Noah Blocher and Mary Falwell
As a young lady, Mary Falwell was called “The Belle of Richland” because she was a very pretty young girl, with black hair and sky blue eyes. She was the life of any party and often went to dances, held at the little settlement of Black Jack. This was a town on the Santa Fe trail, about five miles east of the present city of Baldwin. The young folks would leave home at noon, properly chaperoned of course, and drive buggies to the dance. They would dance until almost dawn, then pile into their buggies for the long trip home, arriving in time for the noon meal. One of the young men at those parties, and the one that finally won Mary’s heart, was Noah Blocher.
After they were married, Noah and Mary Blocher went to California. They made the trip with her father, William, and her mother, Elizabeth, as well as her grandmother, Mary. Her grandfather, Ephriam Falwell had died at age seventy-seven, and was buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery north of Richland, Kansas. Grandmother Mary planned to live with her son and his wife. William worked as the caretaker in St. Helena at a large cemetery there.
Noah did not like California very well, and he wanted to go back to Douglas County, Kansas. His wife knew if they went home, it would be a long time before she would see her family again. She was expecting their second child and she wanted to be near her mother when it was born. She promised Noah she would go home, as soon as possible after the baby was born. Their first child, little Eddy, as Mary always called him, was two at that time. One day, Mary and Eddy were walking on the street and two lndians went on a rampage. They were drunk and they killed and scalped two of the neighbors right in front of Mary. This was in 1891, and Indians were still a step away from being savages. After this terrible experience, Mary lost the baby she was expecting. As soon as she got her strength back, she told Noah she was ready to go back to Kansas. They bought tickets for the train trip back that very day.
Noah purchased a farm north of the small town of Auburn, Kansas. When they moved to the farm, everyone told them the house was haunted! Mary was a little afraid, but Noah reassured her. He told her he did not believe in ghosts. The story was, that a little boy had died in the house, and at night you could hear him walking around upstairs, pulling his little red wagon. This had been his favorite toy when he was alive. Several nights went by and they did not hear anything. Mary started to relax, then a storm came up one night. Then they heard it! It sounded just like a little boy was pulling his wagon up and down, up and down the hall. Noah was even ready to believe in the ghost story. In the morning, he noticed where a branch of the big elm tree, standing near the house, had been rubbing under the upstairs window. Noah cut the limb off and they never heard the ghost again. The ghost story might have been a bad omen. Little Eddy died when he was three in that same house. He was buried in a little churchyard nearby.
Mary gave birth to five other children on the farm. Harve, the only other boy, and four girls, Myrtle, Sarah, Florence and Arnetta. The youngest, Eva, was born at their next home, in Topeka.
Noah operated a blacksmith shop at the farm. He spent part of his time in the shop and the rest in the fields farming. He found out he could not do both, so he gave up farming. After several years, Noah decided if he was not going to farm, he did not need such a big farm. He sold the farm and bought a three acre lot in Topeka, Kansas. It had a large house on it.
This house was considered one of the showplaces in Topeka at that time. It had two stories and an attic, plus a basement under part of the house. A large porch ran around part of the west side, across the south and part way around the east. There was also a small back porch on the north side. The house occupied one corner of the block, and Noah had a large blacksmith shop on the other corner. A large cistern supplied water in the kitchen, pumped by a pitcher pump. A well, halfway between the house and the shop, served both places with good water to drink. An old oaken bucket hung in the well, and everyone out for a ride in their carriages, stopped for a drink at the well. Noah’s shop was equipped to make a complete buggy or wagon. It was the only shop in Topeka at that time, 1906, that could do the job. Noah made many of them, before automobiles became common.
In spite of Noah’s objections to the horseless carriage, he bought one of the first automobiles in Topeka. It was a 1908 Great Smith Runabout. He was not too sure he would like it because he kept his old horse, Charley, and a buggy just in case he needed it. Noah lived to see the change in the way of living from the horse and buggy, to the age of the automobile. He always said the car would change the structure of family life and he was so right. He said when he was young, families sat around the fire after dark and told stories. The men would fix tools or harness and the women did their mending until bedtime. Now nobody stays at home after supper, they jump in the car to go someplace or the other. They never stay at home and most young folks prefer to be anyplace at all, except at home in the evenings.
After the days work was finished, on warm summer evenings, Noah often lay with his head in Mary’s lap. “Savannah”, he would say, “sing us a song”. He always called his wife Savannah. One of his favorites was a song called, “Barbara Ellen.” It was a sad song, and Mary sang it in a clear, sweet voice. When everyone was a little tearful, she would switch and sing a happy, silly song, until they were all laughing, again. That is the only form of affection the children ever saw their parents show in public.
