“Runaway horses, stampeded cattle, prairie fire, blizzards, heat, sunstroke, Indian attacks, lice, snakes and the pure loneliness of the open plains--all these and more faced the western pioneers of the 1800’s.  Certainly there were those who gave up, moving back to the security of the East, but many more stayed and helped build and shape the West one sod shack at a time, one small farm at a time and eventually one town at a time.  They traveled forth on horseback, in Conestoga wagon and some even walked.  For them it wasn’t a question of how long it would take, only that it had to be done.  And they did it!”  American Westward Expansion, AMERICAN WEST HISTORY CHANNEL.COM

    The above passage describes beautifully what our ancestors on the prairie faced.  As stated previously, in other sections of the family history by this writer, many of our ancestors were pioneers or rugged individualists who continually pressed westward for new land and opportunities.  They were part of the men and women who settled in the land acquired by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.  Their ancestors were early settlers in the earlier frontier, just East of the Mississippi River.  Some of our family members helped settle Ohio and Illinois.  Some of the family members were part of the first permanent settlers in states such as Kansas and Nebraska, carved out of the Louisiana Purchase and organized first as territories which achieved statehood in the 1860’s.  Even though William Larkins and his family did not move to the area until the late 1860’s, the prairie lands in the Nebraska/Kansas Territory were still very rugged and settlement was limited at the time his family arrived in the area. 

    William Larkins was said to be born in Marshall County, Illinois April 11, 1837 to Jeremiah Larkins and Sarah Ann Davis Larkins.  When he was 4 or 5 years old, his mother died and he went to live with his grandparents, Elizabeth Eaton Davis Chenoweth and James B. Chenoweth, until his father remarried four years later in 1846.  He lived in Marshall County, Illinois and later in Stark County, where his family moved in 1859.  His father and grandfathers were farmers by trade and that was his early training as well.  They found land, filed claims, cleared the land, built tentative shelters first for their families and later built more substantial dwellings.  They survived off of the bounty of the land in hopes the good Lord would see them in a favorable way and provide good harvests for them if they worked hard and did their part.

    William also helped his father run a dray line business in Henry, Illinois.  His grandparents, William E.  and Rachel Reed Larkins had moved away to Oregon, traveling on the Oregon Trail, in 1847 with all of his aunts and uncles and cousins on the Larkins side of the family.  While we do not have much more information than the above about his childhood, we do know that after his father married Katurah Hailey, he and his little sister, Elizabeth Larkins Riley, gained many more half sisters and brothers as Katurah and Jeremiah had nine children together.  Being the oldest son, he likely was held responsible for helping out more around the farm and the house. 

    The Civil War, which was about to begin between the Northern and Southern states of the Union over the issue of owning slaves, partially originated with the formation of the Kansas and Nebraska Act of 1854.  In that act, new territories such as Kansas and Nebraska were to decide the legality for themselves of slaveholding.  This act gave statehood to Kansas and Nebraska and was instrumental in increasing the tension between the Northern and Southern states over the issue of slavery as it nullified the Missouri Compromise.  It had little meaning out West for many frontiersmen, where our ancestors ultimately moved, even though the ramifications could ultimately affect their landscape.  Settlement issues and other responsibilities held much more of their attention.  However, we know that men from all across the country would go into the war on one side or the other in this battle.

    Nebraskans, answering the call to arms of Abraham Lincoln, and many Kansans, who did not believe in slavery fought, on the side of the North.  This is understandable as the Nebraska Territory had only 15 slaves in the entire state listed in the 1860 census.  The area was comprised primarily of a limited number of working settlers who had moved to the area for the ability to acquire inexpensive land, fur hunters/trappers of game and the Indians tribes who had lived on the plains for centuries.  Most of the white settlers and hunters were too poor to afford slaves and were too busy trying to survive themselves in a new wilderness. 

    Further south in the Kansas Territory, conflict did develop over the slavery issue.  Its was called “Bloody Kansas” as the battle between the abolitionist and the slave holders was intense partially due to geography.  Settlement in Kansas Territory appealed to some Southern settlers, who carried the idea of slaveholding, as well as to some Northern settlers, who were abolitionist.  Close to the Missouri River, where early known settlements such as Independence, Missouri helped outfit settlers wanting to move even further West, a larger number of people, holding opinions on both sides of the issue, would probably initially migrate as the proximity to their point of origin would have been closer and required less travel and hardship.  (Today, Kansas City sits on both sides of the Missouri--Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri.) Many Kansans and Nebraskans that did go to the war fought in the Missouri area.  However, William Larkins was not in this area at the time of the onset of the Civil War.  He was in the Illinois area, where had lived as a young boy. 

