THOMAS GEORGE CARRUTHERS
This is the history of Thomas George Caruthers, born 14, March 1850 to the Reverend Richard Alexander and Nancy Cook Caruthers in Tylersburg, Clarion County Pennsylvania.
His father Reverend R. A. Caruthers was a man of faith being a Circuit Rider with the Methodist Church. The family would stay in the Pennsylvania area for five years until 1870 when the family was sent to Pomfret, Chautauqua, New York where Thomas would become a New York Fire Fighter at the age of twenty. His father was made the Presiding Elder at Fredonia District in September of 1870, the same time Thomas and his mother went to Shawnee County Kansas to look at farm land. It was here his mother purchased five lots in Baldwin City, Douglas County, Kansas.
Thomas and his mother returned to Fredonia, Chautauqua County, New York so that Rev. R. A, Caruthers could finish out his appointment with the Erie Conference and to gather their belongings.
Baker University (Rev. R.A. Caruthers was one of the delegates to set this College up) is located at Baldwin City. At that time there was but one building, a stone one, with not a large enrolment of students. This may have been because the town was not very large, although and it was spread out pretty thin. Neighbours did not live under one another’s nose at that time and there was land to spare. Then in April of 1874 they were sent to the Spring Hill Church, when they were transferred as a family to the Kansas Conference, being stationed at Baldwin City and Vinland Kansas for one year. This was the year of the Grasshopper Plague of the Great Plains, reaching from the Platte River, on the north, to northern Texas, and penetrated as far east as Sedalia, Missouri
As told by Thomas’s sister Nancy, ‘The air was full of flying grasshoppers. At noon we had as fine a garden as anyone would wish – onions, tomatoes, peas, beans, potatoes, melons. In less than two hours we had nothing there at all. Wherever there was a muskmelon they had eaten everything but those little hard skins, leaving them look like woven wire. I remember it looked so funny to me. The apple orchards were loaded full with nice apples. The hoppers ate all the leaves and little twigs off the trees and left the apples hanging there to cook in the hot sun. I remember telling Sam the reason they did not eat the apples was they were foreigners and did not know what the apples were. There were a good many peaches around where we were, and they ate, the leaves and peaches, leaving the bare pits hanging on the trees. They ate up every green thing and lots of the fodder the men had shocked. Then they bored into the ground and laid their eggs, came up and flew away to parts unknown, but they left trouble and anxiety behind them.’
From Baldwin City and Vinland, they moved to North Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas for another year. In 1876 the family was transferred to Tecumseh, Shawnee County, Kansas for two years, where Thomas meet and married Mary Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Price on September 3, 1876. To this union, eight children were born.
In the picture to the left is: left to right, John, Thomas, Mary, Lizzie. Standing back row is Nancy, Richard and then Jason. Children not born when taken Margaret, Louisa and Laura.
Thomas and his family lived with his parents in order to take care of his mother, as the Rev. R. A. Caruthers was out on circuit most days, In the spring of 1879 Rev. R. A. Caruthers was again transferred as the Presiding Elder of the Kansas Conference, Kirwin District at Bristow, Osborne County, Kansas. Prior to bringing the family out to Bristow, Thomas and his father came out to procure a home, that they had just purchased from James McGuire.
The house was log, 16 feet by 18 feet. It had a window in the north side and one in the south side of the door. The furniture in the house were two homemade beds in the west, standing foot to foot, with a couple of trunks between them, one trunk on top of the other. There were two trundle beds and under these another two beds; there was a cupboard, or safe as it was called in those days, an old-fashioned clothes cupboard, the big six-octave organ, a half-dozen chairs, some stools, an extension table, a rocking chair, a cook stove and a three-cornered cupboard south of the door where the dishes were kept. There was also a little old-fashioned melodeon that the children learned to play on, which was also used by the Rev. R. A. as a writing table. This building housed thirteen Caruthers, and they all sat around and ate at the table at the same time.
