Note: Also provided by Linda Andersen with Galva's museum. EARLY LIFE IN KANSASBYLeora Foster Flook
The Colby homestead. Joseph Colby founded Empire in around 1871. His great, great grandson, Scott Colley, is a renowned jazz bassist who used this photo for the cover of his new album, Empire.
Michael Sauer was the first buried at the Empire Cemetery, one of the few remains of this ghost town. He died from complications of being caught in a blizzard. I was born 6 miles south of Blairstown, Benton County, Iowa, July 8, 1867. We owned a farm in Iowa later, but I don't know just where. Anyway, my father decided to come to Kansas, so he came first and looked things over, bought a half interest in a store with a Dr. Fry in what was known as Empire. The doctor was to follow his profession and in idle time help in the store. Father also took up a claim of 160 acres, the SW quarter in Section 1-20-2. Then he came back to Iowa, sold his farm and we moved in with Grandpa Morse's for the summer. The 27th of April, Jessie was born and the following September, 1873, we moved to Kansas.
The Colby family
We came by train and I don't remember much about the trip except that we children all had a little bag of assafeodita on a string around our neck to keep us from catching anything while on the train; also, that we crossed the Missouri River on a ferry boat. They drove the bus onto it, and it moved so slow and easy I thought we were sitting still and asked a lady when we were going to start. She said, "We are almost across, look," and sure enough, we were. The water in the river looked yellow and muddy. We finally arrived in Newton, the end of the Railroad for us, and Father set out to find someone to take us on the rest of the way. He found a young man named Holderman who had come to Newton for some lumber. He said he would take us if we would stop at his home for the night. As it was then afternoon, we went with him. He lived on our route anyway. Early the next morning we started for our new home in a lumber wagon behind a big span of mules. The road was only a track across the prairie marked by a row of little stakes with white rags on them. There were very few houses and nothing much to see but the rolling prairie so the trip was rather tedious for we children. At last a little before sundown we drew up before a small one story house a little way north of the Trail through Empire, known as the Everybody House, because so many people had lived there.
(Note: It was said that one winter there were 16 people lived in the Everybody House. Of course, there were not nearly enough chairs to go around, so sometimes those who were standing would go to the window and seem intently looking at something. Soon someone's curiosity would get the better of them, and they would get up and look out. Then the one standing would run and get their chair.)
It was probably about 14 x 16 with a loft above, reached by a ladder nailed against the wall. There were two windows of the 6 pane kind and one door. The room was plastered with gypson which had cracked until it resembled a map and the cracks were plentifully filled with bed bugs, of which Mother had a great dislike and had no desire of having them for bed-fellows. After supper was out of the way, she had Father bring a bucket of water and after putting in a liberal handful of salt, she mopped the floor with it, and then made down our beds and we were soon all asleep.
The house set on the back of Turkey Creek. The road ran right past the door, almost to the door-step, and across the road was a big hill leading down to the creek. We got our water at a spring near the creek. Father sunk a barrel in it and we dipped up the water with a bucket. The path to the house was rather steep, but we had no other well. I remember one rather funny thing that happened one windy Sunday. The preacher was at our house for dinner. He had a one horse buggy and had left it sitting on top the hill near the house. The wind was very strong and all at once, that buggy started moving and over the hill it went, to the great amusement of us kids and the consternation of the grown-ups. However, little damage was done. Next time he came, he left his buggy farther back from the bank.
I think Dr. Fry owned the Everybody House, for in the spring he put a lean-to on the back of it. I don't know the size, but not very big, for there was only four or five foot in front of the beds and for length, they built two beds right into it and it took up all the length. The bedsteads were made of 2 x 4's with holes bored into them, about 8 inches apart, possibly 10 inches. Through these holes a rope was run by tying a knot in one end, then putting it through one hole in top, pass to bottom or foot, put through hole, across to next hole and back until all the holes in the ends were used, and then across the corner and start in crossways over, under, over, under through hole and back till all were filled. That made a nice springy bed, as there were no slats used.
