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I totally agree regarding good school systems. That is the first thing young people with children and thinking about a family look into when they look for a place to live. Even when moving to a city with more than one school a neighborhood to live in is chosen by which school they feel is best for their needs. It is a pivotal point of survival. A town must also be well-rounded with good things for everyone of every age. There need to be programs and gathering places for young ones of all ages outside the formal school environment and their must be resources for the elderly that allow extended families to stay together in rich community.

I thoroughly enjoyed the stops at the cemeteries. They ARE telling signs. They record and tell the stories of the ancestors. Growing up on the east coast it was a common event for families to periodically visit local and family cemeteries. This was not just on memorial day and 4th of July. We would often have summer picnics on a sat or sun afternoon in the cemetery. Besides good food and childish games and laughter, stories would be told about those who were no longer with us and how we were connected. It gave a depth and richness to our sense of heritage.

The small town cemeteries are wonderful places that are so often overlooked now. In cities where cemeteries are large many rules are now instituted regarding only flat stones that can be mowed over with no epitaphs, etc. It is a reflection of the rest of our world's love affair with technology and anonymity. I was thinking as we toured that I want a large statue on my grave that says something on it. If there is no one to tell my great great grandchildren about me, they will have a place to go.

It took a lot to make a town on the prairie. Courage, determination, hard work, tears and sometimes even blood. Even after all that, not all dreams were realized. Auntie May Hay's dream was one of them. Although there is no town there today, the Otterbourne site took my breath away with its beauty. After reading "Lady Doctor on a Homestead", I would like to revisit the site and pace out the homesteads and town grid I read about and visualize it all. Having come to understand a sod house at the Prairie Museum, I would especially like to see the archeological remains of "a dugout" if one still exists after all these years.

Auntie May had all the above prerequisites in her constitutional makeup. In addition, she had love, generosity, a glass that was always half-full and passion. I felt a sadness for her unrealized dream which was the result of circumstances and entities beyond her control. At the same time, the end result makes me want to learn more about how and why the railroad magnates made their decisions. It seems to me that Otterbourne could have been just as successful as Colby or Hoxie had it not been ignored.

Auntie May began her life in the state of Pennsylvania. This produced a special affinity in me for her right from the start since many of my own paternal kin also lived in Pennsylvania and still do. She was a teacher but not just any teacher. Her talents and wisdom were sufficient enough that she rose through the ranks to become her school district's superintendent. Her mother died when she was young. Although her sister married, Auntie May devoted her time and energy to her work and the care of her widowed father. She did become a mother, however, by adopting a niece and nephew when their own mother died while they were still very young.

The 1880's was a time for tremendous westward expansion for a young country just over one hundred years old. Many courageous pioneers traveled to new territories for the promise of land and a new life. The more wealthy among them invested in wagons and oxen teams to make the long journey. This enabled them to bring along beloved heirlooms and possessions although, due to many factors, those possessions did not always make it to their final destinations. Many others took the train to the end of the line from where they walked carrying their bundles. Auntie May, her aging father, and her two young wards were among the latter.

Emerging from the train at Grainfield, an already bustling prairie town busy building an opera house in the 1880's, Auntie May's little family band began to walk Northwest to find the perfect place to homestead. She was astute and did not just settle for anyplace. Survival depended on having an abundance of resources readily available. Being a teacher from Pennsylvania farm country she was educated enough to know what she was looking for. Although there is no mention of it, undoubtedly she would also have listened to the wisdom her father's years could pass on to her as they walked, explored, and searched. Finally, upon seeing a multitude of fish happily jumping in the crystal clear waters of the south fork of the Sappa River she pronounced they had found their new home and what would later become known as the town of Otterbourne had its humble beginning. She knew that a good supply of fresh water was necessary for life and the plentiful fish would provide a staple for nutrition.

The first residences on homesteaded land were dugouts. To today's generation this seems like nothing more than a "hole in the ground". In actuality, that is almost an accurate perception. A dugout was a cave like area dug into the side of a hill or riverbank. When winter came, however, a good dugout would mean the difference between life and death. Auntie May's father, like many single men, created and lived in a dugout the entire time he homesteaded. However, he helped his daughter to build a sod house so that she and the children would be safe, warm and comfortable when winter arrived that first year. It would be some time before She and the children would live in a frame house again.

