If I knew that I would be helping herd cattle the day I met up with Ed Hodgson, I would have worn my old boots.
I was out near McPherson, Kan., talking to Ed about a story I’m doing on the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act. Ed’s great-grandparents, Henry Clay and Hannah Hodgson, arrived in central Kansas in 1871 and he has an amazing tale of how they not only survived, but thrived, and created a sort of prairie dynasty along 28th Road in Rice County.
Henry Clay and Hannah were a young couple from Virginia, lured out here to central Kansas in November 1871 by the promise of free land. Already, Henry Clay’s brother, George, was here, enjoying all the hunting and trapping.
So Henry Clay and Hannah came out west on the train with their 1-year-old baby, Charles, and the country seemed just fine up to Kansas City, Ed told me. Then they went another 200 miles west and got off the train at Salina, smack in the middle of a blizzard. It took them three days to travel to get to their new home -- a dugout on the banks of the Little Arkansas, looking out on an Indian camp across the river.
Hannah, just 25 and pregnant with her second child, lived with the men, her sister-in-law and a freed slave named Charles Brown in that dugout during a hard winter. She finally had her second child in February.
“They cried a lot. It was a terrible winter,” Ed said. “Then in February, the weather broke, and it was fairly nice after that. Her neighbor, Mrs. Carlson, delivered the baby.”
How does Ed know all this? Because the Hodgsons are some of the best record-keepers I’ve ever known. They kept diaries and farm reports. They kept bank statements and deeds and letters. They even kept records on the apple and peach orchards they planted – down to how much pesticide they sprayed on the trees.
After two winters in the dugout, the family finally built a barn and house – which burned down just a couple years later. They erected the house in that picture (above) in 1899 and Ed still lives there today.
Walking around the Hodgson’s homeplace was like walking through time. They’ve kept buggies and cider mills – there’s a cemetery out back behind the house where some of the first of the family was buried until their remains were moved to a county graveyard. They kept furniture and pictures – much of it in the old house.
Under glass in a case in one of the front rooms is the ox yoke Ed’s great-grandfather used to break the sod on his farm in 1873. There’s also a silver butter dish given as a birth present, a gold-headed cane, an old pistol, hazy black-and-white photos of study folks with no expressions. I asked Ed if he ever felt like he was living in a museum.
“No, I’ve just always lived here,” he said with a smile. “But I’m expected to know the family history. I’m expected to preserve it.”
Tomorrow, on July Fourth, Ed will hold his annual holiday party, with 75 friends and family, held at River View Farm, just three miles north of the Santa Fe Trail. Ed was hoping to find someone for a nice speech. Homemade ice cream is served at 8:30 p.m. and fireworks are after that.
Just a little Americana for you on a holiday week…Look for my story on the Homestead Act next week on our partner stations and here on our website. And if you have a connection to the Homestead Act, drop us a line by clicking here.
So after the tour of his house, Ed roped me into going down to his daughter’s place to bring some cattle into the barns. That’s when I stepped on a cowpie, giving Ed a good laugh at the city girl’s expense. Next time, I’ll remember to wear my old boots when I stop at River View Farm.