Kansas Historical Quarterly - The Letters of John Ferguson
Early Resident of Western Washington County
November 1943 (Vol. 12, No. 4), pages 339 to 348
ABOUT 1859 John Ferguson, a native of Ireland, settled on
Mill creek in the extreme western part of present Washington county. 1 Previous to coming to Kansas he lived in Haddam, Conn. He was among the first settlers in this region which was, at that time, on the fringe of civilization.
Immediately to the west were the Cheyennes, Arapahoes and other wild tribes known as the Plains Indians. During the 1860's these Indians were unusually -hostile and made frequent raids upon the unprotected settlers. 2 Bands of Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians went on the warpath in the spring of 1864, and Ferguson's house was one of the first to be plundered. 3 With many of the men serving in the Civil War and those who remained at home without adequate arms, the settlers were obliged to leave their claims and seek places of safety. Many left permanently. Although Ferguson suffered severe losses in these raids he always returned to his claim, and by hard work and industry became a well-to-do farmer.
In 1880 he owned 380 acres of land and livestock to the value of $800. 4 He was interested in community affairs and served as justice of the peace and county assessor. He also was elected several times a delegate to the Republican county convention. 5 As the region became more settled he may have felt crowded, for in 1883 he sold his farm, 6 and in March of the next year moved to Oregon. 7 The editor of the Washington Republican wrote of him: "Mr. Ferguson has been a number one citizen of Washington county for many years, and we will be very sorry to lose him." 8
Ferguson kept in touch with his Connecticut friends by corresponding with Cephas Brainard, his former employer. A few of the
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Ferguson letters came to the Kansas State Historical Society through Brainard's daughter, Eveline W., of Haddam, Conn. They are interesting because they give some of the experiences of a settler on the extreme frontier at an early date. The letters are reproduced here practically without change except for occasional corrections in spelling for the sake of clarity.
II. THE LETTERS
Washington Washington Co Kan June 9th/61
Well Cephas I expect you will be begining to think that I am not going to send this mortgage back but it is all right and has been for some time but I couldent rease the money to pay for geting it exicuted but I expect you have enough to think about without thinking about it You are having exciting times as is all over the Countary if I had been only living in Connecticut this spring I would now been at Washington by this time with my musket but I gues[s] I will have enough to do here as the rebbals is arming and equiping the Indians to come on to us but if the[y] whip Kansas out the[y] will have a job of it for we have suffered enough in Kansas to make us fight like demons we did have a tremendous hard winter of it was all the best of them could do to live it through and if it hadent been for the aid we got from the east a great many would have starved to Death but there was a great deal of partiality used 9 Some got more than the[y] could use and others got verry little but if crops turns out as well as the[y] look now we wont need any aid another year for I never saw a better prospect for a crop in no Countary than there is here now every thing looks splendid wheat
espeshialy it is headed out now and looks nice and there is a great deal of it sowed now as to what I am doing I dident do any thing from Christmas to March and since March I have been at home to now I have got in three acers of wheat and about fifteen acers of corn and I have made a rease of a breaking team and am now breaking Prairey I am going to Breake up and improve about fifty acers this year my team is three large yoke of oxin such as we used to drive from
LETTERS OF JOHN FERGUSON 341
Turkey hill you know when we used to hall them big logs and once in a while get stalled and breake down a wheel and so forth
Well Cephas when you write to me let me know if any of the boys I know has gon to the warr and how do you think it is going to turn out
This mortgage I send with this and as soon as you get it let me know if it is through all right No more at Preasent
From your Friend
Washington Washington County Ks
Mill Creack Washington, Co. Ks
I received two letters from you this week and I was glad to hear from you and that you were all well and I expect by this time you are in old Haddam [Conn.] and I know you will enjoy your visit I wish I could be there to[o] a little while but cant now but expect to be some day if I am prospered and dont get scalped by the Indians as things looks rather squaley just now we are expecting them in on us every day I dont know how we will make out we have neather got arms nor amunition to fight them with nor cant get them the secessionist has furnished the wild Indians with arms and amunition to hunt us out of Kansas a great many are leaving with fear there was four tribes met and held a counsel forty miles west of my place last week 10 and what the[y] are going to do there cant no body tell but if we only had arms and amunition we could take care of them without any trouble but as it is I am afraid we will loose our stock and crops by them I am going to sea the wers of it before I leave my crop for it look to[o] well to be scared away from it
Well as far as crops is here the[y] look spleandid corn crop especialy it goes far ahead of any I have ever seen and wheat has done verry well it is all harvested and I have got mine stacked I had one hundred shock so I dont expect to have to live on corn meal another year unles the Indians burns it up and if the[y] do I will get me a horse and a sharps rifle and hunt Indians and secessionasts for the next six months and shoot every on[e] I get my eye on.
