written by Pearl Redfield Downing

(FOREWORD: The following reminiscences were written by my grandmother, Pearl Redfield Downing, between 1912 and 1917. Those dates are based upon the original typewritten sheets and the pencilled-in notations on family births/deaths which followed the narrative. The original document, in very delicate condition, is held by my cousin, Twila Travis Blankenship, of Smyrna, GA. Twila provided me with a transcription in 1999. The narrative describes the early years in Allen county as lived by her parents, Josiah C. Redfield and Hannah Nichols Redfield, who settled in (first) Geneva and (second) Humboldt. A full copy, also showing the family births, deaths, and marriages, may also be found in the vertical file at the Iola (Kansas) Public Library.)



To be sheriff during a four year war is a far more trying thing than to be a soldier. Just before J.C.Redfield became sheriff of Allen county, Kansas, the "Bushwhackers" (rough scum of the country) burned the town of Humboldt, leaving but two residences -- one of which he bought for a home and had to use as a jail, chaining prisoners to the floor. During his frequent absence on sheriff duties, his wife had to guard the prisoners day and night with two babies in her lap.


The town was constantly threatened by Indians, bushwhackers and rebels -- huts and shacks having replaced the burned buildings and the men carrying their shotguns and rifles strapped to their shoulders.


Frequently alarms were given that raids were to be made. At times drunken Indians would dash through the town, shooting at random and striking terror to the hearts of the few inhabitants. Most of the able-bodied men had gone to war, leaving but few who could act as protectors to the women and children.


At one time a murderer was among the prisoners and at another an attempt was made to hang a horse thief, when Mrs. Redfield was alone. She was ordered to give the man his breakfast first, and while doing so, pleaded with the men to abandon their purpose. She finally saved the man's life by changing her tact and saying, "All right, you men go ahead and do your bloody deed and just as soon as my husband comes back, we will sell everything we have and go back to civilization for we will not live in a place where mob rule prevails." They offered embarrassed apologies and dispersed.


Hundreds of incidences could be enumerated, such as when an alarm was sounded in the night -- lights would be put out and the women and children hike to clumps of trees and huddle together, when they thought the town was to be shot up and burned -- but this will give you an idea of what a sheriff and his wife and small children had to contend with during such times as that. Maybe the announcement "War is over" was not so glorious sound to them.


Then, again, during the strife and famine of the "grasshopper year" in Kansas -- 1874 -- he wrote letters to his friends back in Ohio and Connecticut, explaining the deplorable conditions and urging them to make the matter known in their churches, which resulted in numerous boxed and barrels of clothing being shipped to Kansas Relief, c/o J.C.Redfield, and which goods were opened and dispensed to the needy from his own residence, which was crowded with Unfortunates. He was of such kind and generous nature that he never accumulated much worldly wealth, but many are the men, who were helped out of tighte places by his cash, in place of which he carried notes -- never satisfied, to say nothing of notes he was called upon to settle through endorsements.


A diary kept by him while pre-empting his claim in Kansas, while his heart was way back in Ohio, gives minute details of his going to Twinsburg for his bride and their coming to Kansas, accompanied by his father, Sylvanus, who, being a carpenter and contractor, was going to build them a new house; of the illness contracted by his father en route; the various changes in his condition and his demise the day after reaching the destination. It also depictes the feeble health of his bride, whose friends feared she would not live to reach Kansas, but the Kansas sunshine and prairie winds improved her health almost from the day she set foot on its soil, with the result that in the year and a half, when he was elected sheriff, she was physically able to guard prisoners in his absence as stated.

Submitted by Ray Downing, 4571 McMillan Rd., Las Vegas, NV 89121 -

No reproduction of this story may be made online without the express permission of the submitter, Ray Downing.

Return to Allen County Stories

Return to Allen County ALHN main page


USGenNet Logo