We moved to Kansas in the summer of 1919, where we would live off the land for the next eight years. I have many great memories of early life at this first home in Kansas. It was a happy time in our young lives.
Most of our food was grown or raised on the farm. We would purchase only salt, sugar, and flour at the general store in town, and it was a rare treat when Mother would buy some apples or a small pail of peanut butter. There were two black cherry trees and a mulberry tree in the yard, but otherwise one could look in all directions and see almost no trees. There were a few along the fence lines and in a small wooded area about a quarter of a mile from our house where Papa would cut the dead trees to burn in the kitchen range. Once in a while I gathered wood there and do remember being bitten by a possum. I thought he was dead and reached out to pick him up but he was just playing possum.
Our house on the farm was a small, two-story building with no electricity or inside plumbing; we had kerosene lamps and used an outhouse about fifty yards from the house. A windmill along with an iron-handled pump provided wonderful drinking water and also supplied the water that filled a big horse tank in the barnyard. All of us children learned to swim in that tank, and although the water was slimy at times, we didn’t care. The Kansas summers were very hot, and it felt great to get wet and cool off. I remember filling our straw hats with water and enjoying the feeling as it ran down to our toes.
I will never forget the steady squeaking of the windmill as the blades turned in the wind. The hand pump and sink were just inside the back door, and I can remember Mother pumping water into the teakettle and into a washtub. We had baths on Saturday night, and I do recall very well that Mother would pour hot water from the teakettle into the tub. I also remember that we children didn’t like baths very much, but we surely needed them after a week of playing and working around a dusty farm.
A potbelly stove in the living room supplied the heat for the entire house. The stove had a polished 4-inch wide steel ring around it on which we could put our feet to warm them. Papa would always bank the stove with coal on winter nights, as the house was pretty cold, especially when we went upstairs to go to bed. I would always kneel to say my prayers, but could hardly wait to jump in bed to get warm. The kitchen stove was a big range where Mother did all the cooking and heated water for our Saturday night baths. She would leave the oven door open to help heat the kitchen. We burned mostly wood in the range, but did use some fine-grade coal that was purchased in town.
In order to keep the family fed and clothed, Papa worked long and hard. He milked a dozen Holstein cows every morning and again at night. In those days there wasn’t any pasteurized milk, so we kept it cold by hanging the bucket in the well. Mother was a wonderful cook and baked lots of bread and cookies. Our diet was meat (beef, poultry, pork, and rabbit), potatoes and vegetables of all kinds, and of course whole milk and eggs. We raised our own sweet corn, beets, carrots, and tomatoes, which I enjoyed, but I didn’t like eggs, onions, cabbage or
asparagus. We knew little of fresh fruit, bananas, etc., but had homemade bread, biscuits, pies, cookies, and ice cream made with our own hand mixer. On Sundays we often had roasted squabs (young pigeons) for dinner. I also loved the hard bacon strips called crackles that were left over after smoking the bacon slabs. I only discovered later that eating them was not good for me since they were pure fat and full of cholesterol that was not even known to the common man at that time. They were also very salty. How bad can you get when that is combined with a diet of whole milk, dozens of eggs, and red meat. It’s no wonder I had a heart attack later on. I’m amazed that it took so long – 70 years from 1924 to 1994!
My father was in great physical condition as he was always participating in athletics and, as mentioned earlier, had specialized in gymnastics at the YMCA in earlier years. There were many chores that were required to run the farm, and he was a tireless worker. Papa raised primarily wheat on the half section of land (320 acres). In addition to the Holstein cows, he bought a few pigs, a big pair of black draft horses, a Fordson tractor, and lots of chickens, turkeys, ducks, and rabbits. I did have a pet prairie dog and several pet rabbits that Papa bought at the County Fair. The rabbits ran loose around the farm, along with several cats and an Airedale dog named “Lady.”
