To: Professor John Gronbeck-Tedesco
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From: Zola Neu Morrow
Date: 24 Jamuary 2016
I was pleased to make your acquaintance during your visit to our Great Benefice Historical Society last July. Your remarks about the preservation of written materials in the humid climate of a Kansas summer have been very helpful.
Attached please find a brief note of introduction and an historical account both written in 1920 by one of the earliest settlers to our town. The items are related, and I believe they do not need additional explanation. Use them as you think best.
The members of our Historical Society have been hoping that someone like you might turn up one day with the desire to bring some of our materials to a larger audience. All of us are the progeny of the forebears who authored the materials in our collection and through which they continue to speak to us from the past. History creates the present for better and for worse. Unfortunately, very few of our fellow citizens are concerned about history, and so they continually fail to outlive itâsomething we discussed during your visit.
On a more personal note: yes, I did manage to finagle the renewal of my pilot's license and still fly regularly as I have since my fifteenth birthday in 1950. I hope to die in the cockpit of my trusty Piper on a day so clear that I can see from on high the exact juncture of the Chikaskia and the Blue Vermillion. Upon my death I hope my plane will crash directly into one of our local cows, creatures I have grown to despise for their sheer abundance and because of the dumb expressions that remind me so much of our mayor who, as you may remember, is my former husband.
Best regards. Hope to see you again.
6 January 1920
Jenner Jinx Jennison III
Great Benefice, Kansas
Regards to Mrs. Jocelyn Seeworth Floury
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The Church of God Almighty
Corner of Grand and High Streets
Great Benefice, Kansas
Greetings Mrs. Floury:
I'm respondin' to your request found in our Church bulletin last Sunday for recollections of the early years of Great Benefice. You said the church's Friends of the Past were wantin' to know jes' why people came here. What were we thinkin'? Were we thinkin' at all?
After repeatin' your request out loud at the breakfast table two or three times like I couldn't read or hear, my wife Emma Leigh and daughter Emily started in to get me to do this writin'. Emma, in partic'lar, kept remindin' me that I started livin' here in 1875 jes' 3 years after the town was put on the county map, and that what with me turnin'80 I'm close to the destination that age takes all of us. And, Emily jes' wouldn't stop sayin' how much she and her brother and sister used to love the stories about the old days and promised she' d be fixin' up my writin' good enough so people could understand it but without changin' the way I have of talkin'. But the thing that finally cinched me into diggin' through the perdition of the past with nothin' but a pen in my hand was the death of my life-long friend Tom Waltz jes' six months ago. Since it was Tom who first thought up the idea of the two of us settlin' here, I'm thinkin' I owe him somethin' for all those years we were pard'ners and for the life that came to both of us by stickin' together through all the travails of findin' our place in this world, puttin' down roots, raisin' up families and hitchin' ourselves to the ranchin' business. So, this is his story as much as mine, and I'm dedicatin' it to him.
I am respectfully yours,
Jenner Jennison III (My friends call me Jinx. You can too.)
Why Tom Waltz and Me Settled in Great Benefice
Jenner âJinx Jennison III
The war ended for Tom ân' me near Savannah where we were part of a busted up piece of Southern cavalry left there for no good reasonâ'least not one we had the power to understand. What with the poison of martial law that eventually got named Reconstruction comin' to the Georgia coast, we did what lots of played out Confederates did, we burned the breeze straight for a part of Texas which had more Longhorns than people and where Reconstruction had no reason to go. The simple fact is that Tom ân' me became cowboys. Just how we went about it is another story, and one that I know I can't live long enough to write, especially since doin' this one pret' near has killed me already.
By 1872, when we trailed our first herd to Great Benefice, Tom ân' me had been yippin' Texas beeves for pret' near 6 years. We'd seen what the trails could do to good men who survived the war only to be killed off by floods, spoilt water, skittish horses, rot gut toddies, or by jes' plain break-bone work. One day a man would be pullin' his weight and then some; the next he couldn't get out of his bedroll, and no one could figure why. When that happened, we said our goodbyes and moved on while two men stayed behind with a shovel to do the buryin' when the time came. Those that did the diggin' and the puttin' would bring back his pistol, rifle and boots. His other âfects were scattered around the cross that marked his remains so long as nature allowed it; so the human vermin could get what they wanted without diggin' into the grave. Sometimes a drover jes' died in the saddle without a sound, 'ceptin' maybe what his body made when it hit the ground.
