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MEMORIES IN FOCUS: First settler born in 'best place I've seen' years ago

MARION HISTORICAL MUSEUM PHOTO

Harriet "Hattie" Locklin (1864-1949), shown in an undated photo, was the first settler born in Marion Centre.

Legend has it that pioneers chose Marion as their home because explorers heading to Pike’s Peak had labeled it “the best place I’ve seen.”

If the legend is true, one of those most likely to have given such advice also was the father of the first non-Indian child born in the new settlement of Marion Centre.

In 1859, a year before members of the Billings, Griffith, and Shreve families settled here, Vermont native Silas Charles Locklin (1835-1921) set out to find fame and fortune as a Fifty-Niner, following the path Zebulon Pike’s expedition had taken 53 years earlier en route to a gold rush near Pike’s Peak.

He made the journey with fellow Vermonter Calvin Robinson “Doc” Roberts (1816-1887).

After less than two years of fruitless panning for gold, both of whom ended up coming back to Marion and marrying members of the Griffith family that had settled there.

Roberts married the widowed Margaret Griffith Strawhecker (1816-1880). Locklin married Hannah Butterfield (1846-1923), daughter of Margaret’s also widowed sister, Keziah Griffith Butterfield (1820-1902). All had been among Marion’s initial settlers a year earlier.

Locklin married the 18-year-old niece of his fellow prospector on May 17, 1863, in Cottonwood Falls. Nine months later, on Feb. 6, 1864, Harriet “Hattie” Locklin became the first child born to settlers at Marion Centre. Two years after that, her brother, Charles S. Locklin (1866-1958), became the new community’s first baby boy.

It wasn’t as if Hattie (1864-1949) was born into what nowadays might be thought of as the best place anyone had seen.

On the occasion of her father’s death, Alexander Ephraim Case (1838-1929), who arrived in Marion two years after she was born, described the community at the time while also attesting to Locklin and Robert’s early trip through the unsettled region.

“No one unacquainted with life on the frontier,” Case wrote, “can conceive . . . the struggles, the hardships, privations, suffering, and experiences of pioneer life.

“Distant from neighbors. Absolutely no protection from the savage Indians at war with the United States until . . . 1865. Fifty miles from a store or doctor or even a blacksmith shop. Scarcely an acre of land under cultivation in the whole county.

“Thirteen little log shanties in the county, some with dirt roofs and dirt floors, others with bark roofs or with shakes split from oak logs. No roads or bridges crossing streams.

“Think of having to use lumber hauled from Leavenworth or Kansas City and the price paid for it.”

A hundredweight of flour cost the modern equivalent of $256, Case wrote, and had to be hauled more than 160 miles over dangerous trails that were little more than wildlife paths traversing Indian land.

Case credited Hattie’s father with planting the first crop of wheat in the county — all without modern equipment.

“He had to cut it with a cradle,” Case wrote. “To thresh it, a small tract of ground was smoothed off, the wheat in the straw spread out over this smoothed-off ground, and then tread out by driving horses over it for hours.

“Then the straw was raked off, the wheat shoveled up, and to get the chaff from it Locklin scooped it up with his scoop shovel, raised the shovel as high as he could, slowly poured the wheat and chaff from the shovel, and let the wind blow the chaff and dust from it.”

The first wheat harvested at Marion Centre settlement had to be hauled 75 miles away, to Burlington, to be milled.

Hattie’s father, who eventually farmed near Oursler, was described in his 1921 Marion Review obituary as “a great friend of the Indians” and one of the area’s early traders with them.

“When savage tribes made their raids,” the Review wrote, “ ‘Uncle’ Silas was among the first to protect the women and children and the helpless ones.

“One dark night, when the word came down from Moore’s Ranch (near Durham) that the Indians were on their way, after all the people had been gathered in one place surrounded by guards, ‘Uncle’ Silas armed himself and set out in his wagon to protect a family who lived in a dugout several miles east — if possible, to get them into the ‘fort’ before the Indians arrived.”

His daughter Hattie, the first settler born in Marion, ended up at age 22 marrying fellow Marion resident Albert Farr (1858-1909).

A salesman at Loveless & Sackett Merchantile, he moved his family in the 1890s to Burlingame. But after the death of one the couple’s sons at age 9 and her husband’s death at age 51, Hattie returned to Marion, where she resided until her death in 1949 at age 85.

Just three years before her death, a pear tree named Harriet was discovered once again to be blooming in the area original known as Billings Park, just south of the modern Building Center, 143 W. Main St.

According to a 1946 article in the Marion Record-Review, Hattie’s father had been planting the tree when he was called to his house by news of his daughter’s birth.

When he went back to complete the planting, he christened the tree after his daughter.

According to Building Center employees, the tree has not been seen in recent years.

Last modified Nov. 6, 2019

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