We’re fortunate to have two guest authors today.
In August 1947, the Larned Chronoscope, a local newspaper, published the recollections of sisters Anna Buhrer Webb and Lucy Buhrer Hays about their early days in Pawnee County.
If we told these stories, we’d be accused of embellishment. It’s amazing to hear how our grandparents forged a life on the Kansas prairie.
In the last story, we heard how the Buhrers arrived on a train in the spring of 1878, with their horses and equipment arriving the next day on a freight train. The Richards family, an earlier neighbor in Ohio, took in the ten people of the Buhrer family to stay with them temporarily.
Jacob Buhrer had purchased Section 15 in Pawnee County, a square mile of unbroken land nine miles south of Larned, in Pleasant Valley Township. Now they would build a house and a farm and a life.
Here’s the newspaper article that contains the sisters’ recollections. Don’t try to read the fine print. The girls will tell you all about it in the following pages.
Just think. These recollections are from 70 years earlier!
Father built a frame house on his section one mile west and eight and one-half miles south of Larned. Father was a mason, so he built a nice basement kitchen and a cellar on the north, both of native stone. The cellar had a north window, the kitchen two east windows, and a large double window on the west, and a south door with stone steps going up to the porch, which had a stone wall two feet high on two sides, all open at the top.
We had a sod horse barn, sod hen house, and a sod house for the brood sows, a long barn made of prairie blue stem and manure. The walls were two feet thick, with posts and walls on the side and large posts on the center and top. We got willows at the Arkansas River to put on top. Then a lot of prairie hay on top of that to turn the rain, then put wire hangers with stones on the ends to hold the roof on. The cows were on one side and the calves on the other. The barn had an east door and a south door. Nothing froze there during the blizzards.
A blizzard started the last night of 1885 and lasted three nights and three days.
Brothers Mike and Jake carried water for the stock out of a draw well with buckets on a rope on a pulley. They did milking during the blizzard. They wouldn’t let mother go out during the storm.
Jacob Buhrer later walled up the room over the basement with native stone and plastered over the stone. This room and the attic area were used for bedrooms. The family’s living room was in the basement kitchen.
We were snug and warm in our basement. We had a long table, one small and one large cupboard, a lounge, chairs, two benches, a dough tray three feet long that mother mixed her bread in, enough at a time for ten or twelve loaves of bread to last a week. She would put it on a shelf in the cellar and cover it with a cloth.
We also had a four hole cook stove that father would feed with corn stalks for mother to bake our bread.
In the spring we would go out on the prairie and pull up rosin weeds that were dead and press them into bunches to burn in the cook stove, and gather up buffalo chips to burn.
I wish I had a picture of the long ricks of chips I used to pick up to burn in the heating stove to keep us warm and in the cook stove to cook our meals and bake bread and cookies and pies.
“Them were the good old days.”
The land was unbroken so a team of oxen was purchased and sod broken and a wheat crop sowed. In the spring corn was planted. It grew abundantly, then the drought set in and the crops did not yield any grain. The corn was cut down by hand for feed. The drought lasted through ’79 and into ’80 and as a consequence father lost all but one quarter of his land, the NW 1/4 of Section 15, Township 23, Range 16.
When it was too late the family realized that it would have been better to spend their money for cows than for a yoke of oxen. The next few years were difficult.
Most of the children worked for meager wages which were often pooled to keep the family going.
The pioneers were glad to help each other. Work was traded with the neighbors. Even the farm implements were loaned. One time when the family wanted to use the one horse sulkey rake it was finally located away down south on the Rattlesnake. The self rake reaper as well as the sulkey rake would indeed be novel implements today. The reaper would cut a small bundle of grain with a sweeping motion, which had to be tied by hand with a band of straw.
The first child born was sister Caroline’s son, Will Sigg, born in our home.
The first death was a Mrs. Richardson who was buried on the west bank of a large pond west of the old Harmony school site. The first burial in Pleasant Valley was for Jackie Blaine in the early ’80s.
The first marriage was sister Philipena and Abner K. Beckwith.
The first school we attended was at Harmony, District 24, in the summer of 1878. Peter Qivier was a carpenter, and built the first Harmony school building, a frame one in 1878, and built the Pratt school house, also frame, in 1879.
Mrs. Carrie Conduitte, the wife of a doctor, who lived in the southeast part of the township taught the first term of school at Harmony in ’78 for $21 per month.
These were three month terms. In these schools there were no desks at first. Books were kept under the homemade benches.
Many of the pupils were nearly grown men and women. Many of them walked many miles to gain a bit of knowledge.
We attended Sunday School and preaching services in the Pratt school building until the Pratt church building was dedicated in 1912. Rev. William Bartle, a pioneer who lived where the Shapleys later lived was one of the first who preached in the old Pratt school house.
Our social affairs were spelling schools, parties in the homes where we played “Skip to my Lou, My Darling”, “Down to Rowsers,” etc. Also we had square dances in the old Dublin school in the southeast part of the township. The Frick boys, Charlie, Emil, Louis, and William came with their fiddles including the bass and furnished the music. The homemade benches were placed around the room against the wall.
The Buhrer children, grown up
Here are the eight Buhrer children of Jacob Buhrer and Catherine Theobald Buhrer. The photograph was probably taken in 1903 when their father died.
Here’s the only photo we have of Catherine Theobald Buhrer, our 3rd great-grandmother. It’s a four-generation photo, taken on June 25, 1911.
- Catherine Theobald Buhrer, age 78
- Anna Buhrer Webb, age 44
- May Webb Sooby, age 22
- Frances Harriet Sooby, age 5 months
- Quotation – Anna Buhrer Webb and Lucy Buhrer Webb recollections of life in Pawnee County, Kansas – The Larned Chronoscope – August 21, 1947 – Jarvis Family Documents – Chleo Webb Jarvis collection
- Map – Plat Book of Pawnee County, Kansas – 1902 – Northwest Publishing Co. – Kansas Memory – https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/209394
- Image – Wheat harvest in Pawnee County, Kansas – Kansas Memory – https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/216660/page/1
- Image of Green Valley School – Larned, Kansas – Panorama of Progress – 1972 – Tiller and Toiler – Larned, Kansas
- Image – Oxen team – H.T. Hineman family sod house, Lane County, Kansas – Kansas Memory – https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/440196/page/1
- Image – Kitchen with stove – History Daily – https://historydaily.org/unedited-photos-captured-from-the-past/26
- Image – Dancers and musicians, Abbot’s Hall, De Soto, Kansas – c 1900 – Kansas Memory – https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/210811/page/1
- Song – We’ll All Go Down To Rowser’s” – Ozark Folksongs – Smithsonian/Folkways Field Recordings
- Song – Skip To My Lou” – YouTube Audio Library