or a bone picker out that way. So you see that sign means you'd better lay in a supply of flour, bacon, and beans as it is your last chance if you go that trail. We may meet again as that is the way I go.” He rode away saying, “Well, Old Comanche, we must be off. We have a long drag ahead this second day out.”
We could see him until he turned to the left from the one-way street. Then I could see great tears come in Mother's eyes as she said, “That poor boy has just got the news of the death of his Mother, sister or sweetheart. If it had to be any we will hope it is a sweetheart as he can easy get another way out here.” I told her “Yes, maybe he will wait for me. I hope so.” I wished it was left to me to do the waiting, it seems I could wait most forever for such a kind lad like him.
We left the little post and took the dim trail. At times we could see fresh horse tracks and we were sure they had been made by the big buckskin horse. About sundown we went down a long winding hill. At the bottom we came to a strong six-wire fence and a heavy gate made of flat poles. It was the first gate to open on our one thousand, four-hundred miles of travel. Inside the fence was a fine stream of water. As the gate had no lock we drove through and forded the creek and drove under an old elm for the night.
We were up early, it was crisp and cool, maybe frost. We were packing, Daddy had the team ready and was looking for a track to lead out, but we had no trail, it seemed to run out at the gate. Mother said, “Hark, a man's voice.” We all stood still, and could hear the sweetest voice as it came floating out over the cool morning air. It went something like this, “There is another as dear, my sister, who might bitterly weep if she would hear that I was gone, but then maybe some other one could win her affection if I should be laid in my shallow grave, three by six foot one.” Then he came into sight from behind the heavy grove, he kept his eyes on every post as he sang, to see if the wires were fast. He stopped to see that the big gate was fastened. He looked our way and shouted, “Howda!” Father asked how the trail ran from here to the southwest. He answered, “Your trail has run out. Oh, you may see a chuck wagon or bone picker track, but that will mean nothing to you. They go nowhere. You will just have to use the sun for a guide if you go to the southwest from here. Good luck to you all.” At my tender age I knew my heart was trailing him as he went over the hill on his line of duty.
We started out over a fine rating country with a heavy coat of grass. There were hundreds of cattle on either side of us, some lying down, others taking their morning feed of the dew-covered grass. We drove all day over the most same kind of country with always cattle in sight, as hundreds of them came loping up close enough to take a look at us. We could see all of them had a large brand, CP, on their left hip.
Near sundown we drove over a flat piece of land that ran out to a valley most one-half mile wide and as far as we could see north and south. As we drove out to the edge of the valley, it was too steep at that place to drive down. We could see a little spring down to the left. Daddy took a long look west, then north, then south, then said, “It looks like this valley is at our trails end. We will drive our stake down by the spring and start our new home.” We all shouted with joy to think our long overland trip was over and at our trails end.
We were all up early next morning. It was too near cold weather to build a sod house like some we had looked at some sixty miles back. Daddy drove some stakes where we would build a dugout for winter and build a sod house in the spring. While Daddy took the team to go get forks and poles to make a roof, the rest of us started to dig out the hole, 12 x 16. In four days we moved in with plenty of poles for rafters and long bluestem grass laid in the rafters, then dirt. We hung our wagon sheet up in front for a doorway which made us light and air. We went to the bedding grounds and hauled several loads of dry buffalo chips and dry willows from the creek. With our big fireplace at the back we made it fine. As the cowboys would say, we had a modern home for the winter.
When spring came we started work on a good, big sod house. It was a big job to cut and haul and lay up the walls, but by all of us working we soon had it up. While Daddy and brother Rube had gone to the railroad 64 miles away we had our first experience with frontier life. The Great Flood of 1885. The next morning after they had left we could see great thunderheads in the southwest and north. Such lightening and thunder we had never experienced. By noon it had almost turned day into night. Soon the water began to fall in great sheets until nightfall. We stayed in our dugout which leaked very bad. Most of the dirt had washed from the roof. The canyon north of us had turned into creeks and the valley began to fill. By midnight it was a great tumbling river. It backed into our dugout until it was waist deep. Mother told us we must flee or we would drown. We made our way out and up the bank to the flat lands, but it seemed we must drown standing there. So we made our way to the east wall of our new sod house wall, which made protection from the wind, and there we stayed most chilled to death until day break came. Then we went to the west side of the wall and there viewed a dreadful sight. The valley was a tumbling river. We could see large bunches of cattle that had been trapped in the timbered canyons to the north and washed out in the flood. Most of them were floating on their side, dead, but many of them swimming high as they went by. We could see their long horns clip together as they would turn their heads and look our way, as if to say, “Would you please throw us a line?”
