1867: John Adams Whitcomb to Brother

This letter was written by John Adams Whitcomb (1801-1881), the son of Asa Whitcomb (1764-1835) and Rebecca Ball (1765-1831). He was 1st married to a woman named Abigail who died in 1831, and then married to Sarah P. Rogers (1806-1891). John fathered several children, one of who was named Catherine Parker Whitcomb (1844-1906) who is mentioned in this letter and who became the wife of John M. Giffen (1830-1899) on 13 March 1862. Giffen was a prominent lawyer and early organizer in Kansas Territory. He held the position of Secretary to the Governor, Prosecuting Attorney, Treasurer, City Engineer, Justice of Peace, and Police Judge. He collected the first dollar of tax paid in Johnson county. He was the founder and editor of the first newspaper the Olathe Herald in 1859, the office of which was destroyed by a Quantrill raid September 6, 1862.

John’s letter contains a retrospective account of Quantrill’s raid in 1863 that passed through Olathe and also of the Battle of Westport in October 1864.


Olathe, Kansas
February 3d 1867

Affectionate Brother,

It is with sensation of feeling of brotherly love that I sit down to pen you a few lines to let you know that through the mercy of Providence we are all comfortable well. I do not know that I can write much to your edification but will try to inform you of things in general since I have been out here—sometimes in prosperity and sometimes in adversity as the world generally goes.

In the four years war, we had a very hard and volatile time, Many of our neighbors left their homes and farms. I stayed by mine for I knew not where to go. Think I made out as well as those that went, if not better, although I was called upon by night and day—sometimes by the jayhawkers and sometimes guerrilla bands. Quantrill and his band called upon me one night but it was managed so that he done me no harm. He killed three of my neighbors and would have killed one or two in my house if he had known they were there. One of them was my son-in-law [John M.] Giffen. We have had tolerable peaceable times here ever since Price’s last raid when he tried to get into Kansas to lay that waste. If he got in, he would have ruined us but just as he was passing over the line from Missouri to Kansas, General Pleasanton come up with his troops and made a charge upon them which turned the tide of the battle [of Westport]. Price’s army broke and where the charge was made, the ground was strewed with the slain—with the dead and wounded. They followed them way below Ft. Scott fighting, killing and taking prisoners. Price had six men to our one. This battle was fought about twelve miles from me.

Since the war is over, this country is settling up very fast. Things have taken a very different course. Men are minding their own business and things stirring lively. They are progressing on the Pacific Railroad. They have gone beyond Ft. Riley and the California end have got their way into the Rocky Mountains. This railroad is within fourteen miles of me. Sometimes we have heard the whistle. There is another one going from Kansas City to Ft. Scott down through the Cherokee Nation. This railroad goes through Olathe within four miles of me. They are all ready to work on it.

O brother, if I was as I was once just be in a good situation for a good living. Franklin is dead & Bridan no doubt but is, and I have no one to help me. My health is so that I am able to do but little light work. My sickness last winter what ruined my health. My life was despaired of one spell. Was sick all winter and it come very heavy on my wife. She took care of my stock. The doctor said the blisters on my stomach and good nursing [is] all that saved me. [I was] not able to [do] but very little this winter. My cough us hard on my lungs [and] raise considerable, but feel in hopes to be better when warm weather comes.

Mr. Giffen & Kate is with me this winter. He takes care of my stock for me his winter and will carry on my farm—what he can of it—but there is work enough for two good, smart hands. Have between sixty and seventy acres under the plow and that is more than one hand can take care of. If I am not any better, shall have to hire a hand. Have rented part of my plow land for two years past. We rent here and give two-thirds of the crop and they find their own team but when they come to gather it, they will gather seven-eighths of it if you do not watch them. Therefore, I am determined to let my land lay still before I will rent it.

There is nothing wanting by nature—only a little more timber. My wood have to draw about three miles. Have had a plenty of that without buying. We have got to hedging. We can get the osage plants for one dollar per thousand that will soon make a fence that will not need mending. This is the country for farming. Brother, I feel as though our days are past and our vacancy will be filled by some others. Our days that are gone cannot be recalled. Well do I remember the days of our boyhood—the old playgrounds on father’s old farm—but let us not look back to murmur or complain that our days are so nigh. Cord cut, let us look ahead and with anticipation when we shall outride the storms of this world and land our weary souls on the shore of eternal bliss to meet our friends that has gone before us. We have wrote two letters [to] W. & Elizabeth but have had no answer. All of our children are at home today that are in the western country. All well. My wife & I send our best respects to all enquiring friends.

This is your affectionate brother, — J. A. White

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