Crops were planted in the Spring. Having seen to food and water, the bare essentials for living, Auntie May turned her attention to other community needs. The first of these was communication. Having left hearth and homes, friends and kin, people were hungry for news from back home and were eager, as well, to let others know of their own well-being. Anyone who has moved a great distance or been absent from home for a large length of time can understand and identify with this aspect of human nature. Loneliness was very much a part of prairie life leading to the centrality certain institutions ended up playing in the plains communities' culture. She applied for a federal postal permit and soon became the postmistress for the burgeoning little community she had named Otterbourne. In addition to providing much needed communication between them and the outside world, the little post office inside Auntie May's cheerful sod house allowed for a gathering place twice a week for community members to greet one another and exchange local information.

It wasn't long before Auntie May turned her attention to the educational needs of her young wards. The teacher in her, however, decided that it was a service that needed to be provided for other prairie children in addition to her own. She opened a grammar school in her soddy. This was only the beginning of her service to the educational needs of those who had traveled west. She took in school borders and progressed to a higher level of education as children grew older. Eventually she was appointed superintendent to organize a network of school districts to meet the growing educational needs of neighboring communities within the county. Miss Colby's school in Colby was designated school district #1 and her own Otterbourne school became school district #2. Eventually teachers began to be trained using standards she knew well from her training and experience in Pennsylvania.

Churches of various denominations became huge focal points for community life and spirituality on the plains. Auntie May was responsible for developing the first religious Sunday school and worship services at Otterbourne. She felt it was imperative for children to grow up with religious training so the teacher in her extended herself to offering a Sunday school of the Episcopal variety. She received permission from the Episcopal bishop to read sermons and lead singing for the purpose of providing worship services for young and old alike. People were so hungry for spiritual comfort, when the word got out, many came from miles around to attend the Sunday gatherings. Eventually, the first frame building was built in which to hold these and other community gatherings.

It would seem that Auntie May Hays had no lack of energy as she pursued one endeavor after another. Although we cannot know what her actual thinking was, the fact that she took years off her age professing to be ten years younger than reality could be an indication that she did not feel her age and did not wish to be looked at as elderly or relegated to a role she was not ready for. In addition to being a homesteader, postmistress, teacher and preacher, Auntie May soon added the role of prairie doctor to her resume. Although she had never been to medical school, she had learned much from her uncle who was an M.D. After a time, this uncle came and spent time helping her on the prairie. He eventually set up practice in Colby and the two of them worked as a team. She delivered many babies and doctored many injuries and childhood diseases. At her disposal would have been all the traditional plant medicines native to the prairie as well as some pharmaceuticals which could be purchased in neighboring town drug pharmacies.

Weather on the Kansas Prairie can be extremely harsh and unforgiving, both then and now. There are many stories during Auntie May's homesteading days of the effects suffered in the community from droughts, crop failures and winter blizzards. Some lost their lives as a result of these conditions. Fears and false alarms were experienced by Otterbourne residents when it came to Indian raids. They did not experience any direct consequences while other towns and settlers had many fatalities as a result of this clash of cultures. One odd thing is there is never a mention of tornadoes. This seems strange in light of their commonality today. This would be an excellent topic to pursue for someone interested in researching changing weather patterns and their reason.

While many settlers were dismayed and disheartened by the difficulties of prairie life and homesteading, causing them to leave and return back east, Auntie May's indomitable spirit remained unquenchable. The railroad was coming and Auntie May was as shrewd a speculator as any man of her day. Since the law allowed a person to hold only one homestead, she transferred legal ownership of her original homestead to her nephew. She then began another homestead upon which she built a large frame dwelling which contained separate space for her school borders. The original soddy was used for the cattle. She had also inherited the land from her father's homestead, for he had passed on during a winter blizzard, which she finished prooving up. She proceeded to map out a grid for a true town upon all this land. She dug a well at the center which would supply the town with good fresh water for years to come. She then proceeded to sell generous-sized town lots to those who, like her, were speculating on the railroad coming.