It was while the doctor was building this lean-to that we had our first prairie fire. Father came running in from the store and said, "Come on, Doc, there is a big fire off to the Northwest and I believe it is headed this way." Doc dropped his carpenter apron, grabbed a pail of water and a sack and Father another one, and away they went. Soon a man with a plow commenced plowing south of us along the creek trying to throw a fire guard, so the fire would not cross over, and in the meantime, Mother was not idle. She set us kids to bringing water up the hill. Then she had a churn part full of brine (don't remember what it came off of as we had no pork) but anyway, she had it. She got a wide board, then we would lay it down just beyond the chip pile, take her mop and wet the ground along the side of the board, move and wet again. When the brine was gone, she used water and so wet quite a strip, but soon we saw Father and Doc coming on the dead run and the fire not far behind them. My, but it looked terrible. Doc shouted to brother Vin to turn out Sailor, his horse, but before he could do so, the fire was upon us and we all rushed into the house. It came to the edge of the chip pile, but when it struck the wet-grass with a rush and a roar, it divided and swept down on both sides of the house. Our little home was safe, and so was Sailor in his stable.
I forgot to state that when we got to Kansas, we found someone had jumped Father's claim. There was an old man named Wilson who had several grown sons. They wanted land all together, so they talked it over and Father gave up and those people became our good friends. Then Father bought a man's relinquishment paper's in Empire Township a mile north of Empire.
In 1874, the grasshoppers came. They lit down suddenly and sure were thick. They darkened the windows like a cloud, ate holes in the flour and other things at the store. So had to cover everything possible. We had a small patch of sod corn but when the hoppers left, there was only a few little stalks left, with no leaves on them. The chickens nearly run their legs off catching hoppers. Then they left as suddenly as they came. That winter was very hard times for Kansas. Many got discouraged and went back east and others had to have help.
Our neighbor, Joe Colby, came from Ohio. Their folks wrote them there was plenty of fruit there and if they could come back, they could have all they wanted. They sent them money to come on, but the next thing was something to wear. Mother and Mrs. Colby set to work to fix them up. At last all was ready but Ed, the 2 year old, had no clothes, so Mother took an old wool dress of her own and made him a suit to wear on the train. When they came back, they gave us some of the fruit.
I will describe the store. It stood on the north side of the Trail on top of the hill about a 1/4 mile west of where Turkey Creek crosses the road. I don't know the size of it, but was probably about 16 x 24 and a story and a half high. It had a square top in front like most stores and two windows and a door both above and below, in front. I don't remember about the back, but think there were windows there also. The upstairs was reached by an outside stairway, landing on the balcony of a porch over the front of the store. Later some people lived up there a while. Also, after a while, Father put a shed lean-to on the back to keep his oil barrels and other things in. Once a boy seen something in an empty barrel and reached in to see what it was. He found out -- had to bury his hand and arm in the ground most of the afternoon to get rid of the perfume.
In addition to the usual things found in a country store, Father kept a small line of drugs and later also kept the Post Office, much to the disgust of some others who would like to have got it, but couldn't.
The town lay on both sides of the creek and gradually built up until the Railroad came through Galva in 1879. There was the school house, Everybody House, Colby's farm house, Zack Drew's Photograph Gallery, Doyl's house, who later kept Post Office, and Bengerman's house on the west side. On the east side were Turner's house, Store, and Blacksmith Shop, Drew's house, Blacksmith's Shop, Dr. Haskin's house in which he also had his office and a hotel. I don't remember who owned or ran that. But at the time Father bought the store, there were only the school house, store, Colby's house and the Everybody House; on the other side, just Turner's buildings.
Dr. Fry came from Illinois, I think, and never had his family here, though a nephew John Fry was here a few months. Then the Doctor decided to go back home and Father was alone in the store a little while except for a shoemaker named Colar or Kohlar who had his shop in the back of the store a while. Then one day a peddler with regular red Peddling Cart came along, sold Father some goods and finally made him an offer for an interest in the store and Father took him up. He was an oldish man named Fairhurst, had a very nice wife, daughter, and two sons, but altho his family moved here, he and his wife did not live together and we soon found out why. He was a drinking man, and after a year or so together, Father told him he would buy out or sell out, but rather sell. So he sold and turned all his attention to farming. When the Railroad came to Galva, Fairhurst moved the store to Canton.
