Potter West Kenyon – 1996 Inductee

“Potter West Kenyon was born in Athol, Warren County, New York, April 3, 1835.  He was the son of Avery and Polly Kenyon.  His early life was spent in the wilds of northern New York.  He spent some years lumbering and river driving, often working with his clothes wet and frozen on him.  When quite young he wanted to come west, and started to come by way of Canada, but while crossing a big lake a terrible storm arose in which he lost his trunk and all his belongings.  He then went to work for Alvin Williams, who owned a boat on the Erie Canal.  It was there he met his first wife, Miss Martha E. Woodcock, to whom he was married October 15, 1856, in the city of Buffalo, New York.  To this union was born three children:  Miss Harriet Wiltse of Manhattan; Mrs. Anna Bancroft and Martin Kenyon, of Corinth Township [Osborne County, Kansas].  About a year after his marriage Potter was living in Greenfield, Saratoga County, New York, and his father, who had not seen or heard from him since he had left home, learned of his whereaboutsand came to see him.  He induced Potter to move to his home at Schroon Lake, Erie County, New York, where he and his family lived until the Civil War broke out, when Potter enlisted and served three years fighting for his country with Company E of the New York Volunteer Infantry, attaining the rank of sergeant.

After his return from the war he lived on his farm in Greenfield for a while.   He then moved to Palmer Falls, New York, where he was employed in the big pulp and paper mills until the fall of 1870, when with his family he moved to Waterville, Kansas.  In 1871 he moved to Osborne County, homesteading his present place in Corinth Township, and moved on to it.  At that time all of the western half of Kansas was a trackless waste of prairie, covered with a coating of buffalo grass, and inhabited principally by roving herds of buffalo, and while Indians had been removed from the land by the government, the county was still subject to occasional visits by roving bands and for many years was in danger of raids from tribes on the war path.  A number of times after his arrival here the entire population was thrown into a panic by the announcement that the Indians were coming.  On one occasion as Mr. Kenyon with some neighbors were engaged in making sorghum, they noticed a number of wagons and horseback riders, coming at good speed from the west.  They soon discovered that they were settlers from the regions farther on who were fleeing with such of their belongings as they could hastily gather together before the approach of a marauding band of murdering Sioux, who were reported to be only a few miles behind, and it was said in all earnestness and with great excitement by those refugees that the Indians were killing the settlers and burning their belongings as fast as they came to them.  They urged Mr. Kenyon to get his family and a few necessities into a wagon and join in the retreat, but Mr. Kenyon was a man of unflinching courage and he decided at once that he would not budge an inch.  He  was fairly well armed, and made up his mind that if the Indians appeared he would give them the warmest reception they had met with on that trip, and he went quietly on about his work of making sorghum.  The Indians did not appear, and it was afterwards learned that the settlers had been threatened by a false alarm. [In reality the Indians were a small band of Cheyenne, who in October 1878 were passing over a hundred miles to the west and were headed north to their former home in the Dakota Territory after fleeing their reservation to the south in present-day Oklahoma].

A few years ago when Mr. Kenyon’s mind was active and his hand steady enough to write he indited numerous interesting articles for The Downs News, telling many of his experiences in detail.  Some of the articles were copied by the Topeka Capital and the Kansas City Star, and gained wide publicity.  The articles told in a very interesting way of his dealings with Indians and on the buffalo hunts and freighting expeditions that occupied the time of the early pioneers.  He was possessed of rare descriptive powers, and could, had he so desired, have written a book that would have been full of interest to the present generation.

During his long residence in Corinth Township Mr. Kenyon was always active in the politics of his township and the county and state, and was a man of powerful influence.  He never seemed to care for office holding himself, but he was aways vitally interested in pushing the claims of men who were clean and capable for office.  He was outspoken and uncompromising in his beliefs and preferences, and if a man failed to come up to his standard of right living and capability, Mr. Kenyon did not fear nor fail to tell him so in unmistakable terms.  He loved the right with all the force of his being, and hated the wrong with equal intenseness.  No man of questionable character and no measure of doubtful purport could enlist his support for an instant.  He was straightforward, honest, conscientious and fearless in his daily life, and his influence was always on the side of what he believed to be the right.  These characteristics naturally placed him in a position of prominence in political affairs, not only in his own immediate community, but in the entire county.

In religious and social affairs he was always a leader, and no movement for the betterment of his community ever lagged because of his inactivity and lack of support.  If it was to accomplish good he gave his influence and his money freely toward it, and his support was never half hearted, but earnest and whole souled.  Mr. Kenyon was a great lover of music, and in his younger days was a fine singer.  For many years he led the singing at all the religious gatherings of his community.  Of late years he had not taken such an active part, leaving that to the younger generation, but the Sunday just prior to his death he attended services at the Corinth schoolhouse, and it was remarked by many of his relatives and friends that he joined in singing all of the hymns with more of his old time spirit than he had done in many years.  Several times after returning to his home he mentioned to his wife the services of the afternoon and how he had enjoyed them.  He was taken with his final illness that same night, and that Sunday proved to be  his last on earth.  He died early the following Wednesday morning, September 2, 1914.

