Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Sept. 23, 2004

Western Kansas wind

As I drove mile after mile through dusty, windy eastern Colorado and western Kansas, it was all I could do to keep the car in the proper lane. My friend Linda and I had left that morning after attending a conference in Denver. The wind swept across the open plains, at times forming the dirt into swirling patterns that danced across the road. A couple of women on a motorcycle had started out in Cripple Creek, Colo. at about the same time we began our trip. Our paths crossed in WaKeeney, where we stopped for gas and a bite to eat. The women, who were headed to Illinois, had planned to spend the night in Salina, but decided they would stop in Hays instead. They were tired of being buffeted around by the wind.

The several-hour drive across the expanse gave me ample opportunity to think. My mind wandered back to the Sherman County trip that Art and I took with my parents. The purpose of that visit was to dig into the Freeland family history a bit. Dad's grandparents, William Freeland and Mary Hillyer Freeland, had homesteaded near Goodland. William's brother James had married Mary's sister Anna Belle and they, too, homesteaded in the same county less than a mile away.

James and Anna Belle's trip from Marion County to Sherman County was described in an article for a Sherman County historical publication:

"In 1886, in a covered wagon, pulled by a fine team of horses, James Hawthorne Freeland, age 35, and his wife Anna Belle Hillyer Freeland, age 26, headed for Sherman County from Peabody, Kansas, a distance of 300 miles. It took many days. Behind the wagon, leading two milk cows, walked a boy of 8 and a girl of 6 . . . They homesteaded a half section of land (near Brewster). Later there was a fine frame house, boasting front and back porch, but the crude shelter in the 1880s was likely a sod house . . ."

My great-grandparents William and Mary also lived in a sod house for awhile. Their two oldest children, Robert - my grandfather - and Willis, were born in Iowa, but their youngest son Ralph was born in Sherman County in 1893. My grandfather seemed to be pleased that he lived in a sod house, eventually receiving a certificate documenting his "soddie" status.

I can only imagine how tough life was back in the late 1800s in northwest Kansas. Hot, dusty and windy during the summer. Freezing, blowing snow in the winter. A few days of calm in between.

James and Annabelle stayed in Sherman County while my great-grandparents moved to Chase County and eventually settled in Marion County, where we still have the farm.

When we traveled to Sherman County in 1991 - a century after my great-grandparents lived there - the first day of our visit was calm and serene. Not a blade of grass stirred in the Freeland cemetery, where James and Anna Belle and many of their descendants are buried. The day we left was quite different. We stopped at McDonald's for breakfast and couldn't open the south-facing door because the wind was so strong. Once on the interstate, dirt balls bounced against the windshield. Tumbleweeds skipped and twirled across the highway before becoming enmeshed in the fences along the edge of the road. Shortly after we left, I-70 was closed because of poor visibility.

This most recent trip was similar to the one in 1991. Going to Denver, there was no wind. Coming back, I could feel its strength.

It's a good thing people have different tastes and grow attached to different places. While James and Anna Belle seemed to love the open spaces of Sherman County, I think I'm more like William and Mary. It was fun to visit, but I like it here in the Flint Hills.

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