Down By The Bend In The Creek

By on 08/04/2019

Down By The Bend In The Creek

What started out as a casual conversation quickly turned into a history lesson on the Stewart family. And as Bill reminisced about the old swimming hole and life along the Middle Caney River you could see a sparkle in his eyes and hear a swelling of pride in his voice as he spoke about the Stewart Farms (now owned by both he and his brother Gene) and its history and ownership which has survived the span of four generations, dating back 140 years to 1873.

Bill’s great-grandfather, William Henry Harrison Stewart (Born Feb. 27, 1841 – Died Aug. 2, 1912), during the Civil War served as an Union soldier with the 21st Illinois Regulars, Company A, from 1861 thru 1865. After mustering out of the Union Army he filed a claim for a homestead in Kansas. And in September of 1873 he along with his wife and three children made their way to the Belknap region near the Middle Caney River in what was then Howard County (later to be located in the newly formed Chautauqua County).

The Stewart’s new home on the prairie proved ideal for farming, raising sheep, cattle and children. For it was here that William’s wife, Margaret Elizabeth, gave birth to three more sons – bringing the clan’s total to eight.

But it was the Middle Caney River that was the life-blood of that paradise down by the bend in the creek. And that little river would play many a big role in the lives of the Stewart family.

The burning off of the old prairie grasses is nothing new, in fact the local Indian tribes often burned the prairie hoping the buffalo would feed on the new tender grasses. It was one such time that almost spelled the end of William Henry. He was out on horseback checking his cattle when he found himself surrounded by a prairie fire. He had only one choice – to outrun those hungry flames to the river. Putting a heel to his steed, William Henry rode hell-bent-for-leather and just as those hot fingers of the fire reached out – William Henry and his horse plummeted over the river bank into the safety of the water below.

However, it was that same river that during the flood of 1885 tried its best to take back William Henry’s life. As the flood waters rose, William Henry went out to herd his cattle to higher ground. The swirling currents tried to drag down both man and beast, but with a little luck and just maybe a helpful push from God – all survived.

Once again the Middle Caney River came into play with the Stewart family. It was on the river bank near the bend of the creek that the Stewart’s found an elderly squaw. She was ill and near death. Unable to travel she was abandoned by her migrating tribal band. They had left her with only water from the river to drink and a bowl of boiled chestnuts to eat – as death seemed certain. However, the Stewarts took her in, cared for her as if she was one of their own. During the next year’s tribal migration the old woman rejoined her family.

The Stewart family proved themselves as real pioneers and made frontier life a little better – down by the bend in the creek

– Jim Chase

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