The animals on the farm are very vivid in my memories. There was a pigpen where Papa poured slop into a trough. Oh how the pigs would grunt and squeal, jumping all over each other to eat while having very little in the way of manners. I can surely appreciate the expression “someone eats like a pig.” The cows and calves were more civilized in their behavior, and I’ll always remember Papa milking the cows. He would sort of play a tune in the empty pail when he first started. The cats would get their share by standing up as Papa squirted the milk into their mouths and much of it all over their faces.
We had several teams of workhorses, and when we were little, Papa would let us sit on them and hold on to the harness. As I got older, I loved to ride on the back tongue of the wagon and watch the ground go by. Later when I turned ten years old, I would be allowed to drive the team of big blacks with the hay rake or the manure spreader, a real milestone as I then felt very grown up.
At the age of seven in 1924, I had quite a surprise. I came home from school one day and saw a beautiful little black and white Shetland pony standing at the barnyard gate. Only at the circus had I ever seen such an evenly marked and well-built little pony. Could it belong to the neighbor boy, or was it someone’s from Dodge City or some ranch far away? The bridle and saddle matched, and as I got closer his ears went straight up and he turned his head so I could see his eyes. One looked glassy white and the other one was black. We had been taught not to go too close to a strange horse and definitely not to pat him. I ran back to the house to find out whose pony this was and what he was doing at our house. Mother and my two sisters were just inside the kitchen door, but I didn’t see anyone else. Mother immediately said that I was to go straight to the barn, as Papa wanted to have a talk with me. This didn’t sound good, but I couldn’t think of anything that I might have done or not done to be scolded. I turned back and asked Mother what he wanted and she said, “You know better than to ask me that.” Puzzled to say the least, I started for the barn. As I passed the pony, I couldn’t help but think how lucky some boy was to have such a fine pony. I know I had wanted one for as long as I could remember. I went straight to the barn, but with real concern and hesitation. My conscience was clear, but I just didn’t know what to expect.
Papa was unharnessing the big black draft team and greeted me by saying, “Oh, you’re home already.” “Yes,” I said, “But Papa, whose pony is at the gate?” “Pony? What pony?” he said. “The black and white one tied up at the gate right over there,” and I pointed to the north gate of our barnyard. Papa just said, “Well, now, let’s go and see him,” and started walking toward the pony. By this time, I had forgotten to ask what he wanted to see me about, but as we got closer, Mother, Dorothy and Marguerite were already there, just looking at the pony. “What a beauty,” Papa said, and then I asked again, “Whose pony is he anyway?” In a very casual response, Papa said, “Well, what would you think if I said he was yours?” “Mine? Do you really mean he’s mine?” “Yes, and we hope you will enjoy him for a long time.” I couldn’t believe it. I had all kinds of questions. “Where did you get him? Is he gentle? Does he buck? How could we afford such a beautiful pony?” And several times, I’m sure, “Do you really mean, mine?” It was a total surprise and I was so excited and overcome with joy.
We named the pony “Billy,” and for the next five years, he would be my closest companion. We depended on each other whether in work or play. I groomed Billy regularly from mane to hoof and ears to tail. His coat would shine in the Kansas sun. I took good care of his saddle and bridle, although I preferred to ride bareback when not herding the cattle or practicing with the lariat. There were many days of excitement, but also some days of worry, like when he ate too many oats and then drank too much water, became foundered, and nearly died.
After the first year in Kansas, Papa had acquired a herd of fifty beef cattle, white-faced Herefords. Each fall we would drive them south to hilly range country for the winter. In the spring we would go down and drive them back to the farm. There were always many new calves, some of which were hardly big enough to make the long trip back over hills and valleys. I rode my pony on these trips, even though it was very hard to keep up with the drive because the men rode regular saddle horses. I did my share of rounding up strays along the way. Billy learned to head them off and drive them back to the herd.
