Archive for Thursday, March 29, 2007

Childhood memories

March 29, 2007

Alice Smith Dow, 1854-1943, was one of De Soto's early residents, moving to what she described as a village in 1860 when her father, the Rev. W.H. Smith, became the town's first minister. He was later responsible for the construction of Stone Church at 84th and Peoria streets. The family lived a quarter-mile west of homes and businesses hugging the Kansas River at what is now 85th Street and Penner Avenue.

In conjunction with the De Soto sesquicentennial, this is the fifth and final installment of Dow's 1940 recollections to appear in The Explorer.

As always in time of war, party feeling ran high; even the children were infected by it. There was an irascible little man by the name of Sturdevant whose temper sometimes got the better of his judgment. One morning he rode to our house and called loudly for my father. Of course, we children followed father to the door. Mr. Sturdevant said that he and his son, Bill, had been insulted by a boy calling them "Secesh."

"Why that is too bad, Mr. Sturdevant. Who is the boy?" my father said.

"There he is right behind you," he roared.

My brother, Legh, in great consternation, immediately disappeared behind the skirts of his mother. Father succeeded in pacifying the irate gentleman, and he rode away.

We had no ice in the summer until men began to fill ice houses. The milk and butter were hung in pails in the well. Children took turns waving the branch of a tree to keep flies off the table while their elders ate their dinner, as there were no screens nor even mosquito netting in use until later years. Children were not supposed to sit down to the table to eat their meals until their turn came. They would stand about, first on one foot, then on the other. At a home where we were sometimes entertained, there were two children who waited impatiently for the elders to finish their dinner. They would call out, "Ma, save me the gizzard," or "Ma, save me the leg."

This to the great embarrassment of the guests.

Our Congressman S.C. Pomeroy, interested himself in relief work among the people in Kansas. Beans, hardtack and clothing were sent to my father's house to be distributed, and people came from all over the country for them. Many a Kansas boy has worn a shirt with the name of S.C. Pomeroy printed across the shoulders, and hand towels were often made of them. The hardtack was the size of a cracker, but it was so hard that a hammer was the best thing to break it up with. The soldiers in the civil war dipped theirs in water, then fried them after they had taken the bacon from the frying pan. They have better food now.

De Soto was the crossing point for the six-mule wagons loaded with government supplies and soldiers. And the soldiers frequently camped at the Stratton place, or down near the creek. After they left, the boys of the town would spend much time searching the campgrounds for anything that might have been left or forgotten. Nothing of much value, however, was ever found. A bottle of Perry Davis' Pain Killer is all I can remember that our boy discovered.

Kansas at that time was just recovering from the troubles of 1854 and 1856 when the Free State men from Massachusetts and Connecticut made their long journey to prevent slavery in this new territory of Kansas, and welcomed all who wished to cast their lot with these pioneers.

"Who crossed the prairies, as of old their fathers crossed the sea."

Mother said we crossed the Missouri River at Westport Landing. I cannot remember how it looked there, but it was a small place where, as well as at Independence, Mo., the last supplies were furnished to the wagon trains moving across the Great Plains to the west.

Several miles south of Kansas City there are one or two old buildings that formed the town or settlement called New Santa Fe. It is in a beautiful country, well wooded and watered. At that time, it must have been opened to settlement and one wonders why they did not stop there and make their homes instead of pushing across deserts and through hostile tribes of Indians. But nothing ever stopped this trek to the west but the Pacific Ocean. The statue of "Pioneer Mother" in Penn Valley Park shows that endurance women, as well as men, must have shown.

So, I close, hoping that this recital of the early days will be interesting to my children, and they may take pleasure in reading a short narrative of the young life of Alice Smith Dow.

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