Hardships Of Ottawa County

My most recent article, published in the Minneapolis Messenger, of Minneapolis, KS.

You have it rough.  Whoever you are, and whatever your life consists of, I’m willing to bet you’ve got a mental marquee of less-than-perfect present situations.   

Be it your children, your spouse, your house, your car, your job, your boss, your bank account, or your second cousin twice-removed, something is stressing you out.  Living in a small town can either add to, or help relieve the pressures of life.  We have the fortunate ability to tap into the local grapevine, and gather first-hand knowledge of our neighbors’ struggles.   

Ottawa County has a history of using that very ability to pull together and strengthen our community.  Our past is rich with stories of families who traveled hundreds of miles, and braved many adversities, to settle in this very section of our country.  Their hardships, and their neighbors’ willingness to help overcome them, is what built communities out of diverse settlers. 

The following stories represent a mere fraction of the misfortune our ancestors faced, and the generosity displayed by others in their time of need.   

October 13th,1868-    This date marks the worst Indian raid in Ottawa County history.  While most settlers and tribes were able to live peacefully together, this specific raid was reportedly premeditated and violent.   

Over the course of several days, multiple Indian parties attacked different homesteads across the county.  A Mr. Smith, and his son, Alex, were breaking ground near their home.  Alex took an arrow to the chest, and his father was left for dead with a slit throat.  Alex was found three days later, after having crawled nearly a half mile to find water.  His father was found the day after the attack in his home, after crawling to release the oxen from their yoke, and finally settling in a corncrib.   

Alex’s brother, after finding his families’ bodies, helped the Hardy family escape across the river and on into Minneapolis.  He returned to his home to find all of his possessions destroyed, but his wife and children safely hidden in the woods.   

The Hardy family continued on into Minneapolis, and stopped by a shop owned by Pl Markley.  He had given the order that anyone seeking refuge from the Indians be given something to eat.  The family receive crushed wheat, and baked it over a fire on the end of a spade.   

Summer 1866-    A certain Mrs. Emily Harrison arrived in Ottawa County, and took up residence with her nephew.  She brought all of her earthly luxuries, which were promptly ruined after their mud roof dissolved under a heavy rain.  She spent the next three days cooking under the shelter of her nephew’s umbrella.   

The following summer, Mrs. Harrison relocated to a cabin on the Saline River.  Shortly after her move, the river flooded, and she spent the night on her roof.  After a futile attempt to cross the river, and her subsequent rescue, she became well-acquainted with her neighbors on the other side, who discovered she was an army nurse.   

Mrs. Harrison returned to her soggy cabin.  She was unsure whether or not she would stay in Kansas after all her troubles.  However, as word of her rescue spread, so did her reputation as an army nurse.     

After learning that there was no doctor in Ottawa County, Mrs. Harrison determined to stay despite her unfortunate events.  She lived out her life attending to various medical needs throughout the  county.   

Winter 1869-    The settlers in Ottawa County had become destitute over the winter.  Several people were on the verge of starvation, and others were dying due to exposure and lack of proper clothing.  Mary Bickerdyke, or “Mother”, served as an army nurse in the Civil War.  Upon an inspection in Solomon Valley, she requisitioned blankets, clothing, meat, flour, peas, and other goods through the army.   

Later that spring, she brought in several loads of seed potatoes, corn, and grain so the people could replant their fields and feed their livestock.     

Although many of her acts of kindness were not recorded, there are plentiful accounts of the great debt of gratitude owed to Mary Bickerdyke by the people of Kansas.       

There are many other accounts of self-sacrifice and generosity in our county’s history.  These simply highlight the character and genuine compassion of those who came before us.  During a time where everyone had a reason to forget their neighbor, and focus on their own troubles, the community decided to come together and help.    

We are blessed with the unique opportunity in a small town to know and understand our neighbors’ circumstances; for better or worse.  It’s easy to judge your neighbor for their predicament; it’s much harder to emulate our predecessors and lend a hand.  The only difference between Ottawa County 1868, and Ottawa County 2016, is that we have flat tires, instead of broken wagon wheels.       

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