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If we could only get arms and amimition here we could take care of our selves powder is worth two Dolars per pound and the one third of the men hasent got guns we have applied to the governer for arms but he says he hasent got any there is some snakes in the grass here but if thefy] are thefy] darsent even cis if the[y] did we would just treat them as we do snakes when we come across them And I think that is to[o] good for them
Now as to what I have been doing this summer I have been breaking prarey the most of the time for so far there was a young man a Germin that I got aquainted with last winter that has gon into partenership with me he took a claim joining mine and we work together I have got two yoke of oxin and him one that makes a good team I payed for one yoke of oxin in Breacking prairey this summer I am going to Breacking on my own next week I want to get all I can broke at home now for the breacking season is mos[t] over now for this year it wont do after July when I have been away breacking Edward H. Newman has been at hom[e] attending to the crop that is the name of my partener he is a firstrate steady quiet young man about twenty five years of age came to this Countary when he was ten years old and lived in Iowa ever since we have got about sixteen acers of corn that looks Buncom I telle you about one acer of potatos one acre of shugar cane half a acre of beans and so forth. I want to sow five or six acres of rye this fall if I can make out to get it
You wanted to know how many Neighbours I had I had a good many last summer but not many now and I am glad the[y] have gon[e] as I think there will be some good ones come back in there place , what is left is Pretty good Neighbours there is six familys all within three miles of me and the center of the county is pretty well setteled an on to where I am but non[e] west of me to you get to the republican river, but if we had reased crops last year this countary would been all setteled up west of me fifty miles before this time there is some splendid claimes here with from one to two hundred Dolars worth of improvement done on that people has left never to come back to I dont suppose You speak of us having a church to go to and Sabbath School there is a Sunday school started this summer about fifteen miles from me but I havent been able to attend yet we have preaching once in two weeks eight miles from me
LETTERS OF JOHN FERGUSON 343
I wish you would send me a tribune 11 once in a while and I want you to send me an American Mesengar for I havent seen one for about three years as soon as I get able I am going to subscribe for one or two papers I havent got room to say near all I want to give my best respects to Messes Brainard & Martha & Cynthia, and I will write soon again if nothing happens. Write me as soon as you can and let me know how the war is going on and when you write let me know how old your grandmother is
Good by for the preasent
Mill Creack, December 23th/62
Washington Co. K. S.
About four weeks ago yesterday I was to Athison and purtched a draft of one hundred and fifty Dolars and mailed it to you in the letter I told you I would write you when I got home but I have neglected it to now but I hope you have got it all right I told you the reason I hadent wrote to you sooner I have been drove round all summer from hak to busard by those infernal Indians I left home twice on acount of them and I havent moved my wife home yet and I dont expect to till I see what thefy] are going to do next spring if the goverment dont send us some help next summer we will all have to leave here or at least we will have to move our families and loose stock out of there way as I told you in my last letter the Indians killed the best ox that I had this fall and I wouldent grudge to give another ox if thefy] could be stoped not to take any more from me or my neighbours the country is in an aful state and when is it going to be any better I am afraid if this war I sent closed this winter that there will be a general outbrake amongst the Indians west of here this coming summer I hope not but things looks rather squaley I am going to prepare for it I am going [to] keep my family out of there reach and I am bound myself to stand to I sea the skalping knife used for all I have got is here and I have had hard work to get what I have and I am bound to stand by it and if I loose it I will go with it
As I told you in my last letter I had sold forty acres of my land and rented my place for another year I reased a good crop of corn this year and it is going to bring a good deal better price than it did last year I believe I can keep two teams hawling all next
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summer to Fort Karney 12 but we cant haul in winter on acount of feed for our oxin So this winter I havent done anything as yet we havent had any cold weather yet we havent had the ground whitened with snow this winter yet and I expect we are going to have a grean Christmas
Well if you have got my other letter you know that my wife has had a fine girl but we cant agree about the name I am going to name it for eather Martha or Cynthia and when you write to me let me know what Marthas middle name is I dont recolect what the E stands for
I wanted you to let me know if there was any warrants in market there now and what the[y] were worth I havent had a paper now for the last two months I am now looking every mail for an answer to my letter I sent you
Give my best respects to Misses Brainard and Martha and Cynthia
My wife and Baby is well
From your Sincere Friend
Washington Washington Co. Ks.