More troublin' to Tom and me were those what took a dull look in their faces and seemed always to be starin' at somethin' nobody else could see. Pretty soon they stopped answerin' them that was talkin' to 'em and started in conversin' with folks that weren't there. Thing was that when a man's brains went quits on 'im, he still could be a pretty steady hand, at least for a while. Lots of 'em rode easy in the stirrups and seemed to see trouble before those of us callin' ourselves normal caught on. It was like cowboyin' got inside of 'em in a way that couldn't happen while a man still knew the front of his pony from the back. That's why Tom used to say it was a good sign if a man could get distracted occasionally and miss spottin' a yearlin' bull givin' a calf grief or a mamma cow snortin' at a rattlesnake to protect her young. An empty hat, which is what we called those lost souls, could concentrate for a longer spell than most. Lots of times they didn't even know when their ridin' stretch was over. Someone had to go out and lead 'em back to camp, sit 'em in front of the fire and put a cup of coffee and a dish of food in their hands. Once they was settled they seemed to know what to do all right. It was jes' that they had to be walked to and from every chore, whatever it might be. But after you started 'em in the right direction, they did jes' fine. Of course, sooner or later they stoved up: drowned at a crossin' or got busted up in a stampede. Some jes' disappearedâgenerally at night and most times as naked as the moon. Trackin' 'em was easy enough but findin' 'em was as awful as anythin' Tom or me ever saw on a battlefield. Vultures, coyotes and other prairie critters did all the work of a Yankee trench mortar and then some. Tom always said that bein' a cowboy were a good reason to be somethin' else.
From our very first days as droversâback in '66âTom ân' me agreed that someday we'd be goin' back to Beaufort and work in our fathers' dry goods store jes' like we did before the war. Tom even rustled up a new sign in his head that would tell everyone we was homeâWaltz, Jennerson and Sonsâus bein' the sons. So, I was more 'n' surprised when he started off talkin' âbout gettin' a small spread in Kansas, somewhere near Great Benefice, and keepin' our own herd. First off I figured Tom was jes' impatientâit bein' 1874 and Reconstruction still goin' strong back home, even though it was pret' near over most ever' place else in South Carolina. Problem was the Yankee carpetbaggers likedBeaufort with the cool ocean breezes in the summer and the warm gusts in the winter. So, a lot of 'em stole what land they wanted and stayed. Which, is why they were for keepin'Federal martial lawâit bein' the only thing that would allow their thievin' from the reg'lar citizens who might set on takin' back their homes and property if the Yankee army would jes' do the proper thing and leave. But no matter how much land grabbin' the swindlers was doin', they hadn't got 'round to robbin' our families yet. Tom figured it was on account our parents bein' jes' plain folks, the sort what set an example at Church by stayin' awake through most of the sermons. On top of which, they weren't important enough to be of parti'clar use to them that was for addin' public weight under their suspenders. One thing sure was that our kith sure weren't rich enough to come to the eyes of the ones willin' to sell federal power to the wicked and wily traitors who promised to help the Yankees keep hold of Beufort. Heck, even if our people could afford payin' for influence, they sure wouldn't be promisin' to get along with Yankees; so it's a good thing no one asked 'em. Then there was the fact that our fathers never served with the Confederacy, mainly because they were too busted up. Tom's pa had a knee went pret' near flat under the wheels of a wagon full of sand âcuzz the mule got spooked when a seagull tried to land on its head. Ever since, he'd been walkin' on will power and a cane. My own pa had cholera as a boy that left him with the habit of passin' out cold whenever he was totin' and liftin' more'n he should. Heck, for whatever reason, the carpetbaggers hadn't got 'round to robbin' our folks. So, Tom ân' me figured the people that loved us would be better off with us keepin' ourselves far away, 'specially 'cuzz we'd served in Wade Hampton's half of the South Carolina 2nd Cavalry, which meant we were bound to get the wrong kind of attention from Yankees if we came home. See, General Wade Hampton thought his purpose on earth was to make difficult circumstances even worse. After Lincoln freed all the slaves, ol' Hamp sent him a personal tele-graph with a bill for somewhere on the blue-sky side of $100,000.00 which is what he figured his slaves were worth. Lincoln personally assigned a unit of snipers to kill him, but they ended up missin' him and shootin' both his sons at Petersburg. One died. The other lost the sight in one eye. And, when the war ended, the general upped and refused to sign the terms of surrender like all the other Southern generals were supposed to do and did. So, the Yankees threw his officers in Rock Island Prisonwhere they had to stay until the general signed. Which he never did. So it came to pass that those good men were kept for almost a year after the war, until the North stopped worryin' bout Hampton. âCourse, in the blind eyes of some, his not surrenderin' made him a hero. And pretty soon didn't he go and get himself elected as a U. S. Senator from South Carolina? Against fools even the angels cannot pre-vail.
