The Man Who Found Kansas

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THE MAN WHO FOUND KANSAS

BY JACQUES FUTRELLE


I WON'T say that I discovered Kansas," said Sunset Joyce. "The Lord only knows who was to blame for that act of unrighteousness. But I will say that I was one of the most imminent citizens of that suvren state for a time, bein' as I was the only human bein' in one ind of it. The Governor, in Topeka, held down the other ind. Also, I did more than Peary ever will do, even if he finds the North Pole. I discovered the city of Kinsley. No man who has always lived in the fastidjious East, where everything is labelled, can appreciate the glory an' honor of that achievement.

"That was thirty years ago. I had a hundred an' ninety dollars, an abidin' faith, an' had just reached that age where I knew more than the man who invinted the dictionary. I didn't get over that until I was forty. No man does. So, I decided to go West. There, so the ginirous an' beneficent government told me, were homestead claims lyin' around invitin' American citizens to settle on 'em an' grow up with the country. If yer lived on one of thim for five years without dyin' it was yours. It looked easy, an' at that time I didn't know the government was playin' a joke on the unsophisticated an' effete East.

"The government was that thoughtful an' deceptive about it all that it sint me a map, showin' the homestead lands in Kansas. An' there on the map in letters so big they simply shouted for yer to look at thim, was the city of Kinsley, an' near it the Buckner River. Judgin' be the size of the letterin' on the map, I figured that Kinsley was at least as big at Philadelphy, an' me heart simply palpitated to get out there an' become a property owner, me never havin' owned anything prayvious to that time but a good old Irish thirst. An' the Lord knows I got that honest.

"So I kissed me brothers an' sisters an' fathers an' mothers good-bye, and promised to sind for thim all whin I made a million dollars, an' thin I bought a railroad ticket for Newark, New Jersey, to Topeka. I waded into the West, quotin' Horace Greeley at every other step. I felt in me bones that I was goin' out there to show that country how to grow up. Me wisdom was that infinite at the time that I felt I was doin' the West a great favor be condescendin' to lind it me presence. It ain't so great now.

"I wint straight to Topeka, which at that time contained six saloons, the Governor an' some other buildin's of no consequence. In Topeka I got me outfit. It consisted of one hoss, which cost me forty dollars an' he was that thin yer didn't have to open the door to let him out of the stable—he came through a crack. Also, I purchased a wagon an' some other doin's principally sow belly an* corn meal. Being that delicate in me innards an' disinclined to coarse food I laid in a great supply of these delicacies. Thin, armed with a compass, I set sail across the boundin' prairie for Kinsley.

'T have never bin to Hell, of course, but I'll bet it isn't any hotter than a Kansas prairie in summer. The heat sizzled up at me an' the hoss, an' the latter beast lost flesh at even- step. After a day or so it got so I was afraid to let go of him at all at all, for if I did I'd never be able to see him again, he was that thin. Everytime he swallyed yer could trace the hay he et from his eye-teeth to his diaphragm because of the lump it made in him. So finally I arrived at Oakley which was forty miles from Kinsley, so me map said.

"In Kansas in thim days they grew the land shark, a bird of prey who always had one hand in yer pocket, an' the other hand was a cloven hoof. He was the first type of the high financier, an' was indigenous to the adjacency of anything that was free. One of thim attimpted to clutch me, but I only had seven dollars left an' his reg'lar price was tin. So he took it out in abuse an' tellin' me what he intinded doin', bein' as he didn't get the seven.

"'Where are ver goin' anyhow?" says he.

"'Beyond Kinsley,' I says, 'where I'm goin' to settle on me magnificent estate near the Buckner River.' I says, 'if I can find it,' says I.

"'An' if I ever pass that way,' says he, 'I'll make ye jump in the river.' he says.

"An' thin the bystanders pried me teeth loose from his ear, an' I continued West. Be this time the one ninety an' the abidin' faith I started with was down to abidin' faith, except the seven dollars, an' I hurried on toward Kinsley with that. The Lord knows I needed it.