Now I will take you back to the Big Gate. During the winter the cowboys had told us that when we came through this Big gate we had entered one of the largest cattle ranches in the southwest, with fence lines north and south for thirty-six miles and east and west for thirty-six miles. Inside of this enclosure roamed at will eighty thousand cattle, and one thousand, two hundred horses, and the big C.P. brand that we had seen on the cattle stood for the Comanche Pool.
Soon after the flood the settlers came in fast. Two families came and took land down the valley two miles. One by the name of Wheeler and one by the name of Gard. As they were also building sod houses they wanted Daddy to go to the railroad and help haul lumber. Daddy, Rube and Mr. Gard went after lumber and Mr. Wheeler stayed at home and worked on the houses.
The second day after they had gone, we could see great clouds rising that looked as black as night to the east and west, almost as far as we could see. Mother told us we would go to the top of the hill not far away and take a look south as she feared we were to have another flood.
But we saw from there that it was a great mountain of smoke. It soon got so black it seemed the whole country was on fire. As we had a strong southwest wind, Mother said, “Look, a horse backer coming up the creek.” We ran to the bank near our house. Soon we could see that it was Nigger Bill, the faithful old cow hand who had gotten water from our spring many times. He was riding at top speed with his hat waving. He was shouting, “Flee to the north or backfire, the Indians are burning off the range.”
We had no way to flee as our team was gone, and being newcomers we didn't know what the word “backfire” meant. We had no time to ask as he never slacked his speed as he rode up the valley to warn the others. We ran back to the hill and stood spellbound, the smoke was close. Then my brother, Burt, pointed to the south and said, “Mother, they are coming.” It was Mr. Wheeler with his and the Gard family. We were glad to have company. We told them what the cowboy had shouted to us. Mr. Wheeler said, “We can't go any farther, the fire is too close to us. We will have to backfire. He sprang to the ground, set the grass on fire and told us to string the fire to the east and west, while he burnt around the house. We soon had a great fire. As soon as it had burnt enough to the north and the ground was free of fire, we all got into the wagon and he drove out on what our fire had burnt. There we waited for the great head fire to go by. The heat, dirt, and smoke was something that I have never forgotten.
The government had troops at Old Kiowa, Evansville and Comanche City, but the Redskins would slip over the lines between Posts and do meanness, but never came just our way. I guess that is the reason I still wore my long curls of hair. Daddy brought both field and garden seed home when he came with the lumber. After helping Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Gard with their houses he started plowing sod. As the sod was turned over, us kids would cut holes in the sod and drop in the seeds. We had a big crop of sweet corn, beans, peas, beets, potatoes, and pie melons, which we used many ways for food.
In early days we put plenty away for winter which came in mighty welcome, as the winter of 1885 went down in history as the hardest winter of all times, with the two great blizzards on the 6th and 16th of January. As we had a good sod house, and we had packed our old dugout full of buffalo chips and many loads of dry willow from the creek, we got along very good. Settlers that came late that fall, some with board shacks and many camped-out, suffered very badly. Many froze to death. The poor CP cattle drifted as far as they could go and froze to death by the thousands. In the spring round-up they claimed they had thirty-four thousand less.
But in the spring of 1886, Kansas came back to claim her name, “Sunny Kansas”. By fall settlers came in and took up all the land that had any water on it, and little towns sprang up. So in the spring of 1887 the cattle had to go, for the boom of Comanche County was on. Early in the spring the great round-up started to gather all the cattle of the great Comanche Pool, and drive them to the Picket Wire Company in Colorado (on Purgatoire River near Lamar). The Pool had twenty-two regular hands, and they brought in thirty men from other places to stage the great drive of sixteen-thousand and four-hundred cattle. All of the fifty-two men except cooks, horse wranglers, and bookkeepers worked from the outer edge of the enclosure of one hundred and thirty miles of fence, and drifted the cattle to near the center which took days and days. Then the men who had been brought in to help make the drive loose-herded them where they could get grass and water for days, while the Pool Hands that knew the country good brought in what was missed in the drive. They worked in pairs and brought them in from all parts of the range. After this was all done, they divided in three herds, six thousand in two different herds and four thousand four-hundred in one herd. And then they were ready to start on their long trail.
The start was to be made on Monday, March 20, 1887. As the Pool boys had been very good to the settlers, every one wanted to send them off, and say good-bye and wish them God Speed over the long journey without a trail. Many spent Sunday as close to the herds as they could, including myself with two girl chums, Grace McWilliams (niece to Orange Scott Cummins), Delley Funk, and my brother to drive the team to the herd which was five miles from our home. After getting there we were told that the Pool boys were all coming to the center wagons to get their meals, as each herd had two wagons - a chuck wagon and one to haul tents, bedding and so on.
