Friday, June 6, 2014

Mary Axtell and the Biddies


Are you familiar with what the Geary County Historical Society does? Anytime that we go out to the schools to talk with the students we ask them that question. To keep it simple we explain that we are here to collect and preserve the history of the county. We do this by collecting artifacts, photographs, and stories pertaining to the county.

One of the things that most people rarely see when you visit the museum is the archives. Anything that is paper is stored in the archives. The information stored is varied; there are books containing early cattle brands of Geary county, family histories, letters, and a fantastic collection of paper dolls just to name a few things that we have run across. Many of the books and documents are one of a kind with information specific to our county.

It is in the archives that a plain spiral notebook resides. It is just an ordinary looking book much just like the ones that kids use to take notes in class. However this book contains a wealth of knowledge as it is filled with the musings and memories of Mary McFarland Axtell. She and her family were early settlers of Davis County. She started recording her memories at the urging of Lucille Biegart who loved the pioneer stories that Mary recounted.  

Mary was born on December 19, 1871 in what is now Geary County. Her parents Edmund S. and Amanda L. McFarland homesteaded a farm in 1860 on the southwest edge of town. Her memories are a wonderful resource on how time has changed Junction City and the surrounding area.

Her writings cover a variety of subjects. In one excerpt she found great enjoyment in watching the original nature channel; long before there was television.    

“Of late I’ve been thinking of the farm and especially the biddies and wondering if all farmers regarded their chickens as we did.

It has been said that a chicken has no brain; perhaps so, but I think a very good substitute.

For years we kept the English White Leghorns, the large type and they seemed more intelligent or perhaps more like humans than other breeds.

One old biddy always came to the house and laid her egg in the back porch. We timed her, 30 minutes to produce an egg.”

We had a small building in which we kept grain and one biddy would wait at the door to be let in to be fed. When finished she would stand to a window and croak. We called her the speaker. Another always came to the house for a bit of lunch after laying an egg- she was Polly.

The most intelligent of the bunch Ed named Cau-de-priat and I cannot give the meaning, if Ed went in when the flock was at roost and spoke her name, she would respond. A coyote got her.

A rooster called Rufus was ours. He didn’t develop properly and the feathers didn’t lay down… He kept much to himself if another rooster was around and in winter Ed would bring him in the house to be fed and get warm. We would stand him in a basin of warm water and he would crow there or in our arms.

We would put him on a stool by south window and he enjoyed it, expressing himself occasionally with a crow. On being let out of the hen house he would chase the hens and take a tumble occasionally, pick himself up , looking much surprised as much as to say—what happened?

The above may sound foolish but living off a public road with few distractions we found pleasure and amusement in our surroundings.”

Writings and memories like this are important because they give us interesting accounts of pioneer life. Don’t discount your memories or the stories your grandparents told you; write them down because one day those things will be history also.

Photo caption: Amanda McFarland, mother of Mary Axtell, feeds her chickens.