    In July of 1860, William Larkins married Margaret Jane Sturm in Bureau County, Illinois and they subsequently moved to Nebraska/Kansas a few years later in 1868.  William married Margaret in the house in which he was born, which was also the same house in which his mother had died..  It belonged to James B. and Elizabeth Chenoweth.  This was the second marriage for Margaret although we are not aware of what happened to her first husband who was C.D.  Hickel, whom she had married on March 6, 1858.

    Margaret and William eventually had twelve children.  The children were: Harry Leonidas (1862--1922 and had 10 children), Sarah (1863-1865), Herbert Clarence (born 1865, married Rebecca Salisbury, had nine children and died in 1948), Eavy Gertrude (1866-1869), Ceon Emery (born 1868, had 3 children and died 1957), Winnie Davis (known as Aunt Ett, born 1869, married Ed Davis, had 7 children and died 1957), Marian Grace Palmer (born 1871, married Rolly Palmer, had 2 children and died 1937), Ethel George (born 1873, married John George, had 3 children and died 1896), Ernest (1875-1930 and had 3 children), Ralph (born 1876, had 2 marriages #1 Alto Chick 2# JW Foster, had two children and died 1945), Lilly (1875-1878) and Minnie Swaney (born 1880, married Carlton Swaney, had 4 children and died 1950).  Minnie, Lilly, Ralph, Ernest, Ethel, Marian Grace and Winnie were all born in Nebraska/Kansas. 

    Margaret Jane Sturm was the daughter of Henry Sturm Jr.(born 1791 in Mason County, Kentucky and died 1868) and Catherine Dalrymple Sturm (born February 5, 1795 in Holland and died 1862 ) of Stark County, Illinois.  Her grandparents were: Henry Sturm Sr. (1757-1832) and Elizabeth Weaver (born 1765 in Germantown, Pennsylvania to Christopher Weaver and Anna Lintzin).  Other grandparents were: George Dalrymple (born Nov. 13, 1757 in Brecknot and died January 19, 1804) and Ann Miller (Martha Willett Miller?).  Many in the Dalrymple family were originally shoemakers by trade.  The Sturms were farmers.

    Henry Sturm Sr. and Elizabeth Weaver lived in West Virginia and Kentucky before moving to Ohio.  Henry Sr. fought in the American Revolution.  He was born in Virginia Colony and his parents and grandparents would have been farmers who probably immigrated to the United States a few years before he was born.  It is believed his line originated in Schifferstadt, Germany, an area near Bavaria.  Several known Sturm families have been found listed as on early ships to the United States as early as 1727 and before that date.  However, no concrete proof has been found linking Henry Sturm Sr. to these individuals.

    The Henry Sturm Sr. family members were true settlers in every sense of the word, as they were some of the earliest settlers in Kentucky and then Ohio after first living in Virginia.  In the HISTORY OF SHELBY COUNTY, OHIO it said, “The first family who attempted to establish a home in the dense forest of Green Township was the Henry Sturm (Sr.) family.” At that time Henry Sr. was 57 years old and Elizabeth was 47 years old.  They were central to the early settlement and Henry served as a Justice of the Peace in 1820.  They were residents of Ohio before Ohio was admitted to the United States.  There is a Sturm Cemetery and a Sturm Creek in Ohio.

    Henry Sturm Jr., father of Margaret Jane Sturm, was the third son of Henry Sturm Sr.  He was born in Kentucky before Kentucky became a state in 1792.  When he was four years old, his family move to Shelby County, Ohio.  Henry Sturm Jr. married Catherine Dalrymple when he was 23 and she was 20 years old in 1814.  Catherine was born in South Carolina on February 5, 1795.

    The Sturm family branches of our family were equally the rugged frontiersmen that the Larkins side of the family was and Henry Sturm Jr. and his wife and family moved to Illinois when Margaret Jane was two years old.  What we know of her childhood is also limited but we know that she lived in rural areas all of her life.  She grew up in Illinois when Illinois was still the edge of the frontier.

    After William married Margaret in July of 1860, he continued running the dray line business with his father, Jeremiah.  He was a farmer as well, like most of his family before him.  Because of the need to provide for his young and increasingly larger family at the time of the Civil War, he did not participate in this conflict..  It is felt he did not believe in slavery of any kind as his father was known to have opposed such practices.

