Frank Elwood Stafford – 1996 Inductee

Frank Elwood Stafford was born April 24, 1845, in Greensboro, North Carolina.  At the age of seven he moved with his parents, Milton and Tempa (Cain) Stafford, to Indiana.  Prior to the outbreak of the Civil War the Stafford family moved again, this time to Kansas.  In 1863 Frank went to Leavenworth and worked for a while as a teamster and then enlisted in Company B of the 16th Kansas Calvary.  He was officially discharged in December 1865.

After the war Stafford returned to Indiana and farmed for a while, but then returned to Kansas and on October 4, 1867, he enlisted in Battery B of the Fourth United States Artillery.  He served four years with the Fourth Artillery, stationed at Forts Riley and Hays, where he was an orderly sergeant.  At times he was attached to the famed Seventh Calvary and often rode patrols through what would later become Osborne County, Kansas, before being discharged at the end of his term of service on October 4, 1870.

In 1870 Frank brought his mother and the rest of the family to a homestead near the mouth of Little Medicine Creek in Tilden Township, Osborne County, just west of the village of Bloomington.  A respected war veteran, he was one of the three special commissioners appointed by Governor James Harvey in 1871 to organize Osborne County.  In the county’s first general election the next year Stafford was elected one of the first three county commissioners.  At Bloomington on November 28, 1878, he married LaNette Hart.  The couple had three children, Frank, Nettie, and an infant son who died in 1886.

Stafford did not serve in public office again until 1882, when he was elected Osborne County Clerk.  He served three terms and then retired to his homestead.  The farm was prosperous for many years and Stafford retained a wide popularity among his peers.  He passed away March 30, 1919, in Osborne and was buried in the Osborne Cemetery.

Frank Stafford served three terms as Osborne County Clerk.

The following article was written in 1898 and revised in 1905 by Frank Stafford, being reprinted in the Osborne County Farmer of August 21, 1930, Page 6:



” On the 12th of May 1870 four men were killed near where Glen Elder now stands, by the Indians.  A few days later Battery “B” of the 4th Artillery came on the Solomon to protect the settlers from the Indians and camped near the fork of the river. I was a member of that company and did scout duty south as far as Fort Harker up and down the south and north forks of the Solomon River and as far north as the mouth of the White Rock on the Republican River. Settlers on the Solomon from Minneapolis west were few.  Where Beloit now is was called Willow Springs, If there was anything there by way of a settlement I did not see it.   There was a little store building made of logs, on the east side of the Limestone, kept by the “Simpson boys” who were there doing business.  There was a stockade near the forks of the Solomon where one or two families were living.  No settlement on the South Fork except Bullocks’ ranch, located in March [1870] about two miles west of where Osborne now is by William and Charles Bullock, two as brave frontiersmen as ever came to the West.

On the North fork a log house covered with shingles built by Pennington Ray (the first shingle-roofed house in Osborne County) south of where Downs now is.  The old building was still standing the last time I was at Downs; Mr. Ray was not there.  He had gone away and did not return until a year or two later.  The next settlement was where Portis now is, made by Walrond, Wiltrout, Wills and Willis, who built a stockade and lived there during the summer of 1870 (Walrond lived here many years afterward one of our most respected citizens.  Wiltrout now lives at Logan, Wills is dead; I do not know of the whereabouts of Willis).

There was no settlement in Smith County, no settlement south on the way to Fort Harker except a ranch south of the Saline on the Elk Horn.  No settlement north except in and around Jewell City, which later consisted of a stockade made of sod in which the settlers camped at night. I rode into Jewell City during the summer on my way to Scandia with a sick horse which died in half an hour.  I found the settlers, who had seen me at a distance and thought I might be Indians, waiting to receive me.  No other settlement north until Scandia – which was mostly a name – on the Republican was reached.

The first settlers to arrive during the summer were Col. Cawker and others who went up on the hill and started Cawker City. The Indians made a raid down the south fork and up the north on the second of July, killed a colt was the only damage done.  Bill Harris, myself and John Neve (who built the first mill at Glen Elder and afterwards was County Commissioner of Mitchell County) were sent to follow those Indians and see where they went.  We followed them to Bow Creek in Phillips County, where we concluded they were leaving the country.  We went back and reported accordingly.

The next settlers to arrive were the New York colony – William Manning and family, James Manning and family, C. W. Crampton and family and others whose names I do not remember.  They were just from the east, clothed in garments of civilization and looked good to us as it was the first mark of civilization we had seen on the Solomon.  I was talking to one of the ladies afterward and she told me that they were very dirty, they had made a long journey and from her standpoint her statement was probably true but they were so different from anything we had seen for months that they looked fine to us.  The New York Colony settled at the mouth of Covert Creek.  The only one left of the colony in Osborne County is S. Palmer Crampton.

