Monthly Archives: February 2014

In God we trusted. In KANSAS we busted!

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As the calendar turned to January of a new year and the 29th passed by,  commemorating the day of our statehood, we were reminded of the sufferings of our Kansas ancestors.  In their struggle to settle here, they were often faced with the lack of many of the basics of life that we now take for granted—the lack of food due to crop failure, lack of fuel to heat their meager homes, and the lack of money to procure either.  The Leavenworth County Historical Society is dedicated to preserving this history.  Many stories in our files chronicle the struggles faced by our forefathers here in Leavenworth County.   We marvel at the determination and stamina these pioneer seekers of land and freedom exhibited as they endured ongoing hardships.   While we are aware that just as many settlers left Kansas because of the very same circumstances, their stories are told less often.

Last fall a researcher came from Florida, tracing the history of the Stackhouse family, who had, at one time attempted to make Kansas their home.  As the story was told, William F. Stackhouse journeyed to Leavenworth around 1881 from his home in New Jersey.  His wife-to-be, Mary Ellen Shimp, at that time went from NJ to Illinois to visit relatives.  Stackhouse married her there and returned to Leavenworth, where three children were born, from 1888 to 1892.  At first, Stackhouse was a carpenter and made carriages at 725 Shawnee.  He also taught carpentry to prisoners in Leavenworth.  He bought a lot and built a house, then later bought a farm nine miles west of Leavenworth.  The Stackhouse luck then turned for the worst.  As they had nearly completed building their house on the farm, they watched from their covered wagon as a tornado destroyed it.  The next year, a drought caused their crops to fail.  In 1893, they finally gave up and returned to New Jersey. 

Years later, Stackhouse was honored as a half-century farmer in Bridgeton, NJ.  His story was printed in the Salem Stand and Jerseyman, noting that William, the oldest in his family, was born on the 25th day of July 1853 to Archer Stackhouse, the “village blacksmith” of Harmersville, NJ.  When about five years old, his father died, leaving his widow Charlotte and four small children facing a hard struggle ahead.  Charlotte died a few years later and the family was broken up, going to relatives and friends.  The article then noted,

“After he finished his education at the “Hell Neck University,” Master William, who was not quite nineteen found himself on the first day of April 1872, apprenticed for four years to R. M. Rocap of Bridgeton, NJ, to learn the mysteries of the wheelwright and carriage builders trade.  (The financial consideration for those four years labor was meager.)  After finishing his apprenticeship, the subject of this story, William Stackhouse, started business for himself at his father’s old stand in Hammersville, with very little capital except faith, hope, and “elbow grease.”  The second year his brother, James, was taken in partnership as a blacksmith, doing business as Stackhouse  Bros.  At the end of three years they separated with debts paid and a small margin ahead of the game.

“Already at this time, the large factory and the advancing auto or ‘horseless carriage,’ as they called them, was choking the small shops out of existence and driving mechanics back to the farm or to the city.

“This little sketch of a man’s life is hardly complete without a shade of romance along with it.  We are informed that William, being a member of the Baptist Church and a bass singer in the choir, at the age of 23 was elected Superintendent of the Sunday school.  Along with his work and business and Sunday-school duties, he walked miles and miles of country road with his No. 8 feet hot on the trail of his Sunday-school organist and vocal leader in an extended, preserving and precarious matrimonial campaign.  About the time the hope of success seemed to be visible, ‘Billy’ found out that man proposes, but woman disposes, and that suddenly, like a connubial acrobat, his fair one had married a better looking man and left him for better or worse, which he never found out.

“After a few other little ventures and failures, he scraped together about $60 out of the wreck of love and business and, with the prospect of a second courtship in the distance, he bid goodbye to Jersey and went to the then booming state of Kansas.  In this state he had great hope for, it seemed from the reports that came east, riches were supposed to given you if you would only accept them.

“Mr. Stackhouse arrived in Leavenworth where he worked at carpenter and cabinet work for three years, bought lots and built a little house ready for the girl who left the salt marsh and muskrat township of Salem county to meet her mate in the West.  They met in Peoria County, Illinois, and were married and began housekeeping in Kansas.  After a few years of carpenter work, he bought a farm nine miles west of Leavenworth and began Kansas farming behind a pair of raw boned mules.  In this venture he gained experience faster than money, selling wheat for 50 cents per bushel, corn for 19 cents per bushel, live hogs for $2.50 per cwt and a grown chicken for 20 cents and, in addition to such prices, have flooding rains one year and drought with hot winds that burned up all one’s crops in three or four days.  This was sufficient to make a ‘tenderfoot’ strongly inclined to go back East and ‘pay a visit to his wife’s folks.’

“In 1893 after twelve years sojourn they returned to Jersey not as conquerors . . . . but they traveled with a more familiar and at that time more popular slogan, ‘In God we trusted, in Kansas we busted.’

 

 

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