Elizabeth Souther Nix left Choestoe, Union County, on March 24, 1873. The widow of William Nix (1837-1864), she anticipated that a better life lay ahead in Colorado for her and her three children, James, almost 14, Martha Jane, 12, and Nancy Ann, 10. Her brother, William Souther, was already in Colorado, and he no doubt influenced Elizabeth to move west to what they considered the land of promise.
A record of the journey was made in the form of memoirs from James Nix who saw the move as a great adventure. Last week’s column covered their journey by wagon from Choestoe to Cleveland, Tennessee, and westward by train from Tennessee to Colorado, including their itinerary and the wonders James and his family saw along the route.
When they arrived in Denver, Colorado on April 8, 1873, only fifteen days after they had departed Choestoe, they received a cold welcome. Three to four inches of snow was on the ground. Seeing it spread across the prairie with herds of buffalo running in it was “a wonder” to the young lad. The story continues:
James Nix recounts how they took the narrow gauge D & R G train from Denver to Pueblo, Colorado. “It looked like a toy train,” he wrote. At Pueblo they hired mule teams and wagons and “pulled south to Apache Creek” where they camped for two days. From there they went northward to Muddy Creek to join other members of the Souther family. James got a job working at what he called a “mixture of ranching, sawmilling, and cowpunching.” His work brought the lad, the main breadwinner for the family of four, fifty cents a day and a soddy for them to live in. There they remained until about January of 1876.
The family’s next move was to St. Charles, Colorado, eight miles southwest of Pueblo. He hired out as a work hand on a farm there. They were at St. Charles when the Custer Massacre took place in the Black Hills on June 25, 1876. He noted in his memoirs, “Those were exciting times.”
The Atkinson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad extended its line to Pueblo, Colorado in March of 1876. Instead of the dinky line the family had taken three years previously from Denver when they arrived in Colorado, James wrote: “Now it seemed that Pueblo was connected to the world by a real railroad.”
The grasshoppers descended on the crops in late summer, 1876 and did so much damage that the farmers were greatly discouraged. His mother, by that time, had been able to purchase the land they lived on. But with the loss of crops from grasshoppers, they made the decision to move to “sunny Kansas.” With their team and wagon and sparse household goods, James, his mother and two sisters went down to the Arkansas River, to Los Animas, Granada, Fort Dodge, Great Bend, Hutchinson, Wichita, and Union Center. There a heavy snowstorm overtook them. He does not explain how they kept from freezing as they camped out in the storm, but they survived. After the storm abated, James looked for work. The family only had $5.00 remaining of the money they had when they left Colorado. He wrote, “We started out one afternoon after the storm lifted, hoping and praying to find work. But prospects looked dim.”
They came in sight of a nice two-story farmhouse at the Elk River. James asked the owner for permission for his family to camp by the river. Seeing that there were womenfolk in the wagon, the kind man invited them to the house where they were fed. They brought their sleeping rolls from the wagon and bedded down that night in the front room of the farmhouse. The next morning, the man, whom James calls only “Mr. Fred”, asked James and his family to remain and assist him with the rest of the corn gathering and husking. He even allowed the Nix family to live in his old house which Mr. Fred was then using as a place to store the gathered corn. They quickly moved the corn to a shed, cleaned out the house, and settled into it. James notes, “This was a bonanza. The house had a fireplace. You seldom saw a chimney on a house in Kansas in those days. Mr. Fred offered me fifty cents a day to help him with his corn crop.” When the corn was finished, he employed James to herd cattle, using one of the Souther horses.
In the spring of 1877, James rented eight acres from Mr. Fred down in Corley County, thirty miles south of where they had wintered.
But the summer of 1877 brought ague and fever to James and his sister Martha Jane. James recovered well, but his sister remained weak. He took her by wagon to Benton County, Arkansas where they bought a load of apples. They peddled the apples along the route back home and made more than enough money to cover their trip. The change of venue and the adventure of that trip helped Martha Jane get over her depression from the severe fever.
In the spring of 1878, James rented acreage from Isaac Todd. John Thomas, another Georgia transplant to the west, rented Mr. Fred’s acreage. It was in the summer of 1878 that his mother received $50.00 from Georgia (probably on sale of some of her land there). They bought cattle with the money and were successful with the crops that summer in Kansas.
“Uncle Bill Souther, my mother’s brother, came to visit us in the fall of 1878 and stayed over the winter. In May, 1879, we sold out what we had and started for the state of Washington,” James wrote. As they made their way westward again, they retraced the route through Wichita, Kansas and on to Pueblo, Colorado. They went up into the Greenhorn Mountains to visit relatives, James’s uncles, Bill Sullivan and John Thomas. These kin had gone west from Choestoe after the Civil War.
Elizabeth Souther was evidently not afraid of work. Nor was her son, James. By May, 1879, he was twenty years old. Since age 14 when his mother, two younger sisters and he had arrived in Colorado, he had been the major breadwinner for the family.
c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 15, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.