|His hands gripped the leather straps and he winced. Arthritis crippled his hands and as a doctor he saw the signs. His knuckles swelled and a couple of his fingers would not bend anymore. His doctoring days were over. Barton tugged on the reins and the mare shook her head, anxious to get moving faster than just a walk.
This was new land. It was Kansas and a man could set down roots, have a family tree that would spread far across the territory. He pulled the reins and the surrey with its faded fabric top and missing fringe slowed to a stop in front of the hotel.
“Father! we've been waiting forever. What took you so long?” Three young boys jumped from the wooden porch and pushed each other to get the best seat in the buggy.
Behind them, Barton’s eldest son Herbert, escorted his mother to the surrey’s step and helped her in to the seat behind his father.
“Father, if it’s all right with you. Could I take the reins today? I need some practice finding my way around these roads.” He stood beside the step to the front bench and waited.
Barton knew what his son asked. Herbert watched him put liniment on his hands the night before, this was his way of taking the reins Herbert knew to be hard on his father over the day's adventure.
“Herbert, the only way to learn the lay of the land is to drive it.” His smile welcomed his son and the answer was the rock of the buggy when Herbert climbed up the step and settled on the bench.
“You can handle this. I'll sit back with your mother like a proper Englishman and enjoy a ride in the country.” He thickened his British accent and touched the brim of his new Bowler hat.
“I want to sit with Herbert.” Lander and James were trying to scramble over the seat to reach the front. John Charles just bounced on the seat with excitement.
“Here now, none of that. Herbert doesn’t need you as navigators. Sit back there and enjoy the ride.” Barton grabbed one son by his collar and the other by his britches, he prevented them from going any farther. He settled next to Mahala and tucked her arm through his. “Onward Herbert.”
The sun rose in the sky and a slight wind stirred the hot air. They passed the plowed lands and could see both sod and board farm houses with matching barns. The family chuckled about that.
“It sure is different from Illinois,” Barton nodded at the sudden dip in the road that led to a small bridge over a creek.
“Do you miss it?’ Mahala turned her face toward him so that she could see his expression and not just the sides of her bonnet.
“It was getting too crowded. Houses being built on top of each other. The roads so full of carriages and lorry’s it's no wonder my practice was full of clients. No, I love it here. I won't hear my neighbors, They are not just a block away, most are a mile or two.”
“Are you sure that isn’t too close?” She teased.
“Father, look! there are Indians here.” James yelled and pointed across the road to a group of Indian riders and others walking.
“How do you know they're Indians?” Barton asked. He tapped Herbert to slow the carriage. The horse shook her head and pawed at the ground. Herbert held her in check, speaking in low tones to calm her.
“Our teacher, in Mt. Polaski, showed us pictures of them. They are wearing the same clothes.”
“These are different Indians. They aren’t wearing the same clothes as the Indians in Illinois.” Lander chided his brother.
“Stop it boys.” Barton ordered. He turned back to look at the group. The men at the hotel, where they were staying, said Indians around here were friendly and traded with the settlers. "They are Indians. They are not heathens to be shunned. Let’s go Herbert.” Barton held on to the front seat and his wife as the surrey jerked forward and the horse seemed to know the way, started to trot.
After a couple of hours of looking at the villages they passed through, they stopped to sat under a tree and eat the lunch Mahala had requested from the hotel’s kitchen. There was fried chicken, biscuits and fresh vegetables with a cake. Sweet tea in a gallon jar was still cool and refreshing in the heat of the day. The boys expended their energy in the afternoon sun.
Mahala and the Barton gathered the remnants of lunch and called the boys to the surrey to finish the tour. They hadn’t traveled more than a mile when a cloud of dust appeared ahead of them and from around the corner came a line of men, on horses, led by a man in military attire . Herbert pulled the surrey to the side of the road to let them pass.
The leader slowed his mount next to the surrey. “Good afternoon Sirs, Ma’am,” he lifted his wide brimmed, hat a couple of inches off his head. “What brings you out on this fine day?”
“We are looking at some land to purchase.” Barton offered, not sure why this many man armed to the teeth for battle were out on the road. The war was over, he reminded himself.
“British you are.” The man observed. “I am Colonel Montgomery and these are my men. We have just run a pro-slaver, who had been terrorizing Negro freemen off their property. He was ordering the Negros to leave the territory or have their houses burned down. We can’t have that. The war is over and all men are free. If you are looking for a piece of land that is already proven and a house that is ready to move in, I have one for you.”
“Sir, we would very much like to see this place.” Barton held out his hand to the Colonel, who leaned forward to shake it. The Colonel ordered a couple of the men on horses to escort the surrey to the farm they had just left.
After seeing the house stood not far from a grove of trees on a bluff that overlooked the Sugar Creek, it was agreed they would take the land.
They moved in and settled firmly in the community. They farmed the land and watched as the local Indians ran buffalo past their house and over to bluff to their death. Below the women would skin and butcher the meat for the winter. There are many arrow heads found in the vicinity of Flat Rock. Later it was a place young people came to have picnics in the summer.
Barton added to the original property making sure all his sons had plenty of room to build a home and farm their own plot.
Two of his sons had the same itch for open spaces. Charles moved on to Wyoming, married and had many jobs, one as a sheep herder. Lander found oil in Hays, Kansas. He married and his family is still there.
The original sod house was destroyed in a tornado and Baton built a wood house closer to the bluff and is still standing today, though not liveable as the owner allowed the horses to use it as a barn.
Note: After I located my ancestors, I arranged for a family reunion. Decedents from all four boys were represented. We toured the old homestead and found white painted stones outlining unmarked graves. The woman from the Linn Co. Historical Society, who had accompanied us to verify the graves, contacted the owner at that time and he agreed to fence off the grave area from the livestock that roamed the homestead. I imagine there is nothing left down there after a hundred years, but it was a nice gesture. When the owner decided to sell the property, I heard one of the family members purchased it.