"I druv an' druv an' druv, due southwest be west, be the compass, across miles an' miles an' miles of land as fiat as a ball-room floor an' just about as fertile. That whole day I seen, not a house, nor a tree, nor a sign of a livin' thing. Whin I struck camp that night I knew just how Adam felt when the good Lord set him down in the middle of the universe. Some fried bacon an' corn bread cheered me internal works some, an' all night I listened to the serenades of inquirin' coyotes.

"Next day I started again. On till about noon I druv, seein' nothin' an' inhalin' so much dust me lungs felt like a brick yard. Thin, blessed be the Lord, I saw a man on horseback comin' toward me.

'"Glory Hallelujah,' says I to meself, I says: 'I don't care if it's Captain Kidd or the James boys,' says I, 'I'm goin' to speak to him,' I says.

"How do?' says he, when he came up.

"'Good mornin',' says I. 'Can yer tell me,' says I, 'where the city of Kinsley is?' I says.

"'This is it,' says he, an' he waved his hand ginirally about him at the prairie. I just naturally looked around.

"'Where?' says I. 'I think me eyes are full of dust,' I says.

"'Thus in Kinsley,' he says, 'right here,' says he. 'Yer're now on Commonwealth Avenue,' he says, 'the main street of Kinsley,' says he.

"'Oh, says I. 'Is that so?' I says. 'How it has changed,' I says, me havin' in mind that metropolis I had pictured in me innocence. 'Is this all of it?' says I.

"'Yes,' says he, 'this is all of it. 'Right over there behind yer,' says he, p'intin' to a place as bare as the pamm of yer hand, 'is the City hall,' says he.

"I looked, interested like.

"'A handsome building," says I, not to be outdone. 'That piaza on the third floor makes it very Rennasaince,' I says.

"'An' there's the theatre, right here in front of yer,' he says.

"Ts that so?' I says, as I looked at that. 'Who is playin' there now?' says I.

"'An' right over there's the Post Office,' he says, never crackin' a smile.

"'My, my, how the conveniences are crowded together,' I says, not knowin' be this time whether he was crazy or I was. 'I think I'll have to go over after awhile an' get me mail,' I says. 'I'm expectin' a little billy doo from King Edward,' says I.

"Then the stranger laughed. It was one of thim honest laughs that comes from the vitals of a white man.

"'I dunno,' I says, 'whether yer're jokin' with me or not,' says I, 'but if yer are I can lick yer.' I says.

"'Keep yer pants on, brother,' he says, cheerful like. 'Yer're from the East an' yer've come out to take a homestead claim,' says he. 'I know, because I've met others of yer,' he says. 'But this really is Kinsley—all of it,' says he.

"I don't suppose yer ever felt like sittin' down in the middle of a bigsome prairie an' weepin' yer heart out? Well, I did, I was that dissap'inted. I was overcome that when the stranger offered me a drop from his flask I took nearly all of it before I recovered. Thin I unbosomed me hopes an' ambitions to that strange man, an' he treated me like a brother, bein' the only man I met in Kansas who was perlite an' didn't expect to be paid for it.

"Thin the stranger took the map an' the compass an' showed me that I belonged in section four, claim number three an' traced it out on the map.

"'It's just sixteen miles due West from Kinsley,' he says.

"'Yes,' says I. 'What part of Kinsley?' I says. 'The Theatre, the City Hall or the Post Office?' says I.

"'Come an' I'll show yer the real city of Kinsley,' he says, 'where they measure from,' says he, an' he led me off through the grass. 'Yer see,' says he, as he wint, 'Kinsley is only three years old.' he says, 'an' it isn't built up very thick yet,' says he.

"'So I see,' I says. 'The houses on Commonwealth Avenue,' says I, 'are some distance apart,' I says.

"Thin he stopped an' kicked some grass on one side.

"There is the city of Kinsley,' he says, an' he p'inted to a white stone about as big as a pie-plate. 'That is the cinter of our thrivin' an' progressive city,' says he.

"'An' yer say the city's three years old?' says I, lookin' at the pie-plate.

"'Yes.'says he.

"'My,' says I. 'Isn't it small for its age?' I says. 'Somebody is liable to pick up the city of Kinsley.' I says, 'an' throw it at a coyote,' says I.

