Tuesday, August 23, 2022

End of an Era


Sometime in the late 1860s, Kentuckian James T. Moore spent a brief time in Kansas as a helper to a buffalo hunter. He was impressed with the potential of Kansas for cattle grazing and went home to tell his wife, Chalista, that the grass stood as high as the stirrups on a horse.

Even after returning home, he couldn't forget that undeveloped frontier. In 1876, the family came to Kansas in a covered wagon drawn by oxen. They arrived in December 1876 in Sodtown, later known as Stafford. A hotel proprietor mentioned to J.T. that he might do well to homestead in Pratt County.

(This was my childhood home for the first 6 years of my life.)

A man whose business it was to locate claims helped J.T. and his family. The son, J.J. who was 9 at the time, later described the trip:

He told us of a place that we could homestead down in Pratt County where Kelly the buffalo hunter had put down a well. We started with an ox team to a wagon and the driver carried a compass as he drove. On the hind wheel of the wagon was tied a rag, and a man sitting in the back counted the revolutions of the wheel. So we came out 23 miles, so far south and so far west. We hit the place all right and found the government corners. We went to Larned and put in the (homestead) papers.

James T. Moore was my paternal great-great grandfather. (Though Sodtown (Stafford) isn't where the family settled, isn't it a coincidence that their first stop was in the area that has been my home for the past 41+ years?)

Last fall, I sat alone in a pickup cab at our Rattlesnake Creek pasture. Randy and three other guys were off on 4-wheelers, using those modern machines to move cattle toward my bait-hay-laden pickup. It was our annual fall round-up of cows and calves that had spent the summer grazing at what we call The Big Pasture.

The modern-day wranglers were pushing cattle toward a destination, much like the long-ago cattle drives ... but with Kawasaki horse power - not the four-legged version.

I knew it was likely the final time I would be involved gathering cattle off a pasture that's been in Randy's family since 1900 - 121 years at that time, and 122 now. A blue fall sky stretched endlessly from horizon to horizon, and prairie grasses rustled in a gentle breeze. That sky has towered over five generations of Kansans in both Randy's and my family's. 

All our forefathers saw the potential in the wide open prairies of Central Kansas.  And we are thankful.

It's hard to know what to write when you come to the end of a road, or, in our case, when you come to the end of a field. I think about our ancestors who settled this land. When they arrived from points east, it was a vast sea of prairie grasses. There may have been trees along creeks, but the tree-lined boulevards of their eastern towns and cities were left miles behind. 

They arrived with a wagon full of their earthly possessions, often strategically placed between the many children who also filled the wagon. Think about today's moving companies, driving semi-trailers of a family's belongings across the miles. Not so for these early arrivals to Kansas who packed everything on the rickety wheels of a wooden wagon.

They were the ones who planted the cottonwood trees and other trees we enjoy today to fulfill their Timber Claims to make this new land their home. 

My maternal great grandfather probably would shake his head to learn we present-day farmers have abandoned traditional horse power for 4-wheelers. Charley Neelly came to Kansas in 1898 from Hoberg, Mo., and went to work for a farmer who lived about five miles north of Naron in Pratt County. In 1900, Charley married Ethel Denton. They had 10 children - six boys and four girls. Shelby Merle Neelly (my Mom's Dad/my Grandpa) was their second child. 

Charley had a fondness for horses and made money by trading them. He also liked good driving horses and owned 11 race horses during his lifetime. During the 1910s and 1920s, Charley and the children farmed six or seven quarters of cropland. In 1919, they had more than 500 acres of corn. Shelby, his older brother Archie, and two hired hands shucked corn all winter. Corn at that time was worth 25 cents per bushel.

My brother continues to farm both the Moore and Neelly farm ground in Pratt County.

But our farm sale and retirement ended Randy's immediate family's involvement in active farming. We will still be involved in agriculture as land owners, and we have no plans to sell farm or pasture ground at this time.

That pasture where I was sitting last fall has been in Randy's family since 1900 and is owned today by Randy and his cousin, Don. The ground was purchased for $4 an acre by a great-great-uncle, August Brinkman. Originally in a tract of 1,040 acres, today 560 acres of it remain in the Fritzemeier family. 


From a Fritzemeier cattle working session - undated photo. 

L to R: Clarence Fritzemeier (Randy's Grandpa) Milton Giedinghagen, Ben Fritzemeyer, Melvin Fritzemeier (my father-in-law) & Harve Fritzemeier. Yes there are two different spellings on Fritzemeier - it's not a typo!

Was it an easy decision? It was not. But it was the right decision for us. Farming is for young bodies. Neither of us has those. It was increasingly difficult to find farm help . I've told Randy repeatedly that I'm amazed at what he was still able to accomplish. 

As you might remember, our neighbor, Mark, took some drone photos during our final harvest. (HERE is the link to my blog post about that.)

We asked if he had time to take some drone shots before the farm sale, and he graciously agreed. 

As I've said before, I find the drone images particularly powerful in some way. I take thousands of photos a year. But there's something about that bird's eye view of a scene that makes it feel bigger. And it makes it more real. 


I'll be honest. Mark sent the photos the morning before the sale. I decided not to look at them then, though Randy did. I was already a little emotional, and I thought it was ill-advised to add any fuel to all those already swirling feelings.

But, as I've written this series of blog posts on legacy and retirement, I've been thankful for this birds' eye overview of a way of life. 


Next time on the blog: The Farm Sale

To come: Retirement festivities


Want to read more about our family's history and see more historic photos?  I've written about it in the past. Here are the links:

Moore Family Century Farm - Click HERE

Neelly Family Century Farm - Click HERE

Fritzemeier Century Farm - Click HERE and HERE (and a whole lot more blog posts since 2010)


  1. As exciting as retirement is, it is bittersweet. All the best to both of you!

    1. Thank you! It will be an adjustment, but we feel at peace with the decision.

  2. A stunning collection of your farm machinery as seen by the drone. What a contrast to your final image. Is the Century Farm sign an official one for any farm 100 years old? If so, it makes it even more special.

  3. You have to apply for it and provide documentation through Kansas Farm Bureau. Several farms in our area have been able to receive that designation.