Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A pioneer love story

Valentine’s Day was yesterday and it brought to mind a pioneer love story.

            In 1854 it became known that Pawnee was to be the site of the Territorial Capitol and people began flocking there. The first legislative session was scheduled to take place there in July of 1855. The site was located near the edge of Fort Riley and almost overnight a town sprang up. There were workers who came to build the homes and buildings needed for the new town. There were also entrepreneurs and adventure seekers coming to see what new opportunities they would find. Many brought their families with them to this new territory.

            Among these were the Berry and Wallace families, emigrants from Juanita, Pennsylvania. They came to seek their fortunes in the newly opened territory. The families arrived around the same time as the Territorial Legislatures. Before they could even find lodgings for themselves they were recruited to help feed the delegates.

            Ruth Berry, 16 years old, was quickly set to work making pies for the delegates from “anything which could be found in the way of pie filling”. It is recorded that she made over 70 pies under the most primitive cooking conditions. Ruth had the honor of serving her pies at the representatives opening banquet.

            Sitting at Governor Andrew Reeder’s table was a 28 year old Quaker school teacher from Pennsylvania, Garbet Fisher Gordon. He had come to Kansas lured by the countless opportunities the territory offered.

            Gordon was smitten when he laid eyes on Ruth.  Although there was a considerable difference in their ages Gordon courted Ruth. During their courtship they saw many changes in the little town of Pawnee.

            They met on the eve of the first and only legislative session that was held in the First Territorial Capital. There was much to see and witness while the legislatures were there. Disagreements between the residents and the delegates quickly broke out. The residents of Pawnee were predominantly free staters but the visitors were mostly pro-slavery and both sides were extremely vocal in their beliefs.

The legislative session opened on July 2, 1855 and officers were elected. The officers quickly made motions to expel the only two free staters who had been elected. On July 3rd the Governor made his address, guiding the assembly in how Kansas should be governed. His words were largely ignored by the legislatures. On July 4th a bill was passed to move the legislative seat to Shawnee Mission, which was where the legislatures originally wanted to meet. Governor Reeder promptly vetoed the bill. However, the legislature passed it and quickly suspended the session planning to reconvene in Shawnee Mission on July 16th.

            By the end of July cholera was running rampant among the workers at Fort Riley. Many residents left Pawnee fearing an epidemic. Many who stayed fell ill and died from the disease.

            By September the remaining residents were ordered to leave Pawnee by the US government. The reservation had extended its borders and the site of Pawnee was now within the reservation. Writings by Reetta Morris Hadden, who was a child at Pawnee, describe the time, “a squad of mounted troops from the fort rode into Pawnee. They came to give official notice that the site of Pawnee had been taken for the use of the government, and all of its citizens must vacate their homes on or before the 10th of October… the next day the quartermaster at the fort made the lower story of the Capital building a commissary department.”

            On the evening of October 10th, 1855 there were still a few families living in Pawnee as they had not been able to find or build other shelter. Troops came with huge grappling hooks and began pulling the homes down. When they were finished the only building left standing was the capital. 

            Despite the traumatic events going on around them Gordon kept courting Ruth. By February of 1856 she had agreed to be his wife.

Years later Ruth recounted crossing the frozen river with her family on the eve of her wedding in a sled pulled by oxen, “it was in the night, because the ice was stronger.”

Their destination was the former territorial capital which was being used as the quarters for the Rev. Clarkson, the Fort Riley Chaplin, and his family. It was there on February 14, 1856 that G.F. Gordon and Ruth Berry were married in the Clarkson’s parlor where not long before the future of Kansas had been debated.

They were married for 37 years and saw many changes in Geary County throughout their lifetimes. But that will be a story for another time.


 Little did Ruth Berry know that when she agreed to make pies for the First Territorial Legislature that she would meet her future husband.