The herds were some half mile apart, and wagons were about the same from the herds so as not to frighten the wild cattle. We drove as near the Pool wagons as we could and not be in the way. We set our spring seats off and waited for the boys to come to dinner. They would come in pairs. We knew the cook, Mr. Sam Wagnor. He was one of the oldest ranch cooks in the country. I had met him many times as he filled his water kegs from our spring at round-up times, to brand calves and gather beef steers to drive to Dodge City, then to market. As we were school girls, we each took a large tablet along, so we could ask each to write a line and their name so as to remember them if they never came back. We well knew some wouldn't return.
The last pair to come in was Nigger Bill and a tall, dark, dust-covered, tired-looking lad. As they rode in they both lifted their hats and the white boy smiled and said, “Howda”. I was sure I had seen that smile before, and where had I heard that word, “Howda”? I could not remember. They pulled off their saddles to let their poor horses' backs cool. The cook had placed food on the chuck box table. The boys had taken a wash in a half barrel tub to remove the dust and they stood as they ate their dinner. I told my chums I had seen that boy somewhere, but just could not remember where. After eating they lit a smoke and came back to saddle their horses to go to the horse herd to get a change of horses for the rest of the evening and maybe part of the night.
We took our tablets and went near where they were and asked them if they would write a line and give us their names. Billie told the lad to write a line and name, which he did and signed, Billie Hill, a friend. We told him it would make us happy if we could get a line from each one. With a wave of his hand, the white lad told us the whole herd could move on without him if it took that much to make someone happy. Then he took each of our books and wrote a line. I could see that he was very tired and nervous, but he couldn't hide that smile. I cannot tell you what was in my chum's book, but for mine, I can. I have it until this day. It is, “My little girl with the beautiful curls, I am leaving for a new frontier. I will be back some day if I do not meet my fate. While I am away, will you some times have a thought of the lad you met at Sun City, and our north east gate.” Signed, “Yours, the Kid.”
With a “thank you”, we went back to our spring seats to see what had been written in our books. As I read the lines I grew weak, it seemed my heart stood still. I read the lines over and over, as my mind ran back two and a half years. It was the Lad that talked so kindly in Sun City, and the one that my heart trailed away at the Big Pool gate, and the one I had often thought about, and who many times came to see me in my dreams. I couldn't pull myself together. I was spell bound. My chums came to my aid by saying, “Tell us what happened.” I handed them my lines to read and told them my story through a veil of tears.
After Mr. Wagnor, the cook, had finished his dinner work and sat down to take a smoke, we all went to him to ask him to tell us what he could about the last boy to dinner that signed his name, the Kid. He started out like this, “Well, girls, I suppose you found out about as much the three minutes you were talking with him as we ever have learned in the three years that he has been on the Pool. He and another boy came to our camp three years ago this month and stayed all night. In the morning as they were about to leave for somewhere ? I don't know where ? Nigger Bill asked them if they were looking for work. The Kid told him they would take a job since we were short of hands. He took them in the bunk house to see Mr. Blair, the range boss, and told him their business. The boss gave the Kid a look over and asked him like this, “What do you know about cow work?” “Not a darn thing, but it will only cost you a few feeds for me to show you I am willing to learn.” “Where did you come from?” In a southern brogue he told the boss, “From an honest southern family.” And that was all. “I guess you have a job.” “Well”, asked the Kid, “How about my buddy? “We will put him to looking after the saddle horses and pasture fences. We will show him where to work. I will send you with Billie Hill to the north side of the range.”
Mr. Wagner told me that by the lines in my tablet I had met him at the northeast gate. “He rode thirty mile lines from a side camp near the gate that summer. It didn't take us long to learn that he was the most God fearing boy that ever trod the West. Never had much to say, but was always ready to make his word good. So we all decided what was his business wasn't ours, and we soon learned to love the Kid.”
I wasn't but fifteen, but it didn't take me long, either, to know that I was still dearly in love with the tall, dark Kid. Then the cook went on to tell us about the great round-ups. “Before, to brand calves and gather beef steers for the market, you see, the boys was slack about their work. And hundreds of shy, old cows would slip away before they were got to the round-up bunch. And hundreds of big, wild steers would run the gauntlet and get away. And more hundreds of old range bulls would refuse to leave their old stomping ground and put up a fight and the boys would say. ‘Oh, we will get them next time.’ So it went that way. But this time was different. They had orders to gather everything as there would be no more round-ups, as we are leaving for a new country.”
“Well, I have told you about the Kid and where he worked. In the spring he would cut a mount of fifteen good horses and ask for a side camp somewhere on the north side. Didn't make any difference which one he wanted, he got it, for the boss would say what the Kid done was done well. He knew the north half of the range and the habits of the cattle better than anyone else. So he was put in charge of that part of the range in this big drive. And for three weeks he worked day and night, once more to make his word good.”
“I can see why you didn't recognize him after two and a half years. I hardly know him myself since this work started, but when the work is over he will be the same, smiling Kid again.”