Noah was a fairly short man, and he was prematurely bald. His children said of him, “Papa was a stubborn man, and once he made his mind up, he rarely changed it. He had a good sense of humor though. He liked to tell shady stories, just to embarrass Mama. She always blushed and left the room before he could finish the story.”
Mary’s grandchildren found it hard to believe that this tiny, prim lady, with her hair pulled tightly back in a bun on top of her head, could have ever been the “Belle of Richland.” Their grandmother could give them an old saying for every occasion. “Beauty Is as Beauty Does,” “Birds of A feather Flock Together,” or “A stitch In Time saves Nine,” to name few. She had undreds of them.
Noah invented a light he called a Delco light, for the living room ceiling. It worked from a pressure pump in the basement, and it burned gas. It had a mantle and was the only one of it’s kind. The neighbors said they could stand at the edge of the yard and read a newspaper by the light in Noah’s living room. The children thought it was just the thing to do homework under. They still had to carry a kerosene lamp up the stairs, so they could see to go to bed.
Florence Viola Blocher was born just after the turn of the century, March 12, 1901. She was a quiet little girl, with a round face topped with brown hair. She had very serious gray eyes. Florence always kept her feelings bottled up inside. If her feelings were hurt, she would run upstairs and read a book, until she felt she could face the world again. She read a lot of books that way. Maybe that was why she loved school so much. She hated to hear the people she loved argue. Florence always tried to avoid a fuss, and was known as the peace-maker in the family. Everyone that knew her never pushed her too far though, they knew that tinder her quiet ways, she had a will of iron. As she grew older, this iron tempered into steel. She was always understanding of every point of view, and was very honest and fair. In time of great trouble, her children called their mama, “The Rock of Gibraltar.”
When she was a little girl, Florence was not vain. Her papa used to say,” Florence loved school so much, she would go, no matter if her clothes were patched and her shoes were shabby. The other girls hated to go, if they did not have nice clothes to wear.”
When Florence was nine years old, her great-grandmother, Mary Falwell, came to live with them. After a few years, Mary died. This pioneer lady, born to well-to-do parents in 1818, lived to be over ninety and had lived an interesting life. In her prime, she had came to the edge of Kansas, and helped her husband homestead a farm. She must have had some exciting times involving Indians and the lawless men of that era. After raising a family, she crossed this country with her son, William, and went to California in 1890. Then she came back to Kansas to die. It is too bad we do not have more information about her life.
Mary Blocher took her youngest daughter, Eva, with her, when she went to visit her parents, after her grandmother died. This was around 1916. They rode the train all the way. Her parents were still living in California. Mary had not seen them, since she and Noah, left there nineteen years before. Mary was always glad she made the trip when she did. Elizabeth, her mother, died later that same year.
A few years after that, Sarah Blocher came to live in the big white house on the corner. Florence said of her, “My grandmother was a very religious woman. I remember one day, I was out in the yard with my oldest sister, Myrtle, and her boyfriend. I was always very terrified of mice and this little mouse tried to run under my long dress. I screamed! Then I lifted my dress to scare the mouse away. My grandmother was horrified because I showed my ankles for all to see. She taught all of us to speak a little German, while she stayed with us. Then she went to stay with our Aunt Lydia Maichel, where she died in 1923.”
The best times Florence had as a girl, were the summers she was picked to go help her Aunt Lydia, cook for all the farm hands needed to help with the wheat harvest. The Maichel family consisted of eight boys and one girl. Every year they borrowed a girl from her brother, Noah. He had five of them, and one boy, so it worked out fine. It was hard work cooking for the threshing crews. The men stayed at the farm until the work was done. The last chore before going to bed, was to peel and slice a big bucket of potatoes in water. These were fried in the morning for breakfast, along with a platter of bacon and eggs. A pan of biscuits and gravy completed the meal. Then the women started right in to cook a big meal for noon. After supper they rested awhile, before peeling the potatoes for breakfast.
The men had the hardest job. They cut the wheat and then shocked it by hand. Then a big threshing machine was set up in the middle of the field. This machine was run by steam power. The farm hands brought wagon loads of the shocked wheat to the threshing machine, to have the wheat separated from the straw. The wagons were pulled by big work horses, and the men used pitch forks to pitch the shocks into the machine. When the last shock was going through, the men were so happy to be finished, they each tried to grab the hat of the man nearest to them. These hats were thrown into the machine. The unlucky men had to rummage around in the straw stacks for their hats. The rest of the men stood around and laughed at them. After harvest, some family in the farm community always had a big party to celebrate. That was when the fun began!