This was where the dream began to end. Otterbourne was passed up by the railroad. Auntie May began having financial difficulties. She was devastated by the death of her beloved niece who had married and moved to Colby. At the same time, her real age began to catch up with her. She developed Parkinson's Disease and her prairie days were numbered. Realizing she could not go on, she accepted her sister and brother-in-law's invitation to return to Pennsylvania and live with them. She lived with them the remainder of her days. She never felt sorry for herself; her glass always remained half full. Before she died, Auntie May deeded several pieces of her homestead lands to her sister. However, these lands were eventually auctioned off for non-payment of taxes and passed out of the family.

Auntie May Hay's story, which is inseparable from the story of the would be town of Otterbourne, is told in the book "Lady Doctor on a Homestead" by Bernice Larson Webb. At first glance, the title does not seem inclusive enough considering the many roles filled by this amazing woman. Upon further contemplation, however, the title is very appropriate. What is in a name? And what does it mean to be called a "doctor"? I would contend that Auntie May was a doctor in every aspect of her life. She was a prairie medical doctor, indeed. However, she was also a spiritual doctor, a preventive pediatrician of young minds, and a doctor for the soul. She was the glue of a community, loved and respected by all. She was the epitome of the pioneer spirit and both the warp and woof of the tapestry of a prairie culture.

Otterbourne by Carol DawnCarol Dawn, 24 Jun 2009 04:47

An understanding and appreciation of the local culture is deepened by a knowledge of the historical roots of the local community. In addition, future planning is enriched and enhanced by a view of historical choices, issues and problem solving. Sally Toth's "Teaching Colby" is an excellent tool for launching just such an inquiry.

Toth's booklet "Teaching Colby" is extremely adaptable from the very young to the very old. It includes a variety of activities from coloring exercises, to identification of architectural styles, to a walking tour which highlights the evolution of the town from a more adult historical perspective. It is a springboard for the imagination. A simple idea from within its pages can be taken and developed into a major project. I found the more I read, saw and learned, the more questions were generated in my mind to be pursued at some later point.

A common problem in small rural towns is its young adults leaving home to pursue higher education and then not bringing their skills and gifts back to their place of origin to benefit the community. It is possible that by utilizing such a curriculum as Toth's to instill a firm sense of place and belonging in their young hearts and minds, such an atrophy of minds and talents could be lessened. This resource is not only an admirable teaching tool for the local Colby community; it is an easily adaptable template for any community wishing to both explore and disseminate its historical roots and development.

A key approach for me is the walking tour. It allows a view of the formation and evolution of the community akin to being in the trench with an archeologist's trowel. The eye sees first hand the architectural changes and additions, ghost writing on building walls, and the growth and movement of key elements serving the community's needs. The ear hears the oral tradition, stories and facts not necessarily written in a book somewhere. A prime example for me was learning that the community's swimming pool was built as a response to folks swimming in the Prairie Dog Creek which carried sewage, far from a sanitary situation. Another was learning the history of the development of Fike Park.

This generation takes Fike Park for granted. It is used year long for numerous private and community events from Santa's Workshop in Winter to Picnic in the Park in Summer. There have been family reunions, wedding receptions, church and organizational events held there. Many use the basketball and tennis courts. Children play on equipment while dogs are walked. It is hard today to imagine the swamp it once was. In learning its history, Mayor Fike once again becomes alive in our minds and imaginations. We can visualize him in his office, doing daily work, signing papers to get the work started and speaking to the people to raise funds.

History is not just something in the pages of a book on a dusty shelf somewhere. So long as people remember and the stories are told the events and people remain alive and accessible to us. This is true for Mayor Fike above as well as the battles and battle heroes for which and whom many of our community's streets are named as well as the county itself. It is through these stories and remembrances that we have an understanding of where we came from and gain a better perspective of where we would like our future direction to point towards. It is what enables us to have a deep appreciation of our heritage, the sacrifices it took to give us that heritage, and a sense of honor to make our own new sacrifices necessitated in each succeeding generation.

One of the most interesting facts about the Colby community is discovering where it started, how it moved and how it is evolving in our current generation. When Mr. J.R. Colby for whom the town is named arrived here, he set up his homestead where the current Village Inn restaurant stands. His daughter started the first school slightly south of there where the proprane company now stands. He was convinced, however, to move his town 2 miles north where today's current downtown Colby stands. He was offered property and the naming of the town after him if he would agree to move. Although this was a generous and fair offer accepted by Mr. Colby, a few years later found him leaving Colby stating the town had "too many people" for his taste. This was not necessarily unusual. Some Pioneers needed town settlements to survive. Others were a hardy lot that sought a more introverted rural existence.

