Message from a prairie schooner

There are but few people living today who can recall days of the prairie schooner, much less the experience of traveling in one. I am grateful for that opportunity.

My first trip in a schooner was in 1892 and was brought about by the economic panic that enveloped America. Rather than being forced to join the bread lines of endless hungry people, my parents decided to return to the prairie country whence they had come. Traveling eastward against the usual course of migration, at an average of 25 miles a day, we arrived at our destination in about two weeks. The spot chosen was a few miles east of Almena, Kan.

We lived in the wagon a month until a 14-by-20-foot house was completed. It was akin to a palace.

Like most farm boys, I began to work in the field when I was eight years old. The corn rows were nearly one mile long and I could follow a plow, harrow, or cultivator just as easily as a man could.

Letters began coming from relatives in Pueblo, Colo., telling of its bursting energy and urging the folks to return. Again a covered wagon was fitted for travel, and in late summer of 1901 we left our Kansas home and headed west. I was 12 years old.

Our new home and the whole environment was thrilling to me. Running water at the turn of a valve and lights at the flip of a switch were unexpected marvels. The break from former activities was so radical that I was overwhelmed. Up to this time, I had owned but one book, except for schoolbooks. I had read it over and over until I could quote it, in its entirety, verbatim. Now the Carnegie Library a few miles across town was overburdened with books that I could obtain.

From my earliest remembrance I wanted to be a writer, but up till now this seemed to be an unobtainable dream. I trudged back and forth, carrying armloads of books to help quench a thirst for reading. And now I could read away into the night by a steady bright light instead of at the side of a flickering candle or a kerosene lamp.

Making notes of incidents that interested me was encouraged, and I began writing poems and short stories for newspapers and magazines. Money received in response was of course rewarding, but one of the most prized payments was a book of Adelaide Proctor's poems, which I still have.

In 1910, at the age of 21, I married the girl I had proposed to when I was 12 , who mothered seven healthy, happy children. At the age of 93, I am still writing, and honoring speaking requests. My first book was published in 1975. My second and third books will soon be ready for the publisher. My present hope is that I can encourage elders to write their stories so they will not be lost.

Love for our country and what it stands for has grown over the years. Its present tribulations are insignificant compared to some of the past trials. It will overcome its troubles and rise in strength. Its present greatness is but the beginning.

We still walk over treasures unaware of their worth, just as in the past prospectors and miners shunned vanadium, molybdenum, and some other minerals in their search for gold.

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