Mr. Kenyon’s wife died April 5, 1902, and on October 31st of that year he was united in marriage to Mrs. Sarah J. Earls, of Erie, New York, the latter being a sister of his first wife.  Besides his wife and three children, Mr. Kenyon leaves one brother, N. W. Kenyon, of Tonganoxie, Kansas, who is now the sole survivor of the family.  He formerly lived in Corinth Township, being a resident there for twenty-three years before moving to Tonganoxie.  He arrived last Wednesday too late to see his brother alive, but was privileged to attend the funeral services.   With these Mr. Kenyon leaves three stepchildren, J. H. Earls, Mrs. A. W. Murphy and Mrs. F. E. Heath.

Funeral services were held at the home in Corinth Township, Friday morning at 10:00 o’clock; conducted by Reverend Charles M. Good of the Congregational Church, who spoke touchingly of the useful life and powerful influence for good of the deceased.  The body was laid to rest in the Corinth Cemetery, which he helped to plot and lay out, and which through his influence and that of other progressive citizens of that community, has been improved and beautified from year to year.  The services at the grave were in charge of the Grand Army of the Republic, the beautiful ritualistic service being read by Commander Jackson and Captain Robert Maxwell.  The pall bearers were from the ranks of the G.A.R. and were as follows:  H. C. Lockridge, Robert Maxwell,  A. Jackson, R. A. Henderson, John A. Garey and Harlow Judson.  The services were attended by an immense throng of old neighbors and friends, people coming from Osborne, Downs, Cawker City, and from all parts of the surrounding country to pay their last tribute of respect to their departed friend.  The remains were laid to rest in the family lot in Corinth Cemetery.” — The Downs (KS) News, September 10, 1914.

Pioneer Stories of Indians and Buffalo

The year before I came to my present home there were many roving bands of the blood thirsty Cheyenne Indians here.  A party of eight neighbors of my father, who lived near Waterville in Marshall County, went on a buffalo hunt west of White Rock.  My father was to make one of the party, but was taken suddenly very sick with a bilious attack.  The party waited over one day for him, out as he got no better they left him.  The game was very plentiful and they soon loaded their wagons with meat and started for home.  The party camped the first night on White Rock Creek, eight miles above Scandia.  Some of the party were in favor of driving on to Scandia that night, but their teams being well fagged out it was decided to camp out at the mouth of the creek until morning.  They had observed during the day at different times, horsemen away off on the hills; some of the party thought they were Indians, but as they only saw one at a time and they themselves being armed and fearless, they felt no uneasiness in going into camp so near a considerable town.  They were careless and didn’t have a guard to give alarm in case of an attack.  Just as daylight began to dawn they were awakened by a bloodcurdling yell of a large band of the red devils on ponies and firing at everyone t hat showed his head.  One of the party, a Mr. McChesney, had wakened just before the dash was made and being thirsty had gone to a little spring of water to get a drink, and when the dash was made dropped down in a little bunch of weeds and was not observed by the redskins, but could see from where he lay the murder of his party by the blood thirsty devils, and Mr. McChesney was the only one of the party that escaped.  The horses and things that the redskins wanted were taken away and the wagons were burned with their contents.  Mr. McChesney states that one of the Indians came to the spring to drink and was so near him that he could have laid his hand on him, and he thought his time had come, but to his surprise be went away without noticing him.  Mr. McChesney had no signs of gray about his hair when he left home, and when he returned his hair was as white as the snow.  He died two years ago where he was residing at Waldo, Russell County.

Now this was the kind of civilization that existed when we cast our lot in the midst of the great American desert.  We had many hair raising scares, but we managed to hold our hair all almost by a miracle.  In the summer of 1871 my brother and his wife and daughter lived in a little shack about 40 rods west of us.  One evening about 5 o’clock one of those black storms that were so frequent that summer, were so frequent that summer, came up suddenly from the northwest and became so dark that we could hardly distinguish objects ten rods away.  My brother had gone about five miles away to get a load of rock, and had not returned yet.  In looking out at the storm I saw an object coming toward me.  It was his wife half stooping forward with a gun in each hand and the little girl in front of her and coming as fast as she could get the little girl along, and she was crying.  She said there were more than 300 Indians just west of her house in the ravine and some of them were on horses and some on foot coming as fast as they could run and that Dr. Dillon had seen them and had hid in the tall grass.  I took the guns and told her and my wife to run to the river as fast as they could and hide, and I would stay and fight.  I got my guns out by the corner of the house and took my stand with a resolve that some of the red devils were very near death’s door.  I only had to wait two or three minutes, when I saw some object coming on a run and I drew a bead on the foremost one with my seven shooter and was only waiting until he was near enough to make a sure death hit, when I discovered the object wore a boiled shirt and that caused me to hesitate a little, when I discovered it was a white man and there were two others with him.  When they saw my stack of guns out there they wanted to ‘know what it meant.  I asked them where the Indians were.  They said that they had not seen any Indians.  I asked them what they were running for.  They said to find a place of shelter from the storm.  I gave a loud whistle as a signal to the folks to come back; so you see how fear will transform three white men that were out land hunting into 300 Indians.

