I am prefacing this story of my thirteen years of life in western Kansas at Garden City and in Finney County with the reason of its recounting; a request from Mr. Raymond E. Stotts, present Postmaster of Garden City and almost life long resident of the same community: -- "The second favor I wish to ask of you in this letter, is that you write us your first impressions, together with any stories, incidents, reminiscences of happenings which you may be able to recall, remembering as your father would have said, the statute has run against anything you may wish to tell about any one of us. I am having all of these stories copied and filed in a loose leaf booklet to be kept with the old archives, relics, pictures and early day remembrances of Garden City and to be given to any organization who may make a permanent place for them."
Accepting this obligation, I'll "solemnly promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, So Help Me!" Considering the above promise that the statute has run against anything I may wish to tell about any one. My father, A. J. Abbott, was County Attorney of Rice County, Kansas, living in Lyons, the county seat, in 1881 and happened to encounter on the train, in the performance of his duties, his old friend and neighbor of Sterling, Kansas, C. J. Jones, who was at that time encouraging immigration to the then Sequoyah County in the western part of the state. My father shared equally his love for the legal profession and various agricultural pursuits and Mr. Jones' graphic tales of the rich productive soil under irrigation and of government land to be procured, inspired an investigation trip out there in the fall and he returned like the Israelites of old from spying out the land of Canaan with their reports of a land flowing with milk and honey, and carrying that mammoth cluster of grapes between two on a staff; only "exhibit A" in his case was a gunny sack filled with over sized onions, cabbage, and other fall vegetables the like of which I have never seen until in recent years the vitamized vegetables were produced. The result was that in the following spring, March, 1882, his little home site and truck farm of five acres on the outskirts of Lyons had been sold and his household effects with the farming implements and livestock had been loaded into a freight car and the family, with the exception of the two older boys, George and Clarence, were ticketed for a trip in an emigrant passenger car attached to the same train, bound for a new home in Garden City. My father went forth with buoyant hopes of establishing a landed estate, resuming his practice of law and perhaps harboring a secret political ambition; mother stifling with keen regret a fond hope of spending her future years among the bowers, flowers, and balmy breezes of southern California. Her relative had nearly all gone out there. My brothers planning a truck farm, equipped with the farm implements, two Indian ponies and the little red spring wagon with which they shared quarters in the freight car, and the profits from which they expected to make a stake to prepare them for their respective ambitions -- Tech and law schools. And lastly myself picturing in my adolescent, sentimental mind, the wide open spaces and the romantic, picturesque cowboys said to be giving color and action to the plains country of which I had read so much. I had seen just one specimen of this group of pioneers. Like Young Lochinvar he had "come out of the west" -- Montana to be exact. He was well built, handsome; and his grooming from sombrero to boots and spurs was as true to form as any modern screen hero's. He rode a beautiful black and white spotted Crow Indian pony and his horsemanship was perfect rhythm. An answer to any silly romantic maiden's prayer. And I admit, being sworn to tell the truth, that I hoped that I might meet a "Prince Charming" in the same guise. The anticipation of that trip thrilled me then more than would a ticket on one of the air lane ocean Clippers of today. I would like to describe the incidents of that two days and nights ride, being side tracked and shunted around in the railroad yards of every jerk water station enroute, consuming time which would require but a few hours. Briefly though it was somewhat disappointing. It was of course before the days of air conditioning and the passengers consisted of foreigners from the steerage docks of transatlantic ocean steamers, miners enroute to the gold fields of Colorado and nondescript adventurers of varying types. The self imposed announcer and would-be wag of the personnel frequently called out during the tiresome waits at way stations on the right of way, "Fifteen minutes to wash your feet."