The next settlers were Jeff Durfey, Chauncey Bliss and family, John Kaser and family, Mrs. Leaver and family and others who are all gone.  The next to come were the Tildens who settled around Bloomington, the only one left now is Mrs. Adaline Tilden.  The next were Joe Hart and Calvin Reasoner, L. T. Earl and General Bull and family. Those who came and stayed in Osborne County during the winter of 1870-71 and are here now are S. Palmer Crampton, Jeff Durfey, Willard, Silas, and Merrick Bliss, John Kaser, Sr. and family, John Kaser, Jr., and wife, Dave Kaser, August Kaser, John Leaver, Joe Hart, Mrs. Tilden, Mrs. Reasoner and myself.  Nobody wintered on the North fork during the winter of 1870-71.”



Arleta Ethyl (Quenzer) Snyder – 2007 Inductee

Volumes could be said of the sacrifices and generosity of the daughter of Wesley and Ethyl Quenzer, but for now we all shall have to settle for the following few brief sentences of tribute.

Arleta was born November 20, 1924 in Alton, Osborne County, Kansas.  Following graduation from Osborne High School in 1942, she worked for the family appliance business until she married Maurice Snyder on April 21, 1946.

Following their marriage the couple moved to a farm they purchased near Alton.  During their years on the farm, four children were born: Rocky Jo, who died in childbirth; Rocky Wayne; Leta Jean; and Gary.

Maurice and Arleta sold their farm in 1962 and moved the family to Arizona, hoping the warm dry weather would help Arleta’s arthritis.  After two years in Tucson and elsewhere the family settled in Willcox, Arizona, where Arleta worked as office and advertising manager for the Arizona Range News.

* * * * *

Arizona Range News – October 2, 1986

Arleta (Quenzer) Snyder, office manager and advertising manager, was honored with a retirement party on September 20th in Willcox.

Greg LaFreniere, editor-publisher of the Arizona Range News, presented her with a plaque for her 18 years of dedication, devotion and loyal service to the weekly publication and the people of the Willcox area.

She has also been associated with the San Pedro Valley News-Sun, Benson, Arizona, and the Eastern Arizona Courier, Safford, Arizona. She was formerly a stringer for the Arizona Republic in Phoenix, Arizona.

She is an Arizona Honorary Future Homemaker, Willcox Honorary Chapter Farmer of the FFA, past public speaking leader for the Kansas Settlement 4-H Club and earned two plaques as Employee of the Month from the Willcox Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture.

Arleta attended Cochise College in Douglas, Arizona.  She plans to spend some time in Osborne, Kansas to be near her family beginning in November.

* * * * *

Arleta returned to Kansas in 1986 and settled in Osborne. She became one of the most active community volunteers in the entire history of Osborne County, and served with a number of religious, civic, and social organizations.  Arleta continued to use her news writing skills as the Osborne correspondent for the area newspapers.  Besides her activities in the Methodist Church and with the Methodist women, Arleta was involved in the Hospital Auxiliary, the Senior Center, and the Osborne High School Alumni as well as anyone else that asked for her assistance.

Her main passion was working in the Carnegie Research Library, organizing membership drives and editing the Leaves of Lineage newsletter.  Arleta was especially admired as well for her extensive work with the elderly.

After a lifetime of giving this great-grandmother passed away on March 2, 2007 in Osborne at the age of 82.  She was laid to rest in the Osborne Cemetery.

Shortly before her death Arleta was informed of her impending induction into the Osborne County Hall of Fame.  In typical Arleta fashion, she thought that while it was all very nice, “There are really other people who deserve it more”.

Perhaps there are, Arleta, but few will ever match the spirit for life that you showed the world.

Ernest Gist Simmelink – 2004 Inductee

Pearl Harbor Survivor Chronicles Service in Book
by Tim Unruh
Salina (Kansas) Journal, May 31, 2004

Ernie Simmelink lived through the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the tragedy of losing a wife and two daughters before their time.

But as the laugh lines on his face attest, the old sailor clings to the positive points of his 83 years.

“You gotta enjoy life, and understand it could be a helluva lot worse,” Simmelink said. “I’ve had so many good things happen to me.”

The retired farmer, television repairman and motor home dealer speaks openly of his war experiences and chuckles away most dreary memories. It’s all in the book he wrote and paid to have published, From Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay.

Through it all, Simmelink’s worst injury was from a bar fight in San Francisco.

Ernest Gist Simmelink was born in Downs, Osborne County, Kansas on March 5, 1921, to John and Mary Simmelink. The promise of a steady paycheck, an education for a trade and living expenses sent the 18-year old to Salina, Kansas on December 26, 1938, to enlist in the military.

His first wheat harvest in a partnership with his father, John Simmelink, had left the young Ernie $80 in debt and disenchanted with the family business.

“l saw an ad by the Marines for 21 dollars a month with room, board and clothing,” he said “I said to Dad, ‘This beats farming all to hell.’”

But at six feet tall and skinny as a stick, Simmelink soon learned he didn’t have the physique for the Marines.

“They sent me down the hall. The Navy was dropping its standards,” he said.

“I signed up for six years.”

