Archive for Thursday, October 11, 2007

Early De Soto physician’s family first years filled with hardship

October 11, 2007

Kathy Ross found this item from the June 10 and 17, 1937, De Soto News on the family of early De Soto physician Dr. W.M. Marcks. Ross also collected the photos from descendents. The following article was sent to the De Soto News by Frances Coffin Boaz, who found the letter in a trunk which belonged to her mother, Sarah Ann Marcks.


This is the history of the settlement of Dr. and Mrs. W. M. Marcks who settled in De Soto, Kan., in the fall of 1873, as written by their daughter, Mrs. Lillie B. Marcks Coffin, who passed away February 13, 1937.

"To write this story is like raking ashes from a fire still warm with memories near and dear to my heart of the days of long ago,---when Kansas was building and growing away from thoughts of war, Indian and border warfare, drought, grasshoppers, hot winds, chills and fevers along with hard times -- all are conditions of the past." wrote Mrs. Coffin.

My mother, Sarah Ann Hittell, was born in Texas, Pa., April 11, 1840, of French and Colonial Dutch ancestry, of generations of business and professional people. She was a cousin of Madison Peters, the noted writer and lecturer: also of John and Theodore Hittell, widely known writers and early day historians of California.

She was reared by her grandmother, Elizabeth Eisenhart Hittell. Sarah Ann was left motherless at the age of 7. Her grandmother reared 12 sons and seven grandchildren. Sarah Ann was the only girl in the family. She was surrounded with every comfort and the beautiful old Colonial home still stands in Old Zionville, Pa., where she spent her happy days. Her father and grandfather were both merchants, and Sarah Ann was always beautifully gowned. She was first sent to Mullinsburg College. She was united in marriage to Willoughby Mandes Marcks, M.D., Jan. 7, 1861, who at the time was a student in the Penna School of Medicine.

They moved to Fort Seneca, Ohio, a few months later and resided there until May 1869. Sarah Ann did not like Ohio. She never could breathe freely or deeply and grew thin and longed for a change to a climate somewhere in the West with Oregon being her dreamland. She never got further west than Colorado, where in after years she spent several summers and found her longed-for climate.

The doctor had been very successful in his practice of medicine. He only left Ohio because his wife was really ill. They joined a party of more than 30 people who were coming West to pioneer; the doctor, Sarah Ann, and three daughters, Lillie, Ellen and Lovina; William Bastain, his wife and eight children; Reverend Zerby, his wife and three children; Mr. Thom, a carpenter, his wife and three children; and others who came as Mr. Bastain's hired folk.

How our friends crowded around us at parting in Tiffin, Ohio. Some cried and talked of Indians and bears. I was 7 years old, I had been staying with friends in Tiffin three weeks and they felt so badly about my going West; they had me so beautifully dressed that even my father and mother scarcely knew me. I must have been a small bunch of vanity to remember all these years just what I had on: patent leather slippers, white stockings, a pretty red woolen dress, low in the neck, short puffed sleeves, waist short and tight fitting, braided in black wool braid. White woolen cape with a hood, all braided in black, white poke bonnet of finest braid and silk with long black velvet ties. My hair was thinned and curled at the hairdressers the night before. I remember her saying, "What pretty black hair and so much of it."

Along Stranger Creek

I recall my mother's headaches on the trip; many children dirty and cross and how we wished for the journey's end. The first step of the trip was marked on my memory by crossing the Mississippi River to St. Louis, on a steam ferry boat in an omnibus; then, Kansas City, and last of our long tiresome trip on the train was Stranger Station, now Linwood, Kan.

We arrived in the afternoon, May 16,1869, and were met with lumber wagons to take the entire party to the Bastain home, about four miles north of Stranger Creek. Of one thing I am sure to my mother and me it was a real lark. The road ran along Stranger Creek north and such a wilderness of willow and other trees, grape vines and hazel brush. Mother would say, "Oh how beautiful!" Not so with Mrs. Bastain, who cried and moaned, sure of the fact that Indians and bears were waiting for us at the next turn in the road. Poor woman! They brought their wealth, fine sons and daughters to help build a new country. They had sawmills ready to operate on Stranger Creek. In three weeks one blew up and a son, Thos. Bastain, a splendid young man, educated and cultured was killed. Three weeks later, Mrs. Bastain heart-broken, followed her son, and both are buried in Lawrence.