A short time after the above episode, along about noon a nice herd of buffalo came close by our shack, but we were not prepared to take any of them in as they were on a stampede, and got out of reach before we could get our gun.  My brother and Simon Heath got their guns and followed after them on foot thinking the herd would slow up or stop to feed when they got over their fright, but I hitched the team to the lumber wagon and took my gun and followed the trail.  I soon ran into a pair of old bulls and they charged me before I got near enough to shoot, so I was compelled to beat a hasty retreat as I could not bring one down when his head was toward me; I must get at the side to have any show of bringing one down, and then I didn’t dare stop to shoot when the two of them were chasing me, for if I should be fortunate enough to get one the other would get me, for it was all the team could do to keep clear of them when the brutes would turn and charge us.  I finally got them separated and soon after brought one of them down.  Simon Heath heard shooting and came to me and we had a time trying to cut the old fellow’s throat, as we had only our pocket knives and we could not cut a hole through the thick skin with them, so we shot a ball into his throat, and in that way could get a pocket knife into the hole and cut a big vein.  I had a stone rack on the wagon and as the buffalo lay on a steep hillside with his back downward we ran the wagon up on the other side and took the wheels off and thought we could roll him over into the rack.  We got hold of his legs and lifted until we could see stars and could not turn the old fellow off his back so we had to go find help and before we could get back it had got dark, and as there were no roads it was hard to tell where you were at, but we found the game and proceeded with our hunting knives to cut the meat off the bones.  The skins were worthless at that time of the year (July) so we did not care to save the hide. We had lanterns.  The place where we were did not look to me like the spot where my animal was so I told the others to stay where they were while I looked around to satisfy myself that we were all right.  I had not gone far until I found another buffalo – the one that I had killed – but a few rods from where we had dissected one, so we stripped the meat from that one which gave us a pretty good load of meat.  The next day I was in Cawker City when some men came in from the west where they had gone to cut the meat from a buffalo that one of them had killed the day before, but the meat was gone.

While we were out on that hunt our families had an exciting time.  Shortly after we had gone, a large herd of about 500 buffaloes appeared coming over the hills south directly toward our settlement and were mistaken for Indians, and there was but one man left in the settlement and no guns but a shot gun that this old man owned. He lived in a dugout about a mile away, so the folks took the children and ran for the old man’s dugout as fast as they could go, but as the buffalo came nearer so they could discern what they were they all breathed easier.  The worst scare was in September 1876, when the Indians broke from the reservation in the Indian Territory and came through Kansas on their raid north.  A messenger was sent over this way to warn the people to be on their guard as they were murdering and destroying everything in their track.  I had a half dozen hired hands engaged in making molasses at that time and the first we heard of the raid, a woman living seven miles west of us came down the road on a run, her clothes dripping with perspiration, covered with dust and was crying. When she came into the house she dropped down from exhaustion and for a time unable to speak, but soon told a hair lifting story.  She said there were three million Indians just west of Osborne and they were murdering everybody that they could find and burning everything, that all the men in Osborne had gone out with their guns to try and keep them back until the women and children could get away and they were all making for Beloit.  She wanted the folks to have us hitch up our teams and get out for there was not one minute to spare.

My wife came out to where I was at work to tell me about it and wanted to know what I thought about it, I told her that I had two or three dozen barrels of molasses and I would stay and fight for it, and if they came around me I would douse them with hot molasses.  She told the woman that I didn’t seem to be much scared.

“Well,” she said, “you had better go, and if he is fool enough to stay and get scalped let him go.”  She said it was time enough for her to go when her husband got ready.  At that the woman struck out on the run again for safety.

In a few minutes we saw up the road a cloud of dust rising in the air and soon heard the rumble of wagons that sounded like bedlam let loose and soon they began to come in sight, all kinds of vehicles filled with frightened humanity covered with dirt and dust, their horses on a run, covered with foam and dirt.  Some were nearly ready to drop from exhaustion.  The road was full of them all of that day and night.  I confess that I did feel a little shaky at times, but kept right on making sorghum.  It gives me the creeps now to think about it.  I could tell more about buffalo and Indians, but I guess I had better stop. – P. W. Kenyon, Osborne County Farmer, March 22, 1906.

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