After nine weeks of Navy Camp and 21 days leave in Salina to see his sweetheart, Matilda “Tillie” Riedel, Simmelink reported to San Diego, where he was assigned to the battleship U.S.S. West Virginia, where the young sailor eventually became a carpenter’s mate.

A Narrow Escape

He was on the ship in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the day Japan attacked.  Two hundred of his 2,000 shipmates were lost. Simmelink narrowly escaped.

He and a friend named Cromwell – It was common not to learn first names – were preparing to play chess at 7 that morning in the carpenter shop. The hit on the ship was just above the ship’s water line on the main deck.

Chess pieces and men flew all over the deck when the first torpedo hit. Cromwell was killed in the attack, Simmelink initially thought one of the battleship’s boilers had blown.

He went to his battle station three decks below the carpenter shop, where the ammunition was stored.

“The lights went out, communication went out and we didn’t know what was going on,” Simmelink said.

After an hour, and being knee-deep in water, he and a sailor named Vester figured it was time to leave.

“I could see Vester in the background with sea water spraying through the cracks. He seemed to glow, like there was a candle burning in the background.” Simmelink said. During occasional nightmares, he finds himself back on the West Virginia in that compartment, staring at Vester.

The sailors opened the forward hatch and water began seeping in. They went to the back hatch which opened up dry. It was their path to safety.

“We went aft through a 10 foot-wide passageway, to go to the other side of the ship,” he recalled. “The ship was listing. We were going uphill. We got to the other side and somebody turned a battle lantern in our faces.”

It was Lt. Rickets, who informed the two men that the “abandon ship” order had been passed 45 minutes earlier.

“He said to get to topside, that this damn thing’s going down fast,” Simmelink said.

The ship was on fire, he said, and there were likely Japanese aircraft overhead, but all he remembered was the noise and the humorous vision of a fellow sailor grabbing a fire extinguisher.

Simmelink said he “walked the line, hand over hand” to the U.S.S. Tennessee, which was tethered to the West Virginia. They were ordered to a quay, a concrete pad where the ships were tied.

“All I could think about was to save my ass,” Simmelink recalled. “There were guys crowding onto the quay and some were jumping into the water to swim.”

Kicking an Officer

There was oil in the water, and he figured it was risky to paddle 200 yards to the Ford Island beach. Simmelink opted to make his way to a pipeline where there were men walking across.

Ten feet onto the pipe, he noticed a man walking on his hands and knees at the same time there were machine gun bullets hitting water nearby.

“I kicked him in the ass and said, ‘Get out of my way.’” Simmelink said. “When we got to Ford Island, we both turned and saluted the flag on the ship, and I noticed three gold braids on his shoulder.”

Instead of being put on report for striking an officer, the commander thanked him.

Once on the beach, Simmelink noticed hordes of wounded and burned soldiers there. Some were dead, and hundreds of others were withering in pain. Someone handed him a container shaped like a shoebox filled with small glass tubes. Inside were needles and vials of morphine.

He was instructed to administer morphine shots to the wounded, and to keep track by painting X’s on the foreheads with mercuricome.

Meanwhile, back home in Kansas, Simmelink’s family waited and wondered. It was more than a month before they learned he’d survived the attack.

“That’s why I won’t give to the Red Cross,” he said. “They charged 25 cents to send a telegram, and they never sent it.”

Tomcat Adams

By nightfall, Simmelink rode a boat to an arena that the military had just built. He slept on the bleachers for two nights, wearing only a pair of cutoff Navy shorts.

Simmelink then was taken to stand guard at a Navy camp where civilians lived and worked.

“We weren’t sure if the Japs were going to come out of those cane fields,” he said. That night, he heard a shot in the distance.

“I grabbed a Jeep and a couple of guys and headed to the end of the area,” Simmelink recalled. They found a young sailor named Adams who had loaded his rifle into the sugar cane field, claiming he’d seen something moving.

“We doubled the watch for the night, and the next morning we searched the field, and sure enough about twenty feet inside was a tomcat blown to pieces,” he said.

Years later, while recounting the “Tomcat Adams” story at a reunion of Pearl Harbor survivors in Hawaii, Simmelink wrote, “a follow from the rear of the room yelled, ‘That was me,’ and there was Adams. We had a good time talking over old times.”


Simmelink next was assigned to the repair ship Medusa. It spent two years in Hawaii, then went island-hopping through the South Pacific.

The crew occasionally worked under enemy fire. He wrote of the “good liquor” some sailors made of canned fruit on the ship and how he traded favors to get ice from an officer’s club to chill beer.

“The sailors would pay $7 a bottle . . .” he wrote.

The Medusa was docked in New Guinea when Simmelink said he shot a Japanese sniper out of a tree. It is one of his more difficult war memories.

Simmelink visited Guadalcanal and other exotic points in the South Pacific before getting 30 days leave. He returned home to Osborne, borrowed the family car and drove to Salina and proposed again to Matilda Riedel. She agreed to post-war wedding.

He returned to duty September 27, 1944, and was assigned to the U.S.S. Tucson, the ship that took him to Tokyo Bay. Simmelink said he was 900 yards from the U.S.S. Missouri on September 2, 1945, where the Japanese surrender ceremony was staged.