Anyways, the more I rubbed it âround in my hat, the better Tom's idea sounded, at least for the time bein'. When it came to trailin' beeves, we sure ânuff knowd what we was doin'. At first, we got ourselves hired up by this or that Texas rancher drivin' jes' his own herd. But after a while, we preferred to get on with cattlemen. See, a cattleman bought lots of herds from spreads along the Texas belt, from near Seguin, Matagorda County, Blanco, Austin, Uvalde, or Laredo. Then, he'd get up an outfit to drive 'em all north where they'd be sold for a profit at the railheads in Kansas or to ranchers from the northern ranges lookin' to start up their own herds. Because cattlemen were drivin' and sellin' so many beeves, they could pay better than ranchers. Me'n Tom rode for big-time augers the likes of Charlie Goodnight, John Clay, Charles Coffee, Bill Montgomery, Jim Macaulay and Jem Verndon. I ain't sayin' we knowd these fellas 'nough to give 'em a big-faced howdy like t'an old friend. But we learned their ways of drovin' cattle which is what made 'em rich and kept us alive. Tom and me chewed our share of grit on drag; then swung our lariats on flank before movin' on up to ride swing. Now we were gettin' reg'lar turns on point. Compared to all the grief of drovin', us keepin' a small herd so close to rail head in Great Benefice would be easier than ropin' a calf stuck straight up in the mud and bawlin' for the loop.
Now, Tom allowed there could be a fang in the toe of this here new dream what had to be avoided. That was getting' too ambitious too fast. Some cowboysâwhen they see'd a chanceâreached too far and ended up with more debt than Adam and Eve. So, Tom was thinkin' to start smallâ'bout 800 acres of Kansas would do for 25-35 head, dependin' on the grass and the water. I said I was afraid the land around Great Benefice was filed on and proved up so the owners who, if they were for sellin', would be wantin' more than what they paid when people were scarce. But Tom had thought of that and said there could be some stretches left that were no good for farmin' but might be all right for cattle.
Most times Tom ân' me wouldn't even agree on the time of day, so all he could do is blink and scratch the side of his face when I told 'im it seemed real nat'ral to think about a spread near Great Benefice, since in 1874 we was visitin' with our third herd in as many years and never found anything about the place that went down sideways. The town was still small and sat real pretty some ways east of Dodge, which had anything Great Benefice didn't,and not far from the Holy Faith Trail, which ran all the way up to Kansas City and on down to Santa Fe. On top of it all, the good people of Great Benefice weren't stretched taut when the cowboys came to town. This bein' âcuzz there were fewer of our kind since lots of outfits preferred the bigger cow towns with all their strange fixin's that made cowboys spend money for the privilege of gettin' into trouble. Heck, in Great Benefice drovers could go to the same churches and eat in the same places as the re'glar citizens. Folks even said hullo on the street and made their children do the same. Compared to Abilene, Wichita, or Ellsworth, Great Benefice was downright civil and restful too.