The first Sunday after the Caruthers’ got to Kansas, Thomas took the family 4 miles west, to see Father’s timber claim. There was not a house, dugout, or shanty of any kind in sight (there were very few people there then, in 1878, but in 1879 they just poured in buying up every available piece of land, where each quarter section had a homesteader and his family on it)
The Kansas Sod House
I will describe a Kansas sod house and tell how they were constructed so the coming generations will know what they were like. The builder would pick out a nice level grassy piece of buffalo sod and take his team and breaking plough and break the sod in nice even rows. Then he would take a spade and cut these long lengths of sod into convenient lengths. He would pick out the place he wanted to build, then he would take these sod bricks and lay the foundation for his house. They were generally quite a bit longer than they were wide. They would then lay another row of sod upon this row, like you would lay up a brick or stone wall. Leaving the opening for the door from the ground up, they would lay the rest of the sod as high as they wanted it to be, to the bottom of the windows. Then they would leave the opening for them, build up to the top of them and the same with the door, or doors. Strips of boards would be placed ober the openings if they had them, or small poles which they had gathered out of the timber or plum thicket. At this point they then built the wall up a few feet farther above the boards, in order to have a strong sound base to lay their roof on. The end walls were built a few feet higher in the centre to allow for a fall, so as to ensure drainage off the roof. Using a large log for a ridge pole and a centre pole, the latter to support for the ridge log as nearly everybody called them, supporting the roof.
They would then lay either boards or long straight poles from the tops of this log to the sides of the walls, and then put on the shingles on with bricks. Some people put some gravel on top of the sod. The floor itself would generally be a dirt floor and a hole was left in the sod roof to stick the stove pipe through. The windows were generally half sash; sometimes the end windows would be full length and the door would be homemade.
Now the house was finished; ready to move into. The paint was the natural wood (dirt) color, and things did look mighty good to the settler when he got it finished and moved into it. It was so nice and warm inside that if a person was in the darkness he couldn’t tell he wasn’t in a frame house. Overhead would be sealed with whitewashed or papered blinds and curtains at the windows, floors boards were laid, with carpet on them, and pictures were hung on the walls and house plants in the windows.
Then there were also sod dugouts and stone dugouts. They were made by digging out holes in the side of the banks of the draws and putting little windows next to the roof without falling off and breaking their necks. The stables were called “Kansas Barns”, they were shed frames erected out of poles and covered with straw or prairie hay, or sunflower stalks.
The Carruthers were in Bristow during the last Indian scare. As usual Rev. R. A. was sent out to Atwood where the Indians had made the invasion and he saw what depredations they had done and saw the graves of the settlers who been killed along several dead Indians. He even took as a reminder a feather from one of dead Indians which was long and stiff and as white as snow and made a long string of linen, colored oranges wrapped around it.
In January of the following year Thomas went back to Shawnee County, Kansas to fetch his own family and bring them back to Bristow. They went in a covered wagon which the used to sleep in it at nights. They were gone for about a month and when they returned, Thomas brought his wagon and some other vehicles with him. Once Thomas brought his family back to Bristow the remaining Caruthers family moved to Kill Creek, named after the Indian massacre of 1878, which caused the water in the creek to turn red with blood.
It was here that Thomas and his family, along with Rev. R. A. went, being just a short distance from Bristow. The built a two story, six-bedroom house complete with one of the finest libraries known to that area. The sleeping quarters were upstairs and the library, parlor and living room were located on the first floor with a staircase that lead down to the kitchen.
The kitchen, along with the root cellar, was built into the side of the hill, much like a sod house might have been. This meant that when you walked out of the kitchen you walked out right into the backyard, but if you walked out the front door you would have to walk down a small embankment to get to the backyard, as you can see in the retaining wall to the left of the house.
Thomas also built a barn a short distance from the house and this barn even after nearly 150 years, is still standing and in use today. Unfortunately, in 1885 while Thomas was out in the field mending fences and unbeknownst to his wife Lizzie, the cookstove had a faulty flue and caught the kitchen on fire. With the kitchen being on the bottom floor the fire raced up the flue catching the first floor on fire causing a total loss.
Lizzie was able to get the children and her mother-in-law, Nancy Caruthers out of the house just as Thomas arrived home to the flames. After the fire and the insurance settlement Thomas rebuilt the house in the exact same fashion as the origin that his father and he had built in 1879.
As a close family, Thomas worked the land right next to his father, brothers, sisters and in-laws, sharing all the heartaches a family can have living out on the prairies of Kansas. Between the weather, sickness and deaths, Thomas had his fair share of them all. He lost a sister in 1885, his father in 1889, his 6 month-old daughter in 1890, wand then his mother in 1900. However, the biggest loss was when he lost his wife and soul mate, Mary Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Caruthers during one of Kansas’s worst blizzards of January 1897.