Job. wife. 3 kids

Simmelink was honorably discharged January 6, 1946. His father borrowed gas rationing stamps for enough fuel to pick him up in Norman, Oklahoma. He and “Tillie” were married February 29, 1946, in Salina.

His bride worked as a nurse at St. John’s Hospital (now part of Salina Regional Health Center), and Simmelink was a night clerk at the former Lamer Hotel, off the corner of Santa Fe and Ash in Salina. He also worked as a Moorman’s Feed salesman, a receiving clerk at Sears & Roebuck and a door-to door Jewel Tea salesman.

Their three children, Lillie Marie, Linda and John, were born in Salina.

When his father died in 1951, Simmelink returned to the farm, eventually buying the land from his stepmother, Lillie (Remaley) Simmelink.

Tragic times were ahead. Their daughter Linda, 12, died in 1962 of a mysterious illness that resembles West Nile Virus, Simmelink said. Tillie died of leukemia in 1990. Their firstborn, Lillie Marie Odle, 39, died in 1996 in a car crash southwest of Beloit, Kansas, leaving a husband and four young children.

“They’re just things that happened,” he said. “You have to accept it and go on. You can’t let it eat on you.”

Not long after Tillie died, Simmelink said, the walls of his house “were shrinking up on me. I had to get out.”

From Vera’s Cafe in Hunter, Kansas, where he had driven to in his motor home, Simmelink phoned his boyhood love, Mildred Ulin, who had been widowed for three years.

They rekindled old feelings and were married in April 1991. “We just click together,” Ernie said.

* * * * *

Post-Story Note: Ernie was still farming 2,000 acres at the age of 75.  He also worked in television sales and service.  Ernie was a member of the Veterans Foreign Wars; a past grand knight of the Knights of Columbus; a faithful navigator of the fourth degree of the Knights of Columbus; a past Kansas State Chairman of the Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Association for seven years; the Order of Shellback 1940; and the Order of Golden Dragon, April 15, 1943 and again June 5, 1945.

* * * * *

Ernie Simmelink passed away on March 30, 2005, and was laid to rest with honors in the St. Aloysius Cemetery at Osborne, Kansas.

Gail Edward Sarver – 1997 Inductee

Gail Edward Sarver was born September 28, 1918, on the farm of his parents, Daniel and Kate (Finnesy) Sarver, in southern Penn Township, Osborne County, Kansas, where he lived his entire life.  He was a quiet and modest person who as a boy attended the Riverside one-room School, District Number 18, and graduated from Osborne High School in 1936.  The Great Depression of the 1930s caused his parents financial difficulties over insurance that forced them to let him take over the farm in his name.  Gail scraped together the necessary four hundred dollars and so saved the farm.

In order to make additional money to survive the times, Gail and his brother Linus rented for ten cents a day a machine called a “tumblebug,” which they used to build silt dams for ponds for  local farmers and ranchers.  His difficulties continued, as they first had to raise money in order to buy the fuel (kerosene) to run the tumblebug; then Gail had to put up a team of horses as collateral for a tractor, which subsequently broke an axle.  Lightning then killed one of the horses.  It was symbolic of the trust of the times that Gail’s banker stayed with him until he could get out from under these difficulties and set the farm once more upon a sound financial footing.

Gail’s induction into the cattle business came when at a sale in Osborne he bought a cow and calf for twenty-eight dollars.  The next morning he sold the cow to a neighbor for thirty dollars.  From that humble transaction Gail went on to make over nine million dollars as a cattle rancher and buyer.  He expanded the farm into one of the state’s largest cattle operations and became known throughout the United States as people over the years came to respect his knowledge of the cattle industry.  He received many awards from the Kansas Livestock Association and thoroughly enjoyed helping people.  Whenever someone was too poor to pay for the funeral or tombstone of a loved one, or if an especially gifted but poor student needed money for college, he would step in and help out.  He shunned the spotlight but instead worked his kindnesses from behind the scenes.  Gail never sued anybody and never had an argument; he just found an excuse to leave the conversation.

On February 9, 1948, Gail married Audrey R. Hahn in Osborne.  The marriage, however, did not last very long and ended in divorce.  Gail spent the rest of his life working the family farm until his death on December 25, 1989, after which he was buried in the Osborne Cemetery.  The next year he posthumously received the first-ever Osborne Area Chamber of Commerce Business Leader of the Year for his establishment of the Sarver Charitable Trust, through which his money was to be used to benefit the citizens of Osborne County for many years after his death.  Though he would probably not have wanted it so, it is hoped that through the Osborne County Hall of Fame the memory of Gail Edward Sarver will be honored and remembered for generations to come.

Gail Sarver Charitable Trust

“The Sarver Charitable Trust was established by Gail Sarver in 1987 and was funded after his death in December 1989.  Mr. Sarver was a very successful cattleman and farmer, attributing his success to his many friends who helped him through his life.  The charitable trust, he explained, was his way of returning to the community the help he had received.  The bulk of his estate was used in funding the trust.