It was a wonder he remembered me after two and a half years. I was only twelve years old when I met him in Sun City just for a moment. “Well,” said the cook, “I don't know about girls, but if he ever gets his eye on a new brand ? he doesn't carry a brand book ? he can tell you where every brand belongs from the Cimarron to the Arkansas, that is the reason he is our back line rider. He knows where every brand belongs in or outside of our range. I will have to say he is a strange lad. I don't know if he had girl trouble or man trouble, or no trouble at all before coming here. I can't say, but there is one thing I can say, we all love and will stand by the Kid. He was a boy when he came and someone asked him his name. With a smile he said, ‘From the looks of this bunch I am the Kid’, and it stuck to him.”
I told the cook I guess the reason that I had not met him is because he was north all the while. “Yes, he has been north except the spring of 1886 after the big blizzard. The Kid and Billie and Ed Whitesall was on the north, so in the morning after the last storm, they started out to see what they could find. They drifted south to find that the stock had all gone south. They made the thirty-six miles south to the Cottonwood camp on the State line, where they found Joe Dunning snowed under. After getting him dug out so they could get into the little camp, they found he was fine and well with a good supply of coffee, beans and bacon on hand. So they put in the night talking and eating. When day came they could see cattle each way, up and down the State line fence, and many more coming with the cold, brisk wind. There were many freezing to death among those that had stood by the fence all night. So the Kid decided there was nothing to do but cut down the six-wire fence and let them drift into the Strip.”
“So with their cutters they started to work, cutting wire between the posts. They took turns, one would cut and the other one would punch the half frozen cattle to get them started moving along. Hundreds of them were past traveling and lay down to die. The second day after the storm, I was told to get the chuck wagon loaded with grub and blankets. Then we would try to get to the south fence and cut it and let the cattle through. So at noon we started with eight men. It took all afternoon to make the ten miles from headquarters camp to the line, as we had to tramp and dig out for the wagon. When we got there we were surprised to find over twelve miles of fence cut and the cattle on their way, all that was able to go. We had no idea the north boys had ever made it down.”
“The only time I ever seen the Kid without his smile was when a big, would-be cowboy in our bunch asked him where he got his orders to cut that fence. The Kid replied, ‘Orders, Hell! That would be you, wait for orders and let twenty thousand cattle die from cold. Have you got any more to say?’ Well, he didn't. I guess it was a good thing from the looks on the young fence-cutter's face.” “After we finished our job, we all went back to the head camp where the boys got their praises for their good work from all. In a few days the Bosses said there would have to be a little camp put in down on the Cimarron River. Two or three would have to go down and ride the river and turn everything back so as to have them started north when spring came. It was a job that didn't suit many, as it would be thirty miles from nowhere.”
“One morning, Mr. Blair wanted to know who was going south, when the Kid told him that he would go. He explained, ‘Us three haven't nothing to do in the north side, so we'd just as well go south.’”
“So I loaded my wagon with grub and bedding and tools to build a little camp and we drove to the mouth of White Horse Creek, where there is a good spring, and made camp. The boys stayed there until spring when we all went down and helped to bring the cattle back up to the State. The fence was never put in good repair as they could see that this move was coming. That spring was the first time the Kid had ever worked on the south side, and that is the reason you two had never met.”
The cook was interesting and invited us to come back and see the drive start on their way. We all decided to stay out of school the next day and go back, as many others were. Next morning we were off early to go see the Big Drive start. Of course, we had to stay back on a high piece of ground, so as not to be in the way of anything. They were working to get the first herd strung out as we drove up. They had just left enough men to hold back two herds, while the rest looked to be thirty men, trying to get the first bunch of six thousand strung out.
Every one was riding hard, after they got a lead bunch started on the run, some would ride on each side of them while the others would crowd the herd. Some would swing their ropes, while others fired their six-shooters to frighten the wild cattle. But soon they had them strung out like a winding road over a mile long. Then the twelve boys who were to drive and one to take the lead left. The rest came back to help start the second herd. It was started out the same way. After they were on the trail enough boys came back to start the last bunch on their way. Soon there was a cloud of dust some five miles long.
Each herd passed by just to the south of the high ground where we were all visiting, with many other Mothers, Sisters, and sweethearts. We waved farewell to the boys who were making the trail for the new frontier towards the setting sun. After the dust had settled in the west, we all started for our homes. I am sure many others, like myself, left with a very sad heart.
For weeks and weeks no word came, and then the boys who went to just make the drive came drifting back. They told how the sheep and cattle war had broken out in that country. Cattle were coming by the thousands. C. L. Goodnight had brought thirty-five thousand from Texas and the sheep men had started a war to drive the cattle out as they had been there first. But the cattlemen had a lease from the State and were bound to hold the range, so the war went on. Many lives had been lost on both sides.