Father hired some men by the name of Hodson to break out some land on the farm. He also hired Tom Perry and Jeremiah Tinsley to build a house. There was a cellar under all of it, walled up mostly with red sandstone rock and 18 inches thick. The house was 16 x 24 x 12 feet. It faced the south. When partly finished, we moved in, in June, 1875. On account of the house not being finished, we used the cellar for a kitchen and liked it so well, we kept on using it that way, partitioned off about 7 feet on the north end to use for a cellar, put in a floor, built in cupboards and larger windows, and plastered the walls. It made a fine kitchen, cool in summer and warm in winter.
Father bought one horse, a two year old colt named Claud, and two yoke of oxen, named Buck and Bright; Rock and Riley. It was quite a while before we had any more horses.
The following spring, he set out a grove of cottonwood trees around the house. Tiny seedlings about a foot high and big around as a knitting needle. It was to the bare ground in those trees we owed the saving of our home. It was a terribly windy day from the south and the air looked smoky which indicated there was a fire somewhere. Father was at the store. About 9 o'clock, Uncle Brickie came by and told us he was going to turn our stock out on the plowing north of the house because there was a big prairie fire headed our way. Not long after he left, Father and John Lowery came. They said they feared the fire was coming our way and thought they better start a back fire across the road from us to protect our buildings, so they did. But the wind was so strong, it whipped the fire across the road and in a minute everything in the barnyard was afire, our stable and henhouse were of poles and straw and were soon in a fire. Also, a small haystack and a big box with 10 bushel of corn in it. All went up in smoke, even got part of our chickens which were in the henhouse. It even caught every little tuft of grass on the plowing where the trees were, but there was only one now and then, so the house was saved. There were many prairie fires, but the two I have mentioned were the only ones that came near burning us out. For years, we always had to be on the lookout for fires. There were lots of tumbleweeds and they were mean to carry fire. After we had hedges, they used to collect in them and in the fall or on some still night, we would all go out with pitch forks and get the tumbleweeds out of the hedge, then pile them in big stacks and set them on fire. They sure looked pretty.
There were beautiful wild flowers all over the prairie, blue, pink and white daisies, so thick they looked like blankets spread on the grass; blue or purple buffalo peas; also a yellow pea and another kind that grew on a bush and had tiny clusters of purple flowers on them; yellow buttercups, wild petunia, snake flowers, grass flowers and some others.
Our wood was hauled from up on the Smoky River but lots of the time we burned cow chips, sunflowers which grew very large, and sometimes cornstalks. We children used to make playhouses in the sunflowers by pulling some of them up as there were great patches of them and they grew three or four feet high and some higher. We had all the rooms we wanted to our houses, especially at the school house and while we lived at the creek.
There was church at Empire School House twice on Sunday. The Methodist and Christian (Camolites) alternating Sundays. Rev. Rose, Methodist, and Rev. Sevie or sometimes a Rev. Matchet, Christian. A Mrs. Williams, commonly called Aunt Nanny, lived 8 miles north of Empire. Every fine Sunday she put her stockings in her pocket, took her shoes in her hand and walked down to our house (Everybody House), put her shoes and stockings on and went to church with us, came back for dinner and toward night, walked home. This, of course, only in warm weather. I must describe Aunt Nanny. She was a Southerner and said her people kept slaves and she never done a lick of work in her life till after the war. I don't think she done much then from the look of her house. She was about six feet tall, slender and straight as an Indian, heavy dark hair that came to her knees when she stood up and of which she was very proud. She wore it coiled about her head and it about covered it as her head was small. I knew her for years and I don't remember ever seeing her anywhere that she did not take down her hair, comb and recoil it on her head, at least once while she was there. She had a thin face, brown as a gypsy, usually wore a black dress and a black slat-sunbonnet, and traveled all over the country on foot. Later her husband died and her and her two sons came to live on a farm that joined my Father's farm on the north. She was a great beggar and would ask for anything she wanted from garden seeds to a little pig. They were all odd. Johnnie, the youngest boy, wore his hair long. It was a reddish-brown and came down around his shoulders and was a little curly. He rode a buck-skin pony, wore chaps and a wide rim hat and when he rode fast, his elbows went up and down like flapping wings. He sure looked funny. He finally married a girl from Arkansas, and he had to cut off his curls because the baby pulled them so. His older brother, Henry Grant, went with Jessie a while and would like to have married her, but she couldn't stand Aunt Nanny and little Johnnie.