In the trust, Gail provided that fifty percent of the net income is to be equally distributed, annually, among five charities, namely:  Fort Hays State University Endowment Association, for agricultural purposes; the American Cancer Society; the Salvation Army; the Leukemia Society of America; and the St. Aloysius Catholic Church of Osborne, Kansas.

Gail realized that charitable needs change through time, so he did not specify precisely how the remaining fifty percent of the net income is to be distributed.  The only stipulations he placed was that this income was to be distributed for charitable purposes in Osborne County, Kansas.  Therefore, only charitable organizations located in Osborne County are eligible to receive funds from the Trust.  A board was created under the terms of the trust to determine the recipients of the net income; the board members were originally Pete Bohm, William C. Cady, Paul S. Gregory, Melvin Wilcoxson and Stephen Windscheffel.  Mr. Windscheffel has since resigned from the board after moving from the area, so Frances Leadabrand of Osborne, Kansas, agreed to be a member.  The Board established the Gail Sarver Memorial Scholarship, which is for graduating high school students as well as individuals who have graduated and are currently or will be attending a post-secondary school.  Students who are eligible for this scholarship include those who have graduated from a high school in OsborneCounty (whether or not actual residents of Osborne County) and Osborne County residents who have graduated from high schools in another county.

As of December 2011 the Trust has awarded over $2,416,315 in scholarships and over $1,745,165 in charitable organization grants, for a total of over $4,161,480 in total awards.  The generosity of Mr. Sarver, and his concern and contribution to the community will be appreciated for generations to come.” — Board of Directors, Gail Sarver Charitable Trust, September 2012.

Edwin Parker Sample – 1997 Inductee

One of the noted attorneys in Osborne County history was Edwin Parker Sample. While some sources list him as having been born in 1878 in Downs, Kansas, this is incorrect, as the city of Downs did not come into existence until 1879.  Edwin Sample was born in April 1875 in Pennsylvania.  At the age of twelve he moved with his parents, J. C. and Ella Sample, to Downs, where his father became a prominent furniture dealer and undertaker. Edwin attended the local schools and was a member of the first graduating class of Downs High School in 1895.  He then attended Washburn College at Topeka, Kansas, and the University Kansas at Lawrence, where he graduated from law school in 1899. He immediately returned to Osborne County and commenced the practice of law in Osborne, Kansas.  Edwin was at once nominated for Osborne County Attorney and defeated the incumbent, taking office in 1901.  He served one two-year term before being defeated himself.  It was not until 1909 that he was elected once more to the position, and served two full terms until he stepped down in 1912 and formed a law partnership with J. R. Reed of Smith Center, Kansas.

Edwin Sample was a noted speaker and in the days of his teens he was a great high school debater.  As county attorney his eloquence was largely responsible for sending two accused murderers to the state penitentiary.  Later the firm of Reed and Sample succeeded in clearing Will Ward, who lived north of Alton, of the charge of murdering his brother Enoch.  As practically an unknown lawyer he was selected one year as one of the principal speakers at the annual Kansas Day club banquet.  He electrified the audience with his eloquence and his reputation as a speaker was made.  He was an extremely popular man who possessed a very sunny disposition and was given to much laughter and always looking at the brighter side of life.  He was initiated into the mysteries of the Masonic rites in 1904 and was a member of Saqui Lodge in Osborne until 1928.  In 1907 Edwin was elected mayor of Osborne and served a successful two-year term.  His popularity was so that he was listed in the book Men of Kansas in 1905.

On June 21, 1905, Edwin married Florence Morton in Osborne.  A daughter, Kathryn, was born to this union.  In 1908 Florence Sample died and on December 28, 1911, Edwin married for the second time, to Augusta Flintom at Lawrence, Kansas.  With her he had two more daughters, Edwina and Betty Lou.

In 1913 Edwin and his law partner Reed moved their law practice to San Diego, California, much to the sorrow of his friends back in Kansas, where he was one of the best known citizens of Osborne County and Northern Kansas.  His popularity with everybody continued at his new home in San Diego.  Ed was elected to two terms in the California State Senate in 1919-1926 and in 1936 he was a candidate for U. S. Congress on the Republican ticket.  His law practice was extensive and he became one of the best known attorneys and citizens in Southern California.  Edwin died from a sudden heart attack in his home in San Diego on August 27, 1939, and was buried there in the Cypress View Mausoleum.