Well the first impression I had upon alighting from the train was the abundance of fresh air the country afforded. And what a blessing it seemed. I had never appreciated air and gave credit to the new country for its purity and its resuscitating power. Then the wide open spaces began to open up. The dimensions of the world seemed infinite. I could look far beyond the horizon it seemed in every direction and see nothing. Only objects in the immediate vicinity were discernible. My eyes became adjusted to the optical delusion by the time we settled in a small frame house on ten acres of land west of town south of the railroad track. This was one third of a thirty acre tract father had bought and sold ten acres each to Mr. O. V. Folsom and F. B. Rich. Old friends and neighbors from other parts of the country. Mrs. Folsom being a close relative on my mother's side, was fondly called "Aunt Lettie" by all of us children. All three families lived there for a time and the place was known as Quaker Row; the ancestry of all three had been members of the religious sect known as "Quakers" or "Friends." All planted gardens, truck patches and flowers, and all were richly rewarded with results which bore out the promise of the fertile soil. All but the market for the produce. What was not consumed by the family rotted on the ground. Flowers in a city park, raised under professional supervision, could not have grown more toward perfection or flourished with more gratifying results than were mother's planted in beautifully designed park like arranged beds separated by artistic walks. I spent a great deal of time weeding, cultivating and watering this garden. It attracted attention and caused much favorable comment and the land agents brought many of the prospects out to show what the land could produce and how flowers grew under irrigation. I recall one afternoon in particular when father had remained at home in order to prepare some documents on which he wished to concentrate uninterrupted and I had in order not to disturb him gone into that fragrant gorgeous retreat always finding something to do to enhance its charm. I was busily engaged when the sound of trotting hoofs came suddenly to a stop and there in the road were two cowboys seemingly materialized on the spot and gazing with animated expressions directly towards me. "Look at the pretty girl in those flowers, will you" said one, and the other immediately prompted: "Make her give you a bo-kay." Whereupon they simultaneously dropped the reins over the ponies heads, dismounted and disregarding the perfectly good walks at the side of the yard, strode ruthlessly and wantonly over the tender young blades of grass in a lawn father was so tenderly nursing into maturity, right up to me with a conquering, swinging stride and familiarity of language and manner most repulsive demanding some flowers. My father taking in the situation from the window made haste to appear and inquired in his most casual manner, "Did I understand that you wished some flowers?", and proceeded as though he really believed that was their guiding purpose and diplomatically picked and proferred them a bunch of the choicest kinds. It let them down with a jolt but they reluctantly accepted the gesture and strode off without a sign of appreciation. Well it happened at the psychological moment, for these two representatives of the gentry of the plains lacked the technique of gallantry I had hoped for in my "Prince Charming" and I was disillusioned forever of cowboys.
My brother's truck garden vied with my mother's flowers in attracting attention and was also a show place for the land agents, especially the melon patch which was concealed from the road behind a fine stand of sweet corn. We always kept piles of watermelons and cantaloupes in the shade of the house with some benches for serving them. It was our only way of dispensing hospitality in those days. It was over these melons that I had my first encounter with a Spanish speaking person and had my first lesson in the Spanish language. The melons were tempting from the roadside, and one day a tatter-demalion in appearance but courteous in manner called at the door with a bow and salute befitting a courtier. "Buenos dias, Senorita!" he said with a flashing smile. "Yo quierro melon," whereupon I decided he wanted a watermelon, though his pronounciation of melon was different from ours and barely distinguishable, but that was the way I interpreted it and I proceeded to select the finest one in the stack by the side of the house. He was painfully disappointed and kept repeating the word melon, me-lon with pleading ascendancy. Finally he pointed to the watermelon and said: "Esta es sandia. No quierro sandia. Yo quierro melon." The he pointed out the pile of cantaloupe a little further on and selected one of them. He had the price and insisted on me accepting it and seemingly congratulating me on finally getting it through my dull understanding of what he wanted, went on his way rejoicing. To this day a sandia is a watermelon and a cantaloupe is a melon to me. . . The melons also tempted a gang of town boys but they preferred theirs under cover of darkness and fresh off the vines. They were led by a daredevil of a youth and after several successful raids by night they grew bolder and perhaps thirsty for refreshments on a warm Sunday afternoon and the family supposedly away from home or taking a snooze slipped in behind the corn patch and proceeded to help themselves breaking many unripe ones and trampling the vines unmercifully. They were discovered and my father surprised them by appearing suddenly from among the corn stalks. The leader did not run as did the others but faced about and manfully acknowledged that his proceedure was rather irregular and offered to pay for the destruction and vandalism. My father did not exact anything from him but I think he gently chided him and cautioned him as was his want that "The Way of the Transgressor is hard"; and that in the future when he wanted any melons to come to the house and he could have all he wanted. He thanked father but insisted that those in the patch tasted better fresh from the vines. This young man grew up to one of Garden City's most successful business men. This narration is not intended to stigmatize him in any way nor to reflect on the members of his gang for it seems that all boys go through that stage if they contact a melon patch. Lieut. Governor Finney was another who was refreshed by our melons. Father always gathered them in the early morning while they were cool from the night's exposure to the "mountain breezes," and many stopped to regale themselves for they were of extraordinary flavor and tenderness. The variety was known as the Phinney melon. They were "on draught" one day when Mr. Jones brought Gov. Finney with some other notables, among them John J. Ingalls. They sat and chatted and enjoyed the melons immensely and I remember my mother remarking about the coincidence of Governor Finney eating Phinney watermelons in Finney County.