It was while we lived in the Everybody House that brother Gene was born and Elsie Cornwell came to work for us. She stayed with us 4 years and a year or so later, married Mother's brother, Brayton Morse. I was 12 when she left us and I was expected to take her place with the work, but for that fall, I was to have one hour to play every afternoon. Once I did not come when Mother called me and the next thing I knew she was there with a cottonwood switch in her hand and oh, how it did tingle as she applied it to the back of my bare legs! I did not neglect to come next time she called me. That fall ended my childhood so far as play was concerned.
My first teacher in Kansas was Mr. Meeks. Then there was Mr. Minton, Nettie Glasford, Mr. Garret, Mrs. Perine and Nan Simpson, Ed Blanchard. School only lasted five months. As there were no high schools or normal's nearer than Newton, the people of Galva took up a subscription in the form of scholarships at $100. each and started an Academy at Galva. The building was two storys and the school was upstairs. The teacher lived down stairs. As Father held a scholarship, I went there to school the winter after I was 13, 14, and 15. I started in the winter after I was 16, but Mother's health was poor and there was so much work at home that I had to quit school and stayed home to help with the work. We only had five months school there, too. Prof. Nellson and later Prof. Unholtz and wife were the teachers I went to there.
When I was 10 or 11 years old, there was to be a camp meeting at Marion and Father decided to go and Vin and I were allowed to go, too, while Elsie stayed home with the younger children. It was to last a week. When Father made the trade with Fairhurst, he got the old peddling cart. He took the top off from it and had a box made on the running gears. It had good springs, but the box sat on top of them, so was rather high up and the wagon was longer than most of them. There was plenty of room for three spring seats on it. The young people used to often borrow it when going on picnics as it would hold so many.Well, one fine morning we loaded up this wagon with a small two lid stove and other things to use while at camp meeting, and away we went. When we got about 1 1/2 miles from home, we came to a place where the road was very sideling. We had not been very careful about balancing our load and pretty soon we saw we were going to upset. Vin threw his weight on the high side of the wagon, but over she went and we landed in a nice thick patch of sand burs. Mother picked stickers out of her elbow for a week.
None of us were hurt, so after a good laugh, we partly unloaded the wagon, straightened it up, reloaded and went on our way.
The meeting was held on the bank of the River in a beautiful grove. There was a very big tent for the preachers to sleep in and a smaller one that we and a neighbor family slept in, but the neighbor man and one of the preachers snored outrageously and no one wanted to sleep near them, so they slept in a spring wagon down near the river. They said they guessed they wouldn't stampede the horses. Well, we had a wonderful time and got home without any more mishaps. There were lots of other people there, too, of course.
Of course, there were always protracted meetings every winter at the Empire School House, and the Camolites (or Christians) used to baptize by immersion in a deep hole in the creek a little way north of the school house. I have seen many baptisms there. They always baptized as soon as they went forward, rain or shine, no matter how late it was, but they don't do that way any more.
At one time it was thought, there was coal in the bank of the creek north of the school house and a well was started but the water came in so bad, that after digging about 150 feet, they gave it up.
Empire, Kansas continued: Leora Flook's story
Note: Also provided by Linda Andersen with Galva's museum. EARLY LIFE IN KANSASBYLeora Foster Flook