Charles Hamlin Ruth and William Penn Ruth – 1997 Inductees

Charles Hamlin Ruth
William Penn Ruth








It was a pair of homegrown Osborne County boys who honed their natural talents and developed separate inventions that brought them lasting fame and recognition.  Charles Hamlin and William Penn Ruth were two of the five sons of Richard and Sarah (Folk) Ruth, who were members of the Pennsylvania Colony that founded the town of Osborne, Kansas, on May 1, 1871.  Sarah was pregnant at the time with Charles, who was born November 24, 1871, on the family homestead in Penn Township.  William, known as Bill, was born there February 27, 1873.  Both worked on the family homestead a mile northeast of Osborne and attended the local schools.  Together with their older brother Richard Ruth, Jr., they learned blacksmithing and in 1889 Richard and Bill opened a blacksmith shop in Downs, Kansas, while Charles continued to farm.  By 1894 Bill was operating the blacksmith and machine shop alone.  With too much business for one man to handle he got his brother Charles to help him out, and soon made Charles a full partner.  On December 12, 1895, Bill married Effie Melissa Porter in Downs.  Together they raised four children–Pearl, Ralph, Clarence, and Francis.  Over the next seven years the Ruth brothers operated the prosperous shop and in their rare spare time worked on various ideas of their own.

William Penn Ruth’s shop building in Downs, Kansas.

“[The] Ruth Brothers, the blacksmiths and machinists, have completed the striking machine which they have been working on for some time.  It is quite a wonderful invention and displays rare mechanical skill and genius on the part of these two fine mechanics.  It is operated by steam; when in motion the wheels revolve one hundred times per minute, making the hammers strike two hundred powerful blows.” — Osborne County Farmer, March 3, 1898.

On May 22, 1901, Charles traveled to Glen Elder, Kansas, where he entered into marriage with Grace Dorothy Robb.  Her father, the Reverend Elijah P. Robb, performed the ceremony.  They had four children–Harold, Florence, Charles, and Ellen.  A year after the marriage the Ruth brothers sold the shop to Fred Reich and his father-in-law, John Pottberg.  William went to work for them building machinery and Charles decided that it was time to head for greener pastures.  By 1903 he had settled his family in Brawley, Imperial County, California.  He bought forty acres and farmed for a year at first and was later involved in teaming before returning to blacksmithing.


Blacksmith Shop Busy Again

“C. H. Ruth has secured the blacksmith shop of Jake Gardner.  Mr. Ruth is an experienced blacksmith of many years standing and an expert horseshoer.  All work in his line will be attended to promptly, and a good job done.” — Brawley News, October 6, 1905.

“One of the landmarks of Brawley is Ruth’s blacksmith shop on 5th street, and its proprietor has well earned a place in the ranks of the pioneer builders of Imperial County and as a steadfast, earnest worker along material lines.  . . . his present shop . . . has since been the headquarters and main reliance of the rancher and everyone else in the section for everything in general blacksmithing, horseshoeing, wagon repairing, wood and iron work of all kinds and auto repairing.” — Osborne County News, January 20, 1911.

Imperial County, California, is the greatest continuously irrigated area in the United Sates, relying on water from the Colorado River.  The water is brought to the fields through concrete irrigation canals.  However, in the early 1900s the canals were mere ditches.  A machine was needed to dig and clean the ditches, so Charles created and patented the Ruth dredger.  The tri-wheeled dredger was pulled along a canal by a cable which was attached to a post.  An engine wound the cable around a cylinder. The rear wheel nearest the canal actually telescoped across the canal while buckets at the rear of the dredger moved in a continuous loop to remove dirt and plants from the ditch.

The dredger had a problem at first; as the cable was wound on the cylinder, the dredge began to move faster as the cylinder’s diameter became greater.  But the dredger needed to move at a constant speed, and as Charles needed help with this problem he asked his older brother Richard to come to Brawley.  So Richard and his family moved to California and between the two brothers the desired constant speed was finally achieved by adding a system of gears so that the operator could shift gears as a change in speed occurred.

“In the face of existing conditions and in competition with all other methods and machines in use, the Ruth dredger made its advent in Imperial County . . . This machine combines economy, efficiency and durability of construction not equaled by any other make of dredger.  Eighteen of the Ruth dredgers are operating in the Imperial Valley alone.  Mr. Ruth has received testimonials from the most practical and eminent irrigation men as well as prominent engineers in various parts of the country.  The first Ruth dredger, put out in 1908, is in good condition today, and has been in use almost constantly, and much of the time it has operated night and day.” — E. C. Frear, History of Imperial County (1918).

Patented in 1910, the Ruth Dredger fleet operated throughout California and the southwestern United States for many years and netted Charles a comfortable income.  Meanwhile, Bill continued working in Downs, first for Reich and Pottberg, then under Henry Drager for a few months.  Then between 1904 and 1918 he started and sold three different blacksmith and machine shops.  After three years as a traveling salesman for the George C. Richardson Machinery Company Bill opened a blacksmith and automobile garage in Downs which he operated until his death.  His three sons assisted him in the shop and later became mechanics in turn.  Bill continued to tinker with new ideas for inventions and in 1937 he patented the first panic bar, a garage door latch that opened garage doors from the inside.  The panic bar is now by law a basic component on the doors of all public buildings.  But Bill never made a cent off of the patent.