The boys kept drifting back till late fall. There had been no Pool boys come back. I had no word from my lover. Was he among the lost? At last one evening the last of November, as I was leaving my school room and starting to walk the two miles home, I heard a sound to my back. Looking back, I saw a horse backer was coming. As he came up he sprang from his horse and said, “My little girl, may I have your hand?” As we walked along, I asked him about the war. He told me he wanted to forget it all. Then I asked why he had kept his name from us and signed, “The Kid”. He told me in a few short words that when he left his Old Blue Ridge Mountain home, he had left his good mother who wasn't in good health. As he bade her good-bye down at the big, front gate, he made a vow that if anything should happen that she should never know about it. “After coming west with my brother who is in Kiowa we had decided that if anything should happen to either, the other should still write cheerful letters to her for both for as long as she lived.”
“The day I spoke to you in Sun City, I had just heard from my brother the first sad news of her death. I was so broken up I could not pull myself together. What was left for me? But your head of beautiful curls gave me new hopes in life. And I still kept my vow that if anything should happen, there was one more who should never see my name in the headlines, and that was you. But as I have been to the last frontier, I will take up a new life. I am more than glad you should know, so hear, it is Will Wimmer.”
By this time we were at my home. He told me he was on his way to Kiowa, but that the old cook had told him many times that you had told him of the happenings between us. He said he was sure that you were interested in me, and told me you lived at the Old Barrel Springs. “So I just couldn't pass through the country without seeing you. As it is getting late, I had better be off.” I told him, “NO, No, you shant go until you see Mother and the rest.” My Mother and Brother shouted with joy, and soon Daddy came to the house and was also glad to see him. He said, “Young man, if it hadn't been for you I might of not have had this house, so the latch string is on the outside whenever you come.” Of course he had to spend the night with us, but left early the next morning for Kiowa. I will call him Will from now on.
The little towns of Coldwater and Nescatunga had sprung up and soon were in a fight to see which one should be the county seat. Will's brother, Charley Wimmer, John Howland, Fred Stebans and Frank Wallace (?) came out from Kiowa to take part in the affair. They located in Coldwater, so Will divided his time between this part of the country and Kiowa.
We met several times that winter, at county seat meetings and a Christmas tree in Nescatunga. He told me several times that he would work on a horse ranch west of Coldwater in the spring that was owned by Moore and Drew of Caldwell, who also had a large ranch over there.
But by spring they had decided to move all of their horses to New Mexico. In early March of 1888 as Mother and I were working outside, we could see down the valley and saw a great herd of horses moving west. As we were talking about them, we could see a man coming our way. As he rode up I could see it was Will. As he got off his horse, he came and took my hand and said, “Little girl, it looks like the West has called me again. Drew and Moore are taking all the horses to New Mexico and I have received a number of letters from the Pool to come out this summer. I will help to take the horses out to their destination. Then, of course, I will go back to Raton, then over the Pass to Trinidad, and from there to the Pool cattle near Lamar and the Purgatory River to the Picket Wire Ranch.” I couldn't say anything, but “Please, don't go. That dreadful war. I am sure things won't be good.” Then he said, “I must make my word good as I always have, so I will go, but will make you a promise. I will be back when the work is well done this fall.” Then he bade Mother and I good-bye and rode away by saying, “You shall hear from me many times.”
He left me with a sad heart. I waved to him and shouted, “You will find me waiting when you return, be good.” Then we stood and watched the dust fade away in the west. As there were sixteen hundred horses in the herd, it took several days for them to reach Raton, so I couldn't hear from them until they reached there. By mail I received a letter saying,“We got here last evening after nineteen days of hard traveling. Will take four days yet before we can turn them over and I can come back here. I will try and find out how the sheep men down here are feeling about the Colorado range. I have heard since I came uptown, that the war has started out again, but the State guards have been called out. If so, it will be over by the time I get back here. I will go over the Pass to Trinidad and stay a day or two. I can find out how things are then, and will drop you a card from here when I get back, and a letter from Trinidad. Well, good-bye until you hear from me.”A letter from Raton arrived,
“I have got back here again. Myself and John Snow, the horse foreman, will go over the Pass tonight. It don't look too lovely for a cowhand here just now. You will hear from me from there.” And a long letter from Trinidad: “I will not go into details of the long letter, it would take too much space. Just enough to hold my story together. I have found out at the cattle exchange office that the guards have done no good. The sheep are mostly from New Mexico and they say the guards are only helping the cattle men, so they are sending more snipers up from that country to carry on the war. They will draw the guards, and if the war goes on longer, the U. S. troops will be called out from Fort Morgan. I feel sure it will all be over soon. I and Johnnie Snow will leave in the morning for the ranch as I want to get to work. I will send you a long letter by the way of Lamar after I get to work. It may be several days, as I just can't say when our wagon will go for supplies.”Days pass, weeks pass and no letter came. I would give up in despair, then the words he said, “Little Girl, I will be back when the work is well done this fall.” I would have new hopes.