"It was only be the Grace of the Lord that I met that man. He et some of my sow belly an' I took another drop from his flask, an' he sampled a little good old Irish whuskey I happened to have by me, an' all was peace an' contintment. Then he rode on his way. His name was Dick Miller an' later he was lynched for stealin' a hoss, but he was a good man, rest his soul.

"Just about the moment that grand an' noble hoss-thief's head disappeared behind the horizon, I realized that I faced a problem. It was this: If me claim was due west from Kinsley, an' sixteen miles away, how the divil was I to know whin 1 got to it? An' I don't believe there's any rule of algebra that will throw any great light on that subject. I wint over an' sat down on the city of Kinsley, an' brought me giant intellect to bear on the problem. The hoss, meanwhile, amused himself be chewin' the whiskers off Commonwealth Avenue.

"'Now,' says I to meself, 'now,' I says 'we'll think this thing out, Sunset,' says I. An' I sat there an' held me head an' abused me ancestors for not puttin' more in it until the hoss had et up the City Hall, an' thin a great light came to me.

"'I have it,' says I to meself. 'I ought to be in the State Department,' I says. 'There are five thousand, two hundred an' eighty feet to a mile,' says I, 'an' it is twelve feet two inches around the wagon wheel,' says I. 'Therefore,' I says, 'the wagon wheel will go into the mile—!, An' thin I wint stark, ravin' mad, an' takin' a stick I figured over two acres of the prairie, arrivin' at the conclusion that all I had to do was to count the revolvements of the wagon wheel six thousand nine hundred an' forty-three times, an' some odd cints. An' I had to keep goin' west, climbin' any loose trees an' jumpin' any ravines that might be there, which thank the Lord there weren't.

"That's what I did—kept goin' west, countin' as I wint. Can yer imagine a human bein' in full possession of the intelligence the Lord gave him sittin' on a wagon with a compass in one hand, the reins in the other an' countin' the revolvements of a wheel with the third? In the first five miles I tore up me shirt, tyin' it in strips about the wheel so as I could tell whin it had turned all the way over. In the next five miles I used up me undershirt, an' whin I had finally counted the sufficient number of revolvements I was attired in low neck pants, me hat an' me shoes. An' I maintain that that was not a decent way to move into a new neighborhood.

"Me eyes were nearly out from lookin' three ways at once, at the hoss, the compass an' the wheel, an' me back had sun-blisters on it so high that they were cooler at the top than they were at the bottom, bein' that elevated. But I was home. The hoss fell down in his tracks an' I fell beside him an' we slept it off like a couple of sailor drunks.

"Next mornin' I looked over me sumptuous estate an' swelled with pride. The river was five miles away, an' there were other things prejudicial to its favor, but I set to work. In three weeks I had built a dugout, in another three weeks I had planted some growin' things, which didn't grow, an' I was gettin' so I could look me own property in the face an' not fall dead at its desolation.

"Not a livin' soul had I seen since I came there, except prairie dogs an' an occasional coyote an' me tongue was stickin' to the roof of me mouth, through lack of action, whin one day I spied a movin' speck in the distance.

"'Be the shades of St. Patrick,' I says, 'it's something bigger than a coyote,' says I, an' as it came nearer I saw it was a man on horseback. That was a red-letter day in me life.

"Whin the man came up, who do you suppose it was? The land shark, bird of prey from Oakley. But I was forgivin'.

"'I would shake hands with the devil,' says I to meself, 'if he'll only let me talk to him a little bit,' says I. For, me lad, the silence of the desert is a maddenin' thing, an' me bein' considerable loquacious, felt it pressin' on me.

"'Good mornin',' says I, when the shark came up.

"'Hello,' says he. 'Settled are yer?' he says.

"'Some,' says I. 'I am some inconvenienced, however,' I says, 'be the failure of me retinoo of servants to arrive,' I says. 'I miss me valet so,' says I.

'"Like it out here?' he says. An' be this time I could just see devilment leakin' out of his eyes. They shone like a cat's in the growin' dusk. His ear was all healed up, where I had masticated it, an' he wasn't thinkin' of that, but the failure to get me tin dollars set heavy on his soul.