Fort Desmoin Iowa September 30th 64
I once more write you a few lines to let you know of my whereabouts I presume you have heard of the Indians Deperadations on the little Blue in Kansas and Neberasky 13 that is the caus[e] of my being in Iowa I left Kansas about the first of this month and it is going to pretty near break me up I had forty acers of first rate corn besides other crops in proportion and had to leave the hoal and come out heare and have to work for to pay for wintering my stock what I have left I think it is pretty tough I think it strange that goverment wont protect settelars from those Indians the Indians has to masacrea four, or five hundred whites before the[y] will do anything with them about one half of the Men that went into the service from North Western Kansas went in with
LETTERS OF JOHN FERGUSON 345
the expectation of being plased on the fronteer to protect it and instead of that thefy] have been sent down to Arkansas and Mississipia and I am afraid that Lincoln is going to loose a good many votes this fall on acount of it but Kansas will go Lincoln and no mistake but where I am now I have got into a nest of copperheads I loose my vote here but I am going to do all I can for Lincoln if you get this in time to send me before election the report of the congressional committee on the army of the Potomic why [Gen. George B.] McClellan was removed, How to prosecute and how to end the war speach by General Butlar those or any other I want to convince some of those McClelland men that he isent what the[y] think he is I cant do any thing at the balat Box but I am going to do all I can every other way Well Cephas I expect to stay here to Spring I am going back to Kansas as soon as those Indians is drove out and its safe to stay there this trip has been over a thousand Dolars dammage to me my neighbourhood in Kansas was gro[w]ing and improving fast this summer we had suceeded in geting a post office estabelished within one mile of my house and I suckseeded in geting it named Haddam 14 so I expect to live in Haddam when I go back to Kansas.
the crops throught the west is verry light this season on account of dry weather My family is well give My best respects to your wife and Martha & Cynthia
Please write soon to your Old Friend
Direct to Fort Desmoins Iowa for Me
Haddam Washington Co. Ks. Sep. 9th 1867
I will try to let you know how I am geting along the Indian excitment is greater now than it has been since I have been here I have been looking for the redskined Deavels in on us every day for the last month the[y] have been in and killed settelars twenty miles north of me and carried of[f] gerls prisoners 15 the people here is living in constant dread of being attacted by them every
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day the settelars cant verry well leave the[y] have reased good fare crops of wheat and corn there is no market we cant sell it and the most of them thinks as I do that we may as well stay here with what we have got and run the risk of being skalped as leave it as for me I have lost over a thousand Dolars runing from Indians in the last five years and I am going to stand by what I have got now to the last minet I have reased about two hundred Bushals of wheat and four of oats this year with twenty acers of corn that is pretty good but since the travel stoped on those western roads we have got no market for anything Money is geting tight out here more so than it has ever been since I have been [here] and what we have to buy out of the stores is verry high for instance Caligos the poorast artical twenty and twenty five cents per yard coffy forty cents per pound tea two Dolars and eighty cents per pound and every thing else in proportion wheat and corn there is no sale for at no price Kattel is high and good market beef buyers round the country but there is few peopel here has got a start of kattel yet so thefy] can sell the Atchison and Pikes Peak road will be compleated within forty miles of me this fall 16 and next summer it will be as fare as here if the[y] go on with it and then I think things will look briter those Indian raids has poot a stagnation on every thing here now if this Atchison road comes through here as I expect it will I am going to sell out and come back to the Connecticut river to live land has come up as far as the road has come that is well improved to about $25.00 per acer my land is assesed this year at six Dolars per acer and is worth about ten well Cephas I have been close at home all this summer as teaming is played out here and my wife has been sick most all summer her health is verry poor and I have broke my selph down a good deal since I came here by teaming on the road and laying out nights and being exposed to all weathers but if I am spared as soon as I think I can sell out for enough to come back east and live without working so hard I am going to do it so I can give my children a good education for I think that is better than land for them I sea the nead of it out here the one fifth of the men out here cant right [sic] or cipher I was elected last spring as Justice of the Peace in this township so you may know by that that the men out here isent non the smartest or I wouldent been picked on to fill that office for I am shure I ent fit for it
LETTERS OF JOHN FERGUSON 347
I expect old Haddam is still on the Conn river yet I presume you have beer up there [tjhis summer and [had] a pleasent time I do wish I could have been there with you and had a good mess of cherry s of[f] some of those young trees of yours never mind I will be there some day if I live for there is where the happiest Days of my life was spent and I hope there is where I will spend my last give my best respects to Misses Brainard and also to Martha & Cynthia give me all the knews that from H-
from your friend and best well isher
Haddam Washington Co Kansas March 29: 68
I suppose you will think by my silence that I have forgotten you but I havent by any means I have poot of[f] sending you this Money so long that I have been ashamed to write you but if you get this all right I shall write you oftener I told you in my last letter that I had been elected Justice of the Peace and I had to buy several Books to inform my selph a littel on law Matters and thefy have cost me conciderable money and I was also elected County Assessor last fall for two years
Well Cephas I have had an addition to my family since you heard from me I ent so lucky as you for mines all girls I have one consolation the boys will come to sea me some day thise one is thre months old the 15th of this month and named Alphadora my wife has been having poor health for a long time but she is geting prety smart again
we are having a verry dry warm weather I have got twenty acers of wheat and oats in the ground and is up and looks well the Countary is seteling up fast here now and I think the goverment land will soon be all taken up we are geting some men in here now with means to improve the countary and improved farms is selling as high as fifteen Dolars Per acer and speculators is ancious to buy through this part of the countary Money is very tight and hard to get but I look for better times pretty soon at least I hope so the[y] are going to commence work on the Atichon and Denvir road the first of next month in this County 17 I will know in the corse of a month how close to me it will come well I will close for the preasent give my respects to Misses
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Brainard and the Boys and also to Martha & Cynthia and to all my old friends that you sea I am still in hopes of some day coming back to haddam and I think I will be able to own a good place in it some day if I live Please write me by return male and let me know if this is safe for I will be ancious to know
From your cincere Friend
Cephas I have had the impreashon that there was nine Dolars and some cents but I find on the back of the motgage you have figured $158.8 cents which leaves $8. $1oo your due with interist for five years and three months which makes as near as I can figure $9oo
April 6th I expected to get a post office order to send you but cant go to get one so I shant send but $5.00 in this letter and if it goes all right I will send the ballance in another I sent two Dolars for the weekly Tribune once and never heard from it and I am afraid to risk it all at once Please write me by return male and let me know if it is all right
Yours as ever
1. "70th Anniversary Edition," supplement to The Washington County Register, Washington, September 16, 1938, p. 81.
