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Cow Chip Fuel

When Meade County was first inhabited by European immigrants they had to make adjustments at every turn... few of them would have ever experienced a land such as this. Just the absence of trees was foreign to most of them. One can only imagine what the ladies first thought when they were told they would have to cook on a fire made from buffalo chips. It was quite an adjustment, but adjust they did. I hope to put on this page experiences of such adjustments as I run across them.


I am going to start with... "A Poem from the Past" reprinted, with permission, from "Home Town" magazine, March 1990 (copyright).

Kathleen Ross shared the following poem with us several years ago. She had been going through some family heirlooms and ran across this piece written by George's grandmother, Cora Williams Gambel. The next time you are tempted to gripe about your gas bill, think about this…

That Fuel Question From a Short Grass Standpoint

Feed the chickens daughter Velma,
So the hens may go and lay;
They've been shut up, loudly calling
For their feed since break of day.
This is sure a lovely morning-
Almost like the month of May.
And I think we'll go a chipping
O'er the pastures far away.

Elsie help me hitch the horses
You're a good girl for such things
I do like a child that's helpful.
Who while working often sings,
Is there fuel in the wood box?
Mamma wants to bake today.
While the rest of us are chipping
On the prairie far away. 

Lead the horses first to water,
While I let the cattle through.
Trix goes always on the gee side.
Watch! that colt don't kick at you
Ah, that naughty little sorrel
Thinks he'll go along and stay,
With the team while we are busy
Chipping on the plains today.

Curlie, you stay home with Mamma
Keep the range cows from the door
Drive away the hawks and coyotes,
That is what we've got you for.
If she'd go with us she'd only
Chase jack rabbits, and in vain,
Catching none, while we are busy
Chipping on the level plain. 

Here we go now see us travel.
As we swiftly ride along.
Meadow larks are singing loudly
Everywhere their sweetest song
In the distance herds of cattle
And of horses may be seen.
As we go this lovely morning
Chipping where the grass is green. 

See that mirage over yonder.
Where the level pastures break.
Stretching out three miles or over.
Looking like a crystal lake.
Cattle standing in the water
With their shadows up side down.
Weeds and tall grass showing double.
Look like little islands brown. 

Tell you as to what is mirage?
That's a thing I cannot do!
But there is an Indian legend,
Which I will relate to you.
This vast plain was once an ocean
Where sea monsters lived an died
Level slopes and rolling sand hills
Thus were formed by waves and tide.

Water relics are yet picked up
Where the red man's camp fire burned
And the mirage in the legend,
Is the ocean's ghost returned.
Fleeing as we go toward it.
Baseless as the evening shade
Fleecy clouds and like the rainbow
Fair to see but quickly fades. 

I admire this short grass country.
Tis the best place I have found.
There are vacant quarter sections
Smooth and fertile lying round.
Looking like a blue grass meadow
And to own them one but gives
What would but a lot in grave yards
Back East where your Grandpa lives. 

I admire these Kansas coal fields
As compared with splitting wood
Like I used to do while renting
Back where heavy timber stood.
Children mine I'll tell you something
Of the way I used to do
Years before we came to Kansas
To this land so strange and new. 

In the stormy days of winter
In the cold and in the rain.
In the snow drifts by the rail fence
In the deep mud of the lane
Carried I the ax and crosscut
Maul and sledge and trudge along
To the woods among the tree tops.
Where the cutters skilled and strong
Had cut down tall trees for saw logs
There I did the best I could.
With my old one handled crosscut.
Saw and ax a making wood. 

Then I've got out with the wagon
Through the woods and over logs.
Driving through small ponds of water
Noisy with the croak of frogs.
With one hub fast on a sapling
And all four wheels in the mire.
Thus it was in Indiana
Hauling wood to keep a fire. 

Now its time to stop the wagon.
Here is what we're looking for,
Cow Chips, dry and oh! so plenty,
Won't they make the cook stove roar!
Now, lets fill the wagon quickly,
Then we all will home ward go,
Counting this days work a picnic
Chipping where the wild flowers grow.


R. J. Newby family - gathering fuel


Some quotes From the Meade County History Book:

"We were never troubled about lack of fuel as we had plenty all about us. All we had to do was to take a wagon and plenty of help and bring in a load of cow chips. They could be brought in quickly and they made a quick, hot fire with lots of ashes." ED BOYER FAMILY

"They returned to Meade County. He filed on a 160 acre homestead five miles south of Turkey Track Ranch, now the State Lake. They burned cow chips to cook and heat with. Mother and her girls would take wash tubs, tie a rope through the one handle, go out into the pasture and fill them with chips and pile them up in small piles and Dad would come along with the wagon and take them to the house and make big long ricks like hay stacks so the rain would not soak clear through. It kept the family hot carrying in chips and carrying out ashes." LOUIS FELDMAN FAMILY

"One thing I hated about the ranch was the days set aside to pick up cow chips. Mother would fix a lunch. Father would get the wagon ready, two sacks to pick in for every member of the family and we would drive to the cattle range and pick all day, coming in with a wagon load. Many such trips continued through the summer and by fall we had a supply that would take us through the winter." H.G. MARSHALL FAMILY

"Mother's first experience burning cow chips was one time in 1887, when she and her brother ran out of coal before dad got home with a new supply. Coming home from a neighbors they found a nice patch of dry chips. They gathered four gunny sacks full and carried them home. Her brother put on his gloves when he handled them. They discovered they made a very economical source of fuel. The only drawback was they burned quickly and left lots of ashes. The pioneers came more and more to depend on them for summer fuel.... Jake Kolb told the story he would tell to his Ohio relatives this way: "When Maggie and I first came out here she would put her gloves on when she put cow chips in the stove, after awhile she would handle the chips with her bare hands and then go right on making biscuits without washing them." R.R. SINGLEY FAMILY 

"Cow and buffalo chips were the only fuel available for a long time with the exception of a few fallen limbs and dead trees. The chips were gathered up in wagons and then stacked to keep them dry. When the Rock Island railroad went through Fowler the Bests began to get a little coal to tide them over during severe blizzards." JESSIE HILL



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