At last a letter came, but not from Will. A lady wrote from Raton, N. Mexico that the U. S. troops had brought forty men down from Colorado and placed them inside the walls of the Federal Prison here, and three of them have been put in the ward that is my charge of care. All of them have been told not to talk by the Attorney(?) of Colorado. And they cannot send out any mail without it being inspected by the Warden, so they won't write. They are all shut in from the outside world for some time at least, but the three that is my charge is left to me, so I write for them and receive their mail confidential of any one. I have written letters for two of them, but the other one just wrote on a paper, “Just write to Miss Hattie Pierce, Nescatunga, Kansas. Be brave my good nurse, don't tell her I am hurt. Just tell her where they have got me.”
Miss Pierce, I don't know if you are a sister, sweetheart or friend. I deem it my duty to give full details. He has been badly wounded before coming here and has not had the best of care, but I will assure, he will have the best of care and all will be done that can be done for him. I don't want to alarm you, but if you are interested in this young man, please answer by return mail, then I will keep you informed. Write to Mrs. Wm. Linsey, Box 117, Raton, New Mexico. I am the wife of U. S. Marshal William Linsey and the head matron of the hospital in the Federal Prison here.I was so glad to hear from him I wrote a letter late in the evening and walked two miles in the dark to get it off in the morning stage. I got a letter every week from Mrs. Linsey. I could see she was trying to make things look good to me. But I could see between the lines that things wasn't so good at times. For nine long weeks, there was not one sunset that I didn't see the last shadow of sunlight as it faded away over the tall, gray wall in the little city of Raton.
I had never gone out with anyone but my brother, Burt, but I gave up going places of amusements with him. I gave up school, most gave up my meals, gave up everything but hope. For my sake my brother had his friend and sister come to our house. I was asked to go out for the evening. My answer was, “No, No” God had given but one heart and it was in the west. I was waiting for its return. I was asked how long I intended to wait. I said, “Forever, I will wait until my curls of hair turn to silver gray if it takes that long.”
It seemed that everything had gone bad in our country after the cattle had all been taken out. Such outfits as Bill Tailer, the Chitwood gang, and the Weaver boys were rustling all of the settlers' horses and mules, and driving them into No-mans land. The people had almost given up in despair for they could not stay without their teams, so they asked for law enforcement.
So Will's brother, Charlie, was nominated to run for sheriff. On his campaign tour he stopped at our place. When I first met him I told him who I was and asked him if he knew of Will's trouble and how I was interested. He told me not to worry. “I am looking after everything out there, and he will soon be back here.” He'd taken dinner at our house, after handing his campaign cards out to the men folks which said: C. F. Wimmer for Sheriff. The slogan was Vote for Wimmer and Bowers and we will make Comanche County a fit place to live. Then he handed me one of his cards, which I have until this day. That was forty years ago. Then he told me, “You shall have good news from the west.”
The days seemed like weeks, my brother would meet the stage every evening. One evening as I was watching the sun set, I heard him come. He shouted, “Sis, I have a letter mailed at Trinidad.” Mother came, I asked her to open the letter. “If it is bad news don't tell me.” She slowly read the letter, then moved to my side and said, “Good news for you. And here are the details.”
“Dear Little Girl. I have got back to Trinidad. Who do you think was here to meet us? My brother, Charley, Frank Jennings of Coldwater, Ed Samples of Medicine Lodge, and Jim Curry of Harper, Kansas. To meet the Texas Goodnight boys was Temple Houston and four other Attorneys. So you can see that we aren't forgotten men. As the big government wagons drove up to the county line to turn us over to the Las Animas County sheriff for trial, someone spoke up. “Why have the cattle men got all the Attorneys here?” Then Temple Houston (son of Sam Houston) spoke up, “Yes, we are all here and we have brought our skates and will stay until H--l is frozen over if these men aren't set free and d--n sure well-paid for their confinement. These great men will learn that they can't control the whole country these days. I feel sure we will get a speedy release and damage at our hearing. Don't worry. Just you is all I have to worry about. Now love to you and your Mother. Don't write until you hear from me. I may not be here to get your letter. From Will.”In a few days I had another letter.
“Little Girl, we are all free men again, and can go where we like. Charley and the boys have started east by rail, and I will go from here to the Pool camp to get my outfit and will soon be on the trail back your way. I will take my time as I am not used to this outside climate. Charley wanted to stay and go with me, but I had him go with the rest as his business needs him at home. As the fall work is well done, I will soon be rambling.”The days I waited seemed like weeks, but I knew he would come. The men folks had gone to the timber for posts one evening and I was helping Mother with the outside work. We could see someone coming horse back, and as he rode up I saw it was my Will. We both shouted with joy as I ran to him with outstretched hands. He put his arms around my shoulders and held me tight. As I looked into his pallid face, he placed his lips to mine time and time again for the first time in our life. Then he looked me in my eyes and said, “Little girl, I see you are true, you have kept these beautiful curls. I have come to stay if you will be my bride in June.”
