Homestead Origin Tale

Post Rock and Prairie Grasses

At our gig the other night at Monterey Court I found out that several of you, some not on Facebook, actually read this little ol’ blog. Thanks so much for taking this journey with me. And it was mighty fine seeing and talking to so many whom I haven’t seen in over a year. Hopefully we can creep out a bit more as the numbers in Pima County are very low right now.

Some of you know that my wife and I own some acreage in central-western Kansas. It was originally purchased in 1908 by my great-grandparents, Almond and Sophia (Shuel) Christensen, in the late stages of the Homestead Act for $1/acre. My music and visual art workspace here in Tucson is named Homestead Studio, and this blog’s name is a nod to the property.

Sophie was born in 1886, Almond in 1884. After a three year stint on the homestead they settled in Milford, Kansas. In 1917, Almond, after doing his evening chores, came in the house and seated himself by the fire where Sophie was preparing supper and they were talking together as usual, when suddenly he threw up his hand, gave his head a backward toss and expired in a few minutes without saying a word.

Sometime after 1925 Sophia married a man named Fred Parrick. Fred and his brother were killed in an auto accident in 1950, so I always remembered my great-grandmother as a ‘single’ woman, who always scared the bejeezus out of this small town kid. (I grew up in the town with both sets of grandparents, along with Sophie and her sister Clara).

Sophie and Fred Parrick sometime in the 1940s and Sophie and (sister) Clara as I knew them around Riley, Kansas

I could go on with the my amazing history but let’s get to the meat.

I have several tubs of stuff from my grandmother, Trena (Sophie’s daughter), which includes several thick diaries. She was one of those who filled every available space, writing around the edges and such.

So here is her hand written chronicle of the property which she wrote down in 1983. Spelling and punctuation transcribed as shown, followed by an image of her writing.

My Homestead Parents
Almond and Sophia Christensen

In 1908 my parents took up a homestead in Western Kan's Gove Co. 160 acre's at $1.00 an acre. Western Kans in thoes days was mostly prairie. There were a few, very few folk that had money. Those that did run cattle open range and watered at the Republican river which was a very shallow river but flowing. What grazing grass there was was buffalo grass and a very good grass for stock. My Dad stayed one year trying to farm - had 1 team of horses he broke a patch of sod, it was so dry and dusty and lots of russion thistles. In that year he built a little shed like for a barn - he took a cow for milk as he had at that time two small children, myself age 1 yr. and my older brother age 4. At the time they took up the homestead, they lived in Eastern, Kans. near Milford Kans

My father was a macanic for the Fawley brothers of which was very wealthy.There were two of the Fawley brothers Abe - which had a grocery store in Milford and Ash. which lived 5 miles N.E. of Milford on a ranch - and had acres and acres of land, they raised Black Angus cattle > later in years The year of 1909 my Dad gave up on the homestead for farming. He went back to the Fawley ranch to work to make a living for his family My mother stayed with us children, so in time they could grow - up on the homestead, - she had a very rough & lonely time, my Dad would go out as often as possiable to get groceries and be with his family and do what he could - often my Mother would have only dry boiled potatoes with dry bread, and milk from the cow - They hauled our drinking & all around water from the river -

Which was several miles away - There were plenty of rattle snakes there to - so one had to be on the watch for them. My Mother was never frightened to let us out to play - Come January of 1910 my sister was born, my "Moms" Mother, Grandma Shuel came to her iade No Dr/ around so my grandmother took care of all. My Mother said she often cried & had very sad days as she was so worried about her family that they did not have the right food to eat - of course my Dad worried to - It was a very rough time for my folks - My Mother said there were electrical storms and what wire fences there was there which was very few, but the wires would be very red and looked like fire. In 1911 the folks went back to eastern Kans. they had proved up on their homestead then owned it

In 1912 my youngest brother was born, near Milford, Kans. - my Dad then kept on as a Machanic for the Fawley Brothers. until 1918 when he suddenly had a heart attack and left my Mom with 4 small children. But despite a very hard row to hoe my Mom kept her family together and managed to pay taxes on the Homestead in Western Kansas. at that time she paid $9.00 a yr. for taxes. Then a few years later, paid $11.00 that went on for several yr's of course as years passed the taxes went up - today yr. 1983 taxes is some only $200.00 - As years passed I lost my brothers and sister, - My Mom leased the farm for oil twice as there were oil wells around there. But all failed for oil on her place In 1977 My Mother passed away at the age of 89 years - The farm was left to me - I now have it leased for five year's. I think I shall always keep the farm - and when I am gone it will go to my daughters Mrs. Charles Mackender Manhattan Ks. R#4 and my youngest daughter Darlene Kirk of Aguila Ariz. _ Sometime in the future it may help them some Who knows?

The daughter of
Almond and Sophie
Christensen -
Trena Kleiner
Riley, Kansas

Thank you, Trena, it has helped a great deal. Here are a couple images of my beloved grandmother when she was young, and then in her home in Riley, Kansas, 1984.

My brother Greg and I took a road trip from Kansas City in 2008 to visit the property and camp overnight. This is a still from a video he shot of me squeezing out a tune on the prairie, smack in the middle of Kansas on the homestead property. Despite several offers to lease out the property for crops, we’ve kept it in its natural state as a sanctuary for the grasses, the birds, and the four legged creatures. (The oil well is just over the property line if you’re thinking of wanting to borrow some money)

I’ll close this out with a song I penned many years ago and is the title cut to my 2nd CD titled Lost In the Graveyard. Much of lyrical imagery is related to growing up with my grandparents, aunts, and uncles, along with my parents and brother in small-town Kansas, and the prairie that covers the homestead property. The video below the lyrics includes some of the footage I mentioned above along with 8mm home movies of my family, as Trena was an early home movie adapter.

Lost In the Graveyard

Old boats and Cottonwood trees
Smack in the Middle of Kansas
Tiny tales and juju bees
Flint hills and contact dances

Kerosene stoves cane fishin' poles
Post rock and prairie grasses
Sun bearin' down from that western sky
Air as thick as molasses

Sometimes I'm lost in this graveyard
I can feel the bones a rattlin'
Sometimes I'm lost in this graveyard
But I ain't gonna lay down, no
I ain't gonna lay down

Cattle crossing on highway 4
Salt thrown over my shoulder
My ex-wife says she still loves me so
This is what I told her

Sometimes I'm lost in this graveyard
I can feel the bones a rattlin'
Sometimes I'm lost in this graveyard
But I ain't gonna lay down, no
I ain't gonna lay down

Trailer Parks that twisters fell
Listening to Grandmother's tales
Yard balls and swimmin' holes
Cicadas crawl from their shells

Nights a hummin' with the insect sounds
And sepia toned Methodist senses
Musky nights, wound up tight
Legs wrapped around my lenses

Sometimes I'm lost in this graveyard
I can feel the bones a rattlin'
Sometimes I'm lost in this graveyard
But I ain't gonna lay down, no
I ain't gonna lay down

And now…