Monthly Archives: January 2015

Grandpa Was Right! (pretty much)

I’ve told this story a couple times in book talks; that several years ago my grandpa took me out to his grandfather’s farm, and that experience was a big influence on Song of the Jayhawk and how I imagined the lives of Patrick and Maria Dugan. Afterward I traced our path and found the section he took me to, but then found no good records that they in fact lived on that farm. Nobody did, in fact. Part of me doubted his memory and wondered what may be wrong with that section.

A little more research has uncovered the fact that grandpa was right! Patrick and Maria did own that land. Here is evidence of it from several decades later, in 1903.

Standard Atlas of Atchison County, 1903. Courtesy KSHS, DaRT ID: 209399

Standard Atlas of Atchison County, 1903. Courtesy KSHS, DaRT ID: 209399

But when did they settle there? Why aren’t they listed in the Kansas Tract Books?

The answer to the last question is rather simple: the Land Ordinance Act of 1785 dictated Section 16 of every Range be set aside for public education. Aha! Silly me. So they were not allowed to purchase that land in the 1850s. As schools were built in the area (Irish Point and Good Intent), the government must have then opened that land for sale. You don’t need 160 acres to educate children, of course (not in the way we educate them anyway).

So when did they purchase this land? And when did they arrive in the area? Obviously, in the novel I place the Dugans there when it is convenient for me as a writer, in the thick of Bleeding Kansas, and use my own confusion to further the plot. But I’m still interested as a family historian.

Mullins mortgage, 1882. Courtesy Atchison County Register of Deeds.


This document shows them mortgaging it in the 1880s. Okay, that’s a lot earlier.

Still, this is much later than I expected, having been told they settled here in the late 1850s or early 1860s. But notice they also mortgaged, in that same transaction, the SE ¼ of Section 4, and that the 1903 map also shows a “Patrick Mullen” owning that section as well.



Mullins purchase, 1866. Courtesy Atchison County Register of

Mullins purchase, 1866. Courtesy Atchison County Register of


And walla, here is their original 1866 purchase of that farm, for $500. So grandpa was right! He did take me to Section 16, and they did own it. It just wasn’t their first farm in Kansas.

What I love most about this is that as we left Section 16 that day a few years ago, grandpa pointed north, toward Section 4, and said, “That’s wild country up there.”

Yes, grandpa, it sure was.