“Grandpa was always crippled as I remember, using a crutch and cane.  As of now I can not remember the source of his disability.  However, I do know that this led to his most important invention.  His garage was very small for his car and he developed what is now known as the panic bar latch so he could just back his car against the door and it would open.  This saved him from squeezing around behind the car to open the door.  The Ruth descendants would all be millionaires now as these latches are required on all public buildings as a fire safety regulation.  I think the big companies waited for his patent to run out so they could steal it from Grandpa.” — Donald Hettinger, grandson of William Penn Ruth.

Charles Ruth lived in Brawley for many years before he moved to Los Angeles, California.  He died there May 16, 1951, and was buried in the Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California.  Bill Ruth passed away September 2, 1954, in Downs and was laid to rest in the Downs Cemetery.  Both of their most famous inventions have been preserved in recognition of the talents of these Osborne County natives.  In 1989 Bill’s panic bar latch and patent papers were given by his descendants to the Kansas State Historical Society.  In 1997 a special exhibit entitled Moments of Glory opened at the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka, Kansas, which honored the achievements of famous and not-so-famous Kansans; featured in the exhibit was Bill Ruth and his panic bar latch.  And on the grounds of the Pioneers’ Park Museum in Imperial, California, can be found one of the original Ruth dredgers built by Charles Ruth, a testament to American adaptation and ingenuity.

One of the original Ruth dredgers can still be seen on the grounds of the Pioneers’ Park Museum in Imperial, California.

Howard Herman Ruede – 1996 Inductee

What can we set down in cold print about Howard H. Ruede that will do the man justice?” – Bliss VanGundy, Osborne County historian.

H. H. Ruede Dead
End Came to Local Editor of the Farmer Thursday Night after an Illness of Two Weeks

“Howard Herman Ruede was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, June 25, 1854. He was the eldest child of Herman and Marie (Smith) Ruede. He was educated in the Moravian Parochial Schools in the town of his birth. He afterwards learned the printing trade, with which he was connected until coming to Osborne County in March 1877. He settled in Kill Creek Township where he resided on a homestead until June 1901 when he removed to Osborne, Kansas, where he has since lived, and has been connected with the Osborne County Farmer practically all that time. On April 10, 1870, he united with the Moravian Church of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, of which he remained a faithful member until he united with the Presbyterian Church in Osborne in 1901. He passed away at his home in this city on Thursday evening, April 9th, aged seventy years, nine months and fifteen days. He leaves to mourn his passing his sister, Miss Ruth Ruede, his brother George F. Ruede of Wichita, Kansas, and his nephew, Eugene Ruede of Omaha, Nebraska.

“Howard H. Ruede, who has been connected with the Osborne County Farmer more or less intimately for nearly half a century and who was personally known by more people in Osborne County than any other man, passed away at his home in this city on Thursday evening, April 9, 1925, at 11:30 p.m. He had been in poor health for several weeks, but in spite of it he remained at his work in this office until Saturday night, March 28th, attending to his duties as usual. He had been suffering from the effects of a severe cold which bothered him for two or three weeks, but he was a man who never complained nor shirked a duty, and while those of us who worked with him every day noticed and remarked a hoarseness and cough that was unusual, none of us suspicioned that he was approaching his fatal illness. On Monday morning, March 30th, he was unable to come to the office. He was feeling badly and had a high temperature. He thought if he would lay up a few days he would be able to come about the middle of the week. This was what we all hoped for, but while the fever subsided somewhat and there were now then hopeful symptoms, he seemed to gradually lose strength, and all hope was abandoned by relatives and friends by the beginning of the second week. He was conscious much of the time, but whether he was rational or wandering in his mind, his thoughts were with his work at the Farmer office, where he was happiest in his life work.

“Howard Ruede was not what is known as a ‘mixer.’ He knew himself hundreds of people, and could call most of them by their first name, but unless one worked at his side for years it was impossible to know his true worth. He was the most conscientious man this writer ever knew. He was absolutely dependable and trustworthy in all that those terms imply. Those who met him daily liked and respected him for his unfailing courtesy and his proverbial good humor. Those who worked by his side and came in daily contact with him, loved him for his tireless devotion to duty, his loyalty to his friends and his convictions and his unwavering fidelity and integrity. He was a man of absolute clean mind and clean life. He was possessed of a fine education and had added largely to his stock of knowledge by wide reading and by observation. Had he been obsessed with a desire for wealth he could have turned his shrewd mind in that direction and amassed a fortune, but he cared nothing for money except as it ministered to his simple needs. Financially he could not be called a successful man, but measured in good deeds and in character he towered like a giant, and his life in this community was one of its most valuable assets and one worthy of emulation. He will live in the memory of those who knew him best long after the names of many so-called successful men have been forgotten.

“Dozens of people have asked us in the past few days, ‘Who will take Howard’s place on the Farmer?’ To all we have been obliged to give the same answer: No one can take Howard’s place. Someone can perhaps come in and take up the daily routine of visible duties that were his, but his wise counsel, his intimate knowledge of Osborne County men and Osborne history, and his daily example of fidelity to duty, are things that passed out with him, and can never be replaced. He was like eighteen-carat gold; the more one came in contact with him, the more one applied the acid test, the more one valued his actual worth. Truly it can be said of him in the words of Marc Anthony:

‘His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world:
This was a man!’”