You all well know my answer, then he took Mother's hands and told her, “I have always called your daughter, my Little Girl, but now I will call her my Big Sweetheart if you will not object.” “You are welcome,” he was told, and she placed her lips to his cheek and told him she was so glad that the time was so near that she could call him one of her boys, too.
Charley had been elected sheriff by a six to one vote and started out to make our county a safe place to live. Will started to work with him at once, and they were most always found riding side by side. But still we spent many happy evenings together.
And at my age of 17 and the 17 of June 1889, we were married by Justice J. R. Benson at old Evansville in the dining hall, at the headquarters camp of the good old Comanche Pool. This is written forty years after in 1929. During our first twelve years of married life, two sweet girls came to brighten our home, until both took husbands of their own. Both, I am sure, will rally to my defense when I say that they had one of the best Daddies that ever lived yet, and I am glad to say that I never have had one unhappy moment that all of this has come to pass.
========== The End ==========
This is a true story of pioneer life as experienced by Will and Hattie Wimmer, how they met, married, and lived within the boundaries of the vast Comanche Cattle Pool of South Central Kansas. The Wimmers were the parents of Hardtner's own Ruth Wimmer McCoy, who now lives at Friendship Manor in Hardtner. For years, Ruth and her sister, Pearl, treasured the legend, strength, honesty, and love their parents built during the hardships they endured, and the family kept this bit of history within the realm and serenity of their own home. Just recently Ruth, in her declining years, gave permission to let this valuable historical information be shared with those striving to preserve the history of the Western Plains.
Brothers Charley and Will Wimmer left the family home in Eastern Tennessee in the late 1870's. Charley was a young man and Will a twelve-year old boy. They said good-bye to their father, mother who was in poor health, two brothers and two sisters. They came by horseback with their belongings tied on their saddles. They worked along the way until they reached south central Kansas, and decided that was a good place to stop. They were in the Kiowa to Coldwater area. After the death of the mother in Tennessee, Abraham Wimmer brought the rest of his family, Lillian, Carrie, Luther and Benton, by covered wagon, and settled near Hardtner, Kansas.
Descendants of the early day Wimmer family still in the area are Ruth Wimmer McCoy, daughter of Will and Hattie Wimmer; Christie Wimmer McNett, granddaughter of Benton Wimmer; Christie's four children and seven grandchildren; five Wimmer great-grandchildren of Benton Wimmer also live in the area. Bob Meister, great-grandson of Will and Hattie Wimmer, and his two children live in Helena, Oklahoma.
Charley Wimmer, deceased, of the Yellowstone Community west of Hardtner, father of Christie Wimmer McNett, was the son of Benton Wimmer and nephew of Charley and Will Wimmer. Wesley and Semantha Pierce, Hattie Pierce Wimmer, Abraham Wimmer and four of his children, Will, Carrie, Luther and Benton are buried in the Fairview country cemetery southwest of Hardtner, Kansas.
When Will and Hattie Wimmer left Comanche County, Kansas, Will brought his little family to Hardtner in quest of a quieter, more serene environment to raise their daughters. He bought a small farm eleven miles southwest of town near Winchester, Oklahoma. A country schoolhouse was within a few hundred yards of their little sunshiny, cheerful home; surrounded by shade trees, fruit trees, a garden spot and best of all a good, strong spring that supplied plenty of cool, clear water for all their needs. “A modern home for the rest of our lives...
-- Hardtner Community News, 1997.
William Wimmerby Ruth McCoy
From Pioneer Footprints Across Woods County, 1976, p. 760.
Mr. & Mrs. William Wimmer were among the early settlers in Woods County, Ok. They were married June 17, 1889 at the headquarters of the Comanche Pool Cattle Company, Evansville, Comanche County, Kans. Mr. Wimmer had been employed by the cattle company soon after he came to Kansas in 1883.
Bill was born in Grant County, Ind.. He moved with his family to Nashville, Tn. and lived there until he came to Comanche County to be with his older brother, Charlie. Bill went to work for the Comanche Pool, one of the largest cattle ranches in the Southwest. Bill was working there at the time of the Big Blizzard that froze hundreds of cattle to death, and many people lost their lives in the severe storm. Prairie fires were another hazard on the plains in the early days. The cattle company was forced to move its herds westward to Colorado as the settlers came in and took homesteads on the Kansas prairie. After Bill came back from Colorado he decided to settle down in a home of his own.