"'Yes, I like it,' says I. 'I've just built me house,' I says, 'an' all the plumbin' ain't in yet,' says I, 'but I'm fairly comfortable,' I says.

"'Got a lot of stuff planted, I see,' says he.

"'Yes,' I says airily, 'the Lord only knows what's goin' to come up,' I says, 'but something's set out all right,' says I.

"'Think yer'll stay here?' he went on.

"'I'll serve me time,' I says, 'five years if the Lord is willin',' says I.

"'Oh, yer will, will yer?' says he. 'Got anything to drink?' he says.

"'The river is only five miles over there,' I says. 'I drink out of that whin there's enough water in it to lay the dust,' I says. 'If yer're real thirsty don't let me keep yer,' says I.

"I have never yet had the pleasure of lookin' the devil in the face, whatever hopes I may have of the hereafter, but I'll wager me pipe that his countenancial appurtenances are more invitin' than that fellow's was at that minute.

"'Think yer're smart, don't yer? 'says he.

"'Pretty fair,' says I 'I know enough to keep me money,' I says.

"'Yer know what I've come here for?' says he.

"'No,' says I. 'I don't think though it was for yer health,' says I.

"'I'm a government officer,' says he. 'An' I've come here to serve a writ of ejection. That means that yer get off this claim an' that at once,' says he. An' he babbled on about me bein' on the wrong spot, an' that I oughter have paid him an' took his advice in the first place, an' all that time I was just figuring where I should plant me teeth. He never knew how close he came to losing that other ear.

"He rambled on an' on an' finally drew out a paper an' waved it at me an' the boss, who was lookin' on in blessed innocence.

"'May I see the paper?' says I. 'It's gettin' dark out here,' I says. 'Come in an' have a little something while I look at it,' I says, that meek an' humble that it would have deceived St. Patrick himself. An' I led the way into the dugout, figurin' considerable an' he followin'.

"Inside I motioned him to me sumptuous divan, the same bein' the head of a barrel of potatoes, but the only seat in that ind of Kansas, thin I made meself comfortable standin' up an' lighted the candle. After all these bedoodlements he handed me the paper.

"'Perhaps,' I says, 'yer'd like to see my papers,' I says.

"'They're no good,' says he. 'Yer move now,' he says, 'or I'll put a hole in yer,' he says.

"An' bless yer soul I was lookin' deep down in a revolver before I knew it. Now there isn't anything on earth calculated to make a man change his political faith so suddenly as lookin' into the business ind of a gun, particularly when his taxes isn't paid. I changed mine on the spot. I stood in fear an' trimbling with me knees knockin' together that loud that they sounded like a drump corps in the distance. Me breath came in short pants, as it were. Ginirally spcakin' he had me flirtin' with death most outrageous. An' judgin' be the expression about his lips it was the most amusin' thing he had ever seen in his life.

"'Will yer move?' savs he.

"'I will,' says I, an' I did.

"Me foot lit in the midst of his commissary department an' I made a giniral wipe at his gun. It sint a shot palpitating into the blue heavens. I may say without boastin' that I was a sizable buck thim days an' whin I got hold of his wind, an' began to beat his intellectuality to a pulp with his own revolver he weakened. Thin I took him out an' tied him to his hoss, hand an' foot—an' the Lord knows I needed that rope, too.

"'Does yer hoss know where yer live?' says I.

"'Yes,' says he, that weak an' feeble like I was almost sorry for him.

"'That's lucky for yer,' I says, 'because that's where he'll take yer,' says I. 'An' the next time yer go to serve a writ of dejection on anyone,' I says, 'be certain to pick out a man of yer size,' says I, 'an' take him when he's sick,' I says.

"Then I took a bull whip an' hitt that hoss of his across the place where it would do the most good, an' he an' the land shark cut a scared stripe through the adjacency of Kansas into Oakley. I heard later that he reached there all right, but he never worried me any more. Anyhow I taught him a lesson.


"By the way, I have a little very fine old Irish whuskey—if yer will? Yes? This way! A little tipple for the stomach's sake, says I."

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.