Lizzie died just as the blizzard had started January 21, 1897 on Saturday night. Thomas went into Osborne to get her coffin and some other things needed and was nearly frozen by the time he got back home. His sister Nancy had been there for several days, helping with everything. On Sunday morning Thomas sent her son George up northwest of Alton to get Brother Kurtz to come and preach the funeral sermon. Mary had requested that Thomas to have him give the sermon, so George went to fulfil his mother’s wish, and got him. It was an 18-mile horseback ride and when he got to Alton, he stopped at the Methodist preachers to get warm. He was nearly frozen. When he went into the house, he nearly fainted, as he was so near freezing. Brother Kurtz returned to Kill Creek and gave a fine service that Monday.
After the death of his wife Thomas focused on raising his children, while working the ranch. His mother took over the duties of teaching the girls how to be young ladies and Thomas training the boys how to care for all the different phases of the ranch.
Later that year Thomas hired a man to bring his Saw Mill to the Caruthers Ranch. As the Mill was taking off Thomas was engaged in capturing a horse thief that had come down from Smith Center Kansas through the Osborne area, Thomas was driving his car at the time so he loaded up the Sherriff and off they went towards Bristow just outside of Osborne. He was informed by the posse that the thief was but a mile ahead of them and the stolen horses had been driven 90 miles so they were pretty well played out. When the thief reached a low place near the Bristow cemetery, he tied the team to the fence and took to the friendly hills. The posse looked high and low but were unable to find him. Thomas and the Sherriff returned the stolen property to Smith Centre.
It was fifteen years before Thomas would marry again in 1915 he married Susan J. Craig Hetherington. Susan and Thomas were together for 14 years when she passed away on a visit to her daughters’ home on November 9, in Tarrant, Texas.
After Susan passed away Thomas retired and spent most of his remaining days with his sons John and Jason who lived in Liberal, Barton, Missouri.
The picture to the left is Thomas George and Susan Caruthers wedding day in Osborne, Osborne County, Kansas.
The photo above is of Thomas with three of his grandchildren and his daughter in law Anna Caruthers. The children are left to right Roger and Russell with the little girl in the back by her mother, Irma. Thomas was visiting his son John when he had a stroke and passed. John brought Thomas back to Osborne, Kansas where he was laid to rest next to his first wife, daughter and his parents in the Bristow Cemetery.
Thomas George Carruthers was a very well loved and prominent business man in Kill Creek, Osborne County, Kansas from 1879 until her retired in 1920. While his father and mother raised wheat, corn and barley, Thomas was known for his livestock, beef, pork and chickens. Thomas also had a cheese factory along with the lumber Mill which served the community.
When one of our senior genealogists puts forward a piece for publication, we know that the background history and documentatiuon are precise, accurate and well researched.
This piece was sent to us by the Clan Commissioner for the USA, Mrs Dana Caruthers Norton, FSA Scot. Her family were true pioneers, being some of the first to arrive in the Colonies from Scotland. They are also evidenced to have fought in the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) as members of the Colonial Militiamen and Continental Army .
8 thoughts on “Clan Carruthers: Thomas George Caruthers: The History of a Kansas Pioneer.”
Thank you for this wonderful story. I never had any information on my ancestors until now. I love getting to know them.
Fabulous story, Thomas is my great grandfather, Jason my grandpa,
I’m a great grandson of Mary Elizabeth Caruuthers and her husband Reverend Thomas Bryson , both of whom died in Tientsin. I’ll be 81 in a few weeks. I live in New Jersey and am very pleased the clan has an official chief after more than 200 years.
I love a good story when it involves historical facts. Thanks for the post.
Would be interesting to know if any of this Carruthers family’s male descendants have done a Y-DNA test? Several of the Carruthers / Caruthers / Carothers who descend from Revolutionary War Carruthers veterans have their information posted on Family Tree DNA.
Nancy Emma, Thomas’ sister, is my great-grandmother. The quote about the grasshopper plague was published—I think—in the Osborne County Farmer, a weekly newspaper. Nancy Emma Carruthers Dunham wrote a regular article about pioneer life in county—mostly personal reminiscences.
Thank you for this, it exciting
We’d love to have you join the Scoiety. That piece was written by pir Clan Commissioner for the USA Dana Carothers Norton.