Hattie Pierce was born in Harden County, Oh., the daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Wesley Pierce. She had come to Kansas with her parents, four brothers and one sister in 1884. It took nine weeks for the family to make the trip in two covered wagons. When the Pierces reached Wichita, Kansas, they found many other emigrants camped there. After a few days rest Mr. Pierce was ready to move on westward with his family. After several days travel over a rough prairie road, they came to a trading post and saw a sign that said, "Last Chance". This sign caused Mr. Pierce to wonder just what lay ahead and seeing a cowboy nearby, Mr. Pierce asked him about the road westward. The cowboy told him the stages go northwest, the freighters and bone pickers go north or east to find a market on the trail to the southwest. "The way I go you may see a chuck wagon or lone bone picker. If you go that way, the sign "last chance" means you better lay in a supply of flour, bacon, and beans." As the cowboy rode away he tipped his Stetson hat and said, "Howdy" to Mrs. Pierce and her two daughters and that was the way Hattie Pierce met Bill Wimmer. She had no way then of knowing that five years later she would marry this cowboy.
The trading post with the "Last Chance" sign was, and is now, the town of Sun City, Kansas.
After Hattie and Bill were married, they lived in a sod house in Comanche County until they came to Oklahoma when the Cherokee Strip was opened for settlement. They made the race for land and staked a claim 1 1/2 miles south of the Kansas-Oklahoma border. Their daughter, Lillian Pearl, was two years old at the time. The small family lived in a hillside dugout until a one room frame house could be built. The dugout served as a root cellar and storage place after the family moved into the new house.
One of the first winters Mr. Wimmer fed cattle for a Mr. Holmes. This extra income could be used to improve the homestead. Fruit and shade trees were planted along with the yearly garden and all flourished with the help of a good supply of water for household use and the livestock. Many neighbors hauled water from the spring until they could get a well put down on their own homestead. The spring water was always clear and cold and a dipper full on a hot afternoon was a real treat.
The Wimmers got their mail from the Winchester Country Store about two miles from their homestead and across the Salt Fork River. They had to ford the river until a bridge was built.
Another daughter, Ruth, was born to the Wimmers and both girls attended the Rose Hill School. The Wimmers lived on their farm until Mrs. Wimmer's failing health caused them to give up farm life in 1932. They moved to Hardtner, Kansas, and lived next door to their daughter Ruth and her Husband, Henry McCoy. Mr. Wimmer and Henry continued to farm the land. Mrs. Wimmer passed away Jan. 27, 1938. Mr. Wimmer made his home with the McCoys until his death Jan. 30, 1944. ?
Note by Phyllis Scherich, 1997:
"This was written by the mother of Mrs. Henry (Ruth) McCoy. Ruth is still living in 1997 in the nursing home at Kiowa, Kansas. She is well past 90 years old. Blind, but at times, her mind is very clear. Henry had a car dealership in Hardtner in the 1930's and 40's, Plymouth/Chrysler, I believe. This copy was given to Phyllis Scherich in March, 1997 by Earl and Della (McCracken - W. L. & Alice) Trotter of Hardtner. Her uncle John Smith rode for the Pool. This was given to Della because she worked at the library by Vivian Root Scharr. Christie (Wimmer) McNett gave this information to be published in Hardtner Community News and The Cowboy Storyteller in 1997. Christie's father (Clyde?) was a nephew of Bill Wimmer."
Email from Phyllis Scherich to Jerry Ferrin 6 March 2003:
"One of the reasons Ruth McCoy hesitated to have this manuscript published earlier was Hattie Wimmer's use of the term "Nigger Bill". Ruth wanted it to be made clear that this was not a derogatory title in any way. That was just his name! Her mother had much respect for him, especially after the warning of the fire. She also respected him for his horsemanship."
Note by Jerry Ferrin:
I also hesitated before publishing on this webpage what was apparently a local nickname used for Bill Hill which was related by Hattie Wimmer in her story. Ruth McCoy made the right decision, I believe, in allowing her mother's story to be published as written.
It's jarring to read this nickname casually used to identify a man whose genuinely heroic actions are central to this story, a well-respected and well-liked man admired for being able to do the difficult job of "bronc busting" (taming untrained horses to be saddle-ridden) and of whom Hattie speaks so often in the story. Hattie says: "We took our tablets and went near where they were and asked them if they would write a line and give us their names. Billie told the lad to write a line and name, which he did and signed, 'Billie Hill, a friend.'
From this, I think we can conclude that Bill Hill was called Billie Hill when people spoke to him or when he introduced himself. It was only when he wasn't present and people referred to him that he was called Nigger Bill, I believe.
The Comanche Pool, Comanche County, Kansas by Mary Einsel, from Kansas: The Priceless Prairie.
The History of Evansville, Comanche County, Kansas Headquarters of the Comanche Pool.
Jessie Evans of Evansville, Comanche County, Kansas Notes from the research of Phyllis Scherich.
Bill Hill, The Comanche Pool's Bronc Buster
Web design by Jerry Ferrin, this page was created 03 March 2003.
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