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Earl Septimus Griffin
(1 Oct 1894 - 17 Jan 1976)

  Cowboys and Indians, horses and cattle sum up the action of Kansas back in the territorial years. Most of the land was open range with only a few acres devoted to feed grain and wheat for flour. Local ranchers grazed cattle on native hay and the only rent paid came in the form of losing a few head to hungry Indians. To the south, Texans sent up thousands of Longhorns on drives to rail points in Kansas and Nebraska, feeding on buffalo grass along the way. With the appearance of fences and more settlers intent on raising crops, the cattle trails and open range grudgingly gave way to history and many of the cowboys remembering Kansas from their travels, came back to become a part of the permanent life.

  Earl Griffin,living north of Burlington, is a product of one of the cowboys.

  It all started back in Illinois where an uncle of George E. Griffin was a horse fancier, specializing in breeding stallions. His sires became well known in equine circles, extending into the Lone Star State where the demand for outstanding steeds was high.

  As a young man, George found it high adventure to take a string of the uncle's horses south and in doing so made contact with Texas cattle barons. It wasn't long before he was on the cattle trails, guiding cattle herds north of Abilene. Being alert to change, he knew the appearance of the crop farmer would put a stop to trailing cattle. He tried his luck first in Oklahoma only to learn the truth about the crop failures along the southern regions. He came north to ramrod cattle herds at Pawhuska and then Ponca City. There he met and married Cora Jane Walker, whose folks brought the family to the Sooner State from Kentucky.

  Earl was born in the Ponca City community October 1, 1894. He started school there, but when he was age 10, the Griffins came north to Coffey County. He recalls arriving by train at Sharpe and walking 6 miles west to where his grandparents on his dad's side had settled. The move proved right for George Griffin. His farm soon began producing wheat, corn, cattle, hogs and, of course, horses to which he added mules to take care of demand.

  Completing his eighth grade at Ottumwa, Earl had learned about chores and farm life to become a useful partner in the rural operation. "I rode horses as long as I can remember," he said, adding the early knowledge included breaking them for riding and field work. Trading horses and mules became a way of life and he recollects there was about 20 head to be groomed for sale each year. At the time green mules sold for $200 and $100 to $200 more after breaking, meaning a team would cost a farmer $600 to $800, a lot of money for the times.

  Confident from his experience, Earl proposed to Frances Williams and they celebrated their 61st anniversary April 7. She was born in the now defunct Burt community, between Burlington and Yates Center on the Woodson County side.

  Much has been said of the Kansas fever affecting would-be Kansas settlers. The Williams family must have been badly bitten by the bug. They had only enough money to own one horse to hitch to their covered wagon. That didn't matter. There was a milk cow and she was harnessed to help pull the prairie schooner west. While horse flesh cost money in 1914, wages were low, she telling of $25 a month being paid for hired help on the farm.

  The Griffins have three children; Myrl, a mail carrier; Wilma, a Gridley housewife, and Olin, a Meriden house contractor. There are 14 grandchildren and 28 grandkids.

  Earl and Frances have been on quite a few Coffey county acreages and as they describe it, "We have seen the worst of it and the best." In talking about the land they have tilled, such names as Hickory Creek, Big Bend, the Bottoms and Ottumwa and Burlington communities pop out. But, no matter where it was, the Griffin trademark of horses remained to go with their crop routine. They bought the farm where they now reside in 1944. At one time, Earl remembers, they farmed land now covered by the deepest part of John Redmond Reservoir. A crop that was always in his planting rotation was oats as feed to go with wheat, corn and at one time flax. As for Frances' role, she was a field worker along with taking care of the home, chickens and garden. "I never will forget learning to work. They gave me a hoe to whack out cockleburrs and it seemed I was always weeding them out the rest of my life, " she laughed.

  She told about the chicken phase of her farming years. It all started with the wedding when her mother gave her three dozen hens for a starter flock. From there on, hens for laying eggs and providing meat became an important item. Another remembrance touched gardening, especially potatoes, her folks having the idea a larder full of potatoes was all one needed when everything else failed.

  It would figure that a son of a cattle trail cowboy should have an urge to travel and this proved correct. For farm people, the Griffins have done a lot more than most. Their first outing came in 1920, at the time owning a Model T touring car with a tarp for the top. They headed west for Pagosa Springs, Colo., which like a popular song says, across the great divide on Wolf Creek Pass. It was to be a combination business and pleasure tour of the Rockies. They wanted to look over a ranch 20 miles north of the foothills city.

  One of the tricks in owning a Model T, no matter where one was at, concerned keeping the radiator full of water to take care of the problem of it boiling over. On a mountain pass, stops were frequent and each time Frances would jump out and chuck boulders in the front or back of the wheels for brake insurance.

  Telling about preparations, they related filling an ice box with food and drinking water, generally having staples of bacon, potatoes and coffee. They carried a tent and when darkness came on too fast, would sleep on the ground, once making a pallet on an ant hill which resulted with lingering reminders of a night of scratching.

  Ranching in the Pagosa Springs area presented a bit more in the way of wilderness than the Griffins cared to take on. They found coming to town for provisions might only be possible during the summer months and roads were nothing more than crude trails. That trip was to take them south into New Mexico, bringing an insight on how it was out on the road before the advent of paved highways and heavy traffic. As they went south they came across several vehicles stopped and blocking the road. The party's appearance was enough to bring about the thought this was a gang of bad guys. As it turned out, the group were on an outing from Texas and one of the vehicles needed repairs which Earl was able to take care of.

  Going on into Sante Fe, they recall the creeks and ditches planked to permit crossing as part of the chapter of almost virgin touring with the automobile. That trip was enough to whet their appetite and now they can claim visiting all 50 states along with extensive travel in Mexico and Canada. A recent journey satisfied a long ambition, that being a boat trip leaving Port Everglades, sailing to South America and then through the Panama Canal to Long Beach.

  Big game hunting has been a big part of the annual jaunts. Colorado remains a favorite, Earl having returned to the Rockies the past 35 years to shoot a deer or elk. They have also fished for many seasons in the Jackson Hole region of Wyoming. Many in Coffey County remember the elk feed staged by the Griffins as a means of expressing appreciation for the blood donors who gave to help a granddaughter seriously ill.

  It wasn't all farming and traveling. Earl became interested in the need for rural electric energy and became a faithful worker on behalf of Coffey County R.E.A. He was an original signer to bring it all about and was a director of the organization 20 years. He also served on the state board 10 years and for 6 years was a director of W.E.C., a supplier of the energy group.

  A member of the Christian church, he was also involved as a school board member.

  Frances in her travels became a rock hound, sort of balancing the mounted big game trophies of Earl. She likes piecing quilts, raising flowers and preserving family antiques.

  The Griffins represent another refreshing chapter from the many variations of how the west and Kansas came to be like it is.

src: Dave Magruder - The Daily Republican - Burlington, Kansas - April 3, 1975

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