Monday, January 30, 2012

Ad Astra Per Aspera

You probably wouldn't think about having a birthday party in a cemetery. But as Kansas celebrated 151 years of statehood yesterday, I thought about those pioneers who settled this land I now call home. On January 29, 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union and became the 34th star on the American flag.

Peace Creek Cemetery is just a mile from Randy's boyhood home. Some of his ancestors rest in this quiet plot at the edge of a wheat field. Maybe a visitor or two who takes the wrong road to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge might happen across it. But, for the most part, it's off the beaten track. The chilly silence may be broken by the growl of a tractor or a pickup traversing the sandy road. But most often, the sound is just the breeze through the trees that stirs the music of a wind chime near one of the graves.

As we drove by one January evening, I asked Randy to stop. I watched the sun sink into the horizon of the western sky, and I thought about those pioneers who came before me. They may have marveled at a similar sunset sky, the velvet blue lightened with pinks and yellows and oranges - the vibrant colors that come only on a cold January night.

There were probably fewer trees then, but the same sun and the moon still hung from the sky. These celestial bodies defined their days - probably more so than they do mine since they would have lit their homes with candles or kerosene lanterns on dark January nights.

I wonder about the people buried there, some as long ago as 1879. There are mothers and fathers, babies and toddlers, neighbors and friends.

Were they adventurers? Were they dreamers? Were they looking to improve life for themselves and their families? Under the Homestead Act, any person older than 21 could choose 160 acres of land on which to farm or ranch. If the homesteader could live and farm on the land for a period of five years, they could own it.

Clearing the land of the tall, tough prairie grass was back breaking work. They had to figure out what crops would grow, often a process of trial and error. Droughts, thunderstorms, bitter winters, prairie fires and grasshopper invasions stood in the way of fulfilling their hopes for a different way of life.

The dreams they planted on the Kansas prairie took root like the trees they planted to block their homesteads from the unrelenting wind.

And they worked hard. They planted churches and schools along with the winter wheat.

They raised their families. They lived and they died on the Kansas prairie.

And as we celebrate 151 years of statehood, I am thankful for my ancestors and those of my husband who had a vision and worked hard to provide a future for their children and their children's children and beyond.

Kansas is celebrating its birthday. But we got the gift.


  1. this was a great story Kim, My ancestors came from Germany thru Ellis Island and settled here In Kansas, they got there acres thru the Homestead act and settled in the farm that's still in my family to this day, I remember when My Grandpa Hoeme was alive and they awarded him having a "century Farm" and how proud he was, I see pictures of his family when they first arrived and built a small one room home that housed a large family of 11, until they could later build the home that is still standing on the farm to this day...ladies in their long work dresses and bonnets and men working hard at the crack of dawn to milk cows and get the day started...I love looking at old photo's, and appreciate how hard they worked to pass on a better life for us today, it truly is our gift

    1. Thanks Debbie! My brother is the sixth generation to farm in Pratt County. Randy is the fourth generation in Stafford County. My ancestors stopped in Sodtown, which is what Stafford was called in the early days, so I have ties to Stafford County before I married into it! My mom made history books for my kids and I also like looking through the old photos. Yesterday, I read through a history of the Moore family farm that I wrote in college. I may write more about that, too. Thanks for taking time to comment!

    2. Actually - Kent is 5th generation. His son Brian is the 6th generation. Pretty cool!

  2. Kim, I still own my family's farm in on County Lind Rd. in Pratt County. My Grandparents came to Stafford in 1895 and bought their farm from the orignal homesteader in 1908. What a gift it is to be from and have family in Stafford. Mary Jane Hawver McEntire.

  3. @ Debbie & Mary Jane - It is a wonderful heritage to have such a long family history in Kansas, isn't it?!

  4. Very neat post Kim! I often have the same thoughts about "What did the Pioneers think when ..." I can't imagine the hardships of traveling and working the way they did. The extreme weather alone would have been terrible.

    I think it is interesting to walk around a cemetery. Some of the headstones are so unique. I often wonder about the stories of those lost.

    I like your pictures too. You did a great job of capturing the sunset colors.

    1. Thanks Robyn. I like looking at the old stones, too, as they are so unique. It's kind of like a treasure quest, finding the oldest dates and the most unusual stones.