    In 1868, the family had migrated to Pawnee County, Nebraska.  “Herbert, Harry and Ceon Emery rode with their mother who drove a team of horses hitched to a light wagon.  William drove a yoke of oxen pulling the heavy wagon followed by 3 head of cattle.  They stopped in Johnson County, Nebraska a year and moved to Pawnee County for two years.” They moved to Republic County, Kansas, four miles south of Chester, Nebraska, in 1871 where they lived for fifty years.  “William traded the yoke of oxen and wagon for homestead rights to the quarter section of land, later owning 550 acres.” This information was found in THE LARKINS FAMILY by Shirley Walta (who is the author’s deceased aunt).  In the same book we learn, “William drove an oxen team by the names of Brindle and Spot when they moved to Kansas.  Brindle was hitched to the Gee side and Spot on the Haw side.  The day after their arrival in Kansas, William stripped the wagon down to the two front wheels and drove the team of horses to Concordia to file homestead rights.  There was no bridge and he had to cross the Republic River on the mill dam.  The oxen yoke was displayed for many years at the Republic County Fair.”

    Also from the book written by Shirley Walta we find: “They stayed in a dug out in Rose Creek bank, cover by canvas until they could build their log cabin.  They dug a hole in the ground near the creek bank, deep enough for the water to seep into it for their water.  later they found springs near by in the bank of the creek.  Neighbors also came to get their water supply in this place.”

    Frontiersmen and early settlers like our family were concerned about Indian attacks.  During the Civil War, government troops, normally stationed at the forts, were all pulled to fight in the battle between the North and South.  Even after the war ended and in the timeframe our ancestors were settling on the prairie lands of Nebraska/Kansas, protection for the early settlements was considered limited.  Indian attacks where our ancestors settled became a more real threat after there were massacres near the Platte and Little Blue River areas. 

    However, the Indian encounters the William Larkins family had all appeared to be peaceful.  At one time it was reported in the Larkins Family Book that a large group of Indians camped on the east bank of Rose Creek.  William told them one day they could have all the watermelons they could carry.  One smart Indian used his blanket to carry several away. 

    William and his family were resourceful.  “They ran a tread cane-mill where the neighbors hauled their stripped and topped cane to have it ground into molasses.  This device was powered by one horse.  Payment for the service was a small portion of the molasses.  We know the family had a large portion of thick, sweet sugary molasses to put down in the cellar for use in the future.  It was used in place of sugar in daily cooking.  Occasionally, the family would hold a taffy-pull for the area friends and neighbors.” It was a means for fun and laughter.  LARKINS FAMILY by Shirley Walta

    A store was said to have subsequently been built at Crainville, a half mile south, which later stocked groceries.  This was probably one of the first signs of modern times to come to the area as was a post office, built in a home near by.  The Pony Express, which ended in 1862, and stage coaches carrying letters were the first forms of insuring communication across the land.  As the railroads began to connect the East and West, communication became faster although it still took quite awhile to receive letters from one part of the country to the other.  It took significantly longer to get letters in areas off the beaten track or not close to the railroad lines or stations.  Having a post office in a home was common practice in the 1860’s, 1870’s and 1880’s.  As towns grew up and more services were provided, post offices became the norm for the communities.

    “William Larkins was a member of the Anti-Horse Thief Association.  This was a mutual law enforcement organization.  Membership was solicited and well organized.  When thefts were reported, the officials took action.  Ed Bugbee borrowed a double action 32 caliber revolver from William when he went to apprehend a man for a reported theft.” LARKINS FAMILY BOOK

    From the 1860’s through as late as 1910 was the time of the “Wild West”.  Law and order was originally who could shoot who first in some parts of the West.  However, as more settlers appeared across the landscape, the demand for a civilized society took hold of the areas.  Most settlers were too busy fighting off the problems mentioned in the opening quote of this section of family history to engage in the lawlessness that occurred in some areas.  But, settlers organized themselves for such protection as mentioned in the Anti-Horse Thief Association in which William was known to have participated.

    “Two of Margaret’s brothers came from Illinois unannounced at one time to visit.  They had come to check on the well being of the family as they were afraid the family might be starving.  That was a year they had a good wheat crop so they (the Sturm brothers) went home feeling that the family was getting along very well.”  LARKINS FAMILY BOOK by Shirley Walta

    Again taking from the LARKINS FAMILY BOOK we learn: “The lumber for the frame house they built was hauled from Scandia, Kansas, 17 miles southwest of the homestead.  Several years later, they built a two story addition to the north side of the house making adequate room for comfortable living.  The house had a beautiful dormer window facing the east and a front and back porch.  The parlor was upstairs and was admired by the grandchildren.”

