Sunday, June 17, 2012

The End of an Era

My grandfather died a few weeks before I was born so I never knew him.  In honor of Father's Day, I am posting a memory of my Grandfather, written by my mother, his daughter several years ago.

Let me tell you about my dad.  Newton Guy Cauldwell was his name.  Everyone in town called him "N.G.".  Mom called him "Guy", and we, his children, called him "Pop".

He was born to Will and Melvina Cauldwell on March 7, 1887. They lived about 8 miles north of Madison, Kansas in what was known as the Number 1 District.  This means it was the first school district in Greenwood County.  As a matter of fact, the school was only about a half mile from his boyhood home.

He use to tell me about how his mother would get him ready for school and pack his lunch and send him down the road.  She would stand at the door and watch him until he reached the bend in the road, because he was prone to play hooky.  Once he reached the bend, he would turn, wave to her and run towards school, but once out of her sight, he would duck into the orchard and hide until school was out in the afternoon.  Then he would come home as though he had been in school all day.

All good things must eventually come to an end.  Finally he was caught and Grandpa told him that either he went to school, or he went to work.  Dad became a man and put aside his school books and boyish ways.  He completed only four years of school.

It was at about this time that the Trail Drive Era in the Flint Hills of Kansas effectively came to an end and gave way to the Railroad Era transforming the Flint Hills cattle country into a major cattle shipping point on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad line.  The romance and lure of the great cattle ranches drew many young men away from the drudgery of farm labor and they hired on as ranch hands to help round up the cattle from their summer grazing pastures and bring them to the railhead for shipping. A major part of preparing for the summer cattle included the repairing of fences and replacing of water gaps that were washed out by spring rains.  Pasture season began in early spring when the dominant grasses of the tallgrass prairie were beginning to green. Massive general fires were set to burn off the previous year's dead grass and promote new growth. Trainloads of cattle would be unloaded at the Flint Hills railheads in the spring, many of which were thin and weak and required special attention if they were to be saved. Those that had their health, on the other hand, could be wild and skittish and difficult to drive.  Others, after having been put in the pasture, would sometimes crawl through fences or walk the cattle guards and wander off.

It wasn't an easy life by any means.  Days often began at 4:00 a.m. and continued late into the night, but there was plenty of work and wide open spaces. Grandfather's lack of education was irrelevant to the times and the work of the cowboy...and then he met the school marm.

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