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John Kern Family

This is an excerpt from a 19-page autobiography written in the 1930s by my maternal great-grandfather, John Christopher Kern (b: 1861 in Canada, d: 1947 in California). His father, Edward Kern, moved the family in and out of Kansas twice, while trying to make a living as a farmer. Great-Grandpa John Kern refers to himself as John in the story, rather than writing in the first person. Theodore (Ted) A. Blaine (I grew up in Delhi, Merced County, California and now reside in Lancaster, Los Angeles County, California.)

I have edited the story so it makes since as it starts in the middle of his autobiography.

The story continues with John leaving Minnesota: 

In 1884 John and his father, Edward, heard about the new country opening up in western Kansas. On the 17th of November, 1884, the family left Minnesota and started for western Kansas, stopping and wintering in Kingman County, which was a terminal on the Santa Fe railroad.  

The women continued to stay in Kingman, while the men went out west to Meade County in April, 1885, building sod houses, sinking wells, breaking prairie, and getting the land ready for crops the coming year. The grassland became dry and hard the last of June, so they pulled camp and returned to Kingman County, to return in the fall to do more settlement duties.  

This Meade County land was very level with short buffalo grass: very, very level up to the banks of the creeks and rivers. Then it drops 50 to 100 feet to the bottom lands. It had a thick salt grass one to one and one-half feet high where cattle pastured in the winter and early spring. The country was over-run with range cattle at his time. I will give the reader the names of some of the cattle ranches and their brands: Stills ranch located on Spring Creek, and the brand was a crooked "L" on the left hip…50,000 head; Reason ranch on Sand Creek…brand God (?) on side…15,000 head; KK ranch on Bluff Creek…2,000 head. There were numerous small ranches from 500 to 1,000 head. Here are some of those brands: Blear B…8 bar 8, and Js, Jl, IG. These ranches were from 5 to 25 miles apart. 

All of this was located on the Cimarron River and creeks on either side, and territory between Cimarron and the Arkansas River. This took in all the creeks and upland or table land, then south to Texas and east as far as the east side of Comanche County. So the reader can see it took in a large territory. 

The cattle were turned loose to go where they pleased, and when cold weather came on late in the fall or winter, would drift south with the storm and to as far as Red River, Texas. Cattle must be rounded up in the spring, including the calves and mavericks. May and September are the times to round up and brand the early and late calves. Round-up is quite special. So the cattlemen decided to build a fence, known as a drift fence, running east and west and in the country south of Kansas, and running east through the panhandle to Oklahoma. This was to keep the cattle from drifting too far south in the winter, thus saving the cost of going so far after them. 

But 1884 and 1885 were two very cold winters. So severe that many were frozen before the drift fence. So the second year, when the weather became too severe and stormy so that they began to stand along the drift fences and freeze, the cattlemen saw their folly and cut the fence and let them go south where it was warmer. They decided it was better to let them go altogether even if it cost more. The cattle of different brands were mixed together. So the cattlemen had a meeting and planned to send men according to the number of cattle. The ranchers sent out one mess wagon each, then cowboys, one horse rustler, and seven ponies so that each cowboy had one for each day of the week, making 70 in all. Then Yeepee o-o-o-o! and away we go for the round-up. 

But the government moved the range cattle off from the range and broke it up for the cattle business, saying it was government land, not knowing the land was unfit for farming purposes. They moved the cattle to Arizona and New Mexico. 

Then the people settled in and tried to farm, but all was in vain. The hot winds and dry weather destroyed the crops, but the settlers still tried to make a success of farming. 

So on November 17, 1886, John Kern and Susan Allen, both of Lakeland, were married in Sand Creek Township, Meade County, Kansas, and later moved on their claim. In September, 1887, Ellen Kern (John’s sister) was married to Joseph Allen (Susan Allen Kern’s brother), who also settled on her claim on the south side of Crooked Creek where they tried farming. Albermarl Kern (John’s sister) married one A. McGeorge and settled in Minnesota. Amerett Kern (John’s sister) married H.A. Cox and moved to Iowa where they located in 1886. She was taken sick in 1889 and passed away. Albemarl moved to Suisun, California, where she passed away, but her husband, A. McGeorge, continued to live and farmed for several years. Then he moved to the San Joaquin Valley and located near Delhi on First Avenue South. 

Now we will return to Meade County and find that Edward and Florella Kern (John’s parents), John and Susan Kern, and Sirvillian Kern (John’s brother) are still living there. Also Ellen and her husband, and the Allen family are living there, but ready to leave. There were Joseph Allen (Susan Kern’s father), and two girls, Margaret and Maud, the youngest of the family. 

John Kern and his wife, Susan, planned to stay one more year, and if crops failed would move to some older part of the country where crops had already been raised. But on September 9th, 1888, a child was born to them, a boy and they named him Harry Alfred. Now that they had more responsibility, both families decided to move. 

So they started east. When they reached Wichita, the Allens stopped, but the Kerns moved on to Marian County and there leased a farm and settled down for winter weather. The farm was known as the Dike Caten Ranch. Then they leased a section of 640 acres of pasture land, for the Kerns had quite a bunch of cattle they brought from the west. The section of land was fenced and was pasture for 500 head of cattle. 

The soil was good and the grass heavy. That season was a good crop year; grain of all kinds yielded heavy and corn was a bumper crop worth 10 cents per bushel in the ear and 12 cents shelled. It required a lot of produce to get one dollar. Food stuff was plentiful and all was well.




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