Rice County

Story of
Early Rice County

Published, December, 1928


This little volume is presented not without apologies for qualities in which it may be lacking. It is regarded by the author not as a complete work on the subject, but rather as a collection of historical facts, anecdotes and legends concerning Rice county, Kansas, as they have been gathered during the past six or seven years. It is safe to say that few counties of the state have such varied, interesting and colorful pasts as has been that of our own. Coronado, picturesque conquistador of the Sixteenth century, gave to Rice county its link with old-world exploration and efforts at conquest. Following the guidance of a prairie Indian, and filled with the pictured realization of his vivid dreams of gold, that intrepid Spaniard found wealth but failed to recognize it in its unrefined form. Centuries elapsed before that wealth was brought up from the very soil Coronado had trod with blind disgust and utter disappointment. It came, eventually, in the form of golden wheat, in expanse so vast that even the Spaniard's unhindered view could not have embraced it in its scope of vision over hundreds of scorching prairie miles. It came from far greater depths in dark and oddly scented fluid which to the Spaniard could have had no meaning. It found its way to the surface in the form of crystal salt, a commodity of utmost necessity from time immemorial. It emerged in the finished products of numerous factories which have arisen upon the tide of settlement. It has come to express itself in a million ways in a new and busy, bustling world a forward glimpse at which would have awed the little Coronado band far more than they frightened the painted, "brutish people" with whom they established first contact for the civilization to follow. From Coronado's day Rice county's episodes have been a rapid succession of brilliant efforts and thrilling events. One may even today find living champions of causes won or lost in the great struggle immediately preceding and following settlement by the pioneers. It is with these early, frontier times that the writer has chosen to end his research, realizing that he is living in an age in which a few of the original generation survive to relate the incidents attendant with the first days of the county out of the sod. He has had the feeling that later periods might be accurately chronicled even so much as half a century later because of permanent records made and kept. It has been the main purpose of this volume to present a prehistoric and early historic summary and to bring it down to meet the period of settlement, the details of which are fading with the passing of those who experienced them. To accomplish it was not the work of one man, but of scores of persons. Old men and women, some of them blind or deaf, or both, a few bedridden with the infirmities of old age, have welcomed with whole-souled and strenuous effort the writer's desire to gain from them their stories. Many times it has been a matter of the greatest mental and physical exertion for them to recall with sufficient certainty the points being sought, but in every single case the necessary strength has been gladly given that the history of their age might be preserved. The writer has come to feel that in accepting their stories he has accepted an obligation which could find fulfillment only through the printed word. To him these old persons have not seemed pitifully weak, but rather as strong characters approaching the end of life with remarkable strength remaining, and possessing realization that the experiences which went into the making of a new home country might be lost forever unless they spoke freely and quickly. It is only fair to give the names of some of these people and of many younger ones who have co-operated in the compilation of this material. The writer wishes to acknowledge the assistance of such persons as George M. Hoffman, pioneer freighter, plainsman and settler; Daniel M. Bell, early settler, pioneer merchant, first commissioner and buffalo hunter; the late William Hopkins, pioneer settler; Moses F. Baker, pioneer; Robert Millard, plainsman and buffalo hunter; the late Frank W. Truesdell, early Lyons merchant and townbuilder; George W. Hodgson, early settler; and numerous others who have contributed in a smaller but no less important measure. Then there are Robert Sturgeon, who has given numerous valuable tips; Bliss Isely, Wichita, Kansas historian for much information concerning "Buffalo Bill" Mathewson, and assistance on the subject of Spanish exploration; William Mathewson, Jr., of Wichita, for information regarding his father, "Buffalo Bill" Mathewson; W. E. Connelley, secretary of the State Historical Society, for various information and advice; Frank Hoyt, for information regarding "lost towns"; Luther Cotten, for Santa Fe trail and treasure legend information; Sam Ainsworth, county engineer, for the account of the county's geological formation; M. V. Walker, of Hays, for the story of prehistoric animals; J. E. Thackrey, president of the Rice County Historical Society; and literally scores of others who have given time, advice, transportation and information, generously and gladly. Last, but no less helpful, has been the assistance of the writer's mother, who was herself a pioneer, having come to Sterling in 1877 and to Lyons shortly afterward.


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