– Charles E. Mann in the Osborne County Farmer, April 16, 1925.


In March 1877 Howard Ruede stepped off the train at Russell, Kansas, hitched a ride to Osborne, and filed a claim on land in Kill Creek Township amid other settlers from the Bethlehem area. That same year he began working as a printer for the Osborne County Farmer, walking the fourteen miles between Osborne and his homestead in the Kill Creek community. Over the next two years Ruede kept his family back in Pennsylvania informed of his activities on the prairie through a long series of letters, until his parents and siblings also came west and joined him on the homestead. In 1879 he donated land along the west edge of his homestead for the establishment of the Zion Mennonite Cemetery, now called the Kill Creek Presbyterian Cemetery.  A bachelor his entire life, Howard Ruede worked for the Osborne County Farmer for nearly fifty years, frequently writing articles of historical interest that displayed a sense of humor and attention to detail.


Howard H. Ruede

“The passing of Howard Ruede removes the last connecting link between the Farmer of the pioneer days and the present Farmer of modern times. The Farmer was a pretty puny infant when Howard first stepped into the little shack that housed it way back in the summer of 1877. The office then stood about where the Olds grocery store now stands. He was but twenty-three years of age and had learned to set type back in Pennsylvania. He worked on the paper in 1877-1878 a good deal of the time. He told me only last February that he made his living off the Farmer the first two years he was in Osborne County.

Then he decided to try farming and went out into Kill Creek Township to break the virgin sod. He stuck to it with his usual faithfulness and for twenty-five years he worked early and late and went against all the privations and hardships so prevalent among the pioneers of those days. Then he removed to Osborne and ever since has been connected with the paper. In fact, he was really connected with the Farmer during his stay in Kill Creek, for he was the Kill Creek correspondent all those years and his items were sent in regularly and if pasted in one string would reach a goodly distance. So Howard’s connection with the Farmer outranks all others, approaching almost fifty years – forty-eight, to be exact.

But the Farmer boasts of long service from those who have been connected with it. Frank H. Barnhart, the founder, stayed with it about sixteen years. Charles Landis was with it for nineteen years and owned it about sixteen years. Tom Skinner had the longest consecutive years of service. Unless I am badly mistaken, Tom was with the paper from 1882 until 1921. I started on the Farmer in October 1897 and have been owner since August 1, 1904. But Howard Ruede was the historian of the paper. He remembered everything that happened during the babyhood days and on down through all the years up to the very hour he left the office the last time to return no more. He was the most reliable and accurate person with whom I ever associated. He was always right on hand when you wanted him and when told to do anything he never forgot the errand. You could set your watch by his daily routine. Day after day and year after year everything left to him was done at the appointed time. He kept all his work right up to the minute, and he did it so quietly and systematically that he was never in a hurry. He could remember every advertisement and paid local in the paper and its price; he knew whether his local event or that one had appeared in the columns and just about when. He knew nothing about politics or baseball or football, but he knew so much else that those trivials were never missed. Of late years he never appeared to be busy, but when he was absent for a few days the little things he always looked after piled up until they became a mountain and very seriously affected the usual routine of work.

The thing that made Howard so reliable and dependable was that he never tackled anything he didn’t know. He always stayed with the duties and work he could handle and experiment was something he knew nothing about. He either did it or he did not. Consequently he made few mistakes. Howard was so regular on his beat and in his haunts that he will be sorely missed. The arriving and departing trains will miss him, the post office lobby will miss him and the business houses will miss him on the first of every month. His soul was as clean and spotless as the morning sun and no dishonest thought or sinister feeling ever entered his mind and he has entered upon his reward with all the glory and honors of the greatest that ever trod the earth.” – Bert Walker in the Osborne County Farmer, April 16, 1925.

The sod house built by Howard Ruede on his homestead as it appeared in 1895. From left to right are: George “Bub” Ruede, Howard Ruede, and Ruth Ruede.

In 1928, three years after Howard’s death, University of Kansas economist John Ise was in Osborne conducting research for his forthcoming book Sod and Stubble.  He spoke with Ruth Ruede, Howard’s sister, who showed Ise the letters Howard had written to the family in Pennsylvania those many years before.  Ise took the letters and, by combining them with some of Howard’s newspaper articles, had them published as the book Sod-House Days: Letters from a Kansas Homesteader 1877-1878 in 1937.

Still in print over 75 years later, both Sod-House Days and Ise’s own Sod and Stubble are together considered to be two of the finest literary works on the homesteading life of the Great Plains ever written in either the United States or Canada.  It is for this reason that Osborne County is known as The Homestead Literature Capital of Kansas.

In 2006 the Rediscovering Sod-House Days Self-Guided Driving Tour was established in the Kill Creek community for readers around the world to discover the actual sites of people, places, and events made famous by Howard Ruede and his writings.  It was designated an Osborne County Heritage Backway in 2012.