Now, whenever Tom got to thinkin' serious on turnin' a new knot in life, he'd start complainin' âbout God, startin' with how unreliable God was and endin' with the notion that there was no such thing anyways. So, when Tom started in, I knew sure as Longhorns have ticks he was cinched into tryin' to plant us on a spread. But listenin' to Tom goin' on âbout the divine was quite a price to pay for a change in plans. Ol' Tom knew he could turn into a saddle sore when it came to God, but he couldn't he'p himself. He'd been strugglin' with God pretty much since the war, mostly âcuzz he couldn't figure how anybody named God would allow so many bad things to happen to the South and in partic'lar to us.
Now, I think I remember his first try at raisin' the divine on this occasion came a month out of trailhead whiles we was takin' our turn ridin' swing on the east side of the herd in the middle of the Comanche Strip.
Hopin' it might quiet him down I said,âWhy don't ya jes' think of God as some sort of higher power.â Tom asks me to âsplain the difference.
I said, âMy higher power ain't a âHeâ but jes' an âit,â and âitâ doesn't have to carry on with all those sad and improper people you read âbout in the Bible or meet on the trail. All my higher power has to do is make sure the world keeps on workin' so the human race can keep on multiplyin' and bein' fruitful.â
âWell since there's bad in the world,â Tom says, âthat means things ain't workin' the way they should, now don't it?â
I say, âAll the more reason somethin's got to be holdin' the whole shootin' match together. But that somethin' don't necessarily need to be God.â
Tom says, âSo, good and bad and people don't matter? And that's becuzz there's some power what ain't God keepin' the chuck from spoilin' no matter what.â
âNo dummy,â I say. âThe more we all cooperate with the way things is s'posed to work, the better it will be for everybody, âcuzz then the higher power can concentrate on keepin' ev'rything straight without gettin' all distracted.â
Tom goes quiet for a bit, then says: âTell me, jes' how much power does this higher whatchamacallit of yours have if it can't gallop through the human cactus along the trail without gettin' distracted?â
âIt ain't a case of gallopin',â I say. âSee, we're all supposed to help out. Like it's the trail boss with us bein' the hands.â
Tom says, âIf this here power needs our puny help, then it can't be all that much higher than us, now can it?â
I ask Tom, âYou think it's a long ways better havin' somethin' called God that's obliged to take care of ev'ry little thing you don't like?â
âAt least God don't need âscuses when He goes slack on his chores like He does most times,â Tom says.
Well, I figure the hell with keepin' Tom peaceful. So, I say, âMaybe, but my higher power don't get all the blame for some things goin' bust, becuzz it ain't always responsible in the first place.â
âSounds like it's easier bein' a higher power than bein' God,â Tom says.
âIt is when God's gotta be listenin' to the likes of you,â I tell him.
Right away Tom says, âI ain't spoke to God since Shilo.â
âThat's becuzz you don't believe in him.â I was hopin that sayin' so might bring an end to the conversation. But it didn't.
Tom asks me, âSo why we havin' this argument?â
âYou're the one brought up God,â I tell him.
But Tom won't have it. âMe?â He says. âYou're the one had to drag out your higher power.â
Needin' to get out of the conversation jes' to keep my stomach reg'lar, I reminded Tom of somethin' Charlie Goodnight once said,
âNo man who lived close to nature and looked into the stars night after night could ever doubt the existence of something that was keepin' the universe on the right map. What a man called that something was his own business.â
But Tom can't let go. He says, âAnybody who's ever saw a human being tore up by grape shot and still believed in God is spendin' too much time starin' at the stars and not enough studyin' his fellow man.â
Jes' then a yearling kicked out of the herd in our direction, bringin' our words to a merciful end. As we were leanin' our horses into the chase I heard Tom say,
âThank you, God!â
I answered, âAmen!â
Next day, Tom said our days of bein' drovers had to end, âcuzz we were both jes' a half-hitch away from bein' crazy. I had no trouble agreein'. So, in 1875, we came back to Great Benefice and found us some good grazin' land jes' three miles outta town. I'll be stayin' on 'til death do us part, jes' like ol' Tom did.