To go back to our trip to the Bastain home, as we drove on the prairie mother and I could hardly stay in the wagon. The wild flowers covered the prairies in a riot of colors like a beautiful rug. How we longed to gather some. The gravel beds were new to us and then the hired man said, "Now we are home already, and everybody talked, laughed, and were happy to be at a long journey's end.

We found waiting for us kind neighbors; long tables of boards were set out of doors and were soon loaded with food. I did not care about eating, wanted to go back to the flowers and gravel. I took all the children and such a happy time we had with lovely wild flowers everywhere.

Two rooms had been added to the log cabin built by Indians, one upstairs and one downstairs. Their pretty velvet carpet and other really beautiful furnishings sent ahead, were in place in the downstairs room. A wonderful cut glass chandelier was lighted, and laughing, talking and joking filled the hours until bed time. The children slept on pallets on the floor in the room downstairs.

We were scarcely asleep when we heard someone call, "Hello. Hello, get the doctor up quick." Mr. Moser got up to look after his cattle when he put on his boot, a snake was in one and bit him, "Oh, hurry up!" and Sarah Ann got up and went along. Moser recovered and thus began a life service to the people of a new country lasting over 50 years.

Tonganoxie home

Sarah Ann's first home was in Tonganoxie; the house still stands and doesn't look much worse for wear. Later on they bought several acres north of what is now Linwood and built a small home.

Life was hard, continued droughts followed by grasshoppers, made a desolate and barren country, but through years of hardship, they never lost faith in Kansas. Sarah Ann helped to minister to the sick in many ways. She often kept patients overnight when they came a long distance to see the doctor, or were too ill to return home, as they came horseback in most cases. The roads were too rough for gafons most of the time. Twice deaths came to those who came too late to be benefited and were too ill to return home. Another daughter, Stella E., was born in that home.

While we lived in Tonganoxie, one evening a neighbor, Mrs. House, came in all excited and crying, saying, "Oh. Mrs. Marcks, the town is full of Indians drunk and fighting. They are camping right down here in the hollow. I'm sure we will all be murdered." Going to the window we could see the campfires and hear the yelling and fighting. Mother hurriedly closed the doors, we went upstairs and watched the figures moving about the campfires. Pretty soon father called mother to let him in. He was accompanied by an Indian Chief, Pancake Johnnie, who said his wife was very ill, had to have some camphor, and they were afraid to refuse him so mother came upstairs for her camphor bottle, and told us we could come down and see an Indian chief. She handed him the camphor bottle and he drank every drop of it and nearly strangled to death; got his breath, grunted and left without a thank you. I still have a very vivid mental picture of those Indians when they left next morning; dogs, ponies, mover-wagons and real Indians, who were on their way to their reservation after a visit to Fort Leavenworth for government supplies.

In the fall of 1873, we moved to De Soto, Kansas. Joseph Hemphill and his wife Anne (who was a sister of B. W. Woodard, of Lawrence, and one of the three men who founded De Soto in 1858) brought us to our new home in their Democrat, a covered spring wagon with several seats, with the best conveyance in this part of Kansas.

Times were hard and money scarce during all those years, and Sarah Anne's boxes of trunks and dresses and shawls were cut up and made over to fill the needs of a growing family. One beautiful broadcloth party cape, circular and reaching the floor and lined throughout with heavy changeable silk, was taken to a tailor and a suit was made for father. The early china lasted for years and never was replaced with its equal for beauty and value. Mother's life, youth and beauty, were given to her children, husband and ministering to the sick and needy. She served as Esther, a point in the Order of the Eastern Star for nearly 30 years, was an active member of the Athenaeum club and other organizations for many years.

My parents thought little of gain or wealth in the years of service. When called on to help the sick, money was no object, but as the years passed swiftly on, time changed and prosperity smiled on them. They lived in the same home nearly 50 years, serving some families through three and often four generations. They established themselves so firmly in the hearts of this community as counselors, advisors, physician and friends that I wonder if anyone will ever fill their places. The need of the same denial and sacrifices are gone. Their fifth daughter, Grace, was born in De Soto. They helped those who were trying to make Kansas the fine state she is today. Father passed to his reward May 25, 1921, active and alert mentally serving and giving to the very last to the people of his home place. Mother passed on Nov. 9, 1923. Peace and blessings to them. They both rest in the cemetery at De Soto, Kansas.

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