I first visited Colby in 1990. It was a time of reunion with my sister who had moved here long before that and my mother who had joined my sister in 1985. Even at that late date there was not much built south of Pine street. The original town site was virtually open range. There has been such an explosion of expansion since that time that when I returned in 2002 I needed to ask a policeman for directions. The southern outer perimeter of the town was unrecognizable to me. Today there is a large town hub where Mr. Colby once planned to establish his town. If he thought there were too many people in the 1880's, he would certainly be surprised to find his little town dream had grown exponentially into a settlement of almost 6,000 today with not only a grade school but an institution of higher education within its boundaries!

Colby is not an exception. Towns everywhere have burst their seams and expanded beyond their original boundaries. Many things have made this possible. One hundred years ago people needed to be close in for protection and survival; today we live in relative safety. Instead of cavalry that must ride out from the fort we have local police forces that patrol the community and its surrounds on a 24/7 basis. It is not necessary to cluster around a well or local water source today. Modern engineering has made water towers, plumbing and sewage drainage a stable resource for even those living miles from the town center. The modern automobile has changed how we meet our transportation needs. Horses no longer need to be stabled; a car can be parked anywhere and fed fuel from gas pumps located anywhere along the routes. Instead of riding in uncomfortable, slow-moving wagons, people ride in fast- moving heated and air conditioned vehicles. No longer do we use the railroad for our major source of transportation but hop on the interstate built on town perimeters such as Colby's entrances and exits or throughout the grid in larger settlements. It is not necessary any longer to go to the local telegraph or telephone company office to communicate with others outside the community. Modern technology marvels have literally put communication tools into the hands of every person everywhere with cell phone, computers and the world-wide net. Instead of road houses along wagon trails and railroad depots, today we have modern hotels and restaurants near interstate routes to serve the same purposes.

Following the evolutionary growth, and some would say progress, of one little town has helped me to think about cultural issues I never reflected on before. It is amazing to peer into history and see what visionary men and women of the past brought about whether out of necessity, greed, dreams or chaos. The processes continue to speed up with the turning of the spiral of time. Who knows what our great grandchildren will be writing about concerning the town's evolution in another one hundred years.

Re: Teaching Colby Reviews by Carol DawnCarol Dawn, 24 Jun 2009 04:26

I feel like one way to fight against losing your town is to support the school systems. I know in this area consolidation is a very nasty word and it is because the truth is once you lose your school your town begins to falter. I feel the older generation sometimes forgets about how necessary school support is once their own children are grown. But the school is a staple of any community and a good school system will keep a town in place. Once you lose your school, the end comes much quicker. We want the younger generation to come back to their home towns, but if you don't have a quality school for them to send their kids to, they won't even consider it.

It is good to know that others are watching out for you and especially your children. The other side of the coin is sometimes you would like to avoid some of those watching and sometimes gossiping eyes and tongues. You get the good with the bad I guess.

Regrettably, it must be so easy for people passing through our state to see the small towns of Kansas and regard them only as ghost towns with no futures. I, too, feel the sadness in hearing the stories of all the long forgotten towns which were once thriving and prosperous. Not having any knowledge of what they once were or who once lived there, passersby now only see vacant storefronts and empty streets instead of their rich heritages. I applaud the citizens of Grainfield for their efforts to keep their community alive, to advertise what they have to offer, and to continue to share their story with others. They have to reenergize and renew their commitment to to their past, present, and future and convince others that they are an integral part of northwest Kansas. It is generational, and young and old alike need to invest their time, talents, and treasures toward keeping their community alive and thriving.

I was surprised and saddened to see the cemeteries where towns used to be located. As towns in our area continue to fall in population, I wonder what the fate of our towns will be in 50 years. What will remain of our communities if people continue to move out and no one moves back or into town? Are we safe from total loss because of the Interstate? Can small communities not only survive but also thrive? Members of Grainfield have started a website to share with people what a small town, especially Grainfield, has to offer. This is done in hopes that it will draw people into town as well as create business opportunities for locals.

