Fresh beginnings make people reflect as well as anticipate. I’m no different as I behold the clean canvas of a brand-new year. Like many of you, genealogy and ancestry sites have captured my interest, and I’m intrigued by ancestors who migrated to begin fresh lives and kept on traveling. I’m curious about why so many kin made it to Kansas and stayed. As I explore their stories over the next few months, I hope your families examine your sunflower roots as well.
Our first Kansas ancestors arrived by train from Devizes, Ontario, Canada, in 1872. Although former brickmakers, they homesteaded along the Kansas/Nebraska border in Norton County, KS. While they exchanged longitudes, latitudes, and occupations, they maintained familiarity with their previous home by naming their new home Devizes, Kansas. According to family records, they donated land for a school, post office, and cemetery. Only the cemetery remains. Like so many start ups at the end of the 1800s, this little community withered til little except headstones remain to remind us of hopes that once existed in this isolated place.
This particular group of immigrants came not only to claim land, but also souls. Though Grandpa Reuben missed the Second Great Awakening of the earlier 1800s, he discovered a deep faith and committed himself and his family to the demands of a prairie Methodist Circuit rider. This meant he frequently left wife, children, and parents to develop the homestead while he and his pony traveled drainages with names of Beaver, Sappa, Prairie Dog, Solomon, Deer, and more. No matter the weather, he crisscrossed mostly empty miles, holding services for those settled far from town.
His tiny wife Hannah grew up as a daughter of ship captain who navigated Lake Michigan. Marrying Grandpa meant exchanging her predictable life for the exact opposite. I’m certain she surprised to herself by starting a family in a sod house far from any large body of water.
She made do in those first homes, offered bread and coffee to roaming Cheyenne, hid children in native grass to protect them from hostile natives, lived off missionary barrel goods sent by established eastern congregations, buried children, and in-laws, and lived to ripe old age before dying in Ford, Kansas.
Grandpa writes about arriving soon after the Rebellion when Kansans still reeled from the border wars. He detailed insect and weather-related devastation and expressed his satisfaction that many settlers hungered to hear the Lord’s message.
As I read his memoirs, I note town names have changed. Lenora was once Spring City while Glade was Marvin. He shared his frustrations with getting actual church buildings constructed. In Kensington, he and the Baptist preacher held services in the local saloon Sundays when it closed for regular business. He and the Methodists of Agra raised funds to build a sanctuary that was soon destroyed by a tornado. They didn’t give up. The community rallied and rebuilt their church.
With a love of history and so many roots in Kansas, I’ve stories to share. Perhaps our tales intersect with yours. I’m eager to hear from those with details to fill empty blanks in our saga.
Native Kansan Karen Madorin is a local writer and retired teacher who loves sharing stories about places, people, critters, plants, food, and history of the High Plains.