I later taught Billy how to drive a herd or cut out a calf at branding time. Only a slight pressure of my knee to his side or the rein to his neck was needed and Billy worked to perfection. It was hard work but lots of fun. Many a day I just sat in the saddle as the herd grazed in one pasture after another. Only the song of the meadowlark, the squeal of a prairie dog or the humming of a bumblebee kept me alert and prepared to control a stray. It was a long day until my father came to help drive the herd back to the corrals for the night.
Papa was a very religious man and served as a lay minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Belpre. The church was an important part of our lives, and only a severe snowstorm would keep us home on Sundays. I was not allowed to ride my pony on Sundays, and there was to be no work other than to milk the cows. In good weather we would take long walks in the fields. My father read to us from the Bible regularly, and we sang hymns together. Music was always an important part of our lives, as everyone in the family enjoyed singing. Dorothy and Marguerite had beautiful voices and always went to compete at the state music festivals. We all took part in singing old familiar songs, and every night, bar none, our prayers were said before jumping into bed. In the winter months, when the house was pretty cold, I would kneel beside the bed and pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Dear Lord, please bless Mother, Father, Dorothy, Marguerite and Billy.” I can remember hurrying my prayer a bit in the wintertime.
Those years in Kansas were full of family love and happiness, and I was a happy boy. The times were hard, but they were also good “growing up” days. Family pictures show me in short pants and buttonhook shoes. The farm was a wonderful place to raise a family, and during those very conservative years, we had few distractions like children have today. We made most of our own toys and seldom had anything from the store; I still have one of my store-bought painted tops with a metal spike that kept it spinning “forever.” I was good at rolling buggy wheels at the end of a stick and crossbar, and shooting an arrow in the air with a stick and string. I remember my first wagon very well. I made it myself from an old baby buggy and even hitched it up to my pony. What fun! I pretended to haul hay and do other chores just like Papa would do with his big wagon.
Our pleasures were simple. It was quite a special day each year when Papa would give me a very short haircut and then buy me a new straw hat at the County Fair in preparation for the hot summer weather. As I recall, it would be on July 4th, because that was when the Fair was held. I took part in catching the greased pig, climbing the greased flagpole for a silver dollar, and watching the horse races. Papa used to buy us little explosive caps that he would set off with a mallet. The mallet had a little head that held a set of feathers that would go spinning into the air when the cap exploded. I can also remember how grown up I felt when Mother made me my first pair of long pants from Papa’s worn-out Sunday suit. Around the farm we always wore overalls, but on Sundays it was shirt and tie for church.
Papa raised several kinds of rabbits and took them to the annual County Fair. He won many prizes for his White Flemish Giants. Also, he always won the award for the tallest kafir corn, which he grew to put in the silo to feed the cattle during the winter months. We children looked forward to the Fair and enjoyed riding the musical merry-go-round. Several times, I won the blue ribbon with Billy, my Shetland pony, for the best in conformation in his class. Also I used to race him bareback. He was smaller than many who ran in the races, but we did win several times after I learned to take him to the starting line from the finish line the back way. He was quite stubborn about going the regular way with the rest of the ponies, so by turning him around and going backwards to the start, he would then want to go back the same way as fast as he could.
Billy was a wonderful companion. I could write a book on those years with my beloved pony as I practically lived on his back when I wasn’t in school or working on some chore for Papa. Often I went with Papa when he worked the fields with the plows, the listers, the harrows, the sleds, the planters of wheat or corn, the hay wagons and the combines.
Life on the farm was pretty basic, with much of the time spent on chores. Dorothy, Marguerite, and I helped with chores at an early age — working in the garden, collecting eggs (even spotted turkey eggs), picking black cherries and mulberries, digging potatoes, pulling weeds, swatting flies, feeding rabbits and chickens, pitching straw during the wheat harvest, and tending the milk cows along the roadside when Papa let them out to graze. I remember the bull chasing Billy because he looked like a Holstein cow — black and white. I also remember working to get the Mexican sand burrs off of the dirt tennis court that we had built beside the house. Because we were running around barefooted most of the time, we had to contend with the rattlesnakes, prairie dog holes, nettles and burrs, and sharp stones. Our feet got pretty tough and black, of course.
The weather in Kansas was severe, with a great deal of cold and snow during the winter months. The summers were hot, and the wind would blow most of the time. As I mentioned before, there were no trees to speak of except along the Arkansas River near Larned, a town 16 miles to the north of Belpre. Because the landscape is so flat, the wind would be so strong and steady that you could toss a straw hat up on the side of the barn, go have lunch, and when you came back it would still be there. There were many pests and dangerous animals around. The diamondback rattler and the badger were the most feared. Grasshoppers were always eating up our wheat, and the prairie dogs dug holes that cattle and horses could step in and break an ankle. The coyotes were not troublesome except for their constant howling at night. There was a bounty on them and I remember that hunters would come and ask Papa for permission to let their greyhound dogs loose to catch them.
Tornadoes were a real problem, especially in the spring. We would hide in the cellar when we saw them coming across the fields. I can remember we often would stand on the cellar steps until Papa would say, “OK, shut the door,” and down we’d go to wait until the storm passed. The cellar was a musty place where Mother kept the potatoes and various vegetables and canned goods. We did our own canning in glass quart jars. I can’t remember ever buying anything in cans.
The dirt and gravel roads weren’t much, especially from November to May. A trip to town in the wagon was quite an experience. The general store was owned and operated by Mr. Brumfield. His son Dean was my closest friend. He and I were in grade school together, and had many fun times playing football at recess and after school before the bus, or Papa with a wagon, came to take me home.
My formal education started at the Belpre schoolhouse about six miles from our farm. School was fun, at least most of the time. Only once did I really disobey the teacher. While playing out at recess time, we heard an airplane. No one had ever seen an airplane, and all of a sudden there was one flying around overhead. It came down and landed in a field not far away. Everyone started to run to see it, when all at once the school bell rang to end recess. We all stopped and started back, but about six of us decided we could go and see it and be a little late. The airplane was a small biplane with wires crisscrossed to steady the upper and lower wings. It only had a one-blade propeller. The pilot was a young fellow, and we were thrilled to talk to him. You can’t imagine what an experience it was to actually see a machine that could fly.
When we came back to the school after spending more time than expected looking at the airplane, our teacher, Mrs. Rankin, said we would have to stay after school. She kept us after school each day for a week, and Papa wasn’t happy because he had to make a trip to town to pick me up. Discipline was strict in those days, and I expected a good spanking any day, but it never came. The teacher had a long talk with our parents, and it was our understanding that our severe punishment would come on our last day of staying after school. On that final day, Mrs. Rankin brought out six paper bags about 8 inches in height that looked to be full of something. She gave us a real lecture about self-discipline and how such poor behavior could lead to very bad results later in life. This little bag, which was not to be opened until we got home with our parents, contained something that would never let us forget the wrong we had done. In fact, it would always cause us to remember that disobedience doesn’t pay. What on earth could be in those bags? When she handed them out, she was very careful not to jiggle them and kept them tightly sealed. Could there be a snake or a bee, or could it be bad medicine that we would have to take?
Anyway, off we went with our heads down, but carefully holding our bags. Papa was very quiet on the way home, only saying, “I’m sure you will never do anything like that again,” and home we went. It took forever, and when we went into the house, Mother and my sisters were waiting. We all sat down at the table with only the paper bag in the middle. Papa gave me a real good talking to regarding trust and temptation. Finally, the moment of truth came when Papa said, “OK, Harold Scott, you open the bag.” Everyone sort of sat back a bit as I reached for the bag to open it. After hesitating, I can remember holding my breath and gently opening the bag at arm’s length. “Go ahead, son,” said Papa, so I did, and as I peered into the bag, all I could see were different colored small round balls like marbles. Lo and behold, the bag was full of hard sourball candy, no less! What a relief! But why would the teacher reward us for misbehaving? It was time for another lecture, and believe it or not, nothing could have made a more lasting impression on a young boy of six or seven years of age. I’ve never figured out for sure why she did that, but it provided a lesson that lasted a lifetime.
Another lesson, learned in 1925 at the age of eight was about smoking. Papa took the family to a special program at the small school in Belpre. It was a lecture and demonstration involving personal habits and clean living, with emphasis on the subject of smoking and it’s effects on one’s mind and body. A man by the name of Tommy Ryan was the speaker. He traveled throughout the state giving this lecture. The entire community was invited, and as I recall, approximately 100 people showed up that evening.
For his demonstration, up on the stage he had a three-foot long sword, a few potatoes, three white mice, a newspaper, and a set of weights. To prove how sharp the sword was, he held up the paper and with one quick stroke slashed it in half. He then pulled a hair from his head and holding it up, cut off small pieces. Obviously, it was very sharp. He then held a potato in his left hand and with a quick stroke, cut it in half without a mark on his hand. This was to show complete muscle control. He even had a volunteer from the audience put a potato on the back of his neck and he cut it in half without even leaving a scratch. While performing these actions, he would emphasize that he was not a smoker.
At one point, he filled a pie tin with water and asked someone who smoked to take a puff on a cigarette and blow the smoke into their handkerchief. He then doused the handkerchief in the water, and then released the mice to have a drink. Within a few minutes and to every one’s surprise, the mice keeled over dead from the nicotine poison.
Next, it was time to show his strength, which he did by picking up the weighted barbells and lifted them over his head. He offered $100 to any smoker from the audience to do the same. Several tried, but no one could even lift the weights past their waist. He then said that he would give $50 to a non-smoker who could lift the weights up shoulder high. Several men did manage to lift the heavy weight up to their waist, but couldn’t go any higher.
I think it was my sister Dorothy who urged Papa to try it. After some encouragement from others, he decided to give it a go and with apparently little effort lifted the weights up to his knees, then up to his waist, to his shoulders, and then over his head. Wow! I was so proud of him, but even more so when he told the audience that for years he had trained in the gym at the YMCA and that he would not accept the money.
Mr. Ryan then went on to make his point regarding the harm of using tobacco, and suggested that when we see a cigarette butt on the ground, we should step on it and say “clean American.” Even though this sounds old-fashioned today, needless to say, I was very impressed. To this day, I can say that I have never used tobacco of any kind. This certainly doesn’t mean that I feel superior to someone who has, but luckier than those who developed the habit and had difficulty stopping. Now more than eighty years later smoking is banned is most public places and we know that lung cancer can result from smoking. It is a terrible price to pay for developing what we know to be a dangerous habit. Mr. Ryan was certainly ahead of his time about the health hazards of smoking.
Those years in Kansas were full of wonderful experiences, many with my pony Billy, and many with my sisters. We learned good lessons of life without even knowing it. The most important, however, were the things Papa and Mother were sure to have us learn such as obedience, because they loved us, and truthfulness, because no one would trust someone who fibbed or lied. We were normal children. I’m sure we were far from perfect, but we learned to respect the property of others and above all to abide by the ten commandments. As I look back, we children were lucky not to be exposed to the bad influences that children are exposed to today. Our enjoyment came from reading, listening to music and playing with each other. We learned to work and to appreciate family love. Papa and Mother were never questioned as we felt that they knew what was best for us. Discipline was a look, or perhaps some words, like “Harold Scott!” rather than just “Harold,” and I knew what that meant!
