I have spent a lot of my life camping and backpacking, so I’m on some level familiar with the process of choosing a spot, as it were–deciding where the tent goes, the fire, etc. And I’ve noticed how quasi-irrevocable this choice is; it seems despite the rock in your back, the fact the wind blows the smoke at the tent, or that the spot is a muddy pool every time it rains, you don’t move it. You made your bed and now you lie in it.
I can only imagine how the early settlers of Kansas chose their spots. Speculators may have chosen based on where they thought railways would be laid, or future towns. The poorer, simpler settlers in 1854, 1855, I’m sure, looked for hardwood and native stone so they could build a cabin. And most probably cared quite a lot about the quality of the soil and access to water. Proximity to like-minded people also mattered–one wouldn’t want to be the sole Free Stater in a Pro Slavery township. German and Irish immigrants tended to congregate, like my great-great grandparents, who settled next to families named “Kelley,” “McMahon,” and “Farrell” in a community that years later would come to be known as “Irish Point.”
But their spot, which I believe to be the SE 1/4 of Section 16, Range 20, Township 5, Atchison County, seems to have been one of the last spots chosen in Irish Point. I’ve written about this before and how it’s great fodder for writing. These gaps among facts I often want to leave as they are so I can fill them with fiction. But sometimes the historian and librarian in me comes forth, and I want to know the facts.
Many of the land sales in territorial Kansas were recorded in Kansas Tract Books, which detailed transfer of ownership from the government to private parties. But again, I find Section 16 empty. Section 15 and 17 have detailed records, and many of the sections in Irish Point were sold as early as 1855 (October being a popular month, perhaps because Kuhn had come through the neighborhood by then?). Why? Was there really a dispute over this section that delayed its sale, as I portray to some extent in the first novel and expand in the second? Or was something wrong with Section 16? Could court records help? Are there other tract books available through the county?
I will keep looking to satisfy my inner historian, but in the meantime will keep writing my own reality for Section 16, and it may just have to involve something other-worldly.