2. The Plains Indians had been held in check by United States soldiers stationed at military posts along the frontier. The withdrawal of these troops at the outbreak of the Civil War left the forts but weakly garrisoned, and exposed travel, commerce and the settlers along the border to the ravages of the hostile tribes.
3. A. T. Andreas and W. G. Cutler, History of the State of Kansas (Chicago, 1883), p. 1055.
4. "Agriculture Census, 1880," Washington county, Mill Creek township, p. 1. Archives division, Kansas State Historical Society.
5. Washington Republican, May 26, 1882; October 12, 1883.
6. Ibid., August 24, 1883.
7. Ibid., March 7, 1884.
8. Ibid., January 11, 1884.
9. This winter followed the drought of 1860, when for more than sixteen months, from June 19, 1859, to November, 1860, scarcely enough rain fell at any one time to wet the earth two inches in depth. Andreas -Cutler, op. cit., p. 178. An appeal was made to the more prosperous states for aid, and great amounts of provisions, clothing and money were sent to relieve the sufferers. Samuel C. Pomeroy was made the receiving agent, and Atchison was named the receiving point. There were complaints, however, that favoritism was shown in the distribution of the goods. Kansas Historical Collections (Topeka, 1906), v. IX, pp. 480-485.
10. Probably refers to a large number of Otoe, Omaha, Arapaho, Cheyenne and Kiowa Indians, numbering six or seven thousand, reported by Col. S. H. Sarber to be encamped near Lake Sibley (present Cloud county) about this time. On breaking up their encampment the Indians moved farther west, but not without greatly alarming the frontier settlers, some of whom left as a consequence. Western Kansas Express, Manhattan, August 17, 1861.
11. Probably Horace Greeley's New York Tribune.
12. During the years 1862, 1863, and 1864 the farmers living along Mill creek hauled their corn to market to Fort Kearny (present Nebraska), a distance of about 150 miles. They received from $1.50 to $3 per bushel. "70th Anniversary Edition" of The Washington County Register, September 16, 1938, p. 7.
13. In August, 1864, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians made a raid on settlers in the Little Blue valley. Several white persons were killed and considerable damage was done in southern Nebraska. Most of the settlers in Washington county fled to Marysville, where they held a public meeting to discuss ways and means for self-protection. Scouts were hired to scour the country and report any trace of the enemy. Later the Indians were pursued by the state militia and were pushed toward the source of the Republican. Andreas-Cutler, op. cit., p. 1056.
14. Haddam post office is listed in the Register of Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval, in the Service of the United States, . . . 1865 (Washington, 1866), p. 113, and ibid., for 1867, p. 428. O. S. Canfil was postmaster. The town of Haddam, however, is supposed to date from the fall of 1869 when J. W. Taylor started a store upon land donated by George Canfil. About the same time A. Whitney commenced a rival town of Haddam a short distance west. For five years there was rivalry between the two towns. In 1874 a change came when Whitney sold his store to H. H. Cheney who removed it to present Haddam and West Haddam ceased to exist. Andreas -Cutler, op. cit., p. 1060.
15. Ferguson undoubtedly refers here to the Indian depredations in present Thayer county, Nebraska, in the summer of 1867.
16. The Atchison and Pike's Peak railroad (now the Missouri Pacific) was completed from Atchison to present Waterville, a distance of 100 miles, on January 20, 1868. Andreas - Cutler, op. dt., pp. 246, 922.
17. Probably another reference to the Atchison and Pike's Peak railroad which had reached Waterville. See Footnote 16.