Cemeteries - a telling sign? by hflavinhflavin, 22 Jun 2009 13:46

Growing up in a town of about 100,000 (Billings, MT) it was a culture shock to move to Hays my senior year of high school. I could not believe how many people I knew when I was just out and about running errands. I have since tried to move away from the small town, student teaching in Wichita followed by my first teaching job in Colby. Then I moved to Denver to pursue a masters but fell in love with a small town Kansas boy. Now I live in Grainfield, a very small town, and taught only 5 students last year. In small schools there are opportunities for the kids to get personal attention from their teachers. They are also given the opportunity to be involved in everything they desire, from basketball to forensics. In the community we can trust most people. We leave our doors unlocked, can sleep with doors open if we choose, and leave the keys in the car. There is a sense of security in a small community. As was mentioned before, our neighbors and friends know what is going on so we can rest assured someone is keeping an eye on our house and children at all times.

Re: Better Know Your Neighbor by hflavinhflavin, 22 Jun 2009 13:35

We have all heard the adage that it "takes a village to raise a child." This so true in all cultures. Growing up in the small town of Colby, my three daughters have always felt the presence of others in their lives—-people concerned about them and their well-being. Our family has developed close, personal relationships with friends and family in the community during our years here, and the girls know that their public words and actions are constantly monitored by others. Sometimes to their "consternation", they wonder how reports of their activities have mysteriously reached their parents. Even accusing me and my husband of actually having spies in the community! In reality, many concerned parents naturally stay tuned to the activities of the young people they know in a nurturing, supportive way, whether it be through school, athletics, or church. For me as a parent, I appreciate that support and feel that my children have benefited from it. My daughters have grown up knowing that they have a responsibility not only to themselves, but to others, as well, in terms of how they choose to live their lives.

It is sometimes surprising how you end up back where you started. My husband and I both enjoyed the larger town of Manhattan where we went to college. We both grew up in smaller towns and liked something a little bigger with some different people and culture. But once we started to work and got married we ended up here. Once you start having children you remember and appreciate how nice a small town is to raise a family in.

When I was young, I grew up sitting at the feet of the elders and listening to all the stories quietly. My father believed "children were to be seen and not heard". As I graduated from high school I could not wait to leave my small town for the city and its art galleries, music, etc. I hate learned to hate small town gossip. Today as I approach age 57 I have a whole new appreciation for the good things in small communities and close knit families. CJ

Review by Rosanne Dougherty

Students of all ages, as well as adults, will benefit from exposure to their local and regional history. Regardless of age, it is important to develop a personal connection with and awareness of one’s surroundings and community so as to feel a sense of belonging, both in a physical and emotional way. Everyone must be able to position himself or herself in his or her home, community, region, and country, and ultimately the world and the universe to develop a sense of place.
Sally Toth has successfully compiled a number of worthwhile educational activities in Teaching Colby that can be easily adapted to meet the instructional needs of a wide range of students as they attempt to learn more about the place in which they live. Her activity plans readily show that learning about a community includes gathering information about people, places, and events. She offers a number of cross-curricular suggestions on introducing the built environment of Colby, historical personalities, and local businesses through interesting, meaningful activities. Many of her suggestions could also be used as a springboard in the development of a more in-depth, project-based curriculum. For example, older students might find it interesting to study architectural or artistic influences of the time period (arches, columns, decorative details, stonework, etc.) in relation to existing structures, or they might choose to research the genealogies of current business owners whose families have long been a part of the Colby community. Middle school students might do a photographic inventory of the current businesses and conduct personal written/oral interviews with their owners. Following a downtown walking tour, younger children could create a large, colorful mural based on the Colby panorama on craft paper for a hall display or outside on the playground with colored chalk.
Not being a Thomas County native, I have found it fascinating to travel to the area landmarks, especially those in the county. I have often heard others mention many of the places we have visited, and now I can better visualize the setting of the stories they have shared. It is interesting to note that many people who are lifelong residents of the area have probably never traveled to these sites, oftentimes thinking they must travel great distances to find interesting destinations. This speaks to the fact that educating our area youth to the rich history of their surroundings is truly important in helping them to build lifelong connections.

It thoroughly surprised me when my elderly mother living where I was born (Wichita) actually had neighbors in three nearby houses on her block that watched over her needs and liked visits with her. I lived 300 miles away in a remote area and did not visit her often. I found out they all had come from small towns elsewhere and knew the value of good neighbors.

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