    The property where this house was built now has a monument dedicated to William and Margaret Larkins.  Cattle roam freely around it although the monument itself is enclosed with a fence.  This property is just off the old highway #81, four miles South of Chester, Nebraska.  Chester, Nebraska is situated just inside Nebraska but almost directly on the Kansas/Nebraska state line.  The house was moved to Belleville, Kansas which is less that 15 miles south of Chester.  A new addition as well as remodeling was completed to the house.  It remains a residence even to this day. 

    The suffragette movement also began in the late 1800’s and first part of 1900’s while William and Margaret were homesteading in Kansas/Nebraska.  Women, like Margaret out on the prairie, had little time to worry about voting rights for women, even though it might substantially help their children and their children’s children.  They were busy raising large families, washing on scrub boards often at the side of a river bank, cooking, sewing, mending, milking cows, feeding chickens and working along side their husbands to provide for the family.  The daily routine of the wife of a homesteader with many children was a long and hard one.  The writer believes that Margaret, given her history and life circumstances, probably supported the movements intentions, even though we have no record that she actively participated in the cause. 

    In 1910, William and Margaret held their 50th wedding anniversary celebration.  Twenty-six of their neighbors and friends and family attended the event at their home.  A picture, showing twenty-two of them congregated on the front lawn, exists today of this event.  Several of their daughters cooked the meal for the guests. 

    As they grew older, William and Margaret required assistance from their children or grandchildren.  There is a picture, circa 1910-1915, which shows William and Margaret in front of their house in their elderly years.  They are smiling, even though they look somewhat feeble.  Several of the granddaughters began helping them with housework shortly after this picture was taken.  Maggie, oldest daughter of Harry, stayed with them the longest.  Most all the grandchild helped them in anyway they could by doing the chores for them or staying with them to prepare meals for them.  In 1919, Margaret stayed with Etta for a while and William stayed with Minnie due to health concerns. 

    William Larkins was raised as a Methodist in Illinois.  However, he became a loyal member of the Christian Church sometime after he moved to Nebraska/Kansas.  Several years before his death, he was afflicted with an ailment (arthritis?) requiring crutches to assist him in walking.  He was also very near sighted.  Thus he liked to walk on the road for exercise as it was level and easier to see his way and avoid falling. 

    Margaret Jane Sturm passed away in January, 1920.  This had to be a very sad loss for William.  William wanted to return to his own home.  The writer suspects that he wanted to be in familiar surroundings which were filled with memories.  Several of the grandchildren stayed with him then, off and on.  Abe Thompson was hired to stay with him for awhile too.  William died in September of 1921.  Part of his obituary read: “He was summoned to join his wife and 4 children in the better land.  He was not loath to go and join the company before the Great White Throne.  He leaves Harry L., Herbert, Emery, Winnie E. Davis, Minnie C. Swaney, Grace Palmer, Ralph, Ernest, 37 grandchildren 36, great grandchildren and a number of neighbors and friends of his later years.  His early friends have mostly preceded him and were awaiting his coming.  May God comfort the hearts of all who mourn his going.  Funeral services were held in his home, conducted by Elder Blanchard of the Chester Christian Church in the presence of a large concourse of relatives, friends and neighbors.  Pallbearers were grandsons Earl Swaney, Frank Larkins, Lee George and Will (Lee) Larkins.”  William and Margaret Larkins traveled a long way to establish a homestead in the Kansas/Nebraska Territory.  They were some of the earliest permanent residents to the area.  Their struggles with the land and the political issues of that time must have been difficult ones for them, just as William’s father and stepmother’s must have been.  But the early Larkins family members, as a whole, never were ones to run from the realities of life or hard work.  The quest for adventure as well as the desire to tame an unruly landscape surely must have been part of the driving force for them as it consumed their time and energy.  Their contribution to the “Westward Expansion” of the United States has been a true gift, not only to their descendants.   What a daring adventure they had taken!


THE LARKINS FAMILY by Shirley Walta in 1971 and the LARKINS FAMILY UPDATE by the same author in 1977 with contributions from Roberta Larkins McLoughlin (numerous sources from public record and documents are listed and it includes many quotes of family members)




THE CIVIL WAR (information from Incarta)


© Oldtime Nebraska -- William Larkins   submitted by Rosalee Pleis, February, 2000