It was from this home west of town that I attended two terms of school. The first was in the fall of 1883 and was taught by a Mr. J. W. Nelson in a hall over the store of George T. Inge. It was a subscription school and numbered among its pupils representatives of nearly all the families of the community of varying ages from just above primary to high school age. We sat on long benches having no desks or other accomodations to make our work easy and comfortable. My feet dangled about two inches from the floor. This perhaps explains the action of a trio of inseparable girls, chronicled in the autograph album of one of the members and written by Mr. Nelson, the teacher, and which I quote:
"In the years that are distant and friends are forgotten
One picture my memory will often recall
Of a school I taught once in a far western city
On some rickety benches upstairs in a hall
And of three girls, one dark haired, one light haired and sunny
And one with her head brimming over in curls
Who sat side by side as a sort of three graces My oldest and most mischievous girls."
These girls were respectively Emma Hurst, Sallie Finnup and myself. Later on our group included Ollie Menks and the attachment which bound these four continues to this day. We grew "calmer and serener and more settled downer" as the years passed but still at heart the same girls with the same bond of friendship and love generated so long ago in our early teens. We mourn the loss of [our] "light haired and sunny" member. As in life she was always just a little ahead of us.
The followng fall, October 1884, we started in as a foursome to another subscription school taught that winter in the old Methodist church with a Mr. R. S. Hill as Principal. I have often wondered from whence he came and whither he went but do know that he was a good teacher and disciplinarian. He did have order and attention and succeeded in teaching real study and concentration. At least I know that is where I first learned the real meaning and value of mind training and application to the matter in hand. One day he offered a reward to the pupil who could repeat verbatim the next day the following sentence being repeated to us but once: "She went out into the garden to get a cabbage leaf to make an apple pie. Along came a big she bear and said: What no soap?" He told us that it was very difficult to remember any sentence which was devoid of common sense. He told us the next morning that he had no fear of losing the dollar he had offered on the memory of that sentence for it was not a test of intelligence; only the idiosyncracy of a freaky mind in one who could remember it, and he rated us high in IQ. So I do not feel that it is conceited in me to state that I received the one dollar.
A great many incidents happened that winter to the future citizens of Garden City and which I would love to relate, but the one which impressed and amused me the most and which will remain with me as long as memory itself occurred one chilly morning late in October and concerns one of the younger pupils, a little urchin who was always entertaining his surrounding school mates and causing no little hilarity when he thought he could get away with it. He could switch a comical face into solemnity quicker than any trained comedian and be innocense personified when the disturbance was investigated. He was not quite on the trigger this particular morning and was discovered. As I have indicated Prof. Hill had order at any price. He marched this youngster up in front and seated him with informal ceremony on the platform facing the whole room and told him in peremptory terms to settle down to study. He squirmed and twisted between spells of seeming concentration on his geography, his face hidden behind this convenient screen. In his furtive glances he spied a wasp, numbed from the cold of the night before making its laborious way to a ray of sunshine slanting across the platform. This ray struck the chair of the absent professor who had resumed his explanation of some problem on the blackboard at the rear of the room, with his back to the culprit on the platform. Then with one eye on the professor and the other on the wasp the platform dweller, with a diabolical smile of glee hit upon a brilliant idea. Having a ruler in his hand of about fifteen inches in length he placed it immediately in the path of the warming up wasp and slanted it up to the seat of the vacant chair. The wasp dutifully made its way up the improvised runway and with a little lift in height that the ruler lacked and a tilt to the level deftly accomplished by this juvenile hand, the wasp walked off on to the seat of the chair into a glorious flood of sunshine and was soon going through setting up exercises preparing for future action. He timed his performance accurately to the professor's returning. My seat was close up to the platform but I too should have been sitting up there under discipline for it was evident that I was not studying. He had been so preoccupied in his purpose that he was unaware that he had been observed and that I was as eagerly waiting the results as he. The suspense, I think was about to get us both when the professor who was rather portly dropped with considerable weight and fatigue into this improvised inferno. He arose with unprecedented action and hastily backed off into the ante room behind the pulpit. He returned in his usual dignified manner and resumed his seat, not however without first giving it close scrutiny. And Raymond Stotts, the monkey of the school, buried himself in the perusal of his geography, oblivious to the whole world. I have always felt that I was "partoceps criminis" to this affair, and I hereby plead guilty.
I should like to have gone on through the school days at Garden City but the two years before the school was graded were the only ones I attended there. The family moved out on the homestead five miles northwest of town and we children attended several terms in the district school diagonally across the section of land northeast of our home.
The above "first installment" or one half of the account of early day experiences was written April 2, 1942 by Mrs. Alice Abbott Drisdale (daughter of Hon. A. J. Abbott, early day District Judge in Garden City, Kansas) of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In her letter enclosing the above appears the following: "The part which follows regards our life on the homestead until we left there in 1895, and which I will copy and send later if this is accepted; in looking it over I notice that I have said nothing descriptive of the country and we all loved it and enjoyed our lives as a whole accepting the reverses and hardships as inevitable." Mrs. Drisdale never completed the other half, and passed away in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in May, 1948.