By the time I was ten, I had become interested in sports. We had a tennis court of sand and gravel where we played barefoot. Another sport that I enjoyed was track and field. I would erect a high jump standard made out of a couple of old fence posts, and I used a long tree branch as a cross bar. My close friend Dean Brumfield and I usually dominated the events at school. He could run faster, but not as far. I could jump higher, but not as long. We always had a baseball-throwing contest, and I managed to win most of the time. Of course, there were only a few other boys in school who could compete. There were only 225 people in the whole Belpre area, including us farm boys. We played football with no pads, although I’m sure we just grabbed and pulled rather than shoulder tackling. I still have a scar at the top of my forehead where the metal in the bill of my cap cut me. There were holes in the metal strap to change the size of the cap. It was sort of dangerous to wear while playing a rough game. Today cap sizes are simply changed with a Velcro strap.
In 1927, at the age of ten, I was given a .410-gauge shotgun for Christmas. Before that, I had only had a popgun and a BB gun. My father had previously showed me a lot about gun safety, as he had a 12 gauge of his own. I clearly remember my first solo hunting experience. One winter day, the snow was several inches deep. With Papa’s approval, out I went to bag my first jackrabbit or maybe even a little cottontail. There were many tumbleweeds in the fields that provided good hiding places for the rabbits, and even a few beautiful meadowlarks. As I went along, I would kick the weeds in hopes that out would jump a rabbit. After much disappointment I was tired and cold, so I started back to the house. I hadn’t gone ten steps when out from under a tumbleweed a big jack jumped and darted one way and another. Would you believe that just as quick as a wink I put my new gun to my shoulder and fired. That jackrabbit went head over heels and I was thrilled to pieces. I couldn’t wait to run up and retrieve my first kill when all of a sudden that big jack just jumped up and took off running without even a limp. Of course I stood there unable to fire again, as my .410 gauge was only a single shot. I put another shell in my gun and all the way home I hoped for another chance that didn’t come. Papa and Mother believed my story and that made the whole experience worthwhile. Over the years I often told this story to my children and they would always say “Daddy, tell us about the jackrabbit you shot that got away.” Before the winter was over I was able to shoot several rabbits, along with some squab pigeons, that made great Sunday dinners. In addition to hunting for cottontails and jackrabbits, when Papa would go with me, we would hunt coyotes and badgers. Their holes also served as home for rattlesnakes and prairie dogs.
My first major injury came the year before the family moved to Lamar, Colorado. The school bus came when school let out, and we all ran down the steep cement steps. It was a matter of showing off as I jumped over a few steps on the way down. I tripped, fell, and scraped my knee across an iron grate at the bottom landing. It required 16 stitches, as well as a cast from my ankle to above the kneecap. I was still in the cast when we moved to Lamar. This was a serious cut during those days, as most people only had access to iodine to stop infections. It was a long time healing, but eventually, the cast came off, and my knee would bend again. I still have a scar on my left knee as a reminder of that stupid experience.
My Kansas years were full of great childhood memories, partly because they were mostly happy times, but also because we were young, and everything in life was new and exciting. Of course, there were painful times, too. Although the dry climate in Kansas did prove to be good for my mother’s health, when she had her tonsils out in 1926, she bled for days, and we feared for her life. Later on, a real tragedy struck our family when my sister Dorothy was run over by a speeding car on the night of her high school graduation. She was badly hurt and remained unconscious for thirty days. Eventually she recovered, but she lost her sight in one eye and carried a forehead scar the rest of her life.
So enjoyed your story! Was wondering if you grew up near my family? My relatives are the Meyer & Gales families from Belpre., Kansas.
What a beautiful story. I’m a Earl Parker granddaughter. My father was two years younger than you. Grew up south of Belpre. Graduated from Belpre. We were trying to figure out where your house was located.
Good morning. I have only visited Belpre once, and I found the house using some directions from my Dad. Not sure if I can reconstruct that information, but will ask my siblings for anything they might know. Ciao – dave
Thank you for posting. My grandfather had a store in Belpre. We live in Lewis but go to Mass in Belpre.
Lookin a lot like the Breitenbach farm to me
Very interesting. I was born in